The following is from a wonderful little booklet we have read entitled The Gospel of Salvation: Full, Free, and Final and is reprinted by permission from ThinkGospel.com. We invite you to read and consider this important message .
Salvation by Grace Through Faith
What is salvation by grace?
When we speak of salvation by grace alone, we mean that the Bible says that every man is a sinner before God. Now we have to take that seriously. People say, “I am really not a bad person. I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I don’t steal, I have never committed adultery, I have never murdered,” etc., etc. These are all good things in a relative sense. I would rather have a neighbor who was kind and decent, good, upright, and honest than have some lying rascal next door to me whom I couldn’t turn my back upon. We applaud those social virtues, but before God we are all sinners. We have broken the first and great commandment of the law of God, which is to love God with all our soul, strength, and mind. We are all sinners, and not small sinners, but big sinners. We are dead in sin and corrupted in sin. We are self-centered and not God-centered.
Those who boast of how good they are have lived their lives in rebellion against God and in rejection of His Son, trampling the blood of Christ beneath their feet. They live as if the Bible doesn’t say the things that it says. That is big-time sin.
How can you, a sinner, be saved? Your works got you to where you are. How can you be saved from wickedness by your works? What can you do to wipe out your past? Nothing. What can you do to change your heart? Nothing. What can you do to please God? What can you do to satisfy God’s law? Nothing! So if you are going to be saved it has to be by grace; in other words, it has to start with God. God must do the saving.
Humanism is the doctrine which states that man needs no saviour outside of himself. The gospel declares that man has no saviour except the Lord God Almighty: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit revealed in the Holy Scriptures. God is the Saviour of sinners, so salvation has to start with God. According to Scripture, it was purchased by God sending His Son into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, taking a real humanity into union with Himself so that He could live, suffer, bleed, and die in our place—so that He could pay the price and the ransom for our guilt and reconcile us to God—and, having died, that He should rise again from the dead to break the power of death, sin, and hell and bring us into union with Himself in the living Christ.
God offers this salvation free of charge. You don’t pay for it; you don’t work for it. It is not by tears of repentance; it is not by church or sacrament. It is by faith in Jesus Christ. This salvation is by grace alone; that is, it comes from God freely, because He loves us. It is in Christ alone because He purchased it by His death on the cross, and it is through faith alone. You receive Christ by faith, not by works—not by effort—but by trusting Him.
When you trust Christ you will never be put to shame: “He that believeth on Him is not condemned” (John 3:18). This is what we mean by being saved by grace, through faith.
What is salvation through faith?
So, what does it mean to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? It means exactly what it says. It does not mean merely to believe certain things about Him, but to believe in Him. John 2:24 in our English version gives us actually a very clear and simple way of understanding this. We read there of a lot of people who professed to believe in Jesus, and then we read, “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them”; literally, “He did not believe in them.” It is the same word in the original text. But our translators got the drift of it perfectly: “He did not commit himself to them.”
What is it to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? It is to commit oneself entirely to Him. It is to confess, “I am a sinner. I freely admit that I am guilty before God as a law-breaker who deserves the wrath of a Holy God. I need to be saved from sin and from God’s wrath. I can do nothing to save myself. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died as the just for the unjust. I believe that His blood made a perfect atonement to satisfy God, that His promise is, ‘If you come unto me I will not cast you out but will give you eternal life; I will give you rest.’ On the basis of these promises I abandon all my self-righteousness; I cast myself on Christ; I commit myself to Him, claiming Him as my Lord and owning Him as my Saviour.” That, quite simply is what it is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reconciling a Sinful Man to a Holy God
What is the spiritual condition of man by nature?
Basically there are only two views of human nature. One is that though man isn’t perfect, he is not too bad and he is perfectible without any intervention by God. On the other hand, there is the biblical view that man is not only not perfect, but that he is, left to himself, beyond being made perfect; he is corrupt and he is depraved.
How could people come to such totally divergent views? The answer is that the first view looks at man in relation to man, and judges him by merely human standards. The second view, that man is totally depraved, looks at man as he is related to God and as God describes him over against His own perfect holiness and His law. Now, if I compare myself to some one else, I may well be able to say like the Pharisee, “I thank God that I am not as other men are; I am better than this man is.” But if that man is totally corrupt, what does it say about me that I can in some way or to some degree imagine myself a little bit better? At the end of the day, no man knows himself; no man knows any other man. The only one who really knows us is the Lord. He is our creator, and what does He say about human nature? Well, He says that we go astray from the womb, speaking lies (Psalm 58:3). He says in the fifty-first Psalm that we were born in sin and “shapen in iniquity.” The Lord Jesus says that out of our heart flows the fullness of sin, wickedness, and corruption. The first chapter of Romans gives us a description of the Gentile world in the days of the apostle Paul. The second chapter gives us a view of the Jewish world. And then in the third chapter of Romans, Paul brings it all together and says that God has found the whole world guilty. When you think of that and realize that the Bible says that the heart of man “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), we come back to the answer, only God knows the heart.
So what is the human condition? What is man’s real moral and spiritual nature? According to God it is a nature defiled, depraved, and corrupted by sin. Listen to how the Bible describes it in Ephesians chapter 2. Paul is writing to people who had been delivered from this depravity by saving grace, but in giving this description he shows what they were before they were saved. He says: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (verses 1–2). Now think of that: dead, depraved, dominated by the devil. It is a dark, dark picture that the Bible paints of the human condition, of the state of human nature.
This is not saying that man cannot help his neighbor; it is not saying that man cannot be kind to other men; it is not saying that all men live equally immorally and equally wickedly. The Bible is saying that no man is spiritually right with God and that no man can do anything to make himself acceptable to God. He is totally depraved and only when a man sees that total depravity will he be moved to seek for God’s answer, for God does have an answer to this dark and terrible condition that men by nature are in.
How can a depraved man be saved?
If men are sinners by nature, if what the Bible says about sinful men is true—and of course it is true—there is a huge question: How can anyone ever be saved? Romans chapter 3 tells us that there is no man who seeks after God. Some people find that hard to swallow, but it is true. Men are always willing to seek after a god of their own imagining. They are willing to re-create God, as it were, in their view or according to their own feeling. They are willing to have a god on their terms. They would even perhaps have the true God on their own terms. But of course, that is not the way to have a right relationship with God. There is no man, left to himself, who wants God on God’s terms. So if there is no man who seeks after God, how can any man ever be saved? The answer is obviously that the Lord seeks after him. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the Lord as a shepherd, and one of the great things about the shepherd is that he will seek his sheep. The Lord Jesus took up the same figure of speech in his ministry and described Himself as the shepherd who went out seeking after His sheep. The apostle Paul deals with the same truth from a slightly different angle, one that Christ Himself had mentioned when speaking to his disciples in John chapter fifteen. Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus that God had “chosen them.” Here you have the linking of Christ choosing, of Christ seeking a particular people.
Why would God choose anybody? The only answer to that question lies in God Himself. He is good; He is gracious; He is kind. He told the Jews (Deuteronomy 7:7) that He did not choose them because they were better than others. In other words, He did not choose them because they deserved it. He did not choose them because they were more numerous or because they had more potential. He chose them because He loved them. He says in another place, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13). Hatred here, in relation to Esau, is not some passion of the flesh. It is a statement of the judgment of God in leaving a person to his own chosen way and his own just deserts. A man came to a great preacher, a friend of mine, and said, “Romans chapter nine worries me; I can’t understand this.” The preacher asked, “What is it that worries you?” The man replied, “It is that verse, ‘Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated.’ How could God hate Esau?” The preacher looked at him and said, “You know, that verse puzzles me also; not the fact that God hated Esau or that He delivers a sinful man like Esau over to judgment for his own sins. What I can’t understand is that God would love Jacob!”
This is the real miracle; this is the real puzzle. God chooses a people, He gives them to His Son, and He gives His Son to them. In John 17 the Lord Jesus prays to the Father repeatedly, describing His people as those “whom thou hast given me.” That is the beauty and the glory of electing and distinguishing grace. I rejoice in the truth of God’s election. If God had not chosen me, then I would never have chosen Him. Jesus said this: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).
But then someone will ask, “Is this not unfair? What about those people who would love to be saved, but God did not choose them to be saved?” Such people don’t exist. Remember there is none that seeks after God. I would say to anybody, if you want to have God and His Christ on God’s terms, then come and welcome to Jesus. He will never turn you away, and when you have come to Him and He has not cast you out, then you will be able to say, as Jesus teaches in John 6:37, “All that the Father gave to Christ, come to Christ, and I came because of His sovereign, electing grace.”
For whom did Jesus die?
The Bible says that Jesus died for the world: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). The apostle John says, “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sin of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). We read also that he “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). The idea that some take out of these verses is that He died for everybody indiscriminately, every-body who ever lived in the history of the world. There are some problems with this interpretation.
First, in Scripture itself there is very clear evidence that words like world and all are very rarely used comprehensively to mean every-body. The context usually shows that world refers to the world of the Jews and the Gentile. To make the truth as simple as possible, we may put it like this: when the Bible says God loved the world, it means that He loved not only the Jews but the other nations as well. It is not speaking of all the individuals in the world. We find this again and again throughout the New Testament. For instance, when Paul told the Romans that their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world, it certainly was not true that everybody in the world was talking about the Christians in Rome. Most of the people in the world did not even know they existed. But, generally, the fame of their faith was spreading among the nations.
So, for whom did Jesus die? We may best answer this question by asking another: What did Jesus do when He died? Did He die to open a door whereby everybody might be saved? Did He die to make salvation possible? Or did He die truly to make an atonement, to pay the price for sins, to purchase actual eternal salvation? What did He do when He died?
The Bible never speaks of Christ dying to purchase an opportunity for people to be saved. It says that He died to purchase a people. He loved His church and gave Himself for it. He made a real atonement for sin. Now if He made a real atonement, if He paid the price for sin, then those for whom He died must be saved; otherwise His work is in some degree a failure. If He did it for everybody indiscriminately, then everybody without exception will be saved. But someone says, “No, no. He died to save all men on condition that they believe.” Well, is unbelief a sin? Sure it is. Jesus said that the Holy Ghost would come and convict the world of sin, because they believe not. So unbelief is certainly a sin. If Jesus died for all our sin, did He pay the price and penalty for our unbelief as well? Certainly He did. He paid the last penny of the price of our salvation; He bore the last sin, every bit of our guilt. He made a complete and perfect atonement. He left nothing undone that needed to be done.
So for whom did He do this? Let’s go back to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” How did God love the world? According to this great text, God loved the world in such a way that believers would be saved. Jesus died for His covenant people, the people God gave Him. He made a complete atonement on their behalf. He did not purchase an opportunity for them to be saved. He purchased them, and for them a full salvation.
How can I answer the gospel invitation?
One of the great themes of the Bible is the grace of God. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). This is the only reason Noah was saved when the rest of the world was destroyed in a flood. Ephesians 2:8–9 tells us, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” You have perhaps heard the definition of grace, taking the letters of the word grace as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. In many ways this is a very good definition of grace. Generally it is God’s favour, but it is God’s saving favour in Christ; it is God’s favour that brings a guilty sinner into eternal salvation, through the merits and for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, God’s grace is applied to sinners. If sinners are dead in sin when they hear the gospel, how can they ever respond to it? If there is nothing spiritually good within a sinner, how can he respond to the gospel message? In John chapter 11 we have a picture of Lazarus, lying in his grave, four days buried, his corpse already rotting. Jesus comes to the grave and says, “Roll the stone away,” and then cries, “Lazarus, come forth.” And Lazarus comes out of the tomb! Now here is the question: Did Lazarus gain life because he obeyed the call of Christ, or did he obtain life because in giving him that call Christ communicated the life and the power to obey it? Obviously it has to be the latter. You may stand at the grave of a dead man all day and command him to do all sorts of things and make all sorts of promises on condition that he obeys, but he is not going to respond. Dead men don’t respond. Lazarus came forth from the grave, actually still bound hand and foot with the grave bandages. So in giving the call, Christ communicated the life that Lazarus needed.
Paul draws the spiritual parallel: “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Lazarus then is a picture of what Christ does for every soul. The grace that saves a sinner is effectual grace. In other words, it works. It is irresistible grace. Some will immediately cry, “That cannot be because the Bible says, ‘Ye do always resist the grace of God.’” Never forget that when we talk about irresistible grace we mean that peculiar grace whereby the Saviour brings a dead sinner to life, whereby He calls him effectually out of darkness into light and from the power of Satan unto God. By irresistible grace we mean specifically the grace that initially brings a person into salvation. Other kinds of grace, other demonstrations of the favour of God, may be resisted and indeed are resisted. Sinners constantly battle against the preaching of the word of God and rebel against the circumstances with which God surrounds them to bring them to their knees in repentance. But when Jesus comes to the grave of a spiritual Lazarus and says, “Come forth,” that Lazarus comes forth. This is irresistible grace; this is the effectual call of God to a sinner in the gospel.
When we preach the gospel there is a general call that goes out: “If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.” But that does not save anybody. A mere general call does not save. But when God makes that specific and saving call in the experience of an individual, then He communicates to the person, not just the information of the gospel message, but the spiritual life to respond to that information, so that faith is the very first result of that regenerating act of God with effectual or irresistible grace.
Can a Christian ever lose his salvation?
A lot of people ask the question, “If you are saved are you saved for ever? Can you be saved today and lost tomorrow? Can you be among God’s justified ones today and among God’s condemned ones tomorrow? Can you draw back unto perdition?” It is possible to profess faith in Christ and draw back unto perdition. But the apostle Paul writing to the Hebrew Christians said, “We are not of them who draw back unto perdition” (Hebrews 10:39). In other words, there are professing Christians who may be in the church and may have acceptance among men as Christians who yet draw back. But they draw back because they were never saved. As the Bible says, “They were not of us; for if they were of us, they would no doubt have continued with us” (1 John 2:19). Paul says, “We are not of those of who draw back.” What perplexes many people is the fact that there are certain Scriptures that seem to say that you can be saved and then lost. Hebrews 6 is one that is very often made to teach this. But Paul makes it clear in Hebrews 6:9 that the people he is talking about lacked the things that “accompany salvation.” The Greek text simply means they lacked the things that belong to salvation. In other words, whatever their experience (and they had a lot of spiritual experience and passed as Christians; but they lacked the things essential to salvation), they were not saved. It is as simple as that. In Matthew 7:22 where Jesus speaks similarly, He says, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord.” They have an orthodox faith and profess the Lordship of Christ: “Have we not prophesied in your name and in your name done many wonderful works?” The world would say these people are saved. But Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me.” It is not that He once accepted them and now rejects them. Rather, He says to them, “I never knew you.” That is, “I never recognized you as my own; you were never saved.” You must see something about those people. They are standing before God saying, “We preached for you; we did this and that in Jesus’ Name.” Examining what they profess, we discover not the slightest evidence that they have any knowledge of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not the slightest knowledge of their total dependence on the finished work of Christ. They were not saved. So Jesus said, “I never knew you.” The only people who perish, having been in the Christian church on earth, the visible church, are people whom Jesus never recognized as His people. When He saves you and justifies you, He says that He gives you eternal life, so that you can say with Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38–39). All this is true only because Jesus said, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28). What does this mean? It means that when God saves you, you are secure in your salvation and you go on with God.
Now, let me add a caution here. This is not the notion of many that once you make a profession you are saved and you can go out and live like the devil. No, no, no! The perseverance of the saints is a doctrine that the old Reformers believed in. And what was it? When God saves you He gives His Spirit to abide within you. There is a principle of life within you, there is a new disposition of will within you, and you go on with God. You live in holiness. It is impossible for a person who is united to Christ by faith to live his life outside of fellowship with Christ. When you are saved you may have your shortcomings, you will have your failings over which you’ll lament, but you will go on with God because He gives you eternal life.
~ Dr. Alan Cairns