We see most clearly what Jesus came to save us from in his name: “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis added). Dale Bruner notes the expression is so familiar we miss how surprising it would have been. Israel expected the Messiah to save them from the consequences of their sin—Roman occupation. Similarly, in our day, salvation is often explained primarily in terms of escaping punishment for our sin. But the Bible says Jesus came to save us from sin itself. Being consumed by sin is more to be feared than being punished for it. William Faulkner wrote, “People to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.”
Any other force can only happen to you. Bullying, or sickness, or illness, or insult, or death. None of that can separate you from the love of God. Great ones among Jesus’ followers have laughed at these.
Being overcome by evil is the ultimate tragedy that can befall a human being, and nothing else comes close. Suffering happens to you. Evil happens in you. It will claim your thoughts. It will twist your desires. It will corrupt your will. It will damn your soul.
Evil must be fought wherever it is found. But this is not a battle where Christians are the good guys and they fight the “bad guys.” The battle is not in Las Vegas, Washington, or Hollywood. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Salvation doesn’t mean simply being rescued from the consequences of our wrong choices. It doesn’t mean being delivered into better circumstances. It means being changed. Salvation isn’t primarily a matter of going to the good place. It’s about becoming good people.
We need to be saved inwardly from our anger, despair, lust, greed, arrogance, and egotism. If our inner person is not transformed, our outer location won’t matter much.
We often call this inner transformation—this forgiveness of sins—being “saved by grace.” We have a tendency to view grace and forgiveness as being the same. But they are not synonymous. Grace is much bigger than forgiveness.
God was a gracious God before anyone ever sinned. Likewise, when Peter commanded people to “grow in grace” (see 2 Peter 3:18), he did not mean to “grow in the forgiveness of your sins.”
According to Dallas Willard, grace is “God doing in us and for us what we could not do ourselves.” We are meant to be forgiven by grace; we are also meant to live by grace.
John Ortberg, Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).