Salvation Promises Point To Christ Alone

Moses gave us a prophecy in the Law that God would raise up another Prophet like him from among the Jews. He said to them that we must listen to Him (Deut 18:15) and that those who do not listen to the word of God that He teaches will be destroyed by God (Deut 18:19). Moses is speaking of Jesus the Christ. Peter, in Acts 3:22-23, applies this prophecy of Moses to Jesus, saying that He is the fulfillment. Jesus is the One we all must listen to if we want the forgiveness of our sins and saved from destruction. Zechariah 9:9 talks about the Messiah coming to bring salvation also, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

If God spoke in prophecy of the way in which He would give salvation to His people, and then fulfilled the prophecies by giving His Son as a sacrifice, we must be willing to follow the plan that He put into place to receive salvation. We cannot create our own way to salvation. We cannot create other religions. God says in the Old and New Testaments that salvation is through His Messiah and King, Jesus Christ. Jesus  is the only way to Heaven. Jesus Himself said in John 14:6 that He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and that no one can go to the father except through Him.  Speaking of the resurrected Jesus Christ, Peter said in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” No other religion or religious figure can bring salvation. If Jesus was truly resurrected from His tomb and fulfilled all of the prophecies the Old Testament gave about the Messiah, we must listen to only Him, no matter how politically incorrect this truth is. With all of this said, how is it that we can receive salvation through Jesus, the foretold prophet of God? How can we escape the destruction that Moses said Jesus would bring to those who do not obey Him? Let’s examine what Jesus and His Apostles taught regarding these things.

By Grace Through Faith

One of my favorite passages of scripture to share with someone that I am talking to about how to obey the gospel is Ephesians 2:1-10:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-2; 4-10).

This passage clearly shows us the gospel message and it’s response. We were dead in our transgressions before coming to Christ, and it is through Christ we can be saved. This salvation comes by the grace of God through faith when God makes us alive together with Christ and raises us up together with Him. Most churches and professed Christians will agree with this. But the question that gets many different, contradictory answers is this: “When is it that God saves us by grace through faith? When is it that God raises us up together with Christ and makes us alive together with Him?” There is only one verse in the New Testament that answers this question: Colossians 2:12-14. Let’s compare Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2, two sections of scripture that Paul wrote at about the same time:

Colossians 2:12-14 clearly answers the question “when does God raise us up with Christ into new life and make us alive together with Him?” The parallels between the two passages are undeniable. The answer to our question is: When we by faith are baptized. There is not another answer that the Bible gives to this question. At this point we are made alive together with Christ and forgiven of all of our transgressions by God (v13). This happens, not because we are working to try to earn our salvation, but because we have “faith in the working of God” (v12). Salvation is of the Lord. We receive it by faith. If you want to receive the spiritual circumcision of Christ and have your sins “cut away” from you by God, then you must, in faith, be buried with Christ (immersed) in baptism. At this point in time, we are saved by the grace of God through faith. Just as in the Old Testament, it is not just going through the motions that saves us. They couldn’t just kill animals without knowing why to be forgiven. They also couldn’t just believe in sacrifice and not act. They needed to perform the sacrifice in faith, and when they did so, they received God’s gift of forgiveness. The same is true in the New Testament with Christ’s sacrifice. We cannot mentally believe in the sacrifice of Christ and not act. Faith is a verb. It demands action.

By the Mouth of Two or Three (or Four) Witnesses

Moses said in the Law, “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” (Deuteronomy 19:15). If you do not agree with what was taught in the previous section about how one is saved by grace through faith, maybe “by the mouth of two or three” (or four) witnesses, the facts can be clearly seen about how one is to obey the gospel.

Conversion Accounts in Acts

What were lost people commanded to do to obey the gospel in the book of Acts? At what point were they forgiven of their sins in these examples that God gives us?

Pentecost (Acts 2:14-47). When Peter preached to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, they believed the gospel and were convicted of their sin. They asked the Apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). How did Peter answer this question? Did he answer by giving the crowd one of the common responses given today, such as:

  • “You don’t have to do a thing. Jesus did it all on the cross for you.”
  • “Just believe.”
  • “Just say this prayer with me.”
  • “Accept Jesus into your heart.”

Did Peter respond to the crowd’s question with one of these answers? No, because that is not what God revealed to him to say. These are different gospels. Peter, inspired by the Spirit of God says, “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). This is the gospel response that God gives. Each person upon believing the gospel message must repent and be baptized. It is at this point that sins are forgiven. It is at this point we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. There were THREE THOUSAND people who did just that! Acts 2:41 says, “those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” When these people received the word of God, they obeyed it by repenting of their sins and by being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. When they did this, the Lord added them to the church (v47). Many today have not received the words that God gave through Peter, and they have not been added to God’s kingdom as those who responded to the gospel in Acts 2:41 were.

Paul’s Conversion (Acts 9 & 22). When was Paul converted to Christ and forgiven of his sins? Were his sins washed away by God on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him? It is clear that at this time Saul believed in Jesus, which was shown by his obedience. He went to Damascus as Jesus said so he could be shown what he must do (Acts 22:10-11). He also called Jesus “Lord.” (Acts 22:10).

Was he forgiven at this point, or was he forgiven of his sins in Damascus where he went three days without food and water? To the Jews, this was a show of repentance. He also, during this three day period, spent time in prayer to God. It could be assumed that at some point he prayed for forgiveness for what he had done against the Lord and His people. Wouldn’t you? He was even on the receiving end of a miracle that cured him of his blindness! In which of these places were Paul’s sins washed away? The answer: None! No amount of mental belief, obedience, repentance, or prayer could wash away one sin. Up to this point, Paul had not been washed in the blood of Jesus to receive forgiveness. In Acts 22:16, after he had seen Jesus, believed in him, and shown his repentance with fasting and prayer for 3 days, Paul is told by God through Ananias the point at which sins are washed away: “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins…”If his sins were already forgiven on the road to Damascus, why would Ananias command him to be baptized so his sins could be washed away? Paul needed to be baptized to be saved! This is the point in which our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ. If we have faith in Christ’s blood, we must be baptized to receive forgiveness!

The Teachings of The Apostles

Peter (1 Peter 3:20-21). In this text, Peter compares the worldwide flood at the time of Noah with water baptism. He states, “the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, 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.” Peter is saying that we are saved through the waters of baptism, just as the waters of the flood saved Noah and his family from sin. He also states that when we are baptized, we are saved by the resurrection of Christ, just as we saw in Colossians 2:12: “you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” God will raise us up from spiritual death just as He raised Jesus from His tomb. Peter also makes the statement that the point of baptism is not to remove dirt from our outward bodies. When we are baptized, we are making “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” By our faith we are appealing or calling to the Lord (cf. Acts 22:16) to cleanse us inwardly by the blood of Christ. Also, we see in Hebrews 9:14 and 10:22 that our consciences are cleansed by the blood of Christ, when our bodies are washed with water (at the point of baptism).

Paul (Romans 6). The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6:5-6 that we must die with our innocent representative (Jesus) as the sinner in the Old Testament. He states, “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, 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.” The Roman Christians are portrayed as if they were put on the cross with Jesus. At some point in the past, Christ’s death had actually become their death. They were “crucified with Christ,” and at that point, their sins were removed. They were sanctified. Peter makes this point in 1 Peter 2:24: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross , so that we might die to sin.” The purpose of Jesus dying for us was so we could die to sin through Him. There are other verses in the New Testament that show us this same terminology.

  • “…If we died with Him we shall also live with Him” (2 Timothy 2:11).
  • “Now if we died with Christ we believe we will also live with Him” (Romans 6:8).
  • “…for you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

These passages are written to Christians. Paul is telling these Christians that at some time in the past they had died with Christ, and consequently received spiritual life as Jesus received life when He was resurrected. If we want to have our sins removed, and to have spiritual life again, we must be united with the death (and resurrection) of Christ. Jesus’ death must be applied to us. This is the crux of God’s amazing plan of redemption, the gospel. The believer must die with their innocent representative, Jesus Christ.

Dying with Christ

This is what must happen if we want to have our sins forgiven and to have fellowship with God again. The question the believer must ask is, “How, or when do I die with Christ? How, or when does this happen for me?”

At what point in my faith does God say that I am:

  • Dead to sin?
  • Dying with Christ
  • United with Christ in His death?
  • Crucified with Christ?
  • Freed from sin?

We need to know God’s answer to these questions. His answer is the only answer we should listen to! No matter what men may say or teach in the religious world, if it is not what God says, it is not right. Does God tell us the answer to our questions in the New Testament? He surely does! He tells us in Romans 6. The Roman Christians had a false belief that if they sinned more they would receive more grace from God. Paul writes these things to show them why their belief was wrong. He begins in verses 1 and 2:

“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?”

Paul makes the statement that these Christians had died to sin. Here is the first question that we need answered. How did they die to sin? The answer is in verse 3.

“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

Here is our answer! When we are baptized into Christ, God says that we die to sin. We are baptized into His death! Take note of the prepositions that Paul uses. We are buried with Christ into His death. Paul also says that we are raised out of the water with Christ into a new life. We are raised out of spiritual death! We are born again.

“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” (Romans 6:5).

We are united with Christ’s death and resurrection when we are baptized. Also take note that Paul states “if” we are united with Christ in His death then we are united with His resurrection and given life. This only happens if we are baptized into Christ.

“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 ” (Romans 6:6-7).

We are crucified with Christ at baptism. The price of death that we owe is paid by dying with Christ, and most importantly, our sin is taken away. It is “done away with!” We are freed from the slavery sin causes when we are baptized!

“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:8-11).

We can only believe we will live with Christ if we are baptized into Christ. We can only defeat sin and its mastery over us if we die with Christ.

Romans 6:1-11 answers all of the questions we asked. When does God view me as dead to sin, dying with Christ, united with Christ in His death, crucified with Christ, and freed from sin? God’s answer: when I am baptized into Christ. And once again, this all happens by faith. Paul states in Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” The Romans believed the gospel message and obeyed it by being united with Christ in baptism where they were freed from their sin.

Paul continues in Romans 6 by showing that when we are baptized in obedience to God, we receive sanctification and a GIFT FROM GOD:

“But now having been freed from sin (v7) and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23).

As I talked about earlier, meeting the conditions that the Lord gives is how we receive the free gift of eternal life in Christ. We in no way are earning the gift, just doing what God says is necessary to receive it. We cannot buy a gift. The gift has already been paid for in full by Jesus Christ. We need to fulfill certain conditions to receive any gift. If we receive a check in the mail as a birthday gift, there are certain conditions that we need to meet in order to receive any benefit from that check. When we sign the back of the check and take it to the bank to cash it, do we in any way earn that gift? Of course not. The same is the case in the spiritual realm. God has provided us with a check with an infinite number of zeroes on it, and He gives us the conditions that we need to meet in order to cash the check. When we cash it, we receive a gift.

The Teachings of Jesus

We should expect to see Jesus’ teachings correspond with what the Apostles practiced in the book of Acts and taught in their epistles. What does Jesus teach about being saved and becoming one of His disciples?

The Great Commission. Jesus teaches how disciples are made in Matthew 28:19-20. He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” What two things does Jesus teach are necessary to be His disciple? First, disciples are made by baptizing! Second, disciples are made by teaching them to observe all of Christ’s commands, which are given in the New Testament. When someone does these things they can be called a disciple. A disciple is one who, as the definition of the word “disciple” shows, learns from Him and follows His teaching. If Jesus teaches something and we are not willing to do it, we cannot be His disciple.

In the parallel account of the Great Commission in Mark 16:15-16, Jesus says to His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus says the one who believes the gospel message and responds to it by being baptized will be saved.

So why do the majority of religious groups teach that if you believe and are not baptized you will be saved? Is that not contradictory to what Jesus said? If we believe what Jesus says, baptism will naturally follow to receive salvation. If we do not believe what Jesus says here, we will not receive salvation.

John 3: Being “Born Again.” In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then two verses later in John 3:5, Jesus tells how one is born again: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” There is much debate whether or not verse 5 is talking about baptism. Considering other teachings in the New Testament regarding when one is born again (or regenerated/ raised into a new life), it can be shown that Jesus is saying that baptism is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.

Paul taught in Romans 6 that baptism is the point at which we are raised up into newness of life as a new creation. Jesus is saying the same thing as Paul in John 3:5. Paul also taught in Titus 3:4-5, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5 is clearly a parallel verse to John 3:5. Paul mentions a washing of regeneration (or new birth). Paul states that the Holy Spirit washes us and regenerates us. When does this happen? Baptism is the only washing in the New Testament that washes away sin. At what point does God wash away sin by His mercy in the New Testament other than baptism?

Paul’s sins were “washed away” by being baptized (Acts 22:16). The Corinthians were told by the Apostle Paul that they were “washed” in 1 Corinthians 6:10-11. “thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” This text also seems to be a parallel verse to John 3:5. When were the Corinthians washed? We know they believed and were baptized, obeying what Jesus teaches in the Great Commission: “Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8). The Ephesians were also told that the church is sanctified and cleansed by a washing of water in Ephesians 5:26.

Based on all of this evidence, we see Jesus is saying in John 3:5 that there is no hope of entering the kingdom of God without being born again, which happens when we are raised into a new spiritual life at baptism.

A Fourth Witness: The Early Church

Have you ever wondered what the earliest leaders of the church taught about salvation, especially on the doctrine of baptism? The Early Church Fathers universally taught that baptism was the point in which our sins are forgiven. Following are a few examples of their teachings.

In 110-165 AD, Justin Martyr wrote, “They are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all… And for this we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed.”[1]

In 140-230 AD, Tertullian wrote, “Baptism itself is a corporal act by which we are plunged into the water, while its effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins.”[2] Romans 6:7 says the same thing about baptism. At baptism we are freed from sin.

Barnabas wrote around 70 AD, “Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water for, says He (Jesus), they shall receive their reward in due time…we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit.”[3] Barnabas is teaching that those who are baptized go down into the water full of sin but come up out of the water different. He states that baptism is proof that we have put our trust in the cross.

Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp (a disciple of the Apostle John) wrote in 120-205 AD, “As we are lepers in sin, we are made clean from our old transgressions by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord. We are thus spiritually regenerated as newborn infants, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’“[4] The main proof text for baptism in the early church was John 3:5.

In 140-230 AD, Tertullian wrote, “Baptism itself is a corporal act by which we are plunged into the water, while its effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins” [5]

In 140-230 AD, Tertullian wrote, “Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed in the faith… The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. Which is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and serpents themselves generally do affect arid and waterless places.” [5] Interesting in this quote that this heresy included the teaching that baptism was not essential for salvation. It was considered false teaching in the first few centuries!

More quotes could be given beyond these few, but these suffice to show what the early church universally taught about how to obey the gospel. To teach differently was considered heresy by the early church.[5]


[1] Justin Martyr, “First Apology,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pg. 183

[2] On Baptism 7:2. On Baptism, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3

[3] The Early Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1, The Epistle of Barnabas 11:114-16

[4] Irenaeus, “Fragments From Lost Writings”, no. 34, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pg. 574

[5] This is seen in Tertullian’s writing “On Baptism,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, pg. 669

 

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