Questioning Your Salvation?: Salvation is a Work of God

This series has been a bit interesting, more so than the others I’ve done. Primarily because it has forced me to put down concepts and beliefs on paper, make sure it’s coherent, and pushed me to do my best to communicate them in a way that is both Biblically faithful and relatively easily understood. In this post, we pick up from the previous post and discuss how we become right with God when we are spiritually dead and incapable of responding to or seeking Him out.

As this series is primarily about those questioning their salvation, I’m going to deal more with how Christ’s work on the cross affects man in relation to salvation. There are absolutely more reasons for the Jesus’s death on the cross than affect man directly (as most would consider it), such as making God just in delaying the punishment for sin, and to please the Father. I HIGHLY recommend reading John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die for further study.

I’ve done my best to list these in somewhat of a logical priority, but please allow me some grace if you disagree on the order listed, as the overall point is that God does them and we do not. I have also done my best to be as succinct as possible, so that I can communicate the points necessary without going extremely overboard and making this impossible to read. This most is going to be a bit more academic than I’d like, but it’s going to lay some necessary ground work for the next post.

God Elects and Predestines
Salvation is of the Lord. He has chosen from eternity past, before He created the world, who will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. This choosing is independent of our actions or merit (past, present, or future), and is based solely on His sovereign will to choose (Eph. 1:11). We talked more about this in the Ephesians series when we discussed Ephesians 1:3-6 and Ephesians 2:4-7.

Additional references:
Matthew 11:27; Matthew 24:22, 24, 31; Romans 8:29-30; Romans 8:33; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; Revelation 17:14
Online Resources:
The Village Church has a good article, in PDF format, on Unconditional Election
Desiring God also has a good resource on Election in their explanation of what they believe about Calvinism.

God Redeems
Redemption carries the idea of “buying back.” It is the purchasing of something that was once yours. When most people think of the word “redeem” they think of what it means to redeem a coupon, or possibly even redeeming an item at a pawn shop. While the second example comes closer, it isn’t completely accurate. The understanding of the word “ransom” is perhaps more appropriate when we think of redemption as used in Scripture (Matt. 20:28). Wayne Grudem makes a valid point in his Systematic Theology when he mentions that we have a hard time trying to nail down to whom the ransom was paid. We were absolutely slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17, 20) and followers of Satan (Eph. 2:2), but Satan doesn’t have the power to demand a ransom from God. Yet, it can’t really be God either because God wasn’t the one oppressing us and holding us in captivity. It must then be sufficient to say that while we, in our finite understanding, can’t determine to whom payment was made, that Christ’s blood was still the payment necessary to redeem (Heb. 9:12) the elect from slavery to sin and death, as well as the rest of creation so that it may be restored in the end. Redemption is Christ overcoming sin and restoring Shalom.

Additional References:
Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:7, 4:30; Colossians 1:13-14; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:17-19
Online Resources:
Pastor and author Justin Holcomb has some excellent insight on redemption at The Resurgence Blog

God Is Our Propitiation
Propitiation (Rom. 3:25) is, tragically, a word that isn’t used in many churches today. Propitiation has a two-fold meaning: the appeasement of God’s wrath toward sinners, and removing our sin from us so we could receive God’s favor. Some scholars believe that the Greek should be translated as expiation, which is simply the removal of sin from the sinner. This doesn’t convey the full meaning of the text though, as God’s wrath toward sin must be satisfied before sin can be removed. Many people object to the notion that God has wrath of any kind, because they cling to “God is love”. God is, indeed, love. And love’s natural response to sin is wrath. God is love, and He has wrath. Jesus is our propitiation. Jesus’ death on the cross is where God’s righteous wrath toward sin and His love toward the elect meet.

Additional References:
Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10;
Online Resources:
I came across this post through Monergism’s website, it’s definitely worth the read for a better understanding of propitiation.

God Regenerates
Regeneration is perhaps one of the more difficult doctrines to address in a culture, even in a church culture, where the majority effectively believes that we are somehow born spiritually alive or morally neutral. I realize that many people may not verbally say they were born morally neutral or spiritually alive, but many still act this way. I’ve already addressed that this is a misconception, and what Scripture teaches us about our spiritual and moral state as a result of The Fall, so I won’t go into that again here. We are born spiritually dead, as enemies of God, and followers of Satan, as we see in Ephesians 2:1-3. Regeneration is when God breathes life into us and awakens us spiritually. It is after this point, and only after, that we confess Christ as Lord and Savior. Before God breathes life into us, we are incapable of seeing the beauty of Christ, and unable to respond in faith. As Wayne Grudem states in Christian Beliefs, “…God must bring about a change in an individual’s heart before he or she is able to respond [to the gospel] in faith.”

Additional References:
Titus 3:4-5; Colossians 2:13-15, 1 Peter 3:18
Online Resources:
Desiring God has a couple of short posts on this topic, as well as the sermons which accompany these notes: Regeneration, Faith, Love: In That Order and Through the Washing of Regeneration.
Monergism also has a couple of good articles by J.I. Packer and Wayne Grudem.

God Justifies
In the Greek, the root word for the different variations of “just” (justify, justification, etc.) is the same as the the word “right”. It is a legal term that carries a meaning of “declared to be right”. It does not mean that we “are right” in and of ourselves, but that because of Christ, we are “declared to be right” despite our sin. Christ is our redemption and propitiation, and in Him lies our ability to be seen as and declared to be “righteous”. This is a work of God, and God alone. We do not take part in pronouncing our own judgement, but God elects, redeems, serves as propitiation for, and justifies the elect.

Additional references:
Romans 3:18-20, 3:21-24,, 4:5, 5:9, 8:30, 33; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 3:8
Monergism has a great article by J.C Ryle on The Difference Between Justification and Sanctification has a great article by Rick Phillips as well
Additionally, Desiring God explains what they believe concerning the Justifying Work of God
John Piper’s book, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness?, was a tremendous help to me when I first began to wrestle with the doctrine of justification. It can be a bit difficult in places, but it is well worth the effort for those who are serious about looking into this doctrine.

God Reconciles
In the beginning, there was peace with God, each other, and creation. The universe existed in harmony. There was Shalom. Then enters Satan, and sin, shattering the beauty of Shalom in God’s creation. In his book, Redemption, Mike Wilkerson conveys the words of Cornelius Plantinga concerning Shalom: “[Shalom is] the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight…a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.”

Reconciliation is restoring the elect (Eph. 2:16) and the rest of creation (Col. 1:20) to that state of Shalom. We have indeed been giving the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), but the actual work of reconciliation to God and His people is performed by God alone.

Additional references:
Romans 5:10-11, 8:18-25; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Colossians 1:22
Online Resources:
Monergism has some promising links on the topic of reconciliation. They are a little lengthy, so I haven’t had the time to read them yet.

God Restores
When most people I talk with use the word “restore,” it seems to be in a context of restoring a relationship. While this is absolutely part of the gospel, I think that definition better falls under the doctrine of reconciliation. The doctrine of restoration, I believe, is more appropriately defined in the context of a “restoration of the natural creation.” (Rom. 8:18-25). Restoration of natural creation may indeed be viewed as a subset of reconciliation, when considering Plantinga’s definition above. Whether we talk of the elect or of the rest of natural creation, “restore” carries with it the concept of “making something what it used to be.” God’s people and His creation used to exist in perfect harmony with Him and itself. It is fractured now, but He will make it again what it once was.

Additional references:
Online Resources:
Crossway has an excellent resource written by Sam Storms on this topic.

God Glorifies
When we speak of glorification, we are most often referring to the glorified bodies the elect will receive when Christ consummates His kingdom in the end (1 Cor. 15:51-52). There are varying concepts of what the idea of “glorified bodies” means. While none of us can accurately state what they will look like, we know they will be physical, not ethereal. They will be imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42), there will be no sickness, aging, or death. They will be bodies which perfectly image Christ’s glory. Our new bodies will perfectly reflect the radiance, beauty, and glory of our Savior. Pastor John Piper rightly points out that sanctification is the first step of our glorification.

Additional references:
1 Corinthians 15:12-58; Philippians 3:20-21
Online Resources:
Desiring God has a sermon by John Piper on this subject, which you can read or listen to.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology was again incredibly helpful in my research on this teaching.

2 responses to “Questioning Your Salvation?: Salvation is a Work of God

  1. This was scholarly written. Don, you’d make an excellent Bible teacher in college. I hope you’re keeping all of these messages you write.
    My biggest concern for the church (every church) is that often times people think that coming forward to confess one’s sins and praying a prayer to receive Jesus is makes them a Christian. I did that at age 11, but only in my 30’s did I “die to self”. That’s when Jesus truly came alive to me and began to talk with me. At this point in life I fell in love with God. My fear is that people think because they’ve “said the prayer of salvation” that that makes them a Christian. I believe now that a person is born again when they die to self and place God on the throne of their lives–and because of that will see much fruit in their lives as they serve our Lord. I know it takes time for people to grow as believers, and that some grow faster than others depending on their prayer life and Bible study and willingness to obey the Word and the Lord’s dealing in their lives, but to “say the prayer” and go about living the same way you always did before gives me cause to wonder if a person is really saved. I’m just thankful I’m not the judge of that.
    Thanks for your very indepth article. Love you!!!

  2. Pingback: Questioning Your Salvation?: The Reason We Have Hope | TransformingWords

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