Plan of Salvation
From the first chapters of Genesis through the closing scenes in Revelation, the Bible is the book of God’s salvation. From start to finish, its one unifying theme is that of grace and forgiveness for sinners through God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ. Whatever else you gain through the reading of the Bible, it would be tragic if you missed the heart of its message for you—God’s gracious provision of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sin.
In the Beginning
When God created the heavens and the earth, His work was perfect and pure. God looked upon all He had created and judged it to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He took great pleasure in what He made, and the culmination of His creation came with Adam and Eve. They were made in the very image of God, which made them capable of having fellowship with God and bringing glory to His name (Genesis 1:27).
In the Garden of Eden, however, through deception and disobedience Adam and Eve sinned against God, causing a break in their relationship with Him. Sin is real, and sin is deadly. The guilt that resulted from their disobedience caused Adam and Eve to hide from God and attempt to cover their personal shame. Because they had disobeyed God’s command, they were now flawed and shameful in God’s presence.
Adam deliberately chose a path of self-will and rebellion, which brought sin and death—including spiritual death—into the world. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12)—the whole human race is affected by Adam’s sin.
To cover the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve, the Lord made coats from an animal’s skin for them to wear (Genesis 3:21). God thus made the first sacrifice, and it followed the clear promise of a Redeemer when God pronounced these words of judgment upon the serpent, or Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This prophetic word speaks of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross of Calvary.
The Story of Redemption
So the story of redemption and sacrifice begins, and it is repeated throughout the Word of God, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf. We discover through the Bible that a personal relationship with God is not dependent upon good works that we do, or on church membership, or even on living a highly moral life. Rather, God’s amazing grace is the fountain through which redemption flows to us.
Separated from God by sin and guilt, we all face two primary spiritual needs. First, we need to be restored to fellowship with God. We are truly guilty before God, and somehow we must find forgiveness. We must face the problem of our sin, and there is no answer to this need within ourselves. The only answer is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, we need power to change our lives. Our sin reveals the spiritual depravity of our heart—the selfishness, the lust, the greed, the pride, and the anger that are so destructive. “The heart,” says God, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). If we are going to be changed, something must be done in our hearts to turn our lives around. Jesus taught that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Only the blood of Jesus can take away the guilt of our sin, and only the Holy Spirit can come into our hearts and make us new people.
Redemption Through Christ
Redemption often involves the concept of purchasing something back that has been lost, by the payment of a ransom. It can mean a deliverance from some sort of confinement; such is the case with the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage to slavery in Egypt (Exodus 14:29-30; 15:2).
There are many passages in the New Testament that represent Christ’s suffering as a ransom or price, and the result secured is a purchase or redemption (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Galatians 3:13; 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9). The idea running through all these texts is that of a payment made for our redemption. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and redeemed us.
The penalty for our sin and rebellion is death; Jesus stepped in and laid down His life and took the penalty we deserve. The debt against us is not viewed as simply canceled but as fully paid. Both the Old and New Testaments proclaim salvation as an accomplished fact. Christ’s blood or life, which He surrendered for us, is the “ransom” by which we are freed from sin. “Blood” is mentioned 460 times in the Bible. Fourteen times in the New Testament, Jesus spoke of His own blood. Why? Because by the shedding of His blood on the cross, He accomplished the salvation of everyone who believes.
The Extraordinary Good News of Eternal Life
The Gospel of John tells the redemptive story of what Jesus Christ did on our behalf. Summarizing the Gospel, John says, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). Read on as we examine what the apostle John has to say in his Gospel about the eternal life we receive through Jesus Christ.
The Son of God
John wants to show us who Jesus really is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). Jesus, during His life on earth, was God in human form! And just in case John’s introduction isn’t clear enough, a few sentences later he quotes John the Baptist, who says, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (1:34). Throughout the book, John gives evidences of Jesus’ deity—that Jesus performed many miracles (2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-17; 6:1-13, 16-21; 9:1-7; 11:38-44), and that He fulfilled prophecies that had been written about Him centuries before (2:13-22; 3:14; 5:46; 12:14-16).
But why would Jesus, who is God, leave heaven to live on earth as a human? Jesus Himself tells us why: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). God saw us as we were, dead in our sin. That’s why Jesus came. God is a forgiving God whose love and patience call all to repent of their sins.
Why Do We Need to Be Saved?
So why do we need to be saved? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). If we are honest with ourselves, we cannot deny that from the moment of our birth we have done wrong things—things that make us guilty before God and deserving of His judgment. The Bible calls these wrong things sin, and sin separates us from God. And because we are separated from God, we face the awful prospect of “the wrath of God” (John 3:36), which is eternal.
Jesus Is the Only Way
Can anyone save us from God’s wrath and assure us of heaven? Some people believe they can get to heaven by doing good works, or by following the teachings of a religion, or even by giving money to churches or charities. But Jesus clearly said that none of these things would save us: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He did not say that He simply knew the way to heaven; Jesus said He is the only way to heaven. No human effort can give us eternal life. Christ, and Christ alone, is the one and only Redeemer.
In fact, the only “work” that can save us is the “work” of believing in what Jesus has done to accomplish our salvation: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). And to those who so believe, the promise of God stands firm: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
How Does Jesus Save Us?
John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus came into this world knowing what it would cost Him, and He explains that salvation comes through His death on the cross as the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for our sins (John 3:14-15). He bore in His pure being the fullness of sin, that God might forgive sinners and make them pure. And the price of Christ’s bearing those sins was death. The gates of salvation are open wide to all who accept His invitation to enter by faith.
John 18-19 describe Jesus’ death, and then chapter 20 describes His glorious triumph over death as He rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection means that He can give eternal life to all who believe in Him. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Do You Believe?
That last verse (John 11:26) actually ends with Jesus asking, “Do you believe this?” It is a question that every person must answer: Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Is Jesus the object of your faith? Not faith in ritual, not faith in sacrifices, not faith in morals, not faith in yourself. Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross to free you from the guilt and judgment of sin? Do you believe that He rose from the grave, breaking the power of death and making a way for you to have eternal life in heaven? If so, you may express your faith in Him by praying this prayer:
Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son, and that He died on the cross to save me from my sin. I believe that He rose again to life, and that He invites me to live forever with Him in heaven as part of Your family. Because of what Jesus has done, I ask You to forgive me of my sin and give me eternal life. I accept the free gift of salvation offered to me. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord. Help me to live in a way that pleases and honors You. Amen.
Growing in Christ
Once you have received the gift of eternal life and have been made a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), you will want to grow in your knowledge of Jesus and your obedience to Him. Jesus’ teaching about how to live for God can be summed up in three simple instructions:
Read the Bible. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21). One way to show your love for God is to read the Bible and to live out your new life on the basis of its teaching. Read the Bible daily to learn how to live a life that honors God and gives testimony to others that Jesus has made a difference in your life.
Pray. Communication with God through prayer keeps your focus on eternal things. If you are truly following Jesus, your desires will be for God’s glory and for His kingdom, the church. Jesus promised, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
Seek Christian fellowship. Meeting regularly with Christian brothers and sisters allows you to follow Jesus’ example of love and to fulfill His command to “love one another: just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Just as Jesus surrounded Himself daily with His disciples and followers, find a Bible-believing church where you can meet with other Christians. There you will find joy and encouragement in the fellowship of God’s people.
If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, you may be wondering, “What happens if I sin after I’m saved?” All Christians sin from time to time. But the good news is that Jesus’ death paid for all your sin, both past and future. If you humbly admit your sin to God, the Bible promises that God will forgive you and cleanse you from all your sin. Pray for God’s help to keep you from falling into sin again. Jesus assures us that “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Your salvation is sure because Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross is greater than any sin.
You might also wonder, “What happens when I don’t feel close to God? Am I still saved?” When a person has accepted the gift of salvation, Jesus describes His relationship with them as being like the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Salvation is not based on your feelings but on the fact that God has welcomed you into His family through faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing on earth or in heaven can break that bond—nothing.
If you feel far away from God, examine your life to see if there is unconfessed sin standing between you and God. Continue to read the Bible and pray regularly, filling your mind with God’s truth and goodness. Talk with other Christians and learn from their experiences. You will grow closer to God as your knowledge and experience of Him grows. Rest assured in the promise that no one can separate you from His love (Romans 8:35-39).
Excerpted from the ESV Bible, Life Discovery Edition, Crossway Bibles, Copyright ©2005.