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.
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.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21–23, NKJV)
Following His resurrection, Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). According to John’s account of this assignment, Jesus sent them into the world even as the Father had sent Him (Jno. 17:18; Heb. 3:1). The Father gave the Son the word of everlasting life to speak (Jno. 12:48-50). His apostles, who were sent into the world with the good news of God’s salvation, were guided by the Holy Spirit “into all truth” (Jno. 16:13). The word which the Holy Spirit revealed to them contained why, how, and when sins are forgiven and retained. The forgiveness and the retention of sins is not arbitrary, but available to all (Acts 10:34-35). A freewill decision to believe and obey must be made upon hearing the good news that Jesus is Christ. Those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins are forgiven (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19). Those who do not believe and obey the gospel call to be saved remain lost in their sins. The gospel saves the lost, yet, many will not believe it and obey it, therefore, their sins are retained. The decision to believe and obey the gospel to be forgiven continues to be the most important decision a person will ever make (Acts 2:21, 37-38, 40-41). Will your sins be forgiven, or retained?
23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:23–27, NKJV)
With these few words, the Holy Spirit summarizes God’s gospel plan for human redemption through Jesus Christ. He said: (1) The law of Moses prepared people for Christ (“before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law…our tutor to bring us to Christ,” 3:23-24); (2) Our means of justification is “by faith” (not by the law of Moses, 3:24); (3) Since “faith has come” (the gospel, 1:23; 3:2), the law of Moses no longer has binding authority over anyone (“we are no longer under a tutor,” 3:25); (4) Justification by faith makes Jews and Gentiles children of God (“you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” 3:26); (5) Justification by faith happens at baptism (“for as many of you as were baptized into Christ,” 3:27); and (6) The lost become children of God at baptism, when their relationship with Christ begins (“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” 3:27). Without a doubt, the child of God has “put on Christ.” But, one is “baptized into Christ” in order to “put on Christ.” Therefore, without being baptized into Christ one has not yet become a child of God. One has not yet been justified by faith. Baptism is a necessary part of being justified by faith.
54 And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, 55 ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. 56 Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.” (Mark 6:54–56, NKJV)
Do you recognize Jesus? I do not mean the imaginary images painted and sculptured centuries after He walked the earth. Nor do we mean the fictionalized thoughts of our own hearts. Do you recognize the real Jesus (the Jesus of the Bible), who He is, what He has done, and what He can do for you? Do you recognize His character? His gospel? His heart of mercy? His power to save you from your sin? His truth that sets you free from sin’s bondage? Do you recognize Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16)? These people ran to Jesus with their loved ones because they knew of His power to heal. We ought to run to Jesus for our souls to be healed of sin. They tried to touch the hem of his garment, for when they did, they were made whole. We can’t touch His garment, but we can contact His saving blood that redeems us from sin. That happens when we have the faith to be baptized into His death. When we do, we die to sin and have new life in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Acts 22:16). Run to Jesus. Believe and obey His gospel for salvation. He is merciful. He will save.