Soteriology

The mystery of the origin and existence of evil is one that is not easy for Christians or even non-Christian philosophers to understand. Bavinck writes, “The question of the origin of evil, second to that of existence itself, is the greatest enigma of life and the heaviest cross for the intellect to bear.”[1] This brief article deals with an overview of a distinctly reformed position of the Christian Doctrine of Salvation.

When Adam rebelled against God in Genesis 3, as the federal head of mankind, he introduced sin and death into the world and subjected all of humanity to the divine curse. (Romans 5:12-19) Paul informs us that it was through (dia) one man that death through sin entered the world and was passed upon all men. That little preposition is a preposition of instrumentality. Adam was the instrument by which sin and death entered the world. How would you like that responsibility? It is nearly unbearable to know that your actions caused the death of one person. Imagine causing death period. Everyone who has ever died, died because Adam sinned.

Man is not only spiritually dead, living under the divine curse, abiding under the wrath of God, deserving of eternal judgment and damnation, he also deserves nothing good from the hand of his Creator. When man starves, he deserves to starve. When man is murdered, he deserves it. When man is abused, enslaved, raped, lied to, stolen from, diseased, afflicted, and anything else you can imagine, he is not getting anything that he does not deserve. He deserves to die by flood, by natural disasters, by disease and plague, at the hands of wicked men, by starvation and any other means you can imagine. We are wicked sinners standing before a holy God. Jonathan Edwards preached, “God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise, to keep any natural man out of hell one moment.”[2] This kind of thinking is foreign to modern Christians because modern preachers and pastors are far too timid to teach them to think rightly concerning divine wrath. And as a result, not only do they suffer the injustice of misunderstanding God’s holiness, producing in them an impious attitude regarding the fear of God, they are at the same, deprived of understanding the depth of the riches of God’s grace and mercy. You cannot compromise divine judgment without also diminishing divine mercy.

Man is in need of salvation then from all these things. He needs to be restored to a right relationship with his Creator. However, man is a serious rebel against God and God’s light. He wants nothing to do with a right relationship with God. He wants nothing to do with God. He is hopelessly wicked and he loves his wickedness. He is dead and does not know it. He is blind but thinks he has perfect vision. He is self-deceived. He lives under the delusion that he free to do as he pleases. He is ignorant, blind, and stupid and cannot see it. Preachers do him no favor when they describe the gospel of God in terms that he finds appeasing, sensible, intellectually worthy of his consideration. In this condition, it is impossible to see how the gospel of repentance could ever be presented to man in such a way so as not to offend him. The nature of man is such and the nature of the gospel is such that the two are offensive the one to the other. Just as oil and water do not mix, so the righteous gospel of God and the wicked nature of man cannot mix.

If man is to be redeemed, restored, saved from his present condition, it will not be because of his own doing, his own will, his own intellectual powers, or his own desire. The only way for man to stop loving sin is if he can find a way to start hating sin. And man cannot hate sin unless he loves God, the one who hates all sin. The one who hates sin loves God. The one who loves God, hates sin. The one who does not love God, loves sin. The one who loves sin, hates God.

With the fall of man into sin came a promise. In Genesis 3:15, God promised man redemption and restoration. He promised that One would come who would crush the head of the serpent. And indeed, that one has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Where Adam failed to honor God by keeping God’s commandment, Christ succeeded perfectly. Christ kept God’s righteous law perfectly and as a result, He alone is able to justify. Not only did Christ live the perfect life in our place, He also took the wrath of God which he did not deserve, in the place of all those who did deserve. He atoned for the sin of his people. Matt. 1:21 says, “He will save his people from their sin.”

The only hope for guilty sinners is that one man who did not deserve divine wrath would actually take our place and so it has been done. Jesus Christ is now the propitiation for the sins of humanity, all men without distinction as 1 Jn. 2:2 puts it. This means that Christ has not only turned away the divine wrath that was due us, but he has also turned divine favor toward us. His death earns us forgiveness, justification, legally not guilty! His life has earned us the righteousness by which God now favors us. He took our wickedness so that we could be righteous and he took our punishment so that we might live justified!

There is much more to the doctrine of salvation than this short overview. In time, I will add to more content. Suffice it to say that God created man, man rebelled against God. God judged rebellious man but also promised redemption. God came down to live and die for man, providing the means by which man could be forgiven, released from guilt, declared righteous, and experience restoration and new life in Christ. In short, God created man and reconciled man to Himself. Just as God’s creation of man involved nothing in man for its accomplishment, the same holds for God’s reconciliation with man. It is God’s work from beginning to end.

 

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2003- 2008), 53.

[2] Jonathan Edwards and Sereno Edwards Dwight, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 9.

 

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