SOURCE: Answer: Many people are looking for “steps to salvation.” People like the idea of an instruction manual with five steps that, if followed, will result in salvation. An example of this is Islam with its Five Pillars. According to Islam, if the Five Pillars are obeyed, salvation will be granted. Because the idea of a step-by-step process to salvation is appealing, many in the Christian community make the mistake of presenting salvation as a result of a step-by-step process. Roman Catholicism has seven sacraments. Various Christian denominations add baptism, public confession, turning from sin, speaking in tongues, etc., as steps to salvation. But the Bible only presents one step to salvation. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).
Faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior is the only “step” to salvation. The message of the Bible is abundantly clear. We have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Because of our sin, we deserve to be eternally separated from God (Romans 6:23). Because of His love for us (John 3:16), God took on human form and died in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). God promises forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven to all who receive, by grace through faith, Jesus Christ as Savior (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; Acts 16:31).
Salvation is not about certain steps we must follow to earn salvation. Yes, Christians should be baptized. Yes, Christians should publicly confess Christ as Savior. Yes, Christians should turn from sin. Yes, Christians should commit their lives to obeying God. However, these are not steps to salvation. They are results of salvation. Because of our sin, we cannot in any sense earn salvation. We could follow 1000 steps, and it would not be enough. That is why Jesus had to die in our place. We are absolutely incapable of paying our sin debt to God or cleansing ourselves from sin. Only God could accomplish our salvation, and so He did. God Himself completed the “steps” and thereby offers salvation to anyone who will receive it from Him.
Salvation and forgiveness of sins is not about following steps. It is about receiving Christ as Savior and recognizing that He has done all of the work for us. God requires one step of us—receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and fully trusting in Him alone as the way of salvation. That is what distinguishes the Christian faith from all other world religions, each of which has a list of steps that must be followed in order for salvation to be received. The Christian faith recognizes that God has already completed the steps and simply calls on us to receive Him in faith.
SOURCE: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
BAPTISMAL REGENERATION teaches that ritual, water baptism secures the forgiveness of sins and marks the moment at which the one being baptized is “born again,” or incorporated into the “Body of Christ.” It is generally understood to be the person’s “spiritual birthday,” the rite by which he becomes a “Christian.” Is this belief consistent with what the Bible says is true regarding God’s salvation?
There is only one Gospel that must be proclaimed to a lost and dying world! Gal. 1:6-12. Yet, a realistic look at the “Christian” scene today attests to the fact that there are many “gospels” preached. Each gives its own particular formula for what people must do to be saved. While each of these “gospels” claim that faith in Jesus Christ is important, some add baptism or other “commandments” as prerequisites to “the new birth.”
There is also the widespread practice of “easy believeism” whereby simple mental assent to the “Lordship of Christ” is deemed sufficient to obtain God’s salvation (without even specifying what one must believe about Jesus Christ in order to claim Him as “Lord!”). The convicting and enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit through the clear, Biblical presentation of what God says one must believe in order to be saved is totally disregarded by this “numbers-oriented” form of evangelism.
A careful consideration of the Gospel as presented in the Bible is of tremendous importance. The salvation of lost souls is at stake! If the message we preach varies in the slightest from the revealed truth of God’s Word, then it is of Satan—not of God. There is a sad tendency today among many professing Bible believers to accommodate those who embrace a false gospel, supposedly for the sake of “unity” and “the spirit of love.” It is necessary, however, to stand firm on the Gospel of the Bible which teaches that there is only one way of salvation—and that by grace, through faith, alone!
Proponents of Baptismal Regeneration
The Roman Catholic Church was one of the earliest and most influential perpetrators of this error. Roman Catholic teaching most certainly has not changed in recent years either, nor has the “Charismatic Catholic” departed one iota from the belief that salvation is secured by ritual baptism into the Roman Catholic Church: Vatican Council II says, “The saving act of Jesus was applied to Mary in the moment of her conception; to us in our baptism…” (Lumen Gentium 1, 53); “…I have washed you clean and given you new life, my life in baptism [these were supposedly the words of Christ Himself]” (Prophecy from the 1988 Roman Catholic Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame). Rome teaches baptismal regeneration.
The Orthodox Churches also teach baptismal regeneration: “Baptism is a new birth. It is being born to the life made new by our Lord Jesus Christ. It means to be alive in Christ… Through Holy Baptism all become Christ’s. We become Christians and have the opportunity to inherit God’s Kingdom… Why in the world would any parents who claim to be Christians want to put off making their offspring Christians as soon as possible? Don’t they want their infants to share in the Kingdom of God? The baptized one becomes a member of Christ’s body—His Church” (Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church, ONE CHURCH, 1981).
Mormonism says you must be baptized in order to be saved: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, they who believe not on your words, and are not baptized in water in my name, for the remission of their sins, that they may receive the Holy Ghost, shall be damned, and shall not come into my Father’s kingdom where my Father and I am” (Mormon Doctrine and Covenants, nos. 84:74).
Seventh Day Adventism teaches baptism is the vehicle in procuring the forgiveness of sins: “Is it necessary for a person to be baptized to be saved? Answer: Yes, indeed!… A Christian is a newborn ‘babe’ in Christ. This is why the experience or conversion is called ‘the new birth.’ No past exists in God’s sight. It was buried in the watery grave of baptism…” (“Buried and Forgotten by God!”; a Seventh Day Adventist publication).
The Church of Christ, Episcopalians, and many Lutherans hold the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration in one form or another. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and many others could be added to this number, many within Protestantism included.
These groups invariably equate membership in their particular church with salvation itself. With notable consistency, religious bodies which profess to be “the one true church” incorporate ritual baptism as an essential step in their “What must I do to be saved” formula. It is claimed that by means of this ceremony one is introduced into the membership of the “church which alone can save.”
Every believer who has shared the Gospel of God’s saving grace with a Catholic knows the common reaction: “Of course I believe in Christ as my Saviour!” However, after further questioning, it becomes obvious that “belief” in Christ is not their sole confidence, for they believe that their continuance in faithfulness to “the church” and the sacraments of the church are also essential if there is to be any hope of obtaining everlasting life. That kind of “believing in Christ” is not the unconditional, absolute faith that produces Bible salvation.
Efforts on the part of mainline Protestants and even “evangelicals” who have historically subscribed to “salvation by faith alone” to seek common ground with groups such as those listed above have resulted in a haziness with respect to the definition of the Gospel message itself. They will seemingly go to any length—even disregarding the essentials of the Gospel message itself—in order to avoid offence and make the baptismal regenerationist feel comfortable in Protestant/evangelical circles.
For example, notice the following representative statements from a few prominent religious leaders of our day who supposedly represent churches where “salvation by faith alone” is the standard. Note how they lend credence to religious groups such as those just mentioned which espouse the false gospel of baptismal regeneration:
“In two short decades, we have moved from the living room dialogue in which Protestants and Catholics were just discovering one another to be Christian, to widespread recognition of one another’s baptism” (Dr. Arie Brouwer, former General Secretary, National Council of Churches, spoken at the 1988 Arlington, Texas “Gathering of Christians”).
TIME magazine for 10/27/61 printed the following quote by Dr. Billy Graham: “I still have some personal problems in the matter of infant baptism, but all of my children with the exception of the youngest were baptized as infants. I do believe that something happens at the baptism of an infant, particularly if the parents are Christians … I believe that a miracle can happen in these children so that they are regenerated, that is, made Christian through infant baptism.”
Again, at Amsterdam ’86, Graham revealed the same strange thinking when asked by this writer how churches from such a broad spectrum of belief—those holding to a “works salvation” included—could be brought together for joint evangelistic outreach. Here is Graham’s answer: “Evangelism is about the only word we can unite on… Our methods would be different and there would be debates over even the message sometimes, but there is no debate over the fact that we need to evangelize… I think there is an ecumenicity here that cannot [be gotten] under any other umbrella.”
Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ, gave a similar answer when we questioned him about Roman Catholic and Orthodox involvement at the Amsterdam ’86 conference: “The Holy Spirit of God is doing something unique in most major denominations—Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic… In all denominations I think there is a return to New Testament faith.”
The basic difference between the gospel preached by churches which advocate baptismal regeneration and those which do not is being rubbed out by today’s evangelical leaders. This is a very serious matter.
What is Essential for Salvation?
What is essential for salvation? Faith alone or faith plus water baptism, church membership, “good works” or whatever? This is a tremendously important consideration, for the “faith” of the former cannot possibly be the same “faith” as the latter. The sinner in need of salvation cannot be saved by a faith which stands alone as the sole requisite to the new birth, and also be saved by a faith to which another step or steps must be added in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins and the gift of everlasting life. To err at this point is to be eternally lost regardless of how sincere a person might be.
The terms in Hebrew, Greek and English predominantly mean to deliver, to rescue from harm or danger, to deliver from sin, to preserve and protect. These actions come from outside of us. They are not something we do. We are merely recipients.
Webster’s defines salvation as “the act of saving someone from sin or evil : the state of being saved from sin or evil”, “something that saves someone or something from danger or a difficult situation” and “deliverance from the power and effects of sin”. Strong’s defines Salvation in the Greek as “G4991 sōtēria Feminine of a derivative of G4990 as (properly abstract) noun; rescue or safety (physically or morally): – deliver, health, salvation, save, saving”. And in Hebrew Strong’s defines Salvation as “H3444 yesh-oo’-aw Feminine passive participle of H3467; something saved, that is, (abstractly) deliverance; hence aid, victory, prosperity: – deliverance, health, help (-ing), salvation, save, saving (health), welfare”.
It was Christ “who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Galatians 1:4). Before the foundation of the world “… God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). Salvation is simply not about what we do, but rather what God and Jesus Christ has done on our behalf, delivering us from the wages of our sin – death. There is a plan of salvation. And with any plan there is doing involved. But we are not the ones that do the doing.
As it has been said before, “Christ has done it all”. I would contend that salvation is simply belief/trust in Christ finished work for our saving/rescue – by his death, burial and resurrection for our sins, according to scripture. Salvation is not about doing or “obeying” “the whole plan of salvation”. It is about believing the plan of salvation. And the focus of that plan is on Jesus Christ and his actions, not ourselves. Biblical Christianity is not a do religion, it is a done religion.
That salvation is not about what we do is also strongly indicated by the biblical use of such terms as redemption (to purchase), reconciliation (restoration to divine favor), propitiation (the act by where which God‘s righteous wrath is satisfied by the atonement of Christ), atonement (restoration to divine favor), deliverance (from sin), ransom (from the wages of sin) and justification (a onetime event in which God justifies sinners by reckoning Christ’s righteousness to their account through a legal declaration). The definitions of these words and their usage in scripture show us that salvation is not something we do (Eph. 2:9, Jonah 2:9). Salvation is done on our behalf.
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Baptism is shown in every case of conversion in the book of Acts.
This is just not true. Here are nine instances of conversion or salvation in the book of Acts without reference to baptism. So no one can rightfully claim salvation in Acts includes baptism and baptism is required for salvation.
Acts 3:1-4:4 – Peter and John where preaching at the temple (3:1) and in verse 19 the people are told “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. And in Acts 4:4 about 5000 believed. There is no mention of baptism.
Acts 5:1-14 – After Ananias and Sapphira where struck down by the Lord, fear came upon the people (v.11) and many signs and wonders were wrought among them (v.12), as a result multitudes where added to the Lord. Act 5:14 “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women”. There is no mention of baptism.
Acts 9: 32-35 – After Peter healed a certain man with palsy “…all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord” (V. 35) There is no mention of baptism.
Acts 11:19-24 – After preaching Jesus in Antioch (v.20) a great number believed and turned to the Lord (v.21) and were added to the Lord (v. 24). There is no mention of baptism here except in verse 16 and that is referring to John’s baptism by water and the baptism with the Holy Ghost. And that happened before Barnabus arrived in Antioch.
Acts 13:6-12 – Sergius Paulus desired to hear the word of the Lord. Then by the hand of the Lord Paul blinded him for a season. Then he believed being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. There is no mention of baptism.
Acts 13:42-52 – Paul and Barnabus where preaching in the synagogue to the gentiles “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (v. 48). There is no mention of baptism.
Acts 14:1 – “And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.” Another multitude, this time a great one, believed and there is no mention of baptism.
Acts 17:10-12 – Paul and Silas were preaching the word in the synagogue in Berea, and “many” believed. There is no mention of baptism.
Acts 17:22-34 “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among them which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them”. There is no mention of baptism.