What Does Salvation Really Mean? (Part Three)

In our previous two studies we found that the word “salvation” in the Old and New Testaments simply means “rescue."   We realized that the context of the Bible passage tells us what someone or some group of people is being rescued from.  Many times in Scripture the people were being rescued by God from physical enemies.  Other times God was rescuing people from their sins and sometimes from sicknesses or from spiritual oppression.

As we move now to our final study let’s look at the use of the word “salvation” in the writings of Paul the apostle.   We don’t have time to cover each time that Paul uses the Greek word soterion or one of its derivatives in his writings, but let’s look at three key passages in his letter to the believers at Rome.  (All Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation, NASB)
  • Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel , for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
  • Romans 5:10, “For if while 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.”
  • Romans 10:10, “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

All three of these passages use the Greek word soterion or one of its derivatives, which means simply “rescue” or “to rescue” in the verb form.  The NASB translates them as "salvation" or "saved."

In the first passage Paul is giving a summary of the entire letter.  In the letter he lays out God’s plan of rescue for the Gentiles.  This plan of rescue hinges on the coming of Jesus the Messiah and includes his death, burial, resurrection and enthronement in heaven.  Here Paul is presenting the gospel (which means “good news”) that provides the power for rescue (salvation) for both Jews and Greeks.  As we read through the entire letter, we realize that what we are being rescued from is the power, presence and penalty of human sin.   The root sin is independence from God.  So the good news is that through the work of Jesus our Messiah, in his sinless life, sacrificial death and powerful resurrection, God has provided rescue for human beings from the torment of their independence from God. 

Independence from God may seem like a good thing initially, but when mankind follows the path of independence they end up with broken relationships, darkened minds, broken bodies and a disintegrating society.  Paul outlines the progression of human sinfulness in Romans 1:21-32.  It is not a pretty picture.  

Paul sums up the effects of sin and contrasts it with the offer of God later in his letter by remarking that the results of sin is death (in every dimension, spiritual, emotional, mental, social and physical), but the offer of God is real life through Jesus the Messiah (Romans 6:23).   The offer of life through God is received as we simply entrust our lives and surrender our wills to the Lordship of the Messiah.

This leads us to our second passage:

"For if while 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.”

Here Paul tells us that through our independence and sinfulness we were enemies of God, but because of the death of the Messiah, we have been reconciled to God.  The English word "reconciled" comes from the Greek word katalasso, which means “return to favor with, to be made one.”  So through the work of Messiah Jesus we who were enemies of God have been brought into favor and into oneness with Him!  

Then right after this clause Paul says something astounding:

 “…much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”   

He says that now since you have been brought into favor and oneness with God through the death of Messiah, you will also be rescued through the life of Jesus the Messiah.   The offer is that Jesus Himself will come and share His resurrection life with us, enabling us to live by the power of that new life. It is the Presence of His resurrection Life in us that will rescue us on a daily basis from our selfishness and independence from God.

One of the best definitions of sin that I have heard comes from Wayne Jacobson.  He says that sin is simply “taking for ourselves what God has not provided.”   Let that sink in for a minute.  Pretty good definition right?

If this is true, then the Life of Jesus within us rescues us from the tendency to move outside of God’s boundaries and provisions for our lives.  We can be content and at rest with the life of Messiah flowing in our hearts.  It is the life of Jesus within me that rescues me on a daily basis from the power of sin.

Paul goes on to explain how this works in chapter 6 when he tells us to reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God through Jesus our Messiah.  (Romans 6:11).

Now let’s move on to our final verse.  Here Paul is explaining how to receive this wonderful rescue – this wonderful free salvation from the power and presence of human sinfulness.   He tells us that we must believe in our hearts that God has raised Jesus the Messiah from the dead and we must confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord.   This implies that we are surrendering our lives to the Lordship (leadership) of Jesus the Messiah.

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”  (Romans 10:9-10, NASB)

Through our action of trust and surrender God brings us into covenant relationship with Himself and provides right standing (righteousness) for us as a free gift.  This is not dependent on our performance but solely dependent on the work of Messiah.  God rescues us from the power of sin as we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Messiah.  This is actually an on-going process and not a one-time event. 

The wonderful thing about salvation is that the life of the Lord Jesus grows within us as we trust and surrender to Him each day.   Three keys to walking with God are trust, surrender and patience.  We’ll talk more about those another time. 

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