The Plan of Salvation in One Passage
by Dan Gatlin
“Wouldn’t it be nice if the New Testament were laid out like a book of theology? In just a chapter or two God could have explained the work, worship, and organization of the church. He could have stated in clear, unambiguous language all of the doctrines we are to believe and teach. At the very least, when it comes to the plan of salvation, He could have placed in one passage all of the elements necessary for salvation: belief, repentance, confession, and baptism.”
So reason some. Yet, what they fail to consider the extent of man’s rebelliousness. Even if the New Testament were laid out in this way, men would find a way to set it aside. The Law of Moses was revealed in explicit detail, and Israel still seldom followed it. Rebellion is not because God’s word is unclear, but because most men’s hearts are corrupt.
That God want us to work at understanding His word is clear: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). To “be diligent” means to “to exert one’s self, endeavour, give diligence ” (Thayer). Some are willing to put forth the effort, but most are not. Yet, if our heart is right and we are willing to give due diligence, God’s word is understandable. Paul wrote, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)” (Ephesians 3:2-4).
We rightly explain that in order to understand any topic or context, we must consider all that the Bible has to say before we draw any conclusions. After all, “the entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalms 119:160). A major obstacle in understanding truth is when one draws a conclusion without considering all of the evidence. When that kind of individual is presented with a passage that contradicts an ‘already-arrived-at’ conclusion, the passage is reinterpreted (twisted) in a way so that it no longer contradicts. This is done by Christians and non-Christians alike. But an honest heart will consider all the evidence and will, if necessary, question his own presuppositions in order to arrive at truth.
In teaching the alien sinner what he must do to be saved, we point out all of the passages throughout the New Testament that deal with salvation. Yet, one would think that there would be at least one passage that ties all of the requirements together. Consider the following: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:22-23).
“A true heart in full assurance of faith” is an explicit reference to belief. Faith is from pistis, and means belief. Of course, the New Testament speaks of different levels of faith. Our faith can be, “dead” (James 2:17, 26), “weak” (Romans 14:1), “little” (Matthew 6:25-30), or “great” (Matthew 8:8-12). The “full assurance” in this passage is described in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Though the word “repentance” is not used in Hebrews 10:22, it is implicit in the phrase, “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” The sprinkling is done with the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:13-14; 12:22-24; I Peter 1:2) The object of this sprinkling is “our hearts,” and the purpose is to purge us of an “evil conscience.” Thayer defines conscience (suneidesis) as “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other.” An evil conscience is one that has become calloused (I Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:15) and will not repent even when sin is pointed out (Hebrews 6:4-6). The contrast to Hebrews 10:22-23 is found in vs. 26-31. Here the writer describes one who sins willfully after having received a knowledge of the truth. While at one time their consciences was pure, they have now become hardened. They recognize their sins, but they no longer repent of them. What remains is “a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” But a heart “sprinkled from an evil conscience” strives to please God, and will repent when sins is pointed out.
This is explicitly found in v. 23. This is the same word used in Romans 10:10, which Paul says will bring salvation, and in I Timothy 6:12-13, which Paul calls the “good confession.” Jesus describes this confession in Matthew 10:32-33, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” And the eunuch made the good confession in Acts 8:37 when he stated, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Again, the word “baptism” is not used in this passage but the concept is found in the phrase, “our bodies washed with pure water.” Ananias told Paul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). It is through baptism that our sins are washed away. The Hebrew writer points out that it is “our bodies” (soma) that are washed, which rules our any symbolic or metaphorical baptism (such as “Holy Spirit baptism”). This is the immersion of the physical body in water (Acts 8:36-39; I Peter 3:21) which brings the forgiveness of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).
This one passage lays out what man must do to have his sins forgiven, just as some would like it. But only an honest heart will give heed.