There are many churches, most of which agree on some of the basics of Christianity, but as people begin to explore them, they realize there are things on which they disagree. Is the first part of Genesis figurative or literal? Should children be baptized? Does the Holy Spirit indwell a believer before or after baptism? Calvinism or arminism or something else? Is speaking in tongues a signifier of salvation or not?
These questions begin to pile up and can be overwhelming, to the point where some people decide these differences indicate that Christianity is not true. Others develop anxiety about their salvation, and their relationship with God becomes complicated.
Fortunately, the perfect and infallible Bible is clear about salvation, and it is just the fallible logic of human reasoning and interpretation that makes it complicated. The Bible is clear that salvation is made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, submitting to Him as both Lord and Savior, and is proven through sanctification and a deepening relationship with God.
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What Does It Mean to Be Saved?
To understand what salvation is, and how to know if one is saved, it is important to be in agreement with the idea that people need to be saved from something.
When God created all things, and when creation was finished, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a). The animals, the plants, the weather, and the people - Adam and Eve - were all good and in harmony with God and would not know death. Satan tempted Eve to disobey the one command that God gave, which was not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Both Adam and Eve gave into the temptation, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7a). Because of the disobedience, they could recognize good and evil.
They did not die that day, but eventually they both succumbed to physical death, and their bodies returned to the dust. Not only did this sin bring forth physical death, but it meant that people could no longer stand before God in His perfection, because they were not perfect, but sinful. Their souls could not be in the presence of God, but had to go to the place created for Lucifer and his fallen angels - hell. To atone for sin, God put forth a system of mediating priests and animal sacrifice, since only something pure could pay recompense for the moral blight against God.
The law, through the Ten Commandments and the Levitical law, was a way for people to recognize their sin, and to atone for it. Later, in Jesus’ ministry He clarified that violations of the law came not only in the form of actions, but in the mind, the heart, and the will. To truly reconcile people to Himself, God came down in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a sinless life, and died. God the Father poured His wrath out on God the Son in that moment, and that act atoned for all sin.
Anyone who accepts that Jesus died for them would have a path to a right relationship with God. Jesus rose again bodily after three days in the tomb, and Jesus promises that those who die covered by His blood will be resurrected bodily. Paul wrote, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:16-20).
Salvation, in the Biblical sense, is the path created by God for people to be restored to Him spiritually, so they can have a relationship with Him in life and in eternity, and for a future glorification of the physical body through resurrection, prophesied to occur when Jesus returns for His church.
Paul summarizes succinctly the process by which someone comes to a saving relationship with God, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). It begins by believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord, and that His death and resurrection are true, and sufficient for salvation.
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Why Are There Conflicting Doctrines and Denominations?
Doctrine is agreed upon beliefs and principles which are held by a group. Because people are fallible, they read the Bible, and begin to interpret the text, and sometimes come to differing conclusions. The more and greater disagreements people had, the more that they began to congregate with the interpretations they preferred.
Some of these doctrines are rooted in false teachings, which the Bible warned about: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Believing one of these false doctrines does mean that someone is not saved, because they do not have a right understanding of God.
Other common false doctrines include:
- One can work for or earn salvation
- Jesus’ death is not sufficient for salvation
- God is not Father, Son, and Spirit
- Jesus was not resurrected
- Additional revelation outside the Bible
- The Bible is not the inspired, perfect, preserved word of God
- You cannot be certain of salvation
- Jesus was not perfect
- To be saved you must speak in tongues
- Hell is not real
- Real Christians do or don’t do certain things
- Christians can sin as much as they want
These beliefs contradict what is seen in the Bible, either in demonstration or in overt statements.
Other doctrines that are not in agreement are not born from lies that contradict the Bible, but from sincere disagreements about what a verse or passage may mean. These beliefs can be argued with Scripture with earnestness.
It is from these disagreements that denominations come. Most denominations that do not hold to a doctrine overtly contradicted in the Bible can agree that while they all disagree on certain things, they agree on the most important things: that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross and the Father raised Him from the dead, and that He is the only way to be saved. They typically will not point at others and say that other denominations are not teaching the Gospel, unless they teach things that are overtly false.
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Important Verses about What Salvation Is and Is Not
“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).
Salvation is not something that can be earned. God is the only one who can take the credit for anyone entering the Kingdom of God. He made the path, paid the price, and it was sealed by Him. People either accept this gift of grace or they do not. There are no works before salvation or after salvation that contribute to the state of salvation.
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:18-24).
If there is ever a moment of insecurity about salvation, which will happen as long as people live in their mortal bodies and are subject to fleshly weakness, this verse illuminates some behaviors and character traits of people who do not have the Holy Spirit, and people who do. If a believer is sealed and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, they will grow more in the things of the Spirit, and turn away more from the things of the world. If someone claims to be a Christian, but never grows toward the fruits of the Spirit and away from the works of the flesh, they may have a head knowledge of the Bible, but not a relationship with God. People will never be perfect in this life, but they will change through the process of sanctification. Growth is a sign of a relationship with God.
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:24-26).
This passage is very important, but often misconstrued. James is not saying that works are necessary for salvation. Rather, the evidence of salvation is behavior affirming words. There are many people who say the right things, sit in church, and give the outward appearance of godliness, but their hearts are hard. Some people like the idea of Jesus as their savior, but do not want to submit their lives to Him and call Him Lord, which often manifests as an attitude and belief that Christians can just keep sinning, because Jesus paid for their sins. James warns here that works are the evidence of faith, and faith will manifest in works. Rahab had faith in the power of the God of the Hebrew people before they came, saying she heard of the mighty deeds of their God in Egypt, and justified that statement of her belief by helping the messengers escape.
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What Do You Believe?
Jesus did warn that many would claim on the Day of Judgment that they knew Him, but they were false prophets, hard-hearted, and self-deceived, and will be turned away. Security in salvation begins with an examination of the heart. Does someone believe that Jesus is Lord and that God the Father raised Him from the dead? If yes, has that been declared publicly through prayer, and through confession to others? Once someone has done these things, the Bible calls on them to submit to baptism.
There are many teachings about salvation, but many of them come from the wisdom of men. Always go back to Scripture to discern the truth about salvation. Start with what Jesus says and go from there. Pursue God in prayer and in sincerity, and trust God. He promised that He will keep His own, and His promises never fail. Make sure that relationship is there, and cling to the promises of God in the Bible, and if a teaching contradicts Scripture, reject it. If it does not, but seems confusing, always go back to God. Ultimately, He is the one who knows the heart. Rely on Him for assurance of salvation, and He will illuminate which doctrines are incorrect.
Denominations are a creation of man, and each one has their flaws. Find fellowship in a local church, but trust the Bible and God’s Word above all else. If someone repents of their sins and accepts Jesus as the Lord and their Savior, God promises to send the Holy Spirit, forgive their sins, and give them eternal life. And God always upholds His Word.
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13).
Moody, Dwight. What Must I Do to be Saved? Editora Dracaena, 2014.
Ryrie, Charles. So Great Salvation What It Means to Believe in Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997.
Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Old Testament and New Testament. United States of America: Victor Books, 1987.
Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.
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Originally published Tuesday, 24 January 2023.