Salvation is arguably one of the most important parts of the Christian faith.
It‘s the central promise of Christianity — that, by living according to the Christian principles laid out in the Bible, we can be relieved of the burden of human sin and join the Almighty in the kingdom of heaven.
It‘s the reason Christianity is so attractive and widely followed. But it’s also one of the more complicated theological concepts to understand and apply.
There are many pressing questions regarding salvation — what spiritual practices must you follow to attain it? What is the significance of Christ’s sacrifice, and does salvation apply on a collective or individual level?
We’re turning to scripture and the Christian community to find the answers to these questions.
The dictionary definition of salvation broadly covers the idea of saving or protecting someone from the risk of harm or loss. The religious definition is similar, but it focuses on deliverance from the presence and effects of sin.
Synonyms for salvation in a religious sense include redemption, deliverance, and reclamation.
So when we discuss salvation in religious terms, we are referring to God's hand in diverting us from evil, damnation, and ultimately, the permanence of death.
To be saved is to avoid the consequences of sin. This includes the concept of original sin, which is the emergence of human sin that came about as a result of the very first act of defying God’s will in the case of Adam and Eve, as described in Genesis.
Salvation is not given to us simply as a result of being alive. It’s conditional, and it requires us to act in accordance with His word and will.
It’s also a fundamental belief within the Christian faith that, while not everyone will be saved, everyone can be, thanks to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ death when he took to the cross on our behalf. Christians refer to this as ‘grace’ or ‘the grace of God.’
We maintain in the Christian faith that a day of judgment, where we'll come before God to accept our fate in the afterlife, will come for everyone. What you do in life will ultimately determine if you will experience salvation.
We understand the reality of salvation through its many references in both the Old Testament and New Testament alike.
Here are a few scriptures on salvation:
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:16).
From this verse in John, we can understand the influence and importance of Jesus Christ in our salvation, without whom being saved wouldn’t be possible.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But it isn‘t recognition of the Lord alone that leads us to salvation. Rather, we gain salvation through following the will of God, a sentiment also echoed in the following verse from Corinthians.
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2).
Over centuries, Christians have held different ideas about how Jesus saves people, and varying views still exist within different denominations.
The central theories describing the mechanics of salvation include the following:
This frames Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us as a kind of exchange with Satan to save humanity. Christ is perfectly without sin, so Satan granted relief to those destined for sin (humankind) when Jesus gave his life on the cross.
This theory existed in early Christianity as a way of explaining how Jesus relinquished us from inherited sin, but later Christian thinkers contested it.
Anselm of Canterbury, of the Catholic denomination, proposed the satisfaction theory of atonement in the 11th century.
It holds that one of God’s core principles is justice and avoidance of sin. The emergence of human sin contradicts this principle and, thus, must be accounted for. In this theory, Christ’s humble sacrifice was sufficient for the restoration of humankind in the eyes of God.
The satisfaction theory was later reframed in the 16th century within the understanding of the legal framework. It was proposed by Protestant Reformers.
It compares the rule of law, wherein an offense must be sufficiently repaid for with punishment, with Christ’s sacrifice. So, by taking to the cross, Jesus absorbed the necessary punishment for our sins with his own death, thus saving us from God’s punishment.
Importantly, penal substitution requires the sinner to have faith. Without faith, you cannot be entitled to the gift of Christ’s sacrifice.
Moral transformation offers a warm contrast to the other theories of salvation, emphasizing God’s forgiveness, compassion, and love instead of framing the Almighty as a more punitive and wrathful figure.
Developed by French theologian Abelard, the moral influence theory suggests that Christ’s death on the cross exists as a powerful demonstration of God’s love, powerful enough to morally transform the hearts of sinners, allowing them to turn to God and gain entry to the kingdom of heaven.
Whichever theory is most accurate in describing how Jesus Christ’s death offers us salvation isn't really our concern as Christians.
What is more important is the ways in which we honor his sacrifice.
Atonement for our sins and a commitment to the principles of the Christian faith, such as prayer, repentance, and acts of charity, as well as a commitment to compassion and forgiveness, will secure our place in the kingdom of heaven and steer us away from sin in our earthly lives.