What Does 'Salvation" Mean?
Almost no word so well captures the heart of the message of Scripture as does the word salvation. It appears more than 170 times in our English translations of the Old and New Testament. The related word, saved, appears approximately one hundred times throughout the pages of Scripture. But what is salvation? What does it mean for someone to be saved? The Scriptures provide us with several distinct answers to this question. The Bible reveals that God saves believers from their sin, the power of Satan, death, and the judgment to come. Taken together, these four aspects of the work of redemption help us understand the full-orbed biblical teaching about the salvation that God provides through the person and work of Christ.
In his birth announcement concerning the coming Christ, the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that the Redeemer would be called “Jesus” because He would “save his people from their sin” (Matt. 1:21). Since sin is man’s great problem, we needed One who would save us from its guilt and power. Jesus is such a Savior. Since He is God (John 1:1–4; Rom. 9:5), He can conquer our greatest enemies: sin, death, and Satan. Since He is man (John 1:14; Rom. 1:1–4), He can represent all those for whom He died. On the cross, Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for the sin of His people. All the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus died to deliver men and women from the guilt of their sin. Additionally, Christ died to break the power of sin in the lives of His people (Rom. 6:1–11). Because of the death of Christ, God has forgiven His people all their trespasses (Col. 2:13; Eph. 1:7).
God’s Word also reveals that Jesus died to save His people from the evil one. Since Satan was the one who led our first parents in rebellion against God, he needed to be conquered by the Redeemer. There is a close connection to our sinful bondage and the power of the evil one. The Apostle John explained that Christ came to destroy the works of Satan. He wrote: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). In order to deal with the sin of His people, the Son of God had to simultaneously “disarm principalities and powers.” This means that believers have been saved from the power of Satan as well as from the ultimate efficacy of his accusations. Once Christ has redeemed someone from the dominion of Satan, He sets them free from his recurrent accusations (Rom. 8:1, 33).
Scripture teaches that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Far from being something natural and normal, death is the result of Adam’s trespass in the garden. God warned Adam that in the day that he would eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil “in dying he would die” (Gen. 2:17). The Hebrew denotes the concurrent and sequential aspects of death. When he sinned, Adam brought the just consequence of spiritual, physical, and eternal death on himself and all his posterity. Because death is the terrible consequence of sin, Scripture calls it “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26). By His death and resurrection, Christ defeated death. The Lord foretold this aspect of salvation when He said:
I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?” (Hos. 13:14)
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ “tasted death” for all those for whom He died (Heb. 2:9). Believers have already been saved from the second (i.e., eternal) death (Rev. 20:14) in the here and now (John 5:24), and they also await the full revelation of their salvation from death. The believer’s ultimate hope is the resurrection of their bodies unto eternal life on the last day (Rom. 6:5; 8:11; Phil. 3:10–11, 20–21).
Believers are not only saved from sin, the evil one, and death; they are also saved from the wrath of God and the judgment to come. Theologians have sometimes explained this aspect of salvation in the following way: “We are saved by God, from God, and for God.” This is typified in the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. With the last plague, God gave His people a gospel type in the Passover lamb (Ex. 12; 1 Cor. 5:7). The covenant people were to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes so that they would not fall under the wrath of God. They, no less than the Egyptians, deserved the wrath and judgment of God. God provided a substitutionary lamb that would serve as a type of Jesus—the Passover lamb who delivers believers from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). Jesus became the object of God’s wrath in the place of His sinful people. In His death, Christ propitiates the wrath of God so that it does not fall on those He came to save.
Finally, Scripture speaks of the salvation of believers in three tenses. Christians have been saved, they are being saved, and they will be saved. In redemption accomplished, Christ truly and really saved His people when He died and rose again. In the application of redemption, believers are being saved as Christ intercedes for them, sustaining them through their pilgrimage and enabling them to persevere in the faith. At the consummation, believers will experience the full application of the salvation wrought by Christ in the resurrection.
*This post first was first published by Ligonier Ministries on April 26, 2023.