The most misunderstood word in the Bible is also one of the biblical words we use the most. What word is that?
The word “saved.”
How often have we heard pastors and teachers tell us of our need to “get saved”? How often do evangelists ask people if they have “been saved”? How often do people argue about whether or not we can lose our salvation, and how to know for sure if we are really saved or not?
This is common terminology, right? It is heard in countless sermons, read in countless books, and used in countless evangelism methods.
The problem is that the word doesn’t usually mean what we think it means.
Getting Saved is Not About Going to Heaven
Most often, when Christians use the word “saved” we think about the following concepts:
- getting forgiveness of sins
- escaping hell
- going to heaven when we die
- receiving eternal life
Furthermore, we think that people “get saved” by doing some (or all) of the following:
- ask Jesus into our hearts
- confess our sin
- repent of our sin
- get baptized
- believe in Jesus
- trust Jesus
- believe that Jesus is God,
- believe that Jesus died on the cross, and rose again from the dead
- believe that we are sinners and that Jesus died for our sin on the cross
- etc, etc, etc.
But did you know that the word “saved” (and the other related words like save and salvation) are rarely used to express any of the concepts above? The closest we get is Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:2, and Ephesians 2:5-9, and I am not convinced that even in these passages, the word “saved” means getting forgiveness of sins so we can escape hell, get eternal life, and go to heaven when we die. Taking a detailed look at each of these texts is beyond the scope of this blog post, so let me just summarize what the word saved means in the Bible.
What does the word “Saved” mean?
It means “deliverance.” To be saved means to be delivered.
And when we understand it this way, it opens up a whole new range of possibilities. We can be “delivered” from almost anything, right? I pray that as I write this blog post, I am delivered (saved) from theological and biblical errors, and my greatest nemesis of all – typographical errors!
But I can also be delivered from sickness, from a meteor falling out of the sky and landing on my house, from getting in a car accident while I drive to work, from enemies invading our country, from our economy sliding into collapse, from earthquakes, floods, storms, and on and on it goes.
In a more spiritual sense, I can be saved from slipping into sin so that I destroy my life and my witness. I can be saved from ruining my marriage and my family by treating them with the love and respect they deserve.
How is “Saved” used in the Bible?
The vast majority of the times the word “saved” is used in Scripture, it is not used in reference to receiving eternal life or going to heaven when we die, but is used in one of these other ways mentioned above. If you doubt this, just pull out a concordance and start checking it yourself. When the Bible uses the word “saved” it is talking about the Israelites getting saved from their enemies, from sickness, from slavery, and from death. The disciples are saved from drowning in a storm. Christians can be saved from a life of empty living.
This sort of thinking really helps when we read certain difficult passages. Paul writes that women will be saved through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15). Does he mean that only women who have children can get forgiveness of sins and go to heaven when they die? Of course not! A brief look into the context of 1 Timothy 2 reveals that one source of a woman’s personal self-worth is in how she trains and raises her children. Paul is teaching that one way women can be “saved” from feeling insignificant is by raising children. It is not the only way, but is one way.
So the next time you are reading the Bible and come across the word “saved,” stop and think about it. Substitute in the word “deliver” or “deliverance” and then look into the context to see what sort of deliverance is in view. Ask yourself, “Delivered from what?” and let the context answer this question for you. Doing this little exercise will really help clarify what the Bible actually teaches about how to receive eternal life and the role of good works in our life as Christians.
You will see that while good works play absolutely no part in getting, keeping, or proving our eternal life, good works nevertheless can “save” us. Ah, but “save” us from what? I will let you embark on the rest of this study on your own. Have fun!