1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body
be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (NASB)
Many Christians do not have a complete picture of what a full salvation experience means. I have heard everything from “you get saved when you’re baptized in the water” or “when you get baptized with the Holy Spirit” to “You can only know you’re saved when you actually arrive in heaven,” to “you have no say in your own salvation, you are predestined by the will of God, and you might be out of luck.” I believe the Bible does tell us what it means to be saved, and I want to have a look at that in this post. First, I want to define a couple of terms. “Justification” means being made righteous before God. Other words for this are “Redemption,” “Salvation,” “Reconciliation,” “Saved,” or the like. “Sanctification” is the Latin way of saying “being made holy” by the Lord. Other words for it are “Purification,” “Holiness,” “Making their robes white,” and to make matters more confusing, “Redemption,” “Salvation,” and other terms that really should apply to the first term of Justification. I believe this to be a result of an improper understanding (deliberate or not) of God’s plan to save humankind. The first thing to note is that humans are what are called “tripartite” or three-part beings, because we are created in the image of God, who is a Trinity also, though the point of this consideration is not to get into the doctrine of the Trinity. Our key text at the top of the article mentions all three – Spirit, Soul, and Body. Each part of our being is in need of salvation by God because of what we gave up as a race in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. See Figure 1 below.
When we rejected God’s plan, it led to “death,” according to Genesis 3. That “death” extended to all three parts of us, spirit, soul, and body. That means that all three parts of us need to be restored by God. So how does that happen according to the Bible?
With respect to the spirit part of our being, I think the best passage of scripture is in Romans 10:8-10.
8 But what does it say? ” The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
There are two conditions to your salvation, or your reconciliation with God, and both of them rely upon God’s work, not ours. First, is that we need to confess with our mouths that Jesus is our Master. He calls the shots, so to speak. We admit that to ourselves and to the world. Second, we believe in the core of our being that God raised Him from the dead. Why? That is the proof that He did pay the price for our sins. (It is also a heavily contested point of history, but that is another topic.) Do that, and your spirit is “made alive” to God, as it says in a number of places in the New Testament, notably Ephesians 2:5, which says:
“even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”
speaking of how God loved us and because of that love, made our spirit to live again. Why the Spirit? It is the part of our being that communicates directly with God. We are born with a spirit that is dead and non-functional. When we believe that Jesus paid the price for our wrongdoings, and confess or admit that to ourselves and the world around us, it is restored to life. Because that penalty has been paid by God the Son, Jesus, we are “reconciled” to God, or :saved,” or “receive our salvation,” or “are justified” with God. There are no if, no ands, no buts, and no quid-pro-quos to that, and it is done once for all, and you cannot lose it! See here in John 10:28-29:
28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Let’s deal with that right up front – the scripture teaches that once you are saved you are always saved unless you reject it consciously. The theological name for this doctrine is “the Eternal Security of the Believer.” And this is where the misunderstandings start. People do not understand that we have to be saved once and for all in our spirits before we can start being saved in our souls, or our personalities – the things that make us who we are. People who are not careful readers of scripture will not recognize the difference between soul and spirit and confusion ensues. The Bible does make a difference between soul and spirit in Hebrews 4:12:
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two- edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
So – once you are saved, you’re always saved – but the story doesn’t end with our simple justification. God has much more of a plan for our lives than that. He wants to make us like His Son Jesus! So let’s consider the “salvation of the soul.”
Remember how I started with the idea that God has a plan for us? After He saves us from the penalty of our wrongdoings, have you noticed that we did not go directly to Heaven? To put it mildly, we’re not ready for that just yet. God wants so much more for us than just “going to heaven when we die.” I am sorry if that’s all you thought your salvation means, but there is a great deal more to the story than that. What is that plan? I believe that the Scriptures teach us that we as followers or disciples of Christ are to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ, and this has always been God’s plan for us. When we fell, we gave that up, and it then became necessary to save that part of us as well. The Apstle John puts it like this:
2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
(1 John 3:2-3, NASB)
God has always had this in mind. Songwriter and Theologian Michael Card penned, “He was made like us so we could be like Him,” in his song “To the Mystery.” For every person that is saved, there should be a person on a path of being purified, or made holy, or being sanctified – that their soul is being saved. The Apostle Peter says this:
9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:9, NASB)
The outcome of our faith, the thing we are working towards though our faith, is the salvation of our souls. Is this really different? Yes, I believe so because of what Peter says earlier in this same chapter:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
(1 Peter 1:3-7, NASB)
If you read this with an unbiased mind, you see that our faith, which we received by the Grace of God, is building to something that has yet to be revealed. That cannot be speaking about the salvation of our spirit – that is made evident right away. This is a future event, and deals with not the saved/not-saved question, but the rewards for those who are faithful in enduring the trials described in verses 6 and 7 of that passage. The Apostle James puts a real perspective on this in his own letter:
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2-4, NASB)
Not very long after that he says something else that has been largely misunderstood:
17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
James is NOT saying that works save you. He is saying that if you are not doing works that accompany your professed faith, your faith is useless. Why? From the context in Chapter 1 of his letter, he is speaking about the salvation of our souls, not the once-for-all saving faith that comes to us by the grace of God because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He is instead speaking about the process by which we are being saved, our sanctification, our being made like Jesus – our reward!
Something else to consider here is that there are also consequences for not being faithful in this pursuit of holiness – our loss of inheritance. Our works will be tested and judged by Christ Himself. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:
11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Fire speaks of purification. Notice how there are two groups of building material. There are the precious metals, all of which are made more valuable by pressure and heat, or if you will, trials, and those which do not cost as much, and are easier to work with – and flammable. Based on this passage, I know what I would want to build with, and I know the price for building with the more precious material. Also notice that it never tells us what the reward is? There is a reason for that:
9 but just as it is written,
” Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9, NASB)
By the way, it also never describes the loss. Draw your own conclusions on that. However, 1 Cor.3:15 tells us that such a one “will be saved, yet so as through fire,” the implication being that it is all you will be, and that would be a travesty because God has SO much more for us.
The issue here is that this is not always easy to see, especially when you are in the middle of trial or tribulation. We must have patience and let the trial transform us, as it says in Romans 12:1-2:
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Remember, this is not immediately apparent. The Greek word for “transformed” is “metamorphoo,” where we get our English word “metamorphosis.” this is a process that takes time, sometimes goes through several stages, is often hidden from view, all for a big reveal in the future, unlike justification which is immediate and eternal. Here, we see that this will depend on who is on the “throne” of your life, or who occupies the center chair – you or Christ. This is our daily, moment-by-moment choice. See Figure 2.
So – we are saved, and we are being saved, but did you know that the body will also be saved?
Christianity is unique among world religions in teaching that there is value in our bodies. Most other religions that I am aware of state that either the body is a shell that once we leave is of no further value, or that the body represents all the evil or lower-plane existence that we are trying to shed. Christianity alone, in all the religions that I have studied, tells us that we are to look forward to the “first resurrection” as believers. The Apostle Paul even describes it in his first letter to the Thessalonian believers:
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, NASB)
A great deal could be said about this passage, but for the purposes of this article, it tells us that physical death is not the end, and that the Lord will come back for his faithful ones and call us to Himself. A discussion of what this passage is actually talking about is a completely different and larger topic than we want to take the time to consider at the moment. At some point, a heavenly body will be given to us for eternity. Again, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. That is FULL salvation.
As always, questions are welcome! PDF copies are downloadable from the Store for 3 for $0.99.
Gerry @ The Berean Nation