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SALVATION (Heb. yeshû‘âh, Gr. sōtēria). What God in mercy does for his sinful, finite human creatures is presented in the Bible through a variety of Metaphor|metaphors, images, and models (e.g., redemption and justification). Of these, none is more important or significant than salvation: thus God is called “Savior” (Hos.13.4; Luke.1.47) and portrayed as the “God of salvation” (Ps.68.19-Ps.68.20; Luke.3.6; Acts.28.28).

The need for salvation

Man’s sin

According to the Genesis account, when God created man He entered into a covenant with him in which, by following the pathway of obedience, man might then rise to a confirmed state of holiness; if he chose to disobey, he would then fall to enslavement under sin. Obedience would lead to eternal life in communion with God; disobedience would bring death and slavery to Satan. The positive dimension of this covenant is to be inferred from the Scripture, whereas the negative side is explicit.

As Genesis 3 makes clear, man chose to disobey his Creator. When confronted with the serpent, Eve succumbed to the challenge to assert her independency of God. She endeavored to deify herself and dethrone God. Pride is the essence of sin! Sin is not only a lack of conformity to or any transgression of the law of God; it is also, and perhaps even more fundamentally, a rendering of one’s personal relationship with his Creator. When man disobeys a command of God he offends the loving and holy One who as the absolute Spirit Person sustains all life.

In Adam all men sinned (Rom 5:12). The Apostle Paul establishes the universal condemnation of all men because of their sinning. All, whether Gentile or Jew, have sinned and are failing to reflect the glory of that original impress of the imago dei (Rom 3:23).

Man’s guilt

Because of man’s sin he is deserving of God’s judgment. After establishing from Psalm 14 that Jews and Gentiles are alike under the power of sin, Paul states, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom 3:19). In theological language guilt means liability to punishment on account of sin; it means to be answerable to God for contradicting His holiness. Guilt must not be confused with moral pollution nor with mere demerit. For various reasons one may feel guilty when there is neither pollution nor personal demerit. Likewise one may not feel guilty where both exist.

The sense of guilt for disobeying God is immediately evident in the account of the Fall. After Adam and Eve had taken of the forbidden fruit we learn of their vain effort to hide from God. A sense of shame compelled them to flee from their Creator. Man in his fallen condition has been doing this down through the entire course of human history. But all men exist in a responsible relationship to their Creator, and if they do not fulfill this responsibility in loving obedience to Him through faith in Jesus Christ then only judgment and the second death await them.

Man’s estrangement

Because of sin man’s predicament may be described as one in which he finds himself a victim of anxiety, dread, despair, frustration, alienation, absurdity, meaninglessness and estrangement. He has cut himself off from God, his fellow-man and himself. In this situation man either seeks to make meaning for himself by deifying himself (humanism) or by admitting his failure to discover any meaning (nihilism).

Evidences of man’s estrangement from his God, his fellow-man and even himself scream at us in contemporary art forms—literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, motion pictures.

The nature of salvation

Biblical terms

1. Hebrew יֵ֫שַׁע, H3829, יְשׁוּעָה, H3802. The word yash’ and its cognates have the basic meaning, “to be wide,” “roomy”; fig., “to be well off” or “prosperous”; “to be free.” An understanding of this OT word group is imperative to an understanding of what is implied in Matthew’s statement concerning Jesus as meaning “savior” (Matt 1:21). The usage of yasha’ and its cognates disclose the following important concepts as integral to the overall meaning of salvation.

b. Salvation is accomplished in history. The first occurrence of the word yasha’ is found in Exodus 14:30. In this reference there is the account of Israel’s deliverance from Egyp. bondage: “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians.” This national deliverance made the deepest impression on the Heb. mind, an impression which was to be maintained by the annual Passover feast (Deut 16:1). This deliverance of Israel from Egypt is the supreme OT sign of Yahweh’s saving grace. It pointed beyond itself, to that central saving event of history, the coming of Jesus Christ. It is most significant that Luke describes the decisive victory of Christ over Satan in terms of a new Exodus (Luke 9:31, Gr.).

d. Salvation is deliverance to the Lord. Yahweh not only delivered His people from that which would destroy them but He also brought them to Himself. His salvation was not merely a rescue from a dangerous situation but it was also a rescue for a special purpose, that purpose being that those rescued should worship, praise and glorify Him through lives dedicated to obeying Him in all of life (1 Chron 16:23; Isa 43:11, 12; 49:6, 7; Zech 8:13).

A unique feature of the Old Testament concept of salvation, as compared to the pagan religions of that time, is the fact that it was understood as the prerequisite rather than simply the goal of obedience. The order is well expressed by the psalmist, “Save me, that I may observe thy testimonies” (Ps 119:146). The entire Bible makes it very clear that the imperative of do for man is based upon the indicative of done by God.

e. Salvation is appropriated solely by faith in God apart from any reliance upon supposed merit or human effort. This was true salvation both on a national and individual scale (Ps 44:3; 55:16; 86:2; 138:7; etc.).

2. Greek σωτηρία, G5401. As used in the LXX the word was frequently equivalent of yasha’, denoting the saving power of God in the crises of history nationally and in the people of God individually. This saving grace is further seen not to be confined to this age but to also anticipate the future, and it causes the man who has experienced it to rejoice and glorify his Creator.

In the New Testament soteria is used of “deliverance from enemies” (Luke 1:69, 71; Acts 7:25; Jude 25) and of bodily health and safety (Acts 27:20, 34; Heb 11:7), but the distinctive use is in respect to spiritual deliverance. Several important ideas emerge in this sphere:

b. Jesus is the center of God’s saving work; in no one else is there salvation (Acts 4:12; Heb 2:10; 5:9). Without Him and His work there is no soteria.

c. Salvation in the New Testament sense of spiritual deliverance means a total salvation. God saves fallen man—body and soul. Specifically, soteria is salvation from physical illness (Matt 9:21; Luke 8:36), from lostness (Matt 18:11; Luke 19:10), from sin (Matt 1:21), from wrath (Rom 5:9).

d. Salvation is eschatology|eschatological. Although the Christian begins to enjoy his salvation here and now there is yet a time coming when he will realize it in all its fullness. That time will be at the Second Coming of Christ, a day when He will be enthroned as King of all the world (Rom 13:11; 1 Cor 5:5; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5; Rev 12:10).

In summary, soteria is the rescue of fallen man through Christ from all that would ruin his soul in this life and in the life to come.

Biblical categories

General obedience

The word or idea of obedience is used of Christ with sufficient impact in the NT to be taken as a comprehensive characterization of His redeeming work. Paul wrote, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Again, writing of Christ, he stated, “And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews states, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:8). Christ redeemed us by rendering a perfect obedience to the will of His Father. This He did by obeying all the demands of the law (moral, ceremonial, and civil) and by suffering its penal sanctions.


The New Testament employs four terms which when taken together give a most comprehensive portrayal of the saving work of the Triune God. These are: sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation and redemption. Sacrifice views salvation as the answer to man’s guilt; propitiation as the answer to God’s righteous wrath; reconciliation as the removal of the ground of God’s alienation from fallen man; and redemption as a release from bondage to sin.

b. Propitiation (Greek ἱλασμός, G2662). This word is used only three times in the New Testament (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). The RSV has rendered all three texts with the word “expiation” which has a more restrictive meaning. It would appear that behind the use of ἱλασμός, G2662, there is the twofold sense of propitiation and expiation. The particular stress of the word is prob. best taken as indicating God’s diverting of His righteous wrath from the sinner through the atoning work of His Son. Propitiation does not imply that the Son had to win over an incensed Father to an expression of love toward man; rather, it was precisely because of His eternal love that the Father sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

c. Reconciliation (Greek καταλλάσσω, G2904). This word is used in only four Pauline passages (Rom 5:10, 11; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20-22). Reconciliation was a work of God in Christ whereby He removed the ground of His holy alienation from the sinner and thus did not impute his sins against him. The subjective change of the sinner’s attitude toward God is a result of the historical event of the cross, the objective work of reconciliation accomplished by Christ.

d. Redemption (Greek ἀπολύτρωσις, G667). This word speaks the language of purchase and ransom. Redemption is the securing of a release by the payment of a price. In the theological sense, redemption means the release of the shed blood of Christ. Redemption from sin embraces the several aspects from which sin is to be viewed scripturally: (1) redemption from its guilt (Rom 3:24), (2) redemption from its power (Titus 2:14), (3) redemption from its presence (Rom 8:23).

The necessity of the atonement.

There are two major views reflected in the historical development of theological thought.

The hypothetical view

This position maintains that God could have saved sinners without atonement. Other means were open to an all-powerful God, but He chose this means as the best for the accomplishment of His purpose. Two outstanding exponents of this view were Augustine and Aquinas.

The consequent absolute necessity view

By the word “consequent” is meant the idea that God did not have to save anyone; but, consequent upon the fact that He determined to do so, this view maintains that He had to do so by means of atonement. Among those prominent theologians holding this position there may be mentioned such men as G. Smeaton, A. A. Hodges and L. Berkhof.

Theories of the atonement

The ransom theory

(Origen, 185-254). This view, sometimes termed the military theory, argues that Christ paid a ransom to Satan for the deliverance of those who were his rightful captives. This position has been called the patristic theory inasmuch as it was held in one form or another by a number of the Early Church Fathers.

The satisfaction theory

(Anselm, 1033-1109). This view maintained that Christ’s death provided full satisfaction for our sins and that His merit was more than equal to any obligation which man could possibly incur toward God. Christ’s death was centrally conceived of as His voluntary discharge of man’s obligation to God.

The moral influence theory

(Abelard, 1079-1142). This view maintained that the life and death of Christ was the supreme revelation of God’s love calculated to awaken in man a reciprocal love and gratitude. The response of love is then taken to be the basis both of justification and the forgiveness of sin.

The example theory

(Socinus, 1539-1604). This view maintained that Christ’s death effected reconciliation by affording motives and encouragement to man to repent and believe. Christ’s power to save is based on the import of His teaching and the influence of His example. Christ’s death was simply that of a noble martyr.

The governmental theory

(Grotius, 1583-1645). This view maintained that Christ’s death is an exhibition of divine regard for the law though He did not suffer its precise penalty; God graciously accepted His suffering as a substitute for the penalty. The atonement is viewed as a satisfaction, not to any internal principle of the divine nature, but to the necessities of government.

The dramatic theory

(Gustaf Aulén, 1879). This view maintains the essence of Christ’s work is to be seen in terms of man’s liberation from the tyrants of sin, death, wrath and the devil. Aulén maintains that this was the view of the early Fathers, subsequently lost by Anselm and medieval scholasticism but recaptured by Martin Luther.

The penal substitution theory

(Calvin, 1509-1564). This view maintains that Christ’s death must be seen centrally in terms of the forensic category of penal substitution. Penal substitution is central to the Biblical teaching of atonement (Isa 53:5, 6; Rom 5:6).

All the theories defined above have elements of truth but none of them taken by itself provides a totally adequate explanation of the atonement. Christ by His death did make full satisfaction for our sins; He did by His death seek to evoke the love and gratitude of the believer, but not as a basis of acceptance before God. He did provide an example for believers to follow (Matt 16:24; 1 Pet 2:21-23). Most significantly however, He provided a substitute for us.

The extent of the atonement

The extent of the atonement is a matter about which there has been much controversy. There are three major views within what may be loosely called Protestantism. See Atonement.

Unrestricted universalism

This is the view that God purposed to save all men (including angels, according to some who hold this view) by means of the death of Christ, and that in consequence all will be saved eventually, whether in this life or the afterlife. This position is reflected in ecumenical theology, but there is also an evangelical type of universalism.

Qualified universalism

This is the view that God planned to save all men by the atonement but that all will not be saved because ultimately of a failure to believe. This view is held mainly by Arminians.


This view maintains that God purposed by the atonement to save only the elect and that in consequence only they are saved. This view is held by consistent Calvinists, and is popularly referred to as “limited atonement” but more correctly termed “particular redemption.”

The specific issue of extent revolves around the question of design, or intent of the redeeming work of Christ, not that of its value. In The Canons of the Synod of Dort we read with respect to value: “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” With respect to intent the Canons state: “For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect.”

The accomplishment of salvation

The divine elective purpose—views.

Its basis is seen in God’s eternal counsel—His elective purpose.

There are three major views to be noted in respect to the doctrine of election.

The Arminian view.

This view maintains that God elects on the basis of foreseen faith. According to Arminius, “This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere” (The Writings of James Arminius, I, 247).

Appeal for this position is made to such passages as Romans 8:29, 30 and 1 Peter 1:1, 2. It is further understood that God graciously grants to all men sufficient ability to accept Christ. In Arminian theology this is known as the doctrine of prevenient grace.

The Barthian view.

According to this view election is, primarily, the election of Jesus Christ; secondly, the election of the community; and thirdly, the election of the individual. The first of these ideas is most important in Barth’s development of the doctrine. Reconciliation in Christ can be understood only in terms of the mystery of God’s decisive word of election in Christ, a word which respects all men. The miracle of God’s electing grace is discovered in the fact that Jesus Christ is at the same time the electing God and the elect man. While it is necessary to speak of a double predestination this may be done only in terms of the cross. All men are both reprobate and elect in Christ. There is no question here of a distribution of election and reprobation over such and such people, as in the historic Reformed position, but only of double predestination in and concerning Christ.

Barth’s radical revision of the Reformation view of election inevitably raises the question of whether his position does not require as a logical corollary the acceptance of universalism. Although Barth replies with an emphatic No! many of his critics cannot accept such an answer. G. C. Berkouwer states, “There is no alternative to concluding that Barth’s refusal to accept the apokatastasis (universalism) cannot be harmonized with the fundamental structure of his doctrine of election” (The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, p. 116).

The Calvinistic view.

This view maintains that God elects unconditionally; that is, there is nothing in the creature which conditions His choice of some and passing over of others. The moving cause is in the sovereign will of God alone (Eph 1:4, 5). According to this view, election is that eternal act of God whereby He chooses a certain number of men to be the recipients of saving grace according to His sovereign good pleasure, apart from any merit in the creature actual or foreseen.

Those who adopt this position appeal to such passages as Ephesians 1:4, 5 and Romans 8:28-30. In the former passage the phrase “according to the kind intention of His will” (NASB) is said to establish the unconditional character of election. In the latter passage the term “foreknowledge” is taken to mean “whom He set regard upon,” or “whom He knew from eternity with sovereign distinguishing affection and delight,” hence, “whom He foreloved.”

In summary it may be fairly stated that whatever view one may adopt concerning election, the fact of it must be seen as the Biblical basis upon which God’s redemptive work was accomplished. What God determined in His eternal counsel He then had to accomplish in history.

Christ’s redemptive work—views.

Its execution is seen in Christ’s redemptive work in history.

This is an area of major dispute in present theological discussion. Two major views seem to emerge from all the controversy: (1) The Existential school—Bultmann; (2) The Historical school—Cullmann.

The existential school.

According to Bultmann, the essence of the Christian message as set forth in the NT is that of a call to decision—a response which brings with it a new understanding of oneself, a sense of authentic existence. Bultmann almost entirely divorces the question of existence in the NT from that of salvation history. Regarding the historical Jesus Bultmann states, “I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Christ...” (Jesus and the Word, p. 8). Bultmann maintains that we can preach the Christ of faith without the Jesus of history. His view can be called an existentialistic approach to the Biblical message developed in the context of a historical skepticism.

Bultmann belongs to the radical-critical school of Ger. Biblical criticism. Following a “form historical” method he views Jesus as only a man whom the later faith of the Church deified. He acknowledges that the gospels relate to the history of Jesus from a supernatural perspective which at the same time bears the character of preaching, but he argues that this preaching does not give us a trustworthy account of what occurred; it represents only the faith of the later church. Ridderbos states, “The gospels, according to Bultmann, are not concerned with Jesus but with the faith and the preaching of the church with respect to Jesus. And what interests him as an historian is the question: How did this preaching acquire this form? or in other words: Along what way or in what manner has this preaching grown up or developed into our gospel accounts?” (Bultmann, p. 12).

The historical school.

According to Cullmann the essence of the Christian message is both salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) and Christian existence. The essential feature of Christianity which distinguishes it from other religions is the fact of the central divine act in history of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only in Judaism is the historical of equally fundamental importance. The focal point of Christianity is not metaphysics but history. Redemption is something accomplished by God through Christ in time.

Cullmann states, “Redemptive history is the heart of all theology which is based upon the Bible. It represents an essential aspect of all theology. It is the perspective from which the very objects of all Christian theology, God and Christ, are seen. Obviously the objects of theology are God and Christ, but the perspective from which they are viewed is not that of metaphysical or existentialist speculation, but rather that of redemptive history” (Soli Deo Gloria, ed. J. McDowell Richards, p. 13).

In ancient times redemptive history was challenged in the name of a metaphysical philosophy (Gnosticism); more recently it is being challenged in the name of an existential position (Modern Philosophy). But now as then, Christianity proves to be invulnerable to all such attempts to destroy it. As Scripture makes clear the very essence of Christianity is redemptive history. Bultmann’s dehistorization of the NT in terms of the extended approach of Heidegger spells a tragic departure from historic Christianity. Theology is thereby reduced to anthropology and another gospel is preached.

One further word should be given to differentiate between those of the Heilsgeschichte position and those of a more traditionally conservative position. While both schools would agree as to the historical objectivity and divine meaning of God’s redemptive work, they would not agree as to the basis on which these Biblical events are to be interpreted. Those of the Heilsgeschichte school would tend to look to some suprarational existential experience to discern it, whereas those of the more conservative school would tend to look to the divinely inspired record of Scripture as ultimately definitive of its meaning.

The application of salvation

The problem of the Ordo Salutis.

The ordo salutis (the way of salvation) has to do with the process whereby the work of salvation, accomplished in Christ, is subjectively realized in the hearts of men. The emphasis is not on what man does in appropriating the grace of God but on what God does in applying it. Though this is a unitary process, when one examines the Biblical data it becomes evident that various movements can be distinguished in the process, movements which are to be understood in terms of logical order rather than temporal sequence.

One important question which arises in a discussion of an ordo salutis is, Does the Bible supply information sufficient for the construction of a single fixed ordo? A study of Scripture would seem to lead to a negative answer. It would seem, however, to allow for the legitimacy of constructing a flexible ordo salutis for dogmatic or systematic reasons. In fact, more positively, it may be stated that we gain definite guidance for our arrangement of topics from the Scripture themselves, though we must use great caution.

Romans 8:28-30 gives us a strong indication for a broad ordo salutis. In this passage certain intimations of a logical order of sequence is readily discovered. Note: (1) verse 28—God’s purpose is prior to His calling; (2) verse 29—the progression of thought here is foreknowledge, then predestination; (3) verses 29, 30—we cannot reverse foreknowledge and glorification; foreknowledge is the ultimate cause and glorification the ultimate end; (4) verse 30—foreknowledge and predestination are prior to calling, justification, and glorification; the reverse is inconceivable; (5) verse 30—glorification cannot be prior to calling and justification.

But even here the order is not detailed; that is, it is far from complete. There is no mention of regeneration, conversion, adoption, perseverance, sanctification, etc.


According to Romans 8:30 calling would seem to be the initial saving act of God. The scriptural doctrine of redemptive calling is twofold in aspect.

The general call.

This is a call which comes through the preaching of the Gospel; it is a call which invites sinners to salvation in Christ. It is a call which issues forth from the kerygma (the apostolic message concerning Christ). This message is not to be optionally related but authoritatively proclaimed. It is a message which contains three essential elements: (1) historical fact—the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, (2) theological interpretation—“for our sins,” 3) ethical demand—Believe! Repent! The first element answers the question What?, the second answers the question Why?, and the third So what?

This general call given by the prophets under the OT, by John the Baptist, Christ Himself, and the apostles, and by all succeeding ministers in all ages, is a call which is frequently rejected (Matt 22:14; 23:37). Indeed, it is always insufficient of itself to lead to real conversion. It must be accompanied by the powerful grace of God. Unless through the Spirit the arm of the Lord is revealed the proclamation of the Gospel will not be believed, nor the call of it responded to in faith.

The effectual call.

This is a creative call which accompanies the external proclamation of the Gospel and which brings the hearer to the divinely intended response of faith and repentance. The effectual call is efficacious; that is, it always results in salvation. In the NT the terms for calling, when used soteriologically, are almost always applied, not to the general call of the Gospel but to the call which actually brings men into a state of salvation, that is, the effectual call. (Cf. Rom 8:30; 1 Cor 1:9, 26; 2 Pet 1:10; etc.)

As the Gospel is proclaimed, the general call goes forth like sheet lightning, but God in accordance with His sovereign purpose causes it to strike like a forked flash in the lives of some. Such are those who have been effectually called out of the gross darkness of their sins into the glorious light of the Son of righteousness (1 Pet 2:9). Indeed, salvation is of Jehovah.


It is God the Father who calls His own out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, but the sinner must do the coming. And yet, how can he? Is he not dead in trespasses and sin? The spiritual dilemma of the minister is analogous to the utter futility of a doctor’s efforts to revive the lifeless body of one of his patients. Whether we preach the terrors of hell or the blessings of heaven, whether we proclaim the law or the Gospel, there can be no response apart from a miracle of grace. But it is the glory of God’s sovereign grace that it overcomes this dilemma. God’s call, when it is effectual, carries with it the operative grace necessary to secure a response of faith in Christ. This grace is the grace of regeneration or quickening. In the Calvinistic tradition this grace of regeneration is bestowed only on the elect, but in the Arminian tradition all men are given ability to respond either in faith or disbelief to the call of the Gospel. The Arminian position is based on the doctrine of prevenient grace.

The noun regeneration (Gr. παλιγγενεσία, G4098) is found only twice in Scripture. In Matthew 19:28 it is used eschatologically to denote the renewal of the world prior to the coming of the kingdom; and in Titus 3:5 it is used soteriologically, perhaps denoting baptism as the sign and seal of regeneration.

The reality of regeneration is referred to in a number of words and images. Perhaps the most well-known figure is that of new birth. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The word another can mean “from above” as well as “again.” In either case the language presupposes a first birth to which regeneration is the second. Note the following contrasts between the two. The first birth is of sinful parents, the second of God; the first is of corruptible seed, the second of incorruptible seed; the first is of the flesh—carnal, the second of the Spirit—spiritual; the first marks one as Satan’s slave, the second as Christ’s free man; in the first man is viewed as an objective of divine wrath, in the second as an object of divine love.

In John 3 one reads of the meeting of Nicodemus with Jesus. Nicodemus was a leader in the orthodox religious party of his day, undoubtedly a member of the Sanhedrin, but he was unregenerate. On this occasion he desired to see Jesus in order to discover the secret of entry into the kingdom of God (the redemptive rule of God through Christ). But even before he had opportunity to express what was in his mind, Jesus provided the answer to his question: a man may not so much as see the kingdom unless he is born again. It is divinely necessary that he be sovereignly regenerated by the Spirit of God.

A difficult problem emerges from v. 5 respecting the meaning of the word “water.” There are four major views usually set forth. First, some maintain that the water is that of John’s baptism and that it is therefore symbolic of repentance. From the standpoint of historical context this view would seem to commend itself. Second, some maintain that since water according to Jewish usage could denote the male semen it might be either symbolic of spiritual birth or natural birth. If one adopts this view it would seem more likely to suggest spiritual than natural birth. It would seem unlikely that Jesus would have insulted the intelligence of Nicodemus by telling him that unless he was born physically he could not be born spiritually. Third, some maintain that the water is that of Christian baptism. The meaning would then be that a man must be baptized and also born of the Spirit if he is to enter the kingdom. But this view seems most untenable, for Nicodemus would have understood this figure against the OT background rather than in terms of Christian baptism. Fourth, some maintain that water is a symbol for the Word of God. The weakness in this view is that it involves an interpolation of Paul’s usage of this figure into Christ’s conversation with one who is filled with OT concepts, not Pauline ones.

In connection with this problem one should examine Ezekiel 36:25, 26. This passage would suggest that water is symbolic of purification and Spirit of renovation.

In the most definitive sense regeneration denotes that act of God whereby spiritually dead men are made alive through the Spirit. By this act God plants a new spiritual life in the soul; one is born again from above. Regeneration in this restricted sense is solely a work of God. Hence the words of Christ to Nicodemus, “You must be born anew” (John 3:7), speak not of a moral obligation (we cannot beget ourselves) but of a divine necessity.

Regeneration is a passive work; man can no more contribute to his spiritual conception than an infant can to his natural conception. The very nature of the work clearly shows that it is not in the power of men to do it; it is represented in Scripture as a creation, a new creation, and only God can truly create (1:13).

Regeneration is an instantaneous work of the Spirit; it is not like progressive sanctification. As an infant is generated at once and not by degrees, so it is in spiritual generation. One does not gradually become alive. No man can be said to be more regenerated than another, though of course once regenerated one may be said to be more sanctified than another. This work of regeneration is a mysterious work as Christ indicates in His words to Nicodemus. This work of the Spirit is like the wind; “you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes” (John 3:8).

In the theology of modern-day evangelism the term regeneration (new birth) is generally used to denote that which results from faith and perhaps therefore it would be wiser to employ the term quickening for what has been generally understood in Reformed theology to be regeneration in a limited sense.


As to the meaning of conversion it may be noted that both the Heb. and Gr. terms for conversion mean basically “to turn” and, in the religious sense, denote a change of outlook and a new direction in life and action. Conversion involves a turn both toward and away from something or someone. (See Conversion.)

Positively, the turn toward something or someone is what may be appropriately called faith. In the religious sphere it is a turn toward God (Acts 26:20; cf. 9:35; 11:21; 15:19; 1 Pet 2:25).

This turn, or act of faith, may be defined as an understanding of and mental assent to certain basic facts concerning the person and work of Christ (1 Cor 3:14, 15) culminating in a committal of one’s entire being to the person of whom those facts testify. Three important elements are to be noted in this definition.


The first indispensable element in saving faith is information. We must know who Christ is, what He has done, and what He is able to do. We are not called to put faith in someone of whom we have no knowledge. In order to exercise faith we must know about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without such knowledge faith would be but a foolish leap in the dark.


The second element is that of conviction concerning the truthfulness of that which is known. It is possible, of course, to understand the import of certain propositions of truth and yet not believe these propositions. In saving faith, truths known are also accepted as true.


The third element is that of commitment. Knowledge of and assent to the truth of the Gospel is not saving faith. These must be accompanied by trust in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. Christian faith is not merely intellectual assent to the divinely revealed truths of Scripture; it must include personal encounter with Christ, the One in whom all truth is summed up.

Negatively, turning away from something or someone is what may be called repentance. The Biblical term for repentance indicates a change of mind and conduct. It properly denotes a change for the better, a change of mind that is productive of good works. Repentance is the gift of God, the purchase of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:18). It is produced by the Spirit at regeneration or quickening.

Repentance is an abiding principle. The Scriptures teach that there is not only a necessity for an initial conversion of the sinner but also subsequent conversions of erring saints. It is the latter which is prob. stressed in Psalm 119:59, 60.

Repentance is a turning from idols (1 Thess 1:9), from vain things (Acts 14:15), from darkness (26:18a), and from the power of Satan (26:18b). It is a turn from transgression (Isa 59:20).

As for the means of conversion Scripture clearly teaches that the efficient cause is God, not man. The drastic change wrought by conversion is not in man’s power to effect. An Ethiopian might just as well try to change his skin or a leopard his spots (Jer 13:23; cf. John 1:13; Rom 9:16).


In a fundamental sense, justification is concerned not with our spiritual condition but with our spiritual relation; it is not a matter of our actual state but of our judicial position. Justification is the answer to the disrupted relationship between man and his God brought about through sin. As the result of sin all men stand before God as guilty, condemned and separated from their Creator. Justification is the restoration of man to his original relation to God through the work of Christ. Significantly it includes, according to Paul: removal of guilt by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Rom 8:33), removal of condemnation by the gift of forgiveness (v. 34), and removal of separation by the restoration to fellowship (v. 35).

Justification must be seen from a twofold perspective, actual and declarative. Actual justification means that a sinner is constituted righteous by having Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. Only in this way may a just God justify the ungodly. Declarative justification means that the one who has been constituted righteous in Christ is also judged righteous before Him. Justification is a forensic or legal term, and it should be carefully distinguished in meaning from sanctification which is experiential and progressive. The distinction between the two concepts may be stated as follows: Justification has to do with Christ for us, sanctification with Christ in us. Justification has to do with our position; sanctification, with fellowship. Justification has to do with our acceptance; sanctification with our attainment.

The foundation of justification is God’s grace not man’s works. Paul emphasizes that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law (Rom 3:28). The apostle is concerned to make unmistakably clear that God has accomplished in Christ what man is completely unable to do for himself. What God has done for the sinner in Christ is totally unmerited, unprompted, and unsought. This is the essence of grace (Rom 3:24). Our justification depends wholly on God and not on anything in man.

Long ago Job asked, “How can a man be just before God?” (Job 9:2). This most important question raises the matter of method. The only satisfactory answer is found in the Word of God. The justification of the sinner is pronounced in the word of the Gospel. As near as the word of faith is to us, just so near is the word of God’s acquittal. The merit of our Lord becomes ours “through faith” (Eph 2:18; cf. Rom 3:21, 22).

It is imperative to understand that faith is never the ground of justification, but only its means or channel; it is the hand which simply reaches out to accept the gift. The prepositions “through” (dia) and “of” or “by” (ek) set forth the way in which man is granted salvation in Christ. No preposition is ever employed with such grammatical case of the noun faith as to require a tr. like because of or by reason of faith. Faith is never portrayed as meritorious; it is always and only instrumental. Faith is man’s positive answer to God’s justifying grace; it is the correlative of promise.

When we consider the value of justification certain things become immediately clear from the NT. Justification provides the ground of peace with God (Rom 5:1). When one stands before God as righteous in Christ he may experience the peace of God in his life and share this with others. It is also the basis for freedom in Christ. This means freedom from bondage to sin and freedom to serve others. When one is released from anxiety about himself, he is able to use his life for others. It also means freedom to enjoy all the good things of life within the context of genuine love for others (Rom 14).


The sonship referred to is not confused with that which Christ sustains to the Father as the only Son. Nor is it to be equated with the relationship which all men sustain to God as His children by creation (Acts 17:25-29; Heb 12:9; James 1:18; Mal 2:10).

This doctrine is exclusively Pauline. The Gr. word rendered “adoption” (Gr. υἱοθεσία, G5625) occurs only five times in Paul’s letters. Once it is applied to Israel as a nation (Rom 9:4); once to its full realization at the Parousia (Rom 8:23); and three times as a present reality in the life of the Christian (Rom 8:15, 16; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5).

In Romans 8:15 it is prob. best to understand the Spirit of adoption as the Holy Spirit. (Note the parallelism with Gal 4:6 as an argument for this view.) The Holy Spirit is not the One who adopts; this is more esp. said to be the work of the Father—but He, the Spirit, is the One through whom the child of God is able to cry “Abba Father” and exercise the rights and privileges of God’s child. In Galatians 4:5 Paul indicates that God’s purpose is twofold: redemption and adoption; God purposed not simply to release slaves but to make sons. In Ephesians 1:5 Paul states that God “destined” (marked us out in advance) as those who were to receive the honored status of sons.

There has been much discussion as to whether the root of Paul’s use of the term adoption is Jewish, Greek, Roman, or some other tradition. The most recent study and research into this issue would tend to support the view that it was Rom. In the act of adoption a child was taken by a man from a family not his own, introduced into a new family, and regarded as a true son, entitled to all the privileges and responsibilities belonging to this relation.

The reality of spiritual adoption may be outlined as follows: (1) Fallen mankind are strangers to the family of God. As enemies of God they are of their father, the devil. (2) Yet despite this fact mankind are invited to enter God’s family; to take His name upon them; to share in His fatherly care and discipline. (3) Such as accept this invitation are received into His family and care. From this point they are called the sons of God and are privileged to address Him as Father.

God as the heavenly Father of believers provides care (Luke 11:11-13), sustenance (Ps 23:1), protection (Ps 114:1, 2), instruction (through His word and by His providence), correction (Heb 12:7, cf. 5-11) and an inheritance (Rom 8:17).


When one is converted to God he must ask how his new life is to be lived out here on earth. When such a question is faced, the subject of Biblical ethics becomes an important aspect of the doctrine of sanctification; the one cannot be properly considered without the other.

Sanctification has to do with the progressive outworking of the new life implanted by the Spirit in regeneration (quickening). Christian ethics has to do with the study of the basis upon which, the power whereby, and the goal toward which the believer’s life is lived.

The indicative of justification leads to the imperative of sanctification; justification is the theological base of an evangelical ethic. The gift of God in Christ impels to a recognition of our task for Him. In the Pauline writings, expositions of the doctrine of justification are generally followed by exhortations to duty. It is not good works which make a good man, but a good man who does good works.

The distinctive feature of a Christian ethic is found in the matter of motivation. As our Lord made clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:7) more important than what one does is why one does it. Goodness is not merely a matter of outward action, but more fundamentally of inward attitude. Jesus interiorizes the moral law. Note for example Matthew 5:21, 22, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment....” Sanctification and ethics have to do fundamentally with what we are not what we do.

The basic meaning of holy is “separated,” or “set apart.” In addition to God being holy as separate from His creatures, He is also separate from sin. It is this latter ethical aspect of God’s holiness that provides the basis for our understanding of the doctrine of sanctification; and yet, sanctification is not only a separation from that which is sinful but also a separation unto a reflection of the image of God. Sanctification is the progressive refashioning of our natures by the Holy Spirit, into the image of God, through Jesus Christ. (See 2 Cor 5:17.)

The sanctified are the elect of God. All whom the Father chose in eternity, He sanctifies in time in Christ. The subjects of election, redemption, and sanctification are the same persons (Rom 8:28-30).

Sanctification involves the totality of the believer’s being—body, soul and/or spirit (1 Thess 5:23). In respect to the soul and/or spirit Paul indicates that (1) the understanding is enlightened (Eph 4:23), (2) the will is subservient to the will of God (Phil 2:13), (3) the affections are made holy (Rom 12:10). In respect to the body and all its members the apostle exhorts believers to yield themselves “to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:13).

Sanctification involves the believer’s being positionally set apart unto God by virtue of his new life in Christ. This is not a matter of the degree of one’s spirituality. Concerning the carnal Christians at Corinth Paul wrote, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). (The past tense of the Gr. verbs point to these acts as already accomplished.) This aspect of sanctification coincides with justification.

Sanctification includes the believer being experientially set apart to God by reason of the ministry of the indwelling Spirit. This aspect of sanctification is progressive; it admits of degrees. Although no one can be more or less regenerate than another, for one is either dead or alive, one may be more sanctified than another. Scripture frequently exhorts believers to grow in holiness. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18; see 2 Thess 1:3). The Bible speaks of growing in grace, abounding in hope and love, and increasing in the knowledge of divine things. There would be no reason for such speaking if experiential sanctification were perfected at the moment of regeneration.

Sanctification also involves the believer’s being completely set apart to God. Ultimately his practice and position will be brought into perfect accord (see Eph 5:26, 27; Jude 24, 25). This aspect of sanctification coincides with glorification.

Sanctification is required of every Christian (1 Thess 4:3). It is not the responsibility of an elite group within the Church. There is no Scriptural basis for the adoption of a twofold standard of Christian commitment, one for “full-time Christian workers” and another for “Christian laymen.” Scripture speaks of all believers as saints (“holy ones,” 1 Cor 1:1, 2).

The ethical standards (principles) for the development of a holy life, a life which increasingly reflects the imago dei, are set forth in Scripture both on a personal and social seal level. In Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, for example, he deals with personal ethics under the rubrics of “putting off” and “putting on.” In chapter 3, the apostle first describes what is to be put to death (Col 3:5, 8, 9); namely, “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry,” and “anger, wrath, malice, slander, foul talk, and lying.” He then speaks of what is to be put on (vv. 12-14); namely, “compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience,” being forgiving and above all loving.

In 3:18-4:1, the apostle then deals with ethics on a social level. He gives instruction concerning wives and husbands (vv. 18, 19), parents and children (v. 21), and slaves and masters (3:22-4:1). This latter area may find its functional equivalent today in the relationship of employee to employer.

In all the relationships of life, personal and social, Christians are to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The dynamic for the realization of this goal is the Holy Spirit. The motivation is God-given agape love. The guidance is provided by the moral law, to be appropriately applied under the leading of the Holy Spirit in each situation. Since God is holy we are to be also.


Perseverance is the doctrine that all believers will be preserved by God’s grace to the end through a faith that works. Perseverance does not mean that everyone who professes faith in Christ, is baptized, and made a member of a church is thereby secure for eternity. Many who profess to have salvation do not possess it. Nor does it mean that it is impossible for a Christian to backslide; that is, to follow a path of disobedience to God for a time (cf. Luke 2:31-34).

The NT would seem to suggest a synthesis between God’s preserving grace and the believer’s persevering. This is well expressed for example by Peter “who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:5). There are basically three ideas in this text. First, believers are kept. The Gr. term (φρουρέω, G5864) here is a military one. It means quite literally that our life is garrisoned by God; he stands over us as a sentinel all our days. Second, believers are kept through faith. The final preservation of believers is never divorced from the use of means. Believers are preserved through a faith that works. Third, believers are kept unto salvation. This undoubtedly refers to the final consummation or ultimate realization of our salvation to be revealed in the last time (Rom 13:11).

Those who would adopt a Reformed view on this matter must face the problem of Biblical warnings. Are we not to take seriously those passages which warn against apostasy? Must we not acknowledge the possibility of a real and final falling away from faith? What of all those “if” passages which cannot simply be answered by tr. “since.” There are not a few of these: John 15:6, 10, 14; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:14; 6:4-8; etc.

In addition to those passages which speak conditionally there are a number which warn against apostasy as a real threat. Note for example: Hebrews 3:12, 13; 12:25; 1 Timothy 1:19; 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Peter 2:1; etc. Actual cases of apostasy include David, Solomon, Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus and Demas. These and other passages would seem to indicate that the doctrine of perseverance is hopelessly indefensible.

Reformed theologians would argue, however, that such conditional warning passages must be related to the total context of Scripture. Even if this is done, who is to establish whether the unconditional texts are to be interpreted in terms of the conditional or vice versa? If God’s grace, according to Scripture, does not stop short at the limits of human freedom then faith and grace cannot be viewed synergistically as is done in the Arminian view.

According to Reformed theology, if we properly understand the Biblical relationship of faith to grace, then we will realize that our persevering cannot be a factor independent of God’s preserving us. God’s grace insures our persevering but this does not make it any less our persevering (Jude 21, 24). The warning passages are then properly seen as means which God uses in our life to accomplish His purpose in grace. Berkouwer has well stated, “The profundity of the doctrine of perseverance must be sought precisely in the fact that admonition is included in it and that at the same time, through faith, perseverance is confessed as a gift” (Faith and Perseverance, p. 111).

One of the most difficult passages in a consideration of perseverance is Hebrews 6:4-8. There are three major views which may be noted. First, there is the saved-lost theory, which maintains that a true believer may be lost through deliberate apostasy. But it should be noted however that this passage also indicates the impossibility of repentance following such apostasy. Second, there is the hypothetical theory, which maintains that the writer is dealing with suppositions and not with fact, in order that he may correct wrong ideas. This would seem to minimize the impact of the warning. Third, there is the non-Christian theory, which holds that there is no genuine faith in the hearts of the persons being described. This view argues that the experiences mentioned describes how exceedingly close it is possible for one to come to being a Christian without actually becoming one. Simon Magus is appealed to as an illustration of this position.

Another problem passage is John 15:1-6. The central question here is, What is the nature of the barren branches (vv. 2, 6)? Some would contend that these represent genuine believers who lose their spiritual life by failing to abide in Christ. Others, of a Calvinistic persuasion, would maintain that these branches are such as merely profess to belong to Christ. When it is said that they will be taken away this is taken to mean that they will be finally expelled from all connection with Jesus Christ and His Church. (In this reference to barren branches Jesus is undoubtedly thinking of Judas, who although connected with Christ outwardly was never truly one of His.)

This taking away and burning may happen in various stages. Such mere professing Christians may gradually wither and drop off at their own accord or they may have to be excised by the knife of excommunication. Still others may continue in this world. But ultimately every such branch is taken away at death.

One of the strongest supports of the doctrine of perseverance is found in the significance of Christ’s intercessory prayer. During the closing days of Jesus’ earthly life He encountered Peter in a mood of intense selfconfidence. On that occasion Peter boasted to his Master that he would follow Him wherever it might lead and at whatever cost. But Jesus, knowing Peter better than Peter himself, revealed to him that Satan desired to sift him as wheat, but Jesus said, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Now even though Peter denied His Lord three times, as the Master had predicted, yet his faith did not utterly fail; for no sooner had he sinned than he wept bitter tears of repentance. But not only did Jesus pray for Peter, He also prays for all who are His. His intercession includes those who are still unbelievers but who are nonetheless among the elect (John 17:20, 21; cf. Rom 8:31-35; Heb 7:25).


Glorification is the final climactic act in God’s redeeming work (Rom 8:30). This will be realized at the Parousia. It will involve the perfecting of the soul and/or spirit as well as the body. Although the NT represents glorification as a complete juridicial exoneration it also views it as a moral perfecting. A number of Scriptures make this clear (Eph 5:27; Phil 1:10; Col 1:20; 1 Cor 1:8; 1 Thess 3:13; 5:23; etc.).

Glorification also means full participation in eternal life. By God’s grace believers even now have eternal life (John 5:24); but the fullness of this life is yet to be realized (vv. 25-28). John states, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Eternal life includes two ideas: a new quality of life and a never-ending life. When the sinner is restored to his proper relationship with God through Christ he enters a new quality of life—a life in harmony with the life of God Himself. This is a kind of life drastically different from that previously possessed; it is indeed an abundant life. Glorification then means the full bestowal of eternal life upon believers—the final realization of a perfect relationship with God as we are with Him forever.

Glorification will bring a full realization of freedom from sin and death (John 8:33-36; Rom 6-8; Gal 5:1, 13). Then we shall be what we truly are. While in this life we strive through the Spirit to be like our Lord; then our souls shall be perfectly conformed to His image (Rom 8:28, 29). Glorification is the transformation of our manhood into the perfect manhood of the God-man Jesus Christ.

Glorification also includes the perfecting of the body. Scripture attributes a dignity to the human body. Genesis teaches that man is not a soul merely inhabiting a body unity. It is the total man who is said to have been created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-30; 2:4-8, 15-18). It is the total man who is affected by sin. The focal point of divine judgment is death and, although the death of the body does not exhaust the Biblical concept of death, it is nevertheless central to it. Physical death (separation of the soul and/or spirit from the body) is the outward sign of spiritual death (separation of the person from God).

Glorification then, is the climax of God’s saving work, a work which extends from eternity to eternity. Glorification involves the total man—soul and/or spirit together with the body. In that day all will be complete; death will be swallowed up in victory and God will be everything to every one.


B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, rev. ed. n. d.; G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (1952); Faith and Justification (1953); J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (1955); K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV, Part 1 (1956); Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV, Part 2 (1958); G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Perseverance (1958); K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV, Part 3 (1961); Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV, Part 4 (1962); H. Küng, Justification (1964); O. Cullmann, Salvation in History (1967); C. M. Horne, Salvation (1971).

Additional Material

Source 1

There are two further aspects to salvation in the OT. First, salvation refers to the future action of God when he will deliver Israel from all her enemies and ills and create a new order of existence (“a new heaven and a new earth”) in which she and all people will worship the Lord and live in peace and harmony (see Isa.49.5-Isa.49.13; Isa.65.17ff.; Isa.66.22-Isa.66.23; Hag.2.4-Hag.2.9; Zech.2.7-Zech.2.13). Second, intimately related to the future salvation of God is the hope of the Messiah, who will deliver his people from their sins, and will act for the Lord, who alone is Savior (Isa.43.11; Isa.52.13; Isa.53.12).

Further, in the OT the theme of salvation is closely related to the themes of God’s righteousness and God’s creation. God is righteous when he acts to preserve his side of the covenant he made with the people of Israel. Thus when he acts to deliver his people, he acts in righteousness, and his act is also one of salvation (Isa.45.21; Isa.46.12-Isa.46.13). God’s future salvation involves a new creation, the remaking and renewing of the old created order (Isa.9.2-Isa.9.7; Isa.11.1-Isa.11.9; Isa.65.17ff.).

Peter preached that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts.4.12). Paul wrote, “Now is the day of salvation” (2Cor.6.2). The writer of Hebrews asked, “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Heb.2.3). Because of the life, death, and exaltation of Jesus, salvation is a present reality and the gospel is the declaration that salvation is now accomplished and available in and through Jesus. It is deliverance from the dominion of sin and Satan; it is freedom to love and serve God now. Salvation is also, however, a future hope, for we will “be saved from God’s wrath through him” at the Last Judgment (Rom.5.9), and Peter wrote of the salvation “that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1Pet.1.5). Salvation, which belongs to our God (Rev.19.1), includes everything that God will do for and to his people as he brings them to fullness of life in the new heaven and the new earth of the age to come.

See also Justification; Kingdom of God; Reconciliation; Redemption.

Bibliography: C. R. Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Salvation, 1946; E. M. B. Green, The Meaning of Salvation, 1965; O. Cullmann, Salvation in History, 1967; J. D. Douglas (ed.), Let the Earth Hear His Voice, 1975; J. R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, 1975; H. D. McDonald, Salvation, 1982.——PT

Source 2

In the Bible the word may mean deliverance by God from almost any kind of evil, whether temporal and material or spiritual-defeat in battle (Exod. 15:2), trouble (Ps. 34:6), enemies (2 Sam. 3:10), exile (Ps. 106:47), death (Ps. 6:4), sin (Ezek. 36:29). It does not necessarily have a theological connotation. At first the Israelites thought of salvation primarily as deliverance in a material sense and as a national thing, but as their sense of moral evil deepened, salvation acquired a profound ethical meaning, and it gradually was seen to include Gentiles as well as Jews (Isa. 49:5,6; 55:1- 5). With the unfolding of the messianic idea, it came to be used of their deliverance from sin to be brought in with the Messianic Age. Among the Israelites, salvation was acquired through a sincere observance of the law, moral and ceremonial. The ritual sacrifices could not of themselves bring pardon of sin, for they were merely typical of the Lamb of God who was to die for the sins of the world (Isa. 53).

In the teaching of Jesus, salvation usually denotes deliverance from sin, to be experienced now, although its complete fulfillment is eschatological. He taught that salvation is only through Him, the incarnate Son of God (John 3:16). In the apostolic age salvation is through the death of Christ (Eph. 2:13- 18) and includes all the redemptive blessings which believers have in Christ, chief of which are conversion, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. It is God's solution to the whole problem of sin, in all its aspects. It brings deliverance not only from the guilt of sin, but also from its power, and ultimately from its presence. Although provided through Christ's sufferings, death and resurrection, salvation becomes realizable in experience through the Holy Spirit, on the condition of faith. Its effects will someday embrace the whole universe. The curse will be removed from nature, and all history will find its consummation and completion in Christ (Rom. 8:21,22; Eph. 1:10).

G.B. Stevens, The Christian Doctrine of Salvation (1905); E.F. Kevan, Salvation (1963); E.M.B. Green, The Meaning of Salvation (1965); O. Cullmann, Salvation in History (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. General

2. Individualism

3. Faith

4. Moral Law

5. Sacrifices

6. Ritual Law


1. General

2. The Law


1. The Baptist

2. Kingdom of God

3. Present and Future

4. Individualism

5. Moral Progress

6. Forgiveness

7. Person of Christ

8. Notes


1. General

2. Moral Progress

3. The Spirit

4. Mystical Union

5. Forgiveness

6. Atonement

7. Summary

8. Notes


1. John

2. Hebrews

3. Peter

4. Summary


In English Versions of the Bible the words "salvation" "save," are not technical theological terms, but denote simply "deliverance," in almost any sense the latter word can have. In systematic theology, however, "salvation" denotes the whole process by which man is delivered from all that would prevent his attaining to the highest good that God has prepared for him. Or, by a transferred sense, "salvation" denotes the actual enjoyment of that good. So, while these technical senses are often associated with the Greek or Hebrew words translated "save," etc., yet they are still more often used in connection with other words or represented only by the general sense of a passage. And so a collection of the original terms for "save," etc., is of value only for the student doing minute detailed work, while it is the purpose of the present article to present a general view of the Biblical doctrine of salvation.

I. In the Old Testament

1. General:

(2) Salvation, then, means deliverance from all that interferes with the enjoyment of these blessings. So it takes countless forms--deliverance from natural plagues, from internal dissensions, from external enemies, or from the subjugation of conquerors (the exile, particularly). As far as enemies constitute the threatening danger, the prayer for deliverance is often based on their evil character (Ps 101, etc.). But for the individual all these evils are summed up in the word "death," which was thought to terminate all relation to God and all possibility of enjoying His blessings (Ps 115:17; Isa 38:18, etc.). And so "death" became established as the antinomy to "salvation," and in this sense the word has persisted, although the equation "loss of salvation = physical death" has long been transcended. But death and its attendant evils are worked by God’s wrath, and so it is from this wrath that salvation is sought (Jos 7:26, etc.). And thus, naturally, salvation is from everything that raises that wrath, above all from sin (Eze 36:25,26, etc.).

2. Individualism:

(2) But even when it was realized that a man lost salvation through his own fault, the converse did not follow. Salvation came, not by the man’s mere merit, but because the man belonged to a nation peculiarly chosen by God. God had made a covenant with Israel and His fidelity insured salvation: the salvation comes from God because of His promise or (in other words) because of His name. Indeed, the great failing of the people was to trust too blindly to this promise, an attitude denounced continually by the prophets throughout (from, say, Am 3:2 to Mt 3:9). And yet even the prophets admit a real truth in the attitude, for, despite Israel’s sins, eventual salvation is certain. Ezekiel 20 states this baldly: there has been nothing good in Israel and there is nothing good in her at the prophet’s own day, but, notwithstanding, God will give her restoration (compare Isa 8:17,18; Jer 32:6-15, etc.).

3. Faith:

Hence, of the human conditions, whole-hearted trust in God is the most important. (Belief in God is, of course, never argued in the Bible.) Inconsistent with such trust are, for instance, seeking aid from other nations (Isa 30:1-5), putting reliance in human skill (2Ch 16:12), or forsaking Palestine through fear (Jer 42). In Isa 26:20 entire passivity is demanded, and in 2Ki 13:19 lukewarmness in executing an apparently meaningless command is rebuked.

4. Moral Law:

(1) Next in importance is the attainment of a moral standard, expressed normally in the various codes of the Law. But fulfillment of the letter of the commandment was by no means all that was required. For instance, the Law permitted the selling of a debtor into slavery (De 15:12), but the reckless use of the creditor’s right is sharply condemned (Ne 5:1-13). The prophets are never weary of giving short formulas that will exclude such supralegalism and reduce conduct to a pure motive: "Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate" (Am 5:15); "To do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Mic 6:8). And the chief emphasis on the Law as written is found in the later books, especially Ps 119 (compare Ps 147:20).

(2) Certain breaches of the Law had no pardon, but were visited with death at once, even despite repentance and confession (Jos 7). But for the most part it is promised that repentance will remove the guilt of the sin if the sin be forsaken (Eze 18) or, in the case of a sin that would not be repeated, if contrition be felt (2Sa 12). Suffering played a part in salvation by bringing knowledge of sin to the conscience, the exile being the most important example (Eze 36:31). But almost always it is assumed that the possibility of keeping the Law is in man’s own power, De 30:11-14 stating this explicitly, while the Wisdom Books equate virtue with learning. Consequently, an immense advance was made when man felt the need of God’s help to keep the Law, the need of the inscription of the Laws on the heart (Jer 31:31-34). So an outlook was opened to a future in which God would make the nation righteous (see references in 1, above).

5. Sacrifices:

(1) The acceptance of repentance as expiating past sins was an act of God’s mercy. And so His mercy instituted other and additional means of expiation, most notably that of the sacrifices. But a theology of sacrifice is conspicuously absent from the whole Old Testament, for Le 17:11 is too incidental and too obscure to be any exception. The Christian (or very late Jewish) interpretations of the ritual laws lack all solidity of exegetical foundation, despite their one-time prevalence. Nor is the study of origins of much help for the meaning attached to the rites by the Jews in historic times. General ideas of offering, of self-denial, of propitiation of wrath, and of entering into communion with God assuredly existed. But in the advanced stages of the religion there is no evidence that sacrifices were thought to produce their effect because of any of these things, but solely because God had commanded the sacrifices.

(2) Most sins required a sacrifice as part of the act of repentance, although in case of injury done the neighbor, only after reparation had been made. It is not quite true that for conscious sins no sacrifices were appointed, for in Le 5:1; 6:1-3, sins are included that could not be committed through mere negligence. And so such rules as Nu 15:30,31 must not be construed too rigorously.

6. Ritual Law:

Of the other means of salvation the ritual law (not always sharply distinguishable from the moral law) bulks rather large in the legislation, but is not prominent in the prophets. Requisite to salvation was the abstention from certain acts, articles of food, etc., such abstinence seeming to lie at the background of the term "holiness." But a ritual breach was often a matter of moral duty (burying the dead, etc.), and, for such breaches, ritual means of purification are provided and the matter dropped. Evidently such things lay rather on the circumference of the religion, even to Ezekiel, with his anxious zeal against the least defilement. The highest ritual point is touched by Zec 14:20,21, where all of Jerusalem is so holy that not a pot would be unfit to use in the temple (compare Jer 31:38-40). Yet, even with this perfect holiness, sacrifices would still have a place as a means by which the holiness could be increased. Indeed, this more "positive" view of sacrifices was doubtless present from the first.

II. Intermediate Literature.

1. General:

(1) The great change, compared with the earlier period, is that the idea of God had become more transcendent. But this did not necessarily mean an increase in religious value, for there was a corresponding tendency to take God out of relation to the world by an intellectualizing process. This, when combined with the persistence of the older concept of salvation in this life only, resulted in an emptying of the religious instinct and in indifferentism. This tendency is well represented in Ecclesiastes, more acutely in Sirach, and in New Testament times it dominated the thought of the Sadducees. On the other hand the expansion of the idea of salvation to correspond with the higher conception of God broke through the limitations of this life and created the new literary form of apocalyptics, represented in the Old Testament especially by Zechariah 9-14; Isaiah 24-27, and above all by Daniel. And in the intermediate literature all shades of thought between the two extremes are represented. But too much emphasis can hardly be laid on the fact that this intermediate teaching is in many regards simply faithful to the Old Testament. Almost anything that can be found in the Old Testament--with the important exception of the note of joyousness of Deuteronomy, etc.--can be found again here.

(2) Of the conceptions of the highest good the lowest is the Epicureanism of Sirach. The highest is probably that of 2 Esdras 7:91-98 Revised Version: "To behold the face of him whom in their lifetime they served" the last touch of materialism being eliminated. Indeed, real materialism is notably absent in the period, even Enoch 10:17-19 being less exuberant than the fancies of such early Christian writers as Papias. Individualism is generally taken for granted, but that the opposite opinion was by no means dormant, even at a late period, is shown by Mt 3:9. The idea of a special privilege of Israel, however, of course pervades all the literature, Sibylline Oracles 5 and Jubilees being the most exclusive books and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, the most broad-hearted. In place of national privilege, though, is sometimes found the still less edifying feature of party privilege (Ps Sol; Enoch 94-105), the most offensive case being the assertion of Enoch 90:6-9 that the (inactive) Israel will be saved by the exertions of the "little lamb" Pharisees, before whom every knee shall bow in the Messianic kingdom.

2. The Law:

(1) The conceptions of the moral demands for salvation at times reach a very high level, especially in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (making every allowance for Christian interpolations). "The spirit of love worketh together with the law of God in long-suffering unto the salvation of men" (Test. Gad 4:7) is hardly unworthy of Paul, and even Jubilees can say, "Let each love his brother in mercy and justice, and let none wish the other evil" (Jub 36:8). But the great tendency is to view God’s law merely as a series of written statutes, making no demands except those gained from a rigid construing of the letter. In Lu 10:29, "Who is my neighbor?" is a real question--if he is not my neighbor I need not love him! So duties not literally commanded were settled by utilitarian motives, as outside the domain of religion, and the unhealthy phenomenon of works of supererogation made its appearance (Lu 17:10). The writer of Wisdom can feel smugly assured of salvation, because idolatry had been abstained from (Wisd 15:4; contrast Paul’s polemic in Ro 2). And discussions about "greatest commandments" caused character in its relation to religion to be forgotten.

(2) As God’s commands were viewed as statutes the distinction between the moral and the ritual was lost, and the ritual law attained enormous and familiar proportions. The beautiful story of Judith is designed chiefly to teach abstinence from ritually unclean food. And the most extreme case is in Jubilees 6:34-38--all of Israers woes come from keeping the feasts by the actual moon instead of by a correct (theoretical) moon (!).

(3) Where self-complacency ceased and a strong moral sense was present, despair makes its appearance with extraordinary frequency. The period is the period of penitential prayers, with an undercurrent of doubt as to how far mercy can be expected (So of Three Children verses 3-22; Pr Man; Bar 3:1-8, etc.). "What profit is it unto us, if there be promised us an immortal time, whereas we have done the works that bring death?" (2 Esdras 7:119 the Revised Version (British and American)). The vast majority of men are lost (2 Esdras 9:16) and must be forgotten (2 Esdras 8:55), and Ezra can trust for his own salvation only by a special revelation (7:77 the Revised Version (British and American)). So, evidently, Paul’s pre-Christian experience was no unique occurrence.

(4) Important for the New Testament background is the extreme lack of prominence of the sacrifices. They are never given a theological interpretation (except in Philo, where they cease to be sacrifices). Indeed, in Sirach 35 they are explicitly said to be devotions for the righteous only, apparently prized only as an inheritance from the past and "because of the commandment" (Sirach 35:5; yet compare 38:11). When the temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ceased, Judaism went on its way almost unaffected, showing that the sacrifices meant nothing essential to the people. And, even in earlier times, the Essenes rejected sacrifices altogether, without losing thereby their recognition as Jews.

III. The Teaching of Christ.

1. The Baptist:

The Baptist proclaimed authoritatively the near advent of the kingdom of God, preceded by a Messianic judgment that would bring fire for the wicked and the Holy Spirit for the righteous. Simple but incisive moral teaching and warning against trusting in national privileges, with baptism as an outward token of repentance, were to prepare men to face this judgment securely. But we have no data to determine how much farther (if any) the Baptist conceived his teaching to lead.

2. Kingdom of God:

It was in the full heat of this eschatological revival that the Baptist had fanned, that Christ began to teach, and He also began with the eschatological phrase, "The kingdom of God is at hand." Consequently, His teaching must have been taken at once in an eschatological sense, and it is rather futile to attempt to limit such implications to passages where modern eschatological phrases are used unambiguously. "The kingdom of God is at hand" had the inseparable connotation "Judgment is at hand," and in this context, "Repent ye" (Mr 1:15) must mean "lest ye be judged." Hence, our Lord’s teaching about salvation had primarily a future content: positively, admission into the kingdom of God, and negatively, deliverance from the preceding judgment. So the kingdom of God is the "highest good" of Christ’s teaching but, with His usual reserve, He has little to say about its externals. Man’s nature is to be perfectly adapted to his spiritual environment (see Resurrection), and man is to be with Christ (Lu 22:30) and the patriarchs (Mt 8:11). But otherwise--and again as usual--the current descriptions are used without comment, even when they rest on rather materialistic imagery (Lu 22:16,30). Whatever the kingdom is, however, its meaning is most certainly not exhausted by a mere reformation of the present order of material things.

3. Present and Future:

But the fate of man at judgment depends on what man is before judgment, so that the practical problem is salvation from the conditions that will bring judgment; i.e. present and future salvation are inseparably connected, and any attempt to make rigid distinctions between the two results in logomachies. Occasionally even Christ speaks of the kingdom of God as present, in the sense that citizens of the future kingdom are living already on this earth (Mt 11:11; Lu 17:21(?); the meaning of the latter verse is very dubious). Such men are "saved" already (Lu 19:9; 7:50(?)), i.e. such men were delivered from the bad moral condition that was so extended that Satan could be said to hold sway over the world (Lu 10:18; 11:21).

4. Individualism:

That the individual was the unit in this deliverance needs no emphasis: Still, the divine privilege of the Jews was a reality and Christ’s normal work was limited to them (Mt 10:5; 15:26, etc.). He admitted even that the position of the Jewish religious leaders rested on a real basis (Mt 23:3). But the "good tidings" were so framed that their extension to all men would have been inevitable, even had there not been an explicit command of Christ in this regard. On the other hand, while the message involved in every case strict individual choice, yet the individual who accepted it entered into social relations with the others who had so chosen. So salvation involved admission to a community of service (Mr 9:35, etc.). And in the latter part of Christ’s ministry, He withdrew from the bulk of His disciples to devote Himself to the training of an inner circle of Twelve, an act explicable only on the assumption that these were to be the leaders of the others after He was taken away. Such passages as Mt 16:18; 18:17 merely corroborate this.

5. Moral Progress:

6. Forgiveness:

Moral effort, through God’s aid, is an indispensable condition for salvation. But complete success in the moral struggle is not at all a condition, in the sense that moral perfection is required. For Christ’s disciples, to whom the kingdom is promised (Lu 12:32), the palsied man who receives remission of sins (Mr 2:5), Zaccheus who is said to have received salvation (Lu 19:9), were far from being models of sinlessness. The element in the character that Christ teaches as making up for the lack of moral perfection is becoming "as a little child" (compare Mr 10:15). Now the point here is not credulousness (for belief is not under discussion), nor is it meekness (for children are notoriously not meek). And it most certainly is not the pure passivity of the newly born infant, for it is gratuitous to assume that only such infants were meant even in Lu 18:15, while in Mt 18:2 (where the child comes in answer to a call) this interpretation is excluded. Now, in the wider teaching of Christ the meaning is made clear enough. Salvation is for the poor in spirit, for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for the prodigal knowing his wretchedness. It is for the penitent publican, while the self-satisfied Pharisee is rejected. A sense of need and a desire that God will give are the characteristics. A child does not argue that it has earned its father’s benefits but looks to him in a feeling of dependence, with a readiness to do his bidding. So it is the soul that desires all of righteousness, strives toward it, knows that it falls short, and trusts in its Father for the rest, that is the savable soul.

7. Person of Christ:

8. Notes:

(1) Salvation from physical evil was a very real part, however subordinate, of Christ’s teaching (Mr 1:34, etc.).

(2) Ascetic practices as a necessary element in salvation can hardly claim Christ’s authority.

It is too often forgotten that the Twelve were not Christ’s only disciples. Certainly not all of the hundred and twenty of Ac 1:15 (compare 1:21), nor of the five hundred of 1Co 15:6, were converted after the Passion. And they all certainly could not have left their homes to travel with Christ. So the demands made in the special case of the Twelve (still less in such an extremely special case as Mr 10:21) in no way represent Christ’s normal practice, whatever readiness for self-sacrifice may have been asked of all. So the representations of Christ as ruthlessly exacting all from everyone are quite unwarranted by the facts. And it is well to remember that it is Mt 11:19 that contains the term of reproach that His adversaries gave Him.

IV. Paul.

Instead of laying primal stress on Paul’s peculiar contributions to soteriology, it will be preferable to start from such Pauline passages as simply continue the explicit teaching of Christ. For it is largely due to the common reversal of this method that the present acute "Jesus-Paulus" controversy exists.

1. General:

That Paul expected the near advent of the kingdom of God with a judgment preceding, and that salvation meant to him primarily deliverance from this judgment, need not be argued. And, accordingly, emphasis is thrown sometimes on the future deliverance and sometimes on the present conditions for the deliverance (contrast Ro 5:9 and 8:24), but the practical problem is the latter. More explicitly than in Christ’s recorded teaching the nature and the blessings of the kingdom are described (see Kingdom of God), but the additional matter is without particular religious import. A certain privilege of the Jews appears (Ro 3:1-8; 9-11), but the practical content of the privilege seems to be eschatological only (Ro 11:26). Individual conversion is of course taken for granted, but the life after that becomes highly corporate.

See Church.

2. Moral Progress:

(1) The moral ideal is distinctly that of character. Paul, indeed, is frequently obliged to give directions as to details, but the detailed directions are referred constantly to the underlying principle, Ro 14 or 1Co 8 being excellent examples of this, while "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Ro 13:10) is the summary.

3. The Spirit:

That this growth is God’s work is, however, a point where Paul has expanded Christ’s quiet assumption rather elaborately. In particular, what Christ had made the source of His own supernatural power--the Holy Spirit--is specified as the source of the power of the Christian’s ordinary life, as well as of the more special endowments (see Spiritual Gifts). In the Spirit the Christian has received the blessing promised to Abraham (Ga 3:14); by it the deeds of the body can be put to death and all virtues flow into the soul (Ga 5:16-26), if a man walks according to it (1Co 6:19,20; 1Th 4:8). The palmary passage is Romans 7-8. In Romans 7 Paul looks back with a shudder on his pre-Christian helplessness (it is naturally the extreme of exegetical perversity to argue that he dreaded not the sin itself but only God’s penalty on sin). But the Spirit gives strength to put to death the deeds of the body (8:13), to disregard the things of the flesh (8:5), and to fulfill the ordinance of the Law (8:4). Such moral power is the test of Christianity: as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (8:14).

4. Mystical Union:

5. Forgiveness:

(1) This growth in actual holiness, then, is fundamental with Paul: "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Ro 8:9). And the acquisition of strength through union with Christ is vitally connected with the remission of sins. In Ro 7:1-6 (compare Col 2:11,12), the mystical union with Christ makes His death ours (compare Col 3:3) and so removes us from the Law (compare Ro 10:4; 1Co 15:56), which has no relation to the dead. And by the life-giving power of this union the strength of sin is broken (Ro 6:6).

6. Atonement:

Because of faith--specifically, faith in Christ (except Ro 4; Ga 3:6)--God does not visit the penalties of sins on believers, but treats them as if they were righteous (Ro 5:1, etc.). But this is not because of a quality in the believer or in the faith, but because of an act that preceded any act of Christian faith, the death of Christ (not the cross, specifically, for Paul does not argue from the cross in all of Roman). Through this death God’s mercy could be extended safely, while before this the exercise of that mercy had proved disastrous (Ro 3:25,26). And this death was a sacrifice (Ro 3:25, etc.). And it is certain that Paul conceived of this sacrifice as existing quite independently of its effect on any human being. But he has given us no data for a really complete sacrificial doctrine, a statement sufficiently proved by the hopeless variance of the interpretations that have been propounded. And that Paul ever constructed a theory of the operation of sacrifices must be doubted. There is none in the contemporary Jewish literature, there is none in the Old Testament, and there is none in the rest of the New Testament, not even in Hebrews. Apparently the rites were so familiar that sacrificial terminology was ready to hand and was used without particular reflection and without attempting to give it precise theological content. This is borne out by the ease with which in Ro 3:24,25 Paul passes from a ransom (redemption) illustration to a (quite discordant) propitation illustration. For further discussion see Atonement; Justification. Here it is enough make a juridical theory constructed from Pauline implications and illustrations central in Christianity is to do exactly what Paul did not do.

7. Summary:

Summing up, there is a double line of thought in Paul: the remission of penalties through the atoning death of Christ and the destruction of the power of sin through strength flowing from Christ, the human element in both cases being faith. The question of the order of the steps is futile, for "to have faith," "to be in Christ," and "to have the Spirit" are convertible terms, i.e. in doctrinal phraseology, the beginnings of sanctification are simultaneous with justification. Attempts to unify the two lines of thought into a single theory cannot claim purely Biblical support. The "ethical" theory, which in its best form makes God’s pardon depend on the fact that the sinner will be made holy (at least in the next world), introduces the fewest extraneous elements, but it says something that Paul does not say. On the other hand one may feel that considering Paul as a whole--to say nothing of the rest of the New Testament--the pure justification doctrine has bulked a little too large in our dogmatics. God’s pardon for sin is an immensely important matter, but still more important is the new power of holiness.

8. Notes:

(1) Baptism presents another obstacle to a strict unifying of Pauline theology. A very much stronger sacramentarianism is admitted in Paul today than would have been accepted a generation ago, and such passages as Ro 6:1-7; Ga 3:27; Col 2:12 make it certain that he regarded baptism as conferring very real spiritual powers. But that he made a mechanical distinction between the blessings given then and those given at some other time must be doubted.

(2) Salvation from the flesh (Ro 7:24) involves no metaphysical dualism, as "flesh" is the whole of the lower nature from which the power to holiness saves a man (Ro 8:13). Indeed, the body itself is an object of salvation (Ro 8:11; and see Resurrection).

(3) Quite in the background lies the idea of salvation from physical evil (2Co 1:10, etc.). Such evils are real evils (1Co 11:30), but in God’s hands they may become pure blessings (Ro 5:3; 2Co 12:7).

(4) Salvation from sin after conversion is due to God’s judging the man in terms of the acquired supernatural nature (Ro 8:14, etc.). Yet certain sins may destroy the union with Christ altogether (1Co 3:17, etc.), while others bring God’s chastening judgment (1Co 11:30-32). Or proper chastisement may be inflicted by Paul himself (1Co 5:1-5; 1Ti 1:20) or by the congregation (Ga 6:1; 2Th 3:10-15; 2Co 2:6).

V. Rest of New Testament: Summary.

1. John:

(1) John had the task of presenting Christ to Gentiles, who were as unfamiliar with the technical meaning of such phrases as "kingdom of God" or "Son of Man" as is the world today, and to Gentiles who had instead a series of concepts unknown in Palestine. So a "translation of spiritual values" became necessary if the gospel were to make an immediate appeal, a translation accomplished so successfully that the Fourth Gospel has always been the most popular. The Synoptists, especially the extremely literal Mark, imperatively demand a historical commentary, while John has successfully avoided this necessity.

(2) The "kingdom of God," as a phrase (3:3,5; compare 18:36), is replaced by "eternal life." This life is given in this world to the one who accepts Christ’s teaching (5:24; 6:47), but its full realization will be in the "many mansions" of the Father’s house (14:2), where the believer will be with Christ (17:24). A judgment of all men will precede the establishment of this glorified state (5:28,29), but the believer may face the judgment with equanimity (5:24). So the believer is delivered from a state of things so bad as expressible as a world under Satan’s rule (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), a world in darkness (3:19), in ignorance of God (17:25), and in sin (8:21), all expressible in the one word "death" (5:24).

(3) The Jews had real privilege in the reception of Christ’s message (1:11; 4:22, etc.), but the extension of the good tidings to all men was inevitable (12:23,12, etc.). Belief in Christ is wholly a personal matter, but the believers enter a community of service (13:14), with the unity of the Father and Son as their ideal (17:21).

(4) The nature of the moral ideal, reduced to the single word "love" (13:34; 15:12), is assumed as known and identified with "Christ’s words" (5:24; 6:63, etc.), and the necessity of progress toward it as sharply pointed as in the Synoptists. The sinner is the servant of sin (8:34), a total change of character is needed (3:6), and the blessing is only on him who does Christ’s commandments (13:17). This "doing" is the proof of love toward Christ (14:15,21); only by bearing fruit and more fruit can discipleship be maintained (15:1-6; compare 14:24), and, indeed, by bearing fruit men actually become Christ’s disciples (15:8, Gr). The knowledge of Christ and of God that is eternal life (17:3) comes only through moral effort (7:17). In John the contrasts are colored so vividly that it would almost appear as if perfection were demanded. But he does not present even the apostles as models of sanctity (13:38; 16:32), and self-righteousness is condemned without compromise; the crowning sin is to say, "We see" (9:41). It is the Son who frees from sin (8:36), delivers from darkness (8:12; 12:46), and gives eternal life (11:25,26; compare 3:16; 5:24; 6:47). This emphasis on the divine side of the process is probably the reason for the omission of the terms "repent," "repentance," from the Gospel in favor of "faith" (6:29, especially), but this "faith" involves in turn human effort, for, without "abiding," faith is useless (8:30,31).

(5) An advance on the Synoptists is found in the number of times Christ speaks of His death (3:14,15; 10:11,15; 12:24,32; 17:19) and in the greater emphasis laid on it, but no more than in the Synoptists is there any explanation of how the Atonement became effectual. A real advance consists in the prospect of Christ’s work after His death, when, through the Paraclete (7:38,39; 14:16 ff), a hitherto unknown spiritual power would become available for the world. And spiritual power is due not only to a union of will with Christ but to mystical union with Him (15:1-9). See above, III, 7, for the relation of these thoughts to the synoptic teaching.

2. Hebrews:

3. Peter:

The one other distinct contribution to New Testament soteriology is made in 1 Peter’s evaluation of the vicarious suffering of the "Servant" of Isa 53. What Christ did through His sufferings we may do in some degree through our sufferings; as His pains helped not only living mankind, but even departed sinners, so we may face persecution more happily with the thought that our pains are benefiting other men (1Pe 3:16-20). It is hardly possible that Peter thought of this comparison as conveying an exhaustive description of the Atonement (compare 1Pe 1:19), but that the comparison should be made at all is significant.

4. Summary:

(1) Salvation is both a present and a future matter for us. The full realization of all that God has in store will not be ours until the end of human history (if, indeed, there will not be opened infinite possibilities of eternal growth), but the enjoyment of these blessings depends on conditions fulfilled in us and by us now. But a foretaste of the blessings of forgiveness of sins and growth in holiness is given on this earth. The pardon depends on the fact of God’s mercy through the death of Christ--a fact for religious experience but probably incapable of expression as a complete philosophical dogma. But strength comes from God through the glorified Christ (or through the Spirit), this vital union with God being a Christian fundamental. These two lines are in large degree independent, and the selection of the proportions profitable to a given soul is the task of the pastor.

(2) That human effort is an essential in salvation is not to be denied in the face of all the New Testament evidence, especially Paul taken as a whole. And yet no one with the faintest conception of what religion means would think of coming before God to claim merit. Here the purely intellectual discussions of the subiect and its psychological course in the soul run in different channels, and "anti-synergistic" arguments are really based on attempts to petrify psychology experience into terms of pure dogma.

(3) Still more true is this of attempts to describe mathematically the steps in salvation--the ordo salutis of the older dogmatics--for this differs with different souls. In particular, New Testament data are lacking for the development of the individual born of Christian parents in a Christian country.

(4) Further, the social side of salvation is an essentially Christian doctrine and cannot be detached from the corporate life of the Christian church. Salvation from temporal evils is equally, if secondarily, Christian. Nationalism in salvation is at present much in the background. But it is as true today as it was in ancient Israel that the sins of a nation tend to harm the souls of even those who have not participated actively in those sins.


The literature of salvation is virtually the literature of theology (see under separate articles, ATONEMENT; JUSTIFICATION; SANCTIFICATION; PERSON OF CHRIST; JOHANNINE THEOLOGY; PAULINE THEOLOGY, etc.), but a few recent works may be mentioned. Indispensable are the works of Stevens, The Christian Doctrine of Salvation and The Pauline Theology. Garvie’s Romans in the "New Century" series should be used as a supplement to any other commentary on Romans. The juridical theory has as its best defense in English Denney’s The Death of Christ. The ethical theory is best presented in the works of DuBose, The Gospel in the Gospels, The Gospel according to Paul, and High-Priesthood and Sacrifice (Sanday’s The Expositor reviews of the two former, reprinted in The Life of Christ in Recent Research, should be read in any case).

Burton Scott Easton