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Signs of a Dying Church

The first stage for any church to reverse negative trends is awareness or, to state in another way, confronting the brutal realities.

Many churches in America will close their doors in the coming years, and many of them will die because they refuse to recognize problems before they became irreversible.

So, it is with both sorrow and great love for local churches that I share a pattern that is increasingly common. I call it “the six stages of a dying church.”

  1. Denial. The church is declining numerically, but no one seems concerned. Fewer people are reached with the gospel, but no alarm sounds. The church’s impact on the community is negligible, but life continues in the church like nothing has happened.
  2. Recalibration. There is a sense that something’s wrong in the church, so the church responds in one of two ways. Do more of what we are doing that has proven ineffective. Or, secondly, seek a “magic bullet” program, emphasis, or new pastor. The church does not really want to change. It just thinks it needs an adjustment.
  3. Anger. Church leaders and members begin to recognize that the magic bullet did not reverse the negative trends, so they deflect the blame. It’s the denominations fault. It’s those young people who don’t respect the way we’ve always done it. It’s the messed-up culture. It’s the people in our community who stopped attending churches. The anger in these churches is palpable.
  4. Exodus. The church had been losing members gradually to this point, but now the outflow increases. Even those who don’t officially leave attend less frequently. The worship service is desolate on Sunday mornings. The anger in the church moves to demoralization.
  5. Desperation. For the first time since the dying process began, the remaining members say they are more open to new ideas and change. However, their words are more words of desperation than conviction. They now see the handwriting on the wall. Their church will soon die.
  6. Death. The church becomes another sad and tragic statistic. At best, the church deeds its property to a healthy church. The process from denial to death in the recent past would take as many as thirty years. Today, the process is much shorter, ten years or less.

Churches have broken free from the death stages, but they are rare. The longer the church waits to make substantive changes, the more difficult it becomes to reverse the path. It’s significantly easier to make changes at stage one than stage four.

Also, keep in mind that nearly nine out of ten of the churches that die are in communities that are growing. The problem is not a shortage of people. The problem is a shortage of courage, commitment, and sacrifice.


Dressing Like A Harlot

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Even so, when we dress like the world, we are desirous to gain the fruits of the world. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits, you will know them” (Matt 7:16-20). The words of Proverbs 7:6-27, is a passage worth reading because it warns against the wiles of the harlot who seeks to seduce another into the destruction of his soul.

Here we find a foolish young man seeking sexual experimentation goes to a “worldly-wise woman whose character is known by the manner in which she dresses. This is a boisterous woman who despises to be in subjection to her husband. She is too active to give adequate care to her home and children because she is occupied trying to appear seductive. She has a face hardened by sin, and can no longer blush (Ezra 9:6 f; Jer. 6:15 cf; 8:12). She persuades her victim using flattery to inebriate him.

This young man is described by the writer of Proverbs as a fool who goes blindly and willingly to his own destruction, not knowing just how great a price he must pay for his indiscretions!

The description of this woman makes it clear that she was a harlot. What is a harlot? The word “harlot” here describes a person who is willing to engage in sexual behavior with someone to whom she is not legally married. The more modern day word for a “harlot” is a “whore”.

If one is available for purposes of sexual immorality, how does one advertise this fact? One way, clearly, is to dress in “the attire or dress of a harlot.” What is the attire of a harlot? Proverbs 7 does not give a description of the “attire of a harlot” or of anyone else’s attire, for that matter. So then, what is the attire of a harlot? The attire of a harlot is any manner of dressing which communicates the message of sexual interest so that there is the underlying implication of sexual availability, the freedom from shame and moral or spiritual restraints.

On the other hand, one who wishes to communicate the message of chastity and moral restraint will studiously avoid dressing in a manner which raises doubt about moral character!

There are many modem ways to wear the “attire of a harlot.” Women may wear the attire of a harlot by either overdressing or underdressing. Dressing in a garish manner, wearing too much makeup, wearing slinky gowns, etc., may be as much the attire of an harlot as underdressing in the skimpy shorts, halter tops, modern swimwear, miniskirts, any attire revealing private parts, etc., all characteristic of those who wish to send the signal – “I am available.” Every such woman is either telling the truth or lying by her manner of dress. If she is telling the truth, she is guilty of the sins of lasciviousness and fornication. If she is lying by her manner of dress she is guilty of the sins of lasciviousness and lying. There is just no “Christian” way to wear “the attire of a harlot.”

And what about the men? Can they, and do they, not also wear the “attire of a harlot”? It is becoming more characteristic for men to communicate their lack of morals through various stages of undress and various manners of dress. The more abbreviated male swimwear is coming into vogue which is designed to emphasize the male genitals; shirts are worn unbuttoned to reveal the chest hair; shirts and trousers are worn too tightly, or wearing no shirt at all in order to communicate availability. Male homosexuals sometimes wear a ring in one ear or both to advertise themselves.

All of these things shout one message loud and clear; they are the signals of the decay of the morals of a nation. We are becoming a nation of fornicators – and we advertise it. Celebrities seek a public forum to boast of it. And slowly citizens seek opportunities to imitate the lifestyles of the rich and famous!

No thoughtful Christian who wants to do right will be guilty of wearing the “attire of a harlot” because to do so is to be guilty of lasciviousness, which is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). The penalty for lasciviousness is that those guilty cannot “inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, those guilty of dressing like a harlot will spend an eternity in Hell.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God

One of the Bible doctrines most frequently attacked by modern liberal theologians and religious “scholars” is the deity of Christ. The Bible expressly teaches the Godhood and unique Sonship of Jesus (see John 1:1-2; Col. 2:9). Peter made the confession, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:18). Later, this same apostle told a group of Jews, “That God has made that same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). For the Bible believer and the one who impartially reads the gospel record, there can be no other conclusion. However, men who are enslaved by their own biased opinions have conceived several other explanations of Jesus’ existence. Everyone, even the modernist, must admit that a man named Jesus lived in first-century Palestine and had such an effect on the world that we number years by His earthly incarnation.

The most common explanation of Christ is that He was a great moralist, philosopher, and teacher, but not a divine being. Those who try to uphold His ethical teaching but deny His divinity say that He really never claimed to be divine, that these claims were made for Him after His death by His followers. However, a quick glance at the first four New Testament books will destroy this idea. When asked by the high priest if He were the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, He replied, “I am” (Mk 14:61-66). At least the Jews so claimed in John 10:30,36. If this were not His claim, He could have saved Himself a lot of trouble by saying so! In addition, when Peter made his confession, Jesus said nothing to the contrary (Jn 6:68). Now a “great moralist” certainly would not have allowed His followers to believe a lie, would He?

So Jesus indisputably claimed to be the Son of God. If that claim is not true, then we are left with two other alternatives. The first is that He claimed to be God, but was not; rather, He was a charlatan, a trickster, a fraud. However, this is incongruous with the fact that He placed a great deal of emphasis on the truth: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32). Are these the words of an imposter? Hear again: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). Would a conscious deceiver continually speak about truth and open Himself to complete investigation? Finally, in John 8:46, Jesus asked if anyone could convict Him of sin. One should think if Jesus were a cheat that someone, somewhere could have laid a finger of blame on Him but no one did. This man not only claimed to be the Son of God, He lived the part. Certainly, such a one was not an intentional liar.

This leaves us with the theory that He thought He was actually the Son of God but was mistaken. This world makes Him a lunatic, a nut. A preacher once said that if Jesus were a mere man claiming to be divine, it would be just as reasonable for someone to claim to be a poached egg. Even a casual survey of the account of Jesus’ life refutes any such motion. The character of Christ is not that of an insane man. He was completely rational. Witness the logic of His answer to the Sadducees’ question of the resurrection (Matt. 22:23-34). Also, notice that every situation was firmly within His control. When He was asked trick questions as in Matt. 22:34-40, never did He lose His composure or temper, nor was He ever at a loss for words. See also the effect of His reasoning on His listeners (Matt. 22:15-22); they marveled at His sensibility. Surely, no unbalanced person ever behaved in this manner.

We have now exhausted our options. The only other estimate of Jesus and the one which best fits the facts is that He is exactly who He claimed to be, the divine Son of God and Savior of the world. Thomas was there, he saw, he knew what he was talking about when he said, “My Lord and my God.” We have not been permitted to examine the evidence firsthand as was he, but we have the word of those who did (Jn 17:20); and Jesus’ response to Thomas was, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (Jn 20:2829). John concludes this scene is verses 30-31 by adding, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,  and that believing you might have life through his name.” The purpose of the scripture and of all true gospel preaching is to cause men to say with Martha, “Yea, Lord: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (Jn 11:27). Thus may we live eternally with Him, “For if you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins” (Jn 8:24).

Love Obeys, Obedience Loves

 “And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another.  This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it” (2 Jn 1:5,6)

Love, truth, and obedience are connected. Love without obedience is mere sentiment and lacks reality. Obedience without love is mere servility. Love and obedience must be founded on, and directed by, truth.

John appeals to the elect lady to continue in the love which Jesus originally taught the apostles and which John originally taught her. The defense of apostolic authority appears here as throughout the letter. John admonishes all who are with his Christian friend to continue in the truth of love and the love of truth, without wavering, in keeping with apostolic instruction. Beyond this teaching are found no truth and no love.

The command to love began when God first made man. Yet, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a new and higher standard of love is revealed. With the fullness of grace and truth came also the fullness of love. The Master said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if you have love one to another” (Jn. 13:34-35). It is this love which causes one to give of himself for the good of someone else. Jesus gave until there was nothing left to give but His life!

This is the love which John had preached and the elect lady had “heard from the beginning,” that “You should walk in it.” The love which Christ manifested summarizes the love which God commands. “The commandment” is love, for this encompasses all else that God asks. Therefore, the realization of this commandment involves our walking “after his commandments”. “Love strives to realize in detail every separate expression of the will of God”. All of God’s will is summarized in the unselfish, sacrificial love of Christ. If we will but surrender arrogant love of self for an unselfish love of God and fellow man, our obedience will be easy and our duty in all things delightful.

All of our service to and life in God is realized as we walk in love, as did His Son. It is not optional. Neither is it drudgery. This love so fully characterizes God that it may be said, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Never are we closer to God, never so satisfied in fulfilling the purpose of our existence, never so truly blessed and happy, than when walking in this love which gladly embraces and gladly obeys every commandment of God. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3).

Is God’s Word Optional?

Anything that is optional is left to choice. It is discretionary or elective, a matter of preference. Whatever is optional is not compulsory but permissible and involves the right of selection. Even so, many will ask the question, “Is instrumental music optional”?

Ostensible Options

In religion, there are many things which are considered popularly to be optional. Here are a few examples:

Church Membership

There are people who argue that one church is just as good as another, and think that it really does not matter whether one is a member of any church or not. They are under the erroneous impression that moral goodness will take one to heaven. The Bible teaches that we must be in the body of Christ, the church, in order to serve God acceptably. The church as depicted in the New Testament consists of the redeemed, the people who have accepted the gospel and are under the headship of Christ.


Some religious people view baptism as an optional command. Very frequently denominational preachers label it as “non-essential.” Since it is considered elective rather than obligatory, a lot of people see no point in being baptized. However, the Bible makes baptism mandatory to the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5).

Virgin Birth And Resurrection

Amazingly, some attach no real importance to the virgin birth, the miracles, or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are religious leaders who have been influenced by modernism to the extent that they suppose one can be a good Christian whether he believes in the virgin birth or not. To them it is optional. This illustrates just how far some carry this idea of offering a wide variety of options.

Instrumental Music

Many times the argument has been advanced that Christians may sing in worship, or sing and play. To those who make this assertion the accompaniment with mechanical instruments is placed in the realm of human judgment. Some will insist that instrumental music is authorized in the Bible, but he stoutly denies that it is necessary. Some don’t care if there is instrumental music or not, and see no harm in it.

Open-ended Optionalism

If everything pertaining to religion is optional and therefore inconsequential to God, these conclusions would follow:

1. Every person is a law to himself. If we are free to choose whatever we please, and it makes no real difference to God, each individual makes up his own rules. This view is directly opposed to the Scriptures. God sees man as needing help from above. God, therefore, issues directives to man (Gen. 17:1 ff; Ex. 19:5; Jer. 10:23; 1 Pet. 1:12).

2. One religion has as much authority as another. If everything is optional, it is irrelevant whether a person serves Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, etc. If he wishes, he could exercise the option of serving himself. But the Bible from beginning to end contradicts such a position.

3. An irreligious individual has as much hope as anyone else. If everything pertaining to religion is optional, one could opt to ignore all religion. This would mean that infidels and believers have exercised differing preferences, but one has the same right to his choice as the other. If God cares not what selection we make, the irreligious person has as much right to his judgment as does the religionists.

Obligations vs. Options

If there are some things pertaining to religion that are compulsory (imperative, necessary), how are they to be determined? Here is the rule: Where God has spoken, we must believe and obey if we desire His approval. Of course, we always have the alternative of believing or disbelieving, obeying or ignoring, but not with impunity.

This principle is illustrated hundreds of times in the Bible. For instance, the Israelites were told to look on a serpent of brass to be healed when bitten by fiery serpents (Num. 21:4-9). They were not given the man-made options of looking at a cloud, or looking in a brass mirror or looking upon a clump of trees. They had to look on the serpent of brass if they expected to be healed.

God decreed that Noah should build an ark (Gen. 6). Noah was not granted the option of building several smaller boats to accompany the ark. Anyone who wanted to escape the destruction by the flood had to enter the ark.

When this fundamental rule is applied to the music question, the conclusion is inescapable that what Christians do in praise to God is not left to human discretion. Uniformly the New Testament teaches one kind of music for the saints on earth in praising God. That music is singing accompanied by the melody of the heart (Eph. 5:18, 19 ff; Col. 3:16; Jam. 5:13; 1 Cor. 14:15; Rom. 15:9; Heb. 2:12).

We have no alternative if we would serve God acceptably but be “filled with the Spirit” and to “speak” or “teach and admonish” in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” We are instructed to sing and make melody in our heart to the Lord. We do not have the option of using country and western songs, patriotic songs, or bluegrass songs in praise services. God instructs us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

We are told in the New Testament to “sing.” That specifies vocal music as opposed to instrumental. If the Bible taught Christians to “make music” (a generic as to kind of music), we would have the liberty of choosing singing, playing, or both singing and playing. But the New Testament teaching is specific as to kind of music – it is singing accompanied by melody in the heart. That gives no freedom to substitute or to add the playing of mechanical instruments.

Note a parallel. Jesus in instituting the Lord’s Supper used two elements: bread and the fruit of the vine. If someone wants to spread cheese, or butter, or jelly on the bread to make it more palatable, he does not have that option. Such things might be considered aids, but they add another element. We are not given the liberty to add elements of our personal preference to those prescribed by the Lord for the Supper.

Some religious people maintain that we have options in how to be baptized. They speak of three “modes” sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. However, the Bible defines baptism as a burial followed by a resurrection (Col. 2:12 f; Rom. 6:3-5) and the word itself means to immerse or dip. Sprinkling and pouring are not modes of immersing.

Playing an instrument is not a mode of singing. Playing and singing are coordinate acts. God teaches Christians to sing in teaching and admonishing and in expressing praise. The option to play mechanical instruments (harps, pianos, organs, etc.) is not granted in the New Testament.

A Glaring Inconsistency

Some preachers who urge that instrumental music is permissible but not necessary find themselves in a predicament because of other arguments.

God teaches us through the New Testament to sing. We are not given the option of using instrumental music (playing) in the offering of praise to the Father.

Mercy Triumphs Judgment

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jam. 2:13).

Each of us can be thankful that God allows mercy to temper justice. Since “all have sinned,” and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23 cf; 6:23), each of us could properly be condemned to everlasting torment. God would not be unjust in that event and none could levy charges of inequity against him. Truly, grace and mercy go hand in hand, and it is by God’s grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8,9). None of us will dare to ask for justice before God’s great Judgment. We will plead for mercy.

Our text states that mercy in some fashion wins out over judgment and this news should be received with joy on the part of every responsible person. However, the relation of mercy and judgment within God’s character will be compatible with God’s nature, so we should not quickly assume that mercy negates judgment. On the contrary, Paul warned that it is the “righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death. . . ” (Rom. 1:32). “Worthy of death” cannot be ignored in the context of a discussion of God’s righteous judgment. I fear that many have assumed that mercy will somehow cause God to overlook sin, discount it, fail to impute guilt or, in some manner, be so benevolent toward sinners that we feel we can sin with impunity. Many funeral orations seem to leave this impression by preaching the most reprobate of sinners right into heaven. However, whatever it means for “mercy to triumph over judgment,” it cannot be an absolute situation whereby mercy assures universal salvation to all men, regardless of their deeds. Remember, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

Definition of Mercy

God has a desire to help and resources adequate to meet all of our needs. Man is pitiable and miserable, which is, indeed, the truth, as we are afflicted with sin and unable to do anything about our condition. We need mercy and, thanks be to God, he wants to be merciful. Paul says that God was “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4-6) even while we were “dead in trespasses.” He is said to be the “Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3) in that mercy originates and has its source in him. David pleaded with God to save him “for your mercies’ sake” (Psa. 6:4) and begged for forgiveness: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving kindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions” (51:1). However, David recognized a responsibility on the part of the one pleading for mercy. He said, “For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon you” (Ps 86:5). We must understand, therefore, that mercy is conditional, not absolute. What does God require of us for him to be merciful?

Mercy Has Conditions

God is merciful, but David has shown that mercy is bestowed selectively to those “who call upon God” (Psa. 86:5). “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep his covenant, and to those who remember his commandants to do them ” (Ps 103:17,18). Further, we read, “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord, one departs from evil” (Prov. 16:6).

Isaiah declares: “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (55:7).

All these passages, and many more, simply teach that God has made choice of those upon whom he will have mercy and those upon whom judgment will be visited. “Therefore he has mercy on whom he wills and whom he wills he hardens” (Rom. 9:18). This is not saying that God is arbitrary with his mercy, sending some to hell who want to go to heaven or sending some to heaven who ought to go to hell. But it is teaching that God has the desire to show mercy and that he has chosen to show mercy to those who call upon him,” “fear the Lord,” “walk in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). On the other hand, the disobedient, the rebel, the wayward and backsliding will meet God’s judgment and justice (Rev. 1:8), not mercy.

Where is Mercy to be Found?

God has specifically identified not only the conditions by which mercy will be offered, but he has specifically identified the Person through whom mercy will be offered. Mercy is not administered haphazardly, not through merit, not according to a respect of persons or wealth, or because of lineage. Mercy is administered in Christ. This important point cannot be overemphasized. It is the theme of the entire Bible.

Once sin entered the world (Rom. 5:12), man needed mercy in the form of a Savior. This Savior was to be the seed of woman (Gen. 3:15). The Scriptures further identified the seed of woman as being the seed of Abraham (15:4) and the seed of David (2 Sam. 7:12). Isaiah explained further: “Incline your ear, and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the sure mercies of David” (55:3). We are not left in doubt as to the meaning of this phrase since Paul identified it with Jesus and his resurrection in Acts 13:34: “And that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken thus, ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.” In these verses, mercy is firmly connected with Jesus as a fulfillment of prophecy. Other inspired men recognized this to be so. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit when John was born, saying that the Lord was fulfilling his covenant with Abraham, David, and Israel by “performing the mercy promised to our fathers” in sending John and Jesus “through the tender mercy of our God” (Lk. 1:67-79). Note that Jesus’ coming into the world is an act of mercy, an “outward manifestation of pity” toward those who “sit in darkness.” It was no accident that many of Jesus’ day, hearing his message and seeing his mighty deeds cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk. 10:47) They rightly connected Jesus with the promise of Messianic mercy.

Furthermore, not only is the coming of Jesus an act of mercy, but salvation in Christ is the focus of this mercy. Not all in the world will be saved, only those in Christ will be saved. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Our hope is rooted in Christ. Those in Christ are begotten again. Redemption is in Christ (Eph. 1:3), along with “every spiritual blessing.” Salvation is in Christ. Remission of sins is in Christ. Fellowship with God is in Christ. Eternal life is in Christ. Thus, mercy is not generic, found somehow in an attitude of looseness toward sin or an overlooking of sin, but specific: in Christ. Remember how David said that God is “abundant in mercy to all those who call upon” him? The New Testament reminds us that when we obey the gospel, we are calling on God: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord. ” Obedience to the gospel is the same thing as calling on God. The gospel is the good news of this mercy and is to be preached to the whole world. Those who accept Jesus as Christ and Lord by faith and baptism (Matt. 28:18-20 f; Mk. 16:15, 16) are added to Christ and his body (Acts 2:47 ff; Rom. 6:37; Col. 2:12; etc.) and he is the savior of the body, the church (Eph. 1:22, 23 f; Eph. 5:23).

Don’t wait for the Judgment Day, expecting in some vague way to plead for mercy as you stand before the Judgment Throne. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” in the sense that God has made it possible to extend mercy in the Person and Will of Christ when we ought to be condemned. All we who need mercy may find it in abundance as we turn in faith to Christ. In that way, when we stand before God, we will, as Paul, “be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). To appear before God outside of Christ and plead for mercy is to plead in vain. In Christ, we find mercy, and this mercy triumphs over judgment because our sins are forgiven, pardoned by the same Judge who appointed Christ as our Merciful High Priest (Heb. 2:17). It is in this manner that God can say, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (8:12). Indeed, mercy triumphs over judgment in the redemptive work of Jesus. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. . . ‘ (Rom. 8:1).

The Biblical Pattern For Salvation

Is there a set pattern to follow for those who desire to become a child of God? Did Jesus authorize a set plan to be saved or did he leave it up to each individual to come in whatsoever way he wanted to?

We know that Moses was given the pattern for building the tabernacle (Heb. 8:5). Moses did not have authority to change that pattern, providing he wanted to please God. We know that Noah was given the pattern for the building of the ark (Gen. 6). He was not allowed to alter the pattern in any way. In order to arrive at the overall pattern to become a child of God, all examples of New Testament conversion must be taken into consideration. No one example of conversion includes all that is required to be saved. We conclude that all commandments were required even though it is not so stated. Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Does this preclude the necessity of repentance and confession? No! “The Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Repentance and confession are not mentioned.

When we consider all the listed conversions in the New Testament, we arrive at this conclusion: (1) one must hear the gospel (Word of God) – Rom 10:17, (2) one must believe from the heart that Jesus is the Christ the son of God – Jn 8:24, (3) and confess the same before men – Rom 10:9,10, (4) one must repent of his sins – Acts 17:30,  (5) and one must be buried with Christ by baptized – Rom 6:3,4. This is the pattern which all sinners complied with in order to receive the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

Preachers have no authority to change what the apostles have bound (Matt. 18:18). Since this is true, then we today are restricted to this pattern in telling sinners what to do to be saved. Can these commands be arranged in a different order than listed above, or does it makes any difference so long as all are obeyed?

Does it matter what order these commandments are obeyed? Yes! One must hear the Word before they can believe it because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). We know that belief and confession are two acts that are interrelated.  Notice how Paul phrased it in his letter to the Romans: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation” (Rom 10:9,10). We also know that on the day of Pentecost they asked Peter and the other apostles what they must do in order to be saved. Peter said unto them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Someone might say, some believed and were baptized. Some heard and were baptized. Some confessed and were baptized. Does this negate their proper order? Absolutely not. As said previously, not all the steps of salvation were ever mentioned in any one verse. Each conversion mentioned them partially, but this did not negate all the steps to salvation. Thus, we know hearing the Word came first and baptism last. We know believe and confession were two parts of the same step. We know repentance and baptism were for the remission of sins. Therefore, the examples of the steps of salvation cannot prove their exact order, but the commandments of each step show a clear pattern that was followed by the apostles and early day Christians. And so must we!

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