There are a variety of ways that people understand the doctrine of salvation. For some, it is deliverance from oppression. For others, it is concerned with finding your true self. And for still others, it is in being part of the church. But the Bible describes salvation as being deliverance from slavery to sin and into a restored relationship with God.
The Bible talks about salvation in three different ways. Initial salvation is what occurs when a person puts their faith in the risen Jesus. Our salvation experience continues throughout our life as we seek sanctification. And salvation concludes when we experience glorification in heaven.
There are a number of different aspects of what is termed here as initial salvation. All of these, other than calling, essentially happen at the same time. There are a number of soteriological frameworks that have been developed over the history of the church. These are an attempt to describe what I am calling initial salvation. Two of the more common frameworks, at least within Protestantism, are Calvinism and Arminianism. I believe that Arminian soteriology more closely follows what the Scripture teaches. But there are many who would disagree with that position. If you are interested in reading more about Arminian soteriology, you can find a more detailed description here.
The Role of Grace and Faith in Conversion
In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul tells us that salvation is a gift of God. And that it is by grace through faith that we receive this gift. This idea of salvation by grace through faith became a keynote of the Protestant Reformation. Salvation was an unearned gift of God. It was not dependent on my works or acts of righteousness. There was nothing I could do to earn my way into heaven.
This was in contrast to the practice of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. They were emphasizing the keeping of the sacraments, indulgences, and penance as a necessary means for salvation. These were all rejected by the reformers and the churches that came out of the Reformation.
The initial step in salvation is God’s conviction and call of the unbeliever. In John 16:8-9 we see the Holy Spirit convicting the world in regards to sin. It is that convicting of sin that is the first step toward repentance. Without a recognition that something is wrong, there is no impetus to fix it. And, in Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus calls to himself a world that struggles and is weighed down with concerns.
In Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells the parable of a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son. The initial invitees (likely the Jews) declined to come. As a result, the king opened the banquet to everyone that can be found, both bad and good; all are invited. But during the banquet, a man was found without wedding garments. This man was thrown out of the banquet into the darkness. And then, to conclude the parable, Jesus said, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” The invitation to the banquet was ultimately made to everyone. But only those who responded in an appropriate way were chosen. All were called to the wedding banquet. But only those who responded in an appropriate way were considered chosen.
It is the Holy Spirit who calls sinners to repentance (John 16:7-11). And it is God who opens our hearts to be able to hear and understand the good news (Rom. 10:20).
Conversion is the human response to God’s call. There are two different aspects to conversion. The first is repentance, a turning away from one’s sin. The second is turning to Christ in faith. I might repent of my sins and turn in any number of directions. But unless I turn to Christ I do not experience conversion. And I might respond in faith to Christ. But if I have not turned away from my old life I have still not experienced conversion.
Repentance is turning away from sin, feeling a godly sorrow for sin, and is a prerequisite for salvation. John the Baptist preached repentance (Matt. 3:2), Jesus preached repentance (Matt. 4:17), and the apostles preached repentance (Acts 2:38).
Repentance is not an optional step when coming to God. It is not enough to simply believe in Jesus and accept the offer of grace. There must be a real alteration of the inner person. As Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” I cannot follow Christ without turning from myself.
While repentance is a turning away, faith is a turning toward; a turning toward Christ. There are two different aspects of faith. The first is to believe in what someone says. 1 John 4:1 tells us not to believe every spirit but to test them. This aspect of faith concerns what we believe, what we hold to be true. It is believing that God exists, that I am a sinner, and that Jesus died to save me.
The other aspect of faith is personal trust; it is trusting in a person. In Acts 10:43, Peter told Cornelius concerning Jesus that “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” I might believe about Jesus, but only if I believe in Jesus will I experience forgiveness. Saving faith involves both of these aspects. It is assenting to the facts of Jesus as well as trusting my life to him.
It is sometimes held that faith and reason are enemies; that they are opposing ways of viewing the world and what goes on within it. But faith should be supported by reason, and reason is enabled by faith. My faith is not blind; it is based on reason.
Regeneration – the New Birth
Regeneration is sometimes referred to as being born again. It is God’s transformation of the new believer, giving them a new spiritual life. In Titus 3:5, Paul tells us that God “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration is a supernatural and instantaneous event; I am born again. But it is not the end; I will continue to grow in the new life. A baby is born in a moment but grows throughout its life.
Regeneration is essential. In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” We are born into this physical realm. We also need to be born into the spiritual realm, the kingdom of God.
Jesus also told Nicodemus that “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). Our rebirth is not something that we can do for ourselves, or that another person can accomplish for us. It is a work of God; only Spirit can give birth to spirit; the flesh cannot produce spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” Regeneration does not just add something to me; it makes me into something new. If I have been born again I am no longer what I once was.
The Logical Ordering of Conversion and Regeneration
Theologians generally agree that conversion and regeneration happen at the same time. But they differ concerning their logical ordering. While that might seem insignificant to some, it does have some significant ramifications.
So what does the Bible have to say about it? In Acts 2:38, Peter told his audience to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 16:31, Paul tells his jailer to “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” In both of these passages, there is a sequence that puts conversion prior to regeneration.
Union with Christ
As a part of our initial salvation experience, we come into union with Christ. The expression ‘in Christ’ is commonly used by Paul to express our relationship with Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ”, and Ephesians 1:13, “and you also were included in Christ”, are two of these passages that illustrate this truth.
The nature of this union is somewhat of a mystery; Christ in me and I in Christ. We do not become one being, I am not God because I am in Christ. I maintain my own personality and identity. But Christ’s experience becomes my experience.
The best way I know to illustrate this is to consider a bucket of water and a sponge. In this illustration, Christ is represented by the bucket of water, and I am the sponge. When the sponge is put into the bucket, it is in the water, and the water is in the sponge. Yet they also remain distinct. But so long as that condition is true, wherever the bucket of water goes, the sponge also goes. The experience of the bucket becomes the experience of the sponge.
With Christ on the Cross
In Romans 6:3-10, Paul expressed that as believers, we were crucified with Christ and also resurrected with him. How is this possible? Because of our union with him. Christ was not just our substitute on the cross, he took us to the cross with him. And his resurrection is also our resurrection. Those things happened long before we were born. But it is part of the mystery of our union with Christ that we were there with him.
Sitting With Christ
Colossians 3:1-4 expresses another significant aspect of this union with Christ: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Not only did we experience the cross and resurrection with Christ. But we are currently in him as he sits at the right hand of God. And we are looking forward to appearing with him in glory. We are clearly still on earth and operating as independent humans. Yet we are at the same time sitting with Christ on the throne of God. No matter what may happen to this body here, it will not take me away from God’s presence; I am secure in Christ.
Union with Christ is also essential to our spiritual life. In John 15:4, Jesus tells us to “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Apart from union with Christ, we will be fruitless. And the danger of fruitlessness is that you will be cast aside and burned (John 16:6).
Justification is an action of God whereby he declares me to be righteous. Sometimes we use the expression “Just as if I had not sinned” to describe justification. But that is not really correct. Justification does not make me righteous, rather it is a judicial declaration of righteousness. God now considers me to be righteous.
There are two prerequisites to this justification. The first is God’s grace. In Romans 3:24, we read that “all are justified freely by his grace.” It is because of God’s grace that we are able to experience justification. The other is faith. In Romans 4:3, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, saying, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” It is by God’s grace that justification is offered at all. It is our faith that God credits as righteousness.
Justification deals with the eternal consequences of sin. When I stand before God in judgment my sentence has already been announced; I am justified. There is no eternal penalty for my sin. However, justification does not eliminate the temporal consequences of my sin. In this life, I will still suffer the physical and emotional penalty for my transgressions.
Justification deals with the legal liability of my sin. Adoption deals with the relational aspect of my life as a believer. Justification itself does not make me a child of God, it just gives me legal standing. Adoption restores me to a position of favor with God, bringing me into his family. While adoption is logically distinct from regeneration and justification, it does occur simultaneously with them; I cannot experience adoption without also experiencing regeneration and justification.
Becoming a Child of God
John says, in John 1:12, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” In this passage, we see adoption as a consequence of conversion. And, in Ephesians 1:5, Paul says that God “predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” This passage expresses our adoption as the result of God’s pleasure and will; it is something he wanted to do. In 1 John 3:1, we are told to “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Our adoption comes about because of God’s love for us.
Romans 8:14-16 tells us that adoption brings us out of slavery from sin and into the family of God. In the following verse, Romans 8:17, Paul tells us that now, as God’s children, we are heirs of God. But along with being children of God comes discipline. If we are his children then we should expect his correction. In Hebrews 12:5-6 we read, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Ongoing salvation is also called sanctification or practical holiness. It is an ongoing process in which our moral condition is brought into conformity with our legal status. This process is not something that believers are capable of on their own. The help of the Holy Spirit is essential for our growth in Christ.
Sanctification itself really has two different aspects. The first refers to the state of being separate or distinct, set apart for some special purpose. 1 Peter 2:9 expresses this when it says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As believers, we have been set apart for God’s purpose. This aspect of sanctification occurs at our initial salvation. When we are saved, God sets us apart from the common and unclean.
The second aspect of sanctification is what we are concerned with here. It deals with moral goodness or spiritual worth. We are not merely set apart, we are supposed to act accordingly. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul encourages us “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” We have been saved and called to be God’s children. Now we need to live in a way that is worthy of that calling. This is practical sanctification.
Characteristics of Sanctification
There are a number of characteristics of practical sanctification that the Bible talks about.
A Supernatural Work
The first of these is that it is a supernatural work. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, we read, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is God, as the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us. Sanctification is not a work that we can accomplish. This is expressed well in Galatians 5:16, where Paul tells us to “walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
An Ongoing Process
Sanctification is also not an instantaneous work; rather, it is ongoing throughout our lives. In Philippians 1:6, Paul expresses “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” Sanctification is complete when Christ returns, or I die, whichever comes first. Until then, I should expect the Holy Spirit to be actively engaged in molding my life. This is also expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:18, where Paul, talking about the message of the cross, says, “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Note that it is not to those who have been saved, but to those who are being saved. It is expressing an ongoing process.
Christ-likeness is the Goal
The aim of sanctification is Christ-likeness. Romans 8:29 tells us that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Christian predestination is an often misunderstood topic. As Paul uses it here, it simply means that God’s plan is to conform us to the image of Christ. Leading us to be Christ-like. Read the gospels and see what Christ is like; not the miracle-working, but the living in accordance with his Father’s direction. That is what he wants from us as well. It is a target we should be working toward.
Requires Active Participation
And finally, sanctification, although a work of the Holy Spirit, is something that we need to participate in. In Philippians 2:12-13, we find both of these aspects of sanctification at work: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
It is God who is working in me to fulfill his purpose, but I also need to ‘work out my salvation’, I have a part to play. And what part is that? In Romans 12:1-2 Paul tells us “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God and not be like the rest of the world around us. Being transformed is sanctification.
The Possibility of Sinlessness
Is it possible for us to attain a level of sanctification where we no longer sin? Those who support this notion will point to passages like Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Or 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why would we be told to be perfect as God is perfect unless it was something that was attainable?
Those who would argue against the possibility of sinlessness in this life point to passages like 1 John 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”, to support their position. It would seem that perfection should be our goal in this life. But it is questionable that anyone ever actually reaches this level. Yet whether it is attainable or not, it is something we should be striving for.
The dictionary defines fruit as “any product of plant growth useful to humans or animals”. And fruitfulness is “abounding in fruit, as trees or other plants; bearing fruit abundantly.” As believers, we are not plants, but the terms are descriptive of us.
In John 15:4-5, Jesus told his disciples to “remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is the grapevine, and we are the branches of his vine. Jesus tells us that so long as we remain in him, we will be fruitful. Remaining in Christ is a part of our sanctification. But what is the fruit that we produce?
Some will argue that the fruit we will produce is other believers. And they point to the fruit produced in the natural world where apple trees produce apples. So believers should produce believers. And yet producing believers is actually a work of God. I cannot produce another believer. I can share the gospel with another person. And I can let my life shine before them. But I am not capable of producing a believer or even enabling them to believe. That is something that only God can do.
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus tells us to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” The fruit of our lives is what we produce, whether good or bad. And Jesus instructs us here to produce good fruit or deeds. Deeds that will lead others in this world to ultimately glorify God. As an apple tree just naturally produces apples, so good deeds should naturally flow from us. These deeds are not something done to secure our salvation, rather they are the fruit of it.
The Role of the Law
As a Christian, what role does the Old Testament Law play in my life? Am I supposed to obey all of it, some of it, or none of it? That was a big question that the earliest church faced as well. Especially since they were primarily Jewish, but welcomed Gentiles into the church. The Jewish believers continued to observe the law, but what about the Gentiles; should they be subject to it as well?
This question came to a head in Acts 15. A group of Jewish believers had come to the Gentile church at Antioch. And they were teaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas disputed with them over this issue. And eventually, the church delegated them to address this issue with the leadership of the Jerusalem church. In the end, the decision was made that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. But unfortunately, that was not the end of the story.
The Letter to the Galatian Churches
The letter to the Galatian churches was written sometime after this meeting. And it is apparent there were still Christian Jews trying to impose the old Mosaic Law on the Gentiles. This letter was written largely to combat this problem. In Galatians 3:11-12, Paul tells us that we are justified by faith, not the Law. Then, in Galatians 3:23-25 he explains that the Law was intended to bring us to Christ. Now that we have come to him, we are no longer under its authority.
And, in Galatians 5:4, he warned the believers that if they attempt to be justified by the Law, they will fall from God’s grace. And, finally, in Galatians 5:18, he told them that if they are led by the Spirit, they are no longer under the Law. This all tells us that the Law had a purpose in our lives; not to bring about justification, but to bring us to Christ. And once it has accomplished that purpose we are no longer ‘under’ it.
Jesus and the Law
A passage that is often used to claim that the Law is still in effect is Matthew 5:17-20. In this passage, Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish them [the Law and Prophets] but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” The argument here seems to be that if Jesus did not abolish the Law, then it still must be in effect. But is that what he is saying here? Matthew’s gospel records 14 instances of Jesus fulfilling some part of the Law or the prophets. Indeed he did not abolish the Law, but he did fulfill it.
Luke 24:13-35 records Jesus’ conversation with the two on the road after his resurrection. Here he told them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” Jesus’ cry from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), marks the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.
Matthew 22:34-40 provides another look at the Law and its fulfillment. Jesus identified the two greatest commandments as loving God and loving others. And then he said that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” If we will love God with all that we are and love others like ourselves, then we have fulfilled the Law.
Observing the Law
There are many aspects to the Mosaic Law; including sacrifices, dietary rules, sanitary and health regulations, and moral codes. But when it comes down to it, few Christians actually advocate keeping the whole law. The moral codes of the Law are the ones most often stressed. But I know of no one who actually makes any attempt to keep all of them. Apart from the Ten Commandments, most of the Law was applicable to ancient Middle Eastern people. And it has little relevance to us today.
But saying that we are no longer under the Old Testament Law is not the same thing as saying we can live our lives without constraint. The New Testament writers were clear that how we lived our lives was important. And that striving for holiness was expected. Romans 8 especially stresses that we will live either according to the flesh or the Spirit. And if we live according to the flesh, we have no part with Christ. We do need to put to death the deeds of the flesh. Not in order to be acceptable to God. But because we are his and are seeking holiness.
Separation from the World
As people that are holy and set apart from the world, what should be our relationship with the people of this world? Should we separate ourselves and associate only with other believers as much as possible? Or should we engage our world, seeking encounters with unbelievers?
I believe that Jesus sets the best example for this. In Matthew 10:9-13, Jesus visited Matthew’s house for a meal, along with all of Matthew’s friends. The Pharisees objected to Jesus dining with ‘sinners’. And Jesus responded that he had not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Jesus did not just hang out with the good people. He spent most of his time with those the religious establishment felt to be undesirable. Rather than separating himself from the world, Jesus engaged it, seeking to redeem it. Should we do any less?
Distinct but Engaged
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus told his disciples that they were a light on a hill, a light on a stand. They were to let their light shine to the world, drawing others to God. It is hard to let your light shine when it is hidden away in a monastery.
But as we engage the world, we need to be careful that we remain distinct from it. In James 1:27, we are told to help the helpless, without becoming polluted by the world. And 1 Timothy 5:22 tells us to “not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” If we are going to make a godly impact on this world we need to be in it. But we also need to be holy, set apart from the world.
The Scripture is clear that I need to practice forgiveness. Jesus makes clear to us in Matthew 6:14-15 that God’s forgiveness of us is in some way dependent on our forgiveness of other people. But is my need to forgive others predicated on their seeking forgiveness, or should my forgiveness be unconditional?
Those who would advocate conditional forgiveness will use passages like Matthew 18:15-17. Here Jesus gives direction for dealing with a brother who sins against you. You should attempt reconciliation one on one first, then with a few witnesses, and then before the whole church. And if reconciliation cannot be obtained, treat them as an unbeliever. This certainly seems to require something from the other party. But I do not believe this passage is really talking about forgiveness. It seems more to be dealing with conflict in the body. Something that should not be allowed to exist in the church.
On the other hand, those who advocate unconditional forgiveness will point to Jesus on the cross. Or to Stephen at his stoning. In both cases, they forgave those who were having them put to death. It is hard to see in these situations where there was any forgiveness requested by the ones being forgiven. Jesus, and Stephen, forgave even while they are being killed.
Forgiveness is hard to do sometimes. But it is something that we need to do. You can find support in the Scripture for both conditional and unconditional forgiveness. But I believe it is best to practice forgiveness regardless of the other person’s interest in being forgiven. If for no other reason than true forgiveness will free you from the burden you are carrying around. An unforgiving spirit is like poison in your life. Forgiving and letting it go can free you from that prison.
This final stage of salvation is concerned with what happens at the end of this life. It is broken up here into two parts, perseverance, and glorification. Perseverance could easily be included in the previous section on On-going Salvation. But is included here because its impact is really at the end of this life.
Will a person who has been regenerated, justified, adopted, and united with Christ always persist in that relationship? Or might they fall away from it and become lost once again? Or, to put it another way, is apostasy from true faith possible?
Persistence in Salvation
Many denominations, including the Reformed and Baptist, teach that it is not possible for a person who has truly been regenerated and saved to fall from that state. The Westminster Confession expresses it like this: “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally or finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”
Supporting this position are a number of passages of Scripture, including . . .
- 1 Peter 1:3-5 – “We have been born into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade”
- Philippians 1:6 – “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”
- 2 Timothy 1:12 – “I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day”
- John 10:27-28 – “I give them [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand”
- 1 John 5:13 – “So that you may know that you have eternal life”
All of these passages speak of the assurance we can have in Christ. That our eternal life is secure and untouchable by any outside force.
Persevering Faith Required
In contrast to this is the view that salvation requires persevering faith. Faith is necessary, not just to enter into a relationship with God, but also to continue in it. If a person turns away from the faith, then they are no longer saved. This loss does not come about because of sin in our life. But because of a choice to no longer walk with Christ in faith.
This position is supported by a number of passages that warn us against falling away, pinning our salvation on enduring. Among these are . . .
- Matthew 24:12-13 – “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved”
- Colossians 1:22-23 – “If you continue in your faith, established and firm”
- 1 Corinthians 10:12 – “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall”
- Hebrews 3:14 – “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the end”
These passages are warnings about falling away, and the consequences of doing so. But why would the New Testament writers include so many warnings about apostasy if it were not possible?
A Third Way
The warnings listed above are pretty explicit. But some will claim that they are actually for those who only appear to be saved. And their intent is to give a warning to them. Others understand these warnings to be effective. That they will keep the truly saved from apostasy. But I believe that there is a better explanation.
God’s foreknowledge extends beyond my initial commitment to him, reaching to the end of my life. And I understand salvation to be granted based on continuing or enduring in our faith. Rather than salvation being based on the beginning of your walk with Christ. It is based on the end of that walk. As Matthew 24:12-13 says, it is the one who stands firm to the end who is saved. The one who falls, failing to stand firm, was never saved in the first place.
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor 1:21-22).
In Romans 13:11, Paul told the Roman church that their salvation is nearer than when they first believed. In 1 Peter 1:5, Peter told his audience that they “are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” What is this salvation that we are still looking forward to? The word that the New Testament writers often used to describe this was glory. A word meaning brightness, splendor, magnificence, and fame. In John 17:5, we see Jesus praying that the Father would glorify him with the glory he had before creation. Glory is an attribute belonging to both the Father and the Son.
But the word glory is also applied to the condition that believers face at the end. In Romans 8:29-30, Paul shared what awaits those that God has foreknown. And the last of these is glory, we will be glorified. Elsewhere we see Jesus giving his glory to his disciples (John 17:22). At Christ’s return, a crown of glory will be given to believers (1 Peter 5:4). And our coming glory will eclipse our current sufferings (Rom. 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:17).
At Christ’s Return
When Jesus returns, it will be in great glory (Matt. 24:30). John, in 1 John 3:1-3, tells us “that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” I do not believe this means that we will become a part of the godhead ourselves. But we will in some way share in his glory.
1 Corinthians 15 is an extended discussion of the resurrection, both of Jesus and of us as believers. And in 1 Corinthian 15:42-44, Paul says that the bodies we have now are natural, perishable, weak, and dishonorable. But they will be raised spiritual bodies, imperishable, powerful, and glorious.
In the life to come, we will experience the presence of God and will be eternally with him, serving him. Moses caught a glimpse of God’s glory and reflected that glory to Israel (2 Cor. 3:7). So we, who will spend all eternity with God, will be glorified, reflecting the glory of God to all the heavenly host.
The Means and Extent of Salvation
Universalism is the belief that, ultimately, everyone will be saved; that no one will be condemned to eternal damnation. Origen, a Christian theologian of the 2nd & 3rd centuries, believed in the preexistence of souls. Souls that initially lived in sinless devotion to God. But over time, many of them fell and became demons or humans. But God’s goal was to restore all of them back to a sinless condition. In Origen’s view, punishment of the wicked was temporary in nature and led to purification. Once the person, or demon, had paid for their sins, then they would be restored to their original sinless condition. This was branded as heresy, but many over the years since have subscribed to some form of universalism.
There are others today who simply have an overly simplistic view of God. They are convinced that a loving God would never condemn anyone to endless punishment. But what these people fail to recognize is that while God’s love does extend to everyone, not everyone is willing to receive that love. God is not less loving just because some refuse his love.
Support for Universalism
Scripture used in support of universalism includes . . .
- Romans 11:31 – “God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all”
- Romans 5:8 – “. . . one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people”
- Colossians 1:19-20 – “and through him [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”
Each of these passages seems to be inclusive of all people in the world. And so expressing God’s plan to reconcile everyone to himself, not just some of us.
In contrast to the few passages used to support universalism is the overwhelming bulk of Scripture that clearly distinguishes between the eternal fate of believers and unbelievers. Matthew 25:46 is representative of these: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Indeed God’s mercy extends to all people. But only those who respond to his offer of salvation experience that mercy. Those who reject his offer will experience eternal punishment with no hope of eventual salvation.
A sacrament is an activity that is instituted and directed by God. And it is a means of imparting grace to the participant. Protestants generally limit the number of sacraments to two; the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Not all Protestants, though, consider them to be sacraments. Roman Catholics also have a number of other sacraments, including confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders.
Sacramentalism is the belief that salvation is transmitted and received through the sacraments of the church. This is particularly true of the Roman Catholic Church, which believes that salvation is dependent on the church. They hold that the sacraments were entrusted to the church by Christ. And they must be administered by a person ordained by the church. Salvation comes to an individual by participating in the sacraments properly administered by the church. In this view, it is through baptism that the one coming in faith is freed from sin and reborn as a son of God. Other sacraments, including the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) and penance, are ways that God’s grace continues to come into our lives. And ways in which we participate in the life of Christ.
The Evangelical View
In the evangelical view, salvation is solely a work of God. We are saved by his grace through faith and not by anything we might do. That statement means slightly different things to different flavors of evangelicals. But all agree that neither baptism nor any other action on our part will enable our salvation.
The Scripture does seem to add an additional element to grace and faith though. In 1 Corinthians 15:2, Paul, while speaking about the gospel, says, “By this gospel you are saved.” In 1 Peter 1:23, we find Peter saying, “For you have been born again . . . through the living and enduring word of God.” And in Romans 10:17, Paul says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
All of these indicate that the proclamation of the gospel is, in some respect, essential for salvation. Can a person be saved apart from the gospel? It would appear, at least as a general rule, that only through the gospel can a person come to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit works in the lives of unbelievers, in conjunction with the gospel, to bring people to faith in Christ.
- An Introduction to Systematic Theology (5/21/2021) - This is an introduction to the topic of systematic theology. It will be providing some general guidelines for a systematic study of theology.
- The God of General Revelation: What Creation Tells Us (5/28/2021) - Does God exist? How can we know that? And if he does exist, what is he like? What can we learn about God apart from the Bible?
- The Doctrine of the Bible (6/12/2021) - From the human perspective, the Bible is a diverse collection of literature written over a long period of time. From a divine perspective, it is the authoritative guide to faith and practice.
- The Doctrine of the Nature of God (12/30/2017) - What is the nature of God? This post is a quick look at the attributes of God, the Trinity, his will, and some commonly raised questions.
- The Doctrine of the Work of God (1/7/2018) - What is the work of God? It involves creation of the cosmos as well as providence, the sustaining and governance of his creation.
- The Doctrine of Humanity (3/2/2017) - Who are we as humans? Where did we come from? Why are we here? The doctrine of humanity provides answers to those questions.
- The Doctrine of Sin (3/19/2018) - The doctrine of sin is one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith. It describes an aspect of our nature that is opposed to God.
- The Doctrine of the Nature of Jesus Christ (4/12/2018) - The nature of Jesus . . . He is the second person of the Trinity. And he is both fully God and fully man, perfectly united into one person.
- The Doctrine of the Work of Jesus Christ (4/29/2018) - The primary work of Jesus is offering himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus' atonement for us is essential for our salvation.
- The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (6/4/2018) - The Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Trinity, brings conviction of sin, enables life as a believer, and equips for service in the Kingdom.
- The Doctrine of Salvation (6/27/2018) - The doctrine of salvation encompasses our initial salvation experience, our ongoing walk with Christ, and our final deliverance.
- The Doctrine of the Church (7/29/2018) - What is the church? What is it's purpose? Questions about government, baptism and Lord's Supper. These are topics addressed by the doctrine of the church.
- The Doctrine of Last Things (9/15/2018) - The doctrine of last things includes the global events preceding Christ's return, as well as the more personal aspects; what happens to me in the end.