Archive for the ‘What One Must Know to be Saved’ Category

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What One Must Know to be Saved: Conclusions

August 4, 2008

From the preceding discussion, the things a person must know to be saved are obvious. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit has recorded for us numerous examples of the gospel being preached to a variety of people. Some of these people were Jews and well versed in the Old Testament scriptures. Others were Gentiles with no understanding of God. The inspired preachers taught an appropriate message in each situation, always pointing toward the same thing.

To receive the promises of the gospel of Christ, a person had to know that God created the world and everything in it, including all mankind; that man had fallen into sin and rebellion against God; that God commanded them to repent; that He had sent his Son, Jesus, the Messiah, into the world to save us from our sin; that Jesus died for our sins; that Jesus was raised from the dead; and that God appointed Jesus to preside over a final judgment of every person.

The evangelists in the book of Acts started at the level of understanding of their audience, and taught what was missing in order to bring them to a basic understanding of those facts. For many, that happened in a single teaching session. For others, it took days of examining the scriptures. And for some, the message was presented repeatedly over a period of months or years. As Paul told Agrippa, conversion might take a short time or a long time.

Once a person had been taught enough to understand and believe those basic facts, they were baptized into Jesus for forgiveness of sins and were added to the church. Subsequently, the teaching continued as they learned more and more about their new lives in Christ.

It is interesting to note what is not recorded in any of the examples of conversion found in scripture.

First, there was no catechism class, and no comprehensive study of doctrine before conversion. Of course, during the timeframe of Acts there was no ambiguity about which Christian church one should join. But there were doctrinal controversies (see Acts 15). Those were important topics which certainly had to be taught to the church. But they were not part of what was taught during the conversion process. People were converted to Jesus, not to a certain form of worship, nor to a form of church government, nor to a particular hermeneutic, etc.

Second, there was no comprehensive study of all the sin in a person’s life before conversion. There always seems to have been some specific sin from which they were challenged to repent. But they were always called to make Jesus Lord of their lives. That covers all the other bases. As the new convert progressively learned about sin and righteousness, they continued to repent, because Jesus was their Lord.

Third, there was no trial period to prove repentance prior to conversion. Once a person came to faith in Jesus, and made Jesus Lord, they could be baptized. Of course, the example of John the Baptist (Luke 3:7-8) shows us that we should call for repentance and that we should not overlook clear evidence of a lack of repentance. But conversions in Acts typically occurred in a single encounter, and the convert’s commitment to make Jesus Lord was taken at face value.

There is much more that should be taught after conversion. As Thomas Campbell stated in his sixth proposition, there are many things that “belong to the after and progressive edification of the church” which are not meant to be part of the profession of faith given at conversion.

The basic facts taught to potential converts are sufficient to bring them into a saved relationship with God, and to place them in the church. Therefore, the only things required in order for a person to remain in that saved relationship with God, and in the fellowship of the church, is for them to continue in what they began: faith in Jesus, and submission to Jesus as Lord.

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What One Must Know to be Saved: Corinth

August 2, 2008

Luke records in Acts 18 that Paul entered Corinth and taught them the gospel.

Act 18:4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Act 18:5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

Later, Paul summarized his message to the Corinthians:

1Co 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Later in the same letter, Paul further elaborates on the gospel message he delivered in Corinth:

1Co 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
1Co 15:2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
1Co 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
1Co 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
1Co 15:6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
1Co 15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
1Co 15:8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
1Co 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
1Co 15:11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

That is the message on which they “took their stand.” In other words, those are the essential facts upon which their saving faith was based. Paul’s message to the Corinthians was the same as it was to everyone else:

  1. Jesus was the Christ
  2. Christ died “for our sins”
  3. Christ was raised from the dead
  4. Evidence! All this was in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and is confirmed by the eyewitness testimony of more than 500 people.

Paul also pointed out that the gospel had a dramatic effect in his own life (a fact they could easily observe). Paul “got it.” When someone understands the gospel message about what Jesus did for us, and why, it has an effect.

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What One Must Know to be Saved: Agrippa

July 31, 2008

In Acts 26, we have Luke’s account of Paul’s defense before King Agrippa.

King Agrippa was familiar with the Old Testament prophets. It was not necessary in his case to establish the basic facts about God and his past relations with the Jews. So in Paul, in his testimony before Agrippa, simply explained how he, as a Pharisee, had come to believe in Jesus and to devote his life to spreading that message.

Paul told Agrippa of his background as a Jew, and that his recent activities were the result of his hope in the promises God made to the Jews. He explained how he had persecuted the church, and recounted his conversion on the road to Damascus. And he told Agrippa of the instructions he received from Jesus:

Act 26:17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them
Act 26:18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

And he testified that in his subsequent activities he was carrying out those instructions.

Act 26:19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.
Act 26:20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

Paul then summarized the gospel message he had been teaching:

Act 26:22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–
Act 26:23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Paul’s message to Agrippa contained the same elements as we have seen previously:

  1. That Jesus is the Christ prophesied in the Old Testament;
  2. That Jesus suffered and died and rose from the dead;
  3. That Jews and Gentiles alike are called to repent and turn to God;
  4. That forgiveness of sins was offered through faith in Jesus.

Agrippa was not immediately converted by Paul’s testimony:

Act 26:28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Act 26:29 Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

As Paul indicated, the message sometimes converts in a short time, but in other instances conversion requires a longer time. And in Agrippa’s case, as is too often the case, he apparently never did come to accept the message.

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What One Must Know to be Saved: Felix

July 29, 2008

Act 24:24-25 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem eventually led to a trial before Felix, governor of Judea. Felix was well acquainted with the Way. But historians tell us that Felix was a man of many vices. As Adam Clarke says:

As bad a governor as Felix most certainly was, he rendered some services to Judea… This was all true; but, notwithstanding this, he is well known from his own historians, and from Josephus, to have been not only a very bad man, but also a very bad governor. He was mercenary, oppressive, and cruel; and of all these the Jews brought proofs to Nero, before whom they accused him; and, had it not been for the interest and influence of his brother Pallas; he had been certainly ruined.

Something of the character of Felix can be seen from the fact that he frequently called for Paul, hoping to receive a bribe.

Despite the fact that Paul was on trial before Felix, and dependent upon the governor for favorable verdict, he boldly chose to preach to him about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come — directly challenging the life and character of the governor. Felix responded with fear, and sent Paul away.

The text does not give us all the details of Paul’s message. But what we do learn is that, in preaching the gospel to a lost man, Paul directly challenged the sin in his life. Righteousness, self control, and the judgment to come were important parts of the message Paul delivered to the lost — so important that Paul did not omit it even when it might cost him his freedom, or his life.

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What One Must Know to be Saved: Athens

July 27, 2008

The most complete description in Acts of the gospel message as delivered to Gentiles is found in Acts 17, in the account of Paul teaching in Athens.

Here, Paul’s audience was quite different from those who heard his messages in the synagogues which we examined previously. Appropriately, his message was different as well. Paul began by making a connection between his message and their own culture and religion. He explained that God created “the world and everything in it” and is Lord over all that He made. He taught them that the duty of man is to reach out and find God. He pointed out the folly of their beliefs in gods made by human hands. And he called for repentance from their idolatry. Finally, he warned them that there would be a day of judgment through Jesus, who was raised from the dead.

It is striking how different this message was from those delivered in the synagogues. Here Paul was addressing an audience with fundamental ignorance of God and of the origins of man. Most of the instruction is about who God is and what he expects from man. Just at the end he introduced the idea of the resurrection and judgment.

Apparently only a few of these hearers were moved to respond to Paul’s message. Some of the audience wished to hear him again on the subject, and it seems likely that all who would eventually respond required further instruction before they would have sufficient understanding to believe in Jesus and thereby be saved. It seems that before one could have a saving belief in Jesus, some basic foundational understandings had to be taught as prerequisites:

1) There is only one true God, not made by human hands.
2) The true God created the world.
3) Man has foolishly disobeyed God, and needs redemption.

As an aside, notice that Paul also taught Gentiles in Ephesus that there is only one God.

However, even in this case, we see the instruction Jesus being raised from the dead and being appointed to preside over judgment. And we see a call for repentance. (Note that he also taught repentance to the Gentiles in Ephesus). But from what we learn in Acts 17, it appears that these Gentiles needed further instruction before they could have saving faith in Jesus.  

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What One Must Know to be Saved: Pisidion Antioch

July 25, 2008

In Pisidion Antioch, Paul entered the synagogue and taught the gospel.

In his message, Paul summarized the period of Israelite history from Egypt through King David, and taught that Jesus was descended from David. He reminded them of what John the Baptist had said about Jesus. He told them about the crucifixion and resurrection, and how those events fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. He told them of the eyewitnesses to the resurrection. Finally, he told them about the forgiveness of sins available to everyone who believes.

So, similar to Peter, Paul included the following points in his gospel message:

  1. Jesus is the Savior, the Holy One of God spoken of in the Old Testament
  2. Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
  3. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus with a message of repentance and baptism.
  4. Forgiveness of sins comes to those who believe in Jesus.

Subsequent accounts of Paul’s gospel message to the Jews include Thessalonica and Ephesus. In these accounts we learn that Paul’s message specifically included the facts that Jesus was the Christ and that repentance was a key part of his message. Paul’s gospel message to Jews was the same as that of Peter:

  1. Jesus is the Christ
  2. Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, in fulfillment of Old Testament propecy.
  3. Jesus is Lord
  4. In response we are called to repent and turn to God for forgiveness.

By now it should be pretty clear what made up the gospel message to a person with a knowledge of first century Judaism.

But what about Paul’s message to Gentiles?

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What One Must Know to be Saved: Cornelius

July 23, 2008

In Acts 10, we read of the conversion of Cornelius. He was a Gentile, a devout and God-fearing man who prayed regularly to God. After being persuaded to come to Cornelius in a vision, Peter preached the gospel to him.

Peter’s message reveals that Cornelius already knew of “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Cornelius already knew of the miracles and good works of Jesus. Peter further informed him that Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead, as prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures, and that Peter as well as others were witnesses to the resurrection. He taught Cornelius that Jesus has been appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. And finally, he taught him that forgiveness of sins comes through his name to all who believe in him.

Peter’s main points in his message to Cornelius, as recorded in Acts 10, are as follows:

  1. Jesus is the Christ
  2. Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
  3. Jesus is Lord of all.
  4. Forgiveness is granted to all who believe in Jesus.

Paul’s message to Cornelius was essentially the same as his previous gospel messages to Jewish audiences. Although Cornelius was a Gentile, he was a devout worshiper of God, and apparently his background of understanding was similar to that of the Jews. Therefore the same points needed to be taught to bring him to faith in Jesus.