God's loving grace was manifested unconditionally, but receiving that grace is conditioned on obedient faith.
Salvation has been made available to men without any pre-conditions being met on our part. A brief sketch of history helps bring this into focus. After the sin of Adam the world became filled with treachery, violence, and immorality. The wickedness of man was unrestrained and soon the world was given over to futile rebellion. The human race narrowly escaped complete ruin when Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). In spite of this spectacular deliverance through judgment the world again lapsed into rebellion. This time God intervened by calling Abram and promising him a seed who would bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). That seed was Christ. The shattered race of man was at last being visited by God as an act of sheer grace. The history of man recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures testifies that the coming of Christ to bear away the sins of the world was not the result of man's merit. Jesus did not come as a consequence of our meeting any conditions. Perhaps the best illustration for the deliverance Christ brought is the deliverance that foreshadowed it in the Exodus.
After Israel was led to Mt. Sinai God gave them His law, but prefaced it with these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exo. 20:2). Notice the order -- first God's mighty act of deliverance, then the giving of the law. God's law is given in the context of grace, not grace in the context of law. In other words, God didn't apear to Moses at the burning bush and say, "Here are the ten commandments, when Israel learns to obey them then I will come and deliver you out of the land of Egypt."
This same model holds in the salvation brought to us in the new covenant. It is critical tht we understand who took the initiative. When Jesus visited our world it was not filled with good people asking God to come into their lives. Romans One details the gross immoralities of the God hating pagans and and chapters two and beyond reveal the hypocrisy of the Jews who, for all their show, hated Him just as much. Paul puts the situation as plainly as words can say in chapter five, "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. for scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Paul isn't saying the world ws full of good people who had racked up a few too man parking tickets. He is describing the kind of wickedness that would nail God to a cross. In the cross all is made clear. Man had earned the right to nothing but condemnation, but God who is rich in mercy came to bear their guilt away.
Following His death and resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to proclaim this salvation to the ends of the earth. The preaching of this gospel contains two aspects. First it is an announcement that sin and death have been defeated and that the Lord Jesus grants pardon to rebels and life to the dying. This facet of the gospel message is not "good advice" about how to get right with God, but the "good news" of what God has already accomplished in Christ.
However, the Scriptures are emphatically clear that this pardon is not granted universally. If there were no conditions for salvation then nobody would be lost, but the Bible says that some will be everlastingly damned (Rev. 21:8). This means that though salvation is initiated by God and is accomplished by His grace, we must respond in faith to His invitation or else eternally bear the burden of our guilt. God initiated salvation unconditionally, we respond to His initiative by meeting vhe conditions He has given tin Scripture.
This brings us to the second aspect of the gospel message. Men are summoned to believe in the Lord Jesus and trust Him entirely. this involves confessing allegiance to Jesus as Lord and being united with Him through baptism (Rom. 6:3). Those who persevere in this commitment are assured a victor's crown (Rev. 2:10). Those refusing to ack nowledge Christ as Lord will be utterly rejected on the last day (Mk. 16:16). The distinction that needs to be maintained is between the saving acts of God, which are all accomplished by His unmerited favor and the response we are called to make, in order to realize the benefits of His work. If we fail to grasp the former we fall into a deadly legalism. If we reject the latter we must either embrace the false doctrine of universalism or else be left without explanation as to why some are saved and others lost.
The specific conditions of salvation may be enumerated as faith, repentance, confession, and baptism, but all of them should be thought of as functions of loyalty which is itself a function of love (Jno. 14:15; 15:14). We will be able to keep all of this in perspective only by remembering that these, and all other expressions of our love for Him, grow out of the fertile soil of His love for us (1 Jno. 4:19).
By Lawrence Kelley in Biblical Insights, Vol. 5, No. 7, July, 2005.
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