What Does It Mean to be Saved?
The Greek word translated “saved” and its synonyms primarily mean being delivered from something or someone. But salvation is not just a past experience. The Bible speaks of salvation as a present and future reality. While the modern, Western church primarily views salvation as a past event that begins a Christian life, the New Testament speaks of salvation as both an event and a process—a journey.
This journey begins with repentance and belief that are followed by a lifetime of discipleship. The ongoing discipleship journey leads to greater sanctification, and in the end, we experience complete transformation in the eternal state. Salvation, then, is much closer to the process of discipleship than our typical gospel presentations depict.
The following section breaks down several elements of salvation and sets them into the lifestyle of discipleship.
In Ephesians 2:1–5, Paul speaks of our salvation. “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers of the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Eph. 2:1–3 NLT, emphasis added).
Sin Affects Each One of Us
In Conversion and Discipleship I highlight three phrases in this passage that show sin is a problem that affects each one of us. Every person begins life in the grip of sin and under the control of the commander of the unseen world, the devil. We are dead because of our sin, and in our spiritual deadness we follow the desires of our sinful nature. For God to rid the world of sin, he must address its presence in each of us. One way of destroy sin is by destroying the world, which God did in the days of Noah. But it did not solve the problem because he saved sinful humans. We are still in the line of fire, or as Paul writes, “By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger.” Not only do we need to be forgiven of our evil deeds and cleansed from our desire to do evil, we must also face the consequences of our sin. Humanity is currently slated for destruction, along with all that is evil.
In the midst of this depressing situation, Paul explains how God saves us. “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Eph. 2:4–5 NLT). Paul introduces alternatives to death, anger, wrath, and sin—a life of mercy, love, grace, and salvation. That God shows mercy means that saving us and forgiving our sin are not something we should expect and certainly not what we deserve. By all rights, God should punish us for violating his house rules. Instead, he shows us mercy. Though all people are sinners who deserve punishment, God has offered an alternative to punishment—an act of mercy whereby sin is paid for by another. Christ paid the price, and God raised him from the dead as Exhibit A, proof of his ability to solve the death problem. And he extends his offer of forgiveness and salvation to everyone.
Only By God's Grace!
In addition, Paul explains, “It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” (Eph. 2:5 NLT). The fact that our salvation is by grace means that we are incapable of saving ourselves. What we need to remedy our sin problem is more than better conduct or trying harder. Given the right motive, we know that people can improve their behavior. Rehab clinics and peer pressure tell us that behavior modification is within the range of human capabilities. But it is one thing to change outward behavior and another thing to transform motives so they are no longer selfish and self-centered. The Bible is clear that we do not have the resources to change ourselves in this way and require someone greater than ourselves to do it.
At this point, some will protest that none of us chose to live, and being sinful is not a choice we have willingly made. It is the result of our ancestors, Adam and Eve. Some say, “I never asked for this! And now you tell me I should be grateful that you are going to save me from a fate that I am responsible for but never freely chose?” But this response reveals our tendency to think of ourselves as individuals, apart from relationship to others. The reality is that our accountability for sin is like being born into a family. We may not like our family, but it’s our family. We didn’t get to choose the context into which we would enter this world. That’s just not something we get to control or decide.
We can protest. But in the end, we must admit that Paul’s description of the problem is an accurate reflection of human experience. Though we may not understand why and how, we are accountable for the actions of our sinful nature and stand in need of God’s mercy and grace. We need to be saved from both our sinful nature and the consequences of the sins we commit, and from both the sinful world we live in and our personal slavery to the devil.
This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.
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