IS THERE MORE THAN ONE GOSPEL OF SALVATION?
We read in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.
But Peter preached in Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”.
Which of these is the gospel of salvation? That is to say, which must one believe in order to be saved? Are they both what we must believe in order to be saved? Which gospel should we be preaching? We will look to the Word of God for the answer to these questions.
THE PROCESS OF SALVATION
Before we begin our study of the gospel of salvation it would be helpful to look at just how, according to God’s plan, salvation is realized.
The first step is to believe. What one must believe is the topic of this paper, so we will continue with the next step.
After we believe we are given several blessings to be enjoyed and grateful for in our temporal lives. These include a new nature which is a guarantee of resurrection (see Eph. 1:13-14, II Cor. 1:22 and 5:5). It also includes all the blessings to be enjoyed in this life, many of which are enumerated in Eph. 1:-7. These are: 1) We were chosen in Him to be holy and without blame. 2) We are adopted as His children. 3) He hath “made us accepted in the Beloved”. 4) We have redemption through His blood. 5) We have forgiveness of sins.
But we are not actually saved until we are resurrected. We read in I Cor. 15: 13-18, “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…….And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable”.
It is important to note that “if Christ be not raised….ye are yet in your sins“. That tells us that even though our sins have been forgiven, we are saved by resurrection. The reader is asked to consider the paper on forgiveness in God’s plan of salvation for a complete study of this question.*
We are now ready to consider the following:
“WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH ON HIM”
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU CANNOT SEPARATE WHO CHRIST IS FROM WHAT HE HAS DONE?
A CONSIDERATION OF THE VERSES THAT SEEM TO TEACH THAT THERE IS MORE THAN ONE GOSPEL OF SALVATION
“REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED”
“WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM”
As we consider passages that tell us that one must believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved it should be noted that many of these passages appear in John’s Gospel. Therefore, we need to establish the fact that John’s Gospel was written for a very specific reason. That God inspired reason is recorded in Jn. 20:30-31 which reads, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name”. In other words, the very reason John included some signs and excluded others in his Gospel was to bring his readers to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There has been some debate through the years as to whether John’s Gospel was written to Jews or Gentiles. In my opinion, the fact that the stated purpose of the signs written in John’s Gospel is to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and all people are in need of salvation, points to the conclusion that the Gospel was written to people without regard to national origins. That is to say, John’s Gospel was not written to Jews as such, and it was not written to Gentiles as such. John’s Gospel was written to people regardless of their national origins. (Please see the paper on this web-site The Dispensational Place Of John’s Gospel).
We are now ready to look at the verses that explain what one needs to believe if one is to receive eternal life.
Jn. 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name”. What does it mean to “believe on His name“? “Name” is used as the figure of speech metonymy of the adjunct. That figure of speech is defined in the Companion Bible as, “When something pertaining to the subject is put for the subject itself”. In this case then, “name” is put for the subject which is the Person, Jesus Christ. In other words, one becomes a son of God when one believes in Christ.
3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.
3:18, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already”.
6:40, “And this is the will of Him That sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day”.
6:47, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”.
11:25, “Jesus said unto her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”.
20:30-31, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name“. This passage is extremely important in that it tells us just what it is about Christ that must be believed in order to be saved, i.e. one must believe that He is the Son of God. See also Acts 9:20 and I John 4:15 quoted below.
Acts 16:30-31, “What must I do to be saved? And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house”. This passage alone is Scriptural proof that salvation comes from believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and no other message is needed. Let us briefly consider this passage.
This passage tells of Paul and Silas being put in prison. But as they were praying and singing God’s praises there was an earthquake and the prison doors were opened. The prison keeper came to Paul saying “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Here was a man that Paul knew he may very well never see again. So when the man asked what he needed to do to be saved, Paul knew that he must give the exact message of salvation at that very time. As the reader will note, that message was that he should believe in Christ.
Acts 9:20 is also helpful in understanding the message that must be believed in order to be saved. We read in Acts 9 of Saul’s conversion. And in verse 20 we read that he “straightway (i.e. “certain days” after he received his sight and was strengthened) he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God”.
Rom. 3:26, “….that He might be just and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus“.
I John 4:15, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God”.*
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU CAN’T SEPARATE WHO CHRIST IS FROM WHAT HE HAS DONE?
Some have argued that believing “in Him” includes believing in what Christ has done. In other words, they insist that we must also believe in His death and resurrection in order to be saved. (That idea comes from I Cor. 15:1-4 and Rom. 10:9-10, both of which will be discussed below). But if believing in Christ includes believing what He has done, then one must believe all that Christ has done or one would not totally believe in Christ.
(Before we discuss this position I would like to assure the reader that I absolutely do indeed believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection is at the very heart of God’s plan of salvation. That is to say, God’s plan of salvation centers on Christ’s death and resurrection, but His plan is not what needs to be believed in order to be saved, it is the truth that Christ is the Son of God, i.e. God, that must be believed in order to be saved. The question at hand is not the truth of His death and resurrection, it is whether that is something that must be believed before one can say that he is a child of God).
I will offer four reasons for my belief that to believe in Christ does not include what He has done.
1) Scriptural evidence. We read in the section above of what it means to believe in His name. Let me quote a comment from the section above concerning Jn. 20:31 (“life through His name“). “Name” is used as the figure of speech metonymy of the adjunct. That figure of speech is explained in the Companion Bible as, “When something pertaining to the subject is put for the subject itself”. In this case then, “name” is put for the Person, Jesus Christ.” Let us pursue this thought a bit further.
God has one Name, and that Name is “Jehovah”. Isaiah 42:8, “I am Jehovah, that is My Name…”. Please note this verse begins, “I am Jehovah”. This verse tells us much more than what God is called, which how “name” is used literally. “Name” is used here as the figure of speech metonymy of the adjunct. In this verse the phrase “My Name” is used for that which pertains to Jehovah, Who is the subject. It is used in Is. 42:8 as a figure of speech for Who God is.
Figures of speech are used to enhance a truth. What truth is being enhanced by the use of the figure of speech in Is. 42:8? In my opinion, it is used to enhance the truth of Who God is (“I am Jehovah”). The Companion Bible definition of “Jehovah” is, “Jehovah means the Eternal, the Immutable One, HE WHO WAS and IS and IS TO COME”. So when we read “I am Jehovah, that is My Name” we are reading, I am “the Eternal, the Immutable One, He Who WAS and IS and IS TO COME”.
Exodus 6:3 is also helpful in establishing how the phrase “My Name” is used as a figure of speech to enhance the truth of Who God is. That verse reads, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by My Name, Jehovah, I did not make Myself known to them”. In other words, God had appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but not as “the Eternal, Immutable One”, but as “God Almighty”, an emphasis of His power. But when God appeared to Moses, He made Himself known as Who He is, His very essence, i.e. Eternal.
As the paper on this web-site will prove from Scripture, Jesus Christ is both Jehovah as spirit and Jehovah manifest. So when we read of Christ, we must bear in mind that we are reading of Jehovah.
My point is that when we read that we have life through “His name“, we are being told that that life comes from believing Who Christ is, i.e. the Son of God. When “name” is used as a figure of speech in Is. 42:8 it does not include what Jehovah has done, it speaks only of Who He is.
So we cannot say that God is what He does because what He is has nothing to do with what He may or may not have ever done. He didn’t have to do anything to be eternal or immutable etc. The same concept is true when we read that one must believe that Christ is the Son of God in order to be saved, That is to say, Christ is the Son of God, He did not have to do or say anything to be Who He is.
2) Logic. Again, the question is whether we can separate Who Christ is from what He has done because many believe that one must also believe in His death and resurrection in order to be saved. If that were the case one would have to believe all that Christ has done, especially those things which were accomplished by His death and resurrection. That is to say, if Christ is what He has accomplished (which is what this position implies) that would mean that when one believes in Him, one also believes in everything that Christ has accomplished.
The paper on this web-site on forgiveness discusses ten things that were accomplished at the cross. Many are not even aware of several of those accomplishments, especially not as new believers. For example, the reader will see in that paper that Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Many mature Christians are not fully aware of all the Old Testament prophecies that Christ fulfilled on the cross, how can we expect those just coming to Him to know them? Another accomplishment was that Christ’s blood shed on the cross was the blood of the new covenant. How many Christians are aware of that accomplishment? Again, does one just coming to Christ have to know that Christ’s blood was the blood of the new covenant in order to be saved? And Christ’s death on the cross delivers us from the present age. There are many mature believers who are not fully aware of some of those accomplishments, certainly those just coming to Christ would not be aware of them.
The point is that if one cannot separate Who Christ is, from what He has done, logic demands that one must know and understand all that He has done. And logic dictates that if a person does not understand all that Christ has accomplished, he has somehow, in part, denied Christ. That is to say, if it is true that you cannot separate Who Christ is from what He has accomplished, and if one does not know some of what Christ has accomplished at the cross, he has not “believed in Him” because He does not know all of what He has done.
So logic does not allow for the premise that believing in Who Christ is, includes believing what Christ has done.
3) Let us consider two gospels mentioned in the New Testament. The first is the “gospel of Christ”. We read in Rom. 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth….”. We have read ten passages that tell us quite specifically what one needs to believe in order to be saved. One needs to believe in Christ, i.e. that He is the Son of God. Given that the gospel of Christ is unto salvation, I believe that we may conclude that the gospel of Christ is that Christ is the Son of God, and it is belief in that fact that is “unto salvation”.
The second gospel we will consider is the gospel of God. Rom. 1:1-4, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (which He had promised afore by His prophets in the holy scriptures) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Which was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”. The gospel of God then is the good news that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, from the seed of David, Who was resurrected.
The gospel of Christ is unto salvation, the gospel of God is never said to be unto salvation. Therefore, because the gospel of God, which includes Christ’s resurrection is not required knowledge for salvation, we must conclude that the knowledge of His resurrection is not needed for salvation.
4) A lack of Scriptural evidence. There is not one passage in the entire Word of God that tells us that one must believe in what Christ has done in order to be saved. We dare not make things up simply because it is accepted by the majority.*
A CONSIDERATION OF THE VERSES THAT SEEM TO TEACH THAT THERE IS MORE THAN ONE GOSPEL OF SALVATION
Luke 1:68-79 records the prophecy of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. In verse 77 we read that John will be sent, “to give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins“. This verse when taken out of context seems to say that salvation is the result of “the remission of their sins”. But as we consider the context, it will be clear that this salvation is not salvation from the grave, it is salvation of a nation from their temporal enemies. Consider for example, verse 71, “That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us“. And verse 74, “That He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear”. The salvation spoken of in this prophecy is the salvation of a nation from their enemies, not salvation of the believer from the grave.
John 6:53, “Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood ye have no life in you”.
First of all, let us determine from Scripture what it means to “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood”. I believe a passage in Ezekiel will shed light on this issue. We read in Ezek. 2:8-3:1, “……be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house; open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee. And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And He spread it before me; and it was written within and without; and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe. Moreover He said unto me, ‘son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel’. So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that roll“. Then we read in verse 10, Moreover He said unto me, ‘Son of man, all My words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears“.
I believe it is obvious that the Lord did not have Ezekiel eat the roll of the book for the nourishment of his body. I believe verse 10 explains that to eat the words was to “receive in thine heart, and hear with thy ears” what was written on the roll. To eat therefore, is used as a figure of speech to emphasize the degree to which the words were accepted..
So too, in John six when Christ told His audience to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man” He was using the same figure of speech to emphasize the depth to which they must accept Him. But let us consider the context to determine whether it was Him that they needed to accept or His death.
Note verse 29, “…..This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Please note there is nothing of believing on His death in this verse, it speaks of believing “on Him”.
Verse 35, “And Jesus said unto them, ‘I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst”. When we consider this verse in conjunction with the fact that Christ told them that they needed to eat of this bread, it is, in my opinion, clear that it was Him, i.e. Christ, they need to accept, not His death.
Verse 40, “….every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day”. And again in verses 47-48 we read, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life.
What we have learned from these verses is that eternal life is given to those who believe on Jesus Christ. We also learn that that belief must be so deep that one feels as if he has eaten that truth. It is for that reason then, that our Lord refers to Himself as the “bread of life”.
I believe therefore, that this passage speaks of believing in Christ, i.e. in Who He is, it does not speak of His death.
Rom. 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”. What is “the gospel of Christ”? The phrase “the gospel of Christ” is used eight times, but it is never explained. But I believe that if we consider each word in the phrase we may understand what it is.
“Gospel” is of course, the good news. The word “of” is, in my opinion, the genitive of relation, which the Companion Bible defines as “…the ‘of’ is equivalent to ‘pertaining to‘”. So the gospel of Christ is the good news pertaining to Christ.
We are looking at this passage in order to determine if it is a different gospel of salvation than the one preached by John, (“whosoever believeth in Him.….”). As mentioned above the “gospel of Christ” includes that which pertains to Christ. Surely that must include Who He is, i.e. the Son of God, rather than just one part of His earthly ministry. Because there are at least ten passages that tell us that in order to be saved we must believe in Who Christ is, and none that tell us that in order to be saved we must believe in what He did, we must, in my opinion, conclude that in this verse “the gospel of Christ” must refer to the good news pertaining to Christ, i.e. He is the Son of God.
I CORINTHIANS 1:18
I Cor. 1:18, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God“.
The question is, is this a different gospel of salvation than “whosoever believeth in Him“? Neither this or any other passage in God’s Word tells us that this is what we must believe in order to be saved. We must make a distinction between God’s plan of salvation which, of course, includes the death and resurrection of Christ, and what must be believed in order to be saved. Paul says here only that the cross is to those who are saved “the power of God”. Again, we must conclude that the only gospel of salvation is that one believes in Him, i.e. that He is the Son of God..
I CORINTHIANS 1:23-24
I Cor. 1:23-24, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God”.
Many believe that this passage is the gospel of salvation. That is to say, they believe that it is the crucifixion of Christ that must be believed in order to be saved.
Is “Christ crucified” the means by which one is saved? Actually no, it is not. It is resurrection that saves (see I Cor. 15:13-18). But Christ would not have been raised if He had not died first, so in that sense the preaching of Christ crucified is key to God’s plan of salvation. But again, His death does not save, His resurrection saves. And again we must recognize the difference between God’s plan of salvation and the gospel of salvation, i.e. what must believed in order to be saved.
Further, neither this or any other passage tells us that it is Christ’s death on the cross that needs to be believed in order for one to be saved. Let me repeat, there is obviously no question that Christ was indeed crucified and He indeed was raised again. That is part of God’s plan of salvation. But in order to be saved one is not required to understand God’s plan of salvation, one needs only to believe that Christ is the Son of God.
I CORINTHIANS 15:1-4
I Cor. 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, …….for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures“. Many take this passage to say that the gospel of salvation is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. May I respectfully remind the reader of a verse quoted in the section above where the jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved. Paul’s answer was, “‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). If Paul believed that the message that must be believed in order to be saved was the message of Christ’s death and resurrection, why didn’t he share that truth with the jailer? He did not because Paul knew that in order to be saved one must believe the same message he himself believed, “I am Jesus”. I suggest therefore, that we look beyond the surface and consider a few phrases that may not seem important at first reading, but are important.
Paul speaks of the gospel by which they were saved. What was the gospel Paul had preached unto them by which they were saved? As we learned in the section above one must believe in Christ in order to be saved. We must conclude therefore, that the gospel Paul preached to the Corinthians was the good news “the gospel” that Christ is the Son of God, God manifest.
Let us consider the phrase in verse three, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received”. The note in the Companion Bible on the phrase, “first of all” reads, “first of all = among (Gr. en. Ap. 104. viii 2) the first things”. So this phrase tells us that the message of Christ’s death and resurrection was among the first things Paul told the Corinthian believers. In point of fact, the message of Christ’s death and resurrection could not have been the very first thing Paul told them. Let me explain.
We know that only God is without sin. So if Christ was not the Son of God, but only a mere man, His death would have been to pay for His own sins (of which He had none, of course). So in order for Christ’s death to have any meaning in terms of paying for the sins of others, Christ would have had to be sinless. Again, only God is sinless. Therefore when one accepts the truth of Christ’s payment for our sins, one has already accepted the truth of His being the Son of God. That is to say, for one to accept the truth of Christ having paid for his sins, it is already assumed that Christ is the Son of God because if He were not, He would not have been sinless and could not have paid for the sins of others.
Let us move on to the next point to be considered. The reader will note that Paul wrote “by which also ye are saved”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word “also” reads, “ye are saved also”. So that phrase should read, “the gospel I preached unto you by which also ye are saved”. Who was Paul including in the word “also”? Considering that Paul speaks of this gospel as the one he preached unto them, I believe he was including the Corinthians and himself in the word “also”. In any case, I think we may be safe in assuming that Paul preached the same gospel he had heard when he was saved. Let us allow Paul himself through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to tell us exactly what good news (gospel) he heard when he was saved. We read the account of Paul’s salvation in Acts 26:13-15.
“At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks’. And I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord;’ And He said I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest”. The remainder of this passage records Christ’s instructions to Paul and is not really part of the salvation message.
What exactly was the message Paul heard from our Lord that turned Saul from a persecuter of believers to a believer himself? It was “I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest”. That was the message in its entirety that made Saul a believer. And that is exactly what the gospel of John 3:16 is, “whosoever believeth on Him (Who He is) shall …..have everlasting life”.
Let us go on with our study of I Cor. 15:1-4. Note that twice Paul wrote “according to the scriptures”. What was his point? It must have been important because he stated it two times in this short passage. The point was that Scripture foretold Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It is because Christ fulfilled those scriptures that we and the Corinthians know that He is indeed the Christ. In other words, the reason Paul was able to “believe in Him” was because Paul knew that it was Christ about Whom the scriptures testified.
The salvation message that Paul preached to the Corinthians was not that Christ died, was buried and rose again. It was that Christ fulfilled the scriptures that said He would die, be buried and rise again. And it was because He fulfilled scriptures that Paul and the Corinthians knew that Christ was the Son of God. So Paul taught the Corinthians the same message by which he was saved, which was the salvation message of John, “whosoever believeth in Him shall ….have everlasting life.
Let us then take another look at I Cor. 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you……..by which ye also are saved.”. (That gospel that was preached unto them was the same gospel by which Paul was saved when he believed Christ’s message to him, “I am Jesus…..”). “For among the first things I delivered unto you was that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures“.
This passage tells us that Paul had received and preached unto them the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. But there is absolutely nothing in this passage that indicates that one must believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. (Again, I do indeed believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that is not the question here).
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation“.
Many take this passage to mean that one is saved by believing in Christ and in His death and resurrection. But in the section above on what one must believe in order to be saved, we have seen that there are ten passages that tell us that we must believe in Who Christ is in order to be saved (“whosoever believeth in Him shall ….have everlasting life”). Nowhere in all of God’s Word do we ever read that we must also believe in Christ’s death and resurrection in order to be saved. I suggest therefore, that we take a closer look at this passage in Romans.
At the very crux of the matter is that unfortunately, most equate righteousness with salvation. That is to say, they believe that being made righteous is synonymous with being saved. There certainly is a connection, but the two are not synonymous. We must understand how the Holy Spirit used the Greek word translated “righteous” or “righteousness”. In this passage that Greek word is “dikaiosunee”. It comes from the same root as the Greek, “dikaioo”. In order to assure ourselves that we have a correct understanding I will present as short a word study as is possible and still avail ourselves of the truth.
We read in Romans 3:4, “….as it is written, ‘That Thou mightest be justified in Thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged'”. The Greek word translated “justified” in this verse is “dikaioo“. This verse is a quote of Ps. 51:4. The Holy Spirit then, gives us the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word. The Hebrew word translated “justified” in Ps. 51:4 is tzahdak“. By studying how the Holy Spirit uses that word we will be able to understand what God means when He writes that one is justified.
The first occurrence of “tzahdak” is found in Gen. 38:26 where it is translated “righteous”, “….she hath been more righteous than I because that I gave her not to Shelah my son”. Note the use of the phrase “more righteous”. Obviously, in this case righteousness can not refer to being saved from the grave as a result of the fact that one is seen to be without sin. One is either without sin or not, there can be no degrees of righteousness in terms of salvation. In this case, “more righteous” refers to the fact that one was more correct in their dealing than another. Ezek. 16:52 and Job 32:2 also speaking of some being “more righteous”
Job 33:12 is another usage of the word that gives us its definition, “Behold, in this thou are not just, I (Elihu) will answer thee, that God is greater than man”. Here too, the word is used in the sense of being correct.
In chapter 40 of Job the Lord answered Job. In verse 8 the Lord said to Job, “Wilt thou also disannul My judgment? wilt thou condemn Me, that thou mayest be righteous?”. Here too, the word is used in the sense of “correct”.
Deut. 25:1 is also helpful, “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked”. Man can not declare another man righteous in the sense of sinlessness. Here too, the judges declare one person correct.
In my opinion, the God-given definition of the Hebrew word “tzahdak”, and therefore the Greek word “dikaioo” is “correct”. We are now ready to look at the New Testament meaning of justification..
The first occurrence of the Greek “dikaioo” is found in Matt. 11:19, “….Wisdom is justified of her children”. What does that mean? It means that those who are wise prove wisdom correct. The first occurrence of the Greek word gives us the very same meaning as the Hebrew word, i.e. “correct”.
Luke 10:29 is also helpful, “he (the lawyer-vs. 25) willing to justify himself, said…..”. This young lawyer in a discussion with Christ was trying to say that he was correct in what he had been saying.
So far we have learned that the basic meaning of the word translated “justified” is “correct/right”. How does this impact on what justification has to do with salvation? I believe Rom. 6:6-7 will give us the answer to this question, “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. For he that is dead is freed from sin”. The word “freed” is the word used to translate the Greek word also translated “justified”. In other words, to be justified is to be seen by God to be freed from sin, i.e. as though we had never sinned and had always done what was correct and right.
How does this word figure into salvation from the grave? Part of our answer is found in Romans. We read in Romans 5:21, “that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life -by Jesus Christ our Lord”. In other words, by God’s grace, the believer is seen to have not sinned. But that is only half the story. The other half is found in I Cor. 15:17, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins“. Paul’s point in I Cor. 15 was that if there were no resurrection (as some were claiming) then Christ would not have been raised from the dead. And if Christ had not been raised from the dead, believers would not be raised from the dead, they would be “yet in your sins”. My point is that there is no salvation from the grave without resurrection.
Because there is no salvation apart from resurrection, the fact that God sees the believer as having done all things right i.e. made righteous, would not, in itself mean that one is saved. In other words, a believer may be seen by God to be made righteous, but that is not what saves him. What saves him is resurrection. If he is not resurrected the believer would be “yet in your sins”.
We are now ready to carefully consider Rom. 10:9-10. I will quote it once again. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10) For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation“.
The main point of the word study was to show that to be made righteous is not synonymous with being saved. With that in mind let us consider verse 10, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”.
Note verse10 begins with the word “for”. That tells us that verse 10 will explain verse 9. What will come to those who believe in their heart that “God hath raised Him from the dead”? Verse 10 tells us that those people will be made righteous (“with the heart man believeth unto righteousness”). Again, to be made righteous is not the same as to be saved through resurrection. Righteousness is to be seen by God as sinless. That certainly is crucial in God’s plan of salvation, but man’s sinlessness is not what saves him, it is his resurrection that saves.
We read in verse 10 that “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation“. What, in this context does one confess with his mouth? Verse 9, “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus“. Note this does not say confess what the Lord Jesus has done, it says only “confess ….the Lord Jesus”. To confess the Lord Jesus is to give a verbal acceptance of Who Christ is.
The point in all of this is that there are two things being discussed in this passage. They are related, of course, but again righteousness is not the same as being saved through resurrection. Those two things are: 1) One is made righteous by believing in his heart in the resurrection of Christ. But 2) one is saved by confessing the Lord Jesus. That being the case, this passage does not say that in order to be saved one must believe that Christ was raised from the dead.*
“REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED”
Let us consider Peter’s message of Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. Note the word “therefore” in this verse. It tells us that what is said in this verse comes as a result of what was said in the previous verses. Let us consider those previous verses. We read in verse 13, “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus”. Peter continues his sermon telling “ye men of Israel” (vs. 12) about Christ Whom they had crucified. Then we read in verse 19 what they should do with the information they had, “therefore, repent …..”. In other words, once they believed Peter’s message concerning the glorified Son of God, then (“therefore”) they should repent.
So Peter’ s message of salvation is no different than John’s or Paul’s. Peter and John and Paul preached that in order to be saved one must believe in Christ. Peter, unlike John, went on to urge believers to repent, but that repentance was not what saved them. The repentance was a result of their belief in Christ as the glorified Son of God.
Let us also consider Acts 2:38 which reads, “Peter replied, repent and be baptized everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven”. Please note that when one is baptized in the “name of Jesus Christ” one has believed in Christ or they would not have been baptized in His name. So here too, the message of salvation is belief in Christ.
I believe that John 3:16 explains the gospel of individual salvation in every dispensation and the passages about repentance have to do with earthly blessings or punishments in the Old Testament, and with completing the faith required for salvation. We shall consider several passages where man is called upon to repent. (For an examination of all the Old and New Testament passages that call for repentance, please see the paper on this web-site “Repent” Is Not A Message Of Salvation).
Jer. 18:11-12 reads, “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, this is what the Lord says, ‘Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and am devising a plan against you. So turn from (i.e. repent) your evil ways, each one of you and reform your actions. But they will reply, it is no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart”. The punishment for their refusal to repent is given in verse 16, “Their land will be laid waste, an object of lasting scorn”. This passage shows the conditional covenant relationship that God had with Israel. When they obeyed the Mosaic Law which was given to them, God would bless them with earthly temporal blessings, but when they disobeyed, He would punish them with earthly punishments (see Lev. 26).
Joel 2:13-14, “Return (repent) to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate…and He repents from sending calamity. Who knows that He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing, grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God”. Again, this passage speaks not of eternal life but of earthly blessings for those who repent in accordance with the old covenant.
It is clear that the exhortation to repent in the Old Testament had to do with earthly punishments and/or blessings. We will now examine a few of the New Testament calls for repentance, bearing in mind that the New Testament did not come out of a vacuum. So when we study repentance in the New Testament, we must understand it as the first century hearers of the message would have understood it.
Because we have in the Word of God the expressed reason that Israel was called upon to repent in the New Testament, I think it best if we allow that inspired reason to speak for itself. That reason is found in Acts 3:19.
Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word translated “when” reads, “when = in order that. Gr. hopos. Occurs 15 times in Acts and always expresses a purpose“. So this verse should read, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. We have in this verse the expressed reason that Israel was called upon to repent. It was “in order that” the times of refreshing (the millennial reign of Christ) shall come.
This is perfectly consistent with the reasons Israel was called upon to repent in the Old Testament. Israel had been called to repentance in the Old Testament in order to avoid punishment or to lay hold of a blessing. In the New Testament the message of John the Baptist, of Christ, of Peter and of the other apostles, whenever Israel was called upon to repent, was in order for Christ to set up His millennial reign. The millennial reign will be the ultimate dispensational blessing for Israel as a nation. It is then that the nation will be served by all the other nations, and it is then that Israel will partake of all the earthly blessings for which they have so long been looking. Once again, bearing in mind that the New Testament did not come out of a vacuum, but from the Old Testament, let us consider just a few New Testament passages that call for the repentance of Israel.
Matt. 3:1, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the desert of Judah saying, ‘Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is near’”. The “kingdom of Heaven” is Christ’s rule of Israel in His millennial reign. (For the scriptural evidence of that statement, please see the paper on this web-site The Kingdom of Heaven). John the Baptist preached repentance so that the kingdom of Heaven would be established. This is perfectly consistent with the inspired reason for repentance given in Acts 3:19, quoted above. And it is also completely consistent with the calls to repentance in the Old Testament. Just as in the Old Testament when Israel was called upon to repent either to avoid a punishment or to lay hold of a blessing, so too here, if Israel had repented they would have enjoyed all the blessings associated with the kingdom of Heaven.
We are now ready to discuss the purpose of water baptism. We know that Old Testament believers were saved by grace through faith (See Rom. 3:21-4:25). So if water baptism was not a requirement of salvation, why were so many baptized? I believe that the baptism with water was for the purpose of showing, by outward sign, belief in the message that was being preached.
For example, the message during Christ’s earthly ministry was “repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. I believe that water baptism was an outward sign of that message being believed. And when Peter preached in the early Acts period that if Israel would repent the Lord would return, those that believed that message would prove their belief by the outward sign of water baptism. In short, water baptism was the outward evidence that one had believed and repented.
Completing one’s faith by their actions was a way of life for Old Testament saints. Again, Israel’s obedience to the Law of Moses, or lack thereof, was the determining factor as to whether God would punish or reward them (see Lev. 26). So too, when one heard the message of John the Baptist, of Christ and His disciples, they proved their belief of that message as having come from God by acting upon that message by repenting, and by water baptism.
It should be mentioned however, that just as Noah was made righteous by believing and acting upon the message God had for him in regard to building the ark (see Heb. 11:7), so too were those who were baptized made righteous by showing their belief in God’s message for them. But water baptism completed the belief of God’s message to them, and that belief accompanied by their acting upon the message, made them righteous.
Water baptism itself was never for the purpose of salvation, it was to show one’s belief in the message. It was belief in the message that made one righteous, not the water. Water baptism was only the outward sign of their having accepted the message, the same as building the ark was the outward sign that Noah had accepted the message to him. But in both cases, it was the belief itself, not the outward sign, that resulted in the believer being made righteous.
But we read in I Peter 3:21 a statement that seems to say that baptism saves. That verse reads, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God).” Peter explains in the parenthetical remark that it is not the water that saves, but “a good conscience toward God”, in other words, deeds. One’s deeds, not the act of water baptism, show him to be a believer. Again, salvation has always been by grace through faith, and the deeds, like water baptism, completes one’s faith (see James 2:18-26).
In short, the call for repentance and water baptism was not a message of salvation.
*The bold type in the quotations were added.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org