In the film Hotel Rwanda, the main character Paul (played by Don Cheadle) has a disheartening conversation with the news reporter Jack (played by Joaquin Phoenix). Having seen that Jack has shot some footage of the Rwandan conflict, Paul is grateful because he believes it will cause the world to send aid to help their plight. Jack, however, knows that even when the rest of the world sees this footage, aid still will not be sent. In response to Paul’s disbelief, Jack says this:
I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.
How could Jack confidently say this? Why wouldn’t the rest of the world be shocked and convicted into sending aid? Jack knows that the world has become so familiar with atrocities and violence that we’ve become numb to it. It doesn’t shock or startle us anymore, so we aren’t moved to do anything about it.
In the Gospel of Luke, the good doctor records for us the severity of Christ’s anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. Contemplating his coming death and the weight of the sins of the world, Luke says this about Jesus:
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. – Luke 22:44
Here is Jesus, preparing to go to the cross to bear the punishment for our sin and tresspasses against God, and he begins to sweat blood (a real medical condition known as hematidrosis or hemohidrosis). Sin is not just some academic idea or trivial thing to the God-man, but it is a very real and incredibly burdensome reality that he himself would bear the penalty for. Christ truly understands – as James would later say – that sin brings death (James 1:15).
On a good day – which is rare – I might shed a single tear in prayer over the weight of my sin. But most days I walk around with some general idea that my sin is grievous, but it doesn’t shock or startle me in the way that it should. Why? Because I’ve become too familiar with it. I sleep and roll around like a pig in my sin every day. My familiarity with my sin leads me to apathy; Christ’s familiarity with righteousness and holiness led him to agony and despair when he contemplated the weight and burden of my sin.
So how should I respond? True power to change can only come in a close proximity to and deep familiarity with the cross of Christ. When I draw near to the cross and remain there, my familiarity with sin decreases and my familiarity with the righteousness of Christ increases. This produces a Godly sorrow that leads to deep conviction, repentance of sins and a love for the Savior.
Lord Jesus, forgive me for my apathy and familiarity with my sin. How much of a wretch am I that I can walk around daily with the weight of my sin and barely pay it any mind, while your holiness causes you to collapse in agony at the very thought of bearing my sin? As the Puritans once prayed, so too do I now pray, “Take me to the cross, and leave me there.”
The following is an excerpt of my favorite scene from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia book series. This excerpt comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 7. One of the characters of this story, Eustace, has just been turned into a dragon. Nobody likes Eustace, for he was a vain, cruel and selfish little boy who was “accidentally” sucked into Narnia with two of the main characters, Lucy and Edmund. One day Eustace had went out on his own and out of his greed he stole a dragon’s treasure. What Eustace did not know was that in Narnia, stealing a dragon’s treasure turn’s you yourself into a dragon!
This terrible transformation causes a change in heart in Eustace, for he now realizes how much he hates being a dragon and how nasty he used to be to his friends. Eustace now just wants to be a good help and friend to those dearest to him, even if he is a dragon.
But then, the oddest of things happens…Eustace encounters a certain lion and recounts the story to Edmund…
Eustace: “Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moon-light where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easy enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it – if you can understand. Well, it came close to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”
Edmund: “You mean it spoke?”
“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden – trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.”
“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells – like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.”
“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.”
“But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.”
“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.”
“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke- ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.”
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it because perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them”
“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – “
“Dressed you. With his paws?”
“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
“No. It wasn’t a dream,” said Edmund.
“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been – well, un-dragoned, for another.”
“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.
“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.
I don’t generally publish my schoolwork, but when I do it is when I have made sure it is sound and that it will be beneficial to the church. This paper is my most recent work wherein I attempt to recapture God’s heart in Biblical salvation, and articulate why I understand its loss in meaning in our preaching is at the heart of our problems in evangelicalism today.
For the PDF version, click here.
God’s Word does not and cannot change. God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and therefore his Word and promises to us also remain the same. If this is the case, then the Church must be made to see when and where she begins to use God’s Word apart from the way it was originally intended. Like the serpent in Genesis 3, these distortions of Biblical truth are one part lie and one part truth.
One such crafty abuse of language is in the Church’s use of the word salvation. The Greek word from which salvation is derived (σωτηρία) and all its variants shows up forty-five times in the New Testament alone. It is right then for us to see that the Biblical authors had a central and high view of σωτηρία, and so too should we. Unfortunately the common understanding of salvation in the Protestant Evangelical Church has fallen far from its intended purpose.
Today, the concept of salvation and justification are often used interchangeably. Not only is this dangerous and deceptive, but it is dishonoring to the Lord. Such misunderstandings of salvation have led to a shallow Church, made up of shallow Christians, who are expanded by a half-hearted and shallow gospel. Christians today are confused about what exactly is to be found in our shared salvation. The only correction to this grievous error is in reclaiming the intended meaning of σωτηρία; as the Biblical authors used it, as the Reformers understood it, and how it should be understood in our proclamation today.
To understand the intent of salvation, the use of σωτηρία will be studied in its Biblical usage and context. But first, the doctrine of union with Christ in relation to the ordo salutis must first be briefly examined and discussed in order to set the proper framework for understanding.
Understanding Union with Christ
By what do theologians mean when they refer to the doctrine of union with Christ? Simply put, union with Christ refers to the language of “in Christ,” which is common throughout the New Testament. Kevin DeYoung rightly notes that this sort of language is found 216 times in the New Testament. In regards to the relationship between salvation and Union with Christ, John Murray says this, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation…Indeed the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ and salvation has in view the realization of other phases of Union with Christ.” Murray here has in mind the language of the Apostle in his letter to the Ephesians, where Paul says that God the father has blessed us “in Christ, with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). 
The Reformers too understood that our salvation – all spiritual blessings – are only found within our union with Christ. John Calvin says it this way,
“…that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly…we are said to be engrafted into him and clothed with him.”
Citing Romans 6:5, Calvin rightly understands the direct connection between the salvation of the human race and the blessings which Christ received from the Father. Indeed, we have been “united with him in a death like his” and “united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). Therefore, we must understand that the totality of spiritual blessings which we receive are our salvation, and can only be found in our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Herman Bavinck accurately sums up this concept,
“All the benefits of grace therefore lie prepared and ready for the church in the person of Christ…Atonement, forgiveness, justification, the mystical union, sanctification, glorification, and so on – they do not come into being after and as a result of faith but are objectively, actively present in Christ.”
Understanding then the relationship between our salvation and union with Christ, the various facets of salvation will now be broken down and further evidenced by the Holy Scriptures.
Salvation and the Ordo Salutis
Theologians have commonly understood the various elements of our application of salvation as the ordo salutis, the order of salvation. Such an idea is helpful for us in understanding how God works in and through the believer. Each one of these acts and processes is distinct and cannot be confused or used in place of one another. There is some disagreement, both semantically and theologically, into what exactly constitutes these various categories. Anglican pastor and theologian John Stott names pieces such as justification, redemption, recreation, regeneration, and sanctification. In a similar but slightly different list, John Murray lists the following facets: calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification.
It is with Murrays naming standard that we will move forward, particularly because it is a more precise breakdown which is helpful in identifying the facets of salvation which pertain to our present and future reality. The error being addressed herein is the error of equating in our gospel proclamation the concepts of salvation and any of its corresponding pieces, particularly justification. Because this is a present proclamation and a present error, my concern is primarily with the four aspects of salvation which have present or future consequence: justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. In one sense it can be said that all of Murray’s facets have present and future consequence, but for the concern of brevity and precision, the preceding four will only be discussed.
What follows is the Biblical evidence to show that the New Testament authors had these four categories in mind in their use of σωτηρία, beginning with the concept of justification.
Salvation and Justification
Hardly anyone today would disagree with the idea that justification is an aspect of our salvation. Indeed, the most common error in Protestant/Evangelical churches today (in regards to our salvation) is in the equating of these two terms. What makes this error so dangerous is that it contains a partial truth; for one aspect of our salvation is found in justification. However, we must not mix the two, and as John Stott clearly says, “It would be entirely mistaken to make the equation ‘salvation equals justification.’ Salvation is the comprehensive word, but it has many facets that are illustrated by different pictures, of which justification is only one.” Biblical evidence for justification in our salvation hardly needs to be defended, but for comprehensiveness one example will be briefly shown.
The word for justified/justification comes from the word δίκαιος/ δικαιοσύνηand in simple terms means “the quality, state, or practice of judicial responsibility.” John Murray accurately defines justification for our purposes as “to declare to be righteous – it is a judgment based upon the recognition that a person stands in a right relation to law or justice.”  Justification is often mentioned separately from σωτηρία (such as in Rom. 2:13, 3:28, 5:1, Tit. 3:7), but can also be mentioned in close proximity to σωτηρία as well. One such example is in Romans 10:10, where the Apostle Paul says this, “For with the heart one believes and is justified (δικαιοσύνη), and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (σωτηρίαν).”
The two terms here are used in such close proximity and in such a way that one would be highly susceptible to switching either around, or using the two interchangeably. As such, if this were the only verse in the New Testament using σωτηρία, then it would be accurate to conclude that justification and salvation could indeed be equated! Theologian James Dunn notes this when he says that there is a “near equivalence” between justification and salvation in this context.
John Calvin too noted the close link in this passage between justification and salvation. In his commentary on Romans he says,
“And surely, he who is justified has already obtained salvation: hence he no less believes with the heart unto salvation, than with the mouth makes a confession. You see that he has made this distinction,—that he refers the cause of justification to faith,—and that he then shows what is necessary to complete salvation.”
What Calvin is getting at here is that justification by faith is an entry point to the realization of our salvation; when one believes in his heart he is justified and salvation is applied to him, what follows is his public confession in salvation.
This idea of the application of our salvation is important for us to remember in our gospel proclamation today. For salvation does not stop at our justification, but is only the beginning of its application manifesting in our lives. What follows next in this application is our divine adoption by a gracious and loving Father.
Salvation and Adoption
Author and Scholar Dr. John Frame says “there is nobody who is justified but not adopted.” In our union with Christ, justification and adoption are necessarily linked. Adoption is the “height of our privilege as God’s people.” Unfortunately, as Frame also observes, “So the doctrine of adoption deserves far more emphasis in our preaching and theological work than it has usually received.”
So what does the term adoption mean in its theological context? Perhaps Romans 8:17 is the best descriptor of this term, “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Our adoption is our co-inheritance with Christ. In our adoption as sons and daughters – as heirs – everything that is Christ’s becomes ours. How undeserving we are of such a gift, to be called sons and daughters despite our wickedness and rebellion.
Adoption in particular reminds us that in our salvation we are brought into a covenant family. While we were formerly separated from God and walking in darkness (1 John 2:8-9), we are now “called children of God, and so we are” (1 John 3:1). As we become sons and daughters in our vertical relationship to God, we become brothers and sisters in our horizontal relationship to one another. Among the many gifts the Holy Spirit gives to us, they are deemed to be used in the edification, building up, and taking care of God’s family.
How then is salvation spoken of in relation to our adoption as sons and daughters? In perhaps the longest sentence in the history of the world’s literature (Eph. 1:3-14, in the Greek of course), the Apostle Paul touches on the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. Previously discussed was the idea of our union with Christ, specifically mentioned in verses 3 and 4. Paul continues in this passage to say that God has “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (vs. 5), and soon follows by saying that in the belief in the gospel of our σωτηρία God seals us with the promised Holy Spirit (vs. 13).
One could show how verses 1:3 and 1:13-14 form somewhat of an inclusio in this massive sentence; how between verses 3 and 13-14 we see the result of our union with Christ and the appropriation of every spiritual blessing. However, to see the close link between salvation and adoption in this passage one only needs to turn to another Pauline text to see this close link. As Paul says in this passage in Ephesians, we have been predestined for adoption and upon believing in the gospel of our salvation we are sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit. This logic is further explained in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians when he says,
“…to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Gal. 4:5-6).”
If we connect the dots between these two passages, we see that it is the sealing of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that causes us to cry out “Abba! Father,” and it is only upon the belief in Christ for our salvation that this sealing happens.
Herman Ridderbos understood this link between the Holy Spirit and our adoption well. He writes, “When God reveals his Son, the adoption of sons also takes effect (Gal. 4:4), and it is the Spirit of God’s Son whom God has sent forth into our hearts, who cries: ‘Abba, Father!’ (v.6). It is sonship ‘in Christ Jesus’…given with him in his advent; as the eschatological bringer of salvation…There is in the Pauline pronouncements a peculiar relationship of reciprocity between the adoption of sons and the gift of the Spirit.”
Here Ridderbos is saying that because Christ is the bringer of salvation, and because it is Christ’s Spirit that dwells within us crying out to our heavenly father, we therefore become co-heirs and sons and daughters of God.
Not only can adoption not be separated from justification, but it cannot be separated from salvation either. What’s more, the blessings of salvation found in Christ do not end here. As Frame continues from his quote above, “there is nobody who is justified but not adopted, or adopted but not sanctified.” It is this next facet of salvation – our sanctification – that will now be discussed.
Salvation and Sanctification
It must be said that sanctification is a definite aspect of our salvation; there is no way to get around the fact that those who are justified are and will be sanctified. Indeed, in our salvation we will by God’s grace be conformed into the image of his Son. There is perhaps no better passage in scripture to emphasize this fact than in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, specifically in verses 2:12-13.
This passage, beginning with the words “Ὥστε, ἀγαπητοί μου,” (Therefore, my beloved), tells us that Paul is going to draw a conclusion from his preceding argument. In this particular context, Paul has just spent some forty-one verses giving us examples of joy and obedience during suffering. Beginning with his own example and moving on to the far exceeding superiority of the sufferings of Christ on the cross (vs. 2:1-11), Paul issues a command to his audience. The conclusion of Paul’s imperative command is powerful, “μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε” (with fear and trembling work out your own salvation).
What does it mean for Paul to say “work out your own salvation”? Could Paul really be insisting that our salvation is merited by our own works? In addition to being inconsistent with the entirety of Paul’s writings, thinking this imperative means we earn salvation for ourselves would also be inconsistent with the entirety of Philippians. Paul says later in the letter “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9). What we begin to see in this imperative, and will continue to see in the remainder of the letter, is that it is very important for Paul to communicate this idea: that because we have grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we must continue to devote ourselves to obedience and strive to persevere until the end.
Paul continues to explain this idea of grace-fueled obedience in verse 13. Continuing with an explanatory clause he says, “θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν” (For God is the one working in you). The primary observation to be made from this segment should be that Paul chose to put θεὸςat the beginning of the sentence, rather than ὁ ἐνεργῶν. As the latter is the subject (since it has the article), we would normally expect the subject to precede ἐστιν. It should be noted thusly that Paul chose to put θεὸςat the beginning of the sentence to provide weight, “For GOD is the one working in you”. This emphasis on God being the one working in the believer would indeed back up the idea that it is not works-based salvation Paul is speaking of in these passages, rather obedience to God who is already working in us.
So we see how these two verses show how sanctification and σωτηρία are necessarily linked; because salvation is of the Lord, it is God who continues to work in us in our salvation through the means of our sanctification. Reformed thought today has done an excellent job in communicating this very idea. Leon Morris explains it this way,
“Salvation is not only a privilege, but also a responsibility, specifically a responsibility to God. In discussing service we should emphasize what God does in the servant rather than what the servant does in serving. Thus God works in His people.”
Speaking of the application of our benefits in Christ (σωτηρία), Bavinck summarizes: “The application of Christ’s benefits, accordingly, has to consist in justification but also in sanctification.”
Reformed thinkers have often held that our sanctification does not speak of what we have been saved from, but what we have been saved to. Our life as Christians is a life of repentance, obedience and being molded by God into the image of his Son. Praise God that he does not leave us where he found us! The final reality of what we have been saved to will someday result in our glorification, which is the final aspect of our salvation left to be discussed in this paper.
Salvation and Glorification
There is a certain tension that exists in our salvation. For Christ has once and for all died and given those who trust in him their salvation through union with him; yet, at the same time, our salvation is yet to be attained by those who wait for Christ’s return. This eschatological tension is often referred to as the “already, but not yet.” This tension will not be relieved until Christ’s return and all saints of history past, present and future are glorified. Thus it is certain that salvation and glorification are closely linked together.
The Apostle Peter acknowledges this tension in his first epistle when he says Christians “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Our salvation already is secured and guarded by our faith, but it is not yet fully revealed to us. Leon Morris acknowledges this tension in Peter’s epistle when he says “Salvation is a present possession, certainly. But it is also something that will be ‘revealed in the last time.’”
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews also recognizes the “not yet” glorification aspect of our salvation. Multiple times in this letter σωτηρία is spoken of in relation to our glorification, such as verse 1:14 (Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit σωτηρίαν?), 5:9 (And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal σωτηρίας to all who obey him) and 9:28 (so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to σωτηρίαν those who are eagerly waiting for him). The author of Hebrews had a clear understanding that in our salvation we eagerly look forward to it being perfected upon the return of Christ.
Glorification then is the final aspect of our salvation and is the necessary conclusion of what God planned in eternity past. It is the conclusion of what God begins in the present in our justification. As Leonhard Goppelt says, “Hence salvation appeared as that end toward which expectation looked in the final judgment…based on justification in the present.” Glorification caps off these four facets of salvation and so the importance of preaching and teaching this full understanding of salvation begins to take place. To measure what happens when salvation is misunderstood, I will now examine the teaching and preaching of those who would claim otherwise.
It has been shown, albeit briefly, how the four aspects of salvation – justification, adoption, sanctification and our future glorification – are necessarily linked and understood as aspects of our σωτηρία. It has also been shown how the Biblical authors used and Reformed theologians understand this salvation in relation to these four facets. The unfortunate reality however is that not everyone understands σωτηρία this way in their preaching and teaching today.
In his book Basic Theology, theologian Charles Ryrie begs the question, “Is commitment of life a necessary part of faith and thus of the Gospel?” Ryrie would answer in the negative, and cites a few examples to back up such a claim. Ryrie states that the Bible “furnishes some clear examples of people who were saved but who lacked commitment.” One of his chief arguments is the account of the Samaritan woman (John 4:10). Ryrie explains this account as follows,
“He did not require the Samaritan woman to set her sinful life in order, or even be willing to, so that she could be saved. He did not set out before her what would be expected by way of changes in her life if she believed. He simply said she needed to know who He is and to ask for the gift of eternal life.”
His conclusion to this so-called lack of commitment found by Biblical characters is that proclaiming a gospel where commitment to Christ is required “fails to distinguish salvation from discipleship and makes requirements for discipleship prerequisites for salvation.”
What Ryrie fails to take into account however is the radical, life-changing experience that an encounter with Christ contains. We do not read much more about this Samaritan woman, but what we do read of is a radically changed life, one where she immediately responds in obedience and tells others about Christ. While it is true that Jesus did not explain to her the details of a committed Christian life at her conversion, we can rightly assume that the Holy Spirit issued her a similar charge as Christ did to the woman caught in adultery, “…from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
In response to Ryrie’s positioned question it must be asked, “How could commitment of life not be a necessary part of faith and thus of the gospel?” If, as we have seen, salvation necessarily contains our justification, adoption, sanctification and eventual glorification, at what point could there be a total lack of commitment? Can one be adopted without being committed to the family of God? Can one be sanctified without a commitment to obedience? If our adoption and sanctification are tied to our justification, how could we be glorified without a commitment to either? This is not to say that the Christian does not still sin – of course we do! But to suggest that it is possible to not only sin but also be uncommitted to the Christian life and our salvation is completely unwarranted.
This type of “free grace” theology is not only antithetical to the gospel proclamation, but it is harmful to the people of God. There is no power for the conviction of sins and victory in the Christian life when the gospel is reduced to a “believe, but don’t worry about commitment” message. This message manifests and sneaks itself into the western church in a variety of ways. In a time where rock star pastors take the stage without any formal theological training, where a pastor’s character is measured by how likeable he is and not how mature he is in the faith, and where the church is fed a half-hearted gospel of comfort to the American dream, just about anything flies as “orthodox” today. Worse than that, the result of declaring poor or false teaching and calling people to a Biblical faith only results in attacks and chastisement from those we seek to love and help grow in their relationship with Christ. I am convinced that at the root of these problems is a fundamental misunderstanding of what exactly salvation is. When a student begins an algebra problem with the wrong equation, no matter how earnest she is she will always arrive at the wrong answer. Similarly, if we misunderstand or confuse salvation our preaching and teaching of it will always end in the wrong place.
One such example of this is in respected mega-church pastor [name removed] preaching on the meaning of being a Christian. In a recent sermon given on [date removed], Pastor [name removed] argued that it is possible to be a believer in the Christian life but not a disciple. He argued this is not only what he believes is right, but that it’s not an essential point of orthodoxy. He argues this from Luke 14:26, when Jesus says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Pastor [name removed]’s conclusion is that there are two levels to Christianity – the entry level, and the next level: “He was calling on the crowd to take their commitment to him to a higher level, the next level, a level of discipleship.” On matters of commitment and obedience in the Christian life, [name removed] goes on to say this: “salvation and discipleship are different. Salvation is for everyone. Discipleship is for those who are supremely committed. Salvation is based on coming to the cross, discipleship is based on carrying the cross.” [name removed] goes on to elaborate on his views of salvation,
“Salvation is based on Christ dying for us. Discipleship is based on us being willing to die for Christ. Salvation is a free gift. But based on what Jesus says here in Luke 14, discipleship has a cost. Everybody see that. And let’s look at it from some straight up Bible verses. Salvation, what’s the Bible say? Ephesians 2:8 for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that salvation is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Titus, 3:5, God saved us not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his Mercy. Salvation, the Bible says, involves no human works, no human effort, no human activity, no cost to us.”
Pastor [name removed] defines a disciple as someone who strives “to be Christ-like in every part of his or her life. It’s a higher level of commitment. And a deeper commitment than just believing what Jesus did for us on the cross for salvation.”
So it is that Charles Ryrie’s propagated “free grace” theology is revealed in Pastor [name removed]’s teaching; our salvation is a one and done experience of simply believing in Christ, but if you want to be some form of a “Super Christian,” then you live to a higher form of obedience. After all, as [name removed] says, salvation involves nothing on our part at no cost to us. But is this not completely different than the use of salvation in the New Testament that we have previously seen? Is not salvation a complete reorientation and renewal of our lives, beginning in the present with our justification, progressing through adoption and sanctification, and eventually ending in our glorification? We have seen how God works in our lives in our justification, works out our sanctification, seals us in adoption, and will come again to perfect our salvation. What Pastor [name removed] has done instead is he has made a cheap justification equivalent to salvation, and by doing so he has completely missed the point.
Yes, justification comes at no cost to us and based on no merit on our part. But the life of salvation is one of working (sanctification) and service to our adopted family, because it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13)! It pleases God to work out our salvation in us, so how could it be possible for us to preach and teach anything less? The end result of [name removed] and Ryrie’s teaching is that our obedience becomes based on human will-power rather than the working of God. When this will-power becomes the motivation for obedience, you are no longer dealing with the gospel and salvation but inefficient moralism.
I imagine a young man sitting in Pastor [name removed]’s congregation during this referenced sermon who is feeling a deep, nagging feeling that his addiction to pornography is not pleasing to the Lord. I imagine a wife who has begun a workplace relationship that is bordering on adultery. I picture a husband who is abusive toward his wife and has been neglecting his kids for his work. Where is the power for the conviction of sins in a salvation that requires no effort, no will, and no cost?
Christ himself told us that there would be weeds among the harvest (Matt. 13:24-30) and goats among the sheep (Matt. 25:32). However, this eschatological reality should not come to fruition due to lack of faithful teaching on the church’s part! Church leaders have a necessary obligation to preaching the truth (Jude 3), and to handle the Word of God with care (2 Timothy 3:2). Christ will hold teachers of the Word to a higher standard (James 3:1). We owe Christ and his Church truthful, delicate and faithful exposition of God’s Word.
So it is that the Church, particularly the Church of the West, is at a crossroads. We are at a time where we must seriously measure whether it is worth continuing to attract big crowds and simply hope and pray that God will save people in spite of bad teaching, or whether we must seriously confront the errors in our ways. Theologian David F. Wells accounts for the problem this way, “Today, in the evangelical church, there are apparently many who have made decisions for Christ, who claim to be reborn, but who give little evidence of their claimed relationship to Christ. Something is seriously amiss if, as George Barna has reported, only 9 percent of those claiming rebirth have even a minimal knowledge of the Bible, if there are no discernible differences in how they live as compared with secularists, and if the born-again are dropping out of church attendance in droves. If these numbers are anywhere close to being accurate, then the gospel has become a stand-alone thing, and many who say they have embraced it have never entered the Christian life to which it was supposed to be the entry point.”
Wells nails the problem right on the head, and summarizes exactly what we’ve seen in understanding Biblical salvation. When sanctification in salvation is misunderstood, then many professing Christians will have no commitment to the Word of God or a living, active obedience. When this same salvation is misunderstood in regards to our adoption, then of course professing Christians will have no obligation to the family of God. I contend with Wells that this is a problem that we cannot allow to continue to fester. As he states, if we continue to preach this kind of Gospel, then “we have completely misunderstood what it (Christian faith) is all about.”
When a package is delivered from one location to another, it is not simply a one-step process. It does not just appear at its destination. The process of delivery is a multi-step process wherein a package is purchased, picked up, changes ownership, and eventually arrives at its destination. Similarly our σωτηρία – our salvation and deliverance – must be understood as more than a one-and-done deal. It is of utmost importance that the Church reclaims the proper understanding of σωτηρία as the Biblical authors used it and as the Reformers understood it. We must teach and proclaim all of the benefits of this great salvation, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism (32) explains, “They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.” Teachers of the Word cannot separate any of these benefits of salvation from one another, for they are all found and bound together in the Christian’s union with Christ.
—– Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, second ed. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 41. Richard Gaffin notes that the primary language for union with Christ is found in the “in Christ/the Lord” language, with other variations such as “with,” “for us” and “for our sins.”  Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 95.  John Murray, Redemption, Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975, 1955), 161.  In another of his writings, Murray notes that it would be “exegetically impossible” to separate the scope of spiritual blessings from those blessing mentioned in the immediate succeeding context – adoption (vs. 5), redemption and forgiveness of sins (vs. 7), the knowledge of the myster of God’s will (vs. 9) the inheritance (vs. 11), and the seal of the Holy Spirit (vss. 13, 14). John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray: Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1937-1966, vol. 2, Select Lectures in Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 126 Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, second ed. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 45. Gaffin cites Murray as particularly helpful in understanding Union with Christ. Dr. Gaffin summarizes Murray by saying “To sum up: present union with Christ – sharing with him in all he has accomplished and now is, by virtue of his death and resurrection – is, as much as anything, at the center of Paul’s soteriology.  Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 349.  Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003- 2008, 523. In agreement with Bavinck, Kevin DeYoung says this, “Union with Christ is not a single specific blessing we receive in our salvation. Rather, it is the best phrase to describe all the blessings of salvation, whether in eternity past (election), in history (redemption), in the present (effectual calling, justification, and sanctification), or in the future (glorification).” Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 94.  John R W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, 20th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 185.  John Murray, Redemption, Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975, 1955), 80. William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 247. John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray: Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1937-1966, vol. 2, Select Lectures in Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 206.
 James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9–16, vol. 38B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 609. “The near equivalence of “righteousness” and “salvation” in this context is wholly Jewish in character, as their frequent use in parallel in the Psalms and Second Isaiah makes clear.” This is a profound insight on the part of Dunn, but its depth and implications are out of scope for the purpose of this paper.
 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA 2010), 394. John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 971.  Ibid., 980  Ibid., 977  WLC 74 is also a theologically and Biblically sound summation of the doctrine of adoption. “Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow heirs with Christ in glory.”  Herman N. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, pbk. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1997, ©1975), 199. Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, pbk. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Academie Books, 1990, ©1986), 36.  Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003- 2008, 570.  Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, pbk. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Academie Books, 1990, ©1986), 320.  Goppelt, Leonhard. Theology of the New Testament, Volume 2. Edited by Jürgen Roloff. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1981-1982, 137.  Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 391.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Citation removed, can be given if asked for.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid.  David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014), 158.  Ibid., 159
Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003- 2008
Calvin, Jean. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA, 2010.
DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.
Dunn, James D. G. Romans 9–16. Vol. 38B. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998.
Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013.
Gaffin, Richard B. By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation. second ed. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013.
Goppelt, Leonhard. Theology of the New Testament, Volume 2. Edited by Jürgen Roloff. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1981-1982.
Moo, Douglas J. Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.
Morris, Leon. New Testament Theology. pbk. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Academie Books, 1990
Murray, John. Collected Writings of John Murray: Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1937-1966. Vol. 2, Select Lectures in Systematic Theology. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977.
Murray, John. Redemption, Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975, 1955.
Ridderbos, Herman N. Paul: An Outline of His Theology. pbk. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1997, ©1975.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Basic Theology: A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999.
Stott, John R W. The Cross of Christ. 20th ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006.
Wells, David F. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014.
As the school year came to a close last year, I published a list of things that I had come to learn during my time in the introductory year of my studies. Following the pattern I’ve set for myself, here is another list from year two.
1. Being a Christ-like husband is infinitely more difficult than even the most strict and arduous of classes.
I was engaged for only a small portion of my first year. My professors often hit on the Biblical necessity for putting wives ahead of ministry and studies, for sacrificing yourself for your wife and striving to love her as Christ does the church. I naively thought this was easily doable and something I would excel at.
Enter marriage and seminary year two, where I discover that sacrificial and Christ-like love is far more than an idea in a Tim Keller book or a good exegetical preaching point from 1 Timothy. It’s hard. Really hard. Pride, envy and selfishness in marriage – sin – are a very real thing.
Despite its difficulty, marriage is so, so good. Through all of the struggles and tears God is growing both my wife and I to better understand the deep commitment that exists between Christ and his church. I am so thankful for my wife, her support, her patience and the gift of grace that marriage is which God uses to grow and sanctify us in our wilderness journey. I’d be twice the cynical and selfish goober that I am today if it wasn’t for her.
2. Nobody cares about my theology.
I don’t say this in a mean way, but at the end of the day – nobody else really cares about my theology other than my classmates and professors. Quotes from Augustine and Calvin don’t help anyone get through the struggles of life. There is hardly a person in my church who could give a lick about the theology of the Reformers and church Fathers, Greek nuances or eschatological differences. What people want and need – and this is a very good thing – is the grace of God through the sustained and faithful ministry of His Word to their souls. Grace, assurance, exhortation, the person and work of Christ and his gospel are the fruits of our labors; all of which are nourishment for our tired and weary souls. As it has been said, “Show them the Bread, not the bread factory.”
3. Nobody cares that I am in seminary.
Honestly, I think there was a time where I had a bit of an elitist mentality to seminary, as if it was somehow unique over other learning institutions. The truth is, its really not any different and it is incredibly dangerous to think anything different. Like every other masters degree programs, seminary requires hard work, sacrifice and dedication. The attendance of seminary is not something to boast in but something to be humbled by, something that creeps into the background of our lives as we instead seek to share what we have in common with our brothers and sisters – the riches of all that we share in our union with Christ.
4. Doubt and fear are paralyzing.
Theology is the remedy for doubt and fear; yet, knowing theology is not a vaccination for doubt and fear. Throughout my second year in seminary I faced many doubts and moments of paralyzing fear over my future, slowly and cripplingly putting me in a place where I forgot the promises and graces of God. It was only recently as I’ve been studying the book of Deuteronomy that my doubts and fears were cast out. I was struck by Moses’ attention to detail as he recalled the victories of the Israelites that were won because of the promise-keeping God that they served.
A remark by Pastor Ajith Fernando is what really shattered my paralyzing shell of fear and doubt. Commenting on Deuteronomy 1:28, he said this: “We must apply the implications of what we believe about God to every situation we face. Then we can conclude, ‘If God is God and I am obedient to him, he will see me through.’ That is the logic of faith. Believing God’s goodness, power and love for us helps us to be obedient.” I realized that this God of the Israelites is the same God we serve today, and I can rest assured in God’s promises and goodness to me not because of anything I do or my circumstances but because of who God is as a covenant and promise-keeping God. Truly, he is so good to us.
5. Adoption is the “height of our privilege as God’s people.” – John Frame
I can’t say enough of how much I love my church. The congregants, members, leaders and volunteers have all been such a blessing and gift of grace to me. I’d be nothing if it wasn’t for the way my brothers and sisters challenge me, sanctify me, pray for me, and love me. I am coming to really understand how, as John Calvin says, there is no sacrifice more pleasing to God that cultivating brotherly good-will. If any of you are reading this – thank you.