God’s salvation, as the Old Testament spoke of it, had a broad meaning. It referred to deliverance or preservation from disease, dangers, sufferings, death and the consequences of wrongdoing (Exod 14:30; Judg 2:11-16; Ps 34:6; 37:40; Jer 4:14; 17:14). The means of God’s salvation may have been a warrior, a king, or some other national leader (Judg 3:9; 2 Kings 13:5), but in the highest sense the saviour was always God (1 Sam 14:23; Isa 33:22; 43:3,11,15; Hab 3:18).
In the New Testament, salvation may have the same broad meaning as in the Old Testament (Acts 27:20,43; 2 Cor 1:10; 2 Thess 3:2; 2 Peter 2:9), but its best known meaning is in relation to deliverance from sin and its consequences. This salvation comes from God through Jesus Christ (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:11; 19:10; John 3:17; 12:47; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 1:15) and it is possible only because Jesus Christ atoned for sin in his death on the cross (1 Cor 1:18; Titus 2:14; see ATONEMENT; SIN).
This salvation is so great that no words can describe it fully. The Bible therefore uses many different pictures of salvation in an effort to help people understand what God has done.
One picture is that of the courtroom, where God the judge declares believers righteous and acquits them (Rom 3:26; 8:33; see JUSTIFICATION). Another picture is that of slavery, which shows that God has freed believers from the bondage of sin (1 Peter 1:18-19; see REDEMPTION). The picture of new birth shows that God gives life to those who are spiritually dead (1 Peter 1:23; see REGENERATION), and the picture of adoption shows how God places believers in his family and gives them the full status of sons (Rom 8:15; see ADOPTION).
A further picture is that of God’s turning those who are his enemies into his friends (Rom 5:10-11; see RECONCILIATION). The picture of a sacrificial offering expresses further aspects of salvation; for example, the death of a sacrificial victim in the place of the sinner (Heb 9:26; see SACRIFICE), and the presentation of an offering to turn away God’s anger against sin (Rom 3:25; see PROPITIATION). But regardless of whatever picture the Bible uses, it emphasizes constantly that salvation is solely by God’s grace, and that people receive it through faith and repentance (Acts 5:31; 16:30-31; 20:21; 1 Cor 1:21; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-7; see FAITH; GRACE; REPENTANCE).
There are past, present and future aspects of salvation. The past aspect is that believers already have been saved because of Christ’s death for them. Their sin has been dealt with, they are no longer under condemnation, and they have the assurance of eternal life (John 5:24; Rom 5:1-2; Eph 2:1,8; see ASSURANCE). The present aspect is that believers continue to experience the saving power of God in victory over sin in their daily lives (1 Cor 1:18; Phil 2:12; 2 Tim 1:8-9; see SANCTIFICATION). The future aspect is that believers will experience the fulfilment of their salvation at the return of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:24; 13:11; Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 5:9; Heb 9:28; 1 Peter 1:5; see RESURRECTION).