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God's Salvation

A Brief Overview

Alfred E. Bouter

Some Doctrinal and Practical Aspects of Salvation

The matter of God's salvation causes confusion among Christians. In this brief summary I would like to mention a number of general principles about this topic. For a good understanding of these article, please read the Bible references (Rev. 1:3).

The Enemy of our Souls

Many of those who are born again, do not have full assurance of their salvation. This may be caused by a lack of faith in and submissiveness to God's Word, or simply by ignorance of its teaching. These believers have their doubts, questioning or arguing about God's truth, and therefore are targets of Satan's attacks. Some really desire to know the truth, but remain in the shade of their arguments. They often build on verses that they feel indicate that one can lose his salvation. Others have a tender conscience and feel miserable because of their deficient spiritual condition. On the other hand, there are those who are very sure of their salvation, but are self-satisfied, following their own will and having no desire to really seek to please the Lord. Happy with what they are and have, they have fallen asleep and misuse verses that present the certainty of salvation to ease their conscience. In all these cases, the work of the enemy is evident!

Scriptural Balance

The apostle Paul fervently desired to build up the believers to become strong men; this is a term that includes the sisters (see Col. 1:28). When we are mature Christians, the enemy cannot toss us to and fro as to every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:12-16). Therefore, spiritual balance is indispensable: in the sense of doing things properly, one needs two legs to walk, two hands to act, two eyes to see, two ears to hear. Applying this universal principle, we must accept and appreciate God's purpose according to His sovereign grace, while at the same time maintaining man's full responsibility.

If one wants to use verses that speak of God's purpose to deny man's responsibility, or conversely if one over-emphasises man's responsibility at the expense of God's sovereign purpose, there will be problems. We must expound the Word of truth accurately, dividing it precisely (see 2 Tim. 2:15). If we read verses that seem to contradict the assurance of salvation, we must at the same time submit to God's Word as it clearly confirms that one cannot loose his salvation, although one can loose the enjoyment of salvation. Scripture confirms that a believer does not loose his salvation, just like a child never looses the inherited link with his parents.

Believers do not appreciate or enjoy this vital balance through a lack of spiritual maturity. They neglect their responsibility before God, being self-complacent and content simply to be saved, or may lack assurance and become taken up with their weaknesses and failures.

The Doctrine of the Bible: an indivisible Unity

For a matter as important as salvation, it is necessary to examine God's Word carefully. In so doing we discover the Bible does contain passages that speak of a sure salvation that we cannot lose, while at the same time has verses that seem to imply the opposite. But let us be careful in studying God's Word:

- We must grasp the general character of the particular section of Scripture we study.

- We should note the immediate context of the passage and its connection with the rest of the Bible.

- We need to study all that God has revealed concerning a certain topic, since the Word is a complete unit. [1]

- God wants us to submit, out of love for Him and for Christ, to what He tells us in His Word.

- As we put God's Word into practice (James 1:22), we may encounter many trials and pitfalls, but the Lord always helps those who do His will (see John 13:17).

God's Eternal Purpose and our Complete Salvation

The Epistle to the Ephesians presents God's eternal counsel and purpose - past, present and future - and His work according to His sovereign grace, to realise His plans (see Eph. 2:10 as an example). Therefore, the position of the Christian 'in Christ Jesus' is absolutely secure, for God sees all believers in Christ, who is now seated in heaven at God's right hand. The position Christ has in the glory is unchangeable; therefore, the believer's position as associated with Him -even united with Christ as Man in the glory -cannot be altered. He is saved by God's grace and realises this by faith (which in itself is also God's gift, Eph. 2:8-9). This epistle demonstrates that our salvation in Christ is complete, already at this moment, and will last eternally. It is, indeed a very precious gift.

The Future Aspect of our Salvation

In Romans 5:9 we read that those who have peace with God (5:1) will be saved from God's coming wrath. Although here salvation is presented as something future (cf. Rom. 10:9; 13:11), that is, from future wrath (1 Thess. 5:9), nothing indicates that a Christian could lose it. In this epistle the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sees the Christian as living in this world for God, whereas at one time he was of this world and living for this world and its ruler, Satan. But now the believer belongs to a risen Christ, is placed under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus lives for God, while still in a world that lies in the evil one (1 John 5:19). The end of the journey lies ahead, but is certain. What a contrast with the point of view in Ephesians! Nevertheless, these two aspects are both true, like the two feet on which we walk.

Other Aspects of our Salvation

'Receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls' (1 Pet. 1:9; cf. 1 Cor. 15:2). Salvation of our souls is a present reality for those who through faith are linked with Christ risen and glorified,but it is only said of our souls. In this context, the salvation of our souls is a present gift that we have received. Faith already enjoys the relationship with Christ in the glory (1 Pet. 1:8). The salvation of the body comes later (Phil. 3:21).

With regard to our place on this earth, we are seen as identified with Christ who died. From this perspective the emphasis is on our body,[2] although we cannot and should not separate this from our soul and spirit. Christ died as a result of undergoing God's judgement in our stead (cf. John 3:14; 2 Cor. 5:21). But we are still here, in the same world that rejected Him: thus our bodies belong to a rejected Jesus, who is our Lord (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:1-4; Col. 2:12). However, He rose again, and although we do not yet see Him as physically present on this earth, the moment will soon come that we will appear with Him in glory (2 Thess. 1:10; 1 Thess. 4:14b), we having been first raptured and our bodies changed (1Cor. 15:51-55).

With regard to the fact that we find ourselves still in the same world from which Christ has been cast out, we are in need of daily salvation.  For the Christian this world is a wilderness. As Israel was for forty years in the wilderness, so Paul draws lessons for believers from Israel's history (1 Cor. 10:1-13). Thus, the Christian is in a world that is under the devil's control (although God is above all). Believers are Christ's disciples, as sheep among wolves, and need to be saved from all hostile influences and, the enemy's attacks. For this daily salvation they are entirely dependent on the Master (Matt. 10:16; Rom. 8:35-37; 1 Cor. 15:30-32; as an illustration, see Acts 27:44). They are on a journey and need this salvation - like Paul did in Acts 27 - but with a sure and real hope, having the final salvation in view (Rom. 8:24-39). This ultimate salvation is like reaching the finish of a race (Hebrews 12:1), or completing the wilderness journey. Obviously, we need to distinguish this from our position in Christ (see above and Ephesians 2:6, 8). According to this last point of view, we (all true Christians) are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. According to this perspective, we are therefore completely saved at present.[3] For salvation in this sense also read 2 Timothy 1:9.

After having enjoyed the salvation of our souls, the complete positional salvation in Christ and the daily salvation on our pilgrim's journey towards heaven, there is another aspect of salvation still before us, namely salvation in relation to our bodies, when Christ comes. That is why we wait for the Lord Jesus as Saviour. As such He will transform our bodies (Phil. 3:21). This will take place when the Lord Jesus comes back to take us to Himself (John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Compare also Rom. 5:9 f; 1 Cor.3:15; Heb. 5:9; 7:25. Notice that even with regard to this future salvation, there is absolute certainty!

Practical Consequences

Once we understand the differences in character of the epistles, we will more easily distinguish the various aspects of God's salvation. This is of great practical importance for a Scriptural balance, received by the teaching of God's Word. Understanding and keeping it will keep us from the wiles of the enemy.

These few thoughts cannot exhaust the subject matter of salvation. May we be impressed by the greatness of the work of Christ on the cross that forms the foundation of our salvation and by the greatness of the One who did it all! To Him glory and honour forever and ever! Amen.

Alfred E. Bouter

A former series of articles on Laodicea by our brother Alfred Bouter has been discontinued because it has now been produced as a book 'Behold, I stand at the Door...' available form Chapter Two, London, UK. Readers of Truth & Testimony may write for a free copy if they would like to receive this instructive ministry.

[1] Taking away a part here or there from a building will somehow affect the whole structure: thus it is with God's revealed truth.

[2] In this context, baptism saves us from a corrupt generation and places us (our physical bodies) under the leadership and authority of Christ who died and who left this condition of things, Acts 2:38, 40; 1 Pet. 3:21.

[3] This may be one reason why the epistle to the Ephesians does not refer to the rapture of the Church.