If you are a Christian, one of the most serious concerns you have for others (and maybe even yourself sometimes) is “Are they saved?” When someone dies, one naturally wonders or asks discretely, whether so n’ so has really “accepted Jesus into his/her heart?”
But is this the question we should be asking? I mean, what does the Bible really say about this concept of salvation? What exactly is the Biblical definition of salvation? Further and most important do the scriptures teach us that “accepting Jesus into our hearts” is the “way of salvation”?
I have a dear friend who is very sick right now with cancer and it has prompted me to finish this study I started a very long time ago…really it is my tribute to him. An intelligent man, not given over to emotionalism or opinion. He has been a diligent student of the Bible for many years, seeking the truth, looking to reconcile the many discrepancies that are found there.
When does the Word Salvation Show up in the Bible?
The first time we see “Salvation” is in Jacob’s blessing of his son’s in Genesis 49. A general overview of the uses of the word salvation reveals the term to mean “deliverance from one’s enemies.”
Psalm 9 illustrates how the word is typically used in the Old testament.
I will give thanks to YHWH with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
3 When my enemies turn back,
they stumble and perish before your presence.
4 For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
their cities you rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished.
7 But YHWH sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
8 and he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness.
9 YHWH is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O YHWH, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to YHWH, who sits enthroned in Zion!
Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Be gracious to me, O YHWH!
See my affliction from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in your salvation.
The obvious context here is not “salvation from sin” it is “salvation or deliverance from one’s human enemies…from the wicked.”
More specifically the psalmist writes in Psalm 9 verses 9 and 10 that YHWH is:
a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O YHWH, have not forsaken those who seek you”
Throughout the Tanak (Old Testament) we see an emphasis placed on the name of the God of the Israelite’s. It is YHWH who is the psalmist’s stronghold, deliverer, salvation etc.
Isaiah continues to expound on this theme throughout the book with his name on it…one example is…
“YHWH hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
Clearly, the prophets are waiting for the great day of YHWH when all of God’s enemies will be put under His feet and righteousness will reign in the earth. That is the context of salvation as defined in the Hebrew Scriptures (The Old Testament, Tenak).
Who Does God Deliver From Their Enemies?
There is another theme that is intertwined with this theme of being delivered from one’s enemies (i.e. being saved). That theme has to do with who God accepts, i.e. who is the one God delivers from their enemies, who are also God’s enemies.
In Psalm 9 we see that it is…
- Those who know the name of YHWH
- Who put their trust in YHWH
- Who seek YHWH
This truth is further clarified by YHWH Himself when He speaks directly to Solomon at the dedication of the temple…foretelling the future of His people and telling them exactly what they must do to be forgiven for their sins …
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Here, we see from the lips of YHWH Himself, what it takes to be forgiven from our sin…
- Humble oneself
- Pray, i.e. cry out to him
- Seek His face, i.e. desire Him, request of Him
- Turn from wickedness, i.e. follow His commandments
There is no mention of a substitutionary sacrifice, no need for blood…YHWH affirms this truth yet again through Nathan the prophet’s rebuke of King David and message of restoration to King David….
YHWH also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
In response King David is inspired to pour out the revelation YHWH has placed in his heart in Psalm 51…
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
King David’s most heinous sins of covetousness, adultery and murder are put away. Not with out consequence, but not counted against David as in His standing or relationship with YHWH.
Well what about Paul’s words in Roman’s 3…
There are none righteous, no not one… For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely through His grace
First and foremost we must deal with the issue of righteousness… the word of God cannot contradict itself…right?
Is this a true statement that there is “None righteous”? What are we to do with the many scriptures both in Old and New Testament that identify people as righteous by God in the Tanak…
- Righteous Abel
- Righteous Enoch
- Righteous Noah
- Righteous Abraham
Righteous people in New Testament…
- Elizabeth and Zechariah (they were both righteous before God)
- Jesus speaks frequently of the “righteous” person in Gospel of Matthew
We see that it was by seeking and walking with God that men and women were pronounced righteous (Luke 1:6). By saying that these people were righteous is not to say they were without personal sin. YHWH makes it very clear from Deuteronomy 7 that He chooses people by His grace…nothing more and nothing less..He deserves all the glory…
Jesus does not contradict this statement in the New Testament. If he did he would be contradicting himself and his Father. Then we would have a BIG problem.
For you are a people holy to YHWH your God. YHWH your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that YHWH set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because YHWH loves you…
God’s people are chosen before they are given the instructions of righteous living in the Torah (aka law). There is never any mention in the Old Testament that one has to be without sin to be accepted by God…God alone is perfect and yet we are to seek to be like Him.
It seems that the temple sacrifices were an expression and ritual reminder of what YHWH has done for them. Multiple places in the Tanak YHWH states this truth…sacrifices mean nothing to YHWH, they are only a representation…God desires a broken spirit and a contrite heart…
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
And in Isaiah 57 YHWH states…
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
In that day YHWH says through Zechariah the prophet…
Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek YHWH of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of YHWH. 23 Thus says YHWH of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’
Does YHWH lie? Does He forgive sin through repentance or not? Does He call us righteous, not because we are without sin, but because we strive to walk with Him following His commandments? Is His power and grace sufficient to accomplish all that He said in the Hebrew scriptures?
Well, if you are still reading this, and you are a Christian you may be wondering (if not screaming in your head) what about Jesus?
As mentioned before scripture is suppose to harmonize right? God does not contradict Himself. YHWH says…
Your word, YHWH, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of YHWH blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever … (Isaiah 40)
So when asked about “salvation” what did Jesus say? Here I want to make a distinction between what Jesus taught and what others taught after the resurrection. Especially Paul. You may be wanting to ask yourself a question right about now…
Is there a difference between the religion that Jesus taught and the religion that is taught about Jesus?
Anyway, back to the teachings of Jesus on being included in the kingdom of God…
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1)
Here is about as clear a teaching from Jesus as it gets on what it means to inherit eternal life …
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
What does it mean to “Come follow Jesus in this context.” Jesus was a 1st century Jew, living and teaching his interpretation of Torah. Nothing more, nothing less. This teaching is completely consistent with the Torah…about which Jesus also plainly said…
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The one who endures to the end will be saved…For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. Mark 13
Jesus speaks of two different concepts, that are frequently muddled together: first he speaks of salvation being a salvation from the enemy at the time, i.e. the Roman Empire. Secondly, he assumes the people he is talking to are “elect,” “chosen by God” i.e. righteous one’s following his example as he follows the Torah who will be called great in the Kingdom of God.
There is no suggestion that Jesus’ disciples were being told to believe in him or “invite him into their hearts to be saved.” Rather it is quite clear that Jesus teaches the way to inherit the Kingdom of God is to endure in following the ways of YHWH to the very end. He teaches that the way to be forgiven of one’s sins is to repent and follow God’s commandments.
Again, this is completely consistent with Ezekiel 18…
Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Lord YHVH. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord YHVH. Repent and live!
According to Ezekiel, we get a new heart and a new spirit when we repent, i.e. turn away from our wicked ways.
Jeremiah said it another way…
Circumcise yourself to YHWH, circumcise your hearts…(Jeremiah 4:4)
Remember, Jesus’ teachings cannot contradict the Torah…Jesus taught the Torah, and the author of the gospel of John said He was the word of God made flesh…That would mean Jesus was living, breathing Torah. He was from the tribe of Judah…an Israelite, a descendant of Jacob. He was the embodiment of Torah according to the gospel of John.
I started this article by asking “What is the biblical definition of salvation?” and “What is the way of salvation?” All these scriptures, from Moses’ writings to Jesus’ words teach us that God’s people are elected to follow a path of righteous living. It also teaches that there are several concepts that Christians often muddle together…
- Salvation ( Deliverance from one’s enemies
- Forgiveness (Being forgiven of one’s sins)
- Inherit the Kingdom of God (Be righteous, i.e. follow YHWH’s commandments)
- Inherit eternal life (Be righteous, i.e. follow YHWH’s commandments)
YHWH is our Savior and there is no other. Torah teaches that, Jesus taught that. One could say that the last enemy to be conquered is death itself. Still, the answer given by Torah and Jesus remains the same, our Creator, YHWH, is God over all who elects, delivers and saves.