What Is Salvation? What is It To Believe the Gospel?
Salvation is not a single act in time but the entire process by which God brings His lost sheep back into the fold; this is borne out by all of Scripture and by the verb tenses God uses in His word for the words related to save/salvation. Salvation consists of many core tenets and components and starts with “eternity past” and “ends,” though it has no end at all, in “eternity future.” In other words, salvation spans all of time and eternity.
A. ETERNITY: Salvation begins with the fact that, concerning the elect, God the Father “hath chosen us in [Christ] BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 HAVING PREDESTINATED US unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Concerning the ‘brethren, the beloved of the Lord, God hath from the beginning chosen them to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’ We are elected, predestined, called, justified, and glorified from eternity in the eternal WILL and PURPOSE of God.
B. THE CROSS: Salvation continues with the cross of Christ. Though Christ was crucified at a specific point in time, His work of atonement and propitiation is not limited to time. The efficacy of His finished work on the cross put away the sins of all of His people forever, whether they lived before the time of the cross, at the time of the cross, or after the time of the cross. Christ, ‘…His own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we were healed’ for God the Father ‘hath made Christ [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” seeing that ‘all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” for “by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
C. PREVENIENT GRACE: God’s elect are by nature the children of wrath, even as others; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way. During the elect sinner’s life, even before they are quickened and converted, they are kept (hedged in) by God. He ordains their steps throughout their unregenerate life, ensuring that they would live to hear the Gospel truth, believe it, and to believe upon Him whom it reveals (even the Lord Jesus Christ). Though they are still in their sin, God watches over them, ensuring their eventual (manifest) salvation. As with the Apostle Paul, all of God’s people can affirm that when it pleased God, who separated us from our mothers’ womb, He called us by His grace.
D. QUICKENING: At God’s appointed time for each of His elect, He takes the timeless finished work of Christ, and the efficacy of it, and applies it to every elect saint. At some point in their life, the Holy Spirit will quicken an elect sinner, giving them spiritual life, a new heart, a new spirit, taking away the stony heart out of their flesh, and giving them a heart of flesh. Being spiritually dead in their sins and the uncircumcision of their flesh, God quickened them together with Christ, having forgiven them of all trespasses. This is a personal reality. Ye, even when WE were dead in sins, hath God quickened US together with Christ, (by grace WE are saved;), and hath raised US up together, and made US sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward US through Christ Jesus. For by grace are WE saved through faith; and that not of OURSELVES: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” All of this is accomplished by the sovereign and indwelling Holy Spirit of God.
E. CONVERSION: Here we get to that point that many **specifically** call salvation; I prefer to call it bringing their salvation (spiritual life and immortality in Christ) to light, to their conscious awareness, since they were saved personally, in their being, upon regeneration. God causes His people to hear the Gospel Truth (see the section on what the Gospel is and what it means to believe it below); working in them the spiritual ears to effectually hear it, understand it, believe it, turn from the errors that they previously held that were against it (false religion/will-worship/a life of sin), and to respond (walk) in a manner indicative of true, God-given, Gospel conviction, repentance, and faith. Unto the quickened elect it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. It is not flesh and blood that hath revealed the Truth unto them, but God the Father which is in heaven and He reveals Truth through His word, the Bible. He causes us to believe, to have faith through said hearing, for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
F. PERSEVERANCE: God keeps his quickened and converted people safe unto their death or until His return. He keeps them safe not by ensuring that no physical harm, sickness, injury, or hardship will befall them. No, He keeps them safe by ensuring that their faith remains (no matter how small it may get), that their love for Christ and His truth remains, that they are kept from deadly error (apostasy), and by ensuring that nothing separates them from Him. All that the Father gave Christ shall come to Him and He will lose none of them. We can be confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in the elect will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ for Christ is the AUTHOR and FINISHER of our faith. Thus we can ask and say ‘Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
G. GLORY: When the saints die, they are absent from their body and present with the Lord. They are present, in glory, in Heaven, with Christ Jesus, in perfect bliss and union with Him, though awaiting the redemption of their body. At God’s appointed time, Christ will return to this earth a second time. The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Though now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. Until then, we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Redemption of the body, in that the Christian’s body is sown a natural body but will be raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body, and all of the saints, come glory, will receive their spiritual body. In them, there will be no sin and thus nothing to inhibit, limit, or infringe upon our full, perfect, manifest, and experienced union and communion with Christ, and the entire Triune Godhead, even — for all of eternity.
II. BELIEVING THE GOSPEL
All who believe the Gospel, and the Christ it reveals, with God-given (God-wrought) faith will be saved. Yet, we must ask, what does it mean to believe the Gospel? Before we can answer, we must ask, what is the Gospel?
A. WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? Read the above again. But for further clarity, consider that the Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ‘Moreover, brethren, **I declare unto you the Gospel** which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 **By which ye are saved,** if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that (1) Christ (2) died for (3) our (4) sins **according to the scriptures;** and that he was buried, and that (5) **He rose again** the third day **according to the scriptures**
The Gospel is that “according to the scripture” revelation of the good news of who God is, who His Christ is, why He came, what He came to do, the identity of those for whom He came to do His work, what He accomplished for them, and what it means for both the objects of His work and for those who were not the objects of His work.
The Gospel reveals that the Triune Godhead, God the Father, Word (Son), and Holy Spirit, covenanted together to save a people for Himself from eternity past. God the Father chose a yet uncreated, unborn people in Christ from before the foundation of the world, a people whom He knew would fall (in the fall of the first man, Adam) because He ordained that fall. God the Word, who is the Lord Jesus Christ being God the Word made flesh, is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. He covenanted to take on human flesh (to become fully man), whilst remaining fully Divine (fully God), being the fullness of the Triune Godhead (Father, Word, and Holy Spirit) bodily. Christ covenanted to not only take on flesh, but to keep the law of God perfectly from incarnation/conception to His death, and yet to die on behalf of His (chosen in Him) elect people, as their redeeming/atoning Substitute, taking upon Himself their sin, and enduring the full wrath of God due each of their sins, fully paying the penalty and price, until their sins were borne away (put away) forever – evidencing that all of their sins were paid for, that the law and justice of God was fully satisfied on their behalf, and that every aspect of their salvation was procured, guaranteed, and secured eternally in Christ by the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit covenanted to apply the efficacy of Christ’s finished work to each of the elect, in time, at God’s appointed time, as He quickens and converts each saint, giving them life, giving them ears to hear, giving them a new mind, heart and spirit, causing them to repent, believe the Gospel truth, believe upon the Christ it reveals, and to walk in light of that faith and repentance. He also covenanted to keep them, comfort them, nourish them, cause them to grow and bear fruit, and to bring them safe to glory, in Heaven with Jehovah God, all in light of Christ’s finished work.
B. HOW DOES ONE BELIEVE THE GOSPEL? By the Heavenly Father’s will and purpose, in Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is God who worketh in us causing us to both will to believe, and to actually believe, the Gospel truth and the Christ and Godhead it reveals. I do not mean some carnal belief, mere notion, I am speaking of a faith mixed with trust, fidelity, and love.
C. HOW DOES ONE KNOW IF THEY BELIEVE THE GOSPEL? They hear or read the Gospel (reread it above if you need to); they believe that Gospel; they believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ that it reveals (i.e. they believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, He is God the Word made flesh, God with us, the Saviour of God’s people, the only hope of Glory, and they sincerely desire to know Him, love Him, walk with Him, learn of Him, be subject and obedient to Him (and His word), to have His will and not theirs be done, and to see Him (through the eye of faith), and to have eternal vital union with Him forever); they disdain counterfeits, compromise, and all that would seek to reject, deny, or downplay the blessedness and all-sufficiency of God and His Christ and Gospel; and they believe the truth that all outside of Christ, all who were not chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the earth, are lost, being under the eternal wrath of God, and will most assuredly experience eternal damnation for all eternity in Hell, due to their own sins (for which they never had propitiation through an all-redeeming/atoning Substitute).
D. DOESN’T GOSPEL BELIEF REQUIRE FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH? In other words, doesn’t salvation and Gospel belief mean that the sinner knows that Christ is his or her PERSONAL Saviour? That God died for them, personally, specifically, taking away their specific sins? Don’t you have to believe not only that Christ died for His people unto their utter salvation (not of works and all of Him) but that you, yourself, are definitely one of those children for whom He died – and if you do not believe that you are one of the elect, you must, by default either be yet unsaved or else (if you once professed to be saved) a reprobate, apostate, holy spirit blasphemer, unpardonable sin committer, god-hating, Anti-Christ, whatever, false prophet.
No! That is absurd! The Apostle Paul defines the Gospel and he never defined it as you believing you were elect; belief of the Gospel does not mean you have full assurance of faith, it means that you believe who God is, who His Christ is, what His Christ did for His people, How He did it, and what He will do to those outside of His redeeming love, forgiveness, and mercy. One can truly believe that Jesus is the Christ; one can confess Him in Spirit and in Truth; one can truly believe the Gospel; one can truly believe that Christ is the Saviour of His people and the end of the law for righteousness; and still struggle with whether they truly have an interest/part (personally) in it.
If our heart condemn us [if we doubt our salvation, our personal interest/part in the redeeming work], God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things [He knows what He did to save His people, what He did in us to cause us to believe in, and love, the truth and validity of Him and His finished work, and He knows that despite our temporal lack of faith, i.e. our “little faith,” and despite our lack of temporal peace and rest regarding our position amongst the elect (due to that lack of confidence we may have towards God because our hearts condemn us), He will save us nonetheless because we believe His Gospel (even if not our interest in it) and because He caused us to believe, having begun the good work in us which He is faithful to see through to the end.
This is why, when the Christian looks outside of self, they will promote and defend the Gospel to the utmost in true spiritual love, sincerity, fervency, and zeal; they utterly delight to hear the word, meditate upon it, hear it expounded by faithful preachers/teachers, be amongst those who discuss and promote it, and to go forth sharing it with those who need it —- BUT once they start looking at their sins, their shortcomings, they stumble and start saying “maybe I’m a fraud, I can’t possibly be saved, I must not believe the Gospel, I guess I’m not saved, or was never really saved.” NONSENSE — the Gospel, belief in it, and the belief (loving faith in) Christ does not depend on our confidence before Him because we are not (ultimately) doubting His person, or His overall work, we our doubting ourselves being in Him.
Now, there is a sense in which we are doubting Him, when we doubt our interest in Him, but this isn’t doubt (unbelief) indicative of lost or unsaved state. Why is there a sense that we are doubting HIM? Because we are doubting His PROMISE that all who believe the Gospel (and persist in that belief unto the end) are already saved and will remain saved. We are not denying/rejecting the Gospel, we have just lost sight of (or not grasped) the promises that go along with it – in due time, God will remedy this through His spirit. Yet, Christ (and God in Him) is honoured by our believing the Gospel promises, resting in them, and looking not to sinful self but to THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
So, if you lovingly believe (and desire a greater love for and faith in) who and what God is, who and what Christ is, the true nature of His finished work, the efficacy and benefit of it towards His people; and the damnable state of all who ultimately reject Him and His Gospel – then you ALREADY BELIEVE the Gospel and need to then rest in the promise that you are already saved. But indwelling sin, bad teaching, poor understanding (especially at the beginning of your faith and/or during times of significant stumblings, falls, and deep spiritual and mental exercises), etc. all work to cause us to deny our own God-given faith and salvation (causing our hearts to condemn us), causing us also to deny the access we already have to the overflowing fountain of peace, forgiveness, and rest found in the blood of Christ, and causing us (instead) to take our eyes of Christ, putting it on ourselves, indwelling sin, and negative emotions, doubts, fears, etc. Don’t do this; instead, look to Him; dive deep in His blood (as He enables), and take your eyes off of self and onto Christ as much as is in you… and if it isn’t in you much, pray for it all the more… we don’t have because we don’t ask.
To God be the glory,