This outline is based on a series of talks given by Warren Nelson in Virginia, County Cavan in 1996
Big words put us off. Common things can be hidden when we use a big word. If I talk of mathematics it's a turn-off. But if I talk of counting change or estimating rolls of wallpaper you know straight away what mathematics is about. So with salvation. When the preacher mentions salvation eyes roll, thoughts drift and people say 'we are hard working ordinary people, talk about something we can understand.' However if I were to talk about a better life (John 10:10) or being sure of heaven (I John 5:13) or overcoming our worst nature (Galatians 5:16-23) then I would be talking everybody's language. Those are the questions that salvation is about.Salvation is the great theme of the Bible. The word (in its many forms) occurs over 500 times. You could say there is not a page of the Bible where it does not occur. The word 'salvation' has wide meaning: it covers 'to save', 'to deliver', 'to cure', 'to keep well'. It will help our understanding of its use in the Bible if we keep these in mind. We also use the idea of salvation in a variety of ways in everyday English: saved from the sea; saved from addiction etc.
The Bible is the story of salvation from beginning to end. It starts with man in an ideal setting at one with God (Genesis 1:27-31), and it ends the same way, man with God in heaven, free from sorrow, sickness and death (Matthew 1:21). If it were only the first and last pages of the Bible, it would be wonderful. But to our grief we are neither in the Garden of Eden or Paradise. The rest of the Bible is where we are at. The 98% of it that describes our condition: lost, adrift, out of fellowship with God, fighting among ourselves, sinning and being sinned against, all the time against a backdrop of God working for the salvation of his people. It is about out rescue (salvation) from sin and death. This great theme has been there from the beginning but is really only fully revealed in the New Testament through the work of Christ. Look at these major verses showing the salvation theme. When Jesus was born it was said 'You shall call his name Jesus for he shall SAVE his people from their sins.' (6) Jesus himself said 'I am come to seek and to SAVE that which was lost.' (Luke 19:10) One of the first sermons ended on the same note 'There is no other name given among men ... by which we must be saved.'(Acts 4:12) This verse is used in the same sense and context in the 18th Article of the Church of Ireland 39 Articles (BCP pg 340). The bottom line is that Christianity is not about protecting the environment or bringing economic justice to the Third World, good as these ideals may be, but is about the salvation of our souls, the eternal par of us. The fact is that you can have 'religion' without bothering about salvation, but you cannot have authentic Christianity without it. So we see that salvation is a major Bible theme and God's purpose for us. We move on now to see that it is God's doing. It is a rescue and we are the ones rescued. So there is no room for pride. Does the almost drowned victim glow with pride as he is taken from the water? No. Likewise to enjoy God's salvation is not a matter of pride but of humble gratitude. Many are too proud to think in terms of having to be rescued and so miss out. Like the motorist who is too proud to ask directions they are lost.
If then salvation is about being rescued, delivered or saved, we are entitled to ask from what are we saved? We are saved from the consequences and effects, short and long-term of living our lives apart from God. These consequences include the whole sorry mess of sin, selfishness, purposelessness, being enslaved to power, ambition, passion and addictions of one sort or another. (Romans 8:19, Rev 5:9,10) If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36) We also are set free from wrong ideas about God. In particular, we are set free from the very wrong, but very common idea, that we are in some way earning our place in heaven by our goodness or our giving or, as some even believe, by our suffering. Think about this for a moment, you will realize that anyone trying to be good for the sake of earning salvation, is not, in fact, being good for the sake of being good. Only when we rid ourselves of any notion of our merit saving us, can we even begin to seek goodness for its own sake. This becomes the great liberating factor that sets the Christian singing, worshipping, loving and serving. That God, in the person of Christ, has reached down and picked us up, dusted us off and set our feet on the road, and given us the status of sons and daughters. (12) And on what basis has God done it ... because we were lovely perfect people...? No. But on the basis, only, of our repentance (by which we change our attitude to wrong) and our faith (by which we take God at His word that He has forgiven us). How do we get this salvation? How do we make it our own? How can we be sure of it?
Well if we realise it is a gift (John 10:28) we can see that it is readily available for the taking. It is God's will that we should be saved. (I Timothy 2:4) This is where the word grace comes in. Grace means undeserved favour or help, so we can be assured when we read a verse like 'it is by grace you have been saved, through faith' (Ephesians 2:8,9) that salvation is a gift. Just like that? Yes, just like that. But, you will say there must be more than that. Yes, there is. There's life, joy, adventure and service which is perfect freedom. But you start with the gift. You start by accepting your salvation as a gift. This is the revolutionary change that Jesus describes as like being born again. (John 3:3) Some miss it, because it seems too simple, some miss it because it leaves no room for human pride. But that is the essence of it. It's a gift, we accept it. But, of course, that implies we want it, that we want to be changed, that we want rid of sinful ways, that we want God's hand on our lives. Eternal life starts when we repent of sin and trust in Christ not at some point after death, but in the now. Consider these verses in John's Gospel which tell us that the believer has eternal life. (John 3:36, 5:24) People will say ' but isn't this like saying "I am saved"'. We find two strong opinions on this. One party says 'yes, this is what a Christian is and we should all be "saved" and know we are "saved"'. The other party says, 'No, you can't say that, you can't presume that you are "saved", it's the height of arrogance'. Well, life teaches us that when sincere people hold strong and opposing views on an issue it usually means that the truth is in there somewhere. Salvation, in fact has a past, present and future dimension. Those who speak of 'having been saved' are correct if by that they mean that they have repented and believed in Christ and have therefore entered into the state of salvation.