Four Intricate Layers of Salvation

Salvation is Here:

You’re asleep, and your house is on fire. Smoke billows, glass melts, walls turn to ash as the architectural supports begin to buckle. At any moment the roof could collapse, but out from seemingly nowhere two firm hands rattle you from your slumber. Recoiling from an empty dream to the frightening imminent danger of your surroundings you grab the hand of your rescuer following him through the fiery death trap out. As the building exhales a final breath of flame and fumes you feel a shove towards the only available exit. Steel, brick, and ash shake the earth while crumbling down into nothing. Fresh air fills your lungs as the reality of your dire past brings utter humility and gratefulness for a savior who placed your safety over his own.

While this analogy is inadequate it ultimately illustrates how Christ came to save those of us who were left for dead, asleep in our sin. Those who have been rescued from death know the joy and thankfulness of being saved from physical death. We who have salvation through Jesus know the joy and thankfulness of being saved from eternal death.

There are four key terms within salvation that, while sounding “Christian-ese,” are vital to understanding the beautifully diverse aspects of what we receive when we believe in his son Jesus as our Savior and Lord. The four words are regeneration, justification, adoption, and sanctification. Each plays a dynamic role in the life of the believer, and should be a normative part of their vocabulary in worship, thanksgiving, and prayer.

Regeneration: Instantaneous Change

Regeneration is the instantaneous change that comes the moment a person comes to faith in Jesus. The person is regenerated from spiritual death to spiritual life. Jesus taught about rebirth in a discussion with Nicodemus (found in John 3). His statement, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven” is a direct point about regeneration.

Some wonder when regeneration takes place. Is it when I prayed the “sinners prayer?” or during baptism? To answer plainly, regeneration happens the moment one believes that Jesus is the savior of the world, God’s own son. We cannot see this regeneration like we can watch a caterpillar transform into a butterfly. But the change that comes results in a new love and appreciation for God, his world, and all people.

Justification: Made Righteous by Faith

Justification means “to make righteous.” It was a term used by Paul to describe how, through faith in Jesus alone, believers are justified by God and made right in his sight. Harold Freligh says, “Justification is not a judicial act, for the law cannot justify the sinner; it can only condemn him. But it is an act of grace based on the finished work of Christ” (p. 69, 1962).

Three biblical characters stand out regarding justification: Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. We perceive Abraham as the father of the Christian faith in that he didn’t have the law, but he had faith in God’s promises for a son, a place to call home, and blessings for the nations. Contrary to Abraham is the typology Moses stood for. Moses is known as the law-giver. While Moses was a man of faith, it was through him that God gave the law (including the 10 commandments) to Israel. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The law can only condemn us for we cannot stand under its oppressive demands for perfection. Where Moses stood as a figure for the law, Jesus stands as a figure for grace through faith.

Jesus is the means by which we have justification. It was God’s requirement for absolution from sin is bloodshed. When the writer of Hebrews penned “there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood” (Heb 9:22) he knew that Christ’s work on Calvary provided the quintessential payment for the sins of the world. Jesus, triune God, who knew no sin became sin so that we might be his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). No work done by us, let alone childlike faith in the Jesus as savior, can justify man to God. Jesus is our righteousness, our confidence, and our ability to stand before God justified.

Adoption: Sons and Daughters of God

Born in a communist country, alone and unwanted, baby Wen Ai had little chance of success in a nation that places minuscule value on women and even less on daughters. The one-child policy had left her without parents or hope. But from a small suburban Illinois town came a shimmering candle of love and affection. Neil and Janis, my aunt and uncle, flew to China to adopt her permanently into their family as Amanda Wen. She has grown into a lovely young lady with quick wit and scholarly attitude. Her parents love has transformed her from abandoned orphan to prized family member (and spirited wedding dance partner!).

Adoption as a biblical term is very similar to Amanda’s story. When Jesus, God’s son took flesh, he became one of us in order to know us. To know our sorrow and suffering, and joy and triumphs. He chose to physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually experience our trials (Heb. 2:17 – 18). By making himself like us the son of God, and made us co-heirs with him of the inheritance of eternal life. John’s gospel states the condition by which we become adopted: receive him (Christ). “But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God.”

Amanda’s adoption is a temporal glimpse of the eternal picture God has painted for us. When we are welcomed into the family of God we are transformed from unwanted to beloved. We are no longer orphans, abandoned without hope, but blessed children of God, co-heirs with our brother Jesus, filled by the Holy Spirit.

*Note* – Neil and Janis have also adopted Abbie who is beautiful, full of whimsy, and the life of the party. Amanda and Abbie are a delight to be around and have been a huge source of inspiration for possible future adoptions by me and my wife.

Sanctification: Progressive Purification

My favorite “Christian-ese” word is sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which a Christian transforms progressively into the image of Christ. It is my favorite word because it gives me hope, not only for myself but also for the people around me who also believe, that we might be changed from ugly duckling into beautiful swan; from rags to heavenly riches.

Where Regeneration is an instantaneous transformation, Sanctification is a lifelong journey of being made new.

Regeneration is a sprint. Sanctification is a marathon.
Regeneration 
is new birth. Sanctification is maturation.
Regeneration is immediate, explosive, radical change.  Sanctification is slow, often tedious, grunt work.
Regeneration is Diet Coke and Mentos. Sanctification is a planted apple seed.

Theologian Wayne Grudem says that sanctification is a like a two sided coin, it requires our work and dependence on God. Neither can be sacrificed on the altar of the other. He writes, “If we neglect actively striving to obey God, we become lazy Christians. If we neglect the passive role of trusting God and yielding to him, we become proud and overly confident in ourselves. In either case our sanctification will be deficient.” We must obey and believe ferociously as if it depended on us, but pray wholeheartedly as if God had to do all the work. While we cannot sanctify ourselves, God cannot sanctify an unwilling vessel. He does not force our hand, but patiently waits to aid us in our growth.

Simply Inexhaustible

These four pillars of salvation have not been exhausted. There are plethora of scripture and books on regeneration, justification, adoption, and sanctification that can grant us further understanding of the depth of salvation. I will list some at the end of this blog for further reading if you wish.

I have two major concerns for the world today. The first is that Christians around the world, but specifically in the Western world, believe in Jesus but do not love his word, do not pray, and do not study theology. Without a foundation in the Bible, an intimate prayer life, and sound doctrine many believers “will be saved–even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15). 

My second concern regards those who do not believe in Jesus as Lord. The resources available to the world as technology advances are incredible. The bible can be downloaded onto mobile devices in a matter of seconds. Free e-books on Christian thought are easily accessed. And still, while the information abounds, people do not seek God. The writer of Psalm 14:1-3 makes it clear that my feelings aren’t an anomaly but rather the reality. Men don’t seek God; we are all morally defunct.  It frightens me that people would be so “spiritual”, tolerant, and open yet so blatantly dull in their pursuit of truth.

Reader: If you would like to talk about the Bible, salvation, or any blog post please feel free to e-mail: justin.mederich@gmail.com or Twitter: @justinmederich

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 For Further Reading:

16 Free E-Books on Christian Thought – HERE

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