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.
In all the material realm sin is an attribute only of humans. This is because no other physical entities can know right from wrong. All things other than people do only what God has given them an instinct and ability to do. What they do may not suit what we think they should do. However, since they do not choose their actions based on knowledge of right and wrong, they are free from guilt. I believe that this was true of the first-creation humanity before the later version came to know right from wrong and hence to be able to make sinful choices.
The new type of humanity came to know right from wrong by doing wrong. You know the story and it seems only fair to credit both Adam and Eve for this addition to human capabilities. However, we should note that their punishments differed. Adam, I believe, bore the guilt that has been transmitted to all his descendants. This guilt could not be transmitted through Eve because a woman was to bear the child that would offer all humanity redemption from our guilt.
When it comes to the origin and nature of humanity, I am going to depart from traditional understandings. First, I think that the two accounts in Genesis of the creation of people are actually two events. The first one, on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:26-31) begins with a description of the creation of humans in the same terms as the creation of livestock, wild beasts, and varmints (my terminology). Then that creation account tells us that these people were to be fruitful and multiply and rule over the other animals (except wild animals) and the earth. This mandate to rule, I believe, constitutes their creation in the image of God, that is they were able to think rationally. Since these original people came before people had spirits and Jesus had a body they had to be in the image of God in some way other than physically or spiritually.
The second account, which is that of Adam and Eve, I believe, particularizes the origin and nature of current humanity. The creation of Adam and Eve marked the beginning of a new kind of humanity. It differed from the earlier humanity in that they had an indwelling spirit. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 11:5( ESV) “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” What we do know was that these new people had spirits that came to them while they were babies still in the womb.
These humans were also to have something new—a sense of right and wrong. This came into being when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. It also resulted in them being expelled from the Garden of Eden and forced to make their way in the “real” world and deal with their spiritless relatives. We are told in Genesis 6 how the sons of God found the daughters of man (earlier humans) attractive and the usual thing happened.
By the time of Noah, the attractiveness of the women and their culture had so overwhelmed the virtues of the sons of God that God brought about a mass extinction of humanity, except for eight people of the new type.
I think what I believe about the origin and nature of humanity is different from what you have been told or have read about. Nonetheless, what I have pictured retains the validity of the biblical accounts of creation and also allows for the prior existence of human-type people. It also takes into account the knowledge we have of the effects of mass extinctions on the overall history of life.
The Bible mentions a wide variety of created spirits. One problem we have in knowing more about spiritual creatures is that the writers of Scripture had to use physical categories to describe spiritual realities. Another, more actual, problem is that we normally have little experience with spiritual creatures and so when we may think we are in the presence of angels of light they may actually be demons.
One defining characteristic of Satan and his minions is that they are liars. This is why it is so important in our thinking about spiritual creatures and events to seek only to know what is true because truth only comes from God.
There is a fundamental division between those created spirits who have chosen to serve God and those who choose to follow Satan. The lower ranks of those who follow Satan we call demons. The New Testament also tells us of powerful beings, apparently produced by Satan, that are described as frogs, dragons, two beasts, a false prophet, and a reigning prostitute.
On God’s side, in addition to angels, there are archangels, elders and seraphim. Angels act as God’s messengers. Archangels also act to bring God’s messages to people. They also have a role in the destiny of nations and wage war against the satanic spirits. The elders lead worship in heaven and may have other roles. The seraphim, with their multitude of eyes, appear to have the job of overseeing God’s physical creation.
On earth, I believe we are in the midst of a vast spiritual warfare. Satan’s intent is not just to cause problems for people but to bring physical and spiritual death to as many humans as he can. Were it not for the purpose of the Father, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the obedience to God of the angels we all, without exception, would be doomed to eternal death.
Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. It might also be defined, if we take on the mood of the writer of Ecclesiastes, as a chasing of the wind. However, there is much written about the Holy Spirit in Scripture to help us understand the nature and role of this third person of the Trinity. Despite all the information, we still do not seem to be given a concrete image for our minds except that of, occasionally, a dove.
The word Holy signifies that the Holy Spirit is divine. The words used in the original languages for Spirit have various meanings and always refer to something invisible. Some of these meanings are wind, life, energy or power. All of these meanings designate something outside human control or capture. In other words, the Holy Spirit goes where he will and does what he chooses as far as our wills are concerned, just as the other persons of the Trinity do. At the same time, just as the Son serves the purposes of the Father so the Holy Spirit moves to shape creation, history and people to the will of the Father and Son.
Continuing creation is God’s enduring and effective activity in nature and human events. I believe continuing creation allows both God and people to have options while allowing God’s purposes to be accomplished. The dialogue in Exodus 32 between Moses and God following the worship of the golden calf indicates that both God and Moses had real choices they could make. Fortunately for the Israelites, Moses persuaded God to honor his promises to the patriarchs and form the Israelites into an enduring nation.
Continuing creation has brought humanity to where it is now and will continue to change the world we live in. Not all change is of God but what prospers and blesses humanity is. There are too many beneficial things given to humanity by God since Adam and Eve to list.
The Garden of Eden appears to be an anomaly. It was unique and set at a particular place on the earth for God to create in two particular people, Adam and Eve, the psychological and sociological characteristics that would eventually come to all humanity.
We focus on the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the curse they brought by eating the forbidden fruit. We tend to forget all the other things that occurred in the garden. Adam named animals and found he was not one of them and so could not be satisfied with their presence. God created Eve and marital relations had their beginning. Adam and Eve were given the ability to act outside their instincts. This is why Eve was able to think about her choices, and shape her replies when Satan tempted her. Adam did the same when Eve tempted him. In one of the great ironies of the story, they came to have knowledge of good and evil so they and their descendants could know that they needed the redemption God would provide.