1. In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus tells us that all who refuse to repent will perish. Repentance would appear to be the precondition of forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). When Jesus began his ministry after John’s imprisonment, he also stressed repentance but added faith (Mark 1:15). The two would seem to be complementary and taken together they constitute conversion.
Believers in Christ are granted eternal life (John 3:16,36; Heb. 11, etc.). It is our faith which overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). The outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls (1 Pet. 1:8).
2. Unless we are righteous we cannot receive the Spirit and life (Lev. 18:5; Pss. 15;24; Isa. 1:19f.; 3:10f.; 33:14-16; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:2,5, etc.). Since we cannot keep the law which is the basic way to become righteous (Rom. 2:13; 1 John 3:7), we can be accounted righteous through faith in Christ (Gal. 2:16).
3. We cannot go to heaven (enter the presence of God) in our natural bodies which are by nature subject to decay (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:1-8).
See also Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8 and note Isa. 66:24; Zech. 14:12; 1 Pet. 3:4. The flesh like all material things is also susceptible to burning and God is a consuming fire (Isa. 33:14; Heb. 12:29; James 5:3).
Note that those who live for the flesh will inherit corruption (Gal. 6:7f., cf. 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Rom. 8:5f.f;16:18; Phil. 3:19; Rev. 21:8; 22:15; Heb. 12:14, cf. 1 John 2:15-17. The selfish will likewise be condemned (Mt. 25:41f.; Luke 16:19ff.).
Note also that those who rely on the flesh are inevitably cursed (2 Chr. 32:8; Ps. 118:8; Isa. 30:1-3; Jer. 17:5). See also Luke 12:4f. (cf. Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24).
Earthly, that is, temporal, not merely sinful, things including the flesh and the world itself are to be put to death (Col. 3:1-5, cf. 1 John 2:15-17). Paul, like Jesus, rejected the temptations and the blandishments of both the flesh and the world (Gal. 5:24; 6:14; Phil. 3:2-11).
4. Since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, we need to be changed (1 Cor. 15:50-52). It is our spirits not our flesh that is saved. Our aim and hope must be to gain a spiritual body like that of Christ (Phil. 3:21) to replace our corruptible flesh.
5. We must be holy like God (1 Pet. 1:14f., cf. like father like son). If we are not, we shall never see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
6. We need treasure in heaven. This is achieved by our creation in Christ for good works (Eph. 2:10) which are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). We are meant to be a people zealous of good works (Tit. 2:14).
OT: Gen. 18:19; Dt. 10:12f.; Pss. 15; 24:3-5; 34:12ff. Isa. 33:14f.; Mic. 6:8; Zech. 7:10; 8:16f.
NT: Mt. 6:19-21; 25:34f.; Rom. 8:14-17; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; 3:6; 2 Pet. 1:5-11.
7. Our hope is the hope of glory which is at present invisible (Rom. 8:20,24f.) but it will be realized when we see Jesus as he is (1 John 3:2), that is, as King.
(Isa. 33:17, 66:18; Ezek. 48:35; John 17:24; Rev. 22:1-5.)
8. We shall always be with the Lord (John 12:26; 14:3; 1 Thes. 4:17; 5:10; 2 Cor. 4:14; 11:2, cf. Rom. 5:2; Heb. 2:10; 3:6; 1 Pet. 3:18, and live eternally in God’s house (Rev. 22:3-5) in the spirit (1 Pet. 4:6) in redeemed spiritual bodies (Rom. 8:23) as his children (John 1:12f.; 1 John 3:1-3)
Faith and Law
It is vitally important for us to recognize that it is those who have faith, not just those who are born again, that enter the presence of the Father. Traditionally, it has been believed that the new birth is the necessary first step, the sine qua non of salvation, and that all who are not born again are damned (cf. Westminster Confession, ch 10:4, Larger Catechism, qu. 60, Athanasian Creed and the idea that outside the church there is no salvation, extra ecclesiam non salus). This, however, cannot be true since no one was born again before advent and victory of the Lord Jesus himself, yet it is evident that the OT saints were indeed saved if not in the NT sense. Indeed, that was the basic OT problem. The old covenant, as the author of Hebrews especially makes manifest, was incapable of bringing the fullness of salvation because it was itself inherently defective. There were two basic problems: first, those under it could not keep it (Jer. 31:32; John 7:19) and, second, even if they could, it could not in itself give life (Gal. 3:21; Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7). Keeping the commandments was the condition of life, but life could not be earned; it was always the gift of divine grace. Certainly, life was promised to all who kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17, Adam) or law (Lev. 18:5, Israelites). But nobody succeeded as a variety of references indicate (e.g. 1 K. 8:46; Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Eccl. 7:20; Prov. 20:9, etc.).
Augustinian Theology and Original Sin
Traditional Augustinian theology was seriously in error. Why? Because it taught the clearly erroneous doctrine of original sin. This false foundation formed the essence of its thought. Apart from the fact that it was in any case unbiblical, its remedy was held to be the new birth. In view of this it is less than surprising that the new birth was deemed to be capable of being conveyed by sacrament. Hence infant baptism. Thus, according to Augustine all who were not baptized were damned. But it must be repeated that original sin, or the imputation or transmission of sin, is quite contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The son cannot inherit either his father’s sin or his faith (Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18). And since this is so, he can inherit neither his punishment (Dt. 24:16) nor his reward (cf. Gen. 15:1). If he is to be saved, his only recourse is to walk in the steps of his believing forebear. This is why following or walking after such heroes as Abraham or David is seen to be so important in the OT.
The Order of Salvation
Once we see this, we can also see that regeneration does not come first in the order of salvation (as, for example, in the Westminster Confession of Faith or in the 39 Articles of the Church of England) but that faith and repentance do. They are necessarily preliminary to it. The reason for this is that righteousness (which is gained by fulfilling the commandment/law) was from the start made the condition of life. Again, the reason for this is made clear in Genesis. For, if Adam had been granted eternal life after he had broken the commandment, he would have been eternally in bondage to his sin (cf. John 8:34). This was an impossible situation, as Genesis notes (3:22)! By contrast, Abraham the great exemplar of faith, though pronounced by Paul to be ungodly (Rom. 4:5), was nonetheless justified by faith. In other words, his lack of righteousness was overcome by Christ who died to cover his sins and to provide him with his own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9, etc.). But like John the Baptist who was the greatest born of woman (Mt. 11:11), Abraham could not experience regeneration for historical reasons. He had to wait until the Saviour had paved the way and sent the Holy Spirit to apply his own righteous work to all who put their trust in him. John himself clearly recognized this (Mt. 3:14). It is therefore paramount that we recognize that all believers will be perfected together (Heb. 11:39f.).
Faith and Regeneration
While faith is in evidence almost throughout Scripture (cf. Heb. 11), regeneration appears only in the NT. It is the gift of the new covenant which existed only as a promise in the OT (cf. Dt. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:39; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26).
So when we ask questions about the salvation of those who are not Christians, we are forced to take into account the fact that many, indeed, most never experience regeneration in this world. In fact, many have never heard of Christ and cannot therefore put their faith in him. However, many nonetheless have a somewhat naïve faith in God and order their lives accordingly. In light of this we can argue on the assumption that recapitulation is part of the essence of life, that just as we ourselves were once children who exercised immature faith of a kind and eventually accepted Christ as Saviour, so do many, but not all, others (cf. 2 Thes. 3:2).
The Salvation of Children
But the question we need to ask is this. If I as a youngster had died unregenerate, would I have been eternally condemned? Not necessarily. I had a faith of sorts in God, and, since I was brought up in a society which had been heavily influenced by Christianity, I accepted Christ after a fashion even if I was not consciously committed to him. In other words, my faith immature as it was, was like that of Abraham who never heard of Christ but was nonetheless saved as Jesus himself testifies (e.g. Mt. 8:11). When Jesus talked of the necessity of being born again he was not addressing children but people like Nicodemus who had spent a life time under the law. When Paul wrote Romans and Galatians he did not have me at age seven, for example, in mind but physically mature adults who were ready to move on to the next stage of their spiritual lives. Now they needed to recognize the shortcomings of Moses and the perfection of Christ. The law may serve as a useful guardian of the immature, but only the Christian faith can meet the needs of those who wish to attain to adulthood or perfection (cf. Gal. 4:1-7, etc.). The perfection (maturation, completion) of both the individual (Phil. 3:12-14; Heb. 6:1; 7:11) and the community (Eph. 4:13) is the goal of faith (Heb. 11:39f.).
To express the issue alternatively, biblical covenant theology is somewhat different from that touted by various churches in 2010. As children whether literal or spiritual, Noah meets our needs (cf. Acts 14:17; 17:27) and Noah himself was a believer (cf. Heb. 11:7). As adolescents Moses serves as our guardian (Gal. 3:19ff.). Even if we are not Jews in these days of universal education this is largely if not entirely true. As adults, for whom the law is unnecessarily constricting, only Christ is adequate. In him we are free, provided we do not use our liberty to give rein to licentiousness (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16).