I did not grow up Christian. I was in my forties when I studied the Bible.  There is an idea, a concept, that Christians seem to hold on to ferociously that I don’t see in the Bible. Am I missing something?   The strong majority of people that I talk to see forgiveness and salvation as equivalent. Well, perhaps more accurately, believe that if you are forgiven, then you are also saved.   I can see how someone could come to that conclusion logically, but, unless I am really missing something, I don’t see it in the Bible. I haven’t seen a verse that says if you are forgiven, then you are also saved. I haven’t seen a verse that says some particular thing leads to forgiveness and salvation. I just haven’t seen the Bible put the two things together. A quick search at Bible Gateway says that there is no verse, anywhere in the Bible, that puts forgiveness and salvation together.   Clearly, the two words mean different things. The Bible is clear that sin separates us from God. I, personally, am convinced that I need to be forgiven before I can be saved; but I don’t see that the Bible says that forgiveness is all that is needed to be saved.    Can you help me out?


I agree with you. Salvation is one thing, forgiveness is another. Salvation can be defined as having been baptized into Christ and having received the Holy Spirit as a “deposit, guaranteeing our salvation.”  Moses, David, the thief on the cross, the guy dropped through the roof by his friends (and “forgiven” by Jesus on the spot) and those baptized by the baptism of John, and even Abraham and John the Baptist himself were all only forgiven, but not “saved” in the New Testament sense, as defined above. I agree with your basic thesis, but I do not agree that most believers hold on to the equivalency of these two concepts ferociously. You might be exaggerating quite a bit, in my opinion. The reason I say this is that when I have taught that forgiveness and salvation are two different things, I find that most believers in Bible-believing churches say something like. “OK, that makes sense. Thanks for helping me to see that.” I have mentioned this probably dozens of times, so I have quite a bit of data. I have felt no resistance to this teaching at all. In fact, I taught about this just this past Tuesday at my Bible talk and referred to it obliquely at a class on Revelation (Ch 20) last Saturday. It is more a matter of people not thinking carefully rather than a hardened doctrine, in my experience.

So, I suggest that if you take on this idea, do so with gentleness and not making a big deal out of it. This is what I do. I do not confront people’s false ideas, but simply raise the idea in the context of studying a passage which clearly reveals the difference between forgiveness and salvation. There are dozens of these!!! I don’t challenge people about their “false doctrine,” but mention this as a thing in passing for them to think about. I believe that if you will take this approach, you will find little to no resistance to this idea you have discovered, which I believe is absolutely a biblical distinction.

By the way, according to Acts 2:38, at least as I understand it, a Christian can be forgiven and saved at the same instant of time. Maybe there is something I am not seeing here, but this passage mentions forgiveness and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (the guarantee of salvation, Eph 1:14, I mentioned above) at the same time. Just because a search of Bible Gateway does not find a passage with the actual words forgiveness and salvation in the same sentence is a far cry from proof that the concepts are not connected. Those baptized by the baptism of John were forgiven first and later saved when they were baptized into Christ. This would be a biblically defendable example of your thesis. However, I am not sure that this distinction is as relevant today as it was during the transition time from the Old to the New Covenant. For example, I do not see in the normal New Testament “process” for becoming a Christian that there will be a separation in time between forgiveness and salvation.

Perhaps some might say that we are forgiven at baptism but not finally saved until we pass judgment and make it to heaven. OK, I can see that, but in that case we are saved “already but not yet” in this life at baptism, and this would be a subtle distinction that the average disciple might find difficult to understand. FYI, I have taught this several times. As Christians we are saved, “already, but not yet.” Again, I have found no resistance to this idea when I teach it.

Here are a couple of passages I would use to show that forgiveness and salvation are not equivalent.  Some of this is based on the premise that no-one in the OT was “saved” by baptism into Christ. I would want to establish this using the definition I gave you earlier.

Psalm 103:12

Mark 2:5

Luke 23:43

Mark 1:4 (coupled with Acts 19:3-4)

Matthew 11:11 (this one would take a little explaining)

If I was feeling really brave, I might go for Rev 20:11-15. Are Job, Daniel, David, Moses and Abraham in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Did they receive the promised Holy Spirit? (Psalm 51:11). These people might be “saved” in the end in the sense of escaping the flames, but not in the sense of having received Christ and having the Holy Spirit living in them as a temple.

One of the biggest mistakes in the Book of Mormon is not separating forgiveness from salvation, by the way.

Again, I say this is better done in a “teaching” mode than a discussion mode, as I would want to teach about the concept of forgiveness in the Old Testament and establish a biblical definition of “saved.” But, it might work for you.

Have fun.

John Oakes

John Oakes

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