Three blind men were asked to identify an object. The first described it as a pillar. The second insisted that it was a rope. The third felt the breeze from a large fan. Each man described the part of the ELEPHANT, leg, tail, and ear, that he had come in contact with. After much argument, they each insisted that their individual conclusion was right and could not reach agreement on the identity of the object. Many treat the Bible the same way. They cling to a single passage, choosing it over all others, and never put them together to see the true message that is being conveyed. Is it any wonder that we can’t find any agreement or unity of faith?
2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
I believe that this commandment to rightly divide the Word is one of the most important and most neglected. The majority of Christians have only experienced a portion of the Word. Many can only quote a few scriptures. Sadly, only a very small percentage of professing believers have actually read all the way through the Bible. Without a complete knowledge of the Word, how is it possible to know if you are correctly understanding the few scriptures that you are familiar with? A text without context is a pretext. The truth is found in the sum.
How often do we hear politicians, sports figures, or celebrities say that their words are being misrepresented? This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily misquoted. Usually a long interview is reduced to a sound byte. Without context, the media can easily misconstrue the interviewee’s words so that their true intentions are not conveyed. A similar occurrence happens all the time on Facebook, in conversations, and even across pulpits when God’s Word is divided and a portion is presented in a way that contradicts other passages and is contrary to the consistent and established Biblical doctrines and themes.
I believe the most glaring example of this is commonly referred to as the Roman’s Road to Salvation. First, it is important to consider the audience. The book of Romans was not written primarily to instruct unbelievers on salvation. The book was actually written to the CHURCH in Roman.
Romans 1:7, 8 (NKJV) To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
Paul was writing to believers whose faith was inspiring others all around the known world. Treating the text as if it was written as a means of introduction and initiation into the Christian faith is truly like reading someone else’s mail as if it all applies to you. As a teacher and preacher, the experience and knowledge of the audience influences the methodology and terminology that I use when communicating. Paul would have also considered these factors. These believers already understood the foundations of faith and defined belief according to how the Bible defines faith.
The path to salvation was declared by the one that came to save the world, Jesus Christ, when he commanded men to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand. He further stated that you must be born of water (a.k.a. baptism in the name of Jesus) and the Spirit (receive the gift of the Holy Ghost) to enter the kingdom.
The church was born on the day of Pentecost. The disciples waited in heartfelt prayer until they were baptized with the Holy Ghost and spoke with other tongues. (For the sake of clarity, the Bible plainly shows that receiving the Holy Ghost and being baptized in the Holy Ghost are one and the same experience and not two distinct experiences as many Pentecostals teach.) A crowd gathered and began to question this new phenomenon. Peter stood and preached to them. His words gripped their hearts as he explained the gospel of Jesus Christ. They cried out, what should we do? Peter stated the exact same plan of salvation as Jesus Christ: repentance, baptism in Jesus' name, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:38 (NKJV) Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Does this plan contradict with what is commonly taught today? Absolutely! Does it actually contradict with the message of Romans? Absolutely not!
Before you close this window, call me a heretic, or accuse me of not knowing the scriptures, let me assure you that I’m very familiar with Romans chapter 10. I quote from it often when I’m preaching.
Romans 10:9 (NKJV) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
To the Biblically illiterate, if this was the only passage in consideration, it seems that initial faith (without any obedient works or diligent seeking) is all that is necessary for salvation. No repentance, baptism, or Spirit is mentioned. Perhaps Paul thought that proclaiming Jesus as Lord is sufficient to save us once and for all. Maybe it doesn’t matter if we obey, who we serve, or how we live the remainder of our lives. Sadly, this is the conclusion than many have reached. If they had only read further, they would have found a warning about misunderstanding and twisting Paul’s writings.
2 Peter 3:11, 14-18 (NKJV) Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Uh-oh, according to Peter it does matter how we live. What we know by faith should cause us to be even more diligent of our conduct so that we don’t fall. People that teach otherwise are twisting Paul’s writings, which admittedly are hard to understand, because they are either untaught or unstable. We have to grow in knowledge. It sounds like we better take a closer look with more context at what Paul actually said.
Romans 10:8-10 (NKJV) But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Points of emphasis in italics)
Paul stated that they must believe and confess the word that was preached. It is super important that we find out what Paul preached! The future or end result (“will be”) of belief and confession of the message of faith is salvation. You must believe unto (or until) righteousness and confess unto (or until) salvation comes.
What was the message Paul preached? How did he define faith? The answer is found in the totality of his writings, but for the sake of time, let’s just examine a few statements that he made in other passages of this same book to the Romans.
1. Paul preached that faith includes obedience.
Romans 1:5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith…
2. Faith is more than a moment. It is a lifestyle that we must continue in. A believer must move from faith to faith.
Romans 1:17 …the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
3. Repentance and continuing to do good is essential to receiving a reward and avoiding punishment.
Romans 2:4-11 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.
4. You must die and bury sin in baptism to receive the promise of new life in Christ.
Romans 6:1-4 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 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 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.
5. When you believe from the heart, you will no longer obey sin. If you choose to continue being enslaved to sin, the end is death.
Romans 6:15-17 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.
6. You must be set free from sin (no longer enslaving yourself by obeying sin) to receive eternal life.
Romans 6:22-23 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
7. If you don’t receive the Spirit, you don’t belong to Christ.
Romans 8:9-11 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
8. The Spirit leads you and empowers you to put to death the deeds of the body enabling you to become a son of God.
Romans 8:13-14 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
9. If you fall away, you will be cut off.
Romans 11:22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
10. Concerning holy conduct, anything that can’t be done in full assurance of faith (knowing that it is right) becomes sin.
Romans 14:23 …whatever is not from faith is sin
Hhmmm….maybe it will help if we consolidate this just a little bit. Paul preached to the Romans the message of repentance, water baptism, the necessity of the Spirit, and the essentiality of serving the Lord with holy conduct according to their faith and by the leading of the Spirit. The power was not simply in belief and confession. The power was in what they were believing and confessing. It had to be the message that he was preaching to them, the very word of faith.
If we truly believe with our hearts, we will act. This is not debatable. In fact just a few verses after stating that we must believe, Paul quoted Isaiah showing that faith is always evidenced by obedience.
Romans 10:16 (NKJV) they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?”
I know that many, many, many teachers and preachers are attracting crowds by teaching a gospel that doesn’t require the seeker to take up a cross, lose his life to gain life, and commit without looking back. They say things like “faith alone” saves us. The Bible mentions faith that is alone a grand total of one time. Here is what it says:
James 2:14, 17, 22, 24, 26 (NKJV) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?... faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…by works faith was made perfect...You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Let me be clear, we can’t be saved by our works. We can’t do enough good things to offset the penalty of our sins. We need a sin free Savior. On the other hand, we can’t claim to believe in Christ and not obey His plan of salvation. (Bonus thought: Everyone’s favorite verse, John 3:16, was at the conclusion of Jesus’ conversation concerning entrance into the kingdom of heaven by being born of water and of Spirit. They aren’t contradicting messages. If you believe in the Son, you shouldn’t perish since He has paid the price of sin and given clear instructions for entrance into eternal life.)
Every commandment for entrance into the kingdom requires belief in our hearts and confession with our mouths. God leads us to repentance. We realize we are sinners and believe in His sacrifice. We ask for forgiveness and call on our Savior. In obedient faith, we believe that when we are baptized in His name our sins will be washed away. By faith we call on the name of Jesus. Only He can cleanse us of our sins. As we seek the Holy Ghost, we diligently ask in the name of Jesus until He fills us and we speak in new tongues. We speak as the Spirit gives the utterance.
We believe and we confess according to our faith, but God does all the work of leading us to repentance, washing our sins, filling us with the Spirit, and giving us utterance. The new birth is not a series of separate human works as some contend. It consists of obedient steps of faith as we believe and confess until we are saved.
In fact, repentance, water baptism, and Spirit baptism are consistently aligned with faith. We are instructed to repent and believe (Mark 1:15). We must believe and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:16). If we believe, as the Scripture says, we shall receive the Spirit. (John 7:38-39). Teaching faith that doesn’t result in repentance, water baptism, Spirit infilling, holy conduct, and obedient works is contrary to Scripture.
Forgiveness of sins and the power of the Spirit are universally promised to all that will believe the Apostolic message.
Romans 10:13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
After stating that we must believe until we are righteous and confess until we are saved, Paul quoted the prophet Joel as reassurance of the availability of God’s wonderful saving grace.
It is interesting that this particular quote doesn’t mention belief. If we were to twist Paul’s words and not consult the context, merely mentioning the name of the Lord, even using His holy name in vain, would result in salvation. Of course, common sense (and Matt. 7:21-23) lets us know that this can’t be true. This interpretation would conflict with other scriptures that clearly state the essentiality of faith. Why can so many Christians not see that the same principle is applicable four verses prior when Paul says that if we believe and confess we will be saved? To interpret this to exclude anything beyond repeating a sinners’ prayer would contradict scriptures concerning true repentance such as II Cor. 7:10 “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.” It would contradict instructions on the role of baptism such as I Peter 3:21 “baptism doth now save us.” It would also contradict the clear statement of Titus 3: 5 that we are saved by the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
Peter understood Paul's doctrine and knew how to rightly divide the Word. In Acts 2, he quoted this same promise of salvation to all that call on the name of the Lord to inform the crowd that they could call on the name of Jesus in baptism for the remission of sins and by faith the gift of the Holy Ghost was universally available to them all.
Acts 2: 16- 17, 21, 38-39 (KJV) But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh… And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved… Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
In conclusion, we must examine the full message of the gospel to truly understand the New Testament plan of salvation. All of the various “salvation scriptures” and commandments fit together to form a comprehensive whole. No scripture contains error or contradicts any other scriptures. If there appears to be a contradiction, the error is in our understanding. If you must divide, be sure that you have the requisite knowledge and leading of the Spirit to rightly divide the Word.
If you have any questions regarding this post, please click on the hyperlinks. They present this same message from various angles that will help you get a broader view of the topic. If you would like to be baptized in the name of Jesus or receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, please contact me and I can help you find a church in your area.