Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 7:  The Experience of Salvation
Fundamental Belief #10 In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, so be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God.  Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example.  This faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace.  Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin.  Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds; writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life.  Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment.
[2 Corinthians 5:17-21; John 3:16; Galatians 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Galatians 3:13-14: 1 Peter 2:21-22; Romans 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23-24; Ephesians 2:5-10; Romans 3:21-26; Colossians 1:13-14; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 8:7-12; Ezekiel 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3-4; Romans 8:1-4, 5:6-10]

We now understand that the objective facts of the everlasting gospel — the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ — apply to the entire human race.  We dealt with this in some detail last chapter.  The objective gospel is God’s supreme gift to mankind and, as with any gift, must be received to be experienced.

Romans 5:17
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

According to the apostle Paul, this objective gospel is “the power of God to salvation for anyone who believes”:

Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes:  first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

In other words, this incredibly good news is meaningless, unless received by faith and experienced in the believers’ lives.

1 Corinthians 4:20
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

The objective gospel offers redemption in Christ to the entire human race, from every aspect of the sin problem — from its guilt and punishment, its power and slavery, and its nature and presence.  Salvation, therefore, begins, not at the Second Advent, but at the moment Christ is received as personal Savior and through the experience of the new birth, a believer enters into the joy of justification by faith.

John 5:24
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

As the fundamental belief states, “In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God.  Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example.”

The Experience of Salvation

But now as we move forward and study the experience of salvation, we dare not forget or misapply what we emphasized last chapter — that all Christian experience must be built on the finished work of Christ, the objective facts of the gospel.  Acceptance of objective salvation forms the only true basis for Christian experience.

1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Anything else leads to legalism.

As Christians, we will never experience anything that the Lord, Jesus Christ, has not already overcome in His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus left nothing for us to prove — He did it all.  The good works and obedience the Holy Spirit produces in believers add nothing to Christ’s finished work.  What they do is allow believers to participate personally in what is already theirs, through justification by faith.  Justification by faith is the only basis for peace and assurance.

Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ....

But if knowledge of the gospel is incomplete or incorrect, it will affect the joy of the Christian experience.  We absolutely cannot experience the full power of the gospel unless we first understand the objective facts of the everlasting gospel, as they are in Christ.

The apostle Paul reminded discouraged Ephesians believers that:

Ephesians 2:4-6
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus....   [Emphasis added.]

How noteworthy that all verb tenses in the passage appear in the past historic tense, indicating that Paul is referring only to the objective facts of the everlasting gospel, as expressed already in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Second, how interesting that the word “with” (or “together,” in some translations) appears three times in this text.  According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “together” means “in union with.”  Paul here is using the In Christ motif, the central theme of his theology of the objective gospel.

The Humanity of Christ

This could not have happened, of course, unless Christ had assumed the self same fallen nature of mankind (the sinful bios life) that needed replacement (redemption).  That word “assumed” does not mean that Christ “had” a sinful nature — that would have made Christ a sinner himself, in need of His own Savior.  There is indeed a fine distinction between assuming and having.

As the Church Fathers of the first five centuries often stated, “What Christ did not assume, He could not redeem, or save.”  Ellen G. White declares:

Selected Messages, Vol. 1, Pg. 244
“The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us.  It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God.  This is to be our study.”
Medical Ministry, Pg.  181
“He took upon His sinless (Divine) nature, our sinful (human) nature, that He might know how to succor (help) those that are tempted.”

Once we accept the everlasting gospel in its true fullness, the big question becomes:  “How do we experience its power?”  The answer is, by faith alone.  From start to finish, man’s part is by faith alone:

Romans 1:17
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  “The righteous will live by faith.”

But before we consider what New Testament faith is all about and what it involves, let us review the part the Holy Spirit plays in salvation, because, apart from His influence, no one can experience the gospel’s power.

The Convictions of the Holy Spirit

In Chapter 3, we considered the Trinity, or Godhead, in the second fundamental belief of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.  There we found that all three members contribute to the Plan of Salvation.  The Father directs, the Son saves, and the Holy Spirit communicates.

Once Jesus finished His earthly mission, He ascended to heaven to serve as the believer’s great High Priest, and the Holy Spirit remained to represent Him on earth as communicator of the good news.  Jesus asked His disciples, in fact, to “wait” until they received the power of the Holy Spirit from on high, before launching forth to fulfill the Great Commission.

Luke 24:49
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 1:8
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains to His disciples that the Holy Spirit will convince the world of three realities:  sin, righteousness, and judgment:

John 16:8
When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment....

Of sin, Jesus said:

John 16:9
...about sin, because people do not believe in me....

Many Christians, unfortunately, limit the definition of sin to “transgression of the law” or “lawlessness”:

1 John 3:4
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

But Christ here defines sin as unbelief:

John 16:9
...about sin, because people do not believe in me....

He is pointing to the one sin that can deprive unbelievers of salvation.

Through the objective gospel, every sin against the law was dealt with on the cross:

Ephesians 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace....

But the sin of unbelief is unpardonable.  It is the one sin for which Christ could not die.  Salvation never forces anyone to accept life; the wishes of those who reject the gift of salvation are honored.

John 3:18, 36
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  ...Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Mark 16:15-16
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Hebrews 10:26-29
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Ultimately, to reject salvation is to sin against the Holy Spirit:

Matthew 12:31-32
And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

The Holy Spirit would convince of righteousness, Jesus said, because:

John 16:10
...about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer....

The connection between His leaving and righteousness may seem difficult, until we remind ourselves that the Father is the director of the Plan of Salvation, and it was He who sent His Son into this world to save:

John 3:17
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Galatians 5:4-5
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.

What God begins, of course, He finishes.  So it was with creation, and so it will be with redemption.

Genesis 2:1-3
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.  By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
John 17:4; 19:30
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  ...When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

When Jesus rose from the dead, having fully redeemed mankind from the “curse of the law,”...

Galatians 3:13
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

...the first person to see Him was Mary.  In her great excitement she must have grabbed Him, for Jesus said to her:

John 20:17
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Jesus needed to seek the Father’s approval, to make sure that His earthly mission of saving the world was perfect and complete.  After gaining that assurance, He returned to His disciples to give them the Great Commission, reporting:

Matthew 28:18-19
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples [believers] of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....

Then Christ leaves the earth in hands of the Holy Spirit and returns to the Father.

In convincing the world that Christ has gone to the Father and will return only at the Second Advent, the Holy Spirit is telling the world that Christ’s earthly mission fulfilled every aspect of righteousness on behalf of the human race, and that those who accept Christ Jesus by faith, as their personal Savior, are guaranteed a place in heaven.

Romans 10:4
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

The Holy Spirit would convict of judgment because:

John 16:11
...and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

In other words, any person who deliberately, persistently, and ultimately rejects God’s supreme gift of salvation in Christ will be judged as belonging to the camp of Satan and his angels.  Jesus makes this clear:

Matthew 25:41
“Then he [Jesus] will say to those on his left [the goats, or unbelievers], ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Satan, Ruler of this World

When God created the world, He gave Adam and Eve full dominion over all the creation:

Genesis 1:26
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

But at the Fall, they handed the world over to Satan, and as we saw last chapter, the devil became its prince, or ruler:

Luke 4:5-6
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.”
John 14:30
I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming.  He has no hold over me....

To save mankind, Christ had to buy back the human race from Satan’s rule — to redeem it.  Jesus accomplished this at the cross, predicting shortly before His crucifixion:

John 12:31
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world [Satan] will be driven out.

By the word “now,” Jesus was referring to the cross, as he continues:

John 12:32-33
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
1 Peter 1:18-19
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

By extension, then, believers belong to God and His kingdom, while the unbelieving world voluntarily remains under Satan’s sway:

1 John 5:19
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

For God to eradicate sin forever, when the Plan of Salvation is finished, fire will come down from heaven and consume Satan and his angels, with those who have deliberately chosen to resist the Holy Spirit:

Revelation 20:7-10
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth — Gog and Magog — and to gather them for battle.  In number they are like the sand on the seashore.  They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves.  But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.  And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

This consuming fire was never intended for mankind, but for the devil and his angels.  But God in His love coerces no one.  Those who insist on listening to lies and reject God’s gift of salvation will receive what they have chosen.

Once a person is convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, the good news of the gospel demands a human response.  God created mankind with freedom to choose — to be able to reply with a “yes” or “no.”  The New Testament uses the word “faith” to describe the positive response to the gospel.

Romans 3:21-28
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith.  He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded.  Because of what law?  The law that requires works?  No, because of the law that requires faith.  For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Paul’s favorite quote from the Old Testament is:

Habakkuk 2:4
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright — but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness....”

The gospel becomes a subjective experience only when one accepts it:

Galatians 3:11
Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”

New Testament Faith Defined

As it is with the objective facts of the everlasting gospel, many Christians fail to realize the full meaning of the New Testament faith and the changes it brings to the way they think and live.

How does the Bible define faith, that crucial word that makes it possible to individually experience the righteousness of Christ, the power of the gospel?  According to the New Testament, especially in the apostle Paul’s writings, faith contains three essential elements.  Let us consider each one.

  1. A knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ.  In proclaiming the good news of salvation, Jesus declared:

    John 8:32
    “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    Verse 36 makes it clear what He meant by the word “truth.”  Jesus was referring to Himself:

    John 8:36
    “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

    This knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ, the objective facts of the gospel, which was dealt with in the last chapter, is the first prerequisite to faith.  That’s why the Great Commission to go and teach is central to the Christian faith.  Mark records the commission in these words:

    Mark 16:15-16
    He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

    The gospel is the account of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ — the incredibly good news of salvation.

    In Romans 10, the apostle Paul describes how one experiences this first element of faith.  He first quotes Joel 2:32:

    Romans 10:13
    “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    Then he poses a series of questions, the answers to which are obvious:

    Romans 10:14-15a
    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?

    Then comes a wonderful quote from Isaiah 52:7:

    Romans 10:15b
    As it is written:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

    He sums up man’s response in verse 17:

    Romans 10:17
    Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

    This brings us to the second element of true faith.

  2. Belief in the truth as it is in Christ.  In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word “faith” and the word “belief” come from the same root, for faith involves belief — a mental assent to the truth as it is in Christ.  It is not enough to hear or know the gospel; for the joy of salvation is to be experienced, it must be believed.

    Jesus made it clear:

    John 5:24
    “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged [Greek: condemnation] but has crossed over from death to life.”

    Many other texts show that belief in the truth as it is in Christ is vital in saving, genuine faith.

    Many Christians, however, limit faith to the mere mental assent to the gospel truth, and leave it at that.  The result is what Dietrich Bonhoffer called “cheap grace,” and a license to sin, giving Christianity a bad name.

    Romans 6:1, 15
    What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  ...What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  By no means!
    Galatians 5:13
    You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

    True New Testament faith makes it possible for one to experience the power of the gospel.  But faith must be accompanied by yet a third element — heart obedience to the truth as it is in Christ.

    Romans 6:17
    But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.

  3. Obeying the truth as it is in Christ.  Because this third element of faith is often ignored in the proclamation of the great truth of justification by faith, some suppose that since they are saved by grace alone, they can behave as they please.  This has led many sincere, conservative Adventists away from the wonderful truth of righteousness by faith to a subtle form of legalism, in which salvation is experienced by faith plus good works (lawkeeping).

    Galatians 3:1-3
    You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you:  Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

    What does it mean, then, to obey the gospel?  And, is obeying the gospel the same as obeying the law?  The answer is a definite no, though the end result of obeying the gospel is a heartfelt obedience to the law.  Jesus said:

    John 14:15
    “If you love me, keep my commands.”

    Obeying the law is a fruit of the gospel, the standard of Christian living.  But lawkeeping itself contributes nothing to one’s salvation.

    This is what the apostle James is writing about when he declares, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead” (James 2:17):

    James 2:14-20
    What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
    But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that — and shudder.  You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

    True faith changes lives — unless that faith is a sham, or dead.

    Now, before launching into a deeper study of what it means to obey the gospel, let us consider several helpful texts, all of which show that obeying the gospel is a vital part of true New Testament faith.  In both the introduction and the conclusion of his great epistle to the Romans, for example, the apostle Paul defines faith as obedience:

    Romans 1:5; 16:26
    Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.  ...But now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith....

The Obedience of Faith

Paul commends the Roman Christians for their faith in Christ, saying:

Romans 6:17
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  [Emphasis added.]

To Paul, faith is a heart obedience to the truth as it is in Christ.

In complete contrast, note Paul’s interpretation of why many of his fellow Jews — those who have deliberately rejected Christ as their Messiah — will be lost:

Romans 10:16
But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”

To the apostle Paul, “believing our message” (or “report”) is the same as “obeying the gospel.”  One discovers, in reading Romans 9-11, that Paul believes that many Jews will be lost, not because God has failed to keep His promise, but because they have deliberately refused to obey the gospel.

Romans 9:6
It is not as though God’s word had failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
Romans 10:18-21
But I ask:  Did they not hear?  Of course they did:  “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Again I ask:  Did Israel not understand?  First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”
And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”
But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

One cannot read far in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians without realizing that Paul is upset by the Galatian Christians’ decision to turn their backs on the truth, as it is in Christ, for a perverted gospel.  Deceived by false teachers (Judaizers), they turned from justification by faith alone to faith plus works.

Galatians 5:7
You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?  [Emphasis added.]

Again we see that, for Paul, justification by faith means obeying the gospel, the objective truth as it is in Christ.

To the discouraged believers in Thessalonica facing persecution and hardships, Paul wrote these encouraging words:

2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
...And give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.  This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  [Emphasis added.]

The apostle Peter expresses the same idea in familiar words:

1 Peter 4:17
For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us [believers], what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  [Emphasis added.]

Being sinners does not cause men and women to be lost; after all, all are born slaves to sin and can do nothing to alter that reality.

Romans 3:9-20, 23; 7:14
What shall we conclude then?  Do we have any advantage?  Not at all!  For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

According to the Bible, men and women are lost because of unbelief — the deliberate rejection of the good news of the gospel:

John 3:18
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Mark 16:15-16
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Only those who refuse to obey the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, are destroyed with Satan and his angels:

Revelation 20:7-10
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth — Gog and Magog — and to gather them for battle.  In number they are like the sand on the seashore.  They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves.  But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.  And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Obeying the Gospel Explained

True, saving faith includes “obeying” the gospel, but since the gospel is not a set of rules or commands, how can Christians “obey” it?

First, we must keep in mind that the gospel is the new history God has given mankind in Christ.  As pointed out last chapter, in the incarnation, God united the sinless, eternal, divine life (zoe) of Christ to the corporate, sinful, perishing life (bios) of the human race.  In this role, as both Creator and creature, Christ became a second Adam (mankind), qualified as humanity’s substitute and representative.

By His perfect life and sacrificial death, Christ then fully met the demand of the law on behalf of the human race...

Romans 10:4
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

...and the legal status of mankind changed from condemnation to justification by His obedience, and the bios inherited as a result of Adam’s disobedience was replaced with zoe-life.

Romans 5:18
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.

That bios-life died forever on the cross, as Christ met the final, just demand of the law in exchange for the eternal life (zoe) of His Son.  This is the great exchange that took place at the death and resurrection of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:14
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

This is God’s supreme gift to humanity and the believer’s blessed hope:

1 John 5:11-12
And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life [zoe], and this life [zoe] is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life [zoe]; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life [zoe].

Paul declares:

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!
Ephesians 2:5-6
...[God] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus....

The cross and resurrection of Christ carry the central message of the New Testament — that a great exchange took place that has forever changed the status and destiny of the fallen human race.

While in a Roman prison, awaiting martyrdom, Paul described this great exchange to the young pastor Timothy:

2 Timothy 1:8-10
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.  Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.  He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death [the bios-type life] and has brought life [zoe] and immortality to light through the gospel.  [Emphasis added.]

When we inherited Adam’s life (bios), it was life biased toward sin.  To that condemned life we have added our own personal sins, and thus stand condemned to eternal death.  Christ did not come to change that death sentence, but to fulfill it, as He declared in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:17
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Romans 5:16
Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin:  The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

On the cross, the corporate life (bios) of humanity died forever, to meet the just demands of God’s law.

Romans 6:10
The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
1 Peter 3:18
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Obeying the gospel, then, means for the believer to deliberately surrender the mortal, condemned, sin-loving bios to the cross.  In exchange, the Christian receives the immortal, righteous, holy life (zoe) of Christ, through the new-birth experience.  Paul makes it clear that the life (zoe) of Christ only comes after surrendering the condemned life (bios) to the death of the cross.

Romans 6:7-8
.. Because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
2 Timothy 2:11
Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him....

This exchange is confessed publicly by baptism:

Romans 6:3-7
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

In other words, to obey the gospel is to confess from the heart what Paul wrote about himself to the Galatian Christians:

Galatians 2:19-20; 6:14
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  ...May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

True Christianity means “not I, but Christ.”  This is the formula of righteousness (justification by faith) that must be applied to both one’s standing before God (i.e., justification or the imputed righteousness of Christ), as well as to the Christian behavior (i.e., sanctification or the imparted righteousness of Christ).

From start to finish, the Christian experience of salvation is founded on the principle of “not I, but Christ,” or righteousness by faith alone.  And since Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He will reproduce the life He lived on earth in our humanity some 2,000 years ago, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

When faith is understood as obeying the gospel, it leaves no room for cheap grace.

The Fruits of Obeying the Gospel

The outgrowth of this experience is true witnessing, as Jesus told His disciples:

John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This true commandment-keeping is the fruit of the gospel:

Romans 13:8-10
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:13-14
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In obeying the gospel and surrendering the old life (bios) to the cross of Christ, at conversion, one does not eradicate the influence of the bios; it is literally dead only “in Christ.”  In the believer, it is dead only by faith.  And faith is:

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Therefore, the goal of every Christian is:

Philippians 3:10
I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death....

The Place of Faith

Before concluding this chapter, let us look at the role faith plays in the experience of salvation.  Without faith, it is impossible to subjectively experience salvation — this is indeed true.  But we must not give faith itself any credit or merit, as some Christians inadvertently do, when they point to the exact date they believe they were saved.  What they forget is that all humanity was saved on the cross some 2,000 years ago.  Faith does not add to that salvation.

Nowhere, in fact, does Scripture teach that believers are saved because of our faith.  What the Bible does teach is salvation by or through faith.  Faith is only the instrument — the channel — by which human beings receive the righteousness of Christ.  It is the object of faith — the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ — that saves, both now and in the judgment.

It doesn’t take long after conversion for the believer to realize that the converted mind is no match for the sinful flesh, and the apostle Paul describes the experience well:

Romans 7:14-24
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can the Christian subdue the sinful clamors of the flesh and produce the righteous life of the Savior:

Galatians 5:16-17
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
Romans 8:2-4; 13:14
...Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  ...Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Sanctified by the Holy Spirit

The Spirit’s negative work in subduing the flesh, and His positive role in reproducing the righteousness life of Christ in the believer, is sanctification:

1 Peter 1:2
[To God’s elect] ...who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:  Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

This work begins at conversion and continues until the believer goes to sleep in Christ or until Christ arrives at the Second Advent.  Hence, sanctification occurs throughout life.  And while it is impossible for believers to conquer their sinful nature in their own strength, the resurrection of Christ proved that the power of the Holy Spirit is greater than the power of all the accumulated sins of the world.

The apostle Paul explains it this way:

Romans 8:11
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal [spiritually dead] bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

What does Paul mean, exactly, by this?

First, we know:

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is [eternal] death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And we know that on the cross Christ bore the sins of the whole world.  We also know that it was not the cross that killed Christ, since from Roman history we know it took three to seven days for a man to die on the cross, and Christ died within six hours.  The accumulated sins of the world broke Jesus’ heart and killed Him.

Christ indeed tasted eternal death for everyone:

Hebrews 2:9
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

But the sins of the whole world could not keep Him locked in the grave.  His resurrection, by the power of the Holy Spirit, proved that the power of God is greater than the accumulated power of human sin.  This is Paul’s point:

Romans 8:11
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

And that the same power is now available to all who have experienced the new birth:

Romans 8:12-14
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.  For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

To experience that power one needs to walk in the Spirit, a process that takes time and struggle, for the sinful nature still opposes the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:16
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Yes, sanctification will be an up-and-down experience, but we must keep in mind that one’s status in Christ remains constant through justification by faith.

For sanctification is the fruit of salvation — and has no saving merit and makes no contribution to salvation; rather it is the evidence of salvation.  And since sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian may often be unaware of these good works and be conscious only of the sinful behavior.

Matthew 25:37-39
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

Therefore, the Christian’s eyes must always be focused on Christ on the question of their standing before God; otherwise, they will experience much discouragement, which the devil will use to try to destroy their faith in Christ.  Only in Christ does one stand perfect, both now and in the judgment.

The Experience of Glorification

Finally, at Christ’s Second Coming, all believers will be delivered from the vile bodies that have been a constant hindrance to them in Christian living.  This is known as glorification, the blessed hope of every Christian.

Titus 2:11-14
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

But since glorification occurs only at Christ’s Second Advent, only then will believers experience the full salvation they have in Christ through justification by faith.  Until then they will continue to grow into Christ, while groaning inwardly and waiting eagerly, but patiently, for the redemption of their bodies:

Romans 8:22-25
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Philippians 3:20-21
But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

So, while every believer stands perfect in Christ through justification by faith — perfect in performance, perfect in justice, and perfect in nature — experiencing that perfection salvation will not be fully realized until the Lord’s return.

Ephesians 2:7
...In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
According to Romans 5:19, Adam’s sin made everyone sinners (past tense), while Christ’s obedience will one day make all believers righteous (future tense) at the Second Advent:

Romans 5:19
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

We must conclude, then, that salvation is a past, present, and future experience, and all believers can testify, “I was (past tense) saved” (from the guilt and punishment of sin), but “I am being (present tense) saved” (from the power and slavery of sin), and “I will be saved (future tense)” (from the nature and presence of sin).

Put another way, Christians are already saved from guilt and punishment (since they are already sitting in heavenly places in Christ):

Ephesians 2:5-6
...[God] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus....

But when it comes to the power and slavery to sin, they are being saved (present continuous tense) daily through the process of sanctification, as they learn to walk in the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Finally, at the Second Advent, they will be saved (future tense) from the nature of sin and its presence.  Note the future tense when it comes to experiencing the righteousness of Christ:

Romans 5:19
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

This is what the experience of salvation is all about.

Revelation 22:20
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

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