The word "salvation" has various meanings in the Scriptures. For instance, in the New Testament this word and its verb form are sometimes used in the sense of rescuing from danger or destruction (Matt. 8:25; Acts 27:20) and of healing from disease (Matt. 9:22). But its greatest use is with regard to spiritual salvation through Christ (Matt. 19:25; John 3:17).
Salvation in this sense means the full redemption of whole man. To redeem is to buy back something. God paid the ransom to himself in order to satisfy the demands of his holy, righteous nature. This he did through Jesus' death and resurrection. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). On the cross Jesus Christ made the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of men. "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Heb. 9:12).
This salvation was and is offered to believers on God's initiative as an expression of his love for sinners. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This everlasting or eternal life is not a life that begins after death. It is that quality of life which is eternal, beginning the moment one believes in Jesus and continuing in eternity.
Sin separated man from God. The Bible describes those who are separated from God as "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). The fellowship depicted in Eden was broken. But God proposed to restore it. At Sinai he gave his law to Israel (Ex. 20). In essence, Paul says that God wrote this same law into the hearts of pagans (Rom. 2:14-16). In a sense God called from the heights of his holiness for man to come up to him. Failure to do so brought judgment in keeping with either code of law given to man (Rom. 2:1-13). Jesus himself told the rich young ruler that to inherit eternal life he must keep the commandments (Matt. 19:16-17). But they must be kept perfectly. Failure in one law made one as guilty as though he had failed in all. No man does as good as he knows. So no man keeps God's law perfectly, whether it be the written law or that in pagan hearts. Someone may object that God is unjust in making such a demand. The perfect life of Jesus speaks to the contrary. He proved God "just" in his demand for perfect righteousness. Having done so, God in Christ became the "justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). This he did by paying the price for man's sin in his atoning death, that through faith in him man might receive the righteousness of God which is in his Son.
This is the sense of Galatians 4:4-5. Jesus was "made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. And this salvation is offered freely to all who receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
This means that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. When man would not, could not be saved by the law, God provided salvation by grace through faith. By his sordid, sinful record, man proved that he would not obey God's law.
If God knew from the beginning that this would be true, why did he wait so long to provide salvation through his Son? God knew it. But man had to learn by bitter experience that he was too weak and willful to be saved by law. This knowledge of man is involved in "the fullness of the time" (Gal. 4:4). It was a time right in God's wisdom. When man would not, could not save himself, he was ready for someone else to do it for him. So in Christ God did for man what neither he, no one else, nor anything else could do for him. That is the very essence of grace.
Originally the Greek word rendered "grace" meant to make a gift, then to forgive a debt, then to forgive a wrong, and finally to forgive sin. So basically grace is a gift, as expressed in Romans 3:24. Literally, "Being declared righteous as a gift by his grace through the full redemption, the one in Christ Jesus."
This truth is plainly stated in Ephesians 2:8-10. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of [out of] yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of [out of] works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
Note that salvation is not "out of yourselves" or "out of works" as the source. It is "of God the gift." It is by grace made possible in the individual through his faith. Good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation.
In the first century the Jews regarded themselves as God's children. They performed righteous deeds in order to be rewarded by God. Paul notes that by such deeds of self-righteousness they failed to receive the righteousness of God (Rom. 10-11). Thinking that salvation was for Jews only, certain Jewish Christians (Judaizers) preached that Gentiles must first become Jewish proselytes, then believe in Jesus, in order to be saved (Acts 15: 1). But Peter said, "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we [Jews] shall be saved, even as they [Gentiles]" (Acts 15: 11). Rather than for Gentiles to be saved as Jews, Jews must be saved the same as Gentiles, by grace through faith.
This same truth is expressed in the word "righteousness" as used in Romans 1: 17. The Greek word so translated belongs to a family of words which means that a thing is not necessarily true, but which one chooses to regard as being true. In discussing God's righteousness (chapter 3), three uses of the word were noted: what God is in his nature, what he demands in man, and what he bestows in Christ. In Romans 1:16, the third sense is stated. You may wish to review these concepts in chapter 3.
Thus the "righteousness of God" is not an attribute of God, but an activity of God. By it he picks one up out of the wrong and puts him down in the right as though he had never been in the wrong. It does not mean that one is righteous within himself, but that one in Christ is so regarded. He has the righteousness of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 10:1-10). And note that it is a matter of faith from beginning to end. It is by grace through faith.
Salvation in the larger sense may be seen as threefold: regeneration, sanctification, glorification. The context in each case must decide its meaning. Failure to recognize this distinction leads to many errors, such as believing in salvation by works, believing in falling from grace, and uncertainty as to one's salvation until one appears before the judgment seat of Christ. But when this distinction is preserved, it adds to the meaning of the experience of salvation in its larger sense.
Regeneration is the experience of being born again or from above (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). It is an instantaneous work of God's grace wrought by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus the believer becomes a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:16). Note that to create is a work of God, not of man (Eph. 2: 10). The second one is born again, he is a child of God, a finished relationship which cannot be broken.
While Jesus used the vital figure of life, Paul expressed the same thought in the legal term "adoption" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). Literally, "the placing in the position of a son." Under Roman law one person, usually a slave, might be adopted into the family of another. A price was paid by the adopting father in the presence of witnesses. He assumed all the obligations of the new son. The son was considered as being born again into a new family. He received the privileges of sonship, including heirship, along with naturally born sons. He also assumed the responsibilities of sonship (Rom. 8:17).
Regeneration is the result of conviction of sin, repentance from sin, faith in Jesus Christ, and the confession of that faith. Conviction is the state of mind and heart whereby a lost person recognizes and admits his sinful state and practice. It is a work wrought by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). Under conviction one will either reject Christ and plunge deeper into sin or else he will receive Christ as his Savior. But conviction itself is not regeneration.
Conviction must be followed by true repentance. Two Greek verbs are translated "repent." One means to regret something, but does not imply a change of one's nature. The other means a change of mind, heart, and attitude. It involves a change of attitude. From hating God one loves him; from loving sin one hates it. Thus one abhors sin not only because of what it does to him but to God. This is true repentance necessary for regeneration.
True repentance will be followed by faith. Indeed, repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. If one truly repents he, will turn to Jesus Christ in faith as his Savior. Faith means to believe. But in its truest sense it is more than intellectual, It involves an act of the will whereby one trusts in Christ and commits himself to him, to his will and way. It means to accept or receive Christ as both Lord and Savior. Thus one will be brought to confess him as such (Rom. 10: 9-1 0).
It is thus that one is regenerated, declared righteous as justified before God. But it is not the end of the Christian experience. It is the beginning.
Unfortunately, because some groups have related the idea of sanctification with the "second blessing" and sinless perfection, many Baptists seem to be afraid of the word. It has been noted previously that the Bible does not teach a "second blessing." Neither does it teach sinless perfection as a reality in the Christian's life. First John was written to Christian people (I John 1:8 to 2:1).
"Sanctification" is related to "holy." It means the state of being set apart or dedicated to the services of God. Thus Christians are called "saints" or dedicated, holy, sanctified ones (I Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1). Corinthian Christians did not always act saintly. But they were "saints" nevertheless.
The burden of Scripture is to the effect that sanctification is an instantaneous experience whereby the regenerated one is set apart to God's service. Thereafter, he should grow, develop, and serve in the state of sanctification (Heb. 2:3). This idea is inherent in both the new birth and adoption.
In this sense, therefore, Christian people are called "a holy nation." As Israel in the Old Testament was set apart for God's service, so in the New Testament this people is identified with the followers of Christ. Of interest is the fact that whereas in the Old Testament "holy" is primarily related to things, in the New Testament sense it relates principally to people.
Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:16). He indwells the Christian and seeks to develop and use him in God's service. That "sanctify" does not refer basically to a riddance of sin is clear from John 17:19 where Jesus said, "I sanctify myself." He dedicated himself to God's redemptive purpose by way of the cross. But he also prayed that his followers "also might be sanctified through the truth"(v. 19). In the truth of the gospel they were/are sanctified or set apart for God's service. But as sanctified vessels they should seek to abstain from evil. The Christian life is the sanctified life. As such it should seek progressively to be rid of sin and more suited to God's use.
The glory of the gospel is that souls are regenerated. But the tragedy is that so many Christian lives are lost to God's service through an incomplete understanding of sanctification. All should heed the words of Peter, literally, "But go on growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18).
"Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed." It is the ultimate and complete salvation which shall be realized in heaven (Rom. 8:2930; Heb. 9:28).
In Ephesians 1:14 Paul speaks of "the redemption of the purchased possession." "Redemption" should read "full redemption." it sums up the total salvation with emphasis upon glorification. For that which God has purchased in Christ he will keep in him. And he will glorify it in heaven, meaning the final resurrection of the body (Rom. 8:23, "redemption" here the same as in Eph. 1:14) and the sum-total of glory and reward in heaven.
It should be noted that the Christian is heir to the privileges of sonship but also to the sufferings of the same (Rom. 8:17). He is to suffer with Christ, "that we may be also glorified together" (v. 17). The glory infinitely will outweigh the suffering (v. 18).
But the Bible does teach degrees of reward in heaven and punishment in hell (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27). All the regenerated will be saved in heaven. Some will be saved "as by fire" (I Cor. 3:14-15); their useless works will be burned. Each will enjoy heaven to the full degree of his capacity. But that capacity will be determined by our growth and service in and for Christ while on earth.
In the light of this threefold concept of salvation it is correct to say, "I am saved; I am being saved; I will be saved."