What is Salvation?

We have seen that God is looking for men and women He can live with forever. Not until we receive eternal life from God - so that we can live with Him forever - can we consider ourselves to be saved. Saved from what? Saved from death, or perishing, as our ultimate fate. Jesus said "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Each of us will either perish or receive eternal life. Those are the only two possibilities.

Everyone alive today is mortal and will die: we don't have eternal life yet. Except for Jesus, there is no one who has received eternal life yet. The apostle Paul confirmed this when he described Jesus as:

 ... the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom [be] honor and everlasting power. Amen.  (1 Timothy 6:15,16 NKJV).

 So far only Jesus has been "saved" in the full and complete sense of the word.

What is salvation? Salvation is the process in which we come to know God, develop the right relationship with Him and internalize His righteous character. Those who embrace and pursue the process are promised eternal life. Salvation will be complete when - in the future - we receive eternal life; then we will be able to live with God forever.

How does the salvation process work? How does it start, and what is required? What are faith, repentance, redemption and sanctification? Let me try to squeeze a summary into one sentence, and add explanations in the following paragraphs. Salvation begins with hearing or reading the word of God, the Bible, followed by belief and faith, followed by repentance, redemption and receipt of God's spirit, followed by a lifelong process of sanctification. These steps are not just sequential; they are also cumulative: each requires the previous step(s) to remain in place. For example, sanctification requires that hearing, faith, belief, repentance and God's spirit are all still active.


Have you ever wished God could speak to you directly? You can go to the Bible anytime and listen. Jesus' words are a good place to start, recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In this present age you will not find God unless you look for Him. "But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find [him], if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29). The apostle Paul wrote "All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). If you approach the Bible with an open, teachable mind and a desire to find the truth, you will eventually learn that the Bible explains itself. "For precept [must be] upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little" (Isaiah 28:10).

You can also learn from teachers. However you must be very careful to compare what they teach to what the Bible says. There are many who will mislead you, often through their own ignorance. There is such as thing as being sincere - and sincerely wrong. Jesus warned about this saying "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:5).

Faith and Belief

What is faith? As we study the Bible we learn that God makes promises to us and has expectations of us. We can choose to put a little trust - faith - in God: faith that He is real, will relate to us each personally and will keep His promises... or we can choose to disbelieve or ignore. The apostle Paul described faith as follows: "But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). The opportunity to relate to God personally is not reserved for priests or ministers. It is open to all. "Then Peter opened [his] mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34).


Even if we do have some faith and belief, we can still choose to do nothing with what we know. We can willfully ignore God. Or, we can fear... fear leaving the comfort zones we all have, such as our own habits, our traditions and our "nest" of acceptance by friends and society. We can allow ourselves to be distracted by the pursuit of fame or fortune or whatever else interests (or tempts) us. We can choose to let our pride or vanity stand in our way. We are free to choose, yes, but we are never free from the consequences of our choices.

Repentance is a choice for change, a resolution to act upon God's expectations and His promises. Repentance is a choice to do... to respond in a positive way and act upon what we have learned about God's promises and expectations. Of course, without faith and belief we wouldn't have reason to repent. So you can see how there is a cumulative sequence to the salvation process thus far: repentance requires that knowledge, faith and belief have been put in place first. Ongoing repentance, in turn, is needed to continue the salvation process.

Here are a few relevant verses:

...except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Jesus, in Luke 13:3)

...My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it (Jesus, in Luke 8:21)

...to this [man] will I look, [even] to [him that is] poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you... Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:8, 10)

Jesus' parable of the sower illustrates the hearing of the word of God, and some of the responses to it:

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some [seeds] fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

Jesus explained the parable to His disciples:

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth [it] not, then cometh the wicked [one], and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth [it]; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (Matthew 13:18-23)


The apostle John wrote "sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). We have all sinned by transgressing - breaking - God's law. The apostle Paul wrote "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). All of us have sinned and are under the penalty of death... but God has graciously provided a way out: He sent His son Jesus to die, to pay the death penalty on our behalf. Jesus was qualified to do this because He was sinless and because He, as our Creator, is of far greater value than all of creation. Jesus said He came "not to be ministered unto [served], but to minister, and to give His life [as] a ransom for many." When Jesus died for us He fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy recorded in Hosea 13:14: "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death." See the page about Jesus for more information.

Our past sins put us under the death penalty and separated us from God: God is perfectly righteous and has nothing in common with sin. By paying the death penalty on our behalf Jesus made possible our reconciliation to God. Those past sins are wiped away - forgotten - and we are justified or "made right" - sinless - with God but only if we have repented: committed to change, to seek God and to pursue a right relationship with Him.


Baptism is a symbolic display of our repentance and our redemption to God. "Going under" the water symbolizes death - the death of our old life; full immersion in water symbolizes the washing away of our past sins; rising up out of the water symbolizes our emergence into a new life: a life of seeking God and of continued repentance. The Bible has no examples of infants being baptized: repentance obviously requires adult maturity.

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (the apostle Paul, in Romans 6:4)

If we choose repentance, our past sins are covered by Jesus' death and we are redeemed to God. We have begun a relationship with God. We do not earn our redemption. It is provided by grace: it is a free gift from God - if we choose to repent.


With faith, repentance and redemption we have begun to build a right relationship with God. For the rest of our lives we must continue to develop that relationship: we must remain repentant, seeking God's will and learning how to relate to Him properly, with trust, humility, thanks and loving obedience. As we progress, we learn godly character and with it, love for our neighbor.

We can not make this journey alone: we need God's help. And again, by grace, God provides help. Consider the promises made in the verses below:

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)

If we choose to obey God, and to accept His words, then Jesus and the Father will love us. They will manifest or reveal themselves to us, and "make their abode," or dwell, in us.

How do God and Jesus dwell in us? God is a spirit; when He dwells in us we have His spirit, the Holy Spirit, in us. The apostle Paul quoted an Old Testament prophecy about God dwelling in us:

God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)

Here are a few more verses:

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him [God], and he [God] in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (the apostle John, in 1 John 3:24)

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

Obedience is crucial. It shows your real attitude toward God: do you accept God's rule, or, do you rationalize and decide for yourself what is right and wrong? Do you have a humble, repentant attitude, or, are you defiant? Here are a few more verses showing the importance of an obedient attitude:

And we are his [Jesus'] witnesses of these things; and [so is] also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. (the apostle Peter, in Acts 5:32)

And being made perfect, he [Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. (Paul, Hebrews 5:9

Obedience to God is a demonstration of our loyalty and love towards Him. Can we claim to worship God while disobeying Him? Of course not. Jesus asked "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46)

Obedience includes keeping the commandments. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (the apostle John, in 1 John 5:3). Revelation 12:17 and 14:12 say true followers are they "which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" and are "they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus."

What does God's spirit do? It leads: it works with your conscience, and opens your mind, to show you God's way... to guide you through the "strait gate" and along the "narrow way, which leads to life" if we choose to listen and obey (quotes from Matthew 7:14). Here is a collection of verses about God's spirit and sanctification:

But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:13)

... put off concerning the former conversation [way of life] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Paul, in Ephesians 4:22-24)

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new [man], which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (Paul, in Colossians 3:9,10)

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (the apostle Paul, in Romans 8:14)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Paul, in Galatians 5:22-25)

[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)

[This] I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

Jesus spoke about the importance of abiding in Him, and of letting Him abide or live in us. As we let Him lead us, He sanctifies us; and as we are sanctified we bear fruit - good character - which yields good works:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every [branch] that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast [them] into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:1-10)

What is sanctification? Sanctification is a life-long process of growth - creation of godly character with a right relationship with God - in each of us who has chosen to repent and follow God. God will lead us by His spirit if we are willing, if we are resolved to overcome and obey and grow. Paul wrote to the Philippians saying:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12)

Note that Paul did not tell them they were saved. Rather, he urged them to "work out your own salvation" - to pursue their sanctification - by following the lead of God's spirit. As we follow God's spirit we will have to overcome: overcome the evils that are in us such as fear, vanity, greed, and hatred. And we'll have to overcome the temptations and lusts of the world around us. The apostle John wrote:

Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Jesus words in Revelation 21:7,8 show the importance of overcoming:

He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

We are imperfect in this life; those who are pursuing their sanctification will fail, and sin, from time to time. If we choose to repent, redemption or reconciliation to God is still available to us. John wrote the following about this, and it is a reminder that sanctification is a cumulative process, requiring hearing God's word, faith, belief, repentance, redemption to be ongoing and active:

If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:6-9)

 Redemption is not the same as salvation

Many have been misled to believe that if they have been redeemed or justified to God for their past sins they have been saved. This is not what the Bible says, however. The apostle Paul made a clear distinction between the two, showing that redemption or justification from our past sins comes first, and salvation follows later. Consider Romans 5:9:

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

Note "justified," past tense, and "shall be saved," future tense. We shall be saved when we are resurrected to eternal life. Before we get there we hear the word of God, we have faith and believe. We repent and are justified or redeemed to God for the sins of our past. We learn to obey and we follow God's spirit through a life-long process of sanctification, of continued overcoming, repentance and reconciliation. We are sanctified "through him": that is, through Him dwelling in us. To believe you are saved when you are first redeemed is a false comfort zone, bypassing the important creational work of sanctification. That's why the apostle Paul urged the Philippians to "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

The apostle Peter described how knowledge of God - walking with God - leads to growth in various virtues and good works, and to a final reward. He did not tell them they were saved; rather, he told them to "give diligence to make your calling and election sure":

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that [pertain] unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make [you that ye shall] neither [be] barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:2-11)

Does God just want us to be "good people"?

Unfortunately many assume that God wants no more from us than to be "good people." In fact that is not so: what God wants is to dwell in us and be an active part of our lives. He wants to help us learn and actively develop - create - His character within us. Creation, therefore, is still in process, and it is arguably the most important part of creation! He wants to adopt and care for us as His children. He wants us to know, trust and love Him as our Father. We were made to be incomplete without God; only with God our spiritual Father can we achieve completeness and true fulfillment.

Please be assured that God does expect good works from us. As James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  We need to understand that good works are the fruit of – the result of – a correct relationship with God. The relationship with God comes first. Personal change and growth come through that relationship, through Him dwelling and walking in us. Good works are the result of the change and growth. Good works are not the goal of a Christian life; rather, they are the result of it! A good relationship with God, with growth in Godly character, is the goal; good works happen to be an automatic result of achieving that goal. Remember Jesus' words:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

A right relationship with God comes first. We will not be part of God's plan, living with Him forever, without that relationship!

When Salvation is Complete

We are promised eternal life when salvation is complete. When do we get eternal life? How do we get eternal life? And what is "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" which Peter wrote about, quoted above?