Preachers and teachers in denominational churches tell us to put our faith “in the man, not the plan.” Our trust and belief, they say, must be in the person of Christ and not in any pattern or system of faith. Thus, they make a distinction between love and loyalty to the Lord and obedience to his word. This is done in an attempt to escape the plain words of the Savior which require that one be baptized in order to be saved (Matt. 28:19 f; Mark 16:16).
Let me illustrate some positive arguments which show that the saved believer is the obedient believer.
Belief in John the Baptist
“And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Luke 7:29, 30). Jesus taught that the baptism of John was “from heaven,” from God. Then, he said, “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and you believed him not” (Matt. 21:23-32).
First, to reject the word which came “from heaven,” by refusing John’s baptism, was to repudiate the counsel, purpose, or plan of God, and to fail to justify the person of God. Second, John’s word was described by the Lord as “the way (plan or pattern) of righteousness.” Third, the result of rejecting John’s teaching that they should be baptized was the same as not believing or accepting the person of John (“you believed him not”). The principle is established. Therefore, if we reject the baptism of Jesus, if we refuse to be baptized upon his command, it may be said of us, “you believed him not.” Did Jesus come to us “in the way of righteousness”? Certainly, he did (Matt. 3:15 ff; John 16:8; Rom. 10:1-10; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 1:8). Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned” (Mk 16:16). As we learned from the baptism of John, if we reject these words of the Lord, we also reject the person of the Lord.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only be-gotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This passage, we are told, tells us to believe “in him,” to trust him, and not lean upon some plan of salvation. Yes, but observe that the believer in this context is the one who “does truth” (John 3:21). At the conclusion of the chapter, John says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn 3:36).
Further, immediately preceding his words in verse sixteen, Jesus compared his being lifted up on the cross with Moses’ lifting up of the serpent in Numbers 21. Those bitten by serpents had to come and look upon the serpent of brass before they could be saved. Those bitten could not simply say, “I believe Moses. I believe in God. He can heal me.” No, that was not sufficient. With faith in God and in the word of Moses, they had to act; they had to come and look before they could be healed. Likewise, it is not enough to envision the scene of the cross and to orally express trust in Jesus’ power to save. As bitten Israelites were not healed until they came and looked, so we cannot be healed of the bite and sting of sin until we “obey” or “do truth” (John 3:21, 36 f; Heb. 5:9).
Direct statements of Jesus
Jesus said, “These things I say, that you might be saved” (John 5:34). What was the purpose of Jesus’ word? It was “that you might be saved.” Later, when they did not believe his word, he said, “You believe (me) not” (John 5:38), “And you will not come to me, that you might have life” (v. 40). So, his words were the source of eternal life which he spake to save them (John 6:44, 45, 63, 68). But they would “not come to (him)” that they might have life. To come to the person of the Son is to believe his word. To disobey his word is to reject his person – “You will not come to me.”
Believers in Antioch
Preachers came to Antioch, “preaching the Lord Jesus . . . and a great number believed and turned to the Lord .. . and much people was added unto the Lord ” (Acts 11:20-24). Collectively, these individual “disciples,” “Christians,” constituted “the church” in Antioch (v. 26). How does one become a member of the Lord’s body, or church? He is “baptized into one body,” and added to the church (1 Cor. 12:13). So, these believers in Antioch, those who turned to the person of the Lord Jesus, were obedient, baptized believers. At the instruction of the Spirit through those who came “preaching the Lord Jesus,” they were baptized into the church, the body of Christ. In this way, they “turned to the Lord,” and were “added unto the Lord.”
The Philippian jailer
This man and his household “rejoiced, believing in God” (Acts 16:34). When, though, was he described as a believer in God? It was after he heard the word, the plan, of God for salvation. It was after he was baptized (Acts 16:30-34). Not until he had heard, believed, and obeyed the word, was it said that he believed in God. Again, the believer in the person of God is the man who has obeyed the word of God! If we call a man a saved believer in God before he has done what the jailer did, we do that which the New Testament does not do.
The conversion of Cornelius
Cornelius and his household (a) were “granted repentance unto life,” (b) were “saved” “though the grace of the Lord Jesus,” and (c) had their hearts purified “by faith” (Acts 11:17 cf; 15:7-11). “Yes,” our denominational friends exclaim, “this is what we are talking about; they did not `obey’ a `plan of salvation’ ; they did not have to be baptized; they simply trusted in Jesus, and he saved them `by grace through faith.”‘
Let no one think that we deny salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8, 9). Let no one believe that we deny that our hearts are purified “by faith.” We accept these accounts, but we insist that they must include all that the Bible says with respect to them. First, Cornelius was to hear “words, whereby you and all your house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). Second, it was by Peter’s preaching that Cornelius “should hear the word (the plan) of the gospel, and believe,” for “faith comes by hearing” the gospel (Acts 15:7 f; Rom. 10:17). Third, Cornelius was told, “he that fears him, and works righteousness is accepted with him” (Acts 10:35). Fourth, Cornelius was “commanded … to be baptized, in water, in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47, 48). Fifth, what is baptism “in the name of the Lord” for? What is its purpose? It is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Finally, after Cornelius heard the word, after he believed the word, after he feared the Lord, after he repented and was baptized in the name of the Lord “for the remission of sins,” his soul was purified by faith; he was saved by grace!
The belief of Crispus
“Crispus . . . believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Nothing is here directly stated about Crispus being baptized, but it does say he “believed on the Lord.” Later, however, Paul said, “I baptized . . . Crispus” (1 Cor. 1:14). Paul says nothing about Crispus’ faith in Christ. Luke says nothing about Crispus’ baptism. As his baptism presumes his belief of Paul’s preaching of Christ, so the summary statement of his believing assumes his obedience in baptism (Mark 16:16). Like the jailer above, his belief in the Lord comprehends his obedience in baptism.
Believers in Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, Paul persecuted the church, “them that believed on” the Lord (Acts 8:1-3; 22:19). Who are these people in Jerusalem that “believed on thee”? They were the ones who had “gladly received” the “word” of the apostle Peter and had been “baptized . . . for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38, 41). Once again, those who had “gladly received” the plan, the word of God, are those who are said to have “believed on you,” the Divine person. If we speak “as the oracles of God,” we will refer to those who are baptized for the remission of sins as those who believe on the Lord.
Roman saints “justified by faith”
Numerous times, Paul assures the Romans that justification is by faith in Christ (Rom. 1:16; 5:1). But “when” did this justification take place? “But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17, 18). The Romans were justified by faith in Christ when they obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine, that gospel plan of salvation (Rom. 1:16, 17; 10:1-3, 16).
Peter wrote to elect believers in Christ, “whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice . . . Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:2-9). They had been “redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). They stood in “the true grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:12). When, though, were they redeemed by the blood and saved by grace? Upon the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they “purified (their) souls in obeying the truth” when they were baptized (1 Pet. 1:22; 3:21). Therefore, they are the ones “which believe,” while those who refuse to be baptized are those “which stumble at the word, being disobedient” (1 Pet. 2: 7, 8).
Conclusion: If you truly believe the MAN (Jesus), obey His PLAN (the Gospel). Having “heard this,” all of those who truly “believe on him . . . that is, on Christ Jesus,” on his divine name and his glorious person, will be “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” “for the remission of sins” (Acts 19:4, 5; 2:38).