What Is Salvation?

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What Is Salvation?

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What is salvation? Why do we need it? How do we receive it, and when? If salvation results in everlasting life—as Christianity teaches— what will those who are saved do for all eternity? What is the penalty for those who fail to achieve salvation?

If Christians rely on the Bible for their knowledge of these matters, why do we find so many differing beliefs?

We cannot continue to live as we lived before. We must undergo a life transforming change of heart and direction, a process the Bible calls repentance.

The publishers of The Good News believe the Bible is the revealed Word of God. In this article we see what the Bible teaches about salvation. As we do this, we discover that some popular views aren’t supported in the Scriptures. You should read for yourself what God’s Word teaches on this subject. It is much too important to simply accept what you’ve been told. You need to prove it from the Bible—because your happiness and your eternal life are at stake .

Salvation simply means the act of saving. When used in a religious sense, to save means to rescue someone from the eternal consequences of sin. Everyone needs salvation because, as the Bible tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
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; Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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).

How sin began

Sin entered the world with the first man. When God created Adam, He placed him in the Garden of Eden. The garden also included two special trees. The Bible account calls one of them the tree of life and the other the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9 Genesis 2:8-9 8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
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).

The tree of life represented life. If Adam made the right choice, if he chose to eat of the fruit of this tree, he would eventually inherit eternal life. But, if he chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would come under a sentence of death (Genesis 2:17 Genesis 2:17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
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).

Why? Something called “the tree of life” obviously had to be good. But what was so bad about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

God explained to Adam that He alone knew what was best for man. Partaking of the tree of life represented obedience to God, doing what He says is good. Godly obedience would eventually gain for Adam the fruit of eternal life (see also Proverbs 11:30 Proverbs 11:30The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise.
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).

On the other hand, if Adam disobeyed, as represented by his eating of the other tree, his disobedience would amount to deciding right from wrong for himself . This would ultimately result in disaster because human beings, beginning with Adam, have lacked the innate ability to know what is good and what is evil.

As Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
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tells us: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Human beings are not always able, without God’s instruction, to discern what is God’s will and what is sin (the opposite of God’s will).

The history of the human race illustrates that people have failed miserably at rightly discerning between good and bad. We have some ability to distinguish and choose what will benefit us, but we demonstrate serious deficiencies in knowing right from wrong in many crucial areas. This is why the history of humanity is scarred with so much pain. Sin is the cause of suffering. When people reason for themselves what is right, without God’s revelation, the result is a life plagued by the miseries that result from sin.

Adam, responding to Eve’s persuasion, chose to eat from the tree that leads to death (Genesis 3:6 Genesis 3:6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her; and he did eat.
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). His rebellion against God was sin—and all humanity from that time has repeated Adam’s and Eve’s error.

“… Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned …” (Romans 5:12 Romans 5:12Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned:
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).

Human beings do not usually die immediately after they sin, but they do come under a death sentence at that time. The Bible speaks of two kinds of death—the natural death that everyone experiences (Hebrews 9:27 Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment:
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) and “the second death” (Revelation 21:8 Revelation 21:8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
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). The second death, which is permanent cessation of life without possibility of resurrection, is the ultimate penalty for sin (see “The Penalty for Unrepentant Sinners “). It is this death sentence from which we need God to save us.

God wants to save all of humanity. He wants every person to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
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). God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
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, emphasis added throughout).

The Bible explains God’s plan for saving mankind. As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “… From childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15 2 Timothy 3:15And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
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, New Revised Standard Version). (If you have not proved for yourself that the Bible is God’s Word, please read our free booklet Is the Bible True? )

How can we receive eternal life?

Eternal life is God’s gift to us. He tells us specifically how we can receive it.

“… The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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). “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12 1 John 5:12He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life.
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). Jesus Himself said: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9 John 10:9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
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).

Once we sin and place ourselves under the penalty of death, we can do nothing that will ever free us from the sentence of death. Rather, we must receive forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24 Romans 3:24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
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).

Redemption means to free or buy back someone or something by paying a price . It is akin to paying a ransom for someone who has been kidnapped. To redeem humanity, the price that was paid for the sins of mankind had to be greater than the total value of all human life .

Because He was the Son of God who never sinned as well as the very Creator of mankind (Hebrews 4:15 Hebrews 4:15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
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; Ephesians 3:9 Ephesians 3:9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
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), Christ’s life was of sufficient value to purchase everyone and pay the price for all sins (compare Hebrews 2:9-10 Hebrews 2:9-10 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
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).

Sin maintains a claim over us until God redeems us through Jesus’ sacrifice. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14 Colossians 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
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).

Jesus died an excruciatingly painful death through crucifixion, shedding His blood for us. This is why the Father sent Him into the world: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 Romans 5:8But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
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).

What must we do?

To have Jesus Christ as your Savior you must acknowledge that you have sinned, that your sins have placed you under a sentence of death and that you need forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice. You must then accept Jesus as your personal Savior, recognizing that He died for you.

Regrettably, many people stop right there and think that’s all there is to it. They fail to recognize the crucial necessity of personal repentance .

In recognition of Christ’s sacrifice and a desire to change our lives to please God, each of us must forsake the sinful ways that brought the death penalty upon us and made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary in the first place. We cannot continue to live as we lived before. We must undergo a life transforming change of heart and direction, a process the Bible calls repentance .

Peter said, “ Repent , and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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). Remission means release —that is, release from guilt for your sins. When you are baptized, God forgives your past sins and clears your record.

Baptism pictures the washing away of sins and signifies our faith in the sacrifice of Christ as payment for them. After our baptism, Christ’s ministers are to place their hands on us and pray for the gift of God’s Spirit for us. It is at this point that God gives His Spirit to a repentant, baptized person (see Acts 8:18 Acts 8:18And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
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).

The Bible says that, through the Holy Spirit, God seals us, His Spirit serving as a guarantee of or down payment on our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22 2 Corinthians 1:22Who has also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
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). The reason for this guarantee is to assure us we will receive eternal life . In other words, our sealing with the Holy Spirit is the proof we belong to God and Christ. “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9 Romans 8:9But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
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), and “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14 Romans 8:14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
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).

A life of obedience

After baptism and our receiving of God’s Spirit, we are justified —that is, we become righteous in God’s sight. God counts none of our past sins against us (Romans 3:25 Romans 3:25Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
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).

If we stumble and sin after baptism, we must ask God’s forgiveness so that our state of forgiveness is not lost by our return to our old sinful way of life (1 John 2:1-6 1 John 2:1-6 1 My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that said, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps his word, in him truly is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6 He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
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).

When we are justified, God deals with us as though we had never sinned; the death penalty has no hold on us.

John made it plain that after baptism Christians at times will still stumble and sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9 1 John 1:8-9 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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).

John wrote these words after several decades as a Christian and an apostle of Christ, and he included himself among those who still fell prey to sin.

The difference in the life of a Christian after repentance and baptism is that he no longer practices unrighteousness as a way of life. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10 1 John 3:10In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother.
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).

A Christian practices righteousness by obeying God’s commandments (compare Psalms 119:172 Psalms 119:172My tongue shall speak of your word: for all your commandments are righteousness.
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). This behavior is consistent with Jesus’ words to a young man who approached Him with a question: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Jesus responded, “… If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments ” (Matthew 19:16-17 Matthew 19:16-17 16 And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
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).

When the man persisted in questioning Christ as to which commandments he must keep, Jesus responded by reciting several of the Ten Commandments, which summarize God’s spiritual law. Repentance involves a commitment to live your life in obedience to that law.

Shortly before He died, Jesus again affirmed that Christians must obey the Commandments: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21 John 14:21He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
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).

It is important to remember that our obedience to God’s law does not save us. It is God who saves us through Christ. The law cannot save us, but our striving to obey it is a condition of our salvation. If we ultimately refuse to obey God, He will not ultimately save us, as we will see shortly.

God’s law is our guide to how we should live if we are to please Him. It is the law of love (Romans 13:10 Romans 13:10Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
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), reflecting God’s nature, which is love (1 John 4:8 1 John 4:8He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
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; 1 John 8:16 1 John 8:16
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).

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote (Philippians 2:5 Philippians 2:5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
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). One who lives as Christ lived and whose mind is being transformed to be more like His is one who truly “has the Son” (1 John 5:12 1 John 5:12He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life.
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). It is such people who are being saved.

When is a Christian saved?

Is a Christian saved immediately upon baptism? Once you are baptized, have accepted Christ as your Savior and have committed your life to obeying God, are you saved? Is your salvation complete?

According to the Bible, repentance and baptism mark the beginning of the salvation process , the time of a Christian’s commitment to continue to serve God. The completion of our salvation, as long as we remain in this physical life, is yet in the future . As Jesus said, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
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).

Paul wrote, “… Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:9-10 Romans 5:9-10 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
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). Notice that Paul wrote in the future tense: We will be saved. Our salvation is not complete.

We must endure faithfully to the end of our lives. Or, if we remain alive until Christ returns to earth, we must endure until the time of His coming. If a Christian at some time during his life, after committing to serve God, turns away and renounces Jesus and God’s way in word or action, he will lose his salvation—unless he repents of his error.

Jesus described such a situation. “… If that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites” (Matthew 24:48-51 Matthew 24:48-51 48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delays his coming; 49 And shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
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).

“Carousing with drunkards” can describe the literal behavior of an errant Christian, or it can be a metaphor for evil habits in general. Drunkenness is sometimes used in the Bible to symbolize those who are immersed in the sinful attitudes and practices of the world.

Paul made it plain that a Christian can fall away and even lose salvation. He wrote that in his own life he found it necessary to practice firm self-discipline, guarding against the encroachment of sin, “lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified ” (1 Corinthians 9:27 1 Corinthians 9:27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
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).

Once we commit our lives to obeying God, the process of being saved has begun in us—although it is still possible for us to fall away (Luke 8:13 Luke 8:13They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
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). Paul said we will be saved if we continue to the end while holding fast the truth preached to us (1 Corinthians 15:2 1 Corinthians 15:2By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached to you, unless you have believed in vain.
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). Our salvation is assured if we do. But our salvation will be complete only at the second coming of Christ—when “He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28 Hebrews 9:28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin to salvation.
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).

Salvation—assuring eternal life—will then go to those in the faith who have endured and overcome. Those who are engaged in this spiritual battle need not harbor fears that they will fail to receive eternal life. As we ask God for help, He will keep us from stumbling (Jude 24). “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 Romans 8:31What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
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). Indeed, we can be “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 Philippians 1:6Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
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).

What will salvation be like?

When Christ returns from heaven and our salvation becomes an eternal reality, what will we be like? What will be the form and appearance of those who receive eternal life? Does the Bible tell us?

Indeed it does! “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God !

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him ; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:1-2 1 John 3:1-2 1 Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
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).

This may sound incredible, but when our salvation is complete we will have the same glorious appearance as Jesus Christ (see Revelation 1:13-16 Revelation 1:13-16 13 And in the middle of the seven candlesticks one like to the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like to fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shines in his strength.
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). Like Him, we will be glorified children of God—though obviously He will forever be greater.

In recent years—with the development of gene therapy, organ transplants and artificial intelligence—some scientists have come to believe that science will someday provide man a form of immortality. But this is a far-fetched hope at best. Even if such could be accomplished, that sort of existence would be inferior to God’s gift of eternal life.

God’s salvation will provide us an existence that far surpasses anything this present life offers or that scientists can conjure in their wildest hopes. After Jesus died and was resurrected, He returned in a new spirit body and appeared to His disciples. We will have a body like Christ’s. God “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body …” (Philippians 3:21 Philippians 3:21Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like to his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself.
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).

Our new bodies will never tire nor grow ill. Further, we will have minds that possess the kind of supernatural abilities God has. We will possess greater power than even the angels have. We will reign with Christ (Revelation 2:26 Revelation 2:26And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
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; Revelation 3:21 Revelation 3:21To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
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; Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
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) and help bring peace to the world.

We can live forever in God’s eternal Kingdom. This is what salvation is. This is what God offers you. God’s gift of salvation truly is good news for all.

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