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How fortunate we are that our scientists do not approach medicine, research, physics, etc., with the utter abandon of reason that characterizes the study of religion. Surely a return to the Dark Ages would be imminent if scientists worked in their fields as do people with the word of God. How slowly, if ever, would electricity have been invented, men have walked on the moon or computers have been developed if the same principles of thought had been applied to these disciplines as are applied to the study of the Scriptures. Ever breathed there a scientists worthy of the name who randomly flipped through texts, putting his finger upon sentences at will, expecting this procedure to reveal some important truth? Do researchers make it a practice to ignore definitions and treat substances as it suits their whimsy? Do scientists bring a sense of predestination of their study, expecting that everything is beyond their ability to influence and that their efforts make no real difference? Do researchers just fling different substances together without thought of alignment, direction, compatibility, complementation or harmony? Do they just take a "blind leap" into situations without some basis or foundation upon which even their theories are built? Pseudo-scientists may be guilty of such behavior, but no one of training and reason would elect to follow such a course. Why, then, do so many religious people use this foolishness when entering into a study that is vastly superior to science, the salvation of their soul?
Salvation of man is the theme of the Bible. Whatever else a Bible reader receives in the way of moral training, social behavior or love of life, nothing is as important as the salvation of his soul. The Bible asserts that man is lost by man's own choice, that God desire for man to be saved and has shed His grace to make salvation possible, that man can be saved, that the plan of salvation is understandable and that what God has revealed about the subject is logical, following discernible reason. We find in the Old Testament: "Come, let us reason together . . ." (Isa. 1:18). A companion passage in the New Testament implores: ". . . present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1). We should, therefore, approach the Bible with the mind, using it as we would in any logical process to discover what God has said about our salvation. With this approach, using our God-given reasoning ability, we are able to see a logical progression from sin to salvation, from guilt to remission. True, there are those who use the random method of Bible study, placing a finger here and there on separate pages, hoping for some Ouiji-board power to lead them to God. There are others who ignore Bible definitions and "pour their own theology" into words and phrases, making God speak in their own language. Or still others who are fatalistic in assuming that everything is already decided and that it really doesn't make any difference since man has supposedly lost his free will and can only act as a robot in predetermined patterns set out before the world was formed. A large number ignore the established patterns of speech and language, joining words and phrases together that do not match or that contradict each other. Is it any wonder that the religious world is so divided or that there is no agreement on what a sinner must do to be saved?
It is to be hoped that we can contribute a little to a proper understanding of the plan of salvation. There is a certain logic to the subject: God has something in mind for us, has revealed what He wants us to do and the Bible is that record of His will. Let us attempt to work our way through the plan of salvation as it is revealed, looking at it in the manner in which God presented it. Is it reasonable to teach people to hear the gospel, believe it, repent of their sins, confess the name of Christ and be baptized for the remission of their sins? Is there a logic about this order, a reason why this order should be followed? Or is it just as reasonable to teach it in another order: baptism, faith, repentance and confession? or confession, faith, repentance and baptism? or repentance and faith without baptism and confession? Does it make any difference? Will just anything achieve the same results? "Come, let us reason together. . ." God wants us to be saved. What is His will?
Take The First Step: Read The Bible
Where there is no seed, there can be no life. This is a fact of life in the vegetable, animal, human and spiritual worlds. Our Creator's rule is that each produces after its own kind and that the life is in its seed (Gen. 1: 11,25). This is no less true in the spiritual world than in the animal world and if we would accept this truth, much progress would be made. Jesus taught that the seed of the kingdom "is the word of God" (Lk. 8:11). For there to be life in the spiritual world, there must be seed, the word of God, and where the word of God has not gone, there can be no spiritual life. But God has sent the message (Rom. 10: 15) and we are to receive it. It is by the learning process that we come to God. "He that hath heard and hath learned, cometh unto me" (Jn. 6:44, 45). "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing, by the word of God" (Rom. 10: 17). Paul taught the Athenians that God was not far from each one of us and that He commands us (Acts 17:22-32). Since there can be no life without the seed and since the seed is the word of God, it is logical to begin with the proposition that the very first thing that is essential to salvation is a knowledge of what God commands (1 Pet. 1:22,23). This is not a random thought, a Ouiji board concoction, or a blind leap. This is a principle of truth upon which we may act because it is reasonable and understandable. Hearing God's will is the first step in becoming His child, being born again.
Hearing Produces Faith
Where shall we go next? Confession? Baptism? Repentance? Is there any way that we can know or must we just plunge blindly along, hoping to stumble into the right way? No, my friend. The word of God points us in the way we ought to go. Faith is not a blind leap! Rather, it is the next logical step toward salvation, based upon the sure foundation of the word of the Lord. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my pathway" (Psa. 119:105). After hearing the word of God, faith is the result. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10: 17). Here is a plain statement of Scripture, identifying the source of faith. Faith is not an arbitrary gift of God, given to one but withheld from another. Faith is not something better felt than told. Faith is not absorbed out of the air by osmosis. It is not some mysterious force that ebbs and flows with cosmic tentacles, touching this one and that one but missing others. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. Isn't this beautiful and logical, understandable and fair. Doesn't it make sense? Where the seed goes, faith goes. That is why we hear the gospel called the "word of faith" (Rom. 10:8). That is why John asserted that "these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:3 1). This is why Jesus commanded the apostles to carry the message to every creature. Every creature needs faith and it comes through hearing the gospel. This is God's order for salvation and there can be no other.
Faith Leads To Repentance
Jesus stated that "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3). But what is repentance and where does it fit into the scheme of things? How does one know that he ought to repent? Can anyone repent before he reads the Bible and has faith? Is there a perceivable logic to the place of repentance?
When Paul met the heathen philosophers in Athens, he declared the existence of God to them and, upon his foundation, commanded repentance (Acts 17:16-31). Note that he did not command repentance and then speak of God. Proper repentance is produced by the knowledge of God and, by contrast, our shortcomings regarding His will. Jesus said that Nineveh repented "at the preaching" of Jonah (Lk. 11:32). Proper preaching will produce "godly sorrow" (2 Cor. 7:10) and a sense of the "goodness of God" (Rom. 2:4), both of which enhance true repentance. Thus, it can be seen that repentance will follow a hearing of God's word and faith. This is the logical, sensible order presented by the Scriptures.
The doctrine of "faith only" is neither logical nor scriptural. First of all, "faith only" denies the truth of the gospel (James 2:24). Secondly, it does not follow the logic of God's plan of redemption. I have heard Baptist preachers state that Salvation comes at the instant one believes in Christ. When pressed about repentance and when it occurs, they are in a quandary. If they say that repentance comes after salvation (which occurs at the instant of faith), they would be teaching that one is saved without repentance. Quandary 1. But since they insist that salvation is by "faith alone," faith cannot be accompanied by anything, even repentance. Quandary 2. When pressed, they will insist that repentance comes before faith. Quandary 3. Hebrews 11:6 asserts that "without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing unto God. . ." Any action, therefore, including repentance, that occurs before faith could not be well-pleasing to God. Additionally, we might ask, why would anyone repent in the first place if they didn't believe in God at all? You see, there is a logic to the plan of salvation that must be followed. So far, we have seen that it is established by hearing the word of God, believing it and repenting of one's sins.
Repentance Is Followed By Confession
Up to this point, all that has happened in the plan of redemption is inward, of the heart. Up to this point, a sinner could be reading his Bible and come to the point of repentance without expressing a word or sign. But the Lord has laid upon us the obligation of making an acknowledgment of our faith. There can be no secret disciples in heaven. There is no back door into the kingdom. Such an acknowledgment of faith in Christ Jesus is expressed by a public, oral confession of the name of Christ. (This should not be confused with a confession of sins). Jesus is Lord! We must be ready to die for that fact and there is no middle ground. Jesus said, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in Heaven" (Mt. 10:32,33). Paul taught that confession is "with the mouth" (Rom. 10:9-10). Since one would not confess before he had faith or before true repentance was present in his heart, there is no place for public confession until after one has repented. Faith changes the heart, repentance changes the life and confession changes the allegiance. Until the heart and life has been changed, no change of allegiance can or will be made. You see, there is a logic to the plan of salvation.
Baptism Completes The Action
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded faith and baptism (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15,16) and predicated salvation upon these actions. We understand this more completely in the light of Ephesians 2:3,9, "saved by grace through faith." Grace refers to God's part in the salvation of the lost, faith refers to that which man does in response to grace. We realize, then, that whereas God has graciously given His son and made salvation possible, man must act in obedience to the terms of the gospel.
Baptism is unique in the plan of salvation in that it relates us to the death of Christ in a manner that nothing else does. Paul tells us that we are baptized "into the death" of Christ (Rom. 6:3,4). We are not baptized into the birth of Christ, nor the life of Christ but into His death. Why is this so important? Is it not because the blood of Christ was shed in His death and that we are saved by the blood of Christ? Further, while faith changes the heart, repentance changes the life and confession changes the allegiance, it is baptism that changes our relationship. We are baptized "into" Christ and "put on" Christ (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27). By this new relationship, we are "born anew" (Rom. 6:4) or "begotten" (1 Pet. 1:22,23). The word of God tells us that it is at this point that we are saved, forgiven, have our sins washed away, added to the church and change our relationship (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:47). Again, there is an inescapable logic and progression to this order.
No one would submit to baptism unless he had read of it in the word of God, had believed in Jesus, had repented of his sins, was willing to make a public confession of that faith and wanted to be forgiven of all past sins. Baptism before faith makes no sense at all. Baptism before repentance would be a farce. Baptism before one changes his allegiance would be hypocritical. But baptism as the final step in a process that begins with instruction from the word of the Lord and ends with a public declaration of the death of sin in your life and being added to the Lord's body conforms to every principle of truth taught in the Bible.
When Paul spoke of the gospel being "foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:18-31), he did not mean that there was nothing logical to the plan of redemption. According to human wisdom, the gospel is foolish because it presents a crucified Savior. But this should not be construed to mean that there is no spiritual logic in the Scriptures or that a discernible plan of salvation cannot be seen. "To them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). By presenting Jesus to the world, God chose that which the world counted as foolish, but God did not present Jesus foolishly or without proper logic or order. Sinners are not asked to abandon all reason or sense in accepting Christ. We do the gospel a disservice when we speak of faith as being a "blind leap" into eternity. Rather, faith can be demonstrated to be the acceptance of God's plan of redemption. The words of Paul take on new meaning in this light when we read, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith unto faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1: 16,17).
If, as has been demonstrated, there is a plan of salvation, it should also be noted that to re-arrange the order or to remove any of the parts is to destroy the logic. Furthermore, if, as Paul asserts in Romans 1: 17, that the "righteousness of God" is revealed therein, it borders on blasphemy to tamper with God's arrangement of the gospel. It is by the righteous arrangement of the gospel that God can both pardon sin and maintain His own righteousness (Rom. 3:24-26). Dare we ignore, change, delete, add to or re-arrange that which God has worked out through the centuries to His own glory and the salvation of the lost?
All that remains is for us to have the right kind of attitude in allowing God to work in our lives. We must hear the gospel, accept Christ as God's son, repent of our sinful lives, be willing to confess Jesus as Lord and be buried with Him in baptism for the remission of our sins. It is in this manner that Jesus becomes to us the "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption" of God (1 Cor. 1:30). It is in this manner that we can say, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (v. 31).