A gracEmail reader writes, “Yes, Jesus paid it all, and salvation cannot be earned. But there still remains the question of how one ‘appropriates’ salvation. We talk in circles about this. I’m still seeking a biblical theology that makes sense, is faithful to the text, gives God all the glory for our salvation, yet calls us to holy living and unquestioning obedience.”
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Perhaps we will never answer all the questions, or provide a scheme or formula that explains everything. Remember, we are discussing an interpersonal relationship, not a theory or a program. But we can speak truthfully even though we cannot speak exhaustively. And based on Scripture we may confidently say at least the following.
- God forgives and receives sinners because it is his nature to show undeserved kindness, wholly apart from anything the recipient has done, will do, or ever will deserve (Eph. 2:4-9; Titus 3:4-7; 2 Tim. 1:8-10).
- God shows himself justified in doing this by the faithful life, atoning death and powerful, affirming resurrection of Jesus Christ, in whom God himself in some sense came to us to be our representative and to accomplish for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves — reconciliation with a holy God (Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:19-20).
- Whoever turns from self-will to accept God’s sovereignty (repentance) and believes this announcement, entrusting himself or herself to God in Christ (faith) appropriates, receives and begins to enjoy the present reality of God’s forgiveness and favor even now, and may embrace with the open arms of hope all of God’s promises concerning the future (Lk. 24:46-47; Acts 16:30-31; Rom. 10:8-11).
- Those who do repent and believe the gospel are to demonstrate, express and declare that repentance and faith by being baptized in water in recognition of Jesus’ authority and with trust in his finished atonement (Acts 2:38; 16:32-34; Col. 2:12). New Testament writers, without embarrassment, relate to such baptism the blessings received through faith (compare Acts 2:38 to Acts 10:43 and Gal. 3:2).
- The baptized community of believers are to live together in the Christian graces, serving with every spiritual gift which God bestows, sharing the gospel with those who do not yet know Jesus as Savior and Lord, being transformed into the likeness of Jesus himself by that same Spirit which led and empowered him on the earth; praising God and giving thanks, joyfully obeying his commandments and following his guidance, waiting for Jesus’ glorious return (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 1:4-9; Gal 5:22-26; Eph. 5:15-21; Phil. 2:12-16; Col. 3:12-17; 1 Thes. 5:11-24; Titus 2:1-15).