Doctrine of Salvation
Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: Doctrine of Salvation
This is the 25th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39. (Any slides, photos, study guides or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded separately. If they are not available, you may be able to find something similar using the Google© search engine.)
What do you do to get connected with God? What is it to be saved and what part do we play in our salvation? What part does God do and how do we begin the process? What do I do with sin in my life and can I lose my salvation? There are so many questions in this area and most of them have immediate consequence on how we live our Christian life. Churches seem to end up with controversies in this area so having some foundation on these issues can help you not get lost in the controversy.
II. Points We Agree On
A. We Need God’s Help to Return to Him
So what is it that we all agree on? The human condition of sin is desperate. We look at people out in the world and it looks like they are doing fairly well and in some ways they are. They are keeping their debt under control and a lot of them are in decent marriages and they are contributing to their community. So what we are thinking about is a fully functional relationship with God. Unsaved people are able not to sin and another view are unsaved people are not able not to sin. Most evangelicals would agree that people are able not to sin in some areas. As a non-saved person, one can choose not to be involved in adultery or get drunk on alcohol or something like this. But what I can’t do is repair by relationship with God; people are unable to save themselves from sin and death. God needs to reach out to us before we can reach back to him. That sounds fairly simple but in reality a lot of people, for example, Armenians hear Calvinists saying I am totally depraved. There is nothing good in me. Calvinists hear Armenians say that they are not that bad off. In reality, both are agreeing that all humans do good things and all humans need God’s help in order to come back in a relationship with God. We need to keep coming back to this when we hear the idea of free will verses total depravity.
B. Christ’s Work on the Cross is of Infinite Value
A second point is that Christ’s work on the Cross is of infinite value. There are a group of Calvinists who hold what is called limited atonement which emphasizes that in the precision of God’s work he actually pays the penalty of sin for the elect. And on the Armenian side, there is the idea of universal atonement where Christ’s atonement is universally available providing a fully satisfactory propitiation and provision for all the sins of the entire world and this atonement is being applied. Armenians say that Calvinists think that Jesus doesn’t care about anybody but the elect. That is not what Calvinists are saying but it does indeed sound like it is sometimes. Calvinists think that Armenians say that everybody will be saved because God paid the price for everyone’s sin so all should go to heaven. This is not the way Armenians think. Everybody agrees that there is infinite value to the work that Jesus did on the Cross. 1st Timothy 4:10 says, ‘for to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.’
C. Salvation is By Grace Only
A third point says that salvation is only by Grace through faith. If you look from a more Calvinistic perspective, they will emphasize God’s elective and regenerative work. From the Armenian perspective, they will emphasize a human choice as a result of God’s initiative. But Armenians hear and think that Calvinists do nothing; why even preach the Gospel, God has ordained those who will be saved which are the elect? It is all God and not me. And sometimes Calvinists can come fairly close to this idea that there is one work through the sovereignty of God. And they can make it sound like that we have no contribution to salvation, but that is not what they are saying. And the Armenians emphasizing free will aspect, Calvinists hear them say that these are works that somehow merit salvation. So it sounds like that the Calvinists do nothing while the Armenians work hard and God is at their service and call. But nobody actually says this and agrees that Salvation is by Grace alone, God’s free gift and through faith alone, our faith is a response to God’s grace.
D. We Preach Christ Crucified
The preached Gospel is the means to salvation. Everybody is under a mandate to go to the whole world and preach the Gospel. Again, Calvinists emphasize God’s elective grace and Armenians hear them saying that there is no reason to preach the Gospel. No Calvinist is saying that, but it can sound that way sometimes. Armenians in pressing the need for decisions can sound like God is hoping somebody will become saved, but Armenians aren’t saying that. So how do you pray for an unsaved person? From the Armenians perspective, God has already done everything, now it is up to the person. We pray that God will give us boldness to witness to the unsaved. It sounds as if Calvinists say why pray because God already has it worked out. In fact everybody prays much the same way, that God would soften people’s hearts to hear the Gospel and pray for ourselves that we would have boldness and wisdom to proclaim the Gospel in a persuasive way. There is always a human agency.
E. The Mission of the Church
The basic mission of the Church is going to involve three or four different aspects. We cannot neglect evangelism, edification and exaltation. And the one that there is some questioned is about doing ‘good’ in the world. Many churches emphasize this which I think must be there while others say that this become a social Gospel. We all agree that we cannot neglect evangelism, edification or exaltation or worship of God. All of these must happen in church. Church certainly neglects various aspects of these sometimes.
F. Security of the Believer
The final point is the security of the believer. Everybody will agree that as long as a person believes in Jesus Christ and relying on his mercy and provision at the Cross, having been saved in his grace, that person is saved and will be saved. The point of disagreement is whether or not a person can lose their salvation who really believes in Christ. This is a big point of disagreement among evangelicals. From an Armenian’s perspective, they emphasize that you must keep on in your relationship with Christ. It sometimes sounds as if you don’t confess every last sin; it just will not be good enough. They are not saying that but it sounds like it sometimes. From the Calvinist’s perspective, it sounds that it is covered by the blood of the cross. Who cares whether you sin or not. Just live because it is all taken care of.
So in hearing about these basic points of agreements with the controversies, we shouldn’t lose these points of agreement as they are really important. The human condition is desperate. People can do good things but they cannot connect themselves to God. Christ’s work is of infinite value but it doesn’t apply to everybody. Salvation is by faith in Jesus and by the grace of God. The preaching of the Gospel is essential along with the church’s mission of evangelism, edification and exaltation along with the security of the believer. We need to keep these central in discussion with others.