Salvation and the Church
Now that we have seen the overview of God’s plan for all of history, we need to understand how we fit into the picture. We are living in the church phase of the outworking of God’s kingdom purposes. Jesus Christ himself has come, the ultimate revelation of God to man, and accomplished our redemption through his obedience. He is now in glory at the right hand of the Father, and he has sent his Spirit to apply redemption to men. Thus all who are reconciled to God through Christ have fellowship with God. The rule of God is mediated through Christ, who works through his body, which is the church.
“Salvation” is a massive and beautiful concept in the Bible. The triune God’s work of saving men glorifies him supremely as Lord. If we are to understand the times we live in, we must understand what salvation is and what it is not, as well as how men are saved and how they are not.
- Redemption Accomplished – Christ’s Atonement. Christ’s obedience in living a holy life, dying as a substitute for sinners, and rising again from the dead accomplished God’s plan of redemption.
- Sacrifice – Because we are guilty sinners, a perfect blood sacrifice is necessary to bring final and permanent removal of guilt (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22, 26; 10:12).
- Propitiation – Because we are under God’s wrath for our sin, we need a satisfaction of God’s wrath (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).
- Reconciliation – Because we are alienated from and at war with God, we need a restoration of peace, harmony, and favor (2 Cor 5:18-19; Eph 2:16).
- Redemption – Because we are enslaved to sin, we need a powerful ransom to free us (Matt 20:28; Eph 1:7).
- Destruction – This is an aspect of Christ’s work that is related not primarily to our individual salvation but to accomplishing God’s kingdom plan for all of creation. Christ’s obedience destroys the power of the god of this world (Matt 12:29; John 12:31;
Col2:15; 1 John 3:8) and will bring all of creation back into harmony with God (Rom 8:18-22; 1:20). Col
- Redemption Applied – The Spirit’s Application.
Unionwith Christ – This describes our identification with the atoning work of Christ, which is the source of all spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3). This relationship was decreed in eternity past and actually comes about at the point of repentance and faith.
o Election - Before the foundation of the world, God freely chose us to salvation in Christ, with all of its concomitant blessings and obligations (Eph 1:4-6; 2 Pet 1:2-3; 2 Thess 2:13).
o God’s call working through regeneration - God invites elect sinners to salvation and secures their willing response (Rom 8:29-30; 2 Thess 2:14; 2 Tim 1:9). The divine power inherent in the effectual call secures a willing response from the spiritually dead sinner by instantaneously and supernaturally imparting spiritual life and implanting gracious principles of action (John 3:3-8; Tit 3:5; 1 John 3:9).
o Repentance and faith - Repentance is a change of mind (including the intellect, emotion, and volition) away from sin (2 Cor 7:9-10; 1 Thess 1:9; Heb 6:1) and to God (Acts 20:21; 26:20; cf. Ps 51). It is the gift of God (2 Tim 2:25). Faith is a knowledge of, agreement with, and whole-hearted trust in the person and work of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures (John 20:31; Acts 16:31). It too is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9; Phil 1:29).
o Justification and definitive sanctification - Justification is the judicial act of God by which he declares the sinner to be righteous and treats him on that basis (Rom 3:21-28; 4:3; 5:1, 9). It involves the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer (Rom 5: 18-19). At the moment of justification the believer experiences a definite deliverance from the reigning power of sin in his life (Rom 6:1-14).
- Adoption - Adoption is a judicial act of God whereby he installs the believer into his family as an adult son, with all the attendant privileges (Gal 3:26; Eph 1:5).
- Progressive sanctification - Sanctification fundamentally means to be separated from sin and set apart unto God. By the power of the Holy Spirit using the Word, the believer is progressively cleansed from sin and conformed to the image of Christ (John 17:17; 2 Cor 3:18; Phil 2:12-13; 1 Peter 1:14-16).
o Perseverance in the faith and eternal security - God guarantees the final salvation of all believers (John 6:39; 10:27-30). He does this by ensuring that believers will neither totally nor finally fall from a state of grace, but will persevere in faith and good works (Phil 1:6; 1 Pet 1:5; 1 John 5:1-5, 13, 18-20).
o Glorification - Glorification is the completion of God’s redemptive work in which the presence of sin is completely eliminated in the believer (1 Thess 3:13; 1 John 3:2) and immortality replaces mortality (1 Cor 15:35-57).
The Importance of the Church
The church is important personally for our relationship with God. There is no way to walk in obedience to the Lord and in fellowship with him apart from the church. The Bible enjoins participation with fellow believers on us by precept (e.g. Heb 10:25) and example (e.g. Acts 2:42, 46). Baptism, which is a non-negotiable command and also a public confession of faith in Christ (Matt 28:19; Luke 9:26), is the initiation rite into membership in the local church (Acts 2:41). All of the one another commands of the New Testament are to be carried out in the context of the local church. The gifts of the Spirit are for the purpose of being exercised in the local church (1 Cor 12:7). The New Testament knows nothing of an unbaptized believer who is not affiliated with a local church.
The church is important for God’s glory. God designed the church to manifest his great wisdom to all, including the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Eph 3:10). God also designed the church to be an everlasting trophy of his grace on display for all to see and admire (Eph 2:7).
The Nature of the Church
The church is the body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23;
The body of Christ is visibly manifested in any particular time and place through local assemblies of baptized believers (Matt 28:19; Acts 2:41-47; 1 Cor 1:2). These local churches
· hold to a common faith (Acts 2:42; 2 Thess 3:6; Jude 3)
· organize with regenerated membership and the biblical offices of pastor and deacon (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13)
· observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper (Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 11:23-32)
· meet at regular and stated times for worship, preaching and teaching, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42, 47; 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Heb 10:25)
· carry out the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8) by making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ
· maintain their purity, identity, testimony, and effectiveness through church discipline (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5; 2 Thess 3:6-15; 2 Tim 3:5).
The Purpose of the Church
The church exists to bring glory to God by making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both fellowship with God and the rule of God are expressed in and through the church during this time.
What are some of the implications of this? First and foremost, if you want to understand what God is doing in the world today to advance his ultimate purpose, then you need to look for how Christ is building his church (Matt 16:18). You need to observe how the Spirit is at work convicting men of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) and glorifying Christ (John 16:14). God’s work of saving men and placing them into his church is the center-stage event going on in the world today. You won’t find this reported in the newspapers or on TV networks. You won’t find the blogs buzzing about the latest developments. You won’t hear Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity talking about it. The world does not now understand, nor has it ever understood, what God is doing in the world (e.g. 1 Cor 2:6-10). Christians must make sure that we do understand!
John Newton (1725-1807)
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord
Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), alt.
I love Thy church, O Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
For her my tears shall fall;
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heav’nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.