The Spirit’s Convicting Ministry to the World

Holy Spirit as a DoveThere is a special work that God the Holy Spirit is doing in the hearts of unbelievers to help prepare them to turn to Christ as Savior.[1] Concerning this special work, Jesus said, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Jesus’ statement about the Holy Spirit is in the future tense (He will convict), which implies the Spirit’s special ministry was not active at the time Jesus uttered His statement. This special convicting ministry would be inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. The word convict translates the Greek word elegcho (ἐλέγχω), which means, “to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, [or] convince someone of something.”[2] Jesus said the Spirit’s convincing work would fall into three areas: 1) “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9), 2) “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me” (John 16:10), and 3) “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11). Let’s look at these in order.

The Sin of Unbelief

The sin mentioned by Jesus in John 16:8 does not refer to a catalogue of sins one might be guilty of (i.e., lust, greed, worry, gossip, stealing, etc.), but rather, one specific sin, which is unbelief, as Jesus said, “because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). The word for sin is hamartia (ἁμαρτία), which in Jesus’ statement is a singular noun that refers to a specific crime; namely, unbelief. Sylva notes, “Here sin is unbelief. Jesus faces people with a decision for or against himself: by belief or unbelief a person decides either for life or for death (John 8:24; 9:41; 16:8–9).”[3] There is only one sin that keeps a person out of heaven, and that’s the sin of unbelief. Wiersbe states:

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of one particular sin, the sin of unbelief. The law of God and the conscience of man will convict the sinner of his sins (plural) specifically; but it is the work of the Spirit, through the witness of the believers, to expose the unbelief of the lost world. After all, it is unbelief that condemns the lost sinner (John 3:18–21), not the committing of individual sins. A person could “clean up his life” and quit his or her bad habits and still be lost and go to hell.[4]

The Spirit always performs His work perfectly in the hearts of the lost, but because people have volition, and their hearts are corrupt, the vast majority of people suppress His message (Matt 7:13-14; John 5:39-40; Rom 1:18-32). Only the Holy Spirit can reveal to the human heart the truth about Jesus, as well as the truth about their sin of unbelief. To suppress the Spirit’s work about Jesus as the Son of God and Savior is the greatest of sins possible, as well as the most fatal sin that forever condemns a person to hell. Robert Lightner states:

Apart from God the Father there would have been no plan of salvation. Without God the Son there would have been no provision for salvation. Apart from the work of God the Spirit there would be no application of this great salvation to man’s needs. It is the third member of the Godhead who procures salvation for all who believe.[5]

The Righteousness of Jesus

God alone sets the standard for righteousness, not people. Divine righteousness may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as just that which conforms to His righteousness and as sinful that which deviates. Borchert is correct when he states, “Humanity is not in control either of the future or of setting the standards for life. That is the work of God.”[6] And Merrill C. Tenney states, “Apart from a standard of righteousness, there can be no sin; and there must be an awareness of the holiness of God before a person will realize his own deficiency.”[7] Though Jesus was rejected and treated as a criminal, God the Father declared Him righteous and welcomed Him to heaven, His natural home. Jesus is “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14), and throughout His life “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), “committed no sin” (1 Pet 2:22), and in whom “there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). The rejection and crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of the human race. Jesus said those who rejected and crucified Him would “rejoice” (John 16:20), but as Borchert notes, “their rejoicing at being finished with Jesus turned out to be the rejoicing of the damned.”[8] William Hendriksen offers the following insights:

The world, represented by the Jews, was about to crucify Jesus. It was going to say, “He ought to die” (John 19:7); hence, in the name of righteousness it was going to put him to death. It proclaimed aloud that he was anything but righteous. It treated him as an evil-doer (John 18:30). But the exact opposite was the truth. Though rejected by the world, he was welcomed by the Father, welcomed home via the cross, the cross which led to the crown…By means of the resurrection the Father would place the stamp of His approval upon His life and work (Acts 2:22, 23, 33; Rom 1:4). He, the very One whom the world had branded as unrighteous, would by means of His victorious going to the Father be marked as the Righteous One (8:46; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 2:1; and cf., Luke 23:47). Thus, the world would be convicted with respect to righteousness.[9]

Christians do not need to struggle to convince people about the perfect righteousness of Christ, nor of the sinner’s failed righteousness before a holy God. They need only to communicate the biblical truth about Christ and fallen humanity, and leave the Spirit to do what only He can do, to convince them of the truth about Christ as the only Savior of mankind. If unbelievers suppresses the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, then no amount of reasoning or argumentation on the part of Christians will advance the gospel even one inch.

The Judgment of the Ruler of this World

Fallen angelA third area where the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of unbelievers concerns judgment, “because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11). Satan has been judged and found guilty before God. This means that Satan and his world-system is condemned. Being the ruler of this world, Satan naturally rules in the hearts of all unbelievers. Three times Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other passages of Scripture call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), informing us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Satan rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9). Satan continues to attack God’s people today (1 Pet 5:8), practices deception (2 Cor 11:13-15), and has well developed strategies of warfare (Eph 6:10-12). Furthermore, humanity is living in an “evil age” (Gal 1:4), under “the dominion of Satan” (Acts 26:18), whose sphere of influence is called “the domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). But Satan has been judged and his punishment is pending execution. Furthermore, those who side with Satan in this life will be judged with him in eternity. According to Ryrie, “At the cross, Christ triumphed over Satan, serving notice on unbelievers of their judgment to come.”[10] Radmacher notes, “Satan was judged at the Cross, and the Holy Spirit would convince people of the judgment to come. Satan has been judged, so all who side with him will be judged with him. There is no room for neutrality. A person is either a child of God or a child of the devil.”[11] Merrill Tenney states:

To convince any unbeliever of sin, righteousness, and judgment is beyond human ability. It may be possible to fix upon him the guilt of some specific sin if there is sufficient evidence to bring him before a jury; but to make him acknowledge the deeper fact, that he is a sinner, evil at heart, and deserving of punishment because he has not believed in Christ, is quite another matter. To bring a man to some standard of ethics is not too difficult; for almost every person has ideals that coincide with the moral law at some point. To create in him the humiliating consciousness that his self-righteousness is as filthy rags in comparison with the spotless linen of the righteousness of God cannot be effected by ordinary persuasion. Many believe in a general law of retribution; but it is almost impossible to convince them that they already stand condemned. Only the power of the Holy Spirit, working from within, can bring about that profound conviction which leads to repentance. The Spirit anticipates and makes effective the ministry of the disciples in carrying the message to unbelievers.[12]

Satan has been judged and will spend eternity in the lake of fire. Those who reject Christ as Savior naturally default to an alliance with Satan, and these will spend eternity in the lake of fire with him, “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). The lake of fire is avoidable. If the lost simply trust in Christ as their Savior, they will have eternal life and spend eternity with God in heaven. However, if they reject Christ as Savior, then they will spend eternity in hell, for “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] In the NT, God the Holy Spirit took on a new ministry after Jesus returned to heaven (John 16:7-15; cf., Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-4; 15:7-9). Part of His ministry is to believers, and part is to unbelievers. Concerning the Spirit’s ministry to believers, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). The Helper is the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus will send (future tense of the Greek verb pempo) to believers. The Spirit’s work in Christians would be multifaceted and would relate to their sanctification and godly influence in a fallen world. After Pentecost (Acts 2), God the Holy Spirit would work in and through His church to other Christians, to help with their sanctification, and to unbelievers, to share the gospel of grace that they might be saved.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 315.

[3] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 260.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1, 362.

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 196.

[6] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 167.

[7] Merrill C. Tenney, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 157.

[8] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 167.

[9] William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, vol. 2, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 326.

[10] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 1712.

[11] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1350.

[12] Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 237.

Theological Implications of Jesus’ Resurrection for Salvation

I am the resurrection and the life - squareJesus’ resurrection is an essential element in soteriology. In fact, every writer of the NT assumes that Jesus was resurrected from the grave and treat it as an event that took place in time and space. Paul wrote that Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:4), that He was “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor 15:20), and that “having been raised from the dead, is never to die again” (Rom 6:9). After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to numerous persons over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3), namely, Mary Magdalene and other women (Matt 28:1-10; John 20:10-18), two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), the disciples without Thomas (John 20:19-25), the disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-29), the disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23), Peter, James, and more than 500 brethren at one time (1 Cor 15:5-7). After these appearances, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11). It is recorded that God the Father “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20). Ralph Earle notes the importance of Jesus’ resurrection as follows:

Without the Resurrection the Crucifixion would have been in vain. It was the Resurrection which validated the atoning death of Jesus and gave it value. Paul describes it strikingly this way: “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:25). The resurrection of Jesus proved that his sacrifice for sins had been accepted. The whole redemptive scheme would have fallen apart without it. For by his resurrection Jesus Christ became the first fruits of a new race, a new humanity.[1]

Charles Ryrie adds:

In the classic passage, 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, Christ’s death and resurrection are said to be “of first importance.” The Gospel is based on two essential facts: a Savior died and He lives. The burial proves the reality of His death. He did not merely faint only to be revived later. He died. The list of witnesses proves the reality of His resurrection. He died and was buried; He rose and was seen. Paul wrote of that same twofold emphasis in Romans 4:25: He was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification. Without the Resurrection there is no Gospel…If Christ did not rise then our witness is false, our faith is without meaningful content, and our prospects for the future are hopeless (1 Cor 15:13–19). If Christ is not risen then believers who have died would be dead in the absolute sense without any hope of resurrection. And we who live could only be pitied for being deluded into thinking there is a future resurrection for them.[2]

The resurrection of Jesus is an essential element of the Christian gospel. Paul wrote, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1). And the content of the gospel Paul preached was “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Believing the gospel message means accepting this information as true, and then trusting in Christ as one’s Savior. According to R.B. Thieme Jr., “First Corinthians 15:3-4 defines the boundaries of the Gospel, beginning with the work of Christ and ending with His resurrection…Any Gospel message that strays from the cross or denies Jesus Christ’s resurrection from physical death is inaccurate and out of bounds.”[3]

Amazingly, there were some at the church in Corinth who taught “that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul addressed this issue head on, saying, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is useless…For if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:13-14, 17). The clear teaching of Scripture is that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor 15:20), and being “raised from the dead, is never to die again” (Rom 6:9). By His resurrection, Jesus proved that He overcame sin and death. Robert Mounce states:

Having been raised from the dead, Christ cannot die again. His resurrection was unlike that of Lazarus, who had to meet death once again. But Christ’s resurrection broke forever the tyranny of death. That cruel master can no longer exercise any power over him. The cross was sin’s final move; the resurrection was God’s checkmate. The game is over. Sin is forever in defeat. Christ the victor died to sin “once for all” and lives now in unbroken fellowship with God.[4]

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Ralph Earle, “The Person of Christ: Death, Resurrection, Ascension,” in Basics of the Faith: An Evangelical Introduction to Christian Doctrine, ed. Carl F. H. Henry, Best of Christianity Today (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 184.

[2] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 308.

[3] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Gospel”, Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, (Houston, TX., R. B. Thieme, Jr., Bible Ministries, 2022), 113

[4] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 152.

Defining Salvation in the Bible

Soteriology is the study of salvation. The word soteriology is derived from the Greek words soter (σωτήρ), which means savior, and logos (λόγος), which means a word about, or the study of something. Soteriology is the sphere of systematic theology that speaks to the nature, means, scope, and purpose of salvation. It is an important theme that runs throughout Scripture and reveals the God who saves.

Bridge_to_SalvationAs Christians, when we think of salvation, it most often pertains to our spiritual deliverance from the lake of fire, which is the place of eternal suffering for those who reject Christ as Savior. John tells us, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Spiritual salvation is the most important kind of salvation mentioned in the Bible, for it matters little if one is rescued a thousand times from physical danger, but ultimately fails to receive deliverance from the danger of hell. God loves everyone and is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). And He has made a way for lost sinners to be saved from hell and brought to heaven, and this through His Son, Jesus, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

God’s love for lost humanity is what motivated Him to act. Scripture reveals, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). And, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

God offers salvation because we are lost in sin and helpless to save ourselves. If we could save ourselves, then the death of Christ would have been unnecessary. But we cannot save ourselves, as our sin renders us helpless before God. A weak understanding of God’s work in salvation will produce a weak gospel, one that tends to emphasize human good and man’s ability to save himself, or to participate in that salvation. When we understand the total depravity of mankind, and that we are totally lost and unable to save ourselves, only then does the work of God through Christ come into its full glory, and love and grace become so pronounced, that lost sinners realize their utterly helpless condition, and turn to Christ alone for that salvation which cannot be secured by any other means. What follows is a look at the meaning of salvation in the Old and New Testament.

Definition of Salvation in the Old Testament

The most common word for salvation in the Hebrew OT is yasha (יָשַׁע – sometimes as יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation, also safety, [and] welfare.[1] God is said to deliver His people from military attacks (2 Sam 22:3-4; 1 Ch 16:35; Psa 3:6-8), fear (Psa 34:4), troubles (Psa 34:17), or physical death (Psa 56:13).[2] Earl Radmacher notes, “Often the words save and salvation refer to physical not spiritual deliverance. This is especially true in the Old Testament. People were ‘saved’ (rescued or delivered) from enemies on the battlefield (Deut 20:4), from the lion’s mouth (Dan 6:20), and from the wicked (Psa 59:2).”[3] According to Charles Ryrie:

The most important Hebrew root word related to salvation in the Old Testament is yasha. Originally it meant to be roomy or broad in contrast to narrowness or oppression. Thus it signifies freedom from what binds or restricts, and it came to mean deliverance, liberation, or giving width and breadth to something. Sometimes this deliverance came through the agency of man (e.g., through judges, Judg 2:18; 6:14; 8:22; or kings, 1 Sam 23:2), and sometimes through the agency of Yahweh (Pss 20:6; 34:6; Isa 61:10; Ezek 37:23). Sometimes salvation is individual (Psa 86:1–2) and sometimes corporate, that is, of the nation (Isa 12:2, though all the world will share in it, Isa 45:22; 49:6).[4]

Yahweh is repeatedly referred to as the “the God of my salvation” (Psa 18:46; cf., Psa 25:5; 27:9; 51:14; 88:1; Isa 12:2; 17:10; Mic 7:7; Hab 3:18), and Jonah said, “Salvation is from the LORD” (Jon 2:9). In helpless situations, only God could save His people (Isa 43:11; cf., Isa 45:5-7, 22), and He saved them primarily for His own glory and reputation, as the psalmist states, “He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known” (Psa 106:8).

When delivering His people from a military threat, there were times when God called His people to do nothing, but watch Him fight their battles (2 Ch 20:17; Hos 1:7). When Israel left Egypt and Pharaoh’s army pursued them, Moses told the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation [yeshuah] of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Ex 14:13-14). Here, the Lord fought alone, killing the Egyptian soldiers who were pursuing His people for the purpose of killing them (see Ex 14:22-31). However, there were times when God required His people to take up arms and engage their enemy, and in those moments He would fight with them, ensuring their victory. For example, when Israel was to enter the land of Canaan, Moses told the people, “the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save [yasha] you” (Deut 20:4). As Israel’s army fought the wicked Canaanites, God would be with them to secure their victory. And David, when standing against Goliath, said, “the battle is the LORD’S and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam 17:47), and then he picked up his sling and a stone and struck his enemy with a mortal blow (1 Sam 17:48-49). God brought salvation through David, His servant. Liefeld states, “Although military leaders and others bring salvation in specific circumstances, ultimately it is God alone who is the true Savior. Israel had to learn not to trust human wisdom or military strength but to recognize God as the only source of deliverance.”[5] Solomon states the matter well, saying, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the LORD” (Prov 21:31). Today, we might say, the soldier is to train well and keep his weapons clean, ready for action, but always realize it is ultimately God who gives the victory.

There was also a spiritual and eternal salvation for individuals who placed their faith in God. For example, in Genesis 15:6, we’re informed that Abram “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Henry Morris states, “Here is the great principle of true salvation, set forth for the first time in the Bible. Not by works do men attain or manifest righteousness, but by faith. Because they believe in the Word of God, He credits them with perfect righteousness and therefore enables sinful men to be made fit for the fellowship of a holy God.”[6] And Ryrie adds, “Faith was the necessary condition for salvation in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Abraham believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6). The Hebrew prefix beth indicates that Abraham confidently rested his faith on God (cf. Ex 14:31; Jon 3:5).”[7]

Definition of Salvation in the New Testament

The concept of salvation in the NT derives from three words. First is the verb sozo (σῴζω), which refers to the act of physical deliverance in some biblical passages (Matt 8:25; 14:30; Mark 13:20; Luke 6:9; John 11:12; Acts 27:20, 31), and spiritual deliverance in others (Luke 7:50; 19:10; John 12:47; 1 Cor 1:21; Tit 3:5). As to our spiritual deliverance, we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2, 5). Second is the noun soter (σωτήρ), which means Savior, and refers to the agent of salvation, the one who rescues or delivers another from harm or danger (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20). Third is the noun soteria (σωτηρία), which refers to the provision of salvation, rescue, or deliverance brought by another (Luke 1:69; 19:9; John 4:22; Acts 7:25; 13:26, 47; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 1:6; 6:2; Eph 1:13; Phil 1:28; 2:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5, 9; 2 Pet 3:15).

The Greek words in the NT communicate the basic meaning of yasha in the Hebrew OT. Radmacher notes, “In the New Testament the verb sōzō (“to save”) and the nouns sōtēr (“Savior”) and sōtēria (“salvation”) parallel the Hebrew word and its derivatives. Thus the Old Testament concept of deliverance is carried over to the New Testament.”[8] Ryrie agrees, saying:

In both the Septuagint and the New Testament the Greek verb sōzō and its cognates sōtēr and sōtēria usually translate yasha˒ and its respective nouns. However, a number of times the sōzō group translates shalom, peace or wholeness, and its cognates. Thus salvation can mean cure, recovery, remedy, rescue, redemption, or welfare. This can be related to preservation from danger, disease, or death (Matt 9:22; Acts 27:20, 31, 34; Heb 5:7).[9]

Earl Radmacher adds:

A number of times, however, sōtēria translates síālôm (“peace” or “wholeness”), which broadens the idea of rescue or deliverance to include recovery, safety, and preservation. There is a progression in these concepts: (a) rescue from imminent and life-threatening danger to (b) a place of safety and security and (c) a position of wholeness and soundness. The narrowness and restriction created by danger is replaced by the “breadth” of liberation in salvation. Visualize a person on the Titanic facing the imminent expectation of drowning and death, but then being placed in a lifeboat. That is rescue. Then picture the person now in the lifeboat removed from danger and death. That is safety. Now picture an ocean liner coming alongside the lifeboat and hoisting it and its passengers aboard ship. Now they enjoy security and soundness of mind. All three ideas are included in the biblical concept of salvation.[10]

The majority of usages of salvation in the NT refer to physical healing or deliverance from what injures, restricts, or threatens harm. For example, when Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee, He healed ten men of leprosy (Luke 17:11-14), and when one of them returned to thank Him (Luke 17:15-16), He told the man, “your faith has made you well [sozo]” (Luke 17:19). In this context, the Greek verb sozo refers to physical deliverance from an infirmity. On another occasion, when Jesus was approaching the city of Jericho, a blind man called out for Jesus to have mercy on him (Luke 18:35-41), and Jesus healed the man, saying, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well [sozo]” (Luke 18:42). Again, this refers to physical healing. An example of deliverance from physical danger is observed when Jesus came to His disciples when they were on a stormy sea (Matt 14:22-27). When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he called out to the Lord and asked to come to Him (Matt 14:28-29). However, as Peter was walking on the water, He took his eyes off Jesus and began looking at the stormy wind, and “he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me! [sozo]’” (Matt 14:30). Peter was not asking for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life; rather, he was asking Jesus to save him from physical harm as he sinking into the sea. Earl Radmacher states:

When the New Testament uses save and salvation to refer to physical deliverance, those instances are more individual than national. Also the New Testament occurrences suggest not only rescue but also remedy and recovery. A graphic example of rescue from imminent death is God’s sparing Paul’s life in the shipwreck on his way to Rome (Acts 27:20, 31, 34). This case is of special interest in that God promised deliverance in advance (Acts 27:23–24), and Paul confidently moved ahead on those promises (Acts 27:25, 34). In a physical sense salvation refers to being taken from danger to safety (Phil 1:19), from disease to health (Jam 5:15), and from death to life (Jam 5:20).[11]

Often, as Christians, we think of salvation in the spiritual sense, in which we are delivered from our sins and made right with God because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. As believers, we have been “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10). We have been made spiritually alive, and “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). We should realize our salvation appears in three tenses. Lewis Sperry Chafer states:

In its broadest significance, the doctrine of salvation includes every divine undertaking for the believer from his deliverance out of the lost estate to his final presentation in glory conformed to the image of Christ. Since the divine objective is thus all-inclusive, the theme is divided naturally into three tenses: (a) The Christian was saved when he believed (Luke 7:50; Acts 16:30–31; 1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 2:15; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 1:9). This past-tense aspect of it is the essential and unchanging fact of salvation. At the moment of believing, the saved one is completely delivered from his lost estate, cleansed, forgiven, justified, born of God, clothed in the merit of Christ, freed from all condemnation, and safe for evermore. (b) The believer is being saved from the dominion of sin (Rom 6:1–14; 8:2; 2 Cor 3:18; Gal 2:20; 4:19; Phil 1:19; 2:12; 2 Th 2:13). In this second tense of salvation the believer is being divinely preserved and sanctified. (c) The believer is yet to be saved from the presence of sin when presented faultless in glory (Rom 13:11; 1 Th 5:8; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:3–5; 1 John 3:1–3). To this may be added other passages which, each in turn, present all three tenses or aspects of salvation—1 Cor 1:30; Phil 1:6; Eph 5:25–27; 1 Th 1:9–10; Tit 2:11–13.[12]

Our spiritual salvation is entirely the work of God through Christ (John 3:16), who took our sin upon Himself on the cross and paid the penalty for it, having been judged in our place (1 Cor 15:3-4). Peter tells us, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). And this salvation is found exclusively in Christ, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). One needs only Christ to be saved. God offers salvation to sinful humanity as a gift, given freely and unconditionally to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Faith in Christ is the only condition for spiritual salvation.


Soteriology, the study of salvation, delves into the complex nature, means, scope, and purpose of God’s deliverance. Whether examining God’s deliverance in the Old Testament or the New Testament, this study reveals a salvation that encompasses both physical rescue from harm and spiritual deliverance from sin and eternal suffering. Ultimately, soteriology paints a vivid picture of God’s love and grace, showcasing the inexhaustible depth of His saving plan. At the heart of soteriology is the cross of Christ. The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 447.

[2] For other Hebrew words, see W. L. Liefeld, “Salvation,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, vol. 4, (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), p. 289.

[3] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation”, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 806.

[4] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 321.

[5] W. L. Liefeld, “Salvation,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, vol. 4 (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 289.

[6] Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976), 325.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 321.

[8] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation” Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 805.

[9] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 321–322.

[10] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation”, Understanding Christian Theology, 805–806.

[11] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation”, Understanding Christian Theology, 806.

[12] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 6.

[13] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 321–322.

The Exclusivity and Sufficiency of Christ for Salvation

grace-rock-blueIn Acts 4:12, Peter states, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” And the name he’s talking about is the name of Jesus, the theanthropic Person who came into this world (John 1:1, 14), lived a sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:5; 1 John 3:5), and went to the cross and died a penal substitutionary death for all mankind (1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 Pet 3:18). Peter dogmatically states that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. This is exclusive, for it means there is only way to be saved. The word “must,” in Acts 4:12, translates the Greek verb δεῖ dei, which speaks of divine necessity. This means it is necessary to come to Jesus, and Jesus alone, for our salvation, “for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” We need only Christ to be saved. And to be saved (σῴζω sozo) calls for one action only, and that is to trust in Christ as our Savior. This means we accept the good news “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And if we trust in Jesus as our Savior, we will have forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9). Here is grace, as we can be forgiven and made right with God. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9). We are not required to produce any works to be saved (Rom 4:4-5). None whatsoever. No works before, during, or after salvation, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28). Our forgiveness of sins and eternal life are a free gift from God to us, paid in full by the Lord Jesus. We are helpless to save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10), and we come with the empty hands of faith, offering nothing, only receiving the free gift that God offers to us. Once we are saved, good works should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), but they are NEVER the condition of it. Good works that follow salvation earn us rewards in heaven; but heaven itself is the blessing that comes to us by grace, and this blessing to us is the work of Christ alone.

The CrossThe good news of the gospel is that Jesus died for everyone (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), which means everyone is savable. That’s unlimited atonement. But, though Christ died for everyone, the benefit of salvation is given only to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior. These are the elect. The gospel message is simple, even a child can understand it and be saved. If you’ve not trusted in Jesus as Savior, then I “beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). Turn to Christ as your Savior, believing He died for your sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day. And no matter what your past sins may be, no matter how many or egregious, God will forgive you (Eph 1:7), give you eternal life (John 10:28), and bless you with a portfolio of spiritual assets (Eph 1:3) that will open for you the most wonderful life you can have in this world; a life in relationship with God. And this all starts when you simply believe in Christ as your Savior. This is the most important decision you can make in your life, for it determines both the quality of life you have in this world, as well as your eternal destiny afterwards.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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A Role Model for Believers

There’s a wonderful passage in the book of Ezra that tells us something about this righteous man that God used to bless others. We learn, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The Hebrew verb כּוּן kun, translated set, means “to prepare, make ready…to erect, set up…determine, to fix something.”[1] Other translations render the verb as determined (CSB), dedicated (NET), and devoted (NIV). This determination speaks of an inward decision by Ezra to do three things: 1) to study the law of the LORD, 2) to practice it, and 3) to teach it to others. Laney states, “The order is significant. A person cannot practice what he has not thoroughly studied; and he should not teach principles he has not carefully applied.”[2]

As a priest, Ezra was modeling God’s intention for him, “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal 2:7). There is direct relevance for us as Christians, for Jesus “has made us to be a kingdom, to serve as priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6). Righteousness is a choice to learn God’s Word, to live God’s Word, and to instruct others to do the same.

Bible With PenLearn God’s Word. First, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD.” To study the law of the LORD is simply to study His written Word. This kind of devotion and study lasts a lifetime, for one cannot adequately grasp God’s Word in a few lessons. A devoted life of studying God’s Word was held by others in the Old Testament. David writes of the godly person, whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law, he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). And the benefit of such activity is that the dedicated person “will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). Another psalmist wrote, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psa 119:97). Paul told Timothy, “Study to shew yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 KJV). A little further on in his letter, Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Walking with GodLive God’s Word. Second, Ezra sought “to practice” what he’d learned from God’s Word. There’s an axiom that we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. Of course, it is possible to study God’s Word and never apply it. This is why James wrote, saying, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jam 1:22). Biblical wisdom is the application of God’s Word to everyday life. Jesus communicated this, saying, “everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). Learning and doing. That’s the order. Warren Wiersbe writes, “If our knowledge of the truth doesn’t result in obedience, then we end up with a big head instead of a burning heart (1 Cor 8:1; Luke 24:32); and truth becomes a toy to play with, not a tool to build with. Instead of building our Christian character, we only deceive ourselves and try to deceive others (1 John 1:5–10).”[3]

Sharing God's WordShare God’s Word. Ezra went a third step, as he sought “to teach” other believers how to live the truth of God’s Word. If the next generation of believers are to be effective, they need to know God’s Word and how to live it. This was true in Ezra’s day, and it’s certainly true in ours. But such biblical communication should not be limited to the church pulpit or seminary classroom. Sharing God’s Word should be something practiced by all growing Christians. What’s interesting is that that apostle Paul built on what Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him in the home. Paul said to Timothy, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well…and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).

In closing, may we all model this simple formula for godliness and success, diligently studying the Scriptures, applying what we learn as we grow, and sharing that knowledge with others. This is what Paul hoped Timothy would do, as he encouraged him to “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim 1:13-14). Not only was Timothy to retain and guard the treasure of God’s Word in his heart, but he was to pass it on to others, as Paul stated, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 465.

[2] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 169.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Heroic, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1997), 38–39.