The New Testament Message
There are many things I do not understand about the New Testament, and the mentality behind what the New Testament authors wrote.
But I think I understand this.
In Jesus, God was declaring the sins of humanity totally wiped away. And so Jesus' disciples went into the world proclaiming that sins had been forgiven, and inviting people to partake of the freedom that came with acknowledging that fact.
Holding to an identity centered around following rules, adhering to physical rituals, or being proud of certain accomplishments would result in slavery - because the human mind imposes standards on us that no one can actually live up to.
But simply trusting what God had said and done, would release you to experience freedom.
All of Paul's talk about "faith" is usually misunderstood to be stating the importance of believing certain facts. But Paul means to say that trust in God is the only thing that is important - trusting in him as our source of identity, trusting in his forgiveness and grace.
"Salvation", for Paul, was trusting what God had done, and experiencing the freedom of that trust. When Paul writes to his converts, he states that God had removed the "consciousness of guilt" from their minds - not that God had removed the sins from his book in heaven (that was a given), but that God had worked in history to show them that their sins were gone. And when they recognized that fact, the freedom they experienced was a profound salvation.