Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Salvation is of the Lord, Part 1 of 9

I have noticed that one of the strongest trends within the professing church today is a rejection of salvation by grace. Many who profess to be devout, Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians refuse to believe that salvation is accomplished according to Scripture by the simple vehicle of faith. That faith rests upon the nature and credentials of one person namely: Jesus Christ.

Christ our Lord is referred to as our Savior more than fifteen times in the New Testament. What are the criteria for a Savior, one may ask? First, one has to be willing to save you; the second is that he must be capable of saving you. If you were drowning and I desired to save you, but I didn’t know how to swim, my heroism would conclude with our mutual deaths. A Savior must have the willingness and ability to save us. Since the apostles were unabashed in granting Jesus this title they must have felt exceedingly confident that He was a capable and willing Savior, and in fact both of these criteria were satisfactorily demonstrated to them already.

Many will agree with me on these points and perhaps be wondering where I am leading this conversation. I wanted to establish what a Savior is and does before we delve into a debate regarding the nature of salvation as the Bible defines it. See, the words Savior and salvation are closely joined. Salvation is the outcome of having been rescued by a savior. Imagine with me, if you will, that you are drowning still. Perhaps I do know how to swim and could easily rescue you, so I swim out to where you are, offer my hand and wait for you to take it, and then tell you that unless you start swimming adequately along with me I’m going to let you go again. Or perhaps I wait fifteen feet away, floating in the water and calling to you, saying, “I’ve gone this far, but come the rest of the way! I’ve done my share by swimming all this distance, but you have to make up for that fifteen feet and do your share!” A drowning victim may be thinking, “What share? I’m drowning! We didn’t strike an agreement or settle on terms; I’m in danger and you are coming to my rescue. If I could swim on my own I wouldn’t need you!”

Mark that last idea, because we’ll be revisiting it periodically. This is where I settle my case before we begin to examine Scripture: Christ is our Savior because we can’t swim. We cannot save ourselves. He did not come to give us swimming lessons or partner up with us in the mutual goal of salvation. No; He came to deliver us from our sins and save us. A Savior gives His charge salvation. In the case of a drowning victim they are dragged to shore and spared that fate; the victim in question has nothing to do with their own rescue. Many times a drowning victim fights his rescuer because they are panicking. Yet a wise rescuer or savior does not let them go on that account and say, “Suit yourself! Try to help some people out and see what you get…!” Our faith must be grounded in God’s power (literally, “ability”) and not man’s wisdom, 1st Corinthians 2:5.

This serves to accentuate my point. If the gospel is not by grace through faith in Christ, with nothing else added, then we are co-saviors with our Lord. At best Jesus helps us to be saved; at worst He watches from Heaven as we strive to attain or retain righteousness that God finds acceptable. Christianity devolves into a system of works, because grace and works—any works—are not compatible. I will endeavor to prove my point on that topic shortly. The world’s religions have two things in common: #1) being man-centered; #2) salvation by works. Works salvation is at the root of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Scientology, Parsees, et al. Genuine, historical Christianity stands alone in total opposition to every religion on earth by proclaiming that salvation is God’s gift to men when someone chooses to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. We shall see more of this later. Remove the gurus and prophets from their various religions and that religion stands. Mohammad is not needed for Islam to function; the same is true with Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, etc. But Remove Jesus Christ from Christianity and you have nothing left. Christ is Lord and Savior; if He is taken away then Christianity is a defunct, sterile, and hopeless system. The apostle Paul agreed, 1st Corinthians 15:17.

Having laid down my foundation, I would like to begin a systematic examination of numerous passages of Scripture to determine whether or not salvation is defined in the New Testament as hearing and believing the gospel or by faith mingled with our efforts to receive or retain eternal life. Is eternal life a free gift of God’s grace, or does God only entrust us with this precious gift so long as we continue to walk obediently? What are good works, and where do they enter the equation in the Christian life? What is the gospel, exactly? Can someone truly forfeit their salvation? I hope to adequately cover this and more over the course of this series.

We begin our search for the answer of the gospel’s nature in Romans. To reiterate: our outstanding inquiry is whether or not works are involved to receive/retain salvation. This subject will define what the gospel is, what one must believe and what one must do. All other questions, while also important, are peripheral and will be addressed as their relevance arises. Now, as the saying goes, on with the show.

As a side note I would like to state my reasons for such lengthy Scripture quotes. I am firmly convinced that error quickly overcomes us when we isolate a verse and turn that verse into a doctrine. A famous example of this mentality is Mark 16:16, which has Jesus stating that anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. One would think Jesus spoke this in a vacuum because proponents of baptismal regeneration tout this verse like it alone is the gospel, rationalizing away the hundreds of other verses that state faith/grace/belief happen to be the sole criterion for salvation. It is a dangerous pit to focus on one verse; we tend to become fixed in our thinking and no longer accept correction, no matter how Scriptural or reasonable it sounds. As a champion of that verse stated to me, “How can you misunderstand nine words?” If those nine words were the only words Jesus spoke regarding our salvation I would quickly agree; however, they were not, and this is a very dishonest argument that attempts to sanctify a works-entrenched gospel. I will endeavor to deal honestly with God’s word and you, the reader, by allowing the text to speak for itself and not isolating a passage here or there that seems to win my point.

I thought it would be fitting to begin this series with a commentary regarding man’s spiritual condition prior to salvation. The nature of the gospel and man’s ability to contribute can be more easily ascertained if we find that the New Testament paints a picture of mankind as naturally good with an unfortunate sinful or flawed side. Does the sin nature make us by nature evil with the ability to do good, or good with a penchant for sometimes doing evil? The nature of man’s condition determines what part of salvation we can play a role in.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Matthew 7:9-11.

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man,” Matthew 15:18-20.

But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man,” John 2:24-25.

This testimony of our Lord seems to strongly indict mankind with a natural bent toward evil that comes from within us; our words and deeds are corrupted by the sin nature that dwells inside us, making our works unacceptable to a holy God. Paul’s inspired passage in Romans elucidates this matter in grisly detail when he refers to mankind in general, himself included, as being wholly without merit before God.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes,” Romans 3:10-18.

1 comment:

  1. As you so accurately point out much false doctrine depends on isolating a single verse or passage. How many times just reading the verses before and after a passage change how we can interpret it.

    ReplyDelete

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