“Are you saved, sir?” the Salvation Army lassie asked the very distinguished-looking clergyman. The time was the late 1800’s. and the scene was a railway carriage in England.
The bishop (for she had dared to witness to one of England’s most learned bishops!) answered, “Do you mean esothen, sozomai, or sothesomai? (He was throwing the poor girl for a loop with his Greek verbs expressing the past, present, and future tenses of salvation.) Further dialog revealed that this good bishop at least, unlike many who claim that office today. actually was “saved.”
But what does it mean to be saved?
Fortunately the words translated save, saved, Savior, and salvation, in the Bible closely parallel our English usage.
These words can be used for being saved from danger or death-such as being saved from a flood, from a fire, or from disease. But the meaning we care about the most as Christians is salvation from eternal death.
Next to John 3:16 the two most popular NT verses clearly teaching salvation by grace through faith alone are Paul’s words to the Ephesians (2:8-9) and his famous answer to the jailor’s question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:31).
This latter verse left a deep impression on my mind from early boyhood because mother and father had a beautiful framed copy of the verse in rich black calligraphy with a gold initial letter and blue matting. It hung on our wall for all who entered our home to read.
It is more than coincidental that our Lord is named Jesus, a name that means Jehovah is salvation. It is also known to nearly all, but still worth mentioning, that one of the titles and offices of Jesus is that of Savior. Whether in neon lights at a rescue mission, lettered in calligraphy on a wall plaque, or hand-tooled on a wallet or bookmark, the greatest truth of the Christian Gospel is this: Jesus saves.
Not everyone likes this emphasis, even among church-goers. As a teenager I was shown a tract by a Christian lady in our congregation. On the front was a pleasant-looking, smiling young farmer with a single blade of wheat between his teeth. The title was, “So You Think You’re Saved?” The implication was clear: Only hayseeds were stupid or presumptuous enough to believe that you could know you were saved. The contents attacked the simple Gospel of salvation by grace apart from works. This particular tract happened to be Roman Catholic, but I fear many so-called Protestants are now teaching a faith-plus-works “gospel” too. Saddest of all. Some who are reckoned among the evangelical, or Gospel, wing of Christendom are teaching another “gospel”: “Believe and be baptized,” Believe and persevere,” “Believe and observe the sacraments,” “Believe and surrender totally,” and so on.
This last one, often called “Lordship Salvation” or “commitment salvation,” is dangerously prominent today, and as most of our readers know, was the impetus–along with baptismal regeneration and other unbiblical doctrines–that gave the drive to our Director, Dr. Bob Wilkin, to form the Grace Evangelical Society, along with our Journal, Newsletter, tape ministry, and placement service.
You personally will never have real peace until you know you are saved (1 John 5:13). You can never know this unless you are totally dependent on the merits of Christ’s death on the Cross. If it’s partly your faithfulness after salvation, you’ll never know if you’ve done enough or persevered long enough. By all means, believers should be faithful, but it is Christ’s faithfulness to His promises that saves us and keeps us saved.
If the Salvation Army girl had asked you the question she asked the Church of England bishop, what would you answer? Whether or not you know the exact time you were “saved”–or received Christ by faith (John 1:12)–is not the crucial question. Some know the day; some don’t. The real issue is: Are you now trusting Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross alone and apart from works to take you to heaven?
Perhaps you are a part of a branch of Christendom that doesn’t like this term “saved.” You’ve been told that it’s too black-and-white; it’s too “simplistic.” Well, the Gospel is written in black-and-white. While not “simplistic” (a term of contempt), it is simple. Could it be that many (most?) of those who are “turned off” by the biblical expression “saved” dislike it because they are unsaved? It’s something to think about.
I am thankful to God that I was raised in a home Christian enough to clearly (and artistically) proclaim on the walls of our home:
- “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”
- (Acts 16:31)
Dr. Art Farstad is a member of the GES Board and is a well known Bible scholar.