There are two salvations?

I don’t remember the day I was saved because I wasn’t there when it happened. I had to wait two thousand years before I discovered I’d been totally accepted by God before I was even born, and all due to Christ’s death on the cross.

Other Christians, on the other hand, DO remember the day they were saved, because they were there when it happened. They remember even the date, perhaps, when they believed and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. “And that’s the day I was saved,” they say.

So now we have two groups of Christians, one group that thinks they were saved before they even knew about salvation, and another group that thinks they were saved only after they knew about salvation. The first group believes they were saved without any acceptance or belief on their part, while the second group believes they were saved because of their acceptance and belief.

So who’s right?

Well, depending on one’s definition of “salvation” both groups can be right. If we’re talking salvation as defined by the first half of Romans 5:10 – “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” – then the first group would be right. God totally accepted us – even as his enemies – when his Son died, not because of any conscious acceptance or belief on our part.

But if we’re talking salvation as defined by the second half of Romans 5:10 – “how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be be saved through his life” – then the second group would also be right.

Yes, God accepted and forgave us because of Christ’s death, but there’s more to salvation than that. There’s also the salvation that comes with Christ’s life in the here and now. And this salvation does require acceptance and belief, Romans 10:9, because it’s only “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“Saved” here means the salvation that comes with the resurrected Christ’s life, that happens in this life now. And that’s what kicks in when a person accepts and believes that “Jesus is Lord.” He understands that Jesus as Lord is now saving us every day from “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” 2 Peter 1:4, and he “richly blesses all who call on him,” Romans 10:12.

That’s the other salvation we receive through Jesus. It’s not the salvation we receive from his death, it’s the salvation we receive from his resurrected life right now, that we experience daily as he transforms our lives into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Everybody’s saved; they just don’t know it yet

Christ “died for ALL,” 2 Corinthians 5:15, to be the “Saviour of ALL men,” 1 Timothy 4:10.

So Christ doesn’t miss anybody out. He “gave himself as a ransom for all men,” 1 Timothy 2:6, and he “tasted death for everyone,” Hebrews 2:9, “for the sins of the whole world,” 1 John 2:2, so that God could “reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” Colossians 1:19-20.

So it’s abundantly clear that Christ’s death covers everybody. And when he died, all humanity died with him, 2 Corinthians 5:14. Logically, then, if Christ died to save everyone and we’re all included in that death, then everybody must be saved already. Christ died, job done. “It is finished.”

But not all Christians see it this way, that salvation for all humans – past, present and future – was done and dusted by Jesus on the cross. Some, for instance, believe that only an elect few are saved. Others believe that only those who repent and believe receive salvation. In the minds of these Christians, therefore, salvation is either selective or conditional, that only some people are saved based on certain conditions being met. Salvation for them is definitely not for everybody, nor is it a free gift. Instead, salvation is only “potentially” ours, or it’s only granted in exchange for something we do.

That’s not what Ephesians 2:5 says, however, because “God made us alive with Christ EVEN WHEN we were dead in transgressions.” In other words, God saved us before we even had a clue what salvation was. He saved us from eternal death when we couldn’t care less about repentance and faith. It was when we were in no condition to be saved that he saved us. Why? Verse 8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the GIFT of God.” Salvation from beginning to end is a gift, and a gift that was ours already before we even knew about it.

So here we all are – all of us saved already as God’s amazing gift to us through Christ’s shed blood. But not everybody knows that yet, so it’s the job of the Christian church to tell them, Romans 10:15 – but – tell people in such a way that they get the message of how GOOD God is in making salvation his gift to us, so that people respond and “call on him” (verse 12), because in responding to God he then goes to work on “blessing” them (12) with his OTHER wonderful gift, “the righteousness that comes from him” (3). He now begins to change their lives, because that too is included in his gift of salvation – and if only people knew that as well.

Is everybody going to be saved?

Some say “yes, all human beings will be saved” – with scripture and logic to support it too. Logically, for instance, how could a loving God let anybody go to hell? It’s against his very nature, surely.

Scripturally too, Jesus “gave his life as a ransom for all,1 Timothy 2:6; he’s the “Saviour of all men,” 1 Timothy 4:10; and “in Christ all will be made alive,” 1 Corinthians 15:22. God also “wants all men to be saved,” 1 Timothy 2:4, he doesn’t want “anyone to perish,” 2 Peter 3:9, and Christ draws “all men to himself,” John 12:32. God also promises “mercy on all,Romans 11:32, and the restoration of “everything,Acts 3:21.

Clearly, God wants us all saved and sent Jesus so we could be. But there’s the awful irrationality of evil to consider too, that strange phenomenon that makes people reject God for no understandable reason. Why, for instance, did an archangel rebel against God after knowing God so well for so long? Why did Adam and Eve listen to a talking serpent? Why did Israel demand a return to Egypt after God had just rescued them? Why did people want Jesus dead after all his amazing miracles?

Something out there makes angels and humans do insane, stupid things – and it made a devil out of an archangel, who now disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He tempts, snares, upsets and deceives us by twisting the truth (John 8:44), blinding our minds (2 Corinthians 4:4) and stirring up jealousy and pride (James 3:14-16). The devil can really mess us up.

But Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil,” 1 John 3:8, and 4:4 says, “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world,” so how can the devil destroy us? But if he can’t destroy us, why would scripture also say, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” James 4:7, and “put on the full armour of God so you can stand against the devil’s schemes,” Ephesians 6:11, and pray that God will deliver us from evil, and be super careful that Satan doesn’t “outwit us,” 2 Corinthians 2:11?

Why? Because evil is real and deadly. It makes people do irrational things, think insane thoughts, choose darkness over light (John 3:19) and risk an unforgivable sin (Mark 3:29). But it also makes salvation real, because we see in brilliant clarity what we need saving from. Jesus described salvation as turning from Satan to God, Acts 26:18, because that’s the salvation we all so desperately need. It’s salvation from the awful irrationality of evil.

What’s more important, then? Is it figuring out if we’re all going to be saved (or not), or realizing what God is saving us from?

“Bah humbug” to New Year’s resolutions

As Christians do we need New Year’s resolutions or the rigorous practice of “spiritual disciplines” to make ourselves more spiritual? It sounds like we do in 1 Corinthians 9:27 when Paul says, “I beat my body and make it my slave,” and in 1 Timothy 4:7 when he tells Timothy to “train yourself to be godly.”

But if Paul was truly encouraging human resolve and the practice of spiritual disciplines for spiritual growth in those verses he’d be contradicting himself, because in 2 Corinthians 3:8-9 he says it’s the “ministry of the Spirit that brings righteousness,” and in verse 18 that we “are being transformed into his (Christ’s) likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

So, where does our spiritual formation come from? From the Lord.

And who is transforming us into Christ’s likeness? The Holy Spirit.

And whose ministry creates righteousness? The Spirit’s ministry.

There is no talk of us playing any part in our righteousness or transformation into Christ’s likeness. Our spiritual formation and growth are entirely the work of the Spirit. And for Paul to even hint that spiritual growth involves something we do would open him up to being challenged with the same question he challenged the Galatians with in Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish?” he asked them. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

The Galatians had been depending totally on the “miracle-working Spirit” (verse 5) for their spiritual growth – but now they were reverting back to depending on their own efforts.

But surely there’s some effort on our part required, isn’t there? Surely the effort of spiritual disciplines is necessary for “stirring” the Spirit, isn’t it? Won’t the Spirit work more effectively in our lives, in other words, if we’re doing our part better, like praying more, studying more and obeying more?

But that’s exactly what the Galatians thought and Paul took them to task for it in verse 2 with a very direct question: “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Did the Spirit work miracles in their lives because of their obedience or their belief in the gospel – which? Oh, they knew which: It was their belief, and nothing more.

And that’s why I say “bah humbug” to New Year’s resolutions, or resolve of any human sort, because our spiritual growth is entirely the work of the Spirit, not human effort, and the only thing needed for stirring that miracle-working Spirit in our lives is belief in the gospel. It’s only foolish people (says Paul) who believe they can grow spiritually by their own resolve and willpower.

Do we play a part in our spiritual formation and growth?

A New Year dawns and with it a determined resolve to get our spiritual lives in shape. Echoes of 1 Timothy 4:7 come to mind, perhaps, when Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly.” Ah yes, we say to ourselves, it’s time to get rid of those embarrassing spiritual cobwebs and get back into spiritual training again, back to the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, turn over a new leaf, make a plan for spiritual improvement and get serious about our spiritual growth, etc, etc.

But is that what Paul’s talking about in 1 Timothy 4:7?

No, it isn’t. There are many Christians of late who say it is, however, who use that verse to prove that spiritual disciplines are necessary for all Christians as our part in our spiritual growth and formation. But the context says nothing of the sort. In context, Paul is not issuing a general command to all Christians to discipline themselves for spiritual formation, he’s specifically advising a young minister, Timothy, in how to conduct his ministry.

He’s talking to Timothy, mentor to student, advising Timothy to “be diligent” (15) in both his life and teaching to help protect the people in his care from being deceived. He’s encouraging Timothy to be a “good minister of Christ Jesus” (6) by sticking to the “truths of the faith” and the “good teaching” he’d received to combat “deceiving spirits” (1) that were influencing people into believing and teaching “godless myths and old wives’ tales” (7).

This is an older minister’s personal advice to a young minister facing some real challenges in his churches. “So, watch your life and doctrine closely,” Paul tells Timothy in verse 16, “persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” – “save” in context here meaning protect the Christians in his care from deception by demons. Paul knows what Timothy is up against, so he’s encouraging Timothy to keep his life well-grounded at all times in the truths he’d been taught, because that’s what Timothy had been gifted as a minister for, to inspire the church by his example (12), his teaching (13) and his progress (15).

Unfortunately, 1 Timothy 4:7 – just like 1 Corinthians 9:27 – has been used to create the idea that we play a part in our spiritual formation and growth, and that it’s necessary for us to discipline ourselves to make ourselves godly. But that is not what Paul is talking about in either of these verses, and if it was it would contradict what he wrote in Galatians 2:16, “that a man is not justified by observing the law” – or any other discipline – “but by faith in Jesus Christ.”

Is there any “resolution” we make as Christians?

New Year’s resolutions seem like a good idea for pumping new life and energy into our Christian walk, but what exactly can we resolve to do when we’ve already got “everything we need for life and godliness,” 2 Peter 1:3? And what can we do to make gains spiritually next year when we “do not lack any spiritual gift,” 1 Corinthians 1:7? In fact, where does making resolutions come into the picture at all when we’ve already been “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3?

Surely it’s “by the Spirit” too, not our resolve, that we “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” Romans 8:13, and Paul even called the Galatians foolish for “beginning with the Spirit,” but resorting back to “human effort” in their resolve to be good Christians, Galatians 3:3.

So what’s left for us to “resolve” to do if we’ve already got everything we need, and it’s only by the Spirit, not our efforts, that we grow spiritually?

There’s a clue in 2 Corinthians 5:18 where Paul tells us God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ.” Paul assures us our relationship with God is firm, secure and complete forever because of Christ. There is nothing we did to make that perfect reconciliation happen, and nothing we do now either – like “inviting Jesus into our hearts” or praying a certain way – to make that relationship happen.

But if God totally reconciled us to him already, why did Paul then say in verse 20, “BE reconciled to God,” as if there’s something we do too?

Because there is something we do: It’s opening our minds to, and accepting, God’s reconciliation. It’s all well and good hearing about it, that God has totally reconciled himself to us for nothing we did or do, but have we really clued into it yet and accepted it? It’s like a child receiving a Christmas present and his parents crying out, “Well, go on, open it,” because what’s the point of the gift if the child doesn’t see what he’s got and enjoy it?

When Paul says “Be reconciled to God,” therefore, it’s a plea to Christians to please, please, please clue in to what we’ve been given and believe it. Believe that God has made us his friends forever, purely because of what he accomplished for us in Christ, so that next year, instead of fretting about our relationship with God, we can live in, bask in, and enjoy the fact that HE made and makes that relationship happen. It’s “the Spirit (who) works miracles in us” – the miracles of love for and faith in God. And all Paul asks of us is to resolve to believe it (Galatians 3:5).

What can we expect for certain this coming year?

As we enter a new year, there are two things Paul says we can count on: First of all, we can “count ourselves dead to sin,” and secondly, that we’re “alive to God,” Romans 6:11, both of which have been done for us by Jesus – the first one by his death, and the second by his life.

We do not travel through the new year, then, in our old body of sin. Jesus nailed it to the cross and rendered it powerless. We are free of it once and for all (verse 7). The typical human evils Paul talked about in chapters 1 and 2 “no longer have mastery” over us, just like they had no mastery over Jesus (verses 9-10).

But that’s not all we can count on. We can also count on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead to lift us into a completely new life that’s just like the life he lives. And what kind of life is that? Simply put, Jesus “lives to God,” verse 10. And so can we, verse 11, because we’re “alive to God” too.

It’s at this point a Christian may well ask, “But what’s our part in all this?” – because Jesus seems to have done everything for us. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (4:25), so what’s left for us to do? We’ve already been credited with righteousness (4:24), we’re already at peace with God (5:1), we’ve already been saved from God’s wrath and reconciled to him (5:9-11), and now we discover sin has no power over us either, so now what? What part do we play in all this?

Paul has an answer: “Therefore,” Romans 6:12, now that we know we’re dead to sin and alive to God, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” It’s a nasty shock to discover that even though we’re walking in eternity with the living Christ, evil still exerts a strong influence on us in the here and now.

It’s like the children in Narnia. They live in a wonderful new world, in which Aslan the great lion rules, but there’s also an evil witch in Narnia trying to thwart Aslan’s purpose, and the children still fall prey to their own desires and fears. It’s not a bed of roses for them; it’s a constant battle, but Aslan encourages them to keep pressing on, forget the mistakes and mishaps – count themselves dead to them – and be alive to him, because he is with them every step of the way, and he will get them through.

And that’s just as certain for us too, all through this new year.