Over the past few years I have had hundreds of discussions about salvation with people from within many different branches of Christianity. One common thing I found from talking to people of many denominations, whether it be Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Church of God, Church of Christ, Catholic, or whatever, is that there is a misunderstanding of Biblical salvation. I’m not saying that all those teach this, I’m simply saying that I’ve heard this teaching from people in all those denominations. Scripture, if read in context, speaks of three types of salvation. Some of you are thinking “Three types? nuh-uh! Thats not what Ive been taught or what my preacher says”. I once thought the same thing. But I urge you to be like the Bereans of Acts 17:11. When you hear any teaching take it and compare it to scripture “examine the scripture daily, to see if what was said was true”. I’ve found that churches often get too steeped in tradition that they neglect to refer back to scripture.
I was having a conversation recently with some friends. I knew what I wanted to say about the three phases of salvation, but couldn’t quite put it all together in words. Ever have that happen to you? I hate it when that happens! But alas, Google to the rescue! I found an article by Steven R. Cook. He manages to do a wonderful job of explaining the three phases of salvation. He writes:
“Once a person is born again, he is saved from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:1; Eph. 2:5, 8), the power of sin (Rom. 6:11-14), and will ultimately be saved from the presence of sin when God takes him to heaven and gives him a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). This truth is related to the three phases of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Justification is the instantaneous act of God whereby He forgives the sinner of all sins—past, present and future—and declares him perfectly righteous in His sight. Justification is predicated on “the gift of righteousness” that God freely imputes to the believer at the moment of salvation (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Justification before a holy God is possible solely on the grounds that Christ has borne every sin committed by the sinner (Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 3:18), and as an act of pure grace freely imputes His perfect righteousness to him (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 John 2:2). Justification is always by grace and never by works, as the sinner is, “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
Sanctification is the process whereby the believer moves from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity over time as he learns God’s Word and makes good choices to live God’s will (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). The Christian who advances to spiritual maturity does so [with the help of] the power of the Holy Spirit and on the basis of God’s Word daily learned and applied (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). Sanctification is never instantaneous but is ongoing until the Christian leaves this world and goes to heaven.
Glorification is the final phase of the believer’s salvation experience and occurs when he leaves this world, either by death or by rapture, and enters into the presence of God in heaven (Rom. 8:17-18). The Christian never achieves sinless perfection until he is glorified in heaven, at which time his sin nature is removed and he is given a perfect body (Phil. 3:20).”
I’ve found that the first two phases are often confused, many combining them as one thing. This can lead to a lot of problems, making it seems as though good works has something to do with receiving eternal life. That would contradict the numerous verses about that says receiving eternal life is by grace and through faith, not of works (See: Faith Alone In 100 Texts).
I have heard many famous pastors say “if you are living a life of sin” or doing certain sins, then “that proves you were never saved to begin with” or “that proves that you have lost your salvation”. These theological conclusions come from not reading the verses in context. If read in context, it becomes abundantly clear that neither of those possibilities are possible. We are justified by God’s grace, through faith in Christ. The Greek word for Grace means “a free, undeserved, or unmerited gift”. If something is free, undeserved or unmerited, that means that you can do no works or deeds to receive it. Romans 11:6 says that salvation (context: justification) is by Grace, “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were based on works, then grace would not be grace (a free, undeserved, or unmerited gift)”. So, if we are saved (context: justified) by God’s grace, then works can have no part of that. I hear many say that we have to do good works in addition to that. But if we are trusting in good works as well, then we aren’t trusting in grace, meaning that we are not saved, because we can only be saved by his free unmerited grace. Grace can have nothing to do with works.
Justification vs. Sanctification
To be justified one only needs to receive God’s free gift given by his grace, by believing in Christ as savior. Its that simple. But many people have changed the definition of believe to include works and obedience. The Greek word for believe means “to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to place confidence in”. That means that we think that the fact that Jesus is the son of God and died for our sins and rose again, is true. That means that we are persuaded of that fact. And it means that we place our confidence in Christ saving us from our sins. None of those have anything to do with good works that we do or obedience. Justification is a one time thing, we believe and we receive eternal life. Justification is what most mean when they say they “got saved”.
Sanctification, on the other hand, is the next step. It is an ongoing process in which we, with the help of the spirit become more holy and Christ-like. We try our best to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord by obeying His commands, helping others, and loving Him. This is an ongoing process that starts the moment we believe in Christ. We do all these things because we love God and want to please him. Scripture tells us we get rewards (inheritance or crowns) in the kingdom because we do these things. But we dont do these things with the selfish intentions of getting the rewards, we do them because we love the Lord.
Sanctification, in some regards, is a choice we make. We willingly choose to live a life for the Lord. We are bound to mess up, but we get back up and continue on with our life lived for Him. Because this is a choice, believers can also choose not to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. The Bible strongly warns against this. If it weren’t possible for a believer to live a life that was not pleasing to the Lord, then it wouldn’t warn against it so much. The church of Corinth was notorious for doing this. Paul says they are believers, but they are living a life of sin and vice. They have believed but have never grown. They have eternal life, but when they enter the kingdom they will receive little or no rewards (inheritance or crowns).
These people have, as 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, “quenched the spirit”, meaning that the ignore what the Holy Spirit is telling them. They are going against their conscience (Romans 7). It also says that it is very possible for their life of sin to bring about quick physical death. The wages of sin, after all, is death. God will discipline these people more harshly than others. His discipline is always with the intention of bringing His children back into fellowship with Him.
It is my assumption that pastors and theologies teach that you have to do good works or obey rules in addition to believing (combining justification and sanctification) because they are afraid that their congregation will take the bad route and live a life of sin. They sacrifice sharing a clear and correct teaching of the gospel of God’s grace for keeping a good congregation that does great things. They reject God’s grace. They deny that it is free. They tack on that one extra step. This isn’t anything new, you see this happening within the first few chapters of Genesis. God told Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17). The only thing God told him not to do was to eat from that one tree. Well, then Eve came along and added to what God said. She told the serpent, “God did say ‘You must not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, AND you must not touch it’” (Genesis 3:3). She added the part about touching the tree. This was no doubt a precaution added to make sure you didn’t get anywhere near to eating it. If you cant touch it, how can you eat it? The intentions were good, and it was good that they didn’t touch it, but that wasn’t what God told them. Likewise, people who added the good works and obedience to salvation (context: justification), did so with good intentions, not wanting anyone to even get near to living a sinful life, but they added onto what God says in Hs word, thus changing the gospel of God’s grace to, as Paul says, “a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7).
Living For The Lord
I am not advocating for believers to live a life of sin. I am simply urging people to teach God’s word in context. Many have a hard time grasping the concept of God’s free grace because, as humans, we expect things to be worked for. We work to get paid, we do good things in order for people to like us better, we study hard for a test to get good grades, etc… It is hard for us to imagine that the greatest thing in the world is free and that we don’t have to do anything or work hard to receive it. When I finally understood all of this and how salvation (context: justification) is given freely by God’s Grace and received simply by faith, it opened my eyes to just how great and loving God is and how amazing His grace really is. A proper understanding of God’s grace leads to a greater appreciation of His gift, and urges us to live a life that is pleasing to Him because He is our father and has done amazing things for us.
The first part of your article in relation to Justification and Sanctification, so far as it goes, is a reasonable exposition of what the Council of Trent teaches:
In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously.
And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.
On the increase of Justification received.
Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, “Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.”
Your paragraph on Glorification (other than the word “Rapture”) is also a good exposition of Catholic teaching – perhaps in a different wording, but essentially right in concept -in particular that “The Christian never achieves sinless perfection until he is glorified in heaven, at which time his sin nature is removed”, other than perhaps that at the point of conversion the Christian’s sins are wiped away completely, and were he to die at that point, he would go straight to heaven, sinless.
However, being human, after that point we all start to sin again.
So there are some significant points of agreement between us. Up to this point, we are in
overall agreement. Differences then arise because of an assumption/presumption/postulation on your part of the “eternal security/once saved always saved” doctrine which is not biblical, no matter how attached you may be to the idea. It is this attachment that allows you to disregard or explain away or ignore many, many verses in scripture which go against it.
We are saved by faith through love:
Gal 4: 5-6 “5 We are led by the Spirit to wait in the confident hope of saving justice through faith,
6 since in Christ Jesus it is not being circumcised or being uncircumcised that can effect anything — only faith working through love.”
We are saved by God’s grace alone. There is nothing we can do by ourselves prior to conversion in Christ that will save us.
But that does not mean that we cannot lose our salvation. There is an abundance of evidence in scripture that we can.
Rom 8:28 “28 We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good.”
“God works with those who love him,”. God knows from eternity who will respond to Him, and He works with those.
“Believers are born again (regenerated) when they believe (John 3:3; Titus 3:5).”
The Bible gives does give evidence that the new birth “can be taken away.”
Rom 8:38-39, which is used to buttress the “assurance of salvation doctrine, does not mean that one cannot lose one’s salvation. That is not what Romans 8:38-39 says. What Rom 8:38-39 says is that: Neither “death”, “life”, “angels” “demons”, “the present” “the future”, “any powers”, “neither height nor depth”, “nor anything else in all creation”, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is what it says. All these things are external to us.
Paul clearly teaches that a person can choose to turn away from God himself. No one or thing can take someone from God, but a person can choose to move away from God.
Once saved always saved is absolutely unscriptural. Those who believe it have strayed far from the teachings of Christ. It has become a slogan which cannot be scrutinised or questioned without people being “offended” and unable to examine and consider the weight of the biblical evidence against it.
Gal 5: 1, 4 “1 Christ set us free, so that we should remain free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be fastened again to the yoke of slavery.
4 …. THEN YOU HAVE SEPARATED YOURSELVES FROM CHRIST, YOU HAVE FALLEN AWAY FROM GRACE.”
1 Tim 5:15 “15 there are already some who have turned aside to follow Satan.”
Heb 3:14 “14 because we have been granted a share with Christ only if we keep the grasp of our first confidence firm to the end.”
Heb 6: 4-6 “4 As for those people who were once brought into the light, and tasted the gift from heaven, and received a share of the Holy Spirit,
5 and tasted the goodness of God’s message and the powers of the world to come
6 and yet in spite of this have fallen away — it is impossible for them to be brought to the freshness of repentance a second time, since they are crucifying the Son of God again for themselves, and making a public exhibition of him.”
2 Pet 2:15, 20 “15 They have left the right path and wandered off to follow the path of Balaam son of Bosor, ….. 20 and anyone who has escaped the pollution of the world by coming to know our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and who then allows himself to be entangled and mastered by it a second time, ends up by being worse than he was before.”
1 Sam 11:6, 18 : 12
11: 6 “6 And the spirit of Yahweh seized on Saul when he heard these words,
18: 12 “12 Saul feared David, since Yahweh was with him and had withdrawn from Saul.”
Ezek 18: 24, 18:24 “24 ‘But if the upright abandons uprightness and does wrong by copying all the loathsome practices of the wicked, is he to live? All his upright actions will be forgotten from then on; for the infidelity of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, he will most certainly die.”
Ezek 33:13 “13 (f)THOUGH I SAY TO THE RIGHTEOUS MAN THAT HE SHALL SURELY LIVE, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that he has committed he shall die.”
Col 1:21-23 “21 You were once estranged and of hostile intent through your evil behaviour;
22 now he has reconciled you, by his death and in that mortal body, to bring you before himself holy, faultless and irreproachable-
23 as long as you persevere and stand firm on the solid base of the faith, never letting yourselves drift away from the hope promised by the gospel,”
Rev 2: 4-5 “4 Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make: you have less love now than formerly.
5 Think where you were before you fell; REPENT, and behave as you did at first, or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place.”
Rev 3: “14 ‘Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea and say, “Here is the message of the Amen, the trustworthy, the true witness, the Principle of God’s creation:15 I know about your activities: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other,16 but since you are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm, I WILL SPIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH.
Rom 11 :22 “22 Remember God’s severity as well as his goodness: his severity to those who fell, and his goodness to you as long as you persevere in it; if not, YOU TOO WILL BE CUT OFF.”
John 15:5-6 “5 ….. FOR CUT OFF FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING.
6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.”
To “not remain” in Jesus means that we were in Jesus in the first place, therefore, can separate ourselves from Him.
1 Tim 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”