SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES


SEVEN QUESTIONS ON SALVATION

GARY W. SUMMERS

   
A few months ago someone (whose e-mail name shall remain anonymous) wrote, asking how to become a Christian. It was a privilege to answer this--the most important of all questions. Surprisingly, however, the next communication contained a rebuke against several of the aspects of salvation that had been set forth from the Scriptures. It was a typically Calvinistic response--one which denied that there was anything that man could do in connection with salvation. The writer was especially emphatic that repentance and baptism have nothing to do with man's redemption.

The seven questions recorded below were sent to him to challenge his thinking. He admitted that they were good questions, that he would answer them, and that he would not ask anyone's help in so doing. I told him to seek anyone's help he wanted--that I was not interested in winning a contest against him but that Truth might be clearly seen. After two months had passed by with no response, I sent an e-mail asking him if he had lost interest in this matter. In the week that has passed since then, no reply to this message has been received. Any person who thinks that mankind is saved by "grace only" and "faith only" owes it to himself to answer these questions.

1. In Acts 2:37, the people asked Peter, "What shall we do?" Why did not Peter say, "Why, there is nothing you can DO. Salvation comes from grace through 'faith only'"?

2. Acts 2:38. Why did Peter tell them to DO 2 things (repent and be baptized) in order to be saved?

3. Acts 8:35-36. Why, when Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch, did he ask to be baptized immediately? [If you, or the person who preaches where you attend, "preached Jesus" to the eunuch, he would not have asked that question, would he?]

4. When was Saul of Tarsus saved?

5. When a person is saved, what happens to his sins?

6. Which of the two following statements, if either, is true?

a. Baptism doth also NOW save us.

b. Baptism doth also NOT save us.

7. Baptism is a work of (men, God).

None of these questions is difficult to answer if a person's overall theology is correct. Those who are Calvinists, however, cannot easily answer them because their theology is erroneous. The remainder of this article will deal with the seven questions, explaining what the actual answer is and the reason that Calvinists have difficulty answering them (or give up answering them).

1. In Acts 2:37, the people asked Peter, "What shall we do?" Why did not Peter say, "Why, there is nothing you can DO. Salvation comes from grace through 'faith only'"? The answer is that salvation is not the result of God's atoning work alone. There is something we must DO in order to be saved.

Calvinists have been taught to think wrongly about salvation in "either-or" terms. EITHER salvation is entirely the work of God OR else man earns his salvation. They never seem to be able to see that salvation results from a combination of what God has done plus each person's response to what God has done. Some things in life are "either-or," but some are both. Some of our lectureship speakers, for example, travel by air to be with us; others drive. A few, however, do both. Because of the high cost of flying out of Memphis, many drive to Little Rock, Arkansas, and then fly to Dallas. A Calvinist, as per his theology, would tell them they can't do both--it must be one or the other.

The Father originated the plan for our redemption. Jesus effected it by offering Himself up as the perfect Lamb of God. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures which communicate to us what God has done. Do these facts mean that man is therefore universally saved? No. They mean that salvation is universally available.

Most Calvinists are willing to admit that faith is necessary in order for salvation to be appropriated. But if there is even ONE thing that man must DO to have salvation (such as believe), then: 1) salvation is not obtained exclusively by what God has done, and 2) there might be a second or third requirement on the part of man (such as repentance and baptism).

Because God has appointed for man conditions of receiving the salvation He offers, Peter told those who believed on Pentecost two more things to DO: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38).

2. Acts 2:38. Why did Peter tell them to DO 2 things (repent and be baptized) in order to be saved? The answer is that they are necessary for one to be saved. What is often overlooked is that this is the very first occasion in which salvation is preached publicly after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into heaven. The events recorded in Acts 2 are not part of a theological treatise stressing the importance of faith (as opposed to the erroneous idea of meriting salvation). This is an historical event! Thousands of Jews are gathered together for Pentecost. The great noise of a rushing mighty wind gains people's attention; the cloven tongues like as of fire further intrigued those present. The speaking in tongues astounded them. They listened to the proofs of Jesus being the Son of God--raised up from the dead! Those who believed wanted to know what they should DO. Peter did not answer, "Just believe and say 'the sinner's prayer.'" He gave them two crucial elements of salvation: repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

3. Acts 8:35-36. Why, when Philip preached to the eunuch Jesus, did he asked to be baptized immediately? [If you, or the person who preaches where you attend, "preached Jesus" to him, he would not ask that question, would he?]

To ask the question is to answer it. The eunuch made the request because when Jesus is preached, it includes man's response to God's grace by believing that Jesus is the Son of God, by repenting of His sins, and by being baptized in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins.

The reason that those who hear Calvinists preach do not ask the question the eunuch did is that they may not mention repentance and certainly will not preach baptism for the remission of sins. One would think that they might re-examine their theology to see why there is such a difference between the responses in the Bible when Jesus was really, truly, properly preached and the responses to their preaching ("faith only"). Two cooks do not use the same ingredients, the same materials, and the same instructions with one producing a German chocolate cake and the other lemon meringue pie. Calvinists do not get the same results from their preaching because they have removed some ingredients and rewritten the instructions!

4. When was Saul of Tarsus saved? Calvinists will invariably answer that Saul was saved on the road to Damascus. Do the Scriptures declare that idea? No. They mention that Paul realized that the Jesus whom he had been persecuting was, in fact, the Lord. They mention that he prayed and fasted for three days (Acts 9:9-11). But they do not mention that such acts saved him. In fact, he was told to arise and go into the city, and he would be told what he must do (Acts 9:6). When Ananias came to him in the city, he told him: "And now, why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). His faith and repentance are obvious; there was only one thing that remained--for Saul's sins to be removed in baptism.

5. When a person is saved, what happens to his sins? This is a companion question to the last one. It brings to light a difficulty for those who insist that Paul was saved as a result of his faith. Salvation means that a person's sins have been cleansed and removed. Yet here is Saul with his sins still upon him--and being told that baptism will wash them away. A feeble explanation is sometimes offered that Saul's sins were actually already washed away and that he needed to symbolically show that by being baptized. Except that nothing in the text corroborates such a fanciful theory, it seems plausible. If baptism merely symbolizes that sins were already washed away, the action is fraudulent and irrelevant rather than necessary.

6. Which of the two following statements, if either, is true?

a. Baptism doth also NOW save us.

b. Baptism doth also NOT save us.

This question is based on 1 Peter 3:21 and has been used in debate with Calvinists. Their theology would answer b, but the Scriptures answer a: "baptism doth also now save us." The reason for the question is to once again try to get them to see that their view of salvation contradicts the Scriptures.

Does Peter mean to say that baptism is all that is essential to salvation (apart from faith and repentance) or that baptism alone is sufficient to save people from their sins (whether or not they are old enough to even understand)? No. Peter does not say "baptism only" any more than any New Testament writer says "faith only" or "repentance only." Baptism has no power apart from faith (on the part of the one being baptized) and repentance. Accepting the salvation which God offers through the atoning work of Christ involves a series of responses on the part of man: faith, repentance, and baptism. Without faith, repentance would not occur, and baptism would be meaningless. Without repentance, the individual has not died to himself and therefore is not suitable for burial (Rom. 6:3-7). Without baptism, the blood of Christ cannot wash away the sins of the penitent (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5). Baptism now saves us because it is part of the salvation process.

7. Baptism is a work of (men, God). Calvinists seem to think that in baptism man somehow earns his salvation. How strange that one of the most passive acts imaginable would be thus misrepresented. Baptism was not man's idea; Colossians 2:12 says: "Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

Baptism is the means God chose to take the blood of Christ and wash away all our sins. No matter how much we believe and how great our repentance is, we (like Saul) must still arise and be baptized in order for our sins to be washed away. We do not EARN anything in complying with the teaching of the Scriptures on this matter. It is God's working that removes our sins WHEN we obey Him from the heart (Rom. 6:17-18).

The reader might keep these seven questions to ask of those who teach salvation by "faith only." They may just challenge some to reevaluate what they have always been taught concerning salvation and lead to a serious study of the Word of God, which will profit them.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "SEVEN QUESTIONS ON SALVATION (12/12/99)."


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