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A Primer on Salvation from Sin, Wrath, and Evangelical Theology, Part 1

Almost across the board, evangelical churches like the Baptists teach a plan of salvation that is so far off the mark it is hard to conceive how it ever came to be widely accepted in the first place. This is a primer on salvation from sin and salvation from wrath, and the difference between the two.

Because readers may well think I am a deceiver trying to trick them, I am using the Christian Standard Bible, translated by Holman Bible Publishers, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptists. The copyright notice is at the bottom of the article.


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Ephesians 2:1-10: Salvation from Sin

I think the easiest place to begin is Ephesians 2:1-10. Verse 8-9 are central to evangelical theology, and getting those two verses right will go a long way toward building an accurate theology of salvation.

Below is Ephesians 2:1-10. Using only this passage, answer this question: What does "saved by grace" mean?

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

In verses 1-3, Paul paints a very dismal picture of the human race. He begins verse 4, though, by saying, "But God ..."

I love it when Paul writes something like this. In Romans 8:3, he writes, "What the Law could not do, God did ..." That verse has the same powerful effect. In Romans 8:3 Paul is writing about the solution to Romans 7. Here, Paul is writing about the solution to being dead in trespasses. "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love which he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace" (Eph. 2:4-5).

Paul directly answers my question for us. What does "saved by grace" mean? In the context of Ephesians 2:1-10, it means that God "made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses."

Note: This is "Part 1." We are only talking about Ephesians 2:1-10 right now, but we will cover "saved by grace" in other contexts. "Saved" is a big word. We can be "saved" from a lot of things. If we are careful to stay in context, you will be surprised, I think, by how Paul's words click together like puzzle pieces.

Let's press on and see what more he has to say in verses 6-10.

Verses 6-7 add that he "raised us up with him" and "seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus." I think most of us have a good understanding of "raised us up with him." Being seating us with Jesus in the heavenly places is harder to imagine. That would make a great web page, but explaining that passage would only be a distraction here. Suffice it to say that once we are "saved by grace," we are resurrected with Christ, which of course means we are resurrected from our death in trespasses, and we are seated in the heavenly places with Christ.

Verses 8-9 do not describe any more benefits of being saved by grace. Instead, Paul points out that being saved by grace happens by faith with no regard to works. In fact, if salvation by grace happened by works, we might boast. No, it happened by faith so that no one can boast.

Verse 10 does add a benefit, and it provides a closing statement to this section of the Ephesian letter. After we are saved by grace, we are "created in Christ Jesus"—certainly the equivalent of being "born again" in John 3 and becoming a "new creation" in 2 Corinthians 5—to do good works. We began as slaves to sin, dead in our trespasses and sins, but being saved by grace has made us new creatures in Christ, alive in him because we have been "raised up with him," and created in him to do good works.

Ephesians 2:10 adds that the good works that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do were prepared ahead of time for us to do. We'll address these prepared works in a moment, but first let's sum up what "saved by grace" means in Ephesians 2:1-10.

  • We were dead in our trespassed and sins walking "according to the spirit now working in the sons of the disobedient" (Eph. 2:1-2). Romans 6:6 describes this as having been "enslaved to sin."
  • God, because of his love and mercy, made us alive in Christ! Paul then specifically calls this "saved by grace" (Eph. 2:4-5).
  • Being made alive when we were dead is resurrection, and Ephesians 2:6 tells us we are raised with Christ and also "seated in the heavens" with him. This is such a great salvation that in the "ages to come," God is going to display "the immeasurable riches of his grace" by the kindness he has shown us in Christ (Eph. 2:7).
  • The result of this great salvation is that rather than being dead in trespasses and enslaved to sin, we are "created in Christ Jesus to do good works" prepared by God himself for us to do. This happened to us because of faith and not works because God does not want humans to boast (Eph. 2:8-10).

This is the crux of what "saved by grace" means in Ephesians 2:1-10. Paul did describe the works we are created in Christ Jesus to do as being prepared by God in advance. This could mean that, as Christians, new creatures in Christ, there are specific works God has predestined us to do. It may mean that there are specific works God wants us to do. It may mean that God is going to work through our circumstances and lives to do works specifically planned for us as individuals. It may also mean, more generally, that God wants Christians to do good works that are described by Jesus and the apostles, a specific but large set of good works that we should be busy doing because doing good works glorify our Father (Matt. 5:13-16).

I'm okay with any of those interpretations. The children of God are led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14), so there should surely be some specific good works we do because we are following the Spirit. In Galatians 6:7-8, we are warned that we should be sowing to the Spirit and, immediately afterward, Paul tells us to do good without getting tired. Those do not seem to be specific good works, but good works in general.

In the end, the most important thing is that Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all tell us that we will be judged for our works one day (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; Jn. 5:28-29). Since we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and since we have the Holy spirit to help us, let's do those good works.

We have one more passage to cover in Part 1 of "Salvation from Sin, Wrath, and Evangelical Theology."

Ephesians 5:3-7: Salvation from Wrath

Here is Ephesians 5:3-7

3 But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. 4 Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. 5 For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. 7 Therefore, do not become their partners.

I chose this passage because it is in Ephesians, the same letter that says, "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8).

It is commonly taught that we were saved from wrath on the cross. The well-known song "In Christ Alone" proclaims, "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied." Fortunately, at least in my opinion, there is much dispute over that phrase on the internet. In fact, in 2013 the Presbyterian Church USA refused to put the song in their new hymnal because the writers of the song would not allow them to change those words to "the love of God was magnified" (USA Today).

The problem is, Ephesians 5:6 puts the satisfaction of God's wrath in the future. In fact, it strongly suggests that Christians might face the wrath of God that "is coming," along with the disobedient. It states, and not merely suggests, that sexually immoral, impure, or greedy Christians will have "no inheritance in the kingdom of God and Christ" (Ephesians 5:5).

Not everyone believes what Paul said. I have heard, and I personally know people who believe, that "no inheritance in the kingdom of God and Christ" means "no enjoyment of God's kingdom here on earth" or something to that effect.

That, of course, is nonsense. It is just an attempt to defend a false tradition ("eternal security" or "once saved, always saved") that is commonly held in evangelical circles, especially in Baptist churches. If you want to interpret Ephesians 5:5 in any other way than what it plainly says, you are going to have a terrible time reconciling the repeated references to judgment by works in the New Testament with your theology.

Note, too, that Ephesians 5:6 warns, "Let no one deceive you with empty arguments."

I, too, warn you not be "partners" with the disobedient (Eph. 5:7) because, if you are, the wrath of God will come upon you with them.

Salvation from Sin and Wrath: Reconciling Ephesians 2:1-10 with Ephesians 5:3-7

Do you want to be saved from the wrath of God? Romans 5:9 tells us that we "have been" justified by his blood, and that we "will be" saved from wrath through him. Romans 5:10 clarifies by saying that "having been" reconciled, we "will be" saved by his life.

Like the many other passages we will look at in this series, Romans 5:9-10 meshes perfectly with Ephesians 2:1-10 and Ephesians 5:3-7 both.

Ephesians 2:1-10 describes our reconciliation to God much more fully than Romans 5:9-10. Ephesians 5:3-7 also describes our salvation from wrath more fully than Romans 5:9-10. Romans 5:9-10 tells us only that Jesus, and his life, will save us from wrath. Of course, Paul explains more fully in Romans chapters 5 through 8, which we will address later in the series. Today, though, we are dealing with Ephesians. In between the two Ephesian passages we have examined, Paul writes:

17 Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thoughts. ... 19 They became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more. 20 But that is not how you came to know Christ, 21 assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. (Eph. 4:17, 19-24)

Let my try to shorten and clarify this passage. "If you learned Jesus the right way, then disrobe yourself of your old life and your old self in the same way you would a stinky garment. In its place put on the new creation, the one that was created in Jesus for good works. That new self is created in God's likeness to do righteousness and embrace the purity of the truth."

Actually, if we were to jump over to Galatians 2:20, we could make it even shorter: "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

We are created in Christ Jesus for good works; let's do them! We are new creations; let's live by the new life in us! Jesus lives in us by the Holy Spirit; let's let him live through us!

If you don't; if you reject the new life inside of you and adhere to the old one, there will be no inheritance waiting for you on judment day. The disobedient will receive wrath. Don't be one of them.

Lessening the Fear

If you have never heard these things, I probably provoked fear. I hope so because Peter said we should live in fear of judgment day (1 Pet. 1:17), but I don't want to provoke the wrong fear.

It is widely believed that God will require sinless perfection at the judgment. This is just not true. Jesus had to be perfectly sinless in order to be God's perfect offering for sin. We, however, will be judged by the pattern of our lives. See Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:6-7; and Ezekiel 18:20-30. For now, just read them for what they say. Further on in this series, we will address those passages and the final judgment.

If that is not enough to help you fear rightly, read 1 John 1:7-2:2. Don't forget Ephesians chapters 4 and 5 when you do, but 1 John 1:7-2:2 gives us a way to arrive at the judgment blameless. Hebrews 4:16 is another verse to super-strengthen you in the faith. Take God up on the promise to come boldly to the throne of grace, and in doing so, make your calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10).

There's so much more coming. Stay with me as we walk through passages of the New Testament and develop a theology of salvation from sin and wrath that fits them all and rescues them from evangelical misinterpretation.

Copyright Notice for the Christian Standard Bible

The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.

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