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What is God’s salvation?
Salvation cross SX 400

As we get ready for Christmas, Matt Stone takes time out to ponder the true meaning of Salvation.

A word that we use quite a lot in the church, but has little meaning outside, is ‘salvation’. As we gear our thoughts to Jesus’ coming at Christmas, I want to unpack what this salvation is, and what it means for us, by looking at Isaiah 61.
Salvation is FREEDOM
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (v.1)
For Isaiah’s hearers, this meant freedom from their foreign captors. But it also looks to the much greater freedom that Jesus has won for us – freedom from death, decay and sin.
Sin is our self-centredness, the way we put ourselves and our wants above those of God and those around us.  We are trapped by this selfishness – however much we try, we cannot but put ourselves first – but when Jesus died on the cross, he overcame our sin. On Good Friday, Jesus bore the judgment and punishment we deserved, and we were forgiven. Our sin died with Him, and we were freed from any condemnation.
Another way of looking at the cross is to realise that Jesus paid the ransom for our freedom he died. We were slaves to the powers of evil, but Jesus has paid the price - just as people could have freed or bought slaves for a price in Biblical times. We no longer belong to the world; we belong to God.
On Easter Sunday, God’s salvation plan exploded into life yet again because Jesus could not be confined to the tomb. Jesus defeated death, and leads the way for each of us into His eternal Kingdom where death and decay will be no more. We have been rescued from perishing, as John 3:16 makes clear. 
So, Salvation is freedom – freedom from our own self-centredness, freedom from condemnation, and freedom from death.
Salvation is FORGIVENESS
“...to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour....” (v.2)
The ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ was also known as the Year of Jubilee, and it’s described in the Law of Moses. Every fiftieth year was to be a year of freedom and forgiveness. Debts were to be cancelled, slaves were to be freed, and people who were forced to sell their family property because of poverty were to get it back again. It was a year of grace abounding.
And the message of Jesus, God’s salvation, is all about grace. It’s about God forgiving us for all that we have done to harm ourselves, others, and God. We cannot earn this forgiveness; just as Isaiah’s hearers couldn’t earn the Year of Jubilee. It is grace, through and through... and that is what leads to the joy, gladness and praise that Isaiah goes on to speak of. It is grace that should lead us to be people of grace, not just in a spiritual sense, but practically in the wider world with all of its injustice and inequality.
So, Salvation is about freedom and forgiveness – people being enabled to live the grace-filled ‘fullness of life’ Jesus came to bring (John 10:10).
Salvation is FAMILY
“...to provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (v.3)
Why were the people mourning? Because their nation – the family of God’s people – was in exile. Isaiah is announcing that they will soon be freed, and their mourning will turn into joy.  For us too, salvation is about family – being welcomed into God’s family. When we become followers of Jesus, we are joined with Him; He becomes an integral part of our lives, living in us through us by His Holy Spirit. We can have a relationship with God that gives our lives purpose and hope. 
Elsewhere, the Bible speaks of us being adopted as God’s children (e.g. John 1:12). This adoption into God’s family also brings a whole new dimension to our faith, because we are not the only child of our Heavenly Father. We join billions of others who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and like any parent, God wants His children to get on with each other, to recognise that they are going to be together, with Him, for all eternity.
When I met, and later married Jenni, I was adopted into a new family. I didn’t just have a relationship with Jenni, but was welcomed into something much bigger – and it was wonderful to have my family double in size overnight. We need to see our Christian family in the same way – we need to welcome, embrace, love and support one another. We are not just passing acquaintances who attend the same service once a week. We are family, and that’s why small groups where we can really get to know and love each other – and work out what it means to be God’s family – are so important.
Salvation is being brought into God’s family: reconciled to God and to one another. God longs for all people to be brought together in this way (Col. 1:19-22).
Salvation is FOREVER
“... instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance...everlasting joy will be yours.” (v.7)

Salvation is eternal life; an eternal relationship with Jesus.  Paul says: “In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world” (Eph. 2:6). Why on earth would God do that? What have we done to deserve glory and honour? We spend so much of our lives dishonouring God by serving ourselves and our own egos.  The reason is that we are in God’s family, and He loves us, as Paul goes on to say: “He did this to demonstrate for all time...the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus.”  In love, we are made ‘heirs with Christ’. What Jesus deserves, we too will inherit.
Salvation is truly awe-inspiring. Jesus came to us at Christmas so that we might receive freedom, forgiveness, a new family and an eternal future. May God help us to receive, and to live out, our salvation. May we become ‘oaks of righteousness’ (Isa. 61:3), planted by God, displaying His splendour and majesty this Christmas, and throughout 2015.

Image above is courtesy of Billy Alexander at http://www.emboldenzine.com/
MattStoneRev. Matt Stone is a minister in the Norwich Area group of United Reformed Churches. In February, Matt is moving to become minister of Herringthorpe URC in Rotherham. 

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