GOD’S PLAN OF SALVATION
There is no greater question anyone can ask, than what he or she must do to be saved. On the day the church was established, those who heard the first gospel sermon also raised this very question (Acts 2:37). It is a question that still needs to be asked today.
Before this question can be answered, one must know where to look for the answers. Scripture alone is our authority for matters spiritual. Peter reminds us, "So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place..." (2 Pet. 1:19). Paul wrote, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Only the Word of God can definitively answer this most important question.
Scripture first of all affirms to us that everyone has sinned, and we all stand in need of forgiveness. We have sinned, not by inheriting sin from Adam and Eve, or anyone else in our pasts, but by our own actions. John tells us "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). Sin is committed when one does what God tells us not to do, or when one doesn't do what God commands. An infant, then, is innocent, as a child is incapable of making such moral decisions. When one matures, understanding right from wrong, but disobeys God, then one sins. Scripture confirms that we have sinned; "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). So, we all need to approach God on His terms for forgiveness, as our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2).
When we seek God's Word, we find He has clearly revealed how we can be forgiven of our sins through His Son, Jesus Christ, who was sent into the world to provide forgiveness for sins (Heb. 9:28). It begins then, with faith. "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).
Faith isn't a subjective, fuzzy feeling one has, but an objective conviction based on the testimony of the truth of Scripture. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). Faith is established by the evidence Scripture offers, to the existence of God, of Jesus as the Son of God, and of the truthfulness of what Scripture reveals to us as God's will.
It's on the basis of faith that one must respond to the will of God. For faith to save, it must not remain an inward conviction, but the motive from which obedience comes. It's an obedient faith that saves, as James reminds us, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas. 2:24). Only a faith that obeys God is a faith that can save. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
By faith, then, one must repent of one's sins. To repent is to change one's mind, which results in a change of heart, which leads to a change of life. Repentance is to determine to turn away from sin, and live the way God wants us to. Jesus tells us, "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).
By faith, one must confess Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus said, "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33).
By faith, one must be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. The word baptize, if correctly translated from the Greek, would instead be "immerse, immersion." In the New Testament, one who was baptized was immersed, not sprinkled or poured. This is seen when Philip and the eunuch "went down into the water" where Philip baptized him, and then by their coming up out of the water (Acts 8:38-39).
Also in the New Testament, baptism always precedes forgiveness, not follows. Jesus Himself told His disciples, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). When he tells the apostles to make disciples of all the nations, they were to do so by "baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:18-20). Peter told that group on the day of Pentecost, at the preaching of the first gospel sermon, that they should "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Peter later on would write, "Baptism now saves you---not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience---through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 3:21). Clearly, these passages connect baptism with receiving the forgiveness of sins.
To be baptized for the forgiveness of sins is not earning one's salvation, anymore than faith, repentance, or confession earns one salvation. Each is a response to God's will, to His grace and mercy. Baptism is no more a work of human merit than faith is. Jesus Himself said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent" (John 6:29). Faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are the work of God. To do what God says is not to earn salvation, but to respond to His will in order for Christ's blood to cleanse us of our sins.
How do we receive the forgiveness of our sins? By faith, when one repents of his or her sins, confesses Jesus as the Son of God, and is immersed, the blood of Christ atones for one's sins. One is then forgiven before God, able to be His child, and have a fresh start spiritually, a hope for eternity.