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What Does the Bible Say About Salvation?

Frequently Asked Questions

We are frequently asked these questions, and this article attempts to summarize what the Bible says about salvation or being saved or attaining eternal life in heaven. Different books of the New Testament approach the topic of salvation in different ways. No single verse or chapter or book tells the whole story. Different Christian denominations emphasize different aspects of Bible teachings, and that may be why there are seemingly different beliefs about salvation.


I. Summary

II. Introduction

III. Matthew, Mark and Luke

IV. The Letters of Paul

V. The Gospel of John

VI. Martin Luther

VII. Church Doctrine

VIII. Questions

A. Once Saved, Always Saved? Can We Lose Our Salvation? Can We Be Saved Without Good Works?

B. Can Non-Christians Be Saved?

C. What About Predestination?

D. Will Babies and Children Who Die Young Go to Heaven?

E. Do I Have to Attend Church to Be Saved? Do I Have to Be Baptized?

F. What About Apostasy? Can Back Sliders and People Who Have Fallen Away from Faith Ever Be Saved?

G. Does a Person Have to Speak in Tongues to Be Saved?

H. Will God Forgive My Terrible Sins?

I. What About the "Unpardonable" Sin of Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?

J. How Can I Be Sure of My Salvation?

IX. Glossary

I. Summary

A. Definition

Salvation, or "being saved" means redemption from the power of sin. In practical terms, God's salvation is what we need to get to heaven or attain eternal life. (See II.)

B. Process of Salvation

C. Conditions of Salvation

No one verse, chapter or book of the Bible tells all the conditions for salvation, and the Bible does not give any "magic formula" that will guarantee salvation. Different parts of the Bible explain different aspects of salvation, and these are the main requirements listed in the Bible:

II. Introduction

Salvation means being saved from the power of sin and from hell, the eternal penalty of that sin. Through the process of salvation we are freed from everything that could prevent us from enjoying eternal life with God. Other common terms for salvation are being saved, going to heaven, eternal life, everlasting life, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven.

A. Judgment

All people who have ever lived, Christian and non-Christian, will face a final judgment to determine their eternal fate (Matthew 5:29-30, 25:31-46; John 5:25-29, Romans 14:10-12, Revelation 20:11-15). The Bible sometimes says a person is "saved" when he or she becomes a Christian (Acts 2:46-47, 16:31-34), but more often "saved" refers to being granted eternal life at the final judgment (Mark 13:13, Luke 13:23-24, 18:26-27, James 2:14 ).

B. Justification

Virtually every Christian denomination has a unique doctrine about salvation and the related idea of justification, making a sinner acceptable to God (see Glossary below). In addition to Bible teachings, these doctrines are based on church traditions and the ideas of popes, bishops, and theologians such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jacobus Arminius and John Wesley. Many of these doctrines emphasize one aspect of Bible teaching over another and apply different interpretations to Bible passages. Many wise and devoted people have spent a lifetime of study and prayer and have come to different conclusions about salvation!

All Christians, however, agree we can be saved only by the grace of God; we cannot save ourselves or determine our own fate after death. But, is salvation available to all, or are some people predestined to be saved while others are condemned to hell, even before they are born? Are we justified by faith or doing good works or both? Can only Christians be saved? Once saved, always saved? Can salvation be lost? These and many more questions have been the work of countless theologians over the past 2000 years. Nevertheless, despite obvious differences, the various beliefs about salvation have much in common, and most of them come from the Bible.

C. Salvation Is by the Grace of God Through the Sacrifice of Christ

Mark 10:24-27 introduces the idea that salvation is a gift from God, not something we earn by our own efforts. In the same chapter, we are introduced to the idea that, through a mystery we can't fully understand, salvation comes through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus said,

For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many." (NLT, Mark 10:45)

It seems strange to us today, but the concept of sacrifice for atonement (reconciliation between God and humans) was very familiar in Jesus' time. Lambs and other animals were routinely sacrificed in the Jewish temple to atone for sin. God accepted the death of the sacrificial animal as a substitute for the death that the sinner actually deserved. Against that background, we can understand that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice to redeem us from the penalty for the sins we have all committed. Through Jesus' death on the cross, we are freed from the deadly grip of sin. Although we do not fully understand the how or why of Jesus' sacrificial death, it offers us a chance for salvation, and that is the central belief and hope of Christianity.

However, salvation is not a gift given to all (Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-27); the Bible lists many requirements for salvation. Matthew, Mark and Luke emphasize high moral standards, love for one another, and commitment. We can never measure up to God's standards, but we must put forth our very best effort, and when we fail, we must repent and resolve to do better. The Letters of Paul also emphasize moral uprightness. Paul also says we can be justified (made acceptable to God) only by putting our faith in Christ, not by observing the Old Testament Laws. The Gospel of John emphasizes the importance of believing in Jesus Christ and putting our trust in Him.

III. Matthew, Mark and Luke

The Bible books of Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the "synoptic gospels," and they have much in common. Scholars believe Mark was the first written, around 70 A.D. Matthew and Luke were written between 80 and 90 A.D. and incorporated much of the material from Mark. Nearly all the teachings in these gospels are attributed directly to Jesus, but the authors have organized and presented the material in different ways.

A. Love God, Love Your Neighbor

Jesus emphasized the sincere, heart-felt application of His two Great Commandments:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: "Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?" Jesus replied, "What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?" The man answered, " 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " "Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you will live!" (NLT, Luke 10:25-28)

1. Love God.

Loving God means nothing should get in the way of our total devotion to God. (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34). In ancient times, people were tempted to worship pagan gods and idols. In modern times, we are tempted to let "idols" like money, power, politics, prestige, careers, hobbies, and pleasure become our primary goals and concerns (Luke 11:42, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5, Philippians 3:17-21, 1 John 2:1-6, 2:15-17, 5:1-3, 1 Timothy 6:10).

2. Love Your Neighbor.

The English word "love" can have affectionate, emotional, romantic, sexual, or benevolent meanings. The original Greek word agape, used in the Bible, has a benevolent meaning. It is the kind of love we do instead of the kind of love we feel. It means having a sincere concern for the welfare of others and holding them in high regard. That is what Jesus meant when He said, "Love your neighbor."

Jesus told His Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to show that a "neighbor" includes all people of the world, even those of different nationalities and religions, even enemies. In His description of the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus stated explicitly that our salvation depends on doing whatever we can to help other people in need. Loving God and loving our neighbors are inseparable concepts; we can't truly love God without also loving other people (1 John 3:15-18, 4:19-21, James 2:14-17).

Related articles:
The Greatest Commandment and the Parable of the Good Samaritan
Matthew 25:31-46 - The Judgment of the Nations

B. We Are not Saved Just by Following Rules

The Pharisees, religious leaders of Jesus' time, believed that salvation could be earned by strict observance of the Law of Moses (the Ten Commandments plus the other Old Testament rules). Jesus rejected that belief and stressed that we will be judged on the purity of our motives, not just on the outward observance of rules.

Jesus said we must strive to go beyond the Ten Commandments in our practice of love for all people. What He asks is true concern and caring, not mere compliance with a set of rules. Not only must we not murder (Exodus 20:13), we should avoid even holding a grudge:

"You have heard that the law of Moses says, 'Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell." (NLT, Matthew 5:21-22)

Not only must we not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14), we should avoid entertaining even the thought of it (Matthew 5:27-29). Not only must we not steal (Exodus 20:15) and not envy what others have (Exodus 20:17), we should focus our lives on God, not on earthly possessions (Matthew 6:19-21). Not only must we not give false testimony (Exodus 20:16), we should even avoid evil thoughts and speech (Matthew 12:35-37). Not only must we be considerate to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-8), we should treat them as we would treat Jesus, Himself! (Matthew 25:31-46).

C. Wealth Is not a Sign of God's Favor

Another common belief in Jesus' time was that great wealth was a sign of God's favor. Jesus rejected that belief and said wealth can actually be a deterrent to salvation:

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." (NIV, Mark 10:24-27)

It is not so much that wealth is intrinsically evil, or that poverty is blessed. Rather, a devotion to gathering wealth is incompatible with devotion to God. God must always be the most important thing in our lives:

"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (NLT, Luke 16:13)

Jesus saw wealth as a gift from God to be used in His service (Luke 16:1-13). Those who have been blessed with wealth must share generously with the poor (Matthew 25:31-46), and avoid the sins of arrogance (1 Timothy 6:17), dishonesty (Luke 19:1-10), self-trust (Proverbs 18:11) and greed (Luke 12:13-21).

D. We Must Be Truly Committed

Obedience to God's will is required for salvation. Mere intellectual Christianity, or acknowledgment of Christ as Savior, is not sufficient:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (NIV, Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus asks for total commitment (Luke 6:46-49, Luke 11:23) and warns that the road to salvation will not always be easy (Matthew 10:22, Mark 8:34-38).

E. Be Humble

God's kingdom is not for the proud, arrogant, self-righteous or self-sufficient. We must adopt a humble, trusting nature toward each other, and, especially, toward God.

Jesus called a small child over to him and put the child among them. Then he said, "I assure you, unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." (NLT, Matthew 18:2-5)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) also shows the evil of self-righteousness.

Related article: Humility

F. Serve God, Serve Others

God has given each person a unique set of gifts - wealth, talents, skills, time, love, compassion, understanding, wisdom, leadership, etc. We are stewards of those gifts, and it is our duty to use them to serve God and serve other people. Those who have been given greater gifts have correspondingly greater duties. Those are the lessons of Jesus' Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:12-27). The need to make good use of our gifts is restated by Paul and Peter (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, 1 Peter 4:10-11).

G. Repentance and Forgiveness

The standards Jesus set are so high that some people just dismiss them as being unrealistic, or as intended only for the kingdom of God when it comes to its full realization. Some say Jesus' teachings apply only to private spiritual life and not to work, school, politics or how we treat other people. However, Jesus did not put any such qualifications on his teachings, so it is best to assume he intended for us to do our best to meet His standards in all aspects of life.

Sin means transgression of God's will, either by failing to do what it requires or by doing what it forbids. It is taken for granted in the Bible that all people are sinful by nature and will never measure up to God's standards (Psalms 51:5-6, Romans 3:21-24, 5:12, 1 John 1:8). Fortunately, forgiveness is offered to all who repent, that is, sincerely turn away from sin and toward God (Mark 1:15, Luke 5:31-32, Luke 24:47, Luke 15:3-7). It doesn't matter how serious the sin or how long it has been going on, as long as one sincerely repents and makes a sincere attempt to avoid the sin in the future. God is always searching and always ready to forgive and receive a repentant sinner back into His good graces:

... There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (NIV, Luke 15:7)

The condition of forgiveness is a willingness to also forgive others:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NIV, Matthew 6:14-15)

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?

IV. The Letters of Paul

The apostle Paul was not one of Jesus' original followers or disciples. In fact, he despised the growing Christian movement and fiercely persecuted the early Christians. Then, several years after Jesus was crucified, raised and ascended to heaven, Paul had a dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). After that, he spent time learning from some of Jesus' disciples and became the most energetic disciple of all, as well as the first and most influential interpreter of Jesus' life and ministry. He founded many Christian communities and his letters to these communities are among the earliest Christian documents preserved in the New Testament, predating even the Gospel of Mark. His First Letter to the Thessalonians dates from around 50 A.D., and the more important letters to the Romans and the Corinthians date from 54 - 56 A.D.

A. Have Faith in Christ

Paul stressed the redemption offered by Christ, which is available through the gift of faith. When Paul spoke of "faith," it was usually in opposition to the Old Testament Law. The Jews of Biblical times believed they would attain salvation by strictly observing the letter of the Law of Moses (the Ten Commandments and other Old Testament laws). But Paul said,

But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight--not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus. Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (NLT, Romans 3:21-28)

The "faith" Paul spoke of in his letters is a translation of the Greek word pistis. This word (see Glossary below) has implications of trust, firm conviction, obedience and commitment. So faith, in a Biblical sense, is more that just intellectual belief. It goes far beyond that and implies a commitment to trust God and let His will rule our lives.

B. Practice Good Works

"Works" is a term used in the Bible to describe our acts or deeds (see Glossary below). Works are the things we do as opposed to the things we believe. Our works are "good works" when we obey the commandments of God and the teachings of Jesus. They are "bad works" when we sin.

In Romans 3:28, Paul said, "For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law." In other words, our salvation comes through our faith, not, as was commonly believed at the time, from obeying the Laws of Moses. However, Paul's teaching has sometimes been interpreted as meaning that if we have faith, nothing else matters; we don't need to do "good works", that is, obey God's commandments, in order to be saved. However, that was not Paul's interpretation at all. He said if the Spirit of Christ is truly within us, we will turn away from evil deeds:

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace... So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you keep on following it, you will perish. But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (NLT, Romans 8:5-6, 12-14)

It may be due to misinterpretation of Paul's teaching that, about five years later, James felt obligated to write, "Faith that doesn't show itself by good deeds is no faith at all--it is dead and useless" (James 2:14-20). Just as Jesus emphasized the need for love and moral uprightness, so did Paul:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (NIV, Galatians 5:19-26)

V. The Gospel of John

Bible scholars believe John was the last of the gospels to be written, around 95 A.D. As with Matthew, Mark and Luke, nearly all the teachings in John are attributed to Jesus. However, different teachings are emphasized in John, and they are presented with a different viewpoint. Whereas the other Gospels report Jesus' life and teachings without much interpretation, the Gospel of John is much more of a theological and interpretive work. Its late date of publication, 65 years after Jesus was crucified, implies that few people were still alive who knew Jesus in the flesh. Scholars believe the book of John was most likely written at the Christian community of Ephesus, and represents the knowledge and beliefs about Jesus that were preserved there. An origin at Ephesus suggests that John may have been influenced by the teachings of the apostle Paul, but that is not certain. Despite its separation in time and space from Jesus' ministry, the Gospel of John gives insight into Jesus' teachings and early Christian beliefs that are not available elsewhere in the New Testament.

A. Have Faith in Christ

More than in any other book of the New Testament, John emphasizes the importance of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (NRSV, John 3:16-18)

The same thought is restated in John 5:24, 6:28-29, 6:47, 9:35, 11:25-26, 12:36, 20:31.

Because of John 3:16, some people think all we need do to be saved is to profess our faith in Jesus as Son of God. But John goes on to say that those people who prefer to keep living in sin do not truly believe in Christ. Anyone can say they have faith in Christ, but the way we live our lives is the evidence of whether we have truly come into the light of Christ:

"And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." (NRSV, John 3:19-21)

B. We Must Be Born Again

We must experience a spiritual rebirth to enter God's kingdom. The old sinful ways and thoughts are left behind and replaced with a new regenerated spiritual existence through the power of faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus introduced this concept while talking to the Pharisee Nicodemus:

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (NIV, John 3:3-6)

The original Greek Bible words gennaō anōthen can be translated as "born again" or "born from above." Some Bibles use one translation and some the other.

The concept of spiritual rebirth in John is similar to the idea of repentance (turning away from sin and toward God) often expressed in Matthew, Mark and Luke. An especially close comparison is found in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) where the father says his son "was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found." (NRSV)

Evangelical Christians often associate being born again with a specific moment when one comes to sincerely trust in Jesus Christ as savior. Other Christians may view spiritual rebirth as a process that begins with baptism, is experienced in Communion (the Lord's Supper, Eucharist), and proceeds throughout life with acts of repentance and growth in faith and commitment.

Related articles: What Does the Bible Say About Baptism?, What Does the Bible Say About Faith?, What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?

C. Love One Another

Jesus' command for Christian love also appears in John's Gospel:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (NRSV, John 13:34-35)

D. Obey Jesus' Teachings

Despite the strong emphasis on faith, obedience to Jesus' teachings is also important in John's Gospel:

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, "You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (NLT, John 8:31-32)

Those who obey my commandments are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them, and I will love them. And I will reveal myself to each one of them." (NLT, John 14:21)

VI. Martin Luther

Church officials of the Middle Ages had fallen into the corrupt practice of selling indulgences to raise money. In return for the "good works" of a monetary contribution to the church, it was claimed that people could be released from penance for their sins, virtually guarantee their entry into heaven, or even purchase release from the pains of purgatory for a deceased relative.

Martin Luther (1483-1546), was a Catholic monk and Professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. From his study of Scripture, Luther knew that indulgences bought from the Church did not have the power to forgive people's sins. Instead, Luther taught that we can be justified (made acceptable to God) only by faith.

But Luther did not deny the importance of good works. He wrote, "For grace and faith are infused apart from our work, and when they are infused, then the works follow." In other words, when one is saved by the grace of God, he or she will practice good works as a result of that transformation. He also taught that a believer must practice repentance throughout his or her whole life.

In 1517 Luther tacked his famous 95 theses entitled "On the Power of Indulgences" to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. That document was a scathing indictment of the practice of selling indulgences, and it set off the chain of events that led to the Protestant Reformation. However, the Catholic Church soon undertook its own reforms and the practice of selling indulgences was abolished.

VII. Church Doctrine

Church beliefs and teachings about justification and salvation are too extensive to give a complete list, but here is a sampling of teachings from the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.

A. Roman Catholic Church

This is only a sampling of the Roman Catholic Church's extensive teachings on the topics of salvation and justification.

169 Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: "We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation." Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.

183 Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16:16).

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

1741 Liberation and salvation. By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage. "For freedom Christ has set us free." In him we have communion with the "truth that makes us free." The Holy Spirit has been given to us and, as the Apostle teaches, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Already we glory in the "liberty of the children of God."

1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

2068 The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them; the Second Vatican Council confirms: "The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments."

(from Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, © 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. Online at and

B. Southern Baptist Convention

IV. Salvation

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.

B. Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.

D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

(from the Official Website of the Southern Baptist Convention,

C. United Methodist Church

We believe God reaches out to the repentant believer in justifying grace with accepting and pardoning love. Wesleyan theology stresses that a decisive change in the human heart can and does occur under the prompting of grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In justification we are, through faith, forgiven our sin and restored to God s favor. This righting of relationships by God through Christ calls forth our faith and trust as we experience regeneration, by which we are made new creatures in Christ... We believe good works are the necessary fruits of faith and follow regeneration but they do not have the virtue to remove our sins or to avert divine judgment. We believe good works, pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, spring from a true and living faith, for through and by them faith is made evident.
(From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2000. Copyright 2000 by The United Methodist Publishing House.)

VIII. Questions

A. Once Saved, Always Saved? Can We Lose Our Salvation? Can We Be Saved Without Good Works?

Most Christians believe we are justified and saved by faith alone, but good works are the necessary result and evidence of that salvation. In contrast, there is a modern doctrine, popularized by some evangelists and organizations, that believing Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior is all that is required for salvation, and we can never lose that salvation. According to that doctrine, we are saved by belief in Christ alone; it is not necessary to repent, and good works do not necessarily result from being saved. Bible passages such as John 3:16 and John 10:27-29, as well as Paul's teachings in Romans 8:35-39 and 2 Corinthians 1:20-22 are cited in support. This doctrine has tremendous popular appeal because it teaches that we can be assured of our salvation without the obligation to change our sinful ways. In this view, God loves us and accepts us just as we are, and it is up to God to change us if He wants to.

However, the overall weight of Biblical evidence points to the conclusion that a person who goes on willfully sinning has either intentionally abandoned his or her faith or never sincerely made a faith commitment in the first place. True faith involves a commitment to trust God and to do our best to live according to His commandments:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (NIV, Hebrews 10:26-31)

Cling tightly to your faith in Christ, and always keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. (NLT, 1 Timothy 1:19)

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (NIV, Galatians 5:19-26)

Other relevant passages include Matthew 7:21-23, 10:22, 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-37, John 14:21-23, John 15:6, Romans 2:6-10, Galatians 6:8-9, Ephesians 5:5-6, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:12, Hebrews 6:4-6, James 2:14-24, and 2 Peter 2:20-21.

B. Can Non-Christians Be Saved?

1. the "No" Position: Non-Christians Cannot Be Saved

Many people believe the Bible says clearly and unequivocally that salvation is possible only for those people who believe in Christ as Savior and Son of God. To the objection that this seems "mean-spirited" of God, they point out that all men stand condemned because of their own sin, and God does not "owe" salvation to anyone. He has graciously offered atonement for sin to those who put their faith in Christ.

John 3:16-18 is probably the strongest statement in the Bible that salvation is possible only by faith in Christ as the Son of God:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (NIV, John 3:16-18)

The apostle Paul stated a similar position, though not worded quite as strongly:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (NIV, Romans 3:21-25)

There are many other Bible verses, especially in John, that imply that faith in Christ is a condition of salvation (John 5:24, John 6:28-29, John 6:47, John 9:35, John 11:25-26, John 12:36, John 20:31, Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 3:26).

2. the "Yes" Position: Non-Christians Can Be Saved

Critics of the "no" position point out that the New Testament books were originally written and used as statements of faith and reference material within the early Christian communities. This is especially true of the Letters of Paul, which were written to specific churches he had founded, usually to address some specific issue of doctrine or conduct that had arisen. Within these churches, those who didn't believe in Christ would be those who had heard and understood the Gospel but willfully rejected it. Thus, the condemnation of non-believers may be intended for those people rather than for ones who had not heard the Gospel. There is some support for this position even in John. In the story of Jesus healing a blind man (John 9:1-41), Jesus condemns the Pharisees not for their lack of faith (symbolized by blindness), but because they have heard the truth and still refuse to believe (they claim they can see). In that context he says,

Then Jesus told him, "I have come to judge the world. I have come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind." The Pharisees who were standing there heard him and asked, "Are you saying we are blind?" "If you were blind, you wouldn't be guilty," Jesus replied. "But you remain guilty because you claim you can see. (NLT, John 9:39-41)

Paul, too, writes that those who have not heard the Gospel (the pagan Gentiles) may attain the equivalent, in their own hearts, by other means:

God will punish the Gentiles when they sin, even though they never had God's written law. And he will punish the Jews when they sin, for they do have the law. For it is not merely knowing the law that brings God's approval. Those who obey the law will be declared right in God's sight. Even when Gentiles, who do not have God's written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God's law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right. The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone's secret life. This is my message. (NLT, Romans 2:12-16)

Another criticism of the "no" position is that the idea of faith in Christ as a condition of salvation is not strongly present in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), if at all. The overall thrust of the synoptic gospels is that salvation is available to all those who make love for God and love for their fellow men the guiding forces in their lives. This is best summed up by Jesus' response to the expert in religious law:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: "Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?" Jesus replied, "What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?" The man answered, " 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " "Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you will live!" (NLT, Luke 10:25-28)

A similar thought is expressed in 1 John:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (NIV, 1 John 4:7-12)

There are a number of other verses in the Bible that suggest that God will judge different people by different standards, and salvation is more generally available than just to those with faith in Christ as Son of God (Matthew 5:43-46, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 12:47-48, Luke 18:26-27, John 1:29-30, John 5:25-29, John 12:28-32, Romans 14:10-12, 1 Timothy 4:10, Revelation 20:11-15).

In the past, some Christian churches taught that all non-Christians were condemned, and even Christians of other denominations were likely condemned. However, world travel and instant communication have brought people of different religions closer together and have forced a reevaluation of old beliefs that other religions were invalid, obsolete, or even the work of the devil. If we take John 3:16-18 as the sole criterion for salvation, then all non-Christians, children who die young, and the mentally disabled will be automatically condemned to hell. Many people find that inconsistent with the New Testament's portrayal of God as a loving Father. In addition, it seems inconsistent with the Bible's portrayal of God as all-powerful to believe He is somehow unable to save anyone He finds worthy, regardless of religious affiliation.

Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560 - 1609) believed it is God's desire to save all people if they do not reject the salvation offered by Christ. God has bestowed sufficient grace on even those who have not heard the Gospel for them to implicitly accept that salvation. Those who know the Gospel have greater advantages and responsibilities; their salvation is conditional on repentance and faith in Christ.

Today, the majority of Christian churches adhere to some variation of the Arminian view of salvation.

C. What About Predestination?

1. Predestination - the Calvinistic View

The question of predestination is actually more philosophical than Biblical. Some people reason that if God is truly all-powerful and all-knowing, He must have predestined the lives of all people from the beginning of time and have advance knowledge of all their actions. Therefore, God has predestined the fate, salvation or damnation, for all people. There is some support for this in the Bible, in the writings of Paul:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (NIV, Romans 8:28-30)

In [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (NIV, Ephesians 1:11-12)

The modern doctrine of predestination is largely the work of French theologian John Calvin (1509 - 1564). Calvin believed that the people God has selected to be saved are irresistibly called into His grace; all others have no chance of salvation.

2. Free Will - the Arminian View

Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560 - 1609) believed, in opposition to Calvinism, that God's sovereignty and man's free will are compatible concepts, and the doctrine of free will became associated with his name.

The concept of free will predominates in the Bible. Throughout the New Testament, people are portrayed as having the power and responsibility to choose or reject salvation (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 12:35-37, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-28, Romans 8:5-14, Romans 10:8-12). A number of verses also suggest that salvation is potentially available to all persons, not just a predestined group:

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (NIV, Romans 5:18-19)

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (NIV, 1 Corinthians 15:21-23)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV, John 3:16)

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time. (NIV, 1 Timothy 2:3-7)

The majority of Christian churches adhere to some variation of the Arminian view of salvation.

D. Will Babies and Children Who Die Young Go to Heaven?

The eternal fate of infants and children who die young is a common concern. The same concern applies to those who are mentally handicapped. Some Christians are more concerned about those who die without being baptized. Others are more concerned about those who die too young to make their own choice for faith. Unfortunately, the Bible does not say anything about this topic.

The predominant belief among Christians is that God makes provision for salvation for those who, through no fault of their own, die before being baptized or being able to make their own choices about faith.

It used to be a common belief among Catholics that children who died without being baptized would end up in Limbo, an intermediate state between heaven and hell. However, this is the current teaching of the Catholic Church:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism... (from Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second edition.)

E. Do I Have to Attend Church to Be Saved? Do I Have to Be Baptized?

There are not many specific teachings in the Bible, but church and baptism were very important to the early Christians. The Church (the collective body of all Christian believers) is described as the body of Christ and under His authority (Ephesians 1:20-23, Colossians 1:24). Regular attendance at church meetings is urged (Hebrews 10:23-25). Baptism is commanded for Christian believers (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:38).

Many Christians find that attending church and having fellowship with other Christians is helpful for their spiritual growth. Some churches teach that joining a church and/or participating in the sacraments, including baptism and the Lord's Supper (communion, Eucharist), are necessary to be saved, and there is some Biblical support for that (Luke 22:14-20, Matthew 28:19-20, John 6:48-51). However, the Bible passages can be interpreted different ways.

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Baptism?

F. What About Apostasy? Can Back Sliders and People Who Have Fallen Away from Faith Ever Be Saved?

Apostasy is a deliberate abandonment of faith. Several New Testament passages (Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:26, 2 Peter 2:20-21) seem to say that someone who has fallen away from Christian faith has no chance to repent and come back. These passages have been interpreted many different ways, and it is fair to say than no one is really sure of their original intent.

In their original context, these were warnings, in the strongest possible terms, to the first century Christians not to abandon their new faith because of persecution or false teachings. Thus, the authors may have used some hyperbole (exaggeration) to emphasize the point. [Jesus also used hyperbole for emphasis (Matthew 7:3-5, Mark 10:25).]

If these verses really mean that a person who has fallen away has no chance to repent, that would seem to contradict many other New Testament teachings about God's mercy and constant willingness to forgive. These verses are probably not directed at people who have doubts or who lose their faith and come back later. It is the person who deliberately, permanently and hard-heartedly rejects faith who will never repent, and thus can never be forgiven.

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Faith?

G. Does a Person Have to Speak in Tongues to Be Saved?

Speaking in tongues (utterances in an ecstatic and unknown language) is an important part of worship in a number of Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Some Pentecostal churches, including Assemblies of God, teach that speaking in tongues is evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit, but it is not essential for salvation and eternal life. Some other Pentecostal denominations teach that speaking in tongues is experienced by everyone who has truly been saved.

The apostle Paul classified speaking in tongues as just one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:6-11, Romans 12:6-8). Paul was thankful for his own gift of speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18-19). But Paul told his churches that it was better practiced in private than in church, unless someone could interpret the ecstatic speech (1 Corinthians 14:23, 27-28). The gift of speaking in tongues was less important than the gifts of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:2-5) and love (1 Corinthians 13:1). Nothing in the Bible says speaking in tongues is necessary for salvation.

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Speaking in Tongues?

H. Will God Forgive My Terrible Sins?

Sin is disobedience to God's commandments, either by doing what is forbidden or failing to do what is required. The good news is that, no matter how serious the sin, God is always seeking us out and is willing to forgive and forget our sins and give us a fresh start. As long as we live, it is never too late to ask for forgiveness and make a new start! However, two things are required as conditions of forgiveness: sincere repentance (turning away from sin) and forgiveness of other people who may sin against us.

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?

I. What About the "Unpardonable" Sin of Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?

Jesus said blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unpardonable sin:
I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. (NIV, Mark 3:28-29)

The nature of this sin has been the subject of much debate. In context, Jesus was referring to the sin of the teachers of the law (Mark 3:22-30) who said Jesus was possessed by demons and had an evil spirit. The total spiritual blindness of those who mistook the work of Jesus for the work of Satan put them beyond hope of repentance, faith and forgiveness.

Many people worry about committing the unpardonable sin accidentally or in a moment of weakness, but most Bible experts say there is no need for such worry. It is not that any sin is beyond the power of God's grace. The sin of the teachers of the law was not forgiven because their own stubborn perversion of the truth and hardness of heart prevented them from repenting. Those people who are concerned enough to worry about their sins are not in danger of committing an unpardonable sin.

Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?

J. How Can I Be Sure of My Salvation?

Some churches have doctrines telling exactly what is required to be saved, but the Bible does not. Different books of the New Testament tell different aspects of salvation (Matthew 7:21-23, 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-28, John 3:16, James 2:14-17, etc.) God will judge different people by different standards, depending on their knowledge of the Gospel and the wealth, gifts and abilities that have been entrusted to them (Matthew 10:14-15, 11:21-24, Luke 12:47-48, 20:45-47, 21:1-4, John 9:40-41, 15:22-24, Romans 2:12-16, 1 Corinthians 3:7-9, Galatians 6:3-5, James 3:1):

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (NRSV, Luke 12:48)

The Bible does make it clear that we must humble ourselves before God (Matthew 11:29-30, 18:2-4) and depend on His mercy. We cannot stand before God at the final judgment and claim we are entitled to salvation on the merit of church membership or anything we have done, said or believed.

The steps required to prepare ourselves for judgment come almost naturally for some people. But, for most of us, those steps require long, difficult changes in attitudes and beliefs. The Bible's advice is to put our whole faith and trust in Christ and obey His teachings. When we fail, as we often will, we must repent. We should be making progress toward holiness and moral perfection (Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 7:1), although we will never fully reach those goals. Our efforts toward perfection must be absolutely sincere; we may impress other people with outward displays of holiness, but God will not be fooled (Matthew 23:27-28, 1 Corinthians 4:5).

IX. Glossary

These definitions are from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986. The corresponding Greek words from the original Bible manuscripts are shown in brackets with definitions from Strong's Greek/Hebrew Dictionary (electronic database), Tristar Publishing, 1989 and Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.

FAITH - A belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one's life. [Greek pistis (PIS tis) - trust, firm conviction, obedience, commitment]

GRACE - Favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves. Grace is one of the key attributes of God. [Greek charis (KHAR eece) - graciousness, of manner or act]

JUSTIFICATION - The process by which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God. [Greek dikaiosis (dik AH yo sis) - acquittal]

REDEMPTION - Deliverance by payment of a price. In the New Testament, redemption refers to salvation from sin, death, and the wrath of God by Christ's sacrifice. [Greek apolutrosis (ap ol OO tro sis) - ransom]

REGENERATION - A spiritual change brought about in a person’s life by an act of God. [Greek  gennaō anōthen (ghen-NAH-o AN-o-then) - born from above]

REPENTANCE - A turning away from sin, disobedience, or rebellion and a turning back to God (Matthew 9:13; Luke 5:32). True repentance is a "godly sorrow" for sin, an act of turning around and going in the opposite direction. [Greek metanoia (met AN oy ah) - reversal, reconsideration]

WORKS - Acts or deeds. God's works are praised often in the Book of Psalms (Psalms 33:4, 92:5, 104:24) and Christ's works are thoroughly discussed in the Gospel of John (John 10:25-38). Man's works are either good or bad, and these two categories are often mentioned together (Romans 13:3, 12, Hebrews 6:1, 10). Christians are taught to display good works (Matthew 5:16, Ephesians 2:10, James 2:14-17, Revelation 3:8). [Greek ergon (ER gon) - work, labor, toil]

Related articles:
What Does the Bible Say About Heaven, Hell, Eternal Life and the Resurrection of the Body?
What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?