Saturday, July 19, 2014

Salvation (reprise)

I've posted about this before (probably more than once). I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but this needs to be said. More, it needs to be heard. When scripture used the words "saved" and "salvation", it is not using them as synonyms for words like "born again" or "justified" or "regenerated". "Saved" includes those ideas:  anyone saved is justified, anyone saved is regenerate; but scripture uses the word "saved" to indicate that someone has arrived at the end of the path.

For some reason, Christians (especially here in America) have adopted the expression "so-and-so got saved" to mean someone has been born again. I don't know where this came from: it's not in scripture. The closest I can come up with its in Acts 16:30–31, and it's not very close.

Romans 5:10–11 makes it very clear what it means to be saved. Having been justified, we shall be saved. Having been reconciled, we shall be saved. Titus 3:5 says that there are two parts to salvation: there is a "washing of regeneration" and a "renewal of the Holy Spirit."

If we consider what the Scripture says about salvation in the context of the whole counsel of God, the idea that someone went to a gospel meeting and "got saved" is an unscriptural idea. I have no doubt that man has been forgiven and has peace with God: but Scripture doesn't ever use the word "saved" to mean that. Scripture uses the word "saved" to mean that a man has been brought all the way from sinner-ness to being in God's presence. That's why Paul says, "now [is] our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Romans 13:11). Peter says we are "kept guarded by [the] power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in [the] last time" (1 Peter 1:3–9).

William Kelly put it this way:

[Christ] is the power of God not merely to justification, but to salvation; and salvation, while it includes justification, goes far beyond it, because it takes in all the course of a christian man till he is actually in the resurrection state along with Christ. This is the meaning of the verse, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" — not your own forgiveness, but your own salvation. It is said to those who were already forgiven. Thus, salvation, in the sense spoken of there, implies the whole conflict with the power of evil we are passing through.
Lectures on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, p. 153

Why do I make a big deal about this? Because if we use Scriptural terms in non-Scriptural ways, we get ourselves into trouble. We end up having to fudge what Scripture says in one place because we adjusted what it says somewhere else. Indeed, many "trouble passages" are trouble passages only because we misquote them.

Let's take an example: 1 Peter 3:21 and Mark 16:16 both say we are saved by baptism. These are difficult passages for several reasons, let's consider just a couple: First, Scripture very plainly says that we are justified not through baptism, but through faith (Acts 13:38–39; Romans 4:5). Second, Scripture gives a clear example of a man who believed, was not baptized, and was given a personal guarantee that he would be with Christ in Paradise (Luke 23:39–43). So what gives? Does baptism save or not?

The problem here is confusing "salvation" with "justification", "new birth", "regeneration", etc. Scripture doesn't teach baptism justifies, regenerates, gives new life, gives eternal life, but it does teach baptism saves. These are not the same thing.

Of course baptism saves! Scripture teaches clearly salvation by baptism (Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21). It doesn't teach justification by baptism, it doesn't teach regeneration by baptism; but it teaches salvation by baptism. If we start to confuse these things, we start to deny the gospel.

Of course, many who use the word "saved" incorrectly will insist that scripture doesn't teach salvation by baptism. They're wrong: it does. What it doesn't teach is an equivalence between salvation and justification. Their attempts not to teach baptismal regeneration are actually amusing, if you can laugh at that sort of thing.

Here's another example: what does Romans 10 teach?

8 But what says it? The word is near thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: 9 that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from among [the] dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with [the] heart is believed to righteousness; and with [the] mouth confession made to salvation.
Romans 10:8–10
I had trouble with those verses for a long time, because they sure sound like justification by works. I couldn't get over the "with the mouth confession is made to salvation" clause. Does that mean we have to do something to earn forgiveness? That doesn't seem to jive too well with Romans 4, does it? In fact, it doesn't jive with itself.

The two clauses in verse 10 are read as equivalent, but they're not. There are two blessings taught in verse 10: righteousness and salvation. We are righteous by believing "with the heart", we have salvation by confession "with the mouth". In one verse we have justification and salvation both. They're not the same thing, and the idea that they are equivalent is carefully guarded against when we consider one is in the heart and the other in the mouth.

Does scripture ever use the word "saved" as the present possession of the believer? It does, particularly in Ephesians, where God's eternal counsels are the subject. In God's eternal counsels we are already saved. And this might give us a hint as to the distinctions between Romans and Ephesians. Romans, the most careful exposition of the gospel in scripture, only uses "salvation" as a future thing.

I should probably mention 2 Thessalonians 2:13–14 here. The subject is salvation, and it's certainly eternal salvation: the Thessalonians were chosen by God "from the beginning" to salvation. But there are two parts to salvation here, just like in Titus 3:5. The two parts in 2 Thessalonians are "sanctification of the Spirit" and "belief of the truth". The second is what we call justification: God freely forgives all who believe. The first is the present work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, sanctification. Again, "salvation" doesn't mean new birth or regeneration, it means the whole package: it means God's taking a sinner, forgiving him, giving him eternal life, and bringing him eventually to full maturity in Christ.

Here's the thing: we don't want to make a man a transgressor for a word. At the same time, I hear teachers among God's people going around with careless language and sloppy exposition. When the apostles we asked,  "what must I do to be saved?" they didn't launch into a  dissertation of soteriology. But when they taught the people of God, they were extremely careful of their language. Nothing makes this more evident than the epistles.


Berlin said...

Two thoughts, brother, which might be helpful to some of your readers:

1) The first mention of salvation with regards to our redemption is in Exodus Chapter 15. After the Passover, and while Israel was still in Egypt, they were safe and sheltered, but it was not until they passed through the Red Sea, type of death and resurrection with Christ, that they are viewed as saved, because it is then they know they are completely free from the place and the power of the tyrant. There is an excellent portion regarding this in "From New Birth to New Creation," Section 1.3, which includes an excerpt from W. T. Turpin.

2)Regarding how Baptism saves, it will help if we see that Baptism is the practical testimony of our acceptance of the truth of our death with Christ. We are baptized unto His death. It is his death that has separated us from all that we were in Adam and freed us completely from the bondage of sin, Satan and the whole world system which is under judgment. Therefore we have been righteously set free to take our place in the Risen Christ. Baptism is the external testimony to this, and in that sense the figure of baptism saves us practically, not redemptively.


Berlin said...

For any who may be interested, there is an excellent portion on the various uses of the word "Salvation" in the New Testament. The portion is in "Lectures on the Epistle to the Ephesians" by William Kelly (available on Stem, and can also be purchased from Bible Truth Publishers)
The portion is in the lecture on chapter 2, and in my 1983 edition begins on page 85 and ends on page 95.