What is the path to salvation?
I gave a fairly comprehensive overview of it in my post “Why Not World Peace?” In that post, I touched on the central characteristic of a false path of salvation: the burden of attainment is placed on the individual… and I stand by the assertion that the Bible teaches exactly the opposite: salvation is a completely unearned, undeserved, unmerited grace from before time began through to start to middle to finish into eternity. No man-made religion in the world or in history is able to comprehend or mimic this reality.
Now if I am correct in that assessment, AND given that the Bible is God’s perfect revelation of these matters, then the Bible ought to bear that out as a whole. In this dialogue with our Roman Catholic friend Letting Smoke Out, we begin by agreeing we do not want to have a “Scripture shoot-out” where we just list verses and bash each other over the head without deeper reflection.
Assuming the Bible is God’s complete, authoritative, infallible revelation concerning salvation (among other things), the truth about salvation can only be rightly found out in the Bible. My opponent has already shared his views on the authority of the Roman Catholic Church as the sole infallible interpreter of Holy Scripture, and I have shared mine that the Word of God is clear, perspicuous, and understandable to those with the gift of faith. Even with those different starting points, we should be able to search this out a bit.
What is salvation, and why is it needed?
The first humans rebelled against God in treasuring something as more valuable than Him. Sin is any motion of the will, heart, and actions in disobeying God – and indeed the greatest crystallization of sin is to love something more than God. I hope we don’t have to debate this too much – even if you, LSO, would word that differently, may we agree that sin is the condition of the human family since Genesis 3? Each and every person is born with a sin nature – inherited from Adam and Eve.
God, being just and having to act according to His holy nature – true to Himself always, had to judge rebel mankind. His Name is vindicated in His justice – and in justice, He punishes eternally all who have sinned. There is no hope to have Him forget His justice and deny Himself by overlooking sin – and so (although this may sound strange to some of you), our greatest problem is that God is good… and we are not.
God, in order to “save” any individual person from His own judgment and punishment for sins, had to somehow satisfy His justice and vindicate His holiness by punishing all evildoers. Since the only way for a person to pay for their entire sin debt would be to spend an eternity in the torments of hell, (eternal because the One offended is infinite in worth), none of us could pay this debt.
Here is the hope of mankind. Those two words. In His unfathomable LOVE and kindness, God decided to ordain a rescuing of humanity from the inevitable chains of hell. I know I have not quoted any Scripture directly yet, but everything I have said is an attempt to stage the biblical record of what God has said about the subject. I do believe all Roman Catholic theologians would agree with this assessment thus far – and I am thankful for that! Knowing the problem and the need for a solution is a great hope for any person. The worst place a person can end up is entirely ignorant of their sinfulness and need for mercy.
So this is the need we have as a human family, born from Adam… yet still made in the image of God. We need salvation – a path of being “made right” with our Creator. But God. Those two words show up in glorious brilliance in Ephesians 2 – see here the first four verses and how they summarize everything I have just said:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (NASB)
So there is the problem. We are all born children of wrath. We are under God’s wrath from birth – and “there is none who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:12) To put it into a little street parlance, “we’re shot.” If we die individually in this state of sin, God will vindicate His holiness by punishing us eternally.
But God. This is salvation. God is salvation. He, although our Judge and although He was to pour out an infinite wrath on each of us in our rebellion, decided to intervene in love and wisdom. But how could He wipe away all our sins while remaining holy and just? I’ll get to that in later posts… but for now see the glory of our only hope here in Ephesians 2:4-10:
4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Highlighting loses its effect when it is ALL HIGHLIGHTED, haha. I just don’t know why I or anyone would have to go much more complicated and confusing than Ephesians 2:1-10.
1) We were dead in sin.
2) God made us alive in Christ Jesus, by grace.
3) He did all this in order to demonstrate His grace.
4) He did all this by grace through faith, not of ourselves – it is all a gift of grace so that no person who is saved can turn around and put a single finger on the credit for the salvation which God has ordained and executed.
5) We (the Body of Christ) are walking in this salvation (which results in good works) because of God’s initiative and grace.
Over to you, LSO…
For now, instead of continuing on with the cross of Jesus, the application of His salvation, and all of the implications thereof, I will rather cut myself short so that the Roman Catholic side may have an opportunity to also make a positive declaration of what salvation is. LSO, would you please tell us how the RC Church defines salvation before we go into how it is achieved or received?
P.S. LSO, perhaps when we respond to each other, if we use numbered sections that would make it more manageable for us and our readers? Whatever is easiest for you.
Previous posts in this series, starting at the first:
“Do Roman Catholics have the Gospel of Christ?“- Interpreting the Cosmos
“Apologetics” – Letting the Smoke Out
“Dialogue with a Roman Catholic – Introductory Remarks” – Interpreting the Cosmos
“Bible Only” – Letting the Smoke Out
“Roman Catholic Opening Remarks” – Interpreting the Cosmos
“A Word on Interpreting Scripture and Church Authority” – Interpreting the Cosmos