April 2010 Issue
~ In Desperate Need of Salvation
by Kenneth S. Hemphill
God continually delights me with
His timing. Recently, I arrived home late from a trip. I was tired
from a long day of speaking followed by an even longer day of
travel. On the way, home I stopped at the fitness center to get
a quick workout. Serendipitously I encountered a man I had not
previously met. As we discussed current events, he indicated that
he had always viewed man as being fundamentally "good."
He admitted that life experiences had caused him to doubt his
original conclusion. He had reluctantly concluded that man has
a fatal flaw and a sinful nature.
Although he didn't know it, he was agreeing with what the Bible
says about man. In Romans, Paul cites numerous Old Testament texts
to affirm that no one is righteous, no one understands, no one
seeks God, no one does good (3:10-18). He concludes: for all
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Man is not only a sinner by nature; he is a sinner by choice (Romans
5:12). As John Revell wrote in "Sinners In Desperate
Need of a Savior" in the last issue of SBC LIFE, "Sin
is not merely an action, it expresses the heart and attitude of
the person who is acting a heart that is defiant and hostile
The tragic consequence of sin is succinctly stated by Paul
in Romans 6:23a: For the wages of sin is death. Death indicates
a spiritual condition as well as a physical one. Man, who is created
in the image of Holy God, chose to sin, and thus separated himself
from Holy God a separation that will have consequences
in the present life and the one to come.
Now, hear the good news though Romans 6:23 concludes
that the wages of sin is death, it goes on to reveal that the
gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Sinful
man needed a sinless Savior. In his article, Revell also observed,
"Jesus came from sinners (Matthew 1:1-17),
to sinners (Luke 5:25-30; 19:5-7), for
sinners (Luke 5:31-32; 19:10)." When Joseph was informed
of Mary's pregnancy, the angel declared, She will give birth
to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save
His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The name Jesus
means "Yahweh is salvation." Salvation is God's provision
for man's most desperate plight: sin.
The Basic Concept and the
Old Testament Background
In its most basic sense, salvation involves the act of saving
someone from harm or death. For example, in Psalm 44:4 (ESV) the
word "salvation" is used in reference to saving Israel
from their enemies and in Mark 5:28 it is used in reference to
healing a person from illness. Scripture expands the basic definition
to include the deliverance from the penalty and power of sin.
Thus it is not unexpected that "salvation" is the most
widely used theological term to express the provision of God for
saving man from the plight caused by sin.
For Israel, any saving act even a physical deliverance
or the release from national bondage is seen as a spiritual
act since God is its author. The most frequently referenced saving
event in the Old Testament is the Exodus
from Egyptian bondage, an event which demonstrated both God's
desire and ability to save His people. When confronted by the
seemingly impassable barrier of the Red Sea and with the Pharaoh's
army giving chase, Moses addressed the people: Don't be afraid.
Stand firm and see the Lord's salvation He will provide for you
today (Exodus 14:13a). Once Israel had crossed the Red Sea
on dry land, Moses composed a song of salvation. It contains these
powerful words: The Lord is my strength and my song, He has become
my salvation (Exodus 15:2). Israel recounted and celebrated this
pivotal event of God's deliverance from Egyptian bondage in the
annual observance of Passover (Exodus 12). As you read the Old
Testament, you will discover a constant retelling of the Exodus
event and the constant provision during the years of the wilderness
wanderings. God's redemption is not only a singular event of deliverance,
but has an ongoing impact of gracious provision.
Salvation in the Old Testament has both corporate and individual
implications. The Psalmist and certain of the latter prophets
connect salvation with the creation of a new heart and a right
spirit. The vision of the valley of dry bones spoke of the new
life which would be given to dead Israel by the Spirit (Ezekiel
37). In the preceding chapter, the prophet spoke of cleansing
from filthiness, the removal of a heart of stone and the replacement
with a responsive heart; a heart which would be empowered to observe
God's ordinances. This transformation would not only "save"
them from their uncleanness, it would cause them to be fruitful
again so that the nations would know that God is Lord (Ezekiel
New Testament Fulfillment
In the New Testament, the word-group related to "salvation"
is sometimes used of healing people from disease, and it is often
used in a distinctive sense of deliverance from harm based on
the Old Testament understanding of God's gracious action toward
His people. However, the destinctive sense of deliverance is from
sin and the wrath of God which must be poured out on sin by a
Holy God. Paul declared in Romans 5:9-10, Much more then, since
we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved
through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were
reconciled to God through the death of His Son, [then how] much
more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!
Notice the event of salvation followed by the ongoing provision
for the living out of redemption. It is noteworthy that Jesus
succinctly stated that the thrust of His ministry was to come
to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
The focal point of Christ's redemptive activity is His sacrificial
death on the cross. Jesus described His coming as a servant in
terms of giving His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
This ransom price to redeem sinful man was the sacrificial death
of the Redeemer. This Easter season we celebrate the reality that
upon His resurrection, He entered the holy of holies once for
all ... having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).
In the same sense Paul can declare that, in Christ, God was
reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses
against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation
to us (2 Corinthians 5:19b).
The concept of salvation is so rich that Scripture uses a wealth
of images to describe the event. The Bible uses terms such as
"new birth," "ransom," "redemption,"
and "reconciliation." Paul employed the concept of adoption
(Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-5; and Ephesians 1:5), perhaps to
focus on God's gracious choice of man, allowing him/her to become
God's son/daughter. In Colossians 1:13-14, Paul spoke of salvation
in terms of being rescued from the domain of darkness;
being transferred into the kingdom of the Son; redemption;
and the forgiveness of sins.
The Baptist Faith and Message describes salvation in
terms of regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Though from God's perspective salvation is an instantaneous act,
Romans 5:9-10 makes clear that from our perspective Christ's saving
work involves already completed, on-going, and future saving activity.
Thus, one may rightly declare, "I have been saved, I am being
saved, and I shall be saved." Hershel Hobbs argued that failure
to recognize this distinction could lead to many errors, "such
as believing in salvation by works, believing in falling from
grace, and uncertainty as to one's salvation until one appears
before the judgment seat of Christ (Hebrews 9:28). But when this
distinction is preserved, it adds to the meaning of salvation
in its larger sense" (The Baptist Faith and Message [Revised
Edition], Convention Press, 1996).
In Titus 3:5, Scripture states, He saved us not by
works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His
mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal
by the Holy Spirit (emphasis added). The word for "regeneration"
in this passage is a compound word formed from the combination
of the words for "birth" and "again."1 It literally means to be given new life or
In John 3 we find the story of Nicodemus's nighttime visit
with Jesus. Nicodemus affirmed that he believed Jesus was a teacher
who had been sent by God, and the miracles He had performed proved
that God was with Him. In response, Jesus declared that no one
could experience God's kingdom unless he was "born again"
or "born from above" (John 3:3). As physical birth provides
the point of entry into the physical world, so spiritual birth,
the instantaneous work of God's grace which is accomplished by
the Holy Spirit, provides entrance into God's kingdom (3:5-8).
When Paul addressed the church in Corinth, he reminded them,
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation;
old things have passed away, and look, new things have come
(2 Corinthians 5:17). When a person places faith in Christ, that
person isn't merely receiving assistance in order to live a better
life, that person is made new.
Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus, And you were dead
in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and then proclaimed
in verse 5 that because of His great love God, made us alive in
Christ. What great news for sinners! In Christ and through Christ,
a spiritually dead person can be made alive given a new
After declaring that all men have sinned in Romans 3:23, Paul
followed with, They are justified freely by His grace
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24,
emphasis added). In the moment a person is "born again"
or "regenerated," he/she is "justified," or
declared righteous before God. The image behind this term was
a judge's pronouncement, or ruling, regarding an accused that
he was no longer condemned.2
Justification required a concrete activity of God. Paul, in
his letter to the Romans, indicated that God did not treat sin
lightly. Sin created a massive gulf between God and people. The
gulf required a bridge from God to man that would enable sinful
man to be brought into a right relationship with holy God. Paul
speaks of the bridge in terms of God reconciling men to Himself
through Christ. That reconciling work makes it possible for sinful
man to be justified (Romans 5:1-10). Therefore, since we have
been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through
our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
Thus, it was on the cross that Jesus paid the ultimate penalty
for our violation; that is, our sin. Because of His payment, God
could graciously offer full acquittal of man based on Jesus' righteousness.
That justification makes it possible for us to enter into a relationship
of peace and favor with God.
Justification does not describe the entirety of the salvation
process, but it does mark that instantaneous point of entry into
a reconciled relationship with God. People cannot earn or achieve
acceptance by God; they can enter only by faith in the completed
work of Christ on the cross (Galatians 2:16). The spiritual journey
begins at the point of justification, but it does not end there.
When God declares a person "justified," He is establishing
the future sense. He is announcing the verdict now that He will
pronounce in the day of judgment.
Paul greeted the members of the church in Corinth saying, To
God's church at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in
Christ Jesus and called as saints (1 Corinthians 1:2, emphasis
added). The word for "sanctifiy" means to make holy
or consecrate.3 Paul indicated that God's
present and ongoing work in the believers, described by the word
"sanctification," involves the process of growth in
spiritual maturity and service. It also pictures being set apart
for God's service and thus involves both the ideas of growing
in spiritual maturity which includes holy behavior
and effective service. Paul refers to the Corinthians as "saints"
(1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1) even though their behavior
was not always "saintly."
Sanctification is an instantaneous occurrence whereby
the believer is set apart unto God for service, yet it has progressive
and ongoing consequences. Sanctification is the work of
the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16; 1 Peter 2:2) who indwells the Christian,
developing the character of Christ (fruit of the Spirit) in the
life of the believer, and empowering and gifting him/her for effective
Growing in service and experiencing victory over sin is accomplished
in the life of the believer as the believer continually and progressively
submits to the work of the Spirit (Romans 7-8). In this life,
the believer is caught between what God has begun and what He
is yet to complete (Philippians 1:6). Thus, while believers will
not experience moral perfection in this life, Paul exhorts the
Philippians to work out their own salvation knowing that God is
working in them (Philippians 2:12). The Christian should expect
to be progressively freed from sin and suited to God's service.
Before His earthly departure, Jesus prayed that His followers
would be kept from the evil one and sanctified in the truth (John
17:15-17). Followers of Christ are sanctified by the Word of God
because they are being sent into the world to continue the redemptive
work of Christ (17:18). Many believers are ineffective in service
because we have failed to teach the meaning of sanctification.
We must hear the exhortation of Peter to continually grow in the
grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter
Paul addressed the final step beyond sanctification when he said,
... those He called, He also justified; and those He justified,
He also glorified (Romans 8:30, emphasis added). The
word doxazo (from which we get doxology), portrays the
final state of the redeemed when eternal glory is revealed.4 In a sense, we will be God's doxology!
Glorification describes God's ultimate and complete salvation
of man which will be fully realized at the return of the Lord
and will be our abiding state in heaven. Scripture once again
used a wealth of terms to describe this completed work. In Romans
8:23, Paul spoke of it as the completion of our "adoption"
and "the redemption of our bodies." In Luke,
when Jesus was describing His return in power and glory, He spoke
of the glorification of believers as "redemption drawing
near" (Luke 21:28). In Romans 13:11, Paul exhorted believers
to holy living based on the reality that their "salvation"
was drawing near. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul spoke of the coming
of Christ as the moment when God would sanctify you completely.
Paul's prayer for the Philippians expressed assurance that God
would bring His work of salvation to its full fruition (Philippians
Again, this is great news for sinners who have rebelled against
God and face eternal judgment and damnation. Because of His great
love, He has provided a way of deliverance from our sin and its
consequences. At least three implications occur to me.
First, the understanding of this great doctrine should give
us full assurance of our eternal standing before God. God did
everything necessary to provide for our salvation, taking extraordinary
measures. We have not contributed in any way. Furthermore, we
can have full confidence that He will be faithful to bring our
salvation to full completion.
Next, it should call us to holy living and effective service.
Remember, we are in the process of being sanctified, and we have
the responsibility to "work out our salvation."
Finally, it should call us to urgent and effective witnessing,
knowing that those who have been reconciled have now been given
the ministry of reconciliation and been made ambassadors for Christ
(2 Corinthians 5:18-21). The world is filled with sinners who
are desperately in need of a Savior and salvation and we
have the responsibility and wonderful privilege
to share this great news with them.
1. Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, "palligenasia,"
Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 2000), 292.
2. C. Brown, "Righteousness," dikaioo, Dictionary
of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown editor, Volume 3, 354.
3. C. Brown, "Holy," DNTT, Volume 2, 224.
4. S. Aalen, "Glory," DNTT, Volume 2, 48.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is a member of First
Baptist Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and is the SBC
national EKG strategist.
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