The first thing, the greatest thing, that divides the institutions of man from the church Christ built concerns what it takes to be saved. We know that salvation is found only in Christ. We know that those who are saved are added to the body of Christ, which is the church of Christ. If we follow the plan God laid out for us, then He adds us to that church-body. If we follow the plans of man, our efforts are in vain.
In this article, I will lay out God's plan of salvation from scripture alone.
One cannot begin to talk about salvation without first talking about grace. A vast majority of people do not understand what grace is. They can define the word - an unearned gift/unmerited favor from God - but they cannot actually identify the gift. This is profound given how fundamental grace is to the Bible and salvation. This lack of understanding is 100% the reason that those who don't follow the Biblical pattern of salvation don't follow it.
Grace is not salvation. See my article on grace.
Simply stated, God's gift to man is Jesus Christ.
In the article on grace I go much further into detail, but here I will summarize. "Jesus Christ" includes His virgin birth, perfect life, prophetic fulfillment, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, kingship...and teachings. Those teachings are what we know as the New Testament.
In that God gave us His Son to die on the cross to pay for our sins, God gave us the means by which to reconcile to Him. In that God gave us the gospel, the New Testament, God gave us the method to follow to reconcile based on those means. Failure to follow the method God gave us means that we have failed to access the means for reconciliation, for salvation, for being part of that church-body.
Grace is God's part. It's complete. Christ came, died, and now lives again as King. The gospel was once and for all delivered to mankind (Jude 3). There is nothing left for God to do directly with regard to saving man.
Once we understand that grace is the means and method to salvation, but not salvation itself, we then can conclude that man must respond to God's gift in some way. There are things man must do, actions he must take, to follow that plan or pattern.
The rest of this article addresses what man must do to be saved.
Each of these next 4 steps is not a one time occurrence to be discarded once completed, but an on-going part of the process or road that leads to eternal life in Heaven. Once a step is approached and taken, it should continued for the rest of a Christian’s life. All steps in the process must be taken to get to heaven and each builds on the previous step.
Hear the GospelEdit
The very first step on man's part in obtaining salvation is to hear the gospel. The Bible clearly teaches that the gospel, the word of Christ, the word of God is what saves. We are called by the gospel, not by any other event or thing.
"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Without hearing the gospel, which is the only thing that produces faith according to the Bible, then there is no way to be saved. The reason for this is that one cannot proceed to faith or any other step because there is no way to know what those steps are without getting that information ultimately from the Bible.
The question has been asked, "Who is going to Heaven and how do we know?" The answer is of course that God tells us through His Word, what we commonly call the Bible. Some might think that faith is the first step, but God, through Paul in his letter to the church at Rome (10:17), tells us that faith comes through hearing and hearing by the Word of God. I also direct you to the parable of the sower where each type of ground is equated with a person who HEARS the word. Faith is not some automatic thing, some gift from above (as we covered in the Grace section). Every person’s faith, no matter what the believe in (God, Evolution, Buddha, etc.) comes from information (good or bad). Taking in this information is the first step. Believing that information only comes afterwards.
John 1:12 – “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:”
The second step in the process to salvation is that of belief. Like the sower who sowed seed on the wayside, some hear and never believe. However, John 1:1 above says that those who do hear and choose to believe, God gives the power to become His children. Having the power, or choice to become something and actually becoming that something are two different things however. There is more to it. But let’s examine the properties of faith a little further.
Hebrews 11:6 – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
We must have faith because without it, it is impossible to please God.
However, Faith alone can not save us. The only time the phrase “faith only” is used in scripture it is preceded by the word “not”. James 2:24 – “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” James 2:19 says that even the demons believe in Christ, but they are not saved. And for anyone who says that works can not save us, only faith I submit John 6:28-29 – “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Few deny that we must have Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God to be saved.
The Bible has much more to say about faith. Read Hebrews sometime. In chapter 11 there is a roll call of all the faithful under the Old Testament. By faith…they acted. Faith calls us to do more to be saved.
Change of Mind(Repentance) Edit
Luke 13:3-5 – “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
The word repent as used in the Bible means to turn away from one thing and turn towards another. God repented several times, for example in Genesis 6:6. However, the repentance we must do is a turning away from sin. It isn't, "I'm sorry I got caught" or "I'm sorry" and then returning to do the same thing over and over again, but turning away from that life and striving not to do those things again.
As stated before, this step is predicated on your belief. If you do not believe Christ's teachings, you'll never change your mind because you won't know what to change your mind about or see a need to do so. Belief should be continued (a no-brainer in my opinion) as well as hearing the word. (Studying, hearing a preacher, teacher, or in 1 on 1 bible study, or any other manner that the Word of God is presented accurately.)
When the assembled Jews on the day of Pentecost asked what they needed to do to be saved, Peter, inspired by God, answered by saying "Repent..." Christ told us in Luke 13:3-5 that if we don't repent, we perish. I don't know if it can be found to be plainer than that. If changing our minds was something God does for us, as some claim, then why did Christ make this command. It doesn’t make any sense for him to command his followers to do something that God was going to do for them. Changing our minds is something that we must DO, an action taken through free will choice by us. God will not repent for us. Once we turn our hearts away from sin and towards God we have a broken spirit and a clean conscience (though not soul cleansed from sin) and this conscience demands more of us, according to God’s word that we now believe in, before we can be saved.
Romans 10:9-10 – “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
As with the other steps, confessing Christ does not end your needing to strive to remain free from a sinful life style. You must continue to GROW in grace and knowledge with God. (2 Pet. 3:18)
Confession is a more confusing step due to the concept of confession of sins. Confession of sins IS scriptural but is not the confession necessary for salvation spoken of in Romans 10:9. The confession necessary is the type spoken of in Matthew 10:32 – “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.”
Again, Confession of Christ is something we DO, another action taken by free will choice, and must follow faith. How can we confess something we do not believe in? God does not confess for us. It is by our own mouth, by our own faith, by our own choice that we confess Christ before men, for the rest of our lives. But confession is made UNTO salvation, it alone does not save us.
1 Pet. 3:21 – “The antitype whereunto even immersion does also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer demanded by a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”
In 1 Pet. 3:20-21, Peter gives us a reference to salvation through the agency of water. In verse 21 the thought continues that the anti-type to Noah's ark being saved through water is immersion, which saves us. He even clarifies for us that it isn't a bath, but the demand of a good conscience (see above on “Change of Mind” towards God.) An anti-type is where you have a lot of “types” or pictures (metaphors) for something previously that all point to the anti-type. The Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, the washing of Naaman…these are all types of the New Testament anti-type, immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins.
In Acts 2, when the multitude on the day of Pentecost asked what they needed to do to remedy their situation, Peter says to them "Repent and be immersed everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will then accept the Holy Ghost’s gift." (Acts 2:38)
Ephesians 5:26 states that Jesus sanctifies and cleanses the church (the people, not the building or place of worship) by the washing of water by the Word. This relates to John 3:5 where Christ says that any who are not born of water and the Spirit cannot enter the kingdom, which is the church. Water is the element, the agent is the Spirit which is the Word.
When Philip had preached the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch he did not "pray this little prayer," he did not ask "Where is the Holy Spirit that I might be baptized by Him," he asked "See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?" The eunuch recognized the importance of water baptism after Philip preaching the gospel to him. It was not to "join the church of his choice" as there was only one church (global sense) around. No where does the bible say you "join the church" rather it says following Peter's answer in Acts 2:38 in verse 41 that they that gladly received the word were immersed and the same day there were added unto them (the church) 3000 souls. Verse 47 clarifies for us that they were added by the Lord.
In Mark 16:16 we have record of Jesus saying "He that believes and is immersed shall be saved; be he that believes not [or disbelieves - EL] shall be condemned." Belief is necessary, but Christ did not say here "He that believes is saved and later can be baptized to join the church of your choice." He said he that believes and is baptized shall be saved. Both conditions are necessary. We've already covered that Repentance is necessary (Acts 2:38; Luke 13:3) as well as confession of Christ's being the Son of God, and that God has raised him from the dead. All these things together culminate in an act of obedience that actually does the cleansing, the redeeming, the justifying, the saving.
Romans 6 is the most powerful of the scriptures concerning immersion, a burial in water, into Christ. Romans 6:3-9 states that this burial is INTO Christ and that it is into his death. As he was buried so are we, thus New Testament immersion is a burial (not a sprinkling or pouring). As he was raised from the dead, we too shall rise from the burial that is baptism to a resurrection of a new life in Christ.
Even more powerful is Romans 6:17-18 – “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” The Roman Christians had been the servants of sin, but by obeying the pattern that Christ set for us (death, burial, and resurrection) they were then made free from sin and became servants of righteousness. It is only after we conform to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection by being immersed (baptized) that we can be made free from sin. If we are never immersed, or we are immersed for the wrong reasons, then we are not conforming to the pattern and we are therefore not saved from sin.
We are baptized into Christ. We don't believe into Christ, we don't repent into Christ, we don't confess into Christ, we are only baptized (immersed) into Christ. Ephesians 1:3 says that ALL spiritual blessings are in Christ. If all spiritual blessings are in Christ, there can be none outside of Christ. Gal. 3:27 says we are immersed into Christ and that by this, we put on Christ. In the previous verse (26), he says that the Christians at Corinth were all children of God by faith in Christ and then immediately equates faith with obedience in the form of baptism.
In 1 John 5:6-8 says: "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." Our spirit comes into contact with the blood when our bodies are in the water submitting to the command to be immersed into Christ. It is the ONLY place our spirit can initiate contact with the blood of Christ.
The last point is that there is only one baptism. Eph. 4:5. Any other baptism does not get you into Christ. Baptism because you believe you have already been saved doesn’t do it. Sprinkling or pouring doesn’t do it. Being baptized cause your family or friends want you to doesn’t do it. Only doing it God’s way does it and that requires understanding of what it is (a conforming to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection) and what it’s purpose is (the remission of sins).
Preliminary Objections Edit
1. But Ephesians 2:8-9 says that Grace and Faith saves us, not obedience? Edit
Ephesians tells us that there is no work that we can do to earn salvation. I can't keep the law of Moses, I can't do good deeds. There is nothing in and of myself that I can do to get myself to heaven. In fact, God's Justice demands that I die for my sins! His Mercy has given us his Grace which is the plan of salvation including his Son and the New Testament and through our faith in Jesus we are saved. Remember, Gal. 2:26-27 relates an active faith with the obedient act that is baptism. More pointedly, Hebrews 3 states that the Israelites were destroyed in the desert and not allowed into the promised land due to "unbelief” which is completely and totally equated with "disobedience". They believed God existed, they did not obey him and were punished.
2. But Ephesians 2:9 says not by works? Edit
Remember John 6:29 says that Faith is a work. If we can’t be saved by works at all (rather than specific kinds of works) then we can not be saved by Faith. That contradicts a whole lot of passages we’ve already covered. Plus, if there is nothing that we can do at all to be saved, that makes it all God’s work. If it is all God’s work and there are going to be some who are not saved, then it is God’s fault they are not saved.
Paul’s letters were constantly fighting against false doctrines. One of the major ones he fought against was called Judaism. Judaism taught that one could be a Christian but first they had to obey all the Old Testament laws from Moses. Paul is saying in Ephesians and elsewhere that works of the Old Law can not save us. That and works of self-righteousness, just doing “good” things like being nice and giving money to the poor, cannot save us either. The works that we MUST do to be saved, works of obedient faith, have been covered above and are not in view in this passage.
3. What about the thief on the cross? He wasn’t baptized but he was saved! Edit
The thief on the cross has no bearing on New Testament salvation. He died before the new covenant was established through Christ's death, burial, AND resurrection and therefore was not subject to the new covenant which includes water immersion. For all we know he may have been immersed by John the Immerser. Whether or not he was immersed by John the Immerser is irrelevant for that immersion was of the old covenant as well. The perfect sacrifice was not completed until the Sunday following Christ's crucifixion and the reference Jesus made to "paradise" is a reference to the waiting place of the soul called Hades which has both paradise and torments (Luke 16:19-31).
While on Earth, Jesus had the power to forgive sins as he chose (Matthew 9:6). The thief is the last example of these.
Living Faithfully Edit
There is an entire New Testament dedicated to the idea of living faithfully. If it all ended at initial salvation, if all we needed to do was to hear, believe, repent, confess, and be immersed into Christ for the remission of sins, then most of the NT is pointless. We are saved and nothing we can do can lose that salvation. However, the Bible does not teach this. One CAN fall from Grace and therefore lose their salvation (Gal. 5:4). Revelation 2:10 teaches that we must be faithful unto death to receive a crown of life. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 that he had fought the fight that he had finished the course that he had kept the faith (lived faithfully). He says that because of this, he had a crown of righteousness.
James 5:19-20 is the most conclusive in my mind that we can so sin as to loose our salvation.
“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
James is speaking to Christians (Brethren). He says “if any of you [Christians] stray from the truth…” that means sin. He goes on to say that if such an erring Christian is converted, that soul is saved from death.
This is the difference between most denominations and the church of Christ. Many want to speak of instruments or whether or not Miracles have ceased. These are meat topics (Hebrews 5:12-14). The milk is where the initial differences lie and until this confusion is resolved we can not be of “one mind” as commanded in 1 Cor. 1:10 and Phil. 2:2. This has not been written to beat you over the head, or because I hate you or because I’m arrogant and want to show you that “ha ha I’m right and you’re wrong!”. It is because I love your souls and would see us all reach heaven. I believe that there is only one way to do this, only one church we can be a part of to do this.
If you have questions, feel free to ask me.
Or visit one of the local churches of Christ and ask someone about these things.
In Truth and Love,