STUDY TEN: GOD, THE ONLY SAVIOUR
© Rosemary Bardsley 2007,2016
A. BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF TIME
Such is the grace of God that before the creation of the world and us he planned our salvation.
Before our creation, before our sin, God’s eternal plan of salvation was in place. This is grace and love beyond comprehension. This is God creating us, even though he knew we would sin, even though he knew it would necessitate the incarnation and sin-bearing death of his beloved Son to undo the impact of our sin and restore us to a right relationship with himself.
This eternal plan, in place before the beginning of time, is encapsulated in that verse: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …’ [John 3:16]
How do each of these verses affirm the fact that God planned salvation before he created the world?
Now describe the impact of this truth on your knowledge of God and salvation.
B. SALVATION IN GENESIS 3
Embedded in the Genesis 3 record of the tragedy of the human choice to reject and rebel against God are several elements of hope and anticipation of salvation.
Right at the beginning of sin, God is even here the Saviour. Here in Genesis 3 we find a clear connection between all the aspects of God that we have studied so far: his eternal being, his sovereignty, his identity as Saviour. He is not one without the other, nor is he one in conflict with the other.
B.1 Salvation and suffering
Suffering is the servant of salvation.
Rather than the presence of suffering being evidence that God is either not powerful or not loving, the presence of suffering is evidence of both the deliberate restraint of his power and authority and of the incredible patience of his love. There was a time [the time of the flood – Genesis 6-9] in which the sin of the world was so great that God’s patience and restraint were withdrawn, almost, but not quite, entirely. This judgment that fell on all except Noah and his family demonstrates what could have justly happened in Genesis 3. Similarly, God could justly terminate the world today. That he doesn’t is evidence of his grace … that, as long as that final judgment, beyond which all suffering will cease, is delayed, he is giving us the opportunity to repent and believe. This is in fact the reason he delays the judgment and the end of suffering.
RESEARCH TASK: The incredible patience of God
Read 2 Peter 3:3-15. Make a dot-point list of what it teaches about the restrained power and the patience of God in delaying the Day of Judgment. Compare this with what God says in Ezekiel 18:30-32.
The presence of suffering is also evidence of our need. Had God not implemented the curse of Genesis 3:14-19 our awareness of our vulnerability and inadequacy when severed from God would have been negligible. The curse confronts us at every turn with our own mortality and inability: the threat of death from the natural world, the threat of death in childbirth and of our children, the threat of death from starvation in a world where eking food out of a harsh land is painful. If at all these points everything was perfect – a placid natural world in which no threats existed, ease and safety in childbirth and no threat of childhood diseases, lavish productivity of the land – we would not remember that we were created for a relationship of dependence on God. Simply, we would not know our deep need of God. We would think that we were complete in ourselves. Indeed, we would forget all about God. Suffering keeps us aware of our inadequacy and our need, and as such is the servant of salvation.
B.2 Salvation and revelation
God, the offended One, the rejected One, came and spoke to man, the rebel, the sinner, the one who had rejected the word of his Creator and listened to the deceptive word of the destroyer. Man had severed the relationship by his choice – yet God came and spoke to him [Genesis 3:8,9].
Here is incredible grace. Yes, what God said contained a word of judgment, but it also contained a word of salvation. The very fact that God came and spoke is evidence of his intention to save. As long as God speaks there is hope of salvation. It is when he stops speaking that judgment is inescapable.
Thus God spoke through Amos to the idolatrous northern kingdom shortly before its destruction:
“ ‘The days are coming’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.’ “ [Amos 8:11-12].
The fact that creation still reveals the glory of God [Romans 1:19-20], the fact that God spoke to sinful man through the prophets and apostles, recording his revelation in both Old and New Testaments [Ephesians 2:20; 2 Peter 1:16-21], and the fact that the incarnate Christ came as the ultimate and final revelation of God [John 1:14,18; Hebrews 1:1,2], are all evidence that God is still the Saviour, constantly reminding us who he is and constantly calling us to return to him, the one, true God.
B.3 Salvation and victory
Genesis 3:15 looks ahead to the victory of Christ over Satan. Right here at the beginning God assures us that in the eternal scheme of things Satan’s apparent victory is not final.
In his rebellious hatred of God and all that belongs to God Satan sought to deceive and to destroy, but that deception and that destruction became, in God’s sovereign hand, the theatre in which God’s greatest power is displayed, the canvas on which God’s greatest glory is painted, the background against which the greatness of God’s grace is highlighted.
God the Saviour, is the Victor, in and through the death and resurrection of Christ:
‘… he (the woman’s offspring) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ [Genesis 3:15]
‘ … now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ [John 12:31]
‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you’ [John 17:1]
‘That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come’ [Ephesians 1:19-21].
‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ [Colossians 2:15].
‘… he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ [Hebrews 2:14].
‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ [1John 3:8b].
‘ … the accuser of our brothers … has been hurled down’ [Revelation 12:10b],
And in the final consummation:
‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ [Romans 16:20]
‘… the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming’ [2Thessalonians 2:8]
‘And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever’ [Revelation 20:10].
Here in Genesis 3:15 God, the Saviour, defines and anticipates the victory he will achieve when he comes to save. This salvation includes of necessity the defeat of the evil one.
B.4 Salvation and covering
The first physical death was not the death of man, the sinner, but the death of the animal whose skins God used to make a covering for man [Genesis 3:21]. In this death and this covering God the Saviour depicts that ultimate substitutionary atonement achieved through the death of Jesus Christ, by which sin is permanently and totally covered. Here God indicates that the salvation he will bring to man includes of necessity that sin must be dealt with by the death of a perfect substitute. Here God also indicates what it will cost him to be our Saviour. Again, incredible grace is involved.
B.5 Salvation and life
Although God barred access to the tree of life by the positioning of cherubim with flaming swords, he did not destroy the tree of life [Genesis 3:22-24]; it was still there, beyond the barrier, anticipating the removal of the barrier and the re-establishment and renewal of access to God and spiritual life.
When Jesus came he promised ‘eternal life’ to all who believe in him, identifying himself as both the one source of that life, and as that life itself. Thus the scripture records:
‘I am the bread of life ….’ [John 6:35]
‘I am the light of the world …whoever follows me … will have the light of life’ [John 8:12]
‘I am the gate … I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ [John 10:9-10]
‘I am the resurrection and the life’ [John 11:25]
‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ [John 14:6]
‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’ [1 John 5:11,12]
‘He is the true God and eternal life’ [1John 5:20].
In his imposition of the barrier between sinful man and the tree of life, God was, in effect, banning sinful man from his presence. This prohibition is also indicated in the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and temple – a curtain embroidered with golden cherubim. Once that barrier is removed by the sin-bearing death of Christ – symbolised by the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom at the moment Christ died – access to the ‘tree of life’ and to God is restored. Union with God, fellowship with God – spiritual life – is now possible, now received by those who receive Jesus Christ.
As already indicated on page 34, this access into the presence of the holy God through Jesus Christ is taught in these verses:
Romans 5:2: ‘through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand’
Ephesians 2:18: ‘For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit’
Ephesians 3:12: ‘In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence’.
Hebrews 4:14-16: ‘Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence …’
Hebrews 10:19-22: ‘… since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus … let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith’
Thus the New Testament not only teaches that those who believe in Christ have eternal life, but also that those who believe in him have access to God the Father:
Genesis 3:1-7 is not the end, because God is not only the Judge but also the Saviour.
In each of these aspects of salvation revealed and anticipated in Genesis 3, God is the Saviour, and, of necessity, the only Saviour.
Secular humanism and naturalism envisage a future in which man has increasing ability to preserve and improve himself and his world. Man is seen basically good and endowed with unlimited potential and empowerment - all that it takes to ensure his own physical, social and economic salvation and destiny. Increasing scientific knowledge and technologies are expected to be the answer to medical and economic problems; and global politics and increased understanding and tolerance the answer to international and interracial strife. Man is to be his own saviour, hiding his lostness, denying his lostness, seeking to preserve himself by the puny fig-leaves of his own endeavours.
The preliminary latent glimpses of salvation in Genesis 3, along with the rest of scripture, teach otherwise: salvation is there, waiting to be revealed, waiting for the right time, but it is not our human minds or our human hands that will achieve it. It is in God’s hands. It is in God’s plan. He, and he alone, is the Saviour, who can and will rescue us from this dread state and condition into which our rebellion plummeted us.
Man will never, by his own effort, resolve and remove his own sin and suffering. No sooner has he overpowered one element of suffering, for example, infant diseases, than another threat to his existence escalates, for instance, degenerative diseases. He suffers, not only by his own sin, but by God’s decree. Man will never, by his own effort extinguish his sense of shame and guilt, either individually or corporately. No sooner does he think he has won a moral victory in one area, than he is confronted by his moral weakness and wickedness in another. The light of right and truth forever expose him as corrupt. He is guilty, not only in his own conscience, but also by God’s decree. Man will never regain, by his own efforts, access to the tree of life: he is banned from it not only by his own sin, but also by God’s decree.
God’s decree holds man guilty and condemned. Only by God can man be saved.
C. GOD AS THE ONLY SAVIOUR
The fact that God is ‘Saviour’ is taught in both the Old and the New Testaments.
As we will see in the Old Testament references below God rules out any possibility of salvation from any source other than himself. In the context of the references from the prophets, God’s people, Israel, were looking everywhere for salvation … to the nations, to false gods, to their own strength … and God reminds them that he alone is the Saviour, not only for the people of Israel, but also for the ‘ends of the earth’.
This salvation that comes from God alone and that extends to the ends of the earth is clearly not a physical or political salvation such as the Israelites were seeking, both in the Old Testament and the New, but a spiritual salvation that would address the universal spiritual lostness and bondage generated in Genesis 3. [Note: only after the final judgment is there salvation from all evil, including physical evil.]
Read the verses below, then answer these questions from those verses:
 What evidence is there in these verses that God is the one and only Saviour for all mankind?
 Explain the relationship between the concepts that God is the only Saviour and that Jesus Christ is the Saviour.
 Is it right or wrong to include any physical aspects of salvation in the salvation we have in Jesus Christ? Back up your answer with scripture references.
 What tension is there between the salvation we already have and the salvation that will be revealed when Jesus Christ returns? Why does this tension exist?
Here are some other verses referring to God or Jesus Christ as ‘Saviour’:
Luke 1:47: My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
Luke 2:11: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born … he is Christ the Lord
John 4:42: … we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world
Acts 5:31: God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour
Acts 13:23: God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus
Philippians 3:20: we eagerly await a Saviour … the Lord Jesus Christ
Titus 2:13: we wait for … the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ
2Peter 1:11: … the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
1John 4:14: The Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world