The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 7, Salvation
[Editorial Note: This is the seventh post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]
WE AFFIRM that salvation is granted by God's grace alone received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Every believer is united to Christ, justified before God, and adopted into his family. Thus, in God's eyes there is no difference in spiritual value or worth among those who are in Christ. Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ. By God's regenerating and sanctifying grace all believers will be brought to a final glorified, sinless state of perfection in the day of Jesus Christ.
WE DENY that salvation can be received in any other way. We also deny that salvation renders any Christian free from all remaining sin or immune from even grievous sin in this life. We further deny that ethnicity excludes anyone from understanding the gospel, nor does anyone's ethnic or cultural heritage mitigate or remove the duty to repent and believe.
Salvation. It, along with the related term gospel (the subject matter of Article VI), is one of the most widely used and recognized of evangelical terms but also one about which there is much misunderstanding.
The New Testament employs two primary words for salvation: sozo (σῴζω) and rhuomai (ῥύομαι), both of which carry the idea of rescue or deliverance. Salvation then, in a very real sense, is an act of deliverance and being saved is to be in a constant state of being delivered. When God saves someone, He delivers that person. In Psalm 144:1-2 David writes, "Blessed be the Lord, my rock...my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer." God, by His character and nature is a deliverer. But from what? From what are we delivered and into what are we delivered?
We are delivered from ourselves - Most people today have this vague belief that as long as they are "good" people who do good works and are sincere that these efforts will earn them a place in Heaven. The notion that we can save ourselves, referred to by theologians as autosoterism, may be popular but it is foreign to the Bible. Scripture very clearly teaches that "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isaiah 64:6) before a thrice holy God. Good works will profit those apart from Christ nothing in the day of judgment and will serve only as damning testaments against their self-righteousness.
Just as the Ethiopian cannot change his skin and the leopard cannot change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23), so we cannot deliver ourselves. Repentance from sin is not something a person can do on his own. Repentance unto salvation is in and of itself granted by God (Acts 5:30-31; 11:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Saving faith in Christ's atoning work on the cross is also granted by God. The Apostle Paul writes,
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The "gift of God" in the Greek is grammatically neutral indicating that both grace and faith are divine gifts sovereignly given by God. If we could somehow gin up faith on our own then we would have reason to boast in ourselves. But such self-boasting is exactly one of the things from which the Gospel delivers us.1
We are delivered from sin and its power - When God grants repentance and saving faith a person is delivered from the judicial penalty of sin. Every human being is a sinner by nature, by choice and by action (John 3:19; Romans 3:23; 5:12) and is spiritually dead deservedly facing eternal judgment in Hell (Ephesians 2:1, 3; Romans 6:23; Revelation 14:9-11). Once wrought in the human heart, the miracle of the new birth frees so completely from the penalty of sin that "there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and against God's elect no one can bring a charge (Romans 8:1, 33).
Not only are we delivered from sin's penalty, but we are also delivered from its power over us. Before conversion a person is a helpless slave to the ruthless master of his own depraved desires. After conversion, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and is a slave to his new Master, Jesus Christ. The Christian has been granted a new nature and with it comes new desires. As believers we begin to love what God loves and hate what He hates.
It is not that a Christian is incapable of sin. Though often used in an evangelistic context, 1 John 1:9 is written to believers, not the lost. As Christians we can and do sin. But the glorious truth is that though Christians stumble into sin, they do not swim in sin. Christians do not relish sin and look for opportunities to sin. One of the hallmarks of a genuine believer is that when he does sin it grieves him. Arthur W. Pink writes:
The nature of Christ's salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist. He announces a savior from hell rather than a savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of Fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness.2
It is good and it is right to warn people to flee from the wrath to come. But just as much as we should want deliverance from hell, we should want deliverance from sin. We should have a godly sorrow over our sins (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). When we sin, it should grieve us because we understand that our sin grieves God. The gospel delivers us from our love of sin to a love for holiness.
This deliverance from our fallen affections leads to a deliverance toward holiness and sanctification. In 1 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul gives a long list of sins which mark the lives of unbelievers: fornication, idolatry, covetousness, drunkenness, homosexuality, theft, reviling and swindling. Such people will not inherit the kingdom of God. Then Paul says, "Such were some of you" (vs. 11). Notice the past tense. His readers were those things, but they are not anymore. We can no more speak, for example, of a gay Christian than we could of a murdering Christian. Christians do not have their identity in sin, but in Christ.
Paul then says, "but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (vs. 11). Notice these three terms: washed, sanctified, and justified. The two bookend terms, "washed" and "justified," deal with the new birth, salvation. The term in the middle, "sanctified," deals with the believer's personal growth and conformity into the image of Christ. Those whom God saves, He sanctifies. There are no exceptions to this. Where there is no sanctification, there has been no salvation. It is a package deal. The initial, definitive sanctification that occurs at conversion continues throughout the believer's life until glorification.
We are delivered into a new family - The new birth gives us a new family. Those who receive Christ are "given the right to become the children of God" (John 1:12) and have "received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:15). That is a staggering reality. God takes those who were formerly His enemies, delivers them from sin and adopts them into His own family. Consider this passage from Matthew's gospel:
"While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, 'Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'" (Matt. 12:46-50).
Many of us have experienced a strain in relationships or even alienation from members of our family after conversion to Christ. What a comfort this passage is in such times. Our salvation may result in alienation from our blood family but we also gain a new family - and a big one at that. We instantly gain millions of brothers and sisters in Christ scattered all over the world.
This brings me to one aspect of the social justice movement that deeply grieves my heart. The message from many in this camp is that the gospel is sufficient to cleanse one's conscience and turn one's behavior from adultery, theft, fornication, blasphemy, etc., - but not racism! To deal with racism the big guns must be brought to bear. I do not understand such thinking.
One of the great blessings that has been mine as an evangelist is that God has granted me opportunities, as of this writing, to preach in 25 countries. I have preached in countries throughout Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. It does not matter what country I am in, with what culture I am surrounded, how much or how little material belongings the people have, or even what language is spoken, when I am with like-minded believers in Christ there is an instant bond, an instant kindred spirit, an instant fellowship and an instant love between us.
Another thing that does not matter is ethnicity. I do not care what color their skin is nor do they care what color mine is. I have never been in a church overseas and had the thought, 'They really need more white people in here.' I have never once felt unwelcome. We do not mistrust one another. We love one another. Even though we may have just met for the first time I have an instant love for them and they for me - because we are family. And because we have all been delivered from Adam's family into the family of God, none of these superficial differences matter. The dividing wall has been broken down (Ephesians 2:13-19) and we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Salvation is deliverance. Glorious and beautiful deliverance. We have been delivered from the dead and made alive in Christ (Colossians 2:13). We have been delivered from sin and its deadly hold on our hearts. We have been delivered into the family of God where superficial differences matter not. And, we will one day be delivered and presented to the Son as a love gift from the Father where we will enjoy Him and glorify Him forever (John 6:37; 17:2, 9, 24) all "to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).
1. This in no way diminishes man's responsibility and accountability before God. God is sovereign and man is responsible. God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are twin truths that, at times, are even seen in the same passage. See for example: Matt. 11:27-28; Acts 2:23.
2. Pink, Arthur W. "A. W. Pink's Studies in the Scriptures," pg. 373. Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001.