SALVATION The acutely dynamic act of snatching others by force from serious peril. In its most basic sense, salvation is the saving of a life from death or harm. Scripture, particularly the New Testament, extends salvation to include deliverance from the penalty and power of sin.
Old Testament For Israelite faith, salvation never carried a purely secular sense of deliverance from death or harm. Because God and no other is the source of salvation, any saving act—even when the focus is preservation of life or release from national oppression—is a spiritual event. The primary saving event in the Old Testament is the Exodus (Exodus 14:13) which demonstrated both God's power to save and God's concern for His oppressed people (Exodus 34:6-7). Israel recounted God's deliverance from Egyptian slavery in the Passover ritual (Exodus 12:1-13), in sermon (Nehemiah 9:9-11), and in psalms (for example, Psalms 74:12-13; Psalms 78:13,Psalms 78:42-54; Psalms 105:26-38). The retelling of the Exodus event and of God's provision during the wilderness years (Nehemiah 9:12-21; Psalms 78:14-29; Psalms 105:39-41; Psalms 114:8) provided a precedent for sharing other stories of national and even personal deliverance (Psalms 40:10; Psalms 71:15).
Some argue that the Old Testament does not link salvation with the forgiveness of sins. The recurring cycle of national sin, foreign oppression, national repentance, and salvation by a God-sent “judge,” however, witnesses the linkage (Judges 3:7-9,Judges 3:12,Judges 3:15; Judges 4:1-4; Judges 6:1,Judges 6:7,Judges 6:12; also Nehemiah 9:27; Psalms 106:34-46). God's sending of a deliverer is in effect God's act of forgiveness of the penitent (compare Psalms 79:9; Psalms 85:4). Psalms 51:12 perhaps provides the best Old Testament case for personal salvation from sin.
In the Old Testament, salvation primarily concerns God's saving acts within human history. The early prophets anticipated God's salvation to be realized in the earth's renewed fruitfulness and the rebuilding of the ruined cities of Israel (Amos 9:13-15). Salvation would extend to all nations who would stream to Zion for instruction in God's ways (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:20-23). The prophets also hinted of a salvation that lies outside history (for example, Isaiah 51:6). The larger context of Isaiah 25:9 reveals that God's salvation embraces abundant life (Isaiah 25:6) and the end of death (Isaiah 25:7), tears, and disgrace (Isaiah 25:8).
Throughout most of the Old Testament, salvation is a corporate or community experience. The Psalms, however, are especially concerned with the salvation of the individual from the threat of enemies (Psalms 13:5; Psalms 18:2,Psalms 18:35; Psalms 24:5). Though the focus is negative—salvation involves foiling the enemies' wrongdoing—there are hints of a positive content of salvation that embraces prosperity (as in Psalms 18:35). The Psalms are especially interested in God's salvation of the “upright in heart” (Psalms 36:10) or righteous (Psalms 37:19-40) who rely on God for deliverance. Psalms 51:12 more than any other Old Testament text associates personal salvation with a conversion experience; renewed joy of salvation accompanies God's creation of a new heart and right spirit and assurance of God's abiding presence.
New Testament For convenience, salvation can be viewed from the two perspectives of Christ's saving work and the believer's experience of salvation.
Christ's saving work involves already completed, on-going, and future saving activity. Jesus' earthly ministry made salvation a present reality for His generation. Jesus' healing ministry effected salvation from disease (Mark 5:34; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19). Jesus offered God's forgiveness to hurting people (Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50). He assured a repentant Zacchaeus that “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). Through such encounters Jesus fulfilled the goal of His ministry: “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
The apex of Christ's completed work is His sacrificial death: Christ came to “give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45); Christ “entered once for all into the Holy Place,… with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12 NRSV); “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NRSV). Here ransom, redemption, and reconciliation are synonyms for salvation. With reference to Christ's atoning work, the believer can confess, “I was saved when Jesus died for me.”
Christ's present saving work primarily concerns Christ's role as mediator (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). Christ's future saving work chiefly concerns Christ's coming again “to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him” (Hebrews 9:28 REB) and salvation from the wrath of God's final judgment (Romans 5:9-10).
Though Christ's sacrificial death is central, Christ's saving activity extends to the whole of His life, including His birth (Galatians 4:4-5), resurrection (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:17), and ascension (Romans 8:34).
The believer's experience also offers a perspective for viewing salvation. The experience again embraces the past, present, and future. God's initial work in the believer's life breaks down into various scenes: conviction of sin (John 16:8); repentance (turning) from sin to God (Luke 15:7,Luke 15:10; 2 Corinthians 7:10); faith which involves commitment of one's whole life to Christ (John 3:16,John 3:36); confession of Christ as Lord (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9-10). Scripture uses a wealth of images to describe this act: new birth (John 3:3; Titus 3:5); new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); adoption (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:5); empowerment to be God's children (John 1:12); the status of “saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1). This initial work in the believer's life is often termed justification. Justification, however, also embraces God's final judgment (Romans 2:13; Romans 3:20,Romans 3:30).
God's ongoing work in the believer's life concerns the process of maturing in Christ (Hebrews 2:3; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18), growing in Christ's service (1 Corinthians 7:20-22), and experiencing victory over sin through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 7-8). Here sin remains a reality in the believer's life (Romans 7:1; 1 John 1:8-2:1). The believer is caught in between what God has begun and what God is yet to complete (Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:12).
God's yet to be finished work in the lives of all believers is sometimes called glorification (Romans 8:17; Hebrews 2:10). Scripture, however, uses a wealth of terms for this future saving work: adoption (Romans 8:23); redemption (Luke 21:28; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 4:30); salvation (Romans 13:11; Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 Peter 2:2); and sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23). God's future work involves more than the individual; God's future work extends to the renewal of heaven and earth.
Some Contested Issues (1) The relationship between faith and works: Scripture repeatedly affirms that salvation is the free gift of God appropriated through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:28). No individual merits salvation by fulfillment of God's law (Romans 3:20). Saving faith is, however, obedient faith (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26; 1 Peter 1:2). We are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Faith that does not result in acts of Christian love is not salvific but demonic (James 2:14-26, especially James 2:19).
(2) The perseverance of the saints: Assurance of salvation is grounded in confidence that God is able to finish the good work begun in us (Philippians 1:6), that God who sacrificed His Son for sinners (Romans 5:8-9) will not hold back anything necessary to save one of his children (Romans 8:32), and that nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ (Romans 8:35-39). Confidence in God's ability to keep those who have entrusted their lives to Christ is not, however, an excuse for any believer's inactivity or moral failure (Romans 6:12-13; Ephesians 2:10). See Atonement; Conversion; Election; Eschatology; Forgiveness; Future Hope; Grace; Justification; New Birth; Predestination; Reconciliation, Redeem, Redemption, Redeemer; Repentance; Sanctification; Security of the Believer.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.