by Ralph Grant
Over 25 years ago, I trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. Overwhelmed by God’s love, I found a joy and peace that was indescribable. With perfect confidence in Christ I knew without a doubt that He had paid the total price for my sins on the cross. My first desire was to tell my relatives and friends about the loving Christ who had counted my faith in Him for righteousness (Rom 4:5) and had given me salvation as a gift (Eph 2:8).
This was something that I just couldn’t keep to myself. I had to tell somebody! If my loved ones only knew, there would be no way that they could pass up a gift like this. A month after trusting Christ as my Savior, my family and I took a month’s vacation to our hometown to tell our families and friends about the Lord Jesus and what He had done for me. As a “babe in Christ,” I was not prepared for some of their responses.
Somewhat naïvely, I had believed that all professing Christians believe the same gospel. I didn’t know that there were church members whose sole calling was to “witness” to new converts like me in order to get us on the “right” road to heaven. Oddly enough not one of them, in all of the years I had known them, had ever said anything to me about the Lord Jesus, or about my lost condition. However, the moment I confessed to them that I was saved, it became their duty to show me that I was still lost and on my way to a “devil’s hell.”
A Confusing Conversation
“Ralph, don’t you know that you’ve been listening to the commandments of men rather than the command of Christ?” one relative informed me. “You have to believe and be baptized in order to receive biblical salvation. Water baptism is essential to salvation. Here, look at what God’s Word says: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16), ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38), and ‘Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’ (Acts 22:16).”
“I see that,” I said, “but doesn’t God save everyone the same way? If God saved one person without water baptism, then water baptism isn’t essential to salvation, right?”
“Hold on, Ralph, I know where you’re headed–the thief on the cross, right?”
“No, not really. I was thinking about the Old Testament saints. How were they saved?”
“That’s easy, Ralph. They were saved under the Old Covenant. They were obedient to the Law of Moses and the sacrificial system.”
“Since you mentioned the thief on the cross, how was he saved? He didn’t keep the Law of Moses or the sacrificial system.”
“He was a special case. Jesus saved him personally. You don’t have a problem with the Lord saving someone under special circumstances, do you? Anyway, this happened between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We are living under the New Covenant today.”
“Well, tell me about the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. How were they saved?”
“Ralph, they weren’t really saved until they were water baptized. Even though they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they were still unsaved.”
What I came away with were these confusing conclusions: God has employed different ways to save people throughout history; the thief on the cross existed during some special dispensation between Law and Grace; and a person can be indwelt by the Holy Spirit and yet be unsaved.
It took years for the Holy Spirit to unravel the “wisdom” imparted to me that day. But thankfully through careful personal study of His Word, God has done just that.
Salvation Has Always Been
the Same for Everyone
No one has ever been saved by animal sacrifices (Heb 10:4), or by keeping the Mosaic Law (Luke 18:9-14; Acts 15:5-10). We needed a perfect Savior. So God sent His only Son to die as our substitute (2 Cor 5:21). Putting on human flesh, God became a man, and died for man’s sin.
People before Calvary were saved by believing in the Messiah who was to come (Gen 15:6; John 5:46; 8:56; Rom 4:1-8). People after Calvary are saved by believing in the Messiah who has already come. Abraham, David, John the Baptist, the thief on the cross, and Cornelius and his household, were all saved by grace through faith in Christ, plus nothing.
Since that’s the case, then water baptism cannot be a condition of our salvation. Although water baptism is something every believer should submit to out of obedience to God, neither it, nor any other righteous act, will ever save the sinner (Titus 3:5). It is belief in the gospel that saves the lost sinner (Rom 1:16). When we trust in Christ as Savior, God gives us eternal life (John 5:24; 6:47).
And finally, Jesus said that when a person believed on Him, not only would that person receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 8:24), but that the Holy Spirit would be with and in him forever (John 14:16-17). All Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and no unbelievers are indwelt by Him. The Bible does not teach a state in between. All who have been saved or will be saved up to the end of time, receive that salvation by trusting in the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:47; Acts 16:31).
Yes, God does save everyone the same way. How wonderful it is to understand this great truth and to rest in God’s promise of eternal life by simple faith in His Son!