What Is Salvation?

God’s Gospel is a sure and certain promise of eternal salvation conditioned on the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son. This is a great salvation which is given freely to all who believe God’s promise. It is all based on the merits of the obedience and death, the very righteousness, of Christ, the appointed Representative and Substitute of God’s elect. The issue of salvation is not a simple one. In fact, it takes a revelation from God even to understand the need and the nature of salvation. Multitudes of people believe they know what salvation is, and they believe they are saved. But multitudes are sadly deceived. We must appeal to God’s Word for a proper understanding of salvation. Most everyone will agree that this is an issue of life and death.

What is salvation, and why do we need salvation?

The Reality of The Two States

To properly understand what the Bible means by the term salvation, we must first understand the two states of man. There are only two states in which all men and women without exception exist before God. The first state is the state into which ALL of us are born, by natural generation, in Adam, as guilty, condemned, defiled, depraved sinners, unable to save ourselves, and unwilling to be saved God’s way. This state is evidenced mainly by ignorance and unbelief of God’s Gospel, God’s way of salvation. It is evidenced by our walking after the flesh, seeking to establish our own way, our own righteousness before God. The only other state is the state into which SOME are born by a miraculous birth of God the Holy Spirit, in and by Christ. This is the state of saved, justified, sanctified, redeemed sinners, who, by the power of God, have come for salvation GOD’S WAY, based solely upon the merits of the righteousness of Christ freely imputed and received by faith. This state is evidenced first by belief of God’s Gospel, His promise of salvation conditioned on Christ alone. This is saving faith. It is evidenced secondly by repentance from former idolatry and dead works. This is repentance that springs from saving faith. It is a change of mind concerning God and the only ground of salvation, wherein a sinner sees that Christ’s righteousness alone can remove God’s wrath and gain God’s favor, and that all our efforts aimed at this are dead works and acts of open idolatry.

All of God’s elect, when saved, pass from the state of nature (LOST) into the state of grace (SAVED). The NEW BIRTH is the passage between the two. This includes everything necessary, as ordered by God, to bring a sinner from death and condemnation to spiritual life and justification.

John 3:7
“…YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.”

This takes place when a sinner is given spiritual life by the Spirit of God, and he believes God’s Gospel. A sinner who refuses to believe the Gospel is not born again. If that sinner continues in unbelief, he will surely perish. We see from God’s testimony that what most people think of as saved and unsaved is not at all the right view. Most people think of unsaved people as immoral and irreligious. They think of saved people as moral and religious. But the Bible tells us that the unsaved include moral religionists such as Nicodemus (John 3) and immoral persons such as the Samaritan woman (John 4). Anyone who does not believe the Gospel is unsaved.

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

We can see that this is a vital matter to which we should give our most earnest attention. God is not the author of confusion nor does He promote spiritual ignorance. God is truth, and His testimony is the product of infinite wisdom. In God’s Word, His truths are presented, one by one, step by step, in a clear, systematic order, with the full assurance that Christ’s sheep will be enabled to experience salvation by beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Salvation is a heart work. This means it involves the whole man, the mind, the affections, and the will (Romans 10:10).

If we or one of our loved ones were physically ill and required serious medical attention, we would not want to be deceived. We would not want to make decisions based on superstition or mysticism. We would want precise answers to specific questions. We would not want general notions, opinions, or empty words. We would actively engage all our faculties to judge the truth. We would desire to know the right standard by which to judge these crucial matters because physical life is at stake.

How much more should we value the truth and the right standards when eternal life is at stake?

Someone may claim to be physically well and fit, while they may have a cancer inside beginning to eat away at their physical life.

This same principle holds true in the matter of salvation. Most everyone has some notion of what it is to be saved and what it is to be lost. Most everyone has some standard by which they judge saved and lost. If we judge ourselves or anyone else to be saved and our judgment is based on a false standard, then our hope of salvation is no more than presumption and speculation. It is sad enough for a person to be lost, but it is even sadder for a person to be lost while thinking he is saved. Think of those who came before the Lord at Judgment in Matthew 7.

{22} Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
{23} And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

The ones mentioned here sincerely thought they were saved, and they judged themselves as such based on particular standards. Christ revealed that they were never saved and that their standard of judgment was wrong. There is nothing sadder than the thought of a person coming to the Judgment, expecting to be accepted, finding out, too late, that he is lost. The startling truth is that the criteria the false professors in Matthew 7 used to judge themselves saved are the very things that multitudes of professing Christians use to judge themselves and others saved. This tells us that many who profess Christianity do not know what salvation is or what it is to be lost. Also, they do not know the proper standard by which to judge either.

Salvation Defined

We must define salvation in light of God’s Word which reveals God’s design in all things and His determination to accomplish this design in all things.

First, God’s foremost design in everything is HIS GLORY. Everything in the universe is directed for this singular goal (Romans 11:36). God’s glory is the revelation of His character, all of His attributes as they are engaged and honored in His works of creation, providence, condemnation, and, especially salvation. God’s redemptive character is not engaged or revealed in creation, providence, nor in condemnation. It is only revealed in the salvation of sinners by Christ. Therefore, we cannot worship, know, love, or serve the only true God apart from Christ, because we cannot see His redemptive glory apart from Christ. As the Bible states it, we cannot know Him (God) nor His ways (His ways of operating) apart from Christ. We cannot know Him as a just God and a Savior apart from Christ. This knowledge is God’s first design in the salvation of sinners. The glory of His redemptive character demanded the incarnation, humiliation, obedience, sufferings, and death of Christ, His only Son (John 17:4).

Keeping this grand design, especially in salvation, in mind, we can now properly define Biblical salvation. Salvation is GOD GLORIFYING HIMSELF IN THE HEARTS (mind, affections, and will) OF SINNERS. This takes place when God reveals to sinners, through the Gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the perfections of His character in order that they might know, worship, serve, and enjoy Him, the only true God, a just God and Savior. This is true salvation. It is described clearly in the following verse:

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This is the greatest blessing God can give to fallen men and women. This blessing includes every other blessing, as every spiritual blessing is aimed towards God’s glory.

Secondly, knowing that God’s glory is the ultimate goal of all things, we can see how all three Persons of the Trinity are engaged to accomplish this goal. God the Father is so jealous for the honor of His character in the salvation of sinners that He spared not His own Son in order to preserve that glory (Exodus 34:14). God the Son is so jealous of His Father’s glory that He willingly became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, in order to preserve that glory (John 17:1-3). God the Holy Spirit is so jealous of the Father’s glory that in the work of salvation He glorifies God in the hearts of the redeemed. It is the Holy Spirit’s work in the new birth to give a dead sinner life to believe the Gospel and to repent from dead works and former idolatry. The Holy Spirit shines the light of the knowledge of God’s glory revealed in Christ’s Person and work in the hearts of God’s people (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

The result of this is that sinners in salvation come to fear God. Therefore, God’s people, sinners saved by grace, are so jealous of the honor of God’s glory that they have a strong principle which desires not to compromise God’s glory even for their nearest and dearest loved ones.

Luke 14:26
If any come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

Christ is not promoting hatred. He is teaching that any who willingly compromise God’s glory in salvation by speaking peace to anyone, even those loved ones mentioned, apart from the only ground of peace, that person cannot be Christ’s disciple. By nature fallen men have no regard for God’s glory, no reverential respect for the honor of God’s character in redemption. The Bible states it as “no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18)

The Bible also tells us that:

Proverbs 1:7
“the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”

This means that a reverence and respect for the honor of God’s redemptive character is the beginning of saving knowledge.

Thirdly, when God is glorified in a sinner’s heart, that sinner begins to fear God. A sinner will only begin to seek the Lord when he begins to be interested in how God’s character can be honored in the salvation of guilty, defiled sinners.

How can God’s holy law, which pronounces a curse on the least transgression, pronounce a sinner justified and blessed?

The law must do this if God’s character is to be honored.

How can God’s justice, which demands the eternal misery of all sinners, demand the eternal blessedness of any sinner?

God’s justice claim its due if God is to be righteous and holy.

In Ephesians 1:3-14 we have a summary of what is taught from Genesis to Revelation concerning God’s glory in the salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ. God alone determines the end from the beginning and appoints all the means to accomplish that end. God the Father set His sovereign love upon a definite number of guilty, defiled, unlovely sinners, and He determined to reveal and honor every attribute of His character in their full, free, eternal salvation. In order for God to be glorified in the salvation of sinners, it was vital that He appoint His only Son to be their Representative and Substitute, their Mediator and Surety. It was also vital that God condition all their salvation upon His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s holiness, His law and justice, requires something that no sinner can produce and which no sinner can be enabled to produce — a perfect righteousness.

In the fullness of time, God the Son became incarnate to carry out the duties of His mediatorial offices. He satisfied all the conditions of the salvation of His sheep and glorified His Father. Christ merited for His people all of salvation, all grace here and all glory hereafter. He was the sacrifice for their sins. Having their sins charged to Him, He paid the penalty in full and left nothing for them to pay. By His obedience and death He produced a perfect righteousness for them. In time, in each successive generation, God the Holy Spirit makes each one of these redeemed sinners actual partakers of all the blessedness that God the Father had purposed for them based upon the righteousness of Christ imputed, charged, to them. In time, by the Spirit of God, these redeemed sinners are born again. They hear the Gospel, and they believe it and repent.

Fourthly, for God to be glorified, salvation must be all of grace. It is impossible for every attribute of God’s character to be honored in the salvation of sinners apart from salvation being conditioned on Christ alone. If there are any conditions on the sinner, God cannot be glorified, and salvation is not all of grace. It would be impossible for God to be just and justify the ungodly if salvation were conditioned on the sinner in any way or to any degree. God justifies the ungodly, and God must be just when He freely justifies the ungodly. For God to be just, salvation must be conditioned on Christ alone, one who can satisfy law and justice on behalf of God’s people. Christ and His body, the church, the elect, are one in the view of God’s law and justice. Christ, the ONE, represents His church, the MANY.

Romans 5:19
“…By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

By the blood of Christ, many are cleansed and made holy. All those whom Christ represented are crucified with Christ by God’s appointment of free grace. They are not crucified personally, but they are crucified in the Person of their Substitute, Christ Jesus. They are crucified in the way of representation and by imputation. In Christ, they are dead to the law in the way of fulfillment and satisfaction. God’s holy law which pronounced Christ holy, harmless, and undefiled, according to His personal character and conduct, also pronounced Him to be sin when the sins of His sheep were imputed to Him (2 Corithians 5:21). God’s justice which demanded Christ’s blessedness according to His personal character and conduct, demanded that God’s wrath be poured out upon Him when the guilt of His sheep was imputed to Him. The law and justice of God which demands the punishment and death of Christ’s sheep based on their character and conduct, now demands their eternal blessedness based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. This righteousness, therefore, is the only ground of salvation.

The Scope of Salvation

Keeping all this in mind, we can view the whole scheme of salvation from its Scriptural perspective. Look at an example from Titus 3 –

Titus 3:4-7
{4} But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
{5} Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
{6} Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
{7} That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Here the Apostle Paul addresses believers and describes the manner in which they entered the kingdom of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, through the operation of the Spirit of God, by means of the Gospel. Remember, God’s goal in salvation is His own glory in the effectual application of the merits of Christ to our hearts by faith. This salvation is an awesome thing! Salvation is described many ways. It includes many, many things. When we speak of salvation we can refer to:

GOD’S ETERNAL DECREE – “The kindness and love of GOD OUR SAVIOR.” This refers to God the Father who contrived the plan and scheme of salvation, appointed God the Son to be our salvation, and made a covenant with Him in eternity past in which all the conditions of our salvation were put upon Him. The covenant of grace is an eternal covenant made before time as God the Father purposed to save a people of His own choice out of Adam’s fallen race and conditioned all of their salvation upon His beloved Son. God’s kindness and love IS His purpose to save a multitude of sinners, of His own choice, conditioned upon Christ. This was planned and purposed before time, and it was set up by God and so ordered in absolute certainty that not one part of it could fail. OUR GOD DECLARES THE END FROM THE BEGINNING. Our God is sovereign, and salvation is of the Lord. The Gospel is the Gospel of God. It begins with the sovereign God of election.

CHRIST’S WORK ACCOMPLISHED 2000 YEARS AGO“Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” Whatever God wills and purposes before time must have its actual accomplishment in time. Christ is the LAMB SLAIN FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD in the mind and purpose of God. In order for salvation to be obtained and completed, this must take place in time according to the Father’s will in Christ’s own Person as God the Son incarnate. This event was always sure and certain, yet it must have had its accomplishment in time in Christ’s incarnation, obedience, and death. In time Christ came, being made of woman, under the law, and our sins were IMPUTED to Christ who went to the cross and paid our sin debt and perfectly satisfied law and justice on our behalf. Jeremiah called Him the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. In time, Christ came and actually established that righteousness. This redemption did not make men merely savable. This redemption insured the eternal salvation and final glory of every sinner for whom Christ lived and died.

In order for God to be just and punish Christ for our sins, sins actually had to be imputed to Him. HE HAD TO BE MADE SIN. So Christ in eternity past became a partaker of our nature in the mind and purpose of God WITH A VIEW TOWARD His incarnation and His becoming a partaker of our sin and guilt by imputation. When this took place in time, there was an actual death, an actual separation of the Father and the Son, an actual atonement, a righteousness established, all in fulfillment of God’s purpose of grace to glorify Himself in the salvation of His elect.

THE NEW BIRTH – “By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” This is the aspect of salvation with which we are mainly concerned in this pamphlet, and which the Bible properly and mainly refers to as salvation. It can be said that ALL of God’s elect are already saved in the Person of Christ, their Representative, yet not in their own persons until regeneration and conversion. This includes everything that is required to bring a condemned sinner from the dungheap of ruined humanity into eternal union with Christ to the praise of God’s glory.

What actually takes place in a sinner when he is born from above by the Spirit of God?

That sinner is REGENERATED (given life or quickened) and RENEWED (converted in newness of life). The Agent in this new birth is the Holy Spirit who makes us actual partakers of the very nature of Christ (His spirit, His righteousness) and the instrument is the Gospel whereby our hearts are purified by faith and our consciences are purged by the blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit imparts a new, holy principle in our hearts, the very nature of Christ, enlightens our minds to the glory of God revealed in the promise of salvation conditioned on Christ, and we are brought from death unto life. God the Father actually imputes the very righteousness of Christ to each one of His elect in each successive generation. The Holy Spirit imparts new life unto them and renews their minds with the truth of the Gospel, overcomes their natural prejudices against it, and brings them to faith in Christ and repentance from dead works.

We can include perseverance and final glorification in this great salvation. Salvation in Scripture is an all-comprehensive term which includes everything from election to final glorification. Consider the following —

(1) Some of it as to our experience of it is past — EPHESIANS 2:8 — “For by grace [you have been] saved”. Paul speaks here of the believer’s initial regeneration and conversion, where, having righteousness imputed to him, the Holy Spirit of God gives him spiritual life and, by the preaching of the Gospel, brings that sinner to faith in Christ and true repentance from dead works and former idolatry.

(2) Some of it as to our experience of it is in the present — 1 CORINTHIANS 1:18 — “unto us which are saved”; 2 CORINTHIANS 2:15 — “them that are saved”. This is literally in the present tense and could be translated “who are being saved”. The apostle is not indicating by these words that these believers are not yet saved, nor is he leaving any doubt as to whether they will make it to heaven. He is speaking of the believer’s perseverance in the faith, continuing in that blessed state of justification by Christ alone.

(3) Some of it as to our experience of it is yet in the future — ROMANS 13:11 — “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed”. Paul is speaking here of the believer’s death in Christ which will be the completion of our salvation in the beginning of our final glorification.

The Goal and Ground of This Salvation

What is the goal of salvation?

It is that GOD BE GLORIFIED, CHRIST BE EXALTED, and ALL BOASTING BE EXCLUDED IN THE SINNER (Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 1:29-31). In order to accomplish these goals, God has ordained that in this great salvation, which includes and involves many things, that the ground of this salvation is ONE THING — The righteousness of God’s beloved Son, freely imputed and received by God-given faith. This is the only ground of the whole of salvation, from election to final glorification. ALL OF IT, NOTHING EXCLUDED, IS SURE AND CERTAIN WITH NO DOUBT OR WAVERING, BASED SOLELY UPON THE IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST. And anyone who seeks to make less of this righteousness than what it is in its glory and value is dangerously tampering with that which glorifies God in every attribute of His character, that which exalts Christ in His mediatorial glory, and that which excludes all grounds of boasting in sinners. Some say that salvation is more than just an imputed righteousness. THIS IS TRUE, but the GROUND of salvation is no more than an imputed righteousness. There are many effects and results which are necessary and included in salvation, but none of these effects and results form any part of the ground of salvation. GOD IS TO HAVE ALL GLORY; CHRIST IS TO HAVE ALL PREEMINENCE; AND SINNERS ARE LEFT WITH NOTHING TO BOAST.

The Fruits of Salvation

When we speak of the fruits of salvation, we are mainly referring to the subjective aspect of what the Holy Spirit does in the sinner.

How does this fit into the scheme of salvation?

First, the subjective work of God the Holy Spirit in us is as necessary for our salvation, for our justification, as the work of Christ for us, BUT, not for the same reasons, nor for the same ends. There were two great evils in our natural condition each of which must be removed if we are to be saved. The first is the guilt of sin – “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). This is legal condemnation in Adam, based on his guilt imputed to us, without our personal sinning (Romans 5:12). This is a legal matter, and it is the ground of condemnation. The second is the dominion or defilement of sin –

Romans 3:11-12
“There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are all together unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

This is the result of imputed guilt. It is the sinful principle received from Adam, and it is evidenced by self-love, self-righteousness, and religious pride, which keep us alienated from God by wicked works, and defiled in our consciences.

In order for a sinner to be saved, both evils must be remedied. We need a righteousness imputed to remove the ground of our condemnation and to establish the ground of our justification. We need a new principle imparted, a new heart, to overcome those evil principles, and cause us to seek God through Christ. We need both in salvation, and we need both to be fit subjects for the kingdom of heaven. One is the ground of salvation, so that no flesh shall glory in His presence, and one is the necessary effect and means of salvation, so that we might glory in God alone. Christ undertook, as Mediator, to accomplish both these ends, but in different ways. He undertook to do and to suffer all that was necessary to accomplish, not justification only, and far less mere savability, BUT A COMPLETE SALVATION, for His people. Christ, by His obedience and death, earned for us a full right and title to the whole inheritance of grace. He also obtained for us the reward of His own work, the grace of the Holy Spirit, which was the promise of the Father to Him. He further undertook, as Mediator and Administrator of the covenant, to dispense the gift of the Holy Spirit for the benefit of His people, that they might be enabled to believe on Him for their entire salvation, and to look to Him alone for their sanctification, as well as for their justification.

So Christ provided the remedy for both evils, but His own work, in so far as it is distinct from that of the Holy Spirit, is given the prime place of value as to the ground of our total salvation, that He might have the preeminence. “He will glorify me” (John 16:14) – We see here that the main work of the Holy Spirit in us is to show us the value of the work of Christ for us as the only ground of salvation. The work of the Holy Spirit in us was neither designed to supercede nor to supplement the work of Christ as to the ground of salvation. It mainly consists in persuading sinners effectually to “receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation, as He is freely offered in the Gospel.”

The Holy Spirit’s main work from that point on is to establish our hearts with grace, wherein we walk continually by faith and grow as we see our final glory sure and certain based on the righteousness of Christ alone. The glory of God is just as much involved in this work as in any part of salvation. So the Holy Spirit’s work in us is no part of the ground of our salvation. It is the effect of that ground. It is not the cause of our redemption but the fruit of our redemption by Christ. The work of the Spirit in us is the evidence that Christ has redeemed us and that His righteousness is imputed to us. So the ground of salvation is not anything done by us, in us or through us. It is totally a work done for us on our behalf. The ground of salvation is totally objective and never subjective.

It is in this context that we see the fruits and evidences of salvation, the things that accompany salvation, such as:

SAVING FAITH which, upon hearing and understanding the Gospel, receives Christ and His righteousness as the only ground of eternal salvation and final glory, and fully expects the fulfillment of that promise (Eph. 2:8-9).

REPENTANCE OF FORMER IDOLATRY AND DEAD WORKS which is the first evidence of saving faith, and which by faith in Christ sees that every effort at obedience and reform before saving faith was an evil and wicked attempt at removing God’s wrath and gaining God’s favor in opposition to His redemptive glory. These are aimed at the ground of salvation, and, therefore, casts shame and reproach upon the Person and work of Christ (2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 9:14).

GODLY SORROW OVER SIN which is that continual aspect of repentance whereby a saved sinner constantly sees his own sinfulness in his character and conduct in order to constantly realize that his only hope for salvation, now and forever, is Christ and His righteousness imputed (Romans 7:24–8:1).

LOVE TO GOD AND TO THE BRETHREN which is love that flows from saving faith, of which the natural man is incapable. It is of the Spirit, and it respects first and foremost the honor of God’s redemptive glory revealed in salvation based on the righteousness of Christ. This love will take sides with those who believe the gospel, and it will not speak peace where sinners are either ignorant of or not submitted to the righteousness of Christ as the only ground of salvation (1 John 3:13-16).

ACCEPTABLE OBEDIENCE which is obedience that flows from saving faith. It is the obedience of saved sinners motivated not by legal fear of punishment, nor by promise of reward based on personal merit. It is obedience motivated by the absolute certainty of final glory based solely upon the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is the liberty and freedom of grace, the spirit of adoption and love, whereby saved sinners express love for God and love to one another. It includes any sincere, diligent attempt to obey God’s commands, to perform and maintain good works, to seek to bring our character and conduct into conformity to Christ our Savior. This is not an option, but a necessary response to the love and grace of God through Christ. As works without faith are dead, we also believe faith without works is dead. It is important that we know that this obedience is not acceptable due to any merit of its own. It is only acceptable because it is performed by a justified sinner, through Christ, based on His merits alone, and it is motivated by the certainty of final glory based on Christ’s merits alone (Romans 12:1-2).

All these things accompany God’s great salvation which comes to sinners through Jesus Christ, based on His righteousness alone. They are all the fruit and effect of the merits of the redemptive work of Christ to the glory of God our father. Those who desire to be saved, then, must seek God’s favor and blessing based on the righteousness of Christ freely imputed and received by faith. All who hear the Gospel, God’s promise of salvation conditioned on Christ alone are commanded and fully warranted to do so. Any sinner who truly desires this salvation will seek God in Christ, and they shall be saved. God is glorified in their hearts, and they will repent of their former idolatry and dead works. This is salvation, and it is all of the Lord!

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