“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” II Cor. 5:17
Ask the average Christian what it means to be saved and the answer will be something like this, “Going to heaven when you die.” Ask the question as to what Jesus does to save us and the answer will likely be, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins.”
Marvelous as all these facts are, this is only the “tip of the iceberg” as to what the book of Hebrews calls our so-great salvation. Matthew Henry said something to the effect that going to heaven is like the frosting on the cake, but most Christians are on a starvation diet as regards the joys of salvation here and now.
The correct answer to the first question is that salvation means nothing less than becoming a new person, here and now, from the moment that person is converted. How can Scripture make it any plainer than by saying that we are born a second time, that we must become like a little child – repeat our physical life, so to speak – in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Eternal life is not something that we enter when we die, but from the moment of our re-birth. In some parts of the worldwide church of Christ this is so real and believed by new Christians that at the time of their baptism and initiation into the visible church they adopt a new name – usually a Biblical one – in the fashion that the Apostle Paul abandoned his natural name of Saul.
This “new you” is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who takes up residence within our hearts when we accept him, believe in(to) him. Paul makes that graphic in Gal. 2:20 when he says, “I was crucified with Christ…”
And so the answer to the second question, above, is that Jesus did not “merely” die for us, die in our place, but lives within us. The gospel is more than substitution; it is identification, union with God through Christ. I John puts it this way. Paul says he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. This miracle is the answer to Christ’s farewell prayer on the eve of his betrayal and death on the cross, “That they may be one as you and I are one.”
Paul speaks of this profound condition as our hope (or guarantee) of glory. The New Testament uses the marvelous expression “In Christ” more than 150 times. An excellent Bible-study is scanning the Scriptures and underlining each instance. This is heeding the admonition of II Corinthians to examine yourselves.
The result of this union or identification is, first of all, that a Christian is perfect, not just a forgiven sinner. The Bible does not speak of us in the latter terms (in the fashion that many of our songs and formularies do, incorrectly) but uniformly regards us as saints. We would do well to greet each other as that, in the fashion that God does whenever we gather together for worship. If it seems awkward to do it verbally, one might practice this excellent custom by using it for addressing your brothers and sisters in mail correspondence. You can’t imagine the inspiration and motivation to Christian living that this brings.