The Salvation of the Penitents
The Greek New Testament salvation words -- soter, soteria, sozo -- have many meanings in scripture, but here we are considering only the one that is most relevant to any discussion of the religion of Jesus. It has an individual application. We conceive of the prevailing state of the individual adult human as being lost to his creator through the darkness of ignorance, the bondage of sin and the futility of life in the flesh and we ask "How can I be saved from this?" "How can I receive the gift of eternal life and be delivered into the eternal glory of God?"
That is the salvation of which we speak.
Most writers on the history of salvation are bound to the conception of history as the record of the people, times, and events of the past. So, they will give to us, often in a very scholarly way, the ancient and modern records of how God has progressively revealed his salvation to humans as preserved in the covenantal books of the Old and New Testaments. We will not do that here. There is value in it but it has already been done many times. Such is not the true history of salvation and it drowns the real (hi)story of salvation in an obscuring deluge of ideas.
What, then, are we to do here?
We will examine salvation history as Jesus has revealed it by reference to the pertinent utterances, and we will find, as a result, that there are very few times and events to remember.
From a purely temporal view, recorded salvation history is very short. When cast upon the broad scale of the evolution of the universe or even of human evolutionary development on the earth, it would make hardly a blip. The ancient Hebrew patriarchs -- the kings and prophets of Israel -- knew nothing of eternal salvation. To them, the salvation of God consisted of the salvation of their nation and its continuance on their small fiefdom now known as Palestine. Salvation was, to them, the preservation of their unique monotheistic faith in a sea of polytheism. Yet, if we can overlook the genocidal campaign by which they acquired the land under their leader, Joshua, we must credit their nation with being a major contributor to salvation history.
They did not do it alone; even their vaunted monotheism had Egyptian and Persian roots. Much later when their nation was crushed, their God seemingly defeated and all their leadership marched off to a Babylonian captivity, they yet had no inkling of life following death to this world. In that hour, for them, there was no salvation! Everything was lost!
But they came back, restored to their homeland by Cyrus the Persian monarch, and when they returned, they brought something with them they did not have when they went into exile: the Zoroastrian doctrine of the resurrection to a life after death. It was a doctrine that divided them between the new resurrection believers (Pharisees) and the old faith represented by the Sadducees. After monotheism itself, however, this new doctrine was perhaps the most significant one ever conceived.
There is another point of view other than the temporal one. It is the view of the Eternal One, who from the beginning was planning for the rescue of his servants and children from the futility of creation so as to join them to his Eternal Glory. From His perspective -- that of the Father in heaven -- salvation history is as old as creation. It has always been in His purpose. He has altered nothing, from the beginning until now, so that it can truly be termed an eternal salvation -- from eternity to eternity!
The critical juncture between the temporal and the eternal became a possibility only after long ages of the creator's evolutionary work. Then the race of men reached an age of accountability before their creator. They had finally eaten from the tree of knowledge and were capable of making the critical decision that is fundamental to individual, eternal salvation. This experience in the race is prefigured by Adam when he ate the forbidden fruit.
Our race had attained adolescence and was ready for the facts of life. So Jesus came and fully revealed the salvation of God. Now we will examine his utterances to ascertain salvation history as he presented it.
Examine these simple verses that introduce the Sermon on the Mount and that initiate the utterances of Truth from the lips of Jesus. Ask, as you examine, what relevance do these verses have to salvation?Matt.5Each beatitude specifies a qualification for eternal salvation. This much is clear in that the corresponding blessings include seeing God, possessing the kingdom of heaven, inheriting the land (of promise, heaven) being called "sons of God" and having a great reward in heaven. These are not independent qualifications; rather, they come as a set and one either possesses all or none.
 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him.
 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Yet we seldom consider these to be expression of eternal Truth and ponder the resulting implications. As eternal truth, this set of qualifications for salvation has forever been true and is an absolute expression of the character of the saved in every age. It is true in all ages past, in the present, and forever. We do not need to examine history to answer such questions as when they first became true, or who first experienced them, or what events in history signaled them. They rise above history and prevail over it in every age and every covenant.
But how does one acquire these qualifications? Jesus provides the answer to this question and we will find that, as with the qualifications themselves, the answer is an absolute and eternal answer. Qualifying for salvation has a constant and unvarying requirement from the very beginning, and it remains constant forever. Jesus did not take anything away from it, and he did not add anything to it . . . except for one thing that we will identify in Part III of this series.
You should examine the relevant utterances of Jesus to establish the validity of what I am asserting, which is that Jesus did not add to the qualifications for salvation. He made his informative statements on the assumption that he was only designating what was and had always been true. It was, of course, news to his contemporaries and to people in every age who hear it for the first time.
Qualifying for Salvation
The Beatitudes list the qualifications, but how does one acquire them? One qualifies for salvation through repentance. This is a conception deeply rooted in the Old Testament, and Jesus simply assumed its relevance to salvation and began his preaching in Israel with a call to repentance as John had done before him. Examination of the following utterances should establish this point.Matt.4Please note that repentance in the teaching of Jesus was not a new means of acquiring the qualifications. Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and was saved from destruction. Tyre and Sidon would have repented and been saved from destruction had they seen the mighty works of Jesus. But now, something greater than Jonah is here, yet Israel refuses to repent. The Parable of the Two Sons teaches that repentance leads one to do the will of the Father. Had Israel only repented at the preaching of Jesus, the nation would have been saved and its peoples would have entered into the kingdom of God.
 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
 Then he began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.
 "Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
 The men of Nin'eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
 "What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.'
 And he answered, `I will not'; but afterward he repented and went.
 And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir,' but did not go.
 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.
 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,
 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."
The same applies to individuals. Jesus called the Twelve to him, instructed them, and commissioned them to go out and preach:Mark.6Then, when he left them to return to the Father, the message they were to preach continued to begin with . . . you guessed it, repentance:
 So they went out and preached . . . that men should repent.Luke 24Whether it be a nation or an individual seeking salvation from either the temporal or the eternal consequences of sin -- guilt and condemnation -- repentance is the qualification!
 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
 You are witnesses of these things.
So it has ever been, is today, and will ever be. While Jesus accomplished wonderful things pertinent to salvation, he neither instituted nor changed this means of qualifying.
Luke 24:47 above states that both repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be preached to all nations. The two work together because, apart from repentance, no forgiveness is required -- although it may be offered, as Jesus sought it from the cross for those who put him there. Even if forgiveness were given prior to repentance, it would have no effect, because the forgiven one, yet in the bondage of his unrepented sin, would have no appreciation for it and would continue unreconciled. But true repentance towards God produces forgiveness immediately, together with the restoration of fellowship with the offended one. In the case of sin, it produces a restoration of fellowship with God that had been ruptured by the sin. And the sinner, who had been literally dead to God due to the estrangement, then becomes alive to God. This forgiveness, that follows on repentance, is equivalent to salvation for it restores the bond to God that had been broken by the sin.
This should explain why repentance is the ultimate sole qualification for salvation, for it results in forgiveness, the restoration of relationships, and newness of life in the Spirit. But we live in a religious environment that has been contaminated with many false doctrines, and one of these will produce an objection at this point. For, must not sin be punished? Can it truly be forgiven so readily?
The answer, quite simply, is "Yes."
This flies in the face of human resentment and bitterness. If someone has injured us, we want more than to see that person repent and become sorry for what he has done. We want compensation for the wrong! Then, maybe we will consider a compassionate forgiveness! Or, if it is non compensable, we want a severe punishment applied. We want revenge! So it runs counter to our human nature to think that sins can be so readily forgiven on the mere condition of repentance. We generally don't consider such an easy forgiveness. Nevertheless, God does forgive based only on the condition of genuine repentance. To explain this, we must invoke a third factor.
This is one of the qualifications for salvation that Jesus listed in the Beatitudes,Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.If these qualifications in the Beatitudes can be categorized by weight, this one would be perhaps the weightiest. At least, it is the one that received the most attention from Jesus, although he visited them all. It is the mercy of God that explains his readiness to forgive the repentant sinner, for God is most merciful, and Jesus has exhorted all as follows:Luke.6God has always been merciful towards humans, and this accounts for the fact that all he requires of the individual, for forgiveness and salvation, is that we repent. He changes not so that this has ever been the case, and it will forever continue to be the case. Perhaps he would forgive the unrepentant if it were possible, but no restoration of relationships can occur until the sinner has a change of attitude, which is the essence of the sin. By the same reasoning, all that sinners need ever do yesterday, today, or forever to acquire the forgiveness of God and enter into salvation is to repent, because God is merciful. It is by the incomparable mercy of God that he forgives every repentant sinner.
 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
The principle of mercy to the merciful works in another way also. This shows up in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:29-37, where a Samaritan, a Levite, and a priest all encounter a severely wounded victim of robbery on the road to Jericho. The priest and the Levite pass him by, but the Samaritan stops and, at great inconvenience to himself, rescues the poor man. Then Jesus asked:Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?If we do not show mercy to others who are in need when it is in our power to do so, we cannot expect mercy from God. This grows out of a fourth factor that underlies salvation history.
He said, "The one who showed mercy on him."
And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Salvation is utterly free of charge, requiring no sacrifices or other contributions to heaven. But with a little thought any one can see that, if we stop here, we have generated a conception of salvation and its qualifications that is not reasonable in every case. Jesus emphasized the problem in the Parable of the Unjust Servant, that goes like this:Matt. 18You see how everything that I have already specified is pertinent to salvation -- repentance, forgiveness and mercy -- are all illustrated by this parable in the easy forgiveness the servant received? But when this servant failed utterly to give his fellow servant similar consideration, his forgiveness suddenly was revoked.
 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents;
 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'
 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.'
 So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'
 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.
 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me;
 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'
 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.
 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Therefore, we must add to the requirements for salvation the qualification from the Beatitudes that specifies this beautifully:Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.This is simple justice, for it is unreasonable from every point of view to suppose that God will forgive the sinner who fails to forgive others. Jesus emphasized this feature of salvation very heavily, as you can see from the following utterances:Luke.6It is therefore great folly for anyone to suppose that one can be saved who is unwilling to accord the same consideration to others that one seeks from God. Of course, this applies not only to forgiving others, but to every activity that engages others in relation to ourselves. Thus, it also applies to judging others:
 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.
[3-4] Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him;and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, `I repent,' you must forgive him.Matt.7And, as Jesus emphasized in the concluding line of the Parable of the Unjust Servant:
 Judge not, that you be not judged.
 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.No Limits
Jesus places absolutely no limits on the mercy of God apart from the dictates of His perfect justice. God will have mercy on all who have mercy. God mercifully forgives all who repent of their sins, conditioned only by their mercy toward others. This applies to all human beings, from the first to the last one living on the earth. Look at the Beatitudes and you see that they are open ended. Jesus did not limit the promises of divine mercy to those who become his disciples. He did not limit the application of divine mercy to the time subsequent to his advent.
He stated all the beatitudes at a point in time but they are eternally true. They did not just begin to be true when he stated them. They have always been true because the character of God does not change. For so long as there have been human beings, they have had to deal with these truths without regard to what they knew or have not known about them or about Jesus or about God.
Summary and Conclusions
Jesus explained, but did not initiate, the qualifications and conditions of eternal salvation for human beings -- a salvation that has been fully available since the beginning. So it continues available, and so it will ever be. It turns out that it is a very common sense salvation, given the unchangeable mercy and justice of God who, in his mercy, readily forgives every sinner who truly repents of sin. The only exception is that sinner who, after repenting, refuses to forgive others who have offended him. This exception is mandated by his perfect justice, also unchanging from eternity to eternity. So therefore repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and justice working together define this salvation that has ever been available to human beings. So salvation history has from the beginning to the present consisted of this sequence of repentance and forgiveness that reconciles sinners to a just and merciful God.
This being true, should not Jesus have pointed to certain individuals who, solely through penance, have received salvation?
This is not all there is to say about salvation, however. Nor is this all that Jesus had to say about it. To the contrary, he added a completely new dimension to the view of salvation as outlined above. This addition does not change the above or the promised salvation, but it does greatly expand the significance of salvation and places much more weight on human accountability.
Most persons, through long exposure to the doctrines of the churchmen, will raise numerous questions and objections at this point. I have in mind such questions as:1. Can one who does not know of God be saved in this way? (He can't.)Please be patient, as subsequent issues of this series may address your concerns. To this point we have established two tiers of salvation. The first (in Part I), the salvation of the innocents, declares that the Father receives all who die as little children or as innocents. Here in Part II, we see the salvation of the penitents, those in every age who both repent of their sins toward God, and forgive others who have offended them. This salvation has always been available to all mature human beings, and so it will continue until the end. Part III, to follow, specifies how Jesus revealed a completely new tier of the saved that now applies to all who have heard and received his gospel.
2. Can one who does not know of Jesus be saved in this way? (He can.)
3. If salvation is so freely offered, aren't there myriad saved sinners in heaven? (There aren't.)
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