Soteriology is the area of Christian theology that examines the subject of salvation. Soteriology deals with the entire work of biblical salvation–past, present, and future.
Some of the important questions examined within the study of Soteriology include the following:
-What is salvation?
-Why is salvation required?
-How is salvation described in Scripture?
-What are the meanings of the biblical terms associated with salvation?
-How is a person saved?
-How were people saved in Old Testament times?
-Is baptism required for salvation?
-What about those who have not heard the Gospel?
-Can a person lose their salvation?
Salvation, as it relates to Christian theology, is forgiveness and deliverance from sin and its consequences through Jesus Christ. In the Christian doctrine of salvation, we are saved from “wrath,”–God’s judgment of sin (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9) and from the consequences of sin which is eternal separation from God–also referred to as spiritual death (Romans 6:23).
There is a past, present, and future dimension of salvation. When you repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior, you are saved from the penalties for sins of the past. As you continue to walk in Christ, you are saved from sins in the present. In the future, you will be delivered from the presence of sin when you enter eternity to dwell forever with the Lord.
WHY SALVATION IS REQUIRED
Salvation is needed because of the original fall of man into sin, the dire consequences of sin, and the fact that the basic sin nature was passed to all people from that time on (Genesis 3; Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15). The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s original plan that His glory be revealed in us. By nature, we are “children of wrath” and dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The spiritual results of man’s fall into sin included separation from God; guilt; condemnation; depravity; and physical and spiritual death (Genesis 3). We are servants to sin (Romans 6:17) and incapable of saving ourselves (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:20).
Salvation is required for forgiveness of sin and access to the presence of God both now and for eternity. God has provided salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and it is His desire that all should be saved and no one should perish (1 Peter 3:9). God’s sovereign will, however, does not negate man’s free will to accept or reject Christ as Savior. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, though humanly difficult to understand, are truths that are an antinomy–meaning two statements that seem opposed to each other, but are both true and obtained by correct reasoning. The biblical balance between the two rests in spiritual revelation, not in carnal reasoning.
LOST THROUGH SIN
These are the tremendous losses that resulted from sin:
Loss of innocence. Immediately after the fall, Adam and Eve were no longer innocent. They recognized the difference between good and evil and realized that they were sinful (Genesis 3:7).
Loss of relationship with God. God did not remove Himself from man’s presence, rather, it was man who removed himself from God. When God came to walk and talk with Adam and Eve as He normally did, they hid themselves from Him.
Loss of emotional well-being. Adam and Eve experienced shame and fear (Genesis 3:10). Fear of the future and shame over the past are basic emotions which are roots of all other negative emotional responses.
Loss of godly righteousness. Adam and Eve tried to make clothing from fig leaves which is a type (symbolic) of what man tries to do spiritually. Realizing we are sinners, we try to better ourselves. We think self-improvement will eliminate our sin (Genesis 3:7), but our self-righteousness is as inadequate as the fig leaves were to cover Adam and Eve: “But we are all as an unclean thing and all our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, KJV).
Loss of positive relationships with others. When confronted with their sin, Adam blamed Eve and she blamed the serpent. Thus, we see the first dysfunctional family relationships emerge. It is not too long in the biblical record before the first murder occurs when their son, Cain, kills his brother Abel.
Loss of eternal life. Adam and Eve would never have died had not sin entered into the world. Eternal life was lost through sin, which resulted in physical death coming into the world. The Bible says that all will die physically, but more importantly, it decrees that the result of sin is spiritual death through eternal separation from God.
The good news is that all of these losses–and all of the other losses which you have experienced
–can be restored through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who came to seek and to save all that was lost (Luke 19:10).
Innocence is restored. The Apostle Paul, who was previously known as Saul, had persecuted and killed believers before his conversion to Christ. Yet Acts 20:26 records that he proclaimed …”I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men”. How could he say that? Because Paul had experienced salvation through Jesus Christ. Having asked forgiveness and accepted Christ’s sacrifice for his sins, Paul was innocent before God.
Relationship with God is restored. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13, NIV).
Emotional well-being is restored. Jesus dealt with the fear and shame that resulted from sin. He declared, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27,NIV).
Godly righteousness is restored. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:13, NIV).
Positive relationships with others are restored. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers” (1 John 3:14, NIV).
Eternal life is restored. Through Jesus, you can have eternal life restored. Your physical body will someday die, but you will live on in eternity with God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17, NIV).
HOW SALVATION IS DESCRIBED IN SCRIPTURE
Salvation is described as the mystery of God that is now revealed (Ephesians 3:9 ; 6:19) and as a plan conceived before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:3-14). It is a light (Luke 2:30-32) and provides a transition from spiritual death to life (John 5:24). It is defined as a message for sinners (Mark 2:17); a gift of grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9); and something for which all creation groans (Romans 8:22).
It is also described as the revelation of God’s righteousness (Romans 1:16-17); the justification that comes through faith (Romans 4:22-25); reconciliation ( 2 Corinthians 5:18-19); redemption (Romans 8:23); and as a spiritual birth without which one cannot enter the Kingdom of God
Salvation is also described as freedom from sin (Romans 6); being a new creation (Romans 5:16-17); having peace with God (Romans 5:1); being adopted children of God (Galatians 4:4); baptism into Christ’s death (Romans 6:4); and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5, 8).
BIBLICAL TERMS ASSOCIATED WITH SALVATION
This list is alphabetized for ease in studying the terms associated with salvation.
Adoption refers to God’s decision to make us members of His family. He is our Heavenly Father, we are called the children of God, and we are brothers and sisters spiritually with all other true believers.
This term refers to the death of Jesus on the cross which atoned–or made amends–for the sins of mankind.
Conversion means “to turn.” When it is used in connection with Biblical repentance, it means to “turn from the wrong way to the right way.”
And many of the children of Israel shall He turn to the Lord their God. (Luke 1:16)
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw Him, and turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:35)
And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. (Acts 11:21)
Conversion is turning from the darkness of sin to the light of God’s righteousness:
…to turn them from darkness to light. (Acts 26:18)
It is turning from the power of Satan to God:
…to turn them…from the power of Satan unto God. (Acts 26:18)
It is turning from worldly things to spiritual things:
…Ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God. (Acts 14:15)
It is turning from false gods to the true and living God:
…Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
Faith Towards God.
Faith towards God is listed in Hebrews 6 as the second foundational principle of the Christian faith. Repentance from dead works must be combined with faith towards God in order to be saved:
…Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)
Glorification will occur when you receive your resurrected body and enter eternity. There will be some similarity between your mortal body and your glorified one, as the example of Jesus after His resurrection demonstrates (John 21:4), but there will be great differences between that which was sown in dishonor and that which will be raised in honor (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).
When you are living in sin, you are condemned before God and separated from Him:
…but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:18-19)
When you repent from sin and make a decision to turn from your sinful ways, this establishes a right relationship with God. This right relationship or right standing before God is called “justification”:
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)
The penalties for sin are physical and spiritual death. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the penalty for the sins of all mankind: “For He [God] hath made Him [Jesus] to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, you repent, and accept Him as Savior, then you will not experience the spiritual death of eternal separation from God in Hell. Although your physical body will die, you will be resurrected again to eternal life. This is made possible
through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. You are justified, or brought into right relationship to God, by Jesus Christ:
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)
Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:9)
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5:1)
In summary, justification refers to a legal declaration by God that your sins–past, present, and future–are forgiven through Jesus, His righteousness is imputed to you, and you are justified before God. Justification comes through faith, and not by works. You do not earn right standing before God, but it is given to you through your repentance from sin and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior.
The basic meaning of this word is “satisfaction”, meaning that the death of Jesus satisfied the righteousness of God in terms of a complete sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.
Once separated from God by sin, man now has access to Him through the death of Jesus Christ. The separation caused by sin has been bridged by the blood sacrifice of Jesus which reconciled us with God.
Regeneration denotes the act whereby spiritually dead people are made alive through salvation. The word is used in Titus 3:5, but the concept is taught elsewhere through the terms “born from above” (John 3) and born again (1 Peter 1). Regeneration is often referred to as the “new birth”. It is detailed in the following texts: John 1:12-13; 3:3; Titus 3:5-9; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3;
2 Corinthians 5:17.
The basic meaning of the word “repentance” is a change of mind which results in a change in outward actions.
Some people associate repentance with emotions like shedding tears and feeling sorry for wrong actions and thoughts. Repentance is not an emotion. It is a decision. Emotion sometimes accompanies true repentance. But it is possible for a person to feel great emotion and to shed many tears and yet never truly repent.
Other people associate repentance with meeting special religious requirements. This is sometimes called “doing penance.” It is possible to fulfill many such religious requirements and yet never repent in the true Biblical sense.
True repentance is a change of mind that results in a change in outward actions, a turning away from sin towards God and righteousness. This “turning away” confirms the inward change which has occurred.
Sanctification involves three aspects: We were sanctified at the moment of conversion and declared legally holy before God (1 Corinthians 6:11). At the present time we are being
sanctified as we are being transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). In the future, we will be completely sanctified as we enter the presence of the Lord for eternity.
The root of this transformation lies in our relationship with Christ (Romans 6:3-4), and the process is never completed in this life (Philippians 3:12-13). We are to aim for perfection (1 Peter 1:15-16) by deliberately putting to death the carnal nature (Colossians 3:5) by putting on the mind and attitudes of Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14)
HOW A PERSON IS SAVED
The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Your sins have caused a separation between you and God (Isaiah 59:2), and the end result of this separation is spiritual death (Romans 6:23). The only way to span this division is to be saved by faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:1).
Jesus died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). He is the only way to the God the Father (John 14:6). He has all authority in Heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18), including the power to forgive sins because He bore all the sins of mankind on the cross (1 Peter. 2:24) . To be saved you must believe that Jesus died for your sin, confess and repent of your sin, and accept Him as the sacrifice for your sin. You are saved by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
HOW PEOPLE WERE SAVED IN OLD TESTAMENT TIMES
The Bible is clear that salvation takes place by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). In the Old Testament, people were saved by looking forward by faith to the cross which they did every time they made a sacrifice for sin. In the New Testament, we look back to the cross by faith. No additional sacrifices for sin are necessary, however, as Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for sin.
BAPTISM AND SALVATION
Water baptism is an ordinance of the Church, and believers should follow the example set by Jesus and the command given by Him regarding baptism. It is an outward expression of the inward change that has occurred through the new birth experience. Salvation is based on faith alone, however, so water baptism is not required in order to be saved. The example of the thief on the cross confirms that salvation is by faith alone apart from baptism (Luke 23:39-43).
THOSE WHO HAVE NOT HEARD THE GOSPEL
Because the Bible does not specifically address this issue, we cannot make an absolute statement concerning it. However, since the Bible states that salvation is only through Jesus and that a person must receive Christ as Savior in order to be saved, then we can logically conclude that those who have not heard the gospel are lost. This is all the more reason to preach the gospel to everyone.
…Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:13-14)
All people are accountable to God whether or not they have heard the Gospel. The Bible tells us that God has clearly revealed Himself in nature (Romans 1:20) and in the hearts of people (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The problem is that people reject this knowledge of God (Romans 1:21-23).
Quite often, it is not that people have not heard about God. Rather, the problem is that they have rejected what they have heard, what has been revealed to them, and what is readily apparent in nature. Deuteronomy 4:29 confirms: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Everyone who seeks for God will find Him. If a person truly desires to know God, God will make Himself known to them.
There is much discussion among Christians as to whether or not a person can lose their salvation. Some believe that a sinful lifestyle or rejection of an earlier commitment to Christ can result in losing your salvation. They base their belief on Hebrews 5:29 and other passages like Revelation 3:5. This doesn’t mean you lose your salvation every time you sin, but that deliberately continuing in sin can result in the loss of salvation.
Others believe “once saved, always saved” based on Romans 8:1, 37-39 and other passages. They teach that a person who has truly come to faith in Christ can never lose his or her faith. This is sometimes called the doctrine of “eternal security”.
The important thing in this debate is this: Once you have committed your life to Christ, continue to serve Him faithfully and then you will be assured of your salvation. The Bible teaches that you can be assured–meaning that you can have confidence if you are a true believer–that you are in right relationship to God through Jesus. Study the following scriptures: 1 John 5:13; John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 17:11; 1 John 3:9; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 5:10.
Study the Harvestime International Network course entitled “Foundations of Faith” for additional teaching regarding salvation and the basics of the Christian faith. The course will enable you to:
-Explain the six basic doctrines of the Christian faith listed in Hebrews 6:1-3 including.
-Repentance from dead works.
-Faith toward God.
-Doctrine of baptisms.
-Laying on of hands.
-Resurrection of the dead.
-Establish a proper spiritual foundation in your life.
-Go on to spiritual maturity.