The Biblical Meaning of Salvation

By William Webster

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God
and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30)

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To have a correct understanding of the gospel we must have a proper view of the biblical meaning of salvation. What does scripture teach is God’s purpose in salvation? Too often our understanding is limited to the truth of justification and deliverance from hell. While these are wonderful truths, they are but part of the overall work of salvation. When Paul states that the gospel is ‘the power of God for salvation’ (Rom. 1:16), he is referring not only to deliverance from the guilt of sin and its eternal consequences, but also from its power and dominion (Rom. 3–8). Paul further emphasizes this in his first letter to the Corinthians where he says: ‘But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11). These scriptures make it clear that when these believers came into the experience of salvation they were not only justified but sanctified. In short, the concept of salvation in scripture encompasses divine sovereignty, regeneration, justification, sanctification, adoption, conversion and glorification. It encompasses all that God does to deliver a man from the guilt, power and consequences of sin and to restore him into a relationship with himself that he might know, love, worship, obey, serve, and glorify God in time and eternity.

This was the view held by the Reformers and all who have followed in the tradition of the Reformation. It is important that we keep this point continually before us: Salvation means much more than deliverance from condemnation. It means deliverance from sin, not only its guilt but also its dominion and power. Martyn Lloyd–Jones states:

The prime object of God in instituting salvation for us in Christ Jesus is not simply that we might be forgiven. This is how Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians, ‘We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus’. What for? ‘…unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’ (2:10). Or again, in his Epistle to Titus: ‘Who gave himself for us’. Why did He do it? ‘…that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous for good works’ (2:14). You cannot stop at forgiveness. Christ died to do all this; and all this must be stated in our evangelism. It must also become apparent at once in the life of the believer. Indeed everything about the Gospel inevitably leads to this end (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The New Man, Exposition of Chapter 6 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), p. 218).

A.A. Hodge makes this observation:

The very end for which the stupendous enginery of redemption was devised and executed, including the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection of the Son of God, and the mission of the Holy Ghost, is to establish a community of regenerated and sanctified men, absolutely perfect in righteousness (A.A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology (Edinburgh: Banner, 1976), p. 274).

John Murray likewise emphasizes the importance of understanding the overall intent of Christ in his work of redemption:

The ultimate goal of the whole redemptive process both in its objective accomplishment and in its application is conformity to the image of Christ. All the steps are subordinated to this purpose—they flow out of it and move to its realization. Christ gave himself a ransom that he might deliver his people from all iniquity. Justification is only one part or aspect of this redemptive process and must never be viewed in disjunction from its place in the context of all the other steps of the process and particularly the other aspects of the application of redemption. Any doctrine out of focus gives distortion to the whole system of truth and is therefore inimical to the ethical interests to be promoted by that system of truth. Redemption is unto holiness and justification as a part of that process of redemption cannot be to the opposite end (John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner, 1977), pp. 219-220).

Christ came as the God–Man, the Mediator between God and man, to deliver us from sin—from its guilt, power and condemnation. He came to deliver us from the power and authority of Satan and eternal death and to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18, Jn. 17:3).

If salvation means deliverance from sin, then it is obvious that a proper understanding of it entails a thorough understanding of the nature of sin and the subsequent means God employs in delivering man from it.

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