The doctrine of soteriology is a major concept and a major theme in the Bible. The terms related to salvation are prevalent in the OT and NT. In the OT, the Hebrew verb yasa and its derivatives appear about 353 times in the OT. In the Niphal it bears the meaning “to be saved” or “be delivered” and in the Hiphil it means to “deliver,” “give victory,” or “save.” The noun form of yasa is yesuah (64 times), yesa (31 times), and tesuah (19 times), which means, “help,” “deliverance,” and “salvation.” When looking at the OT, the above verb yasa and nouns yesuah , yesa, and tesuah refer to deliverance from Egypt via the Exodus (Exod. 14:13, 30; 15:2), victory over Israel’s enemies (Num. 10:9; Judg. 6:14-16), release from exile (Ps. 106:47; Isa. 46:13), God’s preservation in times of national danger (Jer. 14:8), deliverance from sin, wickedness, and evil (Jer. 17:14; Ezek. 37:23).
In the NT, the verb sozo, which means to “rescue,” “deliver,” and “save” is used more than 100 times in the NT. In the NT, the noun soteria (49 times) mean salvation and the personal noun soter, used 24 times, means “redeemer,” “deliverer,” and “savior.” In the NT, the verb and nouns used refers to deliverance from danger, disease, enemies, or bondage (Matt. 8:25; 14:30; Mark 5:34; Luke 1:71; Heb. 11:7; Jas. 5:15). The verb and nouns also bears theological meaning of deliverance from sin, death, and the Devil (Luke 1:69, 77; 18:26; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9-10). In light of the verbs and nouns related to salvation and how it is used in the OT and NT, it is beneficial to cover other reasons why the study of soteriology is important. Salvation is important to study because the doctrine of soteriology touches upon the time issue, the means, and the objects. The time issue answers whether salvation is an event or a process, the means answers how one is saved, and the objects issue answers who are the objects of salvation.
When it comes to the time issue, the notion of justification comes into the picture. The Roman Catholic perceives justification as a process. They do not see justification as a one-time event. In other words, there is a process a person needs to do in order to be just. Their view of salvation is also different in how they view grace. For Christians, grace is a gift that cannot be infused by man or any deeds we do. For the Roman Catholic Church, grace is infused into the human nature through the sacraments.
As noted earlier, Christians define justification as an event, whereas based on Christ sacrifice and man’s faith upon Christ’s sacrifice, declares the believing sinner righteous. For sanctification, Christians view it as a process in which the Holy Spirit causes the believer to grow in the grace of knowledge of Jesus Christ throughout his life in word and deed.
For the discussion concerning the means issue, which answers the question of how one is saved, there are different views. For the Roman Catholic, one is saved through the sacraments. For liberation theology, they see salvation through the overthrow of oppressive structures. Christian existentialism sees salvation in the existential encounter with Christ. For Christians, we see salvation by grace alone through faith.
And for the objects issue which answers, who are the objects of salvation, it can only be limited to humans. Fallen angels and the creation cannot experience salvation.
Besides the time issue that answers whether salvation is an event or a process, the means, which answers how one is saved, and the objects issue which answers who are the objects of salvation, let us now cover the traditional views of salvation in more detail. In order to do that I will cover Roman Catholicism first.
Roman Catholicism believes that salvation is linked to the visible church through the apostolic succession from Peter. They see salvation, as a process that includes the combination of faith and works. Hence, their view of salvation is synergistic (salvation is a result from God and man). What is interesting about Roman Catholicism is that since the Vatican II Council of the 1960s, the religion is inclusive. In other words, they believe that Protestants and other religions can be saved too. It is contradictory from Roman Catholicism before the council to include their new view. This becomes problematic for them because their religion changes and is not consistent. Their leaders determine what is right and what is wrong for the most part.
For Protestant liberalism, they deny the traditional concepts such as the fall of Adam, human depravity, God’s wrath, and substitutionary atonement. These traditional concepts are historical truths that are the bread and butter of orthodox Christianity. To reject them would be heretical and detrimental.
Protestant liberalism also denies supernaturalism such as miracles, and the Bible as being authoritative. They also deny the new birth (born-again), but believe that salvation is a moral transformation of individuals and society. Moreover, they do not focus on the Gospel, but education, social change, and political action. They also see Christ mostly for His ethical ideas instead of his doctrinal statement concerning hell, sin, eschatology, judgments, etc.
The next view would be the Christian existential theology. They would emphasize the experience of the individual. Experience is very dangerous apart from Scripture because mankind lives outside of the Scripture. Because they live outside the authority of Scripture they cannot account for truth and morality. As a result, they develop their own view of salvation. At the end of the day, existential theology is dangerous because if one holds onto their scheme, then once cannot prove one’s faith by reason and logic that is found only in Scripture.
Another view is Barthian neo-orthodoxy. This view believes that salvation is given to all mankind through His death on the cross. At the end of the day, everyone is saved because they are elected in Jesus Christ.
Liberation theology believes that the main problem in the world is societal injustice, oppression, etc. This theology is also known for its three major classes: black liberation theology, feminist liberation theology, and third world liberation theology. They use the account of Exodus from the Book of Exodus to as the model or paradigm for liberation theology. Because of their heightened view on social injustice, Liberation theology does not focus on the salvation for the next life; nor do they focus on the atonement of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Much has been said concerning the different views of salvation. What makes their view different from Christianity is their works-righteousness. They have a faulty view of man and of the Gospel. A faulty view is dangerous because it will damn people to Hell. According to the Bible, all mankind is alienated from God because of total depravity (Eph. 2:1-3). Through Christ’s substitutionary death, He paid the penalty for His elect. Salvation is only provided by God’s grace via faith in Jesus Christ. For those who are in Christ, they are justified (declared righteous because of Christ’s imputed righteousness), sanctified (is a process of being made more like Christ through the help of the Holy Spirit). And for those who are justified and sanctified, they will be glorified (future part of salvation).
It is important to embrace the correct view of salvation. To choose any other view of salvation outside of Christianity is a faulty and dangerous view that will prevent people from experiencing salvation. Having the correct view of salvation is critical for believers and the whole church. If the church does not teach it correctly, false teaching will spread like wildfire. May we as ambassadors of God protect and serve one another. With that said, I will leave you with this verse from Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with allwisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”
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