Like the word “gospel,” the word “salvation” means much more and much less than usually assumed.
Just like the word “gospel,” the way the word “salvation” is often used today is very different from the way the word is used in Scripture.
When people talk about “salvation” today or “being saved,” what they most often have in mind is the idea of receiving the forgiveness of sins so we can escape hell and go to heaven when we die.
But in biblical usage, the noun “salvation” (Gk., sōteria) and the verb “save” (Gk., sōzō) very rarely have anything to do with receiving eternal life or going to heaven when we die. Instead, the words are most often used in connection with some sort of temporal or physical deliverance. We can be saved from enemies, saved from sickness, saved from drowning, saved from suffering, or even saved from a premature physical death. While “salvation” is sometimes used in connection with sin, this is only because sin often has devastating physical and temporal consequences in our life. To be saved from sin means to be delivered from the destruction and damage of sin in our lives.
One resource that shows this quite clearly is Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. Under the entry for “Save, Saving,” the dictionary includes the following options:
(a) Of material and temporal deliverance from danger, suffering, etc., e.g., Matt 8:25; Mark 13:20; Luke 23:35; John 12:27; 1 Tim 2:15; 2 Tim 4:18; Jude 5; from sickness, Matt 9:22; so Mark 5:34; Luke 8:48; Jas 5:15
(b) Of the spiritual and eternal salvation granted immediately by God to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, e.g., Acts 2:47, 16:31; Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5, 8; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5; of human agency in this, Rom 11:4; 1 Cor 7:16; 9:22
(c) Of the present experiences of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin, e.g., Matt 1:21; Rom 5:10; 1 Cor 15:2; Heb 7:25; Jas 1:21; 1 Pet 3:21; of human agency in this, 1 Tim 4:16
(d) Of the future deliverance of believers at the second coming of Christ for his saints, being deliverance from the wrath of God to be executed upon the ungodly at the close of this age and from eternal doom, e.g., Rom 5:9
(e) Of the deliverance of the nation of Israel at the second advent of Christ, e.g., Rom 11:26
(f) Inclusively for all the blessings bestowed by God on men in Christ, e.g., Luke 19:10; John 10:9; 1 Cor 10:33; 1 Tim 1:15
(g) Of those who endure to the end of the time of the Great Tribulation, Matt 10:22; Mark 13:13
(h) Of the individual believer, who, though losing reward at the judgment seat of Christ hereafter, will not lose his salvation, 1 Cor 3:15; 5:5
(i) Of the deliverance of the nations at the Millennium, Rev 21:24
Though I would not state this list of various definitions quite this same way, and would put many of the references from definition (b) into other categories, it nevertheless shows that the words “save” and “salvation” in the Bible have a wide variety of meanings.
To help the reader of Scripture know what sort of “salvation” is in view when they are studying it, I recommend that whenever you comes across the words “save” or “salvation” in Scripture, you stop, replace it mentally with the word “deliver” or “deliverance” and then ask yourself, “Deliverance from what?” If you look in the surrounding context, you will quickly discover that the deliverance in view has nothing to do with gaining eternal life or going to heaven when you die.
Doing this will drastically help your understanding of numerous difficult passages in the Bible that many have thought of as referring to receiving eternal life, but refer instead to some sort of temporal deliverance.
It is possible, as the title of this post says, to believe in Jesus for eternal life (and of course, receive eternal life as a result), but still not be “saved” from many of the temporal and physical consequences of sin, or from sickness, or from enemies, or from many of the other negative things that can happen in life.
Have you ever heard this taught before? Has it helped your understanding of some of the tough texts in the Bible?