On the Gospel, the Need for Salvation, and Once-Saved-Always-Saved

February 2nd, 2008

Michael Patton posted on the subject of once-saved-always-saved, discussing the problem of false assurance that some people have based on a memory of “walking the aisle”. It’s personal for him, because his father may have that kind of false assurance. He started by saying, “I have someone who is very close to me who will not be broken. I don’t really know how I desire him to be broken, but conversations with him are always very frustrating.”

In the comments, someone named Scott Gray found that statement disturbing. It smacked of coercion to him. Particularly because he rejects that idea that a relationship with God requires salvation.

I exchanged some comments with him (my username: Jugulum). After I pointed him back to some sermons by the apostles in Acts, he said:

i did read the acts passage you pointed out, but i don’t see much connection to the original post topic. could you explain, please? how do you think the acts text pertains to cmp’s original post?

This morning, I wrote the following response, discussing the nature of the gospel, our need for salvation, some implications for assurance of salvation, and the nature of what Christ did, reconciling the world to himself. (You can go back to get the context, if you like.)

The connection is in the nature of the command; in the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ that was preached. It pertains to your apparent belief that relationship with God through Christ can begin apart from salvation–that we do not all need this reconciliation.

When Peter preached at the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2, he (1) identified this pouring out with the prophecy of Joel, (2) testified to the identity and resurrection of Jesus. When the people asked what they were to do, he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The text comments, “There were added that day about three thousand souls,” and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” When they spoke to the crowds in Acts 3, and to the council of priests and scribes in Acts 4, they spoke in terms of salvation.

When Paul spoke to the men of Athens, who did not see a need for repentance, he said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” And when Paul reminded the believers at Corinth of the gospel in 1 Cor. 15–the gospel “which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved”, he says that he “delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. In Romans 5:1-2, he said that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ–that through him we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.

The problem is that you are suggesting we can approach God through Christ…without being united with him in death to be raised in newness of life. OK, interesting suggestion. Just going by the phrase, “approach God through Christ,” you’re entirely right when you say, “this requires no salvation”. (That is, the phrase taken by itself doesn’t answer the question between us; it leaves open your idea.) But we cannot read that phrase in a vacuum; how is it unpacked in the Scriptures? How do we obtain boldness of access to God? What stands in our way? Why do we need reconciliation?

To your suggestion that we can be “in Christ” without salvation, I would echo the words of Paul in Rom. 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [..] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

So, I read your suggestions about what it means a relationship with God and what we all do or do not need. I compare them with what Scripture teaches. I see conflict. So I embrace Jesus’ own diagnosis:

“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

This exchange started when you said we were presupposing “that a person’s relationship with god is exclusively, or almost exclusively, salvific”. That is not quite accurate; you misunderstand us. A relationship with Christ is broader than a past salvation event, a forgiveness from sins. We are not just saved from, we are saved to something. (I like the succinct balance in Eph 2:8-10, and the theme of reconciliation running through the entire chapter.) Past salvation is only the entry point in to a new life; the entry into the body of Christ; our adoption as sons; our reception of the Spirit of God. In Michael’s analogy, it is crossing the starting line–the race continues on, in ever-unfolding revelation of God’s grace, as God works in us, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)

That clarification aside, when you said that “the presupposition you’ve all made, and are working within, is the meta-narrative of salvation history,” you were in part correct. In Michael’s post and our comments, we are indeed presupposing that salvation is part of every real relationship with God. But we are not presupposing in the sense of an unexamined, assumed axiom. Rather, we preach this message of baptism in Christ, repentance from sin, and resurrection to newness of life because it is what Jesus taught, and it is the good news that exploded into the world.

Finally, to bring this home to Michael’s topic of once-saved-always-saved: The whole truth of the gospel is so much broader than an initial event. We should hunger and thirst for more than a memory of a walking-the-aisle, ticket-to-heaven event. We should know the work of God in our lives. And if our faith and life in Christ is limited, we should reacquaint ourselves with the vision and joy and life he set before us. If we lack repentance–if we believe our sin isn’t that bad, if we believe we do not need salvation–we should pray for God to convict our hearts and minds, and trust in Christ’s obedience and perfect and final sacrifice & resurrection. If we find present complacency in spite of past profession of faith, we should examine ourselves, and pray for the Holy Spirit to draw us to Christ, to work powerfully in our lives, and to open our eyes to what he is doing. Where our hearts are proud or hard, we should pray for brokenness; where our hearts are broken, we should pray for healing.

In all things, we should pray to understand our need more, to understand Jesus more, to see him more, to hunger for him more, to love him more, and to live and be like him more. We should steep our expectations & perceptions of what “relationship with Christ” looks like in what he taught, and deny none of it. We should trust in Christ as he presented himself, not simply as we would like to see him.

I pray that we will all see Christ more in this light: That “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:16-21)

16 Responses to “On the Gospel, the Need for Salvation, and Once-Saved-Always-Saved”

  1. scott gray says:

    jugulum–

    you haven’t responded in a few days. is everything all right with you?

    if you feel we have corresponded as much as you are willing, let me again say thank you for a most interesting and thought provoking dialogue about salvation.

    peace–

    scott

  2. Tim says:

    Hi scott,

    Yes, everything’s all right. My delay in responding has been due to a busy weekend, and then a full work week.

    I would still like to come back and reply to some of your questions & comments, but I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll be able to. And I like to give overly-full responses, so that makes it harder to find time. If my time remains short, I may be able to pare down to a small, basic reply with some key thoughts.

    Likewise, thank you for the interesting discussion.

  3. scott gray says:

    jugulum–

    i’m glad you’re alright. i always worry when someone stops conversing that something catastrophic has happened, or that i’ve offended the other person.

    i understand ‘no time.’ i understand the need to reply at length.

    with no pressure, and if it pleases you, please continue to converse with me, to think out loud. right here on your sight, if it seems best. again, no pressure to correspond; i’ve shortcutted your blog to my desk top and i’ll swing by often.

    if you’d rather, my email address is gray9999@earthlink.net.

    if you feel the topics we’re discussing are advantageous to a larger group of readers, perhaps cmp will let us keep discussing on his thread.

    thanks again for your thoughtful responses.

    peace–

    scott

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