Soteriology is the study of salvation and includes a variety of topics. This article will give a brief overview of soteriology, focusing on those aspects of soteriology that are most relevant to believers in their daily lives.
What Is Salvation?
Salvation has to do with rescue or deliverance from some harmful situation. You might experience salvation in many different situations: deliverance from a physical attack, an illness, financial ruin, or an accident.
Salvation has a very specific meaning within Christianity, but it still involves deliverance or rescue. The following illustration will be used throughout this article to help in relating some specific aspects of what the Bible teaches us about salvation.
Imagine yourself on a boat at sea during a storm. A large wave breaks over the boat and washes you overboard. You are in grave danger. But someone sees you and gets the boat turned around.
A life ring is tossed to you with the instruction to grab hold. And, if you do, you will be saved. So, you grab hold, are pulled back to the boat, and then back aboard. You have been saved.
What Are We Saved From?
Salvation always involves rescue from danger. In Christian soteriology, that danger is described in several ways: the wrath of God, Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, Hades, eternal destruction, and outer darkness.
But what all of them have in common is eternal separation from God and the life he created us to have.
In Scripture, the expression "the world" sometimes refers to the physical ground we walk on. But other times, it refers to the whole of humanity and all that we are doing.
This is similar to how the word Hollywood is used. It is a physical location. But more commonly, it refers to the film industry, all of the sets, people, and products it produces.
Our world system is in opposition to God and is facing his judgment. And all of humanity is subject to that judgment and eternal separation from God. This world is the sea that we are drowning in.
Who Does the Saving?
John 3:16 tells us that God loves the world and has provided a way for us to be saved. The method of salvation will be discussed below.
What is significant here is that God initiates our salvation, turning the boat around and casting out the life ring. There is nothing we can do to initiate our salvation. If God did not first act, we would drown.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that salvation is a gift of God given to us by his grace. He demonstrates his love to us by his gracious offer of salvation.
Salvation is a gift, and there is nothing that the one being saved can do to contribute to their salvation. God throws the life ring out to those drowning in the sea of sin.
Who Is Saved?
All of humanity needs salvation, although none of us deserve it. But God, in his grace, throws us a life ring. And, when I take hold of the life ring, I am pulled to safety. I experience God's salvation.
But just who gets thrown a life ring? This question divides many within the body of Christ today. On the one hand, are those who say that God chooses who to bring to safety.
And that choice is not based on anything a person might do. Those who God chooses will be saved. He throws the life ring around their head, holding them securely as they are pulled to safety.
Others see God as offering salvation to everyone. The life ring is tossed to everyone in need of rescue. And those who grab hold of the ring are pulled to safety. While those who opt not to grab hold end up drowning.
I favor the latter and believe that it has the best scriptural support. But there are certainly learned and godly men on both sides of the issue. But what both agree on is that salvation is the work of God, not of the one being saved.
How Are We Saved?
John 3:16 tells us that God sent his Son into the world. And everyone who believes in him will be saved. This expresses two aspects of how we are saved.
First, and most important, is what God did. He sent his Son. 1 John 4:10 goes further and tells us that God sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
At the heart of our salvation is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. There are various ways that people have understood the atonement offered by Jesus and how it deals with our sin and separation from God.
But what is significant here is that it did. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. And he did it by offering his Son on a Roman cross as an atonement for our sin.
In Romans 3:25, Paul tells us that "God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood." But he requires a response from us. This verse goes on to say that this sacrifice is "to be received by faith."
God threw me a lifeline by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. And I respond by faith, grabbing onto the ring and holding on as it is pulled to safety.
Faith is not a one-time decision that a person makes. Instead, it is a lifelong commitment to trust God with all that I am. To grab hold of the life ring and continue holding on until safely aboard.
What Are We Saved To?
Salvation from the stormy sea is not complete until I have been pulled out of the water and am safely standing on the boat. Similarly, my salvation from the destruction awaiting this world begins when I commit my life to Jesus.
It continues through the remainder of my life here. And my salvation is complete when I leave this world behind and stand safely on the other side of death in the presence of my Lord.
Just what awaits on the other side of physical death is a mystery. But we do know that we will be with Jesus and be like him in some fashion. We will have resurrected and immortal bodies.
We will dwell on a recreated earth. And we will have something to do there. We are saved from certain destruction to live in the glorious presence of our Lord and God.
Can Salvation Be Lost?
One question about salvation that often generates heated debate is the security of our salvation. Is it possible for us to lose our salvation?
One side will claim that once a person has been saved, their salvation is secure and can not be lost under any circumstances.
On the other side are those who believe that a person can lose their salvation. And both sides in the debate find support for their position within the Scripture.
Most of those involved in this debate pin the moment of salvation on when a person comes to faith in Christ. The debate then becomes whether that person will be capable of apostasy.
But if we understand our salvation to be when we stand safely on the boat's deck rather than when we grab hold of the life ring, the debate is moot.
Once I have faithfully come to the end of my faith journey and stand in my Lord's presence, my salvation is eternally secure.
For further reading:
Is There a Prayer for Salvation? How Is One Saved?
Are Steps to Salvation Biblical?
Is it True Once Saved Always Saved?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/pichitstocker
Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.