Have you ever considered our tagline here at A Faith that Obeys? It reads, “Rethinking the Traditional Plan of Salvation.” Now, I must admit, this does sound a bit presumptuous doesn’t it? Hopefully the tagline provides a crisp clarity to the issue we are debating and anyone piqued enough to investigate this apparent arrogance, discovers a warm and welcoming place to explore the age old debate regarding water baptism.
Now, you know me. I gotta pick apart a term! After all, we need to agree on what a word means. Let’s begin with, “Rethinking.” Why are we “rethinking” anything? Well, because we think we might have gotten something wrong or we need to review our understanding of a thing; in this case, The Traditional Plan of Salvation.
Defining Our Terms
A “plan” is an ordered succession of smaller events leading to a specific goal and our plan leads to salvation.
“Salvation” means, a person receives the forgiveness of sins, from God; is moved from a lost state to a saved state and will enjoy the benefits of the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternal life with God in heaven.
“Traditional” means; the plan is something which has been used and reused for a very long time and is assumed to be correct.
Our process of rethinking, leads us to probe, poke holes in and otherwise scrutinize the assertions made by the traditional plan. At A Faith that Obeys, we’ve discovered the primary and most glaring difference between the Traditional Plan and the Biblical Plan is this small, seemingly insignificant fact. Listen carefully. The only difference between the two plans is that the declaration of salvation is made at different points along the same common path. Let me explain because this issue can be a little hard to see.
The Roadmap to Salvation
The plan of salvation is like a map. When we look at the map carefully, we spot two different exit ramps. Both are clearly labeled, “This way to the Pearly Gates.” To arrive at our destination, we must use the correct exit ramp. But, right there on the map are two different exit ramps going off in different directions.
The traditional plan asserts a person is saved when they first believe and trust in Christ. This happens at some point before water baptism. That’s ramp one. The Biblical Plan demonstrates that a person is not saved until they obey the Gospel, which includes water baptism. That’s ramp two. Intellectual belief and acceptance of the Gospel message and obedience to that message, are two separate things and happen at different times along the same spiritual highway to heaven. The crazy thing is that if we are not paying attention, the routes look identical!
When deeply committed Christian believers, who have not yet obeyed the “Biblical Plan of Salvation,” hear about it, become convinced of its truth and want to obey, the question inevitably comes up, “Do I need to be baptized again?” They are questioning this because, sometime in the past, they experienced a full immersion baptism, and now think they may need to be baptized again, the right way. They made a sincere commitment to Christ and believed they had been saved but, that happened well before their water baptism.
Our goal should always be to humbly obey the Gospel to the best of our ability, right? Everyone who truly loves Jesus wants to please him. If we were baptized at some point in the past with a full immersion baptism, we should ask ourselves a couple of questions; “What teaching were we following?” And, “Why did we get baptized?” Let’s jump in the Wayback Machine and review our thinking. How did our original introduction to Christ play out?
Why did you get baptized, way back when?
At some point in the past, we heard the Gospel message. We learned about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. This is, of course, is where and when everyone’s journey started. We recognized our sinfulness and our need for a savior. We were ready for a change. We repented of our sins. We accepted Christ’s offer of salvation… we “received Christ.” So far, so good. These are all Biblically prescribed and sanctioned activities in response to the Gospel message. But, this is where the plans diverge.
When we made that initial, sincere commitment, we believed we were saved. We may have even known water baptism would be an important next step, at some point in the future. Accompanying our decision may have been some really powerful and convincing emotional experiences. For example, we may have felt like the weight of the world was now off of our shoulders. We may have felt tremendous joy and a sense that we had truly begun a new life. Now let’s be honest, we were new to the faith and pretty naive.
We made a commitment to Christ based on what someone told us and had no clue there are actually two completely different paths. One claims, “You just got saved!” And one says, “Great so far; now take the final step and obey the Gospel in baptism.” One path is the correct path, one is not. One stops us in our tracks, the other urges us to continue and immediately obey Christ’s command to be baptized. Now remember, the next step in both plans is indeed water baptism so the plans can look super similar!
These differences may seem subtle and insignificant. It may even seem like splitting hairs; especially to an outsider of our argument. But one path is right and one is wrong. One is the truth, and one is a subtle and clever deception. When we first made our very real and very sincere decision, we were not aware there were two paths and neither was the person who was teaching us.
Dedicated and Sincere but Something Missing
And you know what? This is nothing new. Remember those good, hard-working, sincere believers of Matthew 7:28 and following? This is the same issue they were experiencing. They made a solid decision to follow Christ. They were at a point in their spiritual life where they knew Jesus very well. They worked hard for him and called him, “Lord.” But, they were not saved. This is shocking!
Let’s review it so its fresh in our mind.
Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!
This little story could leave us quite distressed, but thankfully, Jesus explains the problem so we don’t make the same mistake. As He explains, it’s not about how well they know him, it’s about him knowing them. He tells them, He NEVER knew them! Think this through carefully. There’s a forensic timeline. Try this; read the account carefully following the plan of salvation. Sketch it out on a timeline.
We surmise these sincere, hard working people followed a really solid, well presented introduction to Jesus and the plan of salvation. They heard the Gospel. That’s step one. But, the plan they heard must have diverged onto another path, at some point in time, which did not lead them to the correct destination. They never arrived at salvation. Think about this carefully. That critical point of time had to have occurred after they heard about Jesus. This is obvious. Absolutely everything else in the story looks and feels exactly like it should for a solid biblical conversion. It’s difficult to understand Christ’s refusal to accept them. It’s stunning. When we wind the tape backwards, we conclude that some sort of error must have occurred right after they learned about Christ. Something prevented them from hearing a vital bit of information contained in the rest of the story.
But wait… There’s a Sequel!
Now, these are not the only people in the Bible to experience this problem. I suspect God knew we might have a difficult time accepting these people as lost, so He included a sequel!
Yeah, there is another case of this happening in the book of Acts. This is exactly the situation with a fellow named Apollos. Let’s read it.
“Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”
Apollos had the same problem as the folks in Matthew 7. He knew accurately about Jesus but did not know about obedience through the baptism into Christ! In fact, just like the people in Matthew 7, who were actively promoting Jesus, we meet Apollos while he is on his own personal mission trip. We catch him in the act, so to speak. He is doing one of the exact same things Jesus said those people were doing; preaching about Christ!
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.
Now don’t miss the language used in verse 25, right before this. “He taught about Jesus accurately but knew only the baptism of John.” Let’s understand this? Luke, the author of Acts, makes a comparison between two things. Apollos has experienced the baptism of John the Baptist, which is very obviously a water baptism, but he did not know about the baptism of Christ; likewise a water baptism and thus the comparison. Apollos has not obeyed the Gospel. If he was teaching the Gospel adequately, there would have been no need for Pricilla and Aquila to have him over of lamb-chops and explain the way of God, more adequately. And that is exactly the same situation as our friends in Matthew 7. They obviously knew Christ but Christ says, He never knew them.
Us knowing God is not the same thing as God knowing us.
The big take-away from all this is, “It is possible to know God, but God not know us!” That’s tough to swallow but that’s the truth. Not convinced there’s more!
Here’s a fascinating scripture from Galatians. Listen to this carefully!
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God… or rather are known by God… how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?”
Knowing God and being known by God, are completely different things! I know all about the President of the United States but rest assured he does not know me.
If we were baptized in a church which teaches that salvation comes before baptism, it is important to understand, that is not the Biblical Plan of Salvation.
I had been wrong!
If you have been listening to the Podcast for a while, you know I made a sincere commitment to Christ and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer when I was about 22. That’s what someone told me to do. They never opened the Bible to show me anything. I said the prayer and considered myself saved. Years later, I was shown the Biblical Plan of Salvation and quickly repented and obeyed it because I knew based on the scriptures I had been wrong. For over 10 years I believed I was saved, but I was not. When I saw the truth, I was eager to obey. I wanted to be right with God.
But please understand something. The second time around, it was not a person who was telling me what to do. It was the scriptures. I read the Bible for myself. I made a decision based on scripture, not the same old Sinner’s Prayer confession I had previously followed. Someone showed me the scriptures and asked me if I had obeyed them. I said, “No.”
On January 20th, 1985, I stood in the waters of baptism and said, Jesus is Lord. This happened AFTER I had repented of my sins and knew I would mean what I said for the rest of my life. The older I get, the more I understand just how lost I really was. After this, my life changed in indescribable ways.
It’s not about doctrine, it’s about repentance.
Now, there’s another subtle point of discovery in all this which I think is important to understand, I was not saved by simply changing doctrines. I did not, at one point in time, believe baptism was just an outward sign of an inward grace, and now that I understood the doctrine correctly my original baptism was somehow magically valid. I did not, at one time, believe people were saved when they Accepted Christ and now understood things correctly so I was good to go. We don’t clean up a little doctrinal error and now everything is fine. Let’s not fall into that deception. An incomplete or erroneous Gospel saves nobody! People are lost because they have not obeyed the Gospel, regardless of any religious experience they have had or have been participating in maybe for years. Here’s why.
Repentance always precedes salvation, right?
Sometimes we need to repent of things we have done.
Sometimes we need to repent of things we have believed.
Sometimes we need to repent of things we have taught.
Without repentance, no one will be known by God.
Erroneous beliefs are sort of the black and white sins we repent of just like the technicolor sins of adultery, lying or stealing; and as always, salvation follows repentance.
If I have believed, followed and taught an erroneous plan of salvation, it certainly did not save me or anyone I taught. How could it? An erroneous plan is no plan at all. So, this is not a matter of patching up some erroneous doctrine and slapping a new coat of paint on it. It’s not about our doctrine. We are repenting of something we are doing wrong and obeying what we learn is right. This is a matter of facing the truth that we are still in a lost state and repenting of the things which have brought us here. Is it hard to believe God may be revealing new truth to us? Really? Do we really think we have it all figured out? I sure don’t.
Why so difficult to accept?
For some, this is incredibly difficult to accept and I completely understand that. Some really great people have spent years serving the Lord and have experienced truly amazing things. They have known joy, peace, patience, the thrill of introducing people to Christ and more! They have given their time, money, sweat and sometimes blood for the cause of Christ. To even consider the possibility that they are not saved is pretty crazy and honestly, maybe even a bit offensive. But step back and think about it. Let the scriptures guide us.
Are we really absolutely certain that those good folks, who had dedicated their lives to the cause of Christ back in Matthew 7:28, were really lost? Do we want to waffle on that? Because of that story, we know it is possible for someone to be in the same position. But when we think of ourselves in that position, it raises red flags and warning lights because we use our spiritual resume as our defensive proof of salvation. But isn’t that exactly what the believers of Matthew 7 did? Their protests were all about their past experiences!
And isn’t that exactly what our dear brother Apollos did? No! Nothing like it! His reaction was far different and exemplary. We see no protest from Apollos, we just see the church rejoicing and sending on his way to continue preaching that Jesus is the Christ! He didn’t argue with Pricilla and Aquila, he accepted the truth and obeyed it. How do we know he obeyed it? Well, the church would never have endorsed his ongoing mission! Listen.
“When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”
The church would have never approved if Apollos was still teaching only the baptism of John. He had obviously been baptized into Christ which the church would have witnessed. This is why they were enthusiastically confident sending him off to a sister congregation.
God is still in control… always has been!
Now listen to me. Coming to the earth shattering conviction that; even though we have years of sacrifice and devotion to the Lord… we are actually in a lost state, did not suddenly remove Jesus from His throne! Nothing happened which shook the foundations of Heaven. Creation did not come to a stand still in shock and disbelief just because we have accepted new truth. In fact, I hear the distant sound of applause! Listen carefully.
Do you think God does not know or has not known what He has been doing regarding your relationship with him? Do you think he has not lovingly and patiently led you to this exact point in your life; preparing you, perhaps for years, to understand the things you are now learning? Do you think God has not been watching over you and protecting you and loving you enough to bring you to salvation, no matter how long it took? I’m pretty sure God knows what He is doing. God knows our hearts. God knows our past, our present and our future. God sees the desires of our heart and God knows how to lead us to repentance… even from bad doctrine.
Our part is to accept the truth; to gratefully accept God’s mercy and gentleness as He reveals his plan. In fact, if we really stop and think about it, we could be quite overwhelmed when we consider the gentleness and patience as He has skillfully employed, leading us to this time in our lives. Our hearts should overflow with gratitude!
Shall we grumble or whine?
No. Wait. Can you imagine complaining that God didn’t lead us to salvation in the way we thought it should be done? Shall I whine that God should have saved me sooner or used some other way to do it? Do I really want to pick that fight? No! We must never grumble, “God just took too long to save me and I have been working so hard for Him!”
Oh! Now we understand the parable of “The Workers in the Vineyard.” Some worked a full day others worked only a couple of hours but both got paid the same wage. Here’s the owners response to their complaints:
“But he answered one of them, Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Do we really want to be the guy who complains about how God conducts his business? I hope not. God knows exactly what it took to save me and He knows exactly what it takes to save you.
This is really good news!
In reality, this is amazingly Good News! From the first time we decided to make Jesus the Lord of our life, until this time when we can now obey the Gospel the correct way; God has kept us safe and sound, preparing us for such a time as this? Is it not amazing how God crafts all the experiences of our life to bring us… or anyone for that matter… to a knowledge of the truth?
So, do we need to be baptized again, even though we were baptized as an infant or as an adult in a full immersion baptism? The short answer is, “No, you do not need to be baptized, again.”
In reality, you need to be baptized for the first time.
An immersion for the wrong reason is not a Christian baptism and hopefully we want to do things the right way. Ultimately, it’s your decision. But, I can tell you that as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord, no matter how or when He leads us. We will obey the Lord, making sure that if and when any new understanding is revealed, we do not lean on our old understanding and we do not rely on our spiritual resume. Our charge is to repent and believe the Good News and that kind of belief is a special kind of belief… a special kind of faith we call, “A Faith that Obeys!”Enjoy!