Most Christians consider themselves to be saved. But have you ever stopped to consider what that really means? The Bible teaches that you absolutely need to be saved—but saved from what?
Have you been saved?
That question is very common in the Christian world. So common, in fact, that many of those who ask it so often don’t understand what it actually means.
The Christian Broadcasting Network defines being saved this way: “The term ‘saved’ simply refers to the standing a believer has in Jesus Christ. With the guarantee of heaven, believers are ‘saved’ from eternal damnation in hell. All who are believers are sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ, and seen as righteous in the eyes of the Lord … ‘saved’ to be with God in heaven.”
Salvation is generally viewed as the act of accepting Jesus as Savior. Once you have done this, the teaching goes, you are saved from hell and are headed to heaven.
But is this what “being saved” really means according to the Bible?
In order to answer that, we need to know what the Bible means when it talks about salvation. Make no doubt about it, you need to be saved! But there is much more to it than the above definition describes.
What exactly do we need to be saved from, and how are we saved?
Saved from … what?
The word saved implies there is something we need to be saved (or rescued) from. But is hell what you need to be saved from?
The Bible teaches that the core problem humans have is sin. The most basic definition of sin is found in 1 John 3:4: “Everyone who commits sin also breaks the law; sin is the breaking of law” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). God’s 10 Commandments represent His character. He created us to be like Him, but when we live contrary to His standard, we sin. For example, when someone disregards the Ninth Commandment and tells a lie, he or she sins.
The Bible also reveals a clear penalty for sin: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Even though this scripture is not unknown to evangelical Christianity and is often quoted in religious tracts, its clear message is usually read right over. The ultimate consequence of sin is the death penalty. The popular conception of a never-ending hell as a place of punishment was grafted into Christianity from pagan religions. An eternity of suffering in hellfire is not what Jesus came to save you from.
What we need to be saved from is death—the total termination of life and consciousness—because if we have sinned (and we all have according to Romans 3:23), then that is the inevitable penalty we all face. Ever since the Garden of Eden, humans have been sinning and earning death (Genesis 3:19; Ezekiel 18:20). On top of that ultimate penalty, sin also separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-8).
So what we actually need to be saved from is alienation from God and sin’s death penalty.
Saved by … whom?
Once you have sinned, the penalty is earned and is placed on your record. The Bible teaches there is nothing you can do to save yourself from that penalty.
You can’t erase the penalty for past sins by doing good things in the future, and you can’t erase the penalty for future sins by having done good things in your past. God has decreed that the penalty for sin can only be satisfied through death. The only way you can avoid paying that penalty is if someone else steps in and pays it for you. But that could only happen if that person didn’t have any sin on his record.
That’s where Jesus Christ comes in.
He came to earth to become that Person for us. He lived a perfectly sin-free life—never doing, saying or thinking anything that broke God’s law. Because of this, He had no death penalty on His own record. Instead, He took on Himself the death penalty for our sins and died to save us from having to pay that penalty (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).
Because He is God and He (with the Father) created all things, His sacrificial death was of such a great magnitude that it could satisfy the death penalty for all human beings. His death allows us to be reconciled to God and frees us from sin’s separation penalty (Isaiah 59:2), while His resurrected life saves us from sin’s death penalty (Romans 5:10). It is only through God’s grace, shown through His sacrifice and resurrection, that we can be saved (Ephesians 2:8). There is no other way to have our sins and the resultant penalty cleared from our record.
That’s why He’s called our Savior.
Just accept Him?
Belief and confessing Christ are important initial steps in the salvation process, but they don’t represent everything a Christian needs to do to be saved.But how exactly do we accept Him as our Savior? Many preachers teach that you can be saved by simply confessing Jesus as Savior and accepting Him into your heart. Mainstream Christian pastors will often ask their unsaved listeners to repeat a short prayer confessing Jesus as Savior and then declare them saved.
But the Bible doesn’t teach we can be saved by merely believing and repeating a prayer. Belief and confessing Christ are important initial steps in the salvation process, but they don’t represent everything a Christian needs to do to be saved. At the end of his famous Pentecost sermon, the apostle Peter expressed a more complete view: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
There’s much more to the biblical concepts of repentance, baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit than mere belief and acceptance of Jesus through a prayer. If you want to be saved, you need to fully understand these steps.
This article explored some common myths about being saved, but there are more misconceptions that need to be addressed. We will continue examining the biblical teaching about being saved in the next issue.
To learn more about the steps necessary for salvation, download our free booklet Change Your Life.