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.
13 They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” (John 9:13–15, NKJV)
The healed man had already told the Pharisees how he received his sight (Jno. 9:10-11). Their interest in Jesus and His miracle was not to believe in Him; it was to accuse Him as a Sabbath-breaker (Jno. 9:16). Let’s draw our attention to the particulars of this event. 1) The man said Jesus did something (“put clay on my eyes”), then 2) Jesus told him to do something (“I washed”), and then 3) The man received his sight (“I see”), John 9:6-7. A similar sequence occurs when God saves sinners. 1) Jesus did something (died for our sins and arose from death). 2) Jesus tells us to do something (“arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). 3) When we believe and do what He tells us to do, we are saved (Mk. 16:15-16). Like the faithless Pharisees, many religious leaders reject and deny this God-revealed sequence of salvation. Yet, like the blind man’s healing, receiving God’s gift of salvation blends God’s grace and our faith (Eph. 2:8). The blind man did not merit his gift of sight when he obeyed Jesus. Neither do we merit our gift of salvation when we obey Him (Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 5:9; Rom. 6:3-5, 17). But unless we have the faith to obey, we remain blind, lost in sin. So, will we choose to have faith like the blind man and obey Jesus? Or will we join the Pharisees and faithlessly resist Jesus and His salvation?
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, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23–26, NKJV)
Let that soak in for a moment. Our sins make us guilty before God and under His wrath. Our just punishment is eternal death (Rom. 1:18; 3:19; 6:23). But, God has provided an offering for our sins that appeases His wrath against sin (1 Jno. 2:2; 4:10). That offering is His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s grace justifies sinners by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:24; 5:9). His blood appeases God’s wrath, redeeming us from sin’s bondage and death (Rom. 5:10; Heb. 10:1-10). The Law of Moses could not do this. God’s power to save sinners is in the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16; 3:20-22). By the offering of His Son, God showed Himself to be just (innocent, holy) when He bore with previous sins (Rom. 3:26; Acts 17:30). Now, He commands all sinners everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). Thus, God is vindicated. The death of Jesus shows God was just in forbearing with “sins that were previously committed.” And, His righteousness is seen in justifying those who have faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). The faith (the gospel) produces personal faith that obeys the word of Christ (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17; 6:17-18). Believing sinners obey Christ’s command to be baptized, which is into His death so their sins will be washed away by His blood (Mk. 16:16; Rom. 6:3; Acts 22:16).
33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:33–34, NKJV)
Crucifixion was a gruesome form of execution. Suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus hung in anguish for hours before death came. The innocent Son of God was tortured to death between two criminals who, admittedly, deserved their death sentence (Lk. 23:40-41). The merciful heart of Jesus is fully displayed even while He was being treated mercilessly. The Son of God is always ready to forgive our sins against Him. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” including those who murdered the Son of God (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Were they saved the moment Jesus said this prayer? No. Those who killed Jesus had the gospel preached to them on Pentecost, and many of them believed it (Acts 2:22-36). They asked the apostles what they should do for having crucified the Lord and Christ, and were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:37-38). About 3,000 of them were forgiven when they received and obeyed that gospel message of salvation (Acts 2:41). It takes more to be forgiven than God wanting us to be saved. It takes more to be forgiven than wishing God to forgive us. It is when we believe, repent, and are baptized in the name Jesus Christ that God forgives our sins against Him and 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 gospel is the “word of faith” the apostles preached. It is near, having been confessed by our mouths and believed in our hearts. The gospel of Christ is the message of “righteousness of faith,” not “righteousness of the law” (Rom. 10:4-7). But please see that the word of faith (gospel) is not a message of salvation by faith only, since “confession with your mouth” is belief plus confession. We are neither saved by faith alone or by confession alone. Both are said to be “unto” righteousness or salvation (v. 10). The preposition “unto” translates the Greek word eis, which denotes “entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, towards, for, among” (Thayer, 183). Believing the gospel in your heart and confessing Christ with your mouth move you toward salvation, but they are not all the gospel says to be saved. The word of faith commands us to repent or perish (Lk. 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30). The word of faith also commands us to be baptized “for (eis) the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Let us believe and follow all the gospel preached by the apostles. Then we have God’s assurance of being saved in Christ.
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.
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.
“And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,” (Acts 5:14, NKJV)
Believers were added to the Lord. What does it mean to be “added to the Lord?” Is belief in Jesus the only thing needed to be “added to the Lord?” First, being added to the Lord describes a new relationship one has with Christ. Acts 11:21 says “a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” So, this shows believing is distinct from turning to the Lord. (The text goes on to say many others were added to the Lord, Acts 11:24). One can believe and not turn to the Lord. For instance, demons believe, but obviously they are not added to the Lord (Jas. 2:19). Many believed in Jesus but they loved the praise of men more that pleasing God, and so they did not confess faith in Jesus (Jno. 12:42-43). They were not added to the Lord. The person with an obedient faith who repents of sin, confesses faith and is baptized into Christ is added to Christ (Gal. 3:27; Acts 2:37-38, 40; Rom. 10:9-10). These are saved and added to the body of Christ, His church (Acts 2:47). To be added to the Lord is equivalent to being saved, to being “in Christ,” and to being added to the church. Have the faith to obey Jesus, and be added to the Lord.