TITLE: SALVATION--A GREATLY MISUNDERSTOOD CONCEPT
Subtitle: Dead Men Tell No Tales!
(This is the fifth in a series of articles dealing with the tremendously important subject of salvation and how one comes to obtain it. The previous articles start with www.cuttingedge.org/articles/p154.htm --then on to p158, p159, and p160.htm we recommend that these articles be read, in the order given, before continuing).
In previous articles we began to explore the doctrine of salvation from a different perspective. And as I implied in those articles, my understanding of this vital doctrine is definitely "old fashioned" and completely at odds with that which is currently believed and taught by the majority. This difference of opinion is almost as old as the Church itself and I do not, in my wildest dreams, envision myself as capable of resolving it. But I do believe that any and all interested parties should be cognizant of the conflicting principles involved. Both sides of this issue base their beliefs upon the Word of God and we have an interesting dilemma in that both of us cannot be right!
We interpret everything we read by attaching specific meaning to the words and phrases as we encounter them. This process of interpretation is vital because without it, there would be no understanding. However, the unfortunate reality is that two people can read the exact same statement and arrive at completely different conclusions as to what it says! I offer a silly illustration of this by quoting a line from a nursery rhyme: "Mary had a little lamb..." The question is, "Did Mary previously own the little lamb, or did she give birth to it?" If by chance you insist that the latter is true--she gave birth to it--how do I go about trying to convince you otherwise? Well, more than likely I should try to prove the impossibility of such a thing happening in the first place. Common sense and logic should prevail in such arguments, but very often some people just cannot see the forest for the trees! Preconceived opinions and prejudices restrict them to tunnel vision and no amount of factual information is likely to sway them--or should I say "us", because we are all capable of it? This frustrating aspect of human nature aggravates us practically on a daily basis as we interact with others, but it is especially volatile where interpretation of the Word of God is concerned.
Now having made that disclaimer, let us turn to the subject at hand: How does God save a soul? And what exactly does the Bible have to say about it? But before we will be able to agree on anything else, we must first agree concerning the ground rules of our discussion. Rule #1 must be that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, verbally-inspired Word of God. Without this necessary and most basic premise, any further discussion/argument would be pretty much pointless, because there must be an ultimate authority.
Most of us are likely to agree that salvation is a work in progress. It has a past, present, and future aspect. Those who are saved were saved in the past, being saved at the present, and will ultimately be saved in the future. Also we will probably agree on the "how" of salvation--that Jesus Christ died for the sins of men, purchasing them through the substitutionary sacrifice of Himself by shedding His own blood. But where we are most likely to disagree is found in the "who, when, and why" of salvation.
Regarding the "who" of salvation (those who potentially may be saved)--the overwhelming majority of those who consider themselves to be evangelical Christians today believe and teach a "whosoever will may come" doctrinal position. They insist that Jesus Christ shed His blood for the sins of each and every man. Therefore each and every man, without exception, has the option to exercise his "free will", "make a decision for Christ", and thereby "accept" Him as their personal Lord and Savior. This view is so widely held that anyone who dares to contradict it is flirting with the risk of being accused of blasphemy! Well, be that as it may, the preponderance of Scripture teaches an entirely different concept. I do not deny that the popular doctrine has apparent Scriptural basis, because I too believed it, taught it, and preached it for several years. However, as I continued to study the Scriptures and read theology, I discovered that there was another side to the subject--a very compelling side, to say the least.
As I attempt to explain this "old" position--the solid historical and doctrinal position of our evangelical forefathers in the faith, let us bear in mind the "Mary had a little lamb" analogy, because words and phrases can be manipulated to fit a preconceived doctrinal position. I am of the opinion that almost any doctrinal theory can be made to appear legitimate through the skillful selection of supporting Scriptures. Furthermore, I maintain that Charles Finney, the highly regarded evangelist of the 1800's did just that when he created what he called his "new measures for a new theology." Utilizing what turns out to be only a few key verses, Finney almost single-handedly revolutionized the doctrinal position of his day. And that which evolved from such a small beginning is now held to be the definitive doctrine for millions of evangelical Christians. (The very fact of its popularity and "ecumenical" properties which bind together so many diverse denominations should make conservative, fundamental Bible-believing Christians very nervous!)
The old view of who may be saved takes into full consideration the Bible doctrine of predestination (which will, Lord willing, be covered more fully in later articles), without trying to play games with God's foreknowledge as being prerequisite. Suffice it to say at this point Romans 8:28-30 is the key to defining "God's Plan Of The Ages." The end of verse 28 contains this phrase: "...to them who are the called according to his purpose" (KJV). The beginning of the verse says, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God...." To whom is this referring? Of course it is God's elect children--genuine Christians. Then, according to this verse, we are referred to as "the called"--which is synonymous with the doctrine of election. (So far so good--most will agree). Now then, how are we called? "According to His purpose," is the answer. What is God's purpose? In the Greek, the word for "purpose" is the noun prothesis and, according to W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, it means "a setting forth, a purpose." What is the English definition of the word "purpose"? The Webster's New Riverside University Dictionary defines the noun "purpose" as: "1. The object toward which one strives or for which something exists: GOAL. 2. A desired or intended result or effect." Surely, all of us can understand and agree that a purpose, a goal, presupposes a plan? Genuine Christians are therefore God's elect children--chosen by Him to be in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
Do you have a hobby? I love trying to be a wood-worker, but most of the time I wind up being a "wood-butcher"! There is an old saying among our fraternity that states: "measure twice and cut once!" And I have experienced the wisdom of this saying many times by learning the hard way that I must be extremely careful to follow measurements contained in the plans. Although we know that God does not need to make detailed plans in the same sense that we do, nevertheless the Bible teaches that He has a plan for us along with His created universe. And it is this plan that precedes all implementation of it. In the so-called "Golden Chain of Redemption" (Romans 8:28-30), please note that purpose precedes foreknowledge. The reason I stress this point is because God's foreknowledge plays such an inordinate part in the doctrinal position currently popular. This belief says that, because of God's foreknowledge, He was able to look down through the corridors of time and see who would "accept" Christ when confronted with the Gospel message. Then based upon this foreknowledge, He predestined those individuals to be saved. This sounds reasonable enough (and I bought into it for a long time), but it is fatally flawed. Even if one reasons that God's foreknowledge was utilized in determining His Plan Of The Ages (and this is not likely, because His omniscience cannot in any way be dependent upon His foreknowledge), the very act of one's "accepting" Christ is impossible! As I have repeatedly pointed out in previous articles, each human is born into this world spiritually dead (Eph.2:1, et al), and totally incapable of understanding spiritual matters (1 Cor. 2:14). This is profound!! Do not overlook it! Dead men--men incapable of understanding that which is spiritually discerned--cannot possibly "make a decision for Christ." Yet, the theologians who hold to this popular doctrine try to overcome this impassable roadblock by maintaining that God somehow "restores" the ability to make that choice! But to date, I have seen only one verse offered to support the theory and I maintain that this is pitifully weak to say the least. Then as we begin to analyze all of this and compare it with the whole of Scripture, it becomes increasingly clear that a preconceived doctrine has been forced upon the Word and "proof texts" lifted to support it (this is called "eisegesis" by theologians).
Why would anyone go to the trouble to manufacture such a doctrine? I cannot say for certain, but it appears to me that it came about as the direct result of a purely human reaction to an inescapable truth. The apostle Paul expounds upon the doctrine of predestination in the Book of Romans, chapters eight and nine, and makes a iron-clad case for the fact that God chooses some and rejects all the rest! "Oh, but that cannot be! Surely that would make God a 'respecter of persons' and His Word says that He is not" (2 Samuel 14:14; Acts 10:34). What are we to make of this? The word "respect" or "respecter" is generally understood to mean "showing partiality," so does the Bible teach that God shows no partiality for His elect? It all depends upon how one looks at it! Romans 9:10-13 clearly exhibits impartiality in God's choice between Jacob and Esau as relates to their works, because being not yet born--they had none:
"And not only that, but this too: Rebecca conceived [two sons under exactly the same circumstances] by our forefather Isaac. And the children were yet unborn and had so far done nothing good or evil. Even so, in order further to carry out God's purpose of selection (election, choice), which depends not on works or what men can do, but on Him Who calls [them], it was said to her that the elder [son] should serve the younger [son]. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated [held in relative disregard in comparison with My feeling for Jacob]" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
(Note that the last few words of the Amplified text are in brackets, which indicates supplied wording by the translators. And I do not agree with their softening of the overall statement relative to God's "hatred" of Esau, because it is a quote by the apostle Paul from the Book of Malachi in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for "hate" is sane (pronounced "saw-nay") and means just that--hate! The pervasive belief that God loves everyone, without exception, is most likely the reason for the additional comments by the translators.) But in any case, God's design for the two brothers was definitely predetermined and nothing they had done, or could do, entered into His decision. There was no partiality shown, and even though our depraved and finite human minds have a tremendous problem understanding how this can be true, God said it and that settles it! But then on the other hand, how can one possibly express love for another and not show partiality? God is no respecter of persons because His Word says so--yet beyond question He expresses His love for those He has chosen! Is it not completely obvious that there is something about this relationship we simply do not and can not understand? Certainly! And we have no choice but to rely upon what the Bible actually says and all that it says on a given subject. It is when men try to "help God out" by concocting theological schemes that we wind up believing and following false doctrines. He chose some for salvation and rejected the rest of humanity for reasons known only unto Himself and all explanations designed to negate this fact and make it more palatable are not Scriptural. And the sooner we understand that we cannot possibly tie up all of the loose ends of this theological enigma, the better.
It should be evident to anyone taking the time and making the effort to think about it that our depraved human instincts cry out "That's not fair!", when we contemplate the subject of God's Sovereign election. And it totally fascinating to read where many theologians admit that they have no problem at all with God sending all men to hell--because they understand the Bible concept of universal sin--yet they categorically reject the position that God graciously saves some and rejects the rest. This is why the Arminian position on soteriology was hatched in the first place. It neatly gets God "off the hook" by basing His election upon the future actions of the individual in question. According to this position, a man's salvation is conditional upon his acceptance of Christ and, if he rejects Him, he has no one to blame but himself. But the Bible says man has no one to blame but himself anyway! (Romans 1:20--"...they are without excuse."). And left to himself, he will never seek God (Romans 3:11). He is spiritually dead (Eph.2:1), incapable of understanding that which is spiritually discerned (1 Cor.2:14), and a slave of Satan to boot! (Eph.2:2). Accept Christ? How?!!!
Search the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation and you will not find a single reference to anyone "accepting" Christ or "making a decision" for Him. These are concepts and terminology spawned by Arminius and refined/propagated by many others--including John Wesley and Charles Finney. They are presently responsible for a near-hysterical preoccupation with confrontational evangelism and the attendant "nose counts" that go along with it. The "winning" of a soul to Christ is another concept that is without Scriptural basis--in the sense that the term is used today. How in the name of reason can one utilize methods that have been learned through "soul winning seminars" to coax a soul to Christ--thereby "winning" them, when the person is spiritually dead and totally incapable of understanding any of it? Success in manipulating one through the repetition of the "sinner's prayer" and shedding some tears, does not a genuine convert make! The Church is being filled to overflowing with tares by such methods and it is past time that the majority wake up to reality. Only the Holy Spirit can win a soul to Christ, because He is the only One with the credentials! The erroneous belief in the techniques of mass evangelism is being huckstered today and the methods marketed by gurus sporting mega-churches--all of which would be emptied (or changed) overnight by preaching that was commonplace just a hundred years ago! Take away the entertainment and hold their feet to the fire of Holy Spirit-inspired preaching/Bible study and precious few would remain to listen. I say this as a pastor who knows J. Vernon McGee (the radio program "Through The Bible") was right when years ago he lamented something to the effect that "no one really wants to study the Bible any more!" Your responsibility and mine is first and foremost to be the best receptacle for the Holy Spirit that we can be--cooperating with Him toward our own personal spiritual maturity. As we grow in grace and knowledge of Christ and experience success in "mortifying our flesh"--thereby yielding more and more of ourselves to the Spirit--souls will be won to Christ as a result. The Holy Spirit will see to it and He does the winning and not us. Our testimony for Christ is the most precious thing we possess and will be largely worthless where others are concerned, if we do not learn this most basic of spiritual principles. Good intentions and heretical doctrine do not mix.
I certainly do not wish to be misunderstood and accused of being against evangelism--because it is vitally important. My sole intent is to call attention to a doctrine that promotes the unscriptural idea that when God "calls a man to repentance" and he "is under conviction," he can then decide to accept or reject Christ as his Savior. This not only places the ultimate destiny of his soul in the hands of the individual, but it also fosters the concept that "soul-winners" can witness to and win individuals to Christ by utilizing the right words and techniques--a pernicious belief totally without Scriptural basis. Free will, as a concept, came through the Roman Catholic Church and can not be defended by Scripture! When pressed for a textual basis, only one verse is lamely and routinely given:
"But to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority [power, privilege, right] to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in--adhere to, trust in and rely on--His name" (John 1:12, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
The premise being that men exercised their free will and received Christ--that is, they freely welcomed Him into their lives. But will you not agree that only one verse is pitifully inadequate to support such a weighty issue? Especially when verse 13 completely destroys the premise? Look at what it says--this is the very next verse!
"Who owe their birth, neither to bloods, nor to the will of the flesh [that of physical impulse], nor to the will of man [that of a natural father], but to God--They are born of God!" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
Verse 11 says that He came into that which belonged to Him--to His own creatures--and those who were His own did not receive Him. Yet incredibly verse 12 tells us that some did receive Him--how is this possible? Our understanding must focus on the word "receive", where we will find that it obviously does not mean to "welcome with open arms" as is the usual interpretation today. The Greek word is lambano, not proslambano as probably would be the case if "welcome" was intended. No, the word--especially in light of verse 13--must be understood as "acquired." Those who "acquired" (received) Christ were born through the will of God--not their own! You see, a spiritually dead individual must be given spiritual life before belief is even possible. Those who cannot understand that which is spiritually discerned (1 Cor.2:14), must have this impossibility overcome prior to belief. To accomplish this, God regenerates the elect individual and then they believe as a subsequent act. Acts 13:48(b) bears this out: "....and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."
Those who advocate the free will position also insist that God restores sufficient ability to the lost individual to enable him to accept Christ. I quote theologian Henry C. Thiessen, taken from his book entitled "Systematic Theology" (p.345):
"Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores to all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. This is the salvation-bringing grace of God that has appeared to all men. In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with his restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him...."
Thus we see that this noted theologian hangs his entire premise upon one (1) verse of Scripture--Titus 2:11, where we read:
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (KJV).
Once again I must point out that this is a tremendously weak proof text for such a weighty doctrinal assumption. But once you swallow Charles Finney's new theology "hook, line and sinker," precious few options are left open to you! It is my contention that both free will and the ability to exercise it are very obviously two concepts that have been forced upon the Scriptures (exegesis) and not actually derived from them. I further submit to you that if either or both of these doctrinal tenets were valid, the apostle Paul would have covered them in depth in his epistles. And since this is not the case, what other conclusion can we reach?
Finally, I will leave you with this bit of information relative to free will. The following are quotes gleaned from the decrees of the Council of Trent (1563)--the avowed standard of Roman Catholic doctrine:
"If anyone shall affirm, that man's free will, moved and excited by God, does not, by consenting, co-operate with God for the attainment of justification; if moreover, anyone shall say, that the human will cannot refuse complying, if it pleases; but that it is inactive, and merely passive; let such one be accursed."
"If anyone shall affirm, that since the fall of Adam, man's free-will is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing titular, yea a name, without a thing, and a fiction introduced by Satan into the Church; let such an one be accursed."
These are but two of the many anathemas (curses) placed by the Catholic Church upon those who disagree with their doctrine. And it is most revealing that those fundamentalist Christians who hold to the "free will" position are actually in agreement with Roman Catholic dogma!
Lord willing, more to follow......
If you have received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and been born again, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
If you have never placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, but have come to sense His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to receive His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you truly believe in Him as Lord and Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.
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