One of the core teachings of Christianity is the doctrine of salvation. The doctrine of salvation is often known as “soteriology” because it draws from the Greek word “Soteria” meaning “salvation.” Soteria includes the concepts of deliverance, restoration, and healing. In theology, salvation describes the redemptive work of God on behalf of humanity. Salvation includes conviction, forgiveness, repentance, faith, justification, and sanctification. The benefactor of salvation is forgiven sin, reconciled with God, and given a new nature.
A common Protestant understanding of salvation often stresses eternal bliss in Heaven. The writings of the New Testament have much to say about salvation and the eternal implications of salvation. However, no one book explains the doctrine of salvation better than Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome in what we call the Book of Romans. Paul does this by beginning with the universal need before revealing the universal solution. He concludes the letter to the Romans by explaining the implications of receiving the universal solution.
Salvation in the Christian context begins with a universal need. Paul explains the doctrine of salvation in detail in the Book of Romans. First, everyone has a basic revelation of the existence of God and therefore, no one can claim they did not know that God exists (see Romans 1: 21-25).
God’s response to this universal act of rebellion on the part of humanity was to send his “wrath” into creation in various forms from self-destruction and decay to the immoral behavior of all types (see Romans 1: 26-32). In one sense, the natural consequences of sinful behavior are an example of God’s “wrath.”
The consequences of sinful behavior are consistent with what we understand about natural law. Paul used natural law in presenting his rationale for stating that a universal problem exists. The natural law is sowing and reaping meaning the fruit produced by a plant is consistent with the nature of the plant.
God’s design for creation includes moral universals and these constitute part of what we label as God’s Laws. Rebellion against God is treated as sin in the Bible and sin is the choice to violate God’s design for creation. Therefore, the consequences are undesirable because they are inconsistent with the design for a good life that we all desire.
Paul also describes God’s “wrath” in theological terms. God’s wrath has eternal implications as well. The principle that sin results in death began in the Book of Genesis when God warned that the choice to sin would result in death. When sin entered the human race, death occurred. Death came in the form of our ability to fulfill the Creation Mandate to manage creation unto the glory of God (see Genesis 1:28). The desire to manage as part of our divine design, but sin caused us to lose the ability to do so.
Our spiritual and moral innocence was lost so that we are separated from God and human nature is inherently self-centered. We can do nothing through the human effort to correct the problem (see Romans 3: 9-20).
Paul takes the insufficiency of humanity to experience reconciliation and innocence with God through human effort a step farther by noting that our best attempts at being “good enough” and to make amends for our sins will never be enough. This is part of the righteousness argument and Paul clearly states that no one is righteous “enough” to earn God’s approval (see Romans 7: 7-25).
Paul moves on to explain the universal solution to the problem. Salvation actually comes in two parts. Justification is what we often associate in Protestantism with the “event” of salvation when we first profess faith in Christ. Salvation was made possible through Jesus Christ (see Romans 5: 12-21).
Salvation is a gift from God and received by faith in Him and His payment for our sins. Paul used the example of Abraham’s faith as the model for us to follow (see Romans 4: 1-25). Abraham believed God to the point that he was willing to obey God’s revelation and direction.
The acceptance of the universal solution is a choice. One of the most popular verses in the Bible captures this point. Jesus proclaimed that God so loved humanity that He sent His Son to pay the price for humanity’s sin and to provide the way of reconciliation with God to those who believed in Him (see John 3:17).
Sanctification is the second part of salvation and involves the implications of Christ being in us. First, we are free from the mastery of sin so that sinful behavior is not our natural desire, but we desire to please God (see Romans 6: 15-23).
Second, sanctification is the process of being transformed from something common into something holy. The entirety of chapter 8 addresses what happens in sanctification as God has already determined that those who are in Christ will be transformed into sharing Christ’s character and nature.
Third, sanctification includes a call to virtuous living. Virtuous living is guided by the greatest virtue in Christianity – love. The remainder of the Book of Romans details different ways that love should be demonstrated from moral living and seeking to be good citizens to striving for peace with other Christians and not allowing convictions to cause division.
The Christian doctrine of salvation is one of the core teachings and doctrines of Christianity. The theme appears throughout the New Testament. Perhaps no one New Testament book better explains salvation than the Book of Romans.