I was having a discussion at dinner a few weeks ago with a group of young Christian leaders who were a bit shocked to hear me say, “Every Christian ought to be in the salvation business.”
Several of the men immediately questioned what I meant by the word salvation. They thought I couldn’t possibly believe that I, or anyone but Jesus could “save” anyone from their sins. So, they were really taken back when I responded that “yes” we Christians can actually save people from their sins!
Before you write me off as a heretic, let’s be clear. No one but Jesus, by his death and resurrection, and by the power of the Holy Spirit can forgive anyone from their sins, cause them to be born again and a child of God, and thus save them. Jesus has a lock on that part of the salvation business. Period. However, there are many other ways we can save people from their sins.
We Christians are so accustomed to thinking about salvation in terms of Jesus redemptive work that we rarely think of salvation in any other way. However, the most common use of the word salvation or saved in the Old Testament refers to God saving, or rescuing the people of Israel from their enemies or restoring them to their land.
“In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9
“This is what the Lord says: In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances.” Isaiah 49:8
The second most common usage of the word salvation or saved describes individuals being saved or rescued from their enemies or oppressors, such as David crying out to God to save him from Saul and widows crying out to be saved from poverty, hunger or hopelessness, etc.
“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior – from violent people you save me. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies.” II Samuel 22:3-4
“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Exodus 15:2
“How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble!” Job 26:2
(Of course, there are also many references to the saving work of the coming Messiah, Jesus in the Old Testament.)
However, in the New Testament Jesus, his disciples and followers “saved” or rescued people in similar ways in addition to their receiving spiritual salvation through faith in Jesus. Jesus gave hope to the poor in spirit. He commanded us to care for “the least of these.” He fed people, taught them how to pray and was merciful to an adulteress. He and his disciples prayed for the sick and saved them from their diseases, or death.
If we’re to be imitators of Jesus, likewise we ought to be deeply engaged in saving people from the sinful and unwise choices that either they or others have made that causes so much fear and suffering. Jesus said that one of our primary purposes on earth is loving others. That means we’re to be about the business of making life better for others and saving people in every way they need saving, or rescuing.
Saving others from…
Here are some great examples of how individuals can do similar things, saving people from their sins or the effects of sin in this world:
When we pray for and do an intervention for an alcoholic friend, we are rescuing or saving them from their bondage to alcohol, and perhaps even saving their life.
When we visit prisoners, an older person, or someone in the hospital, we’re saving them from loneliness.
When we give our weary spouse a back rub and encouraging words we’re saving them from discouragement.
When we proactively give an unexpected and badly needed gift to another, or serve as an advocate for a powerless person we are saving them from hopelessness or possible poverty.
When we faithfully go about the hard work of loving a married couple through hard times, we may actually be used of God to save their marriage.
When we forgive others their sins against us we’re saving them from guilt and shame and actually restoring a broken relationship.
And, of course, when we present the gospel to someone we are being used of God to save people spiritually in the most important way they need saving.
When we act like Jesus’ stand-ins – his agents of grace, you and I are partnering with God in his continuing work of rescuing both us and others from our sins.
I’m so proud of the deacons in my church. Historically, most churches disburse benevolent funds as requested by those who apply for help and our benevolent teams still do that. However, a number of years ago they moved beyond being reactive, to being proactive in these ways.
One Christmas they gave a gift of many hundreds of dollars to every faithful widow in our church along with a letter praising them for their faithfulness. Those who didn’t need the money were encouraged to pass it on to another widow who did.
For a number of years, our deacons made lists of people they knew were really struggling in the church, especially single parent families. Many were living in fear because they had no savings. A breakdown of their car, or a medical emergency would have wiped out, forcing them to the indignity of coming to the church for help. Instead, our deacons sent each one a check for between $250 and $750 depending on their family size and circumstances. They explained this was to help them establish a “rainy day fund” against future needs, however they were free to use the money as they saw fit without any restrictions. I’ve spoken with widows and families who’ve received these funds and for them it felt as if God himself had answered their prayers and he had. God through his people is still saving those who cry out to him.
Please share with us some ways you or others have proactively “saved others”.