It is important for us to realize that God has a path to salvation for mankind. It is not my path to salvation. It is not some board or council’s path to salvation. It is not the path to salvation of some college of titled officials. It is not the entrance requirements for some church or religious institution. It is God’s path, and as such He calls all men to come out of the world and be a part of His ekklesia, His church, those who have been ‘called out’ of the world, His own special people (1 Peter 2:9).
As part of God’s path for the salvation of man, it is necessary for man to hear the word of God. There are several Bible passages that we might turn to in order to see this fact. For instance, in Romans 10:17 Paul writes, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (NKJV). If we are going to have faith in God, which we will see is necessary for us to have, it is necessary for us to hear the word of God. Furthermore, Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). In order to come to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, we have to hear the words of the Father.
How shall we hear God’s word? Let us come back to Romans 10 to see what constitutes God’s plan for man to hear His word. Notice what Paul writes just a few verses prior to what we’ve already examined:
For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15).
In this passage Paul is definitely writing about the salvation of mankind. We have to call on the name of the Lord (for more on this see step 5 of God’s Path to Salvation), but in order to call on Him, we must believe in Him. In order to believe in Him, we need to hear His word. The act of preaching was and is God’s chosen mechanism for man to hear His word and come to faith. Of course today, in addition to the proclamation of God’s Holy Word from those preachers who are teaching sound doctrine, one may also read the pages of the Bible and be able to ‘hear’ God’s word as well.
Hearing God’s word, then, is an important first step. It is by God’s word, by the gospel, that we are called (2 Thessalonians 2:14). It is by the word of God that we are brought forth to be a first fruit of all His creation (James 1:18). It is by our acceptance of God’s word, which we need to first hear, that the word can be implanted in our hearts, which will lead us to salvation (James 1:21). We must hear God’s word in order that we do not deny its power of salvation (Romans 1:16). It is through hearing God’s word that we can be born again through that word, which endures forever (1 Peter 1:22-25).
In order to be saved, we must have faith in God (see step 2 of God’s Path to Salvation). However, in order to develop faith, we must first hear the word of God. Let us strive to know what God’s word has to say, especially with regards to the salvation of our everlasting souls. Let us come and hear the word of God.
Once we have heard the word of God, the next step on God’s path to salvation is to believe the word of God and have faith. Going back to Paul’s statement to the Romans, faith is to come by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). So we do not hear the word of God just to be hearers of it, but the word of God is to build up our faith in God. James says that we are to be doers of the word, and not just hearers only (James 1:22). Therefore, we need to do something about what we hear. Part of that is having an active faith.
Notice also that our faith is to be based upon what we hear in God’s word. It is not a blind faith, which is based upon nothing more than our feelings and emotions. Faith or belief which is based upon nothing (no evidence) is not really faith, but is irrational. God has given us a very good definition of faith within His Holy Word. Consider that, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith has substance. There is evidence for faith. John wrote in his gospel that there were many things that Jesus did which he did not record, but what was recorded was done in order that we might read, hear, and believe (John 20:30-31). In the Roman letter Paul reminds us that there is evidence for God, even His eternal power and Godhead, which has been manifested to all through His creation, so that man is without excuse if he chooses to not believe in God (Romans 1:18-23).
Additionally, God’s word is clear that we must believe in God in order to come to Him and be saved. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). So we must have faith in order to please Him. We must believe that God is in order to come to Him, or else why would we? Who would strive to approach a god that they did not believe in? We must understand that in order to be rewarded by God with salvation, we must diligently seek Him. Jesus said that the one who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:15-16).
We must have faith in Him. Faith in Him is much more than believing that He exists. It requires that we do not just “believe that” He is, but that we “believe in” His promises. He has promised eternal life to those who will do His will and keep His commandments (Matthew 7:21; John 14:15, 21; 15:10). John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, wrote the following by inspiration:
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5).
In order to overcome the world and be a child of God and have that salvation that He freely offers to mankind, we must believe in God (have faith in Him and His promises), and love Him by keeping His commandments.
Once we have heard God’s word and have come to believe it to be true, we have to be willing to make a good confession of what we believe. Just as Paul instructed Timothy to, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12 NKJV), we too are to make a public confession of our faith in Jesus Christ.
In this confession we are letting others know of our choice to follow Jesus and be obedient to His will. So then, in our confession, we are stating our belief, but we are also pledging allegiance to God. There is much more to it than just stating our allegiance, as well. If all our confession was about just saying that we believe in the existence of God and Jesus as His Son, then all we have done is pay lip service to God. Satan and the demons know that there is one God, and they know that Jesus Christ is His one and only unique Son. This is demonstrated in Jesus’ casting out of the demons in Matthew 8. They called Him by name. They knew who He was. They recognized His authority. Yet they are not among the saved, because they refuse to submit to God. James wrote, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20).
Therefore, when we confess that we believe in Christ, we are also confessing that we will do all that we can to be faithful and loyal to Him. It means that we are confessing that we will show by our lives that we are followers of Him. It means that we are pledging ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, not being conformed to the world, but trying our best to walk in step with our Savior (Romans 12:1-2). This style of confession is necessary for us to receive the gift of salvation. God offers His grace to us, and that grace is free. There is nothing we can do to pay for it or to earn it somehow, so that God owes it to us. But we must be willing to lay hold of that salvation that He provides for us. Confessing Him is part of that.
Jesus said that whoever would confess Him before men, He would confess before the Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:32). That is a great deal! We ought to take hold of that quick, fast, and in a hurry. You will not find a better deal this side of eternity! Paul wrote to the Romans, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
Our belief needs to move us to action. Mental acquiescence of God’s existence only puts us on a level with the demons. We must act in submission to His will and do what He says to do in order to have salvation. God says to confess Christ with our mouths, by our actions, and through our lives. If we do so, we are well on our way to heaven!
The next step in God’s path to salvation is to repent of the things that we have done, or are doing, which are not in accordance with God’s word. Jesus Himself taught that repentance was necessary when He taught His disciples about those Galileans who were killed by Pilate, or about those upon whom the tower of Siloam had fallen upon. He told them that unless they repented they would all likewise perish (Luke 13:3, 5).
Similarly, Paul stood upon Mars’ Hill in Athens and preached to those who were listening about the “unknown” God. In that address, Paul stated that repentance was necessary for salvation. Regarding their past ignorance of God’s will he told them, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Notice that God calls upon all men, all of mankind to repent. Notice also that He calls upon all men everywhere. That means that no one is exempt from the command to repent.
Later, Paul would tell young Timothy that God wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth and to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) Additionally, Peter explains that God is not willing for anyone to perish spiritually. He wishes for all men, again that is all of mankind, to repent of what they have done wrong. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Because it has been almost 2,000 years since the sacrificial death of Jesus upon the cross, men are likely to wonder about the second coming. It is God who is holding off on the end of the world, because He does not want anyone to perish. He wants all men everywhere to come to repentance and be obedient to His will.
Therefore, we need to repent of our sins in order to lay hold of eternal life, but just what is involved in that repentance? Is it just saying that I am sorry for what I have done? Is it just saying that I am sorry that I got caught doing something wrong, or is there more to it than that? We must not be misled into thinking that repentance is just a feeling of momentary sorrow with no change in our actions. There is much more to repentance than just that feeling of sorrow. Repentance means that we make a change in our life. We do not just feel sorry for what we have done, but if we are sinning against God then we change our lifestyle to reflect His wishes, His commands, His will. Paul explains this difference in writing to the church at Corinth:
Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
Notice that Paul is not rejoicing in their sorrow, but in the fact that their godly sorrow produced repentance, a change of direction.
It is our godly sorrow that will lead us to repentance. Our repentance, our change of mind, our change of direction will then lead us to God and His salvation. It is not like the sorrow of the world whereby we might just be sorry that we were caught in wrongdoing. Let us all put our sins behind us, and throw off that weight so that we may run our race unencumbered by sin (Hebrews 12:1). Let us learn to repent of what we do that does not match God’s will, so that we can have that hope of eternal salvation when our life here is done!
After hearing and believing the Word, if we are willing to submit to God by confessing our allegiance to Christ and repent of the things we are doing that are wrong, we can become a child of God by being baptized for the remission of our sins. This step in God’s path to salvation seems to be the most misunderstood and most debated of all of what God requires of us. Yet, it is a simple step, which the pages of scripture call us to do. Jesus commands baptism. The apostles commanded baptism. Paul was instructed to be baptized. All of those who converted to Christianity that we can read about in the book of Acts were baptized as part of their conversion. If you do not believe me, see what God’s Word says about the subject!
As Jesus was bidding His disciples farewell just before ascending into heaven, He gave them His final instructions. “And He said to them, ‘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’” (Mark 16:15-16NKJV). Notice here that Jesus states that the one who is a believer and has been baptized will be saved. It is the same as saying, he who has a ticket and gets into line will be admitted to the game. We have to have the ticket first in order to get into the game. If we do not have a ticket, there is no sense in getting into line. Thus, we have to believe before we are baptized. If we do not believe, then baptism alone will not affect us. Additionally, it does us absolutely no good to have a ticket for the game, but to never get into line to enter the building. Just buying our ticket does not grant us admittance. Likewise, in order to be saved one must believe and be baptized.
In Matthew’s recording of the great commission, he writes that Jesus told them to make disciples from all of the nations (Matthew 28:19). How is it that they were to make disciples? Jesus tells them how. He said that they were to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to teach them to observe all of Christ’s commandments (Matthew 28:19-20). That is how disciples are made. If you have not been baptized, you are not a disciple (follower) of Jesus Christ.
It is the act of baptism that washes away our sins. God did His part in sending His one and only unique Son to die on our behalf, so that our sins might be covered. Jesus died so that we could be cleansed, sanctified, made holy, and set apart (Romans 5:6-11). But we also have to do our part in accepting that grace of God. It is not enough for us to receive a great prize notification, and say that we are rich. We must claim that prize in order for it to have the intended effect. It is the act of baptism that puts us in contact with the blood of Christ. The water has no magical properties, but the act of obedience to what the Lord commanded means that His blood cleanses us from sin. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “. . . do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were 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). Being buried with Him in the likeness of His death signifies how we come in contact with the blood He shed, so that our sins can be covered. Being compared to a burial also tells us of the method of baptism. It is an immersion, a complete covering. Otherwise, it is not a burial.
Peter said that baptism was the act that removes our sins when he preached to the crowd on the day of Pentecost. On that day the doors of the church were opened for the first time. Peter explained that those Jews in Jerusalem had been responsible for rejecting Christ and having Him crucified. They were responsible for His death. Imagine how they must have felt when Peter showed them that they had put the one and only Son of God to death! This news pricked them in their hearts. They were convicted by the word. They were convinced that they had done wrong. They wanted to know what they could do to get out of such a terrible predicament (Acts 2:22-37). “Then Peter said to them, ‘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). Notice what Peter did not tell them to do. He did not say to just accept Jesus in your heart and all would be well. He did not say to repeat a “sinners prayer,” which is not found in Scripture, in order to be saved. He told them to repent and be baptized. One is no good without the other. They were to be baptized for the remission of sins. Since baptism is the way to remit our sins, if we are not baptized our sins are not remitted. Later Peter would write that baptism now saves us (1 Peter 3:21).
One last example to consider is the conversion of Paul. Paul was a persecutor of the church. He did not believe in Jesus. As he was on the way to Damascus to round up more Christians for trial and execution, he saw a bright light and heard the voice of Christ. Surely that would be enough to save Paul, right? Notice what Paul was told to do by Jesus. “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6b). So Paul went into Damascus. There he was told what he must do in order to be saved. When Ananias came to him, Paul had been praying and fasting for three days (Acts 9:9). Ananias said to Paul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
Notice that Paul was not saved by seeing Jesus. He was not saved by speaking to Jesus. He was not saved by praying and fasting for three days. If he had been, then why would Ananias have to tell him to be baptized to wash away his sins? If he had already been saved prior to baptism, there would be no sins that still needed to be washed away. Notice also that Ananias tells Paul how to call upon the name of the Lord. You may recall from step one of God’s path to salvation that in Paul’s writing to the Romans in chapter 10 of that letter, Paul told them that those who are saved are those who call upon the name of the Lord. How do we call upon the name of the Lord? We do so by obeying Him. Ananias told Paul that baptism is how we wash away our sins, and how we call upon the name of the Lord.
The Bible tells us that all of our spiritual blessings are to be found in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). Those who are in Christ are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1). Those who are in Christ are new creatures, having been born again (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is only to be found in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10). In Christ, we can have eternal life (1 John 5:11). So how do we get in Christ in order to receive all of these blessings? We get in Christ by being baptized into Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27, emphasis added). We must be in Christ to receive the blessings. We get in Christ by obeying what He has told us to do. For that, He commanded us to be baptized.