What is Salvation?

By John Fulton

Salvation is a key concept in scripture. But what is it and what is it not? Does it have anything to do with sin, and if so, how? 

Hebrews 2:10 gives an important perspective into salvation and what it means. It is translated in the NASB 95:

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

Before going too far, some points need to be expounded upon.

  1. The word translated suffering has a very interesting meaning and history in the ancient Greek language and world. It has a fundamental meaning of “that which happens to a man in life”, with “that which happens,” generally considered something unpleasant, hence suffering.
  2. Second, the word perfect is often given the meaning in Biblical concepts of “without flaw.” But that is not the typical use of perfect.  When we talk about the perfect soldier or ask someone to hand us something and they say, “how’s this” and we say, “that’s perfect” we do not mean it’s flawless, but fit for use, meeting the need, able to do what’s needed, made complete.
  3. The word commonly translated author, was used for the founder of a city, the leader of a group, head of a family, and at its core, means “first.”

Inserting the fundamental meanings for a more foundational translation and replacing the pronouns for clarity yields another way to phrase Hebrews 2:10.

“For it was proper to God, through whom all, and through whose all, in bringing many sons to glory to complete the first of their salvation through that which God assigned for Jesus to experience.”

From this we learn many things.

  1. Jesus was made complete, or perfected or made fit, for his intended purpose by what God had him experience, by the trials and sufferings of this life. But how could Jesus be made complete or perfected? Surely, he came perfect? Clearly not, for this passage states he was perfected while on earth through the suffering he experienced. This aligns with Hebrew 2:17 where we learn Jesus had “to be made like his brethren in all things.” 
  2. Salvation is tied to suffering and being made complete.
  3. Third, Jesus was the first — he showed the way on how to experience, live out, and complete God’s salvation plan for us. In other words, Jesus experienced salvation just as we will, if we follow his example. 

What?! Jesus experienced salvation? 

Yes, Jesus experienced salvation just as we can. He was the first of many brothers to experience God’s salvation: the perfecting of first his only begotten Son, and then his other adopted sons through the experiences God has set for them to experience, many of them unpleasant, so that they might be made whole, complete, perfect. In this it makes sense for Paul to say women experience salvation through the bearing and raising of children. Bearing children is something God assigned them to experience in this life. It definitely has its unpleasant moments, yet it brings salvation leading to completeness.

But something else jumps out from this verse, which is enormous. Scripture tells us Jesus was without sin, yet Jesus experienced salvation. That should be earth shattering, for it means salvation has nothing to do with sin. If it did, Jesus could not have experienced it. He could not have been the first to go through it. It also tells us that being perfected (sanctification) is also not about sin, because if it was, Jesus, who never sinned and knew not sin (Hebrews 4:15), could not have been made complete by God via suffering. He first would have had to have sinned, which he never did. 

You don’t need salvation because you are sinful or a sinner or have a problem with sin or made a mess of your life, or …  You need salvation so you can be made complete, perfect, holy. At least as much as can be attained to during this life. Salvation is not about sin, nor for that matter is sanctification. It’s about those experiences in life that God has assigned to us which are often unpleasant but cause us to grow and become more like him; to become complete as he is complete, perfect as he is perfect, holy as he is holy. Suffering doesn’t befall you because of sin, it befalls because hardships stretch us, grow us, and give rise for us to learn how to be better, closer to God, more like God.

You don’t suffer, nor do you go through salvation, because you are a sinner or sinful. Your sins were nailed to a cross and returned to their proper owner a long time ago (Colossians 2:13-14). God gave himself amnesia regarding your sins and will only know about them again if you hold on to them and remind him of them. In you now dwells Christ, and he came to earth to be the first to complete the gauntlet of salvation and become perfect. He showed you the way through his life; he showed you that it’s not about sin, it’s about allowing God to perfect you so you can become more like him and grow ever closer to him. And the way that occurs is through sufferings in which you will find your salvation. Jesus showed you the way by doing whatever God asked him to do, no matter how unpleasant, and yes, sometimes even Jesus asked if God’s particular request of him might pass him by.

“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’”

Luke 22:41-42, NASB 95

In a nutshell, salvation is to do what God is asking you to do.  Jesus was the first, the example of this salvation. He did all God asked him to do, even dying on a cross.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:8, NASB 95

We are to do as he did, to do all God asks us to do and in so doing, live out the will of the Father for us.

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Philippians 2:12–13, NASB 95

What is written here can be very hard to swallow. Yet Hebrews 4:15 tells us Jesus was “tempted in all things” as we were. Yet he chose to do what God asked him to do (experienced salvation). In so doing he was perfected (experience sanctification). And by choosing to do as God asked and not coming up with his own plan as Satan did, he was saved. For Jesus could have done as Satan did and been lost. Instead, he showed the way. All we need do is follow, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us in the doing, so we are without excuse. We have the power (Holy Spirit) and example (Jesus) to succeed in God’s appointed tasks.

So go, and do, and follow your Lord into eternal life.

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