SOTERIA AND SALVATION
I don't read Greek but I have learned enough to realize one can’t always find single English-equivalent words for some of the Greek New Testament words. Sometimes it takes a sentence to express the full meaning. For example, I was both surprised and pleased when I first read the definitions in Strong's Concordance of the Greek word “soteria”. The meanings helped validate the distinction between spirit and soul as being presented in this book. And understanding the word will help clear up what occurs in one's spirit upon initial belief, as well as shedding light on what should happen later on in the soul.
Most Bibles translate soteria as "salvation". Now, all Christians know what salvation means. Or do we? As a rule, most believers would likely agree on this definition: salvation means being saved from hell and instead going to heaven when one dies. This is certainly of primary importance (i.e., spirit salvation — becoming a child of God) but there is much more than that implied in the word “soteria”.
Thayer's primary definition of soteria is "deliverance from the molestation of your enemies". Now this has more implications than assuming one's eternal security is all that's in view. Note that "enemies" is plural. This definition elicits all kinds of interesting new questions. Learning exactly what and who a believer's enemies are will provide us with fuller insight into the Biblical meaning of salvation (i.e., soteria). Let's look into it.
Scripture reveals that there are three enemies against a believer:
(1) Satan — the author of sin.
(2) World — the power of united evil men.
(3) Flesh — the carnal-mindedness of man, i.e., one's tendency to fulfill the natural lusts of the body which is the desire of the "old man" nature.
Taken together, these three comprise all the powers in the universe which cause a Christian to falter and sin. (No wonder Paul spoke of sin as though it had personality. Indeed, it does!)
I think the most revealing Bible verses on soteria are found in Phil. 2:12 & 13.
"Therefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation (soteria) with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
The first astonishing revelation here is to realize that the apostle is speaking to believers, referring to them as the "beloved"! Then comes the greater surprise of the passage — it's up to them to "work out" their own salvation. According to Ephesians 2:8, works do not produce salvation — at least not in terms of eternal destiny. But the above verse forces us to conclude that the "working out" of our own salvation must represent additional benefits to initial saving faith, for surely the “beloved” are already born-again Christians.
WORKING IT OUT
The parallel, Hebrew word for soteria is yeshuwa, which means 'savior', or 'deliverer'. Yeshuwa is the basis of our Lord's name: Jesus (or Jeshua). This means that the very name of Jesus alludes to soteria, inferring that salvation can only be attained through Christ. In fact, this involves both the new birth in one’s spirit as well as Christian maturation of the soul.
We must conclude that Paul is saying Christians have something to do with getting practical victory over the three enemies (listed above) which still plague them, post-spiritual-regeneration. Obtaining this victory does not diminish one iota the positional, eternal status of being in Christ. But, clearly, in God's infinite wisdom, He has so-designed His plan of redemption to include certain, post-new-birth, deliverance actions on the part of Christian believers. These actions are not to improve our relationship with our Creator (as sons of God) but to improve our sensitivity and walk with Him. Also (which may be a surprise to many), right responses determine our eternal rewards through good works. Speaking to the Philippian Church, Paul called it "working out" their own salvation.
Soteria begins the day one first trusts in Christ as Savior. We could say this work is ACT I. A person's eternal, heaven-bound destiny is assured from then on. (See John 6:29.) This is an established fact when God calls someone and he/she makes a sincere decision to trust Jesus Christ as Savior — the ultimate exercise of saving faith. Regardless of what you have been told to the contrary, you don't ever have to worry about this part again. The “new man” sealed into one’s spirit is an eternal bonding to Almighty God.
Note: There are two main reasons for the unscriptural doctrine that one can lose his/her salvation —
1. Those who don't believe in eternal security obviously misunderstand Biblical soteria. They confuse and mis-apply scriptures which relate to losses associated with soul salvation, believing they apply to spirit salvation.
2. And it seems that those of us who do believe eternal security is based solely on being in Christ have scored poorly in some areas: (a) rightly dividing the scriptures, (b) working on our post-regeneration sanctification process, and (c) not loving one another wholeheartedly. For these reasons, the opponents of our doctrine remain unconvinced that we have the truth.
Ironically, those who oppose eternal security tend to be works-oriented. However, they err by believing that they do something to keep in force their heaven-bound destiny rather than seeing the real purpose of Christian works — i.e., to develop purity and also to effect rewards to be received at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In other words, they totally confuse spirit and soul salvation. They obviously don't understand Paul's instructions in Philippeans 2:12b and other scriptures like it. The labor Paul speaks of here is the need for Christians to make sure their soulish-life lines up with their spiritual position. These works are for evangelization purposes and to increase one's rewards in the Lord's Kingdom.
But the truth is that you can have absolute assurance of eternal life with God once you are "in Christ". Not believing this has kept many in a state of deep, spiritual bondage. My observations have been that a person who believes he can become unsaved does not possess that unmistakable, abiding peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Please understand that I mean no disrespect whatsoever to this dear brother in Christ. But it's extremely important for the reader to realize that to not believe in eternal security is a form of great spiritual blindness which, as evidenced by this story, can lead to deep, emotional damage. We're not talking about a minor theological difference here as some may regard this issue. God wants you and I to have abiding confidence in His deliverance. There is not a shred of Biblical evidence that God will remove His seal if we aren't good enough.
Admittedly, there are a few passages on this issue which may seem obscure and contradictory to some, and because of this, they are led to false conclusions. But I'm convinced the chief reason these scriptures remain dark to them is because of unbelief in this simple truth: eternal security is based on a past event, an act of God accomplished by Jesus Christ at Calvary. Hebrews 4 clearly teaches that Christians can rest in Christ.
However, coming back to Phil. 2:12b, something still remains to be worked out after we are saved. How should we approach and reconcile this seeming dilemma? I think the best way to start is by holding firmly to two established, biblical facts:
(1) The Christian's “new man” belongs to the heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2) After believers are saved and sealed (in the spirit man), the Holy Spirit helps us exercise faith in order that more of God’s grace (i.e., His character and ways) will be manifested in our souls.
Philippians 2:13 says, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure". The Holy Spirit resides in the believer's spirit. The God-work is done through the "new man" who prompts one's soul and body to act according to biblical standards. This is a supernatural outworking, actually it is the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer. Initial believing grace is applied to the spirit and results in the new birth. It can't be altered or lost. The destiny of heaven is guaranteed. Working grace (more commonly called sanctification) pertains to the life of the soul, which produces fruits and rewards. It can be affected and changed.
Thus, the saved spirit is where soteria begins. The sealed spirit (where the new man resides) is the control room for all that we are and can become in Christ Jesus. Obviously, God's design for the believer is to work from the inside out. In this way we are under command to manifest outwardly in our souls and bodies what is already true in our spirit. We must remember that it is possible for a believer to resist post-regeneration “working grace” through wrong choices.
We don't get spiritually saved by cleaning up the old nature. It can't be done! The old nature is altogether earthly and self-serving. It cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The first-Adam nature operates solely to preserve and please the natural man. Remember, it is to the flesh that sin, Satan, the world, and the “old man” make their appeal. Temptation takes place here. But the “new man” is destined to serve God. After he takes over, beginning at the new birth, we can make changes in the same body and same soul where the “old man” once reigned as boss.
In Christ, we have the "seed" of a new nature in us. We have become born from above. God has now entered to abide with us in our inner being — our saved and sealed spirit. Once this occurs we have the capacity to operate from a totally-different perspective than we could before when we were lost in sin and trespasses. After the new birth, we are Godly because of Who made the new man in our being and because God now dwells inside us.
Notice I said are Godly. That's the believer's positional status from the very second he is born again. Now hear this loud and clear: after conversion, the spirit no longer strives for a greater, spiritual position. We have already reached the ultimate status and our new nature — the new man — knows it. Sealed spirits are possessed by God and, consequently, lack nothing. But our body and mind is another story. They need renewing. This is where active appropriation comes in. Let's call it applied soteria. This is what most of the epistles are all about!
The apostle Paul spoke urgently about Christians having the responsibility of making sure that their souls and bodies are in alignment with that which is an already-established fact in their spirits. This is not an attempt to regenerate the old nature, but rather to give outward demonstration of the new commander-and-chief's presence: i.e., the new man, which is the saved, God-impregnated, Spirit-sealed spirit of a believer in Christ Jesus.
This is a wonderful truth here. Once we learn to apply these principles, always keeping in mind that God is in there doing His work, we Christians ought to be eager to move on, urging our souls and bodies to conform to the new, more-trustworthy adviser — the Holy Spirit-anointed new man. Even the same old body, living in a continually-degenerating state, can learn to appreciate that operating under God's grace (Christ giving us His eternal life through our eternal spirit) is better than serving sin. This is the central essence of how we work out our salvation.
A Christian is a potential overcomer by divine gift. He got it when he was born again. But he must learn to walk in what he now is (a child of God) and what is his through inheritance. Christian believers are in covenant with God. It is God's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. But, seemingly unknown by many Christians, we work for our rewards in God's Kingdom subsequent to the new birth.
The apostle John supports Paul on this topic as he speaks of Christians overcoming the "spirit of antichrist" (not referring to the final, personal Antichrist spoken of in prophecy). 1 John 4:3&4.
3. "...and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of antichrist, of which ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world.
4. ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world."
The "spirit of antichrist" is none other than Satan and all his cohorts (demonic and/or wicked humanity) who are the adversaries working against God's kingdom. In essence, John's words here spell out Thayer's definition of soteria: deliverance from the molestation of our enemies. Verse 4 above makes clear that our ability to overcome is because of Who is in us. The inference is obviously to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who resides in the spirit of the believer.
Now we come back to our former topic of what constitutes initial, saving faith. The Holy Spirit wants to influence all Christian actions and attitudes. But He is a 'gentleman'. Relinquishing our souls and bodies over to the Holy Spirit's use is volitional. Decisions and determination must be activated. We do it because we want to. This brings up personal responsibility.
The Holy Spirit does not use force to override our will. If He did, the Biblical call for Christian submission would never have been given. Words such as "inevitable" and "absolutely-guaranteed" must be used carefully when talking about Christian' fruitfulness. The Holy Spirit's influence through one's sealed spirit comes primarily in response to three actions: God’s invitation, surrender of the will, and believer obedience. It does not come by demand or coercion from the Holy Spirit (nor automatically). Throughout the scriptures, whether taught by Jesus, Paul, John, et al, we find that we are encouraged and commanded, but never badgered into submission.
God wants willing followers after the new birth. It is strange that we would ever resist the encouragement, thinking that after having wonderfully saved us from hell, God would not maintain our body and soul in this world just as He does our sealed new man in the spiritual realm. But, to their great misfortune, many Christians act very doubtfully about this.
THE DAILY WALK
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Eph.2:10.
This means that which should follow our initial act of saving faith is to continue as a daily walk which God prepared from the start. The Christian's chief motive and main desire should be to align his on-going activities in his soul life with that which is an already-established reality in his positional, new-nature life.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF 'SOTERIAZATION'?
(1) LEARNING. Soteria (i.e., working it out) teaches us that obedience is the best way. God wants us to know that He is trustworthy to care for not only the spirit of our new man but also to show His sustenance in all aspects of what we are and can yet become in this present world — even in decaying bodies. It is in this way we experience the sufficiency of His grace, and to grow in it.
(2) EVANGELIZATION. Secondly, working out our salvation will become manifest to others. A life that is being delivered of its 'molesters' will represent salt and light to everyone around us. It will show. An active, consecrated, Christian life will have an effect on the world you live in. God wants to draw others into His Kingdom and this is one of the ways He has designed to accomplish it, perhaps the primary one.
(3) REWARDS. This is perhaps the most-overlooked and confused aspect of the purpose and value of soteria. The works of a Christian affect one’s rewards in the Lord Jesus Christ's coming Kingdom. All rewards are not an automatic gift as is the case of the birth of the new man planted in the spirit at initial salvation. Misunderstanding in this area has given rise to many errors of doctrine in both conservative and charismatic churches. Many scriptures which emphasize that believers should obey, hold out to the end, endure, overcome, abide, etc., have nothing to do with our new birth experience. But they have everything to do with (1) soul salvation, (2) our effectiveness in reaching others and (3) establishing our rewards in God's coming Kingdom. (More later on this.)
A person that has yielded his entire being to God, not only his spirit, becomes a living testimony in a world dying in unbelief. We can be sure that's what Paul was driving at, for right in the wake of having said believers need to work out their own salvation, the apostle went on to say:
"...that you may become blameless and harmless children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." Phil. 2:15.
By saying "without fault" suggests that believers can be successful to work out their own deliverance; i.e., overcoming the molestation of their own flesh within, and the onslaught of the world and Satan from without.
(4) WINNING. This brings up an absolute that even I can believe in. The beauty of the Christian faith is that we are guaranteed winners! Christians are the only runners who enter any kind of race knowing the outcome before it is over! Now, we may not know all the specifics of what we win in eternity, but the Bible makes it abundantly clear in non-vague, straight-talk teachings, as well as through symbolic parables (Matt.25:1-30), that rewards await Christians who diligently pursue the path God has laid out for them. (1 Cor. 3:14 and Rev. 22:12)
(5) FAITHFULNESS. By Jesus' teachings and all the epistles, we are encouraged to strive for the best gifts. To reach the maximum potential God has for believers requires maximum commitment. This will involve being obedient and faithful to all Godly direction given us — from the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and input from others the Lord has placed around us.
(6) MAXIMUM JOY. You are precious to God. Becoming a true believer in His Son is part of the harvest God had in mind. It is for your personal benefit that you should be saved. Some teachers seem to subdue this value, perhaps placing more emphasis on your evangelical work (which of course is important) than on you as an individual. You are only one, but I think it is the primary reason God brought you into His Kingdom. Thus, for His Own good pleasure and reasons, God saved you. So, don't ever again let anyone or anything dissuade you from believing otherwise. Remember, God loves you and He desires far more than you that you be saved to the max.
Now, back to lordship theology relative to salvation, i.e., the insistence on immediate, total, unwavering obedience being a part of initial, spirit-saving faith. This demand could make a person think he would never be able to measure up to all the requirements of the surrendered life, and thus cause him to fall short of simply trusting Christ. How oddly the distorted “lordship” theology fits with the One Who merely holds out His hands and says, "Permit the children to come unto Me"! (Matt. 19:14)
When viewing the “lordship” teaching, we must consider that when the Holy Spirit comes in and seals a believer, a new strength is born. This is the new man Paul speaks of, the one who, unlike an unregenerated sinner, is teachable. But first he needs to believe in Jesus and receive the gift of eternal life. In fact, not until then can he really understand obedience, discipleship, growing in grace, etc.
Personally, my confidence in God and the faith He gave me grew after I was saved. Consequently, I now better understand the value of surrendering my will and soulish life more completely to Him. But God did not require that I know all about this and apply it as a prerequisite before I trusted Christ.
A lost sinner cannot grasp all these things. If he could, he wouldn't need God in the first place! A better approach to a lost person is to keep firmly in mind that he isn't even yet born of the Spirit. Commitment, bowing-the-knee, yielding-the-will, and all other acts of submission and obedience, are definitely parts of the soteria which ought to follow initial belief in Christ, but should not be considered preliminary works which must always come in advance of first saving faith.
To repeat, an unsaved person must simply recognize his lost condition and need for salvation, then look to and believe in Christ. But it is ridiculous to unload a perspective of everything which the Christian experience may eventually involve for him, considering you are talking to a spirit cut off from God.
New Christians need to know about their spiritual position in Christ. With this as background, the concepts of total surrender, obedience and discipleship, etc., will then follow a more natural course. These latter principles could be included in the presentation of the Gospel but never should this be thought of as an absolute prerequisite to initial saving faith.
SUMMARY OF PART V
Hopefully, we have learned that it is not necessary to dump the whole 'soteria package' on the unsaved. Sinners need to become aware of their lost and sinful condition and thus realize their need for a Savior. Next, they need to accept the gift of faith God has given them to see and trust in JESUS and His perfection and works, not their own strengths. The Holy Spirit then builds believers up from there. When the new man is born into one's spirit, soteria-talk will then become truly worthwhile; and if pursued, will result in an improved soteria-walk.
It seems that most people don't like accepting someone else's payment for their own sin debt. That's the bottom line of prideful unbelief. And yet, this is the central truth of the Gospel. And even those who do believe “Jesus paid it all” and accept Him as personal Savior, it seems many Christians remain prone to legalistic seduction. Much of the book of Galatians is devoted to explaining this temptation. I'm convinced this occurs because of the misunderstanding and misapplication in this whole area of biblical soteria, and not making a distinction between spirit and soul salvation.
If you have read carefully what I've said regarding soteria, you can see that post-regeneration "works" is a totally different subject than one's eternal security in Christ. Perhaps God's purpose in allowing Christians to remain in the same old bodies after being saved is to prove to others that even under imperfect conditions, his grace can shine forth through spiritually reborn people. This will happen only as believers behold the finished work of Christ. Then, seeing ourselves in Him swings wide the door of our heart for the Holy Spirit to do His work in and through us. This is the kind of work that pleases God and benefits all mankind, delivering the individual believer as well as drawing others to God's Yeshua-Savior.
If there is any work at all related to spirit salvation, here it is, and note that even this is God's work:
"Jesus answered and said to them, 'this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'"
“Lordship” teachers have over-complicated the new birth experience of the spirit by making scriptures which relate to Christian works (i.e., passages which apply only to soul salvation) part of the initial saving faith message. On the other hand, non-eternal security folks have interpreted scriptures which speak of loss of soul life and potential rewards, believing these passages refer to loss of one's heavenly destiny. I believe both these errors occur because both groups fail to recognize the distinction between spirit and soul salvation. The next chapter will help clarify this further.