The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
October 20, 2013


1) Is There More Than One Plan of Salvation? (Tom Edwards)


Is There More Than One Plan of Salvation?
by Tom Edwards

Is there more than one plan of salvation for the New Testament Age?  Some folks might conclude from the different things they hear about it these days that there are.   I remember, prior to my becoming a Christian in 1977, of hearing some people say something like, "If you just confess Christ (while believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead), you'll be saved."  Others, however, instead of speaking about confessing Christ, were saying, "If you just confess your sins and invite Jesus into your heart, you'll be saved."  Still others were saying something that didn't include any kind of confession, such as, "If you just believe in Jesus as the Savior, you'll be saved."  I began to wonder which one are we supposed to do?  Or are there different plans in the Gospel for becoming a Christian?  At the time, it seemed very strange to me that there could be more than one way to become a child of God.  For could a person acceptably do just one of the things the Bible shows to be necessary, while, at the same time, totally disregarding the other things it requires?

One essential thing we should realize by now is that to truly understand the New Testament, we need to consider all of it for that big, panoramic view that includes everything that pertains to a particular subject, whether it concerns prayer, how the Lord's money is to be used, or what the worship service is to consist of, etc.  

This, of course, is also true when it comes to God's plan of salvation.  For nowhere do we find all of what is required for that in merely one verse, though faith is sometimes used comprehensively or as a synecdoche to include (through implication) the other necessary steps as well, such as repentance and baptism.  But one must look to all of the New Testament to see what every required step is.  

When one, however, tries to base the plan of salvation on merely one verse, it can be likened to that group of blind men who each touched a different part of an elephant and then were asked to describe the creature.  In hearing each other, they, naturally, all strongly disagreed.  For the blind man who had felt the elephant's leg said that the elephant was like a pillar.  Another, who touched the elephant's tail, said the animal was like a rope.  Still another, having handled the elephant's trunk, likened the elephant to a tree branch.  While the man who had felt the elephant's ear thought the creature was like a hand fan.  One man, after touching the elephant's belly, described this large animal as being like a wall.  But to the one who had felt the elephant's tusk, he concluded that surely the creature was like a solid pipe.  

Incomplete accounts can definitely present a wrong picture or false conclusion.  And when it pertains to the plan of salvation, a wrong conclusion will be eternally fatal.  We, therefore, want to be sure to include all that is necessary for it.   

Just like the blind men and the elephant, various people today sometimes focus on just one Scripture to base a Bible doctrine on, rather than studying thoroughly to see all of what God says on the subject.  

Something else we need to realize, with regard to the plan of salvation, is that when men were being instructed as to what they needed to do to be saved, as seen in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit (who was giving the message) told them what they needed to do on the basis of where they already were in having or having not met some of those conditions previously.  

For instance, the Philippian jailer was first told, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31).  This man really had to start at the beginning -- or the first step, you might say.  For in order to believe, he would need to hear the gospel (Rom. 10:17).  And in that message, he would also hear of the other steps that would be necessary to contact the blood of Christ.  As Acts 16:32 states, "And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house."  Then, "...he took them that very hour of the night  and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household."  Following their baptism, the account then says that the jailer "rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household" (v. 34).  So we can think of what the man did in believing, repenting, and being baptized as all being part of his "having believed in God."  For without taking all the steps, his faith would have been considered dead and not able to save (cf. Jms. 2:17,26).  He would then have fallen short.  

For another example, the 3,000 who already believed and were convicted of their sins, were told to "...'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).  This was in response to their question in verse 37, "...'Brethren, what shall we do?'"  "Brethren," here in the sense of fellow Jews and not fellow Christians; for they were not the latter yet   And to their question, they were not told to believe again, because they had already done that; but they were told of what the next steps would need to be in order to be forgiven and become Christians. 

Then, for another example, consider Saul of Tarsus.  He had come to believe in the reality of Jesus and, apparently, had repented of his sins and probably remained very penitent, as he fasted and prayed for three days in Damascus, waiting to find out what he must do.  In Acts 22:16, we then all find out exactly what Saul needed to do.  He was told: "Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name."

Why wasn't Saul commanded in this passage to believe in the Deity of Jesus and to repent?  Would it not be because he had already met those conditions?  So baptism was now the one thing still remaining and needful for his receiving the remission of sins.  

Though those in each of these examples appear to be told different things in order to be saved, that was only because of the different levels they were already on with respect to salvation.  

This has been likened to a person going on a trip and stopping in several places along the way to find out how far it is to his final destination.  We wouldn't expect him to hear the same answer each time, but a different one, as he keeps getting closer to where he's going.  For example, if he is driving from Baton Rouge to Seattle, Washington, he might here in Baton Rouge that it is 2,644 miles to Seattle.  But when he would ask how far it is to Seattle, after arriving in Dallas, Texas, we wouldn't expect him to hear the same answer as what he heard in Baton Rouge.  For from Dallas, he will have a distance of about 2,203 miles to Seattle.  And from Denver, Colorado, he'll have about 1,330 miles to go.  So what he is hearing is not contradictory.  Rather, it is all related to where he is in relation to his final destination.  And that very well illustrates these examples of conversions previously considered.  For people were told what to do, based on where they already were (or were not) on the steps that lead to salvation.   

So none of these were exempt from any of the steps, nor were these different plans of salvation for different people.  Rather, everyone ended up doing the same thing in order to have their sins blotted out by the precious blood of Jesus and become children of God.  Each person, therefore, had to hear God's word (Rom. 10:17), believe in Jesus (Jn. 8:24), repent of sins (Luke 13:5), acknowledge their faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9, 10; Acts 8:36-38), and be baptized in water to benefit from the Lord's sacrifice (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).  Then there is also the need for each Christian to continue in the faith in order to eventually arrive in that eternal place called heaven (Rev. 2:10; Heb. 10:36-39; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).  

So there is just one plan of salvation for the Gospel Age, pertaining to the alien sinner to become a child of God.   And the "alien sinner" being that person who has reached an age of accountability, has transgressed a law of God, thus becoming a sinner, and having not yet become a Christian.   

A Different Plan of Forgiveness for the Christian Who Sins

But we can also point out that though there is just one plan of salvation for the alien sinner to become a Christian, there is also a different plan for acquiring forgiveness for the Christian who has fallen into sin.  For the child of God does not need to be baptized again, but he does need to repent of the sin  and pray to God for forgiveness.  Such was the case with Simon who had "believed" and was "baptized," along with many of the other Samaritans, who had heard the preaching of Philip (Acts 8:12, 13).  For he soon sinned in coveting the gift the apostles had to lay hands on people and impart to them the Holy Spirit (vv. 14-19).  As a result, Peter then rebuked Simon, by saying, "Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.  For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity."  Notice the singularity of his sin: "repent of THIS WICKEDNESS" and "the INTENTION of your heart" -- not "the INTENTIONS."  So here was a Christian who had sinned and was now told to repent and pray.  

This also indicates that the child of God needs to be concerned with maintaining a right relationship with the Lord.  For salvation can be lost.  John speaks of this in 1 John 1:6,7: "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."

In 1 John 2:1,2, John explains the purpose for this epistle: "My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."

The phrase "if anyone sins" is certainly not an allowance to do so, but John points out that the Christian does have an "Advocate" when that happens.  And, as we have already seen, that does not nullify the need for the one who has transgressed to repent and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22).  In 1 John 1:9, for instance, John declares, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  This is not a promise John is giving to the alien sinner; but, rather, to the Christian who has transgressed God's law.   For John was writing not to the world in general, but to Christians (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2).  

So though there is just one plan of salvation for the alien sinner, there is also a different means of obtaining forgiveness for the Christian who has sinned.  And may we each meet those conditions that pertain to us, in whatever our relation to God.  

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

9923 Sunny Cline Dr., Baton Rouge, LA  70817
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evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
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