“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21.
So simple, yet so far-reaching in their message were these words spoken by the angel to Joseph regarding the birth of God’s own Son into our world. How they must have thrilled the heart of the carpenter who first heard them, and how they thrill our souls today!
Luke’s narrative tells us how Zacharias felt about the coming of the promised Saviour: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us…That he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” Lk. 1:68-75.
For centuries men had waited for a Saviour, one who would bruise the head of the serpent. Long had creation groaned under the burden of sin, and now had come the Deliverer on whom the hope of ages hung. At His birth, the very host of heaven broke into rapturous song. But what was His great salvation, and what did it mean for mankind?
The separation caused in the Garden of Eden when man committed his first sin was tragedy beyond compare, yet God did not leave humanity without hope. In the Old Testament dispensation, God arranged a temporary system of animal sacrifices and outward rituals offering forgiveness but pointing forward to a better covenant, a covenant of grace. Christ, the fulfillment of the law, ushered in a more perfect system. Salvation was what Christ offered to mankind; forgiveness, but more than forgiveness–conversion, a new birth, full deliverance out of the hand of the enemy of sin. He would take the stony heart out of one’s flesh and give to him a heart of flesh, a heart softened by divine love.
Salvation deals with the problem of sin, that destroyer of the human race which poisons the evil heart. Sin separates man from God, for in such a sinful state, the soul cannot have fellowship with a holy God.
Not only does salvation bring pardon for committed wrongs, but it also works a thorough cleansing in the mind and heart. It is a passing away of the old life and a making of all things new (2 Cor. 5:17). It brings a new heart with a new purpose and a new set of desires. Salvation causes a person to hate sin with his entire soul, to abhor those evil things he once did, to turn away from them as one that flees for his life, to forsake every unholy thought, act, and association, and to walk in newness of life.
Salvation involves repentance; and repentance, more than being sorry, means turning completely around and walking in the opposite direction. A person who has been converted and saved from sin is no longer led captive by sinful lusts. He is a new creation. He is now a child of God with his name written in heaven’s book of life. He has power to love those whom once he hated, and he has power to live pure and holy in the midst of a corrupt world.
A person seeking salvation must experience godly sorrow, a sense of deep grief that he has hurt God. He is sorry, not simply because of the hopelessness of his own predicament, but because he knows that he has offended the Almighty. He sees the rottenness of his evil ways, and realizes that before God he is nothing. He feels deserving of nothing but wrath from heaven.
Paul, in 2 Cor. 7:11, describes the effect of godly sorrow upon a person: “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!”
Salvation is a definite experience. As surely as the prodigal son knew when he had reached home, the soul knows when it has left sin and found God. When the sinner comes to God in repentance and contrition; when he yields himself deliberately to God for time and for eternity, reaching out in faith to receive the promise; then God reaches forth and with His blood washes that sinner white as snow.
The challenge in finding salvation lies not in comprehending it, for it is simple enough for a child to grasp. The challenge lies in making an entire commitment. Salvation demands everything of a person– every unholy tie, every sinful pleasure, every right of the will. It demands loyalty, entire and life-long, to a new master. The soul now finds its pleasure in God, and its fulfillment in pleasing God. A person seeking to be saved should first count what it will cost him. The way of salvation is narrow. Few qualify because few are willing to pay the entire price.
Salvation has been muddied by a million people who profess it and do not have it. It has been degraded to a mere uplifting of the hand, a confession with the mouth not accompanied by any change of life. But the real experience still exists. It is still possible for a sinner to exchange a life of bitterness and bondage for a life of freedom and sweet fellowship with God. Unto us has been born a Saviour who still delivers people from their sins.