By: J.L. Hall
The gospel of Jesus Christ is founded upon a scriptural understanding of His death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-3). Other men died on Roman crosses in Jerusalem – indeed two thieves were crucified with Jesus – but only Jesus was the substitute sacrifice, the Lamb of God whose shed blood is the atonement for our sins. He died in our place, taking our sins upon Himself to suffer death for us as the penalty of our sins. Because of His sacrifice of Himself we now can be justified sanctified, and reconciled to God.
After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to preach and teach the gospel to the whole world – to every person in the world. He opened their understanding of the Scriptures concerning His death and resurrection so that they could correctly declare the meaning of the cross He refreshed their minds concerning salvation and settled their thinking about how people were to become disciples of Jesus.
Jesus made sure that the disciples understood that the gospel focuses on the Cross and that it includes the preaching of repentance, water baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. He said to them that
“repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). He commanded them to teach and to baptize: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28: 19), and “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
When His ascension became near, Jesus told the disciples that they must remain in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father, the Holy Ghost (Luke 24:49). The disciples had to first experience New Testament salvation before they could witness to others of its reality. Jesus had taught that the promise of the Holy Ghost was to everyone, not just to them, but the group of disciples He sent to Jerusalem would be the firstfruits of salvation in Jesus Christ.
In the moments before He ascended into the heavens, Jesus assured the disciples that they would soon receive the Spirit about whom John the Baptist preached. While He talked with them, they could have recalled Jesus’ message in Jerusalem, that all believers in Him would receive the Spirit: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). About these prophetic words, John wrote, “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).
Let us note that before His ascension, Jesus taught His apostles again that the salvation experience includes repentance, water baptism, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost. These three steps, links, or aspects of salvation were taught by Jesus, who gave the commission to the apostles to teach them to make disciples of people in every nation.
When the apostles and other disciples received the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles knew that they were to preach about the Cross and about the experience of salvation. Peter, standing with the other apostles, first preached about Jesus Christ – His life, ministry, death and resurrection – and then explained that through Jesus the Holy Ghost had been given to them. When Peter declared that God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ, the people asked the apostles what they must do to be saved.
Peter boldly answered, declaring what Jesus had taught them: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”
(Acts 2:38). If anyone had a doubt whether the salvation experience was for them, Peter added, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God
shall call” (Acts 2:39). And we today can still boldly confirm that the same salvation experience remains God’s way of changing sinners into saints.
It is noteworthy that Peter neither received nor proclaimed a new revelation to the people; Jesus had already taught him and the other apostles this plan and instructed them to preach it to all nations. In
other words, the experience of salvation as given in Acts 2:38 – repentance, water baptism, and the infilling of the Spirit-originated with the Lord Jesus and not with the apostles. They merely declared what Jesus had taught them.
Hebrews 2:3 specifically states that Jesus taught the salvation experience first and that the apostles confirmed to the church what Jesus had taught: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (Hebrews 2:3).
The first converts believed and obeyed the apostles, and then they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). In this unity of apostolic doctrine, fellowship, and worship “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). The disciples witnessed and preached prayed and worshiped, baptized believers and laid hands on them to receive the Holy Ghost, yet it was God who added people to the church. God was working with them, confirming His word that the apostles preached and taught with signs and wonders (Acts 2:43).
Under the ministry of the apostles, the message and experience of salvation spread from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Judea, and to the vast lands of the Roman Empire. The people, places, and cultures were
different, but the salvation message and experience remained the same: to Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 2:38), to Samaritans in Samaria (Acts 8:5-17), to Gentiles in Caesarea (Acts 10:43-48), and to disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-6).
The normal salvation experience today as well as since the days of the apostles remains the same. It includes obedient faith that causes a person to repent, to be baptized in water in the name of Jesus, and to receive the Holy Ghost. The apostles preached all three links; they did not preach that we are saved by faith without repentance, without water baptism, or without the gift of the Holy Ghost. They taught repentance as a command of God (Acts 17:30), water baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), and the infilling of the Spirit as necessary to be a Christian (Romans 8:9-11).
When a person believed and repented, a minister baptized him; if he did not receive the Holy Ghost before his water baptism, the people prayed for him, sometimes by the laying on of hands. (See Acts 8:5-17; 19:1-5.) If a person received the Holy Ghost before being baptized, they commanded that person to be baptized (Acts 10:47-48).
What is clear in the Bible is that the apostles taught that salvation is an experience, not merely a profession of faith. And this experience comes when a believer repents, is baptized, and receives the Holy Ghost. For example, the Samaritans believed and then were baptized; still their salvation experience was incomplete until they were filled with the Spirit. (See Acts 8:5-17.) It is also interesting to note that although the Gentiles received the Holy Ghost before they were baptized, the apostle Peter still commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. (See Acts 10:44-48.)
The consistent record in the Book of Acts and the supporting teachings in the Gospels and Epistles should convince any sincere person to follow the simple but life-transforming plan of salvation experienced in the Book of Acts. Of course, if a person believes a religious teacher or reformer more than the clear examples in the Bible, he is likely to be deceived. But if he accepts the Bible as it is written, he will have little trouble accepting, believing, and experiencing New Testament salvation.
Jesus said that salvation is a new birth of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5). In other words, the new birth includes both water and the Spirit; the elements are two, but the birth is one. Most Bible scholars
agree that “water” here refers to water baptism, and that “Spirit” here refers to the regeneration of the Spirit in a person’s life. Since baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38; 22:16), it deals with
initiation of a person into the kingdom of God. But the initiation is not completed until God’s Spirit comes into the person’s soul to create a new life. (See John 3:3-5; Romans 6:1-4: II Corinthians 5:17.)
Is it not consistent to view Jesus’ teaching on the new birth to be the same as the experience given in Acts 2:38?
Regardless of how a person has been taught, he need only to answer the following two questions to determine if he has received New Testament salvation: Have you been baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins? Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed? The apostle Paul specifically asked the last question to twelve disciples of John the Baptist. When their answer revealed they did not know whether the Spirit was given, Paul shifted to a question about water baptism. These questions opened the door to teach these twelve men about salvation in Jesus Christ, after which Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus Christ. After baptism, Paul laid hands on them
and they received the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking with tongues. (See Acts 19:1-6.) Now, a third question: Will you follow them in obeying the gospel plan of salvation?
The apostles were not mistaken in preaching repentance toward God, water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and the infilling of the Spirit, and neither are we mistaken when we preach the same message. On the contrary, if any of us, even if we had the authority of an apostle or angel, change or delete any part of the salvation experience or substitute it with another plan, then we pervert the gospel preached by the apostles and we are accursed. (See Galatians 1:6-9.)
We will not be judged by church tradition, historic creeds Reformation theology, or our feelings, but by the words and teachings in the Bible. No religious leader, however gifted he may be or how holy he may appear, is authorized by God to ignore what the apostles preached and taught as recorded in the New Testament. If he does neglect the great salvation they preached, then he can not escape God’s judgment.
When the church in the days of the apostles spread the salvation message in nations throughout the known world, tens of thousands of people became Christians. Unfortunately, before the death of the apostles some of these converts – including preachers and church leaders – departed from the faith.
It may seem unbelievable that Jesus Name, apostolic, Spirit-filled people departed from the truth by which they were saved, yet the New Testament clearly documents this development. Paul marveled that some of his converts in Galatia had quickly departed from the teaching of the apostles. They had embraced another gospel, which was not another but a perversion of the true gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).
John reported that “many deceivers are entered into the world” (II John 7). He also noted that these “antichrists” emerged from the ranks of the church: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us” (I John 2:19). In like manner, Paul warned the elders of Ephesus that “grievous wolves” would enter among them to destroy the people of God, and that even from among them men would embrace a perverted message to “draw away disciples
after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
Some “Christians” developed strange theories about Jesus, denying that He came in flesh. In so doing, they denied that He is the Christ, the Son of God; and the denial of the authentic humanity of Jesus Christ caused John to label these false believers as antichrists (I John 2:18-23; 4:1-3).
Others “Christians” began to teach that the resurrection had already passed, and Paul stated that this false doctrine had destroyed the faith of others (II Timothy 2:18). Paul also struggled against the false
doctrine that demanded Christians to keep the Jewish law, including circumcision (Galatians 5:1-8).
Peter wrote of false prophets and false teachers whose “damnable heresies” caused their followers to speak evil of the way of truth (II Peter 2: 1-22). He noted that these false teachers walked after the
flesh, despised government, and followed the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness so much that he compromised the holiness of Israel in exchange for worldly riches (II Peter 2:1-22). Jude wrote that some teachers turned “the grace of our God into lasciviousness [a license for immorality]” (Jude 4).
It was the widespread influence of false doctrines and false teachers in the Christian community that caused Jude to exhort the Christians to “contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3-5).
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul exhorted him to remain true to the gospel as preached by the apostles. In this short letter, Paul used the word “gospel” three times; the word “truth” (referring to the doctrine) five times; the word “faith” (referring to doctrine) two times; and the word “doctrine” two times. Apparently he was concerned that false doctrines and false teachers may cause many to depart from the true gospel.
Toward the end of the letter, Paul warned Timothy that false prophets would become worse, but that Timothy should remain faithful in his commitment to the apostolic message. He wrote, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (II Timothy 3:13-14).
Paul then referred Timothy to the Scriptures as the test and judge of every doctrine and professing Christian. He reminded him that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). In other words, we are not to follow the ideas of men unless the ideas harmonize with the Bible.
Paul left us his testimony that he had remained faithful to the Christian faith throughout the long and sometimes difficult years of his ministry. He wrote, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my
course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…” (II Timothy 4:7-8).
May his testimony also be ours.
(The above material appeared in the December 1992 issue of Pentecostal Herald.)
Christian Information Network