Most anyone you talk to seems convinced that the salvation of Jesus involves solving some sort of problem between God and mankind. Generally speaking, most everyone believes that, before Jesus, God was very upset with everyone; and somehow Jesus' death and resurrection at least opened a potential way for God to be mollified. Traditional Christianity believes that the sacrifice of Jesus is only effective for those who are Christians. Others, who cannot accept Orthodox Christianity's doctrine of eternal punishment, suggest that Jesus indeed mollified God and made salvation effective for everyone without exception. In either case, the motive behind Jesus was to deal with the problem which made God upset in the first place. Both groups apparently believe that God in the past was on the warpath, and Jesus came to bring peace between God and man.
Personally, I find both of these concepts of salvation in Christ to be difficult to accept. I see no valid reason to believe that God could have been upset with mankind in the past because of human malfeasance. He knew what would happen. In fact, he set up the very scenario where anyone could have predicted what would occur. Tell a bunch of kids not to touch the candy and then walk out of the room. What do you think they will do? There is no legitimate excuse for God getting bent out of shape over the infraction of the Garden and then wanting a bloodletting to satisfy His pique. The whole idea is ignoble and too obviously the product of human reasoning.
What is suggested in both the concepts described in the first paragraph is what I would term instantaneous salvation. In the first case, one second the individual is unsaved and then when they complete the required steps, suddenly they are changed to the saved status. In the alternative view the change is equally instantaneous but the change applies to everyone past, present, and future.
Another troubling and equally incomprehensible aspect of salvation under either of these two paradigms is the fact that for the most part the associated transformation supposedly takes place off in some unseen realm or place where no one can tell if anything really happened at all. Orthodoxy teaches that everyone faces a future judgment to confirm whether or not God is still mad with them individually. Prior to this judgment there is no concrete evidence to verify anyone's salvation. The more universal understanding of salvation largely contends that whatever changed because of Jesus, happened in some spiritual realm where we cannot observe the results; we can only accept by faith that something beneficial for everyone happened there. Peace, joy, freedom, all these promised blessing in Christ, are not to be realized and enjoyed here and now because they are spiritual in nature and the spiritual realm is totally divorced from physical reality and experience. Both views tend to make salvation and Jesus largely irrelevant to everyday life. Such views of salvation are highly disappointing and inadequate for many, those who, if they invest effort in spiritual matters, want that effort to yield benefits here and now.
My personal understanding of salvation is that it is not at all instantaneous. Instead it involves a gradual awakening to the teachings of Jesus, an awakening which involves coming to grips with the very counter intuitive nature of the ethical standards which Jesus taught and demonstrated in his own life. Gaining this salvation does indeed involve a large measure of faith. The teachings of Jesus lead in a very unfamiliar direction, one which the human mind would normally reject as impractical. To take Jesus at his word and follow where he leads is a dramatic step-out for anyone, one that cannot be made until we really believe in his example as applicable to our own lives.
Salvation was required but not because God was upset or angry with man. Salvation was required simply as a necessary step in man's spiritual evolution or growth. Salvation was planned from the beginning because the purpose of human experience on earth was to evolve spiritually through the act of living physically with all that entails. Salvation is simply a term to describe the evolutionary process which requires relinquishing the egotistical thinking and motivations which predominate in human behavior initially. We first operate under the ego and then we gradually come to operate under our divine nature. That divine nature certainly is spiritual in essence, but I don't believe that means its influence and benefits are largely divorced from our physical lives.