Saved By God, From God, To God, For God
One of the things that has caused me to grow in my faith the most is having a clearer picture of salvation. The saving of sinners is the pinnacle display of God’s grace and power and love, and is the central subject of worship among believers. Therefore, to grasp the workings of God in saving sinners like you and I is to fuel the fire of our faith and stoke the flames of our praise. It is what is needed to stir up greater affection and devotion in following the Lord. Consider these four simple, yet profound, truths about salvation.
We Are Saved By God
Jonah 2:9 declares “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” This simple statement is meant to give all of the credit for salvation to God and God alone. Though it is true that we are called upon to exercise faith in Christ Jesus, the reality is that any person who puts their trust in God is the product of divine intervention. Without God moving in power among us, no one would ever desire salvation.
No one seeks for God. (Romans 3:11)
The only reason a person believes in Jesus for salvation is because God opens their eyes to their need for a Saviour and the sufficiency of Jesus to be that Saviour.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Up until that point, a person is blind in their sin. They cannot see Jesus for who he really is, and until God shines his light into their hearts, they will never change their minds.
It comes down to this: what makes one person hear the gospel and respond by loving it, and another person hear the same gospel and respond by thinking it’s stupid? The answer is: God gave one the light to see and not the other. That is the point of 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. God shines light into dark hearts so that they can see and love Jesus, and until then there is nothing but darkness. Salvation is an act of God!
Consider another example. The power of sin in the life of an unbeliever is invincible. A person who is not born again is powerless to overcome their own sin.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:34)
And, in their own sinful condition, they will reject the gospel. It’s not even that they won’t receive the gospel; it’s that they can’t. Sin is too powerful.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)
Unless God supernaturally breaks through a person’s fleshly hostility to him, they will never be saved. It is impossible. But God has mercy on sinners and through various means will move on their behalf. Salvation is an act of God!
In the act of salvation, God is the initiator. It is never the sinner who makes the first step. God is the one who sent Christ to die “while we were still sinners”. God is the one who draws sinners to himself. God is the one who gives them eyes to see, ears to hear, and faith to believe. God is the one who gives new life. And God is the one who sustains our faith.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
If you are a Christian, you must give all of the credit to God. Do not take any for yourself. Some Christians mistakenly believe that they are simply wiser than the average Joe and figured out their need for the gospel by their own intellect. This is decidedly not the case. If ever you saw your sinful condition and turned to Christ to resolve it, you have God to thank, from beginning to end.
If you are still unconvinced, the story of Jesus and Nicodemus ought to seal the deal. Jesus tells Nicodemus the path to salvation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus is speaking of a spiritual re-birth. Just as a physical birth introduces new life to the world, a spiritual birth introduces new life as well. This analogy is significant. If ever there was an event where the beneficiary had nothing to do with it, birth is a good candidate. A baby born did nothing to be created or born. It happened apart from their own will. And in case you think that I am stretching the analogy too far, Jesus makes clear he intends for us to take away that point by what he says next:
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:7-8)
Jesus says to look at the wind. Do you see where it came from, or where it is going? No, it simply blows whenever it blows and you have no control over it and no way of knowing when it’s coming or not. The wind has a will of it’s own. Jesus says that being born again is like that. You are a lifeless kite, lying in the sand. And one day the wind blows and you rise to life! But you did nothing to make it happen or to deserve it or to make it continue. It was simply an act of God.
If you are a believer in Jesus, you have much to be grateful for! You have been saved, despite your own resistance and inability and undeservedness, by God nothing less than the mercy of God.
We Are Saved From God
To be “saved” implies that there is something we must be saved from. The question must be asked: from what is the Christian delivered?
You can answer that question a number of ways and be correct. You could say “we are saved from ourselves”, for we each are like sheep that have wandered off on our own self-destructive paths. You could say “we are saved from Satan”, for we are all under the rule of the god of this world. You could say “we are saved from hell”, for we all are deserving of punishment for our sins. You could say “we are saved from death”, for the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These are all true. But there is something even greater. The truth is that we are saved from God himself – so says the Word of God:
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9)
It is not surprising that many stumble over this reality. Even some self-professing Christian teachers have suggested it is absurd to believe that we need to be saved from God. One popular teacher, at this notion, quipped “What kind of God is that, that we would need to be saved from him? How could that God ever be trusted?” It is a legitimate question but it is not a biblical one. The God of the Bible is holy, and he has resolved to let no evil go unpunished.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)
The truth of the matter is that God’s wrath burns toward sinners, and though the outpouring is delayed a while, it will not be withheld forever. How peculiar then is it to think that God saves us from himself? The God who has resolved to settle the debts of sin is also the God who is willing to pay the bill. Who is like this God? I know no person who expresses righteous fury at the wickedness of another who has sinned against him, and yet takes it upon himself to resolve the conflict in a way that benefits the wrongdoer at the expense of himself. That is sheer grace in motion. What a God! He is wrath-giver and wrath-quencher all in one.
We Are Saved To God
It is a good question to ask, what is point of being forgiven? What I mean is that forgiveness itself is only of a limited benefit unless it is a means to a greater end. For instance, is the point of forgiveness the alleviation of guilt? Certainly that is a wonderful benefit, but it is only a side benefit. There is something greater for which forgiveness aims to give us.
The true goal of salvation, the forgiveness of sin, is to be reconciled to God.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… (1 Peter 3:18)
The point of being saved is to be brought into a right relationship with God. One pastor has offered a helpful analogy. Imagine that a husband has acted in a way towards his wife that was harsh and unloving. He clearly has sinned against her. He knows it and she knows it. For a time, the house is a cold place to be. She ignores him and he feels it is deserved. Yet, after some reflection and the mustering up of humility, he goes to his wife and asks for her forgiveness. What is the point of such a request? It could be that he is fearful she won’t make dinner that night, or that the kids will come home soon and notice the tension, or that he secretly hopes to go on a golf retreat and needs her to be in a good mood before telling her. These are all real possibilities, but they are not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is that he wants her back. What he desires in not the side benefits of forgiveness but rather a restored relationship with the forgiver. He desires reconciliation.
So it is with us and God. The purpose of salvation is that we would be brought back into a restored relationship with him. We are not merely saved from something with no new destination in mind. Rather, we are saved from something to be brought to something – or, more accurately, we are saved to be brought to someone.
It is a mighty sign of love that God would desire a relationship with us. Who are we compared to him? Nothing but small, insignificant creatures. Yet God does not see us that way. He sees us as valuable and important to him. And he loves us enough to cross heaven and earth to die on a bloody cross so that we can be together forever. What greater love is there than this?
We Are Saved For God
As if all of this is not remarkable enough, God intends for our salvation to be of use in his sovereign plan. God does not save us so that we may sit on a comfy sofa, fold our hands and enjoy the ride. Rather, he saves us with the intention of bringing us into the work that he is doing in the world. He offers to partner with flawed, weak, limited people like us in order to accomplish the miraculous.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Our new birth in Christ is “for” good works. That is part of the purpose of salvation. God ransoming us from sin and making us into new creations is so that he can unleash us into the world to serve others and bring God glory.
…all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
The remarkable truth is that we were created for Christ. We belong to him. Our life course is subject to his direction and our life callings are subject to his decrees. We are not saved so that we might wander aimlessly. Christianity is somewhat of a paradox. We are most free when we are a slave of Christ, and we are most enslaved when we aim to escape the rulership of Christ. He is to be our Lord and Shepherd, and we belong to him as part of his flock. He is our cherished possession, and we are his cherished possession. Our salvation is much to our own benefit, but it is not just for us. It is also for God. That he would develop a plan of salvation that was mutually beneficial to both us and himself is a testament to God’s wisdom and love and creativity.
Life is God-Centred!
The reason God orchestrated the universe in such a way as to put himself at the centre is that he might get all the glory. This is a beautiful thing! As Paul reflects on the path of salvation through Romans (not much unlike has been done here), there is nothing left for him to say except to fall on his knees in praise and lift up his voice in awe of God. It is fitting to have the same response here:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)