Authority: God’s Plan of Salvation
The articles appearing in this bulletin during 2015 were intended to set forth the basic principles revealed in God’s word concerning the biblical concept of authority. We noted what “authority” means and how it is used in the New Testament; from the dual meaning and usage we learned that Jesus Christ has the exclusive authority (meaning “the right to rule or govern”) to grant His church the authority to act (meaning “the right, freedom or permission to act”) in the churches’ teachings and practices. The practical application is that the church has the authority to teach and practice only what God has stated in His word. We also noted that God, through the Scriptures, reveals what He authorizes by means of commands, approved examples and necessary inferences. And the Scriptures warn repeatedly that man is not authorized to go beyond, add to or subtract from, what God has revealed in His written word.
My intention through the course of this year is to present articles designed to make practical application of these studies in specific areas. We will examine what Jesus, as the head of the church, authorizes regarding the organization, worship and work of His church. But let’s begin with God’s revealed plan for man’s salvation; what does God authorize to be taught as conditions for our salvation?
What Jesus Commanded His Apostles to Do and Teach
We have three records of what Jesus said to His apostles when He sent them out to preach the gospel. “Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). Mark records that Jesus also told His apostles: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). And Luke gives us even more of what Jesus said to His apostles: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).
By examining all the words recorded that Jesus spoke to His apostles as He sent them into the world to preach the good news of salvation, we see that God’s plan of salvation includes belief in Jesus and the gospel, repentance of sins and baptism. The book of Acts records that the apostles obeyed Jesus’ will to preach the gospel to a lost and dying world.
Examples of the Apostles Observing Jesus’ Command
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to 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 2:36-38). Peter said to Cornelius that Jesus, “…commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins…and he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:42-43,48).
When the Philippian jailer brought Paul and Silas out of their prison cell, he said, “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:30-33). Just from these few examples we see that the apostles understood what God authorized them to teach for conditions of salvation: belief in Jesus Christ, repentance of sins, and baptism for the remission of sins.
Necessary Inferences Drawn from Examples of Conversions
There are ten examples of conversion recorded in the book of Acts and every one of them make mention of the fact that those converted were baptized. Some of the examples do not mention belief in Jesus, others do not mention repentance; but belief and repentance can be inferred. There is no specific mention of the Philippian jailor being commanded to repent, but his actions indicate that he did repent; repentance is a change of mind followed by a change in actions. That he repented can also be inferred from Acts 17:30: “God…commands all men everywhere to repent.” It is also instructive to note Saul of Tarsus’ conversion (Acts chapters 9, 22, 26); we have no record of Jesus or Ananias telling Saul that he must believe in Jesus and repent. But it is inferred that Saul believed in Jesus as the Christ, and that he repented, i.e. he changed his mind and actions; Saul had been making havoc of the church and persecuting Christians, but immediately after his baptism he began preaching the gospel, establishing and strengthening churches, and the rest of his life suffered the persecution that he used to bring upon God’s people.
Is Man at Liberty to Subtract from or Add to God’s Plan?
In addition to the Scriptures we have noted in previous studies warning us not to deviate from what God has revealed in His word, we have passages clearly showing that man does not have the authority from God to add to or subtract from God’s revealed plan of salvation.
There were many Jews, when the New Testament was being written, who thought they could be saved just by keeping the Law of Moses; they argued that they did not have to believe in Jesus to be saved. Could they subtract belief in Jesus from God’s plan of salvation and still be saved? Jesus said to the Jews: “…if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Paul, in Romans chapter 9 and 10, expressed his sorrow over the Jews lack of belief in Christ as their Savior, and he said, “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” (10:9).
When God’s plan of salvation was preached among the Gentiles, could they have been saved by subtracting God’s requirement that they repent, changing their minds and actions of their practice of worshiping idols? God authorized Paul to say to idol-worshiping Gentiles: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Can someone, with God’s approval, add to His plan of salvation and still be saved? There were Jews in the early church who taught that the Gentiles had to add to their faith in Christ the keeping of the Law of Moses to be saved (see Acts 15). Paul told the Jews who taught this: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).