What is salvation and how is it received?

Tonight my church held its quarterly “Celebrate Life” service – where we dedicate babies, do baptisms, and recognize new church members. Along with the adults, several kids were baptized, and some teenagers performed the ritual as well. It made me think about my time as a youth minister. I was asked a lot of questions. I got a few questions from teens who grew up in the church, were baptized at a young age, and eventually became worried about not being truly saved. So here’s my thought-through response about salvation for those teens, and for others …

What is salvation and how is it received?

Let me put your mind at ease: when people are concerned whether or not they have salvation, that means they are moving in the right direction. A greater cause for concern would be living life without asking these kinds of questions.

Salvation is God’s gracious gift of freedom from the bondage and punishment of sin, a gift that comes from Jesus and through Jesus. But let’s first back up a little …

Before Jesus came to earth, people were separated from God. In fact, everyone who is born is separated from God because we all sin. But back then, the possibility of a relationship between God and people was different and difficult. People had to take animals to the priests to sacrifice in the temple for their sins, and they had to do good deeds and hope that they could know God. Not many people were doing it or at least they were not doing it very well.

Even though God had chosen the nation Israel to have a relationship with and to love, they were not faithful to Him. We read in the Old Testament about how badly the people behaved. They ignored God. They hurt each other. The people outside of Israel were even worse. Things were not as God had created them to be. The prophets – those people who communicated for God to the people – began to dream of a future king and Savior. They believed some day a ruler would come that would lead them all into a peaceful time and bring them back into a right relationship with God. God was already planning to do a new and wonderful thing in the world in a way that nobody expected.

Jesus was the unexpected. When Jesus came, everything changed. EVERYTHING. I mean, Jesus was God, and he came to show us what the Love of God was like. Jesus told everyone that the kingdom of God was at hand. God was making a new way for us. Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection make it possible for us to know God and live with God both now and forever. No longer do people have to sacrifice animals for their sins. Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins. No longer do we have to live in fear and only hope that we will be saved. We can know with certainty that Jesus has paved the way for our salvation. You have probably read John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

You see, it was all God’s doing that gave us salvation. We could not know God if it wasn’t for Jesus. We would die because of our sin if it wasn’t for Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus stepped in on our behalf because he desired to save us. We know that we will be resurrected because Jesus was resurrected, and he promised that we would have eternal life through him.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” This is an important verse to memorize and commit to your heart because a lot of people are confused about it. Many people think they can obtain salvation by being a generally nice person. They think they can earn their way to heaven by being good. However, the Bible says everyone sins and falls short of what God desires for us. People can never be good enough to have salvation on their own merit.

Salvation is a gift. If you want it, you can have it. It’s as easy as that.

That said, having salvation is more than just a belief. It’s about a new way of life. When you accept Jesus as being the Savior of the world, then you also declare him to be Lord of your life. That means that you no longer belong to yourself. You belong to God. It means that you will live your life loving God, thanking God for what God has done for you, and trying to do the things that make God happy – not because you have to but because you want to. Living with salvation means a lot of wonderful things. There are many benefits entailed in a relationship with Jesus. A few of them include forgiveness for your sins, access to God, friendship with the trinity, conversation with God at any time, peace – in good and bad times, the Holy Spirit living within you, a holy and reforming personal character, certainty of heaven, and life everlasting with God. We could have long conversations about each one of those things! 

You must know that having salvation does not mean that you’ll be spared from hardships in life. In fact, life may be harder in some cases because you are trying to live for the Lord. People may make fun of you. It can be hard to choose the right thing when it seems simpler to do the wrong. However, it’s all worth it. And our side of the equation – the part that we do – is really easy if you look at the big picture. We have faith, and we follow Jesus. God did all the real work. Having salvation means you know that you are not alone and that you never will be – because God is with you loving you, supporting you, advocating for you, and giving you purpose in life.

I’ve told you having salvation is about a relationship with Jesus and God. Your relationship with God is like other relationships in life in that you need to spend time with God in order to develop that relationship. I suppose you could say you believe that Jesus is the Savior and then never do anything about it – but someone whose life does not reflect that belief in a tangible way probably never was transformed by the amazing reality in the first place. I believe that having salvation not only means you will be spared from eternal punishment after you die, but it also means you get to live in the glory of a relationship with God during this life – and you get to experience all that flows from a life committed to the way of Jesus.

Because God is invisible and because life can be chaotic, sometimes you may feel like God is far away or not even there. In those times you may fear that you do not have salvation. Maybe that’s how you feel right now. Let me say that God is never absent. Just because you may not feel God at times, that doesn’t mean that you lost your salvation. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” You do not have to fear that you have lost your salvation.

People who grew up in the Church have learned about God and loving God. Some of them don’t remember the first time they believed in Jesus as Savior. That is okay. Some Christians can remember the exact moment when they believed,  but for many of us, it was a process. We can’t pinpoint a date. It takes time to understand, and we grow throughout our entire lives, becoming more aware of what Jesus did for our salvation. We all learn more the longer we are following Jesus. God knows exactly what kind of person we will become, and the angels rejoice in heaven when we profess faith in Jesus. John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

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