This is a ten-minute reading of the article “Salvation in the New Testament.”
Salvation in the New Testament
The essential acts of metanoeo and epistrepho
Someone recently asked me to answer the awesome question, how can a person be saved? I explained it and was asked if I could also write it down. This article was my attempt to do that. It is not the final answer but the opening of an age-old question: What must I do to be saved? Generally, the answer is reduced to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” This is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. The New Testament has much to say about salvation, so we mustn’t reduce it to a sound bite or give some slick answer. Being saved isn’t a matter of just checking the box; it is the most significant concern in every person’s life.
A Starting Place
Every journey has a beginning. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is no different. The original twelve Disciples’ journey started with a call from Christ. This call is a command, “follow me!” This meant that their heart was to turn from their present life of sin and self (disobedience to God) towards the life He offers as their Lord and King. It is a radical life change.
Anyone who desires to be a disciple must leave their former lives behind and the people who reject their new direction. Some people, like Paul the Apostle, lost everything; but what they lost, they received back manifold more. In time, God made believers like Paul instruments in His hand to spread the Gospel to the world.
Yet the journey from their call to their receiving of the Spirit is one we must all travel. The details will be different, but the basics are the same. This is why we must read the New Testament scriptures (especially the Gospels) and allow the Holy Spirit to deal with us as He dealt with the twelve Disciples. The first step is to give God your undivided attention and let Him point out wrong beliefs or behaviors.
Is Their Hope for Sinners?
Imagine the horror of realizing that you were part of the crowd who yelled, “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!” and come to find out it was the Messiah you had killed. This was the predicament of these people who were listening to Peter. When they heard his words, they were cut to the heart or “stricken in their conscience” (as one translator put it). They were guilty of the worst possible crime. We might wonder, how could they escape the damnation of hell?!
We read these things as if they happened in seconds, but Peter might have preached for hours. I suggest he made his case with such power and authority that the people trembled as he spoke. The Holy Spirit was brooding over that massive crowd, numbering in the thousands, convicting them of their sins and the judgment they deserve for those sins—with the crucifixion of Christ being the worst of all. I have no doubt that people were weeping and wailing under conviction. Wouldn’t you and I be if we were one of them?
What Shall We Do?
Notice their response to his preaching, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter didn’t extend the meeting, soliciting an emotional response from the people. He wasn’t begging them to see the error of their ways. Instead, he told the facts and let them think about it. Nobody played an invitation song to coerce them to respond. Nobody led them in the “Romans Road” to gain a response and conversion. They repented of their sins in the Biblical sense of the word and trusted Christ to the uttermost. When it was over, they were born again of the Spirit and became awesome weapons in the hand of God.
What happened? These Jews felt the incredible impact of their sin, were guilty before God, saw their need for salvation, and cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” It was a desperate cry. When was the last time you or I heard a sinner cry out in a meeting? But, unfortunately, we’re too impatient to allow the Holy Spirit to bring them to that great and personal question, “Brothers, what shall we do?” We want a decision right now. So we try to lead people to Jesus who don’t even realize they are a sinner yet.
Bible-Based Counsel to Sinners
The late GW North once commented that he searched the scriptures to ensure he was right because if he had counseled people wrongly, he’d damned souls. Would to God that all ministers felt that way. They do not, but Paul, James, and Peter did. Peter’s answer to their question was both instructive and programmatic. It also agreed with Paul’s message from when he was in Damascus until the end. What did Paul preach? He preached the Gospel so entirely that he could look at the people and say, “I am free from the blood of all men, and I have not held back anything from you.” Can we say that today? What was Paul’s message? The answer is in Acts 26.
Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me (Acts 26:19-21).
Paul uses the Greek words metanoeo and epistrepho, which means “to change the mind and turn. He adds that they should “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” (evidence of repentance), making the repentance portion of the Gospel message essentially the same as John the Baptist. The people were expected to turn away from all sin the Holy Spirit revealed and renounce them. Water baptism represented “crossing over” into a life where Jesus Christ is Lord and King.
Peter follows the same line by calling the people to repent and be baptized. This was by total immersion. The Jews immersed themselves ceremonially all the time and were familiar with the concept. Water Baptism was what an altar call looked like before Charles Finney (1800s) decided that coming forward in a meeting and sitting on an “anxious bench” could substitute for water baptism. Most famous evangelists have followed Finney in this regard because, like him, they would rather not deal with the controversy of baptism by immersion (believers baptism). What a terrible precedent to set.
Fortunately, Peter wasn’t bound up with 1900 years of men’s revisions to the Gospel. Instead, he delivered it as the Holy Spirit ordained it. The people were to change their minds and turn from their sins in response to the moving of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. They did, and three thousand people were added to the Church. But Peter wasn’t through. He moved to Solomon’s Porch and preached a powerful message. His counsel to them?
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).
This message also contains the promise of the Holy Spirit. Indeed he is building on what he said to the others previously. The writer gives us different details to emphasize a different aspect of the message. They were to repent, turn to God, receive forgiveness of sins, and receive the presence of the Lord — a way of saying receive the Holy Spirit. He ends the message by reminding them that Jesus Christ came to turn the people from their iniquities (sins and lawless ways).
In modern times the Gospel has been clouded by the dark lenses of men’s theologies and methods. Almost no Gospel light can penetrate. Understand that the concept of “getting saved” today is so distorted by men’s traditions that it’s like the Pharisees who made the word of God of no effect by their traditions. What’s worse is that they show no signs of returning to a Bible-based message. The problem is long-in-the-tooth, and it will take a new generation o preachers to change it back.
Wedding or Altar Call?
Salvation is not like a wedding ceremony but is
often treated as such. At a wedding, people who love each other and are already committed come forward to express their desire to be married in front of witnesses. The preacher doesn’t talk them into getting married for thirty minutes and then lead them in their vows. They were already ready to commit. Their hearts were already aligned with each other.
Water Baptism is more like a wedding ceremony. That’s the public display of a person’s intentions. It may have taken them days or weeks to respond to God, hence that decision and commitment. How crazy is it to think that people can say words like wedding vows and be joined to Christ when they haven’t even come to terms with their sin and seen their need for salvation in a meaningful way? Leonard Ravenhill used to talk about people coming to Christ faster than he could get his car through the automatic car wash. We need God to open our eyes to the truth, take the blinders off, and trade modern methods and traditions for Peter and Paul’s proven Gospel message.