How are people saved under different dispensations (i.e. the age of innocence, the law, grace, etc.)?

Dispensationalism

Question:

I read your explanation of how the Old Testament saints were saved by faith. How does this fit into the dispensationalist view? How will people be saved during the tribulation period since this is a new dispensation and the Holy Spirit has been removed?

Answer:

Your question is based on a commonly taught idea that has been widely accepted in many Christian circles. I once considered myself a dispensationalist, but I no longer believe that this is consistent with the scriptures. I think when I point out a few things from the Greek text, you may well see why this view is flawed.

First, the dispensationalist belief is that God has different ways of revealing Himself throughout history. This belief says that God dealt with mankind differently in the time of Adam through Moses (dispensation of innocence); after the law was given, the dispensation was through the law; after Christ, the dispensation was through grace; in the end times, the dispensation is through the Jews (or any number of other theories). The problem I have with the dispensationalist view is that it causes people to completely overlook the most important truth of scripture. God worked through all of these periods of time to communicate ONE truth to mankind – salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. In the beginning, God began to point toward Christ from the curse of Adam’s sin, through Abraham, through Moses and through each of the prophets. If we look at the whole message of scripture we can clearly see that God did not deal differently in each era of biblical history, but instead took mankind by the hand through each step until we reached the cross of Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament points ahead to Jesus Christ and the entire New Testament (including Revelation) points back to the cross of Jesus Christ. Consider the passage that is often used to introduce dispensational theology:

Ephesians 3:1-7 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles —  2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you,  3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already,  4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ),  5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:  6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,  7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.

Part of the problem is a misunderstanding of the word ‘dispensation’ used here. The term ‘dispensation of grace’ does not mean to dispense grace but rather it means to be a steward of grace. The Greek word translated into ‘dispensation’ in this passage is to word ‘oikonomia’ {oy-kon-om-ee’-ah}, which means to manage, have oversight or stewardship. If we take this meaning and apply it to Ephesians 3:2, it makes a lot more sense. Paul is stating that he has been given the stewardship of presenting the gospel of grace to the Gentiles. This fully agrees with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:16-17

16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!  17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

The word ‘stewardship’ used here is the exact same Greek word used in Ephesians 3 above. This same Greek word is used in Luke 16:1-3

He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods.  2 “So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’  3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.

In both instances in this passage from Luke, the word ‘oikonomia’ is used. You will not find the term dispensation (oikonomia) used in any other context. Since the Bible never provides any support for the dispensationalist belief system, we should examine this carefully and see if it contradicts scripture. I believe that it does. The Bible says that God’s plan was not only established, but finished before the foundation of the world. Look at the following passages:

Matthew 25:34 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

Ephesians 1:3-6 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,  5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,  6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

1 Peter 1: 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you

Revelation 13: 8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Hebrews 4: 3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Especially take note of Hebrews 4:3. This passage refers to Israel right after the Law of Moses was given. According to dispensational theology, they were under the dispensation of the Law, but the Bible says that the work of God was finished before the foundation of the world and if you read this passage in context to the rest of Hebrews 4, you see that both they and the New Testament church enter into the rest of God’s completed work through faith. They did not have faith and the Bible is warning that we should be careful not to miss this promise by our own unbelief.

So the question we should ask ourselves is: how can God say to Israel, who were under the law that His work was complete, if Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the completed work of God? Both cannot be true – unless both we and the ancient world are under the same work – dispensation of grace. The Bible clearly says that the law cannot save but rather convicts the whole world of sin and makes everyone guilty before God (Romans 3:19), and that the purpose of the law is to be a schoolmaster that points us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-25). If this is true (and it must be unless we reject the New Testament), then there is no other conclusion that can be drawn other than the fact that there is one dispensation of grace. It was revealed throughout the Old Testament as God unfolded His plan until it was revealed through Jesus Christ.

Even the passage from Ephesians above that most people think supports dispensationalism in fact supports what I am stating to you. I included the whole context above to show that Paul is stating that this ‘dispensation of grace’ is a stewardship to preach the gospel of grace AND Paul states that this is a mystery that was taught by the Old Testament prophets but was not made known in the past ages because it was revealed through Christ. The message of grace is the same as it was from the beginning only it could not be fully understood until our redemption was purchased through the cross of Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that Abraham was justified by faith – the same as we are. The New Testament points back to how God dealt with Abraham to give understanding to the justification by faith given to us through Jesus Christ. Abraham believed God and his faith was accounted for righteousness – we believe God by receiving the free gift of salvation through Jesus and our faith is accounted to us for righteousness.

The message of the gospel has not changed since the beginning and will not change in the future. God will deal with mankind by faith in Christ during the tribulation period. After Jesus rose from the grave, the Jews were saved through faith in Christ – or they rejected Christ. Today, the Jews are saved through faith in Christ, or they reject Christ. In the future, the Jews will be saved through faith in Christ and God will purge out those who reject Him. The Bible tells us that in the last days, God will purge out of Israel those who will not follow Him and will reveal Christ to them. Look at Zechariah 13:8-9

8 And it shall come to pass in all the land,” Says the LORD, “That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, But one- third shall be left in it:  9 I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; And each one will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’ ”

The fire is the time of Jacob’s trouble during the tribulation period. At the end of this trial, Jesus will be revealed to the house of Israel and they will recognize that they crucified their Messiah. This is explained in Zechariah 12:9-10

9 “It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.  10 ” And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

This event continues through chapter 13 which explains that part of this repentance is asking about the wounds in Jesus’ hands. Look at Zechariah 13:

6 “And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds between your arms?’ Then he will answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’

So we can clearly see that Jesus is the Deliverer of the Old Testament saints, the New Testament church and even the Jews who will soon recognize their Savior has been calling them from the beginning. Everyone who is saved through the tribulation period will be saved just as people are saved today – through faith in Christ.

Some people teach that in the Tribulation people can only be saved by becoming martyrs. This is completely unbiblical. This is a product of dispensational theology for if you hold to the belief that the Holy Spirit is no longer given and that the New Testament dispensation ends before the Great Tribulation, then you have to come up with another method of salvation. This of course is a man-made salvation that cannot save. Salvation is through Christ alone – it always has been and always will be so. If you look at the passages in Revelation where martyrs are foretold, you can clearly see that they are killed because they already have the testimony of Christ. Look at Revelation 6:9-11

9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

This testimony is described further in Revelation 12:

11 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.

The enemies of Satan are the Christians who keep the word of God and have salvation in Jesus Christ. Look also at Revelation 12:

17 And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

So you can see that even in the Tribulation, salvation does not change. There is only one way of salvation – through Jesus Christ. During the time that the entire world will be tested, people are killed because they already have the testimony that they have salvation in Jesus Christ – not the other way around. No one receives salvation because they are martyred; they are martyred because they have faith in Christ. The evidence that they are in Christ is that they keep the word of God.

We know that the Holy Spirit is active during the Tribulation because without the Holy Spirit there is no conviction of sin and it is the Holy Spirit that draws us to Christ (John 16:8). There is nothing in scripture that even remotely indicates that the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth. There is a blind assumption that people have applied in error to 2 Thessalonians 2:7

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.

Many assume that the ‘restrainer’ is the Holy Spirit. This is a complete assumption that is inconsistent with scripture and is not supported anywhere else in scripture. The modern church has built an entire doctrine off one phrase taken completely out of context. Who is ‘he’? The Bible does not reveal this to us. This should not be surprising since prophesy frequently reveals to us what God is doing but not how He will do it. Keep in mind that the Bible fully foretold the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, but even the students of prophesy could not understand God’s plan until after Jesus rose. After God fulfilled the promise of our redemption, the plan could be fully seen and fully understood. God gave enough information so that His people could be watching for their Messiah and those who walked by faith did not miss Him – even though they did not understand what was happening until after the fact.

In the same way, God has revealed to us that something will be in place to hinder the man of sin from rising to power and will continue to prevent this event until God determines the time and then he will be taken out of the way. Who is ‘he’? God did not tell us. It could be a world leader; it could be a religious leader; it could be any number of things. It cannot be the Holy Spirit for many are called to salvation after ‘he’ is taken out of the way. The Bible speaks of a multitude that cannot be numbered that come out of the Tribulation. The world has no power to resist the devil without the Spirit of God at work in their lives. In fact, the church age is the first fruits of the harvest and the Tribulation period is the full harvest. The harvest is the bulk of the crop. Since the Bible compares salvation to the harvest, this should indicate how effective the gospel will be during the time of tribulation. The Bible says that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. How are we drawn? By the Holy Spirit.

The gospel is preached through the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:12), the word of God cannot be received without the Holy Spirit revealing it to us (1 Corinthians 2:12-14). The Holy Spirit is placed within us when we believe the word (1 Peter 1:22-23 and 1 John 3:9). We become a new creation that is spiritual (2 Corinthians 5:17) and this spiritual nature is by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit cleanses our sins and sets us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2). The Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer (Romans 8:11) and we are now the temple of Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). Can anyone be strong enough to endure the Great Tribulation without the Spirit of God giving them strength? Even more important, the Bible tells us that the natural man (someone who has not been redeemed) cannot receive the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). Salvation, by definition is our regeneration through the Holy Spirit; therefore, salvation is not possible without the Holy Spirit. This is explained in Titus 3:4-7

4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

There are dozens of more passages I could give, but if we stop for a moment it is clearly understood by scripture that the sign of our salvation is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given to us when we come to Christ; the Holy Spirit seals our hearts and becomes our confidence until we stand before God; when we come to faith in Christ we are given a new nature (new creation) that is by the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual nature cannot exist outside of the Holy Spirit. It is important that we examine the whole word of God and allow the scriptures to give us understanding rather than try to make the scriptures fit into what we already think we understand. If we put away our assumptions and preconceived theologies, it is clear that there is one salvation, one way to that salvation and that God does not change. Ephesians 4:4-6 says it well:

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

We are called in one hope, one faith, one baptism and are part of one body drawn by one Spirit – the Holy Spirit who draws us to redemption in Christ.

Eddie Snipes
2007

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