People may think of God almost exclusively in terms of his power. On the other hand there are those who see love as the overwhelming attribute of God. What do we see of God when we examine the life of Jesus?
Jesus’ life on earth was marked by significant withholding of his power as the second person of the Trinity. Although he had the power to judge all the earth, he came to bring salvation instead. This means that when he used his power it was to express his love for people.
It is easy to focus on the power Christ displayed when he raised people from the dead and performed other supernatural acts. We tend to forget the beneficiaries of his power and the divine acts of love that changed their lives.
Yet we are in the same category as those told of in the New Testament. In fact, it would not be hard to make the case that most all of Christ’s miracles have happened in us as we have been brought into the realm of the Son of God. The difference in our cases is that it is, for the most part, spiritual defects that have been cured and spiritual hunger that has been satisfied. We have also been given eternal life, sight to see the things of God, access to truth and innumerable other blessings.
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.
Human will is a remarkable attribute. Some people can use it to form an ego so large it pushes God out of the universe and reduces him to nonexistence. Other people use their will to follow Christ and the other martyrs to death for sake of their faith. From these extremes it can be seen that there is such a free aspect to our wills that they can be used to honor God or curse God.
If we search for free will elsewhere in the physical realm, other than in humans, we will not find it. It was given to us by God and is, I believe, part of what is written of us when we are told we were created in the image of God. Our autonomous wills are unique to humans in the created universe. Every other physical part of us is shared in some way with the remainder of God’s world.
Our wills burden us with a tremendous and terrifying responsibility. We are accountable for all the choices we make. We cannot make God or Satan responsible for the choices we make. Yet our choices lead us to a final decision after the end of our lives on earth as to whether we will dwell eternally with God or not. What help is there for us in such a situation.
Fortunately for us, while our wills are free they are not beyond divine spiritual influence. When the Holy Spirit redeems our spirits he also gains the power in us to change our wills over time so our choices become more and more aligned with God’s purpose for us. Unfortunately for us, we will always a ways to go. That is why our wills are not going to be perfected as long as we live in this world and why we must look forward, I believe, in hope for resurrected bodies and minds that will perfectly do what God would have them do.
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.
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.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). I interpret these verses as providing a basis for our interpretation of Scripture although there are other meanings in them and other verses that guide interpretation. I believe the interpretation of biblical passages must enhance our understanding of the reality of spiritual things and bring us closer to a fuller knowledge of God’s revelation.
This does not mean we should not use such wisdom as has been provided us by others who have worked at interpreting Scripture. Interpretation is such a complex subject it has its own name—hermeneutics. The article in my Bible dictionary says interpretation is both an art and a science. Science begins with accurate observation and in interpretation this would mean, as far as possible, correctly reading the passage. From there we go on to context, comparison with other Scripture, other people’s interpretations and whatever we have learned from interpreting other passages.
There are rules for interpretation. These serve the same purpose as what are called the laws of nature do in the physical sciences. They put bounds on what are legitimate interpretations.
The art of interpretation is the work of the Holy Spirit as we pray for guidance and meditate on the possible meanings to see as much as God would have us see in a particular passage. Art is not static so what we may not understand originally may become clear as we continue to seek understanding.