How Can I Come to Know the Way of Salvation?
In the first part of this study we saw what happened to us because of Adam's first sin. We saw how we moved from theonomy (being subject in all things to God's law) to autonomy (making ourself the final authority). Here we begin our discussion of what God has done to bring us back to a right relationship with himself. But how can we do this? How can we, who rebelled against God, presume to discuss what he has done to save us? Well, the answer is that we can't unless we are willing to receive what He tells us.
If we understand this we can begin to grasp the meaning of the vows we take as professing Christians. In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church there are four vows. We will consider each of these in the course of this study. Here we deal with the first vow, which reads as follows:
Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?
You will note that the first vow has to do with the Bible rather than with the Lord Jesus directly. The reason is quite simple: the only way that we can know Jesus, accurately, is through the infallible Scriptures. But how do we come to know that the Bibleand the Bible alonereally is the true word of God? Well, the answer to that is found in the Bible itself.
(1) First of all, the Bible claims divine authority for itself. Every careful reader of Scripture will notice this constantly. For example, note how often a phrase such as this occurs: "This is what the LORD says" (Jer. 30:1, 4, 10, 12, 17-18). Jesus said the Scripture cannot be broken. Paul said all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. And we could multiply other examples.
(2) But other books also claim to be inspired. So why should we believe the Bible rather thanfor examplethe book of Mormon? The answer to this is simple: the Bible alone has the internal evidence to support its own claim. We will give a few examples. The Bible tells us how the world was created. But how is this possible? No man was there when the world was created, so how could anyone know about this? How, indeed, except by direct revelation from God. Again, the Bible tells us what it will be like on the great day of judgment. But how could this be known since it is still in the future? How, indeed, unless the true God (who knows the future as well as the past) has revealed it? The Bible was indeed written by manin fact, it was written by many men, living in different centuries and even in different cultures. How is it, then, that the Bible contains no contradictions? How is it that the Bible all adds up to one great unified message? How, indeed, unless the true God inspired all of the various authors in such a way that he himself remained the ultimate author if it all? Other books may claim that they are the word of God. Only the Bible provides the evidence which substantiates the claim.
(3) Butyou may askwhy, if the Bible really is what it claims to be, do so many fail to admit it? How can so many read it and yet insist that they just can't "see it"? Well, the answer to this is also easy: it is because they are blind. Jesus put it this way: "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, and will not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (Jn. 3:19-20). What this means is this: only inward enlightening, by the Holy Spirit, enables us to see that the Bible is the inspired word of God. This is exactly what Paul had in mind when he saidspeaking not only for himself, but for all believers"We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand" (1 Cor. 2:12). We call this "the testimony of the Holy Spirit." By this we do not mean that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in an audible voice, or a vision, or that he says something in addition to what he has already given us in the Bible. No, what this means is that he opens the eyes of our mindthe eyes of our understandingin order that we might be able to see what really is already there in the Bible. When we are able to see the evidence which is already there, in the Bible, then we know it is God's inspired word.
When the Holy Spirit makes us alive (wakes us from the deadopens the eyes of our understandingso that the light of his word can enter into our minds and hearts) then we will realize certain things. (1) We will realize that God's word is infallible. By this we mean that God cannot lie (see Num. 23:19; Tit. 1:2). Since God cannot lie, and the Bible is his word, there cannot possibly be any error in Scripture. (2) The second thing we will understand about the Bible is the fact that it is clear. This is not the same as saying the Bible is easy to understand. A thing may be perfectly clear and yet require a bit of hard work to learn. Think of algebra, or calculus! Think of learning a foreign language! A particular language may seem very difficult to us. Yet a childbrought up where that language is spokensoon learns to understand it very well, proving that it is clear! It is not true, in other words (as the Roman Catholic Church has taught), that only the church, or trained ministers, can understand the Bible. No, the Bible was not written for scholars only, but was intended to be understood by ordinary people. The Bible itself commands us to read and to study it. In fact, God forbids us to rest our faith on what other people say about the Bible. So every person who will make the effort to get an understanding of the Bibleusing, of course, such aids as a dictionary and a concordancecan come to a clear understanding of the way of salvation. And that, after all, is what the Bible is all about! (3) The third point is that God's word is sufficient. By this we mean that the Bible tells us everything we need to know in order to glorify God and enjoy him forever. If the Bible was still incompleteas it was for many centuries during Old Testament timeswe could not say this. But now the great work of salvation has been completed by Jesus, and that complete salvation is fully revealed in the Bible. The old ways of God's revealing himselfthat is, by dreams, visions and direct revelationare now ended (Heb. 1:1-2:4). Therefore the man of God today (the Christian who is armed with the Bible) is completely furnished for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16,17). This being the case, it is not to be wondered that God pronounces a curse on anyone who presumes to add anything to, or subtract anything from, the scriptures (Rev. 22:18-20).
It should be quite clear to anyone who understands what happened to man at the fall, that deliverance could only come from God. It should also be self-evident that two things were needed. (1) The first need had to do with God's wrath against man because of sin. God is holy and because he is holy he cannot possibly "go easy" on sin. For this reason man's sin has to be punished. This means that either (a) the sinner himself will have to suffer punishment for his own sins, or (b) a substitute, approved and provided by God, will have to bear this punishment for him. The good news is that God loves us so much that he has provided a Savior as a substitute for us. This is really the main thing taught in the Bible. In the Bible we have the inspired record of the great events of salvation history, together with a true explanation of the significance of these events. We will first represent this in the following diagram, and then discuss the various historical sections.
Right after the fall of man God spoke a word of judgment (Gen. 3:14-19). It was clear, from this, that God would not go easy on sin. However, with the word of judgment God also gave a word of promise (v. 15). God promised that he would put enmity between Satan and Eve, and between Satan's "seed" and her "seed." God promised that her "seed" (meaning a certain descendant of the woman) would crush Satan's head, though he (this descendant) would also be wounded by Satan in doing so. Now everything else that followsin the Old Testamentin a sense "fills in" this original word of promise. Here we can only give the very briefest summary of it.
(A) The first section of Bible history takes us from the time of Adam's fall to the time of the great flood (Gen. 3-6). And what is the main lesson taught in this first part of the Bible? It is this: man, left to his own resources, always deteriorates. God created man good. But what did God see here on the earth as this first period of history drew to a close? Here is the answer:"Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). How clear it became that man had no ability within himself to change his own sinful nature. So God sent the flood, and the human race was almost wiped out. In this way God showed to some extent how great His wrath against sin really is. Yet in spite of thisand this is the second thing revealed in that periodGod did not forget His promise. That is why Noah and his family were spared.
(B) After the flood the family of Noah multiplied and developed into many nations. One might have supposed that the terrible judgment of the flood would serve as a perpetual warning which would restrain man from further acts of wickedness. But this was not the case. We see this clearly in the attempt made, after the flood, to build the tower of Babel. "Come" they said, "let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens, let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered over the face of the whole earth" (Gen. 11:4). This was, of course, in direct conflict with what God's command to Adam and to Noah (Gen. 1:22, 9:7). How clear it was, then, that even the awesome display of God's wrath against sinby means of the terrible flooddid not make man want to forsake his pretended autonomy. To the contrary, it was very clear that man's nature remained just as evil after the flood as it was before. Therefore, to frustrate man's sinful attempt to evade his mandate to fill the earthwhich they tried to do by staying together to build the tower of BabelGod "scattered them" by causing confusion of language (Gen. 11:9).
(C) Then, after mankind did begin to spread out over the earth, God called a man named Abram. Abram did not deserve this any more than anyone else. God simply chose him, out of his sovereign good pleasure. God did this in order to enter into a covenant with himand with his "seed" after himfor an everlasting covenant. Because of this God changed his name from Abram (which probably meant "exalted father") to Abraham (meaning "father of a multitude"). This covenant was not a thing negotiated by the two parties, as human covenants often are. No, this covenant was "unilateral"it came wholly from God's side to begin with, in other wordsthough Abraham was, of course, obligated to respond. God summoned Abram to forsake all in order to serve him, binding himself to be the God of Abrahamand the God of Abraham's childrenthrough all the subsequent generations. With this event God began to reveal, more and more clearly and fully, his great plan of salvation. In the midst of many nations walking in darkness God began, through Abraham and his "seed," to raise up one nation to be the instrument by which he would at last send the Savior. In this development two things are clearly revealed: (a) the other nations did not improve but rather degenerated further, and (b) the covenant nation (developing out of Abraham's descendants) showed the same tendency to degenerate also. The rest of the Old Testament record makes this abundantly clear.
(D) It is not easy to summarize the rest of the Old Testament "story." It tells us of so many great events (such as the amazing, and miraculous, deliverance of the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt). It also brings before us some very great people who were true servants of God. Think of some of the great Kings of Israel for instance (such as David, or Solomon), or some of the great prophets (such as Elijah or Jeremiah). There were even a few people who left other nations to join themselves to the descendants of Abraham (such as Rahab, a Canaanite, and Ruth, a woman from Moab). Yet the main question is this: when we add it all up what does it really come to? The answer is that Israel also degenerated. It did so in spite of all the special blessings that God gave to them alone among the ancient nations. That is why the Old Testament history comes to a conclusion with (a) the record of the Babylonian captivity of Israel, and then (b) the restoration which followed some 70 years later, wherein a very small remnant of the nation of Israel came back to Palestine in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. As we study the books that were written during all this history, then, one great lesson emerges. "All lines converged" to make one thing perfectly clear: the only hope for the Jew, as well as the Gentile, was that God would send the promised Messiah. When even the very best in the great men of Israel was sadly defective, it became increasingly clear that there was really no hope unless God sent a Savior.
(E) And that is what the New Testament is all about. It tells us how God kept his covenant promise. He did it by sending a Messiaha Savior who was born in a different way than any other human being who ever lived. Jesus had a human mother, and was born of herand so there can be no doubt that he was (and still is) truly humanand yet, because he had no biological father, it was still possible for him to be born without sin. What we read about, then, in the New Testament account is the sinless life of the Lord Jesus. We also read about the terrible death he died. He died as if he had been the world's greatest sinner. And in a certain sense he was, according to the Scripture, because it says God "made him to be sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21). These two things, then: (a) his sinless life and (b) his accursed death, are the basis of our salvation. Because He gives us his own righteousness and takes upon himself our sin, we can have eternal life. As a little child's catechism puts it: "He kept the whole law for his people and suffered the punishment due to their sins." It is on the basis of this "finished work" of the Lord Jesus Christ that God's wrath against us is turned away, and he can regard us as righteous. It is on the basis of this that he is willing to receive usand our childreninto fellowship with himself.
But this is not the only problem. No, there is also (2) the problem of our natural enmity against God. This is something we learn again and again in the Bible. Man by nature hates God. He loves darkness rather than light. He does not want fellowship with the true God. No, what he wants more than anything else is to remain autonomous. But the good news is that this problem too has been solved from God's side. This is so because (a) Christ rose from the dead, (b) ascended into heaven (where he now rules with all authority in heaven and earth) and (c) then poured out his Holy Spirit in order to give life to his people. The Holy Spirit uses the word of God to awaken men to their true situation. And then he uses the word to reveal to them what God has done for them in sending the promised Messiah. He persuadesand enablesthem to flee from the wrath which is to come by receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Now from all this it should not be hard to understand why the Bible comes first when we make our Christian profession. It comes first because the Bible alone contains the "good news" that we need to hear. This does not mean that we will be saved by merely reading the Bible. As a matter of fact most of us are saved not by reading, but by hearing (Rom. 10:14-17). The Bible says God has chosen "the foolishness of preaching" as the usual method of bringing people to faith (1 Cor. 1:21-25). He does it this way because he knows we would never seek "the truth" on our own initiative. Therefore He sends someone to preach it to us! Then, as the truth is proclaimed "the light" breaks through, and as the Holy Spirit works we are converted. As this sovereign work of the Holy Spirit takes place in us we see that God really has given us the complete solution. We see the solution to our guilt problem in what Christ has done for us on the cross. And we see the solution to the problem of our enmity against God, when that enmity is replaced by God-given faith and repentance.
- What is the difference between theonomy and autonomy?
- Why do we say the only possible hope for man's restoration lay in God?
- What did God mean by "the seed of the woman" in Genesis 3:15?
- What is the main lesson taught in the period of Bible history from the time of Adam to the flood?
- Was man's nature improved by the judgment of the flood? Give Biblical proof.
- How did God frustrate man's sinful unwillingness to replenish the earth?
- Why did God wait until the time of Abraham to establish a separate covenant people?
- What is the main lesson to be learned from the history of the covenant people of God during the Old Testament period?
- Was Jesus truly human? How do we know this for sure?
- If Jesus was truly human, how is it that he could "succeed" after many others had failed?
- Thinking back to diagram 2, what were the two main problems Jesus needed to solve in order to be our Savior?
- How did he solve the first problem?
- How does he take care of the second?
- Try to state, in your own words, why it is right to speak of the Bible first in our vows.
- What are the three facts that explain why we accept the Bible as the word of God?
- What do we mean when we say the Bible is infallible? clear? sufficient?