It took me a long time to really grasp the concept of Jesus and salvation through Him. After a lot of thinking, struggling, praying, and reading, I finally arrived at what I believe to be the truth. It has been spinning in my head a lot lately, so I've decided to write it down. I will edit this over time as I think of different ways to reword and explain things. But for now, here it is:
God created the world and humans so He would have people to love Him and glorify Him and also so He could shower His love on them.
In wanting us to love Him, He had to give us free will. For it's not really love if it's forced.
In our free will, humans have fallen away from God. We've chosen to disobey and do things contrary to what God wants. (This isn't very hard to agree with. Take one glance around you.)
Everything we do that goes against what God wants is sin. One single sin, however small or seemingly unimportant, separates us from God and prevents us from spending eternity with Him when we die. God is perfect, and He cannot spend eternity with imperfect beings. (I once had a friend who said, "Why do we have to be perfect to get into heaven? Why can't we just be good people?" My response was, "If we don't have to be perfect, then where would God draw the line? And how would we ever know if we were good enough?")
So then, the next immediate response is, "Oh great, so what you're saying is that since I maybe did one little itty bitty thing wrong, I'm going to hell. Beautiful." But no, that's not what I'm saying. The story is not over.
So, in the Old Testament times, God would have the people sacrifice animals. To us this seems grotesque. (We live in a time when sacrifices are no longer needed, which I'll get to shortly.) But actually, God was being very loving in telling the people to offer sacrifices. Because, God accepted the life of those animals in place of the life of the people who were sinning. In other words, once the blood of those animals was shed, God saw the people as pure and perfect again (until their next stupid sin). Seems pretty nice, huh? If you were given the choice of burning a sheep or going to hell, which would you choose?
Well, ok, let me back up. Those animals didn't exactly completely take the place of the sinning people. But that was because God knew that He was going to provide the world with the perfect sacrifice to cover all sins eventually.
This is where Jesus comes in. God sent Jesus, His Son, to the earth. Jesus was all man and all God, as inconceivable as that seems. Jesus was perfect. In other words, Jesus did not have to die and did not need to offer any sacrifices. But guess what He did. He sacrificed Himself. That's where Jesus dying on the cross comes in. When Jesus shed His blood on that cross, God accepted it as the eternal sacrifice for all sinners. And why could God do that? Because Jesus was perfect.
Then Jesus came back to life. He overcame death. Jesus is stronger than death. Jesus conquers all.
So now, because Jesus died and came back to life, sacrifices are no longer needed and we get to go to heaven. We are all forgiven. We can all spend eternity with God. Every past, present, and future sin of each one of us is forgiven. God found the perfect Way to satisfy His own wrath against sin. He provided Himself, through His Son, as the One to die so we wouldn't have to.
So now, the next question is often, then why do people still go to hell?? Because...although Jesus died in place of us, we have to actually BELIEVE that He died in place of us. And when I say believe, I don't mean "Oh cool Jesus died, yay rah." I mean, BELIEVE. As in, you accept it with your whole being. You absorb its meaning. You feel it to your core and base your life on it. That's what I mean by believe. And if we don't believe it, God's not going to allow us to use it. A starving person who is offered food is not going to live unless he eats the food. If he turns his head away and refuses to accept the gift, it will do him no good.
So...how do we accept the gift? We just pray to Jesus and tell Him that we do. We tell him we love Him and that we're so eternally (literally) grateful to Him. We tell Him that we realize we owe him our life and so now we want to repay Him in whatever way we can. Then we start living the way He wants us to to the best of our abilities. Because, if a person is truly grateful to Jesus, the gratefulness will shine from within him. When we truly love someone, it is clear through our thoughts, actions, and attitudes. Same thing goes with turning your life over to Jesus. If you truly realize what He's done for you and truly accept the gift, the evidence of it will overflow from your life.
And then, once you have accepted the gift, you realize how much God loves you. You realize that you can walk in God's will and that as long as you follow Him, your perfect God will not let you down. He will not lead you astray. Suddenly, all the sufferings in life don't matter as much anymore. Because you know that there is a purpose and that, regardless of what happens, God loves you and you are going to spend eternity with Him. Life suddenly has purpose. I can't even express how full my life is now that I'm living for God. I yearn so much to know Him more and to please Him. And the more I do those things, the stronger my desire becomes. It's inexplainable, and I wouldn't trade it for anything or anyone. My Jesus is my All.
So...that's my rendition of Jesus saving the world. Leave it or take it...but I sure hope you take it.