What Every Christian Must Know about Salvation

Volume 29, Issue 8, October 2023

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel

In the “State of Theology 2022” survey, one of the statements was, “God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.” Fifty-seven percent of evangelicals agreed, meaning almost half disagree or are not sure. This is very confusing, given that one of the four marks of an evangelical is that “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.” Another mark is that “only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” And yet, forty-three percent of evangelicals on the survey are unsure that this is true. What do we make of this discrepancy? At the very least, many people who view themselves as Christians are either confused or ignorant of what it means to be a Christian or how someone becomes one. This is due to either bad teaching in churches or just not paying attention when the gospel is being explained.

If you had to write down what a person needs to know to be saved, what would you list? Is it possible that you have heard the good news hundreds of times, but did not pay close attention? Most of us are not good listeners. I normally preach expository sermons—meaning explaining and applying a text of Scripture—but such sermons are of little value if few are expository listeners (I have a book by that title). How many wives have informed their husbands of some event they need to attend the next day only to have their men deny they knew anything about it when the time of the event arrives. The problem arises not because the information has not been given but because it was ignored. Such communication dynamics lead to conflicts and misunderstandings, which is too bad.

When it comes to the gospel, to ignore the message is not too bad, it is tragic because there is probably nothing more important for us to understand than the truth about salvation. Not only does this affect every aspect of our present lives, but our eternal destiny hangs in the balance as well. What is it that we must know about salvation? Let’s pinpoint the essentials—things that everyone must understand about salvation.

The Message of Salvation (2 Timothy 1:8-10)

We will start with what is commonly called the gospel or the good news about the content of salvation. In one of the greatest but often overlooked explanations of the gospel in all the Scriptures, the apostle Paul lays out for Timothy the accomplishments of Christ through means of His cross-work on our behalf.

He Saved Us (vv. 8-10a)

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus.

To say Christ has saved us implies that we needed to be rescued. In the last article, we saw why rescue is needed—because we are hopelessly lost in our sins, ruined by sin, and even dead in sin. When people see themselves in this pitiful, miserable condition, they know they need to be delivered. During almost any natural disaster, such as a hurricane, even though the officials have called for evacuations, some people ignore this call and try to tough it out. A day or two later, it is these same people who now need to be pulled from danger. It wasn’t until they saw their desperate need that they reached out for or accepted help. The vast majority of people do not come to Christ simply because they do not see the need. “Rescued from what?” they ask. And if worse comes to worst, they have confidence that they can rescue themselves in need be. It is not until water has surrounded their house and they are sitting on their roof that some experiencing a flood recognize their plight. And it is only when sinners recognize that they are hopelessly lost in their sins that they ever call out for salvation. We must never forget that the Lord has delivered us from the worst of all perils and granted us the greatest of all blessings. 

In Michael Horton’s book The Gospel-Driven Life, he reminds us that the heart of most religions is good advice; but at the heart of Christianity is good news.[1] It is the good news of Christ’s rescue plan for sinners like us. It is what He has done for us, not what we have done for Him that matters. Paul further describes our salvation as a result of a divine calling. None of us would be saved if the Lord had not drawn us to Himself (John 6:37, 44). Why? Because left to ourselves, none of us seek God, as we saw last time from Romans 3:11. This calling is further defined as holy. It is holy in the sense that the One who calls is holy, and it is holy in the sense that the called are called to holiness. Salvation is not a “get out of jail (hell) free card”; it is a call to a radically new way of life.

In order to understand this salvation and calling from Christ, it is absolutely necessary that we line up four theological truths (vv. 9):

Salvation is devoid of any human merit. The average professing Christian believes that salvation is the result of Christ’s efforts coupled with their own (43% of evangelicals according to the survey). When I ask people why they think they are Christians, many respond by saying they try to be good and treat others well; that they went forward at camp or VBS when they were eight, or were baptized on such and such date. But the gospel message is that it is God who saves us, totally apart from any works or any contribution on our part. Those giving the above answers do not understand the first two elements of the gospel: that they are hopelessly lost in their sins and that there is nothing they can do about it. Therefore, salvation must be purely a gift from God received by faith.

Salvation is according to God’s purpose. It must ever be realized that salvation is according to the purpose and plan of God. It was no afterthought, developed in a hurry due to the Fall. From all eternity, God had in His mind a plan to rescue the lost. It is not a plan that we would have devised or even considered, but it is God’s plan, and it is perfect.

Salvation is according to God’s grace. The word “purpose” tells us that God had a plan; the word “grace” tells us God’s attitude and motive. Purpose tells us what; grace tells us why. When we couple grace with our own inability, it is very humbling. Every manmade religion gives us credit for our possible contribution to salvation; God gives us none. We are without merit; we can offer no contribution; we are hopelessly lost in our sins. So, what can we do? We can only receive the gift offered by God’s grace. (v. 9b). Carl Trueman writes, “Sin is violent, lethal rebellion against God, and biblical grace is God’s violent, raw, and bloody response.”[2]

Salvation is revealed by the coming of Christ (v. 10a). Only Paul uses this Greek word for “appearing”(epiphaneias) in the NT, which refers to the coming of Christ. Philip Tower explains that “the point is that…what was conceived prior to creation—the plan to save people—was executed at a point in history in which the grace of God became manifest in history in Christ.”[3] In other words, Jesus had to come. The uniqueness of Christianity is that it is historical. It is not merely a faith wrapped around concepts and philosophy and spiritual issues. It is not merely a program full of principles to help us become better and happier people. It is the true story of how God became Man so that sinful, lost, hopeless, blind, and enslaved people can become the children of God.

In Michael Horton’s prequel to The Gospel-Driven Life, entitled Christless Christianity, he accuses the evangelical church of creating a religion devoid of Christ. Many of our churches and many Christians could function pretty much the same as they do now if Christ had never been born, he claims. But that is not true of Christianity which is all wrapped around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God at a historical point in time to free us from sin and reconcile us to God. This is the real Good News that often gets lost in the details of living and even ministry. It is all about Christ—who He is and what He has done. And speaking of what He has done, we move to His second accomplishment on our behalf.

The Result of Salvation (v. 10b)

First, we read that Christ abolished death. One of the great themes of the New Testament is that Christ has come to abolish, do away with, and render inoperative all the enemies that have crippled, polluted, and ruined mankind: sin, Satan, and death. Death, we are told, is the wages of sin (Romans 3:23). Because of sin, we were born spiritually dead; we will die physically; and we are destined to eternal death—separation from God forever. Death obviously has not yet disappeared, but the seeds for its destruction are in place. For now, it no longer has the power to hold God’s people in fear. One of the most revealing factors of any religion is its attitude toward death. Several years ago, an elderly member of our church was dying. As I started to leave his hospital room for the last time, he grabbed my shirt, drew me near his face, and cried like a baby. He was gravely afraid of death. This man had shown little evidence of regeneration in the years that I had known him, so I explained to him one last time the Good News of eternal life. A few years later a similar scenario was repeated with another dying man. But this time, my friend did not cry. He assured me that he did not fear death, for he knew his Savior would usher him into glory. What a difference assurance of salvation makes.

Secondly, Christ brought life and immortality to light (1:10c). Not only did Christ abolish death, but He has revealed life. Life and immortality are most likely synonymous, with immortality describing the eternal and incorruptible life that is ours in Christ. The Old Testament provided little insight about life beyond the grave, but Jesus turned on the floodlights so that we see far more clearly the life that lies in our future. Yet, sadly, it is all too easy to grow apathetic toward all we have been given in Christ. Nothing seems wonderful when you get used to it.

The Gospel in Four Words

If you had to write down what a person needs to know to be saved, could you do it? If not, below, in simple terms is a presentation of the gospel wrapped around four words:

  1. God: God is our holy Creator and righteous Judge. He created us to glorify Him (Isaiah 6:3; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
  2. Mankind: Mankind has rebelled against this holy God by sinning against Him and thus live in defiance of Him (Romans 1:18; 3:23; 5:6-12).
  3. Christ: The Son of God became a man to die in our place. Christ bore God’s wrath that we deserved, for us (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
  4. Response: Mankind must turn from their sins to Christ (repent) for forgiveness, by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This understanding of the gospel is well summarized in Ephesians 2:1-10:

  1. Man (2:1-3): lost in sin, hopeless, living in rebellion against God.
  2. God (2:4-5): “But God” showed mercy to us.
  3. Christ (2:6-7): we have been united with Christ.
  4. Response (2:8-9): by faith alone. The result should be a changed life (2:10).

I saw an advertisement on the side of a plumber’s van in South Africa, “There is no place too deep, too dark, or too dirty for us to handle.” I immediately thought, and there is no sin or sinner too deep, too dark, or too dirty for Christ to handle. What a wonderful illustration of the gospel.

False Gospel Messages

For clarity and contrast, we should mention a few of the false gospel messages that are popular today that cannot save. Sadly, these are commonly found within Christian circles. The first is the works-based gospel—we have already exposed this one. The second is the prosperity gospel, which teaches that by coming to Christ, all of our greatest worldly longings will be met. We will be healthy, successful, wealthy, and all of our assorted troubles will vanish. Many have placed their faith in such a message but the result is that they fail to understand the true gospel. The third false gospel is the “repentless” gospel, which teaches that we can turn to Christ without turning from sin and that we can trust in the Lord while still clinging to our idols. We have to be careful here not to say that we must first clean up our lives before we place our faith in Christ; that would be another form of works-salvation. But no one can come to Christ by faith who does not turn from their idol of sin by faith.

What Happens at the Moment of Our Salvation?

Among other things, when we turn to Christ by faith, we are redeemed (“knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from you forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ”– 1 Peter 1:18-19; and “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” – Mark 10:45). Redemption can be defined as the act of God whereby He paid as a ransom the price of human sin and purchased sinners to Himself through the death of Christ. When George Whitefield was asked, “Why do you preach so often that you must be born again?” His reply was simple, “Because you must be born again.”[4] He nailed it. Three New Testament words comprise the idea of redemption. Agarazo means marketplace (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); exagarazo means to buy out of the marketplace (Galatians 4:5); and lutroo means to set free. The Lord found us in the marketplace of sin; He purchased us with His blood; brought us out of the marketplace of sin; and He set us free to serve Him. Such is the story of redemption.

Another thing that happens at the moment of salvation is reconciliation (Romans 5:10-11). Before salvation, we were separated from God and were His enemies. Now, we have been brought near to Him and are not only His friend but in His family. In addition, we were justified, or “declared righteous” (Romans 3:24); regenerated, or made into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17); receive heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20); and become part of a new family—we become the children of God (John 1:12).

Conclusion

John Newton, at the end of his life, summarized beautifully what we need to know about salvation. He said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.”[5]


[1] Michael Horton, The Gospel Driven Life, Being Good News, People in a Bad New World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), p. 20.

[2] Carl Trueman, Grace Alone, Salvation as a Gift of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), p. 31.

[3] Philip H Tower, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, (NICNT) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2006), p. 470.

[4] As quoted in Stephen F. Olford, Not I But Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1995), p. 138.

[5] As quoted in Christian History, Vol. X #3, p. 21.

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