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What is Salvation?



Christian salvation is the belief that human beings can be saved from sin and its consequences by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Different Christian traditions have different understandings of how salvation works, but some common elements are:

  • Sin is the condition of being separated from God and disobeying his will. Sin affects all human beings and leads to death and judgment.

  • Jesus Christ is the Son of God who became human, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose again. He is the Savior and Lord of all who believe in him.

  • Salvation is a gift of God’s grace that cannot be earned by human works or merit. It is based on God’s love and mercy for sinners.

  • Salvation involves faith, repentance, baptism, and obedience to God’s commands. Faith is the trust and commitment to Jesus as the only way to God. Repentance is the change of mind and heart that turns away from sin and toward God. Baptism is the outward sign of the inward reality of being united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Obedience is the expression of love and gratitude to God for his salvation.

  • Salvation has past, present, and future aspects. Christians are saved from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin. Salvation also affects the individual and the community, as well as the whole creation.

Key Passages:

“he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6, ESV)

“Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”” (Acts 16:30–31, ESV)

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, ESV)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9, ESV)

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7, ESV)

“And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:9–10, ESV)

The Word Salvation:

The word salvation is used in the Bible to indicate a work of God in behalf of man. In the present dispensation its use is limited to His work for individuals only, and is vouchsafed to them upon one definite condition. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that now, according to the Bible, salvation is the result of the work of God for the individual, rather than the work of the individual for God, or even the work of the individual for himself. Eventually the one who is saved by the power of God may, after that divine work is accomplished, do “good works” for God; for salvation is said to be “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10) and those who “believed” are to be “careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8). Good works are evidently made possible by salvation; but these good works, which follow salvation, do not add anything to the all-sufficient and perfect saving work of God.

As used in the New Testament, the word salvation may indicate all or a part of the divine undertaking. When the reference is to all of the work of God, the whole transformation is in view from the estate wherein one is lost and condemned to the final appearance of that one in the image of Christ in glory. This larger use of the word, therefore, combines in it many separate works of God for the individual, such as Atonement, Grace, Propitiation, Forgiveness, Justification, Imputation, Regeneration, Adoption, Sanctification, Redemption and Glorification. The two following passages describe the estate from which and the estate into which the individual is saved: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in times past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11, 12). “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1–2). There could be no greater contrast of possible estates for man than those described in these passages.

This transformation, it must be conceded, rather than representing the greatest thing impotent man can do for God, represents the greatest thing the infinite God can do for man; for there is nothing to be conceived of beyond the estate to which this salvation brings one, namely, “like Christ” and “conformed to the image of his Son.”

Much of the whole divine undertaking in salvation is accomplished in the saved one at the moment he exercises saving faith. So, also, some portions of this work are in the form of a process of transformation after the first work is wholly accomplished. And, again, there is a phase of the divine undertaking which is revealed as consummating the whole work of God at the moment of its completion. This last aspect of salvation is wholly future.

Salvation, then, in the present dispensation, may be considered in three tenses as it is revealed in the Scriptures: the past, or that part of the work which already is wholly accomplished in and for the one who has believed; the present, or that which is now being accomplished in and for the one who has believed; and the future, or that which will be accomplished to complete the work of God in and for the one who has believed.

The following passages are clear statements of these various aspects of the one divine undertaking:

  1. The child of God was saved from the guilt and penalty of sin when he believed: “And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50); “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house” (Acts 16:30, 31); “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18); “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish” (2 Corinthians 2:15); “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8); “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

  2. The child of God, constituted such through belief, is being saved from the power and domination of sin on the same principle of faith: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17); “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14); “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13); “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2); “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

  3. The child of God, begotten as such through belief, is yet to be saved from the presence of sin into the presence of God: “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Romans 13:11); “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5); “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1–2).

So, again, there are passages in which these various time aspects in salvation are all combined: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6); “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30); “Even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25–27).

Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer (1922). Salvation. Sunday School Times Company. (Public Domain)

The False Gospels:

The false gospels are distorted versions of the true gospel of Jesus Christ that deceive people and lead them away from God. There are many kinds of false gospels, but some of the most common ones are:

  • The inclusive gospel: This false gospel claims that all religions and beliefs are equally valid and that everyone will be saved regardless of their faith in Christ. This contradicts the biblical teaching that Jesus is the only way to God and that salvation is by grace through faith alone (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:8-9).

  • The works-based gospel: This false gospel teaches that salvation depends on human efforts and obedience to the law, rather than on the finished work of Christ on the cross. This denies the sufficiency and necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection for our justification and sanctification (Romans 3:20-28; Galatians 2:16).

  • The prosperity gospel: This false gospel promises that God will bless believers with health, wealth, and success if they have enough faith and follow certain principles. This misrepresents the character and purpose of God, who often allows suffering and trials for our good and his glory (Job 1:21; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

  • The “only Jesus” gospel: This false gospel emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus, but neglects the importance of the church, the Bible, and sound doctrine. This leads to a shallow and subjective faith that is easily swayed by emotions and experiences, rather than by the truth and authority of God’s word (Hebrews 10:24-25; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

These are some of the false gospels that professing Christians believe today. They must be rejected and exposed by the true gospel, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

Unscriptural Tools of the Evangelist:

The unscriptural tools of the evangelist are those methods or practices that are not based on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, but rather on human traditions, opinions, or preferences. Some examples of unscriptural tools of the evangelist are:

  • Manipulation: This is the use of pressure, guilt, fear, or deception to persuade someone to make a decision for Christ. This violates the principle of free will and the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting and drawing people to Christ (John 16:8; Romans 10:9-10).

  • Entertainment: This is the use of worldly or carnal means to attract or entertain people, such as music, comedy, drama, or spectacle. This distracts from the seriousness and urgency of the gospel message and the need for repentance and faith (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:1-5).

  • Ecumenism: This is the compromise or dilution of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith in order to promote unity or cooperation with other religions or denominations. This denies the exclusivity and uniqueness of Christ and the gospel, and the importance of sound doctrine and discernment (John 14:6; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Timothy 4:3-4).

  • Legalism: This is the imposition of human rules or traditions as requirements for salvation or sanctification. This adds to or subtracts from the grace of God and the finished work of Christ, and leads to pride or bondage (Matthew 15:1-9; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 2:16-23).

These are some of the unscriptural tools of the evangelist that should be avoided and exposed by the true gospel, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

The Sinners Prayer:

The sinner’s prayer is a popular but unscriptural practice that claims to offer salvation to anyone who recites a certain formula of words. It is not found in the Bible, nor is it consistent with the biblical teaching on how to be saved. Here are some reasons why the sinner’s prayer is unscriptural:

  • The sinner’s prayer is based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of “calling on the name of the Lord” in Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13. These verses do not refer to a verbal prayer, but to a faithful response to the gospel message. The “call” contemplated in these passages was fulfilled when penitent sinners surrendered to the terms of the gospel plan of redemption explicitly announced later on the same occasion. The “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38) is the equivalent of “saved” (Acts 2:21)

  • The sinner’s prayer is contrary to the examples of conversion in the book of Acts. None of the people who became Christians in the first century ever prayed a sinner’s prayer to be saved. Instead, they heard the word of God, believed in Jesus, repented of their sins, confessed their faith, and were baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:36-41; 8:12; 8:35-39; 9:1-19; 10:34-48; 16:14-15; 16:30-34; 18:8; 19:1-5; 22:16).

  • The sinner’s prayer is a human invention that adds to or subtracts from the word of God. It is not authorized by God, nor does it have any power to save. It is a vain and empty ritual that deceives people into thinking they are saved when they are not. It is similar to other human traditions, such as infant baptism, sprinkling, or confirmation, that are not based on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible (Matthew 15:9; Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19).

The sinner’s prayer is not the way to salvation. The only way to be saved is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, as revealed in the gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 1:16-17). If you want to be saved, you need to hear and obey the gospel, not repeat a prayer.

Come to Jesus Because He has a plan for your Life:

This phrase is unscriptural because it implies that Jesus is a means to an end, rather than the end itself. It suggests that Jesus is a way to achieve our personal goals and dreams, rather than the Lord and Savior who calls us to deny ourselves and follow Him. It also assumes that God has a specific and detailed plan for every aspect of our lives, rather than a general and flexible will that allows us to make choices and exercise our free will.

The Bible does not teach that God has a plan for your life in the sense of a blueprint or a script that you have to follow. Rather, it teaches that God has a purpose for your life, which is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. God’s purpose for your life is not dependent on your circumstances, your abilities, or your desires. It is based on His grace, His power, and His love. God’s purpose for your life is not something you have to discover or achieve, but something you have to accept and obey.

The Bible also teaches that Jesus is the only way to God, the only truth about God, and the only life from God. Jesus is not a genie who grants our wishes, a therapist who solves our problems, or a coach who motivates us to succeed. Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who died for our sins and rose again for our salvation. Jesus is not a means to an end, but the end itself. He is not a part of our lives, but our whole life. He is not a plan for our lives, but our life itself.

If you want to come to Jesus, you have to come to Him on His terms, not yours. You have to repent of your sins, believe in His gospel, and surrender to His lordship. You have to take up your cross, follow His commands, and love His people. You have to seek His kingdom, His righteousness, and His glory. You have to trust His promises, His presence, and His power. You have to come to Jesus, not for what He can do for you, but for who He is to you.

Why We Need to be Saved

All of humankind has a problem!  We can see its outward manifestations everywhere.  In the Middle East we see terrorists of all stripes committing abominable acts in the name of religion.  In Asia there are literally thousands of young girls that are forced into prostitution.  Even now as mass migrations brings millions into America these precious little ones are often ushered of into servitude or worse.  Our once great cities are now rampant with gun violence and the illicit drug trade.

If we endeavor to understand God’s answer to this problem we need to first understand: Why we need to be saved?; And from what we need to be saved?  Then next we need to understand our inability to save ourselves.

We must be mindful of the literal genesis of our current estate.  When our parents fell from their paradisiacal estate, the whole creation became subject to the fall as well.  We see in the Scriptural account a host of first words, "thorns, thistles, sweat, ect., that are indicative of the pain cause by sin and the judgment justly delivered.

“Nowhere else is evil denounced with such a tireless zeal, intransigence, horror and indignation. It is the disorder that finds no justification, the enemy and the work of the enemy … Since elsewhere evil is inherent in the original being of reality and is part of the very definition of humanity, then elsewhere it must be excusable because it belongs to fate, and as such it must be invincible. There can therefore be no voice raised in protest against it. The myths and the philosophies that spring from them inevitably stifle the innate sense of the intolerable nature of evil, whether it is the evil one commits or the evil one suffers. But the Bible can stand as accuser and can awaken this sense, because it knows that evil was not there in the beginning, but arises from a subsequent, historical use of human freedom.” Henri Blocher, In the Beginning

The Apostle Paul brings this to light in Romans chapter one.  Right after he declares that the Gospel of Christ as the power for salvation to everyone who believes, He also reveals that the wrath of God is against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.  We suppress the truth because we have been given over to debased, depraved, or reprobate minds (depending on the translation).  Minds that have been tested and found to be defective.  The word used in the manuscript is adokimon.  Spiros Zodhiates, in his Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, defines this as, “that which should be abhorred by both God and man.”

We can begin to see where now impurity, infirmity, and deformity rule the day and the headlines define the spot where even the saints have fallen into the ditch and sullied themselves by bathing in the filthy water of a lost and fallen world.  All the while the creation itself groans to be delivered from the agony.  Yet we in this modern age have little concept as to the great sufferings made manifest in ancient times where our forefathers in the faith were despised, rejected, counted as outcasts, and even slain.

This then is why and from what we need to be saved!

The Plan of Salvation

Salvation requires the active participation of the Father, Son, and Spirit!  The opening verses of Ephesians express this succinctly.  Salvation is administered by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit.

“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”” (Romans 10:5–13, ESV)

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