Jesus saves. This is an interesting statement. For those who do not know who Jesus is, or have no background in church at all, it means absolutely nothing. There is no description in the statement that tells me what Jesus saves. Does he save baseball cards? Coins? Comic books? Computer code? Uninfected humans from an onslaught of angry zombies?
The short answer most people give is that Jesus saves us from ourselves. This salvation is that our sins are forgiven and we are put right with God. The separation that our sin created between us and God is now overcome because Jesus saved us. While I whole-heartedly believe that through our salvation in Jesus our sins are forgiven, that is not the main goal of that salvation. It is a direct cause, but not the goal.
You see, if salvation was primarily about receiving forgiveness for our sins, Jesus would not have had to come to earth. The Jewish sacrificial system, put in place by God himself at Sinai, already gave humans a way to receive forgiveness for their sins. To be sure, it was a bit labor-intensive and messy, but it was designed so that if people sinned, they had a way to receive forgiveness from God. As well, John the Baptist’s work in the wilderness at the time of Jesus was to offer a baptism “for the remission of sins.” And finally, when the Jewish leadership met after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to figure out how to be Jewish without the Temple, a substitute system was created where people sacrifice of their time, talent and treasure to receive forgiveness from God. There were ways to be reconciled to God and have sins forgiven (and at least two were God-directed) without the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus saves means so much more than now I know my sins are forgiven. The main goal of Jesus was to conquer sin and death and then offer than same possibility of conquering to us. When we become Christians, and Jesus saves, we become new creations. We die with Christ and are raised to new life in him. A consequence of this is that my previous sins are no longer held against me, because the me that committed them is dead, but the main focus is that I am now a new person and because of the nature of this new creation (human me with God the Holy Spirit within me), I have the power and ability to overcome sin and temptation in my life.
When we look at Jesus saves in this light, then we have a much harder time justifying the idea that when people are saved they can just keep sinning and know that because they got their sins forgiven, they are “good to go” for the rest of their lives. If Jesus truly saves us, then we choose to live as that new creation he made us to be, rejecting temptation and sin in our lives. Will we stumble? Yes. But the sins that trip us up today ought not be the ones that tripped us up when we first came to faith, nor should they be the ones with which we wrestle one year from now.
Jesus saves us from a corrupt and decaying world into a new creation where past sins are gone and future sins can be defeated before they are committed.