The first time I heard the term soteriology, I thought it sounded like a boring doctorate thesis or a medical problem. I was watching a video lecture by the late theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul speaking to a group of seminary students who already knew big words that end in -ology. But since I wasn’t one of them, I paused the video and looked the word up. That’s when I discovered that my passion for studying the Bible’s teaching on salvation has a name—soteriology.
What Is the Meaning of Soteriology?
The term comes from the Greek word soteria, which means salvation. Soteria derives from the root word soter, which means savior. Finally, the suffix -ology comes from the Greek word logia, which means to study. Soteriology, therefore, is a branch of theology that focuses on the study of salvation.
Is Soteriology Biblical?
Soteriology isn’t uniquely Christian, but it is biblical. Paul demonstrates the use of soteriology in his letter to the Corinthian church. He wrote the church after they’d fallen away from the truth of the gospel (the proclamation of the message of salvation). They’d embraced distorted teachings and practices concerning salvation. He addressed their false beliefs, corrected their understanding, and in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, defined true salvation (soteriology in action).
1. Christ died for our sins (v. 3).
2. Christ was buried (v. 4).
3. Christ was raised on the third day (v. 4).
4. Christ appeared to many after His resurrection (v. 5).
5. These truths happened according to and in fulfillment of Scripture (v. 3-4).
Paul also demonstrated how the Corinthians could know they’re saved.
1. They heard the true gospel (v. 1).
2. They received the gospel as truth (v. 1).
3. They stood (believing, evidenced by their life) upon the gospel as truth (v. 2).
5 Common Questions Soteriology Answers
Soteriology answers many questions, such as the following five common—and all-important—questions. (Every religion has its own soteriological answers to these questions, but only Christianity offers God’s answers—answers that actually lead to salvation.)
1. Q: Who needs saving?
2. Q: What do they need saving from?
3. Q: Who does the saving?
4. Q: How does the Savior save?
A: Christ went to the cross and purchased the salvation of all who will believe in His atoning death (that His death was sufficient payment for their sin) (Galatians 3:3, Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 5:9; Hebrews 9:12)
5. Q: What is the chief end of salvation?
Christian soteriology digs deeply into the doctrine (the Bible’s teaching) of salvation and examines the Author of salvation—Jesus Christ. He’s the beginning and end of all things. Thus, Christian soteriology calls for a clear understanding of another “ology”—Christology.
What Is the Difference between Christology and Soteriology?
Soteriology is the study of salvation. It guards against false understanding about salvation and helps ensure we know if we’re truly saved from God’s wrath for our sin. Christology is the study of the Person and work of Jesus Christ, particularly Jesus’ primary work—salvation. (Luke 19:10; I Timothy 1:15-16).
5 Common Questions Christology Answers
1. Q: Who is Jesus?
2. Q: What makes Him significant and unique?
A: Christ is our Vicar (our substitute). He went to the cross to atone for (pay for) the sin of mankind by taking onto Himself the penalty for sin. He uniquely and perfectly met every demand of God’s law, qualifying Him to be the sinless Savior. Through faith in Christ, the sinner no longer stands guilty or condemned to experience God’s wrath. Instead, Christ’s grace is poured out onto them. Only Jesus could accomplish all this. (Isaiah 53:6,10; Colossians 1:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Matthew 5:17)
3. Q: What has He done?
A: Among many things, Jesus accomplished eternal redemption for man (paid the full price for the penalty of man’s sin on the cross). He satisfied the Father’s wrath for sin, defeated sin and death, and rose from the dead. Then He established His church and returned to heaven (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:18-19).
4. Q: What is He doing now?
A: Jesus is seated in power at the right hand of the Father where He intercedes for His Bride (Christians), conforms Christians into His likeness, and is preparing a place for her in heaven. When a sinner believes in Him, He imputes His righteousness onto them (accredits His righteousness to them) (John 14:1-3; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 7:25, 10:12-13).
5. Q: What will He do in the future?
A: Jesus will come again to gather His bride to Himself, pour out judgment upon all who have rejected His salvation, destroy sin, Satan, and death, and reign in glory in His new kingdom forever (Matthew 24:29-31; John 8:24, 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 1:7, 20:10-15, 22:12).
How Does Soteriology Show the Way to Salvation?
People across time have held varying opinions about salvation, ranging from everyone in the world will be saved to only those who do enough good deeds are saved. The Bible holds the truth. Soteriology does the heavy lifting of mining these truths by examining the Bible in context and forming a clear understanding of salvation based on the evidence. Believing in a false gospel leaves sinners condemned—no matter how sincerely they believe the false gospel. Christian soteriology seeks to expose false teaching by illuminating biblical truth—truths such as:
Salvation comes by believing in the heart, not by simply repeating words in a prayer as if they held magic power. A prayer that leads to salvation must be made with true faith in the Gospel (Romans 10:10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-5).
There’s salvation in no other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12).
5 Ways to Know that You Are Saved
Nothing matters more than knowing for certain we’re truly saved because those who never believe will suffer eternally in hell. Fortunately, the Bible shows us how we can know by revealing the marks salvation leaves on the believer’s life, including the five marks below.
1. A True Christian Confesses Christ
A true Christian affirms the Gospel message is true and confesses Jesus as their Savior (Romans 10:9-13). They also have a desire to confess Christ to others so they may also hear and believe the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Acts 2:41-47). God gives the gift of evangelism to some Christians, but the command to all (Matthew 28:19-20).
2. A True Christian Bears Lasting Fruit
All mankind is born into the world as sinners who love their sin and live for themselves. When Christ saves a person, the Holy Spirit indwells and transforms them. Their lives display the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts. A true Christian cannot remain unchanged. Growing into Christlikeness is a life-long journey, but salvation changes a spiritually dead heart into a heart that lives and breathes for God and produces lasting fruit—the fruit (evidence) of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
3. A True Christian Has a Love for God, His Word, His Church, and Others
Just as a bride longs to be with her husband and can quote from his love letters, the church (Christians) longs for Christ and His Word. A true Christian experiences a growing love for the things God loves, especially time in His Word, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians, as well as showing love to their “neighbor” (people) (Matthew 22:36-40; Acts 2:42-47).
4. A True Christian Hates Sin
Christians receive Christ’s nature at salvation, but they don’t lose their sinful nature. It remains for now and fights against their new nature. Therefore, all Christians continue to sin—some even fall into serious sin—but they’re not able to remain comfortable in it. A non-Christian can sin all day and feel little to no guilt because their hearts are spiritually dead. To a Christian, sin may taste good going down, but like food poisoning, its rottenness churns their spiritual stomach. Guilt and grief over their sin can even make them physically sick if they refuse to confess and turn away from it (Romans 7:14-25; 1 John 1:6-10).
5. A True Christian Endures to the End
Salvation isn’t based on works, and it can’t be lost or taken away. Thus, despite all the highs and lows of a Christian’s spiritual walk, they’ll endure to the end. They won’t walk away from Christ or deny Him forever. The disciple Peter displayed it’s possible for a believer to be so set on avoiding pain that they’ll lie. But they won’t be able to hold onto the lie forever. They’ll return to Christ, like Peter, who shamelessly dove out of his boat and swam to shore to get to Jesus. Or like the prodigal child who couldn’t stay away from the love, goodness, and grace of his father forever. A person who has confessed Christ and then walks away forever never truly belonged to the family of Christ (Luke 15:11-32, 22:54-62; John 10:27-29, 21:7-19; 1 John 2:19, Hebrews 3:14).
Why Everyone Should Study Soteriology
Soteriology helps us examine our lives to see if we’re truly saved before we die, which is vital because after death comes judgment (2 Corinthians 13:5; Acts 4:12; Hebrews 9:27). If your life doesn’t display all five of the marks of a true Christian above, seek the Lord while you still have time (Isaiah 55:6). Repent (turn away from your sin) and believe the gospel. Talk with a pastor of a solid Bible-based church.
If you’re concerned because you only see seedlings of these marks in your life, remember even the grandest oak tree began as a seed. It grew into a towering oak over much time. The Holy Spirit does the work of shaping our hearts into the image of Christ. You can trust Him to do it (Romans 8:29; Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 13:20-21). Our job is to study the Bible and pray as we trust and obey. (I also recommend joining a solid Bible-based church. It’s vital to the life of a Christian).
Soteriology sounds best suited for the halls of academia, but it’s not a discipline reserved only for seminary classrooms. Every wise Christian will pursue a passion for this study so they can understand and rejoice in the assurance of their salvation—and be equipped to share the good news of the Gospel with others.
Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/arkira
Jean Wilund is a former frustrated Bible reader turned geeky Bible lover. She’s passionate about helping women discover the fun in serious Bible study and a deeper love for God.
She’s a member of the Revive Our Hearts ministry writing team and enjoys answering your questions about the Bible and the Christian life on her YouTube channel and website JeanWilund.com. Connect with her also on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.