Ernest A. Finley
Even before the Lord ascended back to the Father and before the church of Christ had its beginning on Pentecost, Jesus announced the conditions upon which alien sinners were to receive the remission of their sins. These conditions are found in the great commission recorded by the Gospel writers. Mark records the words of the Lord in this manner, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Matthew also recorded this same commission but his record does not give us any additional information that will help us in determining how to become a Christian or how to receive the remission of sins. Luke’s record throws further light on the conditions of pardon, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46- 47). Summarizing these thoughts, we learn that one must (1) believe on Jesus Christ, (2) repent of his sins, and (3) be baptized, in order to receive the remission of sins.
The apostles began to preach these conditions under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ. The record of the events that transpired on that day are found in the second chapter of Acts. Peter was the principle spokesman. The bulk of his discourse was spent in an effort to establish faith in the hearts of those who were responsible for the death of the Lord. Jesus showed in his charge or commission to the apostles that he desired that they establish faith in men’s hearts that he is the Son of God. Peter taught the Jews on that day, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified” (Acts 2:36). That Peter succeeded in his effort to establish faith in their hearts is seen in the fact that they were “pricked in their heart,” as Luke tells us, “and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer to men who believed in Christ was that they should, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). Thus the ordinances of faith, repentance and baptism were preached on that day just as Jesus desired that they should be. Peter promised that those who complied with these conditions would receive remission of sins as Jesus had promised. Three thousand people believed what Peter and the other apostles taught on that day and were baptized.
Laboring under the same commission to preach the gospel to every creature, Philip, the evangelist, went down to Samaria and preached the gospel to the Samaritans. Luke tells us that the Samaritans, just as had the Jews, believed his words and were baptized, “But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). Again, the same evangelist, by a special order from the angel of the Lord, went down to the road that led from Jerusalem unto Gaza and preached the gospel to the eunuch who was returning to his home in Ethiopia after having gone to Jerusalem to worship God. The eunuch, in time, requested baptism at the hands of Philip, saying, “Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” When Philip was satisfied that the eunuch believed in Christ, he took him down into the water and baptized him (Acts 8:38). We can be assured that the eunuch as well as the Samaritans received pardon for their sins when they complied with the conditions that the Lord had set forth. The record shows that they believed in Christ and were baptized in obedience to his will.
One of the greatest enemies of the cause of Christ in the early days of its existence was Saul of Tarsus. Though it is true that he was bitter in his opposition to the church of the Lord and in his persecution of God’s children, still the Lord, knowing his heart, looked upon him as a man of sincerity. As Paul made his way to Damascus in pursuit of Christians, the Lord appeared to him. The Lord’s appearance to Saul did not save him. In fact, the Lord did not appear to Saul for the purpose of saving him on the road to Damascus. Rather, he appeared to Saul that he might be an eye-witness of the resurrected Lord. In other words, he appeared to Saul to qualify him to become an apostle. That Saul was not saved then is evidently seen in the fact that the Lord instructed him to go into the city of Damascus and there he should learn what he must do to be saved. Then the Lord appeared to Ananias who was also a resident of Damascus and instructed him to go to Saul. When he came to Saul, the Lord having delayed three days in sending this messenger, he found Saul, blind, fasting and praying. There can be no question that Saul recognized the Lord on the way to Damascus. Certainly there is sufficient evidence for us to know that Saul was a penitent man, that he was genuinely sorry for his sin. Still, Luke’s record shows that this man had not at this point received forgiveness for his sin. The reason was that he had not met all the conditions of pardon that are set forth by the Lord. It was for this very purpose that Ananias was sent to him, that he might learn what he “must do.” Ananias instructed Saul, and this statement shows beyond any reasonable doubt that Saul was yet in his sin, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Saul did exactly what the Lord had said that one must do when he gave the commission. He believed on Christ; he repented of his sins; and he was baptized to wash his sin away. Certainly, it was not the element of water that washed his sin away. But it was by that act that he was initiated into Christ and in that act he reached the blood of Christ or the benefits of Christ’s death. Paul later wrote, “Or are ye ignorant that all we (notice: we) who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom. 6:3). Thus, Paul was not in Christ until he met the Lord’s condition of baptism. This was baptism predicated upon faith and repentance.
Some would point to the salvation of the man afflicted with palsy or the thief on the cross as examples of forgiveness of alien sins. But these people to whom Christ gave pardon while on earth were not aliens in the same sense that sinners are today. They were Jews. They were of the commonwealth of Israel, thus in covenant relationship with God under the law that was then binding on them. Baptism was not an ordinance in the law of Moses.
God did not require it of them in observance of the Mosaic law. Further, the will of Christ was not then effective for he had not died. No will becomes effective until the man that wrote it died. Before a man’s death, he may bestow his blessings in whatever manner he wishes. But after his death his blessings can be bestowed only on the conditions specified in his will. It cannot be changed. Before his death, Christ could bestow favors on any conditions he desired. Since he has died, his will now effective, he bestows favors only on the conditions of his will. The conditions now are faith, repentance and baptism. We must meet those conditions to receive his grace. This is what constitutes one a member of Christ’s church. This is how one becomes a Christian.