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Category Archives: Is Our Salvation a Process?

How Can God Declare a Man Righteous Whose Righteousness is Unacceptable?

There is a second aspect of the work of Christ, however that we must not miss.  Not only did Christ die for us as our sin bearer, enabling the Father to forgive all our sin, but Christ lived a righteous life that we could have never lived, providing a righteousness that was acceptable to God.  The word justify is a legal term meaning to declare righteous, and God has no basis to justify those who have no acceptable righteousness.  The very best work that we can muster is never acceptable to God.  Our righteousness before God is somewhat like monopoly money at Wal-Mart.  It is not acceptable.  It has no value, however it really goes even beyond that illustration, because not only is it unacceptable to God, but it is actually offensive to Him.  Isaiah 64:6, says that “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags.”  The word unclean comes from the Old Testament concept of the stigma of a leper.  His disease made him loathsome to society.  He was unclean, and our nature makes us loathsome to God.  Ephesians 2:3 says that we are “by nature children of wrath.”  And Romans 3:10-12 presents us as un-righteous, without understanding; and seeking after everything but God.  He says we have all “all turned aside; and together become unprofitable.  In God’s eyes there is “none who does good, no, not one.”  So based on our performance, how is it possible for God to declare us righteous?

My heart is overwhelmed with gratitude to God when I think about the answer found in Romans 3:21-22 Paul paints a desperate picture of all men, and then brings this powerful contrast to man’s unrighteous, helpless condition.  He says “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, which is through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.”  God has provided through Christ a righteousness that is acceptable to Him.  This righteousness is what we call an alien righteousness, or a righteousness that comes from outside of us, and our performance of the law.  Based upon our performance we are already guilty and hopeless, but God in His great grace has provided an acceptable righteousness for all who will receive it.  Think about these powerful statements about this righteousness that is provided for all who will receive it by faith alone in Christ and His work.  Consider Paul’s wonderful statements about the righteous life of Christ that provide an acceptable righteousness to all who will receive it by faith.  Romans 5:18-19 “through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life…and also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”  Our justification is provided in one person, and that person is Christ.  His death alone made it possible for God to forgive our sin.  His righteousness alone is acceptable to God enabling God to justly declare a man righteous.  When we are united with Christ, we are justified on the basis of His imputed or credited righteousness and not our own dismal failure.

Let us take a moment to reflect on the way that the salvation of every sinner both reveals the goodness of God and magnifies this awesome display of His perfections.  God’s holiness and intense hatred for sin is not diminished by the gospel, but rather it is displayed in all its beauty in the cross.  God’s justice is not compromised, but rather it is satisfied in the cross.  God’s righteousness is not cheapened, but rather it is contrasted with the feeble, worthless attempts of fallen humanity to merit God’s favor.  God’s goodness and love are magnified as He sets His affections on God’s most unworthy and unlovely creatures.  God extends unprecedented love to His enemies who have presumptuously rebelled against His love.  And God’s grace is revealed in all its beauty.  Salvation from start to finish is an awesome display of God in all His beauty, and let us never forget the beauty of our salvation.  God saves because He is good, and every aspect of His salvation magnifies and glorifies Him.  Now that we have seen the nature of our justification, we will answer two more questions: first, what is the condition or response to God’s grace that He demands in order for us to be credited with the righteousness of Christ, and secondly, is this righteousness received at a point in time as a once and for all action by God, or is it a lifelong process?

 

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How Can God Forgive Sin and Not Compromise Justice?

Our salvation in its entirety is a wonderful gift that both reveals and magnifies God’s goodness on so many levels.  As we consider the character and actions of God, there are several concepts that though complementary in relation to God’s nature and actions are very difficult to reconcile in our finite minds.  Consider for a moment the justice and love of God.   In Exodus 23:7, God states clearly: “I will not justify the wicked.”  In Proverbs 17:15 He says that “whoever justifies the wicked, and condemns the just, are an abomination to the LORD.”  In Romans 2:2, Paul say that the judgment of God “is according to truth,” and in verse 11 he says that there is “no partiality with God.”  The question is not how can a loving God send a kind person to hell, but how can a holy God justify the sinner, and forgive sin when this is a blatant compromise of justice.  If I am guilty of murder and stand before an honest judge, there is no pleading for mercy, commitment to reformation, or apology that should free me from prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.  Judges are to be impartial and uphold the law, they are not in the position to forgive, and human justice in its purest form is but a feeble reflection of the perfect justice of God.  Judges are bound by their own integrity and the demands of the laws of the land, and God also is bound by His holiness, justice, and righteousness.  Consider the following questions: How can God forgive the sinner without compromising His own justice, what is the human response that He demands, and what is the nature of this forgiveness?

First, how can God forgive the sinner without compromising His own justice?  The answer is found in many texts, but I will focus primarily on Romans 5.  In Romans 5, Paul presents the helplessness of men apart from God, and the beauty of the gospel.  He says in verse 6, that “when we were without strength…Christ died for the ungodly.”  In verse 8 He says that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  In verse 9, he says that we have “been justified by His blood, and that we are saved from wrath through Him.”  Verse 10 says that we who were “enemies to God were reconciled to God by the death of His Son and shall be saved by His life.”  1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says that Christ “died for our sins according to the scriptures was buried and rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”  These are comforting words that reveal to us God’s uncompromising justice, untainted holiness, and unparalleled love for fallen humanity.  God literally took on humanity and offered Himself as our substitute. Philippians 2:7-8 says that He came in “the likeness of men…and humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” 1 Peter 2:24 say, that He himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and 2 Corinthians 5:21 say that He “became sin for us though He knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”  Christ received the full wrath of the Father satisfying the judicial wrath demanded by God’s justice for our unbridled rebellion and lawlessness.  Isaiah 53 predicted the nature of the incarnation of Christ and His sacrificial death with the following explanation:  “it would please the LORD to bruise Him.  He would put Him to grief. He would make His soul an offering for sin. He would bear the iniquities of men.  He would pour out His soul unto death, and be numbered with the transgressors. He would bare the sin of many, and make intercession for the transgressors.”  But perhaps the most important statement in the passage is found in verse 11.  Isaiah wrote that the Father would “see the travail of His soul and be satisfied.”  This means that Christ death satisfied in full the wrath of the Father, and that there was nothing else to be done to enable God to pardon sinners.   We can be forgiven only because of the substitution death of Christ.

 

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Transition from the Physical to the Spiritual

Our topic has been salvation, and the focus of our topic has been to determine whether or not our salvation is a process or a once and for all legal declaration.  As we have looked at various passage that relate to our salvation, we have discovered that the term salvation is general and its meaning is dependent upon the various contexts of the passages in which it is found. 

When we look at our salvation, perhaps it is best to think of our salvation as a package, received as a gift and purchased by the work of Christ for us on the cross.   Through Christ we can be redeemed, forgiven, washed clean, declared righteous, and become the recipients of an incorruptible, eternal inheritance.

We have examined the physical nature of salvation; now let us look at the specifics of spiritual salvation.  As we look at the spiritual side of our salvation, we will examine how a sinner is delivered from the penalty of his sin, justification; how he is delivered from the power of sin, sanctification; and how he is delivered from all the affects of sin and its presence for eternity.  Let us consider for a moment the beauty of our justification and how this aspect of our salvation both reveals and magnifies God’s goodness by answer two questions: first, how can God forgive sin and not compromise justice, and secondly, how can God declare a man righteous whose righteousness is unacceptable?

 

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Understanding Physical deliverance

The first kind of deliverance that we will discuss in greater depth is physical deliverance.  This kind of deliverance is according to the will of God, and is not absolutely guaranteed on this side of our death bed or the rapture of the church, no matter what we do, believe, or pray.  It is common in certain branches of “Christianity” to teach that it is never the will of God for genuine believers to experience pain, suffering, poverty, or physical death.  While this kind of teaching is very popular, it is certainly not Biblical.  God does heal.  He does deliver from premature death in many situations.  He often in His kindness limits our pain and sufferings and often financial prospers His children, however this is not always the way that He operates in the lives of His children, and there are actually good reasons for that.  Let us look at several passages of scripture that provide the full picture of a Biblical worldview of deliverance from human suffering, sickness, and pre-mature death.

In James 1:2 we are told to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of our faith produces patience.”  Many times, God in His wisdom knows that we need to experience physical suffering as a part of our spiritual growth.  God is more concerned with our holiness as a believer, then our temporary happiness in this world.  Notice what God told Paul in

2 Corinthians 12:7 concerning his thorn in the flesh.  Paul says, “I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul properly responded to God’s answer to his prayer.  Notice what he says to God.  “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul wisely as a mature believer, humbly accepted God’s answer to his request.  It is interesting, that Paul even says that he will boast in his infirmity, because he rested in the goodness and wisdom of God.

My mind is drawn to yet another passage of scripture that presents the full picture of a Biblical view of suffering and physical deliverance, in Hebrews 11:33-39.  In this passage, we tend to reflect on those who saw great triumphs by faith, but notice the complete picture recorded for us as a comfort and motivation to the Jewish believers who were tempted to compromise under the weight of persecution.  The writer of Hebrews says: “through faith these believers, subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Women received their dead raised to life again.”  These are wonderful testimonies of God’s amazing deliverance from physical suffering and death.  However the passage does not stop there.  It says: “And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trial of mocking and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.  And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith.”  For some, God delivered them from their trials, while others, He carried through their trials.  In fact for some their deliverance was physical death and the hope of a perfect resurrection, not ease, and safety from all problems.

The point of this section is not to downplay the power of God and His ability to heal and deliver in the greatest struggles of our lives.  We see countless examples in scripture of the mighty hand of God blessing and delivering, but there is one common denominator in all these events.  That deliverance was always temporary.  Every person whom God miraculously delivered from death and various desperate situations eventually died.  Those who were healed from terrible illnesses eventually became sick again and died.  Those who financially prospered did not take their riches with them.  Salvation in the physical sense is always limited on this side of the eternal state, and we must keep this in correct focus.  Let us rest in the sovereignty of our all-wise God who does all things well according to His perfect will!

 

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Part 3: The Spiritual Side of Biblical Salvation

The kinds of salvation that we have addressed to this point in our study have been related exclusively to what is temporary and physical.  The second kind of salvation is almost exclusively focused on our spiritual well-being. While physical deliverance is important to us in this life, it is always temporary, and pales in comparison to the seriousness of the well-being of our soul.  In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asks: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?  He answers the question in Luke 16 with a story about two men.  One man was rich in this life and now is in hell.  The other man was a helpless beggar whose physical health was broken, yet now he is in paradise.  So which man was really better off?  One of the purposes of this example was to get us to think about what really matters in life.  There are three aspects to our spiritual salvation that are all different yet totally dependent upon the gospel.  We will briefly mention them in this section of our study, and then go back to each in greater detail as we answer the question, is our salvation a process or a once and for all legal declaration by God.

The first aspect of our spiritual salvation deals with how a sinner can be delivered from the penalty of his sin.  Notice what Romans 5:9 says: “Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”  This kind of deliverance deals with the wrath of God being removed from the sinner and the sinner being legally declared righteous before God.

The second aspect of our spiritual salvation deals with how a sinner can be delivered from the power of sin over his life.  Notice what Paul says in Romans 6:12-14 “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts, and do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin…for sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”  This kind of deliverance addresses how the sinner who is a slave to sin is freed from sin’s authority, and freed to walk in newness of life and practical godliness.

The third aspect of our spiritual salvation deals with how a sinner can be freed from the presence of sin and all its effects.  Sin has affected every aspect of life as we know it.  We experience guilt and shame as a result of sin in the world.  Death pain and sickness are a result of living in a fallen world.  Honestly and bluntly put, this world really is an awful place to live.  It is full of the devastating effects of sin.  Is there any hope of deliverance from these things?  The wonderful answer is yes.  Revelation 21:14 says that there is coming a day, when “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, for the former things have passed away.”  These are wonderful words, but obviously we have not yet experienced the fulfillment of these words.

Before we move on to our next point, I would like to reiterate a word of serious caution.  If we assume that the word salvation in the Bible is always talking about the same kind of salvation, we are going to start believing and teaching some very unbiblical things.

Think about the process of baking a cake.  If we are baking a cake and we needs eggs, sugar, salt, cocoa, butter, and flour; it would be wrong to say that salt is a cake or eggs are a cake.  We must have all the ingredients to bake a cake, before we can call it a cake.  Even if all the ingredients are put together in the same bowl, it still does not make a cake.  They must be mixed together in the correct way according to the directions, and they must be baked for the correct period of time, or we do not have a cake.  When we are studying the Bible, we must have all the ingredients together that form a particular doctrine.  Once assembled through careful study, they must be put together in the correct sequence, or our final result is not a correct understanding of that particular Bible doctrine.  May God grant us the grace to do that on this very important topic!

 

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Part 2: What is Biblical Salvation?

The word Salvation in its most basic sense means to deliver, and only context determines the kind of deliverance that is being spoken of.  It would not be accurate to define Biblical salvation in only one way, or to assume that the word salvation in the Bible is always being used in the same way.  Let me give you several examples of what mean:

There is a kind of salvation in the Bible that is focused almost exclusively on a physical kind of deliverance.  For example, in Psalm 34:6 Davis said that “this poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” David is not speaking of an eternal deliverance or a spiritual deliverance in this context, but rather a temporary deliverance from physical death and his physical enemies.  In Psalm 106:8 the Psalmist recalls how God “saved Israel for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power known.”   Again in Psalm 106:10 the Psalmist remembers how God saved Israel “from the hand of him who hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.” In this passage, Israel was backed against the Red Sea, but God delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh their merciless enemy.

Another kind of physical deliverance is a deliverance from serious sickness.  In 2 Chronicles 32:24 the Chronicler records that their was a day when the king, Hezekiah, was “sick and near death, and he prayed to the LORD; and He spoke to him and gave him a sign.”  This passage remembers a temporary physical deliverance that Hezekiah experienced from physical sickness and even death.

Another kind of salvation is found in Jeremiah 4:14.  In this passage we read the longing and command of the prophet Jeremiah when he says: “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved.”  In this context he is not speaking of a spiritual, but of a physical salvation.  In the Old Testament, we read many scriptures relating to the promises of God and the Mosaic Covenant.  In Deuteronomy 28:15 ”But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:”  Later in the same chapter, Moses warns of specific physical judgments, that God would bring against a rebellious Israel.  Her says that the LORD would “make the plague cling to them until He had consumed them from the land.  He promised to “strike them with consumption, fever, inflammation, severe burning fever, the sword, scorching, and mildew.  God even promised to bring enemies who would take them into captivity if they rejected the LORD their God.  By the way, all those things happened to Israel throughout its history, and the prophet Jeremiah is warning the people to turn to God, so that He would deliver them from the physical consequences of their national sins.  These various kinds of physical deliverance are not the only classifications of physical salvation in the Bible, but for sake of time, we will stop on those classifications, though we will develop physical salvation with greater depth later in our study.

 

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Part 1: A Few Foundational Thoughts

Before we answer this very important question, let us lay down a few simple, yet foundational truths about Bible study.  Whenever we study a Biblical topic, we must strive to do our research thoroughly before we articulate our conclusions.  We should study all the different passages that address that issue, and consider their individual contexts.  If we pick a handful of verses and ignore their contexts, then we can just about teach anything we want.  Ironically this is exactly what cults and other false teachers do with the Bible.  It is also exactly what Satan did when he tempted Christ in the wilderness.  He quoted Scripture, but applied it in a way in which it was not meant to be taken.  In 2 Peter 3:16 Peter writes that Paul’s epistles are full of some things which are hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.  Peter was very blunt about his view of those who twist the Scriptures to their own destruction.  Let us be cautious not to have the same accusation justifiably leveled against us.

We will strive not to be like the false teachers of our day, who take one or two verses out of their contexts, and then build elaborate doctrines on those few misunderstood verses.  As careful students of the Bible we will labor to do our research thoroughly and carefully, and then strive to let the Bible as a whole speak for itself in our study on the nature of salvation.

Now that we have presented a word of caution as it relates to our study on salvation, let us first get a broad overview of salvation in the Bible.  Once we have seen salvation broadly presented from the Bible, we will take the various kinds of Biblical salvation one by one, and discuss them in greater detail.

 
 
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