The Works of Salvation
By Ben Johnson
Last Sunday, our pastor finished our series in 2 Corinthians, which ends with a prolonged benediction from Paul to the Corinthian church. Paul ends his letter by giving both a warning and an encouragement. The warning to the church is that they should not take salvation for granted, and the encouragement to the church is that they should remember that salvation is a gift. I would like to discuss salvation a little more and why it is a difficult doctrine to understand.
Salvation is a tricky topic for the church because the exact mechanics of how it works are mysterious. The New Testament is full of passages like John 10:28-30 that teach that once a person confesses Christ as his or her Lord and Savior he or she will be grafted into the family of God forever. However, there are also passages like Hebrews 6:4-6 that warn believers to be on guard lest they fall away from God. How are we to respond to these seemingly contrasting ideas?
I believe the answer lies in the definition that Pastor Matt gave for salvation. He stated that salvation is a humble confidence in Christ’s ability to do a work we could never do.
Salvation begins and ends with Christ. I cannot save myself from God’s wrath; only the work of Christ’s obedience and death on the cross can appease the punishment that I deserve from God. This doctrine is called justification, and it is the idea that Christians are only made right before God because of the work of Christ. Once a person puts his or her faith in Christ, he or she is counted as righteous. Christians are justified before God and are no longer seen as sinners. Only when we begin to see our powerlessness does God begin to empower us to be more like him.
However, we need this reminder constantly. We are not instantaneously perfected into new creatures, we are progressively refined into new ones. Like metal that is refined in fire, we are put through trials so that our old selves can melt away and our new selves shine through. This process is called sanctification.
To be refined is not an easy process. Old habits, old sins, and old ways of thinking all must be burned away as we shape our minds into the image of Christ. We cannot do this on our own, but must continually submit our desires, thoughts, and actions to the authority of Christ and his Word. As Matt said, we must continually rest in the gospel to grasp our new status as children of God.
True salvation includes both justification and sanctification. We cannot be sanctified without first being justified, and no one who is justified will fail to be engaged in the process of sanctification; the two always go together. Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Our sanctification is both something we take part in and something that only be accomplished through the work of Christ. We cannot grow idle in our sanctification, nor can we progress in it through our own efforts. It is a partnership with God, who began the good work of salvation in us through justification and continues it in sanctification.
That is why Paul often compares the Christian life to a race, because like runners endure pain to reach the finish line, Christians must also endure trials and hardships to reach the goal of God’s kingdom. We have confidence that no matter how badly we sin, if we hold to Christ we will continue in the race.
This is accomplished by properly remembering the cross. The cross points to the seriousness of our sin and the grace God has given to us. There is no stain of sin Christ’s blood cannot wash, and there is no deed perfect enough to earn God’s favor. Our salvation comes not from our performance, but his; so hold on to that! As a church, may we never let go of the work of the Christ, but may we cling to it as we seek to spread his message of salvation to Greenville and beyond.
Ben Johnson is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing an MA in theology with a concentration in Church Planting. He is originally from Huntsville, AL, and is a graduate of Samford University. He and his wife reside in Greenville, SC.