Although there is a vast multitude of Christians who have obtained eternal life by means of faith in Jesus Christ, it appears that many do not have an intricate understanding of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Specifically, they are unaware how their sins were managed during Christ’s crucifixion; and, are unclear on the specific time and act that changed their eternal existence.
Frankly, there is no stringent requirement for such an understanding in order for a person to be “saved” as long as the individual solely places his/her faith in Jesus Christ (i.e., Christ’s finished work on Calvary’s Cross) for his/her personal salvation. Still, it can be most gratifying for any Christian to come to a more profound grasp of Christ’s sacrifice and to know the specific moment his sins were forgiven for all eternity and thereby was granted eternal life. Hopefully, this study will be helpful to that end.
(It should be noted that God’s plan of salvation for mankind is more comprehensive – involving all three components of man, i.e., spirit, soul, body – than what is generally understood by most Christians, a fact that involves both eternal and temporal life, as well as the concept of “heaven” and the reality of the coming millennial kingdom. Nevertheless, without doubt the foundational and most important/foundational element in/of the plan is the absolute acquisition of eternal life, which is the primary focus of this study.)
This study will be presented under the following headers: (1) The Requirement, (2) The Reality, and (3) The Realization, which will be followed by some Closing Comments and a link or links to the comprehensive – involving all three aspects – plan of God’s salvation for mankind.
Why must a person be “saved” and from what is the person “saved.” Scripture clearly states that “all (mankind) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), indeed, “Scripture has concluded all under sin” (Galatians 3:22). Man and woman, in the garden in Eden, following their eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in direct defiance of God’s specific instructions, found themselves in a ruined state – a state of sin, which was/has been passed on to all their descendants. The result of this state – for all human beings – is death, spiritual death, which is separation from God (Genesis 2:16, 17; Romans 6:23a).
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12; cf. 1 Corinthian 15:21)
It was established at the very beginning that the consequence, the price or payment for sin (disbelieving and thereby disobeying God), was death, the literal meaning of such is the separation between two entities – between the Divine and the temporal, between God and man. The death relegated to man due to his sin was all-inclusive. It was (1) the initiation of a progressing temporal death of the body and soul, which was/is promoted by the then-alteration (deterioration) of man’s physical environment (Genesis 4:17-19) and results eventually in a person’s separation from temporal life; but more importantly, (2) an instantaneous supernatural death of the spirit, affecting (passed on to) every human being from that day forward (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1), which results in the separation of a person from God.
Bottom line, the cost, the consequence, the price of sin was death – separation. The most crucial aspect of this death/separation was on the spiritual level. Man was separated from his Creator, the Living God. Furthermore, this cost, this consequence, this price, is eternal unless it can be “satisfied” (paid in full) before God.
How was mankind’s record/accumulation of sin – through all of time – “satisfied” or “paid for in full” so that a person could indeed be “saved” from its ultimate result, i.e., separation from God. Christians understand that it was Jesus Christ and His sacrifice upon the Cross of Calvary that “satisfied” God requirement for sin, but many are at somewhat of a loss to be able to clearly explain how this was the case.
The short answer is that Jesus Christ “took the place” of all sinners through all of time in order to “pay the price” of sin, so that any individually may take advantage of Christ’s payment in order to obtain eternal life. Christ’s death was a substitutionary death for all mankind. Still, this doesn’t exactly explain “how” Christ made the “payment” for all sin. So, a more detailed answer follows.
For He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us [mankind], that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21; e.g., Isaiah 53:6)
It was on the Cross of Calvary that Christ made the sacrificial price of taking on and becoming our sin, thereby personally experiencing the type of “death” resulting from sin. This was a transaction that only God could and did perform, which would then enable any person who would/will appropriately take advantage of Christ’s payment for sin to be brought back into spiritual union with God.
The “death” that Christ experienced on the Cross of Calvary, which was indeed the payment (the price) required by God for the sins of mankind, was not the physical death experienced by the physical body of Jesus Christ. In fact, before that occurred, Christ specifically cried out “It is finished!” And only then did He bow His head and give up His spirit (John 19:30), personally permitting His physical death.
What did Christ mean by “It is finished”? It refers back to His previous cry, which followed a specific period (3 hours) of time, as seen in the following passage of Scripture:
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
(Matthew 27:45, 46; cf. Mark 15:33, 34)
Precisely identified, it was during this three hours period of time, “from the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth hour (3:00 P.M.) there was darkness over all the land,” that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, having personally taking on and becoming the sin of all mankind, became separated from God the Father – personally experiencing spiritual death for (in place of) mankind.
Granted, the spiritual separation between the Father and the Son was for only a three hour period of time, but on the Divine level, it equated to eternal separation between the Creator and those He created should they have to experience it. As for our (created beings) ability to understand this, I’m certain it is far beyond our mindset.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8, 9)
Nevertheless, it should be observed that the horrific penalty for sin due created human beings, which is eternal in scope, only required the Son of God to fully pay the penalty, for every person throughout the ages, in a three hour period of time. As many believe, the number three in Scripture represents “Divine wholeness, completeness and perfection.” This is certainly true with God’s substitutionary sacrifice for the salvation of mankind.
And because God in the flesh, in the Person of Jesus Christ during a three hour period of time on earth, experienced the price of sin in the place of man (i.e., a substitutionary sacrifice), any person who is willing to accept by faith this total payment for sin, will then never ever be personally subject to it.
Once a person (1) becomes aware by means of the Holy Spirit that he/she is a sinner and is separated from God (John 14:26; 16:5-11), and (2) that there is nothing he/she can do to personally obtain eternal life (Ephesians 2:8, 9); but (3) that Jesus Christ did indeed pay for his/her sins on Calvary’s Cross by means of His substitutionary death (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:24; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 3:5, 7), and he/she has only one action to take in order to obtain eternal life, i.e., to be ‘saved”; he/she then has only one choice to make in order to change his/her eternal condition.
And that singular action/choice is to exercise his/her faith (trust) in Jesus Christ and His finished work at Calvary (alone) for his/her personal salvation. The instant he/she makes this decision of trusting in Christ alone, the result is obtained, i.e., he/she is “saved” from eternal separation from God, which is eternal life, the “birth from above” (John 3:3,7, 15, 16,18, 31; 6:47; Romans 3:24, 28; 4:16; Ephesians 2:5, 8, 9; Titus 3:5).
Should you be interested, please check out the document at http://bibleone.net/Gods-plan-of-salvation.htm for a more extensive treatment of this subject. A small portion of this document follows (originally taken from: Salvation by Grace through Faith by Arlen L. Chitwood):
The message pertaining to the gospel of the grace of God is given in very simple terms in Scripture. In fact, it is so simple that man often misses it. And any person, missing the one true message given by the infinite God and drawing from his own finite wisdom and knowledge, invariably ends up with a corrupted salvation message.
The salvation message, that which makes salvation possible for fallen man, is clearly stated in
1 Corinthians 15:3:
“. . . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
The one key thought in the salvation message is death and shed blood (e.g., Genesis 3:21; 22:8, 13), which is what God requires (Exodus 12:13; Hebrews 9:22). And the one key word in the salvation message is believe (e.g., John 1:12; 3:15, 16), which is also what God requires (John 3:18).
The Lamb has died, His blood has been shed, and all that is left –all that can possibly be left – for man to do is simply receive that which has already been done on his behalf.
Eternal salvation is by grace (that which God is able to do completely apart from human merit) through faith (through believing on God’s Son [Ephesians 2:8, 9]), and it is based entirely upon the finished work of Another (John 19:30). Nothing that man has done, is presently doing, or will ever do can have anything to do with his eternal destiny. Man can do no more than receive by faith that which has already been done on his behalf.
This is why Scripture states:
“. . . Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved . . . .” (Acts 16:31)
This statement is in response to a question in the preceding verse,
“. . . Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v.30)
And within another frame of reference, the response to this question could only be, “Nothing!” This would have to be the response simply because there is not one single thing left for unsaved man to do (nor could he do anything if something were left, for, he is spiritually dead and incapable of acting in the spiritual realm [Ephesians 2:1, 5]).
It is of interest to note that the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” only appear together one place in the entire Bible. Scripture is filled with information concerning redemption, but Acts 16:30, 31 is the only place, from Genesis to Revelation, where the question concerning eternal salvation is asked and answered in so many words.
Thus, within a completely biblical framework, if the question in Acts 16:30 is asked, there can be only one answer: “Believe . . . .” Man’s ideas, thoughts, comments are of no moment. God has spoken, and that’s the end of the matter.
John 3:16 is often called “the gospel in a nutshell” by individuals seeking to draw attention to the overall salvation message stated in its simplest form in Scripture. God, because of His love for fallen man – who had been created in His image, after His likeness, for a purpose (Genesis 1:26-28) –“gave His only begotten Son [1 Corinthians 15:3], that whoever believes in Him [Acts 16:31] should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Everything, in its entirety, to procure man’s salvation was done by Another. It had to be accomplished by Another, for, as previously stated, the one being redeemed was “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), totally incapable of acting on his own behalf.
Christ is the One who died, Christ is the One who performed the work to procure man’s salvation, and God is satisfied with His Son’s finished work.
When Christ cried out from the Cross in “a loud voice” near the ninth hour, “It is finished” (Luke 23:46; John 19:30), He used one word in the Greek text – Tetelestai – that could be better translated, “It has been finished.” Tetelestai is a perfect tense usage of teleo, which means “to bring to an end,” “to complete.” And the perfect tense refers to action completed in past time, with the results of that action extending into and existing during present time in a finished state.
All of the work surrounding man’s redemption that Christ had come to perform had, at that point in time, been completed. This was the announcement that Christ made, in “a loud voice”; and, because of that which was involved in the announcement, there was then no longer any need for Him to continue His sufferings on the Cross. Thus, immediately after He cried out, “It has been finished,” He “gave up the ghost [KJV, lit., ‘He breathed out’ (He expired, willingly relinquishing His life)]” (Luke 23:46).
The work of Christ at Calvary, from the point He cried out, “It has been finished,” has existed in exactly the same finished state in which He proclaimed it to exist at that time. It has existed as a work completed in past time that extends into present time (in a finished state) and that will extend into all the ages comprising eternity ahead (in the same finished state).
Nothing can ever be added, and nothing can ever be taken away. That is to say, nothing can ever change relative to Christ’s finished work at Calvary. That’s the way God’s procurement of man’s salvation had to occur. Once Christ’s work had been finished, that’s the way His work had to always continue to exist – in a finished state – throughout both time and eternity.
Because of Christ’s finished work, salvation is extended to man “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1); and apart from Christ’s finished work, there is no salvation. He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already [lit., ‘has already been condemned’ (a perfect tense – condemned in past time because of unbelief and presently living in that condemned state)], because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).
It is utterly impossible – and foolish to even consider – that finite man, “dead in trespasses and sins,” could add one thing to or take one thing from the finished work of the infinite God through His Son.
All man can possibly do is simply receive, by believing on the Son, that which has already been done on his behalf.
Only One Place in Scripture
It is of interest to note that the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” only appear together one place in the entire Bible. Scripture is filled with information concerning redemption, but Acts 16:30, 31 is the only place from Genesis to Revelation where the question concerning eternal salvation is asked and answered in so many words.
Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30b, 31)
Eternal salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9), and it is based entirely upon the finished work of Another (John 19:30). Nothing that man has done, is presently doing, or will ever do can have anything to do with his eternal destiny. Man can do no more than receive by faith that which has already been done on his behalf. This is why Scripture states, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
In this respect, the answer to the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” is actually, Nothing!
This would have to be the answer simply because there is not one single thing left for man to do (nor could he do anything if something were left [he is “dead in trespasses and sins”]). This is the implication in Paul and Silas’ response to the jailor in Philippi. He was told simply to “believe [put his trust, reliance in]” the One who had already done everything on his behalf.
Coming into possession of eternal salvation was that simple and easy for the jailor at Philippi, and it remains that simple and easy for man today. The instant an unsaved person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, he is eternally saved. He becomes a “new creation” in Christ, a part of the “one new man” (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:13-15). Anything in addition to unsaved man’s act of faith can occupy no place in the biblical answer to the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Such can occupy no place in salvation by grace through faith.
Thus, within a completely biblical framework, if the question in Acts 16:30 is asked, there can only be one answer: “Believe . . . .” Man’s ideas, thoughts, comments are of no moment. God has spoken, and that’s the end of the matter.
Often the act of “repentance” or a salvation “prayer” is suggested as relevant to the achievement of salvation. And, although such a framework is presented, it should be noted that a person who is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) can in no way take such an action, for such can only be addressed and acted upon by one who has a redeemed spirit, who has been sealed by God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 14; 4:30). Indeed, when the word “repent” or the topic of repentance is utilized in the New Testament, it contextually refers to Israel and its relation to the Messiah. On the other hand, one may understand that “repentance” is to turn from any other “method” of salvation to Christ alone for such a gift.
And as to any “prayer” being the key to one’s salvation, one is at a loss to explain at what precise moment during the prayer, or, possibly at its end, that one becomes “saved.” Yet, this is not to say that a person cannot be saved when addressing God in such a fashion. Indeed, vast multitudes have come to Christ in such a fashion.
But precisely, it should be understood that the exact moment of salvation is achieved prior to the utterance of such a prayer – at the precise instant the individual decides to trust in the finished work of Another (Jesus Christ, alone) for his eternal salvation. It is at this precise moment in time that a person transitions from being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) to being a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:13-15) – a position that can never be reversed.
My sincere hope is that all who read this presentation will further their study of God’s marvelous plan of salvation by accessing one or both of the books entitled Salvation of the Soul, both extolling a comprehensive treatment of the subject, involving the tripartite composition of man, i.e., spirit, soul, and body. And although both have the same title, one is written by Arlen L. Chitwood and the other by James T. Harman. Both may be freely accessed at the following website links: