What are we saved from? We could answer “sin.” That would be true. We could also answer, “death,” which would be no less true. We could even answer “Satan,” which again would be true. In this sense, we have multiple and interlocked threats from which we need rescue.
Rescue is a useful word. To be saved means to be rescued. De-theologizing that the word salvation for a moment may help us here to answer the question. We need rescue. We are in dire straights and without rescue, we will be lost. What sort of rescue do we need and what does it mean to be lost?
Scripture provides three interlocking answers: sin, death, and Satan vie against us. Sin brings justice which we know as divine wrath, so that we must pay restitution and so satisfy justice’s demand to avoid it; death kills us, so that we need immortality to avoid it; Satan deceives us, so that we need to conquer the deceiver to overcome his schemes.
Let’s take these one-by-one to see how Scripture outlines these threats, and how Christ rescues us from each.
The three deadly threats, the unholy trinity of sin, death, and satan really cannot be parsed apart. For the sake of explanation, we can talk about them separately however. Human sin begins in the garden of Eden. There, the serpent deceived Eve by telling her to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And on the day that Adan and Eve ate from the tree, they began to die.
This narrative probably underlies Jesus’s statement that: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan lied about the tree, and he murdered Adam and Eve by deception. They lost immortality.
They knew good from evil, but not like God does. God knows good in perfection and that evil is the lack of that goodness. Now, Adam and evil lacked goodness. They knew good from evil by privation not by addition. The serpent deceived the first couple to death.
Once sin entered into the world, death spread to all men. The first murder happens in Genesis 4. Adam and Eve’s child Cain murders his brother Abel. The genealogy of Genesis 5 repeats the refrain, “and he died” over and over to solidify the fact that all people die. The flood of judgment in Genesis 6–9 cements the reality: sin leads to death, and where death is, there is sin.
Satan celebrates death and uses it to lead people to sin (Heb 2:14–15). As master of death—a sort of faux mastery since death merely means the privation of life—Satan uses it as a threat to encourage people to pursue immortality through their own means: power, evil, pride, and so on.
The advent of Jesus changed all of that: “ Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb 2:14–15). Satan had the power of death. He held humanity under slavery to the fear of death. Jesus destroyed these bounds.
Like a fishhook, Jesus willingly went to the cross. Satan, using his weapon of death, thought to use it against Christ. He bit the hook, figuring that he would have a meal of it. Instead, it pierced his head. Then Christ by the power of an incorruptible began crushing his head by the resurrection.
Satan as an agent lost the war because of the cross and resurrection. And his earlier victory of death and sin now means nothing.
Christ bore the sin of humanity in his flesh, and there God condemned it (Rom 8:3). Sin died in the death of Christ because Christ satisfied our debt to sin by paying restitution for it. Sin, remember, leads to death. Christ bore our sin and died with it. He took sin to hell and obliterated it as he underwent the justice of God in punishing sin out of love for humanity. Christ was a true philanthropist.
Sin led to death, but Christ’s sin-bearing led to life. He died and went to Hades. But there, he did not stay dead. By the power of an incorruptible life and through the Spirit, God did not let his holy one see corruption (Ps 16:10). Christ opened the gates of death (Rev 1:18). He rose from the dead.
And now neither sin nor death have any hold over us if we unite to him by faith. We no longer face the reality of eternal death, of hell. As our Head, we the body of Christ have all the benefits in hope that Christ has in fact. And we rise from the dead as our firstfruits has, then we will too share in that incorruptible and immortal life.
Satan is done for. Wrath satisfied. Death defeated. Victory assured. God rescued us in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He saved us from sin, death, and the devil. Thanks be to God.