The central figure in the Bible and Christianity is Jesus. Practically all historians agree that two thousand years ago, there was a man named Jesus who was on the earth teaching and doing good works. Before He was born, the Bible tells us of His primary purpose for being here. Talking about Mary, the angel told Joseph:
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.Matthew 1:211
Similarly, when Jesus was ministering to Zaccheus, Jesus told him that He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
If you spend much time talking to a Christian, it probably won’t take long before the concept of salvation comes up. Salvation is one of the go-to topics for Christians. What’s the big deal? Salvation from what? Why should I care?
As noted in the first passage of Scripture we read, Jesus came to save people from their sins. So, when we talk about salvation, we’re talking about being saved from sin, and the consequences of sin. We’re talking about being reconciled to God.
In the beginning, God created the earth and everything in it, including the first humans. He created people for the purpose of partnering with Him to rule over the earth and enjoy the creation. But He gave them a choice. They could do it the right way, living a life full of joy and love. Or they could do it the wrong way, full of spite and rebellion—taking matters into their own hands, as if they were God. He gave them their choice by way of fruit trees.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”Genesis 2:15–17
Jesus once reminded His disciples:
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.John 14:15
For love to be love, it has to be a choice. No one can be forced to truly love another. And since love for God is manifested in obedience, God had to give humans a choice. God had created a multitude of trees for mankind to cultivate and eat from. The entire land was at their disposal to rule over and subdue as partners with God. The entire land and all the trees…except for one. We read in the next chapter that both Eve and Adam ate from the tree in order to become like God. They had been deceived. God had already invited them into the best position and relationship possible. Yet they wanted more.
He had warned them that death and separation would come, and so He followed through. God, and the ground where He is, is holy. The basic definition of holiness is set apart. God’s goodness sets Him apart from anything that is sinful. Therefore, the primary consequence of sin is separation from God and His goodness. In Genesis 3, we are told of how life for mankind would be affected by their sinful choices, and that they had to be thrust out of the Garden, which was where the Tree of Life was. Being separated from God and the Tree of Life meant mankind could no longer rule with God forever.
You may have heard that account before—how Adam and Eve ate from the fruit (some people say it was an apple, but the truth is we don’t know what kind of fruit it was), and they sinned against God. Don’t dismiss it just because it’s an “old story.” You and I are facing the same thing today. Adam and Eve are famous sinners. You and I might not be famous, but we have still sinned.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.Romans 3:23
We’ll come back to this passage in a moment, but before we go too far, let’s take a moment and ask, “What is sin?” What does it mean to sin? We may be tempted to pull out a dictionary now to define this word. Instead, we should always seek to use the Bible to answer our spiritual questions. How does the Bible define sin?
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.1 John 3:4
Sin is going against the law of God. He has commanded us both to do and not to do things. He wants us to love Him and love our neighbor. Sometimes we don’t. When we deceive and defraud, when we abuse our enemies, when we rebel against the love and law of God, we are sinning.
Let’s return to Romans 3:23. Notice the tenses in that sentence with me. All have sinned. Is that past, present, or future? Past tense, of course. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Is fall past, present, or future? Although sinned is past tense, fall is present tense. Yes, you and I have sinned some time in the past—we’ve lied, stolen, lusted, or cursed God in our hearts. However, we can confidently say, according to God’s word, what I’m doing right now (recording a message for you), and what you’re doing (listening to that message) is not sinful. But it’s still the case that we have sinned at some point in the past. And that means we presently come short of the glory of God.
Picture a man who trips into a pit with no way out. He stands up, dusts himself off, and notices the situation he’s gotten himself into. He’s no longer tumbling into the pit—that happened in the past. But he’s presently stuck because of what happened in the past. There’s nothing he can do to get himself out of the pit. He needs the help of someone else who hasn’t tripped into the pit. So it is with sin. You and I might not be presently sinning, but because we have sinned, we are stuck and in desperate need of help from someone who hasn’t. Enter Jesus.
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He [Jesus] appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.1 John 3:4–5
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:14–16
Jesus lived His entire life always honoring God and His word, as well as loving His neighbor as Himself. He always did the will of God. I know that’s hard to imagine—a perfect person. But that’s exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to the edge of the pit to lift all of us out. Or, as we have already seen:
He will save His people from their sins.
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
As we conclude, let’s consider the grammar of another passage.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 6:23
Just as it was for the first humans, so it is for us. Sin will result in death and separation from God. What do you see in this passage directly after the word death? A comma. What does a comma do? It may tell us to pause, but ultimately, it indicates that there’s more to the story. God had every right to end the sentence there—the wages of sin is death. Period. Full stop. Instead, He chose to offer us a way out of the consequences of sin. We can be reconciled to God and rescued from the second death.
Volumes have been written on the subject of salvation. But there it is in its simplest form. Although we deserve death, God has offered us eternal life in His Son Jesus Christ. But as it was with the first humans, He won’t force us into a relationship with Him. We must be willing to partner with Him. And exploring that subject will be the aim of our next lesson.