The Biblical Meaning of Salvation

Christianity is a message of salvation. What does that mean? Our Protestant friends sometimes ask, “Brother, have you been saved?” They have in mind a private religious experience, a prayer meant to guarantee one’s place in heaven. Is that what salvation means?

In the ancient near east, kings and emperors were described as “saviors” when they liberated a besieged city, or brought peace and harmony to the land. The Old Testament ascribes that task to God.  The Hebrews were often besieged by their neighbors and ultimately suffered exile in Babylon and Assyria.  They cried out to God for “salvation.”  In the book of Chronicles we read, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations.” (1 Chron. 16:35)

The Hebrew prophets looked forward to a time when God would raise up a divine king (the Messiah) to save Israel from the nations. (Isaiah 9) But unlike the kings of the nations, the Messiah would conquer in humility and meekness. “A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3) His dominion would extend to the whole world, and not just Israel. (Is. 49:6)  He, himself, would suffer, “offering his back to those who beat him.” (Is. 50:6). He would “bear the sin of many,” and make himself “an offering for sin.” (Is. 53:10).  In that day, God makes a New Covenant with Israel.  He puts his law in their minds and writes it on their hearts. (Jer. 31:31)

When Jesus appeared in Galilee, he declared the arrival of this Messianic kingdom. (Mark 1:15) But unlike the Hebrews, Christ said his kingdom was not of this world. (John 18:36) His enemies were not nations and armies, but the spiritual powers and principalities. (Ephesians 6:12) Christ said, “If I cast out demons by the finger of God, know that the Kingdom of God has come among you.” (Matt. 12:28)

Jesus also assumed the role of the suffering servant. He gave his life as a ransom for those held under the power of the devil. (Mark 10:45; Hebrews 2:14). His death was an offering for sin. (Romans 3:25) By his suffering, Christ merited the gift of the Spirit. (Acts 2:32)  Because of his humility, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above all names.” (Philippians 2:8)

Before the coming of Christ, Jews and Gentiles were divided by the Mosaic Law. It was “the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) But Christ nailed it to the cross, with its laws and commands. (Col. 2:14) Now, in Christ, those who were far off have come near. The Gentiles are heirs together with Israel. It is not by the Mosaic Law, but by faith that we are incorporated into Christ.  All those who believe are now children of Abraham.  According to Isaiah’s promise, the light of Israel extends through Christ to all the nations. (Romans 3-4)

Those who believe in Christ are promised forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).  God’s love is shed abroad in their hearts. (Rom.5:5) Since love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8), those who walk by the Spirit have fully met the law’s demands. (Rom.8:3) The Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing their resurrection from the dead. (Rom. 8:11)

But the promise of faith comes with a condition. Faith joins us to Christ, to the people of God, but Scripture exhorts us to persevere in faith and obedience. “Those who persevere to the end will be saved,”  Christ says. (Matt. 24:13). If we fall away through disobedience, if we neglect such a great salvation, there is no more sacrifice for sins. (Hebrews 10:26). If we walk in the Spirit, we will be saved. But if we return to the deeds of the flesh, we will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21).

We persevere, we remain in Christ, by fellowship with his body, the Church, and by receiving the sacraments. “Whoever eats my flesh abides in me,” Christ says.  (John 6:56)  This bread is his flesh, given for the life of the world. (John 6:51)) For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these, “writes the second-century St. Justin, “we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word . . . is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66)

Salvation, in Scripture, is a rich concept.  Following ancient usage, it suggests the coming of a conquering king who vanquishes his enemies and invites the meek and humble to partake of his reign.  It’s more than a private experience. Those redeemed by Christ enter into a society, the Church, and are nourished by Sacramental mysteries.  Through faith and obedience, they await the consummation of all things at the end of time.

7 thoughts on “The Biblical Meaning of Salvation

  1. Lawrence Meigs - February 26, 2017

    Dr Anders: Are you familiar with the teaching/writings of Rev David Wilkerson (Times Square Church) of the Holiness Pentecostal tradition (now deceased)? He agrees that faith and obedience are necessary for salvation and doesn’t accept “once saved always saved”. But, he states that as Christians we can have “100% victory over sin”. He concedes that we will still commit some sins (which seems to conflict with the “100% victory”). However, he states that sins such as lust are commonly “totally conquered” by believers, primarily through the gift of Fear of God (apparently he reached a state where he never again sensed any lust when looking at a beautiful woman). He also says that there will be no purification after death. So, the doctrine suggests that in order to achieve salvation, we must be sanctified in this life to a nearly sinless condition and complete obedience to God (he does allow for repentance for occasional mistakes), as well as casting off all worldly desires, seeking only God’s glory and radically loving him in this life. Anything less than this, he labels as a “compromised life” which is not sufficient for salvation. I believe we need to set the bar high as Christians but I’m not sure I can clear one this high. Any comments or experience you have with this tradition will be appreciated.

  2. Frank - January 3, 2017

    I watched parts of that interview on YouTube, and to be honest, it was pretty painful to watch, hence my not watching all of it. Especially the part where you explained the doctrine of salvation that you understood as a Presbyterian(? if memory holds) as being something along the lines of “asking Jesus to come and live in your heart.” That is such a watered down understanding of salvation, and biblically unrecognizable, it is no wonder to me that you made your way to Rome. You also spent a lot of time going (selectively) into the history of Catholicism, Protestantism, Luther, etc., when what really matters in this discussion is “What saith the scriptures?”

    As for 2 Timothy 2:15, its not a matter of interpretation; its a matter of simply reading, and letting the text say what it says. God made it pretty easy for us to understand his words- the King James Bible is written at the 6th or 8th grade reading level. As far as whether or not Timothy ought to be in the Bible, I would point out that it’s human author is Paul, an apostle of Christ, who gave us most of the New Testament and most of the Church age doctrine, since he was the apostle to the gentiles and his ministry becomes the primary ministry of the New Testament after the Jews, as a nation, reject the gospel.

    But more generally, and more profoundly, God himself promised us that He would preserve His words for us.

    Two such promises come to mind:

    Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

    Psalm 12:6-7 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

    I just take God at His word (pun intended).

  3. Frank - December 31, 2016

    It’s really amazing to me how someone can hold the Bible to be true and hold the Catholic church to be true at the same time. The Bible not only doesn’t support Catholic teachings, it directly and repeatedly refutes them. How you manage to navigate that cognitive dissonance is beyond me. I imagine it would be a fascinating study for a psychologist.

    Speaking of studying, there is one verse in the Bible that commands us to study the Bible,

    2 Tim 2:15: Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

    This verse also tells us how to study; by rightly dividing. Rightly dividing, also called dispensationalism, is essential if you want to learn God’s doctrines for this age. You can’t just randomly select verses and discard others in order to fit the preconceived doctrines of your particular religion.

    1. David Anders - January 3, 2017

      Hi Frank,

      If you’d like to know how someone can hold the Catholic faith to be true, why not watch the interview I did with Marcus Grodi for the Journey Home, available on the T.V. and Radio link on this website.

      Regarding 2 Timothy:15 – there’s a lot say about the proper interpretation of this verse. But, I wonder, what would you say to someone who denies that Timothy ought to be regarded as Sacred Scripture? How would you refute him?


  4. Morgan Dendler - May 2, 2016

    You are a blessing to so many people I am sure. I am positive though that you have changed my life. My wife and I recently came into the catholic church this past Easter . You made it easier. I ceased to be a protestant because of you my brother and The Hosy Spirit waltzed me into the church. Thank you. May God richly bless you

  5. Kevin Williams - December 15, 2015

    I wanted to copy your definition and explanation of the difference between The protestant and catholic view of original sin in the back of my Bible. It was from your December 2013 interview on Journey Home. I cant find the word you used to describe the prot view of OS being a “Viciation”? of our nature? I cant find that word or definition. What would be a different word? Or perhaps what is the proper spelling of the word ? I loved your explanation. I am a recent convert and will need it to present the catholic view to my many street preaching Calvinist friends.

    1. Mike O - February 12, 2016

      The word you may be looking for is vitiation. It means to to make legally defective or invalid; invalidate; spoil or to reduce the value or quality.
      I am not sure how Dr. Anders used it, but it makes sense in the context of your post.

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