Let’s start with the meaning of salvation. Perhaps someone has asked you, “Are you saved?” This should actually raise another question: Saved from what?
Paul in the book of Romans explains the dire predicament we human beings are in. He first tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×). And then: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×).
Salvation (divine deliverance or rescue), then, is from sin and its consequences, the ultimate consequence being death—perpetual, eternal death, as other passages show. The rest of Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×states the outcome of salvation: “… but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Salvation accomplished in stages
God’s salvation is accomplished in stages. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. When in repentance (which includes a commitment to obey God) and faith we accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we are freed from the death penalty. We are then under grace—no longer under the dominion of sin and death (Romans 6:14 Romans 6:14For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.
American King James Version×).
As long as we continue with God—not turning away from His way of life—we are saved. This is the sense of salvation described in Ephesians 2: “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5-8 Ephesians 2:5-8 5 Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;)
6 And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
American King James Version×).
Christians, however, still stumble and sin (1 John 1:8 1 John 1:8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
American King James Version×). And every sin is a very serious matter—requiring renewed repentance. In fact, neglecting to repent over an extended period can eventually lead to rejecting God and losing salvation (Hebrews 2:3 Hebrews 2:3How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him;
American King James Version×; Hebrews 6:4-8 Hebrews 6:4-8 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes oft on it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God: 8 But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is near to cursing; whose end is to be burned.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 10:26-31 Hebrews 10:26-31 26 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him that has said, Vengeance belongs to me, I will recompense, said the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
American King James Version×).
Thus each occasion of seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness is essentially a renewed salvation— salvation from rejecting God and the terrible end that would lead to. So not only have we “been saved” in one sense, but followers of Christ are presently “being saved” in an ongoing process (see Acts 2:47 Acts 2:47Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 1:18 1 Corinthians 1:18For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us which are saved it is the power of God.
American King James Version×; 2 Corinthians 2:15 2 Corinthians 2:15For we are to God a sweet smell of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
American King James Version×).
As an aside here, this process of ongoing repentance and restoration to God is part of what Scripture refers to as “sanctification”—being made holy or set apart to God. Hebrews 10:10 Hebrews 10:10By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
American King James Version×says that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Yet Hebrews 10:14 Hebrews 10:14For by one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
American King James Version×says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Having been sanctified is parallel to having been saved at initial repentance and forgiveness—and being sanctified is parallel to being saved in an ongoing process of repentance and change.
The main focus of salvation, though, is the ultimate outcome of eternal life in God’s Kingdom. And this reward comes only after a concerted effort of struggling to overcome.
Jesus spoke of this overarching aspect of salvation in these terms: “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×; Mark 13:13 Mark 13:13And you shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×). The salvation mentioned here is yet future (see also Acts 15:11 Acts 15:11But we believe that through the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
American King James Version×; Romans 5:9-10 Romans 5:9-10 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
American King James Version×). And the salvation process we experience today is pointless for us if it does not lead to this ultimate future salvation.
The meaning of justification
Integral to salvation is the matter of justification. This term refers to being made just, right or righteous. Literally, it means being made straight—perfectly lined up (with God).
We are initially justified or aligned with God when, on repentance and faith in Christ’s shed blood for atonement, we are forgiven of sin and reckoned by God as righteous. This is referred to by Paul as “imputed” righteousness (see Romans 4:20-25 Romans 4:20-25 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
25 Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.
American King James Version×). Justification in this sense is also known as reconciliation. It corresponds to the past sense of salvation—in which we have been saved from sin and death as long as we continue in God’s way.
Yet as already noted, Christians will not maintain perfect obedience. They still sin. Thus, they need help to remain aligned with God (to remain justified) and, when they fall out of alignment through sin, they need to continually be realigned (justified or reconciled).
The apostle James explains that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24 James 2:24You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
American King James Version×). He was speaking of maintaining justification through deeds. Yet as Paul explained, human effort of itself cannot achieve the obedience God requires. Only through Christ living within us through the Holy Spirit can we succeed in obedience and remain justified (compare Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×; Romans 7:7-25 Romans 7:7-25 7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. No, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, worked in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be to death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. 12 Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13 Was then that which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent to the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
American King James Version×; Romans 8:1-11 Romans 8:1-11 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you.
American King James Version×).
And thankfully, whenever we fall out of alignment through sin, we still have Christ’s blood to justify us as we strive to overcome. Ongoing justification—through Christ-empowered obedience and Christ’s atoning sacrifice when we fall short—corresponds to the current process of “being saved.”
This will lead us to ultimate salvation. To conclude, let’s notice in Romans 5:1-11 Romans 5:1-11 1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience;
4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5 And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
American King James Version×past justification through Christ’s sacrifice contrasted with future salvation through Christ’s life within us to help perfect us in obedience.
Here Paul writes: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God [i.e., reconciliation] through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand [having been saved, in a sense], and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God [yet future].
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations [present struggles], knowing that tribulation produces perseverance [in faith and obedience]; and perseverance, character [the habit of obedience]; and character, hope [in future salvation]. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God [which 1 John 5:3 1 John 5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
American King James Version×defines as obedience to God’s commandments] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit [that] was given to us.
“For when we were still without strength [incapable of proper obedience], in due time Christ died for the ungodly … God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath [punishment for sin, ultimately death] through Him.
“For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life [within us to help us grow in obedience and through His acting as our High Priest]. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”