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|Saved by God ALONE!
We are living in an age called post-modernity. One characteristics of this age is the rejection of absolute truth. Truth, according to the post-modern thinker, is determined by the community. You have your truth, and I have my truth. Issues over the definition of truth should not divide us. We should all get along in spite of our different understandings of truth.
When this attitude is applied to Christianity, the result is the denigrating of the doctrinal distinctives that have marked the identity of denominational churches. I have often heard it said, especially among Christians who have had some spiritual experiences, "Who needs doctrine? If we have the Holy Spirit, doctrine is not important." This is a very dangerous and damaging position.
The Promise Keepers, for example, speak of tearing down the walls that divide Christians. They speak of both racial walls and denominational walls. I can understand and support a movement that is dedicated to developing racial unity among Christians, but what does it mean to "tear down denominational walls?" Do the leaders of the PK movement suggest that meetings should take place between the guardians of denominational doctrine in order to seek unity? No, they don't! They mean we should ignore doctrinal distinctives and simply come together and love Jesus as if doctrinal definitions have nothing to do with the essence of the Christian faith and life. Of course, that raises the issue of the identity of this Jesus whom we should all love. Who is Jesus? I challenge you to answer that question without reference to Christian doctrine.
Doctrine is not divorced from life. The definitions of Christian truth determine the nature and quality of our Christian life and experience. Wrong definitions will produce distortions like as pride, guilt, false hope and expectations, discouragement, disappointment, and perhaps even the rejection of Christianity. Think, for example, of how deeply the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Lord's Supper has distorted the spiritual life of Catholic people. Claiming that the bread and wine in the Sacrament actually changes into the physical body and blood of Jesus has led the people to worship and adore a piece of bread. This is a doctrinal distortion. The doctrine of perfect sanctification that is taught by the "Holiness Churches" has produced guilt and condemnation. The "Full Gospel" teaching that includes physical healing within the redeeming work of Jesus Christ leads those who remain in sickness to question their forgiveness and eternal life. One might even demonstrate that the moral failures of the big name evangelists in the past were the result of the rejection of the continued existence of the sinful nature within "born-again" Christians. One evangelist, when confronted with his sin, explained, "I don't know what happened to me."
Doctrinal definitions are not divorced from life. They actually determine the nature and expression of the Christian life.
It is also important to understand that doctrinal definitions are not isolated from the whole body of Christian truth. Theology is systematic. All the definitions fit together. The distortion of one doctrinal definition begins a chain reaction. For example, if the truth of the doctrine of original sin is distorted the truth of salvation in Christ will also necessarily be distorted. A wrong view of justification will produce a wrong view of sanctification, etc.
Of all the definitions that compose systematic Christian theology, the most important is the definition of salvation. If we get this doctrine wrong, our entire Christian life is being constructed upon a bad foundation.
When we deal with the issue of salvation on the basis of the Word of God, we discover three related concepts. Obviously, we have been saved by the death of Jesus Christ. But, we can also say that we have been saved by the means of grace - the Word and Sacraments. In addition, we can properly declare that we have been saved by faith. All these statements are true, but only as they are viewed together, as a whole.
So, put on your "thinking cap" and let us discuss the very important biblical definition of how we are saved.
Saved by the Cross of Jesus Christ!
The essence of our salvation is the forgiveness of our sins and justification. Because God has forgiven our sins and covered us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we are delivered from the enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil. Salvation is found in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. In him is our certainty of eternal life. As the hymn writer put it: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
This great salvation took place in Christ Jesus. In other words, as Reformation theologians have expressed it in Latin, it is extranos, that is, outside of us. It is found in Christ Jesus. As our sinful condition is objective since we became sinners when Adam sinned, so also our salvation is objective. It is in Christ. Read, for example, the great first chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Note how the Apostle defines the total work of God has being "in Christ Jesus." Also consider the fifth chapter of Romans in which the Apostle compares our condition "in Adam" with our new condition "in Christ." Salvation is found in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ!
Since our salvation was accomplished in Christ Jesus, it is an objective salvation. This means that it is true outside of us. The fact that God has forgiven our sins and granted to us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is an objective certainty. We do nothing to be saved. We have already been saved by God who, in Christ Jesus, was "reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor.5:19).
In one of the churches where I served as the pastor there was a young woman who every summer attended a Baptist camp. In the evenings they would sit around the campfire and sing choruses and ditties. One of the songs they sang was "Name the Day When You Were Saved." At the end of the song, they would point at certain participants, who would name the day when they were saved. Of course, by this they meant the day when they went forward and accepted Christ.
The young woman was concerned. She was getting ready to go to camp. She had been baptized as an infant and could not remember a time in her life when she did not know that Jesus had died for her and that she had been saved.
She said, "I know that eventually they are going to point at me and I won't know what to tell them."
"If they do point at you," I replied, "Tell them you were saved on a Friday." "What do you mean?" she asked with a puzzled look.
"Tell them you were saved on Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross and said, 'It is finished.' This is the day you were saved."
First and foremost, before continuing any discussion on the subject of salvation, we have to clearly have this truth in place. We have been saved objectively, in Christ Jesus.
The writer to the Hebrews declares, "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (2:3)
Saved by the Gospel
In Rom. 1:16, the Apostle Paul declares that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation.
In 1 Cor. 1:21, the Apostle tells us that God has chosen to save the world through the preaching of the Gospel.
Because God saved us does not mean that we are automatically receive the benefits of that great salvation. Such a position would result in Universalism, the view that everyone will go to heaven. While it is God who saved us through the death of Jesus Christ, it is also God who delivers the benefits of that great salvation to us through means or vehicles, namely, the Gospel and the Sacraments.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a very specific message. It is a word of promise. It speaks to us of the results of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and offers us the benefits of salvation, namely the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life in heaven. Therefore we can properly say as the Apostle Paul says, we have been saved by the Gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is like a UPS truck that delivers the goods to our front door. When we doubt our salvation, we cannot go back to the cross since the cross is no longer there. Jesus died 2,000 years ago. When in doubt, we have to go to the Gospel which promises and offers the benefits of our great salvation in Christ Jesus.
In addition to the preaching of the Gospel, the Bible teaches that God delivers the benefits of the great salvation in Christ through two sacred acts or mysteries: the Lord's Supper and Baptism.
On the evening before he died, our Lord Jesus instituted his Supper. He told his disciples that in the eating and drinking of bread and wine which are his body and blood the remission of sins is being offered. Therefore, we can properly say that we are saved by the Lord's Supper because in that Sacrament the benefits of the great salvation in Christ Jesus are being delivered. The Lord's Supper is a visible expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that we are saved by Baptism. In 1 Peter 3:21, the Apostle declares that Baptism saves us.
In Titus 3:4-5, the Apostle Paul states that God saved us by the washing of regeneration.
When in doubt, we have to go to the Gospel which promises and offers the benefits of our great salvation in Christ Jesus.
Technically, the young woman I spoke of earlier could have told her Baptist friends that she was saved on the day she was baptized as an infant, but they probably would not have understood. They might have accused her of basing her salvation upon an empty ritual.
We can only speak of the saving benefits of the Lord's Supper and Baptism within the context of the Gospel that connects us to the "great salvation" gained for us on the Cross by Jesus Christ. To separate the Sacraments from the Gospel gives the impression that the benefits of the Lord's Supper and Baptism are found in the eating and drinking and in the application of water rather than in the Word and promises of the Gospel connected with the eating and drinking and the application of water.
In my last congregation, which was in St. Louis, I had the benefit of the services of two "field education" students from our seminary. Invariably, when presenting the children's message in the Sunday morning worship service, they would tell the children that if they had doubts about their forgiveness and eternal life in heaven they should "remember their Baptism."
I instructed them not to make that statement unless they were going to connect in the minds of the children the Sacrament of Baptism to the "great salvation" gained for them at the Cross of Jesus Christ where God forgave their sins and imputed to them the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
The preaching of the Gospel, the Lord's Supper and Baptism are means of grace. They are the vehicles by which God delivers the benefits of the great salvation gained for mankind at the Cross of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can properly say that, we are saved by the means of grace.
Saved by Faith!
There is no doubt that the Bible says we have been saved by faith. For example, in Romans 4 the Apostle speaks of Abraham as being justified by faith. In Romans 5:1, the Apostle writes, "Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God." Throughout the New Testament, salvation is linked to faith. What does it mean that we are saved by faith?
First of all, it does not mean we are saved on account of faith as if our faith is the effective cause of our salvation. The only effective cause of our salvation is the grace of God as manifested in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Nor can we say that our faith is our contribution to our salvation. In other words, God did his part by sending Jesus into this world to pay for our sins. Our part is faith - we must believe it! Therefore, our salvation is the result of the death of Jesus plus our faith. This erroneous position is called synergism, meaning that God does his part and we do our part.
Nor can we suggest that there is something virtuous or meritorious about our faith.
We are not saved by faith because our faith merits salvation. We are saved by faith because faith is the instrument that receives the benefits of our great salvation offered in the Word and Sacraments. This is a very important point.
Faith is not causative in that it causes us to be saved. Rather it is receptive. Faith receives the benefits of our great salvation won at the Cross and offered in the Gospel. As Martin Luther put it, "Faith is the hand that receives the promise."
Faith is not of our doing. It is a gift of God. The Apostle writes in Eph. 2:8-9: "By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.
We are saved by the Cross. We are saved by the Gospel. We are saved by faith. All of these statements are truth. This means one thing - we are saved by God alone. To him belongs all the glory!
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