Many believe that if they just accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they are saved. But is that the biblical definition of salvation? What does it mean to be saved?
Some religious people ask others, “Are you saved?”
If the answer is no, the suggested solution might be to recite a short statement: “I accept Jesus as my Savior.”
Such advice about being saved implies that a simple, albeit sincere, declaration explains both the how and the when of salvation. Yet Jesus was very clear that salvation goes far beyond words: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, emphasis added throughout).
Read the last part of that verse again: “he who does the will of My Father.” Jesus linked salvation in God’s Kingdom to actions.
According to Jesus Christ, just words alone are not enough. You have to conduct your day-to-day life according to God’s will. And implied in Jesus’ statement is the understanding that salvation is not complete now, but in the future. (He said, “shall enter the kingdom of heaven,” not “has entered the kingdom of heaven.”)
Let’s explore deeper the question, What does it mean to be saved?
Are there conditions for salvation?
Despite what Jesus said above, some believe there are no conditions for salvation (other than believing and making a verbal confession). An argument commonly used against what Christ said is that God’s love is unconditional. The reasoning is that since God’s love is unconditional, His free gift of salvation is also unconditional.
It is true that God loves us unconditionally. The Bible tells us that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). He loves male and female, wealthy and poor, highly educated and illiterate, people of any and every racial background. His love is without discrimination or prejudice.
But does the fact that God has unconditional love for humankind mean that He gives His blessings unconditionally? That is comparing apples and oranges—two completely different issues. Unconditional love by God does not equate to unconditional blessings from God.
Of course, nothing anyone can do earns salvation. It is a gift given by God’s grace (goodness and favor) to us. No human being can do anything to be worthy of that gift. But the Bible is clear that there are requirements for salvation.
Can you earn salvation?
No, we can’t earn salvation. But some assume that saying Christians are required to do something in order to be saved teaches that salvation can be earned by works. That reasoning is false.
Can you inherit a gift you have not earned and yet be required by your benefactor to do certain things before receiving your inheritance? Of course! It happens all the time.
For example, a wealthy benefactor may leave an heir a million dollars, but the benefactor can stipulate in his will that the heir must complete a college education and reach age 21 before receiving the money.
Does the heir “earn” the million dollars by fulfilling the will’s requirements? No, fulfilling requirements to receive the inheritance is not the same as earning the inheritance.
If we tried to understand the doctrine of salvation by human debate, the arguing would be endless. God alone determines the parameters of salvation. And He declares it is a gift! That means God says salvation cannot be earned.
Salvation in the Kingdom of God is so valuable, so magnificent, so grand and beyond our imagination that no amount of human works could ever earn it. Only one person has ever been worthy of salvation because of His perfect works—Jesus Christ. It is only through His sacrifice and resurrected life that we can be declared worthy—or just—before God (Romans 5:10). To learn more about this topic, read our article “What Is Justification?”
Salvation is the single greatest benefit that any human being could receive. As we explain in detail in our other articles about salvation, being saved is a process that begins with the human mind turning away from living and thinking the way that comes naturally to living and thinking the way God expects.But, as in the human inheritance analogy above, God also declares unambiguously that the inheritors of salvation must fulfill certain requirements to receive it. God will not give eternal life to those who refuse to live by His standards and laws, just as no loving parent would give a child rewards for rebellious behavior.
You would think Jesus’ words would have settled the matter, but this debate continues even today. We will come back to this, but we first need to consider what salvation is.
What does it mean to be saved?
Salvation is the single greatest benefit that any human being could receive. As we explain in detail in our other articles about salvation, being saved is a process that begins with the human mind turning away from living and thinking the way that comes naturally to us, and instead turning to living and thinking the way God expects.
This process begins with accepting Jesus as Savior, repenting of our past sins and being baptized. But that is just the beginning of the process.
To draw an analogy with a race, the starting line is baptism, at which time a person is forgiven of his or her sins and receives the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.
Some would have you think that the starting line and the finish line are one and the same.
However, the Bible teaches that the finish line, when salvation is complete, is when God changes a person from physical existence to spirit existence. Then the person is “saved” from perishing. It is no longer possible for one who is completely saved to suffer an injury, to contract a disease, to age or to die.
The apostle Peter describes this as “receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9).
In everyday language, “to be saved” means to be spared or rescued from something undesirable. One might be saved from drowning by being rescued from a body of water. A person can be saved from asphyxiation by being pulled from a burning building by a firefighter. Someone could be saved from death by the successful medical treatment of an injury or disease.
What are we saved from?
The concept of salvation in the Bible is similar. A person is saved from something undesirable. In the case of spiritual salvation, the undesirable condition from which one is saved is eternal death—death from which there is no resurrection. Romans 6:23 makes this clear: “The wages of sin is death.”
What did Jesus say to the woman of Samaria at the well? “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).
“Everlasting life” is another way of saying “saved.” After receiving everlasting life, a person will no longer be subject to those elements that cause pain, suffering and death to a human being (Revelation 21:4).
The spiritual water Jesus was speaking of is the Holy Spirit, the divine nature that is given to a person at the “the starting line” of the process of salvation.
To learn more about what it means to have the Holy Spirit, read our article “How Do You Know You Have the Holy Spirit?”
When is a person saved?
But did not Jesus also say that a person who believes in Him has everlasting life? Yes, He did: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
The question is, when is a person saved?
Well, in one sense, as soon as the conversion process begins (at baptism and the laying on of hands), Christians have within their minds a small portion of God’s nature—that is, His divine essence (2 Peter 1:4). God’s Spirit is the down payment (earnest) they must have for ultimate salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:11).
Christians also receive total forgiveness from their past sins at baptism (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 6:4). They are saved from the death penalty for those sins—the penalty of death is “blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
To learn more about the purpose and significance of baptism, read our article “What Do the Symbols of Baptism Mean?”
That does not mean that all Christians are completely divine upon conversion! And that does not mean that every sin they will commit in the future is forgiven.
It means the process has begun.
To dive deeper into the question of when a person is saved, read our article “When Are You Actually Saved?”
Obedience to the 10 Commandments is necessary for salvation
Now that we’ve looked at what salvation is, let’s continue our study of God’s expectations. Is obedience really necessary for one to be saved?
Consider what Jesus said to a young Jewish ruler. This young man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).
Jesus told him, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
We know from the Scriptures that “life” means everlasting life, which is the end of the salvation process. Again, we find there is a requirement of believers in order to receive salvation. Nothing we can do earns salvation, but we are required to keep the 10 Commandments or we will not be saved!
If you study this story, you will learn the young man was already an observer of most of the 10 Commandments. And you will see that Jesus did not deter the man from doing so, but rather, that Christ attempted to steer the man into the intent and spirit of the law.
Measuring oneself by the law alone would be legalism. But searching out and living by the 10 Commandments and the spiritual intent for which God gave each one is the way to salvation.
The completion of salvation is eternal life
We have enough background information that we can now understand a difficult scripture, which will help bring the points in this article to a conclusion.
Four days after Martha’s brother Lazarus had died and been buried, Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
Now, we can understand Jesus’ words. The believer has the promise of eternal life. But until the process is complete, the person is still subject to injury, disease, aging and death. He or she therefore is not “saved” from perishing yet.
When does the believer cross the finish line? Christ inspired the apostle Paul to relate the answer:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
So those who are believers in this age will be transformed to immortal spirit at the return of Jesus Christ. This is the culmination of the process of salvation that begins with repentance and baptism.
Saved through a process
In summary, salvation is a process. It begins with repentance, baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. It continues with a Christian, out of love and appreciation, striving with God’s help to live a life pleasing to God by obeying His laws and doing His will. It concludes when God changes a physical being into a spirit being, a being that can never be injured, become sick, age or die.
Do not go by what you may have always thought or by what other people say. Look at what the Bible says by reading the Scriptures.
Plus, we encourage you to read the accompanying biblically based articles on salvation and conversion on this website. Also, you may use the search box at the top of any page of the website to look for information you cannot find on any topic. And, if you need help, feel free to ask us!