Introduction to Soteriology
Soteriology is the study of salvation. The word soteriology is derived from the Greek words soter, which means savior, and logos, which means a word about, or the study of something. The word salvation is used throughout the Bible of physical deliverance as well as spiritual deliverance. It means one is saved from a real harm or danger, and rescued to a safe place. Salvation in all forms is necessary because of our weakness and inability to help ourselves in a dangerous situation. According to Lewis S. Chafer, “With respect to the meaning of the word salvation, the Old and New Testaments are much alike. The word communicates the thought of deliverance, safety, preservation, soundness, restoration, and healing; but though so wide a range of human experience is expressed by the word salvation, its specific, major use is to denote a work of God in behalf of man.” And McChesney adds:
- "In the OT the term refers to various forms of deliverance, both temporal and spiritual. God delivers His people from their enemies and from the snares of the wicked (see Psa 37:40; 59:2; 106:4). He also saves by granting forgiveness of sins, answers to prayer, joy, and peace (Psa 79:9; 69:13; 51:12)…In the NT salvation is regarded almost exclusively as from the power and dominion of sin. And of this Jesus Christ is the author (see Matt 1:21; Acts 4:12; Heb 2:10; 5:9)."
The most notable act of salvation in the OT was Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian army that was marching against them. Moses told his people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today” (Ex 14:13). The salvation was entirely of the Lord, as Moses said, “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Ex 14:14). This was a physical deliverance from a military attack. In the NT, we observe Peter being delivered from a physical drowning when he cried out to Jesus, saying, “Lord, save me!” (Matt 14:30). As Peter was sinking into the water, he was not asking for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. He was asking to be delivered from physical drowning. We’re told “Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him” (Matt 14:31) and brought him safely into the boat. Thus, Peter was physically saved from harm.
As Christians, when we think of salvation, it most often pertains to our spiritual deliverance from the lake of fire in which we are eternally separated from God, to which all humanity is destined unless we turn to Christ and are rescued. John tells us, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Spiritual salvation is the most important kind of salvation mentioned in the Bible, for it matters little if one is rescued a thousand times from physical danger, but ultimately fails to receive deliverance from the danger of hell. God loves everyone and is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). And He has made a way for lost sinners to be saved from hell and brought to heaven, and this through His Son, Jesus, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Charles Ryrie notes:
- "The Bible indicates at least three reasons that God wanted to save sinners. (1) This was the greatest and most concrete demonstration of the love of God. His good gifts in nature and through His providential care (great as they are) do not hold a candle to the gift of His Son to be our Savior. John 3:16 reminds us that His love was shown in His gift, and Romans 5:8 says that God proved conclusively that He loved us by the death of Christ. (2) Salvation also gives God a display of His grace throughout all eternity (Eph 2:7). Each saved person will be a special trophy of God’s grace forever. Only redeemed human beings can provide this display. (3) God also wanted a people who would do good works in this life and thus give the world a glimpse, albeit imperfect, of God who is good (Eph 2:10). Without the salvation Christ provided, these things would not be possible."
God’s love for lost humanity is what motivated Him to act. Scripture reveals, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). And, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Chafer states, “The greatest of all motives which actuates God in the exercise of His saving grace is the satisfying of His own infinite love for those ruined by sin. In this may be seen the truth that the salvation of a soul means infinitely more to God than it could ever mean to the one who is saved.”
God saves us because we are lost in sin and helpless to save ourselves. If we could save ourselves, then the death of Christ would have been unnecessary. But we cannot save ourselves, as our sin renders us helpless before God. According to Norman Geisler, “Sin is the precondition for salvation; salvation isn’t necessary unless there are sinners in need of being saved. As to the origin of salvation, there is universal agreement among orthodox theologians: God is the author of our salvation, for whereas human sin originated with human beings on earth, salvation originated with God in heaven.” A weak understanding of God’s work in salvation will produce a weak gospel, one that tends to emphasize human good and man’s ability to save himself, or to participate in that salvation. When we understand the total depravity of all mankind, and that we are totally lost and unable to save ourselves, only then does the work of God through Christ come into its full glory, and love and grace become so pronounced, that lost sinners realize their utterly helpless condition, and turn to Christ alone for that salvation which cannot be secured by any other means. According to Robert Lightner, “The Bible is explicit about the condition of all who have not been born again. They are lost (Luke 19:10), condemned (John 3:18), under God’s wrath (John 3:36), dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1), having no hope, and without God in the world (Eph 2:12), and unrighteous (Rom 1:19-32).”
The price of our salvation was very costly to God. It cost Him His Son, Who came into the world and took upon Himself humanity (Matt 1:1, 18; Luke 1:26-38; John 1:1, 14), lived a sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5), willingly went to the cross and bore our sin (Isa 53:4-11; John 10:17-18; 1 Pet 2:24), was buried and raised again on the third day (Luke 24:46; 1 Cor 15:3-4), never to die again (Rom 6:9). Jesus paid our sin debt in full (Rom 6:10; Heb 9:28; 10:12, 14), and now salvation is offered as a free gift to all who will accept it by faith alone in Christ alone. Lightner states, “Salvation is the most wonderful gift in all the world. To be saved, or born again, is to be translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col 1:13). It is to be made acceptable before God. His salvation is complete and without cost to the sinner. The total price has been paid. The work is finished!”Those who have trusted Christ as Savior are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).
It’s important to understand that Christ died for only one kind of person: the lost sinner who stands condemned before a holy and righteous God. If we don’t see ourselves from the divine perspective, as lost and in need of a Savior, then Christ and His work on the cross will be rejected. The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 5.
 E. McChesney, “Salvation,” ed. Merrill F. Unger and R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1114.
 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 318–320.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 7.
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 181.
 Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 188.
 Ibid., 185.