Salvation and transformation

by Mike Ratliff

16 Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι, Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι. (Romans 1:16 NA28)

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The very first time I raised concerns about the Kansas City Prophets and the International House of Prayer over 15 years ago over their extra-biblical activities, I was rebuked by another professing Christian with this statement, “You just don’t understand what is going on. If people’s lives are being changed then God is working so you should just shut up.” Back in 2006 when God opened my eyes to what the leadership at our church back in Olathe, KS was doing with the Purpose Driven stuff and I raised the alarm I was rebuked again with pretty much the same argument. I was told that I should just kick back and cooperate so that the church could peacefully go Purpose Driven so that God could work there and people’s lives could be changed. When I began commenting on the old Slice of Laodicea blog about that same time, those PDC apologists who hated our firm stance against it said very much the same thing. If you listen to Rick Warren speak when talking about what a great ministry Saddleback Valley Baptist Church is, he will always try to emphasize the thousands of people whose lives have been transformed or changed. When we lived in the Kansas City area the World Revival Church there used the very same theme in their TV advertisements. Their ads on our local TV channels seemed to always talk about the hundreds of lives transformed or changed through that ministry. 

This is the common apologetic thread in all of the marketeers of the  “ministries” who attempt to “sell” them to potential “customers” with the promise of “change” or, if it is made to an already “churched” group or person, then it will be from a “transformation” perspective. Is this what Biblical salvation is all about? Are “salvation” and “transformation” synonymous? This may surprise some, but neither transformation nor the transformed life is part of the Biblical Gospel. Neither is deliverance or liberation when used in a temporal context. That being so, what is the definition of Biblical salvation?

8 But what does it say? “ The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that 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; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:8-10 NASB)

What does it mean that “you will be saved?” Obviously it involves the heart, believing, justification, confessing with the mouth and being saved. Carefully read the passage I placed at the top of this post (Romans 1:16). Here is in Greek, “Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι, Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι.“ Here is my translation, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The word I translated as “salvation” is σωτηρίαν the accusative, singular form of σωτηρία or sōtēria, which means safety, deliverance, and preservation from danger or destruction. It is clear in much of what is preached today that this concept of salvation is either not understood or has been changed into a different concept with less offensive focus. If our salvation is a form of rescue or deliverance then that means that we we’re saved from something. Some tone that down into a “deliverance” from problems or some other “temporal” thing that is totally out of context from what Paul was writing about here.

What is the Biblical definition of salvation? It is nothing like that offered by today’s “new theology,” which is, “liberation from the oppression of this world’s structures.” Instead, true Biblical salvation is the sole act of God whereby He by His mercy and grace eternally redeems His elect believers and delivers them from their sin and the resultant spiritual death through the once-for-all redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Apostle Paul would agree with that definition and would say that any other doctrine disagreeing with it, adding to it, or subtracting from it should be cursed (Galatians 1:8-9).

A false Gospel doesn’t have to be really “out there” to be heretical. It can simply be too easy like that of the Seeker-sensitive churches that never talk about the necessity of repentance and preach a Law based works-righteousness with very little Bible centering. Salvation is not about self-esteem or trying harder to do right. It is not about meeting people’s felt needs. It is not about sentimentality. It is not about so-called “spiritual manifestations” that cause goosebumps and people running around screaming, falling on the floor and, jerking and being all about “feelings.” No, the true Biblical Gospel is about sin and the Saviour.

Soli Deo Gloria

3 thoughts on “Salvation and transformation

  1. One cannot be a casual Christian, for the world will never stop trying to conform us to its image. We must continually strive to honor the Lord Who bought us and mortify the sinful desires of our flesh. A wise man once observed, “The path of least resistance makes both men and rivers crooked,” The Lord of Heaven will make our paths straight. Seek Him while He may be found and grow not weary in well doing, for in due time you will reap if you faint not.

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