When we're thinking about how God saves us, it's surprisingly important to get our prepositions right. Prepositions are words like “onto” or “under” which describe how two objects are related to each other.
The Bible tells us we are saved:
- from sin
- Naturally we all suffer from what one author helpfully describes as “the human propensity to f*** things up”. That means that the way things are by nature, we are cut off from God and when it comes to God's plan to sort the universe out and fix what is wrong; we are part of the problem that God will get rid of rather than part of the solution. That is what we are saved from.
- by grace
- Because the way we are is part of the problem, we can't do anything to earn God's favour. We can't do anything to make him like us, because we just mess everything up. But God loves us as we are, even though he knows what we are like. That's called grace – it's God's undeserved love for us.
- of God
- It's not grace as some impersonal force in the universe, it's the grace of God. God as revealed in the Bible and in Jesus is not an impersonal force who seeks to make us into better people – he is a person (or three), who seeks to mend us and transform us through our relationship with him.
- through faith
- We take hold of God's salvation / forgiveness / transformation through faith, which simply means trust. It is trust on the basis of available evidence, but which goes beyond the evidence – just like we do every day. When I turn the steering wheel of my car, I trust that it will cause the car to turn. I have good reason for that trust – it has worked every previous time, but that doesn't guarantee it will work in the future. Nevertheless, I choose to put my faith in the steering column of my car to do its work. In the same way, I trust God to save me, to forgive me, to transform me. And we're saved through faith, not by faith. It isn't something we do to earn anything – it is simply how we take hold of what God has done.
- in Christ
- It isn't just “faith” in the sense of some generic perception of something beyond ourselves that saves us. It's faith specifically in Christ. It's trusting what Jesus did for us when he died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead to offer new life to all those who trust him.
- into Christ
- But we're saved “in Christ” in a much deeper sense than that. In a profound sense, when we trust in Jesus, we're united to him so that we receive the blessings which he deserves, we are raised from the dead in his resurrection, and so on. We are saved into Christ, and therefore into his new people, his family the Church.
- for works
- We aren't saved by what we do. Our faith which takes hold of God's salvation – the fact that we trust in Jesus – shows itself in what we do, but we are saved by the grace of God so that we might do good works, so that we might be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. You don't have to do good works to become a Christian, but those who have already become Christians should do good works.
- to the glory of God
- the aim of all of it is the glory of God. It's not to make us look good or to feel better than other people. It's so that everyone will see how awesome God is. God the Father wants the world to know how amazing his Son is. God the Son wants the world to see the love of his Father and then transformation that comes from the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit wants us to worship the Father through trusting God the Son.
We see this wonderfully illustrated in passages such as Ephesians 2:4-10 (NIV).
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.