HOW DOES GOD SAVE PEOPLE?
This article may make some people uncomfortable; others may take strenuous objection to it. Of course, it is not designed to elicit either of these responses; the purpose is to explore a point regarding salvation over which some, through the years, have occasionally expressed confusion. Having previously discussed when a person is saved, the focus of attention now becomes how God saves a person.
First of all, there are individuals who are not being discussed in answer to this question. Infants are born without sin. How do we know this fact? One becomes a sinner by choice—not by birth. The prophet Ezekiel clearly stated: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father…” (). One cannot inherit either the sins of his immediate parents (though they may have sinned in his creation) or the guilt of Adam and Eve. Ezekiel taught that one is responsible for himself—not others. Infants, therefore, come into the world free of sin.
Little children do not comprehend the concept of sin. In fact, even when they can tell right from wrong, they still may not understand how sin offends God, why it was necessary for Christ to die on the cross, or why those who reject God and salvation deserve eternal punishment. Generally, children do not grasp those things until they reach the age of 12. Jesus said of little children that “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. ). Surely, He was speaking of their state of innocence.
Some, because of the condition of their minds, never reach this level of understanding. For whatever reason, these never attain an intellect capable of discerning these spiritual truths. Those who have never reached this kind of awareness are not lost and do not stand in need of salvation. Only those who have sinned and who know that they have sinned must do something about their condition.
The Blood of Christ
Those who have chosen to sin are, in fact, lost and in need of salvation. That salvation can only come by the blood of Christ. Before the crucifixion occurred, Jesus told His disciples that the cup was the new covenant in His blood, “which is shed for you” (Luke ). Jesus did, in fact, go to the cross shortly after He spoke these words. After He died, the spear was cast into His side, “and immediately blood and water came forth” (John ). Thus, His blood was shed on the cross for the sins of mankind.
Blood has always been necessary for salvation, but the blood of animals offered in the Old Testament could not actually remove sins: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). That blood was a type of the blood of Christ, which can and does remove sins. Unlike the blood of animals, it did not need to be offered frequently: “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10: 12). “But did that sacrifice include blood?” someone might ask. The answer is, “Certainly.” Hebrews states: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. ).
Jesus washes us from our sins in His own blood (Rev. 1:5); we are “justified by His blood” (Rom. 5:9). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). Colossians repeats: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Peter also proclaims that we were redeemed “…with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter -19). The blood of Christ is so important that we observe His death each Lord’s day. We drink the cup to remember that Jesus shed His blood for our sins.
When is the Blood Applied?
Just as 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 explains the importance of the blood of Christ with respect to salvation, Romans 6:3-6 explains the connection between baptism and His blood:
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into His death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
The word blood does not appear here, but Jesus’ death is being discussed, which includes the shedding of His blood for our sins. We join in His death, and His blood cleanses us. It is, therefore, in baptism that His blood washes away our sins, which is the reason that Acts and Revelation 1:5 read so much alike. We simply need to compare: “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins” with “Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
Never is the blood of Christ mentioned as being applied at the point of faith—or repentance—or confession of the Deity of Christ; it is only mentioned in connection with His death and one’s baptism. Therefore Acts makes sense when it says: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….” With the above information in mind, it is no mystery why 1 Peter says that “baptism doth also now save us” (KJV).
To summarize briefly the truths that have been established, they are these.
1. Those who have never personally sinned and those who cannot comprehend the meaning of sin and salvation are not lost or in need of redemption.
2. Those who do need to be saved can only be saved through the blood of Christ.
3. The blood of Christ can only be contacted when a person is immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.
Is There some Other Way to Be Saved?
Occasionally, someone asks the question, “Well, what about those who have never heard the gospel?” or “What about those who have been reared in Muslim countries and have been taught that the Qur’an is correct and superior to the Bible?” We could equally ask, “What about those who are taught Buddhism or Hinduism all their lives—or those brought up atheists?”
Because we are such a compassionate people, we would like to think that God saves all of these people in their various cultural and religious situations, but the question is not, “What do we think?” or “What would we do?” Our responsibility is to ask, “What do the Scriptures teach on this subject?” It is the case that this is God’s universe, that He has all power, and that He can do what He wants. But there is one tremendously important qualification to that statement: He cannot violate His own Word; God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
In other words, God did not tell Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but after their sin say, “Hey, no problem; nothing has changed.” If He gives His Word, He must keep it. He, therefore, cannot say that salvation is only through the blood of Christ, and then say, “I will provide another means to save people.” What would such an action do to all of the verses already studied?
The Purpose of the Sacrifice
Jesus would have had to say at the last Supper, “This is My blood which is shed for you, but I am going to save others without My blood.” Herein resides the problem. Why would Jesus leave the splendor of Heaven, live among sinful human beings, knowing that He would be despised and rejected and ultimately crucified, suffering intensely—IF some were going to be saved by some other means? And why would the Father suffer the agony of seeing Jesus endure all these things IF there were other means available of having sins removed? If EVEN ONE person was going to be saved in some other way than through the cross (let alone millions or billions), then EVERY ONE could be saved apart from the cross!
“But I have some Hindu friends who are very devout and sincere. Are they going to be lost?” First, what passage of Scripture says that sincerity is sufficient for a person to be saved? True worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John -24). Second, where is the verse that indicates someone can be saved without and apart from the blood of Christ? Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists do not teach the necessity of the blood of Christ; therefore, they never come in contact with it unless they become Christians.
To be saved without the blood of Christ is to be saved without Christ,
period, because none of these world religions teach that Jesus is the Son of
God. The Bible teaches that there is no
other name under heaven given among men whereby anyone can be saved (Acts ).
Furthermore, Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Is
Jesus telling the truth? If He is, then
those who do not come to God through Him are lost. “Let God be true but every man a liar” (
Not a Matter of God’s Power
Again, some might look at these thoughts and think that we are denying the power of God. These comments, however, do not in any way limit the power of God—any more than teaching that God created the world in six literal days limits God. Could God have created the world over billions of years? Yes! Could He have begun with primordial soup or a big bang? Absolutely! He could also have created towns with two-story houses, green shutters on the windows, and white picket fences around the property all ready to move into—as soon as there were enough people. The question is not, “What could He have done?” The question is, “What did He say He did?” He created the heavens and the earth in six days (Ex. 31:17).
Lost Without Baptism
Some will say, “You’re penalizing people for not being baptized.” This comment may make for a good sound bite, but it does not reflect reality. People pass from the safe state into which they are born to the lost state because they choose to sin. One is therefore not lost because he never hears of Christ and is baptized; he might remain lost for that reason, but initially he is lost because of his own sins. The blood of Jesus is the solution—not the problem.
The difficulty that many have (even though the Scriptures teach salvation through Christ) is rejecting the misconception common in the world that salvation is attained on the basis of doing more good deeds than bad deeds, a doctrine never taught in the Bible. Many, therefore, fail to understand how people can be banished from heaven when in their lives they did so many good deeds. If God had declared that doing good deeds was the basis for salvation, then we would be right in making those assessments about others. But the blood of Jesus is the dividing line between the saved and the lost.
If salvation by good deeds were a correct notion, then Jesus did not need to purchase the church with His own blood (Acts ). In fact, blood would never have had to be a part of the plan of redemption. Man cannot, however, save himself. Otherwise we would be reading: “We have been washed from our sins by our own goodness” and “And now why do you wait? Arise, and be baptized, calling on the name of thy own goodness.” Peter would have had to exhort: “Repent, and let every one of you be immersed in his own goodness.” Jesus did not preach: “He who believes and is immersed in his own goodness shall be saved.” Who is the one who is in need of salvation, and who is the Savior?
The doctrine of salvation by good works makes the sacrifice of Jesus meaningless and superfluous. It not only does away with the need for baptism (where one contacts the blood of Christ), it does away with repentance—since a person could continue to engage in sin provided that his goodness outweighs his evil.
“But if people all over the world are lost, then they need to know the truth.” Yes, they do. Jesus gave “the great commission” in Matthew 28:18-20. The Bible presents a sense of urgency about getting the gospel to all people—so that they can have the opportunity to have the blood of Jesus wash away their sins. If we believe that God is somehow going to save them without the gospel, we will never be excited about getting the Word of God to them. It is only when we accept that they are lost that we will do everything in our power to provide them the gospel.
Many people act as if those never cleansed by the blood of Christ are saved. Some never pray for them, are willing to go themselves to teach them, or are willing to send money to help someone else spread the Word: “and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. ). Preaching was of paramount importance to Paul, who wrote: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22b).
It is believing that the lost are lost and in need of the blood of Christ that keeps us desiring to talk to others, encouraging them to study the Word. What motivation would Christians have to ask a question, start a discussion, distribute a tract, write an article, or defend the truth—if we thought people would be saved without our efforts? We know, however, that only when someone believes in Jesus, repents of his sins, confesses His name before men, and is baptized into Christ that their sins are washed away.
God cannot be God and fail to keep His Word. He cannot tell us that the plan for the
church was from the foundation of the world but that there is also another way
that people can be saved. Paul wrote:
“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” and in Him “we have
redemption through His blood” (Eph. 1:4-7).
If He makes an exception to His plan to save someone in
The list of exceptions soon grows quite large until, at last, the vast majority of people are being saved through their own goodness or special exemption than by the blood of Christ. Although a system of salvation by good works might be designed (and preferred) by men, it certainly does not bear the imprint of Almighty God.
The simplest thing to do is to take Him at His Word in all things. If words mean anything, and God has chosen to communicate to us through that means, then we have the obligation to pay heed to what has been reveled and not try to find ways around the revelation. God has but one door of salvation (through Christ), and it is a narrow door. To seek another entrance is delusion and vanity.