God and Salvation
There are a few Christian doctrines that are absolutely fundamental.
Certainly, who is Jesus is critical. Additionally, what is true salvation must rank right up there.
Jesus without salvation is just as empty to believers as salvation without Jesus.
It is not uncommon that the deity of Jesus Christ is attacked.
Mormons believe Jesus is a separate god from the Father (Elohim). His body was created through a sexual union between Elohim and Mary. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus is not God since before he lived on earth he was Michael the Archangel. Finally, Muslims believe Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is one of the most respected of over 124,000 prophets sent by Allah but not God as is Allah.
We would expect the truths of salvation to likewise be attacked and, in other religions, including the three above, salvation is certainly corrupted to a works system.
What is shocking is that the truths of salvation are commonly corrupted within the confines of what we would normally consider biblical Christianity.
One of the ways the truths or doctrines of the Bible are studied, and this is common with theologists and those studying for their ministry degrees, is known as Systematic Theology. The above two topics are known more precisely as Christology and Soteriology.
In the church, there’s very little problem with Christology. Most easily accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and so this post will be addressed to Soteriology and the principles that seem to confound many.
Now, the previous post that expounds the elements of salvation is usually not in question. They include Jesus as the perfect sinless God/man. Mankind condemned as sinners to everlasting punishment, and the free gift of grace which includes faith in the substitutionary payment by Jesus Christ and His resurrection three days later with our repentance.
Sometimes we forget the comprehensiveness but, we don’t usually dispute the above elements. We accept them without hesitation.
Where we run into difficulties is in initiation – how does it all begin?
To whom and to what is salvation attributed
I have written many, many times about the fact that salvation is “all” of God and that God elects or chooses who will be saved – here, here, here, here and here. So I won’t go directly into election. What I will do is cover the initiation of salvation.
Those who deny election believe that “free will” initiates salvation.
Fair enough. What does the bible say?
Does the Bible ever state that our free will initiates salvation?
This seems logical. Something has to initiate salvation and free will seems a logical human choice. After all, we’re not robots, as that would diminish salvation. But the fact is, either our free will initiates salvation or something else does.
Let’s begin by looking at a Pharisee named Nicodemus in Matthew 3. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council and was convinced that God was with Jesus. Yet he came to Jesus by the cover of the night just in case he was wrong.
He wants to know how to be saved. Jesus answers that “to see the kingdom of God [you need to be] born again.”
(Born again, then, is a term Jesus coined. I think many believe that it came from the Jesus Movement of the 1960s.)
Nicodemus then asks “how can someone be born when they are old?”
How did Jesus answer?
He replied, “just ask Jesus into your heart.” NO!
How about “here are the elements of salvation you need to accept – sinless God, condemned mankind, …” NO! He didn’t state that.
What about “repent and believe?” NO!
Did He say “initiate your free will and you will be saved?” – hardly!
Here’s how Jesus replied in Matthew 3:6 and 8 “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” and “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Not exactly how we’ve been taught to share the gospel.
Jesus, however, was making a point – Salvation is all of God!!!
You cannot command it or will it into existence. It’s for God’s glory, not yours.
Free Will Denied
There are no places in the bible that teach “free will” as a means to salvation.
Certainly, man has free will and through free will, he can sin and deny Jesus. But the unsaved man is dead – Ephesians 2:1 states “you were dead in your transgressions and sins,…”
Is free will then, a cure for death? No! Death can only be overcome by an outside influence, a miracle.
In fact, two places teach specifically that free will is not a means of salvation.
John 1:13 “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Romans 9:16 “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
The two Greek words for the above verses are similar – thelema and thelo and both mean human will or desire.
Very directly, the bible teaches that salvation is not by human or free will.
It is all of God – period.
Free will is an attempt to steal God’s glory.
The miracles of salvation
So the crux is how is salvation initiated.
We know we need faith and repentance. From above, neither are a product of our free will.
So where do they come from? How do we believe and repent?
Easy – they’re both gifts from God. That is the miracle of salvation.
Faith is a gift:
2 Peter 1:1 “…To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”
Phil 11:29 “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,“
Acts 3:16 “…It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him,…”
Repentance is a gift:
2 Tim 2:25 “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…”
Acts 11:18 “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Salvation is ALL of God.
You have the same self-power to save yourself as you do to save someone else – zero.
Faith and repentance are gifts from God. Free will gives you the glory. Election gives God glory.