From the Editor

Salvation and the Cults——4. What is missing in the current practice of Christianity to cause bizarre groups to flourish?

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

 

The young man who knocked on my door was clean-cut. His speech indicated that he had a thorough knowledge of his particular brand of religion. As we stood under my carport discussing the Scriptures, I waited for the right moment to ask the all-important question. Although I didn't frame my question in the words of the Philippian jailer, "What must I do to be saved?" the point was the same.This zealous apostle of what I consider to be a cult seemed strangely bewildered as I asked for his belief on the doctrine of salvation by faith. In fact, he acted as if he had never heard the phrase before, and I honestly believe he hadn't. It was evident that his spiritual emphasis was dedicated to fitting scriptural passages into a framework of the end of the world and the establishment by Christ of an earthly kingdom. He seemed to be to tally unaware of the implications of salvation by faith.

In continuing this series on authentic Christianity versus cults, the magnificent doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ stands as an Everest of uniqueness, forever distinguishing true Christianity from all other religions. I say "true Christianity" for, sad to say, in all prob ability the majority of professed Christians, which includes the friend at my door have an extremely limited and shallow understanding of this foundational truth. To repeat, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ stands without a peer in any other religious philosophy. Nothing equals it!

Naturally this belief centers on Jesus, "the chiefest among ten thousand," who is "altogether lovely" (S. of Sol. 5:10, 16). Around this particular doctrine the storm center of controversy swirled during Reformation days, although the conflict between salvation by faith and salvation by works has a history as old as man's fall. Through the corridors of time, from Eden until today, one crucial problem has continued for which no one has the solution—except God. Job put his finger squarely on the problem when he asked, "'How can a man be just before God?'" (Job 9:2, R.S.V.). The broken personal relationship between man and God is the root cause of all problems in life. Every jail and hospital, every divorce and graveyard, testifies to this fact. Every evil you see, feel, or hear has its origin here. Unbelief—a lack of faith or trust—shattered man's relationship with God and loosed the flood of sin and woe upon the world. Fear, guilt, envy, and a host of other destructive attitudes replaced love, peace, confidence, and all the constructive, delightful attitudes with which God originally endowed man.

In perfect union with his Maker, man was at peace with God, himself, and his wife. When he sinned, man was at war with God, himself, and his wife. In creasing population only enlarged the battlefield. Increasing knowledge only expanded the possibilities for greater and more serious varieties of rebellion. By nature, the sinner is an unbeliever. He simply does not believe God. Some even deny His existence. All rebel against God in one way or another. Solomon sensed this when he wrote, "This alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices" (Eccl. 7:29, R.S.V.).

The answer to Job's question, " 'How can a man be just [be clear, be righteous] before God?' " is found in God's way of reuniting man with Himself. It is God's way of salvaging lost man; God's way of restoring the ruptured relationship; God's way of giving back to man the peace and sense of self-worth he once had. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).

The content of all Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, centers on God's plan of salvation. Of course, our foe, Satan, uses every conceivable scheme to abort and distort God's unique and beautiful way to save a person. Satan's aim is to destroy, to kill, and to steal. By inducing men to believe error and dis believe truth regarding God's plan of salvation, he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning (see John 10:10; 8:44).

There are two opposing themes described in Scripture—one inspired by God, and the other inspired by Satan. One is salvation by faith, and the other is salvation by works. The history of Israel, the sanctuary services, the Psalms, the prophetic book of Daniel, the teachings of Jesus, the writings of Paul and others, contrast these two themes. The book of Revelation climaxes this antithesis by bringing these two themes into focus under the titles of "The Seal of God" and "The Mark of the Beast."

The sealing chapter of Revelation 7 describes the saved as clothed in white robes and crying with a loud voice, " 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!' " (verse 10, R.S.V.). Note carefully the inherent quality of salvation by faith in this praise session. The saints refer not to their works, their accomplishments, or their doings, but to what God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, have done for them. Salvation is of the Lord, not of man! It is He who saves man, not man who saves himself. Incidentally, this verse is significant evidence for the equality of God and the Lamb, since both receive the same praise for the plan of salvation.

In Revelation 14, we find three mes sages going to the earth, under the auspices of three symbolic angels. The first angel's message (verse 6) proclaims the everlasting, or the eternal, gospel to every nation, tribe, and tongue and people. An understanding of this unchangeable gospel reveals that God's method of saving sinners has ever been the same. Salvation has been, is how, and ever will be by faith, and not by works.

In this same chapter, the third angel's message contains a warning against the beast and his mark, couched in the most severe language to be found in Scripture. Thus, in this one chapter, the two themes of salvation by faith and salvation by works—the everlasting gospel and the beast with his mark—appear in stark contrast. In future editorials, we will expand this concept more fully. The point we wish to emphasize here is God's unalterable way of saving a man, and Satan's unceasing attacks on this plan as exposed in every book of the Bible. Authentic Christianity will clearly show the difference between the two systems by exalting Jesus Christ as the one and only Way, Truth, and Life.

The first step in understanding salvation by faith is to recognize that God's method of saving us begins and ends with love. Today's society, which so glibly punctuates everything with the word love, makes understanding its meaning in God's terms extremely difficult. So few connect love with God, and so many believe it to be an inherent quality of human nature, that surely it must be the most overworked, misunderstood word in the dictionary.

My daughter Linda, during college days, bought a large poster with the word love printed vertically in large letters. Three of the letters carried qualifying statements, one of which revealed a dangerous misapprehension (although I am sure the author of the poster meant well). It read: "Love is an energy which exists of itself. It is its own value." This statement makes love an entity that exists of itself, detached from God. The scriptural view is that God is love, not love is God. He is the source of love and life. Satan, of course, attempts to block this concept from our minds by picturing God as a tyrant who is responsible for all suffering and death.

So the first step God took to redeem man was to help him to see that He is love. When Adam and Eve sinned, apparently there was no acknowledgment of wrong on their part. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed God for making the serpent that deceived her! There is no record of any confession of sin or request for forgiveness in the Genesis story, although both are implied. In actions and words, Adam and Eve initially exhibit self-justification only! What more fitting symbol could there be of salvation by works than the fig-leaf garments they made to cover their nakedness?

In spite of their self-justifying attitude, the first thing the Lord did for Adam and Eve was to curse the serpent and promise that a marvelous salvation would be made available to the sinful pair (see Gen. 3:14, 15). Then, the record says, "The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them" (verse 21, R.S.V.). Is it reading too much into this simple statement to see here the inauguration of a sacrificial system for transgression? God patiently instructing these new sinners of the unsuspected malignity of sin? Explaining that man-made coverings of fig leaves would not suffice and that a substitute must die in order to provide for them a suitable covering? Imagine Adam's feelings as he watched the death of the animal, knowing his sin was the cause of this hitherto unknown suffering and that because of his guilt innocent blood must be shed! Dimly he under stands that he deserves to die, and can do nothing to avert that just sentence, but an innocent One will take his place! All this and more is wrapped up in this single sentence.

The point is that God took the initiative in redeeming man. That is love! He is the one who reaches out first to the sinner. That is love! The sinner can and may respond, but it all starts with God. That is love!

Paul puts it this way, "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8, R.S.V.).

The magnificent point is that God didn't have to save us. In fact, from a human standpoint, His doing so is in comprehensible, as Paul reasons in Romans 5. Oh, the breadth and length and depth and height of His love is unfathomable ! When the Holy Spirit impresses the heart with this one point alone, it will cause us to cry out, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!" What more could we ask for? What more could God do to let us know that He loves us? No wonder John exclaimed, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1). The incalculable value God places upon man is unparalleled. God the Son giving His life on Calvary is the most profound theme possible for meditation.

"Every human tie may perish,

Friend to friend unfaithful prove;

Mothers cease their own to cherish,

Heaven and earth at last remove;

But no change

Can attend Jehovah's love."

—J.R.S.

Fifty Years Ago
"The cultivation of a pleasing
manner by a minister of the gospel is
not to be condemned; but when a
minister begins to study how he may
gain the approval of men, without
regard as to himself being approved
unto God, he is headed toward de
feat. The mouthpiece for God, the
ambassador of heaven's King, can
not mold his message and govern his
conduct to satisfy popular demand.
His social contact must be governed
by the high standard of the holy
calling of the ministry, as set forth
in the inspired word. To lower this
standard, in the desire to win favor
and popular applause, and be con
sidered 'a good fellow' in the social
realm of the world, results in ruin to
the career of any preacher." MIN
ISTRY, July, 1929, p. 23.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

July 1979

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