- A Pastoral Soteriology: Introduction
- The Basis for Salvation: Man is Sinful
- The Wrath of God
- Unsound Theories of Atonement
- More False Atonement Doctrine: The Moral-Example Theory
- The Mystical Theory of Atonement
- The Necessary-Satisfaction Theory of Atonement
- The Penal Substitution Theory: On the Mark
- Atonement in the Old Testament Law
- Yom Kippur – The Foreshadowing of Christ
- Jesus: The Fulfillment of the Law
- The Elements of the Gospel: Grace
- The Elements of the Gospel: Faith
One of the most difficult aspects of evangelism in today’s culture is the communication of the need for such a thing as “salvation.” Indeed, it seems a world view of self adulation has engulfed many in post-modern culture, where ideas of right and wrong are frequently re-cast as personal life choices rather than offenses to a divine creator. To that end, “sin” is in many cases categorically denied as a stringent reality in favor of the idea that right and wrong are relative to one’s own experience.
Added to that confusion are a mass of false preachers and teachers who are more than willing to elevate man’s “lost” status before God to something more akin to a child who has misplaced his father in the mall rather than one who has willfully and combatively lashed out against the authority of almighty God. Trends in neo-Christianity present salvation as something inherently man-inspired; frequently admonishing only that man properly involve himself in God’s work and lift himself up by his bootstraps to meet God’s expectations.
Scripture tells a decisively different story. In scripture, the conflict introduced to the narrative is that of willful disobedience to God, and the remedy is something entirely beyond man’s control or ability to produce. For every pastor who so proudly states in television (or The Ooze Magazine) interviews that “people do not need to be confronted with their sinful condition,” scripture simply implores that you are wrong.
“Salvation,” by its very definition, demands that there is something which is inherently destructive which is to be remedied. For one to be “saved,” one must indeed be in a condition which requires him to be saved. To be saved from a burning building demands that there be an actual fire. To be saved from drowning demands that water must be imminently threatening the subject’s life. Scripture undeniably and decisively identifies the essence of one’s need for salvation to be wholly tied to one’s sinful condition. Salvation is the remedy for sin. It is not the means to self-satisfaction, heightened awareness or a harmonious existence in creation. While elements from those feel-good sermonettes may accompany a redeemed life, it is salvation from the penalty of sin which is the heart and soul of the issue of soteriology.
God’s Nature: Holy
An overwhelming descriptive characteristic of God presented in scripture is summed up in the term “holy.” It is perhaps this term by which all of God’s attributes can be globally portrayed in a singular package. He is unique and set apart from anything and everything else which exists or can be imagined. In Isaiah’s vision of heaven, he saw the Lord God on his throne exhibiting such glory that those present were incapable of anything other than his exaltation.
Isaiah 6:3 (NIV)
3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
“Holiness” denotes a state of being which is completely set apart, or consecrated, from all others. God, being holy, is unique among all that has ever existed, being the pinnacle of glory; he is that which is unique among all else. It is He alone who occupies the utmost position of power, honor and glory. John, likewise, experienced this awe in his vision of Heaven; where God’s manifest presence was exposed and witnessed in its pure state.
Revelation 15:1-4 (NIV)
1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues–last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. 2 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God 3 and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. 4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
It is this incontaminable nature of God which is exemplified in the designation of “holy.” These immutable qualities of God were the character out of which the creation was formed and the heights from which it has fallen to its current state. It is these various attributes of God which have demanded the separation between himself and man.
God is Perfect
Deuteronomy 32:4 (NIV)
4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
Psalms 18:30 (NIV)
30 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
Matthew 5:48 (NIV)
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
He Cannot Sin
Habakkuk 1:13 (NIV)
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
He Cannot tempt to sin
James 1:13-14 (NIV)
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
He Cannot Tolerate Sin
Psalms 5:4 (NIV)
4 You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.
Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)
2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
The Fall of Man
Necessarily, that which is perfect cannot absorb the slightest infraction of that which is imperfect. A perfectly clean surgical utensil is utterly defiled by the slightest touch of an unsterilized hand. A perfectly purified glass of water is no longer so designated if it should be joined with the slightest drop of grime. And, a perfect God is to be unavoidably separated from that which is anything less than pristine. Such is the nature of man’s post-fall state. It is sin which God utterly refuses to fellowship with. It is sin which invaded God’s perfect creation, rendering himself estranged from man by his own judicious principles.
In the beginning, however, all of creation- being the substance of a perfect creator- shared in his pristine glory.
Genesis 1:29-31 (NIV)
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.
Creation was indeed rendered in perfection, after God’s own nature. After each manifestation of God’s creative will he noted, “it is good.” After the creation of man he noted, “it is very good.” Yet, that which was good was marred in the testing of man’s own will.
God granted Adam freedom in his estate. He was in no way hindered from his environment, save for one tree which he was not to eat from.
Genesis 2:8-17 (NIV)
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
Given the choice to enjoy all of God’s perfection to the fullest, man was yet given an opportunity to choose loyalty to his Creator or to pursue his own path.
“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
Even after a proper warning, man failed that test and pursued his independence from God.
Genesis 3:6-7 (NIV)
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
While many theological questions can be raised concerning the nature of man’s sin, such is beyond the scope of this overview and more in line with a full discourse on systematic theology. Many have argued concerning the nature of man’s will; was his choice foreordained by God (determinism)? Was he simply a victim of circumstance (indeterminism)? Or did he have the full capacity to not sin and make his decision to sin of his own full accord (self-determinism)? Those debates will continue until perfection is restored, undoubtedly. Yet, the answers to such questions do not change the situation for humanity. Man has become sinful. God’s perfect creation has been tainted by a singular dose of that which defiles. Man was uncompromisingly perverted by sin and incapable of his former existence in God’s presence and fellowship. God simply cannot tolerate sin.
Such is the basis for salvation. Sin has corrupted man, and man will eternally be separated from God because of it without God’s provision for salvation. Salvation, then, is the means by which sin can be eradicated and man can be restored to the fellowship of his creator. Salvation is not, as some preach today, the means by which man can find a better job, a fruitful outlook on life, health, wealth and personal increase. While these things may be given to a believer (or may not!), salvation is the application of God’s grace whereby any such blessings from God are even a possibility to those who otherwise are objects of God’s wrath because of sin. It is sin which is the abomination to be remedied. It is the wages of sin which must be paid for man to have any hope for such an abundant life.
The Universality of Sin
Sin was permanently injected into humanity
Romans 5:12 (NIV)
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–
From the advent of Adam and Eve’s trespass, sin has incumbently existed in mankind. As a result, all who have followed are unconditionally marred with it, and separated from God just as Adam and Eve were. Only Christ alone, having been born outside of the seed of man, was born without the preexisting condition of sinfulness.
Sin is Universal
Psalms 14:1-3 (NIV)
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Sin is universal, being at man’s core from his very birth. Never does a father sit his toddler down and instruct him on how to properly tell a lie. Never does a mother instruct her two year old on how to adequately throw a walleyed tantrum. Such instruction is unnecessary and counterproductive, for sin has been well at work in their child’s life; yielding such sinful actions as instinctive, involuntary and compulsory. Contrarily, parents must teach their children righteous behavior! They must teach their children to share, train their children to play nicely with others and instruct their children concerning honesty. The sin nature is not a learned response. It is quite the default state, for sin is truly universal, having affected the whole of humanity and requiring the remedy of salvation that one may be restored to his holy creator.
Sin Yields God’s Judgment
Furthermore, scripture undeniably states that God will punish sin. It is not possible for God to be truly righteous if he does not punish sin. To not punish sin would credit God with unrighteousness by allowing justice to not be served. When a judge in a human court of law exercises a verdict against an offender, he can only be understood to be a righteous judge if he condemns the unrighteous action of the offender. To render no punishment to one who deserves it is utterly inconsistent with truly righteous judgment. Sin simply must be punished for any righteousness to exist in God’s character. God prescribed such punishment clearly.
The immediately visible punishment of sin is that of physical death. God noted to Adam,
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
While God did not elaborate on the full nature of death, it is clear in scripture that physical decay is one facet of the death God prescribed. Developing the understanding of a physical and mechanical aspect of death, Paul notes more clearly,
1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (NIV)
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Speaking in the context of a bodily resurrection, Paul notes that physical death came through the foundational sin of Adam. Likewise, Paul notes the restorative work of salvation as he describes the future resurrections of the bodies of men.
It is important that believers understand that physical death is not a penalty which will be thwarted outside of the future resurrection of the righteous. While believers will be redeemed from the physical death which sin wrought, physical death remains a reality of God’s promise; “the day you eat of it you will surely die.”
There is additionally a spiritual death which is a guaranteed estate for humanity. Such is the pinnacle of hope in God’s provision of salvation; to be rescued from the eternal consequences of one’s sin. Paul notes in Ephesians,
Ephesians 2:1 (NIV)
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.
This being “made alive” is the fruit of salvation; the contrast to the spiritual estate of those who are lost,
Romans 3:23 (NIV)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….
For, those without salvation are deemed to an eternal state of spiritual death.
Revelation 20:14 (NIV)
14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
Dr. Norman Geisler states it this way:
“Those who are born only once (physically) will die twice (physically and eternally); however, those who are born twice (physically and spiritually) will die only once (physically).” Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume 3, p. 123
As such, spiritual and physical death are the promised fruition of one’s sin, and are the essence of what one is in need of being saved from.
Scriptures, then, answer clearly the question, “saved from what?” Salvation is concerned with the remedying of that which resulted from the advent of sin into man and creation. It is sin which one is to be saved “from.” It is the acknowledgment of one’s sin which is the utmost essential foundation to the work of the gospel message.
Throughout the world today exists all manners of “gospel” presentations which exclude the mention of man’s sinful and utterly condemned condition. Those who teach such culturally friendly doctrines are enemies of the cause of Christ. Jesus did not die to save the world from its hardships, mistakes or feelings. He died to save it from its sins.
1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
Luke 5:31-32 (NIV)
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Dealing head-on with the fact that all are sinners is the first step in the acceptance of the gospel message and is the foundational principle from which a valid soteriology may be outlined. No one can be made right with God who refuses to accept God’s own assessment of the problem; that man is sinful.
1 John 1:8-10 (NIV)
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.