By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article originally printed February 15th, 1976)
One may glean wonderful thoughts, wise sayings, and historical facts from the Bible, however only when the Bible raises the question of salvation in an individual’s heart does one begin to realize its true worth and message.
The Bible exists for one chief reason and that is to reveal God’s way of saving mankind from sin and its despair, (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). It alone has the answer to the question of salvation (John 6:68; 2 Peter 1: 3) (Acts 2: 37).
In understanding the purpose of the Bible, it is unfair not to present what it teaches about being saved. Confusion abounds on the question of salvation, but we are confident the confusion is not of God (1 Corinthians 14: 33). Often the impression today is, do as you feel is right, or simply remember Jesus is the Son of God, and salvation can be enjoyed. However, nowhere in the pages of inspiration can one find support for such doctrines (Matthew 7:13; 21-28). Therefore, we must ask the question of questions: What does the Bible say about being saved?
“All have sinned,” and “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3: 23; 3:10). Though all have sinned, man has the God given ability to determine between right and wrong, and is thus responsible for his own sins (Genesis 2:17; Joshua 24: 15).
Sin separates one from God (Isaiah 59: 2) and brings about spiritual death (Romans 8: 13). For the sinner, we know there is no sacrifice, no work, or no tribute he can give which will save him. Nor can the sinner say that from now on I will always do right and expect everything to be all right. Why? There is the matter of past sins. They are still there, and they must be accounted for. Thus, we see man’s dilemma. All have sinned, and even when a desire to do better exists past sins remain to be accounted for.
Man’s only hope lay in God extending His grace (undeserved and unmerited blessings) in such a way that past sins would be forgiven. We may also wonder how God can do this? How can He pardon those who deserve to die eternally, and yet in such a way as to as to cause the pardoned to wish to continue to do well, while not causing the unpardoned to feel resentful over an “unjust and undeserved” reprieve, but rather make the unpardoned wish to do better also? Therefore, we must consider:
God’s love was stirred when His creation went the way of sin even though they had turned away from their Creator. His love was the answer to a condemned race and His love was exhibited in the form of His Son while men were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Jesus came to save sinners (his name means, “he shall save his people from their sins” Matthew l: 21), and to do so he laid down his life (1 Timothy 3: 13; 2:6). Jesus was without sin (1 Peter 2: 22), therefore he was a perfect sacrifice, free to bear our sins (1 Peter 2: 24).
“In whom we have redemption through his blood the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” “Without the shedding of blood is no remission.” (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:22). Complete forgiveness required a perfect sacrifice, this Jesus furnished.
Read carefully Hebrews 10:1-22. Animal sacrifices could never take away sins, verse 4. Jesus made it possible for one to be purified forever through the offering of his body, verse 10. Through Jesus, sins are remembered no more, and such being the case no more offering for sin is necessary; the one perfect sacrifice was sufficient, verses 17,18.
Now we can better see how God can be just and yet justify sinners. Through the blood of Jesus one can be completely forgiven and in just such a way that he does not want to sin again and in such a way that others do not feel there has been unjust pardoning.
We can see what the scriptures mean when they say. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
Works of righteousness could not bring lost mankind back to God, for no matter how righteous he became there would always be the matter of past sins to be considered (Titus 3:5). However, through faith in the blood of His son, forgiveness became possible. Jesus gave himself for man’s sins, so needless to say forgiveness is available (Romans 3:24-26; 5:9-11; 15-19).
The Receiving of the Gift
It is unfortunate that the gift of life has been so misunderstood today. Some have falsely assumed everyone is saved because Jesus died on the cross. Others have falsely assumed that because salvation is a gift one can do nothing to receive it, but that God will impose it upon even the unwilling. Just because we can’t do enough to repay Christ for saving us is no reason to say we can do nothing at all in our lives to express proof of our love for him.
How then does one today receive salvation? Can it be received by setting by and waiting for God to hand it over? Does it mean we are not expected to be active in receiving the gift?
Jesus is the author of eternal salvation-unto whom? All those who obey him (Hebrews 5: 9). It is true these acts of obedience would be worthless without the blood of Jesus, but still there is something to be done in receiving the gift of life.
If the current idea that states we have nothing to do with receiving salvation is correct, then how do we explain the answers given by the apostles? For example, in Acts 2:37,38 the people said: What shall we do? They had already heard and believed. What more could be done? Nothing? Not so, for notice the response of the apostles to the question. They responded by saying: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, by the authority of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins… (v.38). Remember also the apostles spoke by or under the authority of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus made a way to God (John 14: 6). In Jesus there is no condemnation (Romans 8: 1), however, let us be God-confident we are really in Jesus before saying God’s grace saved us. Before Jesus made a way, man was in a dilemma but not so now. It is now up to man to enter the way God planned and Jesus provided through the shedding of his blood. Now that he has made a way, let us not say there is nothing for us to do (Matthew 7: 13). This is especially true since that way asks for more than belief in Jesus to put us into Christ (Galatians 3:26, 27).
The Faith That Saves
We all realize that faith saves (John 3:16), and it is necessary for salvation (Hebrews 11:6). This has led some to say we receive salvation by faith only. Yes, by faith we receive the gift, but does the Bible teach only mental assent saves? Are men saved the instant they say yes I believe Jesus is the Son of God? The scriptures say, no.
The faith that receives the gift is the faith that prompts obedience. Paul speaks of the obedience of faith (Romans 16: 26). How can one say he whole-heartedly accepts Jesus as his Lord, and the gift of salvation, who never does what God asks for one to do to show he wishes to receive salvation?
The apostle’s taught repentance and baptism to believers (Acts 2:38). This was founded upon Jesus’ teaching to go teach all nations, and he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Matthew 28: l9, 20; Mark 16: 16). To receive the blessing of salvation, men have always believed and obeyed. This obedience of faith never once contradicted God’s grace, or left the impression anyone was saving himself. In obedience we receive what God by grace gives.
Preaching the gospel produces the faith that entices love and trust that says obey. It is one thing to say I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and quite another to have the faith that reveals by obedience that I accept Jesus as Lord. The first is the faith of demons and saves not (James 2:19), while the latter is the faith that makes men children of God.
Learning How Men Received The Gift
Surely we can feel confident about salvation if we receive the gift as men did in the days of the apostles. Hence, let us consider some examples:
- Acts 2 (Jerusalem) They heard the gospel; from what they heard, they believed Jesus died and rose again. Belief of this fact made them ask what to do (v.37). The answer was, repent and be baptized, for the remission of sins (v.38). They that gladly received the word were baptized (v.41). They were added to the church (v.47).
- Acts 8 (Samaria) Philip preached Christ and they heard (v. 5,6). Now, upon believing the things preached concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women (v .12). The apostles heard they received the word of God (14).
- Acts 18 (Corinth) Here, we find the Corinthians heard, believed, and were baptized.
- Acts 19 (Ephesus) Here is the beginning of the church, which was told they were saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). For them to be saved by grace, they believed and were baptized and were not inconsistent with the fact of being saved by grace.
- Acts 8,9,16,22,26 To learn of how others received the gift, you can read of the eunuch of Ethiopia (8), the jailor and Lydia (16), and of Saul of Tarsus. (9,22,26).
Let us remember:
- You will find men heard the gospel, believed, repented and were baptized. You will find nothing that reveals sins were forgiven prior to baptism.
- By God’s grace you see how through Jesus the way of salvation came about, and how through faith and obedience we receive grace.
- The way to Jesus is straightforward and clear, free of all the confusing ideas of men. By receiving what the Bible teaches, you too can be made free of sin. Why not consider doing, so today (2 Corinthians 6:2)?
REMEMBER: Only God by his grace can forgive sins; but only you can receive the gift through obedience to the gospel. Through Jesus the gift has been made available for all, and only those who accept it are saved.