No topic of discussion is ever more relevant or needful than the salvation of mankind. The history of man on the earth reveals a devastating and fatal blow occurring in the very dawn of creation when sin entered the lives of the first human pair in the Garden of Eden. The consequences culminating from Adam and Eve’s rebellious action against the benign government of the Creator continue to plague the lives of men today. Sin brought death upon mankind (Genesis 2:16, 17), and although all do not sin after the likeness of Adam (i.e., infants, innocent children, mentally handicapped), the sentence of death has passed to the entire race of Adam’s posterity (Romans 5:12-14).
Every person reaching the level of maturity to choose between right and wrong (Isaiah 7:15) has been given the same pronouncement: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). The deviation of every accountable person from innocence into sin is affirmed again by Paul when he exclaims, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The act of sin is defined by scholars as “a missing of the mark” (Vine, 1996), or “a failing to hit the mark” (Thayer, 1958). This involves the failure of mankind to live in accordance with the divine standard imposed by the Creator.
Sin is anti-God. It is anything which is contrary to the will of God. Every time a man sins, he turns his back on God; and sin literally separates man from God (Isaiah 59:1, 2). Paul tells us “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since all rational humans have succumbed to sin, the wrath of God is deserved by all (Ephesians 5:6). Without the intervention of God into the affairs of man, every person of accountability would be doomed. However, God did not create man for a destiny of wrath (I Thessalonians 5:9); on the contrary, as Jesus declared, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The great scheme of human redemption was unknown and (based upon available evidence) unknowable to all created beings until the cross of Jesus Christ was hoisted on Calvary’s brow. Peter, in referring to the salvation of mankind, stated, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ to follow…things into which angels long to look” (I Peter 1:10-12). The salvation made possible by the initiative of God was unimaginable to the finite minds of created beings. That God Himself would condescend to become like created man, becoming the very servant of man (Matthew 20:28), remaining obedient as a man to the divine will, even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8) is the greatest marvel of all ages without end!
God the Word became a man through the virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-25), becoming the Person we know as Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man. Paul writes that “in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). By the sacrifice of Himself upon the cross, God has granted grace to mankind, allowing every man the opportunity for reconciliation with the Creator. Contrary to the Calvinistic doctrine of “limited grace” that pervades much of modern Protestantism - teaching that the death of Christ was efficacious only for the “elect” - the Scriptures clearly represent salvation as available for all men. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Because God loved the entire world (John 3:16), and He “desires all men to be saved” (I Timothy 2:4) and not a single one to perish (II Peter 3:9), Christ became “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (I John 2:2).
This does not mean that all mankind will ultimately be saved as affirmed by “Universal Grace” advocates; rather, God has provided the means for all men to obtain salvation through obedience to the word of truth (I Peter 1:22). God created man with freedom of will or choice, and God will never force any man to serve Him through compulsion. The saved will be those who voluntarily choose for themselves to submit their lives into obedience to the teachings of Christ.
Having attained the position of High Priest through His own obedience to the will of God, Christ has become “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). The call resounds to all men from the very lips of Christ who declared, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Lord Jesus Christ died for the entire race of mankind, but each man must choose for himself to come to the Lord in simple obedience to the teachings by which salvation is bestowed. Jesus cautiously warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21). He concluded the discourse by reiterating, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27).
Many stumble over the fact that while the New Testament speaks of the necessity of obedience for salvation, other passages depict salvation as the “free gift” of God (Romans 5:15, 16; 6:23). There is no contradiction in these statements. The designation of salvation as a “free gift” simply emphasizes the fact that God is under no compulsion to offer salvation to mankind. Man sinned of his own accord, rebelling against the Creator, and thus sinful man deserves nothing but the just recompense due his iniquity. God was by no means morally obligated to save lost humanity, but His great love moved Him to extend grace, even though the cost of man’s salvation would fall squarely upon Christ when He died upon the cross. From this perspective, salvation is depicted as a gift.
The term “free gift,” however, does not imply that conditions are not imposed as prerequisites to receiving the gift. In the long ago, God promised the infant nation of Israel the city of Jericho as a gift (Joshua 6:2, 16), yet the Israelites were required to submit to several conditions before the city was received (Joshua 6:3ff; Hebrews 11:30). During Paul’s voyage to Rome as a prisoner, the Mediterranean Sea became the place of a life-threatening storm. As all hope of rescue was gradually abandoned, an angel appeared to Paul telling him that “God has granted you all those sailing with you” (Acts 27:24). The word “granted” comes from the Greek charizomai which Vine defines as “to give freely, bestow” (1996, p. 278). In spite of that promise, Paul later issued a further stipulation or condition, stating, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31).
Jesus beautifully illustrated this same principle when He admonished the multitude that was following Him subsequent to the feeding of the five thousand, saying to them, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life; which the Son of Man shall give to you” (John 6:27). Though not explicitly stated in English, the verb “work” is understood in the second phrase, viz., “but [work] for the food which endures to eternal life; which the Son of Man shall give…” While eternal life is designated as a gift, Jesus emphasized that there is work (obedience) to be rendered (on the human side) in order to receive that gift. A “gift,” then, does not exclude the necessity of loving obedience in order for the promised gift to be received. Salvation as a “free gift” and the need to obey the Lord are not mutually exclusive propositions.
Jesus has clearly identified several conditions related to the promised gift of salvation. Each specific act announced by Jesus must be accepted as part of the overall design of salvation. No single act, to the exclusion of the others, is sufficient for the reception of the promised gift. Contrary to the most prevalent teaching of modern denominationalists, there is not an “only” method that results in salvation, i.e., “faith alone.” Jesus specified very distinct points of obedience, each of which is a vital component in preparing the alien sinner to receive the “free gift” of God.
After discussing the “free gift” with the church in Rome, Paul speaks of their obedience, saying, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17, 18). What was the form of teaching that the Romans had obeyed? They had obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the apostles (Romans 1:16). The Romans had heard the words of Christ and lovingly obeyed; not quibbling or arguing against this act or another, rather, they obeyed from the heart the teachings of Christ in order to be saved.
The scribe, Ezra, of Jewish antiquity, provides a timeless illustration of the proper attitude all men should possess with reference to pleasing God. Following seventy years of Babylonian captivity as punishment for Israel’s idolatry and gross wickedness, Ezra was appointed by Artaxerxes, king of Persia, in 457 B.C. to lead a company of Israelites back to Jerusalem with the express purpose of rebuilding the temple of God and reestablishing lawful worship (Ezra 7:11-23). True worship according to the Law of God had not been practiced for seventy years, and Ezra, recognizing the grave responsibility of his assignment as a leader of Israel, did not depend upon tradition or his own assumptions as to the things that were pleasing to God; rather, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (7:10).
Ezra’s resolution exceeded mere Bible reading. He set his heart to know the truth of God’s word and to obey it to the fullest extent, teaching the people of Israel to do the same. Do you have the heart of Ezra? God’s plan of salvation for mankind is clearly set forth in the Scriptures, but we must, like Ezra, prepare our hearts to accept the truth, determining to do all that the Lord has commanded (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Too many are depending upon the traditions or assumptions of blind guides, but Jesus issued warning regarding their end (Matthew 15:13, 14).
The salvation of mankind is too serious to leave to chance, preconceived ideas, or the teachings of fallible men, and there is no need to trust in such perversions. Jesus Christ has given us the word of truth concerning salvation from sin, but we must set our hearts to study His word, resolving to practice His teachings, and instructing others to do likewise. Jesus has affirmed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).
What must a man do to be saved? Jesus answers:
Hear and Obey: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life” (John 5:24); “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man” (Matthew 7:24).
Believe: “I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Repent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17); “I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
Confess: “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, 33).
Be Baptized: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5); “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20); “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).Remain Faithful: “Be Faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Thayer, J. H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T.
Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White (1996), Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words: with Topical Index (Nashville: T. Nelson).