Salvation refers to God rescuing humans trapped in a spiritual and moral disaster from which they have no power to free themselves.

Salvation means being delivered or rescued from the eternal and earthly punishments which we deserve because of our sin and corresponding guilt before God the Supreme Judge. Salvation also refers to being freed from the power of sin, Satan and evil over our lives and being given marvellous eternal and earthly benefits which we do not deserve to even the slightest degree.


The relevant Greek words


The word “salvation” in the original Greek New Testament is “soteria”. Bauer says “soteria” means “deliverance, preservation, generally of preservation in danger, deliverance from impending death…deliverance from the hand of our enemies…salvation.”. [1]

The original Greek New Testament word for “save” is “sozo”. Bauer says “sozo” means “save or preserve from eternal death, from judgement and from all that might lead to such death, e.g. sin, … endow with everlasting life – Of passing over into a state of salvation and a higher life”. [2] Richards states, “…the Greek ‘sozo’ (‘to save’) also implies rescue from life-threatening danger. In the New Testament, it is God or Jesus who acts to deliver believers from dangers that threaten not only their physical life but also their prospect of eternal life”. [3]




Salvation is one of the greatest themes of the Old and New Testaments. In fact, Ephesians 1:13 calls the Gospel by the term “the Gospel of your salvation”. Salvation has spiritual, physical, individual, group, eternal and historical features. This is why no one definition can totally describe it.

The plan of salvation centres on the greatest human, the Lord Jesus Christ. All of God’s saving acts in all eras and under all covenants in both the Old and New Testaments were done on the basis of Jesus’ death. God has never saved one person except on the foundation of the death of Christ. In Acts 4:12, God reveals it is only through Jesus Christ that people can be saved: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

2 Timothy 1:9 says God gave this grace of salvation to us in His infinite planning before the beginning of time: “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”


Jesus’ Name


Matthew 1:20-21 records God gave Jesus His Name: “…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife…and she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” The Name “Jesus” is highly significant to our study of salvation. Richards states, “The Name Jesus is the transliteration of the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. The meaning of the Hebrew name is ‘Yahweh is salvation’”. [4] The word “transliteration” means “to write a word of one language in the more or less corresponding letters of another language”.

Jesus Christ is Yahweh our Saviour or God our Saviour. Salvation is not only provided by and through Him. It is also in Him. So if we are in Him, we are saved.


Salvation is by grace and mercy alone


Titus 2:11 shows salvation is based on God’s grace: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” We cannot merit or earn God’s grace through good works, holy living or self-righteousness. Titus 3:4-5 declares: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…”

Philippians 2:12-13 shows how salvation originates totally with God but we must willingly choose to allow it to operate in our lives: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

2 Thessalonians 2:13 refers to the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation: “…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit…”


Not by works


Ephesians 2:9 and 2 Timothy 1:9 declare we are not saved by works. 2 Timothy 1:9 says the Lord: “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works…”The expressions “according to our works” in the above verse and “by works” in Ephesians 2:9 include but are broader in meaning than the expression “by works of Law”. The phrase “by works of Law” refers to self-empowered efforts to obey the Law of Moses. [5] But “according to our works” and “by works” mean every attempt to merit anything from God through our human actions.

In Romans 9:10-13, Paul uses the word “works” in relation to the era of Jacob – a time long before the giving of the Mosaic Law to the Israelites. In relation to Jacob’s time, “works” referred to human actions in general and to just not the more limited meaning of self-empowered actions in obedience to the Law of Moses.

Works can include prayer, helping the poor, being kind to others, praising God, worshipping Him, attending church meetings, participating in the Lord’s Supper, giving generously to the Lord, studying the Bible, casting out demons and many other good things. We do not do these good works to try to merit or earn our salvation and inheritance in Christ. Instead, under the New Covenant of superlative grace, we do these good works as fruit or results of our faith (see Ephesians 2:10, Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-8 and James 2:14-26).

When prayer, praise, worship, giving, attending church, studying the Word of God and other good works are expressions of real faith, they can be the unmerited grace means of receiving various post-conversion outward manifestations of the salvation we received previously at conversion. Examples of this would be physical healings and miracles. But to say these good works merit or earn these outward expressions of salvation by grace is legalism.


Salvation is a free gift, not a merited reward


In Ephesians 2:7-9 and Titus 2:11, we see the whole of our salvation is based on God’s totally unearned grace and is not a deserved reward for good actions. Ephesians 2:7-9 states: “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved though faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Matthew 10:5-15 records that Christ commissioned the twelve Apostles to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and salvation. In verse 8, Christ revealed that salvation was a totally free gift when He said: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” In Greek, the word “freely” used twice here is “dorean” which means in this context “as a gift, without payment”. [6] Louw and Nida say “dorean” is to be translated as “without cost, as a free gift, without paying”. [7] So salvation cannot be earned or merited by any type of good actions or works, even those empowered by the Holy Spirit. [8]

Note Matthew 10:8 shows that physical healing, deliverance from demons and being raised from the dead are totally free gifts and cannot be merited by good works like giving nor earned by any other means.

New Covenant believers are commanded to do such good works. But we do not merit the grace benefits of salvation by these good works. In Romans 11:6 Paul emphasises this latter truth: “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” In context, Paul is here referring to receiving salvation under the New Covenant (see Romans 11:11, 14 and 26). In Romans 11:6, Paul emphasises that if we are trying to merit salvation by works, we are not living under God’s grace. Instead we will be under the bondages of legalism.


Received by faith


Romans 1:16-17, 10:9-10, Ephesians 1:13, 2:8-9 and 1 Peter 1:5 reveal salvation is received by faith. Romans 1:16-17 states: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…”


Believing God’s promises


Romans 10:9-17 links the receiving of salvation to believing the promises of the written Word of God.


Faith in God the Person and not in His promises alone


A faith in God’s promises about salvation which is not also a living trusting faith in the Person Who made these promises, will not save the human who has only this limited type of faith. The New Testament constantly stresses it is faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ which receives His salvation.

Acts 16:30-31 records when Paul and Silas ministered to their Philippian jailer: “And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” John 3:16-17 declares: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul shows the link between the Scriptures and faith in the Person of Jesus Christ: “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”


Salvation is potentially for all


God has provided the potential through Jesus Christ’s death for every human to be saved. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 shows this: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 4:9-10 shows the Lord Jesus is potentially the Saviour of all men, but in practice only those who believe in Him: “…we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe.”





The means of salvation


The means of salvation is the death of Jesus Christ. His death involved the following key aspects:







         ransom and



As shown by Titus 3:5, believers are saved through “regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”.


Our inheritance and blessings in Christ


The awesome salvation Jesus Christ provided for us through His death has resulted in us as believers being given a wonderful share in everything our Heavenly Father owns. This share is called our inheritance in Christ. [9] Colossians 1:12 states: “Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Our inheritance in Christ is also spoken of in verses which refer to us being wonderfully blessed in Christ. Ephesians 1:3 is an example of this: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”


Other key aspects of our inheritance


In Acts 20:32, Paul reveals our inheritance is linked to God’s unmerited grace: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” As people who previously loved sin – the very thing God hates – we deserve to be thrown into the eternal lake of fire. But because of God’s enormous love and grace, He has made a way so we can become His adopted sons and daughters and receive the glorious inheritance of adopted children. We can never earn or deserve our inheritance.

In Hebrews 9:15, our inheritance in Christ is called “the eternal inheritance”. This means it is ours for all eternity in future.





The three tenses of salvation


The New Testament speaks of our salvation in three different tenses of the verb – perfect, present continuous and future.

In Ephesians 2:5 and 2:8, Paul uses the perfect tense of the word “saved” in Greek when telling all the Ephesian believers they have been saved. In these contexts, the perfect tense refers to a completed action with continuing results or a state resulting from a previous action. This perfect tense usage of the Greek verb which is translated “having been saved”, refers to the fact that at the point of conversion, believers receive God’s salvation in Christ as a completed action and the results of this continue into the present or they are in the state of having been saved. As a result, they can say, “I have been saved.” They do not need to wait in constant fear until their death to see whether God has saved them.

2 Corinthians 2:15 speaks of our being saved continuously at present: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”. In the original Greek, the words “are being saved” are in the present tense. In Greek, the present tense is taken in either a continuous or repetitive sense unless the context suggests otherwise. In context, 2 Corinthians 2:15 divides humans into two groups – those who are being saved and those who are perishing. Because the present tense of the verb “are perishing” in Greek must be taken in a continuous sense, this suggests the verb “are being saved” should be taken as continuous also.

In Greek, 1 Corinthians 1:18 and 15:2 also use the present continuous tense of the verbs “are being saved” and “are saved”.

Romans 5:9 and 1 Corinthians 3:15 speak of the future aspect of our salvation through Jesus Christ when they use the words “shall be saved” in the future tense.

So we have been saved, are being saved and will be saved. The only condition to this is as long as we remain in the Lord Jesus Christ, as Matthew 10:22 and 24:13 reveal.


Do some believers have unsaved souls?


One common false doctrine is the idea that James 1:21 and 1 Peter 1:9 reveal that many believers have totally unsaved souls. This wrong teaching is based on ignorance of some simple Greek grammar. In 1 Peter 1:9, the participle “receiving” is in the present tense and not the future tense: “Receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.” Here Peter uses the present tense of “receiving” in relationship to the action of believers’ souls being saved. In this verse, the present tense does not mean that at any stage after conversion, believers have unsaved souls. The present tense means the action of believers’ souls being saved or delivered or made whole is in progress. This is because in Greek, the present tense mostly signifies a repetitive or continuous action.

In 1 Peter 2:25, Peter taught that all the believers he was writing to at the time already had Jesus Christ as the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls: “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Peter did not say Christ would only possibly in future become the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls when they grew mature in Christ. Peter used the word “now” when establishing which time he meant.



Now is the day of salvation


2 Corinthians 6:2 says: “For He says ‘in an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’” It is now that God calls non-Christians to receive His salvation. It is too late trying to receive it after death, as Hebrews 9:27 shows: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement.”

Unbelievers must be made to realise it is very risky putting off the day of salvation. They could easily die before having another chance to receive salvation.

2 Peter 3:15 demonstrates God is very patient with humans. 2 Peter 3:9 says: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” But as Revelation 2:21-23 infers, God gives people only a certain limited time to repent – have a changed mind and will – about God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel and their known sins.


Why would God desire to save sinners?


Many people do not ask themselves, “Why would a perfect, sinless God long to save sinful people who have treated Him like an enemy and have continually done wicked things He hates?”

The first part of the answer to this is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…” Many people read or hear this verse preached and treat it as some quaint religious clichť. They do not grasp the full implications of its meaning. They do not understand God did not have to save people. He could have justly severely punished every human here on Earth and later in the lake of fire because of their rejection of Him and their love of sin. But because God perfectly loves every individual human, He chose to save those willing to be saved.

Another reason God wants to save sinners is so humans and angels can gain a deep understanding of how incomparably gracious He is to those who do not deserve this in the least. Ephesians 2:7 shows this: “That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” 1 Peter 1:10-12 reveals angels long to look into the various features of our salvation related to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.



Bible Study Questions


1.       What does salvation by God mean?

2.       On which person is God’s plan of salvation centred and based?

3.       What does the Name “Jesus” mean?

4.       Which verses reveal that eternal salvation is based totally on God’s unmerited grace and mercy?

5.       Explain what Ephesians 2:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9 teach about the possibility of being saved by our good works or good actions.

6.       Are good works a condition of salvation or a fruit of saving faith? Which verses support your answer? 

7.       Is salvation in any way a deserved reward? Give Biblical proof for your answer.

8.       Explain what Paul teaches in Romans 11:6.

9.       Can we be saved by having faith in God’s promises of salvation without having faith in Him and Christ as a Person?

10.   What does our inheritance in Christ mean?

11.   Explain why the New Testament describes our salvation using three different Greek verb tenses – the perfect, the present continuous and future.

12.   Is it possible for believers to have unsaved souls? What verses support your answer?

13.   Explain why God desires to save sinful wicked people.




[1] Bauer, page 801.

[2] Bauer, page 798.

[3] Richards, pages 540-541.

[4] Richards, page 360.

[5] One modern view suggests that Paul uses the expression “works of law” just to mean being under the Mosaic Covenant and Law. This view argues that when Paul said no-one can be justified by works of law (see Romans 3:20, 3:28 and Galatians 2:16), he was only attacking the Jewish claim that God would only justify those humans who were under the Mosaic Covenant and Law. Paul does challenge Jewish beliefs about such matters in Romans 2:1-3:20. In Romans 2:17, Paul refers to this different Jewish problem of “resting on the Law”. But his expression “works of Law” means human actions of obedience in response to the Mosaic Covenant and Law and means not just the Mosaic Covenant and Law itself. The Mosaic Covenant contains laws and statutes which command various works or actions. But the Mosaic Covenant is not the human works itself. Refer to Douglas Moo’s “The N.I.V. Application Commentary – Romans”, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2000, pages 119-121) for more discussion on the phrase “works of Law”.

[6] Bauer, page 210.

[7] Louw and Nida, page 568.

[8] The only exception to this are the rewards which New Covenant believers receive in heaven and a possible earthly reward associated with Ephesians 6:2. But even these are only slightly deserved and are undergirded by God’s unmerited grace and mercy.

[9] Acts 20:32, 26:18, Ephesians 1:14,18, Colossians 1:12, 3:24, Hebrews 9:15, 1 Peter 1:4 and Revelation 21:7 refer to this inheritance.

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