I received God’s gift of salvation when I was young. As my father explained the concept of sin to me, I recognized my sinfulness. Even at 5-years-old, I knew I had disobeyed God’s rules in many ways: lying, jealousy, willfulness, and selfishness.
In church, I sang hymns such as “And Can It Be” and “Amazing Grace” with everyone else. But how could I fully identify with phrases like “long my imprisoned spirit lay / Fast bound in sin” and “saved a wretch like me” when my experience with sin was so limited?
In truth, I couldn’t relate to that degree of sinfulness as a child. But as I grew older, my temptations and failures accumulated. With each passing year, I understood more completely what Jesus had saved me from. I also began to appreciate the blessing of Christian parents whose relationship with Jesus Christ had prevented them from falling prey to many sins.
The Splendor of Justification
We often use the phrase “Jesus saves” in a particular context—his redemptive work on the cross that brought about our right standing with God. Jesus, himself, used save in this way. In Luke 19:10, he said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Later, Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Theologians use the term justification for this aspect of salvation. In Romans 5:1, Paul explained it like this:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace [right standing] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NASB)
But “Jesus saves” also applies to the human condition after the justification process had been completed. According to Thayer’s lexicon , the Greek word translated save, sozo, doesn’t refer only to one rescue (justification). It also implies continual rescue—what theologians call sanctification. In other words, “Jesus saves” doesn’t just mean he saved us once from an eternity in hell. It also means that he keeps saving us every day, rescuing us from the dangers and destructiveness of our sinful hearts.
The Splendor of Sanctification
Paul spoke of the continual saving process of sanctification when he told the Philippians to “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). It’s also what the author of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “[Jesus] is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). Our constant need for deliverance from sin is the reason Jesus needs to intercede for us every day.
Paul also presented the need for continual rescue in Romans 7. He wrote,
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. (vv. 18-19)
I experience that kind of frustration often—succumbing to sinful actions and resisting godly ones. I want to be kind, but I choose to be sarcastic. I want to be truthful, but a smudged version of the facts emerges from my mouth instead. Does that happen to you too?
Hymn writer Robert Robinson understood the need for continual rescue. While living in London, Robinson heard evangelist George Whitefield preach, received God’s gift of salvation, and then became a minister of the gospel.
In “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” published in 1759, Robinson wrote:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Unfortunately, Robinson allowed his “wandering heart” to lead him far from the God he loved. Decades later, when a woman voiced her admiration for the hymn, he allegedly confessed, “I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” 
Unless we’re conscious of our need for continual rescue, for sanctification, we may also become “poor, unhappy” men and women who’ve wandered far from our Lord. In his hymn, Robinson also identified the key to avoiding that miserable state: “O to grace how great a debtor / Daily I’m constrained to be.” A continual consciousness of God’s grace as we “work out” our salvation helps us to stay close to Jesus. A daily grace-check makes us more aware of our desire to do wrong. And if we faithfully pray, “Bind my wandering heart to Thee,” God will surely do it.
The Splendor of Glorification
One day, Jesus will finish his sanctifying work in us (Philippians 1:6). Theologians refer to that aspect of salvation as glorification. Jesus will no longer need to rescue us from sin. As the apostle John affirmed, when we arrive in heaven, we’ll be like Jesus (1 John 3:2). We’ll wear the white robes of his righteousness forever (Revelation 7:9).
No matter how young or old we were when we received God’s gift of salvation, an awareness of our debt to grace prompts us to rejoice in the threefold splendor of “Jesus saves.” He came into the world to save sinners—both through his once-for-all sacrifice on the cross (justification) and through his daily intercession on our behalf (sanctification). His continual attention to our sanctification will result in our glorification one day.
As we approach the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, may we sing of his multi-faceted redemptive work with increased joy. With each passing day, may we be more fully aware of what “Jesus saves” means—not only our past justification but also our present sanctification and our future glorification.
Hallelujah! What a Savior.
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