What Is Salvation?
Nancy B. Detweiler
What is salvation? Orthodox Christianity teaches that God required a blood sacrifice in order to forgive us for our sins, thereby granting us eternal life.
In Luke 19:9, after spending the day listening to Jesus’ teachings, Zacchaeus said: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Zacchaeus now intends to lay up treasures in heaven by serving others. In response, Jesus told Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house….” Jesus did not qualify his statement by saying “after I am crucified, salvation will come to your house.” In fact, the Greek word, “soteria,” translated “salvation” in this passage, means “salvation without further qualification.” (Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg.801)
In Matthew 10:22, Jesus tells his disciples there will be hardships and persecution, then encourages them with the statement: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” The Greek verb used here “sozo” means “to attain salvation … to be freed from disease … to be preserved.” (Bauer, pg. 798) Jesus makes no mention of his crucifixion as a qualification for salvation.
In Mark 10:17-27, we find the story of the rich man seeking eternal life. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Take particular note of Jesus’ response: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Jesus speaks of himself as he would any other human being and places God above all. Jesus lists some of the 10 commandments, but the rich man has obeyed the commandments since childhood. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” Jesus intuited that the rich man was still clinging to his earthly treasures. Being wealthy is not the issue holding the rich man back. The issue is his inability to feel secure enough within himself to give away all he had. In other words, the rich man did not yet love God with his entire being. He still lived with fear of not having enough to care for his needs. On the physical plane, not having enough can result in death. Jesus made no mention of his forthcoming crucifixion in response to the rich man’s question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In Mark 10:45, Jesus settles an argument among his disciples by telling them: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The Greek word for ransom, “lutron,” means to “rescue, to pay the price of release” (Bauer, pg. 482) from whatever is imprisoning humanity. The basic fear for the majority of humanity is fear of death. As long as we fear death, we are not free---we can be manipulated.
Think back to Jesus’ explanation for why he will allow himself to be crucified. “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:17-18) By allowing himself to be crucified and then taking his life up again (resurrection), Jesus reveals there is no death. Jesus seeks to rescue us from the fear of death; thus, he pays the ransom needed to release us. As long as we believe only what we can perceive with our five physical senses, the only way Jesus could redeem us from our fear of death was to die and resurrect himself. Jesus incarnated to reveal Truth, not to be a blood sacrifice for a vengeful God. Jesus promised, “truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
Luke 7:36-50 tells the story of a woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with ointment. She weeps with regret for the mistakes she has made in her life. Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” In other words, your faith has rescued you from whatever imprisoned you. Jesus does not link his crucifixion with the woman’s salvation.
Luke 18:35-43 finds a blind beggar calling out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” The crowd ordered the beggar to be quiet, but “Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight, and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.” The Greek verb “sozo” is used here. Sozo means both “to be rescued” and “to be restored to health.” (Bauer, pg. 798) Jesus makes no mention of his crucifixion as a requirement.
Jesus makes it clear in the three synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—that our salvation depends upon our response to his teachings. Tomorrow we will see what the Gospel of John has to say.