One of the first steps in becoming a committed Christian is recognising the need for salvation. Self-reliance, self-sufficiency and self-definition, so prevalent in the human person, fight against any notion that we need outside help to become what we are meant to be. Nevertheless, even a cursory look at troubles, unhappiness, addictions, wounded relationships, sufferings, depressions and boredoms in the world around us and in our own lives help us to realise the need for something much more. The offer of something much more, and liberation from all that holds us back, is at the heart of the Gospel message and life.
Christianity affirms God’s goodness and desire for our happiness. Furthermore, at the heart of the Christian gospel is an offer of something that utterly surpasses all human desire – nothing less than a sharing in God’s own divine life and blessedness. It is only by responding to this invitation of friendship with God that we also find our natural fulfilment. St Paul speaks of this great gift and promise as follows: ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor 2:9 NRSV).
At the heart of the Christian message is that belief that the liberation and fulfilment that is needed for every human being and for all society is brought about through the passion death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At the root of all human problems and setbacks is the reality of sin. To bring about salvation sin must be dealt with once and for all.
The word ‘atonement’ describes Christ’s saving action well. It implies both a repayment for our sins (to atone) and a reunion of God and humanity (making at-one). The atonement is accomplished through a sacrificial petition offered by Christ to God, the divine love of which utterly revokes the offence of all sins and bears the pain and cost of sin in itself. Only a person who was truly divine, human and innocent could make such an effective sacrifice on our behalf.
The atonement also teaches us the seriousness of sin by the bitterness of its remedy, and manifests the extent of God’s love for us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). By the atonement, Jesus has also given us the supreme example of sacrificial love, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
In the resurrection Jesus Christ also communicates a renewal of human life. His risen body is the beginning of a new and perfect existence to which every human being is called. This is an existence which holds in itself a complete joy and a lasting future.
The power and grace won for all humanity by Jesus in His death and resurrection are communicated to us through the Church. By faith, in receiving grace in the sacraments and in living out the new life of grace in action Christians enter and cultivate within themselves the salvation which Christ won for them.