What Does It Mean To Be “Saved”? Part 1

What does it mean to be “saved”?Jesus saves

A few days ago a friend of mine was noting some of the qualities of a mutual acquaintance of ours.  It went something like this;

“Yeah, she’s bright, generous, caring, loves her family, loves her kids…too bad she’s not saved.”

I think we both stopped and looked at each other for a second when  we realized how absurd the statement sounded.  Which led us into a discussion of what does it really mean to be saved?

And what exactly are they getting saved from? 

The Bible gives a number of instances where salvation is declared in one form or another.  I want to take a few posts to briefly examine some key examples.

In this first post lets take a look at Jesus’ encounter with a guy named Zacchaeus:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19: 1-10

Jesus by this time had become famous enough that even the rich and powerful were hoping to get a look at him.  Now Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector but he was the chief tax collector...and he was wealthy.  Jesus sees Zacchaeus trying to observe him from a tree and invites himself over to his house for dinner.

The people watching this happen seemed to get pretty irritated by what they just saw and began to mutter.  Muttering is never a good thing.  The Jewish tax collectors were seen as the pawns of the Roman Empire who were getting rich on the backs of their own people. Can you imagine how the people must have felt when Jesus sought the friendship of a corrupt official?

Jesus, the champion of the poor and the broken, had finally sold out.

Sold out to “the Man!” You gotta know that was fueling some serious “muttering”.  And then  they cloak their jealousy and offense in religious language by “muttering” that he had gone to be the guest of a sinner.

Religious language can be a wonderful tool to hide what is really hidden in your heart.

Jesus of course has not sold out, but instead is doing his Father’s business which is to “seek and save” the lost… and Zacchaeus, as rich and powerful as he is, was certainly lost.

I have no idea what Jesus talked about at Zacchaeus’ dinner table.  Perhaps he didn’t speak much at all and just let his host do most of the talking. We don’t know exactly as the Bible is silent on that discussion.  God probably knew if what transpired had been recorded we would have packaged it today into a “Dummy’s Guide to Saving Tax Collectors”.

But the result of that dinner together with Jesus was the sudden announcement by Zacchaus that he would give HALF of his possessions to the poor and repay 4 times the amount to anyone he had cheated! ( his reputation seemed to indicate he may have cheated a lot!)

Jesus, seeing the change of Zacchaus’ heart, declares that salvation has come not only to Zacchaus but to his whole household!


His whole household? How is that possible?  Did each person receive Jesus into their heart that night as their “personal Lord and Savior”?  Was the worship team playing lightly in the corner of the room as Jesus ministered “with all eyes closed and every head bowed”?  Was this the salvation Jesus was referring to?

Or is it more likely that Zacchaeus  had an encounter with the Son of God;  and that encounter revealed not only his responsibility in the breaking of peace (shalom) that his actions caused between himself and God, the community, and the rest of creation, but an invitation to repent (return) to God’s creation in the proper life giving role God had designed him for?

In the New Testament their seemed to be two main responses to these types of encounters with Christ or his message.  Either they are like Zachaeus and respond to Jesus by accepting the invitation to return or they get angry and dig their heels in even further.

But Zacchaeus, in repenting of his responsibility in the  disrupting God’s order, actually helps bring salvation to those around him.  Relationships with family members are restored, relationships with household servants are restored.  The household’s relationship with its surrounding community is restored.

Yes, salvation came to Zacchaeus’ household that very day!

In closing it’s interesting to note that this whole story happened while Jesus was in Jericho; a city whose walls were so strong that only an encounter with the living God could bring them down. Centuries later that same God, walking as a man among them, was still bringing down strong walls through an encounter with himself.

Next post on this theme of Salvation: The Sheep and the Goats!





  • bryan

    Thank you for addressing this. I have had questions related to what exactly salvation is, and what all it entails.
    Several verses mention salvation of the soul (which now seems to be defined as mind/will/emotions), but yet it is our spirit that experiences the after-life. Is our soul saved? Is our spirit saved? Both? Can one happen without the other?
    I look forward to your follow-up posts.

    • Steve

      Hi Bryan,
      Thanks for your question. The idea of people dying and their spirit living on forever in an “after-life” I believe has diluted the Good News. The great promise is that Christ is the “first fruit” of the resurrection. 1 Cor 15:22-24
      The Good News is that in Christ you will live, have a body again that is not subject to disease and decay. You will breath with fresh lungs, eat delicious meals with friends, listen to music..i.e. have real life on an Earth that has been restored to its original intent. N.T. Wright counters the notion that our concern is with an “after-life” when Jesus is much more interested in “LIFE” in this short clip 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9ln9Jq5Y-E&index=4&list=PLclO7Etk11HT9_DCLTVk9hCqr8ozT_3LD

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