If one were to extract the thirteen epistles authored by the apostle Paul and throw them in the trash, the reader of that newly modified 53 book Bible would be capable of understanding the “why” of salvation, the “what” of salvation, and the “who” of salvation. One can understand why we need salvation by reading the entirety of the Bible. One can understand what salvation is by reading the entirety of the Bible. One can understand who the Saviour is by reading the entirety of the Bible.
As we transition into our next question, “how does salvation work,” we must recognize that a person cannot obtain a correct answer to that question without having the thirteen Pauline epistles that they previously threw in the trash. The same holds true for the two questions that follow the “how” of salvation. One cannot know “where” the correct gospel is, the offer of salvation, without the thirteen Pauline epistles. Likewise, one cannot understand “when” salvation occurs without reading and correctly understanding the Pauline epistles. Thus, this seven-part series, with Part 7 being the conclusion and discussion concerning how we are to respond, can be broken down as follows:
The “how” aspect of salvation was not revealed until it was given to the apostle Paul by the Lord Jesus Christ. This “how” aspect of salvation is specifically the mystery information that we learn from the apostle Paul and from no other apostle. Paul tells us how salvation works and he tells us how salvation can work at any time in history.
Most within the Bible’s documented history did not know how salvation could work. They knew what they were getting, who was giving it, and that they needed it (our first three parts within this series), but they did not know how it could happen.
We can know that we need salvation. We can know what salvation is. We can know that God provides salvation and that He provides it through Jesus Christ, God manifested in the flesh. Once we have that understanding, we are then faced with a judicial issue that we must deal with. Man stands guilty before God and God, in Jesus Christ, is a righteous Judge. He is a righteous Judge because He is God and Man. But on what basis can a righteous God give salvation to sinful man? That is not a just transaction by itself. How does this transaction happen? How can God justly give this salvation to man who does not deserve it, but otherwise deserves to be punished for his sin, and still maintain His righteousness?
Using a courtroom example, one would say that a judge, looking upon a criminal who has clearly committed a crime, who then dismisses the case against that guilty criminal, would be labeled as an unjust judge. Imagine if someone robbed your house and was clearly caught on a security camera taking your possessions and was without confusion tried in a court of law and shown to be the criminal, but yet the judge decided to let that criminal go free – would you not label that judge as an unjust judge? With that as a backdrop, we now need to apply this scenario to what we have learned thus far about salvation with this series.
God is truth, righteousness, and justice. For God to be an unjust God would mean that He is not righteous. That is, however, not the God that the Bible describes. God gives salvation to sinful humanity. Knowing that God gives salvation to sinful humanity, we need to recognize that something has to happen in order for God to enter into the transaction of salvation and yet have Him maintain His attributes of truth, righteousness, and justice. This situation generates the question, “what are the means to salvation?” Stated another way, “how does salvation work?” How is it possible that salvation can happen?
Scripture tells us that there are four things that make salvation work:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
1 Cor 15:1-4
As taught by the apostle Paul, the four components of salvation include:
- The blood of Jesus Christ
- The resurrection of Jesus Christ
Let’s explore each of these components one by one.
1. The first component of how salvation works is the blood of Jesus Christ.
God manifest in the flesh shed His own blood and that is how the operation of salvation can begin to work. As Romans 3:25 stated above, Christ Jesus came to be a propitiation for sinners. “Propitiation” means a satisfactory payment, a satisfactory substitution for something else.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
The redemption that Paul talks about in Romans 3 is defined for us, partly, within Colossians 1:14 and Ephesians 1:7 as being the forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22 tells us that without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness. The forgiveness of sins happens through Christ’s blood. In order for sins to be paid for, death must occur. Blood must be shed in order for sins to be paid for. Without salvation from God, it is your blood that must be shed and your death that is required.
Salvation requires that the sin be paid for in order for God to maintain His righteousness and justice. Thus blood has to be shed somewhere. If you are being saved by blood being shed, then the blood has to come from somewhere.
The blood necessary for the salvation that is described throughout the Bible comes from Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ’s finished work makes salvation possible. Jesus Christ’s death on a cross provides the redemption which is the forgiveness of the sin problem that man has. With this transaction, God is still viewed as righteous because Jesus Christ is God and His blood is sinless and perfect.
2. The second component that makes salvation work is the resurrection.
As part of the gospel that saves today, one does not just believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins. The gospel that saves today also includes the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the resurrection, one cannot be granted the forgiveness of sins. Who grants forgiveness? The one who died grants forgiveness. If Jesus Christ died to forgive your sins, but did not resurrect to then offer you something, you cannot receive the thing that is being offered (forgiveness / salvation). The resurrection is then a key component to salvation:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
1 Cor 15:22
Sinful humanity has this problem – all “in Adam” die. 1 Corinthians 15 should be thought of as the “resurrection chapter”. The context of the verse above is the resurrection. Realize that every person who has ever lived will be resurrected one day. The apostle John, speaking to the nation Israel states the following:
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
The apostle Paul, within the resurrection chapter, tells us:
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. … For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
1 Cor 15:16-18, 22-23
Christ was the firstfruits. Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected from the dead. Those who “are Christ’s at his coming” is a reference to the Church, the body of Christ, and is speaking specifically to the Rapture of the Church. In order to have salvation, one needs to be “in Christ” instead of “in Adam” in order to be resurrected to life. Thus the question becomes, “how do I get “in Christ” and not only look forward to this event known as the Rapture, but look forward to eternal life with my Saviour and Creator?”
If a person is resurrected and they are still “in Adam,” that means that they do not have salvation. This is, unfortunately, the position of the bulk of humanity. Thus it is not just resurrection that we need, but it is Christ’s resurrection that we need. We need what Christ had and that is resurrection. The work of Christ is what we need for salvation. He died the death and He resurrected so that He could give these things to us who believe.
3. The third component that makes salvation work is grace.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
In order to have salvation, grace must be present. Why is this? The answer is that grace is a gift of God and is not earned through any works on the receiver’s part. If the receiver of God’s grace were to receive it because of the works that he or she has done, then that person would have something to boast about and that eliminates grace. Salvation can be provided by grace because of what Jesus Christ has done. The old adage for G R A C E is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”.
It is God’s riches that man wants – the riches being salvation, eternal life, and an inheritance that is promised to all those who are saved. Since God has the “riches,” He has to be the one who gives them. Being at Christ’s expense means that God did the work. He, Jesus Christ, suffered and paid the ultimate price for all those who would believe.
Grace is required in order for salvation to be provided from God. It requires for God to have it and for God to give it and it also requires for Him to do the work.
The truth of the matter is that grace always requires work from the individual providing the grace that is in question. When you provide grace, in whatever form, to someone, you are doing something for them on their behalf. They are not doing what is necessary for the grace in question to be performed, the one providing grace is doing it. Thus grace requires work from the grace giver.
God’s grace does not require work from you, it requires work from God. He did the work and He did that work in Jesus Christ. As we have all heard, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Grace is not free, it required work from someone. You get grace for free because “God made the lunch”. He made it for you on your behalf. Man does not deserve it and he cannot earn it. God has to do the work. Man cannot perform the work. That is why one needs grace. If this is how God gives grace, how does man get grace?
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
“Justified” means to be declared righteous. Man is not righteous, but he needs to be righteous in order to be saved. Righteousness needs to come from this salvation being described. Paul states in Romans 3:28 above that a person is made righteous, they are receiving this salvation, by faith.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
A person is made righteous by faith. “The just shall live by faith” is an Old Testament quote. If one wants eternal life and the riches that God has, God requires faith. He requires faith at all times, during every dispensation. Faith is man’s positive response towards what God is offering them. God gives grace and man has to have faith in order to receive it. Thus:
4. The fourth component that makes salvation work is faith.
How is it that God requires faith from man in order for him to receive something that he does not deserve? What exactly is faith? Hebrews chapter 11 provides us a definition:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Humanity needs salvation and they hope for the substance of salvation. Man has not seen forgiveness, eternal life, goodness, wisdom, the righteousness of God – the things of salvation. God has to give these things of salvation to man. In order to receive the substance of salvation, man has to respond positively to God in faith, he has to believe God and what God has said or instructed.
Realize that faith is required from man, but that the Bible tells us that faith is not a work:
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Faith is the belief mentioned in the above passage and it is contrasted with “worketh not”. Faith is what is required and faith is not a work.
All of the things that make salvation what it is are made possible because of the propitiatory shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross and His power of resurrection. How this transaction happens is identified for us in Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth:
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
2 Cor 5:21
God provides grace. God is the giver. He requires faith from man and He can make this transaction happen on the merits of His own work on the cross and His own work of resurrection unto eternal life. This is “how” salvation can work. Christ died a death He did not deserve. Christ did the work. God then imputed the sins of humanity on Jesus Christ:
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
To impute means to put into ones account. The account holder being discussed here is Jesus Christ. The imputation that occurs is actually a two-way transaction. Christ takes your sin and gives you His righteousness in its place. Salvation means that Christ’s righteousness is now in your account and when God looks at you, He sees His Son and His righteousness. Imputation means that we have a just payment for the sins that were committed and a death that happened for the death that we deserve. Thus, God’s justice can be satisfied and He can maintain His righteousness by switching the recipient of the wrath that is due. What an amazing transaction!
Because of this imputation, those who have salvation receive the resurrection also:
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
As stated earlier, one can know by reading the Bible that man needs salvation due to his sin. The entire Bible teaches that fact. All of the Bible teaches what salvation is – forgiveness, reconciliation, eternal life, wisdom, sanctification, righteousness, etc.. One can also learn about God being the saviour from their reading of all of Scripture. It is the means of salvation, however, that is what was kept secret since the beginning of the world and it is a subject that is revealed only within the apostle Paul’s writings.
The mystery revealed through Paul was the means of the salvation that God could offer to man at any time throughout the Scripture. During any time that God grants salvation to man, it is only on these merits that that transaction can occur. That does not mean that man throughout all of human history knew that fact, but there is no other way for God to offer salvation to humanity justly. There is no other way for God to provide salvation but through this transaction.
We must recognize that a good portion of humanity lived and died before the event of Jesus Christ on the cross. Thus a question must be raised – “how were people saved in the past?” This is, unfortunately, a question that is rarely asked within Christian circles during our current day and age. Before Paul, people could know the why, what, and who of salvation. What they could not know is the how. The “how” of salvation was a mystery that was kept secret:
How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
How salvation works was a mystery before Jesus Christ revealed it to the apostle Paul. Romans chapter 4 explains this fact. In Romans chapter 4, Paul discusses people who lived and died before the cross of Christ. So how does God make available, to those who have lived and died before Christ on the cross, what Paul described as the means of salvation, when those people didn’t even know what it was?
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
The above is a quote from Psalm 32, written by King David. David knew that he was a dead man in the eyes of God due to his infractions. Murder and adultery, under the Law, and especially for the king, was punishable by death. David knew that he should have lost his right standing that he had in the covenant with God. And yet God did not execute that judgment on David and David knew that. Therefore David asks the question of God, “how can that be?” “How can that work,” he asks. “How can you, God, still be just, and let me go given what I did?” Paul references this account so that we can understand that this is how God could let David go. God took it on Himself. Even though the answer had not happened yet in history, Christ shedding His blood on the cross, God knew, since God is omniscient, that He had a sufficient payment ready in the future and that that payment would make David righteous, even though David did not know it.
In Romans 4:9, Paul talks about Abraham and he references Genesis 15:
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. Faith is all that God required of Abraham who was of sinful humanity. Abraham was called out by God and he is an important figure in the Bible, but recognize that he was just like you and me, a sinner. Yet God counted his faith for righteousness. How could this be? Abraham had no knowledge of the means of salvation, revealed by Jesus Christ to the apostle Paul.
And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
What we read in this passage is that Abraham basically stood there and said, “yes Lord, I believe what you just said; it is going to happen.” God, at that moment, declared Abraham righteous. God can do that, even if our human minds think that that is an unjust transaction. God can impute upon a sinful man, though that man deserves nothing, the righteousness and forgiveness and eternal life, by faith, because that is how salvation works. We now know this because of the mystery revealed to the apostle Paul, but Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon did not know that fact.
This truth was not revealed to Abraham, Moses, David, or anyone before the apostle Paul. God knew. Jesus Christ, being God, knew. By the time we reach the end of Romans chapter 4, Paul has continued discussing Abraham and then he brings this subject full circle and informs us as to how this subject pertains to us today:
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
If man attempts to bring anything to this transaction, it is no longer God doing the work. Grace can only occur if God does the work. The only thing that God bases salvation upon is by faith, irrespective of anything else that He tells you to do. It is your faith that is required in order for this transaction to occur. The transaction only occurs through grace – God must do the work and if anyone tries to add to the transaction, it is null and void. If you want to pay for your sins yourself, God has given you that option. You can do that. Your blood can be shed and you can pay for your sins, but it will be in Hell for all of eternity, since your blood is not sinless and blemish free. That is how this transaction works. God does not want you to pay for your sins through your shed blood and thus He has provided a way for Him to do it on your behalf. You must, however, agree to let Him do it. That is faith and grace.
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
Combined with Hebrews 11:1, we see a further definition of what faith is within verse 21 above – what God had promised, Abraham believed that He would do. God said “I am going to give you seed like the stars” and Abraham said “it is going to happen”. Abraham believed it to be true and that was faith. Therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness, not because of anything that Abraham did, but because God requires faith and Abraham had faith.
In verse 23, Paul moves the discussion to us:
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
Christ’s finished work was imputed to Abraham. Christ’s finish work was imputed to Abraham without Abraham having any knowledge of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That event had not happened yet in history and none of the passages in Genesis, Romans, or Hebrews speaks to Abraham having any knowledge of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Romans 4:23 tells us that this was not written for Abraham’s sake alone, but also for us to whom it shall be imputed if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead:
But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ by grace, based upon the merit’s of Christ’s (God’s) own finished work. We can have the same imputation that Abraham received through faith. It is the content of faith that we are to have that is so widely misunderstood within Christendom today. Abraham had faith, but it was not a faith that was placed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Abraham’s faith was placed in what God had promised him:
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
The apostle Paul emphasizes this point, the content of Abraham’s faith, within Romans chapter 4:
Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
Sinful Abraham could be justified without works because of the then future, propitiatory work of Jesus Christ, but Abraham did not know that. The word of faith that Abraham believed was the promise of a land, a seed, and a world-wide blessing. As Paul explains, Abraham was “strong in faith”. The specific promise that God made to Abraham was not that a Messiah would die for his sins, but that his wife would produce a son though she was barren and beyond her age.
Salvation is offered to everyone throughout history, but the “how” of salvation was not revealed until the apostle Paul for a very good reason. The means of salvation is content within the mystery that was not made known until Jesus Christ revealed it to the apostle Paul. We must ask the question, “why was the ‘how’ of salvation kept a mystery until Paul?”
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
1 Cor 2:7-10
If Satan and his minions had known that God could provide salvation to all men, from all periods of history, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, they never would have crucified Him. Ultimately it is Christ’s resurrection that causes Satan’s defeat. This fact was hidden, it was a mystery kept secret since the world began. It had to be kept a mystery or Satan never would have pursued the death of Jesus Christ and thus the very thing that atones for man’s sin.
The question, “how can this happen at any time” is answered with another question, “how can it happen any other way?” What else could allow God to exact His justice and still maintain His righteousness? This is the manifold wisdom of God. There is no other way that God can give salvation to individuals at any time but through this means.
Most who call themselves Christian read right through the mystery information and do not recognize what it is and that it was hidden. They believe that everyone knew what we now know – they do not see that it was kept secret for a reason. Thus they will say “Abraham was looking forward to the cross”. Though incorrect, there is an element of truth in that statement in that Christ was going to do the work necessary in the future, but individuals such as Abraham did not know that. It was hidden from them. It was kept secret until the apostle Paul.
Many also conflate the means of salvation, the how it happens, with what God has told them to believe in. They confuse or conflate the means of salvation with the offer or the terms of salvation. The offer of salvation, the terms by which one can be saved, is known as the gospel within Scripture. The gospel is the information that God provides to people for them to believe in. The gospel is the offer. God offers salvation with certain terms. “What are those terms” is the question we must be asking.
God requires faith and faith has an object. In times past, God revealed a gospel, an offer, an object, for people to put their faith in. He provided that gospel, that offer, without revealing “how” salvation would occur. Abraham’s faith was in a promise made from God that his seed would be as abundant as the stars. Abraham had faith in the offer that God gave him and thus God was able to impute righteousness to him.
God has progressively revealed information over time. What God has revealed over time is different information. It is progressive revelation. It is not all the same thing. He does not give the same instructions to all persons throughout the corridors of history. Different instructions are given to man in order for him to respond to God in faith, demonstrating that they believe what He said. Faith is man’s response back to God, based on what He has told man. Faith has an object. Faith is the substance of things hoped for.
We place our faith and our hope in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ within this dispensation of grace because that is what God has revealed. Those throughout the corridors of time that did not know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were provided information for them to hope in. When they placed their hope in that information, that was their faith – believing that to be true. Thus God could make the transaction of salvation happen for them.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Within our current dispensation, salvation is made clear when you know how salvation works because it solves the justice problem that exists between God and man and the salvation that man needs that only God can provide. God knew the work that He would do and He knows how He can provide this to man and remain just and holy and righteous in doing so. You need Jesus Christ’s death, His blood shed on the cross. You need Jesus Christ’s resurrection unto eternal life, never to die again, so that He can grant you this and you can have it too.
The Bible rightly divided resolves issues with understanding salvation correctly because it clearly identifies that God in Christ did all the work, that salvation is only by the cross of Christ, and that through Christ’s resurrection we who believe the gospel of our salvation will also one day be raised to life. There is no other way possible for God to maintain His justice and righteousness while saving men and women who do not deserve it. It is the only solution.
Mid-Acts Pauline Dispensationalism recognizes and teaches the revelation of the mystery of Christ and His finished work on behalf of all men, without distinction, without position, without covenants or Law. Jesus did all the work necessary. He mediated for all men. We find that information in Paul’s epistles alone and it is information that we must place our faith in in order to be saved.
 1 Cor 15:1-4
 Habakkuk 2:4. See also Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38
 John 10:17-18 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
 Genesis 12:1-3
 Romans 4:20