“The greatest thing in the world is to be saved.” Many, obviously, have believed this. But one man spoke that to his pastor even while he was lying on his death bed.
And one of the realities that will stimulate us to believe that salvation is great is understanding just how lost we were prior to salvation. The amount of gratitude we express to God for our own salvation is directly proportional to the weight of depravity and lostness that we feel about ourselves. The less we feel the weight of our lostness apart from Christ, the less we will believe he has done anything tremendous in saving us.
This is what led to John Piper writing:
Do you feel this? If not, you probably never really felt very lost and desperate before the judgment of God, or threatened by an eternity of conscious torment in hell. O, how we love being saved after we have just come close to being killed. Perhaps by a powerful ocean undertow. Or getting a finger caught in the drain at the bottom of a swimming pool (yes, filled with water!). Or almost walking out in front of a car which you did not see that speeds by just three feet from you at 40 miles-an-hour, but your wife’s voice caught you in the split second before stepping into death. Or a remission from a long battle with cancer. Or release from a prison camp in the Gulag after 16 years of expecting death. Or after surviving a plane crash inexplicably when others perished.
O how we love life at those moments, and cleave to everything precious. So it is when you taste the preciousness of being saved from sin. Not just the words. Not just a fact learned from the Bible, but really feeling that you are justly damned and hopelessly lost and cut off from God and life and joy. Then to learn that God has made a way. That he will forgive you. That he will accept you and love you and work all things for your good. That ALL your sins can be forgiven and cast into the deepest sea and never brought up against you any more. O, the preciousness of being saved from sin and judgment and hell!
And this is why Paul is so particular and precise in his explanation of our state in sin in Ephesians 2 — not only are we lost in sin personally (vv. 1-3), but also everything about the circumstances of our lives (our position and heritage, particularly) left us far, far, far away from God (vv. 13-18).
And only when we comprehend the vast distance of separation that existed between us and God do truths about the reconciling work of Christ on the cross begin to stimulate joy and gratitude.