What is the definition of salvation according to the Bible?
After preaching the text: “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9), I was asked for “my” definition of salvation. This is both simple and complex at the same time. So, I will try and ramble simply for a moment and then ramble further in a more complex manner, as I try and answer this question. If you are a black and white kind of person, you may skip the following simple “gray,” but needed explanation and look for the bold words below. If you want to add some complexity to the definition, simply keep reading. In the end, I hope there will be some clarity.
If you remember, I answered 5 questions from a sermon on July 8. Here they are again: 1) What is salvation?; 2) What is the source of salvation?; 3) Who are the recipients of salvation?; 4) What is the means of salvation?; and 5) What are the effects of salvation? At the least, all of these questions must be answered in order to define salvation.
Thinking back, as I consider the 1st question, at a more basic level, I really addressed the “need” of salvation in that every sinner is under the wrath of God and needs to be delivered from this wrath. In the 2nd question we saw that the source of salvation is God. Salvation begins and ends with God. If any sinner is saved it will be because a sovereign God in his free grace comes to them in power, not because of works, done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. In the 3rd question, I emphasized the responsibility of man. As Jonah, the sailors, and Nineveh called upon the Lord in repentance and faith, so we also call upon the Lord for salvation. God has called upon everyman everywhere to repent and call upon him to be saved. In the 4th question we saw the means of salvation is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God sent his Son to come and live among us, to live a perfect in both motive and deed, and lay down his life as a wrath appeasing sacrifice. His death was enough. And, God affirmed the accomplishment of this death by raising him from the dead. Now, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. This is why there is no other name under heaven whereby sinners can be saved. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. In the 5th question we saw that those who believe on the Lord Jesus show and prove their salvation by their fruits; namely repentance and faith. They love God. They love his people. They do not love the world. etc.
With these things in mind, here is a definition: Salvation is the deliverance of sinners from the wrath of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and is evident by a repentant faith whose effects are seen in a love for God and a life of godliness.
The complexity of the definition of salvation is that we see the same truths in different ways. Different words are used to describe salvation and often, depending on context, the emphasis of a particular point is greater. For example, in Eph. 2:8-9 we see that salvation is a gift, emphasizing the sovereignty of God set forth in chapter 1. He says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” You will look in vain in these two chapters if you want to find explicit commands to believe on the Lord Jesus. Again, the emphasis is on God. But, if we move to Romans cp. 10 (although it follows the sovereign election of God in cp. 9) we see that Paul says in vv. 9-13 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
There are a number of verses in the Bible that speak of salvation. Again, stressing the work of God, in Col. 1:11-14 we read: 11 “May you be strengthened with all power, according t his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Emphasizing the works that come from salvation we read in Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
In Gal. 1:3-5 Paul also says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever.”
Emphasizing the work of Christ, Peter says in 1 Pet. 2:24-25, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” And again in chapter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit . . .”
Stressing the sinfulness of man and the work of God in Christ to justify sinners through the work of the Son, Paul says in Rom. 3:23-25: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
There are many other succinct statements about salvation in the Bible. And, in differing contexts, they emphasize various aspects of salvation. With these things in mind, I think “my” definition is sufficient. But if I were to spend more time contemplating the wording, for the sake of emphasis, I may change it again, but always include the same necessary truths.
Thanks for the question!