The Way of Salvation

by Rev. Wallace Thornton, Jr

The way of salvation begins with recognition of one’s need of a Savior. Although humans were created in the image of God, with moral choice and accountability, that image has been marred, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since “sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4), this means that sinners are “guilty before God” (Romans 3:19). Many people are indifferent to this condition because their spiritual insight has been blinded, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). This is the work of Satan, “the god of this world,” who has “blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (II Corinthians 4:4).

Conviction – Seeking

Thankfully, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8b). Indeed, Jesus proclaimed His mission in terms of “recovering of sight to the blind” as well as healing the brokenhearted, delivering captives, and setting the oppressed at liberty (Luke 4:18). Likewise, the Holy Spirit works to open the eyes of the lost to their condition: “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).

The experience of being spiritually awakened to one’s sinfulness and need of a Savior is referred to as conviction.  It often produces profound emotion and intense reaction. For example, on the day of Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter’s anointed sermon to the crowd resulted in heart-felt conviction: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37) Stephen’s preaching a few days later similarly reached deep within the hearts of his hearers: “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54).

The contrasting choices following such conviction—reception by the around 3,000 believers on the Day of Pentecost and rejection by the crowd that eventually stoned Stephen—reflect the truth that conviction requires decision: either rejection of Christ or surrender to His claims as Lord and Savior, but neither choice is inevitable or forced.  Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” (John 10) who declared, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). As such, He gently leads and draws, but does not coerce, people to a right relationship with Him. Remarkably, when people begin to seek God, they find that He has already been seeking them: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44a).

Conversion – Salvation

Such a relationship requires repentance from sin, belief on Christ alone for salvation, and confession of Jesus as Lord.  Repentance requires rejecting sin and turning one’s life over to the Lordship of Christ—He can only save one who has surrendered to Him, as Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19a) and as Jesus Himself proclaimed, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17b). The resulting relationship is not by our works but by belief in Him as Paul and Silas declared to the jailor at Philippi, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). This is all of grace—not just unmerited favor but actually receiving the very opposite of what sinners deserve—“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This new relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior will be reflected not only by belief in the heart but also by the testimony of both one’s words and manner of life. The Bible thus declares “that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:9-11—my italics); and, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Such conversion from sin to salvation involves several changes in spiritual relationships. First, justification expresses the judicial change from guilt to pardon regarding sins that one has committed. The requirements of God’s justice against sin, which is wrath, have been satisfied by Jesus on the Cross: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Second, regeneration or “new birth” (see John 3) describes the new nature given which seeks God’s way of holiness rather than the world’s way of sin: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). Third, adoption signifies the identity change in which one goes from being a child of wrath (see Ephesians 2:3) and child of the devil (I John 3:8, 10) to being a child of God (see Romans 8:14-19 and I John 3:1-2). These simultaneous aspects of salvation mean that the Christian is delivered not only from the guilt and penalty of sin (see Romans 8:1) but also delivered from the hold or power of sin: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (Romans 6:22).

Consecration – Sanctification

However, sin is two-fold, not only involving committed or omitted actions (“thoughts, words, and deeds”) regarding which a believer is forgiven and from which a believer is delivered in conversion, but also sin actually warps the inclination of the will: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).  This distortion of one’s moral disposition remains after conversion, resulting in an internal conflict between God’s sovereignty and self sovereignty; or, in other words, a struggle between Christ-likeness and selfishness. The consequent experience of wavering faith finds poignant depiction in James 1:8, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” This bent of the will is involuntary, inherited by all humans except Jesus from our first parents after their Fall into sin in the Garden (see Romans 5). This sin principle or carnal nature can only be remedied by a second work of grace following regeneration through the work of the Holy Spirit who purifies the heart by faith (Acts 15:9).  The two works of grace are clearly distinguished in James 4:8 – 1st work: “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners;” 2nd work: “and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” This remedy for the double-minded condition enables the believer to live out the injunction, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

This cleansing from inherited sin is known as entire sanctification, a relationship Paul desired for his readers, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). Indeed, such sanctification is the express will of God for every believer: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (II Thessalonians 4:3a).

To be entirely sanctified, one must first know that they are saved, for when Jesus prayed for the sanctification of His disciples in John 17, he was very specific: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (John 17:9). This extends to His disciples today, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20). Second, one must confess their need, as did David in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Third, the believer must surrender the carnal self to be crucified, so that they may testify, “I am crucified with Christ: neverthless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). This involves one abandoning themself in full consecration to God as a life which from now forward is at God’s disposal, a relationship beautifully described in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Finally, one must exercise faith in God to sanctify the consecrated life, for, as with the first work of grace, entire sanctification is a work of God’s grace: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (I Thessalonians 5:24). Indeed, sanctification is effected by the Holy Spirit, who as the promise of the Father empowers the Christian for victorious life and effective service (see Acts 1:4, 8).

Confidence – Steadfastness

The life subsequent to entire sanctification should be one of growth, as Peter implored his readers, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18a). Such growth will occur as the “living sacrifice” of our lives is maintained through ongoing spiritual renewal, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).  Continued yielding to the Lord’s leading is critical for a victorious Christian life: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7). In order to walk in the light, we must read, study, and meditate on the Word of God, for as Psalm 119:105 reminds us, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The Bible is God’s primary means of communicating with us and as such we should avail ourselves of its precepts and principles, its promises and warnings, its instruction and its illustrations: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (II Timothy 3:16-17)

While God communicates with us through Scripture, He also desires to commune with us in our prayers and praise: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18) Great reward awaits those who will invest in private prayer, as Jesus teaches, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6) A sure way to grow in grace and faith is for the believer to embrace in prayer the promise of I John 5:14-15—“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (I John 5:14-15)

Beyond private prayer, we should also engage in public worship, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25a). For sustained growth one must participate in edification—“building up”—that can only take place in the context of community. This is two-way, involving not only personal growth, but also the individual believer working to build up others in the faith: “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19) and “Let all things be done unto edifying.” (I Corinthians 14:26c) In fact, the Holy Spirit calls believers to offices and enables believers with gifts for the express purpose of building up the church: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church” (I Corinthians 14:12). One should thus seek out and commit themself to a group of Christians in a Bible -believing, -preaching, and -practicing church, Indeed, each believer should submit to the authority of godly elders, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).

In summary, keys to successful Christian living include obedience to the Word of God, fellowship with God in both private prayer and public worship, and fellowship with the saints that edifies. In addition, the Christian life will only be complete when engaged in witnessing to others through words and deeds, as Jesus commissioned each of His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Remember, this mission is inclusive, reaching not only to those that society regards highly, but also to those despised by society, for in the day of judgment Jesus declares, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

A person who is converted, entirely sanctified, and walking in the light of God’s truth should have remarkable confidence, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)  In light of the wonderful hope of the resurrection from the dead, already attested by the resurrection of Christ, we should be steadfast in our walk with and work for God: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). In conclusion, by the grace of God, we can one day hear our Lord say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (see Matthew 25). We can finish life here triumphantly! “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

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