In the 9th sermon of John Piper’s epic series on the book of Romans he comes to Romans 1:16 (9 sermons and he’s only 16 verses in!), and tackles the question, “What is salvation?” The text is one you know well, I’m sure: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Piper argues that salvation is best understood here as,
the final triumph of the gospel in bringing believers to eternal safety and joy in the presence of a holy and glorious God.
This definition is helpful in the way it summarizes several crucial points about the Christian doctrine of salvation:
First, Salvation comes through believing the gospel. The Bible teaches us that anyone—absolutely anyone—is a prime candidate for salvation. The only requirement is that they believe the good news of who Jesus is and what he did on the cross. Paul says this news is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Notice the present tense of the word “believes”—those who would be saved must not only be converted to faith in Christ but must also persevere in that faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
Second, Salvation has come … and is coming. We who believe in Christ “have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8), and yet we are still awaiting the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Paul captures this reality when he says that believers have been “sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30) by the Holy Spirit: we are sealed for redemption (salvation), but the day of its fulfillment is still coming.
Third, Salvation is safety and joy before a holy God. The term salvation acknowledges that we have been saved from something. But what? The New Testament mentions a number of things that we are in bondage to apart from God’s salvation: demonic powers, the corruption of our bodies, sin, and so on. However, it is clear that the ultimate obstacle to our being saved is the holiness of God himself. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). Salvation is both from and to: the gospel grants us safety from God’s wrath, which then frees us to enjoy the wonders of a saving God for all eternity.