Soteriology is that division of systematic theology that covers the Biblical teaching in regard to the salvation of men from their sin and the wrath of God. The heart of soteriology is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and it is on the basis of faith in the gospel that a sinner is saved from the wrath of God. And as the gospel is the heart of soteriology, so is Christ the heart of the gospel. The gospel is about the person of Christ and the work of Christ to save His people from their sin it was His substitutionary death and resurrection that brought everlasting redemption to them. Now as Christ is the Lord of all things in heaven and earth, and as He is the central figure in God's plan of redemption, it is expedient for us, if we would attain a proper understanding of the Biblical doctrine of soteriology, to approach it from the perspective of the lordship1 of Jesus Christ.
The Lordship of Christ in Salvation
If men are to be saved from their sin, it can only be in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason for this is that men are in no condition to save themselves. The Scripture paints a dark picture of fallen man's predicament. Man is born in sin (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12), and every aspect of his being has been corrupted by sin, rendering him helpless as to his own salvation. His mind is at enmity with God (Col. 1:21; Rom. 8:7), and cannot understand or receive the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 3:11). His heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9; Gen. 6:5). His will is set to do evil, being controlled by the lusts of the flesh and a reprobate mind (Eph. 2:2-3; Rom. 1:28), making him a slave to sin (Jn. 8:34). He has no fear of God, no desire to seek God, and no faith in God (Rom. 3:11-18). What knowledge he does have of God he is actively suppressing (Rom. 1:18-32). The desperateness of man's state is evident in that he considers the gospel, his only hope of salvation, to be foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). In sum, the Bible declares that the unsaved are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and under condemnation (Rom. 6:33). Salvation for such as these must originate in the will of God and be carried out by the power of God.
Most errors in regard to the doctrine of salvation have their roots in an inadequate, unbiblical view of the moral and spiritual status of fallen man. Those who believe that man is merely spiritually sick, also believe that the salvation of sinners is a joint enterprise between God and man. But those who read the Bible accurately understand that man is spiritually dead and can contribute nothing to his own salvation; consequently, they believe that salvation is solely the work of God from beginning to end. To better understand this work of God, let us relate it to Christ, the Son of God.
Those Who Are Saved Have Been Given to the Son
During His earthly ministry Jesus made a remarkable statement concerning the salvation of men. He said that the only ones who would believe in Him and be saved would be those that had been given to Him by the Father (Jn. 6:37-40). He also stated that "no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" (Jn. 6:65; cf. 6:44). Thus, prior to the incarnation of the Son of God the Father had determined to give a certain number of mankind to Jesus Christ. Those the Father chose for His Son will also be enabled to come to Christ in faith. Who are these individuals that are given to Christ? Simple logic and sound Biblical interpretation indicate that these are those who are called the "elect" in Scripture (e.g., Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12). Apart from any warrant in the actions of men, and on the basis of His own sovereign will and mercy (Rom. 8:28-30; 9:11-22), God chose who would be part of the blood-bought body of Christ. The Apostle Paul explains when and on what basis this election of sinners took place: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before him." (Eph. 1:4). The time of the divine choice was before the heavens and the earth were created, and the basis of the divine choice was the work of Christ. Election was "in him," that is, election is not based on what the elect would do, but solely on what Christ would do for them as their covenant head and representative. To teach that election is due to some kind of foreseen merit in the sinner (such as the sinner's faith) is to rob Christ of the glory due unto Him by making man and his work an essential (though, perhaps, not equal) element in election.
Those Who Are Saved Are Redeemed by the Son
The Son of God came to earth to do the Father's will and secure the redemption of those whom the Father had chosen and given to Him (Jn. 6:37-40; 17:2). Jesus said during His earthly ministry that He had come to give His life for the sheep (those chosen to be part of the fold of God's covenant people) and for none other (Jn. 10:7-29). Jesus did not come to make salvation possible, but to actually procure it for those who had been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:7). Jesus' death was substitutionary, that is, He died in the place of those who had been given to Him and thereby took the penalty of the broken law that was due unto them (1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:13). In taking their judgment, He in fact secured their redemption (Col. 1:14), their reconciliation (Col. 1:21-22), their justification (Rom. 5:9), and their forgiveness (Eph. 1:7). Unless they are Universalists,2 those who teach that Christ died for the sins of all men do not understand the nature of subsitutionary atonement, or the efficacy of Christ's blood, which infallibly secures the redemption of all for whom it is shed.3
Those Who Are Saved Are Called by the Son
In Matthew 11:25-27, the sovereignty of God in salvation and the place of the Son of God in bringing the elect to the knowledge of the truth is revealed by Jesus. Here we are told that, according to God's good pleasure, the truth has been hidden from some and revealed to others; and because all things have been delivered to the Son, it is the Son Who reveals the knowledge of God and His truth to those who have been selected to receive it. During His ministry we see Jesus revealing the truth to His chosen followers, while hiding it from others (Mt. 13:11-17). At the end of His time on earth, He prays to the Father and says that He has "manifested thy name unto the men which thou hast given me out of the world" (Jn. 17:5), and that He has given them the words of God (Jn. 17:8, 14; cf. 1 Jn. 5:20). Then, Jesus promises His disciples that when He is gone He will send the Spirit of God to teach His people the truth (Jn. 14:16-17; 16:7-15). The exalted Christ is the One Who gives repentance and faith to men (Acts 5:31, 13:48; 16:14), and this He does through His Spirit (2 Cor. 2:11; Rom. 8:11-16). Faith is not, therefore, the sinner's gift to God that enables God to save him, but it is the Son of God's gift to His people (Eph. 2:8) that enables them to lay hold of the gospel and be saved by grace alone.
Those Who Are Saved Are Kept by the Son
Jesus Christ, while on earth, promised that all whom the Father has given Him will be kept by Him (Jn. 10:28); not even one will be lost (Jn. 6:39; 17:12). In His high priestly prayer, Jesus asked the Father, Who always hears the Son, to "keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me" (Jn. 17:11). At His ascension, Jesus was raised to the right hand of God the Father, and from there He exercises a ministry of intercession on behalf of His people. The effect of this ministry is that "he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). Paul confidently sees the resurrection of Jesus as ensuring the salvation of the people of God (Rom. 5:10). Therefore, He can triumphantly declare that nothing can separate believers from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:29-39), and that Christ will surely keep those who have committed the salvation of their souls to Him (2 Tim. 1:12). Hence, it is contrary to Scripture and a denial of the power of Christ to preserve His people to teach that a man once saved by the grace of God can fall away and be lost. The Lord enables all true believers to continue in the faith. Any who do turn from their professed faith in Christ thereby give evidence that they were never truly converted in the first place. The true marks of conversion are an abiding faith and a life of obedience to the Word of God. Those whom the Lord justifies, He also sanctifies.
Thus, we see the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ in the salvation of His people! Those who are saved can claim no credit whatsoever, but must rest their salvation in the fact that they have been given to the Son, redeemed by the Son, called by the Son, and kept by the Son. Sovereign election, particular redemption, invincible grace, and faithful preservation can alone account for the salvation of men who are dead in trespasses and sins men with enslaved wills, corrupt minds, and vile affections.
The Lordship of Christ in Preaching
If the gospel reveals the lordship of Christ, then it follows that any true gospel preaching must exalt the lordship of Christ. Preaching that does not magnify Christ as Lord and call upon sinners to recognize Christ as Lord does not proclaim the gospel in its Biblical fullness.
When the Apostles preached the gospel, they did not limit themselves to the historical facts of Jesus' death and resurrection (as important as these are), but were diligent to proclaim the attributes of Jesus. In the sermons and speeches in Acts, the Apostles preached that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord seated at the right hand of God, the Holy One, the Prince of Life, the Savior, the Prophet, the Prince, the Judge, and a King. The most prominent appellation given to Christ is that He is the Lord. This title sums up His sovereignty and glory as the victorious Son of God Who reigns over all things in heaven and earth. In their preaching, the Apostles called upon men to "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31; 20:21).
To preach that Christ died for our sins is not enough, for why should His death save us any more than another man's? It is the fact that He was the sinless Son of God that makes His death efficacious. The death of Jesus on the cross did not establish the truth of the gospel; it was the resurrection that did that because it revealed the person of Jesus and God's acceptance of His sacrificial death Paul says Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3; cf. Acts 13:33), and that the resurrection was proof that justification had been accomplished for His people (Rom. 4:24-25).
Preaching the lordship of Christ in the gospel requires the declaration of the finished work of Christ. Men must be told that the work of salvation is accomplished through the will and power of God alone; that it is Christ, the Son of God, Who redeems the sinner through His vicarious death; and that it is Christ Who reveals the truth to men and gives them repentance and faith. Christ must be exalted and the sinner humbled so that he casts himself utterly on the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Finally, preaching the lordship of Christ in the gospel necessitates the calling of men to repentance. The essence of man's sin is his claim to autonomy. Man is in rebellion to the authority of God. Consequently, the heart of true repentance is abandonment of autonomy and submission to the authority of God over every aspect of a man's life. To call men to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is to call them to believe that Jesus is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth and to submit themselves to His authority; it is to call them to discipleship and obedience "a calling of the total man and his total life to total service to the Lord wherever his is, and whatever his vocation."4
1. In speaking of the lordship of Jesus Christ, we refer to the divine sovereignty He possess by virtue of His being the Son of God, and by virtue of His obedience and subsequent exaltation as the Christ when He was crowned Lord of all.
2. Universalists logically conclude that if Christ died for all men, then all men will be saved.
3. A substitute is one who takes the place of another and performs the duty of another in view of the latter's absence or inability to perform it. There is, necessarily, a one-to-one correspondence between the substitute and one he is substituting for. A substitutionary atonement means that Christ died in the place of particular individuals (who viewed as a whole are called the elect) who were unable to perform the work of saving themselves, and, consequently, He indeed saved them.
4. Rousas John Rushdoony, Systematic Theology (Vallecito, 1994), 530-531.
- William O. Einwechter
William O. Einwechter serves as a teaching elder at Immanuel Free Reformed Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. He is also the vice president of the National Reform Association and the editor of The Christian Statesman. He can be contacted at [email protected].