14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15, NKJV).
Jesus makes it very clear that our forgiveness is conditional. The little word “if” carries much weight. It directs attention to personal responsibility to do something to be forgiven by God. Namely, if we forgive others, our Father will forgive us. If not, then God will not forgive us. Jesus did not say to only forgive your brethren, but “men” (anthropos, person, human being). The gospel teaches Christians to put on hearts of forgiveness (Col. 3:12-13). Christ’s sermon to this point has repeatedly called on kingdom citizens to have a heart that is ready to forgive (Matt. 5:7, 9, 23-24, 39-42, 44). To withhold forgiveness brings punishment from God, not blessing (remember the unforgiving servant, Matt. 18:27-35). If we do not forgive from the heart, we will be punished, too (Matt. 18:35). Now, since forgiveness is conditional, why is there such objection when the gospel tells us of other conditions we must meet to be forgiven by God? The gospel says faith and confession of faith in Jesus, repentance, and baptism are conditions sinners must meet to be forgiven by God (John 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10; Luke 13:3, 5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38). So, it is false and futile to say salvation (forgiveness, remission of sins) is unconditional. Instead, we ought to be asking ourselves, do I have faith to submit to God’s conditions to be forgiven of my sins?
3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:3–5, NKJV).
Paul asked these disciples of John a simple, probing, and informative question: “Into what then were you baptized?” Their answer (“into John’s baptism”) gave Paul the opening to explain the prerequisite and outcome of John’s baptism and help them become Christ’s disciples. First, repentance was necessary to receive John’s baptism, without which his baptism “for the remission of sins” was useless (Luke 3:3, 7-8; Matt. 3:5-8). Second, John’s preaching and baptism prepared people to believe on the Messiah (whom Paul tells them is Christ Jesus, Acts 19:4; Luke 3:3-6). John’s baptism served its purpose and ran its course. Convinced that Jesus is the Christ (in whom John prepared them to put their faith), John’s disciples became disciples of Jesus by being “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (by His authority, Acts 19:5). They were not disciples of Jesus before and until they were baptized in His name. Christ’s baptism remains how believers become disciples of Jesus. Faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, prepares the sinner to repent and be baptized in His name to be saved and become His disciple (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:36-41; 10:48; Gal. 3:26-27).
30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household (Acts 16:30–34, NKJV).
What does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” for salvation? Before one can do so, he or she must hear the word of the Lord since faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). So, Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord” to the jailer and his house (v. 32). Believing on Jesus Christ for salvation mean more than agreeing and confessing He is “the Christ, the Son of God,” since demons did as much (Luke 4:41; James 2:19). The jailer’s conversion shows us when sinners believe and are saved in Christ. This sinner was convicted of the truth when he heard God’s word. He repented of his transgressions (indicated by washing their wounds) and was immediately baptized (v. 33). Then there was great rejoicing because he (and his family) had “believed in God.” Some try using this passage to deny water baptism is essential for salvation. If that is true, why were they baptized immediately? Why was the rejoicing after baptism and not before it (v. 34)? Saving faith is not like the faith of demons. It trusts Christ and obeys from the heart His commands to repent and be baptized (Rom. 6:17-18; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). That kind of faith saves the soul (Matt. 7:21).
29 And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. (Luke 7:29–30, NKJV)
Scripture says, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mk. 1:4). Sinners justified God when John baptized them. Their submission to baptism showed God to be just (righteous) in demanding their repentance and baptism to remove their sins. By contrast, the Pharisees and lawyers “rejected the will of God for themselves” and were not baptized by John. Like those unbelievers, refusing to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus is a rejection of the will of God (Acts 10:48; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). John’s baptism required repentance as its prerequisite and prepared the people to believe in Christ Jesus who came after John (Jno. 3:22-36; Acts 19:4). God linked John’s baptism to remission of sins (Mk. 1:4). God also links Christ’s baptism to our remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Refusing baptism for the remission of sins is rejecting the will of God. Have you “justified God” by being baptized into Christ to be saved? Or, do you consider God unjust by commanding repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-38)?
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. (Acts 8:4, NKJV)
Acts 8 is a chapter about preaching the gospel. Those who preached in this chapter were the persecuted, scattered saints (8:4), Philip the evangelist (8:5, 35, 40), and the apostles Peter and John (8:25). The message they preached was “the word” (8:4), “Christ” (8:5), things concerning the kingdom, the name of Jesus Christ, and baptism (8:12), “the word of the Lord” (8:25), “the gospel” (8:25), and “Jesus” (8:35). The result of their preaching was the conversion and salvation of souls. People believed and were baptized, and by doing so, they “received the word of God” (8:12-14). A sinning Christian learned from hearing the apostle’s teaching that he needed to repent and pray for God’s forgiveness (8:18-24). A lost Ethiopian came to believe in Jesus Christ and was baptized, resulting in great joy (8:35-39). One cannot read Acts 8 without being impressed with gospel preaching’s central role in saving sinners. The Samaritans, Simon, and the Ethiopian eunuch were brought to faith, obedience, and salvation from sins through preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sinners cannot hear the word of God, believe it, call on the name of the Lord, and be saved without gospel preaching (Rom. 10:13-17). Why and what are you preaching, preacher? What kind of preaching do you want, Christian? Gospel preaching is not entertainment. It is not a psychology session. It is not the pleasing pabulum of positive platitudes. It is not a sharing session of opinions. It is the proclamation of the gospel, God’s power to save the lost (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 1:6-12; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). We need more gospel preaching, not less.
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 And 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.” (Acts 8:35–37, NASB95)
This passage resolves important questions about the salvation of sinners. 1) The lost need to hear the gospel to be saved. Faith comes from hearing the word of God (Rom. 1:16; 10:17). When Philip “preached Christ” in Samaria, it included things concerning the kingdom of God, the name of Jesus Christ, and baptism (Acts 8:5, 12). Philip preached the same gospel to the Ethiopian. We correctly conclude that infants do not need saving because they cannot hear and believe the gospel. 2) Preaching Jesus includes the evidence needed to believe He is the Christ, the Son of God. How else did the Ethiopian come to believe Jesus is God’s Son except by hearing the evidence (cf. Jno. 20:30-31; Acts 2:40-41)? 3) Preaching Jesus includes water baptism. The Ethiopian would have known nothing about water baptism without Philip explaining it to him. Undoubtedly, he explained it is for the remission of sins to be saved by Christ (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). 4) Belief in Christ precedes water baptism. This is more evidence that babies are not proper candidates for baptism since they do not have the mental and moral capacity to believe. 5) Christ’s plan of salvation is belief plus baptism equals salvation (Mk. 16:16). It is not belief, salvation, and then baptism. Neither is it baptism, saved, and then believe.
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4, NKJV)
Jesus finished His redemptive work (Sword Tips #2133). Yet, people have devised doctrines that effectively deny this truth. 1) Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). Yet some churches (like the Seventh-day Adventist Church) listen to Moses and the prophets for their faith practices instead of hearing Jesus. This is false (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 1:1-2). 2) Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10). Yet some churches (like the Baptist Church) reject His salvation by refusing the necessity of water baptism to be saved. This is false (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). 3) Jesus came to give His life for all sinners (1 Tim. 2:6). Yet some churches (like the Reformed Church) teach limited atonement (Christ’s death only reaches those God elected for eternal life). This is false (Jno. 3:16; 1 Jno. 4:14). 4) Jesus came to preach the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; Mk. 1:14-15). Yet some churches of Christ teach Jesus was only teaching Jews how to be good Jews. This is false (Matt. 9:35; Lk. 16:16; Matt. 5:31-32; 19:8-9). 5) Jesus came to be a king (Jno. 18:37). Yet many churches teach the premillennial doctrine that because the Jews rejected Jesus as their King, God withdrew the kingdom promise and substituted the church. They believe Jesus will return to earth in His kingdom in the future. This is false (Matt. 16:18-19; Mk. 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; Col. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:23-24). One denies the truth that Jesus finished His work by accepting doctrines that contradict His work and word. Let us go back to the New Testament of Jesus, to a time before the doctrines and creeds of men corrupted the purposes and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and please God by remaining in its truth (Gal. 1:6-10).
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. (Hebrews 11:30, NKJV)
How much do you trust God? Do you trust Him enough to silently march around a hostile city once a day for six days, and on the seventh day do so seven times? Do you believe God enough to blow trumpets and shout after doing so because He said do it? These are among the things God told not one person, but about 600,000 soldiers of Israel to do because He had “given Jericho into your hands” (Josh. 6:2). Why did they have to do anything if God was giving them the city by His grace? Because grace comes “through faith” (see Eph. 2:8). Israel did not earn Jericho, they showed their faith in God’s promise to give them the city. When they obeyed His word (“after they were encircled for seven days”), the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Now, why do so many people resist the words of Jesus when He said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16)? If the sinner does not faith enough to be baptized, will he or she be saved? The answer is clear, yet many are told to just believe God will save you, pray to Him asking Him to, and you are saved. No, that is not what Jesus said. When we learn about the faith that Israel had at Jericho, we also learn of the faith we must have to be saved.
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Romans 6:1–2, NKJV)
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.