Let’s start by trying to keep clear two different concepts. First of all, the Bible teaches that it is not anything that we “do” which saves us, but what we believe in respect to Jesus Christ. This believing in Jesus as our Personal Savior is what initiates or starts a personal relationship with God.
I would see outline the plan of salvation which I use constantly in witnessing as the following:
I. Recognition that you are a sinner.
II. Repentance from your sins (abandonment to turn to the will of God).
III. Faith in Jesus Christ.
IV. Public Confession of Jesus as your Savior.
Here I would subdivide III. Faith in Jesus Christ as follows:
1. Salvation is by grace and mercy, not of works, and it is obtained through the means of faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Belief that Jesus is the only Savior.
3. Belief that Jesus died on the cross to pay your sins.
4. Belief that Jesus is God incarnate.
Let me defend IV. Public Confession for a minute. God does not save if you are not willing to publicly acknowledge Christ as the hope of your salvation. I deal with this more in Identification with Christ.
Let’s get this straight before there are accusations that I am teaching a works salvation. I am not. Faith must have or produce works, or that faith is fraudulent.
John 15:1-2 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
John 15:4-6 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
Again a very difficult passage, but the gist of this passage is simply that if you are “in Christ” or “abiding in Christ”, then you will produce spiritual fruit (evidence) of this abiding or being in Christ (being part of the spiritual body of Christ). The ideas of purging, and being cast into the fire so that they are burned are obvious allusions to hell punishment.
How do you understand this principle? I understand this principle that all true faith will always, 100% of the time, produce evidence or fruit that is quantifiable (fruit, beareth not fruit, more fruit, much fruit).
There is an error in Christianity which is an over reaction against groups that teach works salvation. They take the “no works in order to be saved” (which is biblical) to say that works are not important ever. Our salvation begins at some point, but it continues after we are saved. Once saved, works are very essential and integral to our salvation, and are very much commanded and sought after by God. The key here is that works before salvation is not a means of getting saved, but works after salvation is a key byproduct of salvation.
Salvation depends on faith not election
I know that this statement will probably bring the ire of many a Calvinist down on me, but the truth is the truth. Calvinism is a great bane on Christianity, and it is rank heresy. Calvinism in its most developed form takes away all participation of the human individual. A general overview of the Bible finds hundreds of interactions between man and God, in which God exhorts, pleads, commands, etc human beings to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus into order to be saved.
Calvinism teaches “total depravity” which is not really total depravity at all, but total inability, a totally different concept. Man is sinful, and there is not anything “good” (of moral worth and value before God). This is a true Bible teaching. But this is not the same as that a man has no participation in salvation which is where advanced Calvinism takes all who would walk with it.
The Bible places salvation squarely at the individual’s feet. If he will respond to God’s call, he would be saved. The decision is left to the individual. God provides salvation, but the individual has to respond of his own desire, or there will be no salvation.