Salvation

Definition of salvation

noun

  1. the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc.
  2. the state of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
  3. a source, cause, or means of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
  4. Theology. deliverance from the power and penalty of sin; redemption.

-- Dictionary.com

For believers, it means save your soul from the hell:

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. -- Matthew 10:28 (ESV)

In other words, every human has a soul that lives forever, but his body will eventually die whether naturally or unnaturally. People tend to be more concerned for their bodies (survival on Earth), but Jesus is more concerned about our souls (eternal salvation). The lifespan of our bodies is less than a blink compared to the lifespan of our eternal souls.

Francis Chan illustrate this with a rope. The short tip of the rope is coloured which represents our present life on Earth. The rest of the imaginary eternal rope represents the remaining eternity of our existence. Whatever happens on the tip of the rope is no match compared with the remaining rope (eternity). Salvation means to be saved from spending eternity in hell.

Requirements for salvation

  1. You must at least believe (trust) that:
    • God exists (Hebrew 11:6)
    • Jesus is the Son of God (John 3:16; John 6:47, John 20:31, 1 John 5:5,10)
    • Jesus was sacrificed for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:2-3, Isaiah 53:4-6)
    • Jesus was risen from the dead (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 1:13)
    • If you truly put your trust in God, you will destroy your idols (Jonah 2:8-9, Isaiah 27:9)
  2. You must repent which requires that:
    1. You must be convicted of your sins (2 Corinthians 7:10, Isaiah 3:9, 1 John 1:8, Matthew 3:7-8)
    2. You must confess your sins (Proverbs 28:13, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 32:5)

These are the minimum requirements for someone that is about to die, for example one of the criminals who were crucified with Jesus, believed, confessed and repented and Jesus told him "you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:39-43).

However, at this point you will still be under the bondage of sin, which means your life is still dictated by addictions, temptations, evil spirits, curses and so on. There is still a very high risk that you could fall back to your old lifestyle, which could cause you to lose your faith, which could cost you your salvation.

Therefore, you need to be set free. This is only possible with a spiritual rebirth known as Baptism (Mark 16:16, Acts 19:4, Romans 6:3-14, John 3:5, Colossians 2:12-14, Acts 22:16, Acts 2:38, 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Baptism is not the "last step" of your salvation. It is only the beginning. Jesus required his followers to ... follow him by guidance of his Holy Spirit.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” -- Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. -- John 16:13 (ESV)

Loosing salvation

Peter warns the believers against "false prophets" (2 Peter 2:1) who were previously righteous, but then turned into...

Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. -- 2 Peter 2:14-15

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. -- 2 Peter 2:20-21

Paul also warned believers who were already saved:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. -- Hebrews 3:12

The Greek word ἀφίστημι translated as "fall away" means (according to the Thayer's Greek Lexicon):

to make stand off, cause to withdraw, to remove; tropically, to excite to revolt

In other words it is possible for believers to lose faith and to "withdraw" or to "remove" their salvation and even revolt against God.

This was also Peter's understanding where he taught how to "supplement your faith" so that you will "never fall".

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith

  • with virtue, and
  • virtue with knowledge, and
  • knowledge with self-control, and
  • self-control with steadfastness, and
  • steadfastness with godliness, and
  • godliness with brotherly affection, and
  • brotherly affection with love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. -- 2 Peter 1:5-10 (ESV)

Paul compare the believer's life with a race:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. -- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)

Paul also wrote a letter to Galatians to warn them that they should not disregard Christ' salvation for unnecessary laws that they feel obliged to keep. The believers had to choose if they had "faith" that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient or whether their salvation would come from keeping the laws:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. -- Galatians 5:1-6 (ESV)

Jesus himself compared believers (not churches or denominations) with branches that could get "pruned":

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. -- John 15:1-2

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. -- John 15:6

Failed salvation

Although Simon believed and were baptised (Acts 8:13) he refused to repent. This is what apostle Peter, had to say of him:

"You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." -- Acts 8:21-23 (ESV)

Proof from scripture

It is important to note that the Bible is not written like a manual or an index where you can skip to any part and only do what a single verse tells you to do. Chapters, titles and verse numbers were added afterwards by translators and were not part of the original manuscripts. That is why most writers assumed you have already read and understood the text prior to a specific verse so that they do not have to repeat themselves.

Instructions for salvation

Each prophecy, report or letter was addressed to a specific audience with specific issues.

Ezekiel's prophecy

  • Audience: Israelites who already knew the commands and statutes (laws), but choose to be disobedient and follow foreign idols.

If a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. -- Ezekiel 18:21-22 (ESV)

Purpose: Ezekiel, warns the Israelites to turn away from their sins and to obey the statutes (laws).

Repentance is more than just "feeling sorry". You need to "turn away" from you old lifestyle of committing sin.

John the Baptist's teaching

Audience: Israelites who had listened to John's preachings. The content of his preaching is not revealed, but we can assume he taught them what the "Repentance" and "kingdom" meant. We can assume that these people already "believed" otherwise John would not have "baptized" them (Matthew 3:7-8).

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"

...

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

-- Matthew 3:1-2,3:5-6 (ESV)

Purpose: John was leading the Israelites to salvation and was preparing them for their Jesus' ministry.

Jesus teaching the Israelites

Audience: Like John, Jesus was also addressing the Israelites.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying,

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

-- Mark 1:14-15 (ESV), Matthew 4:17

Purpose: Mark only gave a summary of the events, so we can conclude that this single sentence was not the full sermon of Jesus. However, the main points Mark highlighted was that Jesus said that the people had to "repent" and "believe in the gospel". In other words they need to trust what Jesus taught them was true.

Jesus teaching the 11 disciples

Audience: His eleven disciples.

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. -- Mark 16:14-16 (ESV)

Purpose: The issue here was that the disciples did not believe that Jesus had risen. So the point Jesus made that "whoever believes" that he had risen (and is baptized) will be saved. If you do not believe Jesus had risen, then you cannot believe Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient, then there is no point for repentance, then you cannot be saved. These things the disciples already knew, so Jesus did not have to re-explain these steps to them. It is also important that Jesus commanded his disciples to also baptize their followers.

Peter's teaching at the Pentecost

Audience: A multitude of mixed nations in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-6)

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

-- Acts 2:36-41

Purpose: The people were amazed at the sign of the Spirit (Acts 2:12), then Peter took the opportunity to preach the Gospel to them (Acts 2:14). So after witnessing the works of the Spirit and hearing Peter's teaching, they believed and wanted to know what they need to do to get saved too. That is why Peter left out the "believe" part because he already had his audience attention.

Peter's teaching at the temple

Audience: Jews who witnessed how Peter healed a lame beggar.

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. -- Acts 3:19-21

Purpose: The Jews were amazed at the wonder they saw (Acts 3:10), this caught a crowd's attention and Peter used to opportunity to preach to them (Acts 3:11). Peter left out the "believe" part again, because these Jews were already believing in God and had just witnessed the power of God. He did not have to convince them to believe in God, but he had to warn them to repent from their sins.

Paul addressing the residents of Areopagus

Audience: Philosophers who were curious to know what foreign God Paul was about to introduce. (Acts 17:19-21)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. -- Acts 17:30-31

Purpose: Paul uses the opportunity to warn the Greek about God's coming judgement if they do not repent from their idols and sins. At this point they were not interested to get saved yet, that is why it was pointless to reason with them about faith, baptism, and so on. However, this warning caught some people's attention and lead the separately to salvation (Acts 17:34) of which the details were not recorded.

Paul and Silas saving their jailer

Audience: Paul and Silas' jailer who were forced to be in their company, because he had to guard them against escaping. The jailer supposedly already heard their message (Acts 16:23-24), prayers and hymns (Acts 16:25) and after the earthquake (Acts 16:26) he most have noticed they were different from the other prisoners. The jailer almost took his own life (Acts 16:27-29), which probably lead to realize that he is not saved.

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.”

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

-- Acts 16:30-32

Purpose: Paul and Silas told the jailer that it is not them who can save anyone. He had to believe (trust) the Lord Jesus. The next verse did not record the full details of "the word of the Lord", but we can assume that the jailer and all who were in his house were taught about the Lord and how he could save them.

... and [the jailer] was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed [in] God. -- Acts 16:33-34 (ESV)

(Note the word "in" was added by the translator in both passages)

Paul's letter to the Corinthians

Audience: Believer reading Paul's letters.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. -- 2 Corinthians 7:10

Purpose: Paul was writing a follow-up letter on his previous letter that caused a lot of "grief" (2 Corinthians 7:6-9).

John's understanding

Audience: Believers reading John's message.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is he who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify:

  1. the Spirit and
  2. the water and
  3. the blood;

and these three agree.

-- 1 John 5:4-8 (ESV)

Explanation of the metaphor:

Symbol Testimony
Spirit The Spirit gives believers a clear conscious that they are indeed saved. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
water Like water washes believers bodies at baptism, they are also washed from their sins. (Acts 22:16)
blood The blood of Jesus' when he was sacrificed that proof that he paid for the sins. (1 Peter 1:19)

Purpose: John addresses the concerns of the antichrist (1 John 2:18, 1 John 4:3) and many false prophets (1 John 3:1). The purpose of his message is to identify true believers who are already saved and to differentiate them from a false antichrist or prophet.

Controversies about salvation

Only call on the name of the LORD? (Joel's prophecy)

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. -- Joel 2:32

Out of context it seems like you only need to call "LORD" then you will be saved, but that is not what the prophet Joel said.

He is talking about the end-time:

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. Joel 2:30-32

These "saved" ones are the "survivors" who lived under the LORD's authority (protection).

Only belief? (Jesus's statement to Nicodemus)

...whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. -- John 3:15-18

Out of context it seems like Jesus is saying you only need to "believe that Jesus had saved you", but that is not what Jesus said.

If you remove the titles from the passage which was added by the translators which is not part of the original manuscripts, you will notice that this section is part of the prior section of the book. A section where Jesus is reasoning with Nicodemus about salvation.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” -- John 3:5-8

Nicodemus was an important teacher in Israel and Jesus did not need to explain everything in detail to him. Jesus was saying that if you want to be saved, you need to be:

  1. "born again" which means you need a new life
  2. "born of water and the Spirit" means you need to be baptised by water and the Spirit "to enter the kingdom of God".
  3. The Jesus continues to explain that when you are "born again" you will be guided by the Spirit which is like the "wind".

Clearly Nicodemus questioned this reasoning, on which Jesus challenged him by saying:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? -- John 3:12

So the next section (John 3:16-18) Jesus told Nicodemus that people (including Nicodemus) need to trust (believe) him that his teaching are true, so that he could also be saved. Then Jesus continues by explaining:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

  • For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
  • But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

-- John 3:19-21 (ESV)

His Spirit will shine the light on the wicked things people do. You will either hate it because it exposes your sin or if you will love it because it reveals the works you have been carried out in obedience to God.

Therefor it is not enough to only "believe you are saved", you have to repent from "the wicked things" you had done in the "darkness".

Only say "Jesus is Lord" and belief? (Paul's statement to the Romans)

One of the most misquoted scriptures are:

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. -- Romans 10:9 (ESV)

Out of context it seems like you only need to say the magic words "Jesus is Lord" and believe that God somehow raised him from the dead, then you will get a ticket to heaven, but that is not what Paul said.

He was concerned about the people who did not hear the Good News and that would be lost:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. -- Romans 10:14-17

In this context if you look at the direct translation of Romans 10:9 from Greek in the Interlinear Bible:

That if you (confess / agree / publicly declare / celebrate) the (saying / report / promise) with the (mouth / speech) of you [that the] Lord [is] Jesus, and (believe / trust) in the (heart / mind) of you that God him raised out from [the] dead you [will be] saved.

Note that the words "will be" at the end of verse 9 was added by the translator and was not part of the original Greek manuscript.

In other words, this is Paul's expectation from someone that is already saved, but Paul is not relaxing the requirements to salvation.

Paul is writing to his followers, who is already saved and presumably already knows what needs to be done to save people as seen in the beginning of this chapter:

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. -- Romans 10:1

If you read the entire chapter you get the message that Paul is requesting his followers to report or confess by making a public declarations so that unbelievers would understand that the believers:

  • trust God that He genuinely raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:11),
  • that every nation has a chance to get saved (Romans 10:12),
  • and that if they choose to also accepts the Lord Jesus's authority over them, then they could also be saved (Romans 10:13)

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. -- Romans 10:13

Paul did not write that you only have to say the magic word "Jesus" and you will be saved. No, the word Greek word "name" in this context means "authority" according to Strong's Concordance.

Only the lucky ones? (Paul's statement to Ephesus about predestination)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ... -- Ephesians 1:3-5 (ESV)

Out of context it seems like some lucky people are loved and is predestined to be saved and some unlucky ones are predestined for hell and this has already been determined and there is nothing we can do about it, but this is not what Paul wrote. Remember this letter was written to:

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus -- Ephesians 1:1 (ESV)

The "saints" were assumed to be already saved and so there are no unbelievers in this equation.

"I have no pleasure in the death of anyone", declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live. -- Ezekiel 18:32 (ESV)

The Lord GOD wants to save everyone, but you have to respond to his invitation by repentance.

Everyone is saved by grace? (Paul's statement to Ephesus about grace)

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)

Out of context it seems like you do not have to anything do anything to get saved, but is not what Paul wrote. Remember this letter was written to:

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus -- Ephesians 1:1 (ESV)

The "saints" were believers who were already saved and that were reflecting on the grace they had received when their trespasses were forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5-7). In other words:

  1. God originally predestined us for adoption as sons (Ephesians 1:5)
  2. But mankind died because of trespasses and sins caused by disobedience and desires (Ephesians 2:1-3)
  3. But God, being rich in mercy, because He loved us, even while we were dead in our trespasses, had the grace to sent His Son, Christ Jesus to save us (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  4. Jesus was "raised up" so that we too could be "seated with him in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 2:6)

The point Paul is trying to make is that by grace believers are saved, not because anyone deserved salvation by anything he or she did.

Controversies about loosing salvation

Will God overpower us into obedience? (Peter's statement)

“Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” -- I Peter 1:5

Out of context it seems like Peter wrote that "the power of God will keep us into salvation". This is not what Peter wrote.

The key here is "through faith". God will never force you to do anything, neither will he brainwash you to "have faith".

Is salvation Jesus' responsibility? (Jesus's parable)

“My sheep know my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” -- John 10:27-28

Out of context it seems like that it is Jesus' responsibility to make sure nobody gets lost. This is not what Jesus said. The key here is "they follow me". Salvation does not stop when after you got repented. You should keep following Jesus or you will get lost (moving out of Jesus' protection).

In addition to this Matthew also recorded:

If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. -- Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus pointed out that it is not his Father's will that anyone should perish, he does not say "no one will ever perish". If it was not possible for anyone to "perish" then this last sentence would be unnecessary.

The hope that this passage gives us, is that whenever we do go "astray" He will "search" for us. We still have a chance and a choice to go back and ask for forgiveness, because it is not the Father's will that anyone should perish.