Religious Beliefs

What do salvation and redemption mean for Christians?

All of the major religious traditions hold out the prospect that human beings can find a way out of the suffering, confusion, and alienation that are part of everyone’s life. Some traditions emphasize that only steadfast adherence to a core of ethical doctrine can affect the ultimate transformation of the human condition. Others teach that even the strongest, best-motivated and most determined individuals need assistance from a greater-than-human power. “Grace” is a widely used term for that superhuman or divine aid, and it is the power of salvation.

Some traditions go so far as to say that grace alone, apart from any human action, has the power to save. Religious doctrine about the source, nature and function of such saving power is called soteriology (from the Greek soter, savior). Christianity and Buddhism, and to a slightly lesser extent, Hinduism, have developed the most elaborate soteriologies. For Christians generally, God’s sending Jesus Christ to die and rise from the dead for humankind brings about salvation through victory over evil and death. But in addition to rescuing believers, Christ also redeems (from the Latin, meaning “to buy back”) them from their former condition. According to some Christian thinkers this means a restoration to the condition of original innocence that human beings enjoyed prior to the Fall. Strictly speaking, Buddhist and Hindu notions of salvation are about release from the status quo and do not include this element of reinstatement. Christian soteriology is about both salvation and redemption.


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