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The Plain Truth – April 1978
The Plain Truth – April 1978
Part One:
What Do You Mean… Salvation?

by Herbert W. Armstrong

Do you realize not one in a hundred knows what it is, how to get it, when you receive it? Don’t be too sure you do! Here, once and for all, is the truth made so plain you will really understand it!

Could you, yourself, answer these questions? If someone asked you to open your Bible and show him exactly where the Bible says salvation means going to heaven, could you do it?

Is salvation a place, a destination, a condition, a reward – or what? And where would you turn in your Bible to find it? Are you sure?

Could you open your Bible and show a questioner where it tells you when you receive salvation? Do you actually get it now, or when you die, or when Christ returns – or at some other time? This article will show you plainly.

Are you, at conversion, an inheritor, or a future heir – and just what do you inherit?

Religious people talk about “getting saved.” Yet even most religious people understand no more of what the Bible teaches about salvation – the real meaning of the word “salvation” – than a certain young man did about another religious expression.

He said to me, “I gave my heart to the Lord at the revival meeting last night.”

“Well,” I said, “just what do you mean – you gave your heart to the Lord? Just how did you do that? Did you reach in your hand, take your heart out, and actually hand it to the Lord – and was He really right there, in person?”

“Well, uh… uh…” he stammered, confused, “uh – well, no I didn’t do that.”

“Then just what did you do? How did you give your heart to the Lord?” He stammered some more, then guessed he didn’t know.

That’s the way it is with a lot of people who say, “I got saved.” They don’t really know what they mean by “getting saved.”

Do you know what the Bible teaches about salvation? Millions of sincere people have supposed they knew – yet have been deceived into accepting a false salvation.

I’m going to make it plain – from your Bible! So prepare yourself for a shock! And don’t believe me – believe the Bible!

What Salvation Is

While the real truth must come from the Bible, the dictionary definition may help a little. Webster defines “salvation” as: “1. The saving of man from the spiritual consequences of sin; especially deliverance from sin and eternal damnation… 2. Preservation from destruction, failure, or other evil.”

Now we need to learn the Bible definition of sin, and to see what the Bible reveals the spiritual consequences to be. Whatever the consequences, Webster says salvation is to save you from them – and in this the Bible confirms the dictionary definition. Also salvation means preservation – and in this also, we shall see the Bible affirms the definition.

But why would you need to be saved from the spiritual consequences of sin? And why, if you are an immortal soul, do you need preservation from destruction?

What has this to do with you?

Suppose you say, “Look, I don’t go to church. I don’t pretend to be religious. Why should I be concerned with all these religious words like ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’ and ‘spiritual consequences’?”

Does this concern only religious people?

Why You Are Concerned

God Almighty, who designed, created, and sustains human life – including yours – says this: “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

That involves you!

Right now you probably have no conception of what is meant by “the glory of God” you have come short of. You’ll really open your eyes in astonishment when that is made plain to you.

But, whatever sin is, you have sinned. All humans have! Christ only is excepted. You are involved. And since salvation is saving man from the consequences of sin (and the Bible affirms this, as we shall see), let God’s Word tell you what the consequences are.

It is plain and simple. Here it is: “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

But why have you heard – and possibly believed – just the opposite? Look at that – read it in your own Bible! Notice! The wages you are going to be paid for having sinned – the consequence of sin – is death! Then why do so many religious people teach exactly the opposite of the Bible: Why do they teach that the wages of sin is eternal life in hell?

Look at that again, in your Bible! On the one hand, the penalty is death. On the other hand, the gift is eternal life. The two are contrasted; it is one or the other – death, or eternal life.

Right here let me make very plain one thing the Bible teaches. A few persecutors have accused us of teaching “a salvation by works” – that is, that our “works” earn salvation. Let it be made clear and plain right here that your “works” – your evil works – do earn something, but it is not salvation. What they earn – the wages they earn – is death, and not salvation!

Further, let’s get this point straight and plain right here: Eternal life is not something you can earn; it is God’s gift through Christ!

But do you know that many actually deny that eternal life comes only as God’s gift by grace and through Christ? They say you already have eternal life. They say you are an “immortal soul”!

This is important! This is the crux of the whole question – of life, of the reason for existence! If you have an immortal soul – if you already have eternal life – then the Bible is not true when it says plainly eternal life is a gift from God. According to the Bible, what the “saved” receive as God’s gift through Jesus Christ is eternal life. Salvation then actually is the receiving of something you don’t now have: eternal life.

Yet a very popular teaching deceives people into believing they do not need to be saved from death by Christ’s free grace – by His shed blood. They say you do not need saving from death at all. They say, as Satan deceived mother Eve, that you will not surely die, that you are – or have – an immortal soul!

Why You Are Helpless

Why is it that religious people speak continually about “your immortal soul,” about “going to heaven,” about dead loved ones being now “with the Lord” and many other such things supposed to be the basic beliefs of Christianity, and yet never once show you any such teaching in the Bible? They talk of these teachings as if they were true. They lead you to take these teachings for granted – to suppose they came from the Bible.

What does the Bible teach about the soul? Will you read it in your own Bible? Don’t take my word for it. Don’t believe me – believe God!

Read it in Ezekiel 18:4: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Yes, again, the wages of sin is death – that soul that sins shall die!

That truth about the soul is so important God caused it to be written twice. Turn now to Ezekiel 18:20: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Souls are not immortal. Your Bible says they can die!

But one who is deceived may say: “That doesn’t count because it’s in the Old Testament.” But read in the New Testament that all Scripture – all that Timothy had known from youth, which was the Old Testament – is given by inspiration of God (II Tim. 3:15-16).

Again, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ Himself said you should “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna]” – a fire that will burn them up, cause them to die, destroy what is burned! Oh, yes, the Bible does teach that kind of hellfire – but not the kind where one burns forever and yet never burns up (Matt. 10:28). Let’s believe Jesus Christ when He says souls can be destroyed! They are not immortal!

What is a soul? Notice Genesis 2:7: “The Eternal God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Man is a soul. What was made of the dust of the ground became a soul. The soul was formed out of matter. The soul is not spirit. It is material, and can die.

This may come as a surprise: not only is it true that there is no such expression anywhere in the Bible as “immortal soul,” but the word “immortal” occurs only once in all the Bible – in I Timothy 1:17, where it refers to God. Further, the word “immortality” can be found only five times in all the Bible. In Romans 2:7 you will read it is something for us to seek. Of course! It is the gift of God, who has it to give! You don’t need to seek for something you already have! In I Corinthians 15:53, and again in verse 54, immortality is something the saved shall put on at the time of the resurrection. In I Timothy 6:16 it speaks of the resurrected and glorified Christ, who only, of all who have been born human, has immortality. And finally, in II Timothy 1:10, immortality is something Jesus Christ brought to light – made possible for us to receive – through the gospel.

So the Bible teaches that the soul is not immortal, but is mortal, subject to death as the penalty of sin!

All have sinned. That includes you. The penalty is death! You do not possess eternal life from natural birth. Christ said: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). So you are only mortal, material flesh. You are “of the earth, earthy” (I Cor. 15:47). The life you were born with is merely temporary chemical existence! You live by breathing air in and out of your lungs – the breath of life.

You are only one breath away from death – the cessation of the existence we call “life.” If you don’t draw that next breath, you can’t keep alive or conscious ten more minutes. There is no immortal soul that will keep you alive and conscious. You are a soul (Gen. 2:7) that has sinned, and so shall die, unless saved from death by Christ’s grace.

If your heart does not make that next beat, there is nothing in you to keep you alive ten minutes. You exist by breathing of air and circulation of blood – and are fed by food and water. You have only temporary chemical existence. You are like a clock wound up, and running down. You don’t know at what second it will stop!

You can’t give yourself any life beyond this dwindling chemical existence. There is no eternal life inherent in you. Nothing you can do will produce it, supply it, or earn it. You can’t get it by your own works!

What your own works have done is earn for you the penalty of death. And it is eternal death – eternal punishment!

It is not “eternal punishing” in life but eternal punishment in death (Matt. 25:46). Notice, Jesus said the punishment, death, is to last forever – “everlasting punishment.” Again, in II Thessalonians 1:9, speaking of those who reject God’s salvation, they “shall be punished with everlasting destruction.” The punishment is not life in torture but destruction to be final, total, forever.

God – and only God – has immortality! Instead of assuming carelessly the pagan teaching of the “immortality of the soul,” turn again to I Timothy 6:16 and read it with your own eyes in your own Bible! The risen Christ, and He only of all who were born human, has immortality. God has immortality – life inherent – in Himself (John 5:26). He has given to the Son, Jesus Christ, also to have life in Himself. And only God can impart eternal life to you! It comes through Christ.

But how are you going to go to God? Your past sins not only have condemned you to the penalty of death, they also have put a total barrier between you and God. They have cut you off from all access to God!

Read it! See it in your own Bible: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2).

How Should You Seek God?

So how, when this barrier stands between you and God, are you going to go to Him to obtain eternal life?

Again Isaiah answers: “Seek ye the Eternal while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts… For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Eternal” (Isa. 55:6-8).

So now you seek God that you may obtain eternal life from Him. You repent! You forsake your way of life, and turn to God’s way – or at least you think you do. But something is still lacking! You still are cut off! The barrier is still there! Do you know why?

At this point we need to stop and find out what is meant by that word “sin.”

Haven’t you honestly been a bit confused by this religious terminology? You hear people talk about “sin,” “getting saved,” “under law,” “under grace,” “justification,” “sanctified,” “heaven,” “hell,” “predestination,” and dozens of other terms. Haven’t they been pretty vague to you – rather meaningless? Do you know that most religious people who use all these terms usually don’t know any more than you do what they really mean?

What Do You Mean - Sin?

We started by quoting the scripture “All have sinned.” We said that included you!

But what is sin? Why, when men preach, don’t you hear that explained, defined, made clear and understandable? Why are these religious terms used most of the time loosely, vaguely, meaninglessly?

Once, in Springfield, Oregon, a young man with a Bible in his hand accosted me on the street. An evangelist had come to town and pitched a tent. He brought with him a “gospel team” including some eight young men of college age, who roamed the streets carrying Bibles, stopping people and inviting them to attend the services. One stopped me.

“Well now,” I said, “does your evangelist teach that Christ saves us from sin?” He assured me he did.

“Well, what I want to know,” I persisted, “is what I have to quit doing or what I have done that you call ‘sin.’ Just what is ‘sin’?”

“Well,” he answered, “Christ died for our sins.”

“But that doesn’t tell me exactly what I’ve done that Christ had to die for,” I insisted. “What is ‘sin’?”

“Christ died for our sins,” came the reply.

“Yes, I know – you said that before. But what is this thing, ‘sin,’ that He died for? What do I have to quit doing? Can you open that Bible you have and show me the Bible definition of the word ‘sin’? Is there a place in the Bible where it gives a plain definition – where it says ‘sin is’ – and then in plain words tells what it is?”

He called to a second of the young men – then a third, and a fourth. Finally, with a large crowd gathering, they called the evangelist himself. But even he could not – or would not – turn to the Bible answer! One by one, the evangelist and his team all slunk away!

Then I took a Bible out of my briefcase, turned to I John 3:4, and read to the crowd: “Sin is the transgression of the law.”

But what law? This is explained in Romans 7. So next I read: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law” – or, in the plainer English of the Moffatt translation: “Why, had it not been for the Law, I would never have known what sin meant!” In other words, the law defines sin. Sin is breaking the law. But what law? Continuing, same verse: “…for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

There we are told plainly what law it is sin to transgress. It is the law that says: “Thou shalt not covet.” And that is a direct quote from Exodus 20:17, where the Ten Commandments are being given. That law is the Ten Commandments. It is sin to break any of the Ten Commandments.

In verses 12 and 14 of this same seventh chapter of Romans you will read that the law is holy, just and good, and that it is a spiritual law – a law of spiritual principles of living!

Of course, the whole spiritual law may be summed up in the word “love.” This may be divided into the two great commandments: love toward God, and love toward neighbor. The first four of the Ten Commandments tell us how to love God; the last six, how to love neighbor. The whole Bible elaborates, showing the principles involved, until it includes the entire right way of life!

Now notice Romans 3:20. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Of course! A deceived popular teaching to the contrary notwithstanding, that is precisely what we teach. Keeping the law by one’s own efforts will not justify anyone. We have all sinned. We cannot justify this guilt we have incurred, we cannot avoid the wages we have earned – death – by obedience, goodness, works, or anything we can do.

God’s Spiritual Mirror

Let’s make that very plain! Most women carry a mirror in their purses. A woman takes out her mirror, steals a glance at her face, discovers dirt on it. Does she try to wash off the dirt with the mirror? Ridiculous? Yes, of course. Looking into the mirror won’t cleanse the dirt already there. Why? Because by the mirror comes the knowledge that the dirt is there! Now God’s law is His spiritual mirror. Your Bible says so – plainly (James 1:22-25). You look into God’s law. It shows you the spiritual dirt on your heart. To hear God’s Word, which corrects, reproves and rebukes (II Tim. 3:16), and then do nothing about the spiritual dirt it reveals, is like a man beholding his face in a mirror, seeing the dirt, gaining knowledge of it, then forgetting how dirty he is – doing nothing about it.

God’s law is His spiritual mirror. But keeping yourself from becoming more dirty today does not wash off the dirt already there. By being careful to incur no penalty today, you do not erase the penalty incurred yesterday and all the days previously. So, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Why? Because “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Of course!

Sin is “the transgression of the law.” Paul would not have known it was sin to lust, except the law had said, “Thou shalt not covet.” The function of the law is to tell us what sin is – not to cleanse us of yesterday’s sin or erase the penalty of last year’s sin.

There can never be a law, unless there is a penalty for its violation. And, “where no law is, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15), and there could be no penalty – no punishment. If the wages – the punishment - of sin is death, and death is the penalty, then there is a law. And if there is no law being broken, there is no transgression and no penalty – and then we need no Savior – no salvation from the punishment.

Now where did the law come from? Again through James, God says, “There is one lawgiver” (James 4:12). That is God. God set in motion many laws – laws of physics and chemistry among them. The great law of love is a spiritual law. It is the way of peace, of happiness – of right relationship with God and with human neighbor. It is inexorable – a living law as much fixed and in motion as laws of gravity and inertia.

This spiritual law was set in motion by a loving God to provide the way to every desired good: peace, happiness, prosperity, security, abundant life. To break it is to turn in the opposite direction from peace, happiness, security, abundance, and toward strife, fear, worry, unhappiness, suffering, death. The final wages you earn traveling that way is death! For eternity! Eternal punishment!

Yes, the wages of sin is death. But we have hope! The gift of God is eternal life.

So now, where are we? Eternal life can be had only from God. So, as stated above, you seek God. But you find a tremendous, impenetrable barrier: the sins you have committed. Until they are justified you have no access to God.

My next article on this subject will tell you exactly how justification occurs – what God has done on your behalf, and just what your part is in claiming the promise of salvation.

(To Be Continued)