Salvation…what sort of mental images does that word bring to bear? We Christians pride ourselves on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of salvation, but what is meant by that one word? What are we being saved from? Why do we believe others need saving?
These questions and many more are vitally important to the Christian faith and message. The term salvation is theologically rich in biblically defined categories. It speaks of atonement, deliverance, redemption, being ransomed, being redeemed, being adopted, etc.
Why do I need atoned for—i.e. what needs covering? What am I being delivered from—i.e. what am I being set free from? From who or what am I being ransomed—i.e. what price needed paid for my life? What am I being redeemed from—i.e. where am I taken from and given to? Why do I need to be adopted—i.e. why was I fatherless/who has become my father? Etc., etc. etc.
Now I do not have a long time to help you become acquainted with seeing the importance of these subjects, nor the implications that are specifically tied to them, but when Christians speak of salvation through/in Jesus Christ these categories (and more) are all simultaneously being assumed/conveyed.
Ultimately, salvation speaks of deliverance. When a person is saved, they are delivered from slavery to sin, having had their sins covered, for the ransom price has been paid (life-for-life) in order to redeem them from their dead status as orphans alienated from the Life of God. Salvation is not a singular work of Jesus, but the triune effort of the one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This is how that predetermined plan was carried out in history (it was predetermined, because it was something God decided before the beginning of creation; cf. Eph 1.4):
- The Father sent the Son into the world to die for those whom He was giving to the Son…He continually draws those individuals in history to Jesus.
- The Son, in perfect obedience to the Father in the power of the Spirit—willingly laid down His life for the people He came to save by becoming a substitute for them, paying the just punishment for their sin on the cross. His resurrection being a sign/a promise that He would do for His own what He did for himself—life after physical death; eternally.
- The Spirit is sent by Father and Son to glorify the Son by regenerating those for whom the Son died. Whoever the Father draws to the Son, whoever the Father and Son reveal the truth to—this work is done by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gives life, where life did not formerly exist. He grants to those chosen by God an inheritance as children of the Most High through the new-birth.[i]
For the most part, Christians will find agreement with these biblical truths. The gospel of God is that He provided life everlasting for those who were counted as His enemies. Unless one believes with their heart, and confesses with the mouth they will not be saved (Rom 10.10). Believe what? That Jesus is the Christ whom God raised from the grave. Confess what? That Jesus is Lord over all (cf. Rom 10.9; for both q/a).
- “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Rom 10.11; cf. Jer 17.7; Isa 28.16).[ii]
Jesus as the Christ has been identified as Lord and Savior, there is salvation in no other name (cf. Acts 4.12; Psa 79.9). He is not a new god, nor the god of the New Testament alone, but he is Yahweh in the flesh (cf. Heb 1.3). There are several indicators of this reality given in the New Covenant which necessarily find their root in the Old Covenant. To some this is a confusing reality, but the confusion is not because the Scriptures are unclear. The confusion stems from either accidental or willful ignorance of what all the Bible teaches. Jesus is Lord and Savior, He is God in the flesh, and salvation is found in no one else:
- “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa 43.11).
And yet we read,
- “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12.37-38).
The apostle John explains to his reader that though Jesus had performed many signs (gave much evidence) that He was in fact Lord and Savior, the people who witnessed such things “still did not believe” (v. 37). John says that this was to fulfill what was written by the prophet Isaiah. The reference to “arm of the Lord” ought to catch our attention, for that is an expression of speech that speaks of the “power of God” (cf. Rom 1.16; 1Cor 1.18; 1Thess 1.5).
The Lord’s apostle continues explaining to his readers an important point that is often overlooked by many well-intentioned Christians:
- “Therefore, they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12.39-41).
First, notice that in applying Isaiah’s prophecy John gives the reason for the unbelief. Since the arm of the Lord had evidently not been revealed to those whom Jesus performed the signs to—i.e. God’s power had not been granted to them who witnessed such things—belief was impossible.
I will say that again just in case you have something blocking your field of vision. Maybe you glazed over the text too quickly, or the phone rang, or you started dozing because I’m a bit boring. The apostle John says the people who were witnesses of Jesus ministry failed to believe, because “they could not.” In other words, they did not have the ability. Not my words, but the beloved disciple’s.
Second, he emphasizes what he said in verse 38. Evidently, “the arm of the Lord [had not] been revealed” since the people failed to believe in Jesus. John reiterates this point in verse 40 by stating that this was a fulfillment of what God had spoken through Isaiah formerly: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart…” (John 12.40a).
Where have we seen such language before? I mean besides Isaiah? Did we not see this during Moses ministry as well? How many times are we told that Pharaoh could not believe because the Lord had hardened his heart? Some squirm at such statements, but if we read through Exodus, we see that at the beginning of Moses ministry in Egypt God promised that Pharaoh would not listen (despite all of the evidences), because the Lord hardened his heart (cf. Exod 4.21; Rom 9.17).
The “he” that John refers to is God. He is the one that refused to allow those people to believe. Their eyes remain blind and their hearts hard, lest they “understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them” (John 12.40b). Oh, but Jesus would never do such a thing. He’s too loving, too kind. He most certainly is, but He does make distinctions between those who are His and those who are not.
“Where does He do this?” you ask. He does this several times throughout His earthly ministry, but I will give you one example to prove my point:
- “All things have been given to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him” (Luke 10.22; NET).
Back to John 12:41 for just a moment.
Jesus reserves the right to show mercy on whom He will show mercy. He does not owe “mercy” to anyone, nor is He required to pour out on everyone the grace to believe. John explains to his readers that when Isaiah spoke the things that he did (cf. Isa 6 for context), it was Jesus and His glory that he saw seated on the throne in heaven. Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh, and Jesus is responsible for the giving or not giving of the ability to believe. He reserves the right to grant salvation to whomever He pleases.
You may wonder, “Why are you discussing such things now? Are you one of those ‘cage-staged Calvinists?’” Uhm…no, I’m not.
What I find is that non-Calvinists are often highly offended of what Reformed theology holds to be true, as a result from studying/exegeting Scripture. In fact, if you were to look in to the history of the T.U.L.I.P. for which Calvinism is most popularly identified with, you will find that we did not pick the fight; rather, the Remonstrant’s did. The followers of Jacob Arminius picked the fight and lost at the Synod of Dort. The fight continues to this day because Arminian’s of all stripes (including Traditionalists, though they deny that affiliation) are so irritated by Reformed soteriology.
While, I believe my Arminian brothers are in fact brothers in the Lord[iii], I also have no problem answering their criticisms. One day those intermural debates will be unnecessary, but while we remain in the flesh wrestling with the biblical text and its meaning is of utmost importance to those in the faith. So, I think in the posts to come I will deal with some of the major points of contention as I understand them. Leaving open an opportunity for dialogue.
Next up: A Brief Discussion on what it means to “receive” something…?
[i] These three points are not meant to be exhaustive in describing the work of the Trinity on the subject of salvation. This is a rough overview, as was the brief definition of salvation. More could be added and has been added by those much wiser than myself.
[ii] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
[iii] Unfortunately, while I have maintained this position since moving into Reformed theology, there have been many that have ostracized me for my convictions. Rather than hearing an explanation, they prefer to accept various false characterizations and epithets that have been popularly proposed against Reformed thought.