Can a man ask Jesus into his heart and that save him? Again, can a person be saved just by being baptized? Who wins in this classic Soteriology showdown?
Rom 10:9-10, “9 if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.” HCSB
The mystery begins to unravel with a lesson in rhetoric.
"Synecdoche (sih-NECK-duh-kee): Figure of comparison in which a word standing for part of something is used for the whole of that thing or vice versa; any part or portion or quality of a thing used to stand for the whole of the thing or vice versa."
When we have so many verses that teach about salvation, yet give different aspects of the process in different verses, what we can safely conclude is that the Bible is using synecdoche. If it wasn’t, then on matters of salvation, there would be real and contradictory teachings on how to become a Christian. For example:
1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you”
Acts 17:30, “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent” HCSB
John 20:31, “But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” HCSB
Sometimes two things are listed,
Acts 2:38, “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” HCSB
Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” HCSB
Now by understanding Synecdoche, everything starts to makes sense. All of these elements are utilized in salvation. At this point I can usually get most anyone to find some agreement, but one side will still insist that their element is more important than the other’s element. The Faith Only crowd contending that without faith, baptism is meaningless, and the Water Essentialist arguing that if someone had faith they would get baptized! This stage is very important, as they are starting to come together to a more Biblical position. I can agree with both above statements, we just need to help them put both pieces together so that they can come to the Biblical position.
To get to the final answer we leave the Book of Romans and broaden the debate. The book of Roman’s teaches confession in chapter 10, and it also teaches on baptism in chapter 6. Not only that, it teaches on faith, justification, and works all in different areas of the book. What we must conclude then, Romans deals with theology, talking about different aspects of salvation and explaining them in their parts, but not demonstrating them in their normal practice as a whole. To see salvation actually demonstrated in real life we must go to the book of Acts.
To calm this debate, I need examples of both disputed aspects of salvation demonstrated together to see how confession and baptism actually worked together in the early church.
Acts 8:36-38, “36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?” 37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.” HCSB
Acts 22:14-16, “14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’” HCSB
In the above examples we have men confessing their belief in Jesus, calling on Jesus, at the same time they were baptized. There were no gaps of time in between the acts of confession and baptism in New Testament practice. Conversion was seen as a unit, done as a whole, in combination.
The proponents of Rom 10:9-10, don't see this connection because they are unaware of the similar wording just a few verses later from their go to verses.
Rom 10:13, "For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
The New Testament church used terms interchangeably knowing they stood for the totality of conversion. We should not see a difference in saying one is baptized, or one is saved, or someone obeyed the gospel, etc. These phrases are all making the same point, as nothing would have been left out.
We must take note that there wasn't a “sinners prayer” in the NT, but converts were made to understand they were sinners. To be baptized with Christ is to die with Christ, killing the old man as Rom 6 teaches us, crucifying it with it’s sinful nature. If only the pro-baptism side would emphasis this aspect more. So many baptism proponents argue so much for baptism that it sounds like baptism is the gospel and not the response to the gospel as it really is (1 Cor 1:17). We have many baptized people in our churches today who think they are going to heaven because they did a ritual of the organized church, and have not felt any real repentance for their sins. These ministers who have preached baptism in this fashion are just a guilty as the Faith only crowd.
To conclude we are all ultimately saved by God’s grace, made possible by the blood of Jesus, because we heard the gospel. Once believing, it caused us to repent and to confess Jesus Christ as Lord at our baptism. This is the biblical pattern that we should follow, baptism just being the time and the place that we accept what we have believed on in faith.
Yes, we could dream up possible exceptions “What if I was in the desert and there was no water to baptize?” or “What if a deaf mute was on a plane about to crash and could not confess!” Because ultimately we are saved by grace I am sure God will deal fairly with people in exceptional circumstances, but as a proclaimer of the gospel I have been called to preach what was laid down by the apostles and prophets. It is not our right to let human reason trump the Word of God. God has not called us to preach exceptions, but the proper response to the gospel as it was laid out by the Apostles.
Most everyone you will ever meet will be able to hear the gospel, confess Jesus as Lord and get baptized if they truly want to be saved. When we start to reason that a prayer will suffice, or sprinkling instead of immersion, or any of the other countless variations to the gospel we have added over the last 2000 years it is no wonder so many people are asking, “How do I know I am really saved?” With each denomination giving it’s opinion and not what was demonstrated in the books of Acts, no wonder people are confused.
I leave you with this final verse given from the Apostle Paul to a young preacher looking for advice in building his church in Ephesus:
2 Time 1:13, “Hold on to the pattern …” HCSB