Associate Professor of New Testament
No article of any confession compares in significance with that concerning salvation. The whole of theology is bound up with it: our understanding God, the world and our very selves. The manner in which we understand salvation decides and reveals the way in which we think about God, and vice versa.
According to the Scriptures, and as formulated by one saint, the true subject of theology is the human being, guilty of sin and condemned before God, the Justifier and Savior of the sinner.
This biblical understanding of salvation is a two-edged sword which must be all-determining for our thought: any theological statement which does not conform to it and cannot trace its way back to it must be severed and discarded as error.
It is of great importance, and entirely biblical, that this article concerning salvation begins with the emphatic statement that "salvation involves the redemption of the whole man." On the one hand, this affirmation guards us against supposing that only our lower, physical desires are in need of remedy.
The Scriptures teach us that our fallenness extends to the whole of our person and infects even our highest religious aspirations (Gal 2:16; Ps 143:2). Once we assume that part of us is free from corruption, we necessarily fall into various forms of legalism or asceticism (e.g. Col 2:16-23).
The Son of God in his incarnation, death and resurrection took upon himself all that we are in order to redeem us.
This means, on the other hand, that salvation includes the resurrection of the body. The Christian hope is not that of an ethereal, disembodied existence, but the eternal life of the resurrected and transformed body (Rom 8:23).
Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, who has triumphed over sin, death and the devil. To have him as Lord means that we reign with him over all such things in the hope and faith which has already dawned and shall be consummated at his coming again (Heb 2:5-9).
As this article makes quite clear, salvation is found in Jesus Christ and in him alone. The good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed freely to all persons everywhere. In this proclamation the Church shares in God's work in the world and bears great responsibility before him. Nevertheless, salvation is to be found only in Jesus Christ, whom one must know by name and call upon as Lord in order to be saved (Acts 4:12; Rom 10:14-17).
The saints prior to his coming perceived these things only dimly and partially, as they believed in the Christ who was coming (1 Pet 1:10-12). Apart from those such as Abraham, Moses, David and others named in the Scriptures, we shall never know precisely how the Spirit of God imparted faith in God and his promises to them.
Now, however, the promise of God has come to fulfillment in the resurrection of the crucified Christ. It is this gospel of the Christ who has come which God has sent forth to the nations, and nothing else: "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the message of Christ" (Rom 10:17).
The Scriptures speak with varying perspectives on the salvation which God has wrought for us in Christ.
"Regeneration" has to do with God's having made us entirely new creatures in Christ: all that we are in ourselves was put to death with him (2 Cor 5:17-21).
"Justification" has to do with the forgiveness of our sins and our acknowl-edgement of God's just claim against us that we are liars and transgressors (Rom 3:5-8, 21-26).
"Sanctification" has to do with God's possessing us as his own and setting us apart from the world which is condemned and defiled (1 Cor 3:16-17).
"Glorification" has to do with our instatement as "sons of God" at the resurrection from the dead, when God's triumph in us shall be complete (Rom 8:28-30).
Baptist Faith & Message, Article 4a
by David DeKlavon
Associate Dean, Associate Professor of New Testament, Boyce College
The basis for salvation is under attack today. The questions that many ask in response to the presentation of the gospel ("I'm a good person - isn't that enough to be right with God?" "How can you say that Jesus is the only way to God?") mirror their confusion or disdain.
Somehow, they believe, the "God" of whom they conceive will be satisfied with their sincerity or with their good works.
Scripture makes it clear, though, that salvation does not begin with us. We are "dead in sin" (Eph 2:1) and thus unable to save ourselves.
Instead, God begins the work that allows us to become new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). We call this work "regeneration" or "new birth" - that is, it is the act of God by which he imparts spiritual life resulting in salvation.
We first encounter the phrase "born again" in Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus (John 3). This phrase is so very descriptive of the work done in us in salvation. As we had no part in imparting life to ourselves at the time of our physical birth, likewise we have no part in imparting spiritual life to ourselves at the time of our new birth.
John 1:13 underscores this truth by stating that this birth is not due to "the will of man, but of God."
Scripture speaks often of this new birth. It is described as made effectual not only through the Word of God (Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23), but also through the work of Christ on the cross (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 1:3) and through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8; Titus 3:5). The evidence of the new birth is seen in the changed life of the one who experiences it (2 Cor 5:17; 1 John 2:29; 5:4).
But how is this new birth appropriated? Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again." If that same statement was made to someone today, what would he or she be expected to do?
In Scripture, the response needed is expressed in terms of repentance and faith. These two actions are often spoken of together under the heading of "conversion," and both are needed for salvation.
Repentance involves more than just remorse or a feeling of guilt over getting caught in sin. Rather, it refers to a genuine sorrow for sin accompanied by a desire and commitment to leave it behind. Or, as is often stated, it is "a change of mind that leads to a change of action."
The awareness of the need to repent is brought about by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). Its importance is evidenced by its inclusion as a key element in the preaching of Jesus (Mark 1:15), John the Baptist (Matt 3:2) and the early church (Acts 2:38).
The noun "faith" comes from the same root word as the verb "I believe" in the Greek language of the New Testament. More than just acknowledging intellectually that something is true, biblical faith requires a personal trust in and commitment to Jesus based on the knowledge of who he is and what he has done in providing forgiveness for sin.
Often in the New Testament, the word "believe" is followed by the word "in" to express this idea. Most noticeably, John 3:16 states that whoever "believes in" Jesus will have everlasting life.
Paul also reminds us that it is because of God's grace that we are saved through faith and not by our own works (Eph 2:8-9). Which one of us could ever do enough "good deeds" to earn God's salvation?
Taken together, regeneration and conversion are both foundational to the biblical teaching of salvation. God has graciously given us his spiritual life which we experience as we respond to him in repentance and faith.
We declare with the author of Hebrews (2:3), "How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?"
Baptist Faith & Message, Article 4b
by Bruce Ware
Senior Associate Dean, School of Theology;
Professor of Christian Theology
One of the most shocking, morally outrageous and utterly preposterous statements in the Bible occurs in Romans 4:5. Here, Paul instructs his readers that God, the possessor of infinite righteousness and the standard bearer of perfect justice, actually "justifies the ungodly."
What! How can God justify (i.e., declare righteous) the ungodly (i.e., those who by nature, thought, word and deed are thoroughly unrighteous)?
As it stands, this phrase seems to represent a travesty of justice at the highest possible level. Allowing Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot to stand before a court of international justice and be declared fully and totally innocent in the face of genocide and despicable war crimes would pale in comparison to the horrid betrayal of justice indicated by this phrase - perpetrated by none less than God the
And the Baptist Faith and Message article on justification urges readers to embrace, not deny, this same apparent infinite injustice, when it affirms that "justification" is God's "full acquittal" of "sinners."
We realize on pondering this claim that while we might earlier have thought the "problem of evil" to be the major theological difficulty facing Christian theology, in fact the "problem of acquittal" threatens to bring the holiness, righteousness, justice and very moral nature of God and his ways cascading down the perilous cliffs of moral dissolution and anarchy.
But herein lies the gospel! While it would be entirely just for God to justify the righteous (of which, however, there is none - Rom 3:23), or to condemn the ungodly (which we all, without exception, deserve - Rom 6:23a; Gal 3:10); in fact God has designed the means by which he can legally, morally and righteously justify the ungodly.
But our understanding of God's uncompromising holiness and our own moral sensibilities require us to ask, "On what basis can he do this?" The Bible and this article of faith give three facets of this answer.
First, the ground of sinners' justification is the "redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24), or as our article puts it, God justifies "upon principles of His righteousness." Romans 3:25-26 explains how this can be. In the shed blood of Christ, God "demonstrated His righteousness" because in his purposes he had passed over all sin previously committed.
But since God had passed over them, not judged them, he now in Christ satisfies his just demands against our sin by judging our sin in and through the substitutionary death of Christ. God, then, is just to justify sinners insofar as their sin is fully judged and paid for in his Son.
Second, the condition of sinners' justification is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Since the sinner's offense (sin) against God requires an infinite payment to an infinitely holy God, no amount of human works could ever satisfy God's demands against us.
Salvation by works is laughable in light of the infinite weight of our guilt and the infinite payment required to remove it.
But, since God in his purposes has sent his Son to take the sinner's place and pay the sinner's penalty, God now requires only that the sinner put faith in Christ to receive the benefits of Christ's payment, credited to him as righteousness (i.e., justification).
God, then, is just to justify sinners as they believe in Christ alone for their salvation, forsaking any pretense to works righteousness and turning from their sin as they flee gladly to Christ.
Third, the dual motivation of sinners' justification is God's abundant grace toward sinners and God's longing to bring glory to his name through their salvation.
The sobering truth is this: God could be just, and only just, by requiring all sinners to pay the penalty of their own sin. If so, eternal, never-ending, conscious, despairing torment would rightly be meted out to all without exception and with no appeal nor basis for complaint.
But, Romans 3:26 tells us that God sought to be "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." That is, God chose to be just, but he chose a path of justice by which he would also be gracious, declaring us righteous by faith in Christ and his substitutionary death on our behalf.
Such grace yields endless glory to God. ("Where is the boasting?" Paul continues in Rom 3:27.) And such grace yields endless goodness to acquitted sinners.
Our goodness, God's grace and God's glory are inextricably tied together in this marvelously wise, just and merciful plan of salvation. Praise be to God alone!
Baptist Faith & Message, Article 4c
by Stephen Wellum
Assistant Professor of Christian Theology
I am sure that many of us have played word-association games. A person throws out a word to you, and you respond by stating the first word that pops into your head. The purpose of such a game is not only to generate a lot of laughter but also to tell us something about the person who responds. Without giving that person much time for reflection, one's quick response may divulge a considerable amount of information about that person as to who they truly are.
If we were to play such a game with Christians and the word "sanctification" was the word thrown out for our immediate response, I wonder what our reply would be? In fact, I have done this on a number of occasions in various church settings and, sadly, some of the responses that I have received were often very negative in outlook.
For some, "sanctification" was associated with abstaining from certain kinds of behavior or practices. For others, especially young people, it was associated with a lack of enjoyment or fun. But this is certainly a misguided and distorted notion of sanctification.
Biblically speaking, sanctification is hardly a negative thing. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Sanctification, at its heart, not only means that we are "set apart" from sin and the disastrous results that it brings, but sanctification also entails that we are "set apart" and "consecrated" unto the Lord - a very positive action indeed!
It is hard to conceive of a greater privilege we enjoy as Christians than the reality of being united to our Lord Jesus Christ by faith, and as justified believers, being renewed and conformed to the likeness and image of our glorious Redeemer (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:9-10).
In fact, the wonder of salvation and, in particular, sanctification must be viewed from the whole story line of Scripture. We, who were made in God's image to glorify and enjoy him forever, defaced that image in the Fall.
But Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory and the last Adam, rescued us from our helpless estate by his own representative and substitutionary work for us. And as a result, we are no longer under the headship of Adam and the power of sin and death; but instead, by grace we have been transferred into the kingdom of God's own dear Son, set apart as holy unto the Lord (Rom 5:12-6:23; Col 1:13-14; 1 Pet 1:15-16). What an incredible privilege indeed!
When does sanctification begin? When does it end? The Baptist Faith and Message correctly notes that it begins in regeneration. In regeneration, God brings about new life in us.
We who were dead in our sins, Scripture states, were made alive, in Christ, by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in us (Eph 2:1-10). And as a result of this new life in Christ, we begin actively, empowered by the Spirit of God, to live a new life unto God "toward moral and spiritual maturity" such that, as the BF&M reminds us, "growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life."
This is not to say that this side of glory sin and its effects on us will be totally eradicated. As certain as our break with sin and death has been in Christ, we still bring with us many of the impulses, habits and tendencies of the old life.
Ultimately it is not until glory that the sanctification process finally comes to an end. For it is only then that we will be severed completely from all contact with the Adamic dominion.
But until then, we continue to press on with an active dependence upon the Lord (Phil 2:12-13). We continue to grow in grace, being ever conformed to the image of our Redeemer and looking with eager anticipation for that blessed appearing of our Lord when "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
In this sense, then, sanctification, if rightly understood, has a threefold meaning to it: a present possession by virtue of our union with our Lord Jesus Christ, a progressive life-long process of God-dependent effort on our part and a future anticipated completion which will result in our glorification.
How, then, do we view sanctification? In scriptural terms, sanctification is a glorious and necessary part of God's great work of salvation for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. May we not think lightly of it, but instead, in active dependence upon the Lord, pursue holiness and godliness, ever being transformed into the likeness of our great Lord and Savior. What a privilege! What a calling!
Baptist Faith & Message, Article 4d
by Hal Ostrander
Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Christian Theology, Boyce College
Often a doctrine related to God's overall redemptive plan in Christ receives relatively little attention. The doctrine of glorification seems to reflect this scenario.
Even the Baptist Faith and Message itself devotes only a scant 17 words to its explanation. With these few words, however, our predecessors in faith knowingly submitted for our benefit a doctrine replete with applications still to be explored by most.
For those of us who lived in Texas when the oil boom went bust back in the 80s, the perfect sermon illustration - the "divine pipeline" of Romans 8:28-30 - often welled up from the pulpits of West Texas.
This particular text essentially told us, then as now, that it is impossible for those foreknown, predestined, called and justified by Christ's person and his work to ever slip out of the life-flowing pipeline without also finally being glorified. Once having entered the costly pipeline of salvation, Christians should look forward to when they will not only be raised from the dead ultimately but will be raised to everlasting life at Christ's return as well.
The Apostle Paul describes the process: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor 15:52-53).
Here the devil can hardly be said to be in the details, but rather a God-ordained justification/sanctification/glorification procedure is seen as working itself out for the sake of God's people. But what exactly are the details?
It is difficult to argue with Wayne Grudem's assessment of glorification as "… the final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunites them with their souls, and changes the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own."
From this we gather that the doctrine of glorification ultimately has to do not only with the perfecting of our material bodies but with the immaterial aspects of our having been made in God's image as well.
Whatever erroneous conclusions may be drawn by folks who believe that salvation applies only to the soul, Grudem's definition reveals here a more holistic approach to the matter.
While we must grant that it is proper to take care of our physical selves, by the same token our efforts will prove in the end to be a losing battle.
The Apostle Paul speaks to the issue by saying "our outer man is decaying" (2 Cor 4:16). Physical death comes to everyone as a result of sin's entrance into the world.
But for Christians, death is not the only thing waiting for us at life's end, but the Lord Jesus Christ himself awaits us as well.
An obvious two-fold aspect is at work here: either we are going to die and immediately be received into his presence, or we will be among the few who will graciously be allowed to welcome him at his return.
Hence, Christ alone is our true hope (Phil 3:20-21). From this it is easy to conclude that not only will we someday be with the Lord of the universe himself, but we are also going to be just like him (Matt 13:43).
By way of further definition, glorification is the final phase of our total redemption as believers in Christ. Nevertheless, for the moment we live between the first and second comings of Christ.
There is a sense, then, in which we are between "the already and the not yet." While there is no denying the fact that Christ's person and his work on the cross have conquered both death and sin on our behalf, sin has yet to be eradicated entirely from the existent earthly economy.
We are justified in Christ, true, but we are still being conformed to his image by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. We still battle remaining sin. Even though the power of sin has been broken, we still suffer at the hands of the world.
The greater truth operating here is that God has initiated a good work in us - one which will at last be brought to fruition when Jesus returns. Only then will we finally be perfected in holiness. Our battle with sin will end, and we will be entirely conformed to the image of Jesus Christ himself. We will have put on the imperishable and been clothed with immortality.
And the glory that will someday be revealed in us will so overwhelmingly outweigh our present sufferings that no real comparison should be attempted (Rom 8:18-19).
When Jesus comes back, what will actually take place with regard to Christians who have died? "Behold, I tell you a mystery," Paul says, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor 15:51-52).
This incredible transformation only takes place at Christ's Second Coming. All living Christians will also be suddenly and supernaturally changed physically, undergoing a transformation so profound that the term "resurrection body" only hints at what will actually take place at the time.
Scripture indicates that Jesus was raised in the same body in which he died, and apparently this will also be the case with Christians. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, Paul provides us with an analogy that seems to compare our glorified, resurrection bodies to the relationship existing between a seed and its plant; it is the same organism but naturally different.
John also tells us that when Christ returns "we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2). This is a part of the "good news" that we as Christians often neglect - that our glorified bodies will be like Christ's, impervious to death and sickness, with our souls filled to the brim with righteousness and truth.
The grief and burdens that life can bring will trouble us no longer. Even the very presence of sin will be eradicated, and the sanctification process will be completed.
If there is one overarching application that illustrates the doctrine of glorification's vitality, it would be this: Jesus is coming back to receive us to himself and to change us gloriously.
This truth should serve to strengthen and inspire us even as it has already throughout the history of God's people, many of whom have willingly suffered for Christ's sake as a result of the spiritual fortitude the doctrine produces.
This is not to say that other applications should not be attempted. For example, the doctrine of glorification should also promote holiness of life. If we continually keep in mind the idea that we will soon be like him, we will be motivated beyond the norm to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12), to cooperate with him in the sanctification.
If we continually place before us the idea that glorification is the logical conclusion to the drama of God's redemptive plan, a renewed spiritual pilgrimage will result.
In summary, Christians have been regenerated and justified by grace through faith. But on this side of the grave, we will never be thoroughly free from either the taint of sin's effects or the creeping deterioration of our mortal bodies. Christ's salvation, however, is holistic in nature, and in him all things are truly made new.
Through a providentially wrought sanctification, we become, step by pain-staking step, in our experience what we already are judicially. At long last, when we are clothed with a glorified body, our justification and sanctification will merge as one.
From the very first moment of being in Christ's presence, we will never have occasion to sin again. Every aspect of our God-imaged essence will have been redeemed and glorified, and we will enjoy God's presence and each other's company for all eternity in a physically and morally perfect environment.
As for God's redeemed people as a whole, the glorified state will entail nothing less than a perfect deliverance from everything once entailed by the curse of Genesis 3 itself.
As for our individually resurrected, glorified bodies, they will never be corrupted. As for our individually glorified souls, they will love God wholeheartedly without reserve or qualification.
This is where Christians desire to be; but if remaining on in mortal flesh is necessary, it will mean fruitful labor for us as servants of Christ. Either way, God's people win out in the glorified end.