The Simple Gospel

The Conditions of Salvation

Bob Waldron


One of the most vexing questions religious people face today is sorting out the truth about what conditions must be met before one can be saved. Many do not think there are any conditions. Others think that there is only one -- faith. But I have found an interesting way to study this question. It is simple and leaves one with a very high degree of certainty about the matter.

If anyone can settle the matter for us, it is Jesus Christ Himself. When Jesus was preparing to leave the earth, He gave last instructions to His apostles. In three of the gospel accounts these last instructions are found, and they are generally called the Great Commission. Let's look at these three accounts and merely ask: What did Jesus say?

The three accounts are Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; and Luke 24:47. If I were studying with you at the kitchen table, I would just have you get a sheet of paper and write these notes down as we go. As nearly as possible, we will conduct this study the same way.

We are going to wind up with five columns, left to right, each with its own heading. Four of the columns will have scripture references at its head, and the first of these we will simply denote Matt. 28:18-20. There the text reads: "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:18-20).

Let's look for the things Jesus said to do in this passage. Part of what He commanded was for the apostles to do, and part was what He told them to command that others do. The first things He commanded was "Go," but, since He says that in all three accounts, we are going to skip that one, on the same basis that if we take a recipe book, we know we are going to have to go to the kitchen to use the recipe book. So, yes, we are going to have to go to the sinner to teach him and convert him. The next thing Jesus says to do is "Teach." So let's list this command under our heading:

Matt. 28:18-20

Teach

Some translations have an expression such as "make disciples" instead of "teach," but to make disciples is to teach people so as to make them followers of Christ. Therefore this teaching refers to the preaching of the gospel.

The next thing Jesus says is "baptizing them." So let's list it next.

Matt. 28:18-20

Teach

Baptize

The baptism here is water baptism, since it is commanded. Holy Spirit baptism is always a promise, but the only baptism that is clearly commanded is water baptism (Acts 10:44-48). After the Holy Spirit had fallen upon Cornelius, without any command or indication from Peter at all that it was about to happen, Peter commanded that Cornelius and his household be baptized in water (10:47).

The next thing Jesus commanded was "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded." Obviously this was a teaching to follow baptism. So there was a teaching that preceded baptism, and a teaching that followed baptism. Now our list reads:

Matt. 28:18-20

Teach

Baptize

Teach

Jesus follows these commands by promising to be with His disciples unto the end of the world, but this is not a command, but a promise, so our list is complete in Matthew. We go to Mark 16:15-16. Now we add another column with the heading Mark 16:15-16.

In Mark's account of the Great Commission, the record says, "And He said unto them, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." Just as in Matthew's account, Jesus says, "Go," but after this, what is the first thing He commands? Preach the gospel.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Teach

Preach

Baptize

 

Teach

 

When the gospel is preached, what does Jesus say that men must do? They must believe it. Some may not believe it. If they choose unbelief they will be condemned, but He commands that they believe.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Teach

Preach

Baptize

Believe

Teach

 

"He that believeth and is baptized." Baptism goes next onto our list. Now we have the following.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Teach

Preach

Baptize

Believe

Teach

Baptize

Then Jesus gives the result of believing and being baptized: "shall be saved." Accordingly, we add "saved" to our list in Mark's account.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Teach

Preach

Baptize

Believe

Teach

Baptize

 

Saved

Following Mark 16:16 are some more promises of Christ, but we find no more commandments in the rest of the gospel of Mark. Therefore we move on to Luke 24:47, which says, "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem." What is the first thing Jesus says to do in this verse? Be careful! To answer correctly is a little tricky. Let me help out a little by asking, "What did Jesus say should be done with repentance and remission of sins beginning in Jerusalem?" He wanted them PREACHED! Even though He mentions preaching after repentance and remission of sins, logically it comes first, so let's start another column, this one with the heading Luke 24:47, and we will list preaching first.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Teach

Preach

Preach

Baptize

Believe

 

Teach

Baptize

 

 

Save

 

What was it Jesus wanted preached? First, repentance, the change of heart and life without which we all shall perish (Luke 13:3, 5). So repentance goes on our list next.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Teach

Preach

Preach

Baptize

Believe

Repentance

Teach

Baptize

 

 

Save

 

Jesus also wanted remission of sins preached. The word remission means removal, or taking away. This term completes our list. So our sheet of paper now looks like this.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Teach

Preach

Preach

Baptize

Believe

Repentance

Teach

Baptize

Remission of sins

 

Save

 

Now that we have these three passages analyzed, what are we going to do with them? It is time to choose which one of these three ways we want to use to be saved. Why don't we just use Matthew's account? We would need to be taught the gospel. We would need to be baptized, and we would need to be taught some more, but I suppose we would not need to believe or repent, since Matthew's account says nothing about those things. Oh, but we cannot be saved without faith. Well, maybe we need to follow Mark's account. We would need to have the gospel preached to us, we would need to believe it and to be baptized, and then we would be saved. Do you think we can be saved without repenting? Mark's account does not mention repenting at all. I guess we are forced to Luke's account, aren't we? We need to have the gospel preached to us, we need to repent, and we will enjoy the remission (removal) of sins. But can this be done without faith? No.

What is left for us to do? Must we reject all the accounts? I think that it is plain that what we must do is to combine the information in these three accounts to find out what the Lord would have us to do. We are therefore ready for our fourth column, and for it we will use the heading "Combination." We will enclose each item from the accounts in brackets as we place it in the combination account. This way, we will be sure we have included everything.

As we look at all three accounts, what do we put down for number one in our combination account? That's pretty easy. Preach or teach is first in all three columns. We will therefore list it number one in our combination account.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Combination

[Teach]

[Preach]

[Preach]

Preach

Baptize

Believe

Repent

 

Teach

Baptize

Remission of sins

 

 

Saved

 

 

Which of the things listed shall we place at the number two spot in our combination account? Baptism? Although no account of the Great Commission is complete by itself, we cannot completely reverse the order of items found in any one account. For example, in Mark's account belief precedes baptism, so we could not have baptism before belief without doing violence to the scriptures. What about repent? Could it go next? The thing is repentance is a change of heart that is carried out in a change in the life. It is not logical to have repentance before faith because nobody is going to repent if they don't believe. Imagine that a man had spent the afternoon putting his car back together, and, though exhausted, and covered with grease and sweat, he is happy to have the job done. Suppose I came up and looked at his work, shook my head, and said, "I am sorry to have to tell you this, but you have done this job all wrong. You are going to have to take it all apart and do the job over again." What man would, without question, pick up his tools and set to work dismantling his car? He would undoubtedly question me about what made me think he had done the job wrong. In other words, he would have to be convinced, he would have to believe that I was right before he would act upon my information. Therefore it is not repent, but believe, that would come next. So we put it on our combination list in the second position.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Combination

[Teach]

[Preach]

[Preach]

Preach

Baptize

[Believe]

Repent

Believe

Teach

Baptize

Remission of sins

 

 

Saved

 

 

Shall we put "Saved" or "remission of sins" next? The only problem is that if we put salvation next, we reverse the order in Mark 16:16. We also fail to put "repent" in what would be its natural, logical position, because when one hears something that is going to bring changes in his life, those changes follow his belief. So repent is what we put next.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Combination

[Teach]

[Preach]

[Preach]

Preach

Baptize

[Believe]

[Repent]

Believe

Teach

Baptize

Remission of sins

Repent

 

Saved

 

 

According to Mark's order, baptism precedes salvation, so we will put it next. Thus we have:

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Combination

[Teach]

[Preach]

[Preach]

Preach

[Baptize]

[Believe]

[Repent]

Believe

Teach

[Baptize]

Remission of sins

Repent

 

Saved

 

Baptize

Now we have left two items that have not been placed on our combination column, teaching and salvation, or remission of sins. So we will put the remission of sins following belief, repentance, and baptism.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Combination

[Teach]

[Preach]

[Preach]

Preach

[Baptize]

[Believe]

[Repent]

Believe

Teach

[Baptize]

[Remission of sins]

Repent

 

[Saved]

 

Baptize

 

 

 

Remission of Sins

Everything is on our combination list except the teaching or edifying that follows conversion, so we will add it, and our list will be complete.

Matt. 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-16

Luke 24:47

Combination

[Teach]

[Preach]

[Preach]

Preach

[Baptize]

[Believe]

[Repent]

Believe

[Teach]

[Baptize]

[Remission of sins]

Repent

 

[Saved]

 

Baptize

 

 

 

Remission of Sins

 

 

 

Teach

We have used our best reasoning to place the items on our list, and we have seen that their placement is not arbitrary. Nevertheless, wouldn't it be nice if we could confirm our reasoning by comparing it to God's reasoning? Well, it happens that we can. The apostle Peter was present when Jesus gave these commandments, and he was present when they were carried out. What understanding did he have of the way these things would all be combined?

To find the answer to this question let's go to the second chapter of the book of Acts. We are now going to dispense with the three columns of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but we will leave our combination column. To it we are going to add another column the heading of which will be Acts 2.

As we begin our analysis of Acts 2, we see the Holy Spirit come upon the apostles, and we see them speaking in tongues as miraculous evidence of their inspiration. Notice the words beginning in verse 14: "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them, saying, 'Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and give ear unto my words." Peter continues to speak, quoting from the prophet Joel, and proceeding to proclaim Jesus as the Christ. Now what would you call what Peter was doing here? He was preaching, wasn't he? We will therefore place preaching on our list under "Acts 2."

Combination

Acts 2

Preach

Preach

Believe

 

Repent

 

Baptize

 

Remission of sins

 

Teach

 

Peter reached a conclusion in verse 36 when he said, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified." The Bible says, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts" (verse 37). They heard what? The preaching. Now what they heard was that they had crucified Jesus, but they already knew that, and it had not pricked their hearts before. But they had also heard in this sermon and had seen in the apostles themselves powerful evidence that Jesus was the Christ. So what had brought about the change we see in their hearts? They now believed. That they had believed also explains something else. When the people asked what they should do, Peter did not tell them to believe. He began his response with "repent" because he knew they had believed already. So he said, "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). So we may now place "believe," "repent," and "baptize" on our list under the heading "Acts 2."

Combination

Acts 2

Preach

Preach

Believe

Believe

Repent

Repent

Baptize

Baptize

Remission of sins

 

Teach

 

When Peter told the people to repent and to be baptized, he said "unto the remission of sins." So we place it next.

Combination

Acts 2

Preach

Preach

Believe

Believe

Repent

Repent

Baptize

Baptize

Remission of sins

Remission of sins

Teach

 

In Acts 2:42 we find that the people converted on this day of Pentecost "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching." This was the kind of teaching Jesus commanded to follow conversion, teaching which would edify and build up one to be a mature and faithful disciple. Now our comparison is complete.

Combination

Acts 2

Preach

Preach

Believe

Believe

Repent

Repent

Baptize

Baptize

Remission of sins

Remission of sins

Teach

Teach

The question is raised by some: why is confession not included in this information? I guess we would need to ask Jesus that question, since this information is His from beginning to end. Nevertheless the Bible has a good deal to say about confession. Jesus Himself said, "Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33). Paul wrote: "Because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:9-10). So I hardly think that Jesus said nothing about confession in the Great Commission accounts because He did not want it done.

I think that the explanation of this matter is simple. Bible confession is not a matter of "repeat after me these words." The confession is a necessary, natural part of the conversion process, one which Jesus knew would necessarily have to happen to carry out the other commands He gave. We cannot baptize a non-believer. How do we know one is a believer? The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch illustrates (Acts 8:26-40). Philip preached unto the Eunuch Jesus (8:35). In the course of this teaching, the Eunuch came to the conclusion that he needed to be baptized and asked, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (8:36). Philip answered, "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest" (8:37). The Eunuch then confessed his faith. Philip did not say, "If thou confessest." He said, "If thou believest," and the Eunuch showed that he did believe by confessing it.

What we have studied is not the Plan of Salvation. The plan of salvation takes the entire Bible to tell, and it is the greatest story ever told, a story that no lifetime on earth is long enough to comprehend and to appreciate fully. It is a story of planning, of patience, of judgment, of love, of grace, of sacrifice and suffering, of redemption and deliverance from our worst enemy. It is the story of promises and of hope. No, what we have studied are the conditions of salvation.

My friend, you may have been confused before. That is understandable, but when you see how clearly the conditions of salvation are set forth by Jesus, surely there can be no doubt that the information we have presented is right. I hope that you will promptly render the "obedience of faith" for which the gospel was preached (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).


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