Essentials of Salvation
In part 1 of this sermon series, I talked about the essentials of salvation. Here are a few key ideas that summarize the lesson. First of all, I mentioned that the trend in religion today is to bring in as many people together as possible regardless of the compromises that are made regarding issues of doctrine. It doesn't matter what you compromise. It seems so long as we can all be together, under one. That seems to be the trend to that. The move towards unity is commendable. It's even biblical. Jesus commanded that we be one but there are certain things that cannot be compromised. And these, I refer to as essential.
The Bible teaches us that there are some things that are essential for salvation and without these things a person can not call himself or herself a Christian, cannot be saved. These are not things that I've invented for the purpose of this sermon. These are the things that are in the Bible.
The first three essentials were:
- Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. If you don't have that, you're not a Christian. The Bible teaches in order to be a Christian or to be saved you need to believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Don of God and nothing less than that will do.
- Repent from sin. Repentance is an essential. You cannot be a child of God unless you have made a conscious decision that you're going to do away with sin in your life.
- Baptism in Jesus's name. Every instance that we see salvation occurring in the New Testament when they describe it, they're always talking about someone being baptized.
The Bible teaches that without these essential elements a person cannot be saved or considered a Christian. As a matter of fact, without these essentials, Christianity is no longer Christianity. It might be a religion of some sort because there are a lot of religions and a lot of church buildings, even church buildings with crosses on them that don't require faith in Jesus, that don't require any kind of conscious repentance and that certainly don't require baptism in any state or form, and yet call themselves churches. But the Bible says without these essentials that I described, you don't have Christianity.
We're going to look at one other essential of salvation and then we're going to answer some typical questions and accusations brought out because we hold to the idea that there are certain essentials with regard to salvation. Now when you hold to this position that there are essentials, you are ripe for criticism. And I want to kind of express those criticisms and maybe answer some of them as part of my lesson.
The Holy Spirit
The central of salvation and the Christian religion is the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, Peter joins the idea of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit as two sides to the same salvation idea.
Peter said to them, "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
The idea is that in the past sin and death were the center of a person's existence but now through faith expressed in repentance and baptism, a new life emerges where sin is forgiven and the Holy Spirit becomes the central figure in a Christian's life. We don't say that often do we? The Holy Spirit becomes the central figure in our Christian life and yet that's what happens. That was the promise of the prophets. The promise of the prophets was not simply that men would be forgiven their sins. The promise of the prophets throughout the ages was that the time would come when all people would have the Holy Spirit, not just the prophets, not just the Kings, not just the judges, but that everyone would possess the Holy Spirit himself.
So Peter declares the glorious news that Jesus has died and resurrected in order to affect not only the forgiveness of sin but the forgiveness of sins only prepares us as vessels to receive the true gift of God, which is the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness is a means. It is the means that God uses to give us what he ultimately wanted to give us and that is the Holy Spirit. Don't stop short. The Holy Spirit is the end game. It's the final purpose of God that each one of us possess the Holy Spirit.
I'm not saying that we have to agree on the issue of how the Holy Spirit interacts with us as human beings. Whether he dwells within the Christian or whether he expresses himself in the Christian's life through the influence of the word. Those of you who studied this know what I'm talking about. This is not essential. This is not the essential issue concerning the Holy Spirit. The essential issue concerning the Holy Spirit is whether or not as Paul says in Romans 8:14, "we are being led by the spirit." It's not about how does the spirit interacts with us? It's about are we being led by the Holy Spirit? That's what it's about.
We usually say that the final essential of salvation is faithfulness. Don't we, you know, the plan of salvation you've got to be faithful but I'm saying to you that Jesus tells His disciples that they must remain faithful until the end in order to be saved, but remaining faithful it's not something that stands all by itself or that a human being can accomplish by himself. Remaining faithful until the end is something that happens as a result of following after the Holy Spirit, as a result of yielding to the Holy Spirit, as a result of submitting to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That's how you remain faithful to the end.
You don't remain faithful to the end through sheer human willpower. You don't remain faithful to the end through habit. You remain faithful to the end by following the lead of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit will lead you to Christ in the end. That's what it's about. Being led by the Holy Spirit is not some mysterious thing. It's not some subjective idea beyond observation. Among other things you can say and you can know, and you can understand that you're being led by the spirit.
When you read the Bible and do what it says, you read the Bible and do what it says. You're being led by the Holy Spirit. The people who heard the apostles preaching on Pentecost and they responded to the apostles by repenting of their sins and by being baptized, they were following the lead of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit was saying repent and be baptized and those who did that were following the lead of the Holy Spirit.
When we follow our conscience in the light of God's word, we are being led by the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit will encourage us in good and will discourage us from evil. You're following the Holy Spirit when something is before you, either good or evil, and you choose despite everything your flesh says to follow what is right and good. You're following after the Holy Spirit.
Paul tells us if by the spirit we are putting to death, the deeds of the flesh, when you say no to temptation when you say no to the flesh, you're following after the Holy Spirit, there's nothing mysterious about it.
When you follow the leadership of godly people in the church, you're following the lead of the Holy Spirit. People who behave in a Christ-like manner and who lead you in the church are the agents of the Holy Spirit. Why do you think Paul says through the power of the Holy Spirit in Acts 20:28, which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Paul is talking to the elders and he said to the elders that the Holy Spirit has made them leaders. He encourages the leaders to lead by example, by obedience, by purity. When we follow the example of our leaders we are in effect following, not our leaders, but we are following the Holy Spirit as they follow the Holy Spirit.
There are times when there is a burden in our lives. There's a time when there is a yearning to do a good work. There's a time when we need to proclaim the gospel and we feel compelled to do it, I believe this is the Holy Spirit at work within us. Something good is in front of us and we say, it's an inconvenience and going to cost me money but I've just got to do this. This is important.
Paul was provoked by the Holy Spirit when he was in pagan assets. And I think that even today, we are provoked to do God's will, we are provoked to proclaim His name in places where His name has not yet been spoken. Every time you decide to put your dollar and your change in the collection box so a Bible can go to a place where the gospel isn't preached, who moves you to do that? Your flesh, no. The Holy Spirit moves you to do that.
Those who follow this lead, those who are guided by the Holy Spirit in this way, receive blessings that are not available in any other way. For example, people will follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, produced the fruit of the tree, the spirit. Jesus said the most important things to love God and to love others.
Holy Spirit produces that fruit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, purity. People who the Holy Spirit experience a more meaningful and effective parallel, Romans 8:13, people who follow after the Holy spirit discover and develop spiritual abilities in the service of Christ in Romans 12. And in I Corinthians 12 also, Paul talks about the different gifts that different members of the church have to serve God. In the first century, some of those gifts were miraculous and others were what we call ordinary gifts, special gifts to teach or to give or to leave. The spirit still provides those gifts today. But to those people who follow after people, who follow after the spirit and mature in their wisdom and in their knowledge of life and conduct, they grow in assurance of their salvation.
Maturity in Christ is expressed by greater confidence in your salvation based on faith in Jesus Christ. A mature man or a mature woman in Christ is the person who is not afraid of condemnation because that person is absolutely confident that Jesus' blood covers every single one of their sins. I know a lot of people who know a lot about the Bible, who've been to church all their lives, who know all the routines and are still afraid of dying, who are still afraid that God will condemn them. They are not yet mature in Jesus Christ.
People who follow after the Spirit are resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Why do you think God needed to forgive us? He needed to forgive us so that we would be a pure vessel into which he could place the Holy Spirit. And why do you think he needed to place the Holy Spirit within us? So that at the right time he could, through the power of the Holy Spirit, resurrect us from the dead. That's the point from the beginning of time. God has planned our resurrection from the dead. These experiences are the marks of the people who are faithful and allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit is the only way to develop these attributes of faith.
So the questions are asked: Who is saved? Who will go to heaven? What are the essentials? And the answer is that there are basics that can't be traded away to avoid conflict or to gain a bigger group. If we compromise on a couple of things, we can double the size of this church in no time. But I believe that the New Testament establishes the essentials are required for salvation required for Christianity to be Christianity.
One more time, an unwavering belief that Jesus is truly the only son of God, divine savior of the world, that He is no less than this and that only He is this and that. Our salvation is based on faith. And this fact is essential.
Repentance and baptism are the God-ordained ways of expressing our faith in Jesus Christ.
I believe in Christ and how does God tell me to express that? By repenting of my sins and being immersed in water in the name of Jesus, not just repentance, not just baptism, but both a sincere change and a burial in water are what God has clearly set forth as our response to his offer of forgiveness.
Maybe we can figure out who's been properly baptized or not, but I'll tell you something. God can figure out not only who's been properly baptized or not but who has properly repented or not. God knows who has sincerely repented and repentance is as much a requirement as baptism. Even if it's a little more difficult to discern, God can discern it and He will. A spirit-filled life is a witness of our continued faith and a testimony of the risen Jesus to the world.
Now, these are not the only things in the Bible. These are not the only things in Christianity, but these are the essentials. If you have these, you have Christians. And if these are missing, it doesn't matter what you've got. You're missing the important things.
People ask me why do you choose these as the essentials, who made you the judge, who made you the big chief, who made you the big theologian, that you can list what are the essentials?
What I looked for in the essentials were the things that the Bible itself associated with salvation. I didn't look in Church of Christ manuals or a catechism. We don't ascribe to those types of things. I simply looked at the Bible and asked myself, what does the Bible associate with salvation?
Salvation is the essential idea. Salvation is the bottom line. Whether we go to heaven or to hell that's, what's really important. Everything else is secondary. When you're on your death bed you're not worried about women deacons or instrumental music. The only thing you want to know is "am I going to heaven?"
The things that I have mentioned, faith in Jesus as God, repentance and baptism, spirit-filled living. These were the only things that the Bible specifically said that you must have in order to be saved. When we have to speak, we must remember the old adage of the restoration movement. We need to speak where the Bible speaks and where the Bible is silent we need to remain silent.
So why do we choose these? Because the Bible chooses these. Because the Bible associates these with salvation.
Legalism and the Church of Christ
Another question or criticism is that the Church of Christ is a bunch of narrow-minded legalists. You're Pharisees. Now some say this because we actually make a distinction between those who are saved and those who are lost and they say we're not allowed to judge or that we are judgmental or legalistic. Sometimes people say, "you think you're the only ones going to heaven, right?"
Now there's a major misunderstanding here. When people say that they don't know what legalism is. Legalism is a belief that you can actually be saved by perfect obedience. That you are actually accomplishing perfect obedience. The Pharisees in the Bible and the Old Testament believe this. They believe that you could be saved by obeying the Law. And they believed that they were obeying the law. They didn't need Jesus. What do we need a sacrifice for our sins? We were obeying the law. We're okay.
People also say this because we include baptism as an essential and they claim that this a work. I think we understand that we cannot be saved by perfect obedience. That's why Jesus died for our sins. But you do have to exercise some obedience in order to be saved? I hate to throw a wet towel on your party here, but you have to exercise some obedience in order to be saved. The Bible says that you have to believe, right? And you have to obey that command and exercise your will in order to believe. Who would argue that you don't have to believe in order to be saved nobody? When you believe, your mind takes in information and decides whether it's true or not, and then accepts it, that's an act of the will.
The Bible says that you have to repent. Again, no one would argue that Christians shouldn't repent from their sins. Everybody agrees on that. And yet you have to obey a command. Don't you? The Bible says, repent. You have to obey. You have to change things.
If you were addicted to some sort of substance, you've got to stop doing that. If you're married and you got a girlfriend on the side, you've got to let go of that girlfriend. Things have to change. There's something you have to obey. We simply say that God also says that we must be baptized and so we obey that command in order to be saved.
We're not legalistic. We simply want to be obedient to God and respond to God in a way that God desires. That's not legalism. That's love.
Last time I heard Jesus said, "if you love me, you will keep my commands." Jesus is the one who associated love with obedience. There's a relationship between love and obedience. And what we say is, God just tell us what you want us to do and we will do it. That's not legalism. That's love. That's respect. That's piety. That's a desire to do God's will. And that's pleasing throughout all of history. God has loved those who desired to obey Him.
Notice it's not those who obeyed Him perfectly because no one ever did. God loved the ones who desire to do His will and I like to think that we are that kind of people. We want to know what God wants from us and we want to do it.
What about all the nice religious people who don't have the essentials?
Now the mistake here is a form of legalism but in reverse. This is the assumption that we can exchange a measure of human niceness or zeal for salvation. This person is nice therefore that person can trade being nice for being saved.
The Bible tells us that God sees into the hearts of every single person. And God determines that all people without exception are sinners and all people need His grace (Romans 3:23).
How do you think God came to that conclusion? Do you think He guessed it? No, God has the power to look inside of every single human heart from the beginning till the end of time. God has looked into every single heart of every single person who ever lived and He has determined that every single person needs His grace.
What we do is deny this fact and we say that this or that person is nice enough or zealous enough to stand before God without Christ. And without obeying Christ we decide what the gospel is going to be. The gospel of nice.
But the Bible says that each individual needs Christ and each individual comes to Christ in exactly the same way and that is by obeying Him. Everybody comes to God the same way. You and me, Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, Marilyn Monroe and all our sports heroes come to Christ the same way: They believe. They repent. They are baptized. They live a spirit-filled life. No exceptions. That's justice.
The whole point of the gospel is that it doesn't matter how nice you are or how many good deeds you do or how zealous you are in your religion, without the essentials there is no salvation. That's why we evangelize.
When I became a preacher. It dawned on me the only way people could be saved is if they heard the gospel and it dawned on me, somebody had better get out there and started doing it. Because where I come from there weren't a lot of preachers and there's still not a lot of preachers in this world.
No Jesus, no salvation. That's the terrible awful truth of life.
Are People Who Use Musical Instruments Saved?
You could ask this question in a thousand different ways. For example, are people who have women deacons, are they saved? Are people who don't have "Church of Christ" on the door save? Are people who don't believe in the inspiration of the Bible saved?
In other words, if someone has the essentials but not the other things are they still saved? What does the Bible say? The Bible says yes because they have the essentials. The essentials that are associated with salvation. If you have them, you have salvation. If God wanted to base salvation on whether or not we had an organ, He would have done that. But He didn't
However, we need to understand that the danger of false or incorrect doctrine even in the non-essentials. The danger in this is that eventually it leads to the compromise of the essentials themselves. That's the danger. If you have the essentials you'll have what it needs to be saved but if you compromise the non-essentials it's only a matter of time before the essentials themselves begin to fall by the wayside.
For example, believing that the Bible is inspired by God (like all of the Bible is inspired by God) is not essential for salvation. You don't have to confess in the waters of baptism. You don't have to say, I believe that every single page is without mistake in the Bible. You don't have to say that to be save, but if you reject the inspiration of the Bible it will not be very long before you reject the deity of Christ or before you reject all the things that keep you saved and eventually reject and jeopardize your own salvation. Because if the Bible isn't inspired, why believe in Jesus in the first place?
Another example. There are a lot of denominations who began with the essentials that I'm talking about but they also experimented with incorrect teachings on lesser issues (like instrumental music or women's role in the church) and a hundred years later a lot of people in their churches are denying the divinity of Christ and the authority of the Bible and this is well documented.
Many churches that began on the right track a hundred years ago are now at the point where they don't even believe any more that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. When you compromise the non-essentials it's only a matter of time before the essentials also fall by the wayside. We have to be careful to respect all of God's word, not just the essential because we are responsible not only for our own soul. When we knowingly teach false doctrine, we jeopardize our own soul, but we are also responsible for passing on to the next generation, the whole gospel of Jesus Christ.