Friday, April 26, 2013


Caleb's comment the other day brings up the question of salvation. I've talked about this before, but I think it's a point that bears repeating. So let's repeat it.

There is a tendency (certainly in North America) for Christians to use them term "saved" as a synonym for conversion. That is, when someone believes on the Lord Jesus, they say they "got saved".  This causes some confusion, because Scripture doesn't generally use the word "saved" that way.  In my short experience, I've learned that it's best to use the language of Scripture--- I'm not very good at it, but I find it clears up a lot of problems simply to use the language Scripture uses.

So let's examine what Scripture says about salvation.

We'll start in Romans 5, because it's probably the clearest passage on salvation:
9 Much rather therefore, having been now justified in the power of his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath.
 10 For if, being enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much rather, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in the power of his life.
 11 And not only that, but we are making our boast in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom now we have received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:9--11, JND)
Verse 9 says we "have been justified", and as a result we "shall be saved".  Verse 10 says we "have been reconciled", and we "shall be saved".  So we see that there is a difference between justification and salvation: justification is the start of the path, salvation is the end. The Christian life starts with reconciliation and ends with salvation.

In fact, the book of Romans never speaks about salvation in the past tense, in Romans salvation is always future, with no exceptions.  We might go so far as to say that in Romans, the Christian life is the period between justification and salvation. In fact, the Apostle makes the remarkable statement:
This also, knowing the time, that it is already time that *we* should be aroused out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Romans 13:11, JND)
Paul, an Apostle, wasn't saved yet. He was still looking forward to a salvation, which was growing closer.

So certainly in the context of Romans, the believer is both justified and reconciled, but he isn't yet saved. If we limit our discussion to Romans, it's incorrect ever to refer to a believer as "saved" until he or she is perfected with Christ.

We might notice that Ephesians views the Christian as saved already:
 8 For ye are saved by grace, through faith; and this not of yourselves; it is God’s gift:
 9 not on the principle of works, that no one might boast. (Ephesians 2:8 & 9, JND)
So there is a sense where a believer is already saved. But Ephesians isn't using the word "saved" as a synonym for conversion either. We notice the passage that says we have been saved by grace begins with the remarkable statements (vv. 4--7) that we have been quickened with Christ, raised with Him, and seated with Him "in the heavenlies". So although Ephesians puts the believer as already saved, it doesn't use the term "saved" to mean merely that a believer has eternal life, but that the believer has gotten to the end of the path: the believer who is "saved" is raised with Christ, ascended into Heaven with Him, and is sitting with Him in Heaven.

In fact, whatever tense is used, Scripture always (with no exceptions that I can find) uses the term "saved" to mean much more than justification. We're not saved just because we have eternal life, nor because we've been justified from our sins, nor because our sins have been forgiven. We're saved when God's work in us is seen as complete.

Salvation isn't the forgiveness of sins, it's not eternal life, it's not justification, it's not redemption, it's not reconciliation. Salvation is the end result of God's work in us: it's what God is working towards. 1 Peter 1:9 uses an amazing expression:
receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls (JND)
Salvation is the end of our faith. It's what we're looking forward to.

Notice Titus uses it the same way:
 5 not on the principle of works which have been done in righteousness which *we* had done, but according to his own mercy he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5, JND)
There are two parts to salvation, according to Titus. The first is regeneration, the second is renewal. Regeneration is Romans 3--8, renewal is Romans 12--15. Again, it's the complete package: not merely that we have been forgiven of sins, but salvation includes God's work in us.

Whenever we mention this fact, there's someone who responds with: "Salvation is in all three tenses in Scripture." That's a true statement, but the people who have quoted it to me seem to miss its implications. It seems we like to come up with these short little one-liners to shield our consciences from the truth. I'm not trying to point any fingers here: I do it too! But let's try and see past the pat answer to what the Scripture actually teaches.

First, it's wrong to think of salvation merely as a synonym for redemption, justification, new birth, or eternal life. Salvation is always presented as a the complete package: salvation is coming into the fullness of what God has for me. Where Scripture says we "have been saved", it's looking to God's eternal purpose in me. Ephesians isn't saying I've been saved because I've been born again: Ephesians says I "have been saved" because God sees me as already there. Eventually, I'll see that He's right. Eventually I'll see it too. Then I'll agree with Him that I've been saved.

Second, there are some "problem" passages that aren't problems at all, if we get rid of our wrong ideas of salvation. Let's take an example: Are we saved by baptism? Yes, yes we are. Scripture teaches it plainly:
 16 He that believes and is baptised shall be saved, and he that disbelieves shall be condemned. (Mark 16:16, JND)
18 ¶ for Christ indeed has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in flesh, but made alive in the Spirit,
 19 in which also going he preached to the spirits which are in prison,
 20 heretofore disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was preparing, into which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water:
 21 ¶ which figure also now saves you, even baptism, not a putting away of the filth of flesh, but the demand as before God of a good conscience, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:18--21, JND)
Scripture plainly and unequivocally teaches that we are saved by baptism.  It's amusing to hear people try and explain away these passages. We ought simply bow to Scripture. We are saved by baptism, but we're not redeemed by baptism, or justified by baptism, or born again by baptism, or regenerated by baptism. Salvation is the end of our path, and one step on that path is baptism. Baptism isn't about having life in Christ: baptism is about severing my ties with this wicked world. And salvation's intimately tied up with that.

The plain fact is that we're always best off bowing to Scripture.  We do no one any favours when we start using the language of Scripture in a way it doesn't. Scripture doesn't use the term "saved" in the way we tend use it.

I understand we need to be careful not to make a man (or a woman) a transgressor for a word. It's not Christ-like for us to go around splitting hairs. So most of the time, I just ignore it when someone uses the term "saved" when they really mean "justified" or "regenerated".  It's not worth stumbling someone over a word.

But I admit I question my judgment when people make clearly anti-Scriptural statements like "baptism doesn't save". That's just plain wrong: Scripture clearly teaches it does.

And it's not just the "problem" verses: when we're not careful to understand what we say before we say it, we miss out on what Scripture is actually teaching. Ephesians 2:8--9 isn't just saying we have forgiveness of sins by grace through faith, it's saying the whole package is by grace through faith. God doesn't justify us by grace through faith and then wait for us to work out the rest ourselves: He saves us by grace through faith. It's the whole Christian life, from justification to the end. All of it is by grace through faith. When we finally see what God sees: when we're finally seated in the Heavenlies and we see what God has seen all along; then we'll see that all of it was purely God's grace through faith.

No comments: