The Study of Salvation
Exploring the nature of salvation.
"For God so loved the world, that the only-born Son He gave, in order that every one believing into Him might not be destroyed, but might have life eternal." (John 3:16, author's translation)
I was born in 1947 in Lawrence, Kansas, to two Godly parents, John and Florence Bartsch. This came about because my father was attending Kansas University in Lawrence. After my father had earned his Bachelor's Degree in Business, with a major in Accounting, we moved to Newton, Kansas, the town in which I grew up. We lived at 613 SE Second St., renting the lower portion of the home from some relatives, if memory serves me correctly. My dad worked for a number of years at Newton Finance and Investment Company, called NFIC for short. In the early days, we had no automobile. So my father walked about a mile to work each day. We would walk uptown to go shopping, and sometimes, I imagine, to stop in and visit Dad briefly in his office on Main Street. We walked to church, which was but two or three blocks from our home. I also later walked to school, McKinley Grade School, which was on First Street, almost right across the street from our church.
I have a memory of attending a Child Evangelism Good News Club, held in our basement. My mother did not teach the club, but one of her friends did. I do not remember the name or the face of the teacher. I was only four years old, and did not yet attend Kindergarten at the time. Other school-age children attended the club. I was too young, really, but because my mother was hosting the club in our basement, I was allowed to attend.
I really have no memory of those meetings in general, but I have a memory of one particular club held one afternoon after school had been dismissed. I was sitting by myself, I believe, at the back right of the room as we faced the teacher standing in front of us. We were seated on home-made benches that some man had constructed. Back in those days, teachers used flannel graph figures to illustrate their story visually. The flannel-backed figures would adhere to the flannel background secured to a large rectangular piece of sturdy material that could be folded in half and carried by straps for easy transport. The background or "flannel board" was placed on a three-legged easel. All of us who were seated in the class could easily see the flannel board and the figures placed thereon.
This particular class that stands out so vividly in my mind was a class on Heaven and Hell. I was riveted. Heaven seemed like such a wonderful place to which to go after one died. Hell, on the other hand, was a place to be dreaded and feared. It was frightening. I do not remember the details of the lesson taught that day. But I remember the teacher asking, towards the end of the class, if any of us would like to make sure we would go to Heaven and not to Hell. If so, we were to raise our hands. I sat back there transfixed. I have an awareness that no one else had raised his hand. For a split second I thought that it would be too embarrassing if I were the only one who raised my hand. But my fear of being the only one was soon overpowered by an even greater fear of going to hell. Within an instant I realized what I had to do. I had to raise my hand! And so I did. My right hand shot up in the air decisively. I was not going to miss out on going to heaven!
Again, my memory fails me somewhat. But I believe what must have happened was that this teacher contacted my mother, who was upstairs. She wanted to let my mother have the privilege of leading me to faith in Jesus Christ.
The next memory I have is that of being upstairs in my parents' bedroom. It was a little dark in there. My mother sat in a nice old wooden rocking chair. I was flat on my back listening to her, probably squirming around a little now and then. I don't honestly remember what she said. But I do know that on that late afternoon I decided to put my trust in Jesus Christ. I am sure my mother must have talked to me about the need to have my sins forgiven, and the need to trust in Jesus, who died to pay for my sins. I don't remember the details. But I know that on that late afternoon, I made a transaction with the Almighty. I asked Jesus to come into my heart, or words similar to that. I have always dated my salvation from sin and eternal damnation to that moment back in 1951.
As I grew, I would very occasionally have a doubt about what I had actually done. To reinforce my original decision, I would go through the process again, praying to Jesus, and asking Him to forgive me of my sins and come into my life. I think I did this perhaps twice, or three times at the most. I remember the last time I felt a need to do that. I was eighteen years of age, a college freshman. I was seated in the basement Library of (at that time) Grace College of the Bible in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a pleasant autumn Saturday morning, if I am not mistaken. I was plagued with doubt. What did I really do when I was a child? I remember using a notebook and writing out verses that reinforced the necessity and benefits of faith in Jesus Christ. I went through the process of reassuring my faith through the Word of God. I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins. I told Him I trusted Him for forgiveness and eternal life. I have never been plagued with doubts about my salvation a single time since then. That seemed to settle the issue of my assurance of my salvation.
Despite having to go through a "reassurance" of my salvation in later years, I still date the time of my salvation back to that invitation by the teacher in my basement, and my mother's follow-up. How much theology does a four-year-old know? Not much at all. I just knew I didn't want hell. I did want heaven, and I did want Jesus. And I took Him.
Little did I know it, but, as I have since learned, a great number of profound things happened to me that day. These were things I could not feel, and still cannot feel. I take them by faith in the Word of God. Let me list a few of them for you....
(1) First, God blessed me with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. God is to be blessed for that! (Eph. 1:3).
(2) The reason I chose Jesus that afternoon in 1951 was that God had first chosen me in Jesus Christ before ever He created the world itself! (Eph. 1:4).
(3) The destiny for which God chose me was that I should be holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 1:4). I am a long ways away from that goal. But one day, by the grace of God, I shall arrive there, for God's purposes for His own are never thwarted.
(4) Because God loved me, He predestined me to be placed as His adult son (huiothesía, 5206) through Jesus Christ, with all the rights and privileges and responsibilities thereof (Eph. 1:4, 5). This was an act of kindness, engineered so that we humans (and probably angels) would praise Him for His glorious grace which He exhibited toward us in Jesus, the Beloved One (Eph. 1:5, 6).
(5) Since I am in Jesus, through His blood which He shed on the cross of Calvary, I was granted redemption, further defined as the forgiveness of my trespasses against God (Eph. 1:7). This redemption / forgiveness was granted me according to the wealth of God's grace which He lavished upon me (Eph. 1:7, 8).
(6) Though I did not know it at the age of four years, since then I have learned of another blessing God has given me and all believers. God is the epitome of wisdom and insight, and He has made known to us His previously unrevealed will – in God's method of managing His household – in the fullness of times, He will head up all things in Christ, the Messiah – both the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth (Eph. 1:8, 9, 10).
(7) Even though I was only four years old, I had obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:11). I can never lose this inheritance, because I was predestined to obtain it. This predestination is carried out according to the purpose of God, who works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). That is rather inclusive!
(8) In Jesus Christ, because I listened to the message of truth, the good news of my salvation, and having also believed that afternoon, I was sealed in Jesus with the Holy Spirit who had been promised (Eph. 1:13). This was truly significant, because He was given to me as an irrevocable down payment on my inheritance (Eph. 1:14). This means that one day God will fully redeem me as His own prized possession. Once again, God does this so that we humans (and presumably angels) will praise His glory (Eph. 1:14). This redemption will one day include not only the redemption of my soul, my inner being, but the redemption of my body (Rom. 8:23). I can hardly wait!
(9) Because I received and welcomed Jesus, believing into His name, Jesus gave me authority to become a child (téknon, 5043) of God (John 1:12). This came about, not because of my family ancestry, nor in response to my own human fleshly will, nor because of the desire and will of a male, but because I was given birth by God Himself (John 1:13). Another way of saying the same thing is that I was born of the Holy Spirit from above, and also born again so that I might enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3-8).
(10) Because I am believing into the only-born Son of God, who was lifted up on a cross for me (John 3:14), I will not be destroyed, but am presently possessing eternal life (John 3:15, 16). In short, through Jesus I have been saved from eternal destruction and the deadly results of sin (John 3:17).
(11) Because I am believing into Jesus, the only-born Son of God, I am not being judged (krínō, 2919) (John 3:18). Another way of saying that is that, since I am in Jesus, the Messiah, there is for me, now, no condemnation (katákrima, 2631) (Rom. 8:1).
(12) Just as God credited righteousness to Abraham on account of his faith, and he was justified (declared righteous) by faith, not by works (Rom. 4:2, 3), so I, at the age of four, was justified by faith apart from any works (Rom. 4:4, 5). I had not even been immersed then. That would not take place for another four years. Please don't misunderstand. Good works, including immersion, are important. But they are the result of my salvation, not the cause of it (Eph. 2:8-10; James 2:14-26). As James, the half brother of our Lord has stated, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17, 18, 26). My later good works would vindicate my faith.
(13) I did not know this at the time, but it was true. I believed in Jesus as a four-year-old because I was one of His sheep. Since I was one of Jesus' sheep, I was hearing His voice, and He was knowing me, and I was following Him (John 10:25, 26, 27). And Jesus was giving to me eternal life, and I would not be destroyed into the age, and no one would be able to seize me out of Jesus' hand (John 10:28) or out of His Father's hand (John 10:29). What this tells me is that, even at the age of four, having trusted in Jesus, I was eternally secure in the hands of Jesus and His Father. They are united together against all my enemies (John 10:30).
The Apostle Paul described this security in a different, but compatible and more detailed manner. When I trusted Jesus, (1) the Holy Spirit began helping my weakness. I did not and still do not know how to pray as I ought. But the Holy Spirit began urgently interceding for me with inexpressible sighs (Rom. 8:26). And His intercession on my behalf is effective because He intercedes according to the will of God (Rom. 8:27). (2) On account of this, I can know that everything in my life God is causing to work together for good because I am loving God and because I am being called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). (3) This security and comfort is also true because of a Divinely-coordinated chain of events. (a) God foreknew me as His own from eternity past (Rom. 8:29). (b) Moreover, God predestined me to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would have a lot of brothers (Rom. 8:29). (c) Moreover, God called me (Rom. 8:30). (d) Moreover, God justified me (Rom. 8:30). (e) Moreover God glorified me (Rom. 8:30). (4) Consequently nothing and no one in all of creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39). Though I did not know all this at age four, it was all true. I was and remain eternally secure in Christ.
(14) Again, I did not know this at age four, but it happened. This one gets a little complicated, but bear with me.
John the Immerser (Baptistês, 910) came announcing in the wilderness of Judea (Matt. 3:1) that his listeners must be changing their minds (present tense of metanoéō, 3340) because the kingdom of the heavens had drawn near (Matt. 3:2). Many responded positively to his message and were being immersed (baptídzō, 907) by John in the Jordan, confessing their sins (Matt. 3:6). After a caustc, judgmental tirade against the insincere Pharisees and Saduccees (Matt. 3:7-10), who were coming for immersion, but who obviously were not changing their minds, John said something profound. He said, "I am indeed immersing (baptídzō, 907) by means of (the inferior agent of) water with a view to change of mind (metánoia, 3341), but there is one coming after me who is more powerful than I, and I am not adequate to carry his sandals. He himself will immerse you by means of (the superior agents of) the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt. 3:11, author's translation).
He went on to explain that this mightier one's winnowing fork was in his hand, and he would thoroughly clear his threshing floor, and he would gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he would burn with inextinguishable fire (Matt. 3:12). Doubtless Matt. 3:12 refers to the future judgment of the more powerful one, who is none other than Jesus Christ, to whom all judgment is assigned (John 5:22,27, 30). Jesus' gathering of the wheat into the granary symbolizes His immersing believers by means of the Holy Spirit into a place of safety. His burning of the chaff with unquenchable fire refers to Jesus' immersing all unbelievers into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone (Rev. 20:11-15).
Paul picks up on the Immersion by means of the Holy Spirit in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For also, by one Spirit we all into one body were immersed, whether Jew or Greek, whether slave or free, and all were caused to drink one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13, author's translation). This fulfills the "saving" portion of John the Immerser's prophecy. Jesus immerses all who believe in Him by means of the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12,13, 27).
In summary, at the age of four years, Jesus immersed me into the Body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. In the process, the Holy Spirit came to live inside me. What a blessing!
(15) There is more. Since Jesus used the Holy Spirit to immerse me into His body (1 Cor. 12:12, 13, 27), I also, at age four, became an integral part of His church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18, 24). The word "church" (ekklêsía, 1577) in these contexts refers to Jesus' entire assembly of "called out ones." His church consists of all who have placed their faith in Jesus as the Messiah from all over the globe. At this stage of church history, it includes millions who are already in heaven. We call this church the Universal, or Catholic Church. It is to be distinguished from local churches, such as the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:22), in Rome (Rom. 1:7, 15), in Philippi (Php. 4:15), in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1), in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8), in Pergamum (Rev. 2:12), in Thyatira (Rev. 2:18), in Sardis (Rev. 3:1), in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7), and in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14). See also "A Study of the Church."
(16) One final thing. Again, I had no way of knowing this at age four, when I trusted in Jesus, but I was beginning the process of being prepared, along with all Church-Age believers in Jesus, one day, to be His bride (Rev. 19:7; 22:17). This imagery is conveyed implicitly in Eph. 5:25-27. Jesus has a lot of work to do on me, I know. I am just grateful He has begun the process. One day I and all believers in Jesus from the Church Age will be completely prepared, ready for the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). That will be wonderful!
Truly, I was blessed at the age of four, and remain blessed to this day. But the best is yet to come!