Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Salvation is by faith and not works
Let’s begin with the most basic premise regarding the Doctrine of Salvation; Redemption is accomplished by faith and not by works.
The Bible is replete with supporting verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Another verse is Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
In fact, the opposite is also true. Salvation produces good works; if not, it is not genuine faith. James 2:17 affirms, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead….”
This decisive doctrine separates Biblical Christianity from every other religion that offers deliverance. All other theologies acknowledging an afterlife believe that your good works are weighed against your evil works to determine your redemptive status.
What Christ articulates about Salvation
In the Rich Young Ruler story, Jesus states in Matthew 19:24, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were astonished and remarked in 19:25, “…Then who can be saved?” To which Jesus replies in 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
James 2:5 supports this when he states, “…did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom…?” Also, Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 talks about this selection when he states, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble….”
In a similar conversation, a Pharisee named Nicodemus questions Christ regarding Salvation in John 3:3, where He responds, “… ‘unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” In verse 3:8, Jesus further remarks, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
What remarkable dialogues. But what does it all mean?
From all these verses, we can draw five principles:
- Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit.
- Christ Himself developed the analogy of “born again.”
- Christ also refers to the idea of “washing of regeneration.”
- In all these verses, God, not man, is accomplishing redemption.
- Finally, God “chooses” and “calls” certain people for Salvation.
How does this all fit together?
Analyzing the commonalities
The Holy Spirit is Active in Your Salvation
One of the fundamental truths of the Trinity is that as Three Persons in One God, each person has distinct responsibilities.
Concerning Salvation, Ephesians 1:3-14 shows how the Father chooses “Blessed be the God and Father…just as He chose us….” How the Son redeems, “In Him [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood….” And finally, how the Holy Spirit seals the transaction, “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of Promise.”
Although all persons of the Trinity play a part in your Salvation, it is clear that the Holy Spirit is effectively the “closer.”
Christ’s analogy of “born again”
Examining the “born again” analogy, Christ infers something with a significantly profound meaning. Just as you were not involved in your human conception, so too, you are not involved in your spiritual inception. What I mean, and this is something many get wrong, is that you don’t obtain Salvation by your “free will.”
Many, even true believers, mistakenly believe that Salvation is a consequence of their own desire or free will. In reality, redemption via free will is essentially salvation by works since it replaces God’s efforts with your own.
Several Bible verses specifically state it is not by free will. For example, John 1:12-13 claims, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Romans 9:16 also reinforces this, “…it [salvation] does not depend on the man who wills [desire and free will] or the man who runs [human effort], but on God who has mercy.”
This is consistent with the analogy; if you had nothing to do with your physical birth, you also have nothing to do with your spiritual birth!
It is vital to distinguish between the birth or inception of your Salvation and the subsequent growth or sanctification of your redemption. Free will is not involved in your birth; it is involved in your sanctification process as facilitated and guided by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
What is the “washing of regeneration?”
Several verses, Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13, and Romans 6:23, point to the fact that before Salvation, men are “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Another reason we are unable to activate our spiritual birth is that our spirit is dead, and the dead can only react to divine intervention. In John 11, Lazarus is dead and unresponsive for four days until Christ, in verses 43-44, commands him, “… ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man [Lazarus] who had died came forth.” This is a picture of our dead Spirit that stands completely unresponsive until the divine act of the Holy Spirit’s regeneration.
The “washing of regeneration” referred to in Titus 3:5 is the miracle of God that transforms our dead spirit and gives it new birth. Not through our works, nor through our free will, nor because of anything we deserve, but through the mercy of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is impossible for Man
Now Christ’s response in Matthew 19:26 makes sense when He states, “…it [salvation] is impossible for man [or people] but nothing is impossible for God.”
But how does regeneration connect with us?
Through the Sovereignty of God, He Chooses and Calls Us
Like “free will Salvation,” believers also struggle with the Doctrine of Election, yet both are all over the Bible. Additionally, they even confirm each other.
Here are three verses that teach the Doctrine of Election:
- Ephesians 1:4-5 – “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
- Romans 8:29-30, actually an abridged order of salvation, states, “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.”
- Finally, 2 Timothy 1:9, “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
We referred to Ephesians 1 above when we discussed the separate responsibilities that each person of the Trinity plays in our Salvation. Ephesians 1:4 furthermore states, “…He [God the Father] chose us in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world…” In this divine selection process, God the Father literally wrote our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life, securing our eternal Salvation. This Book of Life is mentioned multiple times in the Bible, particularly in Revelation, such as in Revelation 20:15 “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Christ certainly recognized this selection and calling process, as He remarks in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Why did God just save a few? Why not more? Certainly, as 1 Timothy 2:4 records, God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” But Titus 1:16 illustrates the true heart of man, “by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” All of humanity would have been cast into eternal damnation were it not for God’s mercy to pluck a few out.
One final point on Election. Why the Great Commission if those who are elected ultimately get saved anyway? Three reasons: first, the elect can only be identified in hindsight. Second, God uses our disciple-making to aid in our spiritual growth, and third, He commands us to do so.
How does Salvation work according to the Bible?
Before the foundation of the world, God the Father elected or chose some throughout history and predestined them for eternal life. Not based on their worth or value but strictly on His mercy and good purpose. At some point in time, everyone who has been chosen will respond to God’s effectual calling.
The Holy Spirit will then regenerate their dead Spirit, and Salvation will be produced when God’s gift of faith, according to Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourself, it is a gift of God” is combined with repentance, as stated in 2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation….” After being saved, that person will freely respond to God’s Word and continue to grow in their Sanctification.
Without God’s intervention, everyone is destined for eternal punishment because they are born of Adam and willfully reject Jesus Christ. This is confirmed in Romans 5:12, which declares, “…just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mankind, because all sinned.” Indeed, sinful man persists in denying Christ and refuses to repent as Revelation 9:20-21 affirms, “The rest of mankind…did not repent of the works of their hands…and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their sexual immorality nor of their thefts.”
Free will is the momentum of every person who rejects Christ and of every false believer who assumes they, too, are saved. True believers are distinguished by God’s sovereign election.
P.S. There’s more to come on the Doctrine of Salvation…