The Theology of Salvation – A Brief Review

The Players

God – Almighty Creator (Gen 1:1), King, Judge (Isa 33:22), Redeemer (Isa 47:4; 63:16), Sustainer (Acts 17:25, 28a), etc. Triune in nature (three persons, one substance): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19; Phil 2:5-11). God the Father: Primary attribute: absolutely holy (Isa 6:4, Rev 4:8). Cannot even look upon sin (Hab 1:13). Absolute ruler of creation, i.e., absolutely sovereign over creation and everything in it (Isa 45:6). Nothing happens w/o His direction or permission (Isa 45:7-11). There isn’t a single rogue molecule in the universe (quote from Dr. R.C. Sproul). Though God is the first cause and providentially decrees all things, yet he works through secondary causes (Prov 16:33) such that we are responsible for our actions, which we freely choose according to our desires (Jn 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28) through the doctrine of concurrence (the story of Joseph, esp. Gen 50:20, 21; Job 1-2; Ruth; Esther; et al). Thus God is neither the author nor a condoner of sin (Ja 1:13, 17; 1 Jn 1:5). God the Son: Jesus Christ – Second Person of the Trinity, simultaneously fully God and fully man (Jn 10:30-38; Phil 2:5-11). Sinless (Heb 4:14-16) and perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). God the Son is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). In the end, He will judge the world (Rev 5:8-14). God the Holy Spirit: Third Person of the Trinity. Applies the redemption to us in regeneration (Jn 3:5-8), seals our adoption as children of God (Rom 8:12; Eph 1:5), works in and with the elect in sanctification (Acts 6:3; Rom 8:1-27), and preserves us unto glorification (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30).

Man – Originally created perfect (Gen 1:26-31). Adam, our federal head and representative (Rom 5), chose to sin (Gen 3), marring the image of God in all humankind (Rom 5:12, 14), but not destroying that image. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners by our very nature, having not one iota of righteousness in us (Rom 3:10-18). God is a righteous, holy judge (1 Sam 2:10), and we rightfully incur His wrath for our disobedience (Rom 9:22; Rev 6:17). We cannot save ourselves, nor even reach out or make a move in that direction (Rom 3:10-18; 5:6; Eph 2:1, 5). We were condemned to eternal damnation (Rom 6:23a). For us to be saved, we must atone (pay, make amends) for our sin, propitiate (turn away, appease) God’s righteous wrath, and become perfectly righteous. Or…someone else must do that for us and in our place.

The Plan

The Eternal Covenant – Before creation, God chose to save His elect from their sins and predestine them to everlasting life in fellowship with Him (Eph 1:4, 5). He covenanted with His Son, the second Person of the Trinity, to save the elect (Heb 13:20). This is also called the eternal decree of God.

Covenant of Works – Made w/Adam in the garden (Gen 2:16, 17) that through Adam’s perfect obedience, we might have eternal fellowship w/God. Adam failed that test (Gen 3) as our federal head or representative (Rom 5:12-20). Thus sin entered the world (Rom 5:12, 14). Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God (WSC Q14; Lev 5:17; Jas 4:17; 1 Jn 3:4).

The Covenant of Grace – Does not abolish the covenant of works, but fulfills it (Mt 5:17). Perfect obedience is still required for eternal life (Mt 5:48). In fulfilling His part of the eternal covenant (or eternal decree of God), Christ actively obeyed the law perfectly (Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 1:19), and passively obeyed unto death (Luk 22:42) in substitutionary atonement for us (Rom 5:6, 8). Each of the elect, after regeneration by the Spirit, fulfills the covenant of works by appropriating Christ’s imputed righteousness by faith alone, purely as a gift by the grace of God (Rom 5:6-11, 17; Eph 2:4-9) according to the good pleasure of His will to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:5, 6). This is the essence of the covenant of grace (Gen 15:6), and it was promised at the very first sin (Gen 3:15) and reinforced throughout the ages (e.g., Jer 31:31-34).

The Law, or Mosaic Covenant – God gave the Law to Moses (and us) for three purposes: 1) to restrain sin in the world, even amongst the unregenerate (Gal 3:19); 2) to show us how far we are from the perfect righteousness required of us (Mt 5:48) and drive us to Christ for salvation (Gal 3:24); 3) to show the regenerate God’s perfect will for their lives as children of God (Jn 14:15; Rom 6:1-4; Eph 2:10). No one was ever, or will ever, be saved by the Law (Gal 3:10, 11).

Execution of the Plan

The Mechanism of Salvation – We are saved by a double imputation (2 Cor 5:21) appropriated by faith, which itself is a gift of God (Eph 2:8, 9). All the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ on the cross where He atoned (paid, made amends) for them all once and for all time, and propitiated (turned away, appeased) God’s wrath (Rom 3:25; Gal 3:13, 14; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). In the same way, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the elect, so that they may stand before God clothed not in their own filthy rags (Isa 64:6, 7), but covered by Christ’s perfect righteousness (Heb 4:14-16). We appropriate Christ’s righteousness by faith given us as a gift by God (Gen 15:6; Eph 2:8-10), resting on Christ alone for our justification and righteousness (Acts 4:12; Tit 3:4-7). Both in the Old and New Testaments, no one was ever saved or will ever be saved any other way (Jn 6:67-69; Acts 4:12; Rom 4). God dramatically demonstrated His acceptance of Christ’s work by raising Him from the dead (Acts 2:24). The grave could not hold Him since death is the wages of sin (Rom 6:23a), and Christ was sinless (Heb 4:15).

Who did Christ die for? Three possibilities:

1) Everyone. This is universalism and is clearly refuted in Scripture (Jn 8:44-47; Rev 20:15).

2) Christ made salvation possible for all to choose. This really means Christ died for no one in particular. It is theoretically possible under this scheme that no one will accept Christ, therefore Christ will have died for no one. Alternately, universal salvation is also a theoretical possibility if all accept Christ. In the end, this puts Christ in the hand-wringing mode waiting for human validation rather than as sovereign ruler and judge of creation (Isa 46:10; Dan 4:34, 35; Mt 11:27; Jn 13:3). This scheme is clearly unscriptural.

3) Christ died for specific people collectively known as the elect (Jn 10:14-16). While Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all (i.e., infinite in value), it was only efficient for the elect (Jn 10:1-18; 17:6-26, esp. verse 9), i.e., only the elect are justified. And not because of anything He foresaw in them or something they would do (Dt 6:6-8; Rom 9:10-18), but solely by His grace and for His glory (Eph 1:5, 6 ;2:8-10). This is clearly what Scripture teaches (Eph 1, 2; Rom 9).

Response to Salvation – While faith alone saves, the faith that saves is not alone. We are to bear fruit, living lives of grateful obedience to God (Jn 14:15; Rom 6:1-23; Eph 2:10; Ja 1:22). These good works do not save us (Rom 3:28; 4:2), but they are evidence of faith working in our lives (Ja 2:18). Anyone who says that they rest on Christ alone for salvation but does not show the fruits of sanctification deceives themselves (Mt 7:17-20; 1 Jn 2:3-6). Such are those Christ warned about in Mt 7:21-23 and Luke 6:46-49.

The Golden Chain – As laid out in logical order of occurrence in Romans 8:30, God first predestined the elect before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4, 5), then irresistibly calls them to Himself (Jn 6:44; 10:1-16), regenerating them by His Spirit (Jn 3:5-8) in a monergistic work of God (God’s work alone in us) (Eph 2:8), justifying them through the double imputation (2 Cor 5:21) appropriated by faith (Gen 15:6; Rom 10:9, 10), sanctifies them through their cooperation with the Spirit in a synergistic work (God working with and in us) (Rom 8:28, 29; Gal 5:22; Phil 2:12), and sealing them through the Spirit (Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30) until the day of their glorification in heaven (Jn 6:27; Rom 4:11; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 2:19). Notice that regeneration precedes faith in the order of salvation. All will be perfectly consummated when creation is redeemed at the end (Rev 21, 22). Everything that happens to the elect in this world serves to conform the elect to the image of Christ (Rom 8:28, 29). What a comfort (Ps 46:10, 11)!

How can we be sure that all this is true?

The Scriptures are the only rule of faith and life (Lk 16:29-31; Eph 2:28; 2 Tim 3:16; Rev 22:18). In them, God reveals the wonders of His redemptive plan in history which is completely reliable (Isa 46:10, 11; 2 Tim 3:16). We must be careful not to engage in "dueling verses." Scripture exists as a coherent whole, and all verses must conform to the redemptive-historical sense of that whole. The best commentary on Scripture is Scripture—the analogy of faith (Acts 17:11). If verses don’t seem fit, check other verses on the same subject. Also look to the larger context of the sentence, paragraph, book, and the entire redemptive scheme. In particular, check to whom a particular book or letter was written, or whom the passage addresses. For example, 2 Pet 3:9 is often used to defend universal salvation. However, look whom Peter is addressing in the letter—the elect of God (2 Pet 1:1). Clearly, then, only the elect not yet born are in view in 2 Pet 3:9. Remember, also, that God is infinite and transcends creation (Isa 40:7, 12-28; 2 Pet 3:8), hence His ways are often beyond our full understanding (Job 11:7, 8; Isa 40:28; 55:8, 9; Rom 11:33). Where Scripture is silent, we must be content to remain silent as well.


All of history is redemptive history, existing solely for the glory of God (Isa 42:8; 43:7; Eph 1:6). Ultimately, salvation is not about Israel, the elect, nor the church. The true church is the gift of God to His Son (Luk 10:22; Eph 5:27, 32). All of salvation and creation in general, including everything that happens therein, serves but one ultimate purpose—to glorify God.

So what is God’s will for the lives of the elect?

This is the will of God, even your sanctification (2 Th 4:3a). We are to glorify God and enjoy him forever (WSC Q1; 1 Cor 6:20; 10:31; Ps 16:5-11).

Obligatory Latin

Sola Scriptura – "Scripture alone." Holy Scripture is the only rule of faith and life, and alone can bind the conscience. As Protestants, we recognize only the Old Testament books of the Palestinian canon used, and hence indorsed, by Christ and the apostles, in addition to the New Testament books accepted by the early church.

Sola Fide – "Faith alone." The elect appropriate the imputed righteousness of Christ and thus eternal salvation solely by resting in faith on Christ’s finished work on their behalf. We cannot add anything to Christ’s finished work for our justification. However, as a natural and necessary consequence and outgrowth of our regeneration, we will produce the fruit of good works that God has prepared beforehand for us. Faith, of course, does not in itself save us. The object of our faith, Jesus Christ, saves us. Faith is the vehicle through which the Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s work to the elect.

Sola Gratia – "Grace alone." Our regeneration and saving faith are solely an undeserved gift of God. Yet while we were dead in our sins and enemies of God, justly deserving only His eternal wrath and punishment, Christ died for our sins. We did not, indeed cannot, earn God’s favor.

Solo Christo – "Christ alone." Our hope of salvation rests solely on Christ’s finished work, His perfect righteousness imputed to us as well as our sins completely atoned for and God’s wrath propitiated at the cross by Christ. Again, we can add nothing to Christ’s finished work on our behalf.

Sola Deo Gloria! – "To God alone be the glory." From first to last, salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). We contribute nothing to our justification except our sin, i.e., our need for justification. Our salvation depends on God alone and hence glorifies God alone.

Salvation is by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) because of Christ alone (solo Christo), for the glory of God alone (Sola Deo Gloria!), with the Scriptures being the sole infallible rule of faith and practice for the believer (sola Scriptura).