There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on Him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10.12-13)
It’s a rich, incisive word nearly bankrupted by narrow use and careless imposition. How we employ and regard it is a prime indicator of doctrinal skew. Some place great store in “getting saved,” a euphemism most frequently heard in Evangelical and Fundamentalist circles. There, the term is concrete. Believers begin their faith journeys by asking God to save them. They cherish how and when they got saved as a singular, life-changing event. Reformed, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians are less apt to talk about “getting saved” than “salvation,” which they believe preexists one’s confession of faith in God’s infinite, eternal will to save. For them, salvation comes by acknowledging we are saved, rather than asking to be saved.
The purpose for this clumsy attempt to illustrate subtle distinctions between the two isn’t to delineate doctrines, but to point out how handily we turn “saved” into a needlessly loaded word. For every believer eager to tell the world he/she’s saved, there’s another who uses the term sparingly, if at all. And in the process of larding “saved” with theological notions and affinities, we’ve lost touch with why the Early Church finds the word so appealing. Since today’s New Testament reading revisits Paul’s powerful treatise on salvation (Romans 10.4-17), we should ask how “saved” figures into first-century Christian parlance. We may be surprised to find its original usage encompasses a lot more than our present one.
What We’re Saved For
We impulsively vest salvation with implied threat. We assume we’re saved from something—rescued—and what we suppose that is can easily become a crippling distraction. Hell, of course, is the first thing that comes to mind. Then there’s also our need to be saved from sin’s detrimental effects in this life. Scripture undeniably, though not exclusively, places salvation in these contexts. Limiting it to divine rescue, however, drastically shortchanges the Early Church’s concept of “saved,” dulling our sense of why it’s so widely used while “redeemed,” “reconciled,” “delivered,” and other alternatives are reserved for specific discussions. The Apostles use the verb as we do now, embracing all its nuances to convey the magnificence of God’s grace. Yes, to be saved is to be rescued. But it’s also to be held, salvaged, repaired, restored, preserved, chosen, recovered, and relieved. This shifts the focus from what we’re saved from to what we’re saved for.
Early New Testament manuscripts contain 33 derivations from the Greek root, sózó, which literally translates as “to heal; to be made whole.” Jesus consistently uses the term after curing the diseased and disabled, saying, “Your faith has healed you.” His connection of faith and wholeness establishes Christianity’s operating principle. We believe and are made whole. Above all else, that’s what salvation is for: to make us whole. It accomplishes all that saving can possibly do. It holds us safe and secure. It salvages what disobedience and doubt have ruined. It repairs what’s broken and restores what’s depleted. It preserves us in times of trouble and despair. It chooses us despite our faults and frailty. It recovers what we’ve willfully squandered or unwillingly surrendered to harmful people and influences. It relieves us of fear and worry. And ultimately it rescues us from the powers and penalties of sin. Ultimately. The highway to Heaven is long and treacherous. No believer travels it without incident. That’s why it’s essential we recognize being saved is also about being healed and whole now.
To Everyone in Its Entirety
Time and again the disciples hear Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you.” They have no doubt: salvation is wholeness. After watching it happen and seeing the price Jesus paid so anyone who believes can be made whole, they would be profoundly disturbed by how many of us trivialize being saved as little more than a get-out-of-Hell-free card. The Apostles perpetually talk about salvation so we’ll grasp the unequaled provision and grace God withholds from no one. Confining it to rescue from eternal wrath or corseting it with manmade requirements is like trying to pour the sea into a thimble. It’s too great for such small-mindedness.
At the heart of his discussion Paul writes, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on Him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Romans 10.12-13) Wholeness is indiscriminately offered to every human on the planet. To ensure his readers realize “all” means all, Paul cites the prophet Joel (“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”). But he turns it inside out to underscore the inexhaustible depth and breadth of salvation’s inclusion. The Word spoken by Joel is initially given to Jews suffering the aftermath of plague and famine. Its message is God is faithful to you, the “chosen people,” and will honor salvation’s promises. Because Jesus died and rose again for the salvation of the world, however, the promise is now given to everyone in its entirety. Who you are, where you come from, and how much you do or don’t know are irrelevant. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus that Jesus is Lord,” Paul writes in verse 9, “and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Could it be any simpler?
No doubt the Romans greet Paul’s Salvation 101 lesson with the same incredulity that vexes us when faith gets in the mix. It’s not that simple. We’re replete with more doubts and deficits than one person’s faith can offset. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to accept salvation on our terms, according to how much belief we possess? Isn’t partially whole (whatever that means) better than nothing? If we only have faith to believe God saves us from eternal torment, why not settle for that? Anticipating this, Paul says faith isn’t a quantifiable reserve. It’s an uncompromised response. “So faith comes by what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (v17)
In John 6.63, Jesus says, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (Emphasis added.) Every word Jesus speaks brings wholeness. We believe Him when He says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10) Wholeness, fullness, wellness—salvation in its entirety—these topics never grow tiresome to Jesus. He came to give us full life, now and forever. We trust Him completely or not at all. We embrace salvation fully or not at all. Just as there’s no such thing as almost healed, there’s no such thing as not enough faith, because belief is measured by integrity, not size. Wholeness comes by wholly investing our belief in everything Jesus says. Wholeness is what being saved is for.
O God, we’re awestruck by Your inexhaustible love and the generosity of Your grace. Unleash our faith so we may wholly invest our trust in Christ as Lord of all. Continually remind us You measure faith by integrity, not size, and You welcome all of us, without exception, to experience salvation in its entirety. Make us whole. Amen.