19 May 2006

What Do we mean by "Salvation"?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Books, Christian hope, Exegesis, Grace, Preaching, Salvation
What Do We Mean By “Salvation?”

If the question “What does Salvation mean?” were asked in most Evangelical churches today the most common response would be “forgiveness of sins” or “going to heaven.” There is wonderful truth in this answer. Humans are full of sin and Jesus did die on the cross as an atonement for the sins of the world. Likewise, we long for the consummation of eternal life in the presence of God.

This answer, however, falls short of the Biblical vision. It suffers from a subtle neo-Platonism that argues that Christianity is concerned with only the “spiritual.” By spiritual is usually meant the non-material and non-physical. When pushed to an extreme this view turns the Christian life lived now into a waiting game. Waiting for either our inevitable death or the return of Jesus. It almost makes the present life unimportant.

The Bible, in both Testaments, understands salvation in a much broader way. The Bible understands God’s work in Christ in terms that grant meaning to creation and the life we live now. David Lipscomb had a keen grasp on the wider biblical theology of the mission of Christ. He writes

The object of God’s dealing with man, and especially the mission of Christ to the earth, was to rescue the world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, from the ruin into which it had fallen through sin, and to rehabilitate it with the dignity and the glory it had when it came from the hand of God; to restore man–spiritually, mentally and physically–to the likeness of his maker. (David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin, p. 114)

If this understanding of the mission of Jesus is accurate then it means “salvation” is God’s great restoration project. The Gospel of Luke indicates this is indeed an accurate understanding of the mission of God in Jesus. Luke, reaching back to the Hebrew Bible, paints the ministry of Jesus on the canvas of the great Jubilee motif.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news
to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor [Jubilee].”
(Luke 4.18-19, NRSV)

The use of the word “save” in the Gospels is instructive. Fully one fourth of the term “save/d” in the Gospels refer to Jesus’ miracles. Among those “saved” by Jesus include the blind Bartimaeus (Mk 10.52) and the man with the withered hand (Mk 3.4-5). Luke uses the term “salvation” to describe the healing of the Centurion’s servant (7.3), the sinful woman (7.50), the restoration of the demoniac (8.36) and the resurrection of a dead girl (8.50).

The story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus is demonstrative of the wider view Luke incorporates into the doctrine of salvation. Luke 19 narrates the story. This zealous tax collector had piled up riches through not so ethical means of collecting. But when he encountered Jesus he was radically changed. He returned four times the amount he had taken. He gave half of his goods to the poor. Luke quotes Jesus as saying “Today salvation has come to this house” (19.9). Salvation is painted with distinctive Jubilee colors and hues. Through healing the sick, feeding the poor and releasing the oppressed Jesus proclaims the good news. The good news of salvation which Luke describes as new life, wholeness, forgiveness and healing.

What is “salvation?” In the Bible salvation is the restoration of shalom to God’s vandalized creation. Rather than only longing for heaven biblical salvation invests this life with profound meaning . . . our lives have meaning not just our “souls.” God wishes to restore wholeness as we have witnessed in the ministry of Jesus. The Gospel is the story of the unerring love of the Creator seeking to reclaim his wonderful creation. So salvation is not just from sin but for the new creation.

Bobby Valentine

9 Responses to “What Do we mean by "Salvation"?”

  1. Steve Puckett Says:

    Good thoughts, Bobby. I’ve blogged on this topic from several angles.


  2. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Thank you for reading. I have actually been thinking about this for quite some time. But I have been prompted again by your blog and a recent blog by Danny Dodd too.

    Bobby Valentine

  3. Stoogelover Says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Stoogelover Says:

    Rob Bell has some good stuff to say about salvation in his book, “Velvet Elvis.” Thanks for your comments.

    I met you briefly in lunch line w/ JMH but I look much older than this picture!

  5. Steve Puckett Says:

    Glad you found the new site. It’s a work in progress. As great as Macs were when you used one, they are greater still now! iWeb, the software I used for the site, is very user friendly and very intuitive.

    Peace to you bro.

  6. Steve Puckett Says:

    Did you see the Kindred Spirits page? I’ve tried a new slant with other bloggers by adding their pictures beside their listings.


  7. JD Says:

    Bobby…does this mean I’ll be skinny when the regeneration of all things occurs?

    Keep pointing us to deeper truths my brother. These things escape us as we would rather sip milk than engage a hearty steak of truth.

    Why the food analogies. I must be hungry.

  8. Danny Says:

    lol at JD’s comments.

    I like your perspective on this. It captures why preaching Christ is the Good News.

    A Lipscomb quote? I am surprised. lol

  9. cwinwc Says:

    Can I bring Phil Donahue into this blog?
    I remember watching a PD Show about a “Christian Recovery Group,” i.e. – a group dedicated to helping people recover from being Christians. Phil rushed up into the audience to allow an elderly lady to comment on the show. She said, “Why are all these young people so obsessed with death?”

    In some, maybe many cases we have communicated that being a Christian is nothing more than a “Heavenly insurance policy.”

    Thank goodness we are starting to come around to the ideals of service to our fellow man in the name of Jesus and a “more abundant life” in the here and now.

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