When the bible speaks of salvation, what exactly are we being saved or delivered from in Christ? The bible teaches that we are being saved from the consequences of sin, which include spiritual death, and God's future wrath upon unbelievers.
Salvation is one of the the most basic principles of Christianity. If we believe in Christ, and follow him, we are saved. Therefore, being a Christian means that one is saved, and in order to be saved, one must be a Christian. Salvation is the fundamental gift that Christ gives to us, by the power of his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.
At its root, salvation is a simple concept. To be "saved", means that one is delivered, preserved, or protected from some kind of harm. The Greek verb that is often translated as "save", is the word sozo (pronounced "sode-zo"). According to Strong's Greek dictionary it means, "to save, that is, deliver or protect (literally or figuratively): - heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole". This word "sode-zo", tells us that when we are saved we are being given safety, protection, preservation, and deliverance in Christ.
As popular as the terms "salvation" and "saved" are among mainstream Christians, rarely is there much focus given to what they mean. The meaning of salvation is often taken for granted with little thought as to what we are being saved or delivered from.
Christ can and certainly does deliver his people from worldy trials and distresses, "But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth..." (Acts 5.9 KJV bible). However, as Christians, wordly deliverance is not the promise that is guaranteed by salvation.
As 2nd Timothy tells us, salvation doesn't mean deliverance from worldly troubles, "Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound" (2nd Timothy 2.9 KJV bible). Most Christians agree that when we are saved in a biblical sense, we are being delivered from spiritual as opposed to wordly harm. However, when we speak of being saved, what is the deliverance that we are being given that unbelievers aren't?
One common assumption is that we are being saved or delivered from eternal damnation, but this is an oversimplification that doesn't consider God's overall plan for humanity. Rather, the simplest correct answer is that in salvation we are being saved from our sins. Being saved from our sins means that we are delivered or protected from the consequences of sin, as it has manifested in our lives.
So the simplest way to understand what we are being saved from, is that we are saved from the destruction and wrath that one reaps from sin. In receiving salvation, we become preserved from certain oppressions and tribulations that those who are alienated from God must endure.
While there are many possible consquences of sin, there are three main stages that can be identified in the bible. These three stages of consequence correspond to the different dispensations of time between now and the eternity.
The first stage relates to our current Messianic times (but prior to the return of Christ). Right now all who believe in Christ are being saved and delivered from spiritual death, which reigns in the world. The next stage relates mainly to Christ's return and the start of the millennium. At this middle stage, we will be saved from the wrath of the God, which will manifest upon the world at Christ's return.
Finally, the last stage of consequence is Judgment Day. All nonbelievers will be spiritually raised up on Judgment Day, and be judged according to their deeds. Some will be forgiven and receive eternal life, but others will receive eternal damnation. So this final stage is the most perilous of the three, because the ultimate consequence of unhealed sin is eternal damnation.
The first consequence of sin that we are being saved from is death. Obviously, this isn't physical death, because even people who are saved die in the flesh. Rather, we are being saved from spiritual death, "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins...Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)" (Ephesians 2.1,5 KJV bible).
Before receiving Christ we were all dead in our sins and trespasses. However, Christ has spiritually resurrected us, saving us from death, which reigns because of sin. In him, we have deliverance from spiritual death, which is the first consequence of sin, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6.23 KJV bible). Salvation is the gift of God through Christ, and because we are saved we are preserved spiritually with Jesus, even after we die in the flesh.
This is why James says that to convert a backslider from the error of his way is to save a soul from death, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death..." (James 5.19-20 KJV bible). The one who is brought back won't be saved from physical death, but rather spiritual death, which afflicts all those who are estranged from the truth, both in the flesh and out of it.
Spiritual life and death can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially because it often goes unrecognized in scripture. What exactly does it mean to be saved from spiritual death? One way to understand it is through analogy.
No analogy is perfect, but let's think of ourselves as corporations. As corporations we have a reservoir of spiritual wealth and capital through which we survive and prosper. If we are all corporations, then the devil is the most clever and meticulous trial lawyer out there. He picks us apart, seeking out any and all liabilities against us. Then he uses our sins and transgressions to build a case against us, through which he is able to legally seize our assets, and drive us into spiritual bankruptcy.
"...give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan" (1st Timothy 5.13-14 KJV bible), "...the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night" (Revelation 12.10 KJV bible). Just like a trial lawyer enriches himself on the mistakes of corporations, the devil empowers himself at our expense, because our sins have left us vulnerable.
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1st Peter 5.8 KJV bible). He is the prince of this present age of darkness, and through this accusatory process, he is able to progressively enslave the world within the authority of his kingdom.
There are many who are fine with this arrangement, because they prefer the darkness, where they can practice their evil deeds, "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (John 3.20 KJV bible). However, God leads some of us out of the darkness, and into the light of Christ. Therein we are saved, being raised up with Jesus out of the law of death.
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8.2 KJV bible). Having made restitution to deliver our souls from death, Christ then becomes our intercessor against all reproach, "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8.34 KJV bible).
So in Christ we are saved, being purchased from spiritual death, to be given eternal life through the redeemer and Shepherd of our souls, "But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2nd Timothy 1.10 KJV bible).
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