“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the Age”
by Jay Wilson
This study is the second in a series designed to teach you the basics of the New Testament. It is our prayer that it will accomplish its purpose.
The basic conclusions reached in this study are as follows:
Our problem is that our own sins condemn us to hell.
The good news - the gospel - is that Jesus died for our sins.
We answered the question, “What must I do?” and found that we must:
Believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that He was raised from the dead.
Confess with the mouth that Jesus is Lord.
Be immersed (in water) into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
Repentance includes an actual change in behavior.
Baptism is immersion in water, and it is essential to salvation. There is only one acceptable immersion - that is immersion into Christ through the medium of water as a result of an individual’s own desire to obey the gospel.
If a person refuses to do God’s will, he will burn forever; if he does God’s will, he will live forever!
The Christian must remain faithful until death.
We want to stress that the major point in this whole study is that we must come to know God on His terms - not our own - and that His terms are revealed plainly and clearly in the New Testament.
We remind the reader that the author of this booklet is a human being subject to error, ignorance, and misunderstanding. You yourself must study “to see if these things are so.”
The New American Standard Version was used in preparation of this study, and is quoted throughout.
“The Bible only... makes Christians only...”
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).
God now requires that all men obey the gospel (II Thessalonians 1:7-10); ignorance is no excuse (Acts 17:30,31).
What Must I Do?
God’s Teaching About Repentance
God’s Teaching About Baptism
The Need To Overcome
Sin is disobedience to God’s commands
Genesis 2:17 - God’s command: “Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
Genesis 3:1-12 - Adam and Eve’s disobedience
Sin separates man from God
Isaiah 59:1,2 - Our sins have separated us from God
James 1:14-16 - Separation from God is spiritual death
All men have sinned
Romans 3:23 - All have sinned
Galatians 3:22 - God shut up all men in the jailhouse called sin
Small children are innocent and uncondemned
Ezekiel 18:20 - No one can inherit another’s sin; children therefore cannot inherit Adam’s sin
Romans 7:9 - There was a time in Paul’s life when the Law did not apply; but when the Law took effect, then sin became alive and he died spiritually
The penalty for sin is eternal damnation
Romans 6:23 - The wages of sin is death
Matthew 25:46 - The good go away to eternal life; the bad to eternal punishment
Matthew 21:44 - We must do the will of our New Master
Many Reject God
Acts 8:19-24 - God uses both fear and love to motivate
Proverbs 9:10 - The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
Every man has the problem that his sins, even though they may seem small, separate him from God and condemn him to hell.
Gospel - good story, good news, evangel
I Corinthians 15:1-5 - Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again on the third day, and appeared to witnesses
I Corinthians 5:7 - Christ is our Passover Lamb
John 19:31-35 - Christ is the perfect sacrifice; He shed His blood for our sins
Hebrews 9:22 - Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness
Galatians 3:13,14 - Christ became a curse for us in order to break the curse of the Law that was on us (Hebrews 9:11-14)
John 3:16 - God’s purpose is not to condemn us. He loved us, and sent His only Son to die for us
The good news is that Christ died for our sins just like the Old Testament said He would. Like the Passover lamb of old, Christ shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and so broke the curse of the Law for us. God sent His Son to die for us, then raised Him from the dead.
What Must I Do?
The sign above the cross - Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; Matthew 27:37; John 19:19,20 - No one verse of scripture gives all the information about the words on the cross; it is necessary to put all the accounts together
Mark 2:1-12 - Jesus had authority on earth to forgive sins
Hebrews 9:16,17 - The new covenant began at Christ’s death
Luke 23:39-43 - Jesus forgave the thief on the cross before He died and the new covenant began
Acts 16:16-34 - The jailer believed and was baptized
Acts 2:36-38 - On the day of Pentecost they were told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins
Acts 8:26-40 - Confession of the Lord Jesus with the mouth is necessary to salvation (see Romans 10:9,10)
Acts 22:16 - The apostle Paul was baptized to wash away his sins
The new will of Christ began with His death on the cross. Forgiveness of sins under the new covenant is available when you meet the following conditions:
Believe that Christ died for your sins, and that God raised Him from the dead.
Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.
Be baptized to wash away your sins.
God’s Teaching About Repentance
Jonah 3:1-10 - When God saw the people’s change in behavior, He decided not to destroy Nineveh
Matthew 12:41 - Jesus said that the change in behavior of the people of Nineveh was repentance
II Corinthians 7:9,10 - Godly sorrow produces repentance
Repentance is a change in attitude that must result in a change in behavior. If there is no change, there is no repentance.
God’s Teaching About Baptism
“baptizo” - means to immerse, submerse, plunge, dip into
Acts 2:38; Acts 10:47,48 - Immersion in the name of Jesus is in water. It is for the forgiveness of sins.
Romans 6:1-11 - We are immersed into Christ. We are immersed into the death of Christ where we contact Christ’s blood. We are buried with Christ in immersion. Immersion is the likeness of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In that likeness we are planted in union with Christ, crucify the old man, and come forth in the likeness of His resurrection, freed from sin.
Galatians 3:26,27 - We are sons of God by faith in Jesus. A detail of that faith is that when we were immersed into Christ, we were clothed with Christ. The Father then sees not us, but Jesus, following our immersion into Him.
I Corinthians 12:13 - We are immersed into the body of Christ
Colossians 2:12 - We are buried with Christ in immersion, and raised with Him through faith in the working of God.
Romans 6:17,18 - Immersion is the likeness, or the form (mold) of the basic teaching (doctrine) of Christ - the death, burial, and resurrection of Him. The form of the teaching, immersion, must be obeyed from your own heart, not another’s.
I Peter 3:21 - Immersion saves us by the resurrection of Christ. It is an appeal to God for a clean conscience.
John 3:3-5 - One must be born of water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. Water and Spirit are present at immersion (Acts 2:38).
Titus 3:5 - Immersion is the washing of regeneration. The Holy Spirit is received in immersion, and He continues to renew the Christian.
Ephesians 5:26 - The church, the body of Christ, has been cleansed by the washing of water. This washing cleanses the bride and begins to make her ready for the marriage to the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9). This washing is accomplished in connection with the word (I Peter 1:23).
Ephesians 4:4-6 - There is one Lord, one faith, one immersion; not one Lord, many faiths, and many baptisms.
When a person is immersed, God places him into Christ. In this way immersion saves a person by the resurrection of Christ - there he is born again as he is buried with Christ in immersion, to be resurrected with Christ to walk in newness of life. He is regenerated as he receives the Holy Spirit in the washing. There is only one immersion as far as God is concerned - into Christ. God will not recognize any other.
II Thessalonians 1:8-10 - Everyone who does not know Christ, or who does not obey the gospel will be punished when Jesus comes again.
Revelation 20:15 - Everyone whose name is not in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire at judgment.
Romans 8:9 - Everyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.
John 3:17-21 - Those who hate the light will not come to Jesus on His terms; those who practice the truth will.
Matthew 7:21 - It is necessary to do God’s will in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Every person has a choice - to obey the gospel, or to disobey it. Obedience results in eternal life; disobedience results in eternal punishment.
The Need To Overcome
Revelation 21:1-8 - We must overcome to inherit heaven.
Hebrews 6:4-8 - There is a point of “no return.”
II Peter 2:20-22 - A Christian who goes back into the world is in a worse state than he was before he became a Christian.
Galatians 5:4 - A Christian can fall from grace.
Revelation 2:10 - A Christian must remain faithful until death to receive the crown of life.
A Christian must remain faithful until death. He must meet obstacles in his path and overcome them. INTRODUCTION Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
The plain teaching of the Holy Bible is that no man, regardless of race, creed, color, or ethnic background, is going to walk into God’s heaven on his own. The only way any person is going to pass through the “pearly gates” is if he has an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
At one point in man’s existence God made allowance for man’s lack of knowledge concerning Him. But since Christ died on the cross, ignorance is no excuse; for as Paul said when he spoke to the people of Athens, “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31).
And there will be no mercy for those who do not know, and for those who refuse to obey… “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (II Thessalonians 1:7,8).
Since eternity hangs in the balance for us, it is well worth our time to examine God’s teaching about salvation - not some man’s teaching, not some denomination’s teaching, not some church’s teaching - but God’s teaching revealed in His word, the Bible. In this study we will let God define His own terms, and let Him give us His judgment in such matters. We do not wish to add to - nor subtract from - His teaching, knowing that to do so brings damnation to ourselves.
OUTLINE Our study will break down into the following seven topics:
What Must I Do?
God’s Teaching About Repentance
God’s Teaching About Baptism
The Need To Overcome
Sin Is Disobedience To God’s Commands Man’s problem started way back in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam that he could eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden except one - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam that if he ate from that tree, he would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
Adam and Eve’s disobedience is recorded in Genesis 3:1-12. From the beginning we note that the serpent’s plan of attack has been that God didn’t really mean what He said. “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘you surely shall not die!’” (Genesis 3:4).
So Eve was deceived (I Timothy 2:14) by the devil, and Adam and Eve ate. In doing so they sinned. Just as breaking a law or command of men is a crime, so breaking a command of God is sin.
Sin Separates Man From God
God told Adam, “In the day you eat from it [the tree of knowledge of good and evil], you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Did Adam die on the day that he ate the forbidden fruit? The Bible says that “all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:5).
Maybe God did lie to Adam? Maybe He was kidding Adam along a little so that Adam wouldn’t eat of that fruit?
No! Adam died on the day that he ate of the fruit! He died the kind of death God fears most for His children -spiritual death! The word death means “separation.” When a person dies physically, the spirit is separated from the body (James 2:26). Spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God, not from the body.
What causes this separation? What dreaded disease is this that separates a man from the Father of spirits?
Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, tells us: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1,2).
That’s the problem. A man’s sins - S-I-N-S - separate him from God! And, as James said, “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:14 -16).
All Men Have Sinned “Well,” you say, “That’s all right for somebody else. But I’m not a streetwalker, or rapist, or drug-pusher (or whatever).”
What you are trying to say, friend, is that you don’t want to be classed with “sinners.” Let God instruct you: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar” (I John 1:10).
We wouldn’t want to call God a liar. So we are forced to admit that we, like the Ephesians of old, are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), and that we are separated from God.
Why? Why has God so designed the nature of man that we all come out sinners, and inherit a sinner’s condemnation? He answers, in Galatians 3:22: “But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
God made a jailhouse out of sin, and He used the Scripture to put us all in it. What does every prisoner want more than anything else? He wants out! He wants to hear the clink of the jailer’s key in the door, and the voice telling him that he can go free. God has put us in His jailhouse. He knows that when we realize this, we also will want out. And to get out of this jailhouse, there is only ONE WAY! JESUS!!
Small Children What about children? Are they sinners who are condemned? Are they included in the statement that “all have sinned?” Do children inherit the sin of Adam?
In Ezekiel 18:20, we find this: “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself; and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” No one can inherit the guilt of another’s sin. Because of Adam’s sin, death entered the world (Romans 5:12-14), but the eternal reward is based on the individual’s own behavior. No one is condemned because he has inherited Adam’s sin.
In Romans 7, Paul uses himself as an example. Since God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11), what is true of Paul is true of all men. He says: “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died” (Romans 7:9). The Law was in existence long before Paul was born. But there was a time in his life when the Law did not apply to him, and he was alive in God’s fellowship - even though he probably stole his brother’s toys (if he had a brother) and threw dirt at the neighbor children. But there came a time in his life when the Law did apply, and he was now accountable for his sin, and he lost his fellowship with God.
Small children today are like Paul in his infancy. The Law which shuts up men under sin does not apply to children; they are innocent and uncondemned. But when the time comes that the Law applies to their lives (they will know, and God will know, when that time is), then they will be accountable for their sins, and they will also die, losing their fellowship with God. This is what James is speaking of when he says, “But each one is tempted when he carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14,15).
Of little children, Jesus says, “... their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father...” (Matthew 18:10). To the rest of us He says, “.. unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
Children have no need of redemption, unlike the rest of us, for they have not yet lost their fellowship with God. The words of God in the Bible are directed to those who are capable of being responsible for their own actions.
The Penalty For Sin Is Eternal Damnation What happens, then, if the one who is old enough to be accountable for his sin, and is placed by the Scripture in that jailhouse - what happens if he remains in the jailhouse? Paul answers, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Notice that death here is contrasted with eternal life. The death that Paul is talking about is eternal death - eternal separation from God. Notice furthermore, he speaks of the wages of sin. Wages are something earned, something deserved. We all deserve - we have all earned - the right to burn in hell forever. And if a person stays in the jailhouse of sin until his physical death, he will get what he has earned.
Jesus, in talking of the unrighteous, said, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Eternal punishment is the opposite of eternal life, and it lasts just as long!
The punishment for sin is eternal damnation. God uses force to persuade human nature that it must take on a new nature. As the Lord said, in referring to Himself as the stone: “And he who falls on this stone, will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust” (Matthew 21:44). We must willingly fall on the Rock of Jesus Christ, and break our will to do the will of our new Master. Either we confess Him as Lord here on earth voluntarily, or we will do it later under force: “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Many Reject God Many people reject this God who will condemn a man to the black burning recesses of hell forever because of sin. They prefer a god of their own imagination who, as a loving god, could not possibly bear to punish one of His children. These are the days, we are told, when we must “accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative.” Modern thought teaches that we must avoid all mention of sin and hell, and hold forth the good things of God. We must never, never indicate in any way that an individual is outside the hearing of God, but that we are all equally His children.
One time I was distributing a tract entitled “Do You Want To Go To Heaven?” When you opened the tract, it stated, “As you stand right now, you can’t.” And it went on to explain how God had placed all men under sin, in order to show mercy to all.
I knocked on the door of an apartment inside an old, old building. A bushy-bearded, red-headed man answered. I handed him the tract and asked him to read it. As soon as he opened it he roared, “All you guys are just the same. You’re all negative!”
The apostle Peter was apparently “negative.” In Acts 8, he and the apostle John went down to Samaria to the places where Philip the evangelist had been preaching. When they arrived, a converted sorcerer named Simon noticed that they could pass on special powers by the laying-on-of-hands.
He said to them, as he offered them money, “Give to me this authority as well…”
“But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you; your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you…’
“But Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me’”(Acts 8:19-24).
What was it that Peter had said to Simon? We can only guess, regarding the whole detail, but we know that it was something “negative” that terrified Simon the Sorcerer.
Modern thinking may say that fear doesn’t work. God uses both fear and love to motivate. As He said long ago through wise Solomon: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
Conclusion You don’t solve a problem by avoiding it. And every man has the problem that his sins, even though they may seem small, separate him from God, and condemn him to hell.
I Corinthians 15:1-5
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared...” (I Corinthians 15:1-5).
Paul said that the Christians were saved by the gospel. What is the gospel? The word gospel comes from the Old English words god and spel, meaning “good” and “story.” The gospel is the “good story.” The word used in the Greek language - in which the New Testament was written - is evangel, which means “good news.”
The gospel is good news to us because it tells us how to solve our problem of sin. Paul said that as of first importance was that Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day.
GOOD NEWS! CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS!
Notice how the Bible operates like an “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you” story. First you get the bad news - your sins condemn you to hell. Then you get the good news - Christ died for your sins!
The Passover Lamb Our story begins back in the Old Testament. When God was preparing to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt, He told them to kill a lamb, and sprinkle the blood over the top and sides of the doors of their houses. God was going to kill the first-born male of both man and beast in all the land of Egypt as the last of ten plagues, and He told the Israelites: “And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live, and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13).
Because God passed over the houses where the blood was sprinkled, it became known as the Lord’s Passover. Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb, according to I Corinthians 5:7. Just as death did not enter the homes where the blood of a lamb was sprinkled in Egypt, so death will not enter the life of the one on whom the blood of Jesus has been sprinkled (Hebrews 10:22). This is what John the Baptist meant when he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
GOOD NEWS - CHRIST WAS SACRIFICED, AS THE PASSOVER LAMB, FOR OUR SINS!
The Perfect Sacrifice Then God, through Moses, led the people out of Egypt, across the Red Sea and into the Wilderness, where God gave them the Law (including the Ten Commandments) and the priesthood. Part of the Old Testament ritual was the yearly offering of a male goat in atonement for the people’s sins on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34).
The sacrifices of the Old Testament merely pointed forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Since it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to forgive sin (Hebrews 10:4), at the right time God sent His first-born Son, without blemish, as the perfect sacrifice, to take away the sins of men of all ages - past, present, and future.
John described the offering of the perfect sacrifice in this way: “The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe” (John 19:31-35).
GOOD NEWS! CHRIST IS THE PERFECT SACRIFICE, AND SHED HIS BLOOD FOR OUR SINS!
The Significance Of The Shed Blood
In God’s scheme of things, blood must always be shed in connection with forgiveness of sins. It was true in the days of Abel, in the days of Abraham, and in the days of Moses. As the writer of Hebrews says, “And according to Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
And now, having shed His blood on the cross, “Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come, [and] He entered through a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11,12).
The cross is God’s redemption center, where our worthless sins are exchanged for valuable eternal life. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ - in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13,14). And the blood of the cross, the blood of our redemption, was prefigured by the Old Testament sacrifices, and produces for us clean consciences. “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctified for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13,14).
GOOD NEWS! CHRIST SHED HIS BLOOD SO THAT WE MIGHT HAVE CLEAN CONSCIENCES!
Summary God locked up mankind in the jailhouse called sin. But as a loving Father, He did not leave us without hope. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The good news is that Christ died for our sins just as the Old Testament said He would. Like the Passover lamb of old, Christ shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and so broke the curse of the Law. After accomplishing these things in His death, He was raised from the dead to live forever.
WHAT MUST I DO?
The Sign On The Cross Now that we’ve heard that the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried, and that He rose again, what do we do about it?
Peter and Paul both said that the gospel must be obeyed (II Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Peter 4:17). To find out how the gospel was obeyed, we are going to examine four conversions of the New Testament. In so doing we will find our answer to the question, “What must I do?”.
But first a word of introduction. Sometimes verses or portions of scripture on the surface seem to be contradictory. Consider, for example, the four accounts of the sign above Jesus as He hung on the cross.
“And they put up above His head the charge against Him which read, ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’” (Matthew 27:37).
“And the inscription of the charge against Him read, ‘THE KING OF THE JEWS.’” (Mark 15:26).
“Now there was also an inscription above Him, ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’” (Luke 23:38).
“And Pilate wrote an inscription also, and put it on the cross. And it was written, ‘JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ Therefore this inscription many of the Jews read, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek” (John 19:19,20).
Which one of the four accounts is correct? All four differ.
Some try to handle the problem by stating that each account simply described the sign as the writer saw it, or as he was informed concerning it. Implicit in the Bible’s being the Word of God is that not only must each account be from the perspective of the author, but also that each account must be singularly accurate!
Let’s go back through and note how the four accounts are individually accurate, different from one another, and yet perfectly consistent.
We’ll begin with Mark’s account, and note the changes in the succeeding account in italics:
THE KING OF THE JEWS - Mark.
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS - Luke.
THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS - Matthew.
JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS (in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek) - John.
Note that this is what the sign said: THIS IS JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS (in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek).
Note also that none of the four accounts records the total message of the sign. All four accounts are individually accurate, but all four must be put together to have complete information as to what was on the sign.
This illustrates a very important principle in interpreting the Bible. All verses of scripture are accurate, and no one verse may be placed in juxtaposition to another.
For example, to throw out Matthew’s account of the lettering on the sign because it is different from John’s is a subtle denial that the Bible is the Word of God. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16). To say that one verse of scripture is not true “because another verse of scripture says something different” is to place the scripture in opposition to itself. The scriptures do mesh perfectly - any problem is in the mind of the interpreter, and not the Bible.
As we approach the question, “What must I do?”, we must keep this principle in mind. To throw out the testimony of the book of Acts “because it is inconsistent with John and Ephesians” is a subtle denial that the Bible is the Word of God, and the characteristic of a stubborn and rebellious mind.
The New Covenant When the Lord Jesus walked the earth, He forgave the people’s sins as He wished. In Mark 2, for example, Jesus forgave a paralyzed man’s sins, explaining that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10).
But since Jesus’ death on the cross, forgiveness of sins can be obtained only in accordance with the terms of His will. The writer of Hebrews explains it to us: “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives” (Hebrews 9:16,17).
In other words, it’s just like a rich man’s will. While the man is alive, he can pass out one-hundred dollar bills all he wants to. But when he dies, they lock up his estate, and nothing is distributed except as the will designates.
When the will goes to probate court, they read the “last will and testament” of John Doe. In accordance with English common law they use both the Anglo-Saxon word and the Latin word. Will - that’sthe Anglo-Saxon word - that’s for the common people. Testament - that’sthe Latin word - that’s for the lawyers. Will, testament and covenant in this context mean the same things. And that’s what our New Testament is - it’s the New Will of Christ.
So Jesus had authority to pronounce forgiveness of sins as He desired while He lived. But, once He died, forgiveness of sins is granted only through the terms of His will (or covenant, or testament), revealed to us through the apostles, who were guided into “all truth” through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).
But for us to find forgiveness of sin, we are going to have to look in the Bible record for examples which took place after Christ died on the cross. We are going to have to go to the book of Acts to find what men were told in answer to their question, “What must I do?” And we will find that we will have to study the writings of the apostles and other inspired men in the epistles to find the Lord’s will for us today.
God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11). The things which He required from men in the early days of the church are the same as He requires from us now.
The Philippian Jailer For our first example, let’s go to the conversion of the jailer from the city of Philippi, recorded in Acts 16:16-34. The apostle Paul, and a man who worked with him named Silas, were preaching the gospel in this city. There was a certain girl who had an evil spirit in her who kept following after them and saying, “These men are the bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” This annoyed Paul, so one day he turned around and cast the spirit out of her.
This was the beginning of their troubles. Some men were using the girl’s “fortune-telling” abilities to make money for themselves. When the spirit went out of her, their profit scheme went out the window. So they took Paul and Silas to court, and had them jailed on trumped up charges.
Paul and Silas were thrown into the inner prison, which was probably pretty dark, damp, and dingy, and the bugs that made their home in such places probably made their presence known. But at midnight, Paul and Silas were singing hymns and praying. They had what I call PMA - Positive Mental Attitude.
All of a sudden, an earthquake rocked the building, the doors swung open, and the chains dropped from the prisoners’ hands and legs. Under normal circumstances, the prisoners would have been leaving the prison like hornets leaving a stirred-up nest. But they didn’t - they just stood there.
But the jailer didn’t know that. As soon as he was roused from his sleep, he saw the doors of the prison house hanging open. Since in those days the penalty for letting a prisoner escape was to be put to death, he thought he’d get it over quickly, and drew his sword to kill himself.
“But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’ And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”
This man asked the same question we are asking, “What must I do to be saved?” So let’s see what Paul and Silas told him.
“And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.’”
In answer to his question, they told him that he had to believe in the Lord Jesus. The jailer probably didn’t know who Jesus was. This was the first time the gospel had come to these parts, and the man was undoubtedly a pagan. So Paul and Silas told him who Jesus was.
“And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.”
The Bible says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The only way anyone can believe in the Lord Jesus is to first hear the word of God preached. This man from Philippi was no exception, and neither was anyone else in the New Testament!
“And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and his whole household.”
Our point of emphasis in this first example is this: In answer to the question, “What must I do?”, we find that we must believe in the Lord Jesus. We must believe that He died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day. Our belief must not be the surface kind of belief where we nod our heads and say, “Okay, I believe you.” It must be the kind of belief that is a deep down, crusading conviction. We must believe in our hearts; we must believe with our whole beings.
The Day of Pentecost
Our second example takes place some 15 years earlier than the events in Philippi, and is recorded in Acts 2. This was the first time that the gospel was preached in its completeness. The occasion was the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, just 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and just ten days after His ascension into heaven. On this very day every male Jew throughout the world would be in Jerusalem if humanly possible, to observe what was centuries earlier known as the Feast of Weeks, commemorating the beginning of the harvest, and offering up the first fruits to the Lord.
On this day Peter and the rest of the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and stood and preached the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Christ. Peter proved to those listening, by Old Testament scripture, that Jesus was the Messiah, and that He had fulfilled the prophecies exactly.
He said, to the many thousands listening, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36)
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37)
Peter, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us the terms revealed in the New Will of Christ: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Forgiveness of sins for them (and for us as well), was granted under two conditions: (1) repentance, and (2) baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sins. And without baptism in the name of Jesus, there is no forgiveness of sins.
Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). Peter said, “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).
Our point of emphasis in this second example is this: In answer to the question, “What must I do?”, we find that each of us must not only believe in Christ Jesus, but that we must also repent.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Our third conversion example is found in Acts 8:26-40. Here God sent a preacher named Philip to meet a man from Ethiopia who was on his way back home after he had been to Jerusalem to worship.
The man was riding in his chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah. He didn’t understand what he was reading, but Philip did, and beginning with the scripture, he taught the Ethiopian about Jesus. As Philip was explaining things to him they came to some water, and the man wanted to be baptized.
“And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’” (Acts 8:37). This verse is in the margins of most modern versions of the New Testament, indicating that it is of doubtful authority. However, an examination into the authenticity of this verse will show that it is included in the majority of the ancient reliable texts, and is certainly the word of God. (For an excellent presentation on the reliability of the majority text, see the book Counterfeit Or Genuine, by David 0. Fuller, Grand Rapids International Publications.)
Before Philip would baptize him, he asked the Ethiopian to confess his belief in Jesus. With this other scripture agrees: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart a man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9,10).
Our point in this example is this: Not only are belief and repentance required for salvation, but also confession with the mouth that Jesus is Lord.
The Apostle Paul
Our final conversion example is that of Saul of Tarsus, who later became the great apostle Paul. Saul was one of the most violent persecutors of Christians that history has ever known. He was responsible for driving Christians out of the city of Jerusalem shortly after Christ founded the church. And he was very much involved with the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
But one day Saul met with the Lord of the universe, and he changed his attitude. He was on his way to the city of Damascus in what is now Syria to round up Christians there, and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. Suddenly he was blinded by a bright light, and knocked to the ground. Jesus was dealing with him just like the old Missouri mule - He had to get Paul’s attention first. And when the Lord had Paul’s attention, He asked him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 22:7).
Paul wanted to know who he was talking to, so he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” (The word Lord here is an expression of respect much like Sir, for example. Paul as yet didn’t know that he was speaking to the Lord of lords.) Then the voice answered back, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 22:8).
Saul wasn’t ignorant of whom Jesus the Nazarene was. He had heard Stephen preach about Him. He knew the claims of Christians that Jesus had risen from the dead, and was so proved to be the Son of God. Up to now he had laughed it off. But he wasn’t laughing now as he said, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10).
Saul would have done anything that the Lord asked him to do at that point. He would have climbed Mt. Hermon, or run a four-minute mile. The Lord simply told him “Go to Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10).
So Saul was led by the hand into Damascus because he was still blind. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:8,9).
In the meantime a man named Ananias, a devout man well spoken of by all the Jews, was told by God to go to Saul. And coming in and standing next to Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight... and now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).
Here was a man, who when he met Jesus on the Damascus Road, believed in Him. Here was a man who was repentant, as exhibited by his prayer and fasting as he waited to be told what to do. Here was a man who confessed with his mouth Jesus as Lord (Acts 22:10). But had his sins been forgiven? The answer is an unqualified NO!
The man who was to become the great apostle Paul had to be baptized to wash away his sins! God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11). What God required of Paul, He requires of everyone else - rich, poor, black, white, male, or female.
At this point something happens to many people’s thinking apparatus. They start asking questions like, “Couldn’t God save someone without them being baptized?”, or “What if someone was out in the Sahara Desert, and wanted to become a Christian, but died before he could get to the water to be baptized? Would that individual go to hell?”
God has required baptism to wash away sins. And if an individual is in the Sahara Desert, and can’t get to the water to be baptized, his sins are going to condemn him to hell.
That, however, is not the point. The Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9). If a man is out in the Sahara Desert and wants to be baptized, God, who would send His only Son to die on the cross for that poor soul in the Sahara Desert, would certainly provide an oasis where the man could be baptized before he died.
My job is to believe, obey, and preach - without question - what God says is necessary for salvation. If I’ll do that, God will do the worrying about the black African who has never heard, and the dying man on the Sahara Desert. “So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).