THE THREE ASPECTS OF SALVATION
© 2008 John H Mattox

    Three words of great doctrinal importance are used in the King James Version of the New Testament to express the concept of salvation. These words are: reconciliation (Gr. katallage), justification (Gr. dikaiosis) and redemption, which stands for two Greek words: lutrosis and an intensified form apolutrosis. Any one of these terms may be used, by synecdoche, to denote salvation; yet none of them gives, by itself, a complete picture of a sinner's salvation. To put it another way, these terms set forth salvation in its three-fold aspect, as meeting the sinner's three-fold need in regard to his sonship, his citizenship, and his worship (or service to God). As to his sonship, the sinner is estranged from his father; and his imperative need in this situation is reconciliation. As to his citizenship, the sinner is a condemned malefactor, a transgressor of God's laws. Here the need is clearly justification. As to his worship, or service, the sinner is a bondslave of sin, and serves him who is the very personification of sin - Satan. In this case, the need is to be delivered from bondage; a transaction which is called redemption. Thus, salvation is a matter of making the sinner peaceable (reconciliation), making him righteous (justification), and making him free (redemption). We may further point out that in the matter of reconciliation, the primary emphasis is upon the sinner's attitude - rebellion against God. In the matter of justification, it is primarily the sinner's deeds that are the focus of attention, and in redemption, it is the sinner's condition (slavery) that is prominent. Let us now consider each of these aspecis of salvation separately, even though in actual experience they occur simultaneously.
    It may at first be doubted that a lost sinner can, in any sense, other than that of creation, be even an estranged son of God. However, no real difficulty is involved. It is almost universally conceded that until a person reaches the age of accountability, he is safe from any prospect of judgement. In this sense, then, every person may be considered a child (or son) of God until he reaches the age of accountability; at which time he chooses to go his own way of rebellion against the Father. He then becomes a lost, or estranged, son. From the divine point of view, of course, this statement would apply only to elect sinners; however, since we are not able to discern between the elect and the non-elect, we must regard every sinner as possibly being an estranged son of God. That the sinner is estranged, or separated from God is affirmed by Isaiah 59:1,2:

"Behold the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear."

This separation, of course, began with Adam, and has been the unvarying experience of his descendants. An instructive illustration of this separation is given in the story of the prodigal son. We see the rebellion of the son against the authority of the father, and note his downward progress until he is in the very depths of degradation and shame. We have here the explanation of Paul's description of the sinner as being dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-8); for when the prodigal son returned home, his father said in Luke 15:24a:

"For this my son was dead, and is alive again."

The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins in the same sense that the prodigal son was dead. He was separated from his father, rebellious toward him, and had no communication nor fellowship with him. The notion that being dead in trespasses and sins makes the sinner a spiritual corpse; as unable to perform spiritual works as a physical corpse is to perform physical actions, is an error; and those who hold to it either consciously or unconsciously contradict themselves when discussing the subject. For example, Dr. Lorraine Boettner, one of Presbyterian Calvinism's leading theological lights, says concerning man's inability:

"A corpse cannot act in any way whatever, and that man would be reckoned to have taken leave of his senses who asserted that it could. If a man is dead spiritually, therefore, it is surely equally as evident that he is unable to perform any spiritual actions, and thus the doctrine of man's moral inability rests upon strong Scriptural grounds."
The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner, page 66.

In this passage Dr. Boettner clearly draws an analogy between the physical inability of a corpse, and the alleged spiritual inability of one who is dead in trespasses and sins. Now contrast the above statement with one which he had previously made on page 62, op. cit.:

"How can he (the natural man) repent of his sin when he loves it? How can he come to God when he hates Him? This is the inability of the will under which man labors. Jesus said, 'And this is the judgement, that light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.' (John 3:19.), and again, 'Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.' (John 5:40) Man's ruin lies mainly in his own perverse will. He cannot come because he will not." (emphasis mine).

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The Three Aspects Of Salvation (cont)

In the first statement Boettner asserts that man's failure to do spiritual works, such as repentance and turning to God, is due to his inability, inasmuch as he is considered to be a spiritual corpse, and therefore possessing no ability to perform spiritual works. In the second statement, he asserts that it is man's unwillingness that is responsible for his failure to turn to God in repentance and faith. Some may argue that there is no difference between ability and will, or between inability and unwillingness, but a single illustration should suffice to prove otherwise: The writer does not drink whiskey, but this abstention is not due to his inability to drink it; but to his unwillingness to do so. We may also note Isaiah's statement concerning God, which was previously quoted: "And your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." Would anyone be so foolish as to argue that to say that God will not hear is equivalent to saying that He cannot hear? The second statement quoted from the book by Dr. Boettner is one with which the writer is in complete agreement. The natural man is unable to do any act of spiritual good, simply because he is obstinately unwilling to do so. Now this unwillingness to serve God creates an inability to do so, as can be shown syllogistically:

(1) In order to serve God acceptably, a man must do so willingly. (See II Corinthians 8:3,5,11,19; 9:2,7).

(2) It is a manifest impossibility for a man to do willingly, what he is fundamentally unwilling to do.

(3) Therefore a man who is unwilling to serve God is unable to do so:
quod erat demonstrandum.

This is the true nature of man's inability to serve God in any way; it arises from his unwillingness to serve Him. As Boettner well said, but elsewhere contradicted: "He cannot come (to God) because he will not." It is also instructive to note the statement of the Westminster Confession on the subject of Total Inability:

"Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation."

Here again it is affirmed by Calvinists of unimpeachable standing that man's inability to do good spiritually has its seat in his will, rather than in any lack of actual capacity.
    Thus all sinners apparently (but elect sinners actually) are estranged sons of God. Like the prodigal, they have turned their backs on a loving Father and have gone into a far country where misery and ruin have become their lot. Clearly, their imperative need is to be reconciled to the Father.
    Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly and peaceful relations between two persons after a period of enmity and hostility. It is making peace between two opposing parties. Reconciliation, as we know it, necessarily consists of two phases, since two opposing parties are involved. Each must be reconciled to the other. Reconciliation is illustrated by the return of the prodigal. Enmity is given up for peace, and there is feasting and rejoicing. The first phase of reconciliation has already been accomplished at Calvary. Because of the vicarious sacrifice of His Son, God has been reconciled to men. This phase of reconciliation is called propitiation. Since this phase of reconciliation has already been accomplished, the New Testament says nothing of any need for God to be reconciled to men. It is the second phase of reconciliation that the gospel is concerned with - reconciling men to God. The ground for this work has likewise been laid at Calvary. See II Corinthians 5:19. However, the work of getting each person individually to be reconciled to God, is the business of the church and the ministers of the gospel. See II Corinthians 5:20. Reconciliation, then, is that aspect of salvation which views the sinner as an estranged son who is brought back into love and fellowship with his father.
    However, that aspect of salvation which views the sinner as merely an estranged son who needs to be reconciled to his father, by no means gives the complete picture. A man is responsible to God not only for his sonship, but also for his citizenship - that is, the measure of his compliance with the laws and revealed will of God. Volumes could be written in support of the assertion that all men, regardless of their standing as citizens of their own country, have transgressed God's laws and rebelled against His will. However, because of the limitations of space, we will merely point out that, according to God's evaluation of men in Romans 3:23:

"All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

In short, every man, apart from the grace of God, is a spiritual criminal, a malefactor - an active transgressor of God's will. He is guilty of sins of omission as well as sins of commission; as was charged by Jesus against the scribes and Pharisees:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith: These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
Matt. 23:23.

God's justice demands punishment for sins. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were told not to eat the fruit of one certain tree:

"For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Genesis 2:17b.

In Ezekiel 18:4,20, God said to Israel:

"The soul that sinneth, it shall die."

The context indicates here that the meaning is that children will not die as a result of their father's sins. This makes it evident that the reference is to final, or spiritual death, inasmuch as children did often die physically, simply because of the sins of their father. See, e.g., Joshua 7:24 seq., & Numbers 16:23-32. Sin, then, is punishable by spiritual death (or the second death) which is said in the Revelation to be the everlasting suffering experienced by those who will be cast into the lake of fire. Here then, we have that aspect of salvation in which the sinner is viewed as a hardened and desperate criminal richly deserving of punishment. Certainly, then, he is in dire need of that which alone can clear him of his crimes before the judgement bar of God. He needs to be justified (or found to be righteous) before God. Justification is a legal term, and as used in the Bible, it not only declares a person to be not guilty, but also pronounces him to be the possessor of a positive righteousness.

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The Three Aspects Of Salvation (cont)

    To achieve this result, justification must perform a two-fold work: the sinner's sins must be forgiven, or remitted; this renders him guiltless. He must then be given a positive righteousness, since he has none of his own. Both phases of justification have been made available to sinners on the basis of the death of Christ. He suffered the penalty of the law, so that those who believe on Him would not have to do so. Only the elect will take advantage of this gracious offer, and they will do so only because of regeneration. However, justification becomes a subjective reality only when repentance and faith are exercised. The sinner is not justified because he was elected, nor because he was regenerated. Neither is he justified because Christ died for him; but rather because he believes that Christ died for him! Note, in this connection, the following Scriptures:

"Abraham believed God, and it was counted (imputed) into him for righteousness."
Romans 4:3.

"For to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
Romans 4:5.

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Romans 5:1.

    However, when we have considered the sinner as an estranged son of God, and also as a criminal, we still have not perceived the plan of salvation in its entirety. In addition to being an estranged son and a lawless criminal, the sinner is also represented as being a bondslave. Jesus said:

"Whosoever committeth sin is the servant (doulos = bondslave) of sin."
John 8:34.

Paul enlarges somewhat on the statement of Jesus in Romans 6:17-18:

"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants (douloi = bondslaves) of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants (douloi = bondslaves) of righteousness."

The sinner is not only a bondslave of sin; he is also in bondage to the law and to the world. As to the bondage of the law, consider Galatians 4:1-5, 19-31, and 5:1. As to the bondage of the world, compare II Peter 1:4 with 2:19-20. The corruption that is in the world through lust from which the believer has escaped, is a matter of bondage to those who have not escaped it.
    The sinner's need, then, as seen from this viewpoint, is a redemption, or deliverance, that will free him from this three- fold bondage. In order to understand how the sinner (as a bondslave) is redeemed and delivered from bondage, we need to consider the Old Testament teaching on redemption. There are two Hebrew words which are translated to redeem, redemption, etc., in their various forms. Each of these two words gives a different emphasis to the concept of redemption. The word gaal, to redeem, which is rather well known to Bible students in its particular form goel (redeemer), puts the emphasis on the third party involved in the matter of redemption - the redeemer. The word gaal is used for the first time in Gen. 48:16, where Jacob says:

"The Angel which redeemed me from all evil bless the lads."

Here the redeemer is said to be the Angel. The reference is obviously to God, the Son, the One who, though a supernatural, heavenly being, had nevertheless appeared to Jacob in the form of a man. According to many passages in the Psalms and the prophets, the goel, or redeemer, is God, Himself. However, according to God's own rules, a goel must be near of kin to the one he is to redeem. See Leviticus 25:47-49. Since God, in His essential being, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered to be near of kin to man, He must (in order to redeem us) become near of kin to us. This He did in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. See Hebrews 2:9-18. As we have said, in this type of redemption the transaction itself is not stressed. The emphasis is upon the goel, or redeemer, and his qualifications; and the transaction itself is passed over rather sketchily. The redemption was effected by the goel's paying in full the amount of money necessary to free his enslaved brother. This financial aspect of the transaction does not have its counterpart in our redemption from sin; for Peter is careful to tell us that we are not redeemed with silver and gold. See I Peter 1:18-19. Although the work of Christ is spoken of as though it were a commercial transaction, it was such only in the sense that a life was given for a life.
    The other word for redemption is padah, and for a true picture of the nature of our redemption, we must look to the padah type for illustration and clarification. The first use of padah is found in the thirteenth chapter of Exodus. In verse 13 we read:

"And every firstling of an ass thou shall redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of men among thy children shalt thou redeem."

This passage illustrates the characteristic use of the word padah and sets forth the true nature of the transaction of our redemption. In this type of redemption it is not the redeemer, but the redemption which is emphasized. In fact, the person of the redeemer is rather ambiguous; he may be pictured by the owner of the animal who arranges the redemption; or he may be represented by the innocent substitute which dies in the place of the condemned animal.
    Padah means, primarily, to loose by cutting off; thus to free of one's bonds, to let go free, to set free, to deliver. While this type of redemption could sometimes by effected by the payment of money, the characteristic way of loosing an animal, or a person, was for a substitute to take his place and carry out whatever obligation the redeemed one was under; whether it be to devote his life to the service of God, or to give his life as a sacrifice on behalf of, and as a substitute for the redeemed one. Christ, as the Lamb of God, has both fulfilled our obligation to God, and also borne the penalty for not having fulfilled it ourselves. When we trust Christ as our Savior, we are reckoned to have entered into the merits of His death, so that we, ourselves, are accounted to have died. Thus we who were in bondage to sin, to the law and to the world, are, through faith in Christ, reckoned to be dead to sin (Rom. 6:1-7), to the law (Gal. 2:19-20), and to the world (Gal. 6:14).
    To summarize, when a sinner is saved, it is a matter of an estranged son being reconciled to his father; it is a matter of a lawless criminal, on the ground of his repentance toward God and his faith toward Jesus Christ, being justified, or declared righteous. It is also a matter of a bondslave being set free, because someone has died in his name. By entering into the merits of that death he becomes legally dead to every aspect of his former bondage, but is made alive unto God in a newness of life.

John H Mattox

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