Soteriology is the study of salvation and Christology is the study of the person and work of Jesus. It is through Jesus Christ that humankind receives salvation; therefore, it is through Jesus Christ that the understanding of salvation must come. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Anointed One, or a dozen other titles he claims or has been given; what can we know of him? Has there ever been a life more closely studied than the life of Jesus of Nazareth? Brilliant scholars and simple men have spent lifetimes in the quest. Yet, they have not had different material than the authors of the New Testament from which to glean deeper knowledge. Further, they have not agreed upon the interpretation of the words they do have. "There is, thus, a difference between the way in which the first Christians and the later Church understood the Christological problem" (Cullman pg. 4) The modern church is spending an increasing amount of time debating the "problem of language" as it pertains to the divinity of Jesus (Aldwinckle pg 45).
The basic question is whether the attribution of divinity to Jesus which seems to be present in the New Testament writings other than the Synoptic can justify itself in the light of anything which Jesus said about Himself, and even if it cannot appeal to any words of Jesus, whether the impact of His total life and ministry can be invoked as a reasonable basis for this higher Christology" (Aldwinckle pg. 47).
How then can one know that salvation is available? The hope of resolution accompanies each interpretation of the Word.
If one believes that Jesus is more than a wise man, or for that matter, more than a man, then his life becomes the most important subject one can strive to understand. There can be no salvation without Jesus because it is through Him that salvation has been attained.
One may argue that the subject of salvation, or Soteriology, is the single most important aspect of Christology, for what other point is there? Soteriology is both objective and subjective. The objective view is that Jesus Christ is the vicarious recipient of the punishment due humankind for its fall from perfection and grace. He experienced death then defeated death in resurrection, thereby paying the price for humankind in the eyes of God.
Salvation is the free gift of God to man by grace through faith, completely aside from human works. Works in the life of a believer are tremendously important, but they are to be the result of receiving and appropriating God's grace in the salvation they receive. As the prophet declares, "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). Therefore, in every aspect it is a work of God in behalf of man and is in no sense a work of man in behalf of God" (Soter pg 7).
God cannot be in the presence of imperfection but through the sacrifice of Jesus. "Man is not only separated from God by sin, by God's holy character, and by the penalty of sin, but he is faced with the problem of spiritual death and the need of spiritual life" (Soter pg.10). Without Jesus, humankind is without a means of redemption.
Subjective soteriology asks man to understand the sacrifice that Jesus has made. Humankind must come to God through faith. He must be reconciled to the holiness of God. Without this subjective understanding by man of the accomplishment of the resurrection, man cannot have a relationship with God. "The instrument and cause of reconciliation is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. "God made Him to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (Soter, pg. 13, 2 Cor. 5:21).
Does this mean that salvation is universal? It would seem logical to assume that if the price has been paid, then no further action need be taken. In a review of the following lines of scripture, it seems apparent that Christ's gift is not without strings:
John 3:17-18 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
John 12:48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.
Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Soter, 26).
The key is that a person must acknowledge the fact that he is saved to actually receive the gift. Not all Biblical Scholars believe that this is the case. Donald Bloesch explains Karl Barth's Soteriology citing that "all are predestined to salvation in Christ even before the dawning of history, even before the primordial fall of man" (pg.32). Unfortunately, Barth then appears to contradict himself by suggesting, "we cannot equate their number with the totality of all men; to do so is to confuse God's sovereign grace with a universalistic principle" (p38).
What should one believe?
How do we know a man? In chapter 1 verse 14 St. John says, "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." One way to know a man is through his actions. Another way to know a man is through his words and deeds. A third is through the eyes of the people who know him. St. John tells us that God has somehow become a man and that the man is Jesus. Nevertheless, how is it possible for Jesus to share in the humanity of humankind if he is without sin? Jesus is omniscient, free of temptation and completely aware of his Godhead. How could he really experience the despair and temptation that characterized man's separation from God? The problem of duality was not apparent in the understanding of the early church. "Early Christian theology is in reality almost exclusively Christology" (Cullman pg. 3). God and Christ were one. The question of the person or nature of Christ became an issue when it "was necessary for the Church at a certain period to deal with the precise problems resulting from the Hellenizing of the Christian faith, the rise of the Gnostic doctrines, and the views advocated by Aius, Nestorius, Eutyches and others" (Cullman pg. 3).
The humanity of Christ is evident thought the New Testament. He is born, he grows and learns, he eats, becomes angry, and even doubts briefly in his mission. In Mark 8.27-29 Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. When Peter answered saying he was the Christ, Jesus advised them not to tell anyone. Is it not true that Jesus' purpose was to intercede on man's behalf so that man could appear sinless to God? Should one then assume, that although Jesus identifies himself with man, that he must have the nature that man will become when re-united with God? This would be a nature that could have humanity without sin, bear temptation without relenting to it - a nature that is Christ-like. Christians are asked to put on the cloak of Christ. Could that challenge refer to the mysterious nature of Jesus?
Perhaps the how is not as important as the why. If he was only human, not born of the sprit and connected to humankind through Mary, his teachings hold no gift of salvation. There had to be something that those around him recognized as different. Something that made them assign status to Jesus beyond that of a mere man.
The biblical ideas of salvation are broad. The Old Testament Books understand salvation to be salvation from any danger. (Elwell 967). Danger from political enemies, danger from starvation, danger from oppression, to name a few. The term is used to include physical healing the New Testament. Salvation from disease, demonic possession, and death are common New Testament themes. (Mark 5:34,James 5:15, from Elwell 967). "Much of the most frequent use of soteria and derivatives is for deliverance, preservation from all spiritual dangers, and the bestowal of all religious blessings" (Elwell 223).