When thinking about salvation it’s helpful to think about what we are saved from, what we are saved to, who we are saved by. It’s also helpful to think about our salvation as a past, present, and future happening.
What Are We Saved From?
The very nature of the word salvation means there is some sort of threatening or deadly condition which we must be rescued from. What, according to the Bible, are we saved from?
Listening to some of our popular songs, sayings, and even preachers, one might think the primary thing we are saved from these days is purposelessness. Others speak of salvation from drug addiction or shattered relationships. Yet, others speak of difficult circumstances in which we are facing. While the Bible certainly speaks of God’s redemption from futility, purposelessness, and suffering, this is not the primary problem which humanity faces.
In the Old Testament (OT), the primary Hebrew word which is translated as “save” or “salvation” often refers to deliverance in concrete real-life situations. In 2 Kings 19:19 Hezekiah prays for the Lord to save them from the Assyrians. Though there are massive spiritual implications to this, the deliverance he longs for is primarily in the present. Likewise in Psalm 54:1when David asks for God to save him he is thinking foremost about being delivered from the hand of Saul who is tracking him down. The Old Testament establishes God as the Deliverer and Savior.
While the primary New Testament (NT) word for salvation on occasion points to deliverance from a physical threat the dominant meaning is deliverance from the consequences of sin and the clutches of death and Satan. The major theme of deliverance in the NT is deliverance from God’s wrath. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and Romans 5:9 speak of our being delivered from the wrath to come. John MacArthur summarizes well:
"The real problem is sin and guilt. That's the issue. God sent Jesus Christ to rescue us from the consequence of our sin, and everybody falls into the category of sinner. It doesn't matter whether you're among the haves or the have-nots, whether you have great expectations or none at all, whether you're consumed by your passions or exhibit a degree of self-control and discipline-you are still a sinner. You have broken the law of God and He's angry about it. Unless something happens to change your condition, you're on your way to eternal hell. You need to be rescued from the consequences of your sin. Those are the principal issues the gospel solves."We see, then, that salvation speaks of receiving deliverance from our greatest problem; namely, the many consequences of our sin against a holy God. So how does this salvation come about?
How Do We Receive Salvation?
When I bought an engagement ring for my wife, it did not make us engaged. I still had to pop the question and she still had to receive my gift. In the same way Christ has done what is necessary for us to be saved, but that gift is not appropriated apart from faith. This is what the Bible teaches in Ephesians 2. We are dead in our trespasses and sin, and God makes us alive. When our eyes are opened to the beauty of the gospel and the accomplishment of Christ our only fitting response is to respond in repentance and belief.
Repentance and belief are really two sides of the same coin. Repentance means that we are changing our mind about God and about ourselves. We are laying down our own foolish efforts to save ourselves. We are turning away from self-sufficiency. At the same time we are turning towards Christ. We trust that He alone is the one who can save us. We are entrusting ourselves to him.
This is why the Bible says it is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is simply that which links us to Christ. It’s that which reaches out and grabs ahold of the work of Christ. And, as it has often been said, a weak faith is able to lay ahold of a strong Christ. The most important aspect of our repentance and faith is not its own veracity. The most important aspect of our repentance and faith is its object - when we place our faith and trust in Christ.
[written by Mike Leake]