Three Views of Salvation
Salvation is one of the greatest themes man can possibly consider. Man's acceptance of God is actually referred to as "great salvation" (Heb. 2: 3). Salvation is necessarily great because the antithesis of salvation is great, sin (Rom. 6: 23). Salvation rests on the premise of Jesus' saving and efficacious blood (Matt. 26: 28, I Jn. 1: 7). The greatest question man can ponder concerns his salvation (Acts 16: 30). In the practical matter of salvation, man is faced with three answers as to how his salvation is effected. These three views of salvation cover the entire spectrum of possibilities. In view of the exclusive nature of these three offered answers as to how man achieves salvation, only one of the three can be correct. These views represent the totality of theology, simply and succinctly stated.
Man merits his salvation. Catholicism and many traditional cults advocate meritorious salvation. This view believes man has the potential to rise to such a level as to effect his own salvation. In this vein, please consider the teaching of the apostle Paul (the enunciated truths are applicable to all periods of time, even though pertaining to salvation before and during the Law of Moses):
"1: What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2: For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3: For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4: Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5: But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4).
The essential point Paul is making is that the Jew did not and could not earn his salvation by flawlessly keeping the Law of Moses. However, this was the only way the Jew could have been saved by law keeping. Paul used the example of Abraham to illustrate his point. Even though Abraham was anterior to the Law, he served to illustrate that if man, any man, under any system can earn his salvation, "to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" (vs. 4). The truth, though, is that all sin and therefore are unable to claim justification by meritorious works (Gal. 3: 21, 22, I Jn. 1: 7-10). Hence, the need of grace (Eph. 2: 8). Be it also understood that salvation by grace (the absence of sinless law keeping) does not mix with salvation by flawless conformity to law (Rom. 11: 6).
The man's salvation is wholly of God view. Most of the religious world has been swept along with the pendulum from earning salvation to the opposite extreme of salvation is totally of God and man is passive. The reformers were often heard saying: "Salvation is by grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone." This view of salvation considers man as totally depraved and utterly helpless in his salvation. Total depravity is the impetus for salvation by faith only (they explain that God miraculously supplies even man's faith) and also for the teaching of once saved, always saved. Hear preacher Sam Morris express the belief of man being excluded from participating in his salvation in any way:
"We take the position that a Christian's sins do not damn his soul! The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul .All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he my pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform will not make his soul one whit safer; and all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger .The way a man lives has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul" (Sam Morris was the "Pastor" of the First Baptist Church in Stamford, Texas, when he stated the foregoing).
Beloved, if man's salvation were wholly of God, then, there are numerous and irreconcilable contradictions. On the initial occasion of the preaching of the gospel involving Jesus' shed blood and salvation through and in the arisen Lord, the people asked when told they were sinners in need of salvation, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2: 37.) Peter and the inspired apostles did not rebuke these people seeking salvation because they asked what they should do. In like manner, Peter did not reply by telling them that they had nothing to do (vs. 38-42). Calvinism has done much to spread this false notion of salvation by teaching that the number saved and lost has been predetermined by God before creation and that the number cannot be altered and is totally independent of man.
The third and only remaining possible view: Man's salvation requires unworthy man's participation. This view emphasizes God's part in providing the necessary grace, but also stresses man's responsibility in accepting this grace. A passage in establishing both God and man's involvement in man's salvation is Ephesians 2: 8-10:
"8: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9: Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
"Grace" is God's part and "faith" is man's part. Faith is a "work of God" and is required of man (Jn. 6: 29; Acts 16: 31). God has provided the means so that man can develop faith (Jn. 20: 30, 31, Rom. 10: 17). Faith is a work, in one sense, because it requires effort on man's part to believe. Saving faith is more than just intellectual accenting as to the existence of God, even the demons have this kind of faith (Jas. 2: 19). Saving faith is always seen as obedient, doing whatever God would have them do in their given circumstance (Phili. 2: 12, Gal. 5: 6, Jas. 2: 14-26). In regards to such "children of obedience," Jesus is said to be the "author of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5: 8, 9, cp. I Pet. 1: 14).
How about the objection, "if any work of any kind is required of man in his salvation, then man is saved by work; hence, meritorious salvation." As we have noticed, belief itself is a work, a work of God (Jn. 6: 29). Since John 6: 29 is so important in our effort to herein establish the right view of man's part in salvation, allow me to quote from commentator Matthew Henry regarding Jesus' statement of faith being a "work of God."
" Christ having told them that they must work for the meat he spoke of, must labour for it, they enquire what work they must do, and he answers them, v. 28, 29. 1. Their enquiry was pertinent enough (v. 28): What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Some understand it as a pert question: "What works of God can we do more and better than those we do in obedience to the law of Moses? But I rather take it as a humble serious question, showing them to be, at least for the present, in a good mind, and willing to know and do their duty; and I imagine that those who asked this question, How and What (v. 30), and made the request (v. 34), were not the same persons with those that murmured (v. 41, 42), and strove (v. 52), for those are expressly called the Jews, who came out of Judea (for those were strictly called Jews) to cavil, whereas these were of Galilee, and came to be taught. This question here intimates that they were convinced that those who would obtain this everlasting meat, (1.) Must aim to do something great. Those who look high in their expectations, and hope to enjoy the glory of God, must aim high in those endeavours, and study to do the works of God, works which he requires and will accept, works of God, distinguished from the works of worldly men in their worldly pursuits. It is not enough to speak the words of God, but we must do the works of God. (2.) Must be willing to do any thing: What shall we do? Lord, I am ready to do whatever thou shalt appoint, though ever so displeasing to flesh and blood, Acts 9:6. 2. Christs answer was plain enough (v. 29): This is the work of God that ye believe. Note, (1.) The work of faith is the work of God. They enquire after the works of God (in the plural number), being careful about many things; but Christ directs them to one work, which includes all, the one thing needful: that you believe, which supersedes all the works of the ceremonial law; the work which is necessary to the acceptance of all the other works, and which produces them, for without faith you cannot please God .." (Complete Commentary on the Bible).
Those who contend that man is totally passive in his salvation contradict themselves, when they say man is saved by faith. Faith itself is a work and requires man's participation. Moreover, repentance, confession of Christ's deity, and baptism are seen as being essential to salvation (Acts 2: 38; Rom. 10: 9, 10; Acts 2: 38). The only intelligent answer is that works God has required, including faith, are not works "whereby man can earn salvation or boast." These acts reflect favorably on God, not on the man doing them. All God required works are simply, put another way, man's acceptance and appropriation of the wonderful grace God provides. God's grace and man's role is analogous to the drowning man who is doomed without help. A man suddenly appears and throws out a lifeline; the man takes hold, and is pulled to safety. Can you imagine such headlines as would read: "Drowning man performs a meritorious act of great proportion in saving himself!" The headline would be concerning the real hero, the one who extended the lifeline to the helpless, doomed man, would it not? Hence, the case of God and man in man's salvation. The saved must humbly remember, though, the words of Jesus: "So likewise ye, when ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Lk. 17: 10, cp. Tit. 3: 5).
In conclusion, the view that man merits salvation makes a mockery out of Jesus' death and exalts man; salvation being wholly of God strips man of any responsibility and makes him a robot and precludes his growth; the view that man's salvation involves man's participation in accepting God's grace places emphasis on God but requires man to responsibly act. The third view also results in merging and blending all pertinent scriptures so that there are no contradictions. This final view also allows man to approach Jesus' blood, wherein lies the means of forgiveness of sin (salvation) by water baptism and walking in the light (Acts 2: 38, cp. Matt. 26: 28; I Jn. 1: 7). (To read a pertinent exchange, click on "An Exchange on Grace and Obedience in Man's Salvation."