Jesus Saves? (From Ersatz to Emmanuel)

I recently read someone’s belief that if God did nothing other than save us from hell, we’d have nothing to complain about.

The argument is that even if our lives were left an absolute mess, how could we complain to the Jesus who created us and saves us from eternal condemnation?

It’s not that I disagree.  I get the argument that if God is God (and we aren’t) then by definition anything He gives us is grace.

But a save us and leave us God would be hard to follow.  (If you’re freaking out about the theologically suspect state of my soul, let me explain.)

The whole statement just made me wonder what people think about my Jesus.  With Easter right around the corner, what do people think it means that Jesus saves us?

How many times have you seen a billboard or church sign with “Jesus Saves!” on it?  And how many times has that sign prompted you to deep gratitude or action or even a Hallelujah? (If you’re a hallelujah person, rock on, friend.  It’s just not my M.O.)

I promise I’m not boycotting Jesus Saves signs…but maybe for you, like me, “Jesus saves” gets filtered out with the rest of the background noise of life.  I’ve seen it a million times.  I’ve heard it my whole life.  As a kid I even laughed over that cheesy joke about when the power goes out suddenly but Jesus doesn’t lose any of His computer files because- you guessed it- Jesus saves.

But what exactly does that phrase mean?  I’m all for avoiding eternal misery, but if being saved from hell were the only thing that made Jesus appealing to me…I’ve got to be honest, He’d be more of an insurance policy than a savior.  Still good…still sovereign…but so different from what I know of Him.

Is Jesus just some symbol of hope to ease my fear of death?  Is He just a plastic placeholder to get me through the junk of this world?  Is He a cheesy salesman trying to sell me on a boring life I’m going to regret later?

Sometimes there’s so much veneer over our idea of Jesus that he seems either too holy to understand or too contrived and cheesy to be real.  So let’s just come right out and ask it: Who is this guy people make such a big deal over and what exactly is he saving us from?

If I were to ask you right now what you thought about Jesus, what would come to your mind?

Would you think of stained glass and Latin, something a little too distant or holy for the regular guy?

Didgeman (

Would you scoff as you pictured Jesus in the white robe and blue sash (apparently his fashion of choice) of children’s bibles- would he feel to you like just another childhood myth?

CCXpistiavos (

Would you think of words like sin and redemption and righteousness…words that sound weighty but don’t quite connect with the bread and butter of your world?

Before you can think about Jesus as redeemer or rescuer or radical or …you have to know Him as relevant.  Relevant to you.  Relevant to your life.  Relevant beyond heaven and hell.

Does Jesus fit into now?  If we’re just holding on, eyes clenched shut, till an afterlife when everything is OK…then God isn’t relevant till later.

I’m not here to diminish what Jesus did on the cross; in fact, I think what He accomplished is far more significant than we even imagine.

Because the cross to me is no longer a mere symbol of heaven and a happy escape post mortem.  And this may sound sacrilegious, but “Jesus saves” is not the phrase that keeps me from ditching church and God and everything with it.

I’m pretty stuck on the phrase “Jesus with” because it tells the why behind Jesus saves.

God created us to be with Him.  Jesus came wearing our flesh not to infiltrate and spy on his creation or to judge us…but to be with us.  And He died for us to be with us in a way we never could be otherwise.  It was never out of obligation or charity alone- God wants us.  And he doesn’t just want us later- to gather us up in heaven and take a giant awkward family picture on the streets of gold.  He wants us now.

The reason I hold onto Jesus and love Him even is because one day He stopped being an idea or a slogan and I felt Him like He was right in the room with me…closer even.  I’ve sensed Him even in the moments when my fear is so suffocating I don’t think I’ll make it through.  I’ve felt Him in the rush of wind and waves and the stillness of dew peppered grass at dawn.  He’s with me with in my children’s laughter and in the daily finger pricks of my diabetes, in the dish washing and the writing.  Nobody else can quite enter all my moments like He does.

When I’m not focusing on Him for awhile I end up chasing myself and what feels right to me and I end up angry, irritable and unsatisfied.  But when I actually acknowledge Him…for real…and do what He says…there’s freedom and peace that shouldn’t make sense.  That’s what “God with” does.

He’s not my band-aid.  Trust me.  There are so many times I just wish I could wear Him to feel better in the moment, but He’s not some genie that I snap my fingers at to fix every problem in my life.  And sometimes I kind of hate that I can’t just ask for what I want and get it because He’s Jesus after all.

But deep down, I know that “with” is better than fixed.  Because no matter what changes in this life…I have with.  Emmanuel (God WITH us): that’s His name and also one of the most powerful theological statements I know.   And yes, I believe His with will follow me even in death, but it means He’s also right here, right now, no waiting required.

Jesus saves? Yeah. I believe that.  But He doesn’t just save me from sin, from death, from hell even.  He saves me from emptiness, self-destruction, purposelessness, and loneliness of soul.

“Jesus saves” speaks to his power and position.  (No…I don’t care to argue with that.)

But “Jesus with” speaks to my identity in Him. (And I find it’s even harder to argue with His heart.)

What about you?  Have you always wondered how church signs and billboards might relate to your life?  What is your picture of Jesus?  Whatever your honest thoughts, I’d love to hear!  So don’t be afraid to add to the conversation…




    1. Gracious, I’m behind on my replies! Thanks for your comment, Sharon! So excited to be on this writing journey with deep thinkers like you. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *