Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 6
by Jonathan Hamilton
Puzzle Pieces on the Table So Far
- All human beings are totally depraved.
- Christ in grace has provided a free salvation for all human beings. And He extends an invitation to all who will believe it. The problem is, in their natural state they never will. God has to restore our moral ability to choose Him.
- Does God restore this moral ability to all men as part of common grace, or only to the elect as part of saving grace?
- If God restores this moral ability to everybody, then election is conditioned upon God’s foresight of who will receive it (rather than His foresight being equivalent to His active choosing).
- The distinction between conditional and unconditional election hangs upon the definition of foreknowledge (Is it active or passive?).
- Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20 clearly class God’s foreknowledge as active and causative. It makes things happen. It’s not mere passive foresight, but it somehow involves God in the execution of His plan. Therefore, election is unconditional. And therefore, moral ability is restored only to the elect as part of saving grace.
- Given unconditional election, the salvation of the elect is certain. Everyone who has chosen will freely choose to trust Christ for salvation.
Discussion of John 6:14-45
John 6:37 is a bare statement of irresistible grace. The salvation of the elect is whose choice? It is the Father’s choice. The elect are given. The given will come. The given will be raised (39). The believers will be raised (40). No one comes except the ones who are drawn (44). All who come are those who are raised at the last day (44). All who are drawn are those who are raised at the last day (44).
Jesus is not making a statement on their natural ability, but on their moral ability. They can’t come because they won’t come. Only if the Father draws them will they come. The Father’s drawing always works. This passage has irresistible grace all over it.
REPENTANCE, FAITH, AND CONVERSION
REPENTANCE: the relevant term for this discussion (the Bible uses several for this word) is the Greek word metanoia or metanoeo. The idea is a change of mind.
Repentance is an attitude, not necessarily an emotion or an action. It’s not just feeling sorry for our sins. Repentance doesn’t mean that we stop sinning (or none of us have ever repented). It doesn’t even mean that we purpose to stop sinning (that would be a silly purpose). It means we change our minds.
A big question today: Is repentance necessary for salvation?
Matthew 3:2 (John), 4:17 (Jesus)
Acts 2:38 (Peter)
Acts 17:30 (Paul)
Luke 13:3-5 (Jesus links repentance with salvation)
What is the repentance that is a necessary condition of salvation? Different answers have been given:
1: Feel sorry for your sin
2: Turn your back on your sin
3: Charles Finney said you had to stop sinning!
4: None of the above or you risk a works salvation
At minimum, biblical repentance involves a change in mind about whether sin is worthwhile and about whether Christ is trustworthy. On the larger scale, it involves a change in mind about God, whether God is desirable. At minimum, it involves turning from sin to God although the turn, properly speaking, isn’t the repentance.
Faith and repentance are related. They are two sides of the same coin. Repentance is the mirror image of faith. Traditionally, faith has been defined as having three components: knowledge (in truth), assent (to truth), and trust (relying on truth). Saving faith includes the element of trust. This is the distinction that James has in mind in Chapter 2 verse 14. It’s not that you are saved through your works, but you are saved through a faith that produces works. If your faith produces no works you have no reason to believe you have saving faith.
How much do people actually have to believe in order to be saved?
Saving faith has as its object Christ, in view of His finished work. Exactly how much about His finished work does someone have to grasp in order to be saved? I don’t know. But what God expects is trust in Christ and His finished work.
What about faith and the sacraments?
We tend to avoid the term “sacrament” in Baptist circles because it has been so badly defined. The problem is most people understand a sacrament as some conveyance of divine grace and that’s where we don’t want to go.
SACRAMENTALISTS: the sacraments actually communicate some kind of spiritual power; more than a teaching tool; in and of themselves they nourish you spiritually, they build your faith, they impart grace to you
SACRAMENTARIANS: the sacraments are only symbols; participation in the sacraments may create subjective impressions that may be good for you, but there is no actual conveyance of grace
I believe that sacramentalism runs the risk of violating sola fide, whereas sacramentarianism does not run that risk. It’s not as if nothing happens at the Lord’s Table for sacramentarians, but what happens is at the subjective level not the objective level. It’s not that the sacraments themselves impart grace, but through the communion service, you may be strengthened and nourished as you meditate on the meaning of the elements.
Faith and Salvation
Faith is the sole condition of salvation. Wait a minute, isn’t repentance a part of this? My understanding is that you cannot have saving faith without repentance. Having said that, you can’t add anything to faith in salvation, otherwise you eviscerate faith. Remember, you’ve got airtight compartments.
This logically also excludes trusting in the faith, rather than in Christ, for your salvation. If your trust is in your faith you are on hazardous ground. I encounter this somewhat frequently, in one of two ways:
1: “Experience in Time” salvation
“I remember when I prayed the prayer so I know I’m saved.” Faith is in the symbol, or the act, rather than in Christ.
2: “I Don’t Believe Enough” salvation
This person is placing his confidence in his faith rather than in Christ. It’s legitimate to say “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” But it is Christ that saves you, not your belief or your faith. It’s not about believing harder or better.
What is “Conversion” in Scripture?
Acts 9:34-5, 14:15, 15:9, 26:18
1 Thess. 1:9
Mere rejection of sin does not constitute conversion. Conversion requires turning to Christ in faith. So when you’re repenting, you’re turning from sin, when you’re believing you’re turning to God. When you’re doing both, you’re being converted. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. The coin is conversion.
In Part 7, we will discuss the debate regarding “Lordship Salvation.”