What is the danger from which we must be saved?

Presbyterians believe that there is a danger which threatens the true life of every person; and that danger is sin. Sin is not just what we do; sin is what we are. There are two consequences which result from sin. The first consequence, in a word, is death. The apostle Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). What is meant in this statement is not just physical death (which in itself is only a sign that we are finite creatures). The death of which Paul writes is our separation from God Who is the source of all life—the foundation of our very being. This death is a state of being alienated from God and from each other. When we are not in relationship with God, all our other relationships suffer, and we are likely to commit acts that hurt others and cause divisions in and among communities. Sin is a danger because it means that we are not truly alive as God intended in our creation.

A second consequence which results from sin is humankind’s total depravity. Total depravity does not mean that human beings are devoid of all goodness. Indeed, we believe that God created humanity and pronounced His creation good. Rather, total depravity simply means that there is not a single part of our being which is not in some way affected by sin. Human beings demonstrate many gracious acts of charity, heroism, and moral virtue. Yet, no matter how noble our actions and efforts might be, there is not a single aspect of our thoughts, our words, and our deeds which is not touched by sin. Even our best actions are tainted by self-interest and the desire for praise and recognition. Sin is a danger because it means that we are unable to reconcile the broken relationship between ourselves and God without also spoiling our good efforts and intentions with our sinfulness.

These consequences make our sinfulness pervasive, and we cannot escape this danger on our own. We believe, therefore, that our only hope of salvation from this danger comes not from ourselves, but from God.

What is salvation?

Salvation from sin means that we are rescued from the dangers of death and total depravity. Presbyterians believe that salvation is reconciliation with God, with others, and with ourselves. The relationship between God and humanity, which once was broken, has now been restored. Death no longer separates us from the One Who is the source of all life, and the foundation of our very being. Our reconciliation with God allows us to live in fellowship and love with God. This renewed relationship is of such an intimate and loving nature that God deems us as His children. And, as children of God, we live in a relationship which is as eternal as God Himself. In the words of the apostle Paul, not even death itself, “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39)

We also believe that our reconciliation with God is not hampered by our total depravity. Our sinfulness would most certainly stain our efforts at reconciliation, if indeed such reconciliation depended on our own accomplishments. But, we do not reconcile ourselves to God; rather, God is the One Who reconciles us to Himself. We believe that our reconciliation with God, with others, and with ourselves is a result not of our human works, but of God’s divine grace.

Salvation is an act of God. It is a gift which comes from God’s love for us. And we believe that God’s love for us is revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. God reconciles us to Himself through Christ.

How does God reconcile us through Jesus Christ?

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This passage from the New Testament expresses our understanding of God’s reconciliation of the world through Christ.

Like other Christians, Presbyterians believe that we are saved from sin by God’s initiative. God came to us as a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, who showed us God’s love for humanity and who came to reconcile our broken relationship with God. Although sin holds our very being so firmly that we cannot escape on our own, we are freed from sin through Jesus. Through Jesus Christ, God is revealed as a loving God who seeks to draw us back into His favor and to restore our relationship with Him.

It is in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus that salvation is realized. Humanity is saved from its sinful nature because, in Jesus Christ, we are no longer characterized by our estrangement from God. Jesus lived a human life which reflected a loving, trusting, obedient relationship with God. Jesus even endured the agony of crucifixion and death without forsaking His relationship with God. And because one person has lived such a life (even to the point of death), human nature is no longer defined by sin. Because of Jesus Christ, humanity is no longer enslaved by sin.

We believe that God raised this same Jesus from death, not as a reward for good works, but as an affirmation that the life of trust and obedience lived by Christ is the life which God intends for all of humanity. In raising Jesus from death, God is proclaiming to us His love and that He will not allow sin and death to separate us from His love.

For our part, we are to respond to God’s proclamation of love for us by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to have faith in Jesus Christ?

The person of Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s love; the embodiment of God’s forgiveness; the embodiment of God’s grace. By placing our faith in Jesus Christ, we are trusting in God’s promise that He loves us, and we are lovable. By placing our faith in Christ, we are trusting in God’s promise that He forgives us and that we are forgivable.

The apostle Paul writes, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:1, 8, 10)

Presbyterians believe that faith in Jesus Christ means that we are reckoned by God as righteous (not of our own doing, but by the righteous work of Christ). Faith in Christ is not what we do in order to make ourselves right with God—to reconcile ourselves to God. God is the One Who reconciles us to Himself. God is the One Who justifies us—makes us right—with Himself. For our part, we are to respond to God’s reconciliation; we are to respond to God’s justification. We are to accept it as a gift of God’s grace. 

We also believe that being reconciled to God means that we are reconciled to each other. Trusting that God loves us and forgives us enables us to love and forgive each other and to make peace among ourselves. This is salvation. This is what is meant by having faith in Jesus Christ.