ATONEMENT AND SALVATION
“Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”
This, to the majority in Christendom, is salvation in a nutshell. Salvation through the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary is the basis of faith for millions. We find it in sermon and song, in prose and in poetry. Old hymnals are filled with songs extolling the blood of Christ as the saving medium and exhorting to faith in His cross. Newer hymnals not only contain the same hymns but add new ones echoing the same theme: “Living, He loved me! Dying, He saved me! Buried, He carried my sins far away! Rising, He justified freely, forever! One day He’s coming-O glorious day!”
In poetry the theme is the same: “There’s not a work for you to do….The work has all been done; … Upon the cross at Calvary … The victory has been won.”
Salvation through the cross without works. Effortless salvation! It is shouted from the pulpit and aired over radio and TV stations daily. “There at the cross two great things stand out-man’s wickedness and God’s great love. ‘Without the shedding of blood is no remission.’ Christ shed His precious blood for the remission of our sins,” says the radio preacher.
Gospel tracts carry the same theme: “You are lost today-this is no reflection upon your character or morality. All are lost….It is serious to be lost today, but you can be saved today….Knowing that you are lost-that Jesus will save you-will you trust your soul to Him right now? If so, He will save you right now. Even now, if you have trusted Him, He has already saved you.”
Salvation-instant and easy! But is this salvation? Is this deliverance from nonentity and death? Is it safe to trust in the merits of another for deliverance in that great Day soon to come? We know that we are all powerless to save ourselves beyond our mortal span of life. We need salvation the whole human race needs salvation.
But are all assured of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross? Did God love the world to such an extent that He offered His righteous Son as a sacrifice to save it? Can literal blood cleanse from sin? Is it true that there is nothing for us to do to merit salvation-that there is nothing we can do? Is salvation free upon a mere profession of belief? Does the Bible teach instant salvation?
Our salvation should be the greatest concern of our lives. Let us not trust blindly in the words of any man, but let us learn from God just what salvation is and how we may obtain it.
SALVATION-WHAT IS IT?
In discussing this subject, we want to define our terms carefully to avoid misunderstanding.
Salvation according to the Bible is not redemption as commonly understood. It is more than a pledge made at an emotionally-charged meeting; it is more than a hope of a “spirit-life” in the ethereal realms of heaven.
Salvation as defined in the dictionary is “Preservation from impending evil; deliverance from sin and penalty, realized in a future state; redemption; any means of deliverance from danger, evil or ruin.”
The Greek word used for “salvation” carries the idea of deliverance, safety, preservation, healing, and soundness. To be delivered is to be set free, not only from sin but from all the ills of mortality and even mortality itself, for “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain” (Rev. 21:4). This is the salvation the Bible offers.
Not a single living person on earth today is “saved” in the Biblical sense of the word. The person who is truly “saved” will have life, unending life freed from all possibility of pain, suffering. accident or death. And it will not be in some dream world in the clouds but right here on this earth!
Salvation: Eternal Life
To be placed beyond mortality is the goal of every life-seeker. That is salvation, the hope of every true Christian. It was the hope of the prophets and apostles, a hope that gave them strength to endure. Of this salvation the apostle Peter said: “Through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him,…you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully” (1 Pet. 1:5-10).
Salvation is not the beginning but the end to which faith looks forward. At the present time it is ours only by promise: “And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25).
This life, with its attendant blessings and its inevitable problems and trials, is given by God to all to be used or abused as each chooses. But God offers more. He offers life beyond this, which will be given at the time of the Second Advent of Christ. In the words of Paul, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Peter described God’s offer of eternal life in equally vivid phrases: “By which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). To be a “partakers of the divine nature” is to have eternal life, truly an “exceeding great and precious” promise.
Eternal life is by far the greatest of God’s promises. Without life in which to enjoy them, all other blessings would be worthless. Jesus said that “Those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead…nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36). Angels were once mortals like ourselves (although not of our world). They became pure and holy like their heavenly Father and were granted eternal salvation, immortality. This is the salvation we seek-a salvation that truly saves.
Salvation the Reward
According to theology, “God, in the New Testament Scriptures, offers to the lost, salvation; and for the faithful service of the saved, He offers rewards … salvation is a present possession, whereas rewards are a future attainment” (Scofield Reference Bible). A careful study of the Scriptures does not uphold this doctrine; it is a product of the thoughts of men, not of the Word of God.
Salvation is the reward for a life of faithful service to God, and it is to be given at the end of the Day of Salvation, not at the time the participant enters the race. The words of Peter prove this true. Salvation is “the grace that would come to you.” For this same reward the prophets labored (1 Pet. 1:5-10).
Paul compared the reward to a prize given to the winner in a race. The prize is not given before the race is run, for the winner cannot be determined until the race has been completed. His meaning cannot be misunderstood: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.…Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I” (1 Cor. 9:24-26). The incorruptible crown Paul sought could mean nothing less than immortality, eternal life, for all else is corruptible, perishable.
The apostle Peter also described eternal life as a crown to be given at Christ’s return: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4). The only “crown of glory” that will never fade is eternal life, salvation, and it is to be given at Christ’s return.
In New Testament phraseology, enlightenment and induction into the way to life is sometimes spoken of as being “saved,” but this is not to be confused with eternal salvation. Such a one might be said to have been “saved” from his former habits, from the hopelessness of this world, from the life that ends only in death; but eternal salvation is yet future and requires much more than a good start. Jesus gave the formula for receiving the full salvation: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). He is not saved, but shall be saved.
The person working for eternal salvation receives a certain measure of his reward in this life, as stated by the Master in His reply to Peter’s question: “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” Jesus answered: “who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time,…and in the age to come, eternal life” (Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:30). The hundredfold is the reward to be reaped in this life while perfecting a character worthy of eternal life in the world to come. Truly, as it has been said, “The Christian gets all the cream.” The hundredfold is manifold in peace, joy and happiness!
The Bible makes no distinction between rewards and salvation. The reward “is to be brought … at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13), and that reward is salvation.
SALVATION-WHY DO WE NEED IT?
Why do we need salvation? We have so much of good things, why not be content with the here and now? Why concern ourselves with what happens after death?
Every rational being loves life above all else. He enjoys every minute given him-and he wants more. We are no exception. We realize that we are mortal and subject to death and that we are powerless to save ourselves beyond whatever years God grants us. Hence we turn to God to seek more.
These are valid reasons for seeking salvation-but in the eyes of the majority of theologians, none of them is the real reason. The majority of religious teachers in the world today would agree with the approach that all are born into the world sinners because of Adam’s sin. Says a contemporary radio preacher: “We are all the natural descendants of Adam. Because of this, we inherit his sinful nature….As Adam’s natural offspring, therefore, we partake of his sinful nature….Because of it, both saints and sinners die. … By his [Adam’s] decision to disobey God, he dragged us all down with him into an awful gulf, separating us from our Creator…. Consequently, we are born dead in sin; by nature we are children of wrath.”
The writer continues: “What a foreboding picture! Humanly speaking no relief was possible. Absolutely none! Furthermore, every member of Adam’s race is involved. If you are not a Christian, you are under the sentence of death. Not one human being is excluded!”
This explanation of what is commonly called “Original Sin” is taken from the writing of Paul R. VanGorder of the Radio Bible Class, but it is little different than the explanation contained in the manuals of the major churches. Historically, the doctrine originated with Augustine in the fourth century and during later centuries spread throughout all Christendom. The doctrine is based on a misinterpretation of a few verses in the writings of Paul, but it is counter to the whole teaching of Scripture.
It is notable that Jesus never made mention of Adam and Eve, nor did He once suggest that sin is the consequence of their transgression in Eden. Jesus pointed to the origin of sin as being within each individual: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed…” all these evils (Mark 7:20-23). Evil is devised in the heart or mind, not inherited, said Jesus, and it is this sin that defiles the man, not Adam’s sin. Man needs saving from his own sin only, not from the sin of Adam.
Man dies only because he is mortal, not because Adam sinned. He needs salvation to escape death’s clutches, not to escape the curse of Adam’s sin.
SALVATION-HOW DO WE GAIN IT?
In asking the question, the jailer took the first important step to obtaining salvation: He expressed a desire for salvation and showed an interest in learning how to gain it. No doubt the jailer had been impressed by the godly character of the two prisoners over whom he stood guard. There is nothing like a good example to win men to Christ.
His question was also an admission that he knew he was not saved and showed that he realized there must be something to do before he could be saved. Paul’s answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” is accepted by the majority as teaching instant salvation. But is this according to the Scriptures?
Saved-In a Moment of Time?
Reading the account of the Philippian jailer, all Christendom, ministers and laymen alike, assume that the jailer went home “saved.” And because Paul said “. . . and thy house” it is likewise assumed that his whole family was saved from that time on. But does a mere profession of faith bring instant salvation? Can we say one has won the race when he has only begun to run?
Much misunderstanding surrounds the timing of salvation. Building on the incident in the Philippian jail, evangelists have fashioned their theory of instant salvation. Writes one, “Seeing that He [Christ] died for sinful men, believing on Him we claim this for ourselves personally. Having believed we have the sure word of God that we are saved. As a result, 1) We are now the children of God; 2) We have eternal life-because ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ (present tense, a present possession); 3) We have passed from a state of death into a state of life.”
Then the writer asks: “How long does such a marvelous change require? God says ‘Look to Me, and be saved’ (Isa. 45:22). Looking is the act of an instant, and in that instant we are saved. Look and live!”
Truly a “marvelous change”-if it were possible.
To say that a so-called “saved” person has eternal life and to make the claim that such a one has passed from “a state of death into a state of life” is to defy reason. All mankind, including those who claim to be “saved,” are mortal and subject to death. Our own experience tells us this. Who among us has not lost relatives, friends and acquaintances to the grim reaper? Hence, we must compare the statement with other Scriptures to learn the true meaning.
We have eternal life only by promise. “And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25). John was an apostle, beloved of the Lord, and received Jesus’ teachings from an intimate association with the Master. He knew whereof he spoke.
Paul said, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Rom. 8:24-25). Salvation is our hope as it was Paul’s. It was “in hope of eternal life” (Tit. 1:2) that he labored, for he had “not count myself to have apprehended” (Phil. 3:13).
To apply Isaiah 45:22 (“Look to Me, and be saved”) to prove instant salvation is to take the verse entirely out of context. In verse 17 of the chapter the Prophet, speaking for God, says “Israel shall be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation.” Note that they shall be saved, future tense. Throughout the chapter God is showing that salvation is available only through Him; there is no God beside Him. Only by serving Him and Him only can salvation be obtained. And it is only “he who endures to the end will be saved,” for the reward will come with Christ at His returning: “Behold I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Rev. 22:12). These were the words of the Master Himself.
It has been said that “salvation is the key word of the Christian faith.” True, salvation is what religion is all about. It is the highest goal of the Christian life, and it is the central theme of the Scriptures.
What is salvation? How can we know the right way to salvation? Many men are teaching many ways-all supposedly reaching the same end. To the majority, salvation is to be saved “from sin,” to come to Christ, to find Christ. In recent years many automobiles wear bumper stickers with the words “I found it,” indicating that the occupant has been “saved.”
“Are you saved?” asks the evangelist. “Are you sure you will go to heaven when you die?” Heaven and salvation are thought of as synonymous. “Why not accept Christ as your personal Saviour and be sure of heaven?” is the plea.
The messages are appealing; small wonder that multitudes believe that there is nothing more to do to gain salvation! The way is described as easy and effortless. Some even go so far as to say there is nothing you can do toward your salvation but to accept it.
But this way is in sharp contrast to the way taught by the Master Himself. We do not find Him preaching that the road to salvation is easy. “Who then can be saved?” asked the disciples on one occasion after hearing Jesus’ advice to the rich young man. Jesus had told him there was more to do than to keep the commandments contained in Moses’ law-he must sell out all and follow Him. And for the young man, this was asking too much; we read that “He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:16-22). The young man apparently believed in Jesus, but belief was not enough. He had to do something.
On another occasion, one said to Jesus, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He answered: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). He had explained the “strait” gate in His Sermon on the Mount: “enter through the narrow gate: … Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
And at yet another time, after Jesus explained the meaning of the “bread of life” we read that “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” “This is a hard saying,” they said, “Who can understand it?” Their remarks caused Jesus to ask of the Twelve: “Do you also want to go away?” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:60-68).
In each case the lesson is clear: There is no easy way to gain eternal life, no easy way to be saved. Many will seek in their own way but will not be saved because they did not seek in the God-appointed way.
Were the apostles mistaken in thinking that salvation did not come easy? Or has the way to salvation changed since Jesus spoke these words?
We are confident that the way has not changed, that Jesus’ teaching on the subject is still valid. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Were He here today His message would be no different. The succeeding centuries have produced theologians whose ideas have overshadowed the words of Jesus. They are “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” and “laying aside the commandment of God” as did the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke these words (Mark 7:7-8).
The road to salvation is more than “what Jesus Christ has done for man.” Heaven is not guaranteed on the simple condition of believing and accepting Jesus as Saviour. Nor is God in the business of “rescuing” sinners who show no inclination to change their evil ways.
In this issue we will examine some of these teachings concerning the way to salvation, comparing them with our only source of knowledge on the subject, the unerring Word of God.
SALVATION-HOW DO WE GAIN IT?
“We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!” This familiar old hymn heralds the radio broadcast known as “The Joyful Sound.”
Those who sing and those who listen no doubt consider themselves “saved”-but are they? They are not immortal; they are not beyond the reach of change and decay, sickness and sin. Jesus will save when the proper time comes, but as yet, no one on earth has eternal salvation.
Millions have been told that they were saved because they made a simple confession of faith in Christ. But is it enough to simply “believe” in Christ? Evangelists and Fundamentalists would agree that it is, that Paul’s statement to the church at Rome asks nothing more: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). (Note that the verse says shalt be saved, not are saved.)
But what is it to “believe”? Is it only to acknowledge Christ? Can it be possible that a person could expect to be saved eternally, placed beyond death with a body like unto that of the immortal Saviour, just for professing belief in Him? Let us go to the Scriptures.
Believe and Be Saved
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Those looking for an easy way to salvation seize upon this text to prove that there is nothing more to do to be saved than simply to acknowledge Christ as their Saviour. “Simply believe on Him as the one who bore your sin, died in your place, was buried and was raised for your justification,” says the writer of a Bible tract, “Whoever, (that includes you) calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, (shall be, not might or can be, but shall be saved)” (Rom. 10:13).
Mr. VanGorder, before quoted, writes in a similar vein: “You can escape God’s wrath. A way has been provided. The Heavenly Father judged His Son at Calvary, for Jesus was being made sin for you and was bearing your sins on the tree. Because of Christ’s obedience, you can be released from its penalty and receive eternal life. You may pass from death into life, from darkness into light, from judgment into justification this very moment. Believe, and live!’
Let us compare these ideas with what the Bible has to say about what it is to “believe.” Can it be possible that it is enough to merely acknowledge that a man named Jesus once lived on earth, was crucified and resurrected? Does one become a disciple by saying, “I believe”?
Belief is necessary. But what is it to “believe”? First, it requires belief in God the Father: “For he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). And Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, and they shall all be taught by God. Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:44-45).
To believe is to know.
Knowledge is the first step toward belief. How can one be a believer without first knowing all there is to know about Jesus’ life and His teachings? “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…. He who is of God hears God’s words” (John 8:32, 47). “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).
Anyone that professes belief in Jesus must have a knowledge of what He taught. Knowledge is a prerequisite to salvation. Paul said that faith comes “by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Nor is this knowledge to be found entirely in the words of Jesus. “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4), hence we do well to consult the entire Bible concerning our salvation.
Paul exhorted Timothy concerning the Scriptures: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15). Only a knowledge of the Bible can lead to salvation. We cannot say we believe unless we first know.
To believe is to suffer also.
The command to believe is more than a simple acknowledgement. Paul said, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Phil. 1:29-30). Belief causes conflict, both internal and external. There is the conflict between the old man and the new, the flesh and the spirit—“These are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17).
Jesus knew that His teachings would cause conflicts when He said: “A man’s enemies will be those of his own household…. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…” (Matt. 10:36, 35). The separation demanded by the Christian life often brings separation even within families.
To believe is to obey.
Knowledge is the first step toward true belief in Jesus. But even this is not sufficient for salvation. Knowledge not acted upon is worthless. “Faith without works is dead,” said the apostle James. We need both. “But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:20, 18).
To believe in Jesus is to profess our love for Him: and Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Nor can we count ourselves His friends unless we obey Him: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Unless we do what He commands, we cannot expect Him to save us.
Salvation-Through Christ’s Death?
Salvation by substitution is accounted by the religious world as one “of the most tremendous truths of the Bible.” “Christ died that you might not have to die for your sins….He died for sinful men, and in believing on Him we claim this for ourselves personally and are saved,” says a contemporary minister.
The idea is not new. More than a century ago, Dwight L. Moody was preaching the same thing: “My hope is that Christ died for my sins, in my stead, in my place, and therefore I can enter into eternal life….Take that doctrine of substitution out of the Bible, and my hope is lost.”
Is this the doctrine of the Bible? Must we depend upon the death of another for our salvation? Is all hope gone without Christ’s death on Calvary? The religious world, seeking an easy way to salvation, have pinned their hopes on Christ’s death. There are some Scripture texts that, taken
alone, seem to say that Christ’s death did something to free us from the penalty our sins deserve; but to accept this as truth is to contradict other plain teachings of the Bible. “The statement that Christ died that you might not have to die” is without Scriptural foundation. Nowhere in the Bible do we find that Christ died that we need not die. The theory that it was necessary for Christ to die to rescue mankind from the curse of Adam’s sin is based on the false doctrine of original sin. Remove this doctrine as a prop and the whole theory falls.
Christ’s death was murder, not sacrifice.
Christ’s death was not a sacrifice perpetrated by His heavenly Father. God condemns human sacrifice. If He sacrificed His own innocent Son, He would be guilty of that which He condemned. Such a thing is unthinkable. Peter testified at Pentecost that Christ’s death was murder: “Him,… you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23), and again before the council, saying that they should obey “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.” (Acts 5:30). Stephen seconded Peter’s accusation, speaking of Jesus as the “Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:52).
Christ is our High Priest (Heb. 7:17, 26). Under the Mosaic arrangement the High Priest made the sacrifice for the people-but he was not the sacrifice. Likewise, Christ is our High Priest, not our sacrifice. The sacrifice He offered was a living sacrifice, the sacrifice of His own ways, complete submission to the will of His Father. Under the Law, the sacrifice was of a literal animal; in the anti-type, the sacrifice must be spiritual. Every aspirant to salvation must make this same living sacrifice following the example of Jesus, who, “He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:8-9). Salvation is not in trusting in Christ as a sacrifice for sins, but in obedience to Him. There is no way for a sinner to rid himself of his sins but to stop sinning.
The hope of the Bible.
The Bible has been said to be a book of hope. But to hope for salvation through substitution is wishful thinking. Our hope is in Christ-but in His life, not His death. After the ascension, the apostles went out preaching the hope of the resurrection-not hope for salvation through substitution.
Jesus Himself commissioned them to “preach repentance and remission of sins” in His name. Nowhere do we find Him instructing them to preach that He died on the cross to save them from their sins. During the forty days between His resurrection and ascension He was “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3)—the same message He had been speaking from the beginning of His ministry.
We also have hope in His return, for then shall our salvation be realized. It is “to those who eagerly wait for Him” that He shall “appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9:28). And the apostle John, speaking of this same hope, said that “everyone who has this hope in Him [Christ] purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). If he had been purified by the death of Christ, what need to purify himself?
Salvation – “Not of Works”?
A religious tract currently in circulation asks the question: “What kind of people does God save?” And then it answers: “Surely not the good people, because His Word has told us, ‘There is none that doeth good,’ and ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,…to seek and to save that which was lost.’ Lost sinners then are the only kind of people Jesus came to save.”
Writes another, “Man cannot lift himself up by his own bootstraps, neither can any human effort save from sin. Outward conformity to rules and regulations does not save….Salvation is a gift.”
True, salvation is a gift-it is beyond what we could earn. But to say our own efforts cannot contribute to our salvation, or that God does not save “good people,” is neither sensible nor Scriptural.
The theory that there is nothing man can do toward salvation is built on the words of Paul, taken from his letter to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). To say that Paul meant that there was nothing man could do toward saving himself is to take these verses out of context, and as someone has said, “A text out of context is a pre-text.”
Saved by grace, and not by works.
According to theology, we are saved by grace. And what is grace? To them it is unmerited favor, specifically God sending Jesus to die on a cross for man’s sin. But is this “grace” according to the Bible?
The term grace as used in the Scriptures has more than one meaning. To a certain extent it is favor; God “has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities,” said the Psalmist (103:10). But God does not grant undeserved salvation; He rewards every man according to his works (Rev. 22:12).
The grace that saves. Paul tells us about the grace that saves. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12). The meaning is too clear to permit misunderstanding: It is not “unmerited favor” that brings salvation. Rather, it is the knowledge of God and its application to our lives.
Salvation by works, not by grace alone. If we were to accept the theory of the religious world, that we can do nothing toward our own salvation, we would have to deny some very plain statements of the apostle Paul.
In the end, the reward of immortality will come from God through Christ. We cannot change our mortal nature. But in making ourselves ready for that great reward, there is much that we can and must do. In his different letters, Paul gives many commands; we will mention only a few. These, and many more, all involve work.
Press toward the prize. Paul felt the necessity of doing more than trusting in the merits of Christ. “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14). With all his previously expended efforts, he still felt the need of pressing on toward his goal.
Put away all evil. “Let him who stole steal no longer … Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth,…Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you,…fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you,…neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting,…for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 4:28-29, 31; 5:3-4, 6). Read Ephesians, chapters 4, 5, and 6 and you will be convinced that Paul did not teach a “done” salvation, but a “do” salvation.
Verse 10 of Ephesians 2 should correct any misconception anyone might have concerning salvation by grace or works. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” As stated by one writer, “It is precisely good works which are the end product God had in mind from the start. The moral life of Christians is not belittled. It is instead highly exalted in the drama of salvation.”
Yes, we are His workmanship, His making, “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” We are not an inanimate object, but we have been given an intellect capable of understanding His laws and He expects us to use our power to make ourselves into new creatures before we can receive His salvation.
THE WAY TO SALVATION
Salvation is the aspiration of the Christian life. It is the prize which will be awarded to every one of God’s faithful servants, those who “endure unto the end” of their life. Nothing short of this hope of eternal life is sufficient to inspire one to “endure unto the end.”
How is this great prize to be attained? Theology would have us believe that there are many ways all essentially the same and all leading to the same end. Some say, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe just so long as you are sincere. We are all going to the same place, but by different routes.” Heaven is thought to be at the end of all the routes.
Substituting our own ideas for the rules doesn’t work in medicine or mathematics, and it will not work in gaining salvation. What we believe does matter. All ways do not lead to the same end. The words of Jesus attest to the truth of this statement: “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life,” and “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction.” And again, “If the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matt. 7:14, 13; 15:14).
How can we learn the right way to salvation? First we must acquaint ourselves with the words of the One who said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
The importance of the teachings of the Word cannot be overemphasized. The writer to the Hebrews warned, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Heb. 2:1-4).
Salvation can be lost by neglect-by neglecting the spoken Word.
Note that the “words” concerning salvation were first spoken by Jesus Himself. And what were His words?
We learn from Mark’s gospel that after John the Baptist had been put in prison, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
Matthew recorded that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness… among the people” (4:23). Luke also took note of His teaching, saying, “He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1)
And seemingly to add emphasis to the words which He spoke, His Father spoke to Him from heaven at the transfiguration: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him” (Matt. 17:5). We cannot be saved without listening to what He taught, believing it and obeying it. “Hear Him.”
SALVATION-HOW DO WE GAIN IT?
The first step toward salvation is a desire; each must make his own decision. The path to life is open to one and all. “Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17). God has provided the way, but no one will ever take the first step in the way without first resolving that he will. There must be a choice made to serve the Lord and Him only.
Many in our day think the way so easy that they expect to live their lives as they please, and just call on the Lord and be saved. Such thinking is only wishful thinking. No one will ever be saved without conscious effort. And as we learned in our last lesson, there is no such thing as instant, effortless salvation.
Salvation-A Free Gift?
Building on two verses from the apostle Paul’s writings, many proclaim that salvation is free. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23), and “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
The unspeakable gift is to the masses that God in His great love for this sinful world sent Christ to die for the sins of all mankind. All you have to do is to say that you believe Christ died for your sins, accept Him as your personal Saviour, and you have eternal life.
But was this Paul’s understanding of the way to salvation? We cannot believe that it was. He himself had too much to say about the necessity of virtuous living, obedience, sacrifice and service.
Salvation is indeed a gift; man could not possibly do enough in his short life to earn it. But it is a gift with strings attached. It is conditional. God says in effect, “I will do thus and so for you if you will do thus and so for Me.”
The wages of sin. Sin pays wages. This we do not deny. But death that is the wages of sin is not physical death at the end of our natural life span, for that is the lot of all whether sinner or saint. Death that is the wages of sin is penal death; in the case of those resurrected and judged unfaithful, it is the second death. It is death from which there is no release (2 Thess. 1:9). It is the result of knowing but not doing. Who reaps the second or penal death will be decided at Judgment.
The gift of God. To the majority, the gift of God is His Son, sent to die on the cross for the sins of mankind, but our verse says that “the gift of God is eternal life.” The gift of eternal life will come to us through Jesus Christ our Lord, when He returns to bring it (1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 22:12).
At the present time we have eternal life only by promise; it is our hope, as Paul wrote Titus: “In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Tit. 1:2). The gift of life will be the reward given to the faithful at Judgment. It is said to be a gift because man could never earn it. We cannot receive it until Christ comes to bring it (Phil. 3:20-21).
Although salvation is a gift, every recipient must first qualify before he can receive it. He must have met the conditions laid down by the Giver Himself. Not the least of these conditions is that he be an overcomer, for it is to the overcomers that Christ will “give power over the nations” (Rev. 2:26). Christ was Himself an overcomer and He promises a reward to all others who overcome: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).
Contrary to the thinking and teaching of many, salvation is for those who do. Yet there are those who state flatly that this is not so: “No man living can of himself keep the commandments any more than he can live the Christ-life. God does not say to us, Do, do, do.”
We take exception to this statement. God does not ask us to do the impossible, but He demands obedience-do, do, do. It has ever been thus. God gave Abraham specific commands and Abraham obeyed. After the offering of Isaac, “the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham…and said,…because you have done this thing,…I will bless you,…because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:15-18). The blessing was because he had done what God commanded, because he had obeyed.
From the time God began calling workers into His vineyard, He has said unto them, “Do, do, do!” If you doubt it, take your concordance and see how many times that little word “do” appears in the Scriptures! There are also many commands that do not include “do” but are commands nonetheless.
Jesus Himself said, “But why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke. 6:46). And again, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).
To be a Christian is to live the Christ-life, as the name implies, and living the Christ-life includes keeping the commandments. God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves, but after we have done all that we can He will do for us what we cannot do—He can give us eternal life.
The common belief concerning salvation is that one is first saved, then good works follow. One popular viewpoint holds that “men receive eternal life in and through Jesus Christ by accepting Him as their own personal Saviour and thus being born again.” Then, “having received salvation by faith, we are prepared by God’s grace to show our faith by our works, for faith without works is dead. He has promised to live in us, to abide with us … and He will live His life of perfect obedience to the law in us if we accept Him.”
This, as our founder used to say, is “putting the cart before the horse.” Granted, there must be a starting point. But full salvation-eternal lifecomes at the end of the race, not at the beginning. Salvation is the reward, and the reward is salvation. The winners in the race cannot be determined until the race has been run. It is “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). There is a certain measure of salvation at the beginning when one is delivered from the slavery of old habits and desires, and from the path that ends in hopelessness and death, but that is not the eternal salvation.
The Scriptures abound with evidence that salvation is conditioned on the believers’ works, not the works of someone else.
We must cleanse ourselves. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). The cleansing is to be done by the individual; no one else can do it for him.
We must purify ourselves. “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He [Christ] is pure.” (1 John 3:3).
Again, it is up to the individual himself to do the purifying. Christ will not do it for him.
We must put off the old man-put on the new. Paul exhorted all those who had been taught the truth of God to “put off,…the old man which grows corrupt…and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:21-24). And again he said, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice,” etc. (Col. 3:8-10). Each time it was for the individual himself to get rid of the sin; there is no indication that anyone else could do it for him.
Obedience is enjoined. Obedience to the commandments is demanded throughout the Scriptures: From the beginning it was “Obey and live; disobey and die.” The teaching of Jesus and the apostles did not differ.
Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
John, the beloved apostle, had much to say about the necessity of keeping the commandments, but he gave no indication that someone else would keep them for us. His statements are too plain for misunderstanding: “He who says, I know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:4, 6).
The message is clear throughout the Scriptures: It is works first, salvation second. “If you do, then I will do.” There is no variation.
Salvation-Through What Gospel?
Paul was made a minister of the gospel by Christ Himself. And of the gospel he said, “For I am not ashamed…for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
It is the gospel that saves. But what is the gospel? A noted evangelist once said that “the only gospel this world needs is John 3:16.” This would agree with the opinion of many, for to the majority the gospel concerns Christ’s literal death, and they see it in John 3:16. One writer has summed up the gospel like this: “The heart of the Christian Gospel, with its incarnation and atonement, is in the cross and the resurrection. Jesus was born to die. He did for man what man cannot do for himself. Because Christ died, God can justify the sinner and still be just.”
This is the gospel according to men. But what is the gospel according to Jesus Christ and the apostles? Does John 3:16 constitute the gospel?
The gospel according to Jesus. Matthew, one of the Twelve, recorded the beginning of Jesus’ ministry thus: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Mark dated the time of His ministry as following the imprisonment of John the Baptist, saying, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled,…Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The gospel Jesus preached was the “gospel of the kingdom of God,” and the message for them was “Repent,” that is, turn from your sin and bring forth fruits worthy of salvation. He said nothing of an atonement or incarnation, nor did He tell them that He had come to die for them.
What was Paul’s gospel? “But I make known to you,” said Paul, “that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). And it was for the sake of the gospel that Paul was writing this letter to the Galatians. They were turning away from the gospel of Christ to other doctrines, and Paul warned them that there was no other gospel.
This gospel spoke of a cross, true enough. But what was the cross? “God forbid,” said Paul, “that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). What power would the literal cross of Christ have to crucify Paul unto the world, or the world to Paul? But this genuine gospel of the cross of self-crucifixion could do both.
Paul had preached the same gospel to the Corinthians and he reminded them in his letter, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you” (1 Cor. 15:1-2). He preached the gospel as he had received it from Christ; but if they were to be saved, they had to remember the things he had preached. In the words of James, they were to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22).
The gospel according to Peter and the other apostles. Peter received his commission to preach the gospel from Christ after His resurrection. He met with the Eleven on several occasions, each time giving them instructions concerning their mission. He did not tell them to go out preaching His cross, His blood or a vicarious atonement. Rather, He commanded them to preach “repentance and remission of sins” (Luke 24:47).
From Luke we learn of Jesus’ teaching “people in the temple and preached the gospel” (Lk. 20:1-2). No mention is made of His preaching His death as a sacrifice. If the gospel consisted of His death on the cross and the so-called incarnation, it should have been recorded in at least one of the gospels, but we fail to find it.
Jesus and the cross. In the course of His ministry, Jesus mentioned the cross on six different occasions. Each time it was not the cross on which He was to die, but the cross of self-denial that He asked His followers to take up. Matthew 10:38 and Luke 14:27 point to cross-bearing as a test of discipleship. “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” wrote Luke.
Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23 and Mark 8:34 are all very similar. Luke’s words contain the essence of all three: “Then He said to them all, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” There is no wooden cross here; only the cross Jesus bore from beginning to end, the same cross His followers today must bear.
Mark 10:21, the sixth of the gospels’ references to the cross, is contained in the parable of the Rich Young Man who came asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Seeking to impress him with the necessity of giving his all, Jesus ended with the words, “come after Me,…and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” And we read that the young man went away sad, “for he had great possessions.” Realizing that it was not easy to gain the Kingdom, “the disciples were astonished at His words,” say the record (Mark 10:24).
The gospel according to the apostle Paul. Paul testified that Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17), and later in his letter he said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
The gospel they were to preach after His ascension was the same gospel He had been preaching, only now it included the hope of the resurrection. That hope had been confirmed in the resurrection of Jesus-and Peter and the other apostles were not slack to preach it. The resurrection was the hope and power of the gospel.
Peter mentioned on more than one occasion that Jesus’ death was murder, that He was put to death by wicked men. Nowhere did he say that Christ’s death was a sacrifice, but he did say that “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that [we] should follow His steps,” and you “believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet. 2:21; 1:21).
Like Brother Paul, Peter gave many commands that are as binding as the commands of Jesus Himself. They are a part of the gospel by which we live today, for they are part of the Word of God. “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:24-25). The entire “word of the Lord”—not just a single misunderstood text (such as John 3:16)—is the gospel.
The apostles went out and fulfilled the commission Jesus had given them. Paul testified that “the hope of the gospel” had been “preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23). “And are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard,” he said.
The gospel which they preached was recorded and preserved for us. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Like those who have gone before us, our salvation is in these words: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).
Read, hearken, and do those things written therein – this is the only way to salvation.
Can You Answer These?
1. What is the meaning of salvation?
2. When will salvation be given?
3. What is wrong with the theory of “instant salvation”?
4. What is the meaning of “believe” as used in the Scriptures?
5. What does Hebrews 5:8-9 tell us about Christ’s part in our salvation?
6. What is the “grace” that saves?
7. How do we know that salvation is not a “free” gift?
8. What does Christ’s death on Calvary have to do with our salvation?
9. What did the apostle Paul say was the “power of God unto salvation”?
10. On what does our salvation depend?
(If you need assistance in answering these questions, refer to your Bible and to the pages of this lesson.)