STUDY 1: WHY IS SALVATION NECESSARY?
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014
When we look at the death of Christ and what the Bible teaches about its impact, it only makes sense in the context of the human need to be ‘saved’. ‘Salvation’ is only relevant if there is a situation necessitating salvation.
Forgiveness is only meaningful if there is something to be forgiven.
Regeneration is only meaningful if there is a state of lifelessness.
Reconciliation is only meaningful if there is a state of enmity and alienation.
Atonement is only meaningful if there is a situation of wrath.
Justification is only meaningful if there is a situation of legal guilt and condemnation.
The gift of life is only meaningful if there is death.
From a different perspective, when we look at the horrific death of Christ, and the fact that the Bible says this death is essential for our salvation, then we can only conclude that our condition that necessitated this death is one of extreme and inescapable danger, despair, disability and destitution - that the existing situation was such that we ourselves could do nothing to rectify it. The extreme measure that God took to save us is indicative of our extreme need to be saved.
A. THE ORIGINAL CREATIVE PURPOSE OF HUMAN EXISTENCE
To understand our extreme need for salvation we must first understand the role and relationship with himself that God created us for. When we begin to understand our original identity and our original relationship with God we also begin to see that the ‘human life’ we see today is far from the life that God created us to live, and that ‘salvation’ is something that takes much of its core significance from Genesis 1 and 2.
A.1 Made in the image of God – Genesis 1 and 2
Genesis 1:26-27 states that God, having determined to make man in his image and likeness ‘created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’
What does it mean that God created man ‘in his image and … likeness’?
The Bible does not actually give us any clear theory or definition of what the ‘image of God’ means. In the absence of a Biblical theory various human theories have been proposed:
1. The two words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ are talking about two different things.
However, the two Hebrew words are used indiscriminately and interchangeably in other Genesis verses. Berkouwer comments: ‘Both terms, obviously, refer to a relation between man and his Creator; a “likeness” between man and God, with no explanation given as to exactly what this likeness consists of or implies’. [Man: The Image of God p69]
2. The image equates with ‘dominion’ because man’s dominion over the rest of creation is mentioned in the verse [Genesis 1:26] and because Psalm 8:6,7 refers to God making man a little less than God and giving him dominion over creation.
While it is true that man was created to have dominion over the world, Psalm 8 does not mention the image of God; in fact it says that man was created lower than God [or, in some translations, lower than the angels.]
The Genesis passage also presents the dominion as something in addition to, or even resulting from, creation in the image of God, in both verse 26 and 28.
3. The image of God consists in man being created as man and woman who exist in an I-Thou relationship with each other, imaging the I-Thou relationship within the Godhead.
There is nothing in the statement in Genesis 1:27 that God created them ‘male and female’ to indicate that the image of God consists in their ability to relate to each other. Rather it is affirmation that both male and female are created in the image of God, whatever that image of God may be.
4. The image consists in the higher rational and spiritual qualities of man – his ability to create, to feel, to communicate, his capacity for intellectual thought, his desire for eternity, etc
These things are still present in man, so why does the Bible teach that the image is being renewed and restored in those who believe in Christ?
The simplest way to understand what creation in the image of God meant is to look at the one place in the history of the human race where that image was actually lived: the human life of Jesus. While we must be careful here not to overlook the fact that Jesus was God incarnate, and therefore in seeing Jesus we see God, yet this same Jesus was also the one sinless human being, uncontaminated and unchanged by the fall. He lived the perfect human life, a life that actually fulfilled human life as God intended it to be.
He did what God told him to do.
He said what God told him to say.
He lived in total dependence on and submission to the Word of God.
His aim was to glorify the Father.
If we take our understanding of the image of God from Jesus Christ, it is this, that we were created:
To exist in a relationship of such total trust in God that our every word and action accurately reflects his nature and his glory.
It is this relationship of total dependence on God that we rejected in Genesis 3 and it is to this that salvation in Christ is restoring us. Thus the New Testament teaches:
- That God has predestined the believer to be conformed to the image of his Son [Romans 8:29].
- That the Holy Spirit is transforming believers into that same image as they contemplate Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 3:18]
- That believers are being renewed into the image of their Creator [Colossians 3:10].
- That the ‘new self’ was created to be like God [Ephesians 4:24]
- That the believer is commanded to be like Jesus and so to manifest the glory of God – to love as he loves, to forgive as he forgives, and so on.
Calvin commenting on these references in Paul’s letters, states: ‘Paul … posits knowledge, then pure righteousness and holiness. From this we infer that, to begin with, God’s image was visible in the light of the mind, in the uprightness of the heart, and in the soundness of all the parts. … this principle cannot be overthrown, that what was primary in the renewing of God’s image also held the highest place in the creation itself.’ [Institutes of the Christian Religion I.XV.4]
The image of God is thus both a relationship with God and a responsibility towards God. And it is to restore this relationship and to equip us to fulfil this responsibility that Jesus came to save us.
A.2 Created for God’s glory
In Isaiah 43:7 God expresses his creative purpose for us: ‘created for my glory.’ This purpose is intimately related to the image of God factor. When we image him, or reflect his likeness, God is glorified. This is what happened in the life of Jesus [John 1:14; 17:1-4; 2Corinthians 4:6], and this is the purpose for which he created us in the first place.
It is also the purpose for which he re-calls us into a restored relationship with himself.
Task #1: What do these verses teach about the purpose/result of salvation?
B. THE FALL
As we have already seen, man did not stay long in his pristine purity in which God was imaged and glorified. Genesis 3 records ‘the fall’ of man from a positive, face-to-face, trusting relationship with God into a negative relationship in which he turned his back on God, rejecting and rebelling against God and his word, and making it impossible for him to reflect the glory of God.
B.1 What happened in Genesis 3?
Genesis 3 records the response to the prohibition recorded in Genesis 2:17. The significance of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ was the fact that Adam and Eve were prohibited from eating its fruit. As long as they accepted God’s command they knew only good – only the positive relationship with God for which they were created. The key thing was neither the act of eating nor the fruit they ate, but the lack of trust in God and his word, the rebellion against God and his word, and the rejection of God and his word that eating this fruit expressed. In that departure from trust, in that rebellion, in that rejection Adam and Eve refused their role of dependence on God.
Task #2: What happened to humans in Genesis 3? Discuss the meaning and impact of the following concepts from the verses listed.
Genesis 3:1-5: Satan deceived Eve into doubting the word and the goodness of God
Genesis 3:6: Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command, rejecting and rebelling against his right to rule
Genesis 3:7: Separation within themselves – inner death – a destructive self-awareness
Genesis 3:8-10: Separation between man and God - guilt and fear in the presence of God – spiritual death
Genesis 3:11-12: Separation between man and man – relational death – blame shifting, self-justification
Genesis 3:16-19: Beginning of pain and suffering; curse
Genesis 3:22-24: Man barred from eternal life
Romans 5:12: Sin entered the world through one man
Romans 5:12: Death entered the world through one man; death came to all men
Romans 5:14: Death reigned from the time of Adam …
Romans 5:15: Many died by the trespass of the one man
Romans 5:16: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation
Romans 5:17: By the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man
Romans 5:18: The result of the one trespass was condemnation for all men
Romans 5:19: Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners
Romans 5:21: Sin reigned in death …
This concept of all mankind being impacted by and involved in Adam’s sin and sin’s condemnation is known as the doctrine of original sin.
TC Hammond: ‘Passages such as Gn 8:21 and Ps. 51:5 indicate that from the moment of conception man becomes subject to a persistent tendency to sin and rebellion against the divine will. The condition in which man finds himself is the reverse of ‘original righteousness’, and he has lost the power to become, and habitually to remain, righteous. This is a matter of universal experience. The word used by the mediaeval theologians to describe this condition was ‘deprivation.’ The state of subjection to the evil principle continuously operating is one of depravity. The states of deprivation and of depravity are regularly transmitted at birth [John 3:6; Rom 5:12]. There is no evidence that anyone has ever escaped these birth-taints, except our Lord.’ [p79,80 – In Understanding be Men]
AA Hoekema: ‘The Bible teaches that human beings are indeed totally or pervasively depraved. We note briefly some of the passages which teach this. According to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” … the New Testament teaches the pervasive depravity of fallen human nature in unmistakable terms. In Romans 7:18 Paul … says “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but cannot carry it out.” In the next chapter his description is even more vivid: “The sinful mind [the mind of man or woman by nature] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” [Rom. 8:7-8]. “The man without the Spirit [unregenerate man] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” [1Cor. 2:14]. [p94,95 – Saved by Grace ]
Martin Luther: ‘… the loss of all uprightness and of the power of all our faculties of body and soul, of the whole inner and outer man’ [commenting on Romans 5:14]
John Calvin: ‘Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” [Gal 5:19]. And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. …We must, therefore, distinctly note these two things. First, we are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. … Not only has punishment fallen upon us from Adam, but a contagion imparted by him resides in us, which justly deserves punishment. … Then comes the second consideration: that this perversity never ceases in us, but continually bears new fruits – the works of the flesh … Our nature is not only destitute and empty of good, but so fertile and fruitful of every evil that it cannot be idle …. Whatever is in man, from the understanding to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, has been defiled and crammed with this concupiscence. Or, to put it more briefly, the whole man is of himself nothing but concupiscence.’ II.I.8 – Institutes of the Christian Religion]
B.2 Man’s continuing identity as a sinner
From what has been already indicated in the quotes above it is obvious that from Genesis 3 onwards man is a sinner. We do not start our life with a clean slate and a clean pure heart and mind as Adam and Eve did. The Romans 5 passage discussed above teaches this quite clearly. We are born sinners; we are born under the condemnation of God. We are born under the reign of death. In fact the Bible has a very negative perception of us, teaching that not only are we sinners who sin, but that we cannot even get ourselves back on the right track and turn to God.
Task #3: What do these Scriptures teach us about our spiritual condition before we are saved?
Romans 3:10 – 20
Did you notice these significant words or concepts:
• No one righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God …
• No one will be declared righteous …
• All fall short …
• Powerless … ungodly … sinners … God’s enemies
• Slaves to sin
• In/under the dominion of darkness
These all speak of a situation of extreme inability, bondage and powerlessness. A situation in which there is no potential of escape by our own ability. A situation into which salvation can only come from the outside.
TC Hammond: ‘The state of sin is declared by Scripture to be shared by every individual who has been naturally born. … It must also be emphasized that not only is every individual involved, but every part of that individual’s nature. Together with human characteristics there is transmitted to each new individual a sinful nature, involving liability to endure the consequences of human sin, and the evil principle (‘the law of sin’) which will uncompromisingly work in antagonism to the requirements of the divine Law. [ibid, p85]
John Calvin: [referring to Psalm 5:9; 140:3; 107:7; Isaiah 59:7; Romans 3:10-16]: ‘With these thunderbolts he inveighs not against particular men but against the whole race of Adam’s children. Nor is he decrying the depraved morals of one age or another, but indicting the unvarying corruption of our nature. Now his intention in this passage is not simply to rebuke men that they may repent, but rather to teach them that they have all been overwhelmed by an unavoidable calamity from which only God’s mercy can deliver them. Because this could not be proved unless it rested upon the ruin and destruction of our nature, he put forward these testimonies which prove our nature utterly lost. … Paul … strips man of his righteousness, that is, integrity and purity; then, of understanding.’ [ibid, II.III.2]
B.3 A contradictory opinion
In the fifth century the view of human sinfulness was challenged by a man named Pelagius. His views, or a modified version of his views, have remained in the church to some degree ever since. Teaching that upholds his views is known as Pelagianism or Semi-pelagianism. His teaching was approved by two Synods of the church in Palestine in Jerusalem in 412AD, and rejected by the African church at the Council of Carthage in 417AD.
TC Hammond [ibid, p82] has made the following summary of Pelagius’ teaching:
‘Human freedom is such that man has complete power at any moment to choose between good and evil and to perform the good if he so wills. Sin, therefore, consists only in deliberate and, as it were, momentary choice of evil.’
‘There is no hereditary principle of sin, and men are born into the condition which Adam possessed before his fall.’
‘Adam was created mortal and would have died in any case. His sin affected no one but himself.’
‘Men are able to live free from sin if they wish, and some have actually done so apart from the supernatural influence of Christ of the Holy Spirit.’
‘Infants are to be regarded as in the same moral condition as Adam before the fall.’
Task #4: What is unbiblical about each of these points and their implications?
In addition, Augustine at the time of these councils, identified the following in the teaching of Coelestius, a disciple of Pelagius:
‘The Law, as well as the Gospel, leads to the Kingdom.’
‘There were men without sin before Christ’s coming.’
‘It is not through the fall of Adam that the whole human race dies, nor through the resurrection of Christ that the whole human race rises again.’
Cited in Bettenson: Documents of the Christian Church, p53
Note that Pelagianism renders the cross of Christ unnecessary. Pelagius actually grounded his system of belief on the concept that ‘If I ought, I can.’ The Bible, however, teaches that though ‘I ought’ I actually can’t. It is this inability of man to meet the standards of God that makes salvation through Christ necessary.
[Explanatory note: If you happen to read the statement coming out of the Council of Carthage 417/418 you will find that the issue of Pelagianism is combined with the issue of infant baptism. This is because of a particular view of what baptism achieves, so should not cause us to reject its affirmation of the doctrine of human sinfulness.]
C. THE HOLINESS OF GOD
Sin is only a problem if God is holy.
The holiness of God consists not only in his purity and moral perfection but in his total otherness: he is set apart from everything else; he is one of a kind - the one God, beside whom there is no other. Sin is thus an offence not only to his purity, but also to his identity. To reject this one-of-a-kind, awesome God from whom we have both our life and our identity, is sin. To refuse the word of this God is to sin. To refuse to image this God in our life is to sin. Sin in all its forms and expressions is an affront to him, or, to use a word from the King James Version, an ‘abomination’ to him.
It is extremely difficult for us, in our imperfection and total depravity, and in our commonality or ordinariness, to come anywhere near to understanding how abhorrent sin is to God, how incongruent and out of place it is considering his ‘holiness’, and how impossible it is for the sinner to survive in his presence.
Task #5: What do these passages teach us about the impossibility of the sinner surviving in the presence of the holy God?
Walter Chantry comments:
‘Wait a moment. The God with whom we have to do is thrice holy, alone good, unapproachable in brilliant holiness! … Take your eye from yourself and behold the holy God of the Scriptures. Then you will see yourself as you truly are – a creature in rebellion against an infinitely pure God. … Preaching on the attributes of God is essential to the conversion of man. Without a knowledge of God, a sinner does not know whom he has offended, who threatens him with destruction, or who is able to save him. … [p26-28 Today’s Gospel]
As the Scriptures above indicate, it is impossible for sinful man to survive in the presence of God unless by some action of God he is saved. In ourselves we are banned from his presence and his judgment hovers over us to destroy us.
D. THE WRATH AND THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
This reality of the wrath and judgment of God against sin and against the sinner is a constant theme of the Scripture. It starts in the outcome described in the Genesis 2:17 prohibition, and is seen in its effect from Genesis 3 right through to Revelation 22.
D.1 Wrath and judgment in the parables of Jesus
Leon Morris in The Cross in the New Testament makes the following comments on the wrath and judgement of God in the Parables of Jesus:
The parable of the fig tree – Luke 13:1-8:
‘[Jesus] did say that judgment was a reality. He warned His hearers that unless they repented they would perish (Luke 13:1-5). … The parable stresses the divine reluctance to punish sinners. God delays punishment while every resource of mercy and grace is exhausted. But in the end, if the fig tree, in spite of everything, remains barren, then there can await it no other fate than destruction. There is a limit to the postponement of God’s judgments.’ [p70]
The rich man and Lazarus - Luke 16:19-31:
‘… the story is incomprehensible other than against a background of judgment. A serious fate for the finally impenitent is presupposed. Unless there is such a dread reality, then neither the rich man nor his brothers are in any danger. They may as well continue with their godless living. [p71]
The pounds – Luke 19:12-27:
‘When God gives men good gifts then those gifts must be used. And the unpalatable truth is that punishment awaits those who do not use them. [p71] … ‘he concludes this parable with words of fearful judgment. T.W. Manson has a comment … “We may be horrified by the fierceness of the conclusion; but beneath the grim imagery is an equally grim fact, the fact that the coming of Jesus to the world puts every man to the test, compels every man to a decision. And that decision is no light matter. It is a matter of life and death.” ‘ [p71 footnote, citing Manson The Sayings of Jesus’]
The wicked husbandmen – Luke 20:9-18; Matt 21:33-45:
‘… hammers home the truth that evil-doers cannot look for immunity. This story finishes with the wicked men being destroyed’ 
‘ … when the Son is rejected and slain, then there is nothing left but judgment … in the end judgment is inevitable’ [p23]
The rich fool – Luke 12:16-21:
‘ … is a warning to have regard to true values … men’s actions have eternal significance’ 
The unforgiving servant - Matthew 18:23-35:
‘… concludes with the note of punishment. The servant who had no mercy is delivered to the ‘tormentors’ … The disciples are warned that the heavenly Father will do likewise to them if they sin in the same fashion’ ’ 
D.2 Wrath and judgment in other teaching of Jesus
If we look beyond the parables we find that Jesus frequently referred to the wrath and judgement of God in his other teaching:
Judge, judgment, judged [47 references]
Wrath of God [4 references]
Hell [15 references]
Fire (related to judgment) [22 references]
End of the world (related to expected judgment) [10 references].
Jesus’ teaching gives us every reason to believe the reality and horror of God’s wrath and judgment. So horrific is the expected end of unrepentant, unredeemed sinners that Jesus stated that it would be better for them if they had never been born [Matthew 26:24] or that they had died before they committed certain sins [Mathew 18:6]. The extreme nature of God’s wrath and judgment is parallelled by the extreme measure God took to save us from that wrath and judgment.
D.3 Wrath and judgment in Romans 1:18-31
Romans 1:18 in the Greek text commences with the word ‘for’. This word connects what Paul teaches in Romans 1:18-32 is connected to what he has said in the previous verses. Why is this gospel he has described in verses 16 and 17 necessary? Why does it have to be the power of God that saves us? Why is this gospel righteousness a ‘righteousness from God’ that is ‘by faith from first to last’? Why do those who are justified live ‘by faith’ in the presence of God and not by their own works? Because God’s wrath is against all our ‘godlessness and wickedness’ in which we have suppressed his truth and set up other gods in his place, in which we have refused his glory for lies, and abandoned his standards. Because of all of this we are cut off from God, under his present wrath, unwilling and unable to have him as our God.
Only God can break through and save us from his wrath.