A Terrible Misconception
There is a terrible misconception in the world today of what the reality of man’s role and responsibility is in relation to biblical salvation and while this commonly held view is only slightly skewed from the truth, it is just enough to be very deceptive and dangerous. Many, if not most, seem to believe that beyond a believer’s initial confession of faith, repentance of sin, and acceptance of forgiveness there is no active role to be played or ongoing responsibility to be had in his or her salvation. The convert is simply carried along resting in God’s grace with no real effort required on their part while they merely wait upon Christ’s return. This incomplete and out of focus picture of our faith is further corrupted by a false, or rather, an imprecise notion that the assurance and security of salvation is absolute. What I mean by this is, it is commonly and erroneously believed that salvation is permanent regardless of our choices or actions. While 99% accurate there is one major biblical caveat to this understanding which is predominantly overlooked today. While I am sure some will conclude at this point that I plan to spout some works or merit based salvation heresy, I assure you that this will not be the case, so I ask that you please bear with me. There are three foundational questions I intend to answer in this article in regards to salvation. What is it, what is our role and responsibility in it and can it be lost?
Generally Speaking, What is Salvation?
Salvation is a very, very large subject. It is so all encompassing that it takes 66 books by many different authors inspired by God to show, tell, expound, teach and disciple us in its meaning, scope, purpose and application. Salvation is the story of the bible. In light of the enormity of this and given the necessary brevity of this article I have struggled fervently to distill the definition to this laden subject in as concise a summary statement as possible. Here is my best “nutshell” definition.
‘Salvation, made available to us by Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice and secured by our confession of Him from a penitent heart in sincere faith, is the merciful forgiveness, rescue and redemption of mankind from the fatal consequence of our sin for the purpose of restoring us to a holy fellowship with the One True God for His glory.’
However succinct this skeletal definition of salvation may be, it is severely inadequate to express the profoundness of its nature, the breadth of its purpose or the scope of its impact.
What is salvation specifically?
So what then is salvation? Well, salvation is a merciful, unmerited, unbidden gift offered to us out of perfect love by our Creator. It is a complete rescue package from the insidious, infectious and utterly destructive influence of sin. Salvation offers to pay our debt incurred by sin, forgive us for our participation in sin, cure our spirits from the corruption of sin, free us from a life of slavery to sin, and resurrect us from the spiritual death that resulted from sin. This gift is supremely versatile, powerful and comprehensive. It is so versatile that it can be accepted by whomever we are, in whatever condition we are in, and wherever we may find ourselves and it is so powerful that it retroactively, immediately and ultimately transforms us from dead and dying to live and living. The scope of this gift is so comprehensive its reach extends into all of the past, each moment of every present and even through the boundless horizon of the infinite future. By this accounting, salvation is one positively potent and precious gift but what eminent purpose could account for the creation of such an awesome remedy?
What is Salvation’s purpose?
The purpose of salvation is manifold and is telescopic in nature. What I mean by this is that each purpose is a ripple in a chain of ripples, from immediate to ultimate, and each purpose is progressively more important and fulfills successively loftier goals. Here is a simple depiction of its general outline. Salvation’s most immediate purpose is our absolution from sin. That absolution in turn eliminates the barrier sin created between us and God. Eliminating this barrier allows us to be reconciled to Him. Reconciliation allows us to have a Holy and intimate relationship with our Father and this resulting relationship along with all the preceding fulfilled purposes ultimately brings glory to God. Now that we know what and why it is, we must now look at how salvation is made possible. How is it accomplished?
How is this gift accomplished?
How is salvation made possible? This question alone has been the topic of entire books so I will attempt to condense an answer with the appropriate accuracy and scale necessary for a mere article.
First, allow me to clarify the need for salvation. There really is only one set of choices in this life represented by a wide variety of opposites. Life or death, right or wrong, truth or lie, light or dark and so on. Essentially the fundamental choice is, God or self? Sin, at its most basic, is choosing other than God. God is eternal and so the choice we make in regard to Him has an eternal consequence. The consequence of Adam and Eve’s decision to choose self over God was inherited through them by all mankind, though we are equally guilty all on our own. The consequence was eternal separation from the source of life, God Himself, which equates to eternal death.
Now, to meet this need for salvation God in His love and mercy poured out His grace on us that while we were yet sinners and separated from Him He provided a way for us to be reconciled with Him, a way that would satisfy the just and righteous requirements His holy character demands. An Eternal Son, Jesus, clothed in the flesh of man and yet uncorrupted by sin could, of His own accord under the Father’s will, take our rightful place in judgment and pay the penalty in our stead. That is exactly what happened. Jesus died and was buried in our place and then resurrected to eternal life. This single act of selfless love by God Made Flesh finished the work of redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, imputation, regeneration, expiation, sanctification, and even glorification. This is how the finished work, the precious gift we call salvation was accomplished.
What is our part in it?
If the work of salvation is already completed by Jesus’ vicarious life, death and resurrection then what is our part in it all? The basic answer is if a penitent soul recognizes Jesus’ holy substitutionary sacrifice as a gracious unmerited gift, and accepts it on their behalf and turns and seeks God, then they could be reconciled to life with the Creator. But is that all there is to it? I would submit the answer is a qualified yes. Let me be very clear. There is nothing we add to the things Christ’s selfless sacrifice accomplished on our behalf. The work of salvation, the creation of the remedy is complete. It is a free gift so it is not earned; it is universally offered and either accepted or rejected. God has done His part. There is a part God does and a part that we must do. So what is our part in this? What is our responsibility as potential recipients of this gift?
There are three parts in the role we play in the reception of salvation. First we must receive this amazing gift by choosing to accept it. How do we accept it? We trust, we ask, we commit. We put our trust in Him by first admitting our inability to save ourselves and our need for Him, then we ask for the gift He freely offers and finally we commit to a lifelong relationship with Him. Second, we must participate. We participate through repentance which is more than a momentary penitent prayer. Repentance is actively turning to, seeking and sharing God. Repentance is repetitive. It is turning to God for everything, seeking Him wholeheartedly in all matters and sharing His saving grace gospel with those our lives touch over and over and over again. Third, we must persevere. We must never give up and finish the race.
Can we lose our salvation?
Can this incredible gift be lost once it has been received? Now here is where my previously mentioned caveat to permanent salvation becomes relevant. We cannot lose salvation as in having it stolen or revoked by another but the bible is quite clear that we can quit it, bury it or sell it off. Esau sold his inheritance for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:29-34; Heb. 12:15-17). The man with one talent did nothing with it but bury it (Mat. 25:14-30). We can quit the race by shelving, giving away or turning our backs on our salvation of our own accord and these choices are irrevocably permanent. As Hebrews 6:4-6 states, “… it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
Salvation as a gift freely given, an act of supreme mercy and grace is finished by God through the life, death and resurrection of His Son. There is nothing more to be added to this perfect work. However, the accepting of this gift is more than that of accepting a knick-knack. It doesn’t just get received and shelved like a snow globe! It is something we put on like the robe of His righteousness, it is something we live out as children and image bearers, actively reflecting our King and it is something we regularly share with others as citizens and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. There is more to accepting this matchless gift of rescue, redemption, and reconciliation than merely acknowledging its receipt. The discipline, self-sacrifice, and evangelism, the sold-out life of a believer is for the sole purpose of growing in a relationship with the Creator of the Universe which in turn magnifies and glorifies the character and person of who He is. Therefore, salvation is more than a singular momentary act. It is a transformative practice, a refining process led and overseen by the very Spirit of God. To the Master Craftsman we are like broken and discarded pieces of stone that He lovingly and meticulously salvages and fashions into unique and precious gems to be set in the eternal crown of His radiant glory! Accept this awesome gift and faithfully run the race, wisely invest the talent, never give up and do not be afraid, for our God is an awesome God and He will never leave nor forsake you.
“fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”