Salvation is rescue from something that is death - dealing in nature. That is, it is the plucking from a deadly situation or circumstance and placing in a position of safety. This is what God offers to all of mankind. He offers salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Salvation from what?
Each human being has been born under the penalty of sin, since Eve was seduced into eating of the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Adam knowingly disobeyed by joining the woman in partaking of that fruit.
God forewarned the first two people that if they disobeyed by eating of this tree, they would surely die. Lucifer, in the form of the serpent, put the question of whether to believe the Creator in their minds by asking, "Yea? Hath God said?"
"Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:1-5).
With that disobedience "just as God forewarned-- sin, and its consequence, death, entered the world. The man and woman lost fellowship with God. They began aging and degenerating toward death. Human beings now needed salvation from sin and death.
God loves His creation called man, and desired to have his human creation become part of His eternal family to live with Him forever in heaven. The Creator, in His grace and mercy, said He would redeem his human creation, would bring One who would save mankind from sin and death into the world.
He cursed the serpent, Lucifer, who became known as Satan, and the devil, and said to him:
"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:15).
Sin had begun its life-sapping work, and the man and woman had to be ejected from the Garden of Eden. Many Bible scholars believe this was done to keep them from the Tree of Life that grew in the Garden. If they had access, they would eat of its fruit, and rather than eventually dying, would grow increasingly grotesque in every way. Angels were placed at the Garden's opening to keep them from returning.
God shed blood of His creation for the first time, to provide animal skin coverings for the naked man and woman. This was the first of the blood system of sacrifice that would foreshadow the awful price that would be paid for the sin of mankind upon the cross at Calvary, when God's only begotten Son died there.
John the Baptist announced Jesus' purpose when God's son approached the Baptist while he stood at the Jordan River, baptizing people.
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
Jesus lived 33 years upon Planet Earth, then was sacrificed by crucifixion upon the most cruel of all executions of the day. Jesus became sin for all of mankind on the cross that day. God the Father could not look upon Jesus the Christ while Jesus took all sin upon Himself, for all men, women and children.
Jesus" true agony of that moment, when He became the horrendous thing His Father could not look upon, was recorded by the Gospel writer.
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mat. 27:46).
The Gospel writer recorded the moment of Christ's completing His mission to Planet Earth.
"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost" (John 19:30).
Jesus Christ had fulfilled the supreme sacrifice, the lamb that takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus spoke of that salvation mission while preaching, teaching, performing miracles, and ministering during His time here as the Son of man the only sinless human being ever to walk earth's surface.
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:14-18).
The question often arises: What about those who haven't heard of Jesus? This was asked of Dr. Tim LaHaye recently, and when he started to answer, he was allowed only a few seconds. He was put on the spot by the host, who asked a question that called for a profound answer.
Dr. LaHaye had only a moment to answer the TV host's assertion that it isn't fair of a God to send anyone to hell if they don't hear the message. Dr. LaHaye used Scripture in a split-second decision in answering, then was abruptly cut off from continuing with his answer.
The Scripture in question is Romans 2: 12. "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law."
Tim was saying, I think, that the totality of Scripture teaches that people are without excuse who have the understanding that there is a creator who judges sin. This is true whether Gentile or Jew.
Implicit within Dr. LaHaye's response were things he never got to explain. I know him well, and he would have made his case something like the following, had he been given time.
God's precepts are one upon another, remember, and often truth comes from an entire body of scriptural proof, rather than from just one or two verses.
Paul was addressing, particularly, the Jews, who labored under the Mosaic Law (although by that time, the Law was not in effect because of the Cross), juxtaposed against the Gentiles, who didn't have the Mosaic Law.
Keep in mind that God's Word says:
"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17).
Scripture says also: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:13-17).
All of this adds up to the fact that Jesus Christ, alone, is the way to redemption. But, He must be lifted up so that all will be drawn to Him. If there is no preacher to preach, then there can't be faith, because faith comes by hearing (the Gospel). Just as an infant is innocent in God's eyes, because the child can't "hear," i.e., "understand," so are those who haven't understood (truly heard) that Christ is the way to salvation.
However, even among savages in the darkest places where the Gospel hasn't reached, if they "know to do good, and do the opposite," they are not guiltless. God will hold them accountable for the light they have, which the Law would have provided for more civilized peoples.
The key here is that Jesus fulfilled the Law when He said "It is finished!" and gave up His spirit to death. Remember, Jesus once asked those around Him, "Why callest me good?" He then said, "there is but one good, and that is God" (Matt. 19:17).
Jesus was, of course, saying that He was the only good, because He is God. He is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world to cover the sin debt owed by fallen mankind. So, when the savage knows to do good, he is given that light by the Holy Spirit. He still chooses, or rejects Christ, who is the only good.
The simple explanation is that people are accountable to the extent they have been given light (understanding). But, that doesn't unveil the whole Gospel story, regarding its application to those who haven't had a preacher or teacher.
God's Word, the Bible, speaks to savages and the so-called civilized as well. Here are some relevant salvation Scriptures that cover every person who has or will ever be born.
"I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father" (John 10:14-18).
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:16-20).