If we want to understand the gospel which Jesus preached, we go back to its beginning. That beginning is not the personal teaching of Christ while on earth, but the preparatory work done by John the Baptist. Mark notes this fact as he begins his Gospel account with these words:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight." John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:1-4).
Hence, the following facts must be understood from the work of John the Baptist:
Clearly, part of the message of John the Baptist was that people must repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. Lest anyone think this was merely John's idea, Luke 3:2-3 says it was the "word of God" which came unto John. Thus, God commanded the repentance and baptism taught by John in laying the foundation for the gospel of Christ.
During Jesus' ministry, He was asked a question regarding the origin of His authority (Matthew 21:23-32). He responded with a question of His own, alluding back to the baptism taught by John. He asked, "The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?" (v. 25). Both He and His detractors knew those were the only alternatives. If it was from men, it was vain (Mark 7:7-9). If it was from heaven, that would mean it was from God making it essential. Their reasoning to arrive at an answer is interesting. "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?'" (v. 25). They recognized that they could not say they believed one when they had not obeyed his message. If they really believed John's baptism was from heaven, they would have been baptized! Jesus confirms their understanding of that which was involved in true belief. In Matthew 21:32, He contrasts the publicans and harlots who had believed John with the officials of Israel who did not believe him. How could it be known that one group believed while the other group did not believe? Simple, one obeyed and the other did not obey.
Starting in Luke 7:18, the text relates an indirect contact between Jesus and John. After that exchange, Jesus praises John as a great prophet who coming was foretold by Malachi. Notice the contrast in attitudes seen by different groups upon hearing Jesus speak of John as a prophet of God:
And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him (Luke 7:29-30).
If one had not been obedient to the teaching coming from God through John regarding baptism, they rejected God's counsel! While some accuse those teaching the necessity of water baptism of being "Pharisees," the truth is that the Pharisees were those who did not view baptism as essential. So, when one says baptism is not necessary for remission of sins and salvation, he is in agreement with the Pharisees and their doctrine.
Today, we hear a number of people, including many preachers, saying baptism is not a part of the pattern revealed in the gospel of Christ regarding our salvation. They say one is saved at the point of faith alone, before and without water baptism. How would that have worked in John's time? Jesus said that those who failed to obey did not believe. Might that be the problem with some today who do not obey? When we call the prophet "John the Baptist," is it not because he stressed the essential nature of baptism for the remission sins in his teaching? What a misnomer it is for one to be called a "Baptist" who does not believe baptism is essential! Yet, that is the common teaching heard in "Baptist" churches across the land, whatever variety they might be.
But what did Jesus teach in His gospel when He declared the terms upon which we may be forgiven of our sins? Did He state any conditions at all? How can we know the intentions of our Lord regarding this matter? Did He express His will and leave it behind as people today may leave their will behind expressing the conditions for inheriting of certain blessings?
The Hebrew writer speaks of Christ's gospel as a "will" or "testament." As in all wills or testaments, the writer notes, "For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives" (Hebrews 9:16-17). Thus, Christ's will did not take effect until after He died. If we want to know the pattern for our salvation today, we do not follow the example of those saved before the death of Jesus. We would not look to Noah and build an ark. We would not look to Abraham and sojourn through Palestine. Nor would we say, "I want to be saved like the thief on the cross." All of those cases were before the death of Christ.
Jesus had a unique opportunity regarding His will. He was able to announce its conditions after He died! This was made possible because of His resurrection. But what did He say about the conditions of His will? The following three passages are parallel announcements of that will which, when taken as a whole, clearly define the conditions for our salvation:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned (Mk. 16:15-16).
Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the 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 to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Lk. 24:46-47).
When we gather the sum of the information, what do we find? One must hear the gospel, believe it, repent of his sins, be baptized and continue to do all things commanded by Christ through His apostles. The one who meets those conditions is blessed by God to be a disciple of Christ, saved and remitted of sins. Very simply, those are the conditions and blessings laid down by Christ in His will. None of us has the right to change that will. We cannot take part of it, reject the rest, and still expect the inheritance of salvation. We must look to the gospel as originally preached, believe it and obey it.
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