The question came to Paul from the Philippian jailer and continues to be asked today — “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) We should understand and clearly explain what “salvation” or “being saved” means. In attempting to articulate what we mean, we (the Church) have clouded the simple truth with a variety of terms such as justification, conversion, faith, regeneration, atonement, born again, grace, righteousness and my favorite—propitiation. Saving is simply the action of rescuing someone from trouble—such as a lifeguard saving someone from drowning or a fireman carrying someone out of a burning building.
WHY? We Need Saving—Ruined Relationship (Doctrine 5, Disobedience)
Any discussion about salvation begins with our ruined relationship with God. Although we were created in God’s image and designed for fellowship with God, sin has separated us from our loving Creator. The result of this separation is death (Romans 6:10). All of us are guilty of selfishness and disobedience (Romans 3:23) which has caused this ruined relationship.
As sinners drowning in sin, we are not capable of saving ourselves. Death is inevitable, unless we are saved by a lifesaver. The first step of the salvation process is the work of the Holy Spirit revealing to us our sinfulness and need to be saved. Saving is completely God’s work. We can’t and don’t save ourselves. We are helpless and hopeless in our sin without God coming to our rescue (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is called “grace”—favor God gives even though we don’t deserve and can’t earn it.
This convicting work of the Holy Spirit is the insight that how we are living and what we are doing is not right nor pleasing to God. Our eyes are opened to our disobedience and to a better way to live. The free will that God gave all of us when we were created in His image allows us to respond to this conviction—positively or negatively. If we continue to ignore this work of God in our lives, we can grow hardened, and even though we might think we have silenced this “tap on our shoulder,” God’s grace never gives up on us.
WHO? Jesus Saves—Rescued/Redeemed (Doctrine 6, Atonement)
Since we are not able to restore our ruined relationship with God, He sent His Son Jesus to save us from our sins and make possible a restored relationship with Him. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NKJV). In dying on the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin and redeemed us by sacrificing His life in our place.
We call Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross “making atonement”—using the terminology of the Old Testament sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sin. Under this system, sin was “paid for” by sacrificing an animal on an altar according to God’s instruction. Since sin separates us from God, a sacrifice atones for or heals the ruined relationship allowing us to be restored to a right relationship with our loving Creator. Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we would be whole. He was whipped so we could be whole” (1 Peter 2:24).
What Jesus did in willingly going to the cross to pay the price for our sin was for the whole world. All have sinned, and God has provided His saving grace for all of us. Everyone. Jesus said, “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). His love is not limited to a certain group or a specific number that once reached means no more love is available. God created all of us with a free will allowing us to accept or reject His love—“whosoever will may be saved.”
HOW? Getting Saved—Response (Doctrine 7, Faith)
Acknowledging that salvation is completely God’s work, we must exercise our free will in order to accept what God has achieved on the cross. The first step in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit is to repent of our sins. Repentance means to change direction, to stop going our own way and to begin following God’s plan for our lives. This begins with being sorry (contrition) for our disobedience (sin), moving to confession of our sin that includes turning away from our sin and turning toward God—again through the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 7:10, Acts 17:30, Luke 13:3).
Along with repentance toward God, we must have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:6 says, “…it is impossible to please God without faith,” which is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as “…the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen.” Faith, which is a gift of God, includes knowledge (head) of who Jesus is and what He did, a belief (heart) that what Jesus did on the cross actually saves us, and results in a change in our actions (hands) or lifestyles. In Romans 4, the faith of Abraham was being “…fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises” (v. 21). Saving faith is understanding that God has made provision for repairing our ruined relationship, trusting that what God has done will save us from our sin and change our actions accordingly.
We also need the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in order to be saved. This means that once we respond to God in repentance and faith, we are changed, converted, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born again,” referring to the work of God in John 1:12, “But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” Being saved is more than recognizing that we have been living wrong and now do our best to live better as God wants. Scripture is clear that “our best” is similar to filthy rags and that we need new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). Billy Graham said that we are not reformed but transformed.
BEING SAVED—Result (Doctrine 8, Justification)
The result of repentance toward God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, is what the Bible calls “justification.” This simply means that God has declared us righteous or in a right relationship with Him. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, God has forgiven sin and provided pardon. William Booth said, “When a man is saved, not only does he receive pardon of sin but deliverance from its bondage. The yoke is broken, the fetters are snapped, the prison doors are opened: he is free!”
God provides this justification or deliverance through grace, His unearned gift. Grace is freely given by God. It is not given in response to our work, talents or family. God loves everyone and has provided redemption—purchased our forgiveness for sin. We need to accept His gift and put into practice faith that He has given to all who ask. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
God’s Word also says that we can know we are saved when we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We don’t have to guess or wonder if we are saved once we accept the gift of grace. The witness to the saving work of God in our lives comes from Scripture— “All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar, because they don’t believe what God has testified about His Son” (1 John 5:10). The action of a “new creation” converted from their old way of living and being obedient to God’s plan also testifies to this regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
STAYING SAVED – Remain (Doctrine 9, Obedience)
While our good works can’t save us, good works come as a response of love to God who has saved us. Jesus says clearly in John 14 that obedience comes from love: “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching” (v. 23). “The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine” (2010) says, “Obedience as a free will choice is a consequence of faith, and without it, faith dies” (p. 181). Jesus told His disciples to “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you… Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers” (John 15:4, 6).
Backsliding or losing our salvation is possible and warned against in Scripture. To “stay saved,” we must continue to exercise “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” which produces continued obedience. The salvation God provides starts us on a journey or process in which we continue to grow closer and closer to Him as we daily “take up our cross and follow Him.” This journey requires daily submission to the Holy Spirit who enables us to be the person and do the things God wants.
Unfortunately, most discussions on backsliding ask—”When do I stop being saved?” The question is really, “How much sin is allowable for me to still get into Heaven?” The question misses the point that salvation, although it comes with the promise of eternal life, is about a restored relationship and not entrance into Heaven. We still need to be reminded of Paul’s declaration in Romans 6:1-2: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Our response to God’s freely given love is to live obedient as His loving children.
Billy Graham has said, “Jesus made everything so simple, and we have made it so complicated.” While salvation may be simple, it is not easy. The radical redirection required by a ruined relationship begins with recognizing God’s love and His call on our lives, repenting of our sins, receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord, and results in being regenerated. It is responding to conviction by confession that leads to commitment of our lives and a change in behavior called conversion. Salvation begins in the head (knowledge), moves to the heart (trust/belief) and continues in our hands (actions). “For God says, ‘At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is he day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Salvation Army Doctrines 5-9
We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.
We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has by His suffering and death made an atonement for the whole world so that whosoever will may be saved.
We believe that repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are necessary to salvation.
We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.
We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.
Lt. Colonel Dean Hinson is the Army’s national secretary for program.