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The Christian Counter

     

The Plan of Salvation
Part I Lesson 5

“What must I do to be saved?”  No question has ever provoked so many different answers.  A few years ago, a Gallup poll was conducted on the subject of salvation.  Eighty-seven percent of the people questioned were convinced they were going to heaven.  Ninety percent of the people responding knew someone going to hell!

“What must I do to be saved?”  Is a universal question?  People of every culture, language and nation ask the question.  The problem is not the question but the answer.  Ask a Catholic, Baptist, Jew, Muslim, and a Hindu and you’ll get different answers!  Is there one correct answer? Is there only one-way to heaven?

From heaven’s point of view

Consider the issue of salvation from heaven’s point of view.There are 6+ billion people on this planet and “God” is not willing that anyone should perish.”  II Peter 3:9 God foreknew that people on earth would speak different languages, have diverse customs, and think differently about religion.  God therefore prepared a plan of salvation that would encompass every human being that would ever live before He created the world.

The subject of God’s foreknowledge can get very confusing and bizarre if misunderstood.  But a few moments spent on this matter to properly appreciate what God is like will be very beneficial.  There are three critical points that must be understood to bring God’s foreknowledge into focus.

  1. Jesus is omniscient or all knowing.  He knows the future.  He knows the outcome and process and all things.  He knew Adam and Eve would sin before He created them.  He knew Cain would kill Abel. He knew He would have to die on Calvary before He created the world!  He knew Judas would betray Him for 30 pieces of silver.  Jesus knows who will be saved and who will not.  The Godhead knows everything about everything!  They knew everything that would happen on this planet before it was created!  Jesus says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come…What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” Isaiah 46:10,11 Jesus said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5
  1. Jesus does not use His foreknowledge to force or cause an outcome.  Jesus was not responsible for the sin of Adam and Eve.  They chose to disobey.  Jesus was not responsible for Cain killing Abel.  Cain chose to kill Abel.  Jesus did not make Judas a traitor; Judas chose to betray Jesus for a little money.  The point is that Jesus gives the power of choice to each of His created subjects.  They are free to choose to do whatever they wish.  Even though He knows what each person will choose He does not use His foreknowledge to force the outcome.

Bottom line

Here is the bottom line:  the essential difference between foreknowledge and predestination is that predestination causes the outcome whereas foreknowledge knows the outcome.

The Old Testament story of Israel clearly points out that Jesus does not use His foreknowledge to change the outcome.  Notice this prophecy, “And the Lord said to Moses:  ‘You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering.  They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them.  On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed.  Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’  And I will certainly hide my face on the at day because all their wickedness in turning to other gods.”  Deuteronomy 31: 16-18

Jesus knew what Israel would do in the future.  1,800 years of Jewish history clearly confirms the foreknowledge of Jesus in this prophecy.  But the same eighteen hundred years of Jewish history confirms that Jesus did not use His foreknowledge to make Israel a stubborn and stiff-necked people.  In fact the Old Testament verifies that God did everything possible to save Israel – time after time!  Israel chose to rebel against God and He knew they would.

One day Jesus stood overlooking Jerusalem and reflecting on His relationship of many centuries with Israel he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.” Matthew 23:37-39

If there is one lesson in the Bible that stands out more clearly than any other, it is the sad truth that God’s people have often been less than responsive to the condescending love of God.  In fact, history confirms the repetitive process of “God’s people” treating God’s messengers worse than heathen treat their enemies!

The last point about God’s foreknowledge is an important synthesis from Revelation about the two points just made.  The Father, knowing earth’s history before the world was created, wrote down the history of Earth.  He then sealed up the story with seven seals so that no one might change or alter the script.  This book, called the book of life, was perfectly sealed up with seven seals.  It contains among other things the names of all shall choose to be saved!  (This will be studied in greater depth when we reach the study on the seven seals.)  When the book is finally opened, then every person will see that God knew everything about everything before the world was created and that He did not use His foreknowledge to force alter or manipulate any person’s power of choice.  At that time, each person will see clear confirmation that their eternal destiny was their decision!

A few verses from Revelation are provided to demonstrate that the book of life was written before the world was created:

“…The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.”  Revelation 17:8

“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written from the creation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain.”  Revelation 13:8

(Note:  verse 8 can also be translated, “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”  The phrase “from the creation of the world’, can grammatically apply either the “book of life that was written” or “the Lamb that was slain.”  Applying the phrase to the book of life appears to be better choice since the meaning clearly harmonizes with John’s remark in Revelation 17:8 

Book of Life in the Old Testament

King David knew about God’s foreknowledge and the book written before the world! “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was hidden from you when I was made in a secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:13-16

The Apostle Paul confirms that God anticipated the rise of sin before the world was created and was prepared for it!  Paul says,  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”  Ephesians 1:3-8

The Biblical meaning of the word “predestined” does not mean forced.  Rather, God planned before the creation of the world for the human race to be adopted as His sons through Jesus because He knew sin was coming. But, if any person does not want to be adopted as a child of God, they will not be adopted.  It’s that simple.

Consider the significance of Jesus’ remark to the living saints at the second coming, “Then the King will say to those on His right… take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  Matthew 25:34

John recognized that the choice of salvation is ours to make.  He wrote, “The spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’ Whosoever is thirsty, let him come; and whosoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”  Revelation 22:17 Can there be any doubt that eternal life is open to any who want it?

Back to the question

The question, “What must I do to be saved?” implies a condition of being “unsaved.” So what is the human race “unsaved” from?  It has been noticed that life lasts about 70 years and then man dies.  What follows? Why must man die?  The Psalmist wrote, “The length of your days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”  Psalm 90:10

The Bible gives a very clear explanation of who man is, why man dies, and what follows.

God created man and placed him in the Garden of Eden where he had access to the tree of life.  As long as man remained in the garden he could live forever because the fruit of the tree of life sustained life indefinitely.  The point is made that Jesus created man as a mortal being.  Jesus plainly told Adam, “…You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  Genesis 2:16,17

Both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of Eden.  Genesis 2:9 When Adam and Eve were created, they had a natural attraction for righteousness, holiness and joy.  As children today possess biological traits from their parents, so Adam and Eve possessed the traits of their Creator – Jesus.  The Bible says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

A test of loyalty

A test was placed in the Garden of Eden to see if Adam and Eve would choose to obey or disobey.  They were clearly informed that they were not to eat of the fruit of one tree in the middle of the garden.  One day, as Eve went grocery shopping to get fruit from the tree of life, which was also in the middle of the garden, a serpent startled her by calling to her from the forbidden tree.  Now the serpent in the Garden of Eden was the most beautiful and intelligent of all creatures.  (Some scholars believe the serpent could fly until he was cursed to crawl upon his belly.  Genesis 3:14 Satan had transformed himself into the most beautiful creature on earth to tempt Eve.  Wouldn’t you be curious if you heard a beautiful creature speak and carry on a remarkably intelligent conversation?

Satan engaged Eve in a conversation and then lied to her.  He deceived her into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Satan said, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.”  Genesis 3:4,5 Satan led Eve to believe that God didn’t want her to experience the knowledge of evil. (This part of Satan’s comment was true for God did not want Adam and eve to experience the knowledge of evil.)  The knowledge of good was enough!  But Satan lied about the fatal consequence of evil.  Notice the clever mixture of error with truth in his statement!

Eve ate the fruit.  Then she gave some of the forbidden fruit to Adam and he also ate also.  Now a very important point must be made between Adam and Eve.  Eve was led to believe a lie.  Adam willfully chooses to eat and die.  Therefore Adam’s sin is greater than Eve’s for God had directly spoken to Adam about this matter.  “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’.”  Genesis 2:16,17

Passing the blame

That evening, Adam and Eve were confronted with their sin.  They ran and hid themselves as Jesus came to visit with them.  They were ashamed, naked and defensive.  When confronted with their deed, they were strangely unrepentant!  Eve blamed her act on the serpent.  She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  Genesis 3:13 Even worse, Adam blamed his act of rebellion on his Creator and the on Eve!  Adam said, “The women you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”  Genesis 3:12 The Jesus turned to Adam and said, “…because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toll you will eat of it all the days of your life…By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and dust you will return.”  Genesis 3:17-19

Access denied

Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden so they might not have access to the tree of life!  The Bible says, “The Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good from evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”  Genesis 3:22-24

Because of their sins, Adam and Eve became “doomed” to eternal death.  “For the wages of sin is death.”  Romans 6:23 They had literally tasted sin and would forever be sinners.  They were banished from the garden and denied access to the life sustaining fruit of the tree of life and God mercifully prevents sinners from living forever.  The trait of rebellion against God (just like a biological trait) was passed on to the offspring of Adam and Eve.

In fact, their firstborn, Cain, became a murderer!  Adam’s sin was greater than Eve’s sin.  Adam was not deceived.  He willfully and intentionally disobeyed God.  Therefore his suffering would be greater than Eve’s.  The words of the Apostle Paul make a lot of sense.  “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.”  Romans 5:12

Think of Adam’s suffering.  The Bible says that Adam lived 930 years. (Genesis 5:5)  Imagine living that long and observing the terrible consequences of your own wrongdoing!  In every death, suffering and sadness, Adam beheld the consequences of his deed.  He saw the blight of sin upon nature.  For more than nine centuries Adam lived with the effects of his willful wrong.

Jesus was not caught by surprise

The sin of Adam and Eve did not catch heaven by surprise.  In fact, the very day Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus told the guilty pair there was a way back to Eden. Ever since that day, the way back has been called the “Plan of Salvation.”

Since all the inhabitants of earth are direct descendants of Adam and Eve, and since God knew when he created the world that someday the world would be populated with billions of people holding to different customs and religious beliefs, the plan of salvation must be broad and inclusive.  The plan must work for the Chinese, Russians, Americans and all peoples in every country.  How can billions of people holding diverse beliefs find their way to Eden?

Because of God’s love, the answer is quite simple. When each person is born, God places within that person a “basic law” of right and wrong.  This law enables people to distinguish or recognize right from wrong.  Jefferson in our Bill of Rights eloquently said this.  “We hold certain truths to be self evident…” The point of creating human beings with reasoning powers is summed up in their ability to distinguish good from evil.  If a person strives to do all he believes is good (operating within his basic law), in God’s sight that is all that is asked of him.  Paul says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.  This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”  Romans 2:14-16

(Note:  the word “law” as used in this text includes the larger meaning of the word, i.e., all scriptures.)

James also supports the concept of basic law. He says, “Anyone, then who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”  James 4:17

Salvation includes full restoration

The Plan of Salvation does not stop with “basic law.”  On the contrary, basic law is where it all begins.  Salvation consists of much more than the promise of eternal life because the human race lost more than eternal life!

God not only wants to restore eternal life to all people, but even more, he wants to restore the traits of holiness, righteousness and divine love within man!  He wants us restored back to His image!  To do this, God has patiently worked through the human race in various ways to inform man of what He is like – hoping that people would respond.  In God’s economy, it is not enough to save man in his sins.  God intends to save man from his sins.

So the plan of salvation has two parts.  Theologians have termed these two elements as “Justification” and “Sanctification.”  Justification means that God has personally paid the price for the salvation of the world.  Sanctification means that God wants to restore His image (traits) in human beings.  Actually, sanctification works two ways.  First, holiness brings fullness of life, happiness, and joys never ending. (What a contrast to the harvest of evil.)  Second, sanctification serves as public relations for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Those who experience the joy and fullness of life that comes through sanctification become living examples of what heaven is all about.  Thus uninformed people are brought to a knowledge of the God of Heaven through examples of what God offers!

These two concepts of sanctification are wonderfully explained in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:3-7:29 For example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you:  ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.”  Matthew 5:43-48

How the pieces fit

As mentioned before, every person is born with “basic law.”  This provides the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong.  Appealing to this basic ability of man, God works to reveal more and more light about Himself to every person so that all may be delivered from sin’s darkness.

But some people don’t want more light about God and His ways.  Jesus told Nicodemus, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lived by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”  John 3:19-21

The rejection of light can be corporate too.  Entire cities or nations can rebel against truth!  Jesus denounced Capernaum saying, “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies?  No, you will go down to the depths.  If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you.”  Matthew 11:23,24 In other words, Sodom’s evil was not as great as Capernaum’s evil because Capernaum had greater evidence of truth!

The conclusion of the matter

Some people want to know more about God.  Some people don’t want to know anything about God. Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus that those who live up to all they know will find more light while those who do evil will not want any more light for fear their deeds will be exposed as evil.

Salvation then comes to any person, in any culture, in any language and in any religious body when they are willing to follow all the light they have.  It’s that simple and that universal.  From “basic law”, God attempts to lead each person into greater and greater light so that every person may become more like Him.

The final exam

Revelation indicates that God has prepared a final exam for all the people of the world living at the end of time.  In the next study, we’ll begin to see how this exam will work.  In effect, God is going to send a powerful testimony of truth throughout the world during a very short time to see who will follow it.  Those living up to all the light they have and looking for more light will quickly see the beauty of this simple but powerful testimony and many will accept it even at great peril to life itself.

The final exam is carefully designed so that all who are living up to the light they have now will be separated from the three classes of people:

  1. Those refusing more light.
  2. Those professing to walk in the light.
  3. Those indifferent to more light.

The final exam will separate the sheep from the goats.  The circumstances during which this exam is administered will be awesome.  Those who pass the exam will be those who are willing to follow more light.  The courage to do this only comes by faith!  Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  Matthew 24:14 Will you have the faith to receive more light?  Jesus, knowing the testing time that is coming upon the earth, asked,”When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  Luke 18:8

Think about it

Am I following all the light that God has given me? Am I willing to follow greater light?  How is my faith in God?

Quiz:

  1. What are the two elements of salvation?
  1. How are they different?
  1. What does “basic law” mean?
  1. According to Jesus, some people hate more light.  Why?
  1. Would God be fair if He used His foreknowledge to avert or prevent something from happening?

Memory Verse:

Matthew 24:14  “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

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