Posted by: reformedmusings | June 24, 2007

Lord’s Day Exhortation

The Salvation Package
Romans 8:28-30

(NOTE: I’ve removed some congregant’s names from the exhortation to preserve their privacy, and replaced them with a general descriptive phrase. I apologize for the awkwardness of the resultant reading at those points. All Scripture citations come from the New King James Version, 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)

(NOTE 2: This was presented well AFTER the committee’s work on the PCA report was published–in fact I preached it the week before the 35th General Assembly. All comments in the exhortation relative to the Federal Vision are based on my position AT THE END of the year-long study. I feel silly having to repeat that, but it seems some are slow to catch on to the timeline.)

As some of you are aware, I have served on a study committee for the Presbyterian Church in America for the past year. The General Assembly of the PCA tasked seven of us to render our judgment of a new theological fad, variously called Auburn Avenue Theology or Federal Vision, which has been spreading in a few areas of our denomination. Federal Vision proponents claim to be recapturing old ideas that have been lost along the road of history. Our study team has worked diligently and carefully over the last year to examine these views. We produced a 35-page report which is available electronically on both the 35th General Assembly’s website and the denominational byfaithonline magazine website.


Now, don’t panic. I’m not going to read our 35-page report, talk about what the Federal Vision is or its implications. If we preached about every error that comes along, we’d never reach the end of the list. Indeed, as Paul warns Timothy and us in Eph 4:3, 4:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (NKJV)

Many errors result, as in this case, when people separate the aspects of salvation from each other, treating salvation like a salad bar where you can pick and choose your salad ingredients, rather than seeing salvation as a magnificent whole composed of distinguishable but yet inseparable components.

As Christians, we tend to ask people if they are saved as if salvation were simply a thing to be had like a toaster. But salvation is more complex, containing elements of a status, a journey, a way of living and dying, and a final destination. It is simultaneously a system with distinguishable but inseparable parts—inseparable being the key word—and also a marvelous whole. When we examine and meditate upon these parts, we better appreciate the marvelousness of what God has done in and for us by his grace. This, in turn, enhances our worship and adoration of the Lord. When we try to separate its parts from the whole, no matter which direction we go, we are on the road to error.

We best avoid counterfeit gospels by knowing what the real gospel looks like. We must read the Scriptures regularly, studying them carefully for ourselves, using orthodox dictionaries and commentaries by trustworthy men as aids. We don’t need to study all the errors that appear. If we know the truth, then error becomes easy to spot. And that’s our purpose today—to reacquaint ourselves with the gospel and several aspects of the salvation package that have come under fire.

So, what are the inseparable aspects of salvation? Let’s look to our reading today in Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV), which lists some of them:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

I will note in passing that Paul writes this list in the past tense. In God’s mind and rooted in His sovereignty, all these are already accomplished in those whom He has chosen. There is no uncertainty with God.

I’d like to exposit just three primary aspects of salvation today: the instantaneous–we ARE saved; the process–we are BEING saved; and the hope–we WILL be saved.

First, we ARE saved—as we find in 1 Cor 15:1, 2:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

The fancy theological term for the instantaneous aspect of salvation is “regeneration.” Eph 1:4 says that it rests solely in God’s sovereign choice before the foundation of the world. As [the worship elder] read, Ezekiel drew us a word picture when he told us that God would replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, making us a new creation as Paul says in 2 Cor 5. God regenerates our heart, which changes our disposition towards the gospel, and gives us the gift of faith as described in Eph 2:8, which we then exercise by repenting of our sins and trusting in Jesus Christ alone. At that point, God can justify us because He already graciously accepted Christ’s payment of our penalty on the cross, AND He graciously credits Christ’s perfect righteousness to our account, as it says of Abraham in Gen 15:6:

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

and of us in 2 Cor 5:21:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life in active obedience to the His Father’s law as described in Heb 4:15:

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Then Eph 5:2 tells us that He died the perfect sacrifice in passive obedience to His Father’s will:

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

He did this in our place as the second Adam, upon which Paul elaborates in Rom 5:12-20.

It has been said that the two most important words in theology are “instead of”. Christ paid my penal debt for sin, a debt for which I could never pay myself, instead of me. This concept of Jesus as our substitute lies at the heart of the gospel, yet it is so simple that a 2-year-old can grasp its simplicity. [An almost-3-year-old in our church], when asked by her parents what Jesus did, answered: “Jesus was spanked instead of us.” That’s absolutely precious, an answer that I’ll carry in my head for the rest of my life. Even a 2-year-old grasps that we do bad things, but we don’t pay the ultimate penalty—Jesus already did that for us, once and for all time.

By God’s grace and His work alone we ARE saved.

Second, we are BEING saved—as in 1 Cor 1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

We call the ongoing process of salvation “sanctification” which carries with it God’s assurance that He will finish it in us. We read in Rom 8:29 that God is conforming us to the image of His Son, while 2 Cor 1:21, 22 assures us that God has sealed us with His Holy Spirit:

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

By God’s grace we live a Spirit-filled life of obedience and service fueled by our love and gratitude for all God has done for us. Rom 12:1 says in the New King James Version that this is our “reasonable service,” because in Jn 14:15 Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will obey His commands.

Unlike regeneration which is solely God’s work, in sanctification we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, working together to be conformed to Christ’s image. That’s what Paul means in Phil 2:12, 13 where he says:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

These verses provide a key example of what can go wrong if we don’t correctly account for the distinguishable yet inseparable aspects of salvation. If we confuse sanctification with regeneration, or count regeneration as the entirety of salvation, then we would read Phil 2:13 such that we earn our salvation by our works. That would contradict the rest of Scripture and lead us only to frustrations and eternal condemnation. God gave us the whole of Scripture for good reason.

No, we are not saved by our works, but these works flow naturally and inevitably from our new God-given nature. So just as Jesus told us in Mt 12:33 that one can tell a tree by its fruit, we manifest the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Gal 5:22-25 in our daily lives. We can only do this, though, through God’s graciously-granted strength in the Holy Spirit.

By God’s grace manifest through His Holy Spirit, we are BEING saved.

Lastly, we WILL be saved. 1 Cor 3:15 says:

If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

What about the future? Is all this no more than a mere roll of the dice while hoping for the best? God forbid! God ensures that we persevere to glorification, which is our eternal and sinless perfection in His glorious presence. Glorification is where Rom 8:30 ends. Jesus assured us in Jn 17:12 that not one of His chosen is lost. HE is able, and whom HE has chosen HE will deliver to a glorious eternity worshiping our gracious and merciful Creator—all to and for His glory.

We take this journey with the full confidence that no one can take us from God’s hand, as Jesus tells us in Jn 10:29:

My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

Through Paul in Phil 1:6, God assures us that He WILL finish the good work He started in us.

But although we can never completely fall from grace, we can and do stumble regularly. We can take heart from Paul’s own struggles, to which he alludes in Rom 7:13-25. There, Paul recounts his constant struggle against sin. We, too, war every minute against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yet as John tells us in 1 Jn 1:9, if we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Though we lose many individual battles, we press on in absolute confidence that Christ has already won the war for us. As the Christian vocal group The Cathedral’s once sang: “I read the back of the book and we win!” Oh, what blessed assurance!

For His glory, we WILL be saved.

So to sum up, at the same time we are saved, are being saved, and will be saved. When we look at salvation as a complete package, we can and do make distinctions in that package, but we may NEVER separate the elements. ALL whom God chose in eternity past He regenerates. EVERYONE He regenerates He gives His Spirit for sanctification. EVERY last sheep that is sanctified has full assurance that they will be glorified. God never loses anyone along the way—Halleluia!

As I said at the start, from time to time, men come along with new and seemingly clever theological ideas like the Federal Vision—which are neither new nor clever. Whether they wish to recapture some mythical past or improve upon the present, if they try to alter our understanding of these basic tenets of our faith they are preaching another gospel. The beauty is that we don’t need to keep up with the latest theological fads. We merely need to stay in the Word and keep Christ’s true gospel ever before us. In doing so, we will quickly discern God’s truth from man’s errors. Even subtle differences will manifest themselves upon close inspection, especially when we carry these ideas to their natural conclusion.

The glory of the gospel and our eternal hope rest on the fact that salvation is all of God, depending on His faithfulness and not ours. Eph 3:3 assures us that “the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.” The gospel never changes.

God saved us, God is saving us, and God will save us—all to His eternal glory. Amen.

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