What questions about salvation does soteriology address?
Soteriology is the area of Christian systematic theology that examines salvation. Soteriology deals with the entire work of biblical salvation, including God's work of planning salvation in eternity past, providing salvation in human history, and perfecting salvation throughout eternity future. In the salvation of individual people, soteriology includes the moment a person receives salvation, a person learning to live out of the new nature received upon salvation, and the eternal result of salvation in the presence of God in the afterlife.
Some of the important questions included within soteriology include the following:
What is salvation? Essentially, salvation must be clearly defined before other aspects of it can be examined. Throughout church history, many ideas have been suggested regarding how salvation takes place. These can range from the unbiblical extremes of universal salvation (that everyone goes to heaven) and annihilation (that the soul simply ends after this life) to arguments regarding works and salvation and the role of choice versus God's predetermined foreknowledge. Developed systems of theology are also often studied in this regard, such as the debate between Calvinist and Arminian theology.
How were people saved before Jesus? God clearly saved many people before Jesus came to earth in human form, but how? How many people? In what way? Soteriology examines the biblical evidence to help determine how God provided salvation during this period of human history.
Can a person lose his or her salvation? Of much debate among Christians is whether a person can truly lose his or her salvation. Some argue that a sinful lifestyle or rejection of an earlier commitment can result in losing eternal life based on Hebrews 5—6 and other passages. Others argue "once saved, always saved" based on Romans 8:1, 37-39 and other passages, teaching that a person who has truly come to faith in Christ can never lose his or her faith.
How is a person saved or born again? The Bible is clear that salvation takes place by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). However, much emphasis is placed in soteriology regarding what it means to be born again and what this new life includes.
Is baptism required for salvation? Because of the importance of baptism in the Christian tradition (Matthew 28:18-19), some argue that baptism is a sign or requirement of salvation. However, because salvation is based on faith, this is biblically rejected. The example of the thief on the cross also argues for salvation by faith alone apart from baptism (Luke 23:39-43).
What about those who have never heard the Gospel? Young children? Those unable to mentally respond to the Gospel message? Of special significance is how the question of the unreached is addressed. While the Bible is clear that salvation is provided through Jesus Christ alone, a variety of arguments are used to respond to how God handles the afterlife of those who have not specifically heard the name of Jesus or who are seemingly unable to comprehend what salvation entails.
Titus 3:5-7 offers an important biblical summary of God's view of salvation. There we read, "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Salvation is one of the most cherished beliefs of the Christian faith, and one worthy of much attention and study.
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