What does it mean to be saved?

The Missouri Baptist Convention has released What Every Christian Should Know about Salvation: Twelve Bible Terms That Describe God’s Work of Redemption. This book is available in print form from the MBC, as well as in print and Kindle versions at Amazon. This excerpt is from the Introduction.



This resource is designed for personal or group study. It explores twelve Bible terms that describe God’s work of salvation as He rescues us from sin, returns us to a right relationship with Him, and ultimately restores us — and the fallen world in which we live — to perfection.

People use the words salvation and saved in a variety of settings, from sporting events to political campaigns to natural disasters. Even within Christian circles, there is disagreement as to what it means to be saved and how salvation is acquired. So, it’s critical for us to begin with a definition.

Stated simply, salvation is God’s remedy for the sin that has ruined everything and alienated everyone from Him. The Lord reveals this remedy as soon as Adam and Eve rebel against Him. He promises a future Redeemer who crushes the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Then, He provides additional promises throughout the Old Testament, granting us more than four hundred prophecies, appearances, or foreshadowings of the Messiah, a King who comes as a virgin-born child in Bethlehem.

This child, Jesus of Nazareth, bursts onto the scene at just the right time (Gal. 4:4). He lives a sinless life and dies on a Roman cross, taking upon Himself our sins and paying the penalty of death for them (2 Cor. 5:21). Then, He rises physically from the dead on the third day, conquering Satan, sin, and death, and freely offering forgiveness of sins and everlasting life by grace through faith in Him. Before ascending into heaven, He promises to return one day to fulfill all things — that is, to complete His work of salvation and to set everything right (Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46; John 14:1-3).

Deliverance from danger

The word salvation has its roots in the Hebrew yasa, which means “to be wide or roomy.” It’s often rendered “to save, rescue, deliver.” Thus, words such as liberation, emancipation, preservationprotection, and security grow out of it. Essentially, salvation means delivering a person or group from distress or danger.

Yasa,and words derived from it, occur more than three hundred fifty times in the Old Testament. The word yeshuah (salvation) is first used in Ex. 14:13 to speak of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Even more important, yasa points forward to a great Deliverer, the Savior Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, the verb sozo (to save) and the nouns soter (Savior) and soteria (salvation) carry over the Old Testament concept of deliverance. As we explore God’s work of salvation, the focal point is Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2 KJV).

Even so, the word salvation is used in many ways throughout the Old and New Testaments, and it’s important to consider the context to determine the proper application. For example, the words save and salvation often refer to physical, not spiritual, deliverance. In the Old Testament, people are saved from enemies on the battlefield (Deut. 20:4). Daniel is rescued from the mouth of the lion (Dan. 6:20). And the righteous are delivered from the wicked (Ps. 7:10; 59:2). In the New Testament, the Lord delivers Paul from shipwreck (Acts 27:20, 31, 34). In other passages, salvation in the physical sense refers to being taken from danger to safety (Phil. 1:19) and from disease to health (James 5:15).

Of course, the greatest type of salvation is spiritual in nature. God sends His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). Jesus comes to seek and to save lost sinners (Luke 19:10). Because of His finished work on the cross, those who call upon the name of the Lord are saved (Rom. 10:13). This salvation comes by the grace of God, through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). The Lord is working, even now, to save us from sin’s power (Rom. 5:10; Heb. 7:25; James 1:21). One day, God’s work of salvation is complete, when even the presence of sin is eradicated (Rom. 13:11; 1 Peter 1:9). These wonderful truths prompt the writer of Hebrews to exhort followers of Jesus not to neglect the great salvation given to us (Heb. 2:3).

An unbreakable relationship

For followers of Jesus, salvation is experienced as an everlasting, unbreakable relationship with Him. It has both temporal and eternal benefits. In fact, of the twelve terms this book addresses, several cannot be confined to time or expressed in chronological order. Consider, for example, that we are foreknown, elected, and predestined in eternity past. Put another way, we are saved before time began.

Other elements of salvation are experienced personally within our lifetimes as God calls us to Himself; regenerates us, or makes us spiritually alive; justifies us, or declares us in right standing before Him; indwells us, or takes up permanent residence in our human spirits; baptizes us in the Holy Spirit, or places us positionally into the church; sanctifies us, or sets us apart and begins the process of making us more like Christ; adopts us into His family; and seals us, or places His mark of ownership on us.

One day, the final act of salvation is completed in glorification. We are physically resurrected and given incorruptible bodies similar to the resurrected body of our Savior.

Since Christians possess a relationship with Christ, which already has begun and extends out into eternity future, it is biblically faithful to say we were saved (from the penalty of sin), are being saved (from the power of sin), and will be saved (from the presence of sin). The twelve terms we explore in the following pages show how God applies these marvelous elements of salvation to our lives.

It should be noted that there are biblical terms describing salvation not included in this study: redemption, conversion, propitiation, and reconciliation, to name a few. These are important terms and are addressed in various ways throughout the following pages. But the point of focusing on the twelve selected terms is to illustrate as simply as possible God’s glorious plan of salvation, woven as a divine tapestry, spanning time and eternity. These are not twelve separate works that God cobbles together. Rather, they are elements of a unified whole.

Ordo salutis

It’s tempting to illustrate these twelve components of salvation in a timeline. However, such an effort, no matter how vigorously pursued, proves untenable. That’s because the order of salvation (Latin ordo salutis) is not always clear in Scripture. Thus, it is much debated among Evangelical Christians.

For example, should we arrange these elements chronologically? If so, how do we order foreknowledge, election, and predestination — all of which occur outside of time and have always been in the mind of God? Should we order the twelve elements causally; that is, did one trigger another? Perhaps we should arrange them legally, according to which elements of salvation set precedents for the others. Maybe we should order them in a Trinitarian model, ascribing certain elements to the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.

While these approaches offer some help, they all fail at some point to provide a comprehensive model for God’s work of salvation. Robert Morey recommends using a “theological model” in which each element is connected directly to a central point: union with Christ. Then, some elements are linked to others in a variety of ways — chronologically, causally, legally, etc. But a single logical connection cannot encompass them all.

So, rather than impose a linear order on these twelve terms, we have chosen to illustrate them as twelve facets in a multi-faceted diamond. When you view a diamond, you see how each facet plays an integral role in revealing the beauty, complexity, and value of the gem. Further, each facet complements the others so that the marring of one diminishes them all.

In a similar manner, we may imagine God’s work of salvation as a perfectly sculpted diamond, with its many facets illuminating, in unique ways, the glorious beauty of God’s redemptive work. While no mere image does justice to the splendor of salvation, perhaps the recurring image of the diamond throughout this study helps us see that salvation is one, singular, multi-faceted work of God that stretches from eternity past to eternity future. As such, those who by faith are “in Christ” may be assured that He completes the good work He started in us long ago (Phil. 1:6).

Before, in, and beyond time

Each of the following chapters is a glimpse into one facet of salvation. Section One is titled Before Time and explores God’s work that, from a human perspective, applied to us long before we were born. Three terms help capture this work: foreknowledge, election, and predestination.

Section Two, labeled In Time, seeks to express how Christ’s finished work on the cross is applied to believing sinners. This work involves calling, regeneration, justification, indwelling, Spirit baptism, sanctification, adoption, and sealing.

Section Three is called Beyond Time and features a single, extended chapter on glorification, when Christ finishes the work of redemption in us — and throughout all creation.

At the end of each chapter is a brief summary, along with questions for personal or group study. While the primary audience for this book is Christians, I wholeheartedly invite non-Christians to read and study this resource. May the indescribable gift of Jesus Christ become real to you. And may deliverance from sin and its consequences be yours by hearing and receiving the gospel.

Jesus could not have made the requirements for eternal life any simpler than this: “Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). If you don’t know Jesus and you read this book, you have made the decision to “hear.” May you also “believe” and thus enjoy everlasting fellowship with the one true and living God, who created you, died for you, and bids you to come to Him.

Next: You are foreknown