The Salvation Plan

Salvation is the promise of an eternal afterlife with no more tears, sorrow or pain, a time when “the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Atonement, the blotting out of sins, is needed for salvation. Flesh is symbolic of sin (Rom. 7:5, 18; Gal. 5:19-21), and because the life of the flesh is in the blood, the shedding of blood is required for atonement (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). Animal sacrifices were made in the Old Testament to atone for sin, but that ended when Jesus became the final sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-14, 28; 10:12). Not many days later the New Testament Church was born on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), a day on which Peter announced a new salvation plan: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [atonement] of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38, 39) He made it very clear that this applied to everyone alive the day he spoke it, and will apply to everyone until the very end. This plan of salvation has no expiration date.

As Peter pointed out, salvation is a gift that comes at a cost and isn’t free, as you may have heard. What’s free is the grace of not being under the Old Testament’s law for atonement (Rom. 5:13-21; Gal. 5:4), but a person must still act on this grace that brings salvation (Titus 2:11-14). The first step should be repentance, which means having regret for something and turning away from it. The repentance required for salvation is turning away from sin, something everyone is guilty of (Ecc. 7:20; Rom. 3:23). It’s God’s desire “that all should come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9). He listens to the prayers of those who repent and will forgive them (I Kings 8:47-50; 9:3; Jer. 36:3), but the prayers of the unrepentant accomplish nothing. God told insincere worshippers in Judah that their sacrifices were futile (Isa. 1:13) and that He wouldn’t hear their many prayers (Isa. 1:15). “God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will, him He heareth.” (John 9:31) People who ask God to forgive sins they don’t intend to quit committing are not sincere and will not enter Heaven if they are sexually immoral, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers or extortioners (I Cor. 6:9, 10), to name a few. However, some of the Christians in Corinth were these kinds of people before they repented and were made clean in the name of the Lord Jesus (I Cor. 6:11).

Repentance has always been required for salvation, but baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost were required only after Jesus rose from the dead. Although the four Gospels are in the New Testament, the events recorded in them occurred prior to the New Testament Church. People were still under the Old Covenant (Testament) then and that’s why Jesus told a cleansed leper to show himself to a priest (Matt. 8:2-4), which was an Old Testament law (Lev. 14:2-32). The Gospels record a period of transition from the Old Covenant to the New. Before Jesus started His ministry, John the baptist prepared the way by preaching and baptizing (Mark 1:1-4). After Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, baptism became part of the new salvation plan and represented being buried with Him (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). The criminal who was saved while hanging on a cross next to Jesus (Luke 23: 32, 33, 39-43) was saved without being baptized because the new salvation plan hadn’t yet begun. He couldn’t be “buried” with Jesus who hadn’t yet been buried, nor could he receive the Holy Ghost, which was given only after Jesus was glorified through resurrection from the dead (John 7:39). Jesus foretold the coming of the New Testament with the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28), and only after His resurrection did the New Testament salvation plan take effect (I Pet. 1:3-5).

Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, and shortly thereafter He ascended to Heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:1-3). Prior to this He called them His children and told them He would soon go to a place where they couldn’t follow Him (John 13:33). But His absence was temporary. He promised them, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18) Jesus left as “God manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16) and returned as the Spirit (John 14:15-17), which is the Holy Ghost (John 14:26). He will manifest Himself this way to those who obey Him (John 14:21; Acts 5:32), and you must have His Spirit to be saved (Rom. 8:9). You can be filled with the Spirit by praying, but it’s not as simple as reciting a prayer. That’s a common misconception based on Romans 10:9, which says “that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” This was written to saints (Rom. 1:7), meaning they were saved. They weren’t being told how to be saved because they already were saved. They were being reminded that salvation is through faith in Jesus, not the Law (Rom. 10:4). If salvation required nothing more than confessing and believing, people could live however they wanted and still enter Heaven.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) This verse, like Romans 10:9, is used to teach that salvation only requires believing in Jesus. “Believeth” here is translated from a Greek word that means to have faith in and be committed to. It involves repentance, being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost. These things are symbolic of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Saved believers have repented and “died to sin” (Rom. 6:2), “were buried with [Christ] through baptism” (Rom. 6:4), and filled with the Holy Ghost “in likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). This is the Gospel by which people are saved (I Cor. 15:1-4). John 3:16 records what Jesus told Nicodemus after telling him one must be born of water and the Spirit to enter Heaven (3:5). That is, one must be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost.

Some think baptism is unnecessary for salvation, arguing that being born of water refers to a natural birth. But being of or by water meant baptism in biblical times. Referring to Jesus being baptized (Luke 3:21) and shedding His blood (Matt. 26:28), John wrote, “This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood.” (I John 5:6) He went on to write, “And there are three that bear witness in Earth, The Spirit [Holy Ghost], and the water [baptism], and the blood [death to sin through repentance]: and these three agree in one.” (I John 5:8) Mark 16:16 further supports the necessity of baptism: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Although it doesn’t say someone who isn’t baptized shall be damned, neither does it say, “One who believes shall be saved.” It says anyone who believes and is baptized shall be saved. I Peter 3:21 also says baptism saves us, not to mention baptism was included in Peter’s response to the question of what must be done to be saved (Acts 2:37, 38).

Paul wrote the Corinthians, “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius.” (I Cor. 1:14) This verse is often singled out and used to teach that baptism is unnecessary. But anyone who reads the surrounding verses (I Cor. 1:10-17) knows Paul was thankful he hadn’t baptized them only because he didn’t want them identifying themselves with him and thinking they were better than other believers (a problem he was addressing). He didn’t say he was thankful that they hadn’t been baptized. All of them had been baptized (I Cor. 12:13), just not by him. It’s a shame that his words have been taken out of context. Another challenge used against baptism’s necessity is to ask a question along the lines of, “What if someone dies in a car accident while on the way to church to be baptized?” This could be countered with, “What if there’s an altar call during a church service, and someone dies of a heart attack while walking to the altar?” There’s no easy answer for these “what if” scenarios. Instead of dwelling on what-ifs, people should focus on following through with the New Testament’s salvation plan. If you don’t get baptized when you’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so, and then you die, you will be without excuse during your judgment.

As with repentance and baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost is part of the New Testament’s salvation plan. Jesus told His disciples, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1:5) This occurred on the Day of Pentecost when the apostles and other disciples in Jerusalem “were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). What happens when believers are baptized with the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of God comes upon them and they speak in languages they don’t know. That day in Jerusalem there were men from other nations who were amazed to hear their own languages being spoken by Galileans (Acts 2:5-8). Some people believe the miracle here was the foreigners hearing the local language as their own rather than the disciples speaking in foreign languages. It’s unlikely because it would mean God’s Spirit gave divine hearing to unbelievers instead of divine speech to believers. Furthermore, the text plainly states that the first Christians spoke in “other” languages, not that foreigners heard the native language as their own. With approximately 120 disciples (Acts 1:15) speaking in other languages, enough languages could have been spoken for all of the foreigners to hear their own.

The Samaritans next received the Holy Ghost when the apostles Peter and John laid hands on them (Acts 8:14-17). While it’s not mentioned, they obviously spoke in tongues because a witness named Simon saw that the Holy Ghost had been given to the Samaritans when the apostles laid hands on them (Acts 8:18, 19). Unable to see an inward change of heart, Simon had to have seen an outward sign of them receiving the Holy Ghost. The Gentiles next received the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44). “And they of the circumcision [Jews] which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” (Acts 10:45, 46) They were then baptized to complete the salvation plan (Acts 10:47, 48). Peter told some Jews in Jerusalem about this: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how that He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.'” (Acts 11:15, 16) Believers in Ephesus were likewise baptized with water and the Spirit. Following John’s baptism, they were rebaptized in the name of Jesus and spoke in tongues when they received the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:3-6).

Only Acts mentions believers speaking in tongues as an outward sign of receiving the Holy Ghost, but that’s because no other New Testament book records anyone being saved. Besides Acts, the New Testament contains Gospels, letters and the prophetic book of Revelation. The Gospels are pre-Christian, the letters were written to already-saved believers, and Revelation is focused on the future. Mark’s Gospel foretells believers speaking in tongues (Mark 16:17), but doesn’t give details. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians mentions the gift of tongues, which is an additional gift that accompanies the Holy Ghost and requires an interpreter (I Cor. 14:27, 28). I Corinthians 12:8-10 lists the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues. Verse 8 starts with, “For to one is given,” so no particular gift here is for all Christians. But Christians can speak in tongues without having the gift of tongues, just as they can have wisdom without the gift of wisdom. And whether or not they have the gift of faith, all Christians have faith. A person can’t be saved without it (Eph. 2:8). So if I Corinthians 12 was saying speaking in tongues isn’t for everyone, it would also be saying faith isn’t for everyone. Don’t forget that Peter said what occurred on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) was for all believers in that generation and their descendants too (Acts 2:39).

Christians continued to speak in tongues after the first century. It was mentioned in the second century by the church fathers Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, and in the third century by the theologian Origen and a Roman presbyter named Novation. Numerous reports in Europe from hundreds of years ago show that it didn’t end there. Christian sects called the Albigenses and Waldenses are reported to have spoken in tongues in the 12th century, as are the Franciscans in the 13th century. Several more reports of European Christians speaking in tongues followed the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Anabaptists and members of the Prophecy Movement in the 16th century, Camisards and Jansenists in the 17th and 18th centuries, Quakers in the 17th century and Methodists in the 18th century all spoke in tongues. There were also revivals all across the United States in the 19th century in which participants spoke in tongues. They were led by Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and the Holiness Movement. What’s today thought of as the Pentecostal Movement has its origins in a revival that occurred in Topeka, Kansas in 1901. Similar revivals quickly spread throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. The only thing new about Pentecostal churches is their name as a denomination. Ever since the Day of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit has been available for all Christians, regardless of how they label themselves.

Because Acts records the birth of the Church, churches today should be modeled on this book. The name of a church’s denomination isn’t important. What’s important is that today’s churches resemble those of the first century, in which all members spoke in tongues, were baptized in the name of Jesus and repented of their sins. Nothing in the Bible says things should have changed after the apostles died. I Corinthians 13:8 says tongues shall cease, but only “when that which is perfect is come.” That is, the second coming of Christ. As for baptism, it was never thought of as optional in the first churches. Peter told a crowd of people to be baptized as he told them to save themselves (Acts 2:38-40). This was doctrine (Acts 2:42), meaning it didn’t apply just to them. And churches back then purged themselves of immoral members (I Cor. 5). It was out of love, not hate. A pastor who cares about you will warn you of the consequences of sin. Too many churches these days allow their members to become apathetic about living for God. Churches need to be restored to the way they were in the beginning and preach the old-fashioned apostolic doctrine of salvation.

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