“Salvation” is a word often thrown around by the church. But what does the word mean, biblically speaking? What is the significance of “salvation?” What, exactly, happens to institute “salvation?” What is God…Christ…humanity doing in the work? Until the church as a whole can sufficiently articulate what “salvation” is, the word will continue to be a code for something one person, perhaps, has over another. It will continue to be a cuss-word in the mouth and on the lips of the haves over against the have-nots.
The biblical word “salvation,” in the Greek is, “soteria” – “safety, deliverance, preservation from danger of destruction; rescued.” In the New Testament the word is used to describe a rescue from a present negative situation or circumstance (Luke 19:9; Rom. 1:16; 2Cor. 7:10; Phil. 1:28; 1Thes. 5:8-9; 2Tim. 2:10 for example). We have only twice that Jesus (Himself) used the term: Luke 19:9, where salvation is a present experience within a person (Luke 17:20-21); and John 4:22, where salvation has something to do with proper worship of God. Yet, Jesus also spoke about this salvation eschatologically, where it carries one beyond natural death and on into eternity (Luke 16:22; 20:37-38; 23:43).
Johannine (the Apostle John’s) Theology considers salvation as a sort of present and final eschatological experience – where the future event effects the present situation (John 5:24, 28; 6:44, 47; 6:51, 54; 10:28; 11:25-26; 1Jn 2:28; 3:2; 4:17). John also speaks (and has Jesus speaking) of salvation as a kind of rebirth (John 3:3; 1Jn 3:9; 1Jn 5:1).
Pauline (the Apostle Paul’s) Theology also speaks of salvation as eschatological (Rom. 13:11; 1Thes. 4:17), where there is a redemption of the physical body (Rom. 8:23; 1Cor. 15:50-52). But, salvation is a present reality where one is freed from and, in fact, died to, sin (Rom. 6:2), crucifying the flesh with its sinful desires (Gal. 5:24), where a new creature is created (2Cor. 5:17). For Paul, salvation is a mystical union with Christ where one walks out in the present a future guarantee (Rom. 8:24; 1Cor. 1:18; 2Cor. 2:15). Salvation is reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:1) where we have been received as His children (Rom. 8:14-15). Another concept that Paul articulates is the idea of a consummated redemption of all creation (Rom. 8:19-23; 1Cor. 15:26, 28).
The overwhelming thing to recognize concerning salvation in Pauline thought is that it refers to what Christ has done in His great saving act for sinners; all of Pauline Theology revolves around this Christological understanding, and it bears heavily on his own understanding on the point and purpose of the church (1Tim. 1:15). Salvation is a word which speaks of God’s rescuing of humanity, in Christ, from their desperate state of sin. We have been destined for salvation, not wrath (1Thes. 5:9-10). That this salvation has a distinct structure is clear (Rom. 10:10). That, in Christ, salvation is sufficient for all humanity, but efficient only for those who believe is equally as clear (Titus 2:11). It is in no way on part of humanity that salvation has come, but to believe that God is who He says He is (Rom. 4; Eph. 2:5, 8-10; 2Thes. 2:13; Titus 3:5).
A final notion concerning salvation in Pauline Theology should be of inertest; that is, the idea that salvation, in essence, is the reasonable mental exchange (either instantaneous or by process) of exiting out of ignorance and into the “epignosis,” “the knowledge of the truth” (Rom. 2:20; 1Tim. 2:4; 2Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1; Heb. 10:26). For Paul, as usual, salvation, first, is a working of the mind. Where someone without salvation is ignorant, salvation itself is true knowledge (literally speaking). And I think it is here where we find the real form for understanding the ideology of “salvation,” which the church so needs to apprehend.