But does scripture EVER portray salvation as an escape from hell? It may be surprising to find that most references to eternal damnation are directed towards believers.
Hell was not used as an incentive to turn sinners into saints. If anything it was an incentive for believers to remain faithful and to maintain their fear of God.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him”. (Luke 12: 4-5)
The New Testament message of salvation is far different to the common idea of someone stepping from a state of “unsaved” to “saved”. Yet many people understand that a single step is all it takes. Whether that step comes by God “unconditionally electing” a people, or through those people making a personal response to a preached gospel message, the common idea sees an instant safety from eternal damnation has been obtained. But is that the case?
Romans 8:29 is often used to support the Calvinist idea of an elect few being “predestined” for salvation. Yet the actual reference is not addressing “salvation” (at least NOT the common understanding of salvation). Instead predestination is associated with being “conformed to the likeness of his Son”.
To me there seems to be much more profound and challenging being revealed here than an alleged “elect” group being given an undeserved “get out of hell” free card.
Peter also wrote about being “partakers of the divine nature” – something made possible by God through “great and precious promises” and “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness”. Again this tells us something about God’s intention for His people – to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son”
Salvation is not about our future destiny it is about NOW. It is about being brought into relationship with God NOW. It is about being transformed NOW. It is about trusting in God NOW. It is submitting ourselves to God and His provision NOW so that day by day we increasingly become partakers of the divine nature. Day by day we are increasingly conformed to His likeness until that day when “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” and He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” and “ we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.
Jesus told us that He is the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through Him. He did not say He is the way the truth and the life and no one avoids hell except through Him.
A secure eternal destiny, being with God in His new creation, is a continuation of our salvation. It is the result of a life lived IN salvation – a life lived IN CHRIST and obtaining a family likeness. It is the result of an ongoing relationship with God. Salvation is intended to bring us into that relationship. Escape from hell is a mere fringe benefit.