Salvation and the Certainty of the Second Coming
Suppose that the universe assigned you the job of designing the plan of salvation. What elements would you weave into the proposal? Would you prescribe a journey to some faraway holy place, or a climb to the top of a hallowed mountain? Should the proposal include the eating of some sacred food or receiving the blessing of a pious person? Would you consider some feat of valor, the gift or even sacrifice of something treasured, the self-denial of some important aspect of life, or the abandonment of something accumulated during a lifetime? Maybe a special form of meditation, a chant, the offering of some incense, or a specified set of mental gymnastics would do. Perhaps acceptance and mastery of a set of beliefs, or the memorization of a sacred text would suffice. You could consider the observance of a prescribed set of laws or devise a system to use sleight of hand or words to fool the gods into granting salvation.
Or you could develop a system that is more proactive, basing salvation not on some qualification, but on participation in the process of bringing about God’s kingdom on earth. People could accomplish it through humanitarian efforts to relieve suffering, by education to give them the tools to achieve their own better life, or by involvement in social or political revolution, perhaps a “just war” intended to eliminate some unfairness. Salvation would depend upon a future created by humanity itself.
And what kind of gods would fit into your master proposal? Would they be vindictive or loving, distant or near, powerful or weak, manipulatable or immovable, legalistic or pragmatic, omniscient or limited in knowledge? Surely whatever the plan, it would include a “designer god”—one who knew how to behave in harmony with the best ethics achieved by your society. A sophisticated god for a sophisticated age, it would be a god of love but would not come to die in humanity’s place, for it is unthinkably unjust for one person to die for another. It might live and finally die as a manifestation of ultimate love, but not as a propitiation for human sins, for that would be “paganism,” a step backward for such an elite society. Such a god must have an approach appropriate with advanced culture.
Perhaps you might consider an ultimate god of love, one who will grant salvation to all regardless of their commitment—a god who either has no laws or looks the other way when someone breaks them. It would be a doting deity who excuses any behavior of its creatures and exhibits infinite love and infinite tolerance.
But it is time to stop this daydreaming. No one has given us the job of developing such a proposal. God is who He is, and He alone is in charge of the plan of salvation. Whether we like it or not, it is not our business to tell Him how to run His universe. In fact, that is the very act that got Satan into trouble in the first place. Our role is not to prescribe how He can appropriately save us, but to accept—by His grace—His self-revelation and His plan for our salvation.
As sinful humans, it is our nature to attempt to create our own god(s). Isaiah describes a woodsman who chops down a tree. After using a portion of the tree to construct part of his home, he builds a fire and cooks a meal with another segment. Then, with what is left, he whittles a god and bows down to worship it. If we can create our own god, then we can control that deity, and thereby assure our own salvation.
However, we are not in control of our own destiny, for we have all sinned and fall short of who God is (Rom. 3:23). “‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one’” (vss. 10–12, NKJV).1 As sinners, our human natures clash with that of God’s (8:7) to the point that we are even His enemies (5:10). We are out of work when it comes to the task of creating a “designer god,” complete with blueprints on how to run the plan of salvation. In fact, we are not even in a negotiating position with Him to discuss its terms. Like a branch cut off from the vine, or the lamb separated from the sheepfold, we find ourselves helplessly in sin.
The fact that we are sinners separates us from the Life-giver. As Scripture puts it, the wages of sin is death (6:23). However, God created us for life, for fellowship with Him! Sin and death thwarted His purposes in our creation. God desires to give us life rather than death, because only in life can we fellowship with Him. Therefore, God Himself chose the manner by which He would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21; Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:20). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16, 17). While “the wages of sin is death, . . . the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
God Himself established the plan for our salvation. It really does not matter whether or not it seems reasonable to us or our culture. He declared through the author of Hebrews that “without shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins (Heb. 9:22). Because God desired to give us life, He “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Therefore, Christ became a sacrifice to bear our sins (Heb. 9:22, 23) as God redeemed us “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Christ bore our sins in His own body on the symbolic tree (the Cross) in order that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). The Cross demonstrates God’s love to us as He “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, . . . that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. . . . For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:18–21). This gift of love came not only from God the Father, but also from Jesus Himself. “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2).
“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’”2
The Bible clearly states that only the substitutionary death of Christ makes our salvation possible. Some reject this biblical teaching because it flies in the face of the moral sensibility of our age. If we cannot trust the Bible when it describes God’s plan for our salvation, then we must also question its credibility on the Second Coming. Rejection of the propitiatory death of Christ leaves us without the biblical promise of His return.
The Cross reveals the horror of sin and demonstrates the depth to which Satan and sinners will go. When given the opportunity, they will slay the very Son of God! The Cross also portrays God’s judgment on sin. So terrible that it requires the death of the sinner, sin must be eradicated from the universe. God the Father and the Lamb turn their wrath against sin and those who wallow in it (Rom. 5:9; Rev. 6:17).
The Cross also displays the depth of God’s love. Refusing to sidestep the sin issue, He will confront it head-on. But at the same time, He will accept the penalty Himself to give us life. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). But in so doing, God the Father and God the Son took the risk of eternal separation from each other. The Son assumed our nature to live as we must even though it meant the possibility of sinning and being severed from the Father. At the Cross, Christ experienced the isolation from God that the sinner will experience in the final destruction at the end of the millennium (Matt. 27:46). The Majesty of heaven became one with us to die in our place so that He might restore us to eternal life and fellowship with God.
A Free Gift
Salvation is God’s gift rather than our achievement. It has its origin in God’s design rather than in our wisdom or efforts (1 Cor. 1:21). No human activity will ever justify anyone in God’s sight (Rom. 3:20), for Christ “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9). If salvation results from anything we do, “then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:6). Paul reassures us that “by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:8).
We have access to God’s saving grace by faith (Rom. 5:2; Gal. 3:22; Gen. 15:6). If we did not receive salvation by faith, then it would not be of grace (Rom. 4:16) but of something else, such as works, wisdom, or meditation. Although salvation is a free gift from God, saving faith does have content and a definite focus. We have to trust that God has indeed provided redemption by setting forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation through His death on the Cross (Rom. 3:24, 25). Further, if we confess our allegiance to Jesus, and believe that God has raised Him from the dead, God will save us (Rom. 10:8, 9; John 11:25–27). When we by faith accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, then God gives us the power to become sons of God (John 1:12). The truly just shall live by faith, or total trust, in God (Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:38, 39).
If salvation is a freely offered gift from God that we must accept by faith, it is important for us to know what faith itself is. We have already seen that it is not our job to develop a designer concept of salvation. Salvation is God’s gift rather than our creation. If that is the case, then we must allow God the privilege of defining the nature of faith. It does not have a human origin, but comes through the power of God’s Word under the Holy Spirit.
Salvation ceases to be a gift if it is received by a faith that itself rests upon a rational, scientific, or historical argument—just as it would cease to be a gift if it had its basis in human works. Humanity’s natural tendency is to desire to accept God and His salvation from a position of independence. But any attempt to do this only represents a continued rebellion against God. We must rely upon the Word of God rather than upon human philosophy. “Our salvation depends on a knowledge of the truth contained in the Scriptures.”3
Salvation and the Certainty of the Second Coming
The Bible intimately connects the themes of the authority of the inspired Word, salvation by grace through faith, resurrection to newness of life, living an obedient life, and the Second Coming. Note, for example, the following passage from 1 Peter 1:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (vss. 3–25).
Paul put it this way: “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9:28). Christ Himself said: “‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day’” (John 6:44).
The biblical doctrine of salvation emphasizes the fact that Christianity is a relationship with God. He wants to restore the face-to-face intimacy that we originally had in the Garden of Eden. God longs to walk with us and talk with us as a friend. “‘“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me”’” (Rev. 3:20). Our Lord planned even before our creation to offer restoration should sin ever separate us from Him. He would take the results of sin (death resulting from being cut off from the Life-giver) upon Himself that in Jesus Christ we might be reunited with Him. The Lord thereby both demonstrated the perpetuity of the law as a guide to healthy relationships and made possible a way by which He might re-establish our relationship with Him. The culmination of our salvation takes place at the Second Coming, when we will be reunited with God face to face.
God, offering us restoration, longs for us to accept His invitation. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Should we fall into sin again, He still stands there, eager to offer pardon. “I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). But His plan of restoration is not effective unless we accept it.
Perhaps you may recall a time when a close friend did you wrong. It disrupted your relationship. Out of a desire to restore the relationship, you offered forgiveness. But your friend refused it. He or she could have rejected your offer of forgiveness for many reasons. Perhaps the individual was too proud, feeling that he or she was above the need for forgiveness or that the act was too trivial to require it or that no wrong had been done in the first place. Or your friend may have rejected the forgiveness out of fear that the offer was not genuine. At the other extreme, the person could have felt too unworthy to accept the forgiveness, as if the magnitude of the trespass was too great to be forgiven. Whatever the case, it may have thwarted your desire to restore the relationship, not because you didn’t offer forgiveness, but because the other person did not accept it.
When my wife, Ann, and I were first married, my mother gave us a silver-gray toy poodle named Jolly. She was an adorable, outgoing dog, and well housebroken. One day when we returned home, though, we missed her usual vivacious and friendly greeting as we entered the front door. We called and searched for her, but could not find her anywhere. After carefully searching the house, we found it, and then knew why she had disappeared. After cleaning up the doggie mess, we called again, and finally found her crouched under the piano bench. Regardless of our coaxing and our offer of forgiveness, she continued to cower under the piano bench, refusing to let us pick her up. We had extended forgiveness because we wanted to restore the relationship. But it remained severed for a time because she refused to accept our offer.
We as human beings may also reject God’s forgiveness for any number of reasons. No matter what the reason, our refusal to accept it blocks God’s desire to restore us to Himself. How often as Christians do we remain “crouched under the piano bench” because we do not accept God’s offer of forgiveness!
Our God forgives! “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18, 19). God wants to separate our sins from us as far as the east is from the west!
Have you ever attempted to maintain a relationship with someone when you did not know where you stood with the person? You were always on edge, not knowing whether the other individual accepted you or not. It was difficult—if not impossible—to get close to the person. God does not want us to live in fear of our relationship with Him. Longing for us to know where we stand with Him, He desires that we have peace and confidence in our relationship with Him. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:10–13).
God asks us to come boldly by faith before His throne (Heb. 4:16). Wanting our fellowship now, He longs that we will have the assurance of the Second Coming because He desires to meet us face-to-face at the Second Coming so that we can walk with Him throughout eternity!
NOTES AND REFERENCES