Why does it matter?
Souls are in the balance. It is possible to have a great understanding of many theological issues and memorize entire books of the Bible and still not come to a “saving knowledge” of the gospel of Jesus Christ.1 There is only one Savior and “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.2
Religion has done its part in sending untold millions to hell. Jesus was very clear to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:33 when He said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” These were false teachers “whose eternal destiny was hell (lit, ‘Gehenna’), the place of eternal punishment”3 Dr. John R. Rice wrote, “We may be sure that most of the people in hell did not expect to go there.”4 In the final analysis, there are eternal results for both the preacher and the hearer.
Jesus preached and taught about the reality of hell. He knew it well, for He had created it for the devil and his angels.5 Anyone who challenges a hell where the fire is never quenched6 challenges the veracity of the Son of God. Those who make hell the grave are calling Jesus a liar. The reality of hell and the lake of fire cannot be challenged without challenging the word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ himself.7
There is also much more than the negative realities of a soul perishing without Christ. Jesus offers forgiveness, justification, and a home in heaven.8 There is much to be gained by those who would be saved. Becoming a child of God and having eternal life are wonders beyond imagination.9
Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Church membership and good standing in the community are pointless without salvation. No amount of wealth, fame, accomplishment, or power can compare to the value of a man’s soul. The subject of salvation is one of paramount importance.
The issues surrounding eternal life are serious indeed. John F. MacArthur, Jr. writes, “Several who disagree with my view have said in print that the lordship salvation controversy is a matter of eternal consequence. This means that whoever is wrong on this question is proclaiming a message that can send people to hell. On that we agree.”10 There are indeed eternal consequences.
It is a serious issue not only when considering the destiny of the lost sinner, but also in light of the consequences for the presenter of the message. The man who preaches another gospel is accursed. Paul wrote to the church of Galatia:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.11
It matters not who the messenger is that changes or perverts the gospel message. Paul, under Holy Spirit inspiration, writes “let him be accursed.” This means “let him be damned.” For a living illustration of the severity and seriousness of this topic, refer to the confrontation Paul had with Peter in the second chapter of Galatians.12
What is salvation?
“Salvation means to effect successfully the full delivery of someone or something from impending danger.”13 Salvation and the gospel are clearly defined in the word of God. The problem comes when men start to diminish or add to the Scripture. Man has a way of complicating things and more importantly, the evil one is a master of creating confusion. It must be remembered that confusion and faith are opposites. God says what He means and means what He says.
Salvation means to save, to deliver, to rescue from danger, to keep safe and sound. When used in a negative sense, it means to save from danger, as from hell. The positive use of the word means to make whole.14 Salvation is a biblical word that refers not only to the deliverance of the soul but also to the future redemption of our body. Romans 8:23-25 says:
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” This is when death will be swallowed up in victory.
Before leaving this topic of completed salvation, several things should be noted. When man fell, he died that day spiritually, but clearly not physically.15 The fall did affect man both physically and spiritually. In much the same way, when a person is born again, they are saved spiritually. But the completion of this process does not occur until the return of Christ. It is important to note that the passage that spells out and defines the gospel, also ends with a dissertation on the corruptible putting on incorruption and the mortal putting on immortality. As 1 Corinthians 15:55-58 exclaims so well:
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Notice the word “Therefore” in verse 58. It does not say one must be stedfast, unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord in order to have the victory the Lord Jesus Christ has won. It is all by grace through faith in the finished work of the Savior. When we receive our glorified bodies, we will simply be fully realizing this victory already awarded to the saints.
The terms “saved,” “salvation,” or “born again” are synonymous. While having further implications, the realities of each of these terms stem from having received the free gift of eternal life. Salvation is a present state with future consequences.
The gospel is the key. What is the gospel? Taking a phone book and calling churches in one’s area to ask, “What is the gospel?” is very enlightening. The caller receives all kinds of answers. Many will give a list of assorted things. This is not only sad but alarming. Many faithful church members have no clue what the gospel is because their pastor does not know himself. It is important to define and understand the gospel.
The word gospel means “good news”16 What is this good news? The apostle Paul clearly tells us what is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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 of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
Notice that Paul clearly states that this is “the gospel”. It is not “a” gospel or a variant thereof. Also, the Spirit of God is purposeful in stating “By which also ye are saved”. If one is searching for the soul-saving gospel message, here it is! Paul goes even further to emphasize this point by declaring this is the same good news he personally received himself. Friend, if this is the message that saved old Saul of Tarsus and saved the believers of Corinth, then it is the same message the church needs to embrace today.
This message was given in the Old Testament. This gospel was not something that just happened. It was planned by God before the foundation of the world.17 After His resurrection, Jesus spoke to disciples on the Emmaus Road.
Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.18
Doctor Luke also records how Paul demonstrated the gospel from the Old Testament. In Acts 17:2-3 he writes “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” Paul, referring to the Old Testament scriptures, states in 1 Corinthians 15 that is “according to the scriptures”.
The first part of the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins”. Sin is the problem of all mankind. Romans 3:23 states clearly, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” thus concluding all under sin. How is one brought to the knowledge of sin? The knowledge of sin comes by the law.19 “The Law leaves us condemned, so that the only escape from sin is faith in Christ.”20
From the beginning, it has been clear that the wages of sin is death.21 Christ, the Messiah, the conquering seed of the woman, and the Lamb of God is the Savior. He is sinless and therefore could pay the price for our sins with His own blood.22 That price for sin is death.23 Man is described as the sinner and Christ as the one who paid for man’s trespasses by His death on the old rugged cross. The apostle Peter wrote, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:” in 1 Peter 3:18.
The gospel is not finished with the death of the Son of God on the cross. The gospel plainly says “that he was buried”. Jesus did not simply swoon and then revive later. He plainly died, as witnessed by the blood and the water that flowed from his side when pierced by the Roman spear. The physical body of Jesus lay lifeless in the grave for three days.
The victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is a crucial part of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:4 says “… he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” Christ “was raised again for our justification.”24
A wonderful passage can be found in 1 Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (emphasis added). Notice the terminology referring to the second birth. Also, the description of the believer’s reservations in heaven made possible by the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is troubling to read gospel tracts that do not mention the resurrection. Since the gospel is declared to be 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:”, how could one fail to mention a critical element of it? One can visit the grave of the great leaders of the lost religious world, but the tomb of Jesus alone is empty! Paul writes to the believers in Rome, Jesus was “…declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (emphasis added).25 If there is no resurrection, then there is no good news. If there is no good news, then there is no reason to label that message as “the gospel.”
In the very chapter declaring the good news God tells us:
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.26
Now some might say, “we are not denying the resurrection, just omitting it”. Is it not necessary? Was a major part of the preaching and writings of the holy apostles27 just filler? Was Paul just making much ado about nothing? Absolutely not!
Missionary Chuck Sligh, who serves with Baptist International Missions Inc., had knee surgery in Germany. He could not read German and asked someone to help him with the papers. Unfortunately, the person just skimmed over it. They simply stated that the papers declared benign information such as the time and where to sign. What the person failed to read and report is that Brother Sligh was to bring his own pain killer and crutches. He took the train to the surgery. As the doctors began to work, his pain got excruciating. One doctor pulled Brother Sligh’s leg laterally to separate the cartilage so they could do the arthroscopic surgery. He asked if he could please have some anesthetic. An Italian intern patted him on the shoulder and said, “You Americans can’t take pain like we Europeans can, can you?” He shouted, “No! Give me some pain medicine.” They ignored the request and laughed. Screaming in pain all the way through is not the ideal picture of surgery. The doctors finished and promptly left. There he sat alone on the table with rapid swelling and increasing pain. Half an hour later, the doctor came by and noticed him on the table and said, “You stupid American, you can go whenever you like.” Incredulous, Brother Sligh said, “There’s no wheelchair.” Then the doctor replied, “You don’t need a wheelchair; just go.” He looked at the surgeon and asked how he was supposed to get downstairs and to his train. The surgeon stated that it was written on the paper to get crutches ahead of time. He had neither pain killer nor crutches. Oh well, someone just failed to mention that part. That was truly tragic, but even more tragic is a gospel presentation that does not include the resurrection! 28
Carelessness in the presentation is untenable, as an understanding of this gospel message is imperative. As Jesus described in Matthew 13:19, “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side (emphasis added).” A person must understand the gospel in order to be saved. That is one of the dangers of what is referred to as “ten-second soul-winning.”29 How can anyone hearing a clear presentation of the gospel have an understanding in sixty seconds? It is simply not possible. This is seed fallen by the wayside. Believers must present the gospel clearly.
What does God do?
Salvation is the work of God. John 6:28-29 tells of this encounter with Jesus, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Man does not do God’s part. “The NT is unique among the world religions. Typically religion is mankind seeking God, but Christianity is God seeking fallen mankind!”30 Man’s part is to believe. God does the seeking and saving.
God knows how to state great things in simple easy to understand terms. Starting with creation in Genesis 1:1 scripture simply states, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Then the plain statement in Genesis 1:16 that “…he made the stars also.” Sounds simple enough, but considering the Milky Way Galaxy alone contains more than one billion stars, this is astounding.31 In reference to salvation, it may appear simple on man’s side of the equation, but simply mind-numbing when considering the Lord’s part. God made salvation simple for the sinner, but it was not simple when one considers all that He has done.
God’s work of regeneration at the moment of salvation accomplishes a dizzying array of wonderful things. Most people easily grasp that God takes all the believer’s sins and puts them on Christ.32 Also, most people understand that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned unto them. The believer is justified. Justified means “to be treated as if righteous, to be held acquitted, to be cleared and to be approved.”33 The Christian is also reconciled to God,34 justified,35 given eternal life,36 has a home reserved in heaven,37 redeemed,38 freed from condemnation,39 made partakers of the divine nature,40 adopted into the family of God,41 born of the Spirit,42 indwelt43 and sealed by the Holy Spirit,44 made a new creature,45 made dead to sin and the law, sanctified, r46 made part of the body of Christ,47 forgiven all trespasses,48 delivered from the power of darkness, translated into the kingdom of God’s Son,49 made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ,50 made to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,51 and much more! The Christian has peace with God and a secure destiny. This list is so great that it is highly improbable that anyone ever knew, much less understood it all at the moment of conversion. A man need not understand all of God’s wonderful works to be saved. He must understand the gospel and put his faith in Jesus and His finished work.
A popular passage also goes a long way to tearing down false ideas about salvation. That passage is Ephesians 2:8-9. It says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Please take note of the phrase “not of yourselves.” That truth, expressed elsewhere in scripture as well, completely destroys all man’s religion and clears up false concepts about repentance and Lordship salvation, which will be dealt with later. It is clearly the “gift of God.” This also illustrates that it is God that justifies the ungodly and not the ungodly who justifies himself.52
Faith is the key. Many fail to truly believe. There are times a soul winner labors to explain the gospel clearly. Then after the sinner prays to receive Christ, the soul winner asks, “Did you just do what God says here in His Word?” “Yes,” they reply. “Did He save you?” Then he replies, “I hope so.” That is not saving faith. That is doubt.
If a man fallen in his yard calls to a passerby on the street and thinks to himself, “Help is not going to come,” that is not faith. If the fallen man calls and does not even need to look up, because he knows help is on the way, then that is faith.
Christians too have trouble with a lack of faith. How many times did Christ challenge His disciples because of their little faith? Proverbs 3:5-6 are favorite verses of many believers. Yet many times when they pray and acknowledge the Lord, they hope He will direct their paths. That is not faith. In the same way, the unconverted man must come to a place where he truly believes, “for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”53
When does a believer receive the Holy Spirit?
Answering the question of when one receives the Holy Spirit does more to protect new believers against false teaching than any other doctrine outside the gospel itself. Any individual who comes to understand when the Holy Spirit comes in to dwell and the duration of that indwelling, realizes it brings peace and security. This not only answers those teaching some kind of second blessing theology,54 but also answers heresies dealing with maintaining salvation, progressive salvation, losing salvation, and the like.
First, consider what Paul writes in Romans 8:9. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (emphasis added).” If you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you are not saved. The scripture is clear.
When does an individual receive the Holy Spirit of God? Ephesians 1:12-14 emphatically answers this question. These verses should be shared with everyone who is led to Christ. They say:
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that, ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Warren W. Wiersbe writes of these verses, “The entire process of salvation is given in this verse, so we had better examine it carefully. It tells how the sinner becomes a saint. First, he hears the Gospel of salvation. This is the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.”55 He then continues, “What is the significance of this sealing of the Holy Spirit? For one thing, it speaks of a finished transaction. Even today, when important legal documents are processed, they are stamped with the official seal to signify the completion of the transaction. This sealing also implies ownership: God has put his seal on us because He has purchased us to be His own (1 Cor. 6:19–20). It also means security and protection.”56 So an individual clearly receives the Spirit of God at conversion.
The scripture says we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. If there were any doubts as to the duration of “until the redemption of the purchased possession,” it is settled in Ephesians 4:30: “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” “His seal of a believer remains until the day of redemption, the time that a believer receives his new body.”57 That is when salvation is complete. Once a believer has his glorified body, he will be like Christ58 and never again sin, as sin is condemned in the flesh.59 He is safe and secure with Christ for eternity.
There is a profound impact on an individual who comprehends that they are sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 should be taught to every new convert. It says, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Converts have literally reached in their pockets and thrown their cigarettes in the trash can. People have set aside their alcohol, never to touch it again. This is a comforting thought and yet carries tremendous responsibility with it. An individual’s body does not belong to him, but to God. This settles so many debates, from substance abuse to gluttony, to abortion and euthanasia. What a powerful truth that will radically change anyone’s worldview.
- 2 Timothy 3:7; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
- Acts 4:10-12
- John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983).
- John R. Rice, Hell! What the Bible Says About It (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord, 2000), 35.
- Matthew 25:41
- Mark 9:43
- Revelation 20:14-15
- 1 Peter 1:3-5
- 1 Corinthians 2:9
- John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According To Jesus. (Panorama, CA: Word of Grace, 1988), xiv.
- Galatians 1:6-9
- Galatians 2:11-21
- Harold L. Willington, The Doctrine of Salvation. (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty Home Bible Institute, 1977), 13.
- Roy Wallace, Studies In Systematic Theology. (Shreveport, LA: LinWell, 2001), 279.
- Genesis 2:17
- Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996).
- 1 Peter 1:20
- Luke 24:25-27
- Romans 3:20
- Earl D. Radmacher, Salvation (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), 66.
- Genesis 2:16; Romans 3:23
- Hebrews 7:25-28; 2 Corinthians 5:21
- Romans 6:23
- Romans 4:25
- Romans 1:4
- 1 Corinthians 15:12-22
- 2 Peter 1:21
- Chuck Sligh, interviewed by author, 14 Dec. 2009, via email.
- Phil Wheeler, interview by author, 1 October 2009, via telephone.
- Robert James Utley, Volume 4, The Beloved Disciple’s Memoirs and Letters: The Gospel of John, I, II, and 3 John, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 231.
- Paul J. “Star.” Green, World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. World Book, Inc. (accessed 18 November 2009); available from http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/Article?id=ar529540
- 2 Corinthians 5:21.
- Roy Wallace, Studies In Romans (Shreveport, LA: LinWel, 2002) 60.
- Romans 5:10.
- Romans 3:24.
- Romans 6:23.
- 1 Peter 1:3-5.
- Revelation 5:9.
- John 3:18.
- 2 Peter 1:4.
- John 1:12; Romans 8:15.
- John 3:5-8.
- Romans 8:9-11.
- Ephesians 1:12-13; 4:30.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15.
- 1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:11.
- Ephesians 5:30.
- Colossians 2:13.
- Colossians 1:13.
- Romans 8:16-17.
- Ephesians 2:6.
- Romans 4:3-4.
- Romans 10:13.
- David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossways Books, 1997), 224.
- Wiersbe, Bible Exposition.
- Walvoord, Bible Knowledge.
- 1 John 3:2.
- Romans 8:3.