What Is Salvation?

Salvation is a vast doctrine with many different nuances. God’s people have been saved - that is, in its most essential form, that we have been reconciled, justified and redeemed by the propitiatory, substitutionary death of the Son of God.

Topic : Salvation

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Salvation is a rather broad concept incorporating various elements. It basically means that those who are recipients of such a gift are delivered from a number of things. From what are we saved? For those who have been given such a gift, we have experienced, are experiencing and/or will experience salvation from Satan, death, sin, ourselves, the condemnation of the law and even God Himself (from His wrath). We are beneficiaries of grace which encompasses the entirety of our lives. Within this article, we will primarily deal with salvation in a generic sense, that we are saved from sin and its effects.

In order to understand salvation, we must understand sin. While we delve more deeply into the topic of the prevalence of sin in other articles, for now, it will do to define sin as preferring anything to God. As Scripture says,

Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,” declares the LORD. “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:12-1

God is our greatest good and to desire anything but for the reflection of His glory is to dishonor Him.

In the beginning, we were created good. We enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship with the Almighty and perfect harmony with each other (man and spouse) until the day when the woman was deceived by the serpent and the man ate of the fruit. This choice brought about the curse of death, both spiritual and physical for mankind. Henceforth, we were all born into this cycle of meaninglessness.

However, even from the fall there were hints of restoration, that things would be made better. Throughout the Scriptures, men and women of God look forward to salvation. This salvation ultimately pointed to the birth of a child named “Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins.”1

This saving, or salvation, was accomplished though not through military might or wise teaching, but primarily and ultimately through His death. As the Scriptures have said, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming Himself a curse on our behalf.2 He bore our sins and died in our place. In this way, Christ has “atoned” for the sins of His people. This atonement is an essential aspect of salvation, although not the only element.

In this article, we hope to accomplish two things. First, we hope to paint a couple of pictures of the atonement (a word describing what happened in relation to Christ’s death). Second, we hope to paint a couple of pictures of the entire event of salvation.


Many pictures of the atonement have sprouted forth throughout the history of the church. Although they have historically been deemed “theories” of the atonement, such a term can be somewhat misleading. To be sure, they each have their distinctive contributions, but it is not therefore true to say that each is equally valid or important. On the contrary, certain pictures and aspects of the atonement are much more necessary to a proper understanding of Christ’s work on the cross.

Penal Substitution

At the heart of the atonement is “God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.”3 This doctrine is essential to a considered view of the cross. We must declare with closed hand4 that Jesus bore the penalty (penal) of sin in our place (substitution). While many today would claim that such a view is a case of divine child abuse, such a position is sensational at best. Both Father and Son were working in Trinitarian harmony in the work of atonement. Christ Himself bore the wrath which we deserved.

Pertinent Scriptures:

  • Leviticus 17:11
    • Especially relevant given Hebrews 10:4
  • Isaiah 53:4-6,10
  • Mark 10:45
  • Mark 14:24
  • Romans 5:8
  • Romans 8:3-4
  • 1 Corinthians 5:7
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21
  • Galatians 3:13
  • 1 Timothy 2:6
  • Hebrews 2:14-15
  • Hebrews 9:28
  • 1 Peter 2:24
  • 1 Peter 3:18


Another view of the atonement especially prevalent in the early church is that Christ’s death was a ransom paid to the devil. While Christ is certainly called a ransom, it is altogether inappropriate to say that the devil is therefore the recipient. We must bear in mind that even though authority on earth has been granted to Satan, such power is not truly his by right. Therefore, God owes him nothing.

Moral Influence

A third view of the atonement is that the death of Christ was perhaps nothing more than the ultimate expression of love. While the death of Christ certainly represents the greatest demonstration of love (Romans 5:8), to reduce the act to this one element is entirely inappropriate. Therefore, “Christ died for us” does not mean He died to show us how to die, but rather, that He died in order that we would not.


The atonement is a rich and complex doctrine and should be embraced in all of its splendor. We would certainly do well to see the wondrous truths of the many sides of the cross. However, to empty it of its primary glory, penal substitution, is to rob the Lord of the brilliant reflection of His work.

Pictures of Salvation

Like the atonement in particular, salvation in general has many different pictures which Scripture uses. We will discuss just four such pictures in this chapter.


Propitiation invokes ritualistic temple imagery to display the death of Christ. As the word originally points back to the “mercy seat,” it directs the reader to think of the cross as a sacrifice. Theologically, it entails the satisfaction of the divine wrath through the sacrifice of the Son.

  • Romans 3:25a
  • 1 John 2:1-2
  • 1 John 4:10


Redemption invokes marketplace imagery to display the death of Christ. This economic picture highlights a number of truths related to the cross. In dying in our place, Jesus has effectively redeemed us from: the curse of the law, the sinful flesh, death, futility, etc. As the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), Christ died to pay what we rightly owed. Our ransom has been paid.

  • Mark 10:45
  • 1 Timothy 2:5-6
  • Galatians 3:13
  • Ephesians 1:7
  • Hebrews 9:12


Justification invokes legal imagery to display the death of Christ. It is not the process of making us righteous, but rather it is a declaration of having Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. Even beyond the scope of a criminal trial, we are declared not merely “not guilty” but even “just” through the work of the Son.

  • Romans 3:21-28
  • Romans 5:1-2
  • Romans 5:8-10
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11


Reconciliation invokes household imagery to display the death of Christ. It involves the peace between God and man which was purchased by the death of the Son. Whereby we were once alienated and hostile toward God, by faith we are reconciled to Him as our heavenly Father.

  • Romans 5:10-11
  • Romans 11:15
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
  • Ephesians 2:16


As we have seen, salvation is a vast doctrine which many different nuances. We have been reconciled, justified and redeemed by the propitiatory, substitutionary death of the Son of God. In other articles, we can see how we enter into such a state.

Pertinent Scriptures:

  • John 3:16-18
  • Acts 4:12
  • Romans 10:9-13
  • Ephesians 2:8-9
  • Titus 3:4-5
  • Romans 1:16
  • Romans 13:11

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1 Matthew 1:21

2 Galatians 3:13

3 John Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 159.

4 Closed hand is a term for that of which we are unwilling to let go. We must cling therefore to this doctrine.