William G. Johnsson is associate editor of the Adventist Review, Washington, D.C.

We believe that by this faith we are regenerated in newness of life, being by nature subject to sin. . . . This faith not only doth not hinder us from holy living, or turn us from the love of righteousness, but of necessity begetteth in us all good works. Moreover, although God worketh in us for our salvation, and reneweth our hearts, determining us to that which is good, yet we confess that the good works which we do proceed from his Spirit, and can not be accounted to us for justification, neither do they entitle us to the adoption of sons, for we should always be doubting and restless in our hearts, if we did not rest upon the atonement by which Jesus Christ hath acquitted us. —French Confession, XX II.

It is our conviction that mankind's only hope of salvation is in the unmerited kindness of God. We believe that no human striving, no effort, no works of righteousness that we may do, can win us merit with God. We also believe that God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves and that in Jesus Christ He has broken the reign of sin and death and made salvation accessible to all. By the cross God has reconciled a sinful world to Himself; now He offers to every person His gift of salvation.

If we would grasp the Biblical plan of salvation, we must first realize our desperate need. While at times men and women individually and society generally exhibit noble actions, from a divine perspective we stand condemned, individually and collectively. We are rebels at heart and rebels in deed; even our righteous actions are as "filthy rags" in God's sight (see Isa. 64:6, K.J.V.). * Although our first parents were created in the divine image, that image has been defaced: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (chap. 1:5, 6). As the searching eye of God surveys the human race, the verdict is: "'None is righteous, no, not one.'" "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:10, 23).

Nor can the law help us. Even if we would seek to justify ourselves before God by a scrupulous conformity to its precepts, we fall short. Jesus, elaborating the law, showed it probes even our motives and attitudes, our secret desires (see Matt. 5:17-48). He showed that at the heart of the law is love—supreme love to God and love of our neighbor as ourself (see chap. 22:34-40). Thus the law demands a standard we cannot reach; rather than saving us, it exposes our insufficiency. "For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20).

We confess that without God we are lost (see Luke 15). We are alienated from God, alienated from one another, alienated from our environment. We do not do what we should or want to do; we do what we should not do. Not only do we stand wanting at the bar of God, but we are helpless captives to sin, both within and without (see Rom. 7:14-23). As unpalatable to modern people as this description may be, it is nevertheless the Biblical portrayal of the human condition. Only as we sense this lostness, our desperate need of help from outside ourselves, can we appreciate the way of salvation.

For the second great fact of salvation is this: God does not leave us in our lostness. He comes to us, offering His salvation. He does for us what we cannot do. He sets us free—from guilt, from condemnation, from the lordship of sin.

God's initiative

Throughout the Scriptures God takes the initiative to save men and women. The first question in the Bible that He asks is addressed to our first parents as they hide from Him: " 'Where are you?'" (Gen. 3:9). Ever since Adam and Eve's first flight we have been fleeing; ever since God's first call He has been calling. Yahweh intervenes to rescue the Hebrew tribes in slavery (see Ex. 3:6-10); He likewise brings them home again from Babylonian exile (see 2 Chron. 36:22, 23).

The supreme act of God, however, is in Jesus Christ. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). The eternal Word, He who always has been and will be fully God, became flesh, pitching His tent among us (see John 1:1, 2, 14). He did not selfishly grasp to retain His position but took "the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6, 7). One with us, He shared our sorrows, endured our tests, experienced our cares and wants, and was tempted in every respect as we are (see Heb. 2:18; 4:15). Yet in every trial He emerged without sin; He was "a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Peter 1:19).

Centrality of the cross

Great as was Christ's life of perfect obedience to the will of God, it pointed forward inevitably to Calvary. To counter the mystery of sin God would provide the mystery of the cross. On Golgotha's hill God would take upon Himself the penalty of our sin, experiencing the desolation and despair of "the second death" (Rev. 21:8). The witness of Scripture is "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). He died the death that was ours that we might receive the life that was His. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).

For us the cross is central. It is the decisive moment of history when God showed His judgment on sin and yet provided salvation for the world. We believe in the substitutionary, atoning, reconciling death of Jesus Christ. Because of the cross God can be just and yet the justifier of the man or woman who believes in Jesus (see Rom. 3:21-26). In wonder at the marvel of redeeming love, we exclaim with Paul: "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14).

At the cross God reconciled the world to Himself. He was not reluctant to save lost humanity; rather, the plan of salvation in Jesus Christ issued from His initiative: "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor. 5:19). Before we made any move toward Him, He had opened the door of deliverance; "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). As we are all "in Adam," the ancestor of the human race, so God designs that we be "in Christ," the second Adam, He whose righteous life and atoning death has reversed the loss of the Fall (see 1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:12-21).

We believe that God's salvation in Christ Jesus is provided for every man and woman, boy and girl, in human history. God has no favorites; He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2Peter3:9, K.J.V.). To every sinner He issues the invitation " 'Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'" (Matt. 11:28-30). No distinction of race, sex, age, education, or social status can keep a person from God's gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. He desires all to be saved (see 1 Tim. 2:4).

While God has made full provision for the salvation of the world, He does not thrust His gift upon men and women. His nature is love, and He longs for a loving response from us—the response of faith. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Faith is trusting God, taking Him at His word, turning from our self-justification to His justification.

But faith itself comes from God. He sends the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11), awakening within us a desire for God. He empowers our will to choose the good: instead of rebelling against God or fleeing from Him, we turn toward Him and His arms outstretched in welcome. The Spirit especially impresses us through the Word of God (see Rom. 10:17). Thus, while even in offering His inestimable Gift God honors our freedom of choice, salvation is entirely from Him. "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8, K.J.V.). In the robe of Christ's righteousness worn by the redeemed is not one thread of human devising.

We believe that salvation embraces both objective and subjective aspects. The former denotes our new standing with God, the latter the transformation of our experience. We believe in justification by grace alone, through faith alone. This historic formula expresses what God does for us in Jesus Christ. It is the good news that by the cross we are acquitted at the bar of divine justice. "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. . . . The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:5, 6).

While this objective aspect of salvation is effectively expressed through the lawcourt model of justification, Scripture furnishes other descriptions of our new status. We are forgiven (See 1 John 1:9), redeemed (See 1 Peter 1:18, 19, K.J.V.), reconciled (see Rom. 5:10), washed (see 1 Cor. 6:11), and adopted as sons and daughters of the living God (see Rom. 8:15). Once we were lost; now we are found. The prodigal has come home (see Luke 15:11-32).

Salvation transforms

God's gift of salvation does not merely give us a new standing—it is transforming. Turning from self-righteousness to God's righteousness, we are converted (see Isa. 6:10); our attitudes and desires reoriented, we are "'born anew' " (see John 3:3-8). We are delivered from the kingdom of evil, rescued from the lordship of sin: "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17, 18). Thus, we believe that God's gift of salvation not only works for us but also in us.

As His redeemed sons and daughters, we have a new attitude to divine law. No longer does it stand over against us to condemn us, nor do we seek to win merit by a slavish scrupulosity (see chap. 7:7- 11). Rather, the Holy Spirit writes the heavenly precepts on our heart (see Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:10). With our Lord we say, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8, K.J.V.).

It is our conviction that the experience of salvation issues in good works. "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10). Such works are not the ground, but the "fruit," of our salvation. As we are united to Jesus, the Vine, our lives will reflect the beauty of His character (see John 15:1-5). Daily beholding His glory, we are being trans formed into His image (see 2 Cor. 3:18). Christianity, we believe, is a transforming relationship with a living Saviour and Lord.

Thus, the indicative of God's gift is accompanied by the imperative to holy living. We are to become what we are—to live out the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus (see 1 Cor. 5:7). We dare not treat lightly the "great salvation" that has come to us (Heb. 2:3). The privilege of the divine Gift calls forth a commensurate measure of responsibility; we are to be "blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15).

We would make it clear, however, that having begun the Christian life by faith, we do not thereafter rely upon our own strength. The way we receive Christ is also the way we live in Christ: by grace through faith. "As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him" (Col. 2:6). Daily we are to give all and receive all—giving ourselves wholly in faith, receiving His new life. We believe in the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit, He who indwells us as Christ's Paraclete, guiding, strengthening, and encouraging us (see John 14:13, 16-18, 25; Eph. 3:16).

We do not believe that our initial acceptance of God's gift of salvation ensures that we cannot be lost. Having begun well, we may draw back. God will never forsake us—He will not allow anyone to snatch us out of His hand (see John 10:29)—but we may forsake Him. He does not compel us to remain His, even as He does not compel us to become His. So we take seriously the repeated warnings of Scripture to persevere in the way of God's will, lest we fall from grace (see 1 Cor. 9:26, 27; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31).

This good news of God's gift of salvation lies at the very heart of our self-under standing. We see ourselves commissioned to preach the "eternal gospel" to a world that is facing the imminent end (see Rev. 14:6, 7). In an age of careless living we remind men and women of the claims of God's law that render them condemned before God and liable to His judgment. But in doing so we would point them to Jesus, He who lived for us and died on our behalf to remove the condemnation and set us free from the power of sin. He is our Brother, our Mediator, our Judge—our Saviour and our Lord! And the best is yet to be! He who has saved us, whom now we know only by faith, will soon return (see John 14:1-3).

Then we shall see Him face to face and abide with Him forever. We shall join in the hallelujah chorus of heaven as we sing: " 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain'" (Rev. 5:12)!

* Unless otherwise specified, all Bible texts in this article are from the Revised Standard Version.

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 William G. Johnsson is associate editor of the Adventist Review, Washington, D.C.

September 1981

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