The following are brief, one-page discussions of various areas of theology. They were originally entitled, “Ed’s E-pistles,” as I e-mailed them once a week to friends and church members. My hope was that we could understand a little more clearly the “jargon” words that we use so often, but not always with the understanding and clarity that God intended when He “breathed them out” through His Prophets and Apostles.
I am posting them weekly, as they were originally mailed out. Click on the Theology section below or scroll down to see all the listings.
- Salvation: Past, Present, and Future — I have been saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved.
- Salvation from What? To What? — Our salvation is more complete than we might first imagine.
- The Fullness of Salvation — Salvation may be much more than you realized!
- Generic Faith or Faith in Everyday Life
- Saving Faith, Part I
- Saving Faith, Part II
1. Salvation: Past, Present, and Future
I had often wondered about the verse, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) Concerning justification, there is nothing “to work out.” God has provided full and complete provision (atonement) for our sins in Jesus Christ’s perfect life and death in our place. So, what’s to work out? In fact, we are warned by the Apostle Paul, that to add anything to Christ’s perfect work is “another gospel” and “accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
We often ask, “Are you saved,” or say, “I am saved,” as though salvation were one simple thing. However, (1) we have been saved in justification, (2) we are being saved (sanctification), and (3) we will be saved (glorification).
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” concerns sanctification. It makes good sense. In justification and glorification, we reap wonderful benefits but have no part in what is done… it is all of God.
However, we participate in sanctification. We “work” to read and study the Bible. We “work” to apply the Bible in our families and daily activities. We “work” to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We do “works” of mercy to the widow and the fatherless.
You should begin to think of salvation as, “I have been saved,” “I am being saved (working out my salvation), and “I will be saved.” Salvation is three parts of a whole! Its fullness involves all three tenses and phases.
For more, see Salvation—Its Phases and Wonderful Fullness: Often Considered Too Narrowly.
2. Saved? From What? To what?
Last week we looked at the three phases of salvation: we have been saved (justification), we are being saved (sanctification), and we will be saved (glorification). Some Bible verses may be confusing, if you do not understand to which tense the verse is being referenced. For example, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” applies to sanctification, our life on earth.
This week, we will begin to look at what is salvation. Take a couple of minutes, before you read the following, and think about what salvation is. You are “saved!” From what? Are you saved to anything? You may even want to jot down a few ideas that come to mind.
While the most important aspect of salvation is being saved from the wrath of God, I will not focus on that because I believe that we all understand that fairly well. More importantly for our life on earth, salvation means sanctification, “I am being saved,” so that is where I will focus this epistle.
The same Greek word for salvation in the spiritual sense may also be used to be “saved” from an illness, a shipwreck, or other dire event. To be saved, then, implies a threat of disaster from which one is delivered.
Our lives, before God entered, were a disaster that had no guidance except our own wisdom, conflict with others (especially those closest to us), a life with no purpose, destructive habits, and a hostile universe that could destroy us at any time.
Now, we have guidance from the Most Wise God through the Bible. We have the means to resolve conflict by living lives according to the Bible’s instructions, seeking forgiveness from God and each other when necessary. We have a purpose of ministry in the church, in vocation, in helping and comforting others, in raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and trying to affect our culture with godly directions.
As we are busy in these outward focuses, we won’t have time for our destructive habits. And, one of the great blessings of salvation, we have peace! Peace with God and peace with the universe and all its threats. God is in control!
Any form of salvation is not complete, if it is not perfect and total, protecting us from any power, random or intentional, in the universe. God’s salvation is perfect. He is in control of all things.
There is more that I will say next week. For an outline of these thoughts, see Salvation—Its Phases and Wonderful Fullness: Often Considered Too Narrowly.
3. The Fullness of Salvation
My focus last week and this week is to expand your understanding of our “great salvation.” Yes, we are saved from Hell, but we are saved from much more than that, and since heaven is future, our concern with salvation should be for the present.
Remember, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. These are three phases of salvation. We need to know how we have been saved (justification and regeneration).
What we have been saved from is a life without meaning, purpose, is self-defeating, desires temporary pleasures, is afraid of death, does works of the flesh, and has strong negative emotions (sadness, anger, and fear) that we did not understand. For me, the major problem was guilt. As Pilgrim carried the huge burden of guilt, so did I! Then, God regenerated me, and it was gone. Perhaps, you should ponder for a few moments – what you have been saved from!
But, I think that our biggest focus should be on how we are being saved today. I fear that too many are missing the fullness of being saved. Are you joyous? Do you have a meaningful role in your church? Are you applying your spiritual gifts there? Are you learning new things from God’s Word each week? Do you have a ministry of mercy? Are you a peaceful person? Are you one of those Christians who know the language, but do not really experience the life?
If you believe that you are lacking something in your Christian life, get started today to solve whatever the problems are. Talk to someone whom you believe is more mature. Read that book that you laid aside that may have some answers. And, if you have never read any of his books, start reading something that Jay Adams has written.
I recommend The Christian’s Counselor’s Manual. It should be entitled, “The Christian’s Practical Guide to Living.” It has a Table of Contents that allows you to select where your problems may be. You can order it from http://www.timelesstexts.com/jayadams.htm or peruse the other books that he has written by looking over that list. He has had a profound influence on my life and marriage, and being able to counsel others.
Also, see more here: Introduction to the Effective Christian Life: How to Honor God and Bear More Fruit
Next week, we begin to look at faith. Likely, I will tell you at least five things that you did not know about faith. I have studied if for the past 20 years and learn something new every time that I study it. I have promised to keep these e-pistles short, so grace, mercy, and peace until next time
4 Generic Faith
We embark today on a journey that I doubt many of you have traveled. That road is often quite foggy, but one upon which I will shed some light that will assist your understanding of God’s message to us and our salvation. We can all agree that faith is vital to the Christian life, as “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).That road is faith.
What I want to focus on today is “generic faith.” That is, the mechanism of faith — its parts and the whole. When you understand “generic faith,” then understanding saving faith and the other uses of faith in the Bible become clearer.
Every action that you take uses every part of generic faith! Raise your arm. Get up and stretch. Drive your car somewhere. Call someone on the phone. Invest in the stock market. Hit a baseball. Set your alarm clock for tomorrow AM. All these are acts of faith. That is, you act based upon some prior knowledge expecting some particular result.
Let us look at a couple of examples. Every parent has had his or her child jump to them from a step or ledge. At first the child is hesitant. Then, with coaxing and holding his hands through the motions, he eventually jumps. He has learned faith in you. He ACTS (jumps), based upon knowledge (the coaxing and motions of jumping), and he expects a result (for you to catch him). The football announcer, John Madden, will not fly on airplanes. The knowledge is there. He knows that more than 50,000 flights around the world take off and land safely (the result). But, he does not act, that is, he does not fly. By definition, faith is an action taken.
Now, reality or uncertainty enters the picture. You start to raise your arm, and you can’t (stroke or paralysis). You start to get up from your chair and you can’t (stroke or paralysis). You start to drive you care somewhere, and it won’t crank. You invest in the stock market on very good advice and lose your shirt. You set your alarm clock for 6 AM, the power, goes off during the night, you oversleep, and you are late to work.
This uncertainty or reality is the essence of generic faith. Every result that we expect to happen does not always happen. Faith is acting with expectation.
That is all that I want you to see today. Any action is a step of faith. It is a part of everything that we do. What has happened over time is that faith has become automatic. We do not think about it until what we expect does not occur.
For an exercise, try applying the parts of generic faith to the faith of the Bible or, visit my website for Chapter One on Faith. Or, figure this out from James 2: “the devils believe and tremble” and “faith without works is dead.”
Without Faith, It Is Impossible to Please God, Chapter 1
5. Saving Faith, Part I
In the last Small Bite, we took faith out of the realm of the mysterious and placed it into everyday life. In fact, every action is an act of faith. Thus, faith is not present without action. So, every act is an act of faith.
Also, remember that there are three components of faith: 1) an action taken, 2) upon knowledge with 3) an expectation of a result that is determined by reality. Reality intervenes because the expected result of an action does not always occur. For example, every trip in the car does not always happen as expected. The car may not start or break down on the way, or unfortunately, an accident may occur before we get to our destination.
Now, we are ready to look at saving faith. Remember that there are three phases of salvation: past (justification), present (sanctification), and future (glorification)—see the last Small Bite. But, in applying saving faith to the past, we must visit a new term, regeneration. This word is the major determining factor of saving faith, for all three phases of salvation.
Regeneration is the change that God creates in our soul. What is this change? It is at once both “simple” and “deeply profound.” It is the change from our acting solely on our own knowledge to acting on the knowledge of God’s having revealed Himself and his plan in the Bible.
As a “simple” event, regeneration is two-fold. There is the 1) conditional change in the nature of our souls that 2) causes us to believe and accept this knowledge (the Bible) outside of ourselves, as an explanation of reality and a direction to be followed.
As a “profound change,” regeneration is two-fold. 1) That knowledge is supernatural, as it is the revealed mind of God in the Bible. And, 2) we place that knowledge as the highest authority in our lives, that is, our minds are changed to trust this new knowledge.
Do you know how hard it is to change someone’s mind? Is there a stubborn person that you know? (Perhaps, yourself — whoops, too personal?) Can you imagine getting inside that person and being able to change his or her mind? Not just change it, but to cause him to see that change as the most logical, attractive, and appealing decision that he has ever made? That the best thing that he can do is to change his mind. That is what God does in regeneration.
Our familiarity with Christianity and the words that come easily to us may obscure the “deeply profound” nature of this change. Ponder that change in your own life from the perspective of God revealing Himself to you and making that knowledge the most desirable thing that you could ever possess.
Today, we have only begun to examine the profound nature of saving faith. There is more, much more! But, I must keep these bites “small.”
6. Saving Faith, Part II*
We are exploring Saving Faith. However, we started with Generic Faith. The process of faith – the same process that we use in Saving Faith – is part of every action taken many times every day, based upon knowledge, with an expected result. That result may or may not happen because reality intervenes, sometimes unexpectedly and harshly.
But, the main point is that the process of faith is not some ethereal quality that only comes to Christians after a conversion experience. It is not some mysterious process that comes with conversion. It is the decision-making process of both Christians and non-Christians. Generic faith becomes saving faith in regeneration when the Bible becomes the source of knowledge for all decisions!
In regeneration (see Saving Faith, Part I or for a more complete discussion, see regeneration), trust in our own knowledge for every decision is changed to trust in God’s knowledge, presented in the Bible.
Of course, Christ is central in salvation.
But, the only knowledge of what Christ did for us comes from – where? Preaching? A friend who presents the Gospel? Our parents in simple explanation? Billy Graham Crusades? Where?
The source of all these means of communication about Christ, His Person, and what He has done is the Bible.
Some Christians say, “No creed but Christ!” Others claim a “personal relationship with Christ.” Still others say, “WWJD — What would Jesus do?”
Again, the source for knowledge for any of these statements or question is — the Bible.
I have two points. 1) Whatever knowledge that we have of God, salvation, or the Christian life comes from – the Bible. Let us not get fuzzy about impressions, intuitions, hunches, or feelings about what is and is not true. The Bible is our source of knowledge and truth.
2) We are back to faith. One key part of the definition of faith, in all that I have said, – knowledge. Regeneration changes the object and content of our knowledge from being self-dependent on our own study and experience to dependence upon the Bible.
Regeneration does not convey any knowledge, only the source of that knowledge — the Bible.
Centrally, that knowledge is the role of Christ in our salvation. But, it is more … much, much more… And, we shall explore that in later topics.
And, this brings us to the purpose of these Small Bites in Theology. Without some specific understanding of definitions, the Christian faith loses its power. I am trying to provide the simplest definitions that I can. But, they are definitions, and they do build upon one another.
“In the beginning was the Word…” The Bible is called the “Word of God.” Words cannot be understood without definitions. I pray that you will learn them to increase the power in your life and that of your church.
* On this website is my Almost Complete Book on Faith which discusses these subjects more fully.