By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
In earlier chapters, we studied the various facets of the objective gospel — the plan of salvation that has already been prepared and provided for all humanity in Jesus Christ. In chapters 10 and 11, we saw that the truth of this gospel remains merely a set of teachings, void of power, until it becomes real in the believer’s experience. In this chapter, we will examine salvation as a subjective experience. What is involved in being saved? What is the relationship between salvation as an objective fact and salvation as a subjective experience?
Many look upon salvation as being delivered from death and granted eternal life, as being delivered from hell and being given heaven. Salvation does involve deliverance from death and hell, but it includes much more. When we are saved, a radical change takes place both in our position as well as our status before God.
By birth we are “in Adam.” This is our natural position, and it is a hopeless one because in Adam “all have sinned” [Romans 5:12] and “all die” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. However, the moment we respond sincerely to the gospel, we are delivered from our position in Adam and are united by faith to Christ. This means a radical change in position, but it also means a radical change in status.
In Adam, we belong to this world, which is totally under Satan’s control and which is doomed to destruction [see John 14:30; 1 John 5:19; 2 Peter 3:9-10]. But now, being in Christ by faith, we no longer belong to this world [see John 15:19; John 17:14, 16]; we have been delivered from this present evil world through the cross of Christ [see Galatians 1:4]. Paul says,
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world [Galatians 6:14].
Salvation, as an experience, may, therefore, be defined as an exodus from the world, which is under Satan’s control, and an entrance into the church, which is under the rule of Christ [see 1 John 5:19]. The exodus of God’s people from Egypt to Canaan symbolized this great truth, Egypt being a symbol of the sinful world, and Canaan representing the church destined for heaven. When Israel crossed the Red Sea (a symbol of baptism), they said good-bye forever to Egypt (the world) and Pharaoh (a symbol of Satan). When they entered Canaan, the Promised Land was a figure of the church, the realm of God [see 1 Corinthians 10:1-11].
Because of this Old Testament symbolism, the New Testament writers purposely chose the word ecclesia (translated church) to refer to the people of God. This Greek word is made up of two words — ek, meaning “out of” and kaleo, which means “to call.” Thus, the word ecclesia defines the church as “a called-out people.” But from what are we, believers in Christ, called out?
The answer is that we are called out from the world. Jesus made this clear in John 15:19b: “...You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of [ek] the world.”
This throws important light on the experience of salvation and brings to view several implications for us as believers in Christ. First, as Christians, we no longer belong to this world; we have become citizens of heaven. Satan, “the prince of this world” [John 12:31], is at war with Christ, the Lord of heaven, so we Christians have become strangers living in enemy territory. That is why Jesus said that the world would naturally hate us and persecute us [see John 15:19; 1 John 3:13]. If that is not happening, it isn’t because the world has changed; it is because the world does not see Christ in us [see 2 Timothy 3:12].
Second, as citizens of heaven, all our ties to the world must come to an end. All national and racial pride must disappear, for in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek.” All class distinctions must disappear, for “there is neither slave nor free.” And even our status symbols must come to an end, for “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Galatians 3:28].
Likewise, we are to have no partnership with the world, even though we are to be in it as salt and light, seasoning and illuminating it with the good news about Jesus Christ [see Matthew 5:13-14]. James makes this clear.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.[James 4:4; cf. 1:27]
Finally, to be called out of the world is to say good-bye to the root of all evil, which is “the love of money” [1 Timothy 6:10]. Money is the vital ingredient that makes this world run, and the love of money is at the center of all lust. In and of itself, money is not evil; otherwise, the church could have nothing to do with it. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil. The love of money is synonymous with the love of self and is a clear indication that we have not let go of our self-love as the cross of Christ demands.
One good evidence that we are truly in Christ, whether rich or poor, is our relationship to money [see Matthew 6:24]. For this reason, God has introduced His program of tithes and offerings [see Malachi 3:8-9]. If we are truly in Christ, returning the tithe and giving offerings will be a delight, no matter what our financial situation. On the other hand, if our faith in Christ is self-centered and not motivated by love, this will be clearly shown in our withholding tithes and offerings. Our lives will contradict Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7].
It is not our money that God wants; He wants us. The cross demands that we belong totally to God, for we have been bought with the precious blood of His Son [see 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1]. How can God (or His church) know that we have truly surrendered ourselves to Him as genuine faith demands? One way is by our faithfulness in tithes and offerings. When we fail in this, we are robbing God of what is rightfully His — ourselves. One reason the church today is so financially poor is that too many members have a self-centered faith instead of a faith that works by love. Oh, that God might open our eyes to see ourselves as we truly are — “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” [Revelation 3:17].
Salvation and Baptism
As Adventists, we sometimes focus so much on the correct method of baptism that we lose sight of the significance of this important rite. According to Jesus Himself, baptism is vitally connected to salvation. When He commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel to the world, He added, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” [Mark 16:16].
Why did Jesus include baptism as a necessary part of salvation?
Of course, baptism itself does not save us. It is what baptism represents that is crucial. The cross of Christ stands as the great demarcation between His church and the world under Satan. Baptism is the symbol of our identification by faith with Christ’s cross that separates us forever from the doomed world of sin. This is what the Bible calls being saved, or washed, by water [see 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; Revelation 1:5].
The apostle Peter draws a comparison between the waters of the Flood in Noah’s day with the waters of baptism. When the Flood came, “only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,” he declares, and this is an illustration of how “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also” [1 Peter 3:20-21]. In order to understand Peter’s comparison, we need to ask ourselves, “From what were Noah and his family saved at the time of the Flood?” Was it not from a doomed, sinful world?
Following God’s directions, Noah built the ark and preached to a lost world to enter it and be saved. But only Noah and his family, along with the animals that were on board, rode the ark in safety through the waters. Except for these eight, every living person on earth was drowned. The waters of the Flood eternally separated Noah and his family from the wicked world of which they were a part. The ark is a symbol of Christ’s church. We enter His church through the waters of baptism, and this eternally separates us from the wicked world to which we belong by birth. Baptism, therefore, is the door through which we make our exit from the doomed, wicked world and enter Christ’s church, which is destined for heaven.
According to Romans 6:3-4, baptism symbolizes our union with Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Christ died to sin and to this world [see Romans 6:10; Galatians 1:4; 6:14]. So when we participate by faith in that death, we, too, are saying good-bye forever to sin and this wicked world. We symbolize this by our union with Him in baptism as we are buried beneath the water.
Then, just as Christ rose from the dead and left sin in the grave, so we also rise from the baptismal water to serve God in newness of life [see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:4]. Baptism becomes a public confession of our faith by which we have died with Christ and have a new life that is hidden in Him [see Colossians 3:3]. Thus, the ordinance of baptism symbolizes all that our salvation involves.
Please ever keep in mind, however, that the act of baptism can never save us. The thing that saves us is our surrender to the truth that baptism represents. The Jews mistakenly came to emphasize the act of circumcision instead of its significance. We must never fall into the same error regarding baptism. Baptism, even baptism by immersion, becomes of value to us only because of what it represents — our union by faith with Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. This is what saves us and not the act of baptism itself.
Saved into the Church
The world to which we belong by birth is hostile to God and under condemnation. Therefore, in order to save us, the cross must deliver us from the world and place us in the church, the body of Christ. Every other aspect of salvation is based upon this fact. The gospel delivers us not primarily from hell to heaven, nor from death to life, but from the world to the church. As a subjective experience, this is always the first step of our salvation. Christ will never take us to heaven as individuals, but only as members of His church.
Now we can understand why the church on earth is Christ’s supreme concern [see Ephesians 5:27]. Enoch, Moses, and Elijah have already ascended to heaven, but only as the firstfruits of those who belong to the body of Christ. Jesus is preparing a place for His church and has promised to return the second time to take it to heaven. Salvation, then, begins with being delivered from the world into the church.
Tragically, we see much of the world creeping into the church today. In contradiction of the gospel of Christ, the church is copying the world’s fashions, accepting its philosophy, and depending on its resources. All this is happening because the church has lost sight of the true meaning of the doctrine of salvation. No wonder the church is so weak and so indistinguishable from the world! When Christ was here on earth, He was a stranger and a pilgrim. He was in the world and witnessed to it of the truth, but He was not of the world. The same must be true of the Christian and of the church. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” [1 John 5:4-5].
To be saved means that we say good-bye to everything that belongs to the world and become a vital part of the church. The cross of Christ forbids anything that is of self or the world to cross over into the church.
The New Testament defines the church as the “body of Christ” [see Romans 12:2-5; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:19-23; Colossians 1:24]. When we become Christians, we become a part of that body. This is one of the things Christ had in mind when He introduced the element of the bread into the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” [1 Corinthians 10:17]. This concept of all Christians being part of a single body — the church — has important implications for how we live as Christians.
As long as we belonged to the world, we could live more or less as we pleased because the world is founded on Satan’s principle of self-love. But as Christians who are vital parts of Christ’s body, we can no longer live to please self. The law of the body demands that we live under the authority of the head, which is Christ [see Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18]. Just as the head controls the different members of the human body, so Christians must be under the full control of Christ.
The human body is perfectly coordinated because each member does nothing at all in and of itself, but operates entirely under the direction of the head. The body of Christ will likewise experience unity and perfect harmony when individual believers — members of the church — do nothing in and of themselves without living entirely under the direction of Christ, the head of the church.
Every believer, without exception, has an important function within the framework of the body. “These members do not all have the same function”; nevertheless, all members have a vital part to play.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully [Romans 12:4, 6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-25].
This means, too, that every member will have respect for the work of other believers as well as a concern for their welfare. When the church is operating as it should, there will be “no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” [1 Corinthians 12:25-26]
As a human body grows and develops, so must the church. When Christ went back to heaven, He left behind special gifts for His church.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ [Ephesians 4:11-13].
Under Satan, the world has been developing for some 6,000 years. Likewise, the church must develop so that “where sin increased, grace [must increase] all the more,” [Romans 5:20]. The more Satan demonstrates the power of sin and self, the more must God demonstrate the power of the gospel of love through the church. Satan is a defeated foe in the great controversy between himself and Christ, but Christ’s victory must be demonstrated through the church — and it will be demonstrated at the end of time.
Today, much that belongs to the world is camouflaged; even Christians are too unaware that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” [1 John 5:19]. But the time is coming and is almost here when the issues will become clearly defined. “The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshiped the dragon [the devil] because he had given authority to the beast” [Revelation 13:3-4].
At that time the earth will be illuminated with the glory of God shining through His church [see Revelation 18:1]. This demonstration must take place before Christ can return. The world today is indeed ripe for the end; unfortunately, the church is not. God is patiently waiting for His people to repent and seek His face with all their hearts. That is why it is so urgent that the true gospel be restored to God’s people. It must become in reality “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” [Romans 1:16].
The Scope of Salvation
Christ came into this world to save us completely and totally from sin. How is this salvation dispensed to us who have responded positively to the good news? Many Christians have a limited understanding of the objective gospel — the salvation already prepared and finished for us in Christ Jesus. Therefore, their subjective experience of receiving this salvation is limited as well. That is why many Christians (especially Seventh-day Adventist Christians) are embarrassed when asked the simple question, “Are you saved?” In fact, those who ask the question are themselves often ignorant of the full scope of the plan of salvation.
All that is necessary for our salvation from sin is already an accomplished fact in Christ. However, as a subjective experience, our salvation is a past, present, and future reality. In Christ we have been saved from the guilt and punishment of sin, its power, and also its presence and its curse. This is the situation now with all who have submitted, by faith, to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. But when it comes to this freedom from sin being a subjective experience in our lives, we do not receive all these aspects of salvation at the same time. All are guaranteed to the believer who is resting in Christ, but we experience them in three stages.
The first occurs at conversion, when we are united to Christ by faith. At that moment, we are saved from the guilt and punishment of sin; we are declared perfectly righteous. This is what it means to be justified. However, this does not mean that we have been saved experientially from the power or grip of sin. Freedom from the power of sin is to be something we will experience continuously, daily, as we keep on living by faith. This is the process of sanctification and will continue as long as we live.
Then, at the second coming of Jesus, all believers will be saved from the curse and presence of sin. This is the “blessed hope” to which we look forward with such longing [Titus 2:13; cf. Romans 8:19-25].
So, as Christians, we may say with confidence that we are saved. But at the same time, we must confess that we are being saved and that we will be saved. We are already saved from all condemnation and, therefore, have peace with God [see Romans 5:1; 8:1], but we are also being saved from indwelling sin as we continue to “fight the good fight of the faith” [1 Timothy 6:12]. And, finally, we look forward to Christ’s glorious appearing, when we shall be saved from the corruption of sin that has infiltrated every member of our bodies [see Romans 8:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Philippians 3:20-21].
The full scope of salvation teaches us that our Christian hope is not limited to this life only. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ,” Paul told the believers at Corinth, “ we are to be pitied more than all men” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. To stop at past salvation is to receive only one-third of the gospel. Not only must we rejoice that we have eternal life and heaven, we must allow that life to begin now. “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he [God] is pure.” [1 John 3:3; cf. Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16].
Finally, we look forward to that glorious day when our Savior will appear to take us home. There we will experience the full salvation made available to us now in Christ Jesus.