-The New Testament Plan of Salvation-
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
The subject of salvation should be of interest to everyone, especially to professing Christians and those who want to follow God's Word. There is much in the New Testament that, unfortunately, is often overlooked in the denominational world today. The Spirit of God comes to lead us into all truth, but it can be very difficult for people to receive anything that differs from what they were taught in the past, especially those who have already had a Christian experience. Many people are afraid of anything that isn't taught in their particular denomination, and are apt to classify it as heresy, false teaching, or fanaticism without stopping to see whether or not it is truly found in the Word of God.
Saul of Tarsus whole-heartedly believed that he was serving God when he persecuted and imprisoned the Christians of his day, but after Jesus appeared and spoke to him, he was dramatically transformed. He later declared, “After the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers” (Acts 24:14). We must search out the Scriptures with an open mind in order to truly determine if what we’ve been taught can hold up to the standard of the Word of God. Traditions of men and churches are useless if they are not found written in Scripture.
The Teachings of the Apostles:
Have you ever studied the New Testament and compared the mainstream Christianity of today with the Christianity practiced and taught by the apostles? In the early church, as recorded in the New Testament, they baptized (immersed) all their converts in Jesus’ name (not in the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). They were also all filled with the Holy Spirit, manifesting the sign of speaking in other tongues. They believed and practiced divine healing through prayer and the laying on of hands. They routinely expected and experienced the nine supernatural Gifts of the Spirit described in the New Testament by Paul. All of these experiences that were routine and expected in the early church are often considered fanaticism by many modern denominations.
What pattern of Christianity should we look to as our standard for what the church should be like... the Bible or modern denominations? How did mainstream Christianity stray so far from the original pattern presented in the book of Acts (Acts being the record of the early church)? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). We were never given any command that retracts or alters the original pattern of Christianity that the earliest church understood as normative.
Many people have inherited religious beliefs from their mothers and fathers and have never stopped to compare those beliefs with our only guidebook – the Bible. Many people believe that by mentally "accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior," they are obeying Scripture and therefore receiving salvation. They have been told by denominational Christianity that this "sinner's prayer" method is how one becomes a Christian. But what does the New Testament teach? What does it record the Apostles teaching and practicing?
On the Day of Pentecost, when the New Testament church was inaugurated, the Holy Spirit filled all who were waiting for Him, and they all spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). Peter explained, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:16-17). If God worked in this way in the days of the apostles, and we read of this same sign being used throughout Acts and the Epistles, then why do many modern Christians not expect this same experience today? Where does Scripture retract or alter this consistent pattern always observed in the New Testament? If we do not understand something, we should go slowly and see whether it is really in the Bible, lest we be found fighting against God and He would say to us as He did to Saul, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).
When Peter preached his marvelous sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost pricked the hearts of the hearers with conviction, and they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter gave them the only New Testament method of receiving salvation: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). We know for sure that the context here was salvation, as Peter several verses later instructed those who heard him to "save themselves" from the spiritual corruption of their day (v. 40).
How terribly this method has been changed and twisted today, as Peter's clear command of repentance, water baptism, and Holy Spirit baptism detailed in Acts 2:38 is typically replaced with the so-called "sinner's prayer"! No wonder many churches do not have the results the apostles did. The record and pattern of Acts should be normative and expected in the church – not the exception! But over the course of history, the church has deviated from the Biblical pattern. In anticipation of this, Paul declared, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel … let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
Receiving the Holy Ghost is a very definite experience, accompanied by definite supernatural evidence. Peter and the Jewish Christians with him perceived that the household of Cornelius had received the Holy Ghost “because they heard them speak with tongues” (Acts 10:46). This was the same sign witnessed on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and seen also in the account of the Spirit baptisms of the Ephesian believers (Acts 19). Since this is the consistent Biblical sign of the Spirit baptism in the early church, then we should expect the same evidence today. Because many people do not, they mistakenly believe that they have received the Holy Ghost when in fact they have not. It is often said that the Spirit is received automatically when one prays the "sinner's prayer". However, this modern invention is never witnessed in the New Testament Scriptures. The early church knew of no such "conversion experience."
For this reason, there is much deadness in many churches and often a feeling that “something is missing” in the lives of many professing Christians. There is something missing – the authentic baptism of the Holy Ghost, as experienced by the New Testament church!
There has been a measure of truth in most churches, and therefore they have received a measure of blessings, but God is encouraging us to come deeper and obey/experience the same gospel pattern preached and practiced in the Book of Acts. God is no respecter of persons. He will do for us just what He did for the apostles if we meet the same conditions – simple faith and obedience.
Repentance, Baptism, and the Holy Spirit:
Let’s quickly outline this Biblical gospel salvation plan as commanded in Scripture, as we see first commanded in Acts 2:38 on the birthday of the church.
First, we must understand that the grace of God through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross has made salvation possible. There is nothing we can do to add to what He has done. We receive this free gift through the vehicle of faith. Yet, man does have a role in his own salvation – his role is simple obedience. Part of true Biblical saving faith is appropriation, or application (obedience). One who truly has saving faith will obey God's salvation command in order to apply it to their lives personally. Someone has rightly said, “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”
First, as Peter preached in Acts 2:38, we are to repent, making a decision to turn from sin and look to Christ in faith. Repentance is motivated by godly sorrow, and it includes confession of our sins to God and a meaningful decision to change.
Second, we must be baptized (immersed) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus told His disciples to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Most today believe this means Jesus wanted them to repeat the Trinitarian titles (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). However, a precise reading of this verse reveals that He did not say to baptize in the titles! If this command literally meant to use the Trinitarian titles, then there would be a great contradiction in the Bible, for the disciples never baptized in any way other than "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (see Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16). So, we must conclude that either the disciples disobeyed/misunderstood Jesus’ command, or the mainstream church today is. Jesus said to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost - which clearly, the Apostles understood to be "the Lord Jesus Christ," since the New Testament only records baptisms being performed in this singular name. The Trinitarian titles are not the one proper name of God, but rather are terms that describe God’s relationships or manifestations toward humanity.
These three roles of God are revealed to us in the name of Jesus. The name of the Son is Jesus (Matthew 1:21). Moreover, Jesus said that He came and manifested the Father’s name, and that the Holy Ghost would be sent in His name (John 5:43; 14:26). The one saving name of God is Jesus, which literally means Yahweh-Savior. Jesus was the one God of the Old Testament who came in flesh to be our Savior. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name” (Luke 24:47). In Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, according to Colossians 2:9. So, to fulfill Matthew 28:19, we must baptize in Jesus’ name. This is the apostolic pattern we see being exercised in Acts, and referred to consistently in the Epistles. The early church knew of no other baptism than "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Third, we must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) just as God poured out upon the disciples and early church. When that occurs, we will manifest the same Biblical sign that they did – speaking in unknown tongues. (See Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6.) As Jesus said, “These signs shall follow them that believe … they shall speak with new tongues...” (Mark 16:17). This is the consistent apostolic pattern that we witness all throughout Acts and the Epistles, and is the only initial sign the Bible teaches us to expect at the moment of Spirit baptism.
It takes obedience to all three elements to complete God’s plan of salvation for the New Testament believer. Again, this is the Scriptural pattern first commanded on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38) and then consistently experienced throughout the rest of Acts. This is how the early church "obeyed the gospel." We were never given any instruction that retracts or alters this command.
Our hearts are burdened for those who really love the Lord but who through ignorance or fear are being cheated out of their inheritance. We encourage you to search the Scriptures, and see whether these things are true. Earnestly ask God to lead you into further truth despite the earthly consequences. We must obey the gospel according to the Biblical pattern in order to be ready for the coming of the Lord. He will come to catch away (or rapture) those who have the same Spirit dwelling in them that raised up Jesus from the dead. Now is the time to examine yourself to see whether or not you are in the faith. And if you believe you are, is it the true Biblical faith of the apostles, or the faith of a mainstream religious system created by men? Now is the time to make your election sure!
May God bless you and lead you in Jesus’ name!
Note: For a deeper look into the subject matter discussed here, please consult our study
entitled "Basic Christian Doctrine: The Nature Of God + The Gospel Plan Of Salvation".