GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 639 • May 7, 2021
SEEKING AND SAVING THE LOST – Number Six
LORD, WHAT SHOULD I DO (TO BE SAVED)? Acts 22:6-16
Have you ever considered what might be the most important question a person could ask? It is not, “What is truth?” – Pilate’s question (John 18:38). Of course that is an important question. Only the truth can correct error and defend us from abuse and exploitation by those who preach and practice error. About the answer given to every question, one should always ask, “Is it true?” The most important question is not, “How can I win friends and influence people?” It is not, “What can I do to make the world a better place?” The most important question one can ask is: “How can I be sure I am saved, spiritually safe and secure with God?” The question can be asked at various times and circumstances in one’s life. One who has not been saved should ask, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). One who has been saved should ask, “How can I make my calling and election– my salvation – sure, to be sure I still have God’s approval and blessing?” (2 Peter 1:10). All questions about salvation and spiritual security are variations of these two.
There are several occasions recorded in scripture where these questions were either asked or or implied. The answers given are often assumed to be valid for all who ask, but unless one’s circumstances and situation are the same as those in the examples, the answers may not apply. Two examples will be enough to prove the point.
The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-24). He was told to keep the commandments (of Moses and the prophets) because he was a Jew, living under that covenant, the Old Testament. This was before the day of Pentecost when the New Testament was implemented and imposed for all time and for all people yet to come. Because Jesus seemed to know him as a covetous man who loved his riches more than he loved his own soul or the souls of others he was told to sell all he had and give it to the poor. But Jesus does not command all his followers to sell and give away all they possess. That command only applied to this particular man in his particular circumstances.
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). He too was a Jew under Old Testament law. He was not seeking to find salvation in the way men would have to do it under the New Testament when it became effective. The main thing we learn from this is that the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) had power on earth to forgive sins. He stated this very thing (Matthew 9:6). God in Christ accepted the man’s repentance for his sins under the Old Law and honored his request to be a part of the saved in the Lord’s kingdom. There is an exact parallel to this for members of the New Covenant church or kingdom. We will make mention of it later in this lesson.
Examples that will answer for us the question of what to do to be saved must come from those seeking to be saved under the New Testament gospel of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 provide the touchstone of truth about salvation. We will look now at the conversion and salvation of Saul of Tarsus, the man who became Paul, the apostle of Christ.
PAUL WAS “A MAN WITH A GOOD CONSCIENCE TOWARD GOD.”
If living according to your conscience could save, why did it not save Saul/Paul? He said he did not violate his conscience, that he lived in good conscience before God and man (Acts 23:1, 24:16). This is not to say his conscience never bothered him. It certainly did. After his conversion he often regretted what he had done to Christians (1 Timothy 1:12-15).
The conscience is set by the person himself or others he accepts. One may believe a lie and act upon it as if it were true, but it is not the truth. One’s conscience approves him when he is true to the standards he acknowledges as valid. It accuses him when he violates those standards. The point is not the validity of his standards, but that he believes them and acts accordingly. Having a “good conscience” does not necessarily mean one is a good person. Saul thought he was right to persecute and kill Christians, and believed he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus (Acts 26:9). To have a “good conscience that offends neither God nor man” (Acts 24:16) one must, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in his heart” and answer all questions about his faith and hope with the word of the Lord (1 Peter 3:15-16). Until one has obeyed and is continuing to obey God’s doctrine from his heart, he cannot know he is free from sin, a servant of the righteous God (Romans 6:17-18). Remember, to have a good conscience one must be sure that he is pleasing and acceptable to God (1 John 3:19-22). Pleasing God is impossible without faith (Hebrews 11:6). Pleasing God is impossible without obedience to His will (Hebrews 13:21). Faith is the only proper beginning and the only valid foundation.
WHAT SAUL DID TO BE SAVED. Acts 9:1-22, 22:6-16, 26:12-20
He came to a certain and unshakable faith in Jesus as the Messiah/Christ of God. This came when he received and accepted incontestable and irrefutable evidence that caused him to believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-6, 22:6-11, 26:12-18; 2 Timothy 1:12). He saw the validity of the faith of those Christians he had been persecuting. He wanted to join himself together with them and share in the gospel with them. He demonstrated true repentance (Galatians 2:20-21). He stopped doing things that were wrong, once truth was revealed to him. There is no repentance that does not include quitting everything wrong (Acts 9:6-8, 20-21). One who continues in his sinful ways shows that he has not repented. He accepted and confessed the Lordship of Jesus and obeyed the commands of the one he now knew as his Lord (Acts 26:19). There is no repentance that does not include doing the right. One may quit the wrong, but until he does what is right he cannot be accepted and blessed by God. He accepted baptism – he was immersed in order to have his sins washed away. Acts 9:17-19 is misunderstood by some to mean that Saul’s faith saved him and the laying on of Ananias’s hands restored his sight and imparted the Holy Spirit to him. Then – after his salvation and restoration to God – he was baptized. The misunderstanding about it will be cleared up by reading the account more carefully, not only in Acts 9:9-12 but more particularly in Acts 22:12-16.
If Paul was saved by faith in Christ on the road to Damascus, why was he still fasting, praying, and waiting for three days for Ananias to come, as the Lord had promised in a vision that he would? Some will answer, “Not to be saved from sin, but to receive his sight after being blinded.” One who reads only Acts 9:12 might reach that conclusion. But read 22:12-16. After his sight had been restored (14) he was told, “And now what are you waiting for – why delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name – the name of the Lord.” (22:16). It would be strange indeed if Saul had been saved but still had all his sins, was still “in his sins.” Jesus taught that one who was “in his sins” could not be with him and could not go where he was going (John 8:24). It can be seen from all this that Saul of Tarsus did exactly what was required in the gospel of Christ. He did what Jesus taught in “the great commission” (Mt. 28:18-20, Luke 24:47, and Mark 16:15-16). He did what Peter and the other apostles taught on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-40).
PAUL TAUGHT OTHERS TO DO WHAT HE HIMSELF HAD DONE TO BE SAVED. HE SPECIFIED THE SAME FOR EVERYBODY.
Faith in Jesus Christ, which comes from hearing the word of the Lord\ (Romans 10:17, Ephesians 2:10, Romans 5:1-4, Galatians 3:26).
Repentance. (Romans 6:1-2, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Confession of Jesus – submit to the Lordship of Jesus (Romans 10:9-10).
Baptism (immersion, burial) into Christ (Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27). into the body of Christ, the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
What Paul did, and what he taught others to do to stay in a saved and safe condition: keep the flesh “in subjection” – all improper desire, improper attitudes, and improper actions under control (1 Corinthians 9:27). Fight the good fight, keep the faith, and finish the appointed course (2 Timothy 4:7).
Many will dispute what we have said here about what is required for salvation, based upon their misunderstanding of Ephesians 2:5, 8. The majority of professing “Protestant Christians” believe salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – grace is passively received but faith must be active and actively expressed. The inclusion or insertion of the word alone has no scripture foundation or validity. The fallacy of that is clearly and easily seen in James 2:24 where the word alone appears – but James says it is not by faith alone. Note also in Luke 13:3-5. “Unless you repent you will perish.” Objectors will say there is not one word about repentance in either grace or faith. But repentance is implied in faith. If one truly believes in Christ he will repent. There is no such thing as true faith without repentance. But what about obedience? Obedience is also implied in faith (Romans 10:15-16). One has not truly obeyed Jesus if he has not been baptized, as Jesus commands. Those who object to baptism as a work must also object to repentance, since both are works, something a person must do. We can go a step further: even believing or having faith in Christ is a work. It is not something done to him or for him. The person must do it himself (John 6:29). Grace is passively received. So is baptism. Baptism is not a work one does but a work one receives. One cannot be saved without receiving grace or receiving baptism. Nobody can find one person after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 who was said to be saved before or without baptism into Christ and into the church of Christ for the remission of sins. Baptism is part of every example of salvation after the day of Pentecost.
The objector, when pushed as far as we are doing here, will often say, “The thief on the cross was not baptized and Jesus said he would be with him in paradise” (Luke 23:38-43). Remember the answer to that is: the thief on the cross did not live under nor was he subject to the New Testament, the gospel of Christ. Baptism was not part of the old law. This man’s example is an exact parallel for the Christian who has departed from the way of Christ and needs to confess, repent, be forgiven and restored (1 John 1:7-9).