What is Salvation?
Just what does it mean to be saved? How do you know when you have been saved? And how do you know if you are born again? What are faith, grace, repentance, redemption and sanctification? How do they relate to each other and to salvation? And what about those who are not saved: will they suffer eternal torment in hell? Do we have immortal souls that continue our consciousness after we die?
These are all good questions; the terms above are often misunderstood. The following paragraphs define each of the terms and show how they are related to salvation. We will see how faith leads us to repentance, redemption and receipt of God's spirit, which in turn leads us through sanctification to salvation. First of all, what is salvation?
Salvation is one of the promises of God to all believers: to be given the gift of eternal life. To be "saved" in the full sense of the word means to have received eternal life. The word salvation is also used to describe the process we go through before we can receive eternal life. (In a few scriptures "saved" refers to redemption, one of the steps in the process of salvation.) Here are two of many verses about eternal life:
Before we go on, please take a moment to note that the consequence of not being saved is perishing. Ultimately each of us will either perish, or receive eternal life. Absolutely nothing was said about being condemned to eternal torment in some sort of hellfire. Romans 6:23, for example, does not say "For the wages of sin is eternal torment in hell."
So how and when do the righteous receive eternal life? The apostle Paul explained that we presently have natural, corruptible, physical bodies. We go to the grave and "sleep," in death, with those bodies. Later we will be raised from our graves - in a resurrection - with spiritual, incorruptible bodies.
When Jesus was resurrected, He had a spiritual body: incorruptible and everlasting. Jesus explained that when resurrected the righteous will also have spirit bodies, similar to angels:
Note that neither Paul nor Jesus said anything about going to heaven when you die. Many churches incorrectly teach that you'll go to heaven when you die, but that is not what the Bible teaches. Jesus and the early Christians taught that we'll remain in the grave until our resurrection, at which time we'll receive eternal life. This is consistent with what was taught in the Old Testament. Notice what an angel tells the prophet Daniel about "them that sleep in the dust of the earth":
So when will the resurrection of the faithful occur? Paul explained that Jesus was the "firstfruits" of the dead - the first to receive a resurrection to eternal life - and that the faithful would be resurrected to eternal life at Jesus' return:
A few verses later Paul gives more detail, saying that we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God until we have immortal, spirit bodies, and that we would receive those bodies "at the last trump" - at the sounding of the last of seven symbolic trumpets (see Rev 11:15), announcing the actual return of Christ:
At the resurrection, the faithful who have died and are "asleep" in death will be raised from their graves with immortal spiritual bodies. At the same time those faithful who happen to be physically alive will also - "in the twinkling of an eye" - receive immortal spiritual bodies. Paul continued:
This, then, is when we are saved: saved from death, saved from perishing. This is when the faithful receive the ultimate grace from God: eternal life.
Paul described the same resurrection - at Jesus' return, at the "trump of God" - in a letter to the Thessalonians:
Judgment, hell, the lake of fire and the fate of Satan
Note that a different resurrection, to mortal life, is also possible. The resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus, as recorded in John chapter 11, is an example. A general resurrection to mortal life will occur sometime after the first thousand years of the Kingdom of God on Earth: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5). For those in this general resurrection to mortal life, this will apparently be their time of judgment. Those judged to be good will be given eternal life, as spirit beings, like those resurrected at Jesus' return over a thousand years earlier (Rev. 20:6; see the previous page in this website, What Does God Promise Us, for details). Jesus spoke of this resurrection in John 5:28,29:
This last general resurrection is also described in Revelation 20:12,13:
What about those who are judged to be evil? What happens to them? For help with this question let's go back to two verses quoted earlier:
Here we see that the alternative to eternal life is to perish, to suffer permanent death. Note that nothing was said about being tormented forever in any kind of hellfire: the verses state that death and perishing await those who do not receive eternal life. Upon judgment, those who do not receive eternal life will perish: they will die again - after some "weeping and gnashing of teeth" - this time without further hope of resurrection. After their second death they will never again be alive or conscious in any sense; they will not be in physical torment in "hell," nor will they continue as "immortal souls." They will simply die with no more hope of life or resurrection: they will perish forever upon their second death. They will be permanently destroyed. Revelation 20:14,15 describes this by saying they will symbolically be "cast into the lake of fire" which is defined as "the second death."
The "lake of fire" symbolizes permanent destruction. Anyone cast or thrown into the "lake of fire" or the "everlasting fire" is permanently destroyed: they suffer a second death as mortals, a death from which there is no further hope of resurrection or life. They perish. Revelation 21:8 makes it very clear that being "cast" into the lake of fire is the second death:
When this final judgment is finished, all those who rejected God will have been destroyed through death. Incidentally, verses such as Revelation 20:9 and Malachi 4:3 indicate their physical bodies will be consumed by physical fire: "And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 4:3).
From that time forward only those who have received eternal life will remain. There will be no more mortal human beings, so death itself will no longer happen. And there will no longer be anyone in their grave awaiting their resurrection. So both death and "hell" (from the Greek word hades, meaning the grave, the resting place of those awaiting a resurrection) will effectively be ended or destroyed forever. Again quoting Revelation 20:14,15, we see both cast into the symbolic "lake of fire":
Revelation 21:4 clearly shows the transition to a new era in which there will be no more death:
In a letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul confirmed the destruction of death:
Some preachers teach that those who reject God will be tormented forever in some kind of physical, burning hellfire. In addition to their error they are perpetrating a lie about God: to eternally torture someone would be both merciless and sadistic, and God is neither. If you have been taught this lie, consider the verses quoted above and note that death is an event, and that "hell" or being in the grave is a condition or situation. How could they, not being physical things, be thrown into a physical "lake of fire"? It is no more possible to do that than it is to put love into a bottle. The "lake of fire" is not physical, but is symbolic, and symbolizes permanent destruction or oblivion. Remember, "the wages of sin is death" - not eternal life in hell - and "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (from Romans 6:23 and John 3:16).
Here is another way to look at it. Occasionally the Bible uses the word Gehenna instead of "lake of fire" or "eternal fire." Some Bible commentaries explain that Gehenna was a narrow valley just south of ancient Jerusalem. That valley was used as a dump: fires were kept burning there to destroy the city's trash and the corpses of animals and criminals. Just as everything that was cast into Jerusalem's Gehenna was destroyed, all that is cast into the symbolic "lake of fire" or "everlasting fire" will be destroyed, including the wicked, and death, and the grave!
Additionally, even Satan and Satan's angels will be destroyed. Jesus mentioned this while speaking of judgment, showing that wicked men, Satan and Satan's angels will all go into the same "everlasting fire":
Ezekiel 28:15-19 confirms that Satan will be destroyed, concluding an address to him with these words: "...thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more." Also see 1 John 3:8 and Hebrews 2:14.
Note: many have wondered about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, wanting to know if the parable shows the wicked will "burn in hell" and the good will "go to heaven." Actually, the parable is about an entirely different topic. An extra page has been added to this website to explain the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, even showing why the rich man had five brothers.
Does the Bible clearly say, anywhere, that the wicked will be destroyed? Yes. Consider Revelation 11:18:
"Destroy" in this verse is from the Greek word diaphtheiro which Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries defines as "corrupt, destroy, perish."
Born Again: what it really means
Jesus spoke about spirit beings in John 3:6-8, showing that they are like the wind, invisible but real:
Jesus used the expressions "born again" and "born of the Spirit" in the same sense that Paul did when he spoke of being "raised a spiritual body": Jesus and Paul were referring to receiving eternal life as spirit beings at the resurrection of the faithful. Are You "Saved"? Understanding Redemption and Salvation explains this in greater detail.
Those who say they are "born again" Christians are not, of course, spirit beings yet. Their use of the term "born again" is confused in that it is different than Jesus' use as quoted above. When they say they are "born again" they are apparently referring to receiving God's spirit, or to baptism, or to redemption or perhaps some combination of these. But we are not truly "born again," as Jesus used the term, until we have received eternal life as spirit beings.
Jesus was the first to receive salvation, to be "born again." The apostle Paul described Jesus as "the firstborn from the dead" in Colossians 1:18; Jesus was resurrected to eternal life, born of the spirit:
Paul wrote that Jesus is still the only person to have received eternal life; He alone - "only" - has immortality:
Paul showed that the faithful would receive eternal, spirit life - like Jesus - at the return of Christ:
Jesus said "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:14). Without faith we cannot begin the journey, the process, that will lead to salvation. Faith is believing and trusting God and Jesus. John 3:16, again, says:
Here we see that believing in Jesus is required to obtain eternal life. Believing in Jesus goes beyond believing He existed. It means believing He was raised from the dead and still lives, and will keep His promises. And an active, living faith leads beyond believing into trusting, and action: seeking Him and doing His will. The apostle Paul wrote about faith saying:
Perhaps it is confusing that John 3:16 referred to believing in Jesus, but the verse above refers to believing in God. It helps to remember that Jesus said "I and my Father are one": we can think of them interchangeably. Jesus said "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." And He said "the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 10:30, Matthew 28:18 and John 5:22). The Father has given Jesus the power of God over us: we can relate to Jesus as we would to the Father.
So if we have faith, if we believe and trust in Jesus and God's promises, what should we do?
If our faith is real, we will believe God and trust Him to keep His promises, including eternal life. If our faith is real, we will also act on God's expectations of us. Jesus said we should repent: we should turn away from sin and commit ourselves to obey God and seek His will.
Repenting begins with recognizing and admitting we have sinned and also requires - and is - an attitude change. The new attitude is one of determination to obey God and to do His will. That new attitude must remain in place from that time forward. Repentance therefore is the beginning of, and the maintenance and growth of, a new attitude of obedience and love toward God.
God wants an attitude like this:
You will recall from Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death"; since we have all sinned, or transgressed the law (1 John 3:4), we are all under the penalty of breaking the law. The penalty is death. We have all sinned and are thus hopelessly condemned to die. If we pay the penalty ourselves, that will be the end of us: we perish. God however has provided payment of the penalty. One of the reasons God sent Jesus was so that He, Jesus, could pay the death penalty on behalf of all who repent; Jesus ransomed us from the death penalty by paying the death penalty for us. Jesus said:
This was just as promised through several Old Testament prophets. Here, for example, is Hosea 13:14:
Revelation 5:9 also speaks of Jesus from all believers' point of view, saying:
With the penalty paid, we are no longer hopeless. No longer hopeless, God is willing to work with us if we are repentant and are seeking to make our lives right with Him. We are redeemed, or reconciled or justified. We are made right with God.
How or why was Jesus able to redeem us from the death penalty? According to the Bible, Jesus - also called the Word - was actually the Creator:
In Hebrews 1:1,2 we see the "the worlds" were created by, or through, Jesus:
The apostle Paul wrote in about Jesus in Colossians 1:14-16, saying:
Being the Creator, Jesus was and is of greater worth and power than the creation. And having lived a sinless life in the flesh, through the power of God's spirit, He was not subject to the death penalty. Owing to His worth, and sinless life, He was qualified to pay the death penalty on behalf of all mankind. His sacrificial death to redeem us to God was apparently part of a plan established from the beginning of creation: Revelation 13:8 describes Jesus as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
The Bible describes at least two different baptisms; one is with water, another is with God's spirit. Here is a description of them, recorded in Mark 1:4-8:
John the Baptist baptized mature, repenting adults. Their water baptism symbolized the washing away of their sins - their redemption - and their emergence into a new, repentant life. Water baptism was, and is, a demonstration or token of a repentant person's sincerity and their readiness to leave behind the old life of sin and to begin a new life of obedience and love toward God. Water baptism of infants is meaningless ritual: infants are not mature enough to decide to repent or to even understand what repentance is.
Baptism with God's spirit is done by Jesus; Jesus has promised His spirit to those who have faith and have repented. Perhaps it would be better to describe it this way: God and Jesus are spirit, and Jesus promised that He and the Father will live in us:
Is water baptism required to receive God's spirit? Not necessarily: in some cases (see Acts 10:44-48) God's spirit was received before baptism. In other cases God's spirit was not received at the time of baptism, but was received later when some of the apostles "laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (see Acts 8:14-17). In some cases the receipt of God's spirit - in the direct presence of the apostles, accompanied by miracles - apparently served to validate the apostles and their message.
With the Father and Jesus dwelling in us, the process of sanctification - begun when we repented and turned our attitude toward God - can continue. Sanctification is a life-long process of change, of overcoming our human weaknesses, and of transformation according to God's will. Sanctification continues only as long as repentance remains. Again, repentance is much more than a one-time event: it is an attitude of humility, teachability and willingness to change that must be maintained in order for the sanctification process to continue. If we loose or reject our repentant attitude, God can no longer work with us through His spirit and our sanctification ceases.
Having repented - having made a resolution to turn from sin and to seek God's will - we have begun the life-long process of sanctification. And having been redeemed and reconciled to God, He will now work with us by dwelling in us, guiding us by His spirit.
The apostle Paul wrote:
Paul instructed the believers in Rome to follow the Spirit:
While our sanctification is in process we will sin from time to time: we are not yet perfect, not yet able to follow God's spirit perfectly as Jesus did. If we repent again, and return to a repentant attitude, redemption is still available to us. If we always return to repentance, and follow God's spirit for the rest of our lives, we are promised the gift of eternal life:
Once saved, always saved?
Can we continue sanctification without faith? Of course not; we must continue to believe God's promises and act on them. Likewise, repentance must continue throughout our lifetime of sanctification. Redemption, as we repent, is still available throughout sanctification. Some Bible verses can be confusing in that they refer to having been redeemed or saved, while other verses say we are being redeemed or saved, and others say we will be redeemed or saved. Salvation is a process as well as an end or goal, so different tenses are used in different contexts. For example, consider 1 Corinthians 1:18:
In this instance we have been "saved" from the penalty of past sins if we have repented and been redeemed, accepting Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf... but we must continue to repent and follow God's spirit if we are to be saved in the full sense of the word, receiving eternal life. The page Are You "Saved"? Understanding Redemption and Salvation explains this in greater detail.
Unfortunately many popular preachers teach that once you are "saved" by "making a decision for Christ," you are saved: you will without doubt "go to heaven." The truth is quite different: there is no promise that we will go to heaven (see the preceding page, about God's promises). Salvation is not automatic upon our initial repentance. We must be sanctified; we must continually do our part by remaining faithful, repenting, following the lead of God's spirit and overcoming evil. That is why the apostle Peter wrote:
The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi reminding them and urging them to work on their salvation:
Paul did not consider himself to be saved, to have "apprehended" salvation; he told the Philippians that he continued to strive:
Salvation is the gift of God, but it is not unconditional. We must repent, receive His Spirit, abide in Him in living faith, grow spiritually and overcome sin and the self. Jesus said "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." He did not say that we just have to believe in Him, or just "give our hearts" to Him or just "make a decision" for Him...
Redemption is not the same as salvation!
Many have been misled to believe that if they have been redeemed or justified to God for their past sins they are saved. This is not what the Bible says, however. The apostle Paul made a clear distinction between the two, showing that redemption or justification from our past sins comes first, and salvation follows later. Consider Romans 5:9:
Note "justified," past tense, and "shall be saved," future tense. We shall be saved when we are resurrected to eternal life. Before we get there we hear the word of God, we have faith and believe. We repent and are justified or redeemed to God for the sins of our past. We learn to obey and we follow God's spirit through a life-long process of sanctification, of continued overcoming, repentance and reconciliation. We are sanctified "through him": that is, through Him dwelling in us. To believe you are saved when you are first redeemed is a false comfort zone, bypassing the important creational work of sanctification. Remember, Paul urged the Philippians to "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
The apostle Peter described how knowledge of God - walking with God - leads to growth in various virtues and good works, and to a final reward:
Godly character, with good works (deeds, behavior and commandment keeping), are the fruits of His spirit working in us. As we let Him lead us by His spirit, we develop His character and we produce good works. The works are done naturally, automatically, much as we leave footprints automatically when we walk in sand or snow. If we are not leaving footprints - not producing good works - we are not walking with Him, and not abiding in Him. The apostle James appropriately stated that "...faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). To bear the fruit of the Spirit, to develop His character and produce good works, we must abide in Him: we must let Him work in us via His spirit. Here is Jesus' analogy:
We are not saved by works. But if we abide in Him in living faith we will produce works, automatically. The two go together: where living faith is, works are, also. If we are not producing works, then we do not have a living faith: "...faith without works is dead." Without abiding in Him we "can do nothing" and "cannot bear fruit"; then we are in danger of destruction as Jesus warned. In the same regard James also wrote about the necessity of showing works, saying "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24)... James said this simply because where living faith is, works are, also.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians explaining that God's grace - not our works - saves us, but that God does expect works from us:
Salvation - eternal life - is a priceless gift from God. No amount of works could ever earn it. But without works, the fruit of living faith, we are in danger of destruction. Our redemption to God through Jesus' death - and the gift of eternal life - are both blessings that we can not earn: they are given to us by the goodness and grace of God. Again, Romans 6:23:
Do we have an immortal soul?
Many people have been taught that we each have a soul: an immortal part or component of us that lives on forever after our physical death. This belief is not found in the Bible: actually it is from Greek philosophy. Hundreds of years before the time of Christ the Greek philosopher Plato, in Phaedo, wrote the following; it has been adopted into mainstream Christian belief today:
The Bible does not teach that we have an immortal soul. In fact, the Bible does not teach that we have any kind of "soul" or separable spirit in the Greek sense: the Bible actually has a different definition for the word "soul." Regrettably many people are thinking of the Greek idea of an immortal soul when they read the word "soul" in the Bible. The result is confusion and seeming contradiction. For example Ezekiel 18:20 in the Bible says "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"... a complete contradiction to the Greek belief in an immortal soul. So, what exactly does the Bible mean by the word "soul" if the soul is not an immortal part of us that continues after death?
In the Old Testament (KJV) "soul" was translated, in nearly every instance, from the original Hebrew word nephesh which means a breathing creature, a living thing, with the meaning often extending to the person, to the self, even to the mind or heart. In the New Testament "soul" was translated from the original Greek word psuche which has the same meaning as the Hebrew nephesh. The Bible shows that we are physical beings, and that when we die our consciousness ends:
If we think of the person, or self, or mind or heart, or individual or life when we read "soul" in the Bible we get a better understanding of what was meant, depending somewhat on the context. Here are some examples:
Do we have an immortal soul? That's a trick question, because we do not have any kind of soul per the common definition of the word. We do not have an immortal soul: there is no soul at all, such as the Greek philosophers taught and many people today still believe.
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