The Doctrine of Salvation
BUSTING THE MYTH
Around the year 2000 I was chaplain for a hospice team in Denton. The company I worked for needed me back in Fort Worth. I was more than glad to oblige them, but that meant leaving my “congregation” of terminally ill patients and families of which I felt a great responsibility. I prayed that my company would hire a minister with similar biblical beliefs. They did not. A minister’s denomination and education will most often determine his or her theology. When I discovered where my replacement went to church and where he went to school; fear gripped my heart. Those fears were confirmed during my three days with him in orientation. Throughout the first two days, my “theological alarm clocks” were ringing with every subject and approach we discussed. So, on our drive home the last afternoon I made a concerted effort to talk about the cross.
Our conversation went to Calvary and then to the two criminals crucified with Christ. I stated my belief that one criminal through faith and repentance received eternal salvation and the other because of his lack of faith and repentance did not. I was not really shocked when he said, “I just can’t see a loving god judging anyone. We all make mistakes. In the end god would accept both of them.” I don’t recall what I said, but I couldn’t wait to get him out of my car! A false prophet two feet away, in my car! Yuck. How could an ordained minister believe a myth like that? How could a Christian church or center for higher Christian learning teach something like that? The belief that eventually everyone will be saved, is a myth. The statement even contradicts itself. If everyone is granted eternal life, and there is no concept of sin, death and judgment, then why the need for the word “saved”? Saved from what? Saved from whom? It also contradicts the Holy Scriptures. For the Bible says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12, N.I.V. throughout lesson).” It’s biblically illogical too, “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21b). The belief that everyone will be saved is just something people make up in their own mind. This myth is a big part of our times. But it’s not the first time.
Purgatory was the myth of sixteenth century. It prevails today. In short, it teaches that if original sin had been remised through infant baptism, then the nominal believer could “pay off” the remainder of their sins in purgatory. Eventually they would be saved. This false doctrine and the selling of forgiveness that followed infuriated many of the reformers, particularly a young German professor.
BELIEVING WHAT MATTERS
Martin Luther’s stance on the word of God during the Diet of Worms in 1523 was a pivotal point in the history of Christendom. J.A. Froude called Luther’s stand at Worms “one of the finest-perhaps the finest- scene in human history.” Confronted by the infamous Dr. Johann Eck and in the presence of the emperor of Germany, the electors, and representatives of both ecclesiastical and civil authorities; Luther was asked to recant of his Bible only stance. To this he replied:
“Since then your serene Majesty and your lordships request a simple reply, I will give it without horns and hoofs…I am mastered by the passages of the Scripture which I have quoted, and my conscience Is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant, for it is neither safe nor honest to violate one’s conscience. I can do no other. Here I take my stand, God being my helper. Amen.”
Purgatory and myths like it that promote any salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ are outside of Christian doctrine. Christian doctrine comes from Scripture and Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura was the cry of all the reformers, the very foundation of all doctrine and the seed for the rebirth of born-again theology. It still is today. “What the Bible says…” is the only source from which we derive the Christian religion. Traditions, culture, family, friends, media and very often our own personal presuppositions influence what we believe; sometimes tainting what we believe. Even Martin Luther had a difficult time grasping what the Bible said because he tended to superimpose his own medieval concept of God upon the Scriptures. All things aside if we are to believe the truth, we must believe the Bible and it alone. Why stress the Bible so much? The answers are abundant, but for our day and time; because the world has now come to us, and along with it all the religions and philosophies known to man. Our defenses are deteriorating, and our resistance grows weak. Many who once taught Jesus as the only way do so no longer. This bombardment of fictitious religions and philosophies is wearing us down to the point that we exchange carnality for spirituality, sincerity for truth and good for evil. May this never be! The Bible is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), the measuring stick for truth (Isaiah 8:20) and that which is good in the presence of sin (Romans 6:12). God has brought the world to our doorsteps not to change us, but that we might change the world. And we can often do so without going much beyond our doorstep!
People with opposing religions and worldviews, people we judge as “good” die around us daily. We make friends with them, work with them, enjoy entertainment with them but instead of this convicting us to share what the Bible says, it causes us to doubt what the Bible says. May this never be, especially concerning something so important as the Doctrine of Salvation. The Bible is clear, not everyone will be saved. The Baptist Faith and Message resolutely states this truth:
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who by his own blood obtained redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
In exalting Jesus as Savior, invariably the responder will ask, “Saved from what?” That’s a great place to start. The answer is death. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). What we get in return for our sin is death (Romans 6:23). Spiritual death, yes but it’s much deeper than that and more terrifying when fully understood. Death is separation from God, absolute separation. Imagine death in a real context; in our world. Imagine walking by a corpse filled coffin. What can this person no longer do? What if God walked by? They could not see Him, hear Him or touch Him. They could not speak to God, nor respond if God spoke to them. If God walked by a dead person they could not believe in Him, love Him, or follow Him. A dead person would be completely unaware even of the presence of God. This is how it is for un-regenerated people. You might argue that if I walked by that dead person couldn’t respond to me either. Allow me to counter with a question. Were not many in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth but unaware they were in the presence of God? When God became flesh and walked among us, thousands upon thousands heard him but did not understand him, and saw him but did not see him for who he was (Matthew 13:10-15). The Bible says you must be born again just to see the kingdom of God (John 3: 3). Pontius Pilate looked Truth in the face and didn’t know Him. Oh no in a very real sense the above illustration accurately describes the condition of mankind - dead in our transgressions and dead in our minds (Ephesians 2:1,5; 8:6). We must be regenerated, we must be born again! The B.F. & M. continues:
- Regeneration or the new birth is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
God HAS to give us rebirth, and convert us from death to life. It is by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). It is God who “makes us alive” (Ephesians 1:4, 2:5). And does so at a perfect time that pleases Him most (Galatians 1:13-16). This time of God’s pleasure coincides with an effective gospel call (Romans 8:28; 10:17). God given faith, understanding and repentance enter our dead heart and dead mind, causing our mouth to confess Jesus as Christ and Lord (Matthew 16: 13-18, Romans 10: 9).We were converted from death to life. We are born again. The B.F.M. continues:
Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Savior.
Though people can never gain complete victory over sin, many can and do turn away from sin, but without faith they can’t turn towards God. Genuine faith results in the following of Jesus. Logic insists that turning toward something results in turning away from that which was formally followed, so following Jesus would result in a genuine turning from sin. Faith and repentance - can’t have one without the other!
If you truly understand spiritual death and all its ramifications; the only logical conclusion must be that we are doomed. We need to be saved. We need to be brought back to life, but can’t do one thing about it. God helps us! God save us! And by his Amazing Grace he has given believers new birth. And what becomes of those who die without faith in Christ? They die in their sins (John 8:14-21), because they are condemned already (John 3: 18). Then God casts them into Hell (Luke 12: 5), and eventually the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). Now do you believe eventually everyone will get saved?
I hope you are saved. If so I hope you remember when you got saved. If so in hindsight it’s my hunch that your time of salvation was “just the right time.” A time when everything came together and you were saved. A time when everything became new (II Corinthians 5:17). That’s what happens when you are born –again! It’s a time, or a period of time when you sensed God’s presence like never before. God began to draw you like never before (John 6:34). The message of Christ did something to your heart and to your head like never before (Hebrews 3). You just got it like never before. You wanted forgiveness from the past and new life in Christ like never before. Whether almost instantaneously or over a period of time every Christian testimony will have these elements. This is regeneration. It is a myth to believe someone could be saved without being born-again.
- Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer into a relationship of peace and favor with God.
A right understanding of justification is crucial to the Christian faith. Justification was a main issue in the Reformation, and is the thought behind the evangelical approach of, “When you die and stand before God, what would you say to God that would cause Him to allow you in?” This is courtroom drama much like sinful mans plea to a Holy God on the day he dies. So how can sinful men stand before a record keeping Holy God and ever hope to be declared good and just? For the word justify is a legal declaration (Romans 8:33-34). The answer is faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Galatians 2:16). We don’t have to wait and see when we die, but rather God declares you innocent and blameless when you believe. Faith in Christ erases our criminal record. God acting as judge declares us innocent of all charges, sets us free and is no longer our judge! This is biblical justification. As the B.F. & M. says, it changes our relationship with God into one of peace and favor. God goes one step further when He not only sets us free, but adopts us into His family (Galatians 3:23-26; 4:4-7, Romans 8:14-17), thus changing the relationship even more and changing it forever (John 8: 35). Once we were slaves; now we are sons and daughters. At one time the courthouse of God contained your lengthy criminal record, now only a birth certificate found in the Book of Life. A new birth certificate and God is your Daddy!
Notice my use of the word erase above. This all shouts of covenant. In fact all of salvation is because Almighty God graciously chose to make a covenant or compact with sinful man. Somehow God has to erase or cover our sins. We are spiritually dead. We can’t do it, so God does it for us. He had to do it with Adam and Eve. The first couple sinned and suffered spiritual death. Their attempt to cover their sin was inadequate and futile, so God sacrificed an innocent animal, used its skin for their covering and put it on them (Genesis 3:7, 21). Then he could bless Adam and Eve and their family again. He had to do it with Abram. After sacrificing five animals to God and exhausting himself, Abram fell asleep. A dreadful darkness fell upon God’s friend. Abram was worn out and helpless. It was then that God blessed him and made a covenant with him and his descendants (Genesis 15). And you, when you could take no more, when the weight of your sins and the guilt you carried was more than you could bear, God made a covenant with you. Now he can bless you. This is a covenant through the blood of Jesus Christ, which causes God to forgive us of our wickedness and remember our sins no more (Hebrews 8). And if our slate is clean, we are just in the eyes of God, and now worthy of adoption. It’s a myth to believe that someone outside the family of God will get to live with God when they die (Revelation 21: 1-8).
- Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.
Now the real work of the believer begins, or rather the real surrender. For sanctification is God setting the believer apart for His purposes. When we think of someone becoming a saint, we think of sanctification. It is God conforming you to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8: 29). This is the one doctrine on the list where the individual believer plays a big part. Notice the B.F. & M.’s use of the words “enable” and “should.” The Holy Spirit enables us to grow in Christ, and we should throughout our life. But whether we do so will depend on how much of ourselves we are willing to surrender to God. Sanctification is God’s individually geared discipleship program, yet every believer starts from the same place every day. How fast and how far you are set apart is directly proportionate to your self-denial (Luke 9: 23-26). You belong to God now (Romans 14:8). You were bought with a very high price, the precious blood of Christ (I Peter 1: 19), so surrender. Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6: 11, 14). Don’t stray little sheep because the shepherd will come after you! My advice is to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2: 12). God is serious about you looking, speaking and behaving like Jesus. His reputation depends on it!
- Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessing and abiding state of the redeemed.
Glorification is the end work of salvation for the whole man. It is totally a work of God, where He raises us from the dead imperishable (I Corinthians 15:51-52). Our bodies will be like His, glorious (Philippians 3:20-21). Wahoo and Hallelujah! Finally we will be like Him (I John 3:2)! Now we see but a poor reflection in the mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part, then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known (I Corinthians 13:12). We’ll get a new heaven and a new earth, and we get to live with God (Revelation 21). There will be a new temple too with living water flowing from under the threshold, and yes there will be fishing. Good fishing but with no tall-tales to tell (Ezekiel 47). This is no tall-tale either. Glorification is what we are waiting for church! This is the big finale for those who were lost but found, for those who were blind but now see. God’s plan from the beginning was for us to enjoy Him in peace, in favor and in bodies! May God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
LIVING WHAT WE BELIEVE
May I approach you this way: How about believing what we have lived? Were you not dead in your trespasses and sins? Were you not lost before Christ found you? When you did turn to Him, could you have done otherwise or was His pull on your heart just too strong? Did things not change when you were saved? Do you not have a new, greater and different confidence knowing you are a child of God? Knowing that Jesus is with you? Though you might not be where you want, is it not true you’re not where you used to be? Can you not say, “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!”
Church, the experiences listed above and shared by us all are not neat things we can rejoice over, but absolute Biblical necessities for salvation. God has brought the world to our doorstep. The world needs the truth. We have it. Don’t believe things that are contradictory to Scripture. Don’t weaken in your faith. Confront a lost world like Luther with class, dignity, love and by all means – THE TRUTH. The belief that eventually everyone will be saved is not true. The world does need a Savior. It just so happens He’s our Lord. Let’s tell them about our suffering King so they can become saved like us; saved from the law of sin, death, hell and the grave.
- Renaissance and Reformation, William R. Estep, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids 1986.
- Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1994.