How God Saves Us

In the days before the Flood of Noah, God warned the world's vast civilization that judgment would come within 120 years. (Genesis 6:3, 5-7). Noah and his three sons--all of whom knew and followed Yahweh--were asked to build a great boat by means of which men and animals could be saved from a great deluge--water would cover the entire earth (1, 2). Noah is called in the New Testament "a preacher (3) of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5). Noah did more than build a boat--he was the world-wide, coast-to-coast evangelist of his day. He had a full century to beg and plead with all of mankind that they should turn to God and seek the refuge of the ark. No doubt Crazy Noah was the object of much scorn and ridicule as he built his huge boat, on dry land, far from water, in a land where it never rained. Yet subsequent events proved that God "says what he means and means what he says." The Flood came--many billions of people died (4) but eight were safe inside the great waterproofed container. From within the Ark God had called men to enter and then God Himself shut the door--from the inside. For a whole year, the ark was tossed about in the stormy seas--all inside stayed safe, dry and warm. The ark was casket-shaped, in fact the Egyptian word for the ark, db't means coffin.

Indeed, the waters of judgment did come upon the earth, a whole vast "world civilization" was destroyed some four or five thousand years ago--but four men and four women, and representative pairs of all the animals survived. (5) They were to repopulate the earth under a fresh new covenant God made with Noah. (Genesis 6-9, 2 Peter 2)

The Ark is a beautiful picture of how saves people who trust in Him. Those who trust God's promises (and act on them) escape judgment and are given a whole new life. In every period of history, under every covenant, God has always saved people on the basis of their faith and trust in Him (and trust in His promises)--apart from works, apart from the Law, apart from any merit, or any self-effort on our part. (6)

I suppose most Christians don't stop to look at the exact details of the many great New Testament statements concerning the great salvation which is offered us now under the present New Covenant we have with God today. One concise statement about being rescued from our lost condition is given to us by the apostle Paul in Romans Chapter 6.

I know that quite a few have missed the point when they write me to argue concerning the necessity for, and the correct mode of water baptism. Romans 6 is not about water baptism. It is about true baptism (for which water baptism is but a symbol) (7) Romans 6:3-10 reads as follows.

"...do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God."

The Greek word baptizo means "to immerse, to place into." In Romans 6 the clear meaning is that when a person becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, he or she is immersed into Christ. We could even say "embedded into Christ." This sounds a bit mystical at first, but it is reality. (We tend to think of events happening in the spiritual realm--such as true baptism--as being less real, more ghostly, than events in our present physical world--but the opposite is true. [8] We are living right now in a world of shadows--ultimate reality will one day break in upon us. [9]) The church is the very body of Christ, Christians are members one of another in the one body of which Christ is the Head. Baptism is the sovereign, supernatural work of the Spirit of God. Before we become Christians we were captive citizens of the fallen world system with Satan as the head--he is the "god of this world," (or "age"). Paul in Colossians says (regarding the work of Jesus), "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed (10) us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." (1:13-14)

In becoming Christians we change kingdoms. One's innermost nature is changed, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Cor. 5:17). We are washed through and through, "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 2:4-7)

A sinner who comes into Christ is both born and adopted into God's family (as an adult son). As "new born ones" we are "sealed with the Holy Spirit" which is a mark of God's ownership and of protection, as well as a down payment from God, guaranteeing that the full process of ongoing salvation will happen in due time. The Christian has powerful help--He is being prayed for constantly by both the indwelling Holy Spirit, and by Jesus Himself, our great high priest (Romans 8).

There is more--much more--all of the sins of the sinner (whether past, present or even future sins) are somehow transferred from the sinner and placed on to Christ the sin-bearer (or scapegoat [11]). This is quite amazing when we think of time and eternity. When Christ actually died on the cross in earth-time (an event which took only six earth-hours), you and I were not even born! But somehow, all our sins--two-thousand years after the fact of the crucifixion--were removed from us and actually placed onto Christ. This is more than a "paper transaction." It is radical change in the here-and-now brought about by the finished work of Christ on the cross which took place two millennia ago. "you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Colossians 2:10-14)

Furthermore, the righteousness of Christ, (the only real righteousness anywhere) is credited to the sinner's account. Each guilty sinner who comes to Christ is pronounced "just," (12) free from sin, innocent before the court of God's justice--all because the full penalty for all his sins has been paid for by Another. This was all possible in the first place because of a prior Trinitarian arrangement made before the foundation of the world. God the Father agreed to send His beloved Son into the world as a perfect man who would be able to bear the full weight of the sins of all mankind. God the Son agreed to obey the Father in this supreme expression of God's love for lost sinners. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:8-10)

God is able to supernaturally remove our sins from us, and transport these very real offenses outside of time back 2000 years where they were given to Jesus on the cross--just as we were right there at the foot of the cross ourselves. (Actually we can think of the cross as an event in eternity which intrudes into our space-time domain for six hours. But please remember that the work on the cross is a finished work! [13]).

"He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Placed into Christ

The important point (which is usually overlooked) in Romans 6 is this: If we are saved by a full and total identification with Christ, at what point in the life of Christ were we actually "placed into" or "baptized into" Christ? One might think this would take place after Jesus had been raised from the dead or after His ascension into heaven. But it is not after His resurrection, not even after His crucifixion--but before both of these events! When we believed in Christ we were placed into Christ while He was still on the way to His crucifixion. This means we are fully identified with Jesus in all three stages of His passion: His death, His burial, and His resurrection. (Of course we are even safer "in Christ," than Noah and his family were inside the Ark. We are in a Person not in a coffin-like boat).

I remember well when I was baptized in water not long after I became a Christian in 1962. That event was my public testimony to the world that the inner baptism of the Spirit had taken place in my life. The pastor who baptized me explained to me that the baptismal tank was like a watery grave. I was agreeing to die with Christ, to be buried with Him by leaving my old life behind, and then I'd be raised with Jesus "to walk in newness of life."

It is quite amazing to me that God is able to save anyone at all! There is nothing at all in our "old life" that can be saved. Our corruption (usually called our "totally depravity") as descendants of Adam is so great we need more than a makeover, a remodeling job, or an engine overhaul. God has to save us sinners by killing us! But He does that in quite a wondrous way! When Christ was nailed to the cross we are also nailed to the cross! Our co-crucifixion with Christ ends forever our old life in Adam. (The fact that we have a perennial hard time believing this is another matter). The totality of what we were stands crucified with Christ--and yet we live. For every Christian, dying on the cross is not an option it is a necessary part of our being saved into newness of life.

This careful look at Romans 6 sheds deeper light on Paul's words in Galatians where the Apostle says, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (2:20-21)

For these reasons, the Christian life has often been called "the exchanged life." Wonderful Christian scholars discover and teach this in every generation. I first learned this "liberating secret" from Norman Grubb and Major Ian Thomas nearly four decades ago. (14)

Becoming a Christian involves a change of administration in the inner and outer kingdoms of the heart--we out from under Pharaoh's dominion and safe under the rule of Jesus the King. Our sins have been taken away forever and can not come up against us again. (Also, charges leveled against us won't stick in God's courtroom. When we slip up, 1 John 1:9 works marvelously well to restore us). God sees us as already whole men and women--"being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Christians also have a new inner power source--resurrection power--something far better than the best dilithium crystals can manage if we were powered by a Star Trek matter-antimatter reactor.

"Resurrection power is like no other power on earth. It is unique, and has no possible rival. It is a power that operates in the midst of death and despair. It operates when the entire world seems, bleak, dead, and barren. It explodes into life and light in the midst of an empty, dark cemetery--for that is where it was first demonstrated. When Jesus Christ was resurrected, He came out from among the dead. So if you learn to live by resurrection power, you can experience life, hope, and vitality when everything and everyone around you is dead, hopeless, and lifeless.

Resurrection power is a "stealth" power--silent and invisible. It makes no sound, it operates below the radar scope of this world. Other forms of power are noisy and obvious--they pound, pulsate, throb, hum, roar, buzz, or explode. But resurrection power is silent. It accomplishes its purpose without ostentation, flash, pizazz, or neon lights. Christians who live by resurrection power don't use it to dazzle others or advertise its affects. That's why the distinguishing marks of Christian character are humility and servant-hood rather than showiness. Genuine Christians demonstrate the reality of resurrection power through the quiet evidence of their lives: love, joy, peace, endurance under hardships, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Resurrection power is irresistible. It cannot be thwarted or turned aside. It takes absolutely no account of any obstacles thrown in its path, except to use them for further opportunities to advance its cause. Resurrection power needs no props or support. It does not borrow from any other source, though it uses other forms of power as its instrument. It does not even require a cup of coffee to get started in the morning! There is absolutely nothing else like it anywhere in the universe." (Ray C. Stedman) (15)

Slaves: One of Two Masters

Still, Christians generally fail to realize how our new nature as free men is designed to operate. We were designed to operate on resurrection power, as just stated. But our very nature--the way we were created in the first place--is to be the servant of another. Before we became Christians this fact eluded us since we were quite "dead in trespasses and sins." "Dead men" don't have a lot of free will! (16) They don't even know they are dead! Paul talks about this in vivid terms in Ephesians 2:

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (2:1-10)

A Christians has only two choices constantly before him: choosing sin which leads to death, or choosing Jesus which leads to life. There is no third choice--such as living by self-effort, doing good works to earn points with God, serving oneself, going one's own way in life--even serving God in the energy of the flesh--these are still the path to death. "I know that in me there dwells no good thing. I can will to do right but how to do it escapes me." (17,18) A Christian is living for the first time in the "real world" where a battle between evil and good has raged for millennia. Liberated from our previous compulsory service to Satan, Christians are free to present themselves as willing "bondslaves" of Jesus. Here is where the grand adventure begins:

"Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:16-23)

What is grand about being a Christian is what Paul calls in Romans 8, "the glorious liberty of the sons of God," (8:21).

Losing One's Life in Order to Save it

Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works." (Matthew 16:24-27)

The paradox in these commands of Jesus is as follows: When a person agrees to deny himself in partnership with Jesus, that person will soon discover he has found himself for the first time. He knows who he is, why he is here and where he is going. When a Christians learns to lose his life as the servant of his Master, he soon is rewarded with abundant new life here and now. By dying we live, by becoming slaves of Jesus we are made free!

No Christian believes any of this at first. We cling to those old self-seeking values of the world where money, status, power, wealth and pleasure rule. The path of following Jesus seems at first grim and unrewarding. It is quite true that the greatest rewards for being a Christian are not in this life but in the next. Paul says, "If for this life only we have hoped, we are of all men most miserable." (1 Cor. 15:19) However eternal life begins here and now and it is life of the highest possible quality and content. It's amazing that so few are interested in Him at all at all--just as it was in Noah's Day. Could it be that we are very near the end of an age as Noah was? Probably so.

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it. Submit to the death of your ambitions and your favorite wishes every day, and the death of your whole body in the end, submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look out for yourself and you will find, in the long run, only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in. (C. S. Lewis)

 

Notes:

1. Hebrew: mabbul, means a catastrophic, one of kind flood; Greek, kataklusmos, a cataclysm.

2. The Great Flood of Noah, http://ldolphin.org/flood.shtml.

3. herux, a messenger or herald.

4. World Population Since Creation, http://ldolphin.org/popul.html.

5. For discussion purposes I agree with Barry Setterfield's model that the Flood was probably about 5500 years ago, http://ldolphin.org/chronbarry.html. It's OK for you to disagree with me on this.

6. Romans 3, 4: http://ldolphin.org/romans/romans4.html, http://ldolphin.org/romans/romans5.html

7. The Meaning of Baptism by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/misc/0278.html.

8. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.

9. "God is going to invade this earth in force. But what's the good of saying you're on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive comes crashing in. Something so beautiful to us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. This time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love, or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down, when it's become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realize it or not. Now, today, in this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever; we must take it or leave it." (CSL)

10. methistemi, "translated, or transferred from one place to another".

11. Leviticus 16:16-0, "Aarontake the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness." Notes: http://ldolphin.org/scapegoat.html.

12. To better understand obscure Biblical terms such as "justification," "propitiation," or "imputed righteousness," use our handy on line lexicon of "Christianese" words, http://lexicon.rail.com/phpLexicon/

13. Jesus Death: Six Hours of Eternity on the Cross, http://ldolphin.org/sixhours.html). Note the similar joining of time and eternity at the cross of Jesus in statements such as 2 Cor. 4:8-12 "We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you": and Col. 1:24, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church" or 1 Peter 4:13, "but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy."

14. See http://sermons.christiansunite.com/Major_Ian_Thomas.shtml and http://ldolphin.org/grubb.html.

15. Ray Stedman, Body Life, http://raystedman.org/bodylife/body06.html

16. "Death," as the term is used in the Bible never means extinction of being, or "soul-sleep." It means "separation from." In "dying to sin" we move away from our old life and put it far from us--eventually it will be infinitely far removed from our experience. "Spiritual death" is the state of being all non-Christians are in before they come to Christ--no matter how animated, eloquent, wealthy or famous they may be in the world. Spiritual death is the absence of a vital connection with the living God here and now. Finally "the second death" is the final separation of a person from the total presence of God forever. (2 Thess. 1:3-10)

17. The Choices of a Slave, http://www.ldolphin.org/romans/romans7.html

18. The Road to Wholeness, http://ldolphin.org/romans/romans8.html

"For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son,
much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His (resurrection) life." (Romans 5:10)

lambert@ldolphin.org

2/4/04