–noun 1.The act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc. 2. The state of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc. 3. A source, cause, or means of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc. 4. Theology. Deliverance from the power and penalty of sin; redemption.
Sometimes in Evangelical Protestant systems the term “saved” is used in a specialized restricted way to refer to a person who has been rescued from the penalty of sin and consequently will go to heaven when they die and will not go to hell. Usually this use of the term implies that the person has come to believe certain things about Jesus. That is, a person hears and believes the “good news” about Jesus; that he died as a propitiation for sin and that he redeemed humans from the penalty of sin.
There are many variations in the way Evangelicals describe this “salvation”. For one thing does a person have to merely believe that Jesus died for them in order to receive salvation or does the person need to “accept Jesus into their heart”? That is, does mere belief bring life, or does a person need to respond to what they have come to believe? One way to discuss this is to contrast propositional Christianity with relational Christianity.
Some people therefore talk about “saving faith”. That is, they will tell you that anyone who “really” believes in Jesus will be changed inwardly. That “faith” doesn’t mean mere mental belief but it refers to an inward heart change that occurs when a person “meets” Jesus. A person who hears the good news about Jesus and responds to what they have come to believe will be inwardly changed by this event. This inward change completely transforms them. They gain a “new heart and a new mind”. They become a “new person”. They are “born again”. This complex set of changes that occurs is the mark of gaining a “saving faith” in Jesus Christ.
Thus, for many Christians a person who is justified is also saved. In this case the word faith that is used in the phrase “justification by faith” will once again be used to signify “saving faith”. That is, real faith (the faith that justifies) transforms the heart and brings real change. A person who is really justified is saved. A saved person lives a Godly life because they have been changed.
Now, the luke warm and neglectful Christians that claim to have been “born again’ is prompting a reevaluation of the true nature of the new birth.
For example, there are some Christians today who explain this process using a different logic and vocabulary. These people will tell you that an individual is justified by faith but must continue in the faith. They must walk with Jesus, and that includes a whole hearted turning from sin and turning to Jesus. That is, they must undergo sanctification in order to be saved. That is, a person is joined to the family of God by faith (and by God’s initiative) but must choose to walk with God. Thus the free will of the believer must be exercised in activities such as repentance, perseverance, devotion, etc. Sanctification then flows from justification in a process and walk that results in salvation.
Recently there has arisen a complex debate that pits “Evangelicals” against a loose association of Liberal Protestants, Liberal Catholics and “Emergent” Christianity.
Unlike previous eras, when this debate was easily won by the “Bible Believing” Christians, the current debate is connected to globalization and a consequent realization that classic European Christianity is no longer defensible. This includes the association between the historic visible Church and the evils of Colonialism, Imperialism, Slavery, Racism and Chauvinism.
Thus, tolerance of diversity, sensitivity to other cultures, rejection of male dominated “top down” authority and distaste for the arrogant and ignorant dogma of conservative Western Christianity has moved many to re-examine basic doctrinal positions such as the above formulation of salvation.
For example, it is becoming a widespread belief that “Propositional Christianity” (what a person believes in their mind) is a counterfeit form of Christianity. What counts today is a changed life; a “Relational Christianity” lived from a changed heart.
Since so few “born again” Christians seem to have a radically altered life style, a morally victorious life, an inward knowledge of God, or a transformed and sacrificial life the definition of truly “born again” is changing.
While there is a lot of benefit in such review of doctrine, and in reform of the groups promoting such doctrine, it has led many to begin to give credence to beliefs that in past eras were consistently categorized as heresies. For example, Universalism, the belief that all humans will benefit from the Incarnation and Atonement in Christ and that eventually all humans end up in heaven.
Probably the best way to think of Salvation given all the above debate is to say that Salvation is not just about heaven but also about being incarnational on earth. That is, live with Jesus in your life now and follow Him now. Don’t just wait until you die to start living.