The Scheme of Redemption
In our previous article, The Extension of God's Grace, we discussed the actions God took to secure man's redemption. At the close of that article we noted that Redemption is not universal. There are some who will not gain an entrance into heaven. This is clearly revealed in many places in scripture. One example is Jesus' statement to His disciples in Matthew 25. He said, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And he will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left..." (verses 31-33). The Lord stated in verse 46 that "...these (those on the left) will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
As already noted in our refutation of Calvinism, God is not capricious. He does not arbitrarily assign condemnation or reward at a whim. Concerning his eventual coming to earth, Peter said about the Lord, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). If God extended his Grace to all men, as indicated in this text as well as passages such as John 3:16, and not all men are going to taste heaven, it must be understood that salvation is conditional.
In fact, the passages above indicate within their context that salvation is conditional. In Matthew 25 the separation of the sheep and goats was dependent upon their works. The sheep on the right hand were the ones who had been hospitable to strangers. Those condemned were in their state because they ignored the needs of those less fortunate. Too, Peter states in his passage that only those who repented would escape perishing. Stated simply, God has done His part to secure our Redemption, and now man must do his part to secure it for himself. This is not to say that men can earn or merit their eternal safety. The debt of sin is too great, and our personal efforts too meager to earn our salvation. However, we can certainly secure for ourselves condemnation by our actions or lack thereof.
The next several articles will examine the part man plays in securing his own Redemption. The remainder of this article will serve as an overview.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16).
We have previously established the fundamental facts concerning Jesus' life. To recap:
These fundamental facts which affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, and our Redeemer, constitute the saving power of God to man. This is by God's design. "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:21-24).
God's word is indeed powerful. It is described in Hebrews 4:12, "For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The gospel "cut to the heart" the antagonists of Stephen in Acts 7 (verse 54), convicting them of the sin in their lives. This enraged them, and led them to stone Stephen to death. In Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit reveals that many Jews that day were "cut to the heart" as well (verse 37), this time leading to repentance and baptism for the "remission of sins." You may note that the word did the same thing in both instances. It pierced the hearts of men "even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow." You may also note that it produced two very different results. That is because the power of the gospel is persuasive. It can only produce repentance when it is heard by honest hearts seeking the truth. Stephen's tormentors were not interested in the truth, they simply wanted to protect their precious conventions. The Jews on Pentecost however were sincerely seeking forgiveness, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (verse 37).
An illustration of what the power of the gospel can accomplish in men is seen in our Lord's parable, recorded in Matthew 13:1-9, and explained in verses 18-23. The constituent elements of the parable are the Sower (the one who preaches the word), the Seed (the word of God) and the various soils (the hearts of men). You may notice in the parable that the only variables in the story are the hearts of men. The Sower is the same throughout, as is the Seed. So the different results produced can only be explained by the differences in men's hearts:
The only way the power of the gospel can bear fruit in the lives of those who hear it is if it falls on good and honest hearts. The Apostle Paul preached the gospel in Thessalonica. His efforts are recorded in Acts 17, and his preaching persuaded some, as a "great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas." But, "...the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people." In contrast to the ungodly actions of those in Thessalonica is the attitude of the Bereans in verses 11 and 12, "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men."
Christians have been criticized in the past for advocating that there are five steps man must take to be saved. These are easily remembered, and concisely stated as 1) Hear; 2) Believe; 3) Repent; 4) Confess; 5) Be Baptized. This has been ridiculed as arbitrary, contrived, shallow, and has been slurred as "recipe salvation." In reality, it is none of the above. Rather, it succinctly states the logical process a sinner goes through from the time the gospel is preached until his conversion. It is also eminently scriptural. We will discuss some of these "steps" in greater detail later, but for now note the logical sequence.
Paul's quote above indicates that we are to walk in "newness of life." The Christian should view his immersion into Christ as a beginning. He is now a babe in Christ. Peter gives instructions, "Therefore laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Peter 2:1-2). The Apostle Paul spoke of the obligations of the grace we have received, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14). So, the grace of God that saves us instructs us to godly living. In so doing we gain victory. God is with us, who can be against us?
The faithful Christian cannot be defeated. He is invincible. Paul wrote with confidence, "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39). These are indeed comforting words, and the Christian can rest in the surety of his salvation.
However, some have wrested this assurance to mean that a child of God cannot lose his soul. This is not so. While it is impossible for any created thing to snatch us away from the protection of our God, it is possible for us to willingly forfeit our salvation. We have labored throughout this study to establish that man is a free moral agent. He has choice. If he chooses to serve God, nothing can thwart him in this. It is his choice, and so long as he wills to serve God, the Devil is powerless to destroy him. If he decides to cease serving God, he will forfeit his salvation. This is why the Bible is replete with exhortations to faithfulness, and warnings of danger. Peter wrote, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
Simply put, man must obey the conditions God has laid down for obtaining redemption. The book of Hebrews says, "And having been perfected, He (Christ) became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:9). Christ redeems the obedient.
A life lived faithful to the Lord ensures an eternal reward. Paul wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul and we can be sure of this promise, for it is the Lord's. "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (Revelation 3:11-12).
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