The question, what must I do to be saved? is perhaps the most important question we could ask. And yet, it does not occur naturally to anyone. The truth is, without Christ we are all hopelessly lost. The Word of God tells us: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3: 23), and “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6: 23). That’s the bad news. Now here’s the good: “… but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The process of salvation begins not with man but with God. Why? Because once man sinned, he became a slave to sin (see Rom. 6: 16). Our sinless nature which was originally selfless became sinful and selfish. As a result, “there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). We now have an aversion with God. In fact, both Adam and Eve, immediately following their sin, ran and hid from God when He came looking for them! This is a snapshot of us all. At birth we inherit the fallen nature of Adam: a predisposition to sin. But wait, there’s good news.
The first step in the process of salvation is taken by God Himself. Rather than leaving Adam to suffer the eternal consequence for his transgression, God immediately intervened with grace – God’s underserved favor. This explains why man did not immediately cease to exist. Man was given a second chance known as probation – temporal life.
After Adam’s fall God went seeking after lost humanity: he did not go seeking after God because he could not. Where there once existed peace and harmony between God and man there was now enmity. (See Rom. 8: 7). Just as God went in search of Adam and Eve, He is
actively seeking for you and for me today. Our response to God’s calling is key to our salvation, for “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men” (Titus 2: 11). Through the Holy Spirit God’s speaks to our conscience to convict us and draw us to Christ.
How will we respond?
Genesis 3: 15 is a prophecy of Christ, “the seed of the woman,” through whom grace is offered and Satan is defeated. Although the fulfillment of the promised Messiah would not occur until some 4,000 years later, Adam and all his descendants were through faith beneficiaries of the meritorious life, death, and resurrection of Christ. To Adam and Eve God provided the naked pair with skins. Adam was presented with an innocent lamb, one which must now die at the hands of the sinner, Adam. Afterwards, Adam and his offspring would be required to sacrifice an innocent lamb for their sins. These slain lambs served as a type of Christ, “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1: 29).
Shortly after the original fall, Cain and Abel, Adam’s two sons, brought their offering to God according to God’s commandment. Abel obeyed, offering a lamb from among his flock. Cain on the other hand disobeyed, bringing instead some produce from the land. Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, while Cain’s was not. Why not? God in His great wisdom ordained this unpleasant and bloody requirement to help us understand the great cost to Himself for our redemption: namely, the suffering and death of the Son of God. Only thus could the sinner find forgiveness: “for without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin” (Heb. 9: 22). Herein lies a warning to any today who look elsewhere than to the cross of Christ for their salvation. Abel’s offering represents righteousness by faith while Cain’s represents self-righteousness. Cain murdered his brother Abel over this. How representative of the hatred of the world towards God’s obedient children throughout the centuries to follow!
About 1500 years later, God gave Moses a blueprint of the sanctuary in heaven. (See Exodus 25: 40; Heb. 8: 5). The earthly sanctuary, which was a type of the heavenly, would serve to teach God’s children the process of salvation. This sanctuary consisted of an outer court, and a tabernacle within it consisting of a holy and most holy place. The outer court, or courtyard, contained the altar of burnt offerings. The courtyard represents the earth into which Christ condescended when He became man. The altar of burnt offering represents the cross of Christ upon which the Lamb of God was slain for us. The sinner who confessed his sins upon the head of the sacrificial lamb was thereby justified (i.e., to declare righteous). Justification is what Christ does for us. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, freeing us from the penalty of sin.
Moving on towards the door leading into the tabernacle, we find the brazen laver filled with water. The laver represents baptism – the washing away of sin by faith in the blood of Christ – and marks the beginning of our walk with Christ. It is our public expression of faith, a testimony of our hearts conversion and pledge to follow Christ to the end. Entering through the door of the tabernacle we find ourselves in the holy place. There to our right we find the table of shewbread, representing Christ – the Bread of life (John 6: 48), and the Word of God
(Matt. 4: 4). Straight ahead we see the altar of incense, representing the prayers of the saints through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. To our immediate left we see the seven-branched candlestick, representing the believer’s witness: “Let your light so shine among men that they
may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5: 16). The oil which feeds the lamp represents the Holy Spirit. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christ, who is the light of the world, shines through us. The holy place is where the Christian grows in Christ through Bible study, prayer, and witnessing, and is sanctified (i.e., made righteous). Sanctification is what Christ does in us. The righteousness of Christ is imparted to us, freeing us from the power of sin.
Finally, we enter the most holy place where the ark of the covenant is found. Within the ark we find the Ten Commandments written with the finger of God, representing His righteous character, and by which we shall all be judged. The lid of the ark is called the mercy seat because justice and mercy meet in Christ.
It is not within the purview of this article to speak at length regarding this final phase of God’s work. That will require a study on its own. Suffice it to say that Christ is now officiating in the most holy place, and will soon declare His work “done,” prior to returning to earth. (See Rev. 21: 6; 22: 11).
As stated earlier, God takes the initiative to save sinners. Through God’s grace we are now free to choose whom we will serve. Christ declares: “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6: 24). We can either serve God or Satan. There’s no middle ground. No choice is a default choice to serve sin and Satan! It is incumbent upon us to respond to the Holy Spirit’s beckoning voice and decide for Christ. This power of choice remains ours to exercise throughout our entire life.
This is where faith comes in. When we exercise faith, it is as an arm reaching out, grasping, and appropriating God’s promises, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). The Apostle Paul aptly states it this way: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of your own: it is the gift from God, not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2: 8, 9). Even our ability to exercise faith is a gift from God! And while the gift is offered to all, the gift must be accepted to be efficacious.
The Philippian jailer in charge of Paul and Silas (read the story in Acts 16) asked the most important question of his life: “Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?” (Acts 16: 30). The answer was forthcoming: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house” (v. 31). Faith is believing. The jailer’s faith was demonstrated by his immediate baptism, a public declaration of his conversion. Genuine faith is always attended by obedience to God’s Word. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2: 17).
The Philippian jailer came face-to-face with his mortality and reacted to the evidence of God’s love and power. So must every sinner. Unless we are first confronted with, and convicted of, sin we will not feel our need for repentance. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5: 3); “He that covereth his sin shall not prosper; but he that confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28: 13). To convict of sin is the job of the Holy Spirit. (See John 16: 8). How we respond is left to us.
Let’s recap what we’ve learned thus far. All have sinned and are deserving of eternal death. But God intervenes offering Himself to die in our stead. God takes the initiative. We are free to respond and to accept the grace of God through faith. Having accepted Christ by faith, we then enter baptism as a public expression of our decision to follow Christ. We follow Christ into the holy place where we grow in grace and sanctification (to be made holy). We ultimately follow Christ into the most holy place where our sins are eventually blotted out, shortly before Christ’s second coming.
Before we conclude this study, it is important to address the subject of choice when it comes to our salvation. We’ve done this briefly in discussing faith. Now let’s discuss how often we need to choose. Is it once for all time, or daily? Many teach a once for all decision known
as “once saved, always saved.” The problem with this doctrine, aside from its lack of scriptural support, is that it removes any subsequent choice one might make after his conversion. In response to this criticism, they claim that anyone who falls away was not truly converted in the first place. I find this explanation to be woefully inadequate and unsustainable. Why? Because the Bible teaches that those whose names have once been entered into God’s Book of Life can have their names blotted out! (See for example Rev. 3: 5; Ex. 32: 30, 31; Dan. 7: 10; Rev. 20: 11; Phil. 4: 2; etc.). Apparently, at one time you may have eternal life (having your name written in God’s Book of Life), and at another time it may be removed! So much for once saved, always saved!
We must never base our doctrine upon presumption, but upon a firm “thus saith the Lord.” Presumption is the counterfeit of genuine faith. The teaching that once you’re saved you can never lose your salvation is a lie. It implies that God has removed free will from you. The truth is you have freedom of choice throughout your entire life. If God could remove your freedom of choice, He could have removed it from the beginning, with Adam and Eve! Some may argue that it is God who keeps us saved, and God cannot fail. But while it is God who saves and keeps us saved, it is never at the expense of our free will. If God were to remove our freedom of choice at any time, this would amount to force or manipulation. One pastor who embraced this “once saved, always saved” doctrine, when pressed, told me that God will have to take some into heaven kicking and screaming!
I was baptized about 40 years ago. Was my decision to follow Christ set in stone? No! The only thing the Bible says was written in stone is God’s Ten Commandments. If anything, my name was written in the Book of Life in pencil! Christ’s current ministry in the most holy place in this antitypical day of atonement (i.e., investigative judgment; see Rev. 14: 6) is to decide whose names, once entered, should be retained or else removed. It’s not enough to have begun the good fight; we must finish it. Jesus tells us that “he that shall endure unto the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24: 13). The Apostle Paul admonishes us to “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of eternal life” (1 Tim. 6: 12). Faith must be exercised daily. “As ye have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so also walk ye in Him” (Col. 2: 6). How did we receive Christ? By faith. “So also walk ye in Him” by the same faith.
The truth is, we must cooperate with Christ in our salvation. We cannot save ourselves. “All our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64: 6). But God cannot save us without our consent. To do so would simply amount to force. This would effectively undermine God’s law of love! God’s will for man is that all will be saved, for “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 9). Love cannot be forced. God seeks those who love Him: “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14: 15). The probing question by Christ: “Peter, do you love Me?” (John 21: 15-17), is directed to you and me today.
Predestination – the belief that God has predetermined your eternal destiny – is another false doctrine to avoid. A form of the word appears but once in scripture: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8: 29). Who does God “foreknow”? Everyone, right? Are all men saved? No! What, then, does Paul mean when he says God “predestined” those He “foreknew” to be “conformed to the image of His Son”? Simply this: man lost much of the image of God through sin. But through His grace
which has been freely given to all men, God purposes, desires, wills, that all men are saved and restored into the image of His Son. Clearly, Romans 8: 29 does not teach what many Calvinists claim. The concept that God predetermines which individuals will be saved and which will be lost is anathema to love!
What is important to understand is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16). The only question that needs to be answered is this: will you respond to His love and follow Him? “If any man will follow after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9: 23).
In His Service,