The Bible describes salvation in many ways. Salvation saves an individual from sin. Salvation saves an individual from the wrath of a holy God. Salvation makes a person no longer ignorant and gives them knowledge and wisdom. Those who are saved have justice instead of injustice. Those who have salvation are forgiven of their crimes. Those who have salvation are redeemed from their debt and bondage that they were once under. Those who have salvation are reconciled in their relationship with God. Salvation makes a person justified, they are declared righteous, and they have a right standing with God. Those who have salvation are sanctified, being set aside for God’s purpose.
Most who call themselves “Christian” claim that position – they claim salvation by saying things like “I’m saved,” or “I got saved when…” Unfortunately, many make these claims without truly understanding why they need salvation. One must first acknowledge their sin in order to properly be placed on the road to salvation. After that acknowledgment, they then need to understand what it is that makes their sin go away. One must identify what is bad, that being sin, and then one must identify what is good, that being salvation. Once a person has a desire for the good, they then need to figure out what it takes to get to that good. When sin becomes clear, salvation becomes clear, and one can only know what they need when they know what they don’t have.
Though most don’t think about it in this way, the apostle Paul actually provides us insight as to what salvation is within the fourth chapter of his epistle to the church at Philippi:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
This list provided in Philippians 4:8 is salvation – truth, honesty, justice, purity, loveliness, being of a good report, being virtuous and praiseworthy – those are all characteristics of having salvation. We are to think on these things! It stands as ironic fact that the world seeks all of these things, but that they implement their own versions of these things while rejecting God and His perfect way. Examples are numerous. The world obtains its form of justice through its court systems. The world sticks to its form of truth if it stops at only telling little white lies. The world displays its form of virtue through its movies, books, and music. The world attempts to seek these characteristics of salvation in its own way and on its own terms. The world’s agenda is to keep the world safe for sinners, thus insulating people from recognizing sin for what it is and thus a sinner’s need for the solution to sin. When the Christian comes along and points out that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ and His gospel, the world rejects that truth and thus rejects true salvation.
The world wants the things that are listed for us in places like Philippians 4:8 and Galatians 5:22 – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. The world wants these things, but they don’t want where it is that Galatians 5:22 tells us those things come from and that is the Spirit of God:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
The Spirit is God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – and the world rejects God and thus rejects salvation. Since salvation is a work of God and not a work of man, the world stands offended by just what salvation is and thus wants no part of it. Realize that no one rejects the general idea of salvation – the world wants what true salvation is – but it is the specific message of salvation that they reject:
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:
2 Tim 1:10
The Bible teaches that the only way to obtain salvation is through Jesus Christ and through His gospel. We understand that the world needs salvation. The world needs these things discussed throughout the pages of Scripture:
Recognizing our need for these things, we must not allow ourselves to think that it is these things that actually save a person. Each item that I have listed above is a characteristic of salvation – they are what every person needs – but they are not what saves a person. Just having a head-knowledge of what salvation is does not save a person. Being told that “if you live an honest life,” that “if you forgive others as Christ forgave,” and “if you seek to be at peace with all men and you will have salvation” is a false claim and it will lead a person to an eternity in Hell after this life. One needs to be able to discern what salvation is from the characteristics of salvation. One needs to be able to discern how it is that they get salvation from what it is that salvation provides them.
In fact, just recognizing that one is a sinner, alone, does not save that person. When a person acknowledges that they need righteousness and that they need justice, and they claim it by saying that they are saved, that does not mean that they actually have salvation. That is not how salvation works. One cannot actually claim something that is not theirs to claim. God is the one that gives salvation and He provides salvation to those who do not have access to it. Each of us has no access to reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, justice, and wisdom. It is only through Jesus Christ that we have access to these things. Thus it is Jesus Christ that we need to claim, not the individual characteristics of salvation.
One must discern what salvation is from how it is that they obtain it. Throughout the nearly six-thousand years of human history, God did not keep what salvation is a secret. God did, however, keep how it is that one gains salvation a secret during much of that human history. God kept how salvation is applied to a sinner a secret within Scripture until a particular point within the Bible’s progressively revealed timeline. This is a confusing subject for most because one can find the word “propitiation” in 1 John. One can find the word “grace” in the Gospel of John. One can find the words “forgiven” and “redemption” within the four Gospels and they can even find these words within the Old Testament. The “what” of salvation, promised as far back as Genesis chapter 3, is not a mystery that was revealed to a unique individual at a unique period in time. The “how” of salvation was, however, a mystery until it was revealed to a unique apostle at a unique period in human history. When one does not discern the difference, however, they will not be able to rightly divide the Scriptures. When one rightly divides Scripture, it makes what salvation is and how it is that one gets salvation, more clear.
The mystery revealed to the apostle Paul is how one is provided salvation. A person can read a lot about salvation within the Bible and what it is, and still not be saved. A person needs to know how God accomplished it, who provides it, how they can get it, and when it is finished. Salvation can be identified in many parts of Scripture, but it is not explained, it is not revealed, in all of Scripture. Salvation is found throughout the Bible, but how you get it was kept secret by God until He called out the apostle Paul.
Thus far we have identified our need for salvation – the fact that we are sinners at enmity with God – and we have identified what salvation is – reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, justification, etc.. Next we will explore what it is that provides salvation. A proper understanding of sin and a proper definition of salvation should lead a person to ask the exact same question that came out of the mouth of the Philippian jailer:
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
 Read all of Colossians 1.