What Is Christian Salvation?

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Question: What is salvation?

Answer: Through Jesus’ sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, we are reconciled with God and rescued from destruction.

God’s motivation is love and His goal is to make us family again—to have right relationship. But there’s a problem, we haven’t seen the way that God accomplishes His goal.

Because of our disobedience, we are left with disrupted relationship and death. We can’t have right relationship with God forever because sin and sin’s consequences are an obstacle. So how does God remove this boulder from the path back to Him?

We can think about it like this:

  • God’s motivation is love.
  • God’s goal is making us family again.
  • God’s way of dealing with disrupted relationship and death is through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

There are two main ways of understanding what Jesus did to save us: reconciliation and rescue. Reconciliation means restoring relationship. Rescue means saving us from danger.

Jesus did both. He reconciled us back to God, and He rescued us from evil and death.

So how did He do that? When there’s a rift in a relationship you often have to offer something up to make peace. Maybe it’s just an apology, or maybe it’s a note or a gift.

Imagine that you went to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and all the food was laid out on the table. The turkey and the stuffing and gravy and the sides and  the desserts. And you decide to try out, for the first time, a magic trick. You’re going to try and pull the tablecloth out from under all the food in one swoop. Everybody says don’t do it, but you do it anyway and, as you might expect, all the food tumbles down to the floor. The turkey, and the gravy, and the mashed potatoes are all ruined.

Now, in this case you really would have messed up. So you’ll need to make it up to your friend. And the best way to do that would be for you to cook a Thanksgiving meal at your house and invite everyone over.

But what if you can’t cook? What if you don’t have anything to offer to make it up to your friend?

Well that’s a little bit like what our situation was with God. We disobeyed God’s law but didn’t have anything to offer God to make it up to Him.

So Jesus came and offered a sacrifice to God on our behalf. Jesus made it up to the Father by giving Himself as a perfect offering.

This is what happened on the cross. Jesus sacrificed Himself to pay, once and for all, the penalty for our disobedience. He took our place, took our punishment, and offered Himself to the Father (1 John 2:2).

This took care of the disrupted relationship. But it didn’t solve the punishment for sin, which was death.

Jesus’ resurrection solved this problem. Jesus was killed and then came back to life, as the first example of what will happen to us as well. Jesus showed us that  death isn’t the end of the story. God’s goal to have us as part of His family can’t be defeated by death. Because we will be resurrected like Him.

Imagine it a bit like this. Let’s say that you and your family have been kidnapped by a mad scientist and kept in his secret fortress. You try everything you can to escape, but everything fails. The government has been trying to free you, but every attempt to attack the base is repelled by the mad scientist’s powerful weapons. You’re stuck. But you hold out hope because you have a brother who is a top agent in the military. You know that he might be able to save you. Then one day, the guards throw open the prison doors and toss in your last hope: your brother the secret agent. He’s so badly beaten he’s barely recognizable. You all begin to cry. Your last hope for rescue has been captured. But your brother lurches to his feet and smiles at you. With great pain, he begins to pull lock picks out from under his skin. He gets to work, opens the cell doors, and leads the way to freedom. What seemed like the darkest moment was actually a part of his rescue plan.

This is what Jesus did. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said that not even the gates of hell will stand against the church. And the way Jesus defeated the enemy of death was in the most unexpected way of all. He defeated death by dying.

Jesus descended to the realm of the dead and broke free again, opening the way for us all.

We might even say, with the nails of the cross Jesus picked the locks of the gates of hell.

This is how Jesus solved our two big problems. He reconciled us back to God by being a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and He defeated the power of death in His resurrection.

If you found this entry helpful, you’ll enjoy the illustrated, down to earth catechism called The Absolute Basics of the Christian Faith by Phil Tallon. It’s the perfect little study for: Confirmation classes; Newcomer classes; Families; New Christians. The Absolute Basics of the Christian Faith is a visual introduction to the core beliefs of the Christian faith. While it assumes no background knowledge of the scriptures or church teachings, this eight-week study is stocked with rich explanation and engaging videos that bring catechesis to life for people of all ages, backgrounds, and stops along their spiritual journey. Get the book and video resource from our store here.

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Philip Tallon is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University, where he is the chair of the Department of Apologetics, and a faculty member of the Honors College. He is the author of The Poetics of Evil:Toward an Aesthetic Theodicy and co-editor of The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes (with David Baggett). He also has a new book coming out from Seedbed, The Absolute Basics of the Christian Faith. You can find him on Twitter: @philiptallon.

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