Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

18. FAITH OR SALVATION: WHICH COMES FIRST?

Reformed theology suggests man is so totally depraved that he cannot engage in:

  • Confession of sin (Ps 32:3-5; 1 John 1:8-10),
  • Remorse (Ps 66:18; Luke 18:13),
  • Repentance (Mat 3:8; Rom 12:2, 13:14; Eph 4:23-24; Rev 2:5, 16, 3:3, 19),
  • Faith (John 6:29, 3:16-17; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-10) and
  • Obedience (Mat 28:20; Luke 11:28; John 14:15; Rom 1:5, 6:16; Heb 5:9)

until he is saved by the monergistic work of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, faith is the consequence of salvation not the cause of salvation; you must be born again before you can believe.  Traditional Southern Baptist, Wesleyan/Arminian theology reverses the order and asserts that the depraved man will be led by the Prevenient Grace of God to a point in time when he will either confess sin with remorse in his heart, repent, believe, seek to be obedient and subsequently receive the gift of salvation or he will resist and reject the Prevenient Grace of God; you must believe before you can be born again.  Wesleyan/Arminians assert that:

  • Calvinism is not supported by Scripture taken in its entirety.
  • Calvinism is not supported by logic and reason.
  • Calvinism is blasphemy at its core.

For reference, see Section 2 of Theology Corner under the title, “Can God’s Will be Thwarted?”  But is there any single passage of Scripture that appears to promote one view over the other?  At least one such passage appears in the New Testament.  Here is a summary of events surrounding that passage and a suggested exegesis.

Jesus began His ministry after returning from the temptation in the wilderness.  For several months He performed miracles and taught in Galilee.  The consequences of his miracles were clearly seen but His teaching was hard even for His disciples.  One day, while standing on a rise above a plain filled with thousands of people, He delivered the Sermon on the Mount.  Nestled in this sermon are eight terse statements we now call “The Beatitudes.”  Is it possible that the Beatitudes are like steps on a staircase which Christ has arranged in the exact sequence to provide a roadmap for the salvation message?  Is it possible that each step on the staircase builds on the foundation of the previous steps?

Before examining the eight steps on the staircase of The Beatitudes, let us first examine critical words in the text.  The word “beatitude” itself comes from the Latin word “beatus” meaning blessed, happy, fortunate or blissful.  In the late fourth century, beatus was the word Jerome chose for his translation of the word “makarios” from the Greek. The English word “blessed” was chosen by translators in the seventeenth century.  It meant something consecrated to or belonging to God.  While most English Bibles use “blessed,” some modern translations prefer “happy.”  Unfortunately, “happy” isn’t good enough.  If you don’t like “blessed,” there is not a single English word to take its place.  You might use a phrase like, “on the right track” or “going in the right direction” but “happy” is too shallow.  In the context of The Beatitudes, “blessed” is best interpreted as “on the right track.”  Here are the Beatitudes (Mat 5:3-10):

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here is an interpretation of the Beatitudes:

  • On the right track is a man who confesses his sin nature and behavior and acknowledges his heart is black as a lump of coal… (CONFESSION OF SIN)
  • On the right track is a man with remorse in his heart because of his own sin… (REMORSE)
  • On the right track is a man who submits to the will of God and wants God to cleanse him of all sin… (REPENTANCE)
  • On the right track is a man who wants God to lead him down the path of righteousness… (REPENTANCE)
  • On the right track is a man who seeks the mercy of God but, beyond all expectation, receives, not just mercy, but the far greater gift of salvation… (FAITH)
  • On the right track is a man who asks God to occupy and purify his heart… (OBEDIENCE)
  • On the right track are the peacemakers… (OBEDIENCE)
  • On the right track is a man who perseveres unto the end in his free will faith in Jesus Christ… (OBEDIENCE)

First, the sequence of Beatitudes indicates the “right track,” which is revealed as a path of ordered steps on a staircase illuminated by God.  Second, the ordered sequence of steps is: confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience.  These are, in fact, the steps you must take to receive the great gift of salvation.

The eight Beatitudes appear to be an instruction manual for receiving the gift of salvation.  Follow these steps in order and you will be saved.  If salvation came first, we would need only a single verse: “Blessed are the elect, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”