All scripture references are from the NASV unless otherwise noted.
As I wrote in the previous article, in examining the true gospel and the vast subject of salvation, I feel the place to start is with a basic definition, a biblical definition of some terms that we use in Christendom, yet without meaning in many instances. One such term is "eternal life". In the previous article we saw that Jesus defined eternal life as knowing God and Jesus His son, and we saw the fact that this knowledge of God can come only through the revelation of God. In this article I want to define another term that we use so often, and I want to define it in a Biblical context. The word is "salvation".
The angel of the Lord told Joseph, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mat. 1:21). It has always been a sin issue. His name means savior and he came to save us, not from hell, but from sin. It is sin that has separated man from the God that created man to live, not for himself, but for God alone. R. E. Miller once said, "He came to save us from sin, not hell. Take care of sin, and you don't have to worry about hell."
Even the issue of salvation from sin is misunderstood. Yes, he came to save us from alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction, and on and on. However, the sin that we are born with and that has been handed down to us from Adam is sin in its most base element. God created Adam to be a friend with whom God could share the deep secrets of His heart, and God created Adam in God's image, having the ability to know and love God while having moral freedom, for love for God could only prove genuine if man chose to love and obey God while having the freedom to disobey. Remember that obedience to God is the only true indicator of genuine love for God. "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me..." (John 14:21). However, Adam chose not to do as God commanded, but rather to do as he wanted. That is the essence of the sin from which Jesus desires to save us: just doing what we want instead of what He wants. Rebellion to God is the essence of sin, and surrender to the will of God is the essence of salvation. He came to save His people from their sin. The chains of addiction and perversion are simply the wages of rebellion to God.
Rebellion is the essence of sin, and obedience to God is the process and result of salvation. The true indicator of salvation in a person's life is obedience to God, for Jesus said that "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me." You see, it has always been about love. Salvation is not just saving a person from hell, but from the sin that separates man from His God. Outer darkness is just the logical end for a man or woman who walks in darkness. It's all about love. It's all about Jesus restoring man to the God who created him to be a dear and close friend of God. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter" (Mat. 7:21).
Just as a side note: some may try to justify themselves in light of Mat. 7:21 by saying that the scripture states that the will of God is that you believe on Jesus. That's true. However, the scripture does not teach that this is the entirety of His will. It also states that, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3 KJV). Sanctification means, in part, to be set apart for God's exclusive use - to live a life of obedience to the Father's will.
Many in the church today have made it a heaven or hell issue, and in missing true salvation in its fullness, they have propagated a modern hybrid gospel based on a man-centered selfish perspective, rather than on a God-centered eternal perspective. I can't accurately represent the false Gospel message being propagated today because it's so contrary to what so fills my heart and life today, but I always know it when I hear it, and it usually begins this way: "If you were to die today, do you know where you would go?" Or it may say something to the effect of... "If you are facing pain or difficulty in your life, you need a savior." Or, "You don't have to give anything up. It won't cost you anything; He paid it all for you. All you have to do is pray this simple prayer."
You see, when you look at these deceptive statements in light of the true, you see how man-centered they are. It's not about saving you from hell or from your pain or problems, it's about the fact that God created you for one purpose in all of life, and that one purpose is to live only for Him in the throws of an intimate love affair where He is your one delight and the object of true affection, and where your love for Him is daily shown in your many acts of surrender to His will as you live a life of obedience to His commands. Jesus came, not to save His people from hell or problems, but from rebellion to God. That is the essence of Biblical salvation, restoring man to his God.
Salvation is restoring to man what Adam lost when he sinned; when he chose to do what he wanted, rather than what God commanded. The true gospel is not marketing Christianity, attempting to talk someone into receiving Christ with promises of blessing in this life and freedom from punishment in the next. No, the true gospel message is basically this: "You are in rebellion to God by living your life for yourself rather than for the God who created you to live only for Him. Because of this, you are under a sentence of eternal death, and will know the wrath of God in an eternal hell. However, God chose to give His only Son to suffer your punishment in your place so that you can be freed from this punishment and can be a friend of God, empowered to live only for the God who created you for His own pleasure. You can't earn this salvation, for the gift of God is eternal life. All it will cost you to be a true follower of Jesus and a friend of God and to know this free gift of salvation is EVERYTHING."
I believe the essence of salvation is not just a legal decree that releases the sinner from the punishment of sin (namely hell), although that is certainly a huge part of it. No, I believe the essence of salvation is the restoration of man to the God that he has spurned by loving and living for self and the world. It is the second Adam restoring to man what the first Adam lost: freedom from sin and rebellion, and friendship with God. Salvation is more than justification. The new birth and justification are only the beginning, but I find that most stop there. Most say, "Thank you Jesus for forgiving me so I can live a happy life pursuing my desires and my passions in this world, and I don't have to worry about going to hell when I die." A lot of "Christians" are in for a real shock when they get to the other side, and find that seed that they so joyously embraced had no root and therefore withered and died. Jesus said, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Rev. 3:1).
I want you to note something about salvation, as well. I want you to note that the Bible teaches that salvation is the beginning, process, and goal of our faith, not just a one time event. You can say it this way: "I was saved, I am being saved, and I will yet be saved."
I was saved: "who [speaking of God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity," (2 Tim. 1:9). In this verse, the phrase "has saved" in the Greek indicates simple action as opposed to continuous action.
I am being saved: "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). In this verse, the phrase "being saved" in the Greek indicates the present passive middle participle. As I understand it, that means that I am being saved and I'm not saving myself, but He is presently in the process of saving me.
I will yet be saved: "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved [future passive tense] from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved [future passive tense] by His life" (Rom. 5:9, 10).
So we see that salvation is not just a one time event. The Scriptures even indicate that justification, which is only part of the package of salvation as we have come to see it, is not only a one time event, but is an ongoing process. We were justified when we first believed (1 Cor. 6:11), we are justified as we walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7) (which includes walking in forgiveness for others, for Jesus made our forgiveness conditional upon forgiving others), and we will be found just in the end if we hold fast our faith to the end.
Just as with all truths of the Kingdom, the truth of salvation is much higher, deeper, and broader than we presently grasp. Previously, we saw that eternal life is much more than just living forever, but has so much to do with a relational love experience with the living God as we come to know God. So now, we see that salvation is more than a "fire escape", but is the restoration of man to his God in that relational love experience. Salvation is the saving of man from that which separates him from the God who created him to live not for himself, but for God, in the throws of an intimate love affair.
I believe the message of the true gospel is not just that Jesus offers you salvation from hell, but rather, that Jesus offers you salvation from your rebellion to and separation from God. You shall call his name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sin. We've made it a heaven or hell issue, when all the while it has been a sin issue. Where is the gospel message that doesn't tell of the benefits you will receive if you will just trust Jesus, but rather, tells of the heart of God offended and hurt, and how we can be redeemed from a lifestyle of offending God and be reconciled to God through Christ Jesus? Man needs to know his accountability to God and his very purpose for existence. Where is the gospel message today born of the burden of God's heart rather than born of the selfish nature of man that only appeals to man's desire for ease, comfort, or self-preservation?
Today, many "Christians" believe, and the modern hybrid gospel proclaims that you can have a savior, but it's optional whether you have a Lord, a Master, and a Controller. However, the scripture declares, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). If you want a savior to save you from hell, but are unwilling to surrender your "right" to rule your own life, you have not yet been saved from the selfishness and rebellion that is sin. "...and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:15). "But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to reign over us'" (Luke 19:13).
"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." So, we see that salvation has less to do with escaping pain in this life and in the life to come, and more to do with restoring us back to God.
For a deeper look at the subject of salvation from sin, go to the following article: Cleansing of the Leper
Ok, we're through with the definitions. In the next article, we'll begin to look at saving faith and the true gospel message.The True Gospel Series