The Preparation for and Application of Salvation

            Why do some people want to become Christians and others do not? What role does God play in shaping our desire to be saved? Could I be saved if God did not want me to? Could I be saved if God did not help me?  

            God has, from eternity, known those who would be saved. God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). We are saved “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter. 1:2).

            This eternal plan of God must be worked out in our lives in some way. It must come to exist. This continues God’s plan for redemption on earth. All of God’s acts (ad extra) begin in and are settled in eternity, but those actions are brought to be in creation. As Paul wrote, “Those whom he predestined he also called” (Romans 8:30). So, Christians must be prepared for the Gospel and then have the Gospel applied to them.

Preparation

Regeneration

            The doctrine of regeneration was defined by Grudem as “a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us.”[1] We have to be careful to understand this term is used to refer to that moment in which one realizes that he or she must seek Christ and becomes open to the Gospel. This is accomplished providentially by God as he brings sinners to the realization that they must seek Christ through the Word.

            James 1:18 teaches that Christians have been brought forth by the word of truth. 1 Peter 1:3 teaches that Christians have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” This Christian experience was foreseen in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. An I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to work in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.”

            Regeneration is typically placed after the doctrine of election and before the effectual call in the order of salvation. Election and regeneration are ultimately inseparable from the Scriptures. The Scriptures are what God uses to bring about the new birth. James 1:18 says, “He caused us to be born again through the word of truth.” 1 Peter 1:23, 25 teaches us that Christians “have been born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Grudem wrote, “Effective calling is thus God the Father speaking powerfully to us and regeneration is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit working powerfully in us to make us alive. These two things must have happened simultaneously as Peter was preaching the gospel to the household of Cornelius, for while he was still preaching “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44).”[2] Both regeneration and the effectual call happen through the Word and never apart from it.

            This is sometimes called irresistible grace. No one should understand that the preaching of the Word can not be resisted. It happens every day. It is “irresistible” to those who accept God and his Word, but it is certainly resistible to those who reject God and his Word. The question is why. Why do some refuse and others accept? This can only be understood with a proper view of God’s working with mankind. Concerning God’s interaction with mankind, Grudem wrote,

we must guard against misunderstanding. Here also, as with the lower creation, God’s providential direction as an unseen, behind-the-scenes, “primary cause,” should not lead us to deny the reality of our choices and actions. Again and again Scripture affirms that we really do cause events to happen. We are significant and we are responsible. We do have choices and these are real choices that bring about real results.[3]

There is a concurrence or compatibilistic understanding of the doctrine of revelation and inspiration—holy men of God spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. There is the same compatibilistic understanding of God working through seemingly random but real decisions of mankind as is seen in Joseph’s understanding of God working through his brothers’ evil. Concurrence, or compatibilism must also be seen here in order to do justice the passages which describe sinners being saved by God and the sinners responsibility to be saved. Just as we are warned to “not harden our hearts” we read that “the Lord opened” Lydia’s heart to listen to Paul.

Calling

            “Called” is “ἐκάλεσεν” and is defined as “choose for receipt of a special benefit or experience.”[4] Paul said that this call takes place through the preached Word. Paul said “He called you to this through our Gospel, so that you might obtain glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). “God’s effective calling comes through the human preaching of the gospel.”[5] Paul described how this takes place in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” This “call” takes place through the Gospel[6]

            This call is not to be ignored or refused. This “calling” could rightly be described more appropriately as a summons. Those who are called are justified. But can this justification be refused? We do see individual who refuse the Gospel (Agrippa in Acts 26:28; Paul struggled against the Gospel previous to his conversion—Acts 9:4; “they refused to love the truth”—2 Thess. 2:10; we are exhorted to not “refuse him who is speaking” in Hebrews 12:25).  

            “Calling” is described as the effective or effectual calling when it falls on good hearts. “This powerful act of God is often referred to as effective calling to distinguish it from the general gospel invitation that goes to all people and which some people reject”[7] When the Gospel call falls on bad soil, it is referred to as “a general calling” or “external call” to distinguish the response. So, when it “works,” the reception of the Gospel or the effectual calling is “an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith”[8]

Application

            This success does not occur apart from the willing reception of the Gospel on the part of the sinner. “Conversion is our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation.”[9] This conversion requires more than knowledge. Knowledge and belief alone do not save (James 2:19, 24). Knowledge, belief, and submission or obedience leads to what the Bible calls faith.

Submission

            The fact that submission or obedience is an essential element of faith is demonstrated in New Testament preaching. Agrippa believed the prophets (Acts 26:27) but rejected Christ (Acts 26:28). Nicodemus came to Jesus and recognized he was a teacher sent from God, but he still had to be born again (John 3:3-5). The crowd in Acts 2 believed that Jesus was the Christ in Acts 2:37, but they still had to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). This is why Paul worked to bring about “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, 16:26).

            Faith is trust. The one who knows about God and trusts God will entrust his life to God. In John 3 we see the importance of this true trust. In John 3:36 the Bible says, “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” The word translated “does not obey” in the ESV or “rejects” in the CSB is ἀπειθῶν and is defined as “disobey or disobedient” in BDAG. The opposite of “the believing one” (ὁ πιστεύων) is the disobedient one (ἀπειθῶν). In this we see that true belief includes obedience. Faith, then, is how we hold to Jesus and how Jesus holds to us. “Leon Morris can say, “Faith, for John, is an activity which takes men right out of themselves and makes them one with Christ.”[10]

Reception

            Belief and baptism should be concurrent events. This concurrence is marked out by the Greek preposition εἰς. The preposition has, at its most fundamental root, the idea progression into a thing and can be used synonymously with ἐν. The questions and debates about when someone is saved (at the moment of belief or at the moment of baptism) could be helped by this Biblical picture of belief and baptism being concurrent events. There is no one in the New Testament who believed in Jesus who was not also immediately baptized before going on his way rejoicing. Just as virtually no one separates belief from repentance, baptism should also be inseparable from belief.

            Biblical belief or faith is described as leading one into Christ and apart from condemnation.  In John 3:16 we are told “πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται”[11] (all the ones believing into him will not perish). John 3:18 says “ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται” (the one believing into him is not judged).  So, we do see that belief is “into Christ.”

            Confession is also described with this same preposition in relationship to Christ. In Romans 10:10 the Bible says “One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (CSB). The preposition εἰς was translated by the CSB as “resulting in” which is a fine translation. This demonstrates that belief is accompanied with confession in the “into Christ” journey.

            As the capstone to this “in Christ” journey, Biblical baptism is also described with this preposition εἰς. Acts 2:38 says those who want to be saved must be baptized εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν” This baptism is “so that sins might be forgiven.”[12]We see the same construction in Matthew 26:28 which also means “so that sins will be forgiven.” In Romans 6:3 we see that we are “baptized into Christ Jesus” and “baptized into his death” (ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν, εἰς τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθημεν;).

            Galatians 3:26-27 demonstrates this relation of belief and baptism. Paul wrote, Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστε διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ· 27 ὅσοι γὰρ εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε” (for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ). Belief and baptism are linked there as the moment in time in which one “puts on Christ.” What God has joined; we should not tear asunder.

A Beautiful Work

            The salvation of a soul is never independent from God, nor is it ever against human will. God has blessed us with Christ who has been lifted up and now draws all men to himself. We will either reject him or run to him for safety, there is not another option. We will either be saved or be lost.


[1] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 699.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 700.

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 321.

[4] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 503.

[5] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 693.

[6] This call is to the sinner to come out of sin and into salvation. The call is for the sinner to be saved. “When God calls people in this powerful way, he calls them “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9); he calls them “into the fellowship of his Son” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. Acts 2:39) and “into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12; cf. 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3). People who have been called by God “belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6). They are called to “be saints” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2), and have come into a realm of peace (1 Cor. 7:15; Col. 3:15), freedom (Gal. 5:13), hope (Eph. 1:18; 4:4), holiness (1 Thess. 4:7), patient endurance of suffering (1 Peter 2:20–21; 3:9), and eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 692.

[7] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 693.

[8] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 693.

[9] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology,709.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 711.

[11] All Greek NT references are, unless otherwise noted, from Eberhard Nestle, Erwin Nestle, et al., The Greek New Testament, 27th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993).

[12] BDAG, 290.

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