Wouldn’t it be really great to have the viewpoint on things we get by using Google Earth (for the uninitiated, that’s the free app for your phone or computer that zeros in on any address your give it to look up, or on your current location, showing the “satellite’s eye view”). I love the experience of “going” to a remote location, then clicking the icon which brings me back to my current location. If the other site is nearby, the transition is like lifting off in a helicopter and landing a few seconds later. It’s even more exciting to play with locations on other continents (like the address of a group of missionaries we love in Brazil). Then the feeling is more like hitching a ride on the space shuttle. It is truly amazing to me to be able to view roads we ride on, or where different individuals’ properties appear to join, or transitions from areas covered with timber to those replanted after harvest, crop formations in Africa or the varying depths of the oceans between continents, and then “land” back home, where the blue dot sits on my own roof at almost exactly the spot where I am typing on the couch! A few weeks ago some family members and I were walking in a cut-over (for those not from the country, that’s a LOT of pine trees growing back where trees were previously cut), down a road that led to some seldom-visited family property. Everything looked different from the last time we were there, and confusion arose as to which fork of a road to take. We split up, and I began to look from above (via my trusty phone app) at the road that appeared to be the best shot for finding our way (OK, I didn’t look it up until we had walked quite a ways without success!). I was able to determine that the road we’d taken actually began to circle around and double back toward the way we had come. No way I could have determined that just by walking on, until I wasted lots of time by coming to the end of the road.
Ok, so you know me and that I’m not just blogging about a cool app I like, right? No, I’m not. Just thought about how it parallels something that’s come to my mind recently about the scriptures, and people’s accustomed ways of looking at them. Often our view is “myopic” (looking that up would yield the definition “nearsighted). Would our perspective still seem as balanced and utterly true to us if we zoomed out, pulled back, and looked from a different vantage point? Got the “big picture” of the events in the New Testament?
There’s one aspect of what is true that is particularly interesting to look at with this end in mind: how do we get into the body of Christ – the church? What does the Word of God tell us to do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Believe in our heart and confess with our mouth? Is that all? Many would adamantly say, “Yes, that is all!” Where did that argument come from? Does it represent the only truth available in scripture?
If I haven’t already lost you, zoom out with me for a moment. What’s the most quoted verse in the Bible, at least among mainline denominations? I don’t have stats on it, but what I seem to hear most is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That verse is as true today as it was when said over two thousand years ago. But to whom was it said, and what was the intention of its being stated? Did God intend it to be the entirety or even the summary of the plan of salvation?
In the third chapter of John, a ruler who was curious about Jesus, but feared the retribution of the Jewish leadership if he came to Jesus openly, had come to him by night. Jesus did not rebuke Nicodemus for this, but addressed his questions fully and boldly, telling him that unless he was born again of water and the Spirit, he could not see or enter into the kingdom of God. Nicodemus had trouble understanding this, and Jesus went on to elaborate about the plan of God, including the assurance of verse 16 which included the reason for the plan (God’s love) and who it was open to (whosoever believeth, which later would be understood to include Gentiles as well as Jews). The foundational blueprint for the plan of salvation — a birth of water and spirit — was laid down in this conversation. But remember who it was given to: one Jewish ruler in the middle of the night. Many years later (possibly 50 to 85 years later), it was written into a book and circulated among existing churches. It wasn’t printed into tracts to be distributed to lost people until many, many years later. No sermon recorded by an Apostle of Jesus who was preaching to people who needed to be saved ever directly quoted the words of Jesus in John 3:16 as giving the way to be saved.
Well, what about Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved”? Is that true or not? Of course it is true, but in what context was it written: to whom was it said and what was the intention of it being stated? According to the author, the Apostle Paul, he was writing a letter to “all that are in Rome, called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7). So this wasn’t written to sinners needing to be converted? It was written to people who were already saints? And when was it written? Some scholars say over 50 years after Christ, which would sound reasonable. What was the context of what was being said? Was he telling these saints how to convert sinners? If you look at the previous parts of the book and surrounding information, the themes being addressed are whether both Jews and Gentiles can be saved and whether the Old Testament Law was still required for the Jews’ salvation, or whether faith in Jesus Christ was the way to be saved. Of course, that is how salvation comes, because faith is the spark that begins the process of salvation.
Are these the only places where salvation is discussed? Are these statements about faith, and others like them in similar contexts, the only words God left about how to be saved? Are there other places that specify the elements of salvation to be obeyed and followed? Well, as a matter of fact there are. There was the time after Jesus died, rose and ascended, that 120 assembled believers (which included all the living Apostles as well as other men and women who followed Jesus — one of whom was Jesus’ mother, Mary), were praying together. A sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, filled all the house where they were sitting, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Peter was anointed to preach the Word of God to thousands of people who were already in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts chapter 2 (Jesus had set this up by giving the keys to the kingdom to Peter as recorded in Matthew 16:13-20), and when they heard Peter’s preaching, they were pricked in their hearts and asked him and the Apostles, “Men and brethren what must we do?” Peter replied, “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, unto your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” (Acts 2:38-39) Again, who was this said to? To thousands of people who were convicted of their sins and asking what they needed to do about their condition. Where was it said? From an upper room in a very crowded city to those listening below, who in turn could tell thousands of others. Who was it said to apply to? To the people who were hearing it, their children, all that are afar off and as many as the Lord our God shall call (sounds like every generation to come, all over the world, doesn’t it?). Did anyone respond? Verse 41 says about three thousand souls who gladly received Peter’s words were baptized and added unto them. Does this account contradict what Jesus said in John 3: 1-21? No, it completes it: being born again of the water (baptism in Jesus’ name) and of the Spirit (receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost), and it further confirms the statement in John 3:8, “the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof…so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (every one that is born of the Spirit has an accompanying sound – speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance as in Acts 2:4 and all through the Book of Acts).
Now tell me, honestly, if you were going to put out a message that would be saving to all that heard it, and would mean the difference in where they spent their eternity, which method would you use? Saying it to one man in the middle of the night, so others could write about it many years later? Waiting for more than fifty years to have an Apostle write it in a letter to people who were already in church? Or shouting it from an upper room (a “rooftop”, if you will) to everyone you could get to hear you? That’s the way I would choose to do it, by the grace of God. Is that the only time that message was given, though? What does the Word record? The next chapters, Acts 3-4 record a message by Peter, when a lame man was healed and a crowd gathered, that contains the same essential elements of repentance, blotting out of sins (remission) and times of refreshing/sending Jesus Christ to the believers (Holy Ghost) and 5000 received the Holy Ghost that time. Acts chapter 8 records the message going to the Samaritans with the same elements included (they were baptized in the name of the Lord and when Peter laid hands on them they were filled with the Holy Ghost). Acts chapter 10 records the coming of salvation to the Gentiles, who were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues while Peter was preaching to them in the home of a devout Gentile named Cornelius. Peter then commanded that they be baptized in the name of Jesus. Paul echoed the same message when he found disciples at Ephesus who had only heard the doctrine preached by John the Baptist, and their incomplete experience of salvation was addressed by admonishing them to be baptized in the name of Jesus, and when they did so, they also received the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues.
Ok, I know, you’re waiting for me to address the Philippian jailer (Acts 16). Are you ready to negate everything just noted from the accounts in the book of Acts by the response to a man who had already drawn his sword to take his life? The long answer might not have been very effective in that case, if the man didn’t delay his intended action until they finished. So in that situation, in the context of preventing a suicide, they responded to the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” with “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and all thine house.” We could dissect that, including the fact that no one I know would reasonably assert that his believing alone would save all those in his house. But the best answer to it is to zoom out to the full context. What happened next? The jailer took them to his home, where the Apostles “spake unto him the word of the Lord, and unto all his house”; then he rose up, washed their stripes and “was baptized, he and all his, straitway”. What do you think they talked about when they spoke the Word of the Lord — the rest of the story — to him, once they were sure he was no longer in danger of ending his life immediately? Where would this heathen man have gotten a concept of baptism from, if not from their preaching to him? Why would he be so bold as to take that step if they had only presented it as an afterthought, or a good idea if one wants to identify with the cause of Christ? This man, and all his household, risked their lives to obey the Gospel in this way (remember the story started with these Apostles locked in prison for this message!). Take that for what it’s worth, but that account doesn’t make any case for standing the rest of what the Apostles preached on its head or throwing it out.
Who got saved in John chapter 3? It doesn’t say that anyone did. A foundation for salvation was laid. Jesus had not yet suffered (been glorified) and the Holy Ghost had not yet been given (John 7:39). How about Romans chapter 10 (or anywhere else in that epistle or any of the other letters to the churches)? Was anyone saved in that account? Nothing like that was recorded, because this was a letter teaching Christians how to understand their faith and live for God successfully. Where were people recorded as being saved in the New Testament? In the Book of Acts? Acts chapters 2, 3-4, 8, 9, 10, and 19 all record salvation experiences. So where’s the most likely place to find the plan of salvation taught?
A chance to zoom out on the scriptures allows us to get the perspective that the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are historical accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus: how he taught the people and his disciples, the miracles he did, and then his death, burial and resurrection. After his resurrection, he spent 40 days with the disciples (whom he later named apostles), opening their understanding to the scriptures (Old Testament teachings and prophecies) to see who he truly was, and to get the message they were to preach to the world. The gospels are followed by the Book of Acts (full title being “The Acts of the Apostles”), which begins by detailing again his final instructions and ascension into heaven, then begins to describe his filling the believers (not 12 believers, but 120) with his Spirit, and the launching of their ministry to change the world. Their salvation message was consistent: repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name for the remission of sins and the in filling of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance. After the events of the Book of Acts, these same apostles began to write letters to the churches that were started during that time, encouraging them to live “soberly, righteously and godly in this present world”, and helping to flesh out more of their understanding of faith as the fulfillment of the law and the bringing together into one body both Jews and Gentiles. Events to come at the end of the world were described and a multitude of other things comprising a sort of owners’ manual for this new Christian life were outlined: facing persecution, contending for the faith, continuing steadfast in that form of doctrine that was once delivered to the saints, specifics of holy, godly living, the certain rise of false prophets and false doctrines to war against the simplicity of the gospel, and the pronouncement that anyone bringing another gospel should be accursed. Not one time do you find a timeline for how long this message of Acts 2:38 would be relevant or that it was to be succeeded by another gospel: what do you find are repeated references to false apostles, false Christs, false doctrine and warning after warning to not accept anything but the original (Matthew 7:15, 24:11, Mark 13:22, 2 Cor. 11:13-15, 2 Peter 2:1-22, 1 John 4:1, Gal. 1:6-9).
So–what do you see when you zoom out? Does what you’ve always been taught as the only scriptures relevant to being saved stand up to a broader look at the Bible’s teachings in perspective? Are you content to just look at what’s in front of you? Or do you begin to think the Word of God may need another look from you, to insure you’ve clearly seen what God intended you to see — and to obey — about salvation?
I’d love to hear from you, whether as a comment here, through Facebook message or email. It would also be great to see you in service at:
Bay Springs, MS
By the grace of God, we’re getting to experience a taste of
Church the way it was meant to be…
and glad to know there’s more where that came from!