Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:34, NKJV)
God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Question: Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their unbelief? No, for without faith in Jesus as the Son of God, they would die in their sins (John 8:24). Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their ignorance? No, they killed Jesus “in ignorance,” and their failure to know the truth prevented their salvation (Acts 3:17). You don’t have to know everything to be forgiven, but you do have to know some things. When did not forgive the murderers of Jesus? The answer is in Acts 2:36-41, where about 3,000 believed the gospel message “that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v. 36). The murderers asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37), and were told to “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). The sinners who received his word were baptized and added together to form the church (v. 41, 47). God’s desire to forgive sinners combines with repentant faith that is baptized. Then, sins are forgiven. If not, when were the murderers of Jesus forgiven?
23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,” (Romans 3:23–25, NKJV)
The reality of sin in our lives makes it impossible for us to ever earn our way to heaven. God, out of His great love for us, provides sinners (us) with redemption from sin in Christ Jesus. His grace, freely given, justifies through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Since not everyone is saved (Jesus said few find the way to life, Matthew 7:14), it necessarily follows that sinners have a responsibility to respond to the gospel call to be saved in His Son. God’s grace is available to sinners in the blood of Jesus Christ, by which God’s wrath against sin is appeased (that’s propitiation). Redemption by the blood of Christ (His death) is obtained when we are “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3). The action of faith that brings the sinner into contact with the atoning blood of Jesus, is baptism. We need God’s grace to be justified from our sins. Without grace, we are lost. Grace is available to all, and is received by those who “fear God, and keep His commandments” (Acts 10:34-35). Thank God, that He has revealed His plan to redeem us in His Son.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:8–10, NKJV)
The “word of faith” was preached by the apostles. It produces faith in the good and honest heart (Romans 10:17; Luke 8:15). It produces belief in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus is Lord. A verbal confession of one’s faith that Jesus is Lord (Ruler, Master), and that He was raised from the dead, is necessary to be saved. Confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the risen Lord is not the only thing essential to be saved. The command to repent of sins must be obeyed, or we will perish (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30). Water baptism is also commanded to be saved (Mark 16:16; Acts 10:47-48; 1 Peter 3:21). The “word of faith” contains all these essential actions of faith to be saved by grace. The gospel plan of salvation is for the lost to hear the gospel, to believe in Jesus, the resurrected Lord (the Son of God), to confess Jesus as Lord, to repent of your sins, and to be baptized into Christ. God will save you by His grace, when you do the things God wants you to do.
18 Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. 19 And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. 20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:18–20, NKJV)
Jesus saw their faith, and forgave the man’s sins. In just this way, an active faith that is seen by God is the faith He requires of us for our forgiveness. Salvation is “by grace, through faith;” it is “not our yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Does anyone think that because Jesus saw their faith, the paralytic earned the right to be forgiven? Certainly not! Why then, is there so much objection to saving faith being one that obeys the Lord’s commands (to repent and be baptized, Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16)? You see, faith that cannot be seen is incomplete (James 2:17-18). Faith must be coupled with the action of faith (obedience), because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Saving faith is active, it is obedient to the word of Jesus. Obedient faith does not earn the right to be saved. Salvation is the gift of God, and Jesus gave that gift of salvation to the paralytic. But, what he had not lowered him into Christ’s presence? Without their active faith, he would have not been saved. Do you have faith to obey Jesus, to be saved by His grace? Does Jesus see your faith?
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11–12, NKJV)
John explained the Messiah’s work as he prepared the way before Him (Matthew 3:3). In a scathing condemnation of the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, John warned them that Christ would execute judgment against sinners. They needed true repentance to flee the approaching wrath, not reliance on their physical heritage (Matthew 3:7-10). The Christ would bring a baptism of fire upon sinners. This fire burns the “trees” that bear evil fruit (Matthew 3:10). It is the “unquenchable fire” of Matthew 3:12, that overwhelms the wicked. Jesus promised, and baptized His apostles with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8. 2:1-4). He has promised an overwhelming, eternal destruction upon the wicked (Mark 9:43-48). Judgment Day is real, and eternity is forever. Therefore, “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 9:27). You do not want to experience the Lord’s baptism of fire!
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3–5, NKJV)
The new birth is a spiritual birth, not a physical one: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which his born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). There is one new birth, with two parts (water and the Spirit). To be “born again” one must be “born of water and the Spirit.” What is the “water” of the new birth? It is not the water of physical birth, but the water of spiritual birth. It is the “washing of water” that happens when sin is washed away by the blood of Christ. It is the cleansing that occurs in water baptism (read Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3; Acts 8:35-39). The Bible says, “baptism doth also now save us” (1 Peter 3:21, KJV). What is “the Spirit” of the new birth? It is the Spirit of God, whose seed (the word of the kingdom) is planted into the heart of the sinner (Matt. 13:19, 23; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 1:22-23). The Spirit of God acts upon the heart by His word, producing faith, convicting the sinner, and persuading him to obey Jesus to be saved (Acts 2:37-38, 39-41). The new birth is “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 Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Have you been born of water and the Spirit? Only then can you enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
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?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37–38, NKJV)
In answer to the question posed by the murderers of Jesus (Acts 2:36), Peter did not tell them to “just accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved.” (They evidently already believed Jesus to be “both Lord and Christ,” because they are convicted of their sin against Him. You cannot be convicted about something you do not believe.) Peter did not tell them to “pray the sinner’s prayer” to be saved. (Yet, that is what many tell sinners to do about their sins.) Peter did not tell them, “There is nothing you can do to save yourselves. God has done everything.” (But, many tell sinners they are completely passive in their salvation.) Peter did tell them to repent. These believers were not yet saved; they needed to repent, or they would not be saved. Peter also told them to be baptized “for the remission of sins.” Just as one must believe and repent to be saved, one must also be baptized to be saved. Instead of accepting doctrines that deny and oppose this simple passage about how to be saved, why not believe it, obey it, and be saved? When you believe, repent and are baptized, God will remove your sins, just like He did theirs.