Not long ago, I watched a documentary about The New Yorker magazine reviewer and satirist Dorothy Parker. Though highly popular, she seemed to be an unhappy person who became more of an alcoholic and reclusive over the years. A fellow author explains it like this: "I don't think Dorothy had anyone in her life who would love her no matter what."
But God does love us no matter what we do. Jeremiah said, "The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: 'Yes, I have loved you with; an everlasting love'" (Jeremiah 31:3). Paul said, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8, NKJV), And John sums it up best: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Do you want to know just how far God's forgiveness goes? Read the story of bad king Manasseh, who for decades led his nation into idolatry and child sacrifice. However, he repented and the Lord forgave him (2 Chronicles 33:1-13).
Knowing that the one who created me loves me no matter what I've done and will ever do gives me an incredibly secure feeling.
When I was in my teens, our family lived in a small farmhouse in South Dakota not far from a creek. One year, the heavy winter snow melted so fast that the water crept across the pasture, surrounded the house and rose to within an inch of our living room floor. I still remember the horror of seeing our house standing in the middle of a gigantic blue lake. Later that year, Dad had our damp little dwelling moved to higher ground.
That's what God does when He saves me. He not only loves me, He also rescues me. "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
Jesus showed perfect selflessness. While Lucifer tried to "ascend" to be like God (Isaiah 14:14), Jesus descended four levels below God on our behalf: God to man, man to servant, servant to death and death to a criminal's death (Philippians 2:5-8).
And He did this to rescue us from our sinful selves. "There is no one who does good, not even one," David said (Psalm 14:3). His son Solomon echoed, "There is no one who does not sin'" (1 Kings 8:46). Paul assures us that nothing had changed in New Testament times: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). That's me—and that's you.
Yet God is instantly willing to forgive us. Listen to the details of His rescue plan: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Salvation means I'm justified
Back in fifth grade, I was the victim of a particularly nasty bully. Let's call him Jake. Though his bullying happened decades ago, and even though we're supposed to love our enemies, I still can't think of Jake without a shudder of loathing. That guy was cruel.
From what I hear, Jake has since grown up and turned his life over to the Lord. That means God now regards Jake as though he were as righteous as Jesus Himself. The word "justify" means "to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation." So if I ever meet Jake again in this life, I must greet him as I would Jesus Christ—not as an elementary school bully.
Unfair? Of course!
But can any of us claim to be better than Jake? Which of us doesn't need Jesus' garment of righteousness?
Here's Bible backup for justification: “Therefore, have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1, NKJV). "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).
An incredible offer
Keep in mind that salvation isn't so much a checklist as it is a relationship. No one has to provide a high school-aged boy with how-to steps for developing a crush on the cute girl sitting at the desk next to his. Just consider how that boy falls in love. First, he is attracted to the girl. Soon, he begins spending a good part of each day thinking about her. Then he tries to get her attention—he chats shyly with her, passes her notes and tries to be wherever she is.
Getting saved is like that, only easier. The more you read Jesus' four biographies (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) the more you realize how tremendously lovable and good-humored and sometimes intriguingly unpredictable He is. And, better yet, there's no need to try to get His attention. He fell in love with you first—He gave His life in the hopes that He can spend eternity with you!
So the next step is yours. Read the third chapter of John's Gospel and then just keep reading. And at every step, ask Him to deepen your love for Him. You'll immediately discover one more astounding gift from a kindly God.
Salvation means I'm empowered
One of God's most precious blessings is that He doesn't simply save me, then pat me on the head, and shoo me out into the wide world to survive on my own. If He did, I would quickly crash and burn. Paul agrees with me: "When I want to do good," he says, "evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:21-24).
Happily, Paul answers his own question in the next verse: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" And what's so wonderful is that Jesus doesn't merely forgive us and leave us to our own miserable resources again. Not only did the angel Gabriel tell Joseph his son's name; he also told him what it meant: "'You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins'" (Matthew 1:21).
Let's get the preposition right. Jesus will save us from our sins, not in our sins. Jesus wants me to be a better Christian a month from today than I am right now.
And He will help me to become that kind of person. Here's how He does this: First, He provides us His Holy Spirit, who—if we give Him permission—will dwell in us, will teach us, and guide us into all truth (see John 14:17, 26; 16:13). Second, God promises to "reprogram" us to do what's right: "'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,' then He adds, 'Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more'" (Hebrews 10:16, NKJV).
That's what salvation means to me.
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times magazine, January 2011.