What we believe should result in action. It’s not enough to just believe in a particular teaching (doctrine) of the Bible. We need to do something about it. If we believe that salvation is all of God, we should act on that truth in every aspect of our lives and ministry.
Doctrinal and Practical
Someone has said that doctrine (teaching) without practice (action) is dead. It’s knowledge without passion. The other way is not good either: practice (action) without (doctrine). That’s passion without knowledge. That can be dangerous. We need both doctrine and practice with equal emphasis.
Here’s an example.
We’ve quoted often in this series from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The letter is divided into two parts: doctrinal (chapters 1-3) and practical (chapters 4-6). Paul wrote this at the beginning of the second part (the practical):
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
That is a strong call to action within the local church, but why would anyone do any of that unless they had learned doctrine connected with the practice? Here’s how Paul started the first part of the letter (the doctrinal):
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:3-14
Do you see it? The reason that Christians should walk worthy of the calling with which they were called with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is because God had chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world that they should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having been predestined to be adopted as sons by Jesus Christ Himself according to the good pleasure of His will and the praise of the glory of His grace by which He made them accepted in Christ.
Christians acting humbly and gently toward other Christians is not just a nice thing to do. It’s not just a suggestion to be considered. It’s the ONLY way Christians should treat each other because every true believer in Jesus Christ was chosen from before the foundation of the world to be sons and daughters of God! Paul’s righteous doctrine (teaching) demands righteous practice (action). It’s as simple as that.
Doctrine must always precede practice. It is my belief that tens of millions of Christians alive today have this backward. They act first, then possibly consider what the Bible teaches later. No wonder Christians are so confused about how God saves people.
The salvation of human souls has nothing to do with how you or I feel about it. Feelings change – often. It has everything to do with what God says about it. What God says is truth and that doesn’t change. Saving souls is what God does and he does it the way He wants to do it.
I think when Christians are ready to believe God first and others last, they’re ready to do something great in this world. Christians are surrounded by competing voices and most of the voices I’ve heard make little sense when compared with what God says. We spend far too much time debating issues that have little if any eternal significance. So many of the things that currently eat up the clock for Christians are nothing more than time wasters. They lack real substance – the kind of substance Christians will be talking about in Heaven thousands of years from now.
Satan knows that each of us has a very short time to live on earth, so he and his demonic hordes do everything they can to distract us from what’s important. We are often passionately trackless. We may be excited about something, but it’s often something way off track.
When it comes to how God saves souls we need to be passionately on track. That’s the reason for this series. I don’t care whether Christians agree with everything I say and write. I really don’t. What I do care about is that Christians agree with everything God says and had written through inspiration. That’s what matters. As Jesus told Satan – “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
This is the final part of our series, Calling The Dead, so let’s divide it into two parts: doctrinal and practical.
The Doctrine of Salvation
The teaching of salvation is clear. First, the reason:
There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Romans 3:10-12
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. Ephesians 2:1-3
Second, the method:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. Colossians 2:13-15
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 16:30-31
… if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation … ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:9-10, 13
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Romans 8:29-30
Notice the process God uses in salvation.
Predestination comes before calling. God calls (ekalesen – summon) those He predestines (proōrisen – predetermine, foreordain, mark out beforehand). He justifies (edikaiōsen – makes righteous, declares righteous, acquits) those He calls and glorifies (edoxasen – ascribe value, bestow honor, render glorious) them with an eternal glory.
People are not righteous because people are not righteous. People don’t understand because people don’t understand. People don’t seek after God because people don’t seek after God. People don’t do good because people don’t do good. People sin because they are sinners. They fall short of God’s glory because people fall short of God’s glory. People are dead in trespasses and sins because they are dead in trespasses and sins. People are lost because people are lost. People are children of wrath because people are children of wrath. That’s the truth.
What’s good about the truth is that God has told us the truth. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we’re all dead in trespasses in sins, unable to save ourselves and under God’s wrath. That’s good news because if God didn’t tell us we were under His wrath, we wouldn’t know it and would continue down the wide road that leads to destruction.
The rest of the good news is that God did everything to make things right for those He chose to be saved. God is rich in mercy because of His great love for us. Even when we were dead in trespasses and sin, God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up together and made us sit together in the Heavenly places in Christ. Why? Because He wants to show the exceeding riches of His grace and kindness toward us in Jesus Christ. Why? Because God’s eternal intent is that His manifold wisdom will be made known by the Church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
God saves people by grace through faith and both are His to give! Neither are from us – “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Now that’s doctrine. That’s teaching we can sink our minds and hearts into. That’s truth that will keep us on the straight path and drive our lives to stay on that path until He says we’re done.
Ephesians chapters 1, 2 and 3 and Romans chapters 1, 2 and 3 are how we know this is true! It doesn’t matter how we feel about any of it. What matters is what God said through the holy writings of the Lord’s apostles and prophets. Once we understand and accept (emphasis on accept) that what we read in the Bible about how God saves dead people in this “dispensation of the grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2), then we’re ready to put what we know into action. Doctrine becomes practice.
The Spirit of Salvation
The Holy Spirit is often referred to as the Third Person of the Trinity. The fact is that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally co-equal. God the Father sent God the Son who sent God the Spirit. Each Member of the Godhead plays a specific role in our salvation. We know that Jesus of Nazareth was doing the will of His Heavenly Father when He died on the Cross. Jesus died, rose and ascended to great power where He rules and reigns next to His Father. What does the Holy Spirit do?
Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. John 16:7-15
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. John 14:16-18
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. John 14:26
But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. John 15:26
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8
While many Christian leaders try to make the work of the Holy Spirit a mystery that only they can understand and explain, Jesus made the work of the Holy Spirit extremely simple to understand – He will “testify” about Jesus through us. Paul said that the ministry he received from Jesus was “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). That’s our job as well – to testify to the Gospel of God’s Grace.
Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them, guide them into all truth and empower them to be witnesses of Christ throughout the world. We look to the Spirit of God to teach us what the Gospel of God’s Grace is and isn’t and how to testify about it accurately and clearly to unbelievers.
The Holy Spirit is involved in every aspect of God’s saving process. Jesus said “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). That is a truthful guarantee from Jesus and the Spirit of God is the one who fulfills the guarantee. Jesus also said “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). The Greek word translated “draws” is helkusē and means “drag, to drag off, draw, pull, persuade.” When we look at what Jesus taught and what Paul wrote about lost people, we know that the Holy Spirit “draws” (drags, pulls, persuades) spiritually dead people from darkness to light. The Spirit is the Member of the Godhead who convicts people about sin, righteousness and judgment. Jesus said that’s what the Spirit would do and that’s what He is doing.
How does the Spirit draw people to Christ? By love. The Holy Spirit draws dead people and pours out the love of God in their hearts (Romans 5:5). That fits perfectly with Paul’s words in Ephesians 2.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:4-9
God calls and saves dead people because He is rich in mercy motivated by His great love with which He loved us. The Holy Spirit pours out God’s love into the hearts of the dead to make them alive in Christ. After God brings dead people to life by grace through faith, the Holy Spirit seals them as the guarantee of their future inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14).
The Apostle John also reminds us that – “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” – and – “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19).
Sinners do not love God first. They can’t because they are dead in trespasses and sins and are children of wrath. Their lives are controlled by the world, their flesh and the devil. Human nature is opposed to God. Paul included himself when he wrote – “we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:3).
God makes the first move to save us because only He can move toward us. We are unable to move toward Him. That’s because we are dead until He moves to make “us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” The Holy Spirit pours out God’s love into our hearts and draws us to Him through saving grace.
When we understand the Father of salvation, the Lord of salvation and the Spirit of salvation, we can move to the practice of salvation.
The Practice of Salvation
The practical side of salvation is Christians (saved people) doing what God tells them to do. Again, pretty simple. What did God tell saved people to do? Testify about Christ, make disciples in the power and authority of Christ and teach them to obey Christ. How do we do that?
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:5-6
Notice the process: plant, water, increase. Anyone who has done or seen any gardening or farming understands that right away. The gardener or farmer takes a seed and plants it in the ground. They water the ground and the seed grows. That’s the part we play in telling people about sin and salvation.
We may wonder where we should plant the seed of the Word. How do we know who God has chosen for salvation? We don’t. That’s not for us to know or even consider. Our job is to tell everyone, everywhere about God’s saving grace. God gives the increase. Our job is to be faithful in planting and watering.
Paul reverse engineered the process in his letter to the Romans:
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ Romans 10:14-15
- First – we are sent to preach the Gospel
- Second – we preach the Gospel
- Third – some people believe the Gospel
We see that basic idea throughout the New Testament. Jesus called the disciples and sent them to preach the Gospel. They preached the Gospel and people believed. The disciples sent the new believers out to preach the Gospel. They preached the Gospel and people believed. That simple but profound process has been repeated hundreds of millions of times during the past two thousand years. It works because that’s how God designed it to work.
Confident in the Process
We can be confident in following any process God established. We do not depend on our abilities, our skills, our personality or intellectual prowess. We depend on the Holy Spirit. Some of us plant the seed of the Word. Some of us water the seeds that have been planted. However, we depend on God to give the increase.
The Holy Spirit will do what only He can do. We need to do what He tells us to do – plant and water.
Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 1 Corinthians 3:8
Paul had great confidence in God’s process of salvation. Why? Because God told Paul why he could be confident.
Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’ And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:9-11
God had “many people in this city,” so Paul did not be afraid and should not be silent. What does that mean? It means what it says. Paul had just entered into the city of Corinth and faced opposition from the beginning of his ministry there. How could Paul be confident to stay in Corinth even in the face of strong opposition? Because God had predestined many people in Corinth for salvation – “for I have many people in this city.” Those people were “dead in trespasses and sins,” but God had chosen them and sent Paul to them to preach the Gospel. Paul could be confident in God’s power to call dead people to life – by grace through faith.
Did God only have “many people” in Corinth? Go back several years earlier to when Paul and Barnabas were teaching in Antioch, Syria.
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” Acts 13:2-3
The Holy Spirit told church leaders in Antioch to separate Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to Him was because God had “many people” in many cities ready to call to salvation. Antioch in Pisidia is another example.
And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. Acts 13:48-49
God has people in cities and countries around the world today who He has “appointed to eternal life.” He predestined them to eternal life and they will believe when He calls them from death into life – from darkness into light.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! Revelation 7:9-10
As Jesus told His disciples – “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Be confident. Be bold. Preach the Gospel. Plant and water the seed of the Word. God will give the increase!
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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