What is soteriology? And who cares?

What exactly does the Bible teach about soteriology?  The doctrine of soteriology is simply another way to say what the Bible teaches us about salvation. Of all the doctrines that we could discuss, this is the surely the most important. Soteriology has vast implications for both you as an individual and for the entire church as well.

First, let’s define what salvation is and then expand on that. Salvation in its simplest terms is a removal of wrath and a giving of blessings. God takes a sinful person and does incredible things to and for them, made possible only by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Salvation is one of the most important themes in the Bible, which is attested to by the frequency of words and stories showing God’s redemptive work in the lives of people, both individually and corporately. God saved his people Israel many times, including the releasing them from Egyptian slavery, defeating their enemies in the wilderness and the Promised Land, freeing them from captivity in Babylon, providing deliverance from sin though the Messiah, and preserving them as a people even until the present day despite the attempts of Hitler, Stalin and many others. These examples point to a God who is intent on saving his people. This is true even now with the inclusion of people from every nation into the family of God since the death and resurrection of Jesus. He has saved us, keeps us saved, and will ultimately deliver us in the end.

There are a number of ways to approach the doctrine of soteriology. Knowing the various views is important for you, because it will keep you alert to the subtle yet erroneous beliefs that are not consistent with the Bible. First, the Roman Catholic perspective believes that mankind is just as much involved in salvation as God is. This is called synergy, where God’s efforts and man’s effort both bring about salvation. This is an incorrect understanding, for the Bible tells us that, “by grace you have been saved, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). The Catholic church today has even gone so far as to say that salvation is inclusive. This means that anybody can be saved as long as their intentions are good, even without believing in the exclusive claims of Jesus that he alone is the Way, Truth and Life.

Liberals are also incorrect in their understanding of salvation. They deny many things that the Bible teaches, such as original sin, total depravity, hell, and Jesus atoning sacrifice. Their view is that Jesus set an example of love which should be imitated. Salvation for them is for here and now, including freedom from oppression and racism. Change in society is their goal, not an inner change of the heart. Likewise, Existentialists promote the experience with Jesus over and above any real theology or doctrine. Reason and logic are thrown out the window. Other theologies, such as neoorthodoxy and liberationism, are also wrong. Neoorthodoxy claims that all human beings are saved by Christ’s atoning death, whereas liberation theology is solely focused on a particular people group, including women, blacks and Third World peoples. Beware of these alternative understandings of salvation, as appealing as some aspects of them may seem!

The evangelical perspective alone adheres to the biblical doctrine soteriology. The pillars of our understanding of salvation are as follows: 1) human beings are separated from God due to sin; 2) Jesus’ death of the cross was an act of substitutionary atonement, dying in our place a punishment we deserved; 3) salvation is only due to God’s grace through faith in his Son, Jesus; 4) God declares us righteous on the basis of Jesus’ blood-payment and righteousness, which we call imputation; 5) we are daily changed into the image of Christ through ongoing sanctification; 6) we look ahead with certain hope to the day of glorification, the final stage in our salvation. All of these truths come straight out of the Bible itself, and are consistent themes presented throughout its pages.

The doctrine of soteriology is important to you because it shows you the way to eternal life. A restored relationship with God as his son or daughter is only possible if you access God through his revealed means. Getting mixed up with alternative viewpoints of salvation is fatal.

There are a number of specific reasons why understanding the Bible’s teaching on soteriology is so important to you. You are equipped with the knowledge to refute the attacks of the enemy who tries to take away the good seed that has been sown. Comfort and encouragement come in the darkest times when you realize that you were once an enemy of God now saved by his grace. A proper perspective is kept when you know that you are undeserving of his imputed righteousness. Also, there is inexhaustible joy for those who know that their good works are simply expressions of love for the God who saved them, and not the means by which they access a relationship with him. A solid understanding of soteriology is also like a blowtorch you carry with you to melt the hard hearts of unbelievers while evangelizing or having discussions with others about theology. A strong foundation is soteriology must not, however, be used to attack others or to win arguments. Instead, the wise soldier of Christ knows how to wield the sweet truths of salvation in a way that convicts, yet doesn’t kill. Strive for humility and meekness.

The church is also greatly benefitted by being schooled in the doctrine of soteriology. Although salvation is individual and not corporate, all members of the combined body of Christ have been given the same gift of redemption and can partake in its blessings together. The church is able to be a stronger witness to the world if they are rooted in a right understanding of faith and works, grace and mercy, heaven and hell. Members of the body should be more loving and gracious and compassionate to one another by studying and understanding the doctrine of soteriology. We must all recognize where it is we came from (domain of darkenss, Col 1:13), who we are now (people in transition), and where it is we are going (heaven and glorified bodies)!

Let me finish this talk on soteriology with a final few application ideas for what we’ve discussed today. First, make sure that you are reading your Bible intentionally tracing the line of salvation  as it moves through the story from Genesis to Revelation. Take comfort in the fact that God is working and willing in you to do good works in his name. Reject all external means of salvation, including worship and prayer to saints. Be firmly convinced in your own mind that salvation come by grace through faith alone. God sent his son to die, after coordination centuries of history and people to pass, before demonstrating his love for you in that one act. He has now declared you righteous, and imputed the righteousness of Jesus to your account. He is sanctifying you presently. And one day soon, he is going to come back to take you to himself, glorifying you as one of his children.

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