Soteriology – The Doctrine of Salvation and Discipleship “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? ” No question is more important or more debated than this one presented by the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30. The answer to this important question is found in the basic aspects of the faith. This is why the doctrine of salvation is so important. No doctrine of the faith is more fundamental than this doctrine. The essence of the gospel message is that God has achieved eternal salvation for all who will receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, believing that He died on the cross of Calvary as the sin bearer of the world.
Salvation was accomplished for men by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. This is what we call “Soteriology”, or “The Study of our Salvation”. The word “Soteriology” comes from the Greek word “Soteria”, which is rendered as “Savior” in the English language. There is a direct connection between Soteriology and discipleship. Like a specialized surgeon, Christian leaders and workers must focus in communicating the need of a savior to deliver us from eternal condemnation.
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This important job must be done with precision because misconceptions regarding this doctrine could potentially result in eternal destruction. In order to explain more profoundly how Soteriology is related to the process of discipleship, it is necessary to point out the most important features of this important doctrine and the full spectrum of its implications. The following paragraphs will provide an extensive explanation of this doctrine. The Bible teaches that mankind is in need of salvation. Genesis 1 narrates how God made us in His image, with the capacity to have a relationship with Him.
Man was created and equipped to be a servant in fellowship with the Creator himself and to exercise dominion over the world. Adam openly rebelled against God in disobedience, falling from his state of perfection. His fall brought many consequences over him and everything created (Gen. 3, Rom. 5 and 1st Cor. 15). The immediate consequences of Adam’s fall over himself were separation (Gen 3:9 “Where are you? “), guilt (Gen. 3:10-11 “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? “), condemnation (Gen. 3:14-19 “Cursed is the ground because of you”), death (Gen. :3 “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die”) and ultimately, depravity. Because of Adam’s fall, the present man is in a state of sin. The implication over this reality is a guilty legal state before God (Eph. 2:1-3) and a condition of total depravity (Rom. 3:10-18). The present man is guilty before God because of his personal acts of sin (Psalm 51:4, Rom. 3:19; 1 John 3:4; Gal. 3:19) and his progenitor’s act of sin (Adam’s sin – Rom. 5:12). Man’s essential condition since the fall is characterized by corruption.
The image of God in man is terribly disfigured. The result of man’s evil and perverted nature are spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1-3), incapability to please God (Romans 8:7-8, Galatians 2:16; 5:17, Romans 3:20) and bond slavery of the sinful nature (Romans 6:17). The eternal consequence is man’s inability of saving himself (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). God was prompted to provide salvation for those in such a helpless and despicable state previously described by His mercy, His love and His grace (Ephesians 2:4-9). All Three Persons of the Godhead were involved in the eternal scheme of salvation.
The Father’s planning is evidenced in Ephesians 1:3-6. The Father “chose us in Him before the creation of the world” (v. 4), “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (v. 5) and gave us freely His glorious grace (v. 6). The Son’s act of redemption is summarized in Ephesians 1:7-12. In Jesus Christ “we have redemption through his blood” and “the forgiveness of sins” (v. 7) and “we were also chosen” (v. 11). Last, but not least, the Holy Spirit’s act of resurrection is explained in Ephesians 1:13-14. The Holy Spirit includes us in Christ the moment “we heard the word of truth” (v. 3) and we are marked in Jesus with the seal of the Holy Spirit as a permanent property of God (v. 14). The plan of salvation required the sacrifice of a perfect representative to mankind, providing the atonement of the whole humanity’s sin and appeasing God’s wrath. Such representative was to be a pure and perfect human being with no relationship to sin. Since the whole mankind “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), no human was capable to perform such duty. He who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man.
Thus, it was necessary for the Son of God to become our Emmanuel, the God with us in the human form of Jesus. Paul demonstrates this truth when he set forth Christ as the Mediator and distinctly declares Jesus to be man (“one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” 1st Timothy 2:5). The suffering of the Savior accomplished many things. Jesus was sacrificed in our place to make us righteous before God (Substitution – 2nd Cor. 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24, Galatians 3:13; Isaiah 53:6). Also, God Himself paid as a ransom the price of human sin and purchased sinners to Himself through the death of Christ (Redemption – 1 Peter 1:18-19).
Furthermore, God satisfied His own righteousness and His own wrath in Jesus’ sacrifice (Propitiation – Romans 3:25 – 26; 1 John 2:2 and 4:10). Jesus also positioned men back on friendly terms with God and now “we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Reconciliation – Galatians 3:25). The salvific work of Christ in the cross of Calvary bestows upon the believer a unique set of benefits impossible to obtain by other means. First, we obtain justification (Rom. 3:24). Jesus’ declare us righteous in front of God. Also, through Christ, we are elevated to a new position.
We are now members in a holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5-9), citizenship in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), membership in the family of God (Ephesians 2:19) by spiritual birth (John 3:5), marriage (Revelation 19:7) and adoption (Galatians 4:5). We also enjoy a complete inheritance in Christ (Colossians 2:9-10), possessing every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3) and the assurance of eternal life in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). In addition, Jesus’ sacrifice grants us strength to live the Christian life. In Jesus we have the capacity to walk in freedom from sin (Romans 6:14) and from law (2 Corinthians 3:6-13).
All this is possible because we are indwelt by Godhead (Ephesians 4:6; Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 6:19). Lastly, through Jesus’ we are set apart for the Father in a multidimensional sanctification composed of a positional sanctification (being set apart as a member of the household of God according to 1st Corinthians 6:11); an experiential sanctification (we are to be increasingly set apart in our daily lives according to 1st Peter 1:16); and the ultimate sanctification when we are embodied with a glorify nature (Ephesians 5:26-27; Jude 25-1, John 3:1-3).
The explanation of the doctrine of salvation provides the grounds for our next topic: the relationship of Soteriology to the process of discipleship. The discipleship process must begin with the proper understanding of the essence of Christianity. These concepts are thoroughly supplied by the doctrine of salvation. For instance, the doctrine of salvation helps the disciples understand that while it is essential to understand that the life and teachings of our Lord proved Him to be qualified for the work of the cross, it was His death on the cross that brought salvation to men.
His teachings instructed the disciples and prepared them for his death, but His death actually saved them. His miracles authenticated His teaching and helped to establish His deity, but His death is what accomplished our redemption. The “new covenant” in Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20) was accomplished only by His death. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17).
Also, Soteriology explains how our Lord’s death was a part of God’s eternal decree, determined before creation. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote: “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a Lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1st Peter 1:18-20).
The doctrine of salvation reveals to the disciples that Jesus’ death would not be accidental, but an act of obedience to His Father’s will. True discipleship requires a profound understanding of Jesus’ substitutionary death. The doctrine of salvation explains how Jesus did not die for His own sins, because He was guiltless. In His death our Lord died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sins. Soteriology presents with clarity the death of Christ as a final, once-for-all, payment for sins. In the Old Testament, God merely passed over the sins of the nation. Romans 3:25-26). The blood of the sacrificial animals did not forgive sins. These bloody sacrifices did not bring pardon, but merely a reprieve. By offering the sacrifice, the Old Testament saint expressed the faith of one who looked forward to the coming of the “Lamb of God”. The work of the cross was complete, final. Sins were paid for in full. No more payment was needed. The doctrine of salvation makes clear for the disciples that we must participate in the process of being saved, but we do not control the process; only the Holy Spirit does.
If the lost are to be saved, we must proclaim the message of salvation to men. Without proclaiming the gospel men will not be saved (Romans 10:14-15). Men must call upon the name of the Lord, and they must confess Him publicly as their Savior (Romans 10:9 – 13), but it is not a process which we can control. Salvation is fundamentally the work of God, and it begins with Him (John 1:12-13, Romans 9, Philippians 1:29). Soteriology is the area where Christianity is the most different from the cults and other world religions.
Understanding Biblical Soteriology will help us to know why salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. No other religion bases salvation on faith alone. Soteriology helps us to see why. A clear understanding of our salvation will provide a peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) because we come to know that He who can never fail is the means by which we were saved and the means by which we remain secure in our salvation. If we were responsible to save ourselves and keep ourselves saved, we would fail.
One of the most difficult barriers of discipleship is tearing down our false perception of self righteousness. The common opinion of oneself is that “I’m not that bad, I don’t deserve the punishment that Hitler deserves”. Understanding the doctrine of salvation present the disciple with the reality of our natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man. Our rebellion against God is total, everything we do in this rebellion is sin, our inability to submit to God or reform ourselves is total, and we are therefore totally deserving of eternal punishment.
If we think of ourselves as basically good or even less than totally at odds with God, our grasp of the work of God in redemption will be defective. But if we humble ourselves under this terrible truth of our total depravity, we will be in a position to see and appreciate the glory and wonder of the work of God. Today the gospel has been so formulated that it is most often presented to unbelievers in a stereotyped fashion. Salvation is sometimes thought to result from following a prescribed formula rather than from simple faith.
People believe that walking the aisle, raising their hand, reciting a prepared prayer or signing a card is what saved them, rather than faith in the work of Christ upon the cross in their place. The doctrine of salvation teaches the disciples that the two fundamental requirements for entering into the benefits of Calvary are repentance and faith; there is no mechanical method by which salvation can be obtained. Soteriology shows the inefficacy of the external acts to produce a genuine internal commitment.
Only a genuine faith will always evidence its existence by actions which are pleasing to God (James 2:14-26, Ephesians 2:8-10). Salvation is therefore always to be based upon the objective fact of Christ’s death in the sinner’s place, but conversion is a subjective matter involving repentance and faith, which cannot be equated with an act, but only evidenced by subsequent acts of obedience to the Word of God. While surveying the doctrine of salvation, the disciples will discover that the shed blood of Jesus Christ is not a part of the gospel, but the heart of it.
This knowledge urges us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. Soteriology compels us to measure our actions to determine if they are appropriate to a genuine profession of faith (James 2:14). Also, it lead us to seek for evidences of the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, Romans 8:1-27); evidence of a genuine change in attitudes, desires, priorities and values (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2) and a desire or spiritual appetite for the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2-3).
The doctrine of salvation personally exhorted my to commit myself to making the gospel clear as I share my faith with others. Proper understanding of Soteriology compels me to refrain myself from using unbiblical terms and expressions which fail to reflect the root of Christianity… terms like “asking Christ into your life,” “finding Christ,” or “asking Jesus into your heart. ” Such terms are wrong only to the extent that they mislead the lost and distort the meaning of the gospel. This gospel must be communicated clearly in order to honor God properly.
This mission is rightfully accomplished when we transmit the doctrine of salvation faithfully. Isaiah was not called to be a successful evangelist, but merely a faithful one (Isaiah 6:1-13). This reminded me that I must rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing men and converting them, rather than upon mechanical techniques and formulas. I intend to focus my ministry in making disciples than mere converts (Matthew 28:18-20). Soteriology also reminds me of the grace of God and that salvation is of God, not of men.
This challenges me to take the Lord’s Supper more seriously, for it is intended to constantly take me back to the cross where my salvation was produced and where my spiritual victory has been achieved. Bibliography Calvin, John. INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION. Edinburgh, 1845. Henry, Mathew. MATTHEW HENRY’S COMMENTARY on the Whole Bible. Biblesoft, Inc. , 2006. Luther, Martin. LUTHER’S COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS. Biblesoft, Inc. , 2006. Metzger, Bruce M. A TEXTUAL COMMENTARY ON THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT. Stuttgart, Germany: DEUTSCHE BIBELGESELLSCHAFT, 1971. Richards, Lawrence O.
THE TEACHER’S COMMENTARY. England: Scripture Press Publications Inc. , 1987. Stern, David H. COMPLETE JEWISH BIBLE. Jerusalem, Israel: JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT PUBLICATIONS, INC. , 1998. Thomas, Mark. The Complete Bible Discussion Guide – Volume I. Oregon: Questar Publishers, Inc. , 1993. ???. The Complete Bible DIscussion Guide – Volume II. Oregon: Questar Publishers, Inc. , 1992. Torrey, R. A. THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CHRISTIANITY. Los Angeles: The Bible Institute, 1917. Walter C. Kaiser Jr, Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch. HARD SAYINGS OF THE BIBLE. Madison, WI : InterVarsity Press, 1983.