Vol. 9, No. 3
~ Page 12 ~
There are few subjects, if any, that are as important as the subject of salvation is. It has been my observation that most members of the Lord's church do not properly distinguish the meaning of various terms with regard to the context in which they are used. That is, when they arrive at a definition of a term, they think they have settled the matter. It is not so.
There are at least four significant ways the term "saved" and its cognates are used in the New Testament. First, there is the generic sense of being saved from whatever circumstance confronts one. In Matthew 8:25, we find, "And they came to him, and woke him, saying, Save us, Lord, we perish." Their lives were in danger, they thought, and they wanted Jesus to save them from dying. It had nothing to do with forgiveness of sins, or what we call the salvation of their souls. In Acts 27:31, we find Paul saying, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." He had no reference to being saved from sins. There are several other such references in the New Testament of this nature.
Second, there is the initial salvation that one gets when the alien sinner is saved from his sins. This is what Jesus meant in Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." The various references such as in Acts 2:21, 47; 11:14; 16:31 all relate to this salvation. Many references in the letters of Paul refer to this initial salvation.
Third, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 we find another reference which is not so easily discerned in the King James Version. In the American Standard Version it reads, "For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." In neither version does the force of the original language become meaningful. The expression is, "those who are being saved." There are two senses in which men are being saved. First, there is the day by day process in which different individuals turn away from sin and accept salvation from Christ on the terms by which he offers it. It is still what we may call "initial salvation," for different ones are being saved each day. Second, those of us who have been saved from our past sins are now in the process of being saved each day. That is, as we sin on any given day and pray, "God forgive me of my sin," we are being saved from those sins day by day. Or as John puts it, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth [keeps on cleansing] us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). That is, as we are constantly penitent and yearn for forgiveness, his blood constantly cleanses, so we are continuously being saved from our sins.
Fourth there is a future salvation. Mark 13:13 says, "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved." These are persons who had already been saved from their past sins, but they are waiting for the salvation of which Peter speaks in 1 Peter 1:5, "Who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." This is the salvation of which Paul speaks in Romans 13:11 when he says, "And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed."
We need to understand that when a person is saved from his past sins, he need never worry about them again. "Once saved, always saved" is appropriate with reference to those sins. That has nothing to do with whether he may sin again and be lost for that sin. However, it is still true, whether we talk of being saved from alien sins, or being saved from sins we commit after we become children of God, when they are forgiven they are remembered no more forever. This should help some children of God who do not seem to know how to "forget those things which are behind and stretch forward to the things that are before" and find a "peace that passeth understanding" that will guard our hearts and lives in Christ Jesus. We must not so teach against the false doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy that we make it seem that we are always on the verge of being lost, and if we make one mistake in understanding the Scripture, or in doing all we should be doing for the cause of Christ our souls are in jeopardy. We are still saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves (Ephesians 2:8) whether we are talking of initial salvation, present salvation, or future salvation.
It is true that we must appropriate salvation of any kind in accordance with the rules God made, but that does not mean, suggest or imply that we are saved by the works of righteousness which we have done instead of by his grace. Our initial salvation, or salvation from alien sins, our present or continued salvation from sin (or any other danger or circumstance) and our future salvation in heaven are not achieved on the basis of how many righteous works we do. This does not imply that we can be saved if we decide not to do righteousness, but we will not be lost just because we failed to do a certain number of righteous acts, but because we fail to love and thus obey God.
It is so sad that we might properly call it tragic that the devil is able to get some brethren so far from the truth that they teach that salvation is by grace alone, without the necessity for man to do one thing to accept that grace. Then he manages to get other brethren who claim to be sound in the faith to gloat in their own self-righteousness and teaching that their salvation and ours is assured on the basis of how sound their doctrine is, how many false teachers they expose, and how many good works they do or claim to do. There is probably little value in our trying to decide which false doctrine is worse, but in any case, let us try to give the glory to God and "speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:14).