God's Eternal Plan of Salvation
The scriptures plainly teach that God is not man, not an evolved man, and does not think as man (Gen. 1: 1ff.; Job 38: 4ff.; Isa. 55: 8, 9). I say this to point out that the only way in which man may anticipate the future is by the past. However, God has no such limitation. Of God it is said:
"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa. 46: 9, 10).
God's plan for saving man in Christ is not an after thought, but forethought. Some have the faulty idea of God that he planned matters pertaining to man's salvation as He went along. Not so. God's plan of salvation for man is eternal, if you will, in its inception and conception. Paul wrote to the Ephesians of the "dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you ward" (Eph. 3: 2). The particular grace to which Paul alludes is the matter of the acceptance of the Gentiles (vs. 4, 5). Paul explained, "That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (vs. 6). In this vein, Paul is speaking of salvation. All men would be saved in Christ by the gospel (Eph. 3: 1-10). How and when was this plan conceived? Hear the answer: "According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vs. 11). This "eternal purpose" (prothesin ton aionon, purpose of the ages) was in God's man from the beginning. Hence, man's salvation is a plan in every sense of the word. The prophets of old knew of this salvation and that it was associated with Christ of whom they prophesied (I Pet. 1: 10-12). Hence, the matter of salvation in Christ preceded Jesus' actual coming, death, and resurrection.
Paul wrote again to the Ephesians in the frame of reference of salvation and stated thus: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love" (Eph. 1: 4, cp. 3). Some have tried in various ways to weaken the expression "before the foundation of the world" (pro kataboles kosmou). I understand that "world" (kosmos) can mean different things, including simply order or arrangement. However, the obvious meaning of kosmos in Ephesians 1: 4 is world or the earth itself. (cp. Jn. 21: 25). Paul said to the Greek philosophers who were familiar with kosmos (world) that "God that made the world and all things therein " (Acts 17: 24). Ultimate salvation will be in the upper and everlasting Kingdom of heaven. Regarding such salvation, Jesus will say to the faithful on the Judgment Day: " Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25: 34). It is of no surprise, then, that the very first prophecy pertained to salvation, salvation in Christ (Gen. 3: 15). Hence, Genesis 3: 15 prophesied a temporary triumph of Satan (Jesus' death), but a devastating victory on the part of Jesus (Jesus' resurrection). All of this involved the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2: 23, see also Gal. 4: 4).
We now raise the question of what does this eternal salvation consists and exactly what is it? The primary Greek noun translated salvation is soteria (found 45 times in the Greek New Testament). Soteria means, "denotes deliverance, preservation, salvation" (Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Thayer only contributes the "added" thought of "safety" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 612). The concept and state of salvation is viewed in the past, present, and future tenses in the scriptures (Rom. 8: 24, I Cor. 15: 2, Rom. 13: 11).
The salvation that God eternally conceived is associated with Jesus Christ. "And she shall bring forth a son," the angel told Joseph, "and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1: 21). The apostles stressed the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus when they said, "neither is there salvation in any other (Jesus, dm), for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4: 12). Jesus possesses the ability and the authorization to extend salvation to man. Jesus shed his blood for the remission of our sins (salvation, Matt. 26: 28, Heb. 5: 8, 9). The blood of bulls and goats on the sacrificial altars beginning with Adam could not remove the stain and guilt of sin (Heb. 10: 1-4). Jesus' efficacious blood not only provides the mean of salvation today, but it looks back in time (Heb. 9: 15, see chapter 9).
Beloved, salvation is not just a clear conscience (Acts 23: 1, cf. 22: 4, 5), faith only (Jas. 2: 24), good feeling (Acts 26: 9), or joining a church (3 Jn. 9-11). Salvation (soteria) involves deliverance. Deliverance from the bondage of sin (Rom. 8: 16, 17), and from self (Lk. 9: 23). Salvation is preservation in the sense the saved are kept by God (Jn. 3: 16). Safety is an element, if you will, of salvation in that God assists those who are endeavoring to do his will (I Cor. 10: 13). Salvation is a relationship between man (the saved) and God (the source of salvation). The saved are sons and daughters, God is their Father (2 Cor. 6: 17, 18). It is obvious salvation is a state, a state of preservation, deliverance, and relationship (Eph. 2: 1, 4, 5, 6, Jn. 10: 27-29, Jude 24). Salvation is a state which man knows he has obtained because he has done what God has said to do to be saved (I Jn. 5: 13). He is reconciled (made a friend with God (2 Cor. 5), justified (Rom. 5), redeemed (I Pet. 1: 18, 19), and cleansed (Acts 22: 16).
God's eternal plan of salvation, conceived in the mind of God before the creation of the world, is intelligible, universal, and it involves man's humble acceptance and participation. When the plan of salvation was first preached in its fullness, the people understood it and understood it alike (Acts 2: 14-47, Acts 2 is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken by Joel, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved," Joel 2: 32, cp. Acts 2: 16-21, see also Acts 2: 47, KJV). Throughout the Book of Acts, we read how this message of salvation was preached and offered to both Jew and Gentile (Acts 2, 8, 10, 16, 18, etc.). We also read how the people responded in precisely the same way to the message of deliverance. In the first place, they knew that they had to "do something" (Acts 2: 37, 40, 41-47). The conditions and commands of the gospel regarding the enjoyment of this great salvation that the prophets longed to see and understand involved belief, repentance, confession of Jesus' deity, and water baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 3: 36; 38; 8: 37, KJV., see Rom. 10: 9, 10).
Many in the religious world view what we have just seen as a contradiction. Their perceived contradiction lies in the fact that the scriptures teach that man cannot work for or earn salvation and they view belief, repentance, confession, and baptism as works. It is true that man cannot earn salvation (Tit. 3: 5, Rom. 4). How then do we harmonize this matter?
The condemned works that attempt to earn salvation are such that can cause the doer to boast and take pride in what he has done (Eph. 2: 8, 9). They are also such that can cause the performer to think that his perfect performance is the sole result of his perceived salvation (Ibid.). Salvation by grace and meritorious works cancel out one another and are totally incompatible, the apostle Paul taught (Rom. 11: 6). With this criterion in mind, let us briefly examine belief, repentance, confession, and baptism. God has provided the means of man's belief, repentance, confession, and baptism (Rom. 10: 17, Jn. 20: 30, 31; 2 Cor. 7: 8-11; Acts 8: 26-37, KJV; Acts 2: 38, cp. Matt. 26: 28). In what can man boast, then, in the act of saving belief, repentance, confession, and baptism? Each of these God ordained acts reflect on God and Jesus' blood and sacrifice, not on the doer. What glory is there on the part of the man who confesses, "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God"? Or, what human ascendancy rests on the penitent sinner who is baptized to put on Christ (Gal. 3: 26, 27)? What four acts could more fitly give God the glory and remove all circumstance of boasting from man than belief, repentance, confession of Jesus' deity, and water baptism, the very acts that some claim are meritorious? Some say, "these acts are works and must not be presented as conditions of enjoying salvation!" Yes, they are works. Belief, for instance, is expressly said to be "a work." However, these are works of God and not works of man (Jn. 6: 29). Those who want to refuse these terms of pardon must, to be consistent, teach universal salvation. However, only a few shall be saved (Matt. 7: 21-23). "We believe faith is required, but not repentance, confession, and especially baptism," some state. Beloved, who provides these people with the right to choose and reject at random? Others are heard saying, "we accept belief and repentance, but we do not believe confession and especially baptism are essential." Again, on what and whose authority do these people and creeds make such a statement?
Belief sets the stage by putting in place the needed mental acceptance and trust in the Creator and Lord, repentance changes the mind, will, and precipitates the change of life; confession states to others one's belief that Jesus is God's Son and is a vow to serve him; and baptism officially puts off the old man and puts on the new man, washing and remitting all the old sins (Heb. 11: 1, 4; Matt. 21: 29, KJV.; Matt. 10: 32, 33; Rom. 6, Acts 2: 38, 22: 16).
God's eternal plan of salvation, what a profound and wonderful thought and consideration! Based on all that God has done and the sacrifice of Jesus, let us not "neglect so great salvation" (Heb. 2: 1-3). You and I can presently enjoy the salvation of our sins and anticipate the ultimate salvation in heaven (I Pet. 1: 3-5). "Now is the accepted time," Paul wrote, "behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6: 2). (Complimentary articles to read are, "The Plan of Salvation, Negatively Viewed," "Case Studies of Salvation," and, "What Must I Do To Be Saved?")