Monday, October 09, 2006

Receive Jesus as Your Savior

by Mark Larson

Many religious people, with good motives, seek to save the lost by getting anyone they can to receive Jesus as their Savior through prayer. The so called “plan of salvation” often goes something like this: “Pray the following prayer and receive Jesus as your Savior: Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You in the Name of Jesus. You said in Your Word: "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 shall be saved" (Rom. 10:9). I believe in my heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe He was raised from the dead for my justification. Your Word says, "...with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:10). I do believe with my heart, and I now confess with my mouth Jesus as my Lord. Therefore, I am saved! Thank You, Lord!”

Is this the Gospel plan for salvation? Is that all that is required of God to become a Christian? As popular as this doctrine may be, we need to look to “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) (not just Romans 10:9-10) to gain understanding of the truth on what exactly is the plan of salvation.

What Does it Mean to Receive Jesus as Your Savior?

Only two times during His ministry did Jesus speak about the importance of “receiving” Him (Mark 9:37; John 5:43) and in both cases Jesus gives no instruction to pray. For example, Jesus rebuked the Jews for their willingness to believe in false teachers or false Messiahs, but not in Him: “I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him” (John 5:43, NASB). “Receive” (from lambanoo) in this context means to receive, accept, admit, or come to believe (See Thayer & Friberg Lexicons). “Receiving” Jesus, in this sense, is certainly important to a person’s salvation (e.g., John 8:24), yet never does Jesus (or His apostles) teach that one must pray to receive Jesus as their Savior in order to be saved.

If a person truly wants to “receive Jesus,” then that person will also receive the sayings or teachings of Jesus: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). Being saved or entering into a right relationship with the Lord is not based on our faith in Him only, but also by our acceptance or belief in the words of Jesus. If, indeed, we believe in the words of Jesus (which would include the words which He gave His apostles – Eph. 3:3-5), then we will obey them. Those who truly believe in God’s word and accept the Scriptures as the actual words of God will perform the works of God (1 Thes. 2:13).

“Receive My Sayings”

Those who are quick to quote Romans 10:9-10 as the plan of salvation neglect much of the doctrine of Christ. Yes, Jesus did say (through the apostle Paul): “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” (Rom. 10:9), but that is not all that He said! If we truly want to receive Jesus and not reject Him (John 12:48), then we must take heed to all that Jesus said on how to be saved. True believers in Jesus receive all of His sayings, not just a few.

Jesus also said that in order to be saved, we must repent of our sins: “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Through the apostle Paul, the Lord tells us that repentance leads to our salvation (2 Cor. 7:9-10; cf. Acts 17:30; Rom. 2:4-5).Thus, repentance is as critical to our salvation as belief in Christ and our confession of Him.

Jesus, furthermore, said that in order to be saved, we must be baptized: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). To become one of Jesus’ disciples, a person must be baptized into His name: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:18-19). To become a disciple of Jesus means to become a Christian (Acts 11:26). No one is a Christian until he or she is baptized into Christ. In fact, no one belongs to the Lord’s church until he or she is baptized into His name: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ... Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them... And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:38, 47, NKJV; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 1:18).

Every single person, as recorded in the book of Acts, who received the sayings of Jesus to become a Christian was baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38-41; Acts 8:5-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:31-33; 18:8; 22:16). There is no record in the Scriptures of anyone “praying to receive Jesus as their Savior” to become a Christian. Can you name one?

Jesus is Savior to Those Who Are “in Christ.”

If you really want Jesus to be your Savior, it will not come by praying a prayer. To partake of “all spiritual blessings in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), you need to be “in Christ” or enter into fellowship with Christ where salvation is found. The way to do that is to be baptized into Christ: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4; cf. Gal. 3:27).

Isn’t Romans 6:3-4 just as true as Romans 10:9-10? If not, why not? Receive all of Jesus’ sayings and you will, in truth, “receive Jesus as your Savior.”

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


If we are required to be baptized in order to be saved, how did the theif on the cross beside Jesus get into heaven? He didn't have the opportunity to be baptized, but Luke 23:42-43 says "[42] And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom. [43] And Jesus said unto him 'Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in paradise'."

I'm not trying to dispute your claim, but I'm simply trying to understand the difference in this belief and the one I was raised to believe, which is that baptism isn't necessary to be saved. I was raised in a Holiness church (that doesn't believe in 'Speaking in Tongues'). I make that distinction about speaking in tongues because there are churches out there that call themselves 'Holiness' churches, but aren't like the Holiness church I grew up in. Speaking in tongues seems to be one of the biggest differences between those that call themselves 'Holiness' and the Holiness church I grew up in.

Anyway, I'd appreciate any info you could provide on this question.


9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Since Larry is out of town, he passed on your question to me. I hope you don’t mind.

There are several reasons why the thief on the cross got to enter Paradise without being baptized.
First of all, Jesus had the authority to forgive people of their sins and give them salvation. What He did for the thief (Luke 23:43) corresponds to the theme that is emphasized throughout Luke (5:20, 24; 7:48; 19:9-10), that is, that Jesus has such authority. The story of the thief on the cross was not recorded to show us how to be forgiven, but rather to demonstrate that Jesus had authority on earth to forgive sins (cf. Mark 2:10). Luke’s gospel account showed that Jesus could forgive sins. It was only after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead that Luke records the instruction of Jesus on how forgiveness would be obtained: “And that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47, NASB).

The majority of the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John explain to us why Jesus is good news (i.e., gospel). It is only after Jesus death, burial, and resurrection, that we are told how to respond to the gospel in order to become Christians (Mat. 28:18-20; Mark 16:16). Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, recorded how people responded to the gospel message by repenting of their sins and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). The story of the thief on the cross should not be used as a reason to make baptism unnecessary and of no eternal value.

Second, people who lived before the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus cannot be examples to us on how to respond to the gospel for our salvation. Yes, people like Abraham (Romans 4), Enoch, and Noah (Hebrews 11:5-7) for example, were saved and were never baptized. Yet, they also never had an opportunity to respond in obedient faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ because they all lived before His death, burial, and resurrection. How was it possible, then, that they were saved before Jesus’ death? We are told in Romans 3:25 that God “passed over the sins previously committed” (i.e., let them occur without punishment of His eternal wrath, c.f., Acts 17:30). How could He have done this and still be a righteous God? Because God anticipated the death of Christ as a propitiation (i.e., atonement) for sins. The cleansing power of Jesus’ blood is essentially “retroactive”, applying to those people who lived before “the cross of Christ” – people who, in obedient faith, looked to the Messiah (Hebrews 9:15).

The thief on the cross was saved, even before Jesus died for his salvation, because Jesus knew His heart - knew that He had a penitent, believing heart and thus chose to save him, even though he had not been baptized. Jesus saved him because He had the authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus, in saving the thief, did not establish an exception to the rule of baptism for salvation (a rule to be given later under the New Covenant). Now that the death, burial, and resurrection has taken place, we have no excuse not to meet the conditions that Jesus gave to be saved to become Christians which includes baptism into Christ (Mark 16:16) (even those He gave through His apostles - Acts 2:38; Romans 6:4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21).

Third, when Jesus died on the cross He established a New Testament (i.e., Covenant). When instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus taught that it would be His blood (i.e., death) that would establish a New Covenant making forgiveness of sins possible (Matthew 26:28). His death on the cross brought the end of the Old Testament (i.e., covenant) (See Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 8-10). With this in mind, we should recognize that the thief on the cross was under the Old Covenant era, not the New. The New Covenant was not in effect yet, thus he could not respond to the instructions of the New Covenant (or Testament) to be baptized into Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:12-13; 35-39; 9:18 / 22:16; 10:48; 16:14-15, 30-33; 18:8; 19:3-5; Romans 6:4; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5b; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21). Therefore, Jesus, with authority on earth to forgive sins, invited him to enter Paradise with Him for his faith and penitent heart.

Fourth, the gospel by which we are saved today is built upon the foundation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Thus, no one who lived and died before the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus can be used as an example of what is required to respond to the gospel for salvation. The thief on the cross could not have been baptized into Christ, even if he wanted to because baptism into Christ is based upon Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (See Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-12) which had yet to occur.

May we also recognize that even if the thief on the cross had received John’s baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3), that this would not have qualified as being “baptized into Christ” for salvation. The baptism John gave was only temporary and people baptized by John would still need to be baptized into Christ in order to be saved (See Acts 19:3-5). Baptism washes away our sins (Acts 22:16) because of Jesus’ death / blood (Revelation 1:5). Baptism saves us due to the power of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Peter 3:21). The thief simply could not be baptized into Christ and gain those blessings before the death, burial, and resurrection occurred. Thus, Jesus, with the authority He had, granted him salvation for this faith and penitence.

The Eternal importance of baptism should not be minimized. To be “spiritually reborn” (John 3:3-5) or become a child of God, a person needs to not only believe in Christ, but also be baptized into Christ to “put on Christ” (See Galatians 3:26-27). A person does not belong to Christ and enjoy the blessings found “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) until baptized into Christ.

To belong to the Lord’s church, a person must be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38, 41, 47). When a person is baptized into Christ, he/ she is, at the very same moment, baptized into His body (1 Corinthians 12:13), which represents the church (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22-23). Salvation begins at baptism, for only those who belong to the Lord’s church have their names “written in heaven” (See Hebrews 12:22-23).

Please let me know if you have any more questions or want to discuss any other Bible subject.
Thank you for your inquiry.


Mark Larson

1:35 PM  

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