The Greek word soteria, translated into our English language as “salvation,” means exactly what we think it means – deliverance and preservation. It is used throughout the New Testament in several ways, the first being physical deliverance from danger; second, the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept His conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus; third, the present experience of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin; fourth, the future deliverance of believers at the Parousia (second coming) of Christ for His saints; fifth, deliverance of the nation of Israel at the second advent of Christ; sixth, as a synonym for the Savior; and, lastly, an ascription of praise to God. 1
Proper soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, then must concretely rest on the person and action of God. This is very clear in each of the senses in which this term is used. Within this term is encapsulated the “already and not yet” aspects of God’s work and kingdom; He is present to save now, but the full experience of that saving will not come until the end of all things. He is present, but He is yet to come. He is now, and He is then. This a wonderful part of the Lord’s mystery.
I write about this topic today for a reason that I am not entirely comfortable with. Though enjoying a good debate from time to time, it is my heart to see God’s people live and work in unity (not uniformity – there is a difference. Jesus prayed for one and not the other). Therefore, I do not desire to contribute to a division that is already bitter in many cases.
However, I am weary of leaders within the Calvinist theological tradition (whether they be five-point or not) accusing those outside of that tradition, like myself, of seeing salvation as man-centered, for nothing could be further from the truth.
A Calvinist of whatever stripe who understands his or her soteriology correctly will see salvation as predestined – foreordained in eternity by God. He has chosen who will be saved and Jesus’ death and resurrection applies only to them, the “elect” in what is known as limited atonement. In the language of the system, God has “passed over” others, leaving them to an eternal destiny of separation from Him.
An Arminian of whatever stripe who understands his or her soteriology correctly will see salvation as available to all – God, as One who stands outside of time, knows who will be saved, but He has not chosen them. Instead, Christ suffered for everyone (unlimited atonement) so that the Father could forgive those who repent and believe. God enables this choosing through prevenient grace, or the grace that goes before, which is available to all and prepares all to turn to Him, though many choose not to respond to this conviction.
These are, of course, extremely simple summaries of complex theological systems. There are many and deep questions involved – does God’s knowing beforehand constitute His determining beforehand? Does a human being have free will if he or she lives within a predestined framework? If some are “passed over,” how can they be guilty if they were never going to respond to the Gospel in the first place? How far does predestination go? Did God cause sin to happen in the Garden? Can a person lose his or her salvation if he or she has the free will to accept it in the first place?
These are important questions, and ones that I encourage you to reflect upon. Do your own study – consult the Bible, commentaries, your friends, and, above all, pray. Come to your own conclusions.
The point of this post is not to defend one or the other position, for I know what my soteriology is and why I believe that way. (That’s a post for another day. Ha! That rhymes). What I would like to focus on is this:
It is God who saves.
Bboth of these views affirm that.
Arminians do not believe that man is involved in salvation. It was God who came up with the plan and God who executed it. It was Jesus, God Incarnate, who died and rose again. There is absolutely nothing that I or anyone else has done to contribute to being saved. An Arminian simply believes that each person has a responsibility to accept the salvation that is freely offered to him or her. Each person has free will; their ultimate destiny is determined, yes, but by the consequences stemming from this choice, and not from a Divine predestination. It is all about God’s graciousness and His rule over all things, just as in Calvinism.
As I said before, this division is a truly bitter one for a lot of people. Both sides are caricatured by the other, and that saddens me. While I might not agree with the Calvinistic system, I can certainly respect it. I can see how they interpret Scripture. Those who possess this soteriology are my brothers and sisters, for we all live under the shed blood of Jesus Christ. That, for me, is enough.
We can debate all we want to. Frankly, I want to have an extremely long conversation with John Calvin that may well take up most of eternity and tell him exactly why I disagree with him. I think that will be a lively exchange and we’ll be able to do it in the context of love. I truly believe that we can also do that here and now.
The world is watching, folks. While we may understand our differences in theology, they don’t. They see us tearing each other to pieces over this, we who claim to know and serve a holy, loving God. Why would they want anything to do with a group that acts like everyone else? Why would they want a God who seems to make no difference in daily living?
Whether you believe that God chose you and you had to respond or that He chose you and you, in turn, chose to respond to Him, you believe in One holy, Triune, sovereign King of creation who has been gracious enough to save you when you didn’t deserve it. You believe that sin separates and that what Jesus did was necessary to bridge the gap. You will spend eternity sitting at the feet of the Master in humble adoration. Yes, that’s right – that person whom you now call names will be in Heaven with you.
Because what does salvation entail?
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” – Acts 16:31
It’s all about Jesus.
It is God who saves – whatever way you slice it.
1 William E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 545.