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In the Steps of the Savior: The Gospel, Salvation and the Sinner – 2

In the last issue, we showed that the gospel of Christ reveals a pattern for us to obediently follow if we are to fulfill our responsibility relating to salvation. We looked closely at Christ’s teaching about the subject. His instruction to us was left in terms of a will which He announced after His resurrection (see Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16 and Luke 24:46-47). Gathering all the facts to determine the whole pattern revealed, we see both the responsibilities enjoined upon us and the blessings received when we meet the conditions given. Jesus commanded that we must hear the gospel, believe it, repent of our sins, be baptized and continue to do all things commanded by Christ through His apostles. All who meet these conditions are disciples of Christ, saved and enjoy the remission of sins.

This pattern was consistently followed when the apostles went throughout the world preaching the gospel. The book of Acts is the historical record of that spread of the gospel. Let us look at the events recorded there and see the repeated adherence to the pattern by those who desired salvation.

Pentecost Crowd (Acts 2)

Acts 2 is the first such account. After the power of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles as Jesus promised (Acts 1:8), the crowd wondered what was taking place. Peter declared that the events were fulfilling the prophecy of Joel. Joel said that a time was coming in which the power of the Spirit would signal the availability of salvation in its fullness to mankind. Peter then preached a sermon which affirmed that Jesus was the Christ of promise in the Old Testament who had been approved of God, killed by the multitude in Jerusalem and raised from the dead. In fact, Peter called upon the crowd to remember Jesus’ works and the facts regarding His empty tomb which clearly showed He was approved of God.

The bottom line was that many of the hearers of this gospel message had helped kill the Christ. They were guilty of sin. Did they understand the implications of Peter’s sermon? They certainly did, for the text says:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).

What do we learn from their reaction? First, we see that they believed the message preached. They understood that Jesus was not a criminal rightly condemned to death, but the righteous Messiah whom they had helped to murder. They understood their sin and believed in the facts presented about Jesus Christ. Second, they did not think that accepting those facts was the end of their responsibility to receive salvation, for after believing, they still asked, "What shall we do?" They did not say the sinners prayer and accept Jesus into their hearts as their personal Savior at the point of faith. Nor did the apostle Peter instruct them to do so. He taught the pattern revealed by Jesus.

In response to their inquiry of what they must do, Peter replied, "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).

Peter taught what Jesus taught. Both taught that man must repent and be baptized for ("in order to obtain") the remission of sins. Neither taught that one’s sins were remitted before repentance or before baptism. It may be a popular doctrine to say that one’s sins are remitted at the point of faith (which precedes repentance and baptism), but the gospel message does not teach such.

After the believers repented and were baptized, was that the end of their responsibility according to this text? No, look at the further record of their following the pattern given by Jesus:

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:41-42).

In other words, they did as Jesus instructed in observing all things commanded through the apostles (Matthew 28:20).

Conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8)

In Acts 8:4-13, the conversion of those in Samaria is recorded in these words: "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them" (Acts 8:4-5). It began by one preaching the word and the Samaritans hearing that word. Several phrases in the context tell us about the nature of the message preached. As seen in the text, "preaching the word" was equivalent to "preaching Christ." After all, Christ is the focus of the gospel message.

Acts 4:12 further identifies the message saying that Philip "preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ." Before His death, Jesus had said that the kingdom of God would come with power during the lifetime of some of those hearing Him speak (Mark 9:1). After His resurrection, Jesus spoke of that promised power when He said it would come with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. Therefore, the promised kingdom came at that time. A kingdom is a realm of authority overseen by a king who has the right to rule that realm. Christ’s kingdom is ruled in His name or by His authority. Thus, to preach the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ is to preach the fulfillment of the divine kingdom as a present reality in the spiritual rule of Jesus Christ through His law – the Gospel.

How did people respond to that message? The record says, "But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done" (Acts 8:12-13). Just as those in Acts 2 believed the message and responded by being baptized into Christ, these people of Samaria did the same thing. They did not repeat the sinner’s prayer or follow the teaching of some man-made doctrine. They did as Jesus had previously commanded by believing and being baptized.

Was this conversion to Christ all that was necessary to assure their eternal security? Once they were saved, could they neglect the rest of Christ’s commands and still have a hope of heaven? Christ had said that one must be taught to observe all things He commanded. Was this essential for the Samaritans? The case of Simon makes it clear that such was necessary. Simon had repented of his deception of people as a sorcerer and had responded to the Gospel through faith and baptism (Acts 8:9-13). However, he later tried to purchase a miraculous gift of God with money (Acts 8:18-19). Peter clearly stated his condition as a result of this sin:

Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity (Acts 8:20-23).

Simon was told that he could not continue enjoying the blessings of salvation if he remained in sin. He was told to repent of those sins and conform to the pattern laid down by Christ in His commands delivered through the apostles.

It should be obvious that the case of the Samaritans exemplifies the obedience to the pattern given by Jesus regarding salvation. Those today who do not conform their lives to the same pattern have no hope of the salvation Jesus offers. Those who desire that salvation will obey the gospel of Christ just as those in Samaria did in the first century.

Ethiopian Treasurer (Acts 8)

Later in Acts 8, we find another individual accepting the offer of salvation given by Christ through His gospel by obeying His will. Acts 8:26-40 presents a case of conversion along a deserted road. The man was an Ethiopian eunuch, evidently a Jewish proselyte, who had been to Jerusalem to worship and was reading from Isaiah 53 on his way home.

A preacher by the name of Philip was instructed to go to that road and was then told to speak to the Ethiopian. Why? Because Jesus said that the first step in conversion was to hear the gospel. It did not begin with a still small voice in the night, a better felt than told feeling, or some other subjective experience. Conversion begins when one is taught the truth of God and is drawn by that message to respond based upon a will to react to that new information (John 6:44-45).

When the Ethiopian said that he did not understand who was being spoken about in Isaiah 53, Philip took that passage prophesying about the death of Jesus as the starting point for his teaching. The record says, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:35).

What does "preaching Jesus" involve? That question is answered in the next few verses:

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him (Acts 8:36-38).

If Philip simply "preached Jesus" to the Ethiopian eunuch, how did he know that he should be baptized in water? The answer is obvious. If we preach Jesus as those in New Testament times did, we must preach the necessity of water baptism. Why? Because Jesus set it forth as a condition for salvation (Mark 16:16). Jesus declared it to be necessary for all who would be His disciples (Matthew 28:18-19).

Those who claim to "preach Jesus" and yet reject the necessity of water baptism are preaching a different message than Philip preached. They are preaching a different message than Peter preached (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38). They are preaching a different message than Paul heard to be converted (Acts 22:16). They are preaching a different message than Paul preached as an inspired apostle (Romans 6:3-11; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:11-12). They are preaching a message foreign to the New Testament.

However, baptism was not the only thing preached when Philip "preached Jesus." When Philip said that the Ethiopian could be baptized if he believed "that Jesus Christ is the Son of God", the eunuch responded by saying that he did believe it. The Bible says that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Thus, when Philip preached Jesus, he must have identified Jesus as the divine Messiah — the Christ of Old Testament promise and deity come in the flesh.

Preaching which does not affirm the deity of Jesus and the fact that He is the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy is not the kind of preaching done in New Testament times. The modernists of our day want to teach that Jesus was a good man, but just a man. That message is not "preaching Jesus," but is pure blasphemy. Likewise, one who denies that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ is not preaching the true message of Jesus.

It is also noted in the context that the Ethiopian confessed that which he believed concerning Jesus. The New Testament teaches that confession of Christ is involved in the process of one coming "unto" salvation (Romans 10:10).

Immediately after the Ethiopian heard the message preached by Philip and confessed his faith in Jesus, the eunuch obeyed the teaching of Jesus by being baptized. The Bible says,

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:38-39).

Philip did not tell the Ethiopian that baptism was a non-essential act or one that he could fulfill at a later date. If ever a case existed to test the denominational theory that one may be saved at one point, then wait to be baptized until joined by others wanting to do the same, this would be the case. Why interrupt a journey in a desert place to be baptized without others present if the baptism could have waited until later? When one understands the Bible teaching cited earlier about the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins, the urgency is obvious. Without that comprehension of the purpose of baptism, the urgency shown in the Ethiopian’s case is inexplicable.

It is also interesting to note that when Philip baptized the eunuch, he did not sprinkle a little water on him. They went down into the water and came up out of the water. Just as in the case of John’s baptizing, there was "much water" needed to baptize as was done in New Testament times (John 3:23). A few drops or possibly a cup full would suffice for many denominational people who practice sprinkling or pouring instead of Bible baptism. The Scripture teaches that baptism is a "burial" (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). Hence, New Testament baptism is immersion.

Once the Ethiopian had obeyed, he went on his way rejoicing. We also can go rejoicing in salvation if we will follow the pattern for conversion revealed in the word of God. Regardless of the different messages taught by men today, the gospel of Christ remains the one and only message bringing salvation through Christ to obedient believers.