In contemporary Christianity it is very common to hear that someone “got saved” or to have someone tell you that they were “saved” at such and such a time. But beyond that, the concept of “salvation” remains dormant. I believe this stems from a misunderstanding of salvation, that is, salvation in its entirety.
Now, it is true that many believers can point back to a specific moment of turning from sin towards initial trust in Christ for salvation. In theology we call this moment conversion and it is also the moment we are regenerated (given spiritual birth and life) and justified (counted as righteous before God). In this sense, then, we can rightly say that we were saved upon our conversion. But the idea of “salvation” is Biblically and theologically much more comprehensive than just that one precise moment.
In the remainder of this post I hope to present to you a sampling of the scriptural view of “salvation” via the outline below. My goal is not to explain every aspect of salvation or even to present an all-inclusive ordo salutis. My point is to prove this thesis, that salvation is much more comprehensive than the moment we trusted in Christ.
- God chose people to save before the foundation of the world (2 Thess 2:13; Eph 1:4; Rom 9:22-23).
- God predestined/predetermined these chosen ones (the elect) for salvation (Rom 8:30; Rom 9:22-23), namely, to be adopted through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:5, 11) and to be conformed to Christlikeness (Rom 8:29).
- Therefore, God saves according to His purpose of election (2 Tim 1:9; Eph 1:5; Eph 1:11; Rom 9:11, 15-16, 18).
- God’s plan involved sending the Savior (Jn 3:17) to save all whom the Father had given Him (Jn 6:37-39; Jn 10:29; Jn 17:2, 9, 24).
- God’s plan involved pouring out His wrath on the Savior (Isa 53:10).
- And God’s planned involved Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sinners (Gal 1:4).
- As a result, Paul concludes that God saves according to His “grace, which was given us (believers) in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (2 Tim 1:9 – ASV).
- And in this sense the Apostle John can call Christ the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).
- Christ came to save His people, the lost, the world, from their sins (Mt 1:21; Lk 19:10; Jn 12:47) and in dying He did just that (1 Tim 1:15; Rev 5:9).
- Christ substituted Himself on the cross for sinners. That is, He bore the sins of many (Isa 53:12; Heb 9:28) and was crushed for their sins (Isa 53:5). In sum, He died for them, in their place (1 Tim 1:15; Eph 5:25; and 2 Cor 5:15; ).
- In substituting Himself, Christ successfully and effectually (2 Cor 5:14; Mt 1:21; Jn 6:38-39; Rom 8:31-34) saved them from God’s wrath (Rom 5:9) by satisfied/propitiated God’s wrath against them (1 Jn 2:2; Rom 3:25), reconciled them to God, granting them peace with Him (2 Cor 5:18; Rom 5:10), purchased, redeemed, and ransomed them (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45; Eph 1:7; Rev 5:9), sanctified and cleansed them (Eph 5:25-27), and secured their justification (2 Cor 5:21; Isa 53:11; Rom 3:24; Rom 5:9, 18).
- Consequently, at the cross Jesus announced that salvation was accomplished (Jn 19:30; cf. Heb 9:28).
- In rising from the dead Christ is said to have secured their justification (Rom 4:25; cf. 1 Cor 15:17), regeneration/rebirth (1 Pet 1:3), and future resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23).
- God saved us by causing us to be born again (1 Pet 1:3), that is, by the Holy Spirit’s work of spiritually washing and regenerating us (Tit 3:5)—reviving us from spiritual deadness to spiritual life (Eph 2:5).
Conversion (faith and repentance)
- One is saved by means of turning from sin towards trust in Christ and His saving work (1 Cor 1:21; Mk 1:15; Lk 7:50; Jn 6:40, 47; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8)
- Being accounted as righteous, being imputed God’s righteousness, depends on faith (Rom 3:22; Phil 3:9) and receiving Christ’s propitiation is by means of faith (Rom 3:25).
- Those whom God chose to save, He chose that they should be rich in faith (James 2:5), granted them repentance and faith (Jn 6:65; Acts 13:48; Phil 1:29), for He had chosen to save them through their repentance/belief (2 Thess 2:13; Jn 6:37; Jn 10:26-27).
- One is justified—declared/accounted as righteous before God (Rom 4:3, 5; cf. 2 Cor 5:21)—by faith (Gal 2:16: Rom 3:21-22, 26, 28, 30; Rom 4:22-24) on the basis of Christ’s death (Rom 3:24-26; Rom 5:9).
Sanctification (the progress of salvation)
- Sanctification is what we call in theology “the progress of salvation” (Phil 2:12). Scripture calls it “being saved” (1 Cor 1:18; 15:2; and 2 Cor 2:15). It is the process of progressive spiritual growth (2 Cor 3:18).
- Those whom God chose to save He chose to save through their sanctification (2 Thess 2:13). Conversion and regeneration effectually and inevitably lead to sanctification, which effectually and inevitably leads to eternal life (Rom 6:22).
- And therefore, because God is working out the progress of your salvation (Phil 2:13; cf. Phil 1:6), those being saved are commanded to work out their own salvation (Phil 2:12).
The fruit of salvation
- As a result, scripture often speaks of “fruit” that will be evident in the lives of genuine believers: evidence the Spirit’s work within (Gal 5:22-23), good works that God has predestined for believers (Eph 2:10) which also validate the sincerity of their faith (James 2:14, 17, 18, 20, 22, 26), evidence of repentance (Mt 3:8) and continual repentance (1 Jn 3:4-10), evidence of being united with Christ (Jn 15:5-6), evidence of genuine discipleship (Jn 15:8), etc.
- Scripture affirms that those who endure to the end will be saved (Mt 10:22; Mt 24:13; Mk 13:13; cf. Lk 8:11-15; Jn 8:31; 1 Jn 2:19; 2 Jn 9).
- And therefore, scripture instructs believers to endure and persevere to the end (Heb 10:36; cf. 1 Cor 15:2; Col 1:23; Heb 3:14).
- But scripture also tells us that God effectual works out this endurance/perseverance in the lives of all true believers (2 Cor 1:21; 1 Pet 1:5).
- Paul instructs the Corinthians to discipline one of their members out of their midst in order that he “may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5) and tells Timothy that by keeping a close watch on himself and His teaching he will save both himself and his hearers (1 Tim 4:6).
- The Holy Spirit is said to be the believer’s guarantee of his eventual complete salvation (2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:13-14).
- Scripture identifies the believers resurrection/glorification as the final end (consummation) of salvation that is yet to be obtained/brought about (1 Cor 15:20-22, 50-57; Jn 6:38-40; 44; Rom 8:23, 30; Phil 3:8-12; and 1 Thess 4:16; and 1 Jn 3:2).
- Christ will return to save those who eagerly wait for Him (Heb 9:28).
- Believers will be saved at judgment (1 Cor 3:15; Mt 25:31-46; Rev 20:11-15).
- “Salvation” is God’s entire work of planning, accomplishing, and effectually bringing about complete spiritual and physical restoration in a person.
- As aspects that compose the broader comprehensive concept of salvation, the distinct aspects of salvation cannot be separated but form a unified whole; they come as a package (i.e., 2 Thess 2:13; Rom 6:22; Rom 8:29-30; Phil 1:6; note the doctrines of election and predestination–see heading “election” above).
- One can speak of various aspects of salvation. For example,
“My salvation was determined in eternity past.”
“Christ saved me at the cross.”
“I was saved when I first trusted in Christ.”
“I am being saved as I continue to mortify sin and persevere.”
“I will eventually be saved when Christ comes again and redeems me.”
- It is proper to view and speak of one’s salvation as “already/not yet.” For example,
“Already I am forever saved and my salvation is eternally secure.”
“However, I am not yet saved in the complete sense. I am still troubled by sin and yet live in this mortal body.”