Salvation in Christianity, is the saving of the soul from sin and death. It may also be called "deliverance" or "Redemption" from sinful nature and it is a promise of eternal life through the spirit. It is a freedom from the flesh and temptations that steer mankind off track from full enlightenment and communion with God.
- Paradigms of salvation
- Moral transformation
- Christus Victor
- Ransom from Satan
- Penal substitution and faith
- Salvation of non Catholics
- Saint Anselm
- Eastern Christianity
- Churches of Christ
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints
- Other websites
Variant views on salvation are among the main fault lines dividing the various Christian denominations, being a point of disagreement between Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as within Protestantism, notably in the Calvinist–Arminian debate. The fault lines include conflicting definitions of depravity, predestination, atonement, and most pointedly, justification.
According to Christian belief, salvation from sin in general and original sin in particular is made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which in the context of salvation is referred to as the "atonement". Christian soteriology ranges from exclusive salvation to universal reconciliation concepts. While some of the differences are as widespread as Christianity itself, the overwhelming majority agrees that Christian salvation is made possible by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross.
At the heart of Christian faith is the reality and hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. Christian faith is faith in the God of salvation revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian tradition has always equated this salvation with the transcendent, eschatological fulfillment of human existence in a life freed from sin, finitude, and mortality and united with the triune God. This is perhaps the non-negotiable item of Christian faith. What has been a matter of debate is the relation between salvation and our activities in the world.
Paradigms of salvation
Different theories of atonement have been proposed for how Christian salvation can be understood. Over the centuries, Christians have held different ideas about how Jesus saved people, and different views still exist within different Christian denominations. The main paradigms of salvation that have been proposed are:
The moral transformation view was the predominant understanding of salvation among Christians during the first three centuries AD, and continues to be held by some denominations such as the Eastern Orthodox today. In this view, Jesus saved people from sinfulness through his life and teachings, thus transforming their character to become righteous. This salvation is seen as undeserved, since God graciously sent Jesus to save people when they were unrighteous and did not in any way deserve such a favour. In the moral transformation paradigm, a person is saved from sinfulness by faithfully following the teachings of Jesus, and the example he set of how to live. Consequently, a person becomes righteous in God's sight, and can expect a positive final judgment by God. Perfection is not required, and mistakes are forgiven after repentance. In this view, Jesus' crucifixion is understood primarily as a martyrdom.
The moral transformation view has been criticised and rejected by many Protestant Christians, for a variety of reasons. Critics believe that the moral transformation view conflicts with various biblical passages (particularly ones by Paul regarding 'faith' and 'works'), underestimates the seriousness of sin and denies the atoning value of Jesus' death.
In the Christus Victor view, people needed salvation from the powers of evil. Jesus achieved salvation for people by defeating the powers of evil, particularly Satan. This view has been dated in writings of the Church Fathers up to the 4th centuries AD, although it remained popular for several centuries. Several perspectives on this idea existed, which can be roughly divided into conquest of Satan and rescue from Satan's power. In the conquest of Satan version, writers such as Eusebius of Caesarea depicted Jesus defeating Satan in a great spiritual battle that occurred between his death and resurrection. By winning this battle, Jesus overthrew Satan and saved people from his dominion. The Christus Victor view is not widely held in the West.
Ransom from Satan
The ransom theory of atonement entails the idea that Satan had power over sinful souls in the afterlife, but that Christ rescued people from his power. Often, the death of Christ plays an important role in this rescue. The view appears to have arisen during the 3rd century, in the writings of Origen and other theologians. In one version of the idea, Satan attempted to take Jesus' soul after he had died, but in doing so over-extended his authority, as Jesus had never sinned. As a consequence, Satan lost his authority completely, and all humanity gained freedom. In another version, God entered into a deal with Satan, offering to trade Jesus' soul in exchange for the souls of all people, but after the trade, God raised Jesus from the dead and left Satan with nothing. Other versions held that Jesus' divinity was masked by his human form, so Satan tried to take Jesus’ soul without realizing that his divinity would destroy Satan's power. Another idea is that Jesus came to teach how not to sin and Satan, in anger with this, tried to take his soul. The ransom theory is not widely held in the West.
In the 11th century, Anselm of Canterbury rejected the ransom view, and proposed the satisfaction theory of atonement. He depicted God as a feudal lord, whose honour had been offended by the sins of humankind. In this view, people needed salvation from the divine punishment that these offences would bring, since nothing they could do could repay the honour debt. Anselm held that Christ had infinitely honoured God through his life and death and that Christ could repay what humanity owed God, thus satisfying the offence to God's honour and doing away with the need for punishment. When Anselm proposed the satisfaction view, it was immediately criticised by Peter Abelard.
Penal substitution and faith
In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformers reinterpreted Anselm's satisfaction theory of salvation within a legal paradigm. In the legal system, offences required punishment, and no satisfaction could be given to avert this need. They proposed a theory known as penal substitution, in which Christ takes the penalty of people's sin as their substitute, thus saving people from God's wrath against sin. Penal substitution thus presents Jesus saving people from the divine punishment of their past wrongdoings. However, this salvation is not presented as automatic. Rather, a person must have faith in order to receive this free gift of salvation. In the penal substitution view, salvation is not dependent upon human effort or deeds.
The penal substitution paradigm of salvation is widely held among Protestants, who often consider it central to Christianity. However, it has also been widely critiqued. Advocates of the New Perspective on Paul also argue that many New Testament books by Paul the Apostle used to support the theory of penal substitution should be interpreted differently.
A crucial difference between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of salvation is that, unlike Protestantism, Catholicism believes that, after the Fall, humanity did not become totally corrupt (as per "total depravity", which precludes man from any merit in salvation), but was only "wounded by sin," and "stands in need of salvation from God", nevertheless, "it is human nature so fallen, stripped of the grace that clothed it, injured in its own natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death, that is transmitted to all men..."
Divine help comes in Christ through the law that guides and the grace that sustains, by which souls work out their "own salvation with fear and trembling." That divine help, that grace, is a favour, a free and undeserved gift from God which helps us to respond to his invitation to enter relationship.
Catholics profess belief that Christ alone is the Saviour of the human race. Christ is God incarnate, bringing about redemption from sin, for "…all salvation comes through Christ."
"…she (the Church) proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ 'the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself."
In Catholicism, justification is granted by God via the act (ex opere operato) of baptism firstly, by which the subject is formally justified and made holy by his own personal justice and holiness (causa formalis), instead of appropriated plainly by a living faith as under sola fide, and normally from the sacrament of reconciliation after if a mortal sin is committed. Christ can work apart and before the sacrament of baptism, as desire for eventual baptism is grace enough to be saved, since God is not tied to work by means of his instituted sacraments. Nevertheless, Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace." This is not the only way for sins to be forgiven, as these can also be forgiven by confessing to God alone. This is why the Catholic Church teaches that Christians outside of the Church can be saved, since in many cases other Christian denominations do not possess the priesthood instituted from Jesus Christ and thus lack access to the "binding and loosing" that priests of the New Covenant practice through the sacrament. A mortal sin makes justification lost even if faith (intellectual assent) is still present. The Catholic Church declared in the ecumenical Council of Trent that, "If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema." in canon 9 of session VI. It also said in the VII session in canon IV, "If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema (excommunicated)."
Salvation of non-Catholics
In Catholicism, Christ provides the Church with "'the fullness of the means of salvation' which he has willed: correct and complete confession of the Christian faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession." Although the Catholic Church upholds the doctrine of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) this does not mean that all the elect were in visible communion of the Catholic Church during their life, for "Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men."
As regards Protestants in particular, in Vatican II and subsequent teaching it is stated,
"The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (Cf. Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15-16 and 26)
For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (Cf. Jn. 16:13) They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical [Protestant] communities...They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood..."
"...men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. ...it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church...For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church...." "It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in His works and worthy of all praise.”
Catholicism teaches that Protestantism is a part of Christianity, the only true "faith" (Catholicism regards all non-Christian religions as "beliefs" since they are not based on God's revelation in history, Dominus Iesus p. 7),. Nevertheless, individual Protestants aware of the fact that Christ established the Catholic Church, but fail to join its membership, "cannot be saved" since they are living in open contempt towards God's known truth.
Concerning Jews and Muslims, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, states:
"In the first place we must recall the people [the Jews] to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind."
Paragraph 16 of Lumen gentium takes a step further and declares:
"Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel"
However, Judaism and Islam cannot be seen by the Church to be satisfactory in themselves. Catholics must call all people to the Christian faith, since it is Christ who must save them in the end. As noted above, whatever truth is found in Judaism and Islam is used as a "preparation for the Gospel." The Christian faith cannot be merely looked at "human wisdom, a pseudo-science of well-being", for "all are called to it and destined for it" since it contains the full truth (Redemptoris Missio p. 11). Lumen gentium goes on to state:
In explicit terms He Himself (Jesus Christ) affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.
The Catholic Church holds to the possibility of non-Christians being saved from hell. As Pope John Paul II stated in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio,
"The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the Gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation."
The number of non-Christians saved is known to God alone and must come through Christ's atonement for the sins of the world---an atonement which is specifically called "mysterious" (above, Dominus Iesus p. 21). Nevertheless, Catholics have been exhorted in numerous recent papal encyclicals to not forget the mission ad gentes (to the non-Christians), as the evangelization of the non-Christian world remains central to the Church's mission because of Jesus's great impetus: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."(Mark 16:16, Dominus Iesus p. 21-22 ). Those who fail to preach the exclusivity of Christianity as the fullness of God's revelation and the only means to be saved, are teaching against the doctrine of Christ and the Church (Dominus Iesus p. 5-9).
Shortly after 1100, Anselm, appointed as archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a classic treatise about atonement. In it he puts forward the "satisfaction theory" of the atonement in salvation. Man's offense of rebellion against God is one that demands a payment or satisfaction. Fallen man is incapable of making adequate satisfaction. Nevertheless, such is God's love that God will not simply abandon us (at least not all of us) to the consequences of our sins. Anselm wrote, "This debt was so great that, while none but man must solve the debt, none but God was able to do it; so that he who does it must be both God and man." The suffering of Christ, the God-man who is God's only son, pays off what human beings owe to God's honor, and we are thereby reconciled to God. So God took human nature upon himself so that a perfect man might make perfect satisfaction and so restore the human race. His foundational work is seen later in Calvinism and Arminianism.
Eastern Christianity was much less influenced by the theological writings of Augustine. It asks different questions, and it generally views salvation less in forensic terms (e.g. pardon from punishment), more in therapeutic terms (healing from sickness, injury etc.). It views salvation more along the lines of divinization or theosis, a seeking to become holy or draw closer to God by being united to him in will and operation as an extension of God in the world, a traditional concept taught in the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Eastern Catholic Churches. It also stresses teaching about forgiveness.
The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church, known also as The Catechism of St. Philaret, includes the questions and answers:
155. To save men from what did (the Son of God) come upon earth? From sin, the curse, and death.
208. How does the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross deliver us from sin, the curse, and death? That we may the more readily believe this mystery, the Word of God teaches us of it, so much as we may be able to receive, by the comparison of Jesus Christ with Adam. Adam is by nature the head of all humanity, which is one with him by natural descent from him. Jesus Christ, in whom the Godhead is united with manhood, graciously made himself the new almighty Head of men, whom he unites to himself through faith. Therefore, as in Adam we had fallen under sin, the curse, and death, so we are delivered from sin, the curse, and death in Jesus Christ. His voluntary suffering and death on the cross for us, being of infinite value and merit, as the death of one sinless, God and man in one person, is both a perfect satisfaction to the justice of God, which had condemned us for sin to death, and a fund of infinite merit, which has obtained him the right, without prejudice to justice, to give us sinners pardon of our sins, and grace to have victory over sin and death.
Orthodox theology teaches prevenient grace, meaning that God makes the first movement toward man, and that salvation is impossible from our own will alone. However, man is endowed with free will, and an individual can either accept or reject the grace of God. Thus an individual must cooperate with God's grace to be saved, though he can claim no credit of his own, as any progress he makes is possible only by the grace of God.
The Orthodox Church further teaches that a person abides in Christ and makes his salvation sure not only by works of love, but also by his patient suffering of various griefs, illnesses, misfortunes and failures (Luke 16:19-31, Mark 8:31-38, Romans 6:3-11, Hebrews 12:1-3, Galatians 6:14).
The Protestant Christian perspective on salvation is that no one can merit the grace of God by performing rituals, good works, asceticism or meditation, because grace is the result of God's initiative without any regard whatsoever to the one initiating the works. Broadly speaking, Protestants hold to the five solae of the Reformation, which declare that salvation is attained by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone for the Glory of God alone as told in Scripture alone.
Some Protestants understand this to mean that God saves solely by grace and that works follow as a necessary consequence of saving grace (see Lordship salvation). Others rigidly believe that salvation is accomplished by faith alone without any reference to works whatsoever, including the works that may follow salvation (see Free Grace theology). Still others believe that salvation is by faith alone but that salvation can be forfeited if it is not accompanied by continued faith and the works that naturally follow from it. Most Protestants believe that salvation is achieved through God's grace alone, and once salvation is secured in the person, good works will be a result of this, allowing good works to often operate as a signifier for salvation.
Karl Barth notes a range of alternative themes: forensic (we are guilty of a crime, and Christ takes the punishment), financial (we are indebted to God, and Christ pays our debt) and cultic (Christ makes a sacrifice on our behalf). For various cultural reasons, the oldest themes (honor and sacrifice) prove to have more depth than the more modern ones (payment of a debt, punishment for a crime). But in all these alternatives, the understanding of atonement has the same structure. Human beings owe something to God that we cannot pay. Christ pays it on our behalf. Thus God remains both perfectly just (insisting on a penalty) and perfectly loving (paying the penalty himself). A great many Christians would define such a substitutionary view of the atonement as simply part of what orthodox Christians believe.
According to Christian Frank Stagg, salvation is rooted in the grace of God. "For bankrupt sinners with no ground of their own upon which to stand, with nothing of their own upon which to stand, with nothing of their own to hold up to God for [one's] reward, it is their only hope, but it is their sufficient hope."
"Debates about how Christ saves us have tended to divide Protestants into conservatives who defended some form of substitutionary atonement theory and liberals who were more apt to accept a kind of moral influence theory. Both those approaches were about 900 years old. Recently, new accounts of Christ's salvific work have been introduced or reintroduced, and the debates have generally grown angrier, at least from the liberal side. Those who defended substitutionary atonement were always ready to dismiss their opponents as heretics; now some of their opponents complain that a focus on substitutionary atonement leads to violence against women and to child abuse."
Calvinists believe in the predestination of the elect before the foundation of the world. All of the elect necessarily persevere in faith because God keeps them from falling away. Calvinists understand the doctrines of salvation to include the five points of Calvinism, typically arranged to form the acrostic "TULIP".
Arminianism is a school of soteriological thought within Protestant Christianity. It is based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609). Like Calvinists, Arminians agree that all people are born sinful and are in need of salvation. Classical Arminians emphasize that God's free grace (or prevenient grace) enables humans to freely respond to or to reject the salvation offered through Christ. Classical Arminians believe that a person's saving relationship with Christ is conditional upon faith, and thus, a person can sever their saving relationship with Christ through persistent unbelief. Arminians hold the following beliefs:
The Five Articles of Remonstrance that Arminius's followers formulated in 1610 state the above beliefs regarding (I) conditional election, (II) unlimited atonement, (III) total depravity, (IV) total depravity and resistible grace, and (V) possibility of apostasy. Note, however, that the fifth article did not completely deny perseverance of the saints; Arminius, himself, said that "I never taught that a true believer can… fall away from the faith… yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such as kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding." Further, the text of the Articles of Remonstrance says that no believer can be plucked from Christ's hand, and the matter of falling away, "loss of salvation" required further study before it could be taught with any certainty.
Christian Universalists agree with both Calvinists and Arminians that everyone is born in sin and in need of salvation. They also believe that one is saved by Jesus Christ. However, they emphasize that judgment in hell upon sinners is of limited duration, and that God uses judgment to bring sinners to repentance.
Churches of Christ
Western Churches of Christ are strongly anti-Calvinist in their understanding of salvation, and generally present conversion as "obedience to the proclaimed facts of the gospel rather than as the result of an emotional, Spirit-initiated conversion."
Some Churches of Christ hold the view that humans of accountable age are lost because of their sins. These lost souls can be redeemed because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered himself as the atoning sacrifice. Children too young to understand right from wrong, and make a conscious choice between the two, are believed to be innocent of sin. The age when this occurs is generally believed to be around 13.
Some Churches of Christ, which don't identify as a denomination, teach that the process of salvation involves the following steps:
- One must be taught biblically and listen expositoraly
- One must believe or have faith
- One must repent of one's sins, which means turning from one's former lifestyle and choosing God's ways
- One must confess belief that Jesus is the son of God and Saviour
- One must be baptized for the remission of sins
- One must remain faithful until death on Earth
While other Churches of Christ which identify as a denomination do not hold this view.
Beginning in the 1960s, many preachers began placing more emphasis on the role of grace in salvation, instead of focusing exclusively implementing all of the New Testament commands and examples. This was not an entirely new approach, as others had actively "affirmed a theology of free and unmerited grace," but it did represent a change of emphasis with grace becoming "a theme that would increasingly define this tradition."
Because of the belief that baptism is a necessary part of salvation, some Baptists hold that the Churches of Christ endorse the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. However, members of the Churches of Christ reject this, arguing that since faith and repentance are necessary, and that the cleansing of sins is by the blood of Christ through the grace of God, baptism is not an inherently redeeming ritual. One author describes the relationship between faith and baptism this way, "Faith is the reason why a person is a child of God; baptism is the time at which one is incorporated into Christ and so becomes a child of God" (italics are in the source). Baptism is understood as a confessional expression of faith and repentance, rather than a "work" that earns salvation.
Baptist denominations believe water baptism must include full immersion of the person being baptized. The requirement for baptism is affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ. However, baptism is not a requirement for salvation.
Protestant beliefs about salvation. This table summarizes the classical views of three Protestant beliefs about salvation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) defines the term salvation based on the teachings of their prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants and summarized in the Articles of Faith (Latter Day Saints) number four.
"We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
The general Christian belief that salvation means returning to the presence of God and Jesus is similar to the way the word is used in the Book of Mormon, wherein the prophet Amulek teaches that through the "great and last sacrifice" of the Son of God, "he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; ... to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice".
There are two kinds of salvation, conditional and unconditional. Unconditional salvation is similar to what is believed by other Christians in that the atonement of Jesus Christ redeems all mankind from the chains of death and they are resurrected to their perfect frames. They will also be redeemed from the powers of Satan, except those sons of perdition of vile wickedness and those who have been enemies to God, in which they will be returned to their master. All others will receive a degree of glory set apart for their just metes. Conditional salvation of the righteous comes by grace coupled with strict obedience to Gospel principles in which those who have upheld the highest standards and committed to the covenants and ordinances of God will inherit the highest heaven. Full salvation is attained by virtue of knowledge, truth, righteousness, and following true principles.