by Raymond Elliott
There is a popular doctrine being advocated presently by some brethren who no longer accept scriptural baptism as being the consummating event when a believer is saved from past sins. They do not totally reject baptism but they do teach that while baptism is a command to be obeyed, it is not the ‘event’ at which time a person is saved. They teach that salvation from sin is a ‘process’ throughout life and one cannot say that salvation from past sins comes at a certain ‘event’ on this life-long ‘journey’. This false doctrine is clearly taught in the book “The Jesus Proposal”.
One of the authors wrote that he was baptized when he was twelve years old. He speaks of this act as being “baptismal regeneration”. He then writes, “How much more confused and wrong-headed could a baptismal theology be? How much farther from the truth of Scripture could I have been when I was immersed in that cold water on a hot July night? When I get to heaven, maybe I’ll want to ask God when I was really saved. Was it when I got clear on the Holy Spirit at about twenty-one or two? Was it when I finally grasped the grace-nature of the gospel in my thirties? I suspect he will tell me there was no “moment at which” I was saved—but that he sought and found me through the entire process” (page 130). It is difficult for me to understand how a person so educated in the teachings of the Bible could arrive at such a conclusion when people in the first century, many unlettered, could understand when they were saved from their past sins.
Recently, I read a statement as to why a brother in Christ had chosen an area congregation, where he serves as the preacher. Our brother wrote the following: “Unity. We know that we haven’t cornered the market on how to follow Jesus. And though others may think differently on certain things, have different interpretations, etc., they are still our brothers and sisters on a journey of following Jesus….no matter the name on their sign.”
I want to present some observations and questions for us to consider regarding this false teaching that salvation from past sins is a ‘process’ (journey) and not an “event,” meaning that we cannot really know at the exact time we have been saved from our past sins.
1) There is a sense that conversion is a process. This, we have understood. There is the planting of the Word of God in the human heart that produces faith (Parable of the Sower, Luke 8:11-15; Romans 10:17). If that faith is active, it will cause one to repent of sins and obey Jesus (James 2:24: Hebrews 5:8, 9).
2) Jesus said that a person must be “begotten (born) again” in order to enjoy and to enter His kingdom (John 3:3, 5). This new birth consists of “water and the spirit”. Can one know that he is saved from past sins if he complies with this directive of the Lord?
3) Is baptism a part of this new birth (Titus 3:5)?
4) When a penitent believer is baptized, can that person know he is then saved from past sins (Mark 16:16)?
5) Is there one event that occurs in the ‘journey’ of salvation at which time a person can know he is saved from past sins (Romans 6:17, 18)?
6) Did those Jews on Pentecost, who responded to the preaching of Peter, and were baptized, understand that they were saved from their past sins (Acts 2:36-38)?
7) Did the Lord add saved or unsaved persons to the church on Pentecost (Acts 2:47)? If saved, when were they saved in their process of salvation? Were they required certain facts to be believed and commands to be obeyed?
8) Are individuals who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God saved at the moment they believe, or, when they act on their faith (John 1:11, 12)?
9) Did God accept those Jews on Pentecost who simply believed that Jesus was indeed the Son of God whom they had crucified; or, did God accept them when they responded to the commands given by the Holy Spirit and spoken by Peter (Acts 2:36-38)?
10) If the Jews on Pentecost simply believed on Christ, yet refused to obey the commands of the Holy Spirit to repent and be baptized, would they have been acceptable to God?
11) If a person on the ‘journey’ of salvation refused to repent of his sins, would that individual be in favor with God (Acts 17:30)?
12) Could one say that Cornelius was a man of good works and a very religious person? (Acts 10:1, 2, 4, 22)?
13) Could one say that at this point in his life, on the journey of conversion, that he was acceptable to God? Or, was he required to do something in addition to all of the good qualities in his life? If so, what was required of him by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:48; 11:14)? If he had refused to obey the command to be baptized, would he have been acceptable to God? To what extent could one accept Cornelius on his journey of salvation and prior to his baptism? As a brother in Christ or as a person who was yet unsaved?
14) Did the eunuch from Ethiopia realize and understand that he was saved following his baptism by Phillip? If not, why did he go on his way “rejoicing” (Acts 8:35-39)? Was not this the ‘event’ in his process of salvation at which time he realized that he had been saved from his past sins?
15) Did the jailer as mentioned in Acts 16 understand that he and his believing household were saved from their sins because of a specific act that they had obeyed? If not, why did they rejoice (16:34)? Would the jailer have been acceptable to God if he had only washed the stripes (indicating repentance) of Paul and Silas?
16) Is scriptural baptism as required by the Lord Jesus Christ and later by the Holy Spirit through the teachings of the apostles essential for salvation?
17) Do we have the right to accept a person or persons into the church/fellowship of our Lord if they have not complied with all the directives of the Lord in order to be saved?
18) Are we not guilty of judging when we declare that believers are accepted to God if they have not obeyed all the commands in order to have their past sins forgiven?
19) Will the Lord on the judgment day grant eternal life to all simply because they have been religiously active in this life (Matthew 7:21-23)?
It is very plain for the truth seeker to understand the words of the apostle Peter when he wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as found in 1 Peter 3:21: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,)” by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (KJV,emphasis mine, re). After becoming a Christian, a person begins on a lifelong process (journey) of growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:8).
My sincere desire for mankind is found in 1 Timothy 1;3, 4: “For this good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”