Salvation and Covenant Relationship
Since the garden of Eden, people have been separated from a personal relationship with God because of sin. The Bible is the history of how God took the initiative to restore that lost relationship. God brings people back into a relationship with Him because He loves them. God wants people to respond to His love by putting their faith and trust in Him. When they do, God makes an agreement or covenant with them so that they will know what is expected of them in this relationship. Our responsibility in this relationship is given in covenants and laws.
Adam and the Broken Relationship
God’s relationship with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a picture of perfect man in relationship with perfect God. God created man in perfection because He wanted a person to love. God created man by grace (love) and, therefore, the relationship between God and man was based on grace. But man’s relationship with God had the responsibilities of exercising dominion, being fruitful, and not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s creation of man was not simply to have someone to keep His laws, but that God would have someone to love.
Genesis 3 tells the sad story of how man lost his personal relationship with God; it is a story of sin and its consequences. Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve, and she and Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They disobeyed God and, therefore, they sinned.
God had told them that on “the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). But after they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they did not die a physical death. In fact the Bible goes on to tell us how they continued to live and give birth to Cain, Abel, and Seth. God had promised that they would die on the very day that they ate the forbidden fruit and yet they continued to live. It is very important to examine what happened to Adam and Eve on the day that they ate the fruit and sinned.
Separation and the Holiness of God
On the day that Adam and Eve sinned, they did not die a physical death but they died a spiritual death. Spiritual life comes from having a relationship with God who is life and the source of spiritual life. When Adam and Eve sinned they were driven out from the Garden of Eden and separated from God. They could no longer enjoy their walking, talking, personal relationship with their Creator.
It was sin that separated God and man in the garden, and it is sin that continues to separate God and people today. Adam’s disobedience brought sin into the world so that all mankind comes under the curse of sin. This sin separates mankind from God and the result is spiritual death.
"Sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it. As a result, death has spread to the whole human race because everyone has sinned." (Romans 5:12 NASB).
God is the source of spiritual life (John 1:4) and people can have this spiritual life only if they have a relationship with Him. Separation from God because of sin brings spiritual death.
Sin separates God and people because God is holy (Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8). The word “holy” simply means “pure.” God is pure. However, sin is impure. If God were to allow the impurity of sin into His intimate presence, then He would no longer be pure. So God does not allow sin in His presence.
Man was created to enjoy a loving relationship with God. But man sinned and was separated from God because God is holy. The Bible is a record of how God has tried to bring mankind back into a loving relationship with Him.
The basis of all of these relationships between God and His people was the covenant. A covenant is an agreement. In the Bible such an agreement was like a contract which was entered into by two parties. These covenants are made between God and His people. God made a covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:9), with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), and with Moses (Exodus 20). God’s final covenant with man was sealed with the blood of Jesus. Jesus calls this final covenant the “new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20).
Jesus’ death and shed blood on the cross brought a new covenant to mankind. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This cup is God’s new covenant (testament or agreement) sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20). But there are things about the new covenant that are not so new. It is necessary to examine the words of New Testament scripture to see what is new and what elements continue from the old covenant. The word “testament” simply means “covenant” or “agreement.” So the New Testament is the word of God regarding the new covenant.
Before Jesus was born, an angel appeared to Joseph telling of the birth of the Christ. The angel tells Joseph that Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel continues by saying, “She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus – because he will save his people from their sin.” (Matthew 1:21). Salvation from sin is a part of the very name of Jesus.
At the age of 30 Jesus began His earthly ministry at His baptism. As Jesus was coming to the Jordan River, John the Baptist saw Him and said, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). John the Baptist recognized that Jesus had come to earth to be the sacrificial Lamb whose shed blood would bring forgiveness of sin.
At both the birth of Jesus and at His baptism, the focus is on saving people from their sin. Sin is man’s greatest problem because it is sin that separates God from people. Sin separates God from people because God is holy and pure and cannot have the impurity of sinful people in His intimate presence.
Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden brought sin into the world. This sin was passed on to the whole world resulting in death. Paul says this in Romans 5:12, “sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it. As a result, death has spread to the whole human race because everyone has sinned.” The “death” that Paul is referring to is the spiritual death of being separated from God. Notice that this spiritual death is the result of sin.
The goal of Jesus Christ’s mission to earth was to bring men and women into a relationship with Him. Jesus is the source of life. John 1:4 says, “The Word was the source of life.” When man is separated from Jesus because of sin, he is separated from the “source of life.” But when sin is dealt with in a person’s life, that person can have a relationship with Jesus and he will, therefore, have life.
"The testimony is this: God has given us eternal life, and this life has its source in his Son. Whoever has the Son has this life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 5:11-12 NIV).
To have the Son of God is the same as having eternal life because the Son of God is life itself and the source of life. The ultimate goal of every person who wants eternal life is to have this life-giving relationship with the Son of God. The only way in which sinful people can have this relationship with the Son of God is to somehow take care of the problem of sin.
Christ’s Death: God’s Solution to the Problem of Sin
God solved the problem of sin by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross. Jesus began his earthly ministry with the announcement of John the Baptist, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The solution to the problem of sin will be accomplished by Jesus Christ, the Lamb, and His sacrifice on the cross.
In the Old Testament or Covenant, under the Ceremonial Law, there was no forgiveness of sin without the shed blood of a sacrifice. The old sacrifices required killing and shedding the blood of bulls, goats and lambs at various times of the year. The sacrificial animal had to be perfect, in that, it was to be without spot or blemish.
As the Lamb of God, Christ would become the final sacrifice for people’s sin. Christ’s death as the final sacrifice put an end to the need for further animal sacrifices. This sacrifice of Christ on the cross was to be the sacrifice offered once for the sins of the whole world.
Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God who was perfect in every way. He was like the sacrificial animals of the Ceremonial Law of the Old Covenant, without a spot or blemish of sin. Jesus was tempted by sin (Hebrews 4:15) and, therefore, He understands sin. But He never gave in to sin. Because He was without sin, His righteousness was perfect before God.
Jesus was not content to merely take upon Himself the limitations of humanity so that He could be tempted and understand sin. He took upon Himself the sins of mankind, as well. The Apostle Peter states, “Christ himself carried our sins in His body to the cross” (I Peter 2:24). He did not bear our sins by becoming a sinner for us. Rather, He allowed God to put on Him the sins of the world so that He could be the sacrifice for sin once and for all. This is stated in II Corinthians 5:21, “Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made Him share our sin in order that in union with Him we might share the righteousness of God.”
When Jesus took upon Himself man’s sin, the holiness (purity) of God, the Father, required that Jesus, the Son, be abandoned. God, who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil,” (Habakkuk 1:13) turned His face from His Son. For a while on the cross, the sin of the whole world separated the Father and Jesus.
The solution to the problem of sin was accomplished when Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). With these words the problem of sin and, therefore, man’s restored relationship with God was solved. The way to God’s presence need no longer be blocked by sin.
For people to be saved, they must simply respond to what God has already done when He sent Jesus to die on the cross. We cannot earn is salvation by what we do. We must simply accept his salvation by faith, as a gift.
Faith: Man’s Response to God’s Solution
No doctrine of scripture is clearer than the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Mankind can only be saved by God’s grace (love) in sending Jesus to die, followed by man’s response of faith (trust) in Jesus and what He did on the cross. This doctrine of salvation by grace through faith is concisely stated by the Apostle Paul In Ephesians 2:8 and 9.
"For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9 TEV).
In two sentences the Apostle Paul has given God’s plan of salvation. Every phrase is important, so each will be examined separately.
“For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved.”
God’s grace is the basis and foundation for man’s salvation. “Grace” is God’s love for man even though man does not deserve it. God loves man though he is a wicked, sinful, enemy of God (Romans 5:6 and 7). This love for sinful man is grace, the undeserved love of God. Paul describes grace as God’s love being demonstrated in Christ’s death for sinful people.
“You have been saved through faith.” Faith is man’s response to God’s grace. Man’s response of faith is directed toward a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. “God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22). Man cannot be saved by putting his faith in a doctrine, in the church, or in his ability to do good (the law). The only way for man to be saved is by putting his faith in the person of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is “not the result of your own efforts.”
A person cannot save himself by his own strength or effort. There is nothing in people that deserves salvation from God. And “no one does what is right, not even one (Romans 3:11). To believe that man can be saved through his own efforts is to misunderstand the sinfulness of people and the holiness of God.
Salvation is “God’s gift”.
Salvation must be God’s gift since it cannot be worked for or earned as a result of people’s efforts. Something that is earned can no longer be a gift, it is wages. God’s grace caused Him to send Jesus to die on the cross for people’s sin. Jesus’ death on the cross was the demonstration of God’s grace. This death of Christ on the cross was a free gift since there was no one who deserved being died for. “But God has shown us how much He loves us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Salvation is offered to people as a gift. Those who try to earn the gift will fall short because of their sin. Only those who are willing to reach out by faith will take hold of the free gift of salvation.
“No one can boast” about their salvation.
There is no room for boasting in salvation because salvation is not earned or deserved. A person could boast or brag about his salvation if salvation came as a result of works or effort. But the Christian message is humbling, indeed. It begins with the fact that all people are sinners and separated from God. The only solution to the problem of sin rests in putting faith in Jesus and His death on the cross. There is no room for pride in a Christian’s heart because a Christian is a person who has accepted a gift. The gift is the most important thing in the world, salvation. And this gift is offered to people by their Creator. The gift can be received only by faith. The Apostle Paul’s summary of the plan of salvation could not be clearer.
From Faith To Saving Faith
It is very clear in scripture that people are saved when they respond by faith to God’s gracious act of sending Jesus to die on the cross for their sin. Faith is the only thing that people can “do” to be saved. It is, therefore, very important to understand this faith in order to know how to respond to God’s grace.
To be saved, a person must respond by putting his faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation. A sinner who repents of his sin is then invited to put his faith and trust in Christ alone for his salvation. In order for a person to come to Christ, they must know who Christ is and what He has done for them. Unfortunately, many people who know about Christ do not personally receive Him and trust Him alone for salvation. It is this personal trust that brings people into right relationship with God.
What does it mean to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? First, it means that we know and believe in our hearts that Jesus is the only way to be saved. Second, agree with scripture about what Christ has done for us on the cross in paying our penalty for sin, so that we might have forgiveness of sin. Third, we must surrender and open our hearts to Him and receive Him into our hearts and lives. He will come into our lives and make us the kind of people He wants us to be. Faith means that we know that we can trust Him with our lives and that He will watch over us and give us the power we need to lead the kind of lives that He wants us to lead.
A person must forsake his sins and surrender his life to Jesus through confession and repentance, and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Confession is simply telling God that you know that you are a sinner and are in need of forgiveness. In confession you are not telling God something that He does not already know. God knows that you are a sinner and what all of your sins are. When you confess, you are simply telling God that you finally realize that you are a sinner in need of a cleansing. If you will confess your sin to God, He will completely forgive you of all your sin.
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9).
Repentance is turning away from sin and turning toward God. When you repent you are telling God that you want to stop the sin in your life and be the kind of person that He wants you to be. Jesus said that repentance, or turning away from sin, is necessary for salvation. “I tell you, unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3,5 NASB).
The Holy Spirit coming into your life will give you the power that you need to be the kind of person that God wants you to be. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8).
A Typical Prayer Of Surrender
Dear God, I confess to you that I am a sinner in need of Your salvation. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. So I ask you to forgive me of my sins, and to cleanse me and make me a new person. Lord, I want to repent by turning away from the sin in my life and turn toward you as my Savior. Lord, I want to surrender my life to You and ask You to make me the kind of person that You want me to be. I want to live my life for You. Lord, give me Your Holy Spirit so that I can have the power I need to live a life that will be pleasing to You. I thank You that I am now your child. In Jesus’ name I thank and praise you, Amen.
- The above article was copied and adapted from the Seventh-day Baptist website, article entitled "Salvation".
Used with permission. Seventh Day Baptist and Seventh Day Baptist General Conference of USA and Canada. All rights reserved