What exactly is salvation?

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)

In the passage above the word  “salvation” translates the noun σωτηρίαν (sōtērian), the accusative singular feminine case of σωτηρία (sōtēria), which means safety, deliverance, and preservation from danger or destruction. But what exactly is Biblical salvation?

Let’s look at two other very important Biblical words first. The first in our English translations is “Christ.”

1 Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβραάμ. Matthew 1:1 (NA28)

1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In Matthew 1:1 the word “Christ” translates the noun Χριστοῦ (christou), the genitive singular masculine case of Χριστός (Christos). Some English translations actually translate Χριστοῦ in this verse as “the Messiah.” The reason for this is twofold. The original Greek usage of this word carried a totally sexual meaning in Classical Greek. It comes from chierin, to rub lightly, or spread over something. Some uses were rubbing arrows with poison in preparation for battle (Homer) and applying paint or whitewash. Another common use was rubbing the body with oil after a bath.

In the Old Testament translation into Greek, this word corresponds to the Hebrew equivalent mesiah (Messiah), which refers to someone who is ceremoniously anointed with holy oil for an office. The most common office for anointing was a king (e.g., David, 2 Samuel 2L7); another was of priests, such as Aaron, which is beautifully described in Psalm 133.

It is in the New Testament, however, that the word appears with most power and significance. It is extremely significant that the word Χριστός is attached to the Lord Jesus Christ in every major event of His life and ministry. One of the most significant was the questions He posed to His disciples. After asking, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and getting such answers John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or other prophets, He then asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” It was Peter’s answer that tells the tale: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In a dramatic proof of Jesus’ claim to His deity, Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” The passage is below.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:13-17 (NASB) 

Jesus is the anointed one of God. What a blessing it is to know that we worship the one and only Anointed One, but what has that to do with what exactly salvation is?

Let’s look at another important Greek word that will get us closer to the answer, which is Savior. I often use the English form of this word in my posts, “Saviour.” but it is translated from the same Greek word.

11 ὅτι ἐτέχθη ὑμῖν σήμερον σωτὴρ ὅς ἐστιν χριστὸς κύριος ἐν πόλει Δαυίδ. Luke 2:11 (NA28)

11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In this passage we have both χριστὸς and σωτὴρ (sōtēr). From ancient Greek it meant deliverer and preserver. It was used of Zeus, but also men who would rise up and protect someone, even a doctor who would save lives. The term was even applied to philosophers, such as Epicurius, statesmen  and rulers.

In the New Testament σωτὴρ occurs 24 times, 16 of which refer to the Lord Jesus, while the other 8 refer to God. It is never used of men except by application, to describe the Christian husband who through Christ is the protector, preserver, and provider of His wife in Ephesians 5:23.

There are 13 versed in the New Testament in which χριστὸς and σωτὴρ appear together. I placed one of them above (Luke 2:11). Another example would be Titus 2:13.

13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, Titus 2:13 (NASB) 

From these two words in reflection of our salvation, the dearest  blessing is that we have absolute assurance of salvation. Why? Not only is He the Savior of the of the world, but his is your Savior. As the apostle John makes clear:

13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 (NASB) 

Now we come full circle to my original question. What exactly is Salvation?

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 believers, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

To hear the “gospel” preached in many churches today, without knowing what we have looked at so far, one would never know that there is an eternal danger and a dire need for deliverance from destruction. Why do so many preachers refuse to preach it? They claim that it would be offensive. I have no tolerance for a “feel good gospel” for that is NOT the gospel.

The gospel when it is preached correctly contrasts our Holy God who cannot tolerate sin with men who are sinners. He will always judge sin. He will always hold those who will not repent of their sins completely accountable. However, since all of us are sinners by birth then we have no hope in ourselves, but the anointed one, our Savior, became our substitute, our deliverer. He lived a sinless life as a man. He never sinned, not once even though he was tempted to sin in every way just like us. He kept God’s law perfectly. At the appropriate time He was handed over to evil men who arrested Him, tortured Him, and executed Him between two criminals. When He was dying on the Cross our God placed all of our sins on Him. He became sin on our behalf. Our sins were inputed to Him. When He died that day He paid the eternal price for our sins.

Are you a sinner? Are you trying to please God by being a good person. Forget it, it doesn’t work. It will never work. There is nothing we can do in and of ourselves to get right with God. No, instead, we must believe that after 3 days and nights in the grave Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead and is alive. He was resurrected. 40 days later he ascended to Heaven to be with the Father, but he gave those who believe this Gospel the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yes, that’s right, to gain eternal life in Christ you must admit you are a lost sinner, and believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead. Those who believe this do so because the Father has drawn them to believe it and they do believe it because they are Born Again.

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 resulting spiritual death through the once-for-all-redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Any other doctrine than this should be cursed.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “What exactly is salvation?

  1. Always look forward to your insightful detail reflection. True statement:

    “To hear the “gospel” preached in many churches today, without knowing what we have looked at so far, one would never know that there is an eternal danger and a dire need for deliverance from destruction. Why do so many preachers refuse to preach it? They claim that it would be offensive. I have no tolerance for a “feel good gospel” for that is NOT the gospel.”

    One can look closely at 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul leads with:

    “1 Corinthians 15:1  Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;”

    As well as when you read the verses that follow you can clearly see Paul and others following Jesus’ model of teaching/preaching which can be seen back in Luke 24:44+.

    One last thought….Romans 1:16-17 is the essence of Paul’s letter to the Romans. A handful of years ago in my old age, I decided to switch the the old KJV, having never thought to pick it up. I have not regretted the decision. The KJV handles v16 magnificently, by putting Christ (which is in the majority Greek texts) back into the verse (or never leaving it out) and making is explicitly clear just what “gospel” is being spoken of. Can’t see it being any clearer than this:

    Romans 1:16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. KJV

    Or if you prefer…

    Romans 1:16  ου γαρ επαισχυνομαι το ευαγγελιον του χριστου δυναμις γαρ θεου εστιν εις σωτηριαν παντι τω πιστευοντι ιουδαιω τε πρωτον και ελληνι

    As you mention there are 13 other times where both Greek words are for saviour and Christ are both used in the same verse. There is also an almost equal number of times where Paul uses the words gospel and Christ in the same verse. It helps having them connected, but I’m disappointed the newer translations leave it out of Rom 1:16.

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