Salvation from Sin
One serious problem among 21st-century American Christians is a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it speaks about an individual’s personal salvation. Many people think that “getting saved” is just a matter of repeating the magic words of the so-called “sinner’s prayer” to make their reservations for a mansion in heaven, so that they will thus be saved from hell and damnation.
Being saved does indeed save a person from hell and damnation. However, eternal damnation in the lake of fire is not the only thing from which a saved person is supposed to be saved. The angel of the Lord told Joseph, “Thou shalt call His name Yeshua, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The primary thing from which we are supposed to be saved is from our sins, not just from the penalty we deserve for our sins.
There are three aspects of salvation, and they correspond to the three parts of man that the Bible calls spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and to the three simple verb tenses that we call past, present, and future.
Our spirit was saved from the penalty for sin in the past, when Yeshua died to pay the penalty for our sins. Our body will be saved from the presence of sin in the future, when the Lord returns and raises us from the dead and we experience “the redemption [or salvation] of our body” (Rom. 8:23). Meanwhile, as we await the redemption of our body during this in-between time, our soul is in the process of presently being saved from the power of sin as we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Ph’p 2:12).
We were saved from the penalty of sin; we are being saved from the power of sin; we will be saved from the presence of sin.
This threefold aspect of our salvation is declared in the Bible in a few different places. We see it in Titus. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men [past tense], teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world [present tense], looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Yeshua Messiah [a future event], who gave Himself for us [past tense], that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works [what He is presently doing]” (Tit. 2:11-14).
We also see these three tenses of salvation expressed in Paul’s declaration that God “delivered us from so great a death [past tense], and doth deliver [present tense]: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us [future tense]” (2 Cor. 1:10).
We see it again when Paul praises the believers in Thessalonica for how they “turned to God from idols [something they had done in the past] to serve the living and true God [what they were doing in the present], and to wait for His Son from heaven [a future event]” (1 Thes. 1:9f).
If you truly believe in Yeshua, the salvation of your spirit was secured in the past by His sacrifice. The future redemption of your body is likewise secured, because Yeshua will certainly return and raise the dead. It is the present salvation of your soul and my soul that most concerns me at this present time.
We live in the present, not in the past, so our present struggles are very important in regards to our salvation. The future things are very important too, because that is where we are headed, but when we arrive in the future, it will then become the present for us. So we are always living in the present, and we need to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Tit. 2:12) and “work out our own salvation [from the power of sin] with fear and trembling” (Ph’p 2:12).
If Yeshua/Jesus saved you from hell and damnation, that’s wonderful. But that is just the first step. You need to be saved not only from the penalty for sin, but also from the power of sin. The power of sin is that inclination towards evil that resides in the human heart, that natural bent to backsliding. It is that lust that James referred to when he wrote “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14). It is that sinful nature inside you that pulls you into temptation and prevents you from overcoming temptation.
Yeshua said to pray “Lead us not into temptation.” Would He tell you to pray for something that your heavenly Father is unable or unwilling to do? Would He tell you to pray for an unattainable goal? Of course not. If He told you to pray “Lead us not into temptation,” then He obviously expects you to not enter into the temptations that assail you. He expects you to be saved from the power of sin.
Therefore there is no excuse for having a defeatist attitude toward the power of sin. There is no excuse for saying, “I’d really like to overcome this sinful habit, but I can’t help it. I’d like to quit, but I can’t.”
Believers who think this way are, in effect, calling God a liar. They are saying that the Lord’s hand is not long enough and strong enough to save them from their sin. They are saying that His hand is only long enough to save them from the penalty for sin, but not from the power of sin. Whether they blame their sin on other people, on society, on their circumstances, or on their genes or hormones, they are saying that God is either unwilling or unable to save them from their sins.
If you are not being saved from the power of sin, it is not the Lord’s fault. His arm is not too short to save. God did His part by sending His Son as the Arm of the Lord to die as a sacrifice to save you from your sins. Your part is to believe that His arm is long enough and strong enough to save you from the power of sin as well as from the penalty for sin.
The story of the first Passover and the Exodus is a graphic picture of our salvation experience. The word exodus means a coming out, an exiting. The Hebrews who came out of Egypt exited from a system that was ruled by Pharaoh, an evil tyrant who enslaved God’s people and thereby drew down the wrath of God upon himself and his kingdom. In this world today, we live in a system that is ruled by an evil tyrant called Satan. Satan enslaves God’s people to the power of sin. But if we are determined to overcome temptation, the wrath of God will come down upon Satan and his kingdom and we will be freed from the power of sin.
The Hebrews had Moses to lead them out of bondage to Egypt. We have Yeshua, the Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-18), to lead us out of bondage to sin. The Hebrews were saved from God’s wrath by the blood of the passover lambs on the doorposts and lintels of their doors. We are saved from God’s wrath by the blood of “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
By our faith in Yeshua we are born again. Our born-again experience is foreshadowed in the story of the first Passover. Picture yourself as a Hebrew slave in Egypt on the night of the first Passover. Picture yourself exiting the door of your house that night, and you will see a prophetic picture of a baby exiting the birth canal. There is blood on the doorposts and lintels of the house. You can hear the cries of the Egyptians all around you. Amid blood and cries, you emerge from your blood-marked house, never to return. You are embarking on a brand new life outside of Egypt, like a newborn baby emerges from the bloody birth canal to embark on a brand new life outside the womb.
A newborn baby is normally bathed in water. Right after the Hebrews left Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea and “were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). In the New Testament, when someone became a born-again believer, the first act after repentance and faith was normally baptism in water.
The Red Sea crossing is a prophetic picture of our baptism in water. Physical immersion in water is important, because it is commanded. But even more important is our immersion into Messiah, because this is the spiritual reality that our physical immersion proclaims.
The Greek word baptizo literally means to dip or immerse. At our baptism, our physical flesh-and-blood body is literally immersed in literal water, but our physical flesh-and-blood body is not literally immersed into the literal flesh-and-bone body of Yeshua. Our immersion into the Messiah is real, but it is a spiritual and figurative immersion.
What does it mean to be baptized into the Messiah? Consider what it means to be “immersed” in something, figuratively speaking. To be fully immersed in something (the study of a topic, for example) means to be obsessed, to be saturated, to be surrounded by your obsession day and night, to be so focused that you can give only minimal attention to other things.
Because of my background as both a teacher and a student of foreign languages, when I hear that word immersion, I think of learning a foreign language by what is called the immersion method.
Learning a foreign language by the immersion method means leaving your own country and living among the people who speak the target language, the language you want to learn. It means being constantly surrounded not only by the written and spoken language, but also being constantly surrounded by the culture of the people who speak the language, so that you have a real context for what you hear and read, and not just some imagined context based on your own cultural background.
But foreign language learning does not magically occur by osmosis. You do not just automatically “pick it up” without intensive study, unless you are an adolescent whose brain has not yet fossilized in the language learning department. Adults have to spend time learning vocabulary and grammar rules. They have to practice using the language in real-life situations.
That is the immersion method of foreign language learning. That was how I learned Hebrew, by not only living among Israelis for over two years, but also by intensive full-time study in classrooms.
Students learning a foreign language by the immersion method rarely get a break away from the language. They even dream about it while they sleep. One of my Hebrew teachers told us a funny story about one of her former students. One day in class, this student announced, “It finally happened! I dreamed in Hebrew!”
“Wonderful!” the teacher exclaimed. “What was the dream about?”
“I don’t know,” the girl replied. “I couldn’t understand a single word!”
When students use the immersion method, the successful students are the ones who are highly motivated and take their studies seriously. When disciples are immersed in Messiah, the fruitful disciples are the ones who take their discipleship seriously.
The Hebrews’ baptism unto Moses took them completely out of Egypt’s reach. They were out of Egypt before they crossed the Red Sea, but the Egyptians were still a potential threat to them. But once they crossed over to the other side, the way back to Egypt was closed. Not only that, but “Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore” (Ex. 14:30).
When they saw that, they knew Egypt’s power to enslave them was permanently broken. In like manner, a redeemed child of God needs to see that his baptism into Messiah has permanently broken Satan’s power to enslave him to sin. The redeemed child of God might occasionally stumble in the wilderness, but the enemy’s power to enslave him is broken through his baptism into Messiah. This revelation causes saved people to sing with joy, just as seeing the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore caused the Hebrews to sing.
“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea” (Ex. 15:1).
Thus the newborn child of God is freed from slavery to sin and he sings and rejoices in God’s salvation. Then he permanently camps by the Red Sea and lives there happily ever after, right? Wrong! He is only starting his journey to the Promised Land. After baptism he has to move forward, just as the children of Israel had to move forward when the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire moved. As the child of God moves forward, he has to experience some bitter disappointments, just like the Hebrews in the wilderness did:
“So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur, and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter” (Ex. 16:22).
Some suffering that we experience is the result of our own bad choices. We sin and we reap the consequences. But not all suffering is punitive. God Himself led the children of Israel into the dry desert and then to the bitter waters of Marah. At Marah the children of Israel were in the exact place God wanted them to be at that time. They were in God’s perfect will. Sometimes our heavenly Father leads us into suffering not to punish us but to humble us and teach us to depend on Him.
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no. And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Deut. 8:2f).
A few years ago I wrote and published an article titled “The Necessity of Non-Punitive Suffering” (GOE 21-2). I do not want to repeat the contents of the entire article here, but I do want to repeat some parts of it.
Non-punitive suffering is necessary to teach us by personal experience to rely on our heavenly Father. Apparently we cannot learn this lesson any other way. Apparently we cannot learn it by listening to a sermon or by reading a book -- not even by reading the Book of books, the Bible. Apparently we can only learn to rely on our heavenly Father by undergoing some real, non-punitive suffering.
How do believers react to bitter disappointments like these? Usually the same way the Hebrews reacted to the bitter waters at Marah. They blame their spiritual leaders. “And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”
But Moses was not the one who chose the route that led them to Marah. They had all followed the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire. It was Yahweh, not Moses, who had brought them to the bitter waters of Marah after three days without water. If you have been walking in the will of God, it is Yahweh, not your pastor or elders, who has brought you to your place of bitter disappointment.
It is not your pastor’s job to satisfy your spiritual longings. So instead of blaming your spiritual leaders and murmuring against them, look for the solution that will transform your bitter waters into sweet waters. Moses cried unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree to cast into the bitter waters and turn them sweet. So cry unto the Lord and He will show you a tree to transform your bitter waters into sweet waters. That tree is the cross of discipleship.
Embrace the cross of Messiah not only as the instrument that delivers you from the penalty of sin. Also embrace the cross of discipleship as the instrument that will deliver you from the power of sin. Deny yourself, incorporate some self-disciple in your life, and live as a disciple who is being saved from the power of sin. And be strengthened and encouraged by the fact that someday the Lord will return and deliver us from the presence of sin.