“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). Many have heard preachers repeatedly refer to scriptures like the one above. “All you have to do is believe,” they say. And that is absolutely true—as long as you know what kind of belief is necessary. This is what so many misunderstand.
The common assumption is that all we need for salvation is belief in Jesus. But if that is the only thing we need, then many Bible scriptures would be unexplainable—in fact, contradictory to the verse quoted above.
Notice, for example, Matthew 7:21: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” In other words, not every one who believes in Christ will enter into the Kingdom!
What a contradiction this must seem to those who repeatedly say, “All you have to do is believe.”
There are several other apparent contradictions in the Bible. Many religionists commonly refer to Romans 3:20, which says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight ….” However, they would rarely, if ever, quote Romans 2:13, which says, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” That says virtually the exact opposite, it would seem!
How about Ephesians 2:8-9? “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Many would argue, “See, we are saved by faith, not works.” Yet James 2:20 says, “[F]aith without works is dead.”
Are there contradictions in these verses? For those who quote some scriptures in an effort to destroy God’s law, there is a contradiction! They cannot explain the other verses included here. But for those who truly understand what saving faith really is, there is no contradiction. The Bible does not contradict itself!
Isaiah 28:10 shows that truth on any subject is revealed in the Bible “here a little, and there a little.” It is a common practice in most churches today to quote only some scriptures on a particular subject or even part of a passage, while leaving out the other vital part that explains it. God’s Word does not contradict itself. We can prove that all of the above-mentioned verses are true.
Notice what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in his booklet What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?: “[B]y putting all the scriptures on the subject of ‘saving faith’ together, we learn that there are two kinds of faith. And the kind so blindly trusted in by the majority of this day is nothing but a dead faith—and a dead faith never will save one soul!”
There isn’t a subject more vital to understanding salvation than that of saving faith.
What Is Salvation?
The subject of salvation has been greatly misunderstood by many religions. Many assume salvation is just “going to heaven.” A simple dictionary definition of salvation is “preservation from destruction or failure.” Another says, “the saving of man from the spiritual consequences of sin; especially deliverance from sin and eternal damnation.” The Bible proves these definitions to be accurate.
In Romans 3:23, Paul writes, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Everyone has sinned, this verse says. And what is sin? “[S]in is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).
And what is the law? We quoted the first part of Romans 3:20 earlier. Notice the last half of that verse: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” God’s law is a set of rules that define what sin is. The Apostle James describes God’s spiritual law as being like a mirror (James 1:22-25). We look into that “mirror” to see where we are falling short—where we are living contrary to God’s way of life.
Now what is the penalty for breaking God’s law, or transgressing God’s law? What is the penalty for sin? “For the wages [or payment] of sin is death …” (Romans 6:23).
That brings us back to the definition of salvation. If “all have sinned,” and the “wages of sin is death,” then we need to be “saved” from death! And in order to be saved from death, we need a Savior—someone to actually die for us!
Those “wages of sin” were paid for us by Jesus Christ, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [or payment] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past …” (Romans 3:25). Jesus Christ became that payment. He paid the death penalty that our sins brought upon us. That is all He did in our stead: He died for us. He did not keep the law for us. He did not do away with God’s law.
Those who teach a “no law” doctrine again must be confronted with scriptural contradiction. Christ said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). Paul wrote, “[W]here no law is, there is no transgression [or sin]” (Romans 4:15). And if there was no sin, there would be no penalty for sin. And if that scenario were true, we would not need a Savior! This too proves the law must still be in full force today.
Christ died so that we might be saved from death. We do have to believe on Him and accept His blood in our stead, or we will never be saved. But that is only the beginning. Yet there are many today who look at Christ’s death as an ending.
In Romans 5:9-10, Paul says, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood [forgiven for sins that are past], we shall be saved [yet future] from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” It is not the death of Christ that saves us, contrary to popular belief today. Christ’s death paid the penalty for sins that are past (Romans 3:25). It is His death that reconciles us, or gives us contact with God. After that, it is His life that saves us! Because it is His life that gives us saving faith.
The Conversion Process
Few understand that the beginning for any Christian’s life starts with God actually calling us. Notice John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him ….” God must draw us to Him before we can truly come to know Him and Jesus Christ.
On the day of Pentecost when the New Testament Church began, the Apostle Peter gave a sermon that corrected people about their sins. They recognized that they were guilty of breaking the law of God. The people asked him, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter answered them in verse 38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit].” Peter admonished them to repent and be baptized, and then they would receive a gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repentance and baptism are the two prerequisites to receiving the Holy Spirit.
Prior to baptism, God leads us to repent of the way we have been living—a life contrary to the law of God. We repent not just for what we have done, but for what we are. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “[Repentance] is a total change of mind and heart and direction of life. It is a change to a new way of life. It is a turning from the self-centered way of vanity, selfishness, greed, hostility to authority, envy, jealousy and unconcern for the good and welfare of others to the God-centered way of obedience, submission to authority, love toward God more than love of self and of love and concern for other humans equal to self-concern” (Just What Do You Mean … Conversion?).
Many misinterpret repentance to mean “sorrow.” Repentance actually means change. Notice Webster’s definition of “repent”: “to turn from sin.” Turning from sin—changing your former way of life—means turning to obeying God’s law.
In addition to repentance, we must know and accept that Jesus Christ died for us. This belief, or faith in Jesus Christ’s shed blood, is outwardly manifested by the actual baptism. Notice Romans 5:8: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We must have faith in that blood and the fact that He paid the penalty for “sins that are past” (Romans 3:25).
At this point, we do not yet have God’s Spirit dwelling in us. That comes after baptism. But His Spirit works with us even prior to baptism because God is calling us (see John 14:17). And it is the Spirit that leads a person to repent and believe, or accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior.
During the baptismal ceremony, one of God’s ministers will ask the potential member of God’s Family the following question: “Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” After the individual responds positively, he or she is baptized.
Then the minister will lay hands on the individual and pray over him or her. It is through that prayer the baptized individual receives the gift of the Holy Spirit—or the power of God! That is what finally makes us a Christian: the Holy Spirit. Notice Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Then verse 14 says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
But why does God give us the Holy Spirit at this point? If all we have to do to receive salvation is “accept Jesus Christ,” what is the purpose for the Spirit? It is by that power—the Holy Spirit of God—that we actually develop saving faith!
Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace “through faith.” People want to believe we are simply saved by our faith in Christ’s blood. As Mr. Armstrong said, that “is nothing but a dead faith—and a dead faith never will save one soul!”
A little further in the booklet What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The law has a penalty—death. It claims the life of the one who transgresses it. The law has power to take the life of the transgressor. It therefore is more powerful than the sinner—and is over the sinner, holding a claim on his life. It is the sinner who is under the law. But when the sinner repents of his transgression, and accepts the sacrifice of Christ as payment of the penalty of the law, then he is pardoned—under grace—the law no longer stands over him, claiming his life. It is those who are sinning who are under the law! And those who, through repentance, obedience and faith, have turned from disobedience and are, through faith, keeping the law, are the only ones who are under grace!”
Our Burial at Baptism
So many people misinterpret Paul’s writings to say God’s law was done away. Paul knew that all men were sinners (Romans 3:23). He knew there was nothing we could do to erase that penalty of death by ourselves. No amount of law-keeping could erase that penalty. We all need a Savior. It is only by God’s grace, after we repent, that the penalty for sinning against God’s law no longer hangs over us. But after accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, Paul was very clear about our need to live in accordance with God’s law.
Now, such obedience requires a miracle, as we shall soon see.
In Romans 6, after explaining about grace and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in chapter 5, Paul then writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (verses 1-2). Is the law done away because of grace? Paul answers with an emphatic NO!
He goes on to explain the inspiring symbolism revolving around the baptismal ceremony. A clear understanding of this symbolism is vital for us to comprehend why we need the Holy Spirit and why Christ must be living in us today.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (verse 3). Paul says we were baptized into the death of Christ. Remember, Paul pointed out in the preceding chapter that we are justified by Christ’s death and we are saved by His life (Romans 5:9-10).
At baptism, we are fully plunged under water, which is a symbolic burial. The old, carnal man dies, as Paul says, with Jesus Christ. At that point, our sins have been forgiven. Paul explains further: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Now we are beginning to see the importance of the Holy Spirit and why it is Christ’s life and His faith that saves us! Just as Christ was resurrected, or raised from the dead, we are raised up out of that watery grave and proceed to walk in newness of life by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
When baptized, we agree to bury the old self. That carnal man has died. Paul continues to make this very plain: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (verse 5). In other words, at baptism we die as Jesus Christ did. And when we come up out of that watery grave, we live as He did—not by our own power—but by the power of God’s Holy Spirit!
Does our baptism excuse sin in any way? Does our own human faith in Jesus Christ excuse sin? Paul continues, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (verse 6).
In order to “walk in newness of life” so that we might “not serve sin,” God gives us the gift of His Holy Spirit. That Spirit is the very power of God. It is the mind of God. It is God’s free gift promised to us after repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). Walking in “newness of life” means we are now living a life led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). The Holy Spirit actually gives us the very mind of God!
It should be clear why God gives us His Holy Spirit after baptism: because it is by that power that we begin to overcome and actually take on the divine nature of God Himself! And it is by that power that the resurrected Jesus Christ is actually living in us today! It is by that power that we develop the active, living faith OF Jesus Christ!