In the realization that they had killed their only hope of salvation ever on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached an incredible sermon, those that were there had a question that was posed in Acts 2:37 that reads:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
The question seemed to be one of confusion, sincerity, and certainly characteristic of a repentant heart, doesn't it?
Peter answers the question with a very affirmative and imperative action statement in verse 38:
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The text goes on to tell us through verse 47 that those that were saved were added to the church. It is a really simplistic, yet very important situation that we are looking at in one's salvation.
If this is the case in the first century, wouldn't it seem that the case still stands today regarding salvation?
Well, it would seem so...except for those that, as the title suggests, determine that they believe differently than the scriptures teach.
In today's time, many claim to be saved and going to heaven; yet, many of those that make that claim refuse to be obedient to the word of God and will "find" reasons that they feel that they do not have to obey these very words that were given on the first day of the church...the day of Pentecost...the first sermon preached after Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven (emphasis on the authority that Peter had been given to preach these words).
Let's look at a few things that we may hear about salvation, baptism, faith, grace, and obedience:
1. "Faith Only Saves"
Faith indeed does save. Matter of fact, faith and belief are sort of synonymous when it comes to salvation. But, let's keep something in mind in relation to this statement that "faith saves." Nowhere in the New Testament will the words "by faith alone" or "faith only" be read in regards to salvation, or any subject for that matter.
James writes that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-26). Paul makes a statement in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are "saved by grace through faith...not of ourselves." Romans 3-5 also show that Paul was adamantly convicted to faith being the key source to salvation. So, how do we balance this? The answer to this question is not that Paul and James could not agree my friend, but more in opposite than that, James and Paul are in complete agreement here!
Paul and James both show a representation of faith. In the writing of Paul, he uses Abraham as the object of the discussion. Abraham was not saved by any works...or was he? Did Abraham believe God? Some would say that this is not a work, but it is. In order to believe, that requires a mental and spiritual action. The more important question is: Did Abraham obey God? In Abraham's obedience in doing what God told him to do, he is called righteous. Even the words of Hebrews 11 talk of his faith in God through his obedience when the Hebrew writer writes "By faith Abraham obeyed..."
2. "Baptism is a work..."
Baptism is a work! It is a work of obedience. In Mark 16:15-16, the scriptures say "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." Would you agree that the Bible does say this? It may sound a little different in your translation of choice; however, the words are still there in relativity, and of course, the emphasis being on the conjunctive "and" being from this author, but can certainly be seen in the text in the original language as well.
Let's take an analogy and place it in this same context.
Would you agree that if you are wanting to buy something from the grocery store that you must first get to the grocery store? Most of us would go to the store in a vehicle, such as a car. Now, if I go out of my home and get in my car and do nothing else, will I get to the grocery store? If I believe that I am going to the grocery store, yet never turn the ignition of the car, or find another way to get to the grocery store, I will never be able to purchase the item from the grocery store unless they deliver! So...let's look further. What if I drive to the grocery store, but never get out of my car? Will I still get the item? Probably not unless some kind soul brings the item to me. The words "believes" and "baptized" are both verbs - implying action or being. Something to consider. Now...go pay (yet another verb) for that item that you are buying and read some more!
3. "Water doesn't cleanse sins..."
I have read many times in which this particular statement is made in defense of someone feeling that they have been "saved" by saying a special prayer (that isn't found in the Bible), or being elected into salvation, or "accepting Jesus as their personal savior in their heart" (which also is not found in the Bible). Some will want to say that 1 Peter 3:20-21 is not a literal "water baptism" but more figurative. Well, they are right...to an extent.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22
Look at the passage in its immediate context. Christ brings us to God (18) by being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. Peter then uses an object lesson for those listening to better understand when he describes the obedience of Noah. He uses the fact that there were those who "did not obey" even though Noah kept on preaching to them (19). Then, in verse 20, Peter shows a correlation between the saving of water in Noah's obedience (he and his family were saved because they obeyed God by floating in an ark in water that was built at the imperative direction and instruction of God), and the significance of baptism.
It is important to notice at the end of Peter's words in verse 22 the authority given to Christ. The text says that He is at the "right hand of God...and powers having been subjected to Him." Now, compare this important text from the very words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20,
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Did you notice the start of Jesus' statement to His disciples? "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." That would correspond ideally with what Peter had explained in his writing in naming the authority of Jesus in heaven, just as He has authority on earth. The next statements from Jesus' mouth are extremely important in this understanding: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." So, in this imperative statement, Jesus commands His disciples (then and now) to do something. He commands that others be taught...and baptized. The same ideology is recorded as mentioned earlier in Mark 16:15-16 as an imperative command, except in the passage recorded by Mark, the end result of obeying Christ's imperative command is explained as "salvation."
Water does not cleanse sins. The blood of Christ cleanses all sin. We must come into contact with the blood of Christ in order to have our sins forgiven. How do we do that?
Do you want to go to heaven?
Have you obeyed the gospel?
Do you ask the same question as these men (and women) did in Acts 2:37 - "what must I do to be saved?"
We can find many reasons and excuses as to why we do not want to do something in our lives. I say this in all sincerity and love for souls - if you do not desire to obey the words of Christ, you will not enjoy the wonders of eternity in heaven with Him and our Father and the Holy Spirit.
There are many passages of the Bible that go more in depth about salvation. This article has only touched on a few in relation to words heard rejecting salvation by coming into contact with the blood of the Lamb. (c.f. Rev 1:5; 1 Cor 15:1-8; Rom 6:1-6) Jesus said Himself "unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." What a sad thought. Please do not reject the authority of Christ!
Do not delay. Salvation awaits.
Minister, Rock Hill church of Christ
*Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.