Are you saved?

If so, from what are your saved?

And to what have you been saved?

Salvation is one of those words we sing about and talk about a lot in the church but rarely define.

During my teen years,[1]  salvation seemed like some kind of religious multi-level marketing program. You get saved by saying some special words (usually at the end of a church service or retreat), later you learn to make the presentation in order to get as many others as you can to take advantage of the salvation opportunity.

Sometimes, benefits are added like rewards that have something to do with crowns and mansions in the afterlife. Adding people to ‘team Jesus’ meant that you were accruing treasure in the right place.

Salvation was defined primarily as a one-time, transactional moment, meant to take you from death (physical and spiritual) to an eternal life that secures a torture-free, beautiful afterlife. [2]

“Salvation should be about more than eternity and a multi-level marketing scheme.”

One formal definition sounds this way:

“God’s activity on behalf of creation and especially humans in bringing all things to God’s intended goal….salvation entails God’s deliverance of humans from the power and effects of sin and the Fall through the work of Jesus Christ so that the creation in general and humans in particular can enjoy the fullness of life intended for what God has made”.

-The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Location 1994).

Christians largely associate salvation with Jesus. Understandings about salvation often start with soteria in the original Greek New Testament. Some break it into a multipart process, others see it a ‘crisis’ event. Many see it as a synergy that humans needs to consent to and partner with, a few see it as an outgrowth of God’s sovereignty and may even hold that it is done unilaterally.[3] 

One fascinating study is to look at the different translation is Luke-Acts. According to Luke-Acts, Salvation is variously:

  •     blessedness
  •     rescue
  •     forgiveness
  •     escape (from the end of the world)
  •     the Holy Spirit (receiving it)
  •     repentance
  •     entering God’s reign, feasting in God’s reign
  •     spiritual healing, physical healing, exorcism, resuscitation
  •     revelation
  •     walking, sight, survival
  •     freedom
  •     peace
  •     glory
  •     being a child of Abraham
  •     being clean

A few noteworthy things about salvation in Luke-Acts:

  • It’s individual and communal
  • It’s present, future and arguably past
  • It has to do with God or Jesus, most of the time

According to Gonzalez, the concept of salvation was not unique to Christianity:

“In the Greco-Roman in which Christianity was born, there were many religions offering “salvation.” Most of these understood salvation mainly or exclusively as life after death, and often combined these notions of salvation with the ideal of escaping from the material world.”

  • Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Location 3851).

Religion that promises freedom and joy in the by-and-by and not in the here-and-now keeps today’s liberation at bay since it is only really possible in another world. As Christianity became the religion of empire, the understanding of salvation flattened into a far-off promise.

Salvation became so heavenly minded that it was not of much earthly good.

Gonzalez goes on to suggest that Christians lost touch with the multi-layered understanding of salvation of the scriptures, instead settling into the more common heaven-focused understanding. However, he points to the development of Liberation Theologies (see L is for Liberation) as helping us recover the wider understanding of salvation “as including not only salvation from death and eternal damnation, but also freedom from all sorts of oppression and injustice” (Essential Theological Terms, Kindle Location 3859).

Salvation is personal and communal, physical and spiritual and oriented in both the present and the future. It is grounded in actual events – a message delivered, the holy spirit falling on people or a place, or a body healing. It doesn’t seem to be reciting a prayer, making an intellectual decision, or even a specific rite or ceremony.

In fact, the dictionary authors seem to sum up our Luke-Acts findings quite nicely. Salvation is God’s deliverance of human beings from the power and effects of sin (sickness, pain, illness, death) and God’s activity on creation’s behalf (including humans) so that we might enjoy fullness of life now and in the future and reach’s God’s intended goal of Shalom.

It is a messy definition and conversation.  

If we were to take a ‘surplus of meaning’ perspective, we are not trying to distill salvation down to its simplest form or minimal requirements. We want to breath life into the concept and expand our understanding to see all that it entails and holds of us.

[1] This chapter is written in partnership with Mickey ScottBey Jones.

[2] It has benefits now like the ability to know more about God, but mostly it is about eternity.

[3] It is not accurate to say that god does it ‘to’ us – since it is something that clearly we would desire so it benefits us and thus we would obviously consent to it and thus it is not done coercively or against our will.