Salvation: Redemptive Love in Action
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16 (NIV)
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
– Romans 10:9–10 (NIV)
The insights I’ve gained from scripture about the subject of salvation, along with my reflections from my life experiences, help me to better understand the mercy, compassion, kindness, and grace of God’s love, expressed through His Son, Jesus Christ. Two recollections from my childhood, one involving my sister and the other a memory of a friend from college, reinforce lessons I’ve learned about salvation from reading the Bible. As I recall how their actions intervened in my life, I notice that, behind the scenes, the omniscient eye of God and His providential hand express His faithfulness to protect and provide for those He loves.
In my senior year of high school, I was enjoying what I’ve always felt was one of the best times in my life. School was always a place where I felt valued, accepted, and secure. It was during my senior year that I discovered something that was, for me, the zenith in peer acceptance, affirmation, and recognition. With my ability to draw and my interest in comic art, I became the author and illustrator of a cartoon comic strip for the school newspaper. I loved to draw, and more than anything I loved to draw cartoons. As I walked through the halls, people I didn’t even know called me “Mighty-Mite,” the name of the character I had created. It is one of the fondest and most enjoyable memories of my life. However, it was occurring at a time that was also one of the most troubling, unstable periods of my childhood.
My mom was losing her third bout with the symptoms of a nervous breakdown in what had become a four-year pattern of instability and all-too-familiar uncertainty for my family. At the time, I could not understand what I now realize were some of the consequences of my parents’ failed marriage and my father’s choice to abandon his family. Looking at life through the eyes of a child, I never saw my mother’s problems or our circumstances as the result of divorce. I always saw my mother as a single mom trying to raise her children. My father and mother separated before I was born, but the providence of God had brought them together one last time so that I could enter human history. According to my mom’s conversation with my father, my sister and I are not his children.
None of my mother’s four children grew up together in the same house for any significant length of time. There were even times when my mother was not able to live with her children because of her emotional struggles. I did not realize that they were influenced by the ravages of divorce and abandonment. I could see these things happening, but without explanation or understanding, I was just left to watch. In fact, the truth didn’t dawn on me until a recent conversation with my mom revealed to me that her circumstances were comparable to being homeless. The day we shared that conversation, I remember the momentary sinking feeling in my stomach as I reflected on that period of my childhood. I felt grief in knowing what life was like for our family then, and I am grateful to God for what we have persevered through and overcome. One day my mother said to me, “We are a family of overcomers.” To God be the glory!
To this day, I believe that God protected me from feeling the intensity of emotions that surrounded my childhood. It would have been difficult for me to handle the emotional impact of our family dilemma¾on top of remaining silent about the experience of my abuse. I have witnessed what other children experience today, and although I never truly felt the way they do, I am more sensitive to them. I refrain from saying that children and teenagers don’t really have any problems, for their problems are common to what we all face: the troubles Jesus said we would have in this life. And nothing could be worse for children than to lack engaged parents or an awareness of God and faith in Christ that could help them cope or redirect their focus away from their troubles toward something meaningful and rewarding.
It is painful to see children affected by tormenting thoughts and disturbing emotions and yet be unable to cope with them. The first order of business when working with them is to speak words of encouragement that will equip them with the necessary courage to talk with their parents openly about what they are wrestling with privately. I tell them not to be like me and remain silent but to speak up and seek help. My personal childhood experiences have truly equipped and enabled me to understand and be touched by the real and legitimate problems that I see children facing today. I truly cannot comprehend where I would be today, apart from God’s grace, had I felt the intensity of emotion I have seen other children trying to live with.
It was only over the past six years¾after I had begun working with students and listening to them talk openly about the personal hardships surrounding their families¾that I actually began to feel my own childhood circumstances. As I listened to troubled children, I could actually put words to what those emotions felt like. Helping them to identify their feelings about their circumstances actually helped me do the same for my inner child, which still wrestled with the fear of rejection and the need for affirmation and acceptance. I actually had the sense that I was being delivered from my own childhood circumstances by identifying with the emotions of my students and acknowledging to myself what it must have felt like for me in my situation. It was truly liberating!
Today I explain it as being and feeling alive for the first time. I never saw my circumstances as negative. Feelings that had been hidden away for years have resurfaced in my adulthood and tried to hinder my growth, maturity, and ability to enjoy life. If I don’t manage these feelings effectively and appropriately, they threaten to steal the promise and prosperity of a full and abundant future. My family had been fractured, and only in the last two to three years have my eyes been opened to the reality that I was the product of a divorced family. For the first time, I could understand why there had been so much instability in my family as I grew up, the youngest of four children. When I was in the fourth grade, and at the end of my seventh grade year, my mother suffered from severe depression, which caused the family to be uprooted repeatedly.
In my senior year, the haunting reality of my past childhood experiences and my father’s abandonment threatened to prevent me from enjoying my senior year and possibly to alter future opportunities to go to college. As my mother’s sickness became worse, my sister invited me to live with her. The debilitating impact of my mother’s illness hindered her from taking care of herself and paying the rent. At the time, I was not aware of these things¾until I discovered an eviction notice dangling on the front of the door to our apartment after returning home from school. However, we got through the crisis every time, and life continued on. How great and good God is to not allow anything to happen to us that we can’t handle. Mercifully and graciously, He will provide a way of escape so that we can bear up under our pain, momentary troubles, and temporary torment!
I remained with my sister until I graduated from college. Our mother was reunited with us and was able to see me graduate with a BFA degree in graphic design from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC. My sister was married and had her first of two children when she took me into her two-bedroom apartment. Her acts of compassion, love, grace, and kindness allowed me to be the first in my family to graduate with a four-year degree. My sister looked upon my circumstances and chose to make a sacrifice that would allow me to live. She afforded me the opportunity to move ahead and become productive in life instead of remaining in the darkness of uncertainty, instability, confusion, and hopelessness. God gave His only begotten Son so that, through faith in Christ, we may live and experience His love, which upholds and uplifts us in such times.
“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:19–21).
Just as my sister invited me to come and live with her, providing a refuge and shelter from the unstable environment created by my mother’s sickness, God invites us to live in the light of His love. Through our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, God’s invitation ensures for us an eternal refuge in heaven and a place of rest and peace as we live for Him in this world ravaged by the sickness of sin. God’s love provides an anchor of hope in an unstable world tossed and driven by the influence of Satan and the consequences of sin.
My recollection of my sister’s invitation helps me to explain God’s plan of redemption and salvation for humankind. Redemption, the salvation of man, is God’s divine act of love to redeem His most cherished form of creation to Himself. In the beginning, as recorded in the book of Genesis, God revealed His divine purpose for the redemption of man from his fallen nature and His plan to fulfill the promise of victory over sin, death, and Satan.
“So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’” (Genesis 3:14a, 15 NIV).
“He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8 NIV).
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:20 NIV).
The word salvation, in the Hebrew language, means “help, deliverance, victory, prosperity, or something saved.” Psalm 118:5, 21 says, “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.”
In Exodus 6:6, God told His servant Moses to tell His people, the Israelites, that He would deliver them from slavery in Egypt. “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement.’”
In Psalm 25:22, David, the king of Israel who defeated Goliath, cried out to the Lord to deliver His people out of their troubles. “Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!”
In Hosea 13:14, God told His prophet Hosea to prophecy to the Israelites, who were living a sinful, rebellious lifestyle apart from God’s commands, that God would save them from the death and destruction of their sin. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?” Hosea, by the way, means “salvation.”
To redeem, in the Hebrew language, means “to deliver, avenge, purchase, ransom, to buy back a relative’s property, to release, preserve, rescue, to deliver by any means or to sever.” Essentially, redemption through God’s eternal plan of salvation is His divine purpose to avenge Himself, on behalf of man, against Satan’s deception of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, while preserving our lives from the death and destruction of sin. When we were held hostage by Satan and sin, God purchased our lives, with His Son, Jesus Christ, as the ransom.
The love God has for man is so great that He decided He would deliver humankind from the power of sin, death, and Satan’s influence by any means necessary, even the death of His Son on the cross at Calvary. The power of God’s love, expressed through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ¾along with the redemptive, regenerative life of His Spirit at work in and through us¾severed us from the grip of sin. God desired to express His love for us through His Son so that we could experience the power of His love, the victory of the resurrection, and the prosperity of eternal life.
God expressed His love through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to rescue us from the consequences of sin: separation from God and eternal existence in hell. The purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection was also to release us from a rebellious, sinful lifestyle that glorifies Satan and holds us captive in darkness and fear. This love, the power of God expressed through faith in Jesus Christ, is described in the Bible and is a gift freely given to all who are willing to receive His act of grace.
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