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What Is Salvation?
Eternal LifeThe doctrine of salvation is obviously the first doctrine revealed to all new Christians. Without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we could not enter into the deeper truths of God's Word. Too often, however, the term salvation is taken only at face value. The word salvation implies being saved from something, and in the Biblical context, we are indeed saved from an eternity of fire in hell. Most Christians understand that along with that saving comes eternal life in heaven (John 3:15-16, 2 Thessalonians 2:16) which Revelation 21:1-8, 27 describes as eternal paradise. In fact, Hebrews 5:9 uses the phrase "eternal salvation," because it indeed ushers us into the eternal plan of God. However, there is still much more to salvation than just eternal life.
By GraceBefore we explore the other facets of salvation, let's take a look at its source. As you would expect, salvation is consistent with the preeminent doctrine of grace. Throughout the Epistles, the persistent message that salvation is a free grace gift from God is explained. Ephesians 2:5 says, "By grace you have been saved." Also, Romans 4:4-5 and Romans 11:6 indicate that grace and works are mutually exclusive. If one attempts to gain salvation by works, this nullifies the saving grace.
Who Does It?The scriptures are also emphatic to indicate that God is the one that supplies salvation--not man. He provides salvation in His omniscience as he purposes (Romans 9:11,18). We are led to repentance by His kindness (Romans 2:4). It is His choice--not ours (Romans 11:5). God does as He wishes (1 Corinthians 15:38). He chose us--we did not choose Him (Ephesians 1:4, 2 Timothy 2:10). We are God's inheritance (Ephesians 1:18).
PurposeGod's purpose in saving sinners is that they will learn to please Him by bearing fruit for Him and increasing in His glory and grace (Romans 7:4). Colossians 1:10 specifies that believers are to please God and bear His fruit through good works and increasing in the knowledge of His word.
Election / PredestinationThroughout the epistles, Christians are often called the elect or the called (1 Corinthians 1:24-26, Galatians 1:15, 5:8, Ephesians 4:1,4). This establishes the doctrine of election (Jude 1). This is consistent with the fact that God is the one who is in control. Romans 8:30 says that all Christians are predestined, called, justified, and glorified by God (salvation). Romans 8:29 shows that God actually foreknew us in eternity past. This was not just a knowledge of our future actions, but an intimate relationship between God and us. He has adopted us as His own (Ephesians 1:5,11), and he has approved us (1 Thessalonians 2:4). He prepared us beforehand (Romans 9:23-24, Ephesians 2:10), and even wisdom is predetermined (1 Corinthians 2:7). In fact, even the ungodly have their destiny predetermined (Jude 4).
Justification By FaithMost Christians know that Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace through faith. The scriptures are not always easy to understand, but if there is one message about salvation that is clearly repeated throughout the Epistles, it is this doctrine of justification by faith, as opposed to justification by works. Romans Chapters 3 through 5 and Galatians Chapters 2 through 5 are dedicated to this doctrine, and it is explicitly stated in many more scriptures (Acts 16:31; Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28; Romans 4:3, 5, 9, 11-13, 16-20, 24; Romans 5:1, 2, 21; Romans 9:30, 32; Romans 10:4, 9-14; Romans 11:20; Romans 15:13; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 2:16, 20; Galatians 3:6-9, 14, 22, 24, 26; Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 1:13, 19; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 12; Hebrews 3:19; 1 John 5:1, 10-11, 13).
We cannot begin to cover all the proof texts here, but it is worthwhile to look at a few of them in order to show the clarity of the scriptures concerning justification by faith.
Probably the most emphatic and complete verse on justification by faith is Galatians 2:16, "A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Now, how could that be clarified any further? Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the power of God to everyone who BELIEVES (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 1:21). In fact, the most common terms found in the scriptures for differentiating Christians from non-Christians are "believers" and "unbelievers," so justification by faith is even inherent by definition! It should also be noted that this justification by faith is in accord with the doctrine of grace (Romans 4:16, 5:2), in that even our faith comes from God (Romans 12:3, Philippians 1:29, Colossians 2:12), 2 Peter 1:1). God is the one who justifies (Romans 8:33, 1 Corinthians 6:11).
regeneration in Christ. This is another gift of salvation. Christians are changed into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are given salvation and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We are now God's children (1 John 3:2), His sons (Galatians 3:26) and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). He has adopted us (Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:4-5), and he has annulled the former hardness of our hearts (Ephesians 4:18).
SanctificationIn our new position in Christ comes the doctrine of sanctification (Romans 6--8). At salvation, God also gives us the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:13). He regenerates us and gives us a newness of life in the Spirit (Romans 7:6). Furthermore, Romans 6:4-6 assures us that through the Holy Spirit, we now have power over the flesh.
The Holy SpiritAt salvation, God gives us His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22). God pours the Holy Spirit upon us richly (Titus 3:6). This is the third member of the Trinity of the Godhead. God the Holy Spirit actually lives eternally within us (Romans 8:9), and we are to continually be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). In 1 Corinthians 12;13, the Bible is emphatic to note that ALL believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit!
given by God--not developed by some human means. They're another gift of salvation.
redemption (Romans 3:24, 1 Peter 1:18-19). In grace, God redeems us out of the slave market of sin by forgiving us of all of our sins (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14). This redemption is made possible by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). We also have God's continuing forgiveness of our temporal sins of the flesh through confession by 1 John 1:9.
RighteousnessHowever, this forgiveness is the negative facet of salvation. The positive factor is that we are given the absolute righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). When God looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which alleviates any condemnation for sin.
LibertyJesus not only brought righteousness, but he brought freedom from the law (Romans 6:14). Where Moses brought the law, Jesus brought grace and truth (John 1:17). In our salvation, we have complete liberty in Christ (Galatians 3:10, 5:1).
PriesthoodAnother gift bestowed upon believers in salvation is a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5,9, Revelation 1:6). We now have access to God the father through Christ the Son (Ephesians 2:18, Hebrews 10:19-20). When Christ was crucified, the temple veil was miraculously split by God--indicating that each believer now was his own priest, and that a mediator or intercessor is no longer necessary for communication with God, as was the case with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Also, the very nature of this priesthood implies privacy of the priesthood. This relationship is between the individual believer and God, and nobody else should try to interfere in it (Job 19:4). This is inherently obvious by virtue of the fact that our relationship with God is a personal one.
AccessIn salvation, each individual priest now has access to God the father through Jesus Christ the Son, in one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). This was symbolized by the tearing of the temple veil at the point of Jesus' death on the cross (Matthew 27:51). Hebrews 10:19-20 explains that we now have confidence to enter the holy place because Christ inaugurated us through the veil by His flesh. Now we are to draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) through prayer.
PropitiationAnother sub-doctrine of salvation is the doctrine of propitiation (1 John 4:10). This doctrine explains that through Christ, the wrath of God toward us is now appeased (1 John 2:2), and we have no condemnation for sin (John 3:17-18, Romans 8:1). It was the blood of Christ on the cross that afforded us this blessing (Romans 3:24-26). This passage says that God can now "pass over" our sins, and this is possible because Jesus is our "Passover" sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7) just as lambs were offered by the Old Testament Jews for their Passover sacrifices. God's wrath is now appeased because Jesus' sacrifice on the cross served as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Although this is
usually treated as a lesser doctrine of salvation, we should not take this lightly. Read Psalms 51 to see David's description of the jubilation over realizing that his sins were not counted against him.
ReconciliationThrough the redemption, forgiveness, and propitiation of salvation comes our reconciliation by God (Colossians 1:22). Now God can reconcile us to Himself, and give us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). This is necessary in order for God to restore the earth and humanity which has been separated from him since the Garden of Eden. Again, this gift of reconciliation is made possible through the blood of Christ (Romans 5:10).
FreedomUpon regeneration, we are freed from the slavery (Galatians 5:1) and curse (Galatians 3:10) of the law (Romans 6:14). We are also freed from the power of the old sin nature (Romans 6:6). It is annulled, and we are empowered to serve Christ according to God's will, because we are now complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).
Lights in the WorldAt salvation, we are taken from darkness (Ephesians 5:8) into the light (1 Thessalonians 5:4). God is light, and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). We should walk in the light and have fellowship with each other (1 John 1:7). We are called to be lights in the world for Christ (Philippians 2:15).
The KingdomAt salvation we enter into God's eternal kingdom (Colossians 1:13). God calls us to our new position in His kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12), and we enter it through Christ (2 Peter 1:11). This kingdom is one that we live in a temporal way now on earth, but it will be fully realized only when we see it in heaven. This is not the same kingdom as the millennial kingdom where Christ will reign for 1000 years on earth from the city of Jerusalem. This millennium will be discussed in the Chapter on The End Times.
Heavenly CitizenshipThe citizenship of all believers is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are not really at home here on the earth. We are actually strangers here (Ephesians 2:12, Hebrews 11:13). Luke 10:20 says that the names of all believers are recorded in heaven. We are members of God's household (Ephesians 2:19), and we won't really be at home until we reach heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).
AmbassadorshipAnother gift bestowed upon us when we enter the Church at salvation is the ambassadorship of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). With this privilege comes the responsibility of any ambassador--mediation. We are now God's lights in the world (Philippians 2:15) to those who don't share our ambassadorship. Obviously, here is where we should be witnesses to others for Christ.
GlorificationThe final facet of salvation is glory, although we do not fully realize the glorification of God while we remain in this life. However, we have the hope of the glory of God in heaven (Romans 8:18).This is true of all who have been justified (Romans 8:30). We will realize this glory when Christ returns (Colossians 3:4).
SecurityTo conclude this discussion on salvation, we must remember our initial comments on the eternal nature of salvation--eternal life. By definition then, we are eternally secure in our salvation. Our salvation cannot be revoked (Romans 8:31-39, 11:29). When one understands that salvation is performed completely by God, this eternal aspect of salvation is not difficult to accept. God made us secure, and He will keep us secure eternally. Just as we are children of our natural parents, and we cannot negate that physical relationship, so did we become God's children when we were born again, and we cannot be "unborn" (Romans 8:26)! We are His children forever (John 10:29). God protects us (1 Peter 1:5) in what Romans 11:29 calls an irrevocable calling! Romans 8:38-39 assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
AssuranceSalvation not only secures us, but it assures us also. By 2 Corinthians 3-4, we can have assurance of our salvation simply by realizing that we understand the gospel message (1 Corinthians 1:18, 2:14). The gospel is foolish to the lost, so if it is not foolish to us, then we are saved.
How Not to Be SavedUnfortunately there are many misnomers about salvation, especially concerning how it is attained. Salvation is not attained by walking an aisle, talking to a preacher, joining a church, public profession or confession, stopping one's sinning, partaking of water baptism, communion, or circumcision, calling a toll-free number, or by "doing" anything else. Neither is it attained by more subtle misnomers such as being good, saying a prayer, "giving one's life to Jesus," making some commitment, accepting some challenge, being sincere, dedicating one's life to Christ, coming to "know Jesus," humbling oneself, making Jesus Lord of one's life, or even by believing that there is a God.
A particularly misleading tactic about salvation is implied by the phrase, "inviting Jesus into your heart." This is usually supported by Revelation 3:20 which says that Jesus is knocking at the door of the hearts of Christians. Unfortunately, too often it is misinterpreted as being an "invitation" of salvation to unbelievers. This deception often misleads sincere soul-searchers into believing that some sort of physical "works" is required for salvation. For example, some heart transplant patients have been known to ask their doctors whether the heart donor had Jesus in his heart. Now how clear can that person's understanding of salvation be?
Another deception about salvation is when church members are sometimes sent on guilt trips because they haven't lined up to somebody's notion of their proper degree of involvement in the activities of the local church. Then this issue is cleverly confused with that of salvation, and Christians then get salvation confused with works. This results in Christians who ignorantly question their own< salvation, and then try to "compensate" by increasing their involvement in church activities in which the Holy Spirit has not led them.
ConclusionsSalvation is simply a free gift of grace from God to an undeserving sinner through his believing that Jesus is his savior. This simply means trusting what Christ has done on the cross alone, as all that is necessary to take care of one's sin problem. That sin is what had separated each of us from God (Romans 3:23), and condemned us to eternal damnation. Only through our trust in Christ's atonement do we have eternal salvation. We must avoid any illustrations which imply that salvation is attained through some combination of faith and works.
Salvation is the forgiveness, propitiation, reconciliation, and absolute righteousness given to us in grace by God, by means of faith in the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, so that we can live eternally in paradise. It is a free gift given by God to whomever he chooses to give it. With it comes freedom, individual priesthood, access to God, heavenly citizenship, and a responsibility to be lights in the world and ambassadors for Jesus Christ. God has justified believers by grace through faith. He has positionally sanctified believers so that He sees us as righteous as Jesus Christ. He will sanctify us experientially in the day that we reach glory in heaven.
Owen Weber 2008