How are we saved?
There is a well-known hymn based on the phrase, “Oh, to be like Thee!” It explores the realization that the most worthy goal in all the world is to know, love, and have fellowship with almighty God. People who have experienced the ups and downs of life often decide that they want to be on the side of the solution rather than continuing to be part of the problem. They realize that what the Bible says is true: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) They realize that they have sinned and need forgiveness.
Ever since Jesus died on the cross of Calvary some 2000 years ago, the way for any person to be “together with God,” or to be more like God, to share in His blessings and favor, is to be what the writers of the New Testament call “in Christ.” The question then is how to get into Christ, how to be saved and be a member of His church. People want to know how to be converted to Christ, or changed to become His follower, therefore being in Christ.
The Bible provides evidence in the New Testament of a process of conversion, also called God’s plan for salvation. Collecting all the scriptural passages about it assures those seeking to be in Christ that they are fulfilling their part in obeying God’s directives leading to salvation. Every act of obedience leading to salvation is good, as long as it is the response that God desires from a biblical directive or example. If we obey only some of these teachings, we are part way there, but not all the way. If we obey them all with sincere hearts, we can say we have made the journey into the state of salvation and are in Christ. Here are the steps on that path, the biblical elements of the plan of salvation.
Most people agree that one cannot follow anyone or anything about which he knows nothing. The Bible reinforces this concept with ample evidence that hearing the message of salvation in Christ is the most basic element of becoming His follower. In Romans 10:14 the apostle Paul asks, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” Romans 10:17 answers, “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
It is when we hear His message taught from the Bible that we are able to develop saving faith. Acts 18:8 provides an example, reporting that, “…many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” From the Old Testament, Ezekiel 18:20 demonstrates that we cannot simply inherit faith from our parents or ancestors. Back in the New Testament, the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 clearly show that Christianity is a teaching religion, and to be a part, we must hear the teaching.
Many people throughout history have heard the message of Christ and have not believed it. To stop after having heard it produces a person who might be well informed but cannot be saved, cannot be in Christ. Jesus confronted the supposed experts of His own time by saying, “…unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24) Jesus would later send out the apostles to all the known world, telling them to preach the gospel to everyone in all creation. That gospel or good news was that Jesus was the only begotten son of God, and that through Him and because of His sacrifice on the cross, people could be saved. He added, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who does not believe shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) That seems crystal clear and gives us another necessary step to make toward salvation.
To say we want to be saved from sin is the same as saying we want to be saved from our own sins and our tendency to sin, as well as the sin that surrounds us. We are not just victims. We ourselves are guilty. Life in Christ is by definition a life that has chosen God’s way over the ways of sin. Therefore a renouncing of one’s sinful deeds, a turning away or repenting must take place. We no longer place our faith in wrong things, thinking they will give us the good life, but in God through Christ Jesus, leading to eternal life with Him.
Jesus taught that everyone was under the penalty of sin, and said, “I tell you no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3) When Peter preached the first known Christian sermon, he urged his hearers to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38) Peter would later teach the people of Jerusalem, “Repent therefore and be converted, so that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing my come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) What a wonderful promise, to get rid of the old sinful self and move into a time of refreshing with the Lord. To obtain it, we need to obey the Lord’s directive to repent of sin.
Confession or publicly acknowledging belief in Christ is very prominent in biblical teaching on how to be saved. In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus said that we must confess Him before men, in the presence of other people, if we want Him to confess or acknowledge His relationship with us to our heavenly father. Paul writes in Romans 10:8-9, “…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. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
A prominent Ethiopian taught by the apostle Philip the good news about Jesus asked what kept him from being baptized into Christ. Philip said he could be baptized if he believed, and the Ethiopian responded by confessing, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” He then was baptized and went on his way rejoicing at being saved. (Acts 8:35-38)
The act of baptism in the Bible involves being immersed in water, and the words baptism and immersion have the same meaning. Baptism existed during the time of Christ, as in the case of John the Baptist, but it was not Christian baptism. Jesus left instructions for the practice of His church, saying that, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Christian baptism is made possible by Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and it symbolizes it in a way, as one is immersed in the water like a burial and rises up to a new life.
Baptism follows belief. If someone doesn’t believe the gospel message, he or she cannot be truly baptized. It also follows repentance. The people of Jerusalem asked Peter what they must do to be saved, and he said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, so that your sins may be forgiven.” (Acts 2:38) If one has not repented of sin, he or she cannot be truly baptized.
Putting all this together, the Bible teaches that people who are old enough to have sin in their life, hear and understand the gospel, decide that they believe it, repent of their sins, and publicly acknowledge their belief that Jesus is the Son of God are candidates for baptism. Even though some churches have baptized babies through the years, such a practice is not taught or supported in the Bible.
Walking in the Light
Any discussion of being in Christ would benefit from giving thought to the question of what happens after we emerge from the waters of baptism. In Romans 6:1-7 Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
1 John 1 teaches that God is light, and 1:7 says, “…if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His son cleanses us from all sin.” That is a good basic answer to the question of what happens next after baptism. We rise to walk in newness of life, and we continue by walking in the light of God’s love.
A gospel preacher in the 1800’s taught about salvation by using five fingers to represent the five steps mentioned above that lead to salvation. One stood for hearing, one for believing, one for repenting, one for confessing Christ, then he would motion down the finger and up to the thumb, which stood for going down into the waters of baptism and emerging to live a new life. Five biblically documented steps, and we are saved—but he always mentioned that, if he had a sixth finger, that would represent walking in the light and living that new life made possible for us by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Anyone who is interested in following Jesus would have to say what a great blessing that is! We get to live among people who have cast off the sinful self and are now free to behave toward us in a way that is no longer shackled and controlled by sin. Also, we enjoy the blessing of constant communion with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and teaches us through God’s word. What more could anyone ask for in this life? If this looks like the life for you, come visit with us as soon as possible, and let us know of your interest in being saved and living for Jesus!