The subject of salvation should be of interest to everyone, especially to professing Christians and to those who love the Lord. There is much in the Word of God that many people do not know and much that they do not believe. The Spirit of God comes to lead us into all truth, but it is very hard for people to receive new truth, especially those who have already had a Christian experience. Many people are afraid of anything that is not 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 really found in the Word of God. Saul of Tarsus truly 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 find in scripture that salvation is free to those who believe, but we also see where action is required of the believers for the promise of salvation to be a reality to them. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a covenant that we enter into with Jesus Christ himself. If we do our part, He is faithful and just to do his part. This is a covenant gospel.
“Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
Paul begins by saying, “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren….” There is a responsibility that every preacher and born-again believer holds, that those to whom he is privileged to minister would understand what the Bible requires of mankind. In verse fifteen, he says, “So, as much as in me is….” He is literally saying, with all of my heart and with great excitement, “I am ready to share this gospel with you!”(This is one of the most enthusiastic phrases Paul ever uses in all of his writings.) He goes on to say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ!” And here’s why, “The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation!”
I believe we would all agree that every person on this earth needs a savior. We should agree that the Bible clearly says we have all been born in sin and shapen in iniquity, and that in ourselves there is no good thing. There was only one sinless, perfect man, the man Jesus Christ! (See Psalm 51:5, Romans 7:18, 1 John 3:5.) I think we all understand that we cannot be saved from our sins by ourselves, but it takes an ‘Act of God’ for us to experience salvation. (Colossians 2:13)
Paul told the Ephesians, “… at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12) It is the blood of Jesus Christ that allows us to be close to Him!
As the old song says, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”
The writer of Hebrews says, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant [covenant or contract in the Greek definition: each party is responsible for keeping their word and performing their agreed-upon actions], make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20) The writer of Hebrews also says, “…without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)
So there is an undeniable link between the blood of Jesus Christ and our covenant relationship. I believe we would all agree that the blood of Jesus saves us, but what about the appropriation of the covenant? How do we experience the power of Christ’s blood in our life today?
Peter’s letter to the church explains, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) However, while it is not the will of God for any man to be lost, men will undoubtedly be lost.
In Second Thessalonians 1:7-8, Paul prophesies, “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We cannot be saved without the gospel. Romans 16 states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”
The Corinthian church was told specifically, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
We see that the apostle Paul defines three distinct actions: 1) Christ’s Death, 2) Christ’s Burial, and 3) Christ’s Resurrection.
In verse two notice that Paul is speaking to believers. So once we believe in Jesus Christ and the work of Calvary, we must then appropriate the gospel into our own lives just as Jesus took it into his own life, unless we believe in vain. We must be born again. We must do our part of the covenant or contract. If no actions were required on our part, we would, by default, all be saved.
“And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” (covenant/new birth). (I John 5:8)
The Blood (the death of Christ): Repentance is the decision to turn away from selfish living to a life centered on God’s will. Simply stated, repentance is the conscious choice to daily die to sin.
“And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47) Paul says in First Corinthians, fifteen, that he would die daily. The way we share in the covenant of the blood is through repentance.
The Water (the burial of Christ): Baptism. Just as Jesus was placed in the earth when He died, we too must be buried with Him in baptism. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
The Spirit (the resurrection of Christ): Holy Ghost. Just as Jesus was raised on the third day, we must receive the Spirit to have eternal life. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Romans 8:11)
We see that the three steps that agree in one covenant have been clearly defined. We also see where we must enter a covenant with the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see that 1) Repentance of Sin is the Death, 2) the Water Baptism is the Burial, and 3) the Resurrection is the Spirit.
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3) We see here where Jesus coins the phrase “born again.” We also see where Jesus introduces the requirement of being “born again” for entrance into the Kingdom.
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
Once again, Second Thessalonians 1:7-8 clearly explains the necessity of every person’s obedience to the gospel. “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So now we see that Jesus Christ taught that we must be born again of water and Spirit. But could His teachings have meant something conceptual or anecdotal? Or could it have been a literal commandment and therefore requiring literal practice?
Let’s look at some scriptural accounts of God’s men preaching the Gospel and the listeners responding: When Peter preached the three steps of the gospel on the day of Pentecost, his listeners “…were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 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.” (Acts 2:37-38)
When the Jews, who had asked for the crucifixion of Jesus, realized that they had sinned and literally called for the death of the Messiah, they asked, “What shall we do?” Peter stood and proclaimed, under the direction of the Holy Ghost, three actions that were foretold by Jesus himself: repent, be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ, and receive the Holy Ghost.
Given a complete study of the entire Book of Acts, there is only one way the New Testament church fathers ever baptized: in the name of Jesus Christ.
“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:12-17)
There are many beliefs concerning when a person receives the Holy Ghost. Some say, it is when a person believes on Jesus; others say it is by faith at baptism; however, in this scripture we find believers in Jesus who have already been baptized. Yet they had not received the Holy Ghost. In verse 17, we see that receiving the Holy Ghost is a separate experience from baptism and repentance. If you read the entire passage, you find that Simon sees that by laying on of the apostles’ hands they received the Holy Ghost. Evidently there was something to see and hear because Simon wanted to be able to do these things, too.
“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins (repentance). While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:43-48)
In this passage it is clearly stated that these people received the Holy Ghost while Peter taught them about the gospel. This was not an event taken by faith during baptism, but an obvious happening, for verse 46 says they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Once they had believed in Jesus and repented of their sins, then they received the Holy Ghost and were baptized, in water, in the name of the Lord Jesus.
“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” (Acts 19:1-6)
Again in this passage we find a group of believers. This time they are asked if they have received the Holy Ghost since becoming a believer in Jesus. They are also asked about their baptism. While they had been baptized once before unto John’s baptism of repentance, they were re-baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus when the apostle Paul explained to them the necessity of it. Then these believers were filled with the Holy Ghost, and when this happened they spoke with other tongues.
We must enter a covenant with Jesus Christ through obeying the gospel. For the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation! We fulfill our portion of the covenant when we obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by:
First, partaking in His death through repentance. “And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)
Second, in submitting to His burial through being baptized in His name. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) We also see it here in First Peter: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us“(3:21). Every baptism performed in the New Testament was recorded to have the name of the Lord Jesus Christ invoked for remission of sins.
Finally, we receive the power of his resurrection when we are baptized with His Spirit and become His. The Book of Romans says it this way, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Romans 8:9)
We must be born again of both water and Spirit. It’s our response to a covenant gospel!