What is Salvation?
Salvation Lesson #01
September 4, 2002
“Father, we do thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word this evening. We know that Your Word helps us to understand who we are and Your plan and purpose for our lives, the plan of salvation, and the plan of the spiritual life.
“Father as we study Your Word now, we pray that You would help us to understand these things that we might assimilate them into our thinking and that we might think Divine viewpoint instead of human viewpoint, so that we might be conformed to the image of Your Son. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Now some of you may ask the question, Why we are having a series on salvation? After all, most of you are saved; you don’t need to hear the gospel again. You know the gospel. You hear it quite frequently.
Not only that but many of you as we just indicated have been studying doctrine for 15, 20, some of you 30 or 40 years. ’’’Many of you have been around a long time. Since I have been here now for almost four and a half years we have gone through a study of the Gospel of John and 1 John.
We have gone through Galatians where we spent a lot of time studying the doctrine of justification by faith. We spent a bit of time in James as well, clarifying the gospel. We have spent a lot of time in the last four years here and there, clarifying the gospel and addressing certain issues—especially those related to lordship salvation.
Why take the time to focus on salvation now? Well I think it’s important that we look back over what we studied the last four years and pull some of these things together in a fresh approach so that it’s a concentrated study just on the area of salvation.
Secondly, it provides a concentrated study just on the doctrines of salvation that can be used in the future by the prep-school teachers as a resource for teaching the children.
Then, third, it can provide a basic theology that can easily be assimilated so that when you’re witnessing to somebody and they are having trouble understanding salvation, this is something you can hand them.
Maybe this will be 12 or 15 lessons. This is not going to be a lengthy series. One of the reasons I want it short is that I want to do something that is beyond the basics. I can do a basic on salvation in one night and one hour. I want to do something that goes beyond the basics; but I don’t want to look at every gnat’s hair and tweak every microbe in the doctrine of salvation.
It’s not going to be a 50-, 60-, or 70-hour series on salvation. We’re going to look at something that you can just hand somebody. We can put the 15 lessons on one CD in MP3 format and then you can just hand that to somebody. It’s a nice, simple, compact series explaining what the Bible teaches about salvation. So that’s why I am taking the time to develop a “beyond the basics” doctrine of sound salvation.
What I thought about as I’ve gone into this, is that maybe once a year I’ll do the same thing for each of the seven branches of systematic theology. It would be a nice, concise, basic, or beyond-the-basic approach to theology proper: Bibliology, pneumatology, Christology, and all the different areas of salvation. It can then provide a good basic library, especially for younger believers who are coming along trying to put together what the Scripture says.
Furthermore, we have a Scriptural admonishment to focus on the message of salvation. Turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 2:1, “For this reason we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” So, this is a warning in Hebrews.
There are a number of warning passages in Hebrews and they are addressed to believers, not to unbelievers. That’s one of the major issues in salvation, how to handle these problem passages in Hebrews. We’ll come back to that towards the end of this series when we address some of the issues related to eternal security and how we know that we are saved.
“For this reason,” the writer of Hebrews says. Whenever you see something like this you have to ask a question. Is the reason what comes after the statement “for this reason?” Is that just the introduction to giving the reason, or is the reason what has already been stated previously?
We’ve seen that the writer of John in the gospel of John uses some syntactic arrangements in order to tell you which way to go in this. The writer of Hebrews is a little different. It’s clear that “for this reason” has been stated in Hebrews 1.
If you stop and just look back at Hebrews 1:1, where we read, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets,  has in these last days, spoken to us by His Son.”
The subject of Hebrews 1:1, the grammatical subject of that verse, which is just part of the extended sentence which goes down through Hebrews 1:4, is God. It’s followed immediately by a relative clause that is going to describe various things about God. That is the remainder of Hebrews 1:1.
The remainder of Hebrews 1:1 is this subordinate clause. The person we’re talking about is God and something that God did. We don’t pick up what God did until we pick up the main verb in Hebrews 1:2. In Hebrews 1:2 we read that God, “in these last days has spoken.”
I’m using a New King James Bible up here and it splits the helping verb from the main verb so in the New King James it reads, “Has in these last days spoken.” I think the NASV translates it better as “In these last days has spoken.”
So the subject of this lengthy sentence from Hebrews 1:1–4 is God. The main verb is “has spoken.” Everything else in Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 1:14 tells us something about either God, or the dative clause— the prepositional clause, actually, at the end of that first part of verse 2 which says, “In these last days has spoken to us by His Son.” Everything else is telling us something about the importance of His Son.
The main idea in Hebrews 1is that God has spoken by His Son. Everything else talks about “by His son” and we lose the main verb which is God has spoken. Since God has spoken by His Son the writer then comes to Hebrews 2:1 and says, “For this reason we must pay closer attention to what we have heard.”
The subject in Hebrews 2:1, is “what we have heard.” What was spoken by His Son back in Hebrews 1:2? Is that clear? Hebrews 2:1 is “For this reason we must pay closer attention to what we have heard.” What is it that we have heard? We have heard what was revealed “by His Son.”
Not what was given by the prophets in the Old Testament; not what was mediated by the angels or Moses or the Mosaic Law, but it is what was revealed specifically by His Son that we are to pay much closer attention. That means we have to concentrate on this. In fact, we have to continually remind ourselves what was spoken by His Son.
“For this reason, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it.” This indicates that it is a reality that believers can drift away from an understanding of the gospel. They can drift away from understanding the grace of the gospel. That is why it is important that believers must go back and be continuously reminded of what we have in salvation.
Then in Hebrews 2:2 we read, “For if the word spoken by the angels proved unalterable …” There’s an entire discourse on how God used the angels in giving the gospel in the Old Testament so he’s picking up on that. Hebrews 2:2, “For if the word spoken by the angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty,”
Hebrews 2:3a, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”
So great a salvation is the term that refers back in a summary fashion to what Jesus Christ did at the First Advent where he performed the work of salvation on the Cross. The main idea when we look at Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation …” throws us back to understanding what God spoke, what He has revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is the revealed Word of God, not the written Word of God, and the highest revelation of God. Not just what He spoke and what was revealed through Him but also what He demonstrated in His own life. There is a Scriptural admonishment that we must pay close attention to the doctrine of salvation lest we drift away from it.
What is our approach going to be in this particular study? I want to have a two-fold approach. First, I want to approach it in sort of a question-and-answer format. There are a lot of questions people are asking about salvation. I’ve got a list of them I’m going to put up on the screen. I want you to be thinking if there are any questions you have about salvation that are not covered in these questions.
If you come up with a good question that I didn’t come up with I want to know about it so I can stick it in here and I can cover that. I’m trying to think of questions that are being asked by people today, such as, “How do I know I’m saved?” “What is the relationship between works to faith? — things like that.
So here’s the list of questions. First of all, what is salvation? Second, why does God save us? Why is God concerned about saving mankind? The third question is what are we saved from?
The fourth question is what are the mechanics of salvation? Fifth, how are we saved?
That’s a little bit different from the mechanics of salvation. It’s what takes place in the process of being saved. What’s the relationship of justification to regeneration to faith? How do those relate to the word saved? What’s the eternal mechanics of salvation itself? Then, how are we saved? Is it by faith alone? Is it by works? How exactly is a person saved? Sixth, who saves us?
In church history, there are a couple of different ways that have been taught. Well, God saves us. Most people will say God saves us but the real thrust of this sentence is what role, if any, does man play in the process? So, we’ll look at that in a little detail. Who saves us?
What does it mean to be saved? Next, on what basis are we saved? Next, what are the conditions of salvation? Do we have to do anything to be saved? Do we have to do anything to maintain our salvation? When are we saved? At what point does it take place and is it a point in time or is it a process?
Next question, can salvation be lost? Once you’re saved, can you lose your salvation? The next is why doesn’t God save everybody? If God wants everyone to be saved, why doesn’t He save everybody?
Next, can we have a one hundred percent certainty of our salvation? There are many people today who either think you can lose your salvation or don’t think that in this life you can be one hundred percent sure of your salvation. How do you know you’re saved? That’s part of that question. How do you know you’re saved?
Next question, what must we believe to be saved? What is the irreducible minimum you have to believe in order to be saved? Obviously a six-year-old isn’t going to have to have a full understanding of kenosis or the hypostatic union or substitutionary atonement to be saved. So what is the irreducible minimum we must believe in order to be saved?
Then there are some secondary questions that usually pop up that are part of these broader questions. One is, how young can a person be and still be saved? Second, what about those who are too young to understand the gospel? What if a child or an infant dies? What about those are too young or perhaps mentally incapable of understanding the gospel? Can they still be saved?
In terms of evangelism or witnessing, what exactly is the gospel? How should you express the gospel? What is the content of the gospel? Now that’s a slightly different question than the question of salvation but it is an outgrowth of it and once we answer the other questions it will be almost self-evident what the gospel consists of.
The second part of our approach is that I want to, as much as possible, approach this from an inductive study of the Scripture. I want to make it comes from the Scriptures and that it’s not just some theological study. The reason I emphasize that is because too often the problem, and much of the problem we encounter today in the confusion of the gospel and the confusion of salvation is a result of the fact that there are theological systems that are governing people’s understanding of theology and not the Scripture.
For example, in Reform Theology, which is the father of lordship salvation, is a system that was basically calcified by the end of the 16th century. Remember the Reformation began in 1517 on October 31 when Martin Luther who was an Augustinian priest. (That means for those of you who don’t come out of a Roman Catholic background, he was a monk in a monastic order of St. Augustine.)
He went back to the Scriptures and studied St. Augustine as well as the Scriptures and came to an understanding that we could not save ourselves, and that no works or no ritual could be involved in salvation. He saw that nothing could make us savable before God. This was solid Augustinian theology that salvation had to be by faith in Christ. Justification was by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
He was followed by a French reformer by the name of John Calvin. John Calvin left France and moved to Geneva where he headed up what is called a French-Swiss movement. Remember Switzerland is made up of different groups. To the South they speak more Italian so you have more of an Italian-Swiss population. In the northwest the predominant language is more French. If you go to the northern or eastern part it’s more Germanic. That’s the German-Swiss area.
Calvin started the French-Swiss reformation. Zwingli started the German-Swiss reformation. Calvin’s followers are known as Calvinists. Reformed theology is often exemplified in Presbyterian or Congregational churches. These are early Congregational churches, not the modern liberal Congregational or Presbyterian Churches.
That’s called Reformed Theology. In Reformed Theology they thought, “Well, we’ve got it all nailed here at the end of the 1600s and this is it”. They wrote their creeds and in 1617 there was a major theological battle with the reformed theologians in Holland. They met and you had two different groups that met.
They met at a city at a place called Dordt. At the Synod of Dordt you had one group called the Remonstrance. They didn’t agree with Calvinism as it had basically solidified by the end of the 1600s and they had their five points they wanted to debate.
They were students of a man called James Arminius and they became known as Arminians. That’s not an “e” in there. That’s Arminians. If there’s an “e” in there you’re talking about an ethnic group over in the area of Turkey. They are not Armenians; they are Arminians. You’ve got to get that straight or you’ll confuse someone.
Arminians believe first of all that man was completely able to save himself. This went back to an early 4th century belief called Pelagianism that said every individual is born morally neutral just as Adam was created. They believed that man was completely able, that he was conditionally elected. That means God chose man on the basis of something he saw in man.
Third, they said that man could resist God’s grace. Fourth, they said that Jesus Christ died for all, every single human being. Fifth, they said that you could lose your salvation. So those were the five points that were taught.
Now Arminius himself did not really teach of all that. As so often happens in church history, you have someone who comes along and they teach a certain theological system and someone comes along after him and they take it to an extreme. That happened with Arminius and it also happened with Calvin.
Calvin’s theology was hardened and systematized by his lieutenant, a man by the name of Theodore Beza. Beza strongly systematized Calvin’s theology and he made it even more Calvinistic. He believed in double predestination and he also held to limited atonement, two views which Calvin himself did not hold to.
The followers of Calvin reacted. All of this was a reaction. The Arminians were teaching their five points and the Calvinists reacted and they taught their five points which are usually summarized with the acronym TULIP. Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement [Christ died only for the elect], irresistible grace [when the Holy Spirit begins to work on the unbeliever he can’t resist it and he will respond to the gospel positively] and then perseverance of the saints which is the doctrine that if you are truly saved, you will persevere, you will continue to grow and advance in the spiritual life. In fact, if you are truly saved, you will demonstrate certain fruits in your life and that’s the basis for the assurance of your salvation.
That’s where lordship salvation comes in—under the category “P” for perseverance. Usually what happens is that people are split apart into these two camps, these two extremes. They represent two opposites: Arminianism all the way over to the left and hyper-Calvinism to the right. I don’t like the term hyper-Calvinism because wherever you are on this spectrum if anyone is more Calvinistic than you are you tend to call him a hyper-Calvinist.
Hyper-Calvinist is a technical term for someone who believes in supralapsarian five-point Calvinism. I don’t want to get sidetracked by explaining supralapsarianism. It’s that in the decree of God there are several decrees. In supralapsarianism you have the “decree to fall,” the Latin word for lapse where lapsarianism comes from. That precedes the decree to save man.
In moderate or sublapsarianism, you have the decree to save before the decree for man to fall which makes God a much more merciful saving God. Only supralapsarianism five-point Calvinism is extreme Calvinism.
Louis Sperry Chafer and Dallas Seminary has been historically four-point Calvinism. When you read Chafer, you see he was raised a Presbyterian and held to four-point Calvinism.
Four-point Calvinism means that he holds to everything except limited atonement. When people refer to four-point Calvinism, they refer to someone who holds to everything but limited atonement. Actually, Chafer was moderate on perseverance. He took only the eternal security aspect of it and he didn’t actually define some of the other categories quite as extreme as some of the other Calvinists will.
This is typical and many within our tradition along this spectrum would say they are two- to three-point Calvinists, if anything. We believe in eternal security. We believe in original sin. We don’t believe in total depravity in the same way that most Calvinists define total depravity; that is, a complete and total inability of man.
I don’t like even using those terms anymore. I think there is a mediate or middle theology, a median view of soteriology because in both Arminianism and Calvinism each point has a certain amount of truth to it because they’re each going to the Scripture. What happens is once you harden a theological system then you come back and start interpreting the Scripture in light of your theology.
You’re no longer letting the Scriptures determine your theology. You’re letting your theology determine the meaning of Scripture. That’s what I mean by doing abstract theology. That’s poor methodology.
Here’s how we do methodology. You start off on the bottom level with four things you do in studying the Scripture. The first is textual criticism. That has to do with determining exactly what the original text says. When there are disagreements between some manuscripts you have to compare manuscripts and look at that and look at the difference. Look at the age of the manuscript and a number of other factors that come into the study of textual criticism to determine what the original text says.
Second, you do word studies. You determine the exact meaning of the words. For those who are skilled at it, who go through seminary, do word studies not by looking up the word in a dictionary but by starting at all the places the word is used in Scripture and then you inductively determine from usage the various categories of meaning.
That’s what a lexicon has done. A lexicon is a Greek dictionary. The same thing is true for Webster’s dictionary. You look at Webster or American Heritage Dictionary or any English dictionary. That simply reflects the ways in which that word is used and the meanings assigned to that word. That’s why dictionaries will change over the years.
Dictionaries are not absolutes. They simply reflect usage. The first listing that’s listed in the dictionary is the most common meaning. The second is the second most common meaning. The third is the third most common meaning. If you are trained the languages and have gone to seminary then you are trained to do word studies by getting into the original data itself.
This is called inductive study. You’re not starting with a preconceived idea of what the word means and then logically developing from there. You’re going to look at the data and you can categorize the data. That’s important to do because there are times you’re going to disagree with the dictionary. Wonderful Greek scholars have done some of the dictionaries but they happen to be liberal, European Protestants. They’re probably not saved. They’re probably not believers. They don’t have the Holy Spirit and they’ve got presuppositions the way they’re interpreting the raw data.
You have to go in and look at the data. This is the kind of thing that computers have just made incredible. Some of the programs now will give you in two seconds a listing of any form of listing of any word, any Greek word, in the New Testament. That has done wonders in the study of words and their meanings in just the last twenty years.
Because of computers we’ve learned a lot about Greek. In fact, some of the rules we were taught, some hard and fast rules that were taught about Greek syntax forty or fifty years ago, have been shown to be completely false because of what we’ve been able to do with computers now.
Then you look at syntax. That’s grammar. That’s how the words relate to one another. Syntax is not a tax on sin. It has to do with how the words are arranged together and what meaning you derive from the grammar and the grammatical structure of the passage.
Context takes it another step further to look at, not just the verse, but how it relates the verses surrounding it and to the subject matter of the writer. This is really important. A lot of time when you look up systematic theologies, you go to Chafer, you go to Walvoord, you go to any number of books that are systematic theologies on salvation, you might see a point listed and then in parenthesis they’ll list five or six verses. It’s important to go and look at each of those verses and then to exegete them in context.
I can’t tell you how many times I have discovered that there are verses that are traditionally used as proof texts for a particular point that when you study the text in context that’s not what the writer’s talking about at all. It’s important to do those contextual studies.
Once you do that then you do your exegesis, that is studying the meaning of the text, extracting from the text itself what that verse says, what it says in the context of the sentence, what that sentence says in the context of the paragraph and then relating it on to the whole of the book.
Then you do biblical theology. By biblical theology I don’t mean theology that is biblical versus theology that is not biblical. Biblical theology is a technical term for breaking down the writers of the Bible and looking at the theology of each individual book and each individual writer. Then you can do a study of Samuel, 1st and 2nd Samuel, because they were one book in the original Hebrew. You can say, “What do we learn about God in 1st and 2nd Samuel? What do we learn about man? What do we learn about Israel in the books of Samuel?”
You’re not relating it any further than just the writings of Samuel. You can look at the writings of John and ask what we learn about fellowship in the writings of John. You’re not relating it to Paul. You’re just looking at what John has said.
Then you take it to the next level, which is relating it to the overall context of the Bible. That’s where you develop your systematic theology categories. That’s the process. Salvation is one of the categories of systematic theology.
That’s the methodology that you use. You have to make sure that when you get to the apex you always have to make sure that what you’re doing doesn’t break off of this pyramid and just start free floating in your thinking. That’s what happened with Calvinism and Arminianism. When they did Bible study they ended up with a systematic theology but you always have to go back and see that your theological conclusions are based and have not left the grounding in the word study, syntax, and context of the passage.
That’s what happens when you get into abstract theology. You know what that’s like. You get into an argument or discussion with someone at work over some point in the Bible. No one is quoting any verses. All you’re doing is saying, “Well, God is fair so God’s going to do x, y, or z.” Is God fair? What do you mean by fair? Let’s look at what the Bible says.
What happens is all of a sudden, we start free floating. We come up with a conclusion that says God is fair. If God is fair, then that must mean a, b, c, and d. It may not mean a, b, c, and d because those points may not be grounded. You may not be able to ground them in the text because one of two of them might be different from what the Bible says.
We always have to make sure that we are Biblical. We always have to sure we’re always grounded in what the text says. My approach in this is I want to look at the key passages of Scripture and examine them in context in order to build a sound, inductively derived theology and understanding of salvation.
Let’s just start with the first question, which is, what is salvation? We’re just going to look at it very briefly by way of introduction. We’ll look in terms of the word usage.
In the English Bible there are over 470 English words related, words like salvation, Savior, saved, and being saved. All of those words in that word group of saved are used over 470 times just in terms of the English. There are many other words that are synonyms to those words in Greek and Hebrew but just in English you have over 470 usages of that word group.
In the Old Testament the main word that is used for salvation is based on a Hebrew word yasha. It ends with sort of a glottal stop. Yasha means to be delivered, to be healed, to be saved, and to be rescued. It is the root for the noun salvation, which is yeshuat. That word then is converted into a name, yeshuah. That is the name that is transliterated Joshua and then later Jesus. It is translated into Greek as YESUS and that is from yeshua in Hebrew and it relates to the noun for savior.
That word basically means to heal, to deliver, to rescue. The context tells you from what you are being delivered or rescued. It can talk about someone who is in battle and is rescued from death in the middle of the battle. It can talk about someone who is sick and they are healed from their sickness or it can be used to describe spiritual salvation.
The Greek word that is comparable to yeshua is the verb SOZO You have the noun SOTER for salvation. SOZO has the same semantic range. It means to heal, to deliver, to rescue, and to save. It depends on the context whether it is spiritual deliverance or whether it is a physical deliverance or healing.
The trouble is that when you do a word study for these words they’re used in various tenses throughout the Scriptures. For example, in the New Testament, you have the verb SOZO used in a past tense in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved …” You’ve been saved. It’s in the past tense; it’s completed.
Other passages suggest that salvation is an ongoing process. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 you have the statement, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness,. but to us who are being saved …” Here’ it’s a present passive participle. We are “being saved.” “It is the power of God.” The present participle suggests a process, an ongoing process.
Still other passages like Romans 5:9 have SOZO in the future tense. “Much more then, having now being justified by His blood, we shall be saved …” That’s future passive indicative. “We shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
This indicates the three stages of salvation. When we initially express faith alone in Christ alone, that’s Phase 1 when we are justified. At that point we are saved from the penalty of sin. Phase 2 is that ongoing process of sanctification. You’re being saved today. You are being saved tomorrow. You were being saved yesterday. Dr. Earl Radmacher who is the Chancellor of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary always liked to get up in front of a crowd and ask, “Did you get saved today? Did you get saved yesterday? Are you going to get saved tomorrow?”
He’s trying to emphasize the fact that by-and-large this word is used to describe the ongoing process of salvation in the New Testament. This ongoing process is what we call sanctification or the spiritual life. We are constantly working out our salvation and that’s Phase 2.
Then in Phase 3, the future tense is when we’re glorified, when we’re absent from the body and face-to-face with the Lord. At Phase 1 we’re saved from the penalty of sin. At Phase 2 we’re saved from the power of sin or we’re being saved from the power of sin in the present tense because we still have a sin nature and in Phase 3 we’re saved from the presence of sin. It’s only when we’re absent from the body and face-to-face with the Lord that we no longer have a sin nature.
Now that’s just a basic introduction of what salvation is. In this study we are primarily using it to ask how do you know you’re going to have an eternal destiny in Heaven and not in the Lake of Fire? What does the Bible teach about what is necessary in order to avoid eternal condemnation?
The place we have to start is where we should always start when we do a Biblical study and that is with God. The starting point should always be God and not man. We don’t start with human experience. We start with God. We start with His character and we start with what He begins to tell us in Genesis 1:1.
We have to go back to the beginning and in Genesis 1:1 we begin to understand all that is involved in this question. If you don’t understand some of the things in Genesis 1, you can’t really understand why God has done all of this to save us.
Why should God save us? In other words, the title for this first lesson asks why man is worth saving. Why is man worth saving? Why are you worth saving? If you think you’re worth saving because you’re so nice and wonderful, then guess again. We’re all obnoxious sinners before God. Why is it that He has gone to all of this effort to send His Son to die on the Cross as a substitute for us?
So we have to go back to Genesis 1:1 where we read, “In the beginning God created …” That is one of the most significant sentences in all of the Bible. First of all, it tells us that the God of the Bible is distinct from the universe and all that is in it. That is a foundational reality.
It distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. In other words, we have a Creator God who is distinct from the creation. Second it tells us that the God of the Bible is not part of some chain of being or how did they put it in The Lion King? “The circle of life.”
The circle of life is just an old pagan concept. It goes back to the ancient Greeks and if you press it, you can take it all the way back to the Babylonians that says everything in the universe is connected—even the gods.
The gods in ancient Babylonians paganism were not distinct from the creation. They were nature gods and they were gods that controlled the forces of nature. They were identified with them. We’ve made that a science today. We call it Darwinian evolution. That underlies every human philosophy. It underlies every religious system, except for Judaism, that exists in the world today.
The God of the Bible is not part of that chain of being or circle of life. He is completely distinct from His creation. We must always go back to that Creator/creation distinction.
Third, God determines the nature of reality by the act of creating it. Because God makes something He determines and has the right to determine what the nature of His creation is. He is the creator. He determines the nature of reality by the act of creating.
Reality is not what you think it is or what I think it is. It’s what God determined it to be from the moment of Creation. He is the One who made the laws. He is the One who made everything to be what it is. He determines the nature of each and every detail no matter how microscopic. He determines the nature of each and every detail in the creation and how that relates to every other detail in creation.
Now go home and think about that before you go to sleep: how God has determined, as the Creator, the significance of every molecule, every subatomic particle and how that relates to every other subatomic particle.
Fourth, this implies that the God of the Bible establishes the categories of creatures and creation and distinguishes between those. The first thing He does is to create light and He separates light from the darkness. That’s categorization. He determines what is light and what is darkness and He distinguishes between those.
When you go through Genesis 1, God says He creates each of the categories of animals and they replicate according to their kind. He establishes clear categories. Any time the unbeliever thinks in terms of categories, he is thinking as God created him to think, categorically.
On the basis of basis of evolution, there’s no basis to think categorically because everything is fluid. Everything flows from one thing to the next. So God creates categories. Categories of His creatures and He distinguishes between those creatures. Man is distinct from all other creatures.
Two things that are evident in Genesis 1. Number one, God is distinct from His creation. Number two, man, as a living creature, is distinct from all other living creatures.
Fifth, as Creator, the God of the Bible defines the role, the function, and the nature of each creature. All of that derives just from the implications of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created …”
Then we come to the next major piece of revelation in Genesis 1 and that has to do with the nature of man and the creation of man in Genesis 1:26 and 27. There we read, “Then God said, Let Us make man—adam is the Hebrew term for mankind, the generic term for the human race—in Our image according to Our likeness; and let him rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every living thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
The issue here is what is the image and likeness of God? In theology there are four basic views of the meaning of this term. The first is a physical term. Man is in the image of God, betsalmenu. The term there is tselem. It’s the same word that is used to describe an image or an idol, a physical idol.
The second is according to the likeness, kidmutenu; d’muth, which also has to do with likeness. What we see here is that in the structure of the Hebrew in this word “in our image” and “according to our likeness” is in synonymous parallelism, so they are talking about the same thing. They are synonyms.
It’s like we would use the term bread and butter in terms of their work or their vocation. That’s their bread and butter. In other words, that’s what feeds them. We’re not talking really in that idiom about two separate subjects, bread and butter. We’re talking about them as they come together in terms of what someone eats. It’s idiomatically a figure of speech for putting food on the table.
So the phrase here, “in the image of God and according to His likeness” refers to the same thing. Some have said this is physical and that’s too narrow. Others look at it as a functional usage. Others define the image and likeness as a functional view. This limits the image as to what man is to do. They would emphasize Psalm 8:5–6 where the psalmist says that man was created to rule over the works of his hands. This is only partly true because the function of man is derived through the image. The image is not physical. It’s not functional but it affects both the physical and the functional.
The third view is that it is relational. All the image emphasizes is that man has the ability to relate to God. Again, that’s true but it doesn’t go far enough. It’s like only one aspect of it.
The primary view is what’s called the substantive view. It says that the image is something that is in man and it has to have to do with the very essence and nature of man. Man, at his core being is in the very image and likeness of God.
That means that it affects his function, what he is to do. It means it enables him to have a relationship with God and even more than that, because man is in the image of God, God creates man as a biped hominoid in order to be the very best physical expression of Who and what God is immaterially. Now let me say that again. God does not have physical form. He doesn’t look like you or me. God is a spirit, John 4:6.
If you were take God as a spirit and you were to take him and squash Him down and take this infinite God Who is omnipotent and omnipresent and you are going to squeeze Him and squash Him down to a physical body—remember that in His omniscience God knows down the road that He is going to incarnate Himself into the form of a creature and this is going to be the highest possible creaturely revelation of Himself. God says, “If I’m going to make myself finite, what is the best state I could put myself in so that my infinite glory is best expressed through this finite form?
That’s why God creates man to look the way he does; because of all the possible ways man could have been created, God says, “This is the form that is going to give the highest and best expression of everything I am”—taking an infinite God and squeezing Him down into a finite package. So man is made the way He is physically in order to be the best expression of this immaterial image that is God. That is the main idea here when it says that man is created in the image and likeness of God.
There’s another aspect to these terms that is important. First of all. we see in point one that man is made in the image and likeness of God and that emphasizes his inner nature, his inner being, his essence, as God has created him. It relates to his role and his function.
This kind of terminology is also used in something we studied a while back when we had our orientation to the Old Testament and that is the treaty form that was used to write covenants in the Old Testament, the suzerain vassal treaty form. This was typical where you had the suzerain, the great overlords. Today we would talk about maybe the U.S. and its satellite states and you could talk about the Soviet Union and their satellite states.
In the ancient world you have a great kingdom and empire like Rome and then there would be certain satellite nations. They would be under the protectorate of Rome. They might not be part of the Roman Empire but they would be under Rome’s protection. They, in turn, would do certain things for Rome. They might be out on the frontier and provide a buffer state.
You can go back in ancient history and say that the Hittite Empire had certain vassals, certain cities and towns or regions where the rulers had become vassals or servants of the great king who headed up the major empire.
That vassal was a representative or image of the great king. He represented the great king to the other nations around him. When we look at the terminology of the image and likeness of God it indicates something about mankind. He is a representative of God over the creation. So point number one, man is made in the image and likeness of God.
Point number two, image primarily describes man’s immaterial nature, the composition of his soul, so he can act like God acts over His creation. He can be an image, a mirror representation, of God over the creation.
The interesting thing is that Adam’s descendants are said to be created in the image of Adam according to Genesis 5:3. In Genesis 9:6 we are told in the command related to capital punishment, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” The image isn’t lost at the Fall.
Now in strict rigid Calvinism that underlines lordship salvation, the image of God is lost at the Fall. That has serious implications. Notice they derive that from a theological deduction, not from the exegesis of the text.
We’ll demonstrate that when we come back next time that this imageness is not lost at the Fall but it is severely damaged at the Fall. That’s one of the reasons God saves us, because we are still in His image and that has to be recovered or restored.
Point number three, these terms explain not merely that man is in the image of God but that he is the image of God. He is the reflection of God. He is to be the representative of God over creation.
Fourth, man was thus created to fulfill the role as God’s vicegerent. Man stands as the representative of God over all creation. He is to rule the creation in God’s place. The implication of this is that man has limited sovereignty, limited autonomy. As we’re going to see in Genesis 2 there’s only one thing man is prohibited from doing but he is given the freedom, true freedom to do whatever he can do. He has limited autonomy; but what’s going to happen after the fall is that it’s going to be even more restrictive so we call that restricted autonomy.
Man is created to fulfill the role as God’s vicegerent, God’s personal representative and ruler over creation. What man is inseparably linked to is what he is to do and that is to rule over creation.
We’re about out of time and we’ve only covered about the first four of seven points. We’ll come back and cover the rest of this next time as we answer the question, why is man worth saving?
“Father, we thank You for this time to study Your Word, to understand that You have saved us because we’re created in Your image. In spite of the damage done by the Fall, we are still in Your image and You have sent Your Son to restore that image especially through our Lord Jesus Christ, the God man. We will ultimately be able to fulfill that divine mandate to rule over the creation.
“Father, we thank You that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone and not by anything that we have done but completely based on Who and What You are and what Christ did on the Cross. We thank You for these things in Christ’s name. Amen.”