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?
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:12–13, NKJV).”
Regardless of race, ethnicity, language, gender, social status, free or enslaved, all of us have sinned against God and need saving from sin and death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The gospel accomplishes what we cannot do for ourselves. It delivers us from the bondage and death of sin (Rom. 1:16-17; 7:24-8:1). Still, God says we must “call upon Him” to be saved. The “why” is evident (salvation). But how do we call on the name of the Lord? Paul quoted Joel 2:32 as Peter did on Pentecost (Acts 2:21). That gospel sermon explained how to call on the name of the Lord for salvation. Sinners were convicted of their sin against Jesus Christ and asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?” They already heard Peter say, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Now, Peter explained how to do so to be saved. “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 2:38). Peter told convicted believers to call on the name of the Lord by repenting and being baptized. By doing so, they would receive God’s gift of salvation (remission of sins). He did not tell them to pray a sinner’s prayer. He did not say to ask Jesus into their hearts as their Lord and Savior. He said to repent and be baptized. God was calling them to be saved. Peter encouraged them with many additional words, and about 3,000 “gladly received his word” and were baptized (Acts 2:39-41). We plead with you to call on the name of the Lord as they did. When you do, the Lord will save you.
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).
4 And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:4–7, NKJV).
Friends tell us what we need to know because they care for us; they look out for us. Jesus is our truest friend who tells us not to be afraid of those who can kill us. They have no power over our immortal soul. God has the power to judge and punish our sins in hell. That is where we ought to place our fear. God is not a terrorist who threatens us. He cares for us and tells us of the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). He loved us and sent His Son to save us from our sins (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 6:23). Fearing God is an act of faith, not terror. God does not forget the sparrows, and He will not forget you. He knows you better than you know yourself. (Quick, how many hairs are on your head? God knows, even though you do not.) Your value is far greater than sparrows. So, do not fear people who threaten you because of your faith. Confident faith leads us to confess Jesus instead of being afraid (Lk. 12:8-9).
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:7–9, NKJV)
This event in Israel’s history aptly illustrates salvation from sin and death (Rom. 6:23). They grumbled against God and Moses, which brought death into the camp. They confessed their sin and were told if a serpent bit them to look at the bronze serpent Moses made, and they would live. Their salvation from death becomes a figure of the Son of Man being lifted up on the cross to save humanity from sin (John 3:14-17). Israelites received God’s mercy and lived when they trusted and obeyed God’s command to look at the bronze serpent. Even so, sinners “look” at Jesus in faith by repenting and being baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38, 41). By doing so, the sinner receives God’s redemptive mercy and is saved. Israel did not earn their deliverance from the deadly serpents; they trusted God and obeyed Him. The same is true for every sinner Christ saves (Heb. 5:9).
17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17–18, NKJV)
It is truly incredible how so many people insist on propping up the false doctrine that Christians cannot fall away from the Lord and be lost. The false doctrine suggests teaching the possibility of apostasy diminishes God’s power to save. That is a diversionary, deceptive, and destructive lie of the devil, the father of lies. Of course, God has the power to save. Human free will is also a part of the equation; We are saved “by grace” (God’s part) “through faith” (our part) (Eph. 2:8). Without free will, we are mere robots. God becomes an unjust tyrant, selecting some for salvation and others for damnation regardless of their conduct. That cannot be true (Acts 10:34-35; 17:30; Rom. 2:1-11; 3:4). Today’s passage overwhelms the false doctrine of once saved, always saved. Some had already fallen. Peter warns beloved Christians, “lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (v. 17). The countermeasure to prevent falling is spiritual growth in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 18). When we mature in understanding and apply our faith to follow the Lord, Jesus is honored “both now and forever,” not ourselves. We dare not minimize (or even rejecting) the truth that Christians can fall and be lost. Instead, remain steadfast in your faith by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.
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)
Anyone. What a comfort beyond measure to know that regardless of the depth of our past sins and the eternal death they cause, God in Christ will forgive us (Rom. 6:23). Unquestionably, redemption from sin’s death is “in Christ” – it is not in the world, in ourselves, or anyone else. It is not found in Church traditions, creeds, confessions, and catechisms (Acts 4:12). God forms a new creation (new creature, NASB) when the sinner enters a relationship with Christ. Fresh and free from sin, washed in the blood of the Lamb (1 Pet. 1:18-19). By entering Christ through water baptism, the sinner’s sin is cut away (“old things have passed away”), and “all things have become new” (Gal. 3:27). This is the operation of God, not any meritorious by the sinner (Col. 2:11-13). Freedom from sin’s guilt, burden, and death is “in Christ.” When you stop waiting, but “arise and be baptized,” your sins will be washed away in Christ. In Christ, you can then truly live with and for Jesus, since Christians “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). The question is not whether God can or will save you; it is will you believe and obey Jesus to be a new creation in Him?