Saved at What Point?

A couple of years ago two young men from our local university visited our worship services. One of the young men had visited previously and the other one was visiting for the first time. They listened carefully to the teaching and at the conclusion of my lesson I offered the invitation, explaining the conditions of salvation, while writing the initials of the conditions on the board (“HBRCB”). As I finished, the two boys looked at each other, grinned, and nodded.

I was puzzled by their behavior, but later I arranged home studies with each of them and learned what was so amusing to them at the time. One of the boys said, “Dan warned me this church always explains salvation as a process involving several steps, and that salvation is not complete until the final step of baptism is completed.” He added, “I have always believed God saves sinners instantaneously at the point of belief and that salvation is not a gradual process that can be itemized and worked through systematically by the believer. God is sovereign and He does not need our help to save us.” He concluded, “When you closed your lesson, I looked over at Dan and nodded that he had described you accurately.”

The young man had been reared with the Calvinistic view that the sovereignty of God is completely and solely responsible for the salvation of sinners at the moment of belief and that there is no other response necessary from the sinner.

Proponents of the faith-only belief have denied for years that baptism is essential to salvation. They argue that baptism requires action on the part of the sinner and that if it is necessary in order to be saved, he would be saved by his own works and not by the sovereign power of God.

The faith-only proponents have a real problem with the condition of repentance, however (Acts 2:28; 3:19; 17:30). If repentance is viewed as a necessity for salvation, requiring action on the part of persons who repent, then repentance would be a work—as is baptism.

The faith-only proponents try to circumvent this problem with Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:24, where Paul prays that God will give repentance to his enemies. Paul is obviously hoping God will orchestrate circumstances in the lives of his enemies in some way that would bring them to their senses and cause them to change their minds (repent) about Paul. Paul’s words clearly indicate, however, that the choice for changing one’s mind (repentance) must be made by the sinner and not God.

The faith-only people argue, however, that Paul is teaching that God can choose to break through the hardness of the sinner’s heart and give him what he can never achieve on his own—repentance for the sins he has committed.  They argue further that this repentance is given by God to the sinner at the moment of belief.

By such reasoning, faith-only folks can neatly tie up their position that salvation is an act of the sovereign God without any response necessary from the sinner at the moment of belief.

There are many problems with such a doctrine. Where does “godly sorrow” that leads to repentance fit into the equation (2 Cor. 7:10)? Furthermore, if faith and repentance occur simultaneously at the moment of belief, what becomes of confession? Confession is clearly necessary for salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). Does God also provide it for the sinner?

It becomes evident even from a cursory reading of the conditions of salvation in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20; MK 16:15-16), the conversion cases listed in Acts, and the essentials of conversion listed in the Pauline epistles, that conversion is the result of a process that begins with faith and completes with baptism.

Compare the process of becoming united with Christ to the process by which couples are united in marriage. At what point in the marriage process does the marriage union actually occur? When the couple says their vows? When they exchange rings? When they are pronounced husband and wife? When the certificate is signed? When the couple is joined sexually? Normally, these are all components of getting married in most Western cultures. Becoming husband and wife is a process. During that process, there is culmination in several senses: legal, public, ceremonial, and physical. Nevertheless, most people usually regard sexual consummation as the completion of the total process—at least in a legal sense. It is so important that in its absence, there can be an annulment, a judgment that a supposed marriage was void from the beginning.

In a similar way, conversion is a process. Faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are all important elements in that process. Unless a sinner becomes a penitent, confessing, baptized believer, there is no conversion. Faith has chronological priority, because the process begins with it. Baptism, however, is the culmination of the process. It is the point at which new converts are translated into Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-4). Without this culminating step the conversion is annulled.


Article by: Carl M. Johnson