Monday, January 22, 2007

Theology 101 - Soteriology

Hold on ladies, this is gonna be a lengthy post! :-)

"Christian! the only thing that makes you differ from the vilest being that pollutes the earth, or from the darkest fiend that gnaws his chains in hell, is the free grace of God!" - Octavious Winslow

Soteriology is the theological doctrine of salvation as effected by Jesus. A summary of the reformed view of soteriology is this, "salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ's death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the Gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone.

Most mainline evangelicals would not argue with what I've presented above, where the debate typically begins is when we consider the part man plays, or doesn't play, in the order salvation. Consider what Louis Berkhof wrote on this matter,
"We begin the discussion of the order of salvation, that is, of the order in which the Holy Spirit applies the work of redemption to the hearts and lives of man...we take our starting-point in those redemptive acts of God in which man does not co-operate, and in which redemption stands out most prominently as a work of God. By doing this we clearly recognize the fact that God and not man begins the redemptive process, and that salvation is altogether a work of divine grace, a work of which we become partakers only in union with Jesus Christ...by the work of regeneration. Many...take their starting-point in man and begin their treatment of the order of salvation with a discussion of saving faith, considered more particularly as an act of man, by which he takes unto himself the blessings of salvation wrought by Christ. They do not speak of the application of the work of redemption by the Holy Spirit, but of its appropriation by man. And in this appropriation everything is made dependent on man's act of faith. It is even by faith that man is regenerated. This representation clearly fits in with their conception of the free will of man. While we honour God as the author of our salavation, and as the primary cause of every redemptive act, we do not lose sight of the fact that, after regeneration, man apppropriates the blessings of salvation by faith, and co-operates with the Spirit of God in some of the redemptive acts, such as conversion and sanctification."
While agreeing on the order of salvation is not a test of ones salvation, it is a very good indicator of one's theology--whether it is man-centered, or whether it is God-centered. By that I mean, is man saved because of what man has done, or is man saved soley because of what God has done? To answer that, let's take this a bit further.

As we saw last week in Biblical anthropology, man's condition apart from God--before salvation--is hopeless. Man without God falls short (Rom. 1:23), is filled with all unrighteousness, evil, haters of God, inventors of evil, disobedient, without understanding (Rom. 1:29-32), does not understand, does not seek after God, (Rom. 3:9-12), is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7), and is spiritually DEAD (Eph. 2:1).

If we deal honestly with Scripture regarding man's condition, then we will understand that man is not simply figuratively hopeless, but literally hopeless. If we are to be rescued from our hopeless situation, we are completely dependent upon God--and it is ALL of God. This brings us to Eph. 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that (faith) not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

If it were not for God giving us the gift of faith, being DEAD we would not--COULD not--respond to the gospel. If we have done anything to contribute to our salvation, then we contradict Scripture and have reason to "boast".

If you've been a Xian for very long, hopefully you know and understand that our "experience(s)" must be measured and weighed first and foremost by Scripture. This seems to be the greatest source of contention in the area of soteriology. The only reason I gave any notice to the gospel or to God's calling on my life is because He FIRST made me alive spiritually--He gave me eyes to see, ears to hear. Prior to that, I was as dead and "stinking" as Lazarus in his tomb. This is a fitting illustration! When Jesus arrived at Lazarus' tomb and commanded Lazarus to come forth, Lazarus had to FIRST be made alive in order to respond to Jesus' command--dead men DON'T walk.

Many believers are confused regarding their part in salvation because they rely on their experience to guide their understanding, rather than rely on Scripture to guide and define their experience. We must bring our experience into line with Scripture and remain under it's authority. Scripture tells me that I was dead in my sin, God made me alive and gave me faith (and the desire) to obey Him. My salvation was NOT initiated by me, my salvation was initiated and completed by God--I merely responded in agreement with the new life God gave me.

The order of salvation, and man's part in it, is found throughout Scripture, but is especially clear in Ephesians 2:

1) Prior to God doing a work in us, we are dead, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked...", Eph. 2:1-2

2) God made the first move by making us alive, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive...", Eph. 2:4-5

3) God justified us (this is another topic for a future "Theology 101" post), "...raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus", Eph. 2:6

4) By God's grace He worked in us the faith necessary to please Him, "...you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.", Eph. 2:8-9

THIS is the "good news"!!! God rescued me, He didn't "meet me halfway". I have absolutely nothing to contribute to my salvation, and I am deeply humbled that for His own good pleasure He saved me--little o' worthless, ungrateful me. I have NO reason to boast, except in Him and His marvelous matchless mercy and grace.

2 comments:

Gayla said...

Excellent post, Connie!

You said: "Many believers are confused regarding their part in salvation because they rely on their experience to guide their understanding, rather than rely on Scripture to guide and define their experience. We must bring our experience into line with Scripture and remain under it's authority."

These are wise words, not only in regard to salvation, but all things as well. Since embracing the doctrines of grace, God has changed my core thinking. He's still in the process of undoing a number of false teachings/wrong theology I had come to believe (mainly from my former church).

God has also enabled me to bend my stubborn will to His. Not always a snap to do, but it's a process...

:)

Connie said...

Gayla said, "He's still in the process of undoing a number of false teachings/wrong theology I had...bend my stubborn will to His..."

Amen! You're not alone! :-)