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Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Theology Q&A

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Dr. J. Rodman Williams answers theological questions, exclusively on

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8. Salvation - Calling, Regeneration, Justification

Category Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 QA Index





Does there have to be an order? Like, first, you get saved. Second, you get baptized in water. Third, you get filled with the Holy Spirit. Does it have to be in that exact order?

You have well spoken of three separate elements that make up the Christian walk, and also you have listed the usual order of their occurrence. However, for example, water baptism may on occasion be the third element that follows being filled with the Spirit. It is only important that all three of these elements be present for the full Christian life.

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The Bible refers to the Jews as the "chosen people." Does that necessarily mean that they will enter the kingdom of God, even if they reject Christ?

It was to the Jews that the Gospel was first proclaimed and all the first Christians were Jews (see the Book of Acts). Their standing as in some sense God's "chosen people" did not suffice. They needed, along with Gentiles, salvation to enter the kingdom of God. Rejection of Christ would surely prevent this from happening.

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In the chapter on "Calling" in volume two of your Renewal Theology book under the Excursus I, you described Calvinism and Arminianism, and then in section 3 you use the phrase "elected to believe." Could you expand on this? I am not sure how this is different from Calvin if some are elected to believe and others are not.

I did not say "elected to believe," which I agree with you would be a thoroughly Calvinistic statement, but "elected as believers." See my italicized words on page 19. Thus a close correlation is maintained between election and faith. Else one tends to slip off into extreme Calvinism on the one hand or Arminianism on the other. (See Renewal Theology, 2)

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In John 3:16, Jesus says that "He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life," yet in Matthew 7:21 He says that "not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." Could you please help me see how this is not contradictory?

There is no contradiction here. Believing in Christ is the way of salvation. Calling on His name, even to saying "Lord, Lord," is not enough. Rather, in this latter case, the person who does the will of the Father shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Believing in Christ includes commitment to the Father's will, a saying of 'Lord, Lord' from the heart.

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Can one who has committed adultery still be saved? I have prayed for forgiveness but still feel lost. Can I be helped?

We read in the Bible: "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). Thus your situation of adultery is a very serious matter. However, God delights to forgive the truly penitent soul: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

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As we've all heard the old saying, "A leopard can't change his spots." Is this true with man? I want so badly to change the person that I am, I want to be a better spouse, a better parent. I have sinned in all aspects of my life. All I want to do is become a different person, and stop doing the same things that I struggle with daily. Is this possible? Can God literally change a person? Is there really such a thing as "a new lease on life?"

Hear the New Testament: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). The leopard may not be able to change his spots, but Christ in you can change your whole life into a new one. It is not so much that you should want to be a better person as rather to become a new person wherein all aspects of your life can be changed. Not better but new!

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 I myself am a Christian, but I have an interesting question. The Bible says all who know Jesus Christ as their Savior will go to heaven. But what about Jews?

Paul writes about the status of the Jews in Romans 9 through 11. He says at one point, "My heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation" (10:1). Jews have a special place in God's plan. This does not mean they are automatically saved. Jew and Gentile alike need faith in Christ for salvation to occur.

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 My friends, who call themselves Christians, believe that certain Muslims, Mormons, Jews, etc. will go to heaven. Their reasoning, if you can call it that, is God is so infinite how do we know He doesn't reach other people through these religionssort of a many roads to salvation theory. What scripturally can I tell them to refute this theory?

By way of refutation, see, for example, the following Scriptures: John 14:6, Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (note, the way not one of several ways); Acts 4:12, Simon Peter declared about Jesus, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved"; Romans 10:9, Paul writes, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." Such verses as these, and many more could be cited, contradict the "many roads to salvation" theory.

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 Do you believe that Christians from different churcheslike Seventh-Day, Baptist, Pentecostal...will all be saved?

Surely, Christians from many different churches will be saved. It is a personal matter. Romans 10:9 declares: "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." It is not a question of which church you belong to but whether you have genuinely made a personal statement of faith in Christ. It is important that the church you attend be a believers' church, one that steadfastly proclaims the way of salvation.

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  I believe that you are saved by faith but I get hung up on "works."

I am a born again Christian and everything and believe that you are saved by faith and Jesus' death on the cross. But sometimes I get really hung up on the works stuff. Like a lot of times in the Bible in the New Testament it seems to be saying that you get to Heaven by doing good works.

Faith always has the primacy over works in terms of salvation. We are saved not by works; but also we are not saved without them. A lively faith will always demonstrate itself through good works. "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). In Paul's words, it is a matter of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).

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What is the difference between Regeneration, Justification, and Sanctification?

All three are ways of talking about salvation. Regeneration means to be born again. Justification means to be declared righteous by what Christ has done by His death on the cross. Sanctification refers to the new life of holiness that has begun. (See Renewal Theology, 2, chapters 2-4.)

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I believe in Jesus and want to "share" the good news with others but the question that others keep asking me is why do I say that Jesus is the only way to the Father and what gives me the right to impose my beliefs on others? I can show scripture references to why Jesus is the only way to the Father with no success but my main question is what gives me the right to as they say "impose" my belief on them? Not wanting to impose anything but to share.

A proper presentation of the gospel must be done without imposition. We truly have good news to share. The joy of your faith should be so present as to be almost contagious. After all, there is nothing else that comes close to the blessing of salvation that you have received. So let the non-coercive joy of the good news be present in all your witness.

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  What is "Regeneration"?

Regeneration means essentially rebirth: it is re-generation. Hence regeneration is a being born again or anew. The classic New Testament passage is these words of Jesus: "You must be born again" (John 3:7). We may also note Peter's words to Christians: "you have been born again" (1 Peter 1:23). Paul declares to Titus that God "saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). These three passages stand out in their testimony to regeneration; and the last (in Titus) specifically relates this to salvation.

It is apparent that this is a spiritual rebirth. It is not a second physical birth, but a rebirth that is spiritual. Jesus emphasized this in His words just prior to those about rebirth: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Thus, through the Holy Spirit there is spiritual rebirth. The Old Testament looked forward to this. God spoke through Ezekiel concerning Israel: "I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them" (Ezekiel 11:19; see also 36:26). Jeremiah says: "I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord" (Jeremiah 24:7). And the psalmist prays, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). Although the language of the Old Testament is not precisely that of rebirth, it points in the direction of a spiritual renovation for which the word "regeneration" is the fulfillment.

Regeneration, however, cannot be limited to one area of human nature. It is not only that the spirit, or heart, is made new, but the person himself is thereby a new being. As noted, Paul writes that God "saved us"--not just our spirits--as persons: we have been born again. Paul writes similarly elsewhere, "If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). The person is a new creature. This is the wonder of regeneration.

(For more on Regeneration, see Renewal Theology, 2: chapter 2.)

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  How can I have eternal life?

The answer to your question may be found in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Believing in Christ is the key: accepting Him, trusting Him, committing yourself totally to Him. This includes also repentance for past sins in the strength that Christ provides. I suggest that you talk about all this with some pastor or spiritual leader and, in that person's presence, you declare your faith in Christ as your Savior and Lord.

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  Is sanctification of yourself through your own efforts with support from
Jesus essential for salvation?

By your question, I am afraid that you have made salvation basically a matter of your own achievement. However, salvation is more than support from Jesus, thankfully. Salvation is a matter of grace not works, relying totally on Jesus as Savior and Lord. Sanctification also is more than your own efforts with support from Jesus. It is likewise not a matter of your own achievement but of Christ working in you.

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  Are people baptized by the blood of Christ at conversion or is it a separate experience? If the Trinity is in Christ, should I pray for Holy Spirit baptism? Should I try to divide the Godhead by exalting the Comforter?

People are saved by the blood of Christ at conversion. The Trinity is not in Christ, but Christ is in the Trinity. So is the Holy Spirit. Yes, you may surely pray for Holy Spirit baptism without dividing the Godhead or exalting the Comforter.

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  Are the Ten Commandments still binding on us who are saved by faith in Christ Jesus? Paul in Romans 3:31 seems to indicate that they are when he says, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law."

Paul is speaking here against antinomianism, namely, the view that because of our salvation through faith the law is void, or nullified. His reaction is very strong against such a viewpoint ("May it never be!"). The fact that we are not "under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14) does not mean the voiding of the law. The law, especially as embodied in the Ten Commandments and in our moral consciousness (see Romans 2:15), is God's law for all people. However, until salvation came, the law could not be truly fulfilled. Now there is the inner motivation and ability to accomplish such. Grace amazingly establishes the law!

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  Please explain the doctrine of unconditional election. Can the unelected still be saved?

The doctrine of unconditional election as affirmed particularly by Calvinistic churches declares that salvation is wholly God's doing. He elects those whom He wills unconditionally, and man has nothing to contribute to it. This, I believe, is an extreme view of the sovereignty of God that leaves nothing to the human decision.

On the contrary, God's election stands in close correlation with faith. The elect are those who believe. God surely has the priority, but there must be the response of faith. We are elected by God as believers. Without faith there is no election. Unconditional election too much omits the human side. (For more on Election see Renewal Theology, 1: pages 18-21.)

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  If the Bible states that we can only come to Jesus if we are drawn by the Spirit, then do we actually have free will? In other words, the Bible states that He chooses us. Did we not choose Him? So where is the free will?

According to Matthew 22:14, Jesus says, "Many are called but few are chosen." Hence, though His calling is primary, not all are chosen. In Jesus' own ministry He called many to follow Him but not all did. See for example Luke 9:59 where Jesus says to a man, "Follow Me," but the response was negative with the excuse, "Permit me first to go and bury my father." The man was called but not chosen by virtue of his own free decision. Hence the choosing by God always includes the willing response of faith.

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  My question pertains to faith and works and how the two concepts should be applied in our daily living. Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16, and Ephesians 2:8 state that by grace we are saved through faith but not by works. How does this agree with James 2:14-26?

According to James 2:21, "Abraham our Father was justified by works." Does this contradict other words such as those of Paul in Romans 4:2, "If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God"? There is no contradiction here. Further on James adds, "Faith without works is dead" (verse 26). This means that, although we are justified by faith alone, true faith is never alone. Paul speaks elsewhere of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6). A living faith will always overflow in good deeds. (See Renewal Theology, 2: pages 76-78, on "Place of Works.")

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  As Christians we are saved through Christ. What about the Jews? Will they be judged differently from others?

Jews and Gentiles alike are saved through Christ. There is no difference for, in Paul's words, "Both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin" (Romans 3:9) and "God will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith" (verse 30). The same faith in Christ is necessary for both Gentiles and Jews to be saved.

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  If we are chosen to be saved or not, then does prayer help for a non-Christian's salvation? I was told that if I pray for my daughter's salvation but the Lord has not chosen her, it would do no good. Please advise.

It is a serious error to say that "we are chosen to be saved or not" as if God arbitrarily excludes a person from coming to Christ. In one of His parables Jesus declared, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). "Many" refers to all to whom the gospel is preached-it is the universal call for salvation. The chosen ones are those who respond affirmatively to the call and thus are saved. God chooses those who respond in faith; if anyone is bypassed, it is not God's doing, but is due to the negative response to His call. Praying for your daughter's salvation is much in order! Such may help her come to a living faith and be among God's chosen ones. (See Renewal Theology, 2: pages 15-17.)

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  Do we have to do away with the law if we are saved by grace?

Not at all. The law, referring particularly to the moral law (to which our consciences and the Ten Commandments bear witness) is from God and is binding upon all people. Yet, because of the sin of the human race, the law cannot be kept; indeed, as Paul puts it, the law has become a curse ("the curse of the law," Galatians 3:13). Now, however, when we are saved by grace (not by law!), the law for the first time can be maintained. As Augustine said long ago, "Grace was given that the law might be fulfilled." The law is by no means done away by grace; instead, by the indwelling Spirit the law may at last be kept (even if there is still continuing sin). Rather than the law being a curse, we can now joyfully say, with the Psalmist, "O how I love Thy law!" (119:97).

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  Do we need to go to a priest to really be forgiven and saved?

In the Bible, the risen Jesus said to His disciples, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven" (John 20:23). Catholics believe that this means you must go to the priest to get forgiveness for your sins, (as well as asking Jesus yourself). Does this mean that we need to go to a priest to really be forgiven and saved? I know that I'm saved, but this still bothers me.

John 20:23 does not mean that we must go to a priest to get forgiveness for sins. Jesus is speaking to His disciples in general (see verses 19 and 20-"disciples" twice used). As Christians, we may pray for others, forgive and receive forgiveness, and also individually pray directly to the Lord for our own forgiveness. According to 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Christ is "the high priest of our confession" (Hebrews 3:1). We need not go to any other!

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  Can a person who is born again but has unforgiveness in his or her heart towards another believer still go to heaven?

Jesus Himself placed a very high premium on forgiving sins in the Lord's Prayer. He taught His disciples to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we also forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12). Note the word "as." "As" signifies "in proportion to." At the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer, Jesus stressed again the need to practice forgiveness: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).

Also, in Jesus' ministry He emphasized that there is no limit to the number of times one should forgive, "seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22). Finally, Jesus demonstrated the ultimate forgiveness from the cross when He cried out, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

So unforgiveness is a very serious matter and should be dealt with by every sincere believer.

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  What about the God-fearers who lived before the time of Jesus?

If Jesus is truly the ONLY way and we need His sacrifice in order to be saved, what about those who lived before the crucifixion? Are we to assume that none of them were saved or made it to heaven? Or, are we to infer that it was possible to make it to heaven without the work of Christ?

We must always bear in mind that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to cover the entire human race past, present, and future. What happened at Calvary was, of course, the objective event that makes salvation possible for all people. We do need His sacrifice in order to be saved. Verses like Genesis 3:15 point from the beginning to the future hope and promise of One who would someday "crush the serpent's head" (NIV). Believing in God's promise was basically the way of salvation in the Old Testament. The Old Testament worthies did not make it to heaven without the work of Christ in redemption.

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  Do children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven or not?

I'm writing to further your discussion of a question on about infant baptism and salvation. I agree with your perspective that baptism alone does not save. However, I would like to get your thoughts on this follow-up question: Do children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven or not?

On the matter of children that die before the age of accountability, there is little Scripture to go on. The closest approximation would be the words of Jesus in Luke 18:16, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (NIV), and Christ embraced them all. This does not mean that little children are innocent, but by a special act of God's grace they are taken into His presence.

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