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).
“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.
If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Peter 4:18, NKJV)
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jno. 16:33). As they preached the gospel, Paul and Barnabas were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). Peter said, “do not think it strange” when fiery trials happen to you because of your faith (1 Pet. 4:12). These statements do not suggest we earn our way to heaven. They explain being a faithful Christian brings you face to face with challenges and turmoil that require the effort and conviction of a faith to endure and prevail when they come. “Scarcely” is from a Greek word that means “with difficulty.” Luke used it in Acts 27:16 of securing the skiff with difficulty during a storm. He also used it in Acts 14:18 of the difficulty of restraining the mob from sacrificing to Paul and Barnabas. The righteous are saved, but not without difficulties that test our faith. Trials purge the dross from their faith and identify them as being unashamed to live for Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7; 4:16-17). On the other hand, the “ungodly and the sinner” will not appear in glory due to their lack of faith. They are unwilling to endure tribulations to enter the kingdom of God, preferring not to obey the gospel of God (1 Pet. 4:17).
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40, NKJV)
When the gospel of Christ was preached by His apostles on Pentecost, they invited and implored sinners to be saved from their sins and the impeding judgment upon that present, perverse generation (Acts 2:16-21). Those who believed were told to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37-38). There awaits a great day of judgment when we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and our lives judged by His word (2 Cor. 5:10; Jno. 12:48-50). Knowing this, salvation and eternal life are offered to all through the truth of the gospel (1 Tim. 2:3-4). This being true, why don’t we regularly hear gospel invitations from a growing number of pulpits in the churches of Christ? Why aren’t gospel preachers punctuating their sermons with calls to come to Jesus for salvation, to escape the punishment of hell? The apostolic tradition is to exhort sinners to be saved. “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Why is it we fail to hear the gospel invitation to “come” and be saved? We hear, “If you have a need, come…” But, without telling sinners what they need, how will they know they need anything, or what to do about it (read Rom. 10:13-17)? Preaching the word demands we preach the gospel call to be saved (Matt. 11:28-30).