What does is mean to be saved? That is a very important question. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about the gift of salvation.
He (the jailer) then led them out (Paul and Silas) and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you and your household will be saved.”
Introduction to “Saved”
The word salvation and its variations, e.g., save, in the Bible have different meanings depending on the context. Context determines the meaning of any word. Often it means saved (delivered) from an earthly or temporal danger:
“ So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and gave them rest on every side (2 Chronicles 32:22).”
God also saves us from sickness and any other earthly danger that comes our way.
People seeing “saved” in the Bible automatically assume the word always means spiritual salvation, i.e., that God saves us from Hell and we’re on our way to Heaven. That presumption leads to confusion about what the passage teachesand what’s required for initial salvation.
Example: “Yet she (meaning women) will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control (1 Timothy 2:15).”
If this passage refers to spiritual salvation, its reading is senseless.
But we think you’re asking about spiritual salvation, deliverance from sin (including Hell), receiving eternal life. This is initial salvation, also called justification. Our sin separates us from God, but Jesus died to save us from our sins.
Spiritual salvation is point-in-time. We get it the moment we receive Jesus by accepting God’s promise that we have eternal life. We become sons of God by believing in Jesus’ Name:
“Yet to all who received Him, He gave the power to become sons of God, to those who believed in His name (John 1:12).”
We Cannot Earn or Lose Our Salvation
We don’t earn initial salvation in any way. We don’t cleanse ourselves; we believe. We don’t offer anything; Jesus is our plea. We come with empty hands because Jesus paid the full price. And once we receive salvation, we cannot lose it and God will never take it away. No one is stronger than God. We can never lose it. That’s why it’s called eternal life.
We don’t put away our sins first or even intend to (that’s part of sanctification, i.e., living the Christian life). We don’t make any commitment to cleanse ourselves when we come to Jesus; we’re cleansed by Him, not by our intentions to be better. We may or may not have this good intention. But this is not a necessary step or a requirement for initial belief. We may decide to turn away from sin after we believe. And believers should mature in their Christian faith. But even believers continue to sin, and we will for the rest of our lives.
The Gospel of John is the only Bible book whose stated purpose is to explain how we receive eternal life. John tells us why he wrote his gospel:
“These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).”
Believe is the clearest word to use to describe the human responsibility in salvation. And that belief is in Jesus’ Name.
We don’t help Jesus save us with works or in any other way.
We have the power–the right to receive God’s offer–to become sons of God, because Jesus died in our place for our sins, and rose from the dead. His work of salvation is complete: finished. There’s nothing left for us to do but believe. He lives again because God the Father was satisfied that His sacrifice paid for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4:
“Being justified freely by His grace (as a gift) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation (satisfaction) through faith, in His blood, for a demonstration of His righteousness (Romans 3:24-25).”
Jesus died for all, and He offers His salvation to everyone. The bill is fully paid!
When the Jews asked Jesus what people must do to work the works of God, He answered (with irony):
“Then they asked Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent (John 6:28-29).”
When Jesus tells someone to count the cost of following Him, He does not mean we must do that to become a child of God. Instead, He is referring to how we should live after He saves us. A person does not count the cost of point-in-time salvation. There is no cost. The waters of life are complimentary:
“Let him who is thirsty come. Let him who desires take the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17).”
Jesus already paid that cost, and we receive salvation by faith plus nothing. We receive it by believing God’s promise of eternal life in Jesus’ Name. And that’s not doing anything. The “work” of God is believing.
Conclusion: Initial salvation is purely a work of God, and we receive it by faith in Jesus’ Name plus nothing.
Jesus satisfied God’s wrath by sacrificing Himself, by dying on the cross. The person who believes in Him has eternal life. And God—who cannot lie—promises He will never take it away.