The Word Among Us

May 2013 Issue

So Great a Salvation

What did Jesus save us from?

So Great a Salvation: What did Jesus save us from?

Can you imagine how exciting it must have been for Mary Magdalene and the other disciples when they first saw the risen Lord? Their Teacher and Master had been taken from them and executed in the cruelest way possible. But now he stood before them, alive again and suffused with divine glory. How could they help but be excited?

As amazing and comforting as it must have been, this initial joy at seeing Jesus was just the beginning. Not only did they rejoice in their friend’s unexpected return. As Jesus opened their minds to why he had to die and rise, these first believers began to rejoice in something greater than simply seeing him: their salvation!

This month, we want to explore this salvation so that we can join in the celebration. We want to look at how Jesus saved us when he died and rose from the dead. We also want to look at how Jesus is still at work saving us more and more each day. And we want to look at how glorious it will be when Jesus comes again and brings us to heaven—the day when we receive our whole and complete salvation.

The Majesty of the Cross. Scripture tells us that God “did not destine us for wrath but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). And we all know how God made it possible for us to gain this salvation: through the cross of Christ. For it is here, on the cross, that Jesus revealed his true mission on earth: to save us from our sins. It’s on the cross that Jesus showed that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And it’s as we gaze upon the cross that we come to see Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Ever since the time of the early Church, theologians, saints, and everyday believers have tried to grasp exactly how Jesus’ death has taken away our sins. Some have written long and complex treatises. Others have offered simple one-line answers. But most have thrown up their hands and simply proclaimed it a deep and wonderful mystery. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

No condemnation! It’s that simple. It’s that magnificent. Jesus sacrificed his life for us so that we could be forgiven and live with him forever. Years of guilt over past misdeeds can be lifted from our shoulders. Every stain of sin that prevented us from experiencing God’s love and grace in our lives can be removed. It has all been washed away by Jesus’ blood. It has all been nailed to his cross, once and for all. It can never come back to haunt us. Ever. No wonder we call it the gospel, the “good news”!

Saved from Sin. It’s a wonderful feeling to know your sins are forgiven, isn’t it? Just think of how you feel after an especially heartfelt confession. Or think of the most moving Mass you can remember or any other time when you felt especially close to the Lord. There was no guilt, was there? There was nothing but peace and contentment as you felt God’s love and acceptance for you. At the same time, however, we know how strong temptation can be—even temptations that come to us just after we step out of the confessional or immediately after Mass. Each one of us can relate to God’s words of warning to Cain: “Sin is a demon lurking at the door,” ready to pounce on us at the first opportunity (Genesis 4:7).

This is where the good news becomes even better. Jesus hasn’t just saved us from our sins. He has saved us from the power of sin itself.

There is no such thing as an irresistible temptation, just as there is no such thing as an unforgivable sin. We don’t have to feel helpless when familiar attractions rise up in our hearts. We can turn the tide against longstanding habits like gossip, overindulgence, cynicism, and sarcasm. All those drives and urges, all those attitudes and dispositions that threaten our peace—that’s the power of sin. It’s the potential we have to commit sins, not the sins themselves. And the good news is that no matter how strong the power of sin feels, Jesus has rescued us from it. He didn’t just pardon us on the cross. He destroyed sin’s seemingly invincible control—for all of us!

In its teaching about Baptism, the Catechism describes what we are like now because we have been baptized into Jesus’ victory over sin: “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes [the believer] a new creature, an adopted child of God, who has become a partaker of the divine nature, member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1265).

Too Far-Fetched? “New creature.” “Partaker of the divine nature.” “Temple of the Holy Spirit.” That’s you! You may not feel like it, but that doesn’t change what God has done for you. Neither does it change his plans and dreams for your life. On the cross, Jesus paid the ultimate price—for you!

Does this seem too far-fetched? Does it sound unrealistic or super-spiritual? Don’t worry. That’s how millions of people have thought for centuries. It’s this kind of thinking, in fact, that leads people to feel that they will be stuck with certain patterns of sin for the rest of their lives. It’s also this kind of thinking that can lead us to think that the Christian life is little more than a huge battle against sin—as if we were fighting against a terrible dragon all by ourselves.

Don’t get caught in this trap! Jesus has saved you from the power of sin. He has done what you could never do on your own. Yes, you have to work with him in overcoming sin and temptation. Yes, it can be hard at times. And yes, you will lose some battles, even if you win others. But always remember that you are not alone. Always remember that you are more than just a fallen human being. You are a new creation, and Christ himself is in you to strengthen you and deliver you.

Grace upon Grace. The most important decision you can make each day is to stake your faith on Jesus and his cross. Every day, especially during times of temptation or frustration, proclaim the truth of the gospel: “I am a new creation in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Jesus loves me; he gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). “I have been set free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). “Jesus doesn’t condemn me; I can go in peace” (John 8:11; Luke 7:50).

This is more than the power of positive thinking. This is a matter of faith. And the best thing about faith is that it is linked to grace. Every time you proclaim your faith like this, God pours out grace. He creates a way through the forest of doubt and fear and temptation.

The Scriptures tell us, “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (John 1:16). It’s like a never-ending waterfall of one blessing after another, constantly flowing from the throne of God. Every day, he wants to open our eyes to the glory of the cross. Every day, he wants to help us grasp the mysteries of faith more fully. Every day, he wants to give us more grace to love him and serve him. All we have to do is receive it and act on it.

I Did This for You. The next time you look at a cross, imagine Jesus saying, “I did this for you. I left heaven for you. I submitted myself to a human body for you. I suffered for you. I gave every drop of my blood for you. I did it all so that I could overcome sin—for you!”

Let these words find a place in your heart. Meditate on Jesus’ sacrifice. Tell yourself, “He did all this. . . just to save me!” As you do, you’ll begin to feel the same joy that the disciples felt when they met the risen Lord. You’ll also begin to know the deeper joy that comes from tasting the salvation Jesus won for you. So come to the Lord and rejoice! Celebrate your salvation from guilt and sin. Sing and dance and clap your hands, because Christ is in you. You are a new creation!