In his recent post, The Felt Need Of Salvation That Drives Many To Seek A Savior, John Jeremiah Edminster opened a subject that is replete with contradiction. If you browse the shelves of bookstores or look on the internet, you will find a widely varying body of theologies purporting to be supported by cited scripture, the texts of which often have little or no connection to their argument.
One of the most used portions of scripture is from Romans 3:10-18, quoted below.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. [Psalms 14:3] Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; [Psalms 5:9] the poison of asps is under their lips [Psalms 140:3]: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness [Psalms 10:7]: Their feet are swift to shed blood [Proverbs 1:16]: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known [Isaiah 59:7-8]: There is no fear of God before their eyes [Psalms 36:1].
This scripture contains phrases that Paul pulled from various portions of the old testament [see my bracketed citations] to make his point that mankind can only find righteousness in a dynamic relationship with Jesus, the Christ. Often this Romans 3 passage is used to establish the doctrine of the total depravity of humans, but it will not serve their purpose. If you look at all the passages Paul quotes, they all are used to distinguish the righteous from the unrighteous. Take, for example, the passage from Psalms 14. It begins with the statement that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God.'” It continues with the description of the fool’s condition. Then we come to this: “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD. There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.” (verses 4-5) If, as some contend, there are no righteous people, then the psalmist could not have referred to the wicked eating the Lord’s people nor God being in the generation of the righteous.
Paul’s point has nothing to do with depravity or degeneration. Rather it is a fundamental statement concerning humanity. Righteousness is, always has been, and always will be a condition dependent upon hearing and following the voice of our creator. The fool who says in his heart, “There is no God,” is the one who behaves independent of or indifferent to this relationship of dialog regardless of what professions come out of the mouth.
Our idea of salvation depends upon our concept of what we need to be saved from. So our first task must be to define humanity’s overarching problem. Then we can understand God’s solution. Another often quoted text comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus…Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience…But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Eph. 1:15-2:6)
First, note the malady Paul names: “who were dead in trespasses and sins…ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Humanity’s problem is that we are dead because we walked according to the course of this world according to the price of the power of the air. Much of what you hear and read from Christianity focuses on Christ being able to pardon our sins. But our problem is that we are dead and a posthumous pardon will not make us alive.
What is the solution to which Paul pointed the Ephesians? Through the mighty power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection we are quickened (made alive). Then comes this parenthetical phrase “by grace ye are saved.” This phrase is bandied about quite a lot, but what does it mean? Many places state that grace is God’s unmerited favor. But according to Strong’s Greek dictionary that phrase should read “by the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life, ye are saved.” The “exceeding greatness of his power” is this divine influence we encounter in the heart. That divine influence comes by the power of Christ Jesus’ resurrection. When we were dead in sin, Christ entered into death, overcame him who had the power of death, and preached deliverance to us captives of death. Those who receive his reproofs and guidance are quickened together with Christ, for by his influence upon our heart we are saved. We are raised up together with Christ and made to sit with him in heavenly places. This is Paul’s prescription of salvation to the Ephesians.
Consider Paul’s statement to Titus:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
Again Paul brings us to this divine influence upon the heart that is reflected in life which brings salvation to all who will hear and follow its teaching.
So the question comes, and this is one of the most important questions one can ask: How are we to encounter this divine influence upon the heart?