What is Salvation?

Which church should I attend? Which church offers me salvation? Believe it or not, many people tend to think along these lines, believing that only a certain church or denomination issues salvation to its attendees. But salvation belongs to the Lord, not a church, not a denomination.

The essence of salvation is deliverance from danger, pitfall, crisis, threat, uncertainty and a state of being or set of circumstances from which a person cannot deliver himself. Salvation also incorporates benefits, blessings, and privileges. Once a person has been "saved" from a condition of ill-health, whether emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual, a state of well-being is restored. When someone is asked, "Have you been saved?" he is asking about your spiritual well-being, whether or not you are now in a state of being saved from danger, pitfall, threat and uncertainty; he is asking whether or not you have received spiritual benefits from this experience. He is not asking whether or not you were baptized as an infant, or at any time thereafter, but what set of circumstances you find yourself in at this juncture in your life.

Too often people do not understand Christian lingo. Some know their Bible a bit too well and find themselves talking past the one they are trying to reach. Also, there are people in churches who know Bible language, or the liturgy of their church, but have not yet received Christ Jesus, embracing Him as Lord and Savior: "But as many as received Him," insists Jesus, "to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12 NASB, emphasis added) To believe in the name of someone, in first-century culture, was to believe in the person himself. Jesus insists that a person must receive Him, believing in His name, which is believing in Him personally -- believing in His divine Person and what He accomplished.

I have heard professing Christians refer to each person in the world as a child of God -- "we are all children of God." This is contrary to what Jesus teaches. To the individual who receives Him, who believes in Him, that person is granted the right or privilege to become a child of God. (John 1:12) There are children of God and there are children of the devil (1 John 3:10; cf. John 8:44; Acts 13:10). Trusting in Jesus is the grace-induced requirement for Him transforming you into a child of God. By "grace-induced" I am referring to the biblical fact that even faith in Jesus is the result of God being generous to you, as to the rest of us who are believing in Christ, as He works in your heart and your mind, by convicting you of your sins (John 16:8, 9), showing you that you are by nature evil (John 16:10; Eph. 2:3), and that a Judgment Day awaits (John 16:11).

Salvation belongs to God (Ps. 3:8; Isa. 12:2; Jonah 2:9; Rev. 7:10; 12:10; 19:1). Saving souls from eternal peril was God's idea from before creation; He decided to save undeserving people from an eternal existence without His amazingly-unspeakable presence and goodness; He wants to save (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; John 3:15, 16, 17; 1 Tim. 2:4) and He has decided whom He will save (1 Cor. 1:21): God is the Savior of all people in general but only of believers in actuality (1 Tim. 4:10). This indicates that God is willing to save everyone even though everyone will not be saved. Why? Because everyone will not believe in Jesus Christ (Luke 18:8; 2 Thess. 3:2). What becomes of such people? Will God save them anyway, in spite of their unbelief?

The apostle John answers: "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NKJV) Since "the wrath of God" was experienced by Jesus, on the Cross at Calvary, the only way for you or me to be rid of the wrath of God -- a threat of dwelling in a tormentous fiery place called hell -- is to trust in Jesus. Some believers no longer hold to this traditional teaching. I do. I believe in a literal, fiery, eternal hell. Let me briefly grant you reasons why.

Jesus once taught a group of people, in the presence of some Jewish leaders, about a poor man named Lazarus and his very rich master. Both men died. Lazaraus, a faithful but poor man of God, was carried by angels to heaven's bliss. But the very rich master, a greedy and indulgent man of the world, was buried. Jesus says: "And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom [or, reclining at his side]." (Luke 16:23 NASB, emphasis added) If someone wants to argue that the torment the ungodly man was experiencing was merely emotional, or psychological, a regret for not living as God had instructed him, Jesus clarifies: "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.'" (Luke 16:24, emphases added) Torment? Cooling? Agony? Flame? To what do these refer?

Without delving too technically in the place called Hades, what is significant here is the physical torment of this ungodly man, as he desired relief from the heat of the flames. Other passages throughout the New Testament corroborate with this teaching. At the return of the Lord Jesus He will declare to the unbelievers: "Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23); "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41); which is a place where "the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48), but is named an "eternal fire" (Jude 1:7). This place, and all those who forever reside there, is named the wrath of God against sin and sinners.

This wrath Jesus assumed on the Cross. Therefore, anyone who will, by grace, trust in Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, this person no longer abides under the wrath of God (John 3:36) but is transformed into a child of God (John 1:12). We are not children of God automatically; we must become children of God. Though Jesus died provisionally for all, without qualification, only the one who personally trusts in Him shall be forever shielded from the wrath of God. You were a child of the devil, a child of God's wrath, but you have become a child of God by the gracious heart of an aggressive and proactive God through the instrument of your faith in Christ Jesus.

But we must also complete that faith by believing that God the Father raised Jesus His Son from the grave. As noted in the portrait above, if you will "confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." (Rom. 10:9) What happens when you, by the grace of God, confess and believe? The apostle Paul answers: "for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." (Rom. 10:10) Righteousness refers to justice, rightness, divine approval. By believing in Jesus Christ, God the Father considers you to be right, a recipient of His divine approval. By confessing Christ with your mouth you experience the salvation of God. What is this experience?

While I call salvation an experience I am not necessarily referring to an emotional response, though many do respond emotionally when they first come to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, as well as throughout their lifetime. The experience to which I am referring is all the spiritual benefits that are granted to the new believer -- not by consequence of baptism and not by the faith of another in one's stead, but by the grace of God and the personal, abiding faith of the individual when God regenerates the soul. To generate an object is to give the object creation, existence, life or a presence. To regenerate an object is to give the object a re-creation or to breath new life and a new presence within the object. This breath of life, new life, is enacted by the Holy Spirit (John 20:22; cf. Gen. 2:7), who from that moment on lives within you (John 7:39; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19), the evidence of which is demonstrated in your life by the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23 NLT).

We also name regeneration as being born again, born from above, or born of God (John 1:12-13; 3:3, 5, 8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). This also entails repentance, or conversion, a turning away from sin and to a life in Christ. Such a person has become a brand new person on the inside (2 Cor. 5:17). Suddenly, he now has new desires to live for God in righteousness, or rightness and justice, to do whatever has God's approval, and to abandon the former way he used to live. He has become an adopted son of God with adoption rights and privileges. To him is granted every spiritual blessing that can be named (Eph. 1:3). As a child of God he has been sanctified, or set apart from the ways of the world, and for the service of God (Heb. 10:14). He has been justified by God (Rom. 5:1; 8:30), meaning, he is now viewed in the eyes of God as being without sin in and through Christ. He has been cleansed of all his sins (Col. 2:13). He has spiritually been seated with Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:6), a spiritual position, where God views him through Jesus.

This person has been given a share in the very divine nature of God Himself (2 Pet. 1:4), a divine nature that gives him "everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." (2 Pet. 1:3 NASB) Such a one is glorified (Rom. 8:30), or restored to his former glory, as God originally intended him to be; he is also being kept and guarded "by the power of God through faith for a [future] salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:5), and being kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1:1). Salvation can be spoken of in the past, the present, and the future. Someone can be saved in a past-tense sense, saved presently by grace through faith, and will be saved at the return of Jesus Christ by grace through that same faith. When Jesus returns He will save the faithful people of God and judge the unbelievers. Present salvation also warrants within the believer a living and active hope in the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18; 1 John 3:1, 2, 3) and a seeking for ways to hasten that coming (2 Pet. 3:12).

Such a person has been baptized, or immersed, in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; 1 Cor. 12:13), and baptized into the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27), which is the people of God and the Church of Christ. This person seeks to build up the body of Christ and not to tear it down (Eph. 4:12), cause division (Rom. 16:17), or destroy it (1 Cor. 3:17). You now have a spiritual enemy (Eph. 6:10-18). In Christ you have power over your enemy who hates you and seeks your end (John 10:10). Humble yourself before God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). No devil can make you perform any sin.

The born-again believer, due to his new spiritual position of being in or united with Christ, longs to tell others of how they, too, might be saved (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8). He prays to the Father (Matt. 6:9-13; John 16:23, 26), trusts in the Son (John 14:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26, 27): the Son and the Spirit also pray for the believer to the Father and according to the will of the triune God (Rom. 8:26, 27, 34).

Because of Christ, who is the Ultimate Prophet, the Divine Priest, and the King of kings and LORD of Lords, you, too, are a prophet to the world, evangelizing the lost and making disciples of those who believe in Christ. You are also a priest, who prays to God for others, as well as yourself. You do not need another priest to approach God on your behalf (1 Tim. 2:5). You are a priest (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). You are also responsible for your own soul, and your constant spiritual well-being, though your pastor shares in that responsibility (Acts 20:28). In other words, do not blame others for your spiritual shortcomings. You have the Word of God to feed your soul, heart, and mind (1 Pet. 2:2). Open its pages and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If you need a good study Bible then let me suggest the following:

The Word of God is your only source of objective truth in this life. You cannot always rely on the teachings of others. While none of us approaches the Bible apart from our particular life-contexts, meaning that we all will read the Bible through our specialized lenses, do not accept every word uttered by any preacher (1 John 4:1). Instead, do what the noble believers in the ancient city of Berea did, and study the Word of God for yourself in order to see if what others tell you is correct (Acts 17:11). We all need good Bible teachers. But we are fools to think that all the Bible teachers in the world are correct when they all disagree with each other. Pray for wisdom. Pray for spiritual guidance through the Holy Spirit within you. Be humble. Be thankful. Be a blessing to all. Be eager to receive from the Lord. Be teachable. Be ready to change your mind if you think Scripture teaches something contrary to what you have been taught. Pray for the salvation of your family, your neighborhood, your country and the world. Walk in newness of life.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.