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Article 0124 - Plan of Salvation, In-depth Look

God's Plan of Salvation: A Closer Look

Jon Gary Williams

Through the inspired scriptures God has revealed His wonderful plan of salvation. This plan is made up of different parts which, when brought together, establish a flowing unit. Each part plays an essential role, but any one of them alone is inadequate and will not provide salvation. It is necessary that each part of this plan be seen in the role it plays in the forgiveness of sins. The different parts of this plan are: faith, repentance, confession and baptism. What role do each of these parts play in God's plan?

Faith, of course, is belief and involves a change of heart - - a change of conviction. It is through hearing the word of God that such saving faith is created (Romans 10:17). When the lost hear the wonderful message of salvation and that Jesus is the One who can be their Savior, faith in Him develops and continues to grow (John 3:16).

The word repentance means to "turn," that is, to turn away from sin and turn toward God. It, like faith, involves a change - - a change of will, a change of life. When people are made aware of their lost condition they see the need to make changes in their lives (Acts 17:30).

In God's plan of salvation, confession is not the confessing of sins, but rather the confession of one's faith in Christ. The penitent believer in Christ, looking forward to obeying the gospel, desires to confess faith in Christ (I John 4:15). This person is now ready for the final step in God's plan for the forgiveness of sins.

Baptism means to be immersed in water. As with faith and repentance, baptism also involves a change - - a change of state or relationship. In baptism a person is no longer of the world but is now a child of God. It is here that one is made free from sin by the blood of Christ and is added to God's kingdom, the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, 41, 47; 22:16).

These unique parts of God's salvation plan flow together to bring about a new life in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). This plan is truly masterful design and yet is one which is so simple and easily understood. In fact, it is so clear that one must have help to misunderstand it.

Here our attention turns toward a necessary and important discussion. It is sad and unfortunate that in today's religious world many have distorted God's wonderful scheme of redemption. This is done when men seek to attribute salvation to only one part of the plan, specifically to that of faith.

A passage frequently used to promote this teaching is John 3:16 which reads, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

The claim is made that since this passage only mentions belief (faith), then believing in Christ is the only thing necessary to have everlasting life. It is then falsely concluded that since baptism is not mentioned in this passage, baptism is not essential to salvation.

To demonstrate the error of this reasoning, it need only be pointed out that since this passage does not include either repentance or confession, these also would not be essential to salvation. Indeed, that which proves too much proves nothing at all.

A search of the scriptures reveals that salvation is also attributed solely to each of the other parts of the plan. For example, in Acts 11:18 salvation is attributed only to repentance. In I John 4:15 salvation is attributed only to confession. In Acts 22:16 salvation is attributed only to baptism. With this twisted use of the scriptures it could be claimed that salvation can be obtained exclusively through any one of these apart from the others. But this obviously makes no sense.

Additionally, there are occasions when two parts of the plan are mentioned with salvation being attributed to them exclusively. In Romans 10:9 only confession and faith are mentioned. In Mark 16:16 only belief and baptism are mentioned. In Acts 2:28 only repentance and baptism are mentioned. How foolish it would be to claim that any one of these passages reveals all that is necessary to be saved.

A Figure Of Speech

To properly appreciate the scriptures, and in this instance God's plan of salvation, it is essential to understand that the Bible contains different figures of speech. One of these is called synecdoche, which means that sometimes a portion of the total is used to represent the total. As an example, Luke 1:66 reads, "And the hand of the Lord was with him." The word hand (a part) represents God himself (the total) who would supply all John's needs. 

So it is with the different parts of the plan of salvation. As we have seen, in various passages different parts of the plan are found, but never are all four of them found in the same passage. Hence, when a passage speaks of having salvation through faith in Christ, faith stands for the complete plan. The same is true also of passages which attribute salvation only to repentance, confession or baptism.

It is a serious mistake to lift a passage out of context and give it a meaning never intended by the inspired writer. Such is the case with John 3:16. To teach that this verse contains the entire plan of salvation is a flagrant misuse of the scriptures. On any subject it is important to obtain the sum of God's word, not just some of it (Psalms 139:17).

The following chart shows the ten cases of conversion recorded in the book of Acts. It is clearly seen that in none of these conversions are all parts of God's plan of salvation mentioned. Yet, it is understood that all parts played a role in each account. It is also noticeable and of special interest that in every case baptism is mentioned, thus stressing the necessity of baptism.