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by Tim O'Hearn

In My Fair Lady, Eliza sings “Words, words, words. I’m so sick of words.” She wants Freddy to show he loves her, not just say it. Unfortunately, we are human, and humans communicate by words. Or sometimes we miscommunicate by words, when we use a word in a way different than another person understands it. Sometimes that is the case with biblical words, such as the words saved or salvation.

Saved from What?

When we want to talk to someone about salvation, we often run into a couple of problems. Either the person does not think they need to be saved, or they think of salvation differently than what the Bible teaches.

A lot of people are under the impression that they don’t need salvation. They are good people. They are law abiding, generous, caring people. They are at least as good as some Christians that they know, so why do theySalvation from sin is not always a popular concept. It implies that we have done something wrong and that there is nothing that we can do to right that wrong. need salvation?

To others sin is an outdated concept. Humanism teaches that the only wrong (not using the word sin) is to hurt someone else. Some laws may be broken because they are really “victimless crimes.” There are no absolutes, and sin implies an absolute authority.

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. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 Jn 1:8-10)

Others don’t see that the Bible teaches specifically what one is saved from. I once carried on a lengthy e-mail conversation with an individual who said that one can be saved before baptism. Therefore immersion is not necessary, except perhaps as a sign that one has been saved. I pointed out such passages as Acts 2:38 (“Repent and be baptized every one of you for remission of sin.”) or Acts 22:16 (“Arise and be baptized and wash away your sin.”) His response was that we are saved by grace. (Eph 2:5, 8) If you are saved by grace, he said, then it is not by baptism. Baptism is a work, therefore you are saved before baptism. I asked him, if baptism is what takes away sin, according to scripture, then if you are saved before baptism, what are you saved from? His response was that you are saved from not being saved. He could not define it any further. You are not saved from sin, but instead from being unsaved.

So what is it that the Bible says salvation is? From what is one saved? Gabriel pretty well defined it when he announced to Joseph that his betrothed wife would have a son. “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21) Jesus was not to save people from the Roman occupation, or some vague sense of being lost. He was to save people from their sins.

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (Jas 5:19-20)

James talks about a salvation from death. This is the salvation of a soul, not the body. So what does it mean to save a soul from death? Paul told the Romans that “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23) In fact, he spent three chapters (5-7) establishing that sin was the real problem mankind faced, and that salvation was the act of freeing one from sin. So when James talks about saving a soul from death, it is the same as saving a soul from sin.

The Bible does not treat sin as some vague concept. It is real, and it will separate us from God.

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Isa 59:2)

Even among Christians, salvation from sin is not always a popular concept. It implies that we have done something wrong. More importantly, it implies that there is nothing that we can do on our own to right that wrong. Therefore many Christians will refer to themselves as believers, or Christ-followers. Rarely do you hear anyone call themselves a saved person.

How is one saved?

Going back to that e-mail discussion, the other person quoted scripture to show that we are saved through grace. Peter says baptism saves us. (1 Pet 3:21) Paul tells the Romans that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. (Rom 1:16) Later he says that “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom 10:10) Is there a contradiction here? How is one saved? How are sins forgiven?

Jesus and the Pharisees had a dispute over this very question. Some men brought a friend who was sick of the palsy to Jesus for healing. When they couldn’t reach Jesus because of the crowd, they took out part of the roof and let the sick man down in front of him.

And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. (Lk 5:20-24)

Only God can forgive sins. The one whom God sent, who is God himself, has that power. If hard pressed, though, the Pharisees would have to admit that “the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh.” (Heb 9:13) If God plus the Levitical sacrifices cleansed one, then why could one sent directly by God not do the same?

The angel had told Joseph that Jesus would save people from their sins. In this miracle, Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven. Peter said, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Paul says it went beyond Jesus telling people while he was on earth that they were forgiven. “In whom [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14) “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.” (1 Jn 1:7)

The blood of Jesus shed on the stake on Calvary is what gives forgiveness of sins. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.

So what about those other scriptures that say something else saves us? We are saved (have our sins forgiven) through grace. It was the grace of God that sent his son to die, to offer a sinless blood sacrifice, that forgiveness of sins would be possible. By faith, more properly translated trust, we are saved because of that grace.

And what about baptism? Did not Peter say unequivocally that “baptism saves us”? Yes he did. But to take that phrase alone is to take it out of context. In 1 Peter 3, he mentions that Noah was saved by water. Then he says, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism is a figure, a symbol. It only has saving power in its symbolism. You can immerse a cat and all you will get is scratched, not a forgiven cat.

Paul explains this in great detail to the Romans. Most specifically he explains it in chapter 6.

How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom 6:2-6)

But if baptism is nothing but a symbol then why isThe blood of Jesus shed on the stake on Calvary is what gives forgiveness of sins. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else. it necessary. To say “nothing but a symbol” is to minimize its importance. It is a symbol, but not “nothing but.” Jesus died, was buried, and arose from the dead that we might have forgiveness of sins. In baptism we reenact what he did. It is that reenactment that brings us forgiveness. If we refuse to reenact the events surrounding the end of Jesus’ life, we are refusing the purpose of those events. It is evidence of our faith.

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal 3:26-27)

In like manner, Paul says that “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom 10:10) This is not confession like one might make to a priest concerning one’s sins. This is a profession of trust. Paul is saying that a statement that one believes that Jesus died to take away sin is the verbal equivalent of immersion. Not only do we show our faith, but we profess it, thereby receiving forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 5:9 says Jesus became the author of salvation to all who obey him. The blood of Jesus, faith, grace, baptism, confession, obedience. Which is it that saves? It is the blood of Jesus. But it is also all of these other things as well. The death of Jesus does us no good if we do not have faith. Faith is demonstrated in immersion and confession. Obedience encompasses all of these things. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is tied up in all of these.