As part of a Wednesday night summer series, our church has been studying some of the “salvation words” that are found in Scripture. As we’ve worked our way through concepts like substitution, reconciliation, and redemption a particular truth with which I have been impressed is this: salvation doesn’t make us look pretty.

No matter what Scriptural terminology you use to describe what Jesus did for us on the cross, none of them put us in a flattering light.

“Substitution” can be described as Jesus taking our place on the cross. Our sins were placed on Jesus when He was treated as though He had acted like us. During this process, His virtue was given to us, and now we are treated not as we deserve. Instead, we are now seen by God the Father through the perfect, spotless righteousness of His Son- Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This doctrine is wonderful, to be sure, but what role do we play in it? We have absolutely nothing worthwhile to offer in this transaction. When our actions are placed on Jesus, they demand his execution and punishment!

“Reconciliation” is Jesus making two natural enemies—God and us—friends through His work on the cross (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19). But what does it say about us that we did not want to be friends with a perfect, good, and glorious God?! What is wrong with us, by nature, that perfection is actually repulsive to us?

Likewise, the word “redemption” has the necessary implication that we were needy. In the context of the marketplace, it means “to purchase, or buy back.” This kind of buying-and-trading language is used in the Bible to describe our salvation, even by Jesus Himself (Matthew 20:28). In the general context of Scripture, especially Paul’s use of the word, “redemption” simply means deliverance, or bringing about the end of bondage. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Here we are confronted with the ugly reality that we are trespassers in need of deliverance, of forgiveness.

There is no escaping the fact that salvation words—no matter which one you choose—don’t make our natural situation look pretty. But they do make our Savior Jesus Christ, and the grace of God through Him, look amazing. And that’s the point after all, isn’t it?

Salvation is not ultimately about us at all. It is about the stunning love and mercy and beauty of God. It is the glorious story of the Savior who gave up everything and became nothing so that we who were nothing could have everything.