This is the fifty-sixth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
To know the crucified and resurrected Christ more deeply as we approach Easter, consider using the devotional Knowing Him: Devotional Thoughts About the Cross and Resurrection
“I think nothing has surprised us more than to learn so many ships were near enough to rescue us in a few hours.” — Titanic lifeboat survivor
At the center of the Bible’s message is the truth that God has rescued us, because we could not rescue ourselves.
For the nine months of her captivity since Elizabeth Smart was snatched from her bedroom in the middle of the night, most people assumed the worst-she must be dead. Yet 14-year-old Elizabeth was very much alive. During her captivity she had been around many people, yet had not signaled for help. She was left alone at times, capable of walking away. When police approached her on the street, inquiring whether she was Elizabeth Smart, she denied it. This poor young girl, practically brainwashed by her domineering abductors, needed so much to be saved, but didn’t see it, and couldn’t take advantage of it. It was a good thing a police officer who recognized her on the street knew better, and was determined to find the truth.
Then there is the case of Jessica Lynch, the 19-year-old private, first-class, who served as part of a maintenance unit in Iraq, and who was taken captive after her convoy took a wrong turn in the city of Nasiriyah. Held for eight days in a hospital, she cried out to go home. But she could not save herself. Even without armed guards, how do you run when you have two broken legs? A few days later rescuers swooped down by helicopter, stormed the building, snatched her from her bed, and carried her to safety.
“You must be saved.” A lot of people doubt that. But what if you do have two broken legs? What if we have no idea just how much trouble we are in and how desperately we need to be saved?
Almost all religions begin with the assumption that we need to be saved from something dreadfully wrong in the world-or with us. Salvation is a belief and a hope that there is a way out of captivity, a rescue whether we need we know it or not.
Christian faith says specifically that we need to be saved from evil, from judgment, and from our own self-destructive sin. Salvation from evil means that we can hope in God’s power to prevent the whole human race from descending into the deepest darkness–even though evil will keep on appearing in tomorrow’s headlines until God comes to remake the world. Salvation from judgment means that, by God’s gracious act of free forgiveness, he acquits us from the spiritual crimes and misdemeanors we have committed. And salvation from sin means that God’s power is available to reshape our character so that we need not repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
That is precisely why the Bible speaks of salvation as a past, present, and future reality. The biblical authors say, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.
Looking backward, the truth is that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“Have been saved.”
God has won the war, though the battles continue. He has sent his grace, his unstoppable intent to pour out mercy and kindness, to the human race like food flowing into famine and water into parched mouths. When Jesus died on the cross, the clash between the political powers of earth and the dark power of the demonic and the brilliant power of God came to a decisive climax. The light went out for three hours, the body of the author of life slumped against the rough wood. Perhaps Satan laughed, then cowered. The curtain of the temple was torn open as a sign, as if this High Priest had stepped up to the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, and ripped open an entryway that would forever make a relationship with God only as far away as the words “I believe. I do believe.”
But God is also continuing to save us. The battles still rage on, though the outcome is certain. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul said, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” and then, to make sure that people with broken legs didn’t try to run too soon, added, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13). He also wrote, “The message of the cross if foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The process of salvation is God’s faithful, constant work of educating us and shaping us and cleansing us: “I will save you from all your uncleanness” (Ezek. 36:29). That means that the wisest person is the one who says, “I am unclean, I can’t get the dirt off, I can’t heal myself. God, please do what only you can.”
Then there is future salvation. God will save us. Ask yourself, just for a moment, what you really believe is going to happen as history unfolds in ever-greater extremes.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and
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