Union with Christ: The Basis for Salvation

Today I will continue my discussion of various aspects of salvation by considering the topic of union with Christ. Depending on your confessional background, you may or may not have heard salvation described in this manner. Nevertheless, it is an important scriptural principle. Our union with Christ is the basis for every subsequent part of our salvation. Through this union, the believer enjoys a range of irrevocable benefits, many of which I will discuss in this article.

It is important to understand the concept of union with Christ before proceeding on to the aspects of our salvation traditionally known as justification (the legal declaration of righteousness before God), sanctification (the putting to death of the deeds of the flesh in this life), and glorification (the completion of our renewal at the consummation of the ages). Why? Because it is through being united to Christ that we receive these other things. The New Testament tells us that the person who is “in Christ” is the one who has salvation. Let’s examine what that means.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In so doing, he made two bold statements: 1) A person can actually be “in Christ”—that is, truly united to God the Son. 2) With this union comes a change so momentous that the individual is actually said to be a “new creature”. I know this language is commonplace for those who have been Christians for many years, but we must take a moment every so often to stand in awe of these truths: not only that God became man, but that we may be united with Him. Continue reading

Predestination: The Promise of Salvation

Predestination is the promise of the end at the beginning. When we preach this doctrine, we proclaim that God is not only eternally Savior, but He eternally had a people to save. We proclaim that He is not bound by linear time, and His foreknowledge is so perfect that for Him to know something will occur means that it will occur. We proclaim that God has loved His people from eternity past, and He will work His will in them so that they will most certainly persevere. Yes, predestination is the promise of the end at the beginning, and in that we can have confidence.

The doctrine of predestination could not exist if God was bound by linear time: that is, if His existence progressed eternally in a series of seconds, minutes, and hours. Human beings exist within linear time. We are presently something we were not in the past and will not be in the future. We cannot look ahead, nor can we turn back. We respond to events as they hit us one by one, and thus we are subject to change.

God is eternal. This means He is not bound by linear time like we are. As the Psalmist wrote, “Before the mountains were born / Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, / Even from everlasting to everlasting, / You are God.” (Psalm 90:2) The Lord is clearly aware of and works within linear time—after all, He created it. When He became incarnate as a man, Jesus Christ was most certainly bound by linear time. He was like us in every way…except without sin. However, the eternal Godhead is fully eternal. Scripture continually points to God’s ability to declare the future things as proof that He is truly God. This is meant to reveal to us that God is not bound by linear time, and He is therefore in a different category than us. The Creator is distinct from His creatures. Continue reading

Our Savior: The Author of Salvation

When we speak of salvation, we often begin by talking about ourselves, and that is our first mistake. It would be better for us to start by considering the One from whom salvation flows: our forever Savior, God Almighty. When we build our understanding of salvation upon our own identity, we can have no assurance, but when we build it upon the character of God, we have every assurance.

The first thing we must say about God is that He is what He is. The One who revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14) does not experience any change in character. All that He is, He was eternally, and all He is now, He will forever be. Our experience of His character may change, but the character itself doesn’t. God cannot become something He previously was not, so as to be created. He cannot improve on what He is now, so as to become better. He is the perfect Creator then, now, and forevermore.

Therefore, when we say that God is Savior, we do not assign to Him a new identity that He did not previously possess. He was a Savior even before there was something to save, and because He has always been a Savior, He always will be. He is a Savior precisely because it is in His nature to save. When Jesus Christ said He came to earth “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), He was describing the eternal character of God as manifested in that portion of redemptive history. Continue reading

Unchanging Love, Unchanging God

NASA photo of the Omega Nebula

Why does God love us? How does He love us? These seem like appropriate questions to be asking at a time of year when we are celebrating God’s love as evidenced in Christ’s Incarnation. A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and yet there is some disagreement as to exactly how and why we receive that love. Does God love everyone equally? Does He love you now as much as He ever will? Is there anything you can do to gain more of His love?

Perhaps you have heard a statement like this at some point in your life: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. He loves you unconditionally.” I have certainly heard such things on numerous occasions. They are typically spoken as words of comfort to doubting hearts, or words of correction to those who pursue works righteousness. However, there are some who proclaim them unbiblical.

This is a topic of great practical importance for the average believer. It is no crime to want to understand if, how, and why God loves you. If we go to great lengths to pursue the love of human beings, then we surely ought to be putting in an even greater effort to earn the love of God Almighty. But is there any amount of effort that can earn God’s love?

Some debate whether God’s love is conditional or unconditional, or if in fact it is partially one and partially the other. These terms can have different meanings for various people, but the real issues at hand are whether God loves all human beings, if He loves them all in the same way, on what basis He loves, and if there is anything we can possibly do to increase His love. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Saving Covenant

WARNING: After reading this article, you may have a sudden desire for a glass of wi…err…grape juice and some ciabatta dipped in olive oil.

Back again? How kind of you! Today I am going to discuss an issue of great practical importance. Every person longs for assurance of salvation. God has promised that those He knew and loved before the foundation of the world will not only be justified, but also sanctified and glorified. They will persevere to the end.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

Christians who hold to the view of soteriology known as monergism believe that those who are elected by God for salvation will most certainly be brought to life spiritually by the power of the Holy Spirit. They will just as assuredly be united to Christ and justified by His imputed righteousness. However, one disagreement among monergists comes in regard to the nature of the Old and New Covenants. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Forgiveness of Sins

Today I continue my series in which I thank God for the final four things in the Apostles’ Creed, each of which has meant something special to me this year.

Part 1: Then

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered!

How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

Psalm 32:1-2

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that God forgives sins. From a very early age, I realized that I was a sinner who needed a savior, and that the savior was Jesus Christ. I knew that if I said, “I’m sorry. Forgive me,” He would make me clean.

The full internalization of that truth was another matter. Growing up, I was told most of the right things and did most of the right things. I put my faith in Jesus for salvation, was baptized at a young age, had nearly perfect church attendance, and spent the rest of the week at a Christian school. I knew for certain that I could not earn salvation by works, and that I must trust completely in the sacrifice of Christ. Even so, I never felt like I was one of the really good Christians: the people who closed their eyes when they sang, read the Bible constantly, led people to Christ, and went off to become pastors and missionaries. I did not have the same kind of emotional swells. Continue reading

How to Have Assurance of Salvation, According to the Apostle John

An illustration of John the Apostle from the Book of Kells, circa 9th century

“How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (Job 25:4)

Questions like this have been plaguing human beings since the beginning of time. Those who believe in a righteous God naturally wonder, “Am I righteous as well? Does He approve of me? Will I escape judgment? Does He love me?” This desire for assurance has sent people on lifelong journeys, many of which fail to provide them with the clarity they lack. Some conclude that it simply isn’t possible to know if God approves of us.

While scripture tells us that, “There is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3b) it also promises hope of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Moreover, it teaches that it is possible to be assured of one’s salvation, and that those who are truly in Christ will persevere to the end. Sadly, not all Christians cling to these scriptural truths. Instead, they spend their lives chasing any number of things that they hope will grant them some measure of assurance: the sacraments, good deeds, church attendance, etc. It is not difficult to see how this changes the Christian life entirely. Those who put their trust in these things have only a false hope, and many who try find their confidence ultimately shaken.

The Apostle John wrote a letter to address this very problem. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” he said. (1 John 5:13) Not a hope that you have eternal life. Not an attempt to gain eternal life. No, he said that we can know that we have it. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: What It Means For Us

An original Gutenberg Bible photographed by Kevin Eng

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

Thank you for returning to what I hope will be my last essay on the topic of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Yikes, this has taken a long time! Somewhat contrary to my original plan, I have decided to focus on what exactly the Spirit does in the life of the believer and then use that information to determine exactly who receives the Spirit. Let me restate that in my opinion, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is simply the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a regenerate believer. I also hold that while the Spirit has been equally active in both the Old and New Testament periods, there have been some differences in how He operates, namely that things are now more internal and less external. The Old Testament saints therefore experienced some of the benefits that we enjoy today, but not all of them. They certainly received all that was necessary for salvation, and the biggest difference we see in this regard is not between the Old Testament saints and the New Testaments ones, but between those who are made regenerate by the Spirit and those who are not. Having reviewed all those points, let us continue. Continue reading