Saved by What?

A discussion about the core element of the gospel message - by what power are we saved and how does it work? The lesson will explain the ideas of faith and grace in their proper biblical contexts.
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I want to read to you several passages that explain how we are saved:

It seems that all of these give a different answer to the same question - What or How are we saved?

It is important to know the answer to this question because salvation is the most important subject in the Bible - it is what the Bible is about! Everything and everyone in the Bible are parts of a single message from God - the saving of mankind from eternal death and suffering, to eternal life and joy. While other religions focus on finding some kind of inner peace or harmony in this life, and may speculate on some kind of spiritual life in the future...

The Bible clearly states that our time here is relatively short and our main purpose is not to become comfortable in this place but to prepare for the world to come. The Bible says it in this way:

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
- Colossians 1:13

When Peter, the Apostle, preached he didn't talk about reforming the world or seeking social justice, he didn't offer ways of developing a better self-image or how to become more successful using spiritual principles. He was yelling "Fire, fire, get out while you can - this is an emergency!!" Or, as Luke records his words in Acts 2:40:

And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

Salvation from eternal destruction is what the Bible is really about.

The coming of Jesus, His death and resurrection, along with everything that has happened since, is the story of God saving man. My question, therefore, focuses on the "How". How is one saved? Because in the passages that I just read it would seem that there are a variety of ways:

  • Saved by faith.
  • Saved by calling on Jesus.
  • Saved by the Gospel.
  • Saved by grace.
  • Saved by baptism.

This has led to some confusion among believers in Christ who have completely focused on one of these statements and made out of it an exclusive doctrine. For example:

  • We are saved by faith only, no need for anything else (Evangelicals).
  • Because grace saves, then all men, no matter what faith, are saved (Pluralism/Universalism).
  • We are saved by baptism - therefore the ritual of baptism must be done correctly (Catholicism).

I believe that each of the things mentioned in the Bible in connection with salvation are equally necessary and important because they are all from God. The way to answer the question, "Saved by what?" therefore is to understand the proper role of each of these elements in relationship to our salvation.

In the rest of this Mini Book I'll try to do this.

Saved by Grace

In Ephesians 2:5 Paul says that we've been saved by 'grace', but let's read the entire passage to put this expression into proper context.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
- Ephesians 2:4-10

When Paul says that God's grace has saved us, he is referring to motivation. The impulse, the character trait, the motivation behind all the activity that has taken place that eventually saves us, is God's grace. Paul describes not only the nature of God's grace but also other things that this grace moves Him to do.

  • Grace is rich in mercy - vs. 4
  • Grace is full of love - vs. 4
  • Grace does raise Christ - vs. 5
  • Grace does give us life - vs. 5
  • Grace does save us - vs. 5
  • Grace does seat us with Christ in heaven - vs. 6
  • Grace does use us as an example of God's love - vs. 7
  • Grace does create us anew - vs. 10

So we can say that grace is the reason God does what He does. He is full of grace (mercy, kindness, love). We are saved by His grace in the sense that if it weren't for His mercy and love there would be no effort to save sinful, disobedient mankind.

Saved by Faith

The most popular catchphrase about salvation is "We are saved by faith." This idea is often repeated by Christ and the Apostles. For example:

  • Jesus says to the woman who anoints his feet with perfume and her tears - "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." - Luke 7:50
  • Paul says that the Ephesians were, "saved through faith." - Ephesians 2:8

How do we reconcile the ideas that we're saved by grace and saved by faith? One is the motivation to offer salvation in the first place (grace), and one is the response to this offer by the condemned sinner (faith).

The New Testament writers spoke of this in various ways:

Belief as Opposed to Disbelief

"He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:16
Here, the idea is that God offers salvation only to those who believe - disbelievers are not eligible to receive salvation.

Faith as Opposed to Works

This is Paul's argument in Romans 3:21-22:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.

Paul wrote extensively about this in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians (where he compacts the argument by simply saying that we're saved by faith).

When the Bible says "saved by faith", it refers to the response God is looking for in those who will be saved. For example:

  • Man cannot receive the salvation by earning it through good behavior or religious practice.
  • He cannot receive it through knowledge, discernment, meditation, or personal transformation.

The only way to receive it is through faith (trusting belief). So when the New Testament writers make references to salvation by faith they are indicating which method God has commanded that this gift of salvation be received by sinful, lost mankind. Salvation, made possible by God's grace is received on the basis of faith (saved by faith).

Saved by Baptism

So far we've talked about things we cannot actually see, even though they are real. You can't see God's grace and you can't see man's faith, even though each are very tangible things. You can tell when there is no grace or faith even if you cannot see them.

For this reason, God provides visuals, physically perceived things to enable us to see and express things that are real but unseen. For example, He could have extended His grace to us with His Word only - e.g. an angel appears to do miracles and then proclaims, "Believe and you'll be forgiven and saved." But He provided an unmistakable physical manifestation of His love and mercy (what's referred to as 'grace') in the cross of Jesus Christ.

  • The Son of God comes in a physical body and dies on the cross as payment for our sins.
  • This is history, it is real, and it is documented.

John the Apostle captures the immensity of this act in John 3:16, "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."

Everything in the Bible: from creation throughout the entire Old Testament through the four Gospels; all the people, wars, stories, prophecies, poetry, genealogies, miracles, parables - all of it is there to prepare and explain this one event!

The cross of Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of God's grace. An undeniable act of love and mercy toward sinful man that offers salvation. This is why we also say that we're saved by Christ or the cross of Christ. These expressions all refer to God's grace and what that grace sacrificed in order to produce our salvation.

But the response of faith that God requires to receive that salvation also has a visual, it also has a physical manifestation given by God. That manifestation is Baptism (immersion in water). There are many things that Christians do to express their faith in Christ. For example, James tells us that faith without good deeds (physical manifestations) is dead (James 2:14). But for the unbeliever who is called by God by the gospel to believe in Christ, His turning from unbelief to belief is expressed in baptism (Matthew 28:18, Mark 16:16).

  • The unbeliever's transformation from being dead spiritually to being reborn is seen in baptism, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Romans 6:4
  • The unbeliever's renunciation of the world, its values and systems, and subsequent identification with Christ and the power of His character and spirit are announced to the world in baptism. "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Galatians 3:27
  • The unbeliever now appeals to God through Christ for forgiveness, for cleansing, for a clear conscience.
    • Not through self-denial.
    • Not through good works.
    • Not through law keeping or religious exercises.
  • He appeals to God through faith in Jesus Christ and that appeal is plain to see in baptism. "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience." I Peter 3:21

Someone always asks, "Can you be saved without being baptized?" The Bible's answer to that question is, "No."

There is no salvation without the cross (the physical manifestation of God's grace) and there is no salvation without baptism (the physical manifestation of the response to grace - faith). God could have sent an angel to do miracles and proclaim salvation but He didn't - He sent Jesus to the cross.

God could have said, "just say yes to Jesus in your heart" - but He didn't - He sent the Apostles out to baptize all of those who believed. Baptism, therefore, doesn't eliminate or minimize or replace faith - it manifests our faith according to God's command.


We're saved by grace - because it was God's grace that sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay our moral debt for sin, thus the offer of forgiveness that leads to our salvation.

We're saved by faith - because faith is the response God is looking for in us. Disbelief is what leads to sin and death; belief is what brings us back to God.

Our confession of Christ and repentance from sin are signs that this faith is bearing fruit in our lives. We are saved by baptism - because at baptism we leave our disbelief, our sins, and our condemnation behind once and for all.

It is the historical point where our transformation from unbeliever (lost) to believer (saved) takes place.

  • A person hears about God's wonderful grace (all that God has done to save us through Christ).
  • He hears this through the preaching of Christ (all the forms of it) and this news begins to produce faith in him.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
- Romans 10:17

This faith grows and develops to the point where it moves the person to acknowledge belief in the message, a desire to change one's life.

This faith is fully manifested in the water of baptism where one offers his response of faith on God's terms and becomes a disciple of Christ and thus a saved person.

I leave you thinking about these things and consider Peter's words as he preached the very first sermon after Jesus' ascension into heaven.

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified." Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"
Acts 2:36-40

I encourage you, dear reader, if you have not already done so, to be saved today - there is no guarantee of tomorrow.

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