At the cross, whom did Christ save, and can that salvation ever be lost? These two questions seem to be fundamental in our understanding of the salvation offered us in Christ. Yet, Christian scholars are often divided, as are our churches in that some believe salvation is partial while others believe it is universal. Some believe salvation can be lost, while still others believe it cannot. What do the Scriptures say and are they clear on this point? If they are, are we able to let Scripture and only Scripture be our guide to understanding what Christ effected for us on Calvary?
May all of God’s children, who love to see their Lord lifted up to be seen and praised by all, allow the words of God, and not those of men, end any controversy about this most fundamental subject of our faith.
Ever since Adam first sinned in Eden, man has tried to contribute in some way to his worthiness before God and to secure his own salvation. The truth is, all have sinned and have fallen far short of the glory for which God created us (Romans 3:23). Because we all have sinned, God has placed no difference between the best of us or the worst of us (Romans 3:9-19). We were made righteous by the faith of Jesus Christ, just as we were all made unrighteous by the sin of Adam (Romans 3:22; 5:12). These Scriptures reveal a mystery or secret of God that was never understood until Paul’s day. The Jews represent the people of God. They recorded God’s own words (Romans 3:1-2). On the other hand, the gentiles represent those who are afar off. They have no right to God and his promises. Yet, God places no differences between those who are near (Jews) and those who are afar off (gentiles), between believers (Jews) and unbelievers (gentiles), as far as salvation is concerned (Romans 3:9; 2:24). Not even God’s people seek after him without the aid of his Spirit (Romans 3:11), so there is no room for boasting no matter who we are!
I remember a portion of the worship service in the Roman Catholic Church that I repeated every week as a teenage boy. There was a prayer in the service which had the words “…not considering our works, but freely granting us pardon…” whereby we cast ourselves upon the mercy of God. I can recall thinking in my self-righteousness that I did not want to pray this prayer. On the contrary, I wanted God to consider my works. I had tried to be good and endured insults from my peers as a result of my choice to stand with God as opposed to enjoying friendship with the world. What I did not understand at this young age was that not one of my so-called good works could have made any headway whatsoever on the way to salvation. It must be all Christ – He is my Way.
I’m sure I heard this truth preached in the Catholic Church, for it was implied in its worship service. Nevertheless, it fell upon deaf ears, because my understanding of salvation was that only what I did meant anything to God. I believed it was these very works that separated me from those who did evil in the world. I am afraid this same understanding is very prevalent within the Body of Christ today. We believe credit is shared with Jesus for our salvation. Oh! We know the correct words to say, but they don’t seem very clear to us in our experience. We really do believe our works count in our salvation. Yet, God’s word says that even our desire to change comes from him (cp. Ephesians 2:8 with Acts 5:31 & Acts 11:18). This last Scripture interprets Peter’s vision in Acts 10, culminating in the announcement in verse-18 that God gave repentance to the heathen. It becomes plain that even our will to change or repent is given to us by God. Yet we judge those who have not repented as though they had the inherent power to put an end to their pathetic state and change direction by themselves. Repentance is not one of our works! It, too, is a gift of grace from God.
In 1Timothy 2:6 we are told Christ gave himself a Ransom for all. What exactly does this mean? Is everyone’s total debt paid? The Greek word for “ransom” is antilutron (G487) and was frequently used in the Septuagint for the redemption money for a slave. It denoted equivalence, but equivalence to what? It was equivalent to the total debt of that which is being redeemed. In this case the ransom is for all. In Romans chapter five and beginning with verse eight, we are told that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, i.e. unrepentant enemies of God. While yet unrepentant, we were justified by the blood of Christ. Read it for yourself. When you and I were still God’s enemies he justified us. (Romans 5:8-9). It wasn’t our repentance that brought us to God. He came to us. We didn’t choose him; he chose us (John 15:16). We didn’t love him, until he first loved us (1John 4:19). Does this hurt our self-righteous pride? Does the cross offend us when seen like this? In Romans 5:6 the Scripture says I was ungodly when Christ died for me. I was without strength. I had no power to change, even if I desired to repent. None of my works have any value here. Nothing I could do would be enough to do the job. Left to myself, I would not seek after God (Romans 3:11). Indeed, when I was the enemy of God, I was reconciled to him by the death of his Son.
For if while we were hostile to God we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, it is still more certain that now that we are reconciled, we shall obtain salvation through Christ’s life. (Romans 5:10 WNT)
The fact is: God has reconciled the whole world unto himself (2Corinthians 5:14-19). Knowing this, how will we reply to the inconsistencies put to us by some of the traditions that have come down to us? Is there an enemy of God that he is unable to justify? Is there a sinner who cannot be reconciled to God in the death of his Son? May the God of all comfort guide each and every reader to see, recognize and receive the truth of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.