When believers use the word “saved” around nonbelievers, the likely response is, “Saved from what?” It might be disconcerting for some skeptics to understand that the first threat to sinful human beings is not hell or Satan, but God himself. Because God is holy and we are not, we must be saved both from his wrath and by him.
The Bible uses a couple of memorable metaphors for salvation that are easy to explain to non-believers. The first depicts removal of sin as a change of clothing. In one symbolic vision, a priest wearing filthy clothes representing Israel is given clean clothes and told that his sin is taken away (Zec. 3:3-5). Again, in Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable in which a king (God) invites people off the street (Gentiles/sinners) to his son’s (Jesus’) wedding banquet. But when he discovers that some are wearing their own clothes (self-righteousness) instead of the wedding clothes he has provided (perfect righteousness)–a serious insult–he has them thrown out into the night.
The second metaphor illustrates salvation in bookkeeping terms. In his model prayer, Jesus says to ask God to “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). Paul explains that our faith (not our works) will be credited as righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5) and that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23).
We are ready to be saved only when we recognize how spiritually needy we are. If we rely on our own dirty hands and empty spiritual pockets for salvation, we reject the cleansing and payment from the only One who can provide it.