Soteriology – The Study of Salvation

And there is salvation [Grk. noun = σωτηρία soteria] in no one else; for there is no other name [other than Jesus] under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved [Grk. verb = σῴζω sozo]. (Acts 4:12)

Soteriology     The word soteriology comes from two Greek words: σωτήρ soter which means savior, deliverer, preserver[1] and λόγος logos, which means word, statement or speech, but in English means the study of.  Soteriology, then, is the study of salvation as it has been revealed in Scripture. The most common word for salvation in the Hebrew OT is יָשַׁע yasha (sometimes as יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation, also safety, [and] welfare.[2] Salvation in the OT was primarily physical, as one might be delivered from an enemy in battle or from a plague (2 Sam 22:3-4; 1 Ch 16:23, 35; Job 5:4, 11; Psa 3:6-8; 44:4-8; 85:7, 9; 89:26; Isa 17:10; 45:8; Mic 7:7). Charles Ryrie comments:

The most important Hebrew root word related to salvation in the Old Testament is yasha. Originally it meant to be roomy or broad in contrast to narrowness or oppression. Thus it signifies freedom from what binds or restricts, and it came to mean deliverance, liberation, or giving width and breadth to something…Faith was the necessary condition for salvation in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Abraham believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6).[3]

The NT writers primarily use the following Greek words:

  1. σῴζω sozo (verb) refers to the act of physical deliverance in some biblical passages (Matt 8:25; 14:30; Mark 13:20; Luke 6:9; John 11:12; Acts 27:20, 31), and spiritual deliverance in others (Luke 7:50; 19:10; John 12:47; 1 Cor 1:21; Tit 3:5). As to our spiritual deliverance, we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5).
  2. σωτήρ soter (noun) means Savior, and refers to the agent of salvation, the one who rescues or delivers another from harm or danger (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20). This refers to the agent of salvation.
  3. σωτηρία soteria (noun) refers to the provision of salvation, rescue, or deliverance brought by another (Luke 1:69; 19:9; John 4:22; Acts 7:25; 13:26, 47; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 1:6; 6:2; Eph 1:13; Phil 1:28; 2:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5, 9; 2 Pet 3:15).

Most often, when people think of salvation, they think of deliverance from the Lake of Fire and spending eternity in heaven. This is certainly taught, but is by far the minority usage of both the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible. Lewis Sperry Chafer comments:

As to the meaning of the word salvation, the Old and New Testaments are much alike. The word communicates the thought of deliverance, safety, preservation, soundness, restoration, and healing; but though so wide a range of human experience is expressed by the word salvation, its specific, major use is to denote a work of God in behalf of man.[4]

The majority of usages of salvation in the NT refer to physical healing or deliverance from what injures, restricts, or threatens harm. For example, when Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee, He healed ten men of leprosy (Luke 17:11-14), and when one of them returned to thank Jesus (Luke 17:15-16), He told the man, “your faith has made you well [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 17:19). Here, the Greek verb refers to physical deliverance. On another occasion, when Jesus was approaching the city of Jericho, a blind man called out for Jesus to have mercy on him (Luke 18:35-41), and Jesus healed the man, saying, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 18:42). Again, this refers to physical healing. An example of deliverance from physical danger is observed in the account where Jesus came to His disciples when they were on a stormy sea (Matt 14:22-27). When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he called out to the Lord and asked to come to Him (Matt 14:28-29). However, as Peter was walking on the water, He took his eyes off Jesus and began looking at the stormy wind, and “he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me! [σῴζω sozo]’” (Matt 14:30). Peter was not asking for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life; rather, he was asking Jesus to save him from physical harm as he sunk into the sea. And Jesus did save him (Matt 14:31).

What about spiritual deliverance? Spiritual deliverance means we are rescued from Satan’s power and domain, where we are all “held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). At the moment of faith in Christ, we are “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). This deliverance means we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9). But the Bible also teaches we are saved the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and will ultimately from the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5). These concepts are sometimes referred to as our justification, sanctification and glorification. Justification-salvation means we are forever justified in God’s sight because Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (Mark 10:45; Heb 10:10-14) and imputes His righteousness to us (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). This justification comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). In this case, God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). Because we are justified by God, we will never face condemnation (Rom 8:1). Our glorification-salvation means we are saved from the presence of sin, and this occurs when we leave this world and are forever located in heaven (1 Cor 15:50-53; 1 John 3:2, 5). I mention justification-salvation and glorification-salvation together because they are monergistic (a work of one), meaning God alone accomplishes both, completely apart from our efforts. Though our justification-salvation and glorification-salvation happen at a moment in time and are monergistic, our sanctification-salvation occurs over our lifetime and is synergistic (a work of two or more). Being synergistic, our sanctification-salvation means we must make good choices to learn His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), rely on the holy Spirit (Gal 5:16; Eph 5:18), walk in His will (Eph 2:10; 4:1-3; 5:8-10), and grow spiritually (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Pet 2:2). When we do this, we not only live the best life we can possibly live—one marked by truth, love and selflessness—we also store up for ourselves treasures in heaven which we will enjoy for all eternity (Matt 6:19-21).

So, how do we start this wonderful journey? We start by believing the gospel message that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). We trust in Jesus who died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At this moment we have relational-peace with God (Rom 5:1). Once saved, we know our future is bright and that heaven is guaranteed as our final resting place (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:50-54; 2 Cor 5:8). Lastly, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3), which means He has provided us with a portfolio of spiritual assets that enables us to live righteously for Him (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14). This grace provision enables us to be saved from the power of sin. Won’t you start this wonderful journey by trusting in Christ as your Savior today?

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Fredrick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 985.

[2] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 447.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 321.

[4] Lewis S. Chafer, “Soteriology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 109 (1945): 11-12.

Three Phases of Salvation

       Once a person is born again, he is saved from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:1; Eph. 2:5, 8), the power of sin (Rom. 6:11-14), and will ultimately be saved from the presence of sin when God takes him to heaven and gives him a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21).  This truth is related to the three phases of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification

       Justification is the instantaneous act of God whereby He forgives the sinner of all sins—past, present and future—and declares him perfectly righteous in His sight.  Justification is predicated on “the gift of righteousness” that God freely imputes to the believer at the moment of salvation (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  Justification before a holy God is possible solely on the grounds that Christ has borne every sin committed by the sinner (Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 3:18), and as an act of pure grace freely imputes His perfect righteousness to him (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 John 2:2).  Justification is always by grace and never by works, as the sinner is, “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). 

       Sanctification is the process whereby the believer moves from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity over time as he learns God’s Word and makes good choices to live God’s will (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  The Christian who advances to spiritual maturity does so only in the power of the Holy Spirit and on the basis of God’s Word daily learned and applied (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Sanctification is never instantaneous but is ongoing until the Christian leaves this world and goes to heaven. 

       Glorification is the final phase of the believer’s salvation experience and occurs when he leaves this world, either by death or by rapture, and enters into the presence of God in heaven (Rom. 8:17-18).  The Christian never achieves sinless perfection until he is glorified in heaven, at which time his sin nature is removed and he is given a perfect body (Phil. 3:20-21).  Regarding these biblical truths, Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer has written:Lewis Sperry Chafer

Much of the whole divine undertaking in salvation is accomplished in the saved one at the moment he exercises saving faith. So, also, some portions of this work are in the form of a process of transformation after the first work is wholly accomplished. And, again, there is a phase of the divine undertaking which is revealed as consummating the whole work of God at the moment of its completion. This last aspect of salvation is wholly future. Salvation, then, in the present dispensation, may be considered in three tenses as it is revealed in the Scriptures: the past, or that part of the work which already is wholly accomplished in and for the one who has believed; the present, or that which is now being accomplished in and for the one who has believed; and the future, or that which will be accomplished to complete the work of God in and for the one who has believed.[1]

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 2-3.

God’s Grace to Save

For by grace [charis] you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

       Charis is the Greek word that is commonly translated grace and it means undeserved favor or unmerited kindness. It is a generous, loving, charitable act that one person does toward another who would otherwise deserve the opposite. It is love shown to one’s enemies. Grace has its greatest manifestation in the Cross of Christ where Jesus, as a substitute, bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to the human race (Rom. 5:6-10). Peter tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Christ died in place of the sinner. That’s grace. None of us deserved what Christ did when He went to the cross nearly two thousand years ago, when He hung between heaven and earth and bore the sin of all mankind and was judged in our place, bearing the wrath of God that rightfully belongs to us. How dark the sky must have been that day when, for three hours, Christ bore our sin and propitiated the Father. God’s righteousness and love intersect at the cross at the same time. Righteousness in judging our sin in His Son, and love toward the sinner He desires to save. Grace is manifested every time God offers the free gift of eternal life to sinners. Salvation is received when sinners believe in Christ as their Savior.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1)

       All four Gospels record the prisoner exchange between a notorious criminal named Barabbas and the Lord Jesus (Matt. 27:16-26; Mark. 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Barabbas was in jail for insurrection, murder, and robbery, and was surely going to face death for his crimes (Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent of all the charges brought against Him. Pilate, the Roman Governor who presided as judge over the two men, knew it was “because of envy” that Jesus had been handed over to him to be scourged and crucified (Matt. 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10). Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of the charges leveled against Him and sought to have Him released (Luke 23:20), but he proved himself a weak leader by surrendering to the insane demands of a mob who kept shouting “crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). All of this occurred according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).

       Barabbas was in his jail cell when a Roman guard came, unlocked his door and informed him he was free to leave. I suppose Barabbas was puzzled because freedom was not what he expected. Barabbas was in a dark place with no ability to save himself. Outside the prison walls, Jesus was being led away to die in his place, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. Spiritually, we are all in a dark place without hope, facing eternal death, and with no ability to save ourselves. But there’s good news! Outside our prison is a free and innocent Man who has died in our place, who bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Today, our prison cell is open, and we are free to leave because another man bore our penalty for us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8)

       How wonderful it is to read and learn of God’s grace in the Bible. But we must see ourselves as prisoners of sin, enslaved and unable to liberate ourselves from the chains of sin that weigh heavy upon us. If we could save ourselves by works, then Christ died needlessly. If works save us, then grace is no longer grace. It is the humble soul who knows he cannot repay God for His wonderful gift of salvation. It would be an insult of the highest magnitude to offer feeble works of self-righteousness to God in place of the work of Christ. Don’t ever tarnish the glory of the cross by trying to add your dirty human works to it (Isa. 64:6). Don’t ever try to rob God of His wonderful grace by offering cheap works as a means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Salvation is what God does for us through the death of His Son. Salvation is never what we do for God, or even what we do for ourselves. Christ died for us, to save us, and that was an act of God’s grace. It is the empty hands of faith that welcome God’s free gift of salvation. Trust in Christ alone and let your faith rest completely in Him and His work on the cross (John 3:16).

Dr. Steven R. Cook