|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003|
|How can we be saved according to the Bible? What part does our own works, good or otherwise, play in making us acceptable to God? The authors show that biblically salvation is “by grace through faith alone”!|
What Does the Bible Teach Concerning Salvation?—Part 1
In previous articles we examined what the Catholic Church teaches concerning salvation. For both Catholic and Protestant, no subject is more crucial. However, it is at this point that interested Catholics and Protestants will have the opportunity to critically re-evaluate what they may have been taught.
If the Bible is properly interpreted, then what one has been taught should not be found in conflict with what the Bible teaches. Let us preface our comments by stressing the importance of personal commitment to biblical study. God Himself encourages believers in Jesus Christ to do just this—and not to rely solely upon the interpretation of another, whether that interpreter be another person, church, or teaching office.
For example, consider the following two Scriptures: Acts 17:11-12 and 2 Timothy 2:15. In the first, the Apostle Paul and Silas have been sent from Thessalonica to preach in Berea. God says, “Now these [Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word of God with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men” (Acts 17:11-12). Here we see that the Bereans did not merely take the Apostle Paul’s word that he had interpreted the Bible correctly—they examined the Scriptures daily for themselves to see if what Paul had told them was really true. Nor was this some minor issue.
The Apostle Paul had been preaching to the Bereans that Jesus Christ was the prophesied Jewish Messiah. Indeed, few subjects were more controversial. The Jewish leaders and authorities had already warned the people not to believe in the name of Jesus, whom they had classified as a false teacher. But the people chose to examine the Scriptures first before uncritically accepting what the religious leaders told them. As a result, they came to believe that Jesus was, in fact, the true Messiah and that the religious leaders were in error. Thus, “Many of them therefore believed….”
This Scripture instructs us that, whether we are Catholic or Protestant, and regardless of what we may have been taught in our churches, it is our personal responsibility to “examine the Scriptures daily” to see whether or not such teachings are true.
Again, the topic of salvation is so crucial that no one should trust solely in what another person claims; they should only trust what God has said in His word. This is why God tells us that we are to study the Scriptures: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). As Dr. Walter Martin observes, “It is worthwhile to note that the Holy Spirit did not instruct us to have Scripture interpreted for us by anyone as is the Catholic position. We are to interpret it under His guidance, the Person of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), who will keep us sound in the great truths of the Divine revelation.”
So what does the Bible teach about salvation? It declares that salvation is something that comes freely to any individual who simply places genuine trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. Thus, the Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith alone entirely apart from personal merit or works of righteousness. The Bible does not teach that regeneration or spiritual rebirth occurs at baptism but, rather, at the moment of personal faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, full and complete forgiveness of sins occurs immediately and strictly on the basis of individual trust in Christ’s atoning death on the cross. Please read carefully the following Scriptures which prove this (emphasis added).
- Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12).
- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
- All the prophets testify about him Jesus that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).
- He forgave us all our sins… (Col. 2:13).
- In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace… (Eph, 1:7).
- He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,… by his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
- For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
- …not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Phil. 3:9).He [Jesus] sacrificed for [our] sins once for all when he offered himself (Heb. 7:27b).
- Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Heb. 7:25).
- …but he [Jesus] entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption…. [He] offered for all time one sacrifice for sins…. Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this… he says:… “their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (Heb. 9:12; 10:12,14,15,17).
Do any of the above verses teach that salvation or forgiveness of sins comes by baptism, good works, through religious sacraments or by any other means of human effort or merit? Do these verses ever hint that salvation comes by being good or by personal character or effort? No. These Scriptures are clear. God Himself teaches that complete forgiveness of sins occurs solely by faith in what was already accomplished by Christ on the cross 2,000 years ago. Because salvation is by grace through faith alone, once a person has trusted in Christ, then he may know that all his sins are forgiven—all sins past, present and future.
Catholics, by virtue of Church teaching, and many Protestants also, by virtue of poor teaching, have no assurance of their own salvation. Further, both Catholics and even many evangelical Protestants reject the doctrine of eternal security—that the true believer in Christ can never lose their salvation. But we think that not only does God want us to know that we can have assurance of salvation in this life, but that we can also know we will never be lost!
When Christ paid the full divine penalty for our sins 2000 years ago, all our sins were future. If the Bible teaches our sins are forgiven at the point of true faith in Christ, this must logically include all of them, even all future sins. Thus, “He forgave us all our sins…” (Col. 2:13, emphasis added). Therefore, come what may in life (Please read Romans 8:28-38.), the person who trusts in Christ alone for salvation will go to heaven when he dies because God Himself informs the believer he now possesses “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” because it is “kept in heaven for you….” (1 Pet. 1:4-5, emphasis added). The salvation God offers is perfectly secure precisely because it involves a gracious act of God and is in no way dependent upon human merit or good works for its accomplishment. It is simply a free gift (Rom. 3:24).
Because salvation occurs by God’s grace and is in no way dependent upon anything we do to earn it, and because the divine penalty for all sin was fully paid by Jesus on the cross, the Bible teaches that those who have genuinely received Christ as their personal Savior may from that point forward be fully assured that they now possess eternal life. Consider the following Scriptures carefully (emphasis added):
- I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).
- I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life (John 6:47).
- I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
Again, these verses teach that any person can know he now possesses eternal life merely by his personal trust in Jesus. If any person now possesses eternal life, it cannot be lost can it? Nor can it subsequently be earned, can it?
Unfortunately, the above Scriptures do not reflect the teachings of the Catholic Church which maintains its salvation is a provisional, lifelong process partially earned by a person’s own works and individual merit.
- Walter Martin, The Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian Research Institute, Inc., 1960), p. 87.
- Biblically, of course, salvation can be viewed as a process, but only in this manner: that sinless perfection and glorification are not received until after death—and so we struggle in this life to increase our sanctification and “work out” (Phil. 2:12, not work for) the logical consequences of our having already been saved and of having already received the gift of eternal life. But this is not Roman Catholic teaching.