Decisional Theology Defined and Explained
What is decisional theology? The answer to that question depends entirely upon definition. Without proper definition, the entire discussion devolves into a meaningless argument about theological terms instead of the exegesis of Scripture. The real issue concerns whether the Scriptures teach decisional theology, and if so, what is decisional theology?
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What Is Decisional Theology?
The Scriptures provide revelations that help us define the term “decisional theology.” Those Scriptures provide that a person first understands the free gift of salvation and then makes a conscious decision to receive the free gift of salvation from God. Do not be misled by that definition. A person receives the free gift of salvation, but that decision does not amount to a work from that person in any way. God made the decision about who would be saved in eternity past, long before any person was born on earth or made any decision. While the Scriptures reveal the knowledge of God about the future, and how that knowledge relates to election, such discussions are beyond the scope of this article. Now we can review some Scriptures related to the decision people make to be saved. Some people today argue that people never make a decision to be saved. Before we accept that conclusion, we need to review the Scriptures concerning salvation and God’s plan of salvation.
Why Do Some People Decide To Be Saved?
The deeper question turns upon why an unsaved sinner decides to receive the free gift of eternal life. Some people today argue about whether salvation rests solely upon God’s activity (monergism) or whether salvation includes both God’s activity and man’s activity (synergism). Rather than discuss theological terms, we must always focus upon the text of the Scriptures (the Bible consisting of sixty-six books). While many people have differing opinions about salvation, only the Scriptures provide the truth about salvation. To understand decisional theology, we must understand the interplay between (1) God’s activity before the foundation of the world concerning predestination of people and His adoption of some people into the family of God; and (2) a person receiving the free gift of salvation only after understanding and hearing the word of Christ on earth. While the concepts may be very deep, the relationship between predestination and receiving the free gift is quite simple. Only the people predestined to adoption into the family of God receive the free gift of salvation. The Scriptures provide a clear guide to when people are saved and how salvation happens.
When Are People Saved?
Salvation starts with God, proceeds with God, and ends with God. The Scriptures reveal that salvation happens in an instant and continues forever. In another sense, the Scriptures also reveal that (1) we have been saved in the past (see John 5:24–μεταβέβηκεν–have passed out of death–perfect active indicative and Ephesians 2:5–σεσῳσμένοι–saved ones–perfect passive participle–continuing state and Colossians 1:13–ἐρρύσατο–aorist middle indicative and μετέστησεν–aorist active indicative); and (2) we are saved in the present (see Acts 15:11–σωθῆναι–aorist passive infinitive); and (3) we will be saved in the future (see 1 Corinthians 3:15–σωθήσεται–future passive indicative and 1 Corinthians 5:5–σωθῇ–future passive indicative). For our purposes, we will only focus upon what happens at the moment of salvation when you receive the free gift of salvation, focusing upon the moment in time when your sins are forgiven.
While the Scriptures indicate that salvation continues for eternity (Revelation 22:5–εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων), they also indicate we are saved in an instant (Acts 2:47; Romans 5:10; Acts 15:11). People pass from death to life at the moment of salvation and believers will never come into judgment (John 5:24). The moment of salvation occurs when unsaved sinners hear the voice of God and come to life; that time is now and into the future (John 5:25). Put another way, salvation comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). People call upon the Name of the Lord for salvation (Acts 2:21; see Genesis 4:26). One moment we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and the next moment we were made alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5; 2 Timothy 1:9–σώσαντος—aorist active participle; Titus 3:5–ἔσωσεν–aorist active indicative). Many other passages indicate a moment of time when a person receives the free gift of salvation. If people are saved in an instant, then how does instant salvation today relate to predestination in the past?
What Is Predestination?
Salvation also starts in eternity past. God chose people to receive the free gift of eternal life before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God predestined certain people to adoption into the family of God before any human dwelt upon the earth (Ephesians 1:4). As always, God chose very beautiful, precise words in the Scriptures to reveal truth. God breathed out every word of the original autographs so believers would understand them (2 Timothy 3:16; Jeremiah 26:2).
Consider the concept of adoption for a moment. God said He predestined believers to be holy and blameless, and He predestined them to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:5). God revealed that adoption perfectly describes salvation and predestination. So, when God selects a child for adoption, God alone decides which child to adopt. So, if God alone decides which child to adopt, the child makes no decision about the adoption itself. God makes sovereign choices about nations and people for salvation (Romans 9:27–remnant of Israel saved today; Romans 11:26–all Israel in the future). God chooses the people to be saved (Acts 15:6-11). Because believers were predestined to adoption, then why did Jesus command His disciples to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations?
Why Proclaim Salvation?
Believers proclaim salvation because Jesus commanded all believers to proclaim salvation. Jesus specifically commands believers to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 8:39; John 20:21). Jesus commanded His disciples to proclaim repentance leading to the salvation (Luke 24:47; 2 Corinthians 7:10). God has entrusted believers with the ministry of reconciliation and appointed believers as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
The ministry of reconciliation involves a spiritual process. Jesus is Lord of all and does not make distinctions among people for salvation. Paul outlined the steps in the ministry of reconciliation. Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). Step one: send preachers to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. Step two: people will hear the preachers. Step three: people will believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Step four: people will call upon the Lord for salvation (Romans 10:13-15). Not everyone who hears will believe, but faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Therefore, we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that people may believe and call upon the Lord for salvation. As believers proclaim salvation in Jesus, what must people do to be saved?
What Must People Do To Be Saved?
Only hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ never sent anyone to heaven. In order to go heaven, a person must first hear and understand (συνιέντος) the Gospel (Matthew 13:19) and then believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that faith is united with hearing (Hebrews 4:2). Jesus said that faith saves people (Luke 7:50; Acts 16:31). The devil opposes salvation and works that people would not be saved (Luke 8:12). People become saved by calling upon the name of the Lord; whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21; 2:40; Romans 10:13). Jesus commanded people to repent and believe in the Gospel for salvation (Mark 1:15). Peter likewise exhorted people saying, “Be saved” (Acts 2:40–σώθητε–aorist passive imperative). Upon hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, some people say, “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37; see also Acts 16:30). Such questions imply people must receive the free gift of eternal life by some act on their part. Jesus explained that He said things so that people may be saved (John 5:34). Peter was commanded by the Lord to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Gentiles (Acts 10:33). Peter was to speak the words that would save the Gentiles (Acts 11:14). Likewise, Paul spoke the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that the Gentiles may be saved (1 Thessalonians 2:16). So, having heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed to them, what must Jews and Gentiles do to be saved?
When the Philippian Jailer asked what he must do to be saved, the answer was “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . . ” (Acts 16:31). People must believe in Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul preached as of first importance). When people receive the word of Christ by faith, then they are saved (John 1:16; Acts 2:41). Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). So, the question arises about who makes the decision to be saved? Does the unbeliever decide to be saved or does God decide who will be saved, or both?
God ultimately controls the decision to be saved. Remember that believers were predestined before the foundation of the world. At the moment of salvation, the decision to believe has always been under the control of God, so God decides if you believe or not. If you decide to pray the prayer of salvation, because you want to obey the command of God to believe in Jesus for salvation, you are actually confirming that predestination by God has already happened. Only those people chosen by God for salvation are willing to pray the prayer of salvation with true faith. In fact, even the faith you have to believe is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:5-9). Believers are saved by the grace of God and through the faith of God delivered to each believer. We decide to receive the free gift from our perspective on earth, but the spiritual reality is that the only reason we are willing to receive the free gift of salvation is because God chose us for adoption before the foundation of the world.
On a theological level, God the Father reveals God the Son to the elect. Consider Peter confessing Jesus at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus said that Peter was blessed, because God the Father revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus pointedly said that flesh and blood did not reveal to Peter the truth that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:17). In short, God the Father reveals Jesus to people predestined to salvation, and then Jesus reveals the Father to them, so that they may come to the Father through Jesus (Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 14:6).
What Role Does the Will Play in Salvation?
Viewed another way, our human will plays no role in salvation. Jesus said that as many as received Him, and believed in His name, to them He gave the authority to become children of God. They were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). Therefore, the will of man does not play a part in the decision to receive Jesus and His free gift of salvation. God controls the decision to believe or not, but the human expresses the faith received from God. If human will plays no role in salvation, then can anyone be saved?
Can Anyone Be Saved?
The disciples asked who can be saved (Matthew 19:25 Mark 10:26 Luke 18:26). Jesus explained that things impossible for man are possible with God (Mark 10:27). He meant that people cannot save themselves; only God can save someone. Jesus also disclosed that most people go through the wide gate that leads to destruction, but He commanded people, “Enter (“Εἰσέλθατε”) through the narrow gate” that leads to life, but only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). Only those predestined before the foundation of the world to adoption by God can enter into the narrow gate. Even so, everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord for salvation by grace through faith will be saved. Only the elect will be willing to call upon the Name of the Lord, because God chose them before the foundation of the world. So, why offer the prayer of salvation if only the elect will respond in saving faith?
Why Offer the Prayer of Salvation?
Preaching in the Bible included an exhortation to receive the free gift today (Hebrews 3:7, 12-13; Acts 2:40, Hebrews 3:15). As the people proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, some people heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and were pierced in the heart and wanted to receive the free gift of salvation. Consider Romans 10:9 with the two verbs: “confess” with your mouth and “believe” in your heart. Taken together, believers do not gain faith by praying the prayer of salvation, but they express faith as a gift of God by salvation. Believers receive faith by the grace and foreknowledge of God. Preaching in the Bible proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and exhortations to believe, with some people receiving faith for salvation. Therefore, we offer the prayer of salvation for people to receive the free gift as the Holy Spirit moves them. By praying, they call upon the Name of the Lord for salvation. They may acknowledge their faith in Christ immediately. They can confess with their mouth and believe in their heart for salvation. Jesus commanded people to believe in Him for salvation and we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that people may believe and call upon the Name of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15; John 4:42; 8:24; 10:38; 14:11).
So, in short, salvation preaching in the Bible led people to faith in Jesus for salvation, so that they may call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ often pierces hearts and people receive the free gift of salvation from God. They express that faith first by prayer, calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, and then identify themselves with Jesus through baptism (baptism never saved anyone). We urge everyone to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and find peace with God. Now you know why Christ Assembly puts the eternal life button at the top of so many pages on its websites.