Soteriology – A study of God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the Holy Bible.
“how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,” – Hebrews 2:3 (NKJV)
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;” – 2 Peter 1:10
Considering the seriousness of this subject, as stated in the verses above, this shall be the most lengthy and exhaustive topic in our study of Christian Theology.
‘Salvation’, from the vantage point of Christian theology, can be defined as simply as, “Deliverance from sin and its consequences.”
I. Understanding how salvation works.
A) Soteriology is the study of Salvation. Unfortunately, there are some prerequisites to understanding salvation that are often classified under different topics in Systematic Theology.
B) In order to properly understand salvation, one must understand the origin and consequences of sin, the role of God’s moral Law in revealing our need for salvation, Old Testament laws concerning substitutionary sacrifice and atonement, the work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of sinners, and, an understanding of exactly what constitutes “the Gospel” under the New Testament. (These subjects are usually classified under Hamartiology, Old Testament Studies, Pneumatology, Christology and New Testament Studies.)
2. The Gospel message:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the Gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” – Paul the Apostle, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
- Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3-4a).
- According to the Scriptures (15:3b).
- Proof: Burial (15:4a).
- Christ was raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:4b-8).
- According to the Scriptures (15:4b).
- Proof: Appearances (15:5-8).
- Salvific concepts in Soteriology with Scriptural references:
(Try to define these concepts based on Scripture alone.)
- Substitutionary Atonement – (Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24).
- Redemption – (Gal. 3:13; 1 Col. 6:20).
- Forgiveness – (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13).
- Reconciliation – (Col. 1:21-22; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).
- Propitiation – (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10).
- Justification- (Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:20, 24 & 28).
- Imputation – (My sin imputed to Christ – 2 Cor. 5:21; Christ’s Righteousness imputed to me – Rom. 3:21-4:5; 5:19).
- Adoption – (Rom. 8:15,23; Gal. 4:5-6; Eph. 1:5).
- Peace – (Peace with God – Rom. 5:1; Peace with Others – Eph. 2:14-18).
- Atonement theories and their historical adherents:
- Ransom to Satan – Origen*
- Recapitulation – Iraneus
- Satisfaction – Anselm*
- Moral Influence – Abelard
- Example – Socinius, Liberalism
- Governmental – Grotius
- Dramatic Victory – Aulen
- Revelatory – Barth
- Substitution – Calvin*
*Only three have Scriptural support.
II. Historia Salutis – the summary of salvation history.
The recent popularity of chronological studies of the Bible is due to the fact that Christians who have studied the Bible this way have arrived at a better understanding of “Salavation history”. In the Old Testament, sin entered the human race through Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in Genesis 3. Sin brought with it a curse on creation, death, and a depraved nature in all of Adam’s offspring. A system of substitutionary sacrifices for sin was developed because God’s people were not able to keep God’s Law perfectly. The promise of a Redeemer was given by the Old Testament prophets. The New Testament declares Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Savior and Redeemer of mankind. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul explains the basic elements of the New Testament “Gospel”, which are the substitutionary death, burial and bodily resurrection of Jesus. It is in believing this Gospel that sinners are “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28; 5:1) and restored to a right relationship with a holy God (Ephesians 2:8). “Believe”, “faith” and “repent” appear to be synonymous terms in the New Testament; one cannot turn back to God, or, “repent” without having “faith” that the Gospel is true and that forgiveness is available. This is what is implied in the New Testament meaning of the word “believe”.
III. Ordo Salutis – the summary of the order of salvation.
- Romans 8:29-30 is often called the “Golden Chain of Salvation”. It describes a process or sequence of events that takes place in the salvation of every individual.
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:29-30 NKJV.
This passage describes God’s foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification and glorification of a lost sinner. In Soteriology, this process is further defined and expanded upon based on the teachings of other Biblical passages.
- A process initiated by God.
A) From God’s perspective there is a definite point in time when those who have trusted in Christ pass from death into life (1 John 3:14). This, however, is not where salvation starts. (Jeremiah 1:5.) From God’s vantage point salvation begins with his election of individuals, which is his determination beforehand that his saving purpose will be accomplished in them (John 6:37–39, 44, 64–66; 8:47; 10:26; 15:16; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Romans 9; 1 John 4:19; 5:1).
B) God then in due course brings people to himself by calling them to faith in Christ (Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:9). God’s calling produces regeneration, which is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in which a spiritually dead person is made alive in Christ (Ezek. 11:19–20; Matt. 19:28; John 3:3, 5, 7; Titus 3:5). The revived heart repents and trusts Christ in saving faith as the only source of justification. (Phil. 3:8–9; cf. Isa. 64:6).
C) Justification results in adoption as God’s sons (Rom. 8:15,23; Gal. 4:5-6; Eph. 1:5).
“Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” – Acts 13:48 (NKJV)
- To be a Christian means one rests in the finished work of Christ—no longer depending on personal accomplishments, religious pedigree, or good works for God’s approval, but only on what Christ has accomplished on his behalf (Phil. 2:8–9).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
- ‘Grace’ can be defined as, “The unmerited favor of God through which we get what we do not deserve.”
- ‘Faith’ can be defined as, “The appropriation of God’s provision by trust.”
- How should Man respond to God’s provision of salvation by grace through faith?
A) True salvation is not measured in having raised a hand or prayed a prayer, or having been baptized or christened. Instead, the true test of an authentic work of God in one’s life is sanctification as God continues the moral transformation he began in regeneration. This transformation will continue until the redeemed person is resurrected and made completely holy in heaven, which the Bible describes as glorification ( Rom. 8:28–30; Phil. 1:6; 1 John 3:2).
B) God’s sanctifying work is seen in a growing Christlike character, increasing love for God and people, and the fruit of the Spirit (John 14:2; 15:1–16:33; Gal. 5:22–25; James 2:18). While a Christian should never be satisfied with his current state of holiness, he should be confident that through God’s sovereign, sanctifying grace he will one day have totally won the victory over sin once and for all.
C) Meanwhile, living with this hope as one battles sin daily is true Christian perseverance (1 Cor. 1:8–9; Eph. 1:13–14; 1 Thess. 5:23–24; 1 Pet. 1:4–5; 1 John 2:19; Jude 1, 24–25), which is itself a sign that one has been born again.
D) Thus, the process of salvation described in Romans 8:29-30 is further defined and expanded in Soteriology to include: God’s foreknowledge, Sovereign election, predestination, calling (conviction by the Holy Spirit that the Gospel is true), regeneration (leading to repentance and faith), justification, sanctification (deliverance from sin), perseverance, and, ultimately glorification.
IV. A theological paradox.
- An example of a theological paradox:
A) God’s sovereignty – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” – The Lord Jesus (John 6:44)
B) Man’s free will – “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” – The Lord Jesus (John 6:37)
2. The emphasis on the sovereignty of God in salvation is Scriptural (Psa. 135:6; Dan. 4:35; Eph. 1:11) and predestination and election are Biblical concepts, but so is human responsibility (Acts 16:31). The seeming contradiction of the Biblical teaching about both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is a divine paradox. But to be Biblical in Theology, both concepts must be preserved.
V. Paul’s masterful argument.
- Paul’s epistle to the Romans is a foundational theological treatise on Soteriology in which he addresses the supposed paradox between God’s sovereign election vs. human responsibility. His argument can be outlined in a “Problem”, “Solution” formula as follows:
A) Mankind’s Problem – The need of salvation, grounded in the universal guilt of mankind (Romans 1:18-3:23).
- The Gentiles, under condemnation of conscience.
- The Jews, under the condemnation of the Law.
- All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
- God’s Solution – Justification by faith (Romans 5:1).
B) Mankind’s Problem – Moral depravity, inability and sinful tendencies (Romans 7:15-24).
- God’s Solution – Regeneration (Romans 8:1-4).
C) Mankind’s Problem – Sovereign Election and Predestination (I.e. the supposed sovereign election of God of a certain portion of the human race to salvation and the divine reprobation of all others (Romans 9:7-18; cf. John 15:6).
- God’s Solution – Universal opportunity (Romans 10:13; cf. John 3:16, 1 Tim. 2:6, 2 Pet. 2:1, 1 John 2:2).
- According to Paul’s argument, although God is sovereign and has the ability and authority to elect only some, or even none of the human race to salvation; in His mercy, under the present administration of grace, He has chosen to make the opportunity available to all (Eph. 3:2).
VI. Assurance of salvation and eternal security of the believer.
- Many theological traditions deny we can be assured of eternal life. Roman Catholicism, for example, denies absolute assurance is possible for any except the greatest saints of the Church. The Bible, however, teaches that all believers can have assurance of salvation because we have the testimony of three infallible witnesses:
- The testimony of Jesus – “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” John 5:24 NKJV, and, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” John 6:37 NKJV.
- The testimony of the Holy Spirit – “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” Romans 8:16 NKJV, and, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:17 NKJV.
- The testimony of Scripture – “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:13 NKJV, and, “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31 NKJV.
(See also, Job 19:25–26; Jer. 24:7; 1 John 3:24b.)
- Assurance of salvation is based objectively on –
- the promises of God and inner witness of the Holy Spirit (John 5:24; 1 Jn. 5:1 & 13),
- and, subjectively on our maturity and growth in Christ (1 Jn. 2:3, 9-11, 29; 3:14; 2 Cor. 5:17).
- The doctrine of the ‘eternal security’ of the believer means that, once the gift of salvation is genuinely received, it cannot be lost. This idea is based on the following Scriptures:
“And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” – John 10:28-30
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:31-39
VII. Theological words important to the understanding of Soteriology:
ATONEMENT, 1. To make reparation for a wrong or injury. 2. (In religious contexts) to cover or make reparation or expiation for sin. 3. (In Christian theology) the reconciliation of God and human beings through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
BELIEVE, 1. Accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth of. 2. (In Christian theology) to be so convinced as to change your life.
CALLING, 1. To summon verbally. 2. A strong urge toward a particular way of life, career or vocation. 3. (In Christian theology) to be convinced God is summoning you to salvation or service.
CONVICTION, 1. A formal declaration, verdict or decision usually of a judge or court. 2. A firmly held belief or opinion. 3. (In Christian theology) to be convinced that something is true.
ELECTION, 1. A formal and organized process of electing or being chosen. 2. (In Christian theology) being chosen by God for salvation.
FAITH, 1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something. 2. (In religious contexts) strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. 3. (In Christian theology) the condition for justification from sin. (Biblical definitions: Hebrew 11:1-2; Heb. 10:38; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Hab. 2:4.)
FOREKNOWLEDGE, 1. Awareness of something before it happens or exists; to know beforehand. 2. (In Christian theology) God’s ability to know the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9-10).
FORGIVENESS, 1. To pardon an offense, flaw, or mistake. 2. To cancel a debt.
GLORIFICATION, 1. To praise, honor or exalt a person or thing. 2. (In Christian theology) the ultimate perfection of believers.
JUSTIFICATION, 1. Showing something to be right or reasonable. 2. (In Christian theology) the act of declaring or making a sinner righteous in the sight of God.
PERSEVERANCE, 1. Steadfastness persisting in something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. 2. (In Christian theology) the doctrine that a truly regenerate Christian will continue in faith to the end of life, despite difficulty or failure.
PREDESTINATION, 1. (As a doctrine in Christian theology) the divine foreordaining of all that will happen, especially with regard to salvation; associated with the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo and John Calvin.
PROPITIATION, 1. The act of appeasing the anger, or righteous judgment, of a god, or person in authority.
RECONCILIATION, 1. The restoration of a severed relationship. 2. Making differing views or beliefs compatible with one another.
REDEMPTION, 1. (In religious contexts) the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. 2. The action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.
REGENERATION, 1. The action or process of regenerating or being regenerated, in particular the formation of new matter or tissue. 2. (In Christian theology) the work of the Holy Spirit renewing the mind, motives and nature of a repentant sinner.
REPENTANCE, 1. Sincere regret or remorse for a wrong committed. 2. (In Christian theology) a change of mind about God and sin, which leads to an application of faith in Christ and a changed life.
SANCTIFICATION, 1. To make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate. 2. To purify or free from sin or error.
SUBSTITUTION. 1. The action of replacing someone or something with another person or thing. 2. (In Christian theology) Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitution for sinners.