What Is ‘Salvation?’

Daily Devotional for Thursday, July 30, 2020 from Rev. Dr. Eric Douglass

I Cor. 1:21: God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

In the last meditation, we looked at the word ‘grace,’ seeing it as the free gift of a caring God. In this meditation, let us turn our attention to ‘salvation.’

We tend to think of salvation as referring to the sacrifice of Jesus, But the Greek word is rooted elsewhere. The original word meant ‘to be safe.’ It might be used to describe a safe path in the woods or food that was safe to eat. This gave way to the more active notion of keeping someone safe. Here it was used for protecting a citizen from a lawsuit, or keeping wine from spoiling. Josephus, a first-century writer, uses it of the baby Moses, who was placed in a small papyrus boat on the river, in order to hide him from the wrath of Pharaoh (Ex. 2:3).  Josephus states: “His true name was Moses, and signifies a person who is preserved out of the water.” In another example, Josephus relates a story about a Jewish man who had warned his king about a conspiracy, and how the king then honored him, saying: “This shall be his reward for preserving my life.”

These latter examples get to the New Testament meaning of ‘salvation.’ Here it means ‘to deliver one from danger.’ This danger can be of any type. Acts uses it for deliverance from a violent storm: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20). Jesus uses it of deliverance from a debilitating sickness: “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (lit.: “has saved you”; Mt. 9:22).

The theological uses follow this notion of ‘deliverance from danger.’ Only now the danger is not physical, but spiritual: it is deliverance from the things that threaten the soul. The Biblical writers saw sin as something like a debilitating illness or a violent storm. It wrecks one’s life. It darkens one’s spirit. Instead of the giving us the good life, it leaves cuts and scars. We need deliverance…even if we cannot see the danger…even if these dangers are self-imposed…even if we want these dangers. Despite all of the petty ‘wants’ that contaminate our prayers, God gives us the medicine that heals our sickness…the safe harbor that preserves the soul.  

God gives us salvation.

Our Lord:

All too often we pray for the things of the world,

while you provide the things of the spirit.

We pray for sweets and candy,

while you provide real food.

We pray for possessions,

while you provide for the needs of the soul.

We pray for authority over others,

while you provide community.

We pray for power,

while you provide kindness.

In the end, we do not receive the things we want,

but the things we need.

Instead of abandoning us in the deep waters

of our own foolish wants…

We receive salvation.


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