The word “soteriology” is the combination of two words; “ology” (the study of) and the Greek sōtēria (salvation). So, soteriology is the study of what the scriptures say in reference to salvation. Volumes have been written on the subject but it’s always helpful to find definitions that help us to convey monumental truths in memorable ways. I came across a quote from Burk Parsons in which he offered a simple, useful and memorable explanation of soteriology.
“Soteriology simplified: God saves us by Himself from Himself unto Himself for Himself.” ~ Burk Parsons
There’s so much packed into that short statement! I posted the quote on Facebook and two comments inspired this post. One was “I’m so confused!” and the other was “…from Himself? That’s thin ice.” Comments like those are usually multiplied among readers and so I want to provide a brief comment and scriptural basis for each of the four ways in which God saves us.
1) God saves us by Himself.
The song rings out in Revelation (7:10; 19:1) “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” God Himself is the one who has provided salvation for us through the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s gracious gift of salvation is His alone to give. We merit nothing by our works, no matter how “good” we may think them to be. Even the faith to trust in Christ comes from God to us. ” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
2) God saves us from Himself.
The Bible is very clear on man’s relationship to God apart from Christ. Yes, God is love and it is His love that motivates the sending of His Son to secure our salvation. God is also holy and it is His holiness that required the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf. Apart from the righteousness of Christ we remain in our unholy, sinful rebellion before God. The Bible tells us that we are God’s enemies (Rom.5:10; James 4:4), hostile to His law (Rom.8:7; Col. 1:21), spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), deserving of judgment (Rom. 2:2-5; 12) and objects of God’s wrath (Rom. 2:8; Eph. 5:6). We cannot separate God’s wrath from His love. Both are central parts of His identity. God’s wrath is not human wrath. It is not an explosive reaction but rather a settled opposition to all that diminishes His glory. It is personal. It is an expression of His nature. So apart from Christ, we face the wrath of Holy God. John captures both ideas in the third chapter of his gospel. John 3:16 tells us “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” In the very same chapter we read: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) This is where we all remain apart from Christ, under the wrath of God. God does not personally deliver His love to the redeemed and leave some wrathful force outside of Himself to express judgement on the un-redeemed. No, both flow from His own nature. This is the glory of the gospel! A holy God who cannot receive rebellious sinners into His eternal presence, satisfies the demands of His own justice by becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ, living out the perfections of the Law as our “Second Adam”, taking our justly deserved punishment upon the cross, destroying the power of death in the resurrection and securing for all time a bold and free approach into God’s eternal glory for all who put their hope in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Rom. 3:21-25)
3) God saves us unto Himself.
The idea that we are rescued from God’s wrath, eternal separation and sin’s enslavement – while true – is only half the story. We have not only be saved from these things but saved unto the God who loves us. God has always determined to have a people for Himself. At Mount Sinai, after Israel has been brought out of Egypt, God expresses His desire this way: ” Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6) This has never changed! Peter tells us that in Christ, God has realized this eternal plan: ” you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5) and in Revelation we see the culmination of what God began at Sinai. (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6) (Rev. 5:9-10).
4) God saves us for Himself.
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16) God saves us unto Himself and for Himself. He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), redeeming us for His own possession (1 Peter 1:13-21), making possible and accomplishing our adoption as His own children (Gal. 4:5-6; Rom. 8:15). The great song of praise at the send of the age will be one of praise to the Lamb who has redeemed for God a worldwide people by His blood (Rev. 5:9) and all of this is ultimately for His own glory. God is no egotist. He is perfect within Himself and values that which is most perfectly glorious: Himself! All that God has done in creation and redemption is for the glory of His own matchless grace. ” he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6) “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14) As God’s redeemed people we are to live for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 1:11; 2:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 1 Peter 4:11).
This idea is presented beautifully in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 ESV)