What Are We Being Saved From? [Questions That Haunt]

This week’s question come from long-time commenter Charles, who posed it during last week’s discussion. It’s a great one, just when many of us are entering the season of Lent:

Tony, what are we being saved from?

Please give Charles your best shot at an answer below, and I’ll do my best on Friday. See all the questions and answers in the series HERE.

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  • Ourselves.

  • Maybe we are being saved *for* something, not from something.

    • Yes!

    • Bill Samuel

      Kelly, you’re so right. They’re asking the wrong question.

    • ben w.

      I’m not sure I understand Kelly… could you explain more? Does your answer then imply that there is nothing from which a person needs to be saved? Are there no real problems from which a person or mankind needs to be saved? Violence? Sin? Ignorance? Captivity? Oppression? God’s wrath? Death? I would agree that the Gospel promises a salvation *to* and *for* something, but I would not discount that it also includes salvation *from* many things as well.

      • Sure, I’ll try to explain more. I don’t have it totally figured out and solidified for myself though, so please keep that in mind.

        I am not sure when the idea of “saved for” first occurred to me, but I think it may have been back when a pastor at my church (at the time) and I were doing a Sunday school class about various particulars about the PCUSA. One of the topics was “election” and he explained to me that their understanding of it was that it was “elected for service”. So, rather than God electing people for no reason, it was to do something.

        I didn’t grow up in an evangelical culture and the word “saved” wasn’t really used, so thinking about it didn’t really come about until I was an adult. Prior to that, I probably just took it as something that was part of my standard belief, most likely from saying the Nicene Creed weekly (“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven”).

        I also think there seems to be a lot of emphasis on being “saved” in order to “escape hell” and while I don’t think I was directly taught that, it does permeate Christianity. That idea bothers me for various reasons, because I think it is fear-based and Jesus talks so much more about the coming of the Kingdom.

        Also, as I was thinking about this question that Tony posed, and my initial response to it, I thought about a trunk I have in my house where I have “saved” various things–mementos–things from my childhood, etc. I didn’t save them in order that they wouldn’t be thrown away (though that is what would happen) but because they were special to me.

        While I don’t discount the idea of being saved from something, i think that maybe we need to look at that in a secondary way, rather than in a primary way.

        I hope that helps explain what I was thinking (I think it helped me some, to have to write out my thoughts more concretely).

  • Who is “we” and what does “saved” mean?

  • Brantley

    I’ll bite: the power of sin, evil, and death.

  • Curtis

    I think “we” means everyone.
    The Greek word that we translate into “salvation” in the New Testament is “soteria”, which means “to restore to health” or “to make whole”. I think that pretty much says it all.

    • So, what would constitute health or wholeness?

      • Curtis

        Well, you already know my answer. So I’d be glad to let others chime in. The answer I’ve given before is that wholeness is characterized by Jesus’ summary of the Law

        1) Love from God
        2) Love for Yourself
        3) Love for Others
        in addition to Jesus’ teaching to pay attention to people’s fruits, not to their motives or actions. To paraphrase: “do no harm”

        Wholeness is kind of like porn. You know it when you see it (or feel it). Jesus came that we might have abundant life. If your life is falling short (and no I don’t mean materialistically) you are not whole.

        • Ric Shewell

          I think wholeness is just a part of it. We have to talk about redemption, rescue, and deliverance, too. Words for redemption like Padah, Kipper, and Goeth set the background for so much of Jesus’ teachings and the early Jews’ view of salvation. The Exodus, the Temple Sacrifices, and Stories of Forgiveness set the background for the New Testament’s discussion on salvation.

        • That’s exactly what I said a few QTH’s ago. Well, I was a bit more wordy. I said the paraphrase part, not the God part. The only difference between what I said and what is said here, is that I say we can “do no harm” without an act of salvation.

          • Ric Shewell

            I think that we can do-no-harm, but I don’t think anyone does. We all do harm. I know that you are saying we don’t need salvation to achieve the wholeness that Curtis is talking about, but I’m not sure that kind of wholeness is realistic, where we love so well and do-no-harm, whether or not salvation and God are in the mix.

          • Curtis

            Thanks for that. That is a pretty big difference, I guess.

            Salvation to me means wholeness. Salvation means no longer alone.

            I speak from the perspective of the 12-step traditions, which teach that one person, alone, is powerless. So I cannot “do no harm” by myself. I can only “do no harm” through salvation — through connection with others (and God).

            Going it alone hasn’t worked for me. The fellowship of others has. That is my perspective.

    • Ric Shewell

      Is “we” restricted to humans?

      • Curtis

        Whether it is or not, I think we arrive at the same conclusion. The entire Earth must be taken care of, whether for its own salvation, or exclusively for the salvation of humans. Either way, you arrive at the same answer: take care of the Earth.

  • Ric Shewell

    I would say death or non-existence and all the threats of death and non-existence. I think that death and non-existence threaten us, tempting us to think that we are meaningless, tempting us to think that we don’t matter. Then we experience all these threats of death in the world – pain, violence, hunger, etc. – things that remind us that we are fragile and going to die.
    So, I would say that we are being saved from these things, death and death’s threats. Of course, we all experience death and death’s threats, so salvation is intrinsically wrapped up in hope and the future, when we believe these things will cease.

  • The wrath of God.

    No, seriously. I mean that in the way Greg Boyd explained in a recent sermon (“The Judgment Boomerang”). According to Boyd, “the wrath of God” (understood biblically) is a euphemism for the natural consequences of our own sin, both corporate and personal. It’s not “the vengeance of God” as traditionally understood, but the natural consequences of sin that are hardwired into our humanness.

    By being “saved” from this, we are made whole in our humanity, which by nature includes relationships, both with God and with others.

    • Curtis

      I don’t really like the “hardwired” metaphor. If sin is hardwired, then isn’t it impossible for us to experience oneness this side of eternity? I don’t agree with that.

      Maybe there is some way to cover-up or over-ride the sin hardwired within us. But the hard-wired nature is still there. That makes oneness an unnatural state for humans on Earth. I don’t agree with that either.

      • Maybe salvation “rewires”us, or begins the reprogramming? I can see why you don’t like it, but I don’t think “hardwired” necessarily implies permanence. At least that’s not how I see it (I doubt Boyd sees it that way, either, but I obviously can’t speak for him).

    • Interesting. I really dig Boyd’s work…but hadn’t heard that. Thanks for sharing!

    • Dean

      I’ve been listening to a lot of Greg Boyd lately too, he’s great, really provides a fresh voice in opposition to the neo-Reformed movement, and even as some in that camp want to say he teaches heresy, he responds to them with kindness and thoughtfulness, and best of all, everything he teaches is well grounded in scripture.

    • Jubal DiGriz

      I did a quick Google so I could understand the context-


      This view makes more sense to me than what other folks here have opined. Reconciling the “follow my rules to the letter or die” God of the OT and the “follow me or die” Jesus of the NT with parallel messages of caring, hope, and love requires some tricky parsing.

  • Jonnie

    Hell…which is a trope for a deadly, destructive, ‘trash heap’ of an existence that rots our lives and those of the creatures around us.

    • I think that imagery is the power behind the use of ‘Gehenna’. We can be in Gehenna now. We can live a ‘trash heap of an existence’ today. We can, as you say, rot our own lives, and those around us as well right here and now.

      • Jonnie

        Exactly my point.

    • Nathan

      Jonnie. Yes.

  • I think salvation has been so narrowly defined [as saved from hell] for so long, that we’ve lost the real power behind the word. First of all, salvation in the OT meant more along the lines of ‘deliverance’ or ‘rescue’ and had an ‘in this life’ emphasis. In the NT, while other dimensions are added, I believe that same idea can be found.

    Having said that, I would say that we are being saved from wasting our lives in ways and on things that don’t ultimately matter. We are being saved from selfishness, pride, envy, and all the pain that those things can bring.

    Personally, I don’t think much about what’s next. It would drive me mad. It’s 100% speculation. I assume that following Jesus and experiencing this journey of salvation now, in this life, will then lead to experiencing more of the same in whatever the next stage is like.

    Does that make any sense to anybody?

    • Curtis

      yes, it does

    • “I assume that following Jesus and experiencing this journey of salvation now, in this life, will then lead to…”
      This makes sense, except for it to have meaning, you have say what it means to “follow Jesus”. I’ve asked a lot of people that question and read the books for myself and there is no clear answer to that. And just to be clear, I don’t mean that I don’t get it, or I still have unanswered questions, I mean it is clear that there is no irrefutable answer.

  • Mich

    Dan–you are so Right!

  • Kenton

    I think we have to understand saved/salvation the way the first Christians did. It was a term ascribed to the Caesars when they conquered a land. They were said to have brought “salvation” to that land and as a result there would be no more fear. No fear of political instability, no fear of conflict from neighbors, etc. That would free them to live their lives out fully. Of course there was a sense that what the Caesars actually brought was a new fear of Rome. They bore the sword, so they had the power of life and death. In that sense the salvation they brought was false. The salvation Jesus offers includes resurrection. So there is no fear in death. If we follow his ways, we can also live in peace with our neighbor. No fear of death, shalom with the rest of the world. Now we truly can live our lives out fully.

  • Our own violence. Over and over again the problem in the Bible is our human violence. The Bible has a long process of putting our violence in front of us. From Cain and Abel to the flood of violence in the days of Noah to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant to Jesus’s cross to Revelation, the problem is our own violence. We are being saved from our mutual justifications for violence that will only lead to mutual destruction in order that we might live into the only alternative – nonviolent love and forgiveness.

    • Curtis

      Agreed. And remember that the most prevalent human violence, with the most permanent scars, is psychological.

      • Totally. Saved from violence in its physical, psychological, verbal, emotional, economic, etc., etc., (b/c I know there are more examples but can’t think of them at the moment!) forms.

        • yet this rescue we will still suffer violence with those around us and even ourself for we are still sinners. Our salvation leans on one fact we are no longer alone in this journey. We are given a guide, a community, etc… to help others also know they are not alone if they will listen.

  • Matt Sipe

    Salvation is liberation from bondage (Israel in Egypt), Salvation is return from Exile (Diaspora), Salvation is rescue/deliverance from peril (Psalms). Some of the ways Jesus says it: salvation is from blindness to sight, salvation is from death to life, salvation is from infirmity to well-being, salvation is from fear to trust, salvation is from injustice to justice, and salvation is from violence to peace. Salvation is NOT personal and it is primarily NOT about an afterlife.

    • This. Matt Sipe! I like this!

    • Curtis

      In what way is well-being not personal?

  • kellyecl

    Yeah! So, glad you picked up on this comment from last week. Does ‘being saved from something’ mean something than ‘being saved?’ At least in some circles?

  • Kara

    Restore to health or be made whole…….is that the God shaped hole in each of us that C.S.Lewis wrote about? We are constantly longing or looking for something to complete us. We hope our partner will be that missing piece, or our career, or a new car, or whatever god we chase after. Yet we are disappointed by everything that can’t complete us, restore us, fulfill us.

  • Some of these ideas have already been shared, but here’s my take:

    “Jesus talked about his followers being salt and light. To participate in the kingdom of God is to bring life-giving flavor to the world and to illumine the often-toxic nature of the commercial and political systems. Thus, to be saved is to be saved from slavish participation in systems of oppression and greed and to be saved into a new understanding of life – a life based in a kingdom ethic. This is a way of life where enemies are not to be annihilated but loved, where leaders are called to serve, where the scales of justice are themselves weighed against grace, freedom, and forgiveness, where love of God and neighbor is the lens through which all other laws are understood.”


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  • EricG

    The question is too general, and the meaning and use in our culture has become too narrow. I agree with what Matt Sipe says. Salvation can means different thing in different contexts – e.g., saved from a flood, captivity, disease, enstrangement from God, others. It can be individual and/or collective, global and/or local, present and/or future.
    The big problem is that “saved” in our culture has come to be a buzzword for someone who attends a certain kind of church that emphasizes a specific type of conversion, to the exclusion of folks who come to faith other ways, such as through confirmation, over time, etc., and to the exclusion of its original meanings. So it has become a marker for a narrow tradition, and has therefore been emptied of its prior meanings and contexts. Which is too bad.

  • Greg D

    From bondage to sin.

  • NateW

    I agree that it’s definition will change depending on who is speaking and hearing, but the clearest dimension of salvation to me right now is freedom from the felt need to be/do/know “more.” It is freedom to stand still on the surface of the deep waters of chaos, walking quietly in the midst of the storm by/with/in/through Christ. It is not salvation from pain and suffering, but salvation from the very need to be saved. It isn’t salvation from death, but from the sting of walking the midnight road towards death alone. It is salvation from the need to erect walls to hide our shame and freedom to connect and Love people for no other reason than the loveliness that one sees in their being. It is being able to stand still, freedom from the felt need to escape or to pursue the peace and fulfillment that we are sure lies ever just beyond the horizon. It is the blessing of sharing in the sufferings of Christ and is the hope of his resurrection in those around us as we do.

    And more! : )

    • I love this idea. It reminds me of Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be,” which says we cannot actually be rid of our fear and anxiety, so the only true way to move forward is to accept this fear and anxiety as a part of our being and to live by faith in spite of it.

  • Yes, yes, yes to Dan’s comment & I like Kelly’s too. I like Doug thoughts too but sometimes we still have to face our consequences; perhaps we are saved from wallowing in them.

  • Jake L.

    I’m not sure anymore. I have begun a long and terrible journey away from Calvinism, which espouses an airtight theological system. Salvation was a no brainer: salvation was douple-imputation, justification by faith, and overall redemption from the wrath of God. Now, I do not hold to any of this. The closest thing I might say that salvation is, is what has already been mentioned: being renewed, being reconstituted, being made whole, for the function of being true humans and image bearers of the Sacred. But I’m still on my pilgrimage and I look forward hearing more responses.

  • I hold to the Eastern Orthodox teaching that salvation is theosis. Which is to say that due to sin – both our own and that of others against us – we do not properly reflect the image of God which each of us was created to be. Salvation is the restoration of a human being to what he or she was created to be – an image bearer. It means being healed from sin – again, both our own and that which others commit against us. It means being truly free to live in union with love (ie God). It does have bearing on issues of judgment and such, but only as off shoots – the main meaning of salvation is restoration. I wrote about it more here for anyone who is interested and not familiar with the concept:

  • Aaron

    The Bible clearly teaches that the plan of salvation is to save us from a Holy God.

    • Jake L.

      Would you please tell us where it is clearly stated?

  • from our own depravity.

  • Rob

    Not that anyone truly knows, but an illustrative postulate might be a full allowance and manifestation for all of which I believe echoing into eternity. Ultimate and crystallized free will.

  • Alan

    Salvation needs to be understood in relation to Shalom, as in pre-genesis 3 Shalom. This Shalom is about having right relationships between us and God, us and other human beings, us and ourselves, and us and creation itself. Sin is the brokenness of any/all of those relationships. Thus we are being saved from that brokenness and saved to/for Shalom.

  • Alan K

    From nothingness

  • From being unsaved…

  • Is it from punishment? What a tough question, it seems no one here has the same answer.

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  • Belinda Morales

    WE are saved from the Wrath of God!