I grew up at a church where the word “saved” was used a lot. “Are you saved?” someone might ask. Or a testimony might begin, “I was saved when I was 12 years old.” In that context “saved” meant that a person is going to heaven after he or she dies. Assurance of salvation then refers to the confidence people can have in knowing that they are going to heaven after they die. Now this is a perfectly good way and important way of using the word “saved;” but the more I read the Bible, the more I learn that the word “saved” and all the other words the Bible uses to talk about being “saved”—words like redeemed, forgiven, set free, justified, chosen, set apart, adopted, reconciled, glorified—reveal that salvation is far more than knowing that after death we will be present with the Lord.
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I don’t have time or space to talk about all these images of salvation in the Scriptures. If you’re interested, I’ve written about this at some length with two colleagues (Dr. Rodney Reeves and Dr. Randy Richards) in a book entitled Rediscovering Paul (InterVarsity, 2007). It’s available in hardback, paperback and on Kindle.
Let me give an example or two from Paul. The apostle uses various metaphors or images to describe salvation; one of those is “reconciliation” (read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Reconciliation is a relational metaphor; it implies that every person is separated from God and at odds with each other. The solution to that problem is to be reconciled to God (and one another) through Jesus so that we can enjoy restored and healthy relationships with God and others once again.
But, if we are honest, we must agree that there is more wrong with us than this. Our plight is far more complicated and insidious than being at odds with God. In Romans 6-7 Paul acknowledges that not only do we commit sins (acts of rebellion and disobedience against our Creator), but that sin is a power that enslaves us and causes us to do things we don’t want (read Romans 6-7 carefully). If we are enslaved to sin and sin has power over us, what is the remedy? Well, what is it that any slave wants and needs? The answer is this: to be set free from sin and its power. In a word “liberation.”
Some people have asked why we translated Luke 19:10 this way: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to liberate the lost.” Most translations render it “to seek and to save the lost.” Now, this is a good translation. But, what did Dr. Luke mean by “to save?” Did he mean that the wee-little man Zaccheus would be assured that he would go to heaven when he died? I don’t think that the issue. Well, what then?
First, look at any standard Greek dictionary and you’ll see the Greek word often translated “save” (sōzō) means to “rescue,” “liberate,” “heal,” “preserve from harm.” It is a broad, general word for salvation. Second, take a look at how Dr. Luke sets the stage in his Gospel for what salvation is. Jesus’ synagogue sermon in Luke 4:16-30 provides us with the foundational text. You remember the story. Not long after Jesus began his public ministry, he returns to his hometown in Nazareth and reads the Scripture during the Sabbath service (Isaiah 61:1). After he reads, he sits down and tells the audience that these words are fulfilled even as they hear them. What did Jesus mean? That the Spirit of God was on Him and had designated Him to be God’s representative to preach good news to the poor, to announce to those held captive that they will be set free, to bring sight to the blind, to liberate those held down by oppression. In a word to proclaim the jubilee of God’s grace! For Luke salvation was all about liberation. Go back and read the song of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80) and the song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55). That is a key reason we used the phrase “the Liberating King” as an explanatory paraphrase to describe Jesus’ role as God’s Anointed, the Messiah. What Zaccheus needed was to be set free from his love of money, forgiven for crimes committed against his people, and restored as a honored member of his community.
Salvation is more than knowing that when we die, our souls will go to heaven. As important as that is, that is only a part of what it means to be “saved.” Salvation means that
- one day death’s grip will be released and these lowly bodies—not just our souls—will be made glorious
- broken relationships will be restored
- sins will be forgiven
- sin’s power over us will be broken
- the outcast will be brought near
- the poor will be exalted
- the worn out, used up will be made new
- the orphan will be made part of the family
- the blind will see and the lame will walk
- the sick and dying will be made whole
- those who are not right will be made right with God
- those held in political prisons will be released
- creation itself will be liberated from corruption and decay
- the image of God in all humanity will be restored
Salvation is . . . all of the above!