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Soteriology

Note: Due to the numerous verses quoted here, hyperlinks for verses are not provided.
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God who is Sovereign (Is. 46:9-10, Dan. 4:35) , chose to save an elect people before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5), such that He would show His mercy and love (Eph. 2:4) on a particular people whom He has chosen, not because of anything they have done (Rom. 9:11-12), but because of His Sovereign grace (Rom. 9:18). Man who is depraved in his totality (Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10-18) will not choose God whatever the circumstances (Ps. 14:3, Rom. 3:10 -11), thus God by His free mercy pour out His saving grace upon this elect (Eph. 1:7-8), regenerating them (Col. 2:13) and opening their eyes to see their desperate condition before God. In brokenness and repentance over their sins (Acts 2:37), these people would by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9) accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (John 3:16), whereby their sins are imputed to Christ (2 Cor. 5:21a) and Christ's righteousness imputed to them (2 Cor. 5:21b), and as their Lord (Mt. 16:24-25), thus living each day in obedience to God. Thus being justified, they learn to grow in Christ everyday (Eph. 4:15, 2 Peter 3:18) by cooperating (1 Cor. 3:10) with the Holy Spirit in their sanctification.

Although God is the person who saves, evangelism by preaching is necessary as God is the one who has decrees that this is the method he has ordained (Rom. 10:14) to bring His elect to him. Thus, Christians must evangelize all people (Mt. 29:19-20) and trusting God to use us as an instrument to save the elect, whom we do not know, unto salvation.

Elaboration:

The ordo salutis, or order of salvation, is that the elect are chosen and predestined by God before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5) by his grace and mercy (Eph. 1:6). The Holy Spirit then regenerates those elect by taking out their heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26-27), by resurrecting the sinner who is dead in his trespasses (Eph. 2:1) and making him alive in Christ (Col. 2:13). This process of regeneration (or being born-again — Jn. 3:3) births faith in the sinner and he thus by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9) turn from his sin in repentance and to Christ (Acts 20:21). By so doing, his sins are imputed to Christ and Christ's righteousness is imputed to him (Rom. 3:22,24-25, 4:4-8, 2 Cor. 5:19), which is the process of justification by which he is saved. Therefore, grace precedes regeneration which precedes faith, which precedes justification. Salvation is therefore by grace from the beginning to the end.

The first act of God is in election and predestining some people to be saved. To understand this doctrine, we must first understand the doctrine known as Total Depravity.

Total Depravity is the doctrine that Man has degenerated from a state of moral perfection and spiritual life to a state of spiritual death and darkness, with all his faculties (heart, will, mind) corrupted. It is thus a clarification of the doctrine of original sin as applied to Man. The doctrine of original sin is the doctrine that Man inherited the sin nature from Adam and Eve when our first parents first fell in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-19). As the federal head of the entire human race, Adam damned the entire human race such that we all fell in Adam (Rom. 5:12, 18a, 1 Cor. 22a), therefore all Adam's posterity are born sinful (Ps. 51:5). The Fall also extends to the nature world, in which creation itself is said to be under bondage (Rom. 8:20). Total depravity asserts that the fall of Man was such that Man himself could not choose good even when he is given a choice, as God calls good, that is. All Man are therefore evil and fundamentally corrupt! Man's thoughts are continually evil (Gen. 6:5), his heart is wicked and deceitful (Jer. 17:9), he doesn't seek God or does good (Ps. 14:2-3, Rom. 3:10-18), and he prefers darkness to light (Jn. 3:19). This darkness extends to all his faculties: his heart is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9), his will does not seek God (Ps. 14:2-3, Rom. 3:10) and his mind is darkened (Rom. 1:21). The consequences are as follows: A deceitful heart means that Man's desires and emotions are not to be trusted as organs of objective truth, a darkened mind implies that apologetics as per Evidentialism would not work as the person 'suppress the truth which he knows in unrighteousness' (Rom. 1:18-19), and as for the will, it would not seek God and doesn't want to; in fact he rebels against God. Thus, there are no seekers after God and left to our own devices, nobody would accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Thus, due to Man's sinfulness, all of us humans become spiritually dead (Rom. 5:12, 6:23a) and are condemned to everlasting fire and suffering in hell and the lake of fire (Mt. 25:41,46, Rev. 20:14-15). God is holy (Is. 6:3) and He thus cannot tolerate sin. Therefore, all men who have lived, have and will ever live are condemned to hell by their own sins without help, unless God by his mercy help them.

With the knowledge of total depravity, we can see why election is actually such a precious and glorious doctrine. Since there is no one who seeks God, how can anyone then turn to God unless God does something? To put it simply, no election, no salvation for anyone. We have seen already that Man does not deserved to be save and go to heaven. Just because God is love does not mean that he is obliged to save anyone. God is also Just, righteous (Ps. 9:8) and Holy. God is not obliged to save unrepentant sinners who actively rebel against Him. In fact, God has every right to send everyone to go to hell, regardless of how good they are and how many good deeds they have done in the sight of Man. In fact, all our righteousness are considered filthy rags in the sight of God (Is. 64:6). All the 'good deeds' of Mother Theresa, all the 'holy' men and women combined, is as nothing, as filthy rags, when seen in the eyes of God. Therefore, unless God works salvation for us, we are doomed to the fires of hell.

Election is therefore God's graciousness and mercy extended to fallen and depraved Man. From eternity past before the creation of the world, God the Father have elected or chosen some people to be saved (Eph. 1:4-5). This is not based upon foreseen faith, as in God looking down through the corridors of time to see who would chose him, but upon God's mercy alone (Rom. 9:11-18). This is seen in Scripture as the rationale for why God chose Jacob and not Esau1. In fact, almost the entire chapter of Rom. 9 deals with God's Sovereignty and election. The entire passage boils down to this:

Therefore, God has mercy on whom he has mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Rom. 9:18 - NIV)

Elsewhere, it also speaks that the reason why Jacob was chosen while Esau was passed over is not due to their works and their foreseen faith or absence of it; it is determined by God alone (v. 11-12). Therefore, both Jacob and Esau have absolutely no part in determining whether they were saved by God, nor whether they were chosen by Him. To hammer the point in that God elects a person out of His Sovereign choice and mercy, and not based on any foreseen faith of the person in Him, the apostle Paul gave us another example of God's sovereignty, this time in hardening Pharaoh's heart (v.17). In this case, it is true that Pharaoh's hardened his own heart (3 times: Ex. 8:15,32, 9:34). However, it is also true that God hardened Pharaoh's' heart (6 times: Ex. 9:12, 10:1,20,27, 11:10, 14:8). In light of what we know about total depravity, God have withdrawn some of his common grace from Pharaoh's such that Pharaoh's naturally hardened his heart, thus God is said to harden Pharaoh's' heart. Regardless, the fact is that the choice of the hardening of Pharaoh's' heart is ultimately up to God. God even directs the king's heart in the direction he pleases (Prov. 21:1)! This proclaims the absolute sovereignty and freedom of God in election and salvation. Arminians, Semi-pelagians and Pelagians alike could try to twist the Bible in whatever fashion they desire, but the fact is that the Bible proclaim the absolute freedom of God on this matter. Salvation is by grace alone (Sola Gratia), not dependent on God's foreknowledge of anyone's faith, but on God's mercy. If God didn't elect a person, the person has no right to complain as he has no right or any claim on God's mercy. God doesn't owe anyone anything, especially since we are the ones who willing and 'sincerely' sin and reject God. We didn't want Him, so why should he gives us what we don't want or desire, anyway? Even if we do desire it, which we all naturally don't, we have no rights to God's mercy and grace. The rich person who gives one beggar out of 10 beggars on the street some money is not unfair as none of these beggars have any claim to his money! Paul in this epistle of his in fact offer a stinging rebuke to those who dare question God in terms of fairness.This is seen in Rom. 9:19-21.

One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who have resisted his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is made say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Rom. 9:19-21 - NIV)

From this passage, we can see that no one can fault God on his election of some, and those who do so are rebuked by Scripture.

Another passage that Arminians use to support their contention that election is by foreseen faith is found in the Golden chain of salvation, Rom. 8:28-30, in particular Rom. 8:29. The passage is shown below:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom. 8:28-30 - NIV)

To understand v.29 better, we would look at a better translation of Rom. 8:29 and also exegete it from the Greek.

In the ESV, Rom. 8:29 is rendered as follows:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:29 -ESV)

Notice the word 'whom', which is missing in the NIV. The strange omission of this word from the NIV made the concept harder to understand, though not impossible, from the verse in that particular version. The ESV is correct in adding this word as it is a correct exegete from the Greek New Testament. In the Greek New Testament, the word transliterated Hos () means who, which, what, that 2, and thus the word 'whom' should be placed in the place it is placed in the ESV.

Therefore, a cursory look at the passage, especially in the ESV, would show that 1) God foreknew the person ('whom') and not what the person will or will not do. 2)Foreknew in this context means foreloved, which is the way the Bible used the word 'know', as in Adam knew Eve (Gen. 4:1 - ESV) and how God only knew Israel (Amos 3:2 -ESV). 3) Even if you maintain that foreknew means foreknowledge of a person's faith, and if you read this into the text, you still have to contend with Rom. 9 and its proclamation of God's sovereign choice.

Thus, election by God is totally by the grace of God and not by any of our works, nor by our foreseen faith. In fact, the Arminians ere by making faith itself a good work which God rewards with salvation. Granted, it is not even a physical work, nor even a strenuous work. However, it is a mental work, no matter if it require little observable effect. Therefore, we will say clearly with the Scriptures that 'if it were by works, then grace would no longer be grace' (Rom. 11:6). The Canons of the Synod of Dordt put it very plainly3:

Who teach: That the incomplete and non-decisive election of particular persons to salvation occurred because of a foreseen faith, conversion, holiness, godliness, which either began or continued for some time; but that the complete and decisive election occurred because of foreseen perseverance unto the end in faith, conversion, holiness, and godliness; and that this is the gracious and evangelical worthiness, for the sake of which he who is chosen is more worthy than he who is not chosen; and that therefore faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness, and perseverance are not fruits of the unchangeable election unto glory, but are conditions which, being required beforehand, were foreseen as being met by those who will be fully elected, and are causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not occur.

This is repugnant to the entire Scripture, which constantly inculcates this and similar declarations: Election is "not by works but by him who calls (Rom 9:12)." "And all who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48)." "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4)." "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name (John 15:16)." "And if by grace, then it is no longer by works (Rom 11:6)." "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son (1 John 4:10)." (First head of doctrine, Divine election and reprobation, rejection of errors, first head: paragraph 5)

Therefore, we are saved by God's grace alone, without any work on our part. The grace of God is thus the efficacious agent in salvation. The Father elects some people, the Son Jesus Christ dies for them so as to pay the penalties for their sins and render them justified before God, and the Holy Spirit regenerates them (Jn 3:5-8). Therefore, it is true that 'For God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.' (Jn. 3:16). For God love everyone, as in every type of people, such that he send His Son Jesus Christ such that all could be saved if they (the whoever) so decided to follow Jesus. The problem is that no one will come to Christ apart from the Spirit's regenerating power; being 'born-again'. This elect will thus come to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, so that they will be saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9) in Christ alone.

I would now go back to the golden chain of salvation, which is found in Rom. 8:30 (quoted above). In this verse, we can see the promise of God regarding the salvation of those who are His. God has thus said that those who predestined (past tense), he also called (past tense), which he also justified (past tense), which he then also glorified (past tense). From this, we can see firstly that everything is in the past tense, therefore for God it is a foregone matter. We who are the elect do not have to strive to be justified before God, nor do we have to strive to achieve future glorification with Christ. For us, it is a done deal, if we are the elect, that is, which comes to the last part of this article.

So since the elect are chosen by God, redeemed by the Son and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, does that mean that the elect could sin how much they want and still be saved? Does this then mean that the gospel of grace encourages licentiousness? By no means (Rom. 6:2a)! Before we go deeper into this issue, I would first answer the first question here about whether the elect could sin how much they want and still be saved. I would say that the answer implied from Scripture is that the elect could sin a lot and still be saved, but it is impossible for a person to keep on continuing in sin to be saved, as this action would prove that he/she is not of the elect.

So what does that mean? In Paul's epistle to the Romans, Paul, after proclaiming the glorious gospel of salvation freely by grace through faith and not by works, anticipates an objection that we could continue sinning as God's grace would continue to increase (the heresy of Antinomianism). Obviously, this is nonsense and Paul shows why in Rom. 6. We are set free from sin by Christ for righteousness, so why are we still sinning or even want to sin? Thus, the true believer in Christ would not want to sin and constantly struggle against his sin nature in the flesh. In fact, we have already stated that repentance of sin is part of salvation as shown above (Acts 2:37), therefore this objection falls flat.

Regarding the elect, we must know that the elect are not known to us, therefore on our part, we are to prove that we are the elect by persevering in the faith, which only the elect will be able to do anyway. In 1 Jn. 2:19 and in Mt. 7:21-23, we can see that no one should presume to be of the elect just because they had confess Christ, done miracles in his name and/or basically minister for him. In Heb. 10:26-29, we can see that for those who continue in sin, they are not saved. Therefore, for the elect, although good works are not needed for salvation, they are the consequence of it (Eph. 2:10). If someone claims to be saved yet doesn't exhibit good works, the warning by James in Jas. 2:14-20 is needed:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (Jas. 2:14-20 - NIV)

Of course, this does not in any way makes those of us who are of the elect incapable of being assured of our own salvation, as the Holy Spirit will testify with our spirits that we are the elect of Christ (Rom. 8:16) and thus the elect can have full assurance of their salvation.

In summary, therefore, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Christian faith is thus a living faith which expresses itself in good works, as proof of their salvation.


References

[1] I would strongly recommend the DVD Amazing Grace, the history and theology of Calvinism, which have an excellent section on this. For a review, click here.

[2] http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=3739&version=nas

[3] http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/creeds/dort.htm