What is Salvation?
salvation: [ Latin salvatus, past part. (to save); fr. assumed Indo-European solu- (to make whole or complete again) ]
The core biblical meaning of 'salvation' has to do with being rescued from danger or death. Indeed, that is what the name Yeshua (Jesus) means : 'he rescues'. It is what the crowd shouts as Jesus entered Jerusalem that last time before death: hoshi'annah, 'save us!' (in this case, from the Romans).
You are rescued by Christ's work, the work of One who knows what we're going through because He went through it Himself. You didn't make it happen; it is only God's doing. We are saved not because we want to be saved (we don't want to be saved), but only because God wants to save us. God needs no help from us. God wants and intends that we are all saved. Salvation is a gift given because God favors us even though we don't and can't merit it. (That is what is meant by grace.) God will not force it on us; God's grace is lost on those who spurn it through wanton sin and rejection of Christ. Salvation works in us by that grace, through faith.
Saved From, For, and By
Salvation has already been done (by Jesus on the cross). It is happening now (in each believer), and it will come to fruition in the future (when Christ returns). Salvation is also power in life: Christ's people have the fruit of the Spirit developing in them, and the support of the Spirit in doing what the Spirit leads and empowers them to do.
Many of today's Christian writers and pastors choose to express this slightly differently than in the past. They're re-stating and re-balancing their soteriology. From about the fifth century AD on, the main theme of salvation-talk in Christian thought and in sermons has been about what we are saved from. But people have heard that part of it non-stop for centuries; they're so used to hearing about salvation that it goes in one ear and out the other. So, everyday Christians and Christian thinkers are talking a lot more about what Jesus has saved us for. Salvation is, in part, about being restored to wholeness, which was a part of the early Christian view that was neglected for so long. And, salvation is being described more often as being a part of a larger work: God at work saving all of creation, to make a new world, called 'God's Kingdom'. Or, to speak more 'theologically': the salvation of each person is a microcosm (a small version) of Christ's work in rebirthing all of creation. And the rebirth of the universe is a macrocosm (a huge version) of what Christ did in us and for us.
How Are We Rescued?
- You aren't saved by what you know or how much you know, or how well you know it. The Creator Of the Universe leaves us in the dust on that. Besides, the more you know, the more there is to learn. On most things, we know just enough to really mess things up. And that's assuming our motives are good, which they often aren't.
- You aren't saved by the tendency of most people of good conscience towards the act of believing. Americans and their counterparts in Scandinavia and England generally have faith in faith itself. But having faith in faith is no different than trusting a molded metal calf (or what it represents), an ethnic heritage, a social ideal, a political platform, a romantic partner, a stock portfolio, or even a religion as-such: it is powerless to do anything to set you right with God, and can actually get in the way. Faith does no ultimate good unless it is placed in the One who could -- and did -- deliver on the promises. When we trust in God, we acknowledge the real cause for hope, confess that we can't help ourselves, and trust Jesus with it all. The Spirit creates the momentum for it.
- You aren't saved by believing the right things. Unorthodox believers (like Origen and Tertullian in the past, and like some of the people best known today as Christians) can be helpful with this, because just by being there they remind us that neither doctrine nor dogma nor hierarchy nor institution nor office are faith.
- You aren't saved by being right about issues of the day. Those we make common cause with are not saved by that common cause, no matter how Christlike that cause is.
- Doing right does not itself save you, no matter how much your right living might be in line with God's commands. (Though, you would be headed in the right direction.)
- You are not saved by being 'nice' or by being 'loving' -- you can never be nice enough or loving enough to merit God's attention.
You are saved by Jesus, through the faith God put into you.
Christ rescues us from:
- sin (our broken relationship with God, shown mostly in our broken relationships with each other);
- death (we die because we are kept apart from God because there is something in us that rebels against God -- Christ addresses that, overcomes it, transcended it, and is working to complete it in the future);
- captivity (we are set free from all that shackles and hinders us);
- the Devil ("deliver us from evil");
- the wrath that is to come (when Time ends).
Christ rescues us for:
- a restored relationship with God (reconciliation) and life with Christ without end;
- new wholeness or completeness of being;
- citizenship in Christ's Kingdom;
- new realms of possibility beyond what we can now imagine.
The important thing is to keep in mind the only One whom we are saved by. All this talk is dung unless we trust Jesus.
"Not the labors of my hands
could fulfill thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and Thou alone."
--- "Rock of Ages", by A.M. Toplady.
"You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely"
------ William Shakespeare, *The Winter's Tale*, 1.1.18