For as long as I can remember, conversations about the Bible have included statements about how it contradicts itself. In my experience, I have found that most of the contradictions are be easily explained. Usually there is a difference in situation or context. A little bit of research or common sense can usually clear up much of the confusion. Those few verses that cannot be easily reconciled are usually minor points. We face similar contradictions in life every day and somehow get by.
Yet, there are statements in the Bible on subjects of vital importance that have become the source of debate even among Christians. Some of these issues may not be resolved for some time, but a resolution does exist – in the mind of God. The Bible only contradicts itself when it is misunderstood. The good news is, that there are enough clear, unambiguous teachings in the Bible to keep us on track, until we figure out the rest.
Consider the subject of salvation. We can find evidence that it is instantaneous, and also that it is ongoing. Some explain that the believer “has been saved, is being saved, and will yet be saved.” Here is a scripture that I once used to show this view:
“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 NKJV)
Eventually I realized that Paul was actually talking about being delivered from physical peril in his missionary work.
There are better ways to understand the various Scriptures concerning the work of Christ in saving us. In the Bible the word “salvation” is used in many ways. Sometimes people are being saved from starvation, military aggression, disease, and even physical death. The sense that is most often used in the New Testament is to be saved from sin, and separation from God. Of course salvation from sin will ultimately alleviate its dreadful consequences in this life and the life to come. Peace with God is truly a wonderful thing!
Today is the Day…
There is truly an instantaneous aspect of our salvation. When Jesus hung on the Cross, crying “It is finished,” at the least He was referring to the end of that horrible and humiliating experience. (John 19:30). But Christians understand the significance of that event more fully. We have a debt for our wrong doings that we can never pay. These last words of Christ were often used in business transactions back then. In this context our equivalent would be something like: “paid in full.” We believe that Jesus paid the price for all sins ever committed by His sacrifice on the Cross. (1 John 2:1-2).
All of the apostles of Jesus Christ and other New Testament writers agree that we are justified before God by a work of His grace in our heart. This grace instills faith in us to believe that Jesus is both Lord of all and also the perfect sacrifice which cleanses us from all sin. This justification is immediate upon our confession of faith and the placing of our trust in Him.
“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification .
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 4:25-5:2).
“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, 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; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” NASU
It was Paul who vehemently opposed those in his day who would attempt to add anything to this simple Gospel. No amount of good deeds or rituals will prove sufficient to justify sinners. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews both saw any attempt to justify ourselves by our own works as a rejection of the perfect and finished work of Christ in the Cross for our redemption! Not good!
The only change demanded of the individual for justification, is a change in allegiance. This is the meaning of repentance. When I turn from trusting in my own righteousness, to trusting in Him for every area of my life, God Himself accepts Christ’s death as payment for my sins and counts me as righteous. This is the righteousness of God by faith. The heart believes, resulting in righteousness, and the verbal confession results in deliverance from guilt and sin!
Working Out Your Salvation?
Paul also made it plain in his letters that he did not consider himself as perfect. (Philippians 3:12) However, neither he nor any other of Christ’s apostles were content to be only counted righteous. This fresh start and glorious acceptance into the family of God only inspired them to be more like their elder brother Jesus! This is the high calling of God! God’s goal for every one of His children is for them to grow up unto spiritual maturity, being conformed to the very image of Jesus Christ! (Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2-3). Our justification is like a springboard that can propel us forward into this marvelous destiny!
Paul was enthusiastic for himself and every believer to see a continuous growth in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Lord. He has encouraged us all with these words written to the church at Philippi: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6-7 NASB)
One way this process is described in the Bible is in the word, sanctification. God is holy, and His desire for His people is for them to be holy, even as He is. (1 Peter 1:15-16), that is why He fills us with His Holy Spirit! To be holy is to be separate or distinct from the corruption that is in the world. It is not just looking or acting different but to have a different heart and a different set of values. From the moment we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior the Holy Spirit regenerates our spirit. The old person that loved sin and selfishness is replaced by the new person who loves God and desires to please Him. We call that being born again. (John 3:3-7, 1 Peter 1:23).
Being born is not everything. There is so much progress to be made in this new life. There is an initial sanctification and also a progressive aspect. All of this is still the work of God in our lives.
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.” NASU
Paul also emphatically declared in Ephesians 2:8-10:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” NASU
There is the passive aspect of our salvation, where everything depends upon Christ and His work of redemption on the Cross. Our justification is by faith in Christ alone. But in the process of sanctification, we have a significant part to play and a personal responsibility.
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,” NASU
We are not saved by good works, but for good works! These do not just happen. They are the direct result of our response to the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, and a deliberate rejection of the world’s point of view. It is God working in us, but our willingness is required for the outworking of His grace in our daily lives.
Paul reminds us:
“For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
‘I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord.
And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,
Says the Lord Almighty.’
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 NASB)
The life of faith in Christ is one of spiritual growth and continual change. One extreme view is that we are to become like Christ in our own self effort, by various laws, rules, techniques. The other is that we are to apply no effort on our part at all. The former view is repudiated by the entire New Testament. If the latter was true, the entire New Testament would have been unnecessary.
Some groups emphasize human effort to the extent that they become more focused on themselves than on the love and grace of God. Others take on the “name it and claim it position.” If I can confess it, it is so. Forget the many exhortations of the apostle to go on to maturity, we are already a finished work!
The Bible does not really contradict itself. All the passages affirming the finished work of Christ point to our justification. God, Who calls things that are not yet, as though they already are, has counted us righteous before the Court of Heaven! Likewise, the numerous passages exhorting us to seek God, obey Him, fight the good fight of faith, go on to maturity, grow in grace, resist temptation, build up one another, pray, confess our faults etc., are referring to the ongoing process of our sanctification.
You are already free because Christ has made you free! There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit! Hallelujah! So we must stand fast in that liberty, walking in the power of the Spirit so we will not fulfill the lusts of our flesh. We are to keep our attention fixed on Jesus, His glory, His love, His power, His perfection. By beholding Him in the Scriptures and allowing His word to abide in us richly we are sanctified, purified and transformed into the very same image from glory to glory! (John 17:17, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 3:15-18.)
By God’s grace we are accepted into His family. Those who labor to earn His love are under a terrible and unnecessary load, which actually hinders spiritual growth. They might tend to measure themselves by others or become overly self conscious. Sound teaching concerning justification can make a huge difference in one’s sense of security in Christ. Sound teaching concerning sanctification can help us to maintain the joy of our salvation and bring greater glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
After all, it is all about Him!