The “commandments and doctrines of men” abuse and distort the Christian’s relation to God’s grace (Col. 2:20-23; Gal. 1:6-7). For example, divine grace is not irresistible; if it were, everyone would be saved (Tit. 2:11; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; Matt. 7:21-23). Grace is available to every sinner, but not every sinner will accept it. Or again, Christians can fall from grace despite the false security of “once saved, always saved” (Gal. 5:4). God’s word of truth assures us that we have “access by faith into this grace in which we stand” through Christ (Rom. 5:2). Indeed, grace is greater than sin (Rom. 5:20-21). But that does not mean grace abounds if we choose to “continue in sin.” The gospel does not teach that we can live in sin, and God’s grace will save us anyway. We must not continue in sin to continue in grace (v. 1). We died to sin in our lives when we were baptized into Christ and into His death (Rom. 6:2-4). That is when we were “freed from sin” to live with Christ, not to continue living in sin (Rom. 6:5-8). God wants to save you, but you must make a decision of faith to die to sin and live with Christ. That begins by being baptized into Christ. Then, no longer live in sin, and the grace of God will abound in you.
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8–10, NKJV)
Do you ever feel like you are beyond saving? Like your sins are so many, so frequent, so powerful over you that you say to yourself, “God could never forgive me!” If so, then listen to the parable of the lost coin very carefully. You are valuable to God! He is looking for you! He wants to find you! He is willing and able to forgive you from the storehouse of His mercy and compassion (see Lk. 15:1-7; Eph. 2:1-10). Image if you lost one-tenth of your money. Wouldn’t you look for it diligently and rejoice when you found it? God is like that. He values every sinner. He does not look for sinners so He can condemn us, but so He can save us. The real question is not whether God can save you; it is, “Do I want to be saved?” “Do I want to live differently?” “Do I want to have the sure hope of eternal life?” Earnest faith, repentance toward God from a contrite heart, baptism into the death of His Son, and a life devoted to following Jesus are what God wants from every sinner (Jno. 8:23-24; Acts 17:30; Rom. 6:3-4; Jno. 8:12). You are valuable to God. Value yourself, put your faith in Jesus Christ, and follow Him. He will save you.
Without partiality, every lost soul who “fears God” is told to do the same righteous works to be accepted by God. We hear preachers on radio and TV inviting lost sinners to pray to God with faith in Jesus to be saved. If prayer is the way sinners access the saving blood of Jesus, then the Scriptures will plainly teach it. Yet, without exception, when lost sinners were told what to do to be saved in the New Testament, they were never told to pray what is often called “the sinner’s prayer” (Acts 2:37-38; 9:6; 16:30-34). What were sinners told to do to be saved? Jesus told lost souls to hear His gospel to be saved (Jno. 5:25; 6:45). Jesus told lost souls to believe He is the Son of God to be saved (Jno. 8:24). Jesus told lost souls to confess their faith in Him to be saved (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:9-10). Jesus told lost souls to repent to be saved (Lk. 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30). Jesus told lost souls to be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:37-38). God expects lost souls to do some things to be saved. But, praying a sinner’s prayer is not one of them. Otherwise, we could read about it in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us be content with the gospel plan of salvation, believe in its power to save, and teach it to lost souls (Rom. 1:16-17).
15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15–16, NKJV)
This passage is not difficult to understand. Yet, it undergoes no end of abuse at the hands of those who refuse its teaching on how the gospel saves sinners. Christ’s commission to the apostles is forthright: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (v. 15). The gospel is for all, and the apostles made known its power to save “to all nations” (Rom. 1:16; 16:25-26; Col. 1:23). Responses to the gospel and their corresponding results are stated candidly in verse 16. The person who believes the gospel and is baptized will be saved from sin, but the person who does not believe the gospel will be condemned in sin. Believing the gospel of Christ compels one to be baptized to be saved. Yet, controversy arises over whether water baptism is necessary for salvation. Jesus said it is. Why? Because “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and cannot justify the sinner (Jas. 2:17, 24). Water baptism is faith at work as one submissively obeys Christ’s command (Acts 2:37-38; 10:34-35). Obedient faith does not earn salvation (Lk. 17:10). When the believer obeys the gospel, God frees that person from sin’s bondage to become a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). Belief and baptism are essential to be saved. Unbelief is condemned. Instead of arguing with Jesus, we plead with the lost to believe and be baptized to be saved.
36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36–37, NKJV)
When convicted that Jesus is Lord and Christ, sinners were cut to the heart for their sins against Him. Their urgent question was, “What shall we do?” The answer Peter gave was clear: Repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Today, people give different answers to the same question. Some say, “You can’t do anything – God must do everything for you to be saved.” That is not what Peter said. Some say, “Believe and pray the sinner’s prayer, and you will be saved.” That is not what Peter said. Some say, “God has already elected who will be saved and who will be lost, so whatever you do will not change your fate.” That is not what Peter said. Some say, “Plead for Holy Spirit baptism in addition to being baptized in water so you can be fully sanctified.” That is not what Peter said. Why not just do what Peter said? About three thousand believers were saved that day when they repented and were baptized (Acts 2:40-41). The way to be saved by Christ has not changed. The need for salvation is the same. The answer to the question, “What shall we do?” is the same. This is gospel salvation. Believe it. Obey it. Be saved by Christ.
47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. (Acts 10:47–48, NKJV)
Many Bible teachers say believers “should not be baptized” for salvation. Others confidently forbid water baptism for salvation, but then teach it is necessary to obey Jesus. This doublespeak fails to see the biblical link between water baptism and salvation. Does it harmonize with the Scriptures to separate water baptism from salvation while also commanding it as a mark of loyalty to Christ? No, it does not. The Bible answer is clear; Obedience by believers is essential to being saved by Christ. Scripture says, “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). Christ saves those who obey Him. Peter had just preached that “in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35). To work righteousness is nothing less than to obey the gospel (Rom. 6:17-18). If it is proper to exclude (forbid) the command of baptism from salvation, then no amount of obedience bears on one’s salvation (including “Lordship baptism”). Yet, Scripture affirms that saving faith includes obeying the commands to confess one’s faith, to repent of sins, and to be baptized. These works of righteousness are obeyed by believers who want to be saved (Rom. 10:9; Acts 17:30; Acts 2:37-38). And, Jesus saves them (Heb. 5:9).
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV)
A relationship with Jesus Christ is essential to being saved from our sins. That is not in dispute. When one is outside of Christ (not in a relationship with Him), that person is without God and without hope (Eph. 2:12). The blood of Christ brings sinners into Christ, where we have blessed peace with God (Eph. 2:13, 16-18). The pertinent question is, how does the sinner enter a saved relationship with Christ? Is it through a profound, unique experience that is different for each person? Is it through a sinner’s prayer uttered from a heart of faith and repentance? Are we left to self-define how and when Christ comes into our hearts, and when we enter into Him? No. Every sinner is saved by the same means, in the same way (Acts 4:12; 10:34-35). Nowhere does the Bible say we are at liberty to self-define when Jesus enters our life. Scriptures say sinners put on Christ and are saved when they are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; Mk. 16:16). We are lost in sin and outside of Christ until our sins are washed away by Christ’s blood. This cleansing by His blood happens at baptism and is when one becomes “a new creation” “in Christ” (Acts 22:16; 2:37-38). According to Scripture, until the blood of Christ washes away our sins, we are not in a relationship with Christ, regardless of how we feel or what we have experienced. May we rest our hope of salvation on what the Scriptures say, instead of on feelings and experiences.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NKJV)
These are final words spoken by Jesus to His apostles before He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). He uses two “you shall” statements that distinguish the apostles from every other disciple of Jesus. Understanding them eliminates many false concepts about the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and what it means to be witnesses of Jesus. First, Jesus told His apostles “you shall receive power.” Then, He told them when it would happen – “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” This Holy Spirit baptism was a specific promise made to the apostles, not to every Christian (Acts 1:4-5; Jno. 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). It would be fulfilled “not many days from now,” and ten days later on Pentecost, it was (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4, 33). Holy Spirit baptism would equip the apostles for their assigned work, which is the second “you shall” statement. Jesus told His apostles “you shall be witnesses to Me.” Witnesses testify of what they have seen (Jno. 3:11). The apostles were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. They saw Him raised from the dead (Acts 1:22; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-42; 26:16; 1 Cor. 15:4-8). Christians do not “bear witness” of Jesus because we have not seen Him. They did, and we believe their testimony. Christ gave His church apostles “for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). Let us thank Christ for the apostles, not be led astray by false doctrines that would usurp their power and work.
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:35–38, NKJV)
Was the Ethiopian saved before he was baptized? Many think so. We know he heard about Jesus, without which he could not learn of his sin and come to Jesus for salvation (Jno. 6:44-45). We know he believed what he heard (that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Jno. 8:23-24). Both his belief and his confession of faith were unto (in order to) salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). Although repentance is not mentioned, we infer it (Acts 2:37-38). But, what about baptism? Why did he want to be baptized? Was it because he was already saved? Or, did he believe he was still lost until he was baptized? Mark 16:16 gives the Bible answer to this important question. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Unbelief condemns, but one is saved from condemnation when he “believes and is baptized.” That is what the eunuch heard, learned, and believed when Philip preached Jesus to him. That is why he urgently desired to be baptized – because he knew he wanted to be saved. He rejoiced after he was baptized, not before. Now we understand why, because that is when he was saved. Those who tell you the eunuch was saved before he was baptized contradict Jesus. That is never a good place to be (Jno. 12:48).
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6–8, NKJV)
The call from many pulpits is to receive Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior, and you are saved. We agree one must receive Jesus to be saved. The important question is, how does a sinner receive Jesus into his or her heart to be saved? How did the Colossians received Christ Jesus? Christ is not received through the vain and deceitful philosophies of men, through religious traditions that men originate and practice, or by following the principles of the world (v. 8). Prayer is not identified as how sinners receive Christ Jesus. Colossians 2:11-13 teaches they received Christ Jesus the Lord when their sins were cut away by God’s power (“the circumcision of Christ”). This happened when they were “buried with Him (Christ, jrp) in baptism” (v. 12). In the Bible, one is not baptized because he is already saved, but as an action of “faith in the working (power) of God” that raised Jesus, to raise the sinner from sin’s death to new life in Christ (forgiven, v. 13; Rom. 6:3-4). When they were baptized is when they received Christ Jesus the Lord. Saved by the power of God, we are called to live faithfully in Christ with thankful hearts. And, we must be on guard lest our treasures in Christ are plundered by those who bring false messages of salvation (Col. 2:3, 8).