What is Salvation?

What is Salvation? It’s not a reward we’re working towards. It’s not a category or state, like some sort of column in a divine ledger. So what is it? The first time the word comes up in the New Testament helps us to understand.

The first time we encounter this word ‘salvation’ in the New Testament is in the Benedictus – Zacharias’ song after the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:68-79. The same Greek word is used 3 times in the song, in verses 69, 71, and 77: the first three occurrences of the word ‘salvation’ in the New Testament Scriptures. And those 3 verses in the Benedictus help us to understand what salvation is (and how it couldn’t possibly be something we’re working towards as a reward). For, Zacharias shows us that salvation can only be understood in light of Jesus and what He has done.

How does Zacharias’ Song show us that? Well, let’s start with the first time he uses the word in Luke 1:69: the Lord God of Israel ‘has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.’ So, salvation is something God has done, not something we’re going to work towards! God has raised up a horn of salvation for us. It’s the Lord God of Israel who has done it – not us. But the Lord has done it for us.

And this Horn of Salvation is in the House of His Servant David. God’s Salvation is not an achievement or a state: it’s a King from David’s royal line. That means that God’s Salvation could never be a reward for our works, because the Lord’s Salvation is a Person.

Yet not only is this Horn of Salvation a specific person (the promised Royal Messiah of David’s line), but this Horn of Salvation born in David’s line is also the Lord God Himself. We read in 2 Samuel 22:2-3 that ‘The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation.’ The Lord God Himself is the Horn of our Salvation. So, God’s Salvation is God Himself, come in the flesh, born of the House of David, to save us!

Zacharias’ next mention of salvation shows us that it is something we receive, not something we earn our accomplish ourselves. ‘That we should be saved from our enemies’ (Lk 1:71). (The word salvation might not be used in English, but it’s the exact same word in Greek.) Here it’s all about what God does for us: He saves us from our enemies. It’s not about us battling our way through enemy lines to reach the safe haven of God’s salvation. No! God the Son has Himself come to save us, by being born in Bethlehem, dying on Calvary, and rising from the grave for us.

He has triumphed for us over sin, death, hell, and the Devil – the greatest, most fearsome, and most destructive enemies we could ever have! So, salvation is something ALREADY accomplished for us in Jesus and His atoning work.

Zacharias’ last mention of salvation is found in verse 77:

To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us. (Lk 1:77-78)

Because salvation is something that’s already been accomplished for us by Jesus, what people need now is ‘knowledge of salvation’. That might sound a bit strange, because clearly we want people to be saved; but the point is, Jesus doesn’t come in the flesh all over again and die all over again every time someone gets saved. No! Salvation has already been accomplished once and for all. The salvation that’s offered to us now is the salvation which was accomplished 2000 years ago on Calvary’s cross. (That’s when we were saved – 2000 years ago!) But now we proclaim that salvation: the salvation which has ALREADY been won. So people don’t need a new salvation they just need to hear about the same old salvation – the once-and-for-all salvation in Jesus.

And how do ppl come to know this salvation? By the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us. Jesus is the Dayspring from on High, and He has already visited us, bringing us the tender mercy of our God, when He took on our flesh, lived our life, and died our death. And that’s how we have the remission or forgiveness of sins: not through anything we achieve in the Christian life, but only through Jesus and what He has already done for us.

So, the very first times this word ‘salvation’ is used in the New Testament, we discover that it’s not some sort of state or reward, but rather salvation is a person. It’s the person of the Incarnate God – the Lord Jesus Christ – who has come to save us from our most formidable enemies (sin, death, hell, and the Devil) – to forgive our sins, through the tender mercy of our God. Salvation is a Person. Salvation is Jesus!