THE NATURE OF SALVATION
The hardest thing to do in this chapter is to keep it short, complete, and all the loose ends tied up. I want to keep it short, because this is a "kit", not a college course. There has been so much written on this subject that it would be impossible to comment on all that I agree or disagree with. Letís see if I can simplify this subject somewhat with out sacrificing anything too important.
Most communions fall into one of two different categories when it comes to the subject of salvation. The categories are free will and sovereign grace (although I have seen attempts to combine both). It is a subject of countless diatribes from both sides of the aisle. Free will is the common wisdom of the age, and most lay people, no matter what the denomination embrace it. Free will expresses the human experience very well and is easiest for most people to visualize. For an example: My acceptance of Christ as my savior was my decision, I know, I remember, I was there, it was my action, there may have been some nudging from God but it was my decision in the end, and I complied with any condition I was supposed to do to the best of my ability once that acceptance was there. Sound familiar? I hope it does. Sovereign grace could express itself in this manner. God, in his infinite wisdom, when he created the heavens and the earth, determined the outcome of all that would be saved. For God knows all and sees all. You are ultimately saved not of yourself or any condition you might perform but by Gods grace and whom he predestines to receive his free gift. Sound funny? Please bear with me.
I was an embracer of free will for most of my life and I will not say all doctrine attached to it is 100% wrong. I found though that when I buckled down and studied Scripture that the philosophy behind free will left many ends untied, or disconnected. Out of frustration I studied the concepts behind sovereign grace, (in an attempt to prove them wrong) and found that the arguments I had against them were weak. I was left in limbo for a while but slowly came around to my senses, but it took a long time before I was comfortable with it. Then I started to see the concepts throughout all Scripture; it seemed everywhere I looked, they would appear.
Arguments on the side of free will might be: if I am created in the image God and know the difference between good and evil, can I not freely choose between them? If God, who "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." and "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." and who is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" and thus "commandeth all men every where to repent:" Would he not be a cruel God if he did not give all the ability to freely choose or reject their salvation? Does this not sound reasonable? I hope I have done justice to their argument.
Here are some of my concerns on this subject. 1. What exactly is free will? If I am truly free, can I do anything that I will? And if that is true then I must have the ability to accomplish that what I will. The key here is ability. If I donít have the ability to do what I will, then my will is not free. If I am in jail, it does me little good to have the cell door opened if I am crippled and have not the ability to walk out. Letís say I will to be the President of the U.S.A. Well you say thatís possible because some men have done it. O.K. Letís say that I will to live under water and breath water like a fish and never come out. Is this possible? Letís say I will to be God because I know I could do a better job. Can any sensible man say yes to all these? If my will is truly free, then all these should be attainable. But I think I have stated some impossibilities. I deduce that my will is not truly free but has its severe limits. Certain things I am freely able to do, others I am not. How do I know that I have the ability to choose godly salvation on my own? Be patient, we will discuss this further in this and later chapters.
2. If I am free to choose without Godís intervention, does that not leave an element of chance? And if there is an element of chance, does that not limit Godís power for he would not know of my choice until I made it? How could there be prophecy? For God would not know the turn of events until they happened. Could Pontius Pilate have set Jesus free? Could the Sanhedren have found Jesus innocent? Could the Apostles have rejected Jesus call? (John 15:16) Could Paul have rejected Christ on the road to Damascus? (Galatians 1:15) Will the Antichrist repent and be saved? I must deduce that God has an eternal plan. And any action of mine must be known and foreknown by God so it can play a part in this plan.
First, letís look at some Scriptures on salvation. One time I tried to categorize all the verses on salvation in the New Testament I could find. I was overwhelmed by the abundance and soon got lazy and quit though I hope to try again one day. Most communions latch onto three or four verses or even fewer than that and develop massive theologies around these favorite verses. I know that there are over a hundred if not hundreds of different types of verses concerning salvation. One thing I noticed is that salvation is spoken of in past, present, and future tense.
"Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." II Timothy 1:9
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" Titus 3:5
Both of these verses are in the past tense. Also notice the language; this all happened "before the world began" Also, it is God who is stressed behind the action and not the man. Here is one in the present tense.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8
Next, the future
"But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." Acts 15:11
I can deduce that I was saved, I am saved, and I will be saved.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Romans 8:28
"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will," Ephesians 1:4
Hallelujah! Our salvation rest in God. God is outside of time and thus, so is our salvation. If I view my salvation in a temporal sense with emphasis upon myself, I view with a lack of dimension to the total picture.
If what you say is true, doesnít that make me a robot or a puppet that is forced to do as God pleases? I know this not to be true. My experience in life tells me this canít be true.
I will ask you this, is a bird forced to fly south for the winter? Is an acorn forced to grow into an oak? Is a hippo forced to live in the water and not, say, a tree? These things do what they do because it is their nature to do them. There are many things I do by nature. If I need to go a short distance, I have no problem using my legs in the activity of walking. I donít contemplate crawling or walking on my hands. With no thought of it at all I just simply get up and walk. Was I forced to use my legs? Of course not. I just simply do. In fact, I donít know anybody at all that has a good set of legs that doesnít use them. Likewise those who receive the Spirit will utilize him. Not because they made some conscious mental decision about it but because they have a new nature. Without the Spirit, we are crippled and blind and cannot cope with the godly realm.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:14
With the Spirit, we will desire the things of God. Not because we decide one morning to do it, but because our nature desires it.
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. John 6:37*
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. John 15:16
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. John 17:6*
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48*
And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. Acts 22:14*
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10*
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Phil 1:6
2. If God determines who is saved, it must also be true that he determines who will not be saved. Only a cruel God would force someone not to be saved.
This is where I lose the popularity contest. Look at the prophecies; they tell of many that will not be saved.
That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. John 12:38-40
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Jude 4*
(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. Rom 11:8
God knows who every single one of them are. Yet they will be born, have parents, friends, and those who love them. Why is this so? Why would God write of their damnation before they are born? When I have talked to my atheist friends, one common objection of theirs is that if God is love why would he allow so much suffering to go on in the world? Wars, rapes, murders, death, sickness, all are manifest on earth. Would only a cruel God preside over this? To me it seems to be a similar argument. We call it cruel because we judge it to be cruel. But yet if we do that, are we not judging God? Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Scripture tells me that God is love. And that he loves the world. Is he powerless to stop the cruelty? Or is he just biding his time until he gets fed up with mankind? Or does he in his ultimate wisdom have a plan that is just and right. If I with my nearsighted understanding have trouble understanding this, should God change himself and his plan to suit me? Should I reject God because I judge him to be cruel? Or should I put my faith in God knowing that ultimately his wisdom and knowledge are superior and that his justice will prevail?
3. Arenít those who believe in sovereign grace just a bunch of arrogant elitists who priding themselves as the elect and the others lost?
Scripture teaches me not to judge for I am unable to do it rightly. I may discern someone to be damned but only God can know his heart and see its condition, and likewise I may look at someone and judge him to be saved but this is also just as bad, for only God knows who will be saved. If I accept Christ, repent, confess and am baptized and lead a godly life and thus am deemed saved on the judgment day, it was because God wanted it all along. He willed it and I did it. I can claim none of the responsibility. Likewise, if I come before God and he damns me, all I can say is, your judgment is just and right and I deserve what I have coming. A few years ago a serial killer that performed many abominations besides murder, accepted Christ, was baptized and shortly thereafter was murdered himself. He was a man whose earlier actions had angered me, and in my heart I judged him, as did many others. I know now I must humble myself, for when the judgment day comes he may very well be the one who is right in front of me in line.
After saying all this, I will say, please try not to get too hung up on it. My intention here is to jostle the brain and hopefully get a few people out of the ruts they are in. A lot of this is meat and not milk. To many, meat can cause indigestion. What is important is that we love God with all our heart and soul and mind. I have known many people I have discerned to be better Christians than I who believed in free will. It is hard for me to criticize any earnest Christian who views things from an earthly, temporal manor. I did it for years. Our Savior would often explain things from our human perspective. I write about this because of the problems that arise when we superimpose our fleshly understanding unto eternal nature. It may be distasteful to many. I know it left a big rock in my stomach. Often, when we strive for a desired goal, we must do things that we donít desire or that are unpleasant in order to accomplish the desired goal. When I get sick, I may go to the doctor with the goal of making myself well. His plan for making me well may utilize a large syringe with a big yucky needle. The desired goal of this book is to untie the theological granny knots the fundamentalists have so well tied. Understanding the concepts outlined in the chapter is essential to achieve this goal. I just ask that you keep your mind and heart open and please donít let your understanding compromise Godís glory.
P.S. I may need to explain the Scriptures I quoted when I was trying to make the free will argument. They generally can be summed up in this manner. Statements like "All men" "the world" etc. should be thought of collectively and not so much individually. The Jewish people considered themselves to be Godís people and the non-Jew or Gentile would be outside of Godís realm, thus not eligible for salvation. Including the Gentiles into the realm of the saved was a concept that many of the Jewish Christians had a hard time with, including Peter. Part of the Gospel message was that the saved or elect were not just of the house of Israel. Salvation was for all nations collectively but not of all men individually.
And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
For if God willed all to be saved, I would ask who can resist his will? (Romans 9:19) Thus all men would be saved and we would all have to become Universalist. Which is a whole other topic that I donít wish to cover in this book.