I was once confronted by a young man in Philadelphia who asked me, "Are you saved?" My reply to him was, "Saved from what?" He was taken aback by my question. He obviously hadn't thought much about the meaning of the question he was asking people. I was certainly not saved from people interrupting me on the street and buttonholing me with the question "Are you saved?"
The question of being saved is the supreme question of the Bible. The subject matter of the sacred Scriptures is the subject of salvation. Jesus, at His conception in the womb of Mary, is announced as the Savior. Saviorhood and salvation go together. It is the role of the Savior to save.
Yet again we ask, saved from what? The biblical meaning of salvation is broad and varied. In its simplest form the verb to save means "to be rescued from a dangerous or threatening situation." When Israel escapes defeat at the hands of her enemies in battle, she is said to be saved. When people recover from a life-threatening illness, they experience salvation. When the harvest is rescued from blight or drought, the result is salvation.
We use the word salvation in a similar way. A boxer is said to be "saved by the bell" if the round ends before the referee counts him out. Salvation means to be rescued from some calamity. However, the Bible also uses the term salvation in a specific sense to refer to our ultimate redemption from sin and reconciliation to God. In this sense, salvation is from the ultimate calamity—the judgment of God. The ultimate salvation is accomplished by Christ who "delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
The Bible clearly announces that there will be a day of judgment in which all human beings will be held accountable before the tribunal of God. For many this "day of the Lord" will be a day of darkness with no light in it. It will be the day when God will pour out His wrath against the wicked and impenitent. It will be the ultimate holocaust, the darkest hour, the worst calamity in human history. To be delivered from God's wrath, which most assuredly will come upon the world, is ultimate salvation. This is the rescue operation Christ performs for His people as their Savior.
The Bible uses the term salvation not only in many senses, but in many tenses. The verb to save appears in virtually every possible tense of the Greek language. There is a sense in which we were saved (from the foundation of the world); we were being saved (by the work of God in history); we are saved (by being in a justified state); we are being saved (by being sanctified or made holy); and we will be saved (experience the consummation of our redemption in heaven). The Bible speaks of salvation in terms of the past, present, and future.
Sometimes we equate present salvation in terms of our justification, which is present. At other times, we see justification as one specific step in the whole order or plan of salvation.
Finally, it is important to note another central aspect of the biblical concept of salvation. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is not a human enterprise. Human beings cannot save themselves. Salvation is a divine work; it is accomplished and applied by God. Salvation is both of the Lord and from the Lord. It is the Lord who saves us from the wrath of the Lord.