The Real New Testament Plan Of Salvation:
Compiled by David P. Nolte

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Recently I attended a church camp and looked at the printed program for the week. On the back it told the campers how to be saved. I was shocked and dismayed to find what I call "Gospel Lite!" (Not to be confused with Gospel Light, however!).

The plan was outlined as:

1. Recognize that you are a sinner.

2. Decide to turn from that sin.

3. Believe in Jesus Christ as God's Son.

4. Ask Him to come into your heart and pray the sinner's prayer.

Now, while none of that is inherently wrong in itself - it just stops short of the full New Testament plan. It is like cooking with part of the ingredients. Something vital is missing. The real plan of salvation always includes baptism by immersion.

I asked the lady in charge, "Where's baptism in this plan?" She said, "Oh, I believe in baptism." I said, "You'd never know it from what I read here." She said, "Well, then, what would you tell them?" I said, "I'd tell them what Peter told them on the day of Pentecost, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

At the outset, let me assure the reader that I believe that we are saved by grace through faith. We do not earn, merit, or work for salvation. It is a free gift, paid for and delivered by Jesus. But it is appropriated through faith. Faith is always more than mere head stuff. It is more than assent to the truth of a proposition. Faith always includes belief, trust and obedience. That can be clearly seen in Abraham who believed God (and showed it by trusting God and in doing what God told him to do). Separate out trust and obedience and faith becomes an emasculated takeoff of the real thing.

Having said that, I want to address the human idea of "inviting Jesus into your heart" and "praying the sinner's prayer." While those things are not bad in themselves, yet they are things some man made up and are not ever or anywhere commanded or taught in Scripture. I challenge anyone, anywhere, at any time to show one single verse of the Bible that says, "invite Jesus into your heart" or that commands us to "pray the sinner's prayer!"

We do see the Publican in Luke 18:13 beating his chest in sorrow, saying, "O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner." And we do see Jesus saying, in V14 "I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored." Luke 18:13, 14 (NLT). But where is the command for anyone to pray that prayer? Where is there any indication of "oughtness" to that text? Where are we told to do that? Where is the teaching that this is to be a universal and sufficient practice?

Wasn't the tax collector justified by that prayer?

Yes, but he is not a model of Christian conversion. Nor is the thief on the cross whose appeal to Christ brought him Paradise. They lived under the Old Testament Law and the old covenant (which was replaced by the new, instituted only when Christ died! The old was made obsolete by the new! See Hebrews 8:7 &13).

Now, some might object, "Neither the tax collector nor the thief on the cross were told to be baptized."

There is a good reason for that: it is because baptism was not enjoined until Jesus uttered the Great Commission ("make disciples and baptize them and teach them to obey all I have commanded" Matthew 28:19, 20). Nor was Christian baptism commanded or performed until the day of Pentecost when Peter commanded, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." That this was not just for first century Jews is clear: "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself." Acts 2:38-39 (NASB).

A close check of the New Testament will reveal that only in the book of Acts do we see people becoming Christians under the New Covenant. There are 10 recorded cases of conversion. It is interesting to note that belief, repentance and confession are not mentioned (except by implication) in all of those cases but baptism is!

Note this chart which embodies the New Testament plan of salvation:

Case Scripture Belief Repentance Confession Baptism Result
3,000 at Pentecost Acts 2:36-38 Implied Commanded Nothing said Commanded and Performed Forgiven, gift of the Holy Spirit promised
Samaritans Acts 8:12 Stated Nothing said Nothing said Performed Joy
Eunuch Acts 8:26-38 Stated Nothing said Commanded and Performed Requested and Performed Amazement
Simon Acts 8:13 Stated Nothing said Nothing said Performed Rejoicing
Saul/Paul Acts 9:1-18 Implied Implied Implied Commanded and Performed Sins washed away
Cornelius Acts 10:47 Implied Nothing said Nothing said Performed Salvation
Lydia Acts 16:14-15 Implied Nothing said Nothing said Performed Judged faithful
Jailer Acts 16:14-15 Implied Nothing said Nothing said Performed Rejoiced
Corinthians Acts 18:8 Stated Nothing said Nothing said Performed No stated result
Ephesians Acts 19:1-5 Implied Nothing said Nothing said Performed No stated result

Wouldn't it appear that baptism was taught, commanded and practiced when people became believers? Isn't it obvious that the early church put high emphasis on baptism? Then the epistles were written to those who had been baptized to correct problems, to encourage Christian growth, and so on. Don't look to the epistles for the plan of salvation except as those who whom they were written were reminded of the terms of that plan.

Let's reason a little further:

Jesus Himself was baptized and said it fulfilled righteousness: Matthew 3:15. Jesus commanded that His disciples make other disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that He had commanded: Matthew 28:18-20. One of His commandments is baptism. Disciples are to obey that.

Baptism, apart from repentant belief, saves no one. It would be equivalent to diving into a swimming pool. Nothing redemptive in that. But baptism based on repentant belief, identifies us with, and corresponds to, what Christ did on the cross and in His resurrection. Baptism without faith is empty but faith without baptism is not complete.

Some might object to baptism being a work of merit.

But baptism is not a work at all since the one being baptized is passive. God does the work in baptism: forgiving sins and bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 3:36-38. Baptism is immersion in water and God's bestowal of the Holy Spirit. It is being born of water and the Spirit. John 3:1-3. Baptism does not add to or complete Christ's work, but it does identify us with the work and appropriates the benefit of the work He did in His death, burial and resurrection. Romans 6:1-4. And if one hangs up on this point, they should consider that belief is a work! People asked, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." John 6:28-29 (NASB). The word for "work" here is "ergon" and means "that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking." Strong's Greek Number 2041.

Think a little further:

First, Jesus said that baptism fulfills righteousness.

That is, baptism is right. Matthew 3:13-15.

If we know it is right to do and don't do it, it is a sin. James 4:17 makes that clear: "Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it." (NLT).

Second, baptism is a commandment.

Jesus said to do it and the apostles commanded it.

So if we know that commandment and are still disobedient to it, there are several consequences:

What does it mean to claim to have faith but yet to refuse to obey a clear command?

1. We are no friend of Jesus: John 14:23, John 15:14. We are His friends if we obey.

2. We cannot claim to truly know God: 1 John 2:3-6 says, "And how can we be sure that we belong to Him? By obeying His commandments. If someone says, 'I belong to God,' but doesn't obey God's commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. But those who obey God's word really do love Him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in Him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did." (NLT).

3. Nor can we claim to be saved without obedience: Hebrews 5:8-9 says, "So even though Jesus was God's Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered. In this way, God qualified Him as a perfect High Priest, and He became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him." (NLT).

4. Nor can we claim to possess the Holy Spirit without obedience: "And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him." Acts 5:32 (NASB).

Here are some Biblical associations with baptism:

1. New Birth:

John 3:5, which says, "The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit." (NLT). Water here can only mean one of three things:

A. Human birth. But the Bible never refers to human birth in that way. Besides think of how unreasonable it would be to think that Jesus would say, "no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born as a human and also being born of the Spirit." If one is not born as a human, he surely cannot be born of the Spirit!

B. The Holy Spirit. But the Bible doesn't refer to the Holy Spirit as just "water." And think of the redundancy of, "no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of the Spirit also being born of the Spirit."

C. Baptism. John the Baptist was baptizing in water. The people all knew that because John said, "I baptize with water those who turn from their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is far greater than I am -- so much greater that I am not even worthy to be His slave. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Matthew 3:11 (NLT). There is your water and Spirit connection.

Titus 3:5 adds, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit," (NASB).

Clearly the washing of regeneration refers to baptism. Regeneration associates with new birth and "hence renovation, the production of a new life." Strong's Greek Number 3824.

2. Forgiveness of sin:

Acts 2:38 says to be baptized "for the forgiveness of your sins." Not "to show your sins have been forgiven." Not "because your sins have been forgiven." But "FOR forgiveness."

Acts 22:16 says, "And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on the name of the Lord." (NLT). Paul had become a believer, had repented on the road to Damascus three days earlier (Acts 9:9) but his sins had not been forgiven!

3. Salvation:

Mark 16:16 says, "Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. (NLT). The last phrase is not an argument against baptism since it is irrelevant whether a person is baptized or not if they don't believe. They are still condemned.

1 Peter 3:21 says, "And corresponding to that, {i.e., the eight brought to safety through water via the ark} baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ," (NASB).

4. Being in Christ:

Romans 6:3 says, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" (NASB). That this refers to water baptism is clear from the words, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (NASB).

Galatians 3:27 says, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Galatians 3:27 (NASB). To be clothed with is to be in Christ. It is "to sink into" Christ. Strong's Greek Number 1746.

If any one believes they can be saved outside of Christ, they are deceived. Surely that is manifest.

But what about infants?

We do not baptize infants because there are two Biblical antecedents to baptism an infant cannot fulfill. Those antecedents are:

1. Belief: Those who believe may be baptized: Acts 2:36-38 (belief implied), and Acts 8:37 where Paul told the Ethiopian eunuch he could be baptized if he believed.

2. Repentance: Those who repent of sin may be baptized.: Acts 2:38 makes that clear.

A valid question to ponder is: "Why people are not baptized?" I can conceive of only two "reasons" which are not indeed valid reasons at all:

1. Ignorance. They just don't know about it. Nobody has told them, they don't understand.

2. Rebellion. They know, but for whatever reason, they stubbornly refuse to submit.

It is conceivable that God might take the first into consideration, but He will never overlook or condone the second! That is an absolute, willful rejection of Christ as Lord. No one can rightfully claim to salvation to whom Jesus is not Lord!

So, let's cut the "Gospel lite" and go for the "Gospel Light" without condition or equivocation. Not only is our integrity at stake, so are eternal souls.

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