THE WAY OF SALVATION
So then, as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men (Romans 6:18).
As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).
As Paul says, we are all born “in Adam,” under the sentence of condemnation. But by virtue of Jesus’ obedience, there is salvation “in Christ.” The grounds for salvation for every man have already been established by Christ, and the way we personally enter into that salvation is by ceasing to be “in Adam,” and beginning to be “in Christ.” But what is this way of salvation, the way by which we leave Adam’s “domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13), and are transferred into Christ’s kingdom?
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God... Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
So, we enter into that salvation by experiencing what Jesus called being “born again.” By being “born of water and the Spirit” one will, so Jesus indicated, undergo a change that is as real and as dramatic as when one was born of the flesh. This new birth and its supernatural life are not visible, however; it is an internal event, during which the death which existed in our spirit is swallowed up by the entrance of Christ’s resurrection life. That life comes into us when we become united to Him, because it is His life in which we now participate.
But how is one united or engrafted into Christ? Paul tells us. “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). We are saved by God’s grace which is in His Son (Ephesians 2:5); but while our marvelous salvation is the gift of God’s grace, we enter into that grace through the agency of an inner attitude that God calls “faith”: a trust that Jesus was who He said He was, and a trust in the sufficiency of His work on our behalf:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).
By His grace, through our faith. So, until a person places his faith in Christ, he cannot avoid being “in Adam.” However, all that has been said so far in this chapter about the way of salvation is still not all that must be said, strange as it may seem to some. Regeneration is the effect of several prior God-created events, not just the one event called “faith.” For example, you have perhaps talked with more than a few “born-again” Christians who would include in regeneration the going forward at an “altar call” where they confess Christ as their Lord and Savior. They would thus make confessed faith necessary for this rebirth. But, even though confessed belief is in fact crucial, it also is not the full way of salvation that is taught by the apostles (and they did not even have “altar calls”!). If we are going to build our theology by a careful obedience to all of the New Testament we must conclude that, contrary to popular evangelical theology, we cannot reduce the way into the kingdom of God into the following:
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved... (Acts 16:30).
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21).
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved... (Romans 10:9).
These are all true conditions of salvation, of course; but as we will see, they are not all the true conditions. The apostles gave us a number of statements written in what we might call “theological shorthand,” where a part is made to substitute for the whole. We shall discover what that “whole” is by putting together all of the partial statements, and putting them into the correct order.1 So, let us look quickly at some of these Scriptures; they are not all of the partial statements, but they are a fair sampling of them. Please read them in your Bible; we shall only summarize them briefly below.
Partial descriptions of the way of salvation
Please give to the following texts the same kind of literal and “common sense” interpretation that you would want your children or employees to give to your instructions.
Of these fourteen statements, there is no single one that overrules or neutralizes the straightforward meaning of any of the others. The more specific statements give the proper context for the more general.7 And all of these statements must be fulfilled in our lives in order for us to know with confidence that we are walking fruitfully in accordance with the revealed promises of God. If God will, because of our ignorance, save us apart from any of these conditions, that is His prerogative. But He has not promised any such thing; and what man in his right mind should dare to demand from God what turns out to be exceptional treatment? It is for us to learn and obey His will, not expect Him to bend to our wills.
And what does He reveal to us about the way to our salvation? Let us outline the meaning and the order of the statements above. The statements can be summarized under the themes of Election, Preparation, Belief, Repentance, Baptism, and Empowerment.
Election by God
From beginning to end, the Scriptures cry out, salvation is the work of the Lord. This is true, not only in its objective foundation in the work of Christ, but also in its subjective appropriation by each of us. It may offend man’s illusions about our own freedom, and it may even seem to contradict the idea of a loving God to hear it, but the Scriptures very clearly state that God appoints salvation for every individual who will enter into His salvation: I am saved because God created that destiny for me long before I was born, indeed, even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4); and, having created that destiny, He worked infallibly to draw us to Him.
From study of the scriptures you probably already know how carefully God had prepared for and prophesied about the life of His Son, long before His birth on earth: how He planned events of His personal and public life in amazing detail. Well, the language Peter used about Jesus in his sermon at Pentecost was the very same language that Paul uses about us in the passage from Romans 8:29-30: He was delivered up “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). By bringing both of these passages together we can see that the Lord reveals that He knew us and pre-destined us as intimately and as carefully as He did His very own Son. Believe this even before you can understand how it can be: believe it because your Master reveals it to you.
God knew how to plan and execute His Son’s ministry within the context of man’s free choices: the Father could appoint Jesus to be sacrificed, and yet men also freely chose to kill Him. If He could work that way with His “natural” Son, does it not make perfect sense that God should know how to work in the same way with you, His adopted child? Indeed, if God did not create your salvation -- if He did not establish its foundation in Christ, and work faithfully, ingeniously and energetically to lead you to repent and believe -- you could not be saved at all, so ensnared are we all by sin. Even our faith is a gift of God!
It is most important for us to understand the significance of God being the initiator in this preparation that leads to faith. Because of our human limitation, we cannot experience that it is indeed God who is awakening within us that interest in and need for spiritual things. It is quite natural for us to assume that it is simply we who have become concerned or disturbed -- or that it is the preacher who is getting through to us (both of which may, of course, also be true). But because of that human limitation, we may also very naturally tend to think that it is also we alone who freely decide to believe in Christ; as if we were computers that weighed all the “pros” and “cons,” and then made the decision that harmonizes with the laws of mathematical probability. That kind of assumption will turn faith into a form of works; faith will then have become a work of ours that somehow “causes” our salvation. The person who has come to understand God’s initiative throughout his or her path to God will quite naturally experience both awe and heart-melting gratitude at the aggressiveness of our Savior’s love.8 God did not simply lay the foundation of our salvation in Christ and then leave it to chance or to our own enslaved wills or to the rhetorical powers of preachers to draw us to Christ. As the Article of Religion in the Book of Common Prayer states it, the understanding of our predestination and calling by God is a source of great assurance to the true disciple:
...the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things; as well because it does greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it does fervently kindle their love towards God.9
Preparing for redemption
Having known those whom He has appointed to salvation in Christ, the Lord also works from the time of our birth to bring us to the place where we can accept and want to accept that salvation. One way of preparation is through the godly influence of parents and other Christian people. This influence, like the influence of the Law, serves as a tutor which can help to lead us to accept the justification which is through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:23-24).10
Even more amazing, however, is the fact that, without being the one who entices us into the path of open rebellion, God may use that “way” quite as effectively as the godly way of preparation, working to bring us to the point of exhaustion in our life of rebellion and pleasure.
But whatever the course that our lives have taken, the important thing is that if we have truly entered His salvation, it was because God was creative on our behalf all along, even from our mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). He worked as one of the three forces in our personal history (i.e., God, man and Satan), allowing the other two to be creative, yet using even their work for His purpose (e.g., Romans 8:28). No matter how deep our godless loneliness, despair or depravity may have been (nor how “boringly normal”), God was being creative with us in those experiences to “set us up” for the time when He could call us to trust in Christ.
One part of the preparation for our redemption is something that we do: learn the life and teaching of Jesus. You cannot know a person without knowing something about them; and certainly no person of integrity will place his faith and obedience into the hands of one about whom he knows little. Having an accurate picture of the character and teaching of Jesus is the basis for all the future responses that bring us into God’s kingdom. While Jesus was in the flesh, entrance into the kingdom of God began by observing Him (quite literally observing Him), and responding to Him in a way that brought you nearer to Him. There has been no substantial change in that procedure; in any age, salvation is simply responding to Jesus in the way that God directs and enables. Total identification with Jesus, uninterrupted communion with Him, and perfect vision of Him in His glory: these are the substance of our salvation. The way to salvation begins with and is consummated in the fixing of our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of faith (Hebrews 12:2). To see Jesus is to see the Father, but we must see Jesus as He really is in order to see the Father as He really is and become like Him (1 John 3:2). Our inner picture of Jesus must reflect His actual personality before we can respond rightly and fruitfully to Him. That is why the stereotypical “Sunday School” unbalanced portrayal of “sweet and gentle Jesus” actually does harm in later life: it anesthetizes us against godly fear and zeal. The inner picture we develop of Jesus needs to be the very same picture that the gospels portray; otherwise we are responding with some degree of inner delusion -- a delusion that must bear fruit in the degree of liberation and empowerment we can know.11
In order for us to come to possess the divine personality, we must know it first: we must come to know and possess His kind of love (not just any kind), His kind of obedience, His kind of humor, etc. And we must gradually learn when to manifest each of the many facets of His personality: when to feel His gentleness, when to feel His anger, etc. The knowledge of Jesus that we gain through accurate Scriptural study is a most important part of that formation process. Only the inner work of the Spirit can actually build up within us that divine personality; but only our knowledge of what Jesus was like can make it possible for us to say a “yes” to the real Jesus, and to participate in our sanctification with understanding.
Believing the Gospel
Believing “the gospel” is so much more than believing that Jesus was God’s Son and that He rose from the dead: the devil and Simon the Magician believed that much (Mark 3:11; Acts 8:13). The gospel includes those facts, but much more beside.12 The “good news” (i.e., “gospel”) is this: Even though we are polluted by our inherited spiritual death and by the guilt of our own sins; even though God sees through the veneer of our goodness and knows us to be in explicit and implicit rebellion against Him and His ways; even though we hanker after status from the very race that has despised His Son; even though we love many things more than Him; and even though He is going to cast the whole human race into the hellish judgment it has brought upon itself -- even though all this is true, it is also true that He does not want you to be consumed by your sins; that He has created a refuge for you in Christ; that He will accept you and give you His righteousness and empower you unto holiness; all that is asked of you is that you abandon this condemned world, trust Christ as your teacher and savior, and become His disciple.
For you to truly “believe the gospel” is to be convicted that you are indeed a rebel against God (despite your likability or the intensity of your religion), that you are a failure as a person (as God defines “person”); that you really do deserve to spend eternity with Satan; that the world really is hopelessly corrupt, enslaved to Satan and condemned by God; that you really do need deliverance from the world’s fate and from enslavement to your own inner compulsions; that God in His love really has sent His own Son from heaven to deliver you from all this; that He has taken into Himself all of your guilt and your punishment; that He was raised from the dead with your hope in mind; that He will lead you from heaven into His truth and the ways of God; that He will fill you with power for witness and for “refreshment” when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. To believe the gospel is to be convicted of your sin and the gospel’s truth. When you find yourself believing all this, you are experiencing the “calling” Paul mentioned in Romans 8:30. If you believe all this to be true which the world’s children and half-converted Christians consider madness or foolishness, then you are in fact being called by God Himself to become one of His covenant children; then you too are to next cry out, “What shall I do?” (Acts 2:37). And the answer will be the same for you as for them: “Repent,” “be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins,” “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Repentance is the negative counterpart of the confession of faith. It is the heartfelt and open renunciation of all that is “anti-Christ,” so that one can then make the heartfelt and open profession of all that is of Christ. It is not simply a secret act made in the depths of one’s heart (although it is first that, to be sure); it is an open renunciation made before witnesses. This will be described more fully when we treat of baptism in the next section.
To repent is to inwardly and outwardly renounce the sinner’s independence; to renounce the world as a “perverse generation” (Acts 2:40); to renounce the world’s methods and standards of succeeding and of dealing with problems (i.e., to renounce all greed and violence, including the socially institutionalized forms of them); to renounce as sinful all those acts or attitudes or so-called wisdoms that contradict the spirit and teachings of Jesus; to renounce every form of satanic deception.13 In short, repentance is the renunciation of the “world, the flesh and the devil,” especially confessing the particular forms of them which held you captive.
We shall discuss the meaning of baptism more fully in another chapter. All that we want to emphasize here is the important place it occupies in God’s way of salvation. If you receive the baptismal Scriptures that have been referenced above simply and literally then the necessity of baptism is quite apparent; its necessity can only be denied when people develop a theology of salvation that is based upon only one or two of the partial descriptions that we noted in the beginning of this chapter.
It is wrong to drive a wedge between faith and the acts of faith, and then try to minimize or deny the importance of those acts which are commanded of faith.14 Consider the Lord’s attitude as revealed in the bathing of Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5:1-15), the firing of the arrows by king Joash (2 Kings 13:14-20) or the presentation of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). What was it that “saved” them? No thoughtful person would claim that these persons “earned” their respective deliverances by such token gestures; nor would they suggest that there was some “power” in the water, the arrows or the walking that effected the deliverance. What saved them was the divine Word of promise, which these men believed enough to carry out such potentially embarrassing or humbling actions as were assigned to them. It is not because they believed Jesus, but because they believed enough to do what they were told,that the Word of promise was fulfilled in them.15 So let us not presume that our God is too “big” or “mature” to tie our salvation, healing or other form of deliverance to some humbling gesture; such presumption may say more about our lack of godly fear and lack of willingness to obey than it does about God’s character.
There is no “magic” in the baptismal water, nor is there any meritorious work involved in it; only the “obedience of faith.” Suppose God spoke to you and said: “If you will trust me enough to dive down to the bottom of the lake, I will let you have the treasure you will find there.” Would you tell Him how immature He was to force you to lower yourself, or would you start diving with enthusiasm? We know the answer, of course. Listen, pilgrim, God has very profound reasons for doing everything He does, and baptism was no afterthought or optional “meaningful symbol” to Him when He required it of our faith. If He tells you that He will unite you to Christ in the baptismal water do not resist or rebuke Him for it; rather, start diving.
It is not faith in isolation (from election, repentance, discipleship, etc.) that saves, as the “cheap grace” versions of pampered Christianity imply; nor is it baptism in isolation (from repentance, faith, discipleship, etc.) that saves, as those who baptize without requiring faith so often promise. If we discipline ourselves to live under apostolic teaching, we must conclude that the promise of God is given to believers who trust Christ enough to openly renounce sin and openly confess Him in baptism.16 If God will accept a believer apart from that baptism, He is saving them outside of His promise, which truly is His prerogative. But His prerogatives are not our prerogatives. If He chooses to accept a non-baptized Quaker, or a person who comes to believe and dies presuming that he was already baptized because of having been sprinkled as an infant, that is His prerogative; but foolish is the man who will be shown on the last day to have been careless toward God’s grace.
Apostolic baptism is the kind of baptism that allows all of the following statements about salvation to be fulfilled at the same time:
Is it not clear to you that if you teach a baptism that regenerates infants (e.g., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran), you fulfill (3), but deny (1) and (2).17 However, if you baptize infants but teach that they are not saved until their later faith (Presbyterian, Methodists and others), you fulfill (1) and (2), but deny (3).18 And, finally, if you baptize only those who profess faith, but do not teach it as part of the way of salvation (Baptists, Anabaptists, Pentecostals and evangelical protestants in general), you cannot fulfill (3) without twisting the meaning of “save.”
Apostolic baptism is the immersion in water, under the name of the Triune God, of a repentant, believing disciple. There is no other baptism known, taught, implied or practiced in the New Testament or in the earliest period of Church history. When you come up from the water of this baptism you may have full confidence that you are within the covenant of salvation.
The effects of your redemption: When God finally brought you into that fruitful response to the gospel of Christ that culminates in baptism, you entered the covenant and kingdom of God. Your destiny changed: from the hell that awaits Satan and his prisoners, to God’s heaven (and to the “new heaven and earth” of Revelation 21:1). Your status before God and Satan changed: from one over whom Satan possesses rights as a ruler and who was under the wrath of a loving God, to one who was now claimed, adopted and protected by God, and whom Satan can only assault by permission of God (demoting him from ruler to tempter). Your inner nature was changed: from death of spirit to a spirit alive with the Spirit’s life because of His indwelling. You used to be flesh; now you have flesh (See Romans 7:17-18). Your thinking changed: your conscience was freed from the fear of condemnation and of death, to an expectation of seeing your Savior face to face. You became united to Christ and a member of His Body, which is the Church. But there is even more than all of this for you: you are now to receive “the promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49).
“Power from on high”
At this point in the way of salvation, the very same divine works have been accomplished in you as were accomplished in the original disciples by the time of Acts 1:4. You have already received the Spirit of Christ as the life of your spirit, as they did on the evening of the resurrection (read John 20:22-23). Now you are ready for the Spirit to come upon you and fill every aspect of your inner being and body so thoroughly that it is called a “baptism.”19
But remember, this power from on high is given to “disciples,” to people who have consecrated themselves to follow Jesus into glory through the Calvary God has prepared for them. More than any other reason which accounts for the delay or the failure of baptized Christians to be baptized in the Holy Spirit is, I believe, the ignorance of how seriously Jesus intends us to be in our life with Him. A.J. Gordon said it very movingly back in 1894:
We conceive that the great end for which the enduement of the Spirit is bestowed is ...our consecrated usefulness. ...If any shrink from this devotement [sic], how can he have the fullness of the Spirit? God cannot put his signature upon what is not His. Hence, if under the sway of a worldly spirit we withhold ourselves from God and insist on self-ownership, we need not count it strange if God withholds Himself from us and denies the seal of divine ownership.”20
If you are deeply pierced and relatively unburdened by a strong ego, you may be baptized in the Spirit like Jesus, right after coming out of the baptismal water. Perhaps God may even reverse His own order, and deal with you like Cornelius for some reason (Acts 10:44-48). Or, perhaps you may have to wait for ten days or several weeks, like the Jerusalem and Samaritan disciples. Or yet again, perhaps you will have to wait prayerfully on the Lord for three months as I did, or longer. However long you may wait for His promise, the Lord will be faithful, and He will be very creative in your life during that waiting period. Follow the advice in Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8; pray persistently and do not lose heart! Remember that the outpouring of the Spirit is the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49), and that it is through patient and expectant waiting that we inherit God’s promises (Hebrews 6:12).21 There is an old adage which says that a man chases a woman until she catches him, and it is an apt description of what we are talking about. Do not forget, however, that if a person has not accepted a deep conviction about his sinfulness he cannot expect a deep encounter with the Holy Spirit. The water in our well can only be as deep as the dirt was dug out, if you know what I mean.
An experience: It is very important to remember that one does not have to “take it on faith” that the Holy Spirit has come upon him, any more than the disciples did at Pentecost. The initial entrance of supernatural power does not need to be assumed, because it can be remembered (e.g., Acts 19:2, Galatians 3:1f). That He is still with you during a period of the “dark night of the soul” may well need to be affirmed in faith during that time, but His entrance is very self-evident. The body that the Lord designed to be our vehicle of experience and communication during our stay in this dimension was designed with the activity and expression of the Holy Spirit in mind. The body, with its emotions and sensations will -- along with the mind -- record the entrance, presence and activity of the Holy Spirit’s power, if the Spirit has in fact made His entrance. When power went forth from Jesus, He clearly sensed it (Mark 5:30; Luke 8:46); why would we not also sense it when that Power enters into us? No matter what dangers of deception and bodily lust are involved in giving some place to feeling, sensation and emotion (and they are very real dangers), any true Pentecostal movement of the Spirit of God will satisfy the physical nature’s higher desires and sensitivities as much as He satisfies the higher desires of our minds for truth and meaning. If God is not allowed to satisfy the physical nature’s legitimate desire for the effects of His presence, then we may become impelled by bodily and psychological need to take one of two alternate courses: to search for that satisfaction outside of the gospel (e.g., romantic thrill, therapy-generated release or excitement and adventure), or else to grow gradually into an “up-tight prude,” for whom feelings are unnatural and for whom legitimate pleasure arouses guilt. The kingdom of God consists of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17); when the Spirit brings His peace into you, you will feel peaceful; when He comes upon you with His joy, you will feel happy; when He comes upon you with power, you will know it and remember it forever. Hallelujah! Just make sure you are searching for the holiness of the Spirit, and not those feelings: seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you.
Do you have to pray in tongues when you are filled with the Holy Spirit? People seem to get worried about that subject quite needlessly. Jesus taught us that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart’s filling (Matthew 12:34), and that is the principle that applies here. The question is not one of forcing the utterance of this mysterious “tongues,” but one of entering into a praise that flows from a heart made full by the presence and power of God. Apparently, not all the believers who received the Spirit spoke out in unknown vocal patterns; what the Book of Acts actually says is that they spoke in tongues and/or prophesied and/or “exalted God” (Acts 10:46, 19:6). When I received the Holy Spirit back in 1972, I did not begin praying in tongues for about a week; but from the moment I received until now, whenever we gathered to pray and praise God, I experienced a movement of the Spirit within me that required spoken expression: the mouth needs to speak when the heart is truly filled with the Spirit. Perhaps you will break forth in words of praise, in words of prophecy or in tongues (or all of them); the nature of the utterance is not what matters. What matters is that in your heart you experience emptiness from God’s conviction and fullness from His Spirit.
Having said that, however, one should not think that tongues, prophecy or any other manifestations of the Spirit are to be deemed inconsequential. If you want to be an apostolic Christian, then you have to yield to apostolic instruction with a childlike trust and surrender. And Paul, Christ’s authorized representative to you, said, “desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1); and he also said, “I wish (or “want”) that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy” (14:5). He further said that the “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the Church”23 (14:4). If you say you believe in apostolic authority listen carefully: Paul, your father in Christ (4:15), tells you to desire the spiritual gifts earnestly (not reluctantly); he tells you that you will build up yourself and your brotherhood by exercising them. Paul did not say that the right attitude is, “if the Lord wants me to have them, it’s up to Him to force them on me;” rather, we are instructed to have a strong desire for them. So if you have been baptized in the Spirit but do not enjoy these verbal manifestations of the Spirit, please “get off the fence,” and start praying and fasting before the Lord.
The way of salvation does not end with baptism and empowerment, for salvation is also spoken of in future terms in the New Testament:
...it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us that when we believed (Romans 13:11).
...let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation... (1 Thessalonians 5:8-9).
Preparing for a future salvation
...an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:4-5).
Between the time of empowerment and the coming of that future salvation, whose fruits we are now beginning to enjoy, is the period of discipline and growth into maturity:
It is for discipline that you endure... He disciplines us for our good that we may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:7, 10).
...applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, ...knowledge, ...self-control, ...perseverance, ...godliness, ...brotherly kindness, ...Christian love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ... For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you” (2 Peter 1:5-11).
We are thus admitted into the first fruits of salvation now, that we may be prepared by God to enter into its fullness in the future. If you have truly entered into the way of salvation, you will walk in the way of salvation, accepting and learning from the discipline of the Lord, abandoning self-reliance more and more perfectly, growing in faith and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, growing in the power of the Spirit, disciplining yourself for the purpose of godliness, probing ever more deeply the mysteries of the Scriptural revelation, and learning to serve people with increasingly purified love. Peter implies, however, that if you are not walking this way of salvation and if these qualities are not increasing, then they render you useless and unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, every man who is truly called by God to enter into the life of His Son will pursue that sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
It is quite needless to worry about whether you can “lose” your salvation. Of course you cannot be forcibly pulled away from the grace in which you stand, for the Father is greater than all, and no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29). The disturbing question is not whether you can “lose” that salvation, but whether you ever did really want it: want it enough to accept personal truths from God that are usually quite painful to the ego, want it enough to vigorously pursue that holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). For if you are truly called by God to believe in Jesus, you will desire not only the destiny of salvation, but the way into that destiny.24 Assume no man to be elect of God who is not pursuing and growing into that holiness! God is hardly likely to call a man to believe and then stagnate; the God-given call to believe comes with the call to die to this world and become complete in Christ. In the pampered and presumption-ridden Christianity that is so common around us there appear to be many who “believe,” but the Christ and the gospel they believe in has been dangerously diluted. Like I have done, they walk in an “orthodoxy” that is derived from only a subset of the New Testament; they do not know from personal experience the conviction and the joy of the Spirit’s presence, nor are they vigorously pursuing the character and personality of Christ. For such “Christians,” the pit of hell must be seen to be as much a lively option as it is for those who are openly unbelieving. But if you have been won to a Christ who has called you out of worldliness into the holiness of a crucified life, you need have no worry that you are in their dangerous place.
TESTIMONY FROM THE EARLY CHURCH
1. The Epistle of Barnabas (late first - early second century)25 [He describes Christian baptism as] that baptism which leads to the remission of sins (Ch. 11).
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 (Ch. 11).
2. Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.)26
As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated... That we may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God... (Ch. 61).
3. The Schleitheim Confession (Anabaptist, 1527)27
Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with Him, and to all those who with this significance request baptism of us and demand it for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism...”
4. Alexander Campbell (1835): With regard to baptism, we are indebted to Alexander Campbell and the churches of the Restoration Movement for restoring the balance of apostolic doctrine and practice.28 Here are several selections:29
Proposition IX: That it is not faith, but an act resulting from faith, which changes our state...
No relation in which we stand to the material world -- no political relation, or relation to society -- can be changed by believing, apart from the acts to which that belief or faith induces us. Faith never made an American citizen, though it may have been the cause of many thousands migrating to this continent and ultimately becoming citizens of these United States. ...Thus, when in Scripture men are said to be justified by faith, or to receive any blessing through faith, it is because faith is the principle of action, and, as such, the cause of those acts by which such blessings are enjoyed. But the principle without those acts is nothing; and it is only by the acts which it induces to perform that it becomes the instrument of any blessings to man.
...In his letter to the Hebrews, when he brings up his cloud of witnesses to the excellency of this principle, he shows that by it (i.e., by faith) the ancients obtained a high reputation -- that is, as he explains, by their acts of faith in obedience to God’s commands.
That faith by itself neither justifies, sanctifies, nor purifies, is admitted by those who oppose immersion for the forgiveness of sins. They all include the idea of the blood of Christ; and yet they seem not to perceive that, in objecting to immersion as necessary to forgiveness in connection with faith, their own arguments preclude them from connecting the blood of Christ with faith. If they admit that faith, apart from the blood of Christ, cannot obtain pardon, they admit all that is necessary to prove them inconsistent with themselves in opposing immersion for the remission of sins, or immersion as that act by which our state is changed (pp. 166-167).
Many, seeing so much stress laid upon faith or belief, suppose that all blessings flow from it immediately. This is a great mistake. ...The woman who touched the tuft of the mantle of Jesus had as much faith before as after; but, though her faith was the cause of her putting forth her hand, and accompanied it, she was not cured until the touch. ...It was not faith in the pool of Siloam that cured the blind man whose eyes Jesus anointed with clay. It was his washing his eyes in Siloam’s water. Hence, the imposition of hands, or a word, or a touch, or a shadow, or something from the persons of those anointed with the Holy Spirit, was the immediate cause of all the cures recorded in the New Testament... It is impossible to receive the remission of sins without faith. In this world of means -- however it may be in a world where there are no means -- it is as impossible to receive any blessing through faith without the appointed means. Both are indispensable (pp. 182-183).
... (In the New Testament) we have salvation ascribed to grace, to Jesus Christ, to his death and resurrection -- three times to baptism, either by itself or in conjunction, once with faith, and once with the Holy Spirit; to works, or to calling upon the Lord, or to enduring to the end. To these we might add other phrases nearly similar, but these include all the causes to which we have just now alluded. Saved by grace: the moving cause; by Jesus: the efficient cause; by his death, and resurrection and life: the procuring cause; by the gospel: the disposing cause; by faith: the formal cause; by baptism: the immediate cause; and by enduring to the end, or persevering in the Lord: the concurring cause (pp. 217-218).
Gifts of the spirit
1. The Didache (late first century)30
But permit the prophets to offer thanksgiving (i.e., at the Eucharist) as much as they desire (ch. 10; this text also provides evidence for the existence of prophets).
But concerning the apostles and prophets, so do ye according to the ordinance of the Gospel. Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord. ...and any prophet speaking in the Spirit ye shall not try, neither discern... Yet not everyone that speaketh in the Spirit is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord (ch. 11; evidence for apostles and prophets).
2. Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.)31
For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city [Rome, probably], many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs (Ch. VI).
The prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time (Ch. LXXXII).
Now, it is possible to see amongst us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God (Ch. LXXXVIII).
3. Irenaeus (c. 185 A.D., in Gaul/France)32
And so far are they [i.e., gnostic heretics] from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and as the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity -- the entire Church in that particular locality entreating (the blessing) with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been restored in answer to the prayers of the saints -- that they do not even believe this can be possibly done (II.xxxi.2).
For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years... Calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she (i.e., the Church) has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind... (II.xxxii.4).
In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God... (V.vi.1).
Statements like the above can be multiplied many times to demonstrate that all during the early period of the Church’s history the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit were in existence and were expected to remain in existence. They had never heard the novel modern idea that the signs and gifts were supposed to have ceased when the Scriptures were completed, or when the last of the Twelve had died. Is this not another demonstration that if we would read the New Testament more literally we would be on the right track?
4. The Assemblies of God - Statement of Fundamental Truths33
All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all in the early Christian Church. With it comes the endowment of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry. This experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth. With the baptism in the Holy Ghost come such experiences as an overflowing fullness of the Spirit, a deepened reverence for God, an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work, and a more active love for Christ, for His Word and for the lost.34
5. The Christian and Missionary Alliance - Statement of Faith35
It is the will of God that each believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be sanctified wholly, being separated from sin and the world and fully dedicated to the will of God, thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service. This is both a crisis and a progressive experience wrought in the life of the believer subsequent to conversion.
8 If you can find the poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson, you will see a beautiful illustration of the effect that this doctrine can have upon a person’s thinking and relationship with God. <back>
10 The importance of the believing community of disciples in this process can hardly be exaggerated. For better or worse, it seems that it is usually the Church that provides the context for an individual’s understanding of the terms of the gospel. To understand such terms as “disciple,” “repentance,” “humility,” “obedience” and “love one another” the individual quite spontaneously looks around at the community and uses their quality of Christian life to determine what God wants from him, and what it is that God is offering to him. The Church seems to produce disciples after its own depth. <back>
11 Children do not need a modified picture of Jesus. Just think of the children whom Jesus drew near to Him (Mark 10:13f). They had also seen Him rebuke corrupt power, hypocrites and evil spirits with divine anger and authority. They had heard the same warnings from Him that everyone else did. They would have seen the same trial and crucifixion anyone else did. They did not need to see only one side of Jesus because they were children. <back>
16 To establish this point, that it is baptism which is the place God has appointed for His grace to meet our faith, read the Baptist theologian G.R. Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962). It is a profound, careful and balanced treatment on baptism, although somewhat technical. <back>
17 For very potent criticisms of infant baptism, see Beasley-Murray. See also Thomas E. Watson, Should Infants be Baptized? (Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1976); everyone of his many quotations is from a defender of infant baptism, who happens to concede the particular point Watson is arguing against the practice. Another excellent work is Paul K. Jewett’s Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1978): “an appraisal of the argument that as infants were once circumcised, so they should now be baptized.” <back>
21 Because the gift of the Holy Spirit is a promise of God, ignoring or refusing to believe in this promise almost guarantees that you will not receive it. Christian traditions that do not lead their people to expect and to seek this Pentecostal promise are the main cause of why so many sincere Christians have not received the wonderful Presence of the Spirit’s power. <back>
24 Apparently, not all who believe in the name of Jesus do so because God is calling them to that belief: think, for example, of Simon the magician (Acts 8:13-21), who is described as having believed but as not having repented, and as still being in bondage. <back>
26 Ibid., “The First Apology,” p. 183. Note the how comfortable early Christian brethren were with both the teachings of personal faith and of sacramental grace: the recognition that we must be committed and repentant, and that God regenerates us during and in the washing of water. They did not see these two elements as mutually exclusive, as do those who have taken opposing sides in the great Catholic-Protestant divide. <back>
27 Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., The Protestant Reformation (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 131. The Anabaptists restored to baptism the need for prior repentance, faith in Christ and commitment to lead a surrendered life. However, as you may be able to detect here, they were not able to reconcile that aspect of baptism with its sacramental aspect, in the way we see in the passage from Justin Martyr. <back>
28 The Church of Christ denomination has, with justification, been accused of divisiveness because of its insistence (by some or many of its congregations) of rebaptizing even already-immersed Baptists -- on the ground that if you do not explicitly believe that your baptism is what washes away your sins then you have not been baptized. But the requirement of such a prior understanding is not at all derived from Scriptural command or implication. All one has to do is change his thinking about when God considers his union with Christ to actually have begun; he does not have to repeat the immersion. Using marriage as an analogy, a husband who had once thought he had become united to his wife when he proposed and she accepted does not have to repeat the ceremony when he realizes that he did not become one with her until the wedding; he merely changes his mind about the matter. <back>
34 From the Assemblies of God Constitution. The Constitution also teaches that “the baptism of believers in the Holy Ghost is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance.” <back>