Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask.
Recently in a meeting, we started talking about theological terminology—all those words we throw around on a daily basis (around here), but aren’t always sure what they mean or how to explain them. We thought this would be the perfect Reference Desk segment. We asked you over on Instagram what words you’d like to see defined. We got some great responses! For this edition, we’re going to narrow it down a little to talk about words regarding salvation, but we’ll cover a lot of the others in future editions.
One other note before we begin: Books have been written on each of these words. What follows is a quick definition and a starting place as you study terms like this. We always encourage you to go to Scripture, find dictionaries, and look up terms for yourself for further explanation!
Let’s start from the very beginning. In the words of one of my favorite musicals, “it’s a very good place to start.” The word theology is simply the study of the things about God. It comes from the Greek, Theo = God and –ologia = a study or subject of interest. A side note: a lot of our -ologies come from the Greek. Biology is the study of life, for example. If it has -ology on the end, it’s a safe bet that it’s the study of, or a subject of interest.
Now we turn our attention to salvation. We talk about our faith and relationship with God in terms of salvation because without belief and trust in Jesus Christ, we would be dead. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” While we’re here, let’s just talk about that tricky little word. Sin is any disobedience of God. We sometimes talk about “sins of commission” and “sins of omission.” A sin of commission occurs when God says not to do something and we do it anyway—think the Ten Commandments and all they encompass. A sin of omission occurs when we do not do something God tells us to do—when we fail to tell others about Him, for example.
Because we are dead in our sin, we speak in terms of salvation. Jesus literally saved us from death and eternal punishment by dying on the cross for our sins. For what it’s worth, the Bible also speaks in terms of salvation. Jesus is our Savior. We are saved by grace.
Which brings us to regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Salvation includes these four elements each time. Regeneration simply means new birth. We see this in our world in things like video games (I’m not a gamer, but I did see the latest Jumanji movie.). When an avatar in a video game dies, they can often regenerate, or be created again. A new life. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”
Justification means that all sinners who repent and believe in Christ are justified in the eyes of God. The wages of sin is death, therefore someone had to pay our debt of death for our sin. Jesus lived the perfect life on earth and died as a payment for our sins. Justification is the act of God making us acceptable before a holy and righteous God—Himself. It’s a legal term, really, of acquittal. Justification brings the believer into a relationship of peace and favor with God.
Sanctification is ongoing. It’s the life of the believer, already having been regenerated, as she is set apart for God’s purposes. Sanctification allows us to grow in holiness through the help of the Holy Spirit. We continue to grow in our sanctification throughout our lives.
Glorification is our future hope. It’s the culmination of salvation, the final state of the redeemed.
All clear now, right? The good news is that there will be no pop quiz in heaven.
Since we’ve already mentioned it, let’s now talk about righteousness. Essentially, righteousness is being right. Righteousness is one of God’s attributes—a character trait of His. He is always right, always just. We are unable to be righteous on our own, but we are made righteous in the eyes of God through Jesus when we become Christians. As believers, we are to fight for the truth and righteousness in the world.
Similar to righteousness, holiness is another attribute of God. He is holy. Our English dictionaries struggle to define holy without talking about God. Holy often means “set apart.” I’ve heard it described as “completely other.” To be holy is to be so pure that you are apart and other from everything else. We are made holy through Jesus when we believe and trust in Him for salvation, and in our sanctification, we are to pursue holiness in the way we live.
Another seemingly easy word is grace. We use it all the time—by God’s grace, she’s so gracious, he moved gracefully—but if we’re asked to define it, we can get a little nervous. Grace has several meanings, but for the purpose of this conversation, we’ll talk about God’s grace. Grace, simply put, is generosity and love from God to humankind. We don’t deserve grace (remember how we’re sinners headed for death?), but God gives it to us anyway. He loves us even in the midst of our sin. Romans 5:8 says, “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Ephesians 2:4-9 speaks to this even further:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us,5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.
Like grace, we can also get into the habit of using the term redemption in a myriad of ways without fully knowing how to define it. Redemption is the “buying back” or deliverance of something. We are redeemed because we were “bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). If the wages of sin is death, like we’ve established from Romans, then that wage must be paid. That is redemption. We are redeemed because we are those who have been bought with the death of Jesus Christ and made new. We have been released from the debt we owed.
Restitution is like that, as well. Restitution literally means an act of restoring. When we are redeemed, we are restored to a relationship with God.
Propitiation comes from verses like Romans 3:25 and 1 John 4:10 which reads, “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Atoning sacrifice is often translated propitiation. And that’s what a propitiation is, a sacrifice that atones. Jesus was the offering or sacrifice that turned away the wrath of God directed at sin, restoring us to a relationship with God.
Finally, let’s end with hope. Hope can sometimes be a tricky one because we also use it all the time. I hope it doesn’t rain today. She hoped to go to dance class later. Hopefully, there won’t be much traffic. We often essentially exchange it for a wish in our everyday language. But biblical hope is much more than that. Our hope is firmer than a wish. Our hope is an expectation. We expect that God will do what He says He will do. Therefore, we can place our hope in Him because He is faithful—He will do what He said He will do (Lam. 3:21-22). When 1 Peter 3:15 asks us to be prepared to give a reason for our hope, this is the hope Peter was referring to. We must be prepared to give a reason for our expectation that God will do what He said, that He will return, He will glorify all those who believe, that His Son paid the price for our redemption, and that He will one day make all things new.
All of these terms are just that—terms. We put language around the work and person of God because we need to communicate who He is and what He has done, is doing, and will do. As we communicate the truth of God, may we grow in our gratitude for His gift of salvation and glorify Him in our conversations.
Elizabeth Hyndman is a content editor and social media strategist for Lifeway Women.