Justification is when God the Father accepts us as righteous through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us. Justification precedes sanctification and glorification. As far as I know, it must be provided to us by God’s grace before we leave planet Earth.
Justification appears to have the characteristic of a “legal fiction.” We are never totally righteous until we are finally glorified in heaven but we are treated as such on earth because our glorification is a sure thing. I believe that once justification is granted to us, it will never be taken away. One reason for this is that justification does not come from us nor is it given for what we are or think or for what we do.
By his sinless life and total obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus made it possible, I believe, for the Father, in justice, to provide righteousness to those who are effectually called.
Soteriology is the knowledge of salvation. Salvation is God’s work of redeeming mankind for eternity and his glory. It is far more than just freedom from the experience of God’s wrath. Let me tell you what I believe about six aspects of it.
The Great Substitution
Jesus offered to the Father what we cannot—an unblemished life. In his sacrifice he suffered not only pain and death but injustice, humiliation and spiritual destitution. He suffered because he loved us and was willing to do what was required for the redemption of those who are his. He died so that those of us who believe in him and receive regeneration might live with him forever.
Regeneration is more than our being made better. It is the new birth in us of eternal spirits. Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3) that he had to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven, which confused him greatly and well it might. It is not easy for us to understand. I believe we are made new creatures and have a new nature when we are reborn by the work of the Holy Spirit and are thus enabled to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Adoption takes us beyond citizenship in the nation (kingdom) of God and makes us members of the family of God. We become the beloved children of our Abba who is the perfection of our ideas of what a father should be and do for his children. We also become brothers and sisters of Jesus so we are treated as friends with whom he shares his plans and intentions rather than as servants just doing what we are told to do and hoping to get it right. We also have an advocate, the Holy Spirit, in the family who speaks for us when we do not know what to say.
Saving faith is a gift of God’s grace that allows us to effectively believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that we are in need of redemption through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. I believe this is the only way to regeneration and adoption. In addition to the faith that gives us our salvation, we are to trust God in all the circumstances of our lives.
Repentance comes about from our beginning to see ourselves as God sees us. I do not think it is a single act at our conversion but a lifelong process as we are shown more and more of our flaws and realize we need forgiveness and a reminder of God’s love and all that Christ has done for us.
Repentance is also an act of God’s grace. If we think we can remove our guilt on our own we will end up in futile attempts of expiation. Luther climbed the steps of St. Peters Cathedral on his knees but it was not until he found grace that the burden of his sin was lifted from him.
Grace is God giving us, because of his love for us and not for any merit or work on our part, the spiritual and physical blessings we are unable to obtain for ourselves.
Providence is God working his will on what exists in the physical realm to accomplish his purposes. It is what we pray for when we say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer. God uses the products of original creation and continuing creation to control all that exists for his purposes.
The secular mind is baffled by providence and even Christian believers often do not see God’s hand in what is happening around us. This is because providence can only be distinguished from nature by grace acting through faith. If we are to know providence then we must have faith that God is working and that by his grace he will give us a sufficient, but not all encompassing, understanding of what is going on. I believe we will not be left in ignorance if we seek understanding.
Providence is moving the world to the end God intends for it. There are various opinions as to what this is. However, we can be sure God’s control will take it to where it is he has in mind and to what he intended for it before the earth’s creation.