The Three Definitions of Salvation


Sermonette  Eric Snow 3-8-03  Ann Arbor, MI  UCG



Since the Passover is little more than a month away, it makes sense to consider how the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus saves us.  When we look at Scripture, we’ll find there are actually three definitions for “salvation” or “getting saved.”  Because there is so much deception in the world’s Christianity on this general subject, of salvation theology or soteriology, it’s well worth reviewing.


So then have we been saved?  Or will we be saved?  What does “justification” mean relative to “sanctification”?  What do either of these terms mean relative to the process of salvation for Christians?  Does being “converted” occur all at once when we get the Holy Spirit?  Or is it a gradual lifelong process that lasts until one dies—or gives up?  And can the writings of Herbert W. Armstrong shed light on the proper use of this theological vocabulary?


One of the great errors among many everyday evangelical Protestants seems to be the common confusion or misuse of the terms of soteriology.  These include such words as “justification,” “sanctification,” “law,” “grace,” “faith,” “righteousness,” “conversion,” “salvation,” etc.  We have to be on our guard to avoid similar errors.  These errors can blind us to the overall purpose of this life, which is to build holy righteous character through the Holy Spirit’s help as we live a Christian life.


S.P.S.:  Because salvation is a process, we need to understand the distinctions between “justification” and “sanctification.” “Salvation” is not just an event that occurred instantaneously when a person accepted Jesus as his or her personal Savior.


It’s important to realize that “justification,” which means a state in which a person is declared righteous or without sin, is just the beginning of the salvation process.  “Sanctification,” or living a holy, righteous life, is also part of the salvation process.  The final outcome of the salvation process is being given an immortal spirit body at the resurrection through being born “from above.”  Some in the world’s Christianity will call this “the translation” or (much worse) “the rapture.”


Rom. 6:15-22


Notice in particular the marginal reading for “to holiness” in the NKJV.  The word here is “hagiazo,” which means “to sanctify,” according to Vine’s.  It can mean “the setting apart of the believer for God” and “the separation of he believer from the world in his behavior.”  The word for “saint” in Scripture is derived from a form of this Greek word, hagioi.  One would become a “saint” the moment one receives the Holy Spirit, and thus becomes a Christian.  Unlike what Catholic theology teaches, no ability to do miracles is necessary to be a saint.  Rather, you have to receive a miracle, the miracle of conversion.


Notice the chain link found in verses 16, 19, 22:  Obedience leads to righteousness, righteousness to sanctification, and sanctification to eternal life.


In his old booklet, What Do You Mean . . . “The Unpardonable Sin”? (p. 23) described the three stages of the salvation process (emphasis removed):


“So we have:  1) “Justification,” which is forgiveness of sins that are past (Romans 3:24-25)—because Jesus paid our penalty, thus justifying—or vindicating—us.  Then, 2) “sanctification,” (Greek, hagiasmos), meaning, separation; a setting apart for holy use or purpose.  This is a continual process—once so set apart—and leads to ultimate salvation, which salvation is the change from mortal to immortal—from material composition to spiritual—from human to divine. . . . And finally, 3) salvation by resurrection—eternal life.”


True, Mr. Armstrong always strongly emphasized the future definition of salvation, rather than how we have eternal life conditionally now upon continued faith and obedience.  But that wasn’t the only way he defined the term, which is easy to forget.


Correspondingly, the way by which Jesus’ sacrifice saves us also differs.  In one way, we are “saved,” or justified, by Jesus’ death by having our sins taken off us and by being reconciled to the Father by His Son’s death.  In another way, we are “saved,” or “born from above,” by Jesus’ life, or by His resurrection from the dead.


Rom. 5:8-11


Notice the past tense for being justified, but the future tense for being saved.  The two terms do overlap some in meaning, but they should never be seen as identical in meaning. 


Notice also that Jesus’ life gives us life.  As Mr. Armstrong observed once, the law of biogenesis says life can only come from life.  So here a scientific law corresponds with God’s revelation about how Jesus’ resurrection gives us eternal life ultimately.


Conversion also refers to the process of gaining holy righteous character through the Holy Spirit helping us to obey God.


Rom. 5:1-7


As Mr. Armstrong explained in his booklet, Just What Do You Mean . . . Conversion? (p. 2, emphasis removed):


“There is a sense in which true conversion does take place at a definite time—all at once.  But it is also true that in another sense conversion is worked out gradually—a process of development and growth. . . . There is a definite time when God’s Spirit enters into one.  At the very moment he receives the Holy Spirit, he is, in this first sense, converted.  Yes, all at once!  If he has Christ’s Spirit, he is Christ’s—he is a Christian!  The very Life of God has entered into (impregnated) him.  He has been begotten as a child of God.  But does that mean his salvation is complete?  Is he now fully and finally “saved”?  Is that all there is to it?  Is he now, suddenly, perfect?  Is it now impossible for him to do wrong?  No!  Far from it!”


In the booklet he elsewhere explains that we gain holy righteous character through a process of obeying God by the Holy Spirit’s help, which is part of the process of God reproducing Himself in us.


Let’s consider some further evidence for this first definition of “conversion.”  Now, what is the Bible’s definition of someone being a Christian?


Rom. 8:9


Hence, by this definition, the moment one receives the Holy Spirit, which is after repentance, baptism as an expression of faith, and the laying on of hands, a person becomes a Christian.  By this definition, one is “converted.”


Conclusion:  So as the time for the Passover draws nears, we should remember not merely that Jesus is our Savior and that we have sins to overcome.  We should also understand the specifics terms relating to the process of salvation as explained in the Bible, especially Paul’s letters.  On this issue, we must not be deceived by the world’s Christianity around us.  In particular, the whole purpose of salvation is mostly lost if we think “salvation” is only an instantaneous event that occurs all at once when we first have faith in Jesus as our personal Savior.  For we were put on this earth in temporary physical bodies to learn and then do right instead of wrong as part of the process of developing holy righteous character so that we are increasingly more like God in our thinking and actions.  So although we were saved, justified, and we were converted, we shall also be saved, sanctified, and we shall be converted by having our bodies converted from physical matter to glorious spirit when Christ returns and we’re born from above.


[[Optional:  Use only if Rom. 8:9 not used:  For as Matt. 24:13 warns us:  “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”]]