Let’s talk about salvation.

Are you saved?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blogpost lamenting the fact that American Christians don’t have a good working definition of “saved.”  I then proceeded to not be very helpful in offering one.  Here’s a snippet.

“I sound like a broken record, but if being saved means “I get to go to heaven when I die,” then we’ve got it all sorts of backwards. If we are just waiting for our just rewards because we said the right prayer and (looked like) we did the right things, then we are setting ourselves up for a serious disappointment.”

So now, two years later, let’s talk about salvation.

The Jailer, after almost running himself through for losing his captives in a freak earthquake, asks Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?”  In Greek, the root word is sozo.  The Freiburg Lexicon defines it as:
save, preserve from harm, rescue; (1) of natural dangers and afflictions; (a) in relation to acute physical danger deliver, save, rescue (AC 27.20); (b) in relation to a stressful and threatening situation save, bring out safely (JN 12.27); (c) in relation to sickness and disease heal, cure, restore to health (MT 9.21); (2) in a religious sense, in relation to spiritual dangers and threat of eternal death; (a) save, rescue from sin, bring to salvation (RO 5.9; EP 2.8); (b) of human beings mediating the divine salvation (RO 11.14; 1C 7.16); (c) of the instrumentality of spiritual things, as God’s Word, baptism, faith, that lead to salvation save, deliver (JA 1.21; 2.14; 1P 3.21)”

The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines salvation (Gk. soteria same root) as:
“God’s activities in bringing humans into a right relationship with God and with one another through Jesus Christ.  They are saved from the consequences of their sin and given eternal life.”

Which sounds an awful lot like the Catechism’s definition of the mission of the Church:
“The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

What strikes me in all of this is that reminder that salvation isn’t up to me.  I didn’t do anything to deserve it, but only by the grace of God, have been invited to accept it.  That’s the thing about being saved, when it comes to matters of life or death, you very rarely can save yourself.  You can’t give yourself a bone marrow transplant.  You can’t give yourself CPR.  There is no bootstrap theology of salvation: it is all a gift from God.

Which takes me back to yesterday’s post and the importance of on vs. in.  Believing in Jesus is an activity that I do.  It makes it about me.  Believing on Jesus, relying on his faithfulness and strength, that’s merely receiving the gift of grace and thereby receiving salvation.  It reminds me of my favorite verse John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.”  The work is all God’s.  My job, now that I’ve been saved, is simply to live with thanksgiving and joy.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s talk about salvation.

  1. Steve,
    I think a more helpful way of thinking about salvation is coming into the Kingdom of God, which is more what Jesus seemed to preach about. Dallas Willard has very good writing on this (eg. The Divine Conspiracy).

    I’m also not sure I buy your believe on vs believe in (or believe unto, which is a more natural translation of the Greek eis and could potentially carry a directional sense that has relational implications, but doesn’t necessarily). I would need to go back more into my Greek than I can this week, but I don’t think that the realm of meaning of the Greek prepositions falls quite the way it does in English and can bear the weight of what you are extrapolating from it. I agree with your conclusions, but I know how tricky translating prepositions can be.

  2. Adam,

    Thanks for this. There is actually a third sentence in the WDTT definition of salvation which says, “The Biblical images of salvation vary greatly.” Which is to say, there are many ways to skin this cat. I’m also always appreciative of someone who knows Greek better than me (which isn’t a hard classification to fall into) can look at my thoughts and evaluate them.

  3. Steve, great stuff. Thanks for sharing. A verse came to mind as I was reading through your post… John 17:3 (not quite your favorite verse, but maybe a dyslexic second favorite) “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

    That verse says nothing about heaven. Rather, eternal life = knowing Christ. Which can be right now. So I agree with you that many Christians (e.g. me) too often live with the mindset that eternal life begins after we die.

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