by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA)

Is there really a "plan of salvation?" Growing up in the church I heard that phrase (or one similar to it) often. What, if anything, is required to be saved? Is there some sort of simplistic formula we can follow in order to receive salvation? Are the "1, 2, 3, 4 steps" found in the majority of Christian tracts accurate? The defense, or argument, for the pro position usually goes something like the following:

While it seems today that the Church cannot agree on the plan for salvation, this was not the case in the early days of the Christian Church. In fact, it is in the first message preached after Jesus’s ascension into Heaven that the "plan of salvation" is laid out. It’s all right there in Acts 2:37-38.

It was the day of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit had just fallen on those gathered in the upper room. The event caused such a commotion in the area that a large crowd had gathered to take in what was happening. Some even accused the Apostles and the others in the upper room of being drunk.

Well, Peter stood up and explained they were not drunk and then boldly preached a cutting sermon eventually getting to the "plan for salvation."

Acts 2:36-38, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (ESV) .

It's as if Peter did all of the heavy lifting for us on the day of Pentecost. Peter used what he had learned from being with Jesus, and with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, summarized all the teaching on salvation in "one simple and concise verse."

This verse was received because of the faith shown by those who heard Peter’s message. Faith is the path to salvation. And as we see here there's a plan for us showing repentance, confession, baptism and then the Holy Spirit coming to us that we must follow. We will notice this again in two other passages.

Acts 8:36-38, "And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him" (ESV).

The pattern is repeated: Philip had witnessed to the eunuch and the eunuch responded with faith(1) and was eager to repent (2) when at the water they urged Philip to stop and he be baptized(3). And we also see the Holy Spirit(4) on the scene in a mighty way in the following verse. Recognize the pattern? 1, 2, 3, 4.

Confession in these salvation plan summaries can be seen in our first passage when the new believers asked, "What shall we do?" This is a confession of faith regarding who Jesus is. Otherwise, why ask? In the passage we just looked at the phrase "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" would be a type of confession. Remember, Philip had at just that moment opened up the eunuch's eyes to Jesus through Scripture and his reply is so enthusiastic.

Acts 22:16, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name' (ESV).

These verses fall within the midst of Paul's miraculous Damascus encounter. In verse 10 we see faith(1) as Paul immediately asks, "What shall I do Lord?" And in calling him Lord we also see the confession. Following the directions of the Lord, as well as Ananias, clearly shows Paul's repentant behavior(2) as well as more faith. And our verse 16 clearly shows the baptism(3) portion of the pattern we've been seeing. And down in verse 17 we find while Paul was praying he fell into a Spirit(4) induced trance. Once again, all of the elements of the pattern occurred. 1,2,3,4

So, that's the basics of the "plan of salvation." Now, while I would encourage anyone who has not done so yet to do all that we find in these passages of Acts: Have faith in who Jesus Christ is and confess that truth, repent of your sins, and as soon as possible be baptized and then watch the Holy Spirit at work in you, I would also state it's NOT a 1, 2, 3, 4 step plan to salvation. This is an extreme over simplification which puts the emphasis on legalism, works, and the ability of man while also minimizing God's sovereignty, grace and His work in salvation.

We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, not by works. What we see here in the "plan of salvation" mindset is more of human perspective of a process which typically accompanies salvation, particularly in the historical narrative of Acts.

We are, of course, saved by grace through faith which in no way comes from us. It is completely and freely from God (Eph. 2:8-9). The "plan" or "process" of salvation starts with God and ends with God. On our part all we need is genuine faith, which again, is given TO us. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9; John 1:12; 3:18; 6:40; 8:24; 1 John 5:13, etc). These passages, as well as others, show that salvation is not some 1, 2, 3, 4 step process that WE DO and then we're in. It is by faith.

However, I must admit that in thinking through this and studying for the writing of this, I'd like to pose a question. Is it possible that in our zeal to defend that we are saved by faith alone through grace and not by works (which is absolutely true) we have at times downplayed, or watered down, the importance of obedience after salvation? In our vigor to prove baptism does not save us, might we be guilty of deemphasizing the significance and importance of baptism? Just a thought. What do you think?

I think it's important to remember, as the Reformers did, Martin Luther in particular in this case if I'm not mistaken, "We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”

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