The word “salvation” both in English and in New Testament Greek can mean different things. When it is used, we have to ask: salvation from what? The context always determines what type of salvation the author is talking about. Unfortunately, when most Christians see the word “salvation” in the Bible, they often assume it means salvation from hell. This includes when the word is found in the Book of Romans. The noun “salvation” occurs 5 times, and the verb occurs eight times.
However, when we look at how the word is used, we see that Paul is not talking about salvation from hell at all. Even though it is not exactly the same thing, in the Book of Romans when Paul refers to what happens when a person is saved from hell, he uses a different word. That word is justification.
If we look at the context of Romans, we find that the word “salvation” or “to be saved” in that book refers to being saved from the wrath that sin brings into our lives. When we become believers, God justifies us and gives us His Spirit. When we walk by the power of the Spirit, and thus live righteously, we are saved from the negative consequences of sinful activity.
It is very interesting that when Paul discusses justification by faith in the Book of Romans (chapters 3–4), he never uses the word “salvation.” Justification is by faith alone (3:21-28). However, “salvation” in the Book of Romans involves other things.
The first time the word occurs is in 1:16. The gospel of Christ includes the power of God for “salvation.” This power is available to “everyone who believes.” Then, two verses later, Paul talks about how the wrath of God is seen in the sinful activity of men in the here and now. The believer needs to have victory over the power of sin here and now. He needs this kind of salvation.
The word does not occur again until 5:9-10. There, Paul says the believer can be “saved” from wrath. This clearly takes us back to 1:16-18. The wrath in 1:18 is not talking about hell. Neither in chapter 5 is it talking about hell. As Paul goes on to say, we can be “saved” from this wrath by the life of Christ. We must notice that Paul here speaks of a future salvation – we will be saved. Our salvation from hell is something that happened in the past, when we believed. The death of Christ made our eternal salvation and justification possible. Now, because the living Lord lives in the believer through His Spirit, the believer can walk according to that power (1:16) and avoid the wrath that sins brings in his present experience. If we walk that way, we will experience that kind of salvation.
This also helps explain a famous but misunderstood passage in Romans. In 10:9, Paul says that if we want to be “saved,” we must confess the Lord Jesus with our mouths. In 10:13 it says that if we are to be saved, we must call upon the name of the Lord. It is very important to observe that Paul says that it is believers who call upon the Lord, not unbelievers (10:14).
These verses, then, speak of confessing and calling upon the Lord in order to be saved. But those things are not requirements for being saved from hell. Once again, we see that the salvation Paul is talking about is something different. Since Jesus has risen from the dead and is Lord, we as believers can call upon Him. We confess that He is Lord and is able to deliver us. Believers in any age, when they do so, will be saved from the wrath that sin brings if they go to Him.
In this blog I have addressed some of the occurrences of the word “salvation”/”to be saved” in the Book of Romans. If we look at the rest of the instances where these words occur, we will find the same thing. The word “salvation” in Romans never refers to salvation from hell. Instead, it refers to the salvation believers can experience as they walk in the power of the Spirit as they call upon the Lord to bring this wonderful salvation to fruition in their lives.