“Salvation” basically means to deliver or rescue. It means to get out of trouble. It was often used in a non-theological sense in the New Testament. For example, Peter used the word when he was walking on the water and looked at the waves and a man-hole opened up beneath him, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). Peter didn’t have theology or eternal destiny in mind. He needed help… now!
The word is translated “deliverance” in Philippians 1:19, but it is the same underlying Greek word that is normally translated “salvation.” “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19).
Similarly, it is translated “survival” in this verse: “Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you” (Acts 27:34).
Like many theological words, it was an ordinary word used in ordinary life before it was a theological word. One Greek dictionary explains, “These terms first refer to salvation (human or divine) from serious peril. Curing from illness is another sense. Horses may save in battle, or night may save an army from destruction, good counsel may save ships, etc.”
This helps us to understand why some don’t get that excited about the concept of salvation; some don’t see themselves as in trouble. Only people who realize they are in danger of drowning are excited about the Lifeguard.
“Saved” always has to do with the idea of “Saved from something.” If we don’t see ourselves as in trouble, then getting saved doesn’t mean that much to us.
This is why there are two thousand years of Old Testament history that preceded the coming of Christ. It was to create a people who understood the idea that God is holy and we are sinners.
The temple architecture was one example of this. It was set up with various spaces, and you had to get cleaned up to enter. The center of the temple was the Holy of Holies. This was only entered by a priest, and that only happened one time a year. They would put some bells on his robe so in case he died they could know because the bell would quit jingling. They tied a rope around his leg so they could pull him out in such a case. This was one of many ways the message was reinforced: God is holy. We are sinners. You can’t rush into God’s presence.
Every year at the temple small animals had their throats cut to remind people that we are sinners and, when someone sins, someone has to pay. Imagine growing up where every year you went to the temple and watched a priest slit the throat of one of your pets. You cry and ask your parents, “Why? Why? Why?”
Your parents lovingly respond, “Because we are sinners. God is holy. You are a sinner. I am a sinner. Sin must be paid for. We must be saved from our sin.” This happened year after year, generation after generation. The result was a people who understood that we have a problem. We need to be saved.
The movie Apollo 13 made famous the line, “Houston; we have a problem.” In America today, many of us don’t feel we have a problem. This is the challenge of communicating the gospel. We must communicate two truths:
- God is holy. He cannot stand to look at sin. We are, in the words of Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even our goodness is tainted with selfish, unclean motives: “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We are sinners by nature and sinners by choice.
There is a reason God can’t stand to look a sin. Sin is the stuff that messes up our lives. Sin always harms. It always makes life worse in the long run.
- God is crazy about us. He watched his own Son die so that we could have a relationship.