A reader asks, “I heard Bob say that the word save never refers to eternal life or justification in Romans or Hebrews. However, the following texts seem very much to refer to spiritual salvation: Rom 5:9-10; 8:24; 10:1; Heb 7:25. What should we think about them?”
Okay. Here is a brief explanation of each of those four texts.
Romans 5:9-10. “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Romans 1:16-17 establishes that salvation in Romans is the deliverance of a believer from God’s wrath in this life. That understanding fits Rom 5:9-10 perfectly.
Romans 5:9-10 is in the sanctification section in Romans. The words having now been justified by His blood refer to forensic justification which occurred when the believers in Rome first believed. The words we shall be saved from wrath through Him are clearly future. Whatever this future salvation from wrath is, it is not the salvation of Eph 2:8-9, which is past (“you have been saved”).
The words which end v 10, we shall be saved by His life, again are future.
The point of Rom 5:9-10 is that we who have been justified by faith will be saved from God’s wrath in this life if we live on keeping with His resurrection power (“His life”). Compare Rom 6:4 and Rom 7:4.
Carefully watching the verb tenses often helps a lot.
Romans 8:24. “For we were saved in this hope…” Here the salvation is past tense. So it could refer to regeneration. However, in his commentary on Romans, Zane Hodges ties this deliverance not to regeneration, but to deliverance from sin’s bondage in the past experience of the believers in Rome. Romans 8:1-13 is all about victory in the Christian life, victory over sin’s bondage. Romans 8:14-39 deals with “our spiritual triumph over suffering” (Hodges, Romans, p. 220). Verse 24 falls in that section.
I realize that the words for we were saved in this hope seem to refer to regeneration. But that really does not fit the context.
Romans 10:1. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” Paul is not speaking here of individual salvation from eternal condemnation. He is speaking of the national salvation of Israel. But what is that? At the time Paul wrote, Israel was experiencing God’s wrath. Soon Israel would be kicked out of the Promised Land, with over one million Jews being killed (AD 70).
In the Old and New Testaments, God promised that one day Israel will be the leading world power, and the Lord Jesus will establish His kingdom and will reign from Jerusalem (Isa 35:1-10; 40:9-11; 52:7-10; Jer 23:3-4; Dan 2:44; 7:13-14; Zech 9:9; Matt 1:21; 23:37-39; Luke 1:31-33; 2:29-32, 38). Paul looks forward to that day. Yes, Paul wanted individual Jews to have everlasting life in his lifetime. But that is not the point here. The Apostle looks forward to a day when Israel will be under God’s blessings instead of His wrath. Hodges writes, “The term for deliverance (sōtērian) is to be taken here consistently with the use throughout the epistle of the word group sōzō/sōtēria…Its reference is to rescue from the temporal display of God’s anger” (Romans, p. 293).
Hebrews 7:25. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Salvation in Hebrews is being Christ’s partners (metochoi) in the life to come. Compare Heb 1:9 and 1:14. Notice Heb 7:25 does not say, “He saves all who believe in Him” or “He has saved all who believe in Him.” This verse speaks of ability. He is able to make us His partners in the coming kingdom if we persevere in drawing near to God through Him. (Compare Heb 5:9 where the eternal salvation the author is speaking of is gained by obeying Him through suffering for Him, not by faith in Him!)
Paul Tanner’s comments on Heb 7:25 are lengthy, but well worth reading in full. I close with his explanation:
The author’s point…[is] to draw out a significant implication arising from Jesus’ unending and unchangeable priesthood. He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them. By using the phrase save to the uttermost does he mean that Jesus is saving sinners from the penalty of sin (speaking soteriologically)? If so, then this verse is saying that He does that because of His intercessory ministry that He continues to carry out on their behalf.
Yet that is precisely what the author is not saying. It would be quite theologically inaccurate to say that a Christian’s personal salvation from the penalty of sin depends on Christ’s ongoing intercession for him. That depends simply on the work of Christ on the cross! That is why Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” and why Paul in Col 2:13-14 could proclaim that God has forgiven us all our trespasses and wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, “having nailed it to the cross.” That kind of salvation is not dependent on the cross plus ongoing intercession!
More likely, the author has something different in mind than personal salvation from the penalty of sin. Since the verb “to save” (sōzō) and the noun “salvation” (sōtēria) are used predominantly in Hebrews in regard to an eschatological salvation, it is very possible that he is thinking of a future salvation connected with the Second Coming of Christ.
It is also important to observe the objects of this particular saving ministry. It is those who come to God through Him. The word used for come to is proserchomenous. This verb is used seven times in the epistle (4:16; 7:25; 10:1; 10:22; 11:6; 12:18, 22). In 4:16, for instance, the author had admonished his Christian audience, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The “coming” (“draw near,” NASB) to the throne of grace is not for personal salvation, but is a resource of help in light of “our weaknesses” (4:15). This speaks of post conversion activity (see a similar situation in 10:22 concerning the brethren who are admonished to “draw near”). Consequently this saving ministry of Christ is for those Christians who avail themselves of Jesus’ priestly role, and who want to “draw near” to God (i.e., receive his grace and mercy for their Christian pilgrimage).
The phrase to the uttermost (eis to panteles) does not have a temporal force (as in the NASB’s “forever”), but rather conveys the idea of “completely.” For those Christians who rely on Christ’s priestly role and intercession for them, they find that He is able to carry them completely through all trials and difficulties to arrive at their eschatological salvation, qualified to enter the greater rest (The Grace New Testament Commentary, Volume 2, s.v., Hebrews,” p. 1060).