But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (2Th 2:13)

The doctrine of salvation in the Bible is a complex one. Coming to Christ and having our sins forgiven is just the first step on a lifelong journey that leads to salvation.

What is salvation? Salvation is the state of safety a person enters after being saved from danger or harm. In the Old Testament it referred mainly to the saving of God's people, by God, from their earthly enemies. In the New Testament it refers mainly to the saving of God's people, by their Saviour, from the wrath of God (the punishment due for their sins).

The New Testament speaks of being saved in three tenses:

So even if we have been saved, and are currently in a state of salvation, we will not ultimately be saved unless we continue in our faith, either to the end of our earthly lives, or until Jesus returns.

How are we saved?

The New Testament reveals seven ways by, and through, which we are saved:

Saved by calling on the name

'And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' (Act 2:21)

We are saved by calling on the name of the Lord, which indicates a recognition and acceptance of the person and work of Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save (Greek save, rescue, deliver) sinful people from the wrath of a holy God (1Ti 1:15; 1Th 5:9).

Saved by grace

For it is by grace you have been saved…and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God… (Eph 2:8)

We are saved by grace, which is a gift from God. Grace is everything we receive from God that we haven't earned or deserve; it's God's unmerited favour shown to sinners.

Saved through faith

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… (Eph 2:8)

We are saved by grace through the action of faith. Neither the grace of God nor the faith to believe come from ourselves, they are gifts from God. We cannot believe the good news about Jesus Christ unless God gives us the faith to believe it. We depend on God for every aspect of our salvation.

Saved by believing the truth

Our opening text tells us that we are saved through belief in the truth. Believing the truth about Jesus Christ is essential for salvation. In the NIV New Testament the word 'believer' is used fifty-two times to describe followers of Christ, whereas the word 'Christian' is used only three times. Those who have not believed the truth about Jesus are condemned (Joh 3:18).

Saved by professing the truth

…if you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Rom 10:9–10)

We are saved by professing the truth about Jesus that we've believed in our hearts. Paul wrote:

It is written: 'I believed; therefore I have spoken.' Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak… (2Co 4:13)

If you have not told anyone about your faith in Jesus Christ, do so today. The profession of your faith will lead you to salvation.

Saved through baptism

…and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ… (1Pe 3:21)

Jesus said that whoever believes in him and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mar 16:16). He didn't say that those who are not baptized will be condemned, but those who do not believe, so baptism is not essential for salvation.

The criminal on the cross wasn't baptized, and yet Jesus told him that on that day he would be with him in paradise (Luk 23:39–43).

He wasn't baptized because he had no opportunity to be. If he had been taken down from the cross and had lived he would have been, because Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed a short while later: 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Act 2:38).'

Baptism is not an option for believers, it's commanded by God. A believer who refuses to be baptized is disobeying God.

Baptism is not essential for salvation, and yet the above text tells us that we're saved through it. How can that be? We are not saved by being baptized, which is a symbolic act, but by doing what it symbolizes. Baptism symbolizes what Jesus has done for us, and what God wants us to do through him.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us (2Co 5:21). The sinless Son of God took our sins upon himself and died. Why did he die? He died because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Jesus died the spiritual and physical death that results from sin (Gen 2:15–7). And having died, he was buried.

The Bible says that all of us who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death (Rom 6:3). Our old self, which was a slave to sin, was crucified with him so that sin can no longer rule over us (sin cannot rule over a dead body – Rom 6:6–7). And having died with Christ we are then buried with him, through baptism (Rom 6:4).

As the water closes over us it symbolizes the burial of our old self. And as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, we too are then resurrected from the dead. We rise from the water (our grave) to live a new life—a life of righteousness and holiness (Rom 6:4; Eph 4:22–4).

The pledge (Greek appeal) we make to God at baptism is that he will enable us to live our lives with a clear conscience before him, ie to live righteously. And if we do that we'll be saved. Why? Because righteousness, which is doing what is right in the sight of God (1Jo 3:7), leads to holiness (Rom 6:19); and the result of holiness is eternal life (Rom 6:22).

Saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit

Our opening text tells us that we are saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The Greek word translated 'sanctifying work' means the process or work of making something holy. We are saved by being made holy through Christ's indwelling Spirit.

The word 'holy' in Scripture has two meanings. Firstly, it describes objects and people that have been cleansed and set apart for God's use.

In the Old Testament the altar was holy (Exo 29:37) and the high priest had the words 'Holy to the Lord' on his turban (Exo 28:36–8). Both were cleansed by being sprinkled with blood (Heb 9:21–2).

In the New Testament believers are described as 'a holy priesthood' and 'a holy nation' (1Pe 2:5,9). God has taken us, cleansed us by the blood of his Son, and set us apart for his service. That aspect of holiness is complete when we turn to Christ.

The second meaning of holiness—manifesting the moral and spiritual character of God—is the result of a continual refining process in our lives, by his Spirit.

Saved from our sins

When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream he told him that his wife would have a son and he was to be given the name Jesus because he would save his people from their sins (Mat 1:20–1). 'Jesus' is the Greek form of the Hebrew name 'Joshua' which means Yahweh saves.

Jesus saves us, not only by atoning for our sins so that the sins we've committed can be forgiven (1Jo 2:1–2), but also by saving us from our sins—setting us free from the sinful way of life that was leading us to hell. If all Jesus did was to forgive us our sins he would be the Forgiver of the world. But he isn't, he's the Saviour of the world (Joh 4:42).

Salvation is not about sinning, confessing it to God, receiving forgiveness through Christ and then going back to our sins. Of such the proverbs are true: 'A dog returns to its vomit,' and, 'A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud (2Pe 2:22)'. On the contrary, the salvation God provides involves a lifestyle change.

Christians who continue to live sinful lives will not be saved (Eph 5:3–7): we need to be rescued from our sins to receive salvation. That process is called 'sanctification' and is performed in our lives by Christ's indwelling Spirit.

Born of the Spirit

Jesus said that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water (which signifies repentance – Mat 3:11) and the Spirit (Joh 3:5–7). We must be born again; we must be born of the Spirit of God.

When we are born again the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us; we become temples of the Spirit. Paul wrote: 'Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God (1Co 6:19)?' And when the Holy Spirit enters our bodies he begins the process of sanctification—transforming us into the image of Christ (2Co 3:18).

The apostle John wrote:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1Jo 3:9–10)

John says that a person who is born of God will not continue to sin, and cannot go on sinning, because God's seed (his Spirit) remains (Greek remains, abides, dwells) in them.

He doesn't mean that it will be impossible for them to sin (God doesn't take our free will from us), or that they will never sin again (1Jo 2:1), but that they will no longer have to sin because God is now living in them. His presence in them will produce a change in their moral conduct. That is how we know a person has been born of him.

When Jesus comes to dwell in us by his Spirit (Gal 4:6) he gives us the power to resist sin: he breaks sin's control over our lives. Before that time we were slaves to sin, we couldn't help but obey our sinful desires. But now, by his Spirit, we can put to death the misdeeds of our body (Rom 8:13) and become slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:15–8).

Sin leads to spiritual death (Rom 6:20–1). Paul wrote: 'Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 7:24–5)!'

What standard of holiness?

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.' (1Pe 1:14–6)

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

If no one will see the Lord without holiness, then holiness is necessary for salvation. If that is so, then what standard of holiness must we attain in order to be saved? The Bible doesn't tell us. So is it possible to know that we'll be accepted by God on that day? Yes, it is. Peter wrote:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2Pe 1:3–4)

God has given us everything we need to live a holy life and to manifest his nature on earth. He's done that by coming to live in us. Paul wrote: 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).' Paul had yielded himself totally to the Spirit of Christ within him. Jesus Christ was now living his life in, and through, Paul by his Spirit.

Peter continues:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Pe 1:5–8)

Because God has given us the power to live a holy life, we must yield to his Spirit and make every effort to live that life. We must add to our faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control etc.

Acceptance assured

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2Pe 1:10–1)

The Greek word translated 'election' in the New Testament means election, selection, choice. It's being chosen by God for salvation. God calls us to the salvation he has chosen us for by his Spirit. We confirm that we've been called to, and chosen for, salvation by the way that we live.

The Greek word translated 'stumble' in v10 means to stumble or to fall. It's to stop walking as God wants us to walk, which is in obedience to his commands (2Jo :6). If we do that we can lose our salvation (Mat 18:6–9).

However, if we make every effort to add to our faith the qualities listed in 2Pe 1:5–7, that will never happen. Instead, we'll receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is the promise of God. So we can be sure we'll attain the level of holiness required for salvation if we make every effort to attain it.

And so to him—to our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age (Gal 1:3–4) and to present us holy in the sight of his God (Col 1:22)—to him, and to him alone, be glory for ever and ever. Amen!

Michael Graham
July 2009
Revised August 2022

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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