Some are nervous about the word. Some want to scrap it and come up with a new one. Others emblazen it in manner that makes us wonder if they know what they are saying … that word is “salvation.” But what is “salvation”?
John Stott, in his classic book, Christian Mission in the Modern World (IVP Classics) , examines the word “salvation” as the fourth word in his study of what mission involves: mission, gospel, dialogue, salvation and conversion. This book is vintage Stott in method and content, and may be my favorite of Stott’s books.
As for its relation to health, Stott says salvation is not psychophysical health. This point may be controversial for some, especially for those who seem to equate healing with salvation, but that healing is part of salvation. He’s pushing back more against those who require healing in salvation than against those who believe in holistic salvation. A doctor and a pastor do not attend to the same issues. In his view, the sozo/salvation in the Gospels is an intentional sign of salvation. Otherwise, all salvation would entail healing, and probably even total healing.
Furthermore, Stott denies that salvation means political liberation. Here the problem is shifted to the social and political; so redemption is liberation at the social and political levels. He is responding to Bangkok’s meeting in 1973 where salvation moved from the personal to become humanization and liberation and social justice. [Remember, Stott was well known in his day for compassion and justice, but he does not want to see these as the meaning of salvation.] Gustavo Gutierrez is examined, and while Stott agrees with the importance of justice, he does not agree that salvation is liberation from oppression. One more time for Stott: social action is not evangelism and social liberation is not salvation. Why? Because in the NT salvation is moral and not material. So what is it?
It is personal freedom, freedom from sin and its effects. Thus, a good translation of “salvation” is “liberation.” From what?
1. Liberation from judgment for sonship (past tense). We were guilty; we are no longer guilty before God. Thus it means justification. But not just from wrath but for sonship — to become God’s loved children.
2. Liberation from self for service (present tense). Humans in Christ, those saved, are liberated from selfishness in order to serve others.
3. Liberation from decay into glory (future tense). Death is undone for those who have salvation.