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Salvation and the Mission of God: Derek Thomas Part 2

In part two of his thoughts on salvation, Dr. Derek Thomas looks at the atonement, evangelism, and cooperation.
Salvation and the Mission of God: Derek Thomas Part 2

Atonement and Mission

Without calling into question the infinite value, or power of the death of Christ, logical and theological considerations would suggest that a connection exists between what Christ achieved on the cross and what Christ eternally secures on behalf of those for whom he died. If substitution is to maintain its meaning, those for whom Christ offered himself as a substitute will be saved. The alternative is either to deny the doctrine of substitution, or the effectiveness of his substitution. In the case of the latter, Christ pays the penalty for sin, but sin remains credited to the damned, thus raising the problem of “double justice.”

What do the words “redemption” or “reconciliation” mean if not that every sin has been dealt with in full? This could lead to universalism – clearly, the Bible does not teach this. Passages such as Matt. 25:41-46, Rev. 20:11-15, to cite but two, imply that hell is not empty. Another possible solution would be to infer that Christ died hypothetically for everyone (making salvation possible but not guaranteed), but requires faith and repentance on our part to ensure its effectiveness. But this can only be maintained if one argues that Christ died for every sin except the sin of unbelief on the part of Adam’s children. On this consideration, none would actually be saved. There is a logical and theological connection therefore between:

  • The extent of the atonement and the meaning of the atonement.
  • The extent of the atonement and actual guarantees that one draws from the atonement.

My assurance of final glorification is not ultimately based on my faith or my perseverance, but on the finished work of Christ.

What ultimately brings comfort that the one who is justified will eventually be glorified is an understanding of what the death of Christ means – not merely a possible salvation, but a guaranteed one.

None of this prevents an “offer” of the gospel to “all” that is genuine. The clarion call that concludes Scripture is telling: “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). To cite John Murray from his work Redemption: Accomplished and Applied:

“In the warrant of faith the rich mercy of God is proffered to the lost and the promise of grace is certified by the veracity and faithfulness of God. This is the ground upon which a lost sinner may commit himself to Christ in full confidence that he will be saved. And no sinner to whom the gospel comes is excluded from the divine arrant for such confidence.”

Salvation and Evangelism

There are many considerations that affect how one does evangelism, not least the understanding of such questions as the nature of those being evangelized, and the goal to which evangelism ultimately aims. If, for example, one believes that the unconverted have what is generally called “free will” (as opposed to “free agency”), evangelism may exhibit all kinds of “pressure” designed to “force” the will in a certain direction. If, for example, one believes in an order which places faith and repentance before regeneration (as in a classical Arminian theology), all the emphasis will inevitably focus upon inducing faith in some way – emotionally or physically.

But the natural man, the man “in Adam,” is depraved – sinful in every aspect of his humanity. He is unable to change that nature. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). Not only can he not change his nature, he does not want to change it: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

What, then, is the point in evangelism? From the sinner’s point of view, it is to bring him to an end of himself, so that his trust will rest entirely on the Lord’s willingness and ability to save and not in some native power of his own. From the point of view of the evangelist, it is to underline God’s sovereignty in calling – a calling that is effectual (to employ Augustine’s term). Classically, this is expressed by the Westminster Confession of Faith this way:

“All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ: enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”

Those whom God foreknew (set his affection upon in eternity), and those whom the predestined he also calls (Rom. 8:29) – calls into an existential union with Christ. Calls into an expression of faith and repentance. Without such an effectual calling, sinners could not come to Christ. They are unable to respond. They are dead – not merely sick, but dead (Eph. 2:1, 5). No one can come, except the Father draws him (John. 6:44). All that the Father has elected shall come unto Him, because of the drawing power of the Holy Spirit (John 6:37, 63-65). It is of the greatest comfort to the evangelist, who knows that men are unable to receive the Gospel he is preaching, that the One who is truly at work in bringing sinners to life and salvation is God – God in sovereign majesty and intent.

Compromise and Cooperation

The Bible distinguishes between doctrines of first and second importance – “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). There are primary, secondary and tertiary truths. All truth is truth. It is not that Paul is suggesting secondary and tertiary things are not true. But there is an order, a priority. Whether or not I believe Paul may be referring to a hat when he mentions head covering in 1 Corinthians 11:6 (he is not!), is of no great consequence. Actually, it isn’t at all clear to me what Paul is referring to here, even though I believe it to be true – inerrant, in fact.

The question, I think is asked in relationship to differing views of the order of salvation. To compromise involves several factors. For example, to violate one’s conscience is never right (even though one’s conscience often needs instructing; cf. 1 Cor. 8:12). “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin: (Rom. 14:23).

Partnership Amidst Disagreement

These are very difficult questions to answer in general terms. It all depends on a number of factors. Christians who are “intellectually” committed to a certain theological formulation are sometimes inconsistent in practice. On moral issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, eugenics etc.) Christians can cooperate easily enough – indeed, I would go further and cooperate with those who maintain a residue of Judeo-Christian ethics on such matters.

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Salvation and the Mission of God: Derek Thomas Part 2