What Does The Bible Say About Salvation?

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Several weeks ago I got a request through email from a lady. This is what she said:

I was wondering if you could do a blog about what the Bible says about salvation? My husband and I are in a UPC church right now…and we are looking to get out. We studied and found that salvation is NOT speaking in tongues…but we want an exhaustive reference guide, from the point of a fellow ex-UPCer. We can refute Acts 2:38 up and down….but it’s man’s refutations. Can you point out exactly why speaking in tongues isn’t associated with salvation as well?

I discussed their request with my fiance Kali—also a former UPCer—and we thought that she raised a really good point. When we leave the UPC we often know what salvation isn’t but we’re not quite sure what salvation is. What does it even mean to be saved? Does it just mean that we’re heading for the great Gloryland in the sky when we die? Or is there more to it? And how do we get saved? Is it by faith? Baptism? Is baptism essential for salvation? There are so many different interpretations, so many different beliefs, that it becomes overwhelming to try to sort it all out.

My prayer is that this article will answer the question that the lady and her husband asked while also helping others who are asking the same questions.1

What Is Salvation?

In the UPC salvation gets a lot of attention. We toss around phrases like, "They love the Lord so much, it’s a shame that they don’t have the truth," or, "That song [by a Trinitarian singer] is so anointed, they’ve almost got it!" When we say all of these things what we are really saying is, "That person loves the Lord but isn’t saved," or, "That person has the Spirit of God resting upon them and blessing their music, but it’s too bad they aren’t saved." (When we stop and think about it in those terms it becomes apparent that it would be very strange that a person could love God and follow Him and yet not be saved, kind of like a cosmic game of hide and seek with people looking for Christ and never finding Him–the exact opposite of what Scripture says in Luke 11:9-13.) The point is, in the UPC we’re obsessed with seeing people saved, and that’s how it should be! Christians of all denominations should feel the same way. But in the UPC we’ve associated salvation with a theological understanding (Oneness) or an experience (tongues) or an action (dressing right). But is that what salvation really is? Is that how a person is saved? What does it really mean to be saved?

The word that most applies to our discussion is found in Acts 16:30-31, when a jailer of Paul was about to commit suicide because he thought that Paul had escaped:

When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, 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?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (NASB)2

The word that is translated as “saved” in the above verse is the Greek word sozo. It means "To save, deliver, make whole, preserve safe from danger, loss, destruction."3 Of the fifty-four times the word is used in the New Testament, "fourteen relate to deliverance from disease or demon possession…in twenty instances, the inference is to the rescue of physical life from some impending peril or instant death…[in] the remaining twenty times, the reference is to spiritual salvation."4 The references to spiritual salvation are the ones we’re interested in. Consider the following verses:

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:40)

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:9)

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

At this point one might wonder why I stop to define the word "saved," since it’s certain that any reader with a background in Christianity will know exactly what I’m talking about. The reason is because I’ve seen quite a few debates about salvation online, and you’d be amazed at the number of people who throw Scriptures around about "salvation" when the type of salvation that the Scripture is talking about may not even be spiritual! Additionally, it’s important to remember that the method of salvation could be quite different depending on the era that a particular passage was written in. Some passages deal with salvation as a nation (Israel), others with salvation as a family unit, and others with salvation as an individual. Because of all this, I want to stress that this article is dealing with the spiritual salvation that we find in the New Testament–salvation that saves and delivers us from the wrath of God and ushers us into heaven.

How Is A Person Saved?

It’s impossible to discuss what it means to be saved without first talking about how to be saved. I know that seems backwards, but it will make sense in a moment.

The person who emailed me requesting this article made a really good point. She said, "We can refute Acts 2:38 up and down….but it’s man’s refutations." I think that a lot of people are in that same situation. They know what salvation isn’t. They’ve come to realize that it’s more deep than an emotional experience but more simple than what they’ve been taught. They’ve come to realize that a person doesn’t have to spend night after night at an altar sweating and pleading and crying and begging for God’s Spirit. They know what salvation is not but they don’t quite know what it is. Fortunately for us, the Bible makes it abundantly clear. That’s right. Very clear. The reason we missed it in the UPC is not because we weren’t intelligent enough. It’s so simple children all over the world understand it. The reason we missed it is because we put emphasis on the wrong things, twisted the verses out of context, then ran roughshod over the very clear teaching of Scripture–the very thing we accused all those Trinitarians of doing!

Consider the following passage of Scripture. Look at how plain the teaching is:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved [sozo] through Him. (John 3:14-17)

Now, we’ve been taught all our life that it was more complicated than this. After all, doesn’t "just believe" lead to "easy believism"? (No it doesn’t, but we’ll deal with that in a moment.) Isn’t this Scripture just one Scripture out of many that teaches us how to be saved? (If it is, then it’s really surprising that Jesus wouldn’t share the "whole plan of salvation" every time He spoke, since He must have realized that it would be hundreds of years before the New Testament canon was readily available to every Christian. As a matter of fact, neither Jesus or Paul or any other writer ever mentioned the UPC plan of salvation in any way, shape, or form.) But let’s not get sidetracked, because the point that I want to make is very simple: Salvation (sozo) stands in contrast to judgment. Let’s read verse 17 again, and tack on verses 18-21 as well:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”" (John 3:16-21, emphasis mine)

Think about that for a moment.

To be spiritually saved is to not be judged. To be lost is to be judged.

How does a person stand before a judge and not be condemned? The only way is to be declared innocent.

And that leads us to the obvious question: How do I, a sinner, stand innocent before God? Or, to put it another way, how does a person get made righteous before God?

Scripture calls it "being justified," and there’s only one way, throughout all of the New Testament, that it happens, and that way is "faith."

Justification

The Greek word for "justify" is dikaioō and it means "to render righteous" or to "declare…one to be just…such as he ought to be"5. In other words, when we are justified we are rendered righteous and declared to be just. We’re made right before God. We who were once dirty and sinful are now clean. We stand innocent.

Paul liked the word "justified." He used it a lot. Consider this passage in Romans:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one." (Romans 3:21-30, emphasis mine)

That’s a long passage, so let me sum it up: We’re not righteous, but God is, and God passed over our sins and declared us righteous based upon HIS righteousness, not ours!

Now, call me crazy, but it sounds like Paul is saying that people are justified (made right with God) through faith. It’s almost like what Jesus said back in John 3:14-17 when He said that people will be saved through belief.

But isn’t this just part of the plan of salvation? Where’s the speaking in tongues? If we’re made righteous through faith then what about Jesus’ Name baptism?

If belief is just part of a grander plan of salvation then both Jesus and Paul continually forget to mention it. Paul goes on to write this just a few chapters later:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 10:8-11, emphasis mine)

As a matter of fact, Paul told the church in Corinth that he was not sent to baptize, and that he was thankful that he had hardly baptized any of them (1 Cor. 1:13-18)! Can you imagine a UPC preacher ever saying that? I’ve heard plenty of explanations in the UPC for that verse, but none of them did away with the simple fact that Paul esteemed preaching higher than baptizing, and he was comfortable thanking God that He hadn’t baptized a lot of people. If baptism was an essential part of the "plan of salvation" then I can’t imagine Paul ever penning those words.

And what about tongues? Paul’s comment on the matter was that not everyone speaks in tongues (1 Cor. 12:30). No mention of there being two types of tongues, never a mention in Paul’s writings (or anyone else’s) about tongues being the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. Instead, we find a tremendous emphasis in Scripture on belief along with an accompanying promise that it is sufficient for salvation. When we really stop and read Scripture for what it says, without trying to tie it in knots and make it say what we think it should say, then we find that there is little emphasis on baptism, no emphasis on tongues, but tremendous emphasis on belief.

We’ll talk about belief in just a moment, but first let’s look at a few more Scriptures that emphatically affirm that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise," (Ephesians 1:13, emphasis mine) (By the way, if you’re wondering when people get baptized with the Holy Spirit, then the above verse tells you. It happens upon belief.)

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)

for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:21)

and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. (Acts 13:39)

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”" (John 11:25- 26) (Sadly enough, the UPC would have to answer "no" to Jesus’ question, for the UPC does not believe that believing in Christ is enough to ensure eternal life.)

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." (John 5:24)

Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:16)

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him." (1 John 5:1)

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." (1 John 4:15)

and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:15)

The promise of salvation by faith through grace is written all throughout the New Testament. It oozes out from between the covers of the Bible. But we in the UPC were convinced that there just had to be more to it. So we twisted Scripture (the thing that we had accused others of doing) and prodded and poked and cajoled and tied unrelated Scriptures together until we came up with a theology of salvation that is completely and totally unrelated to anything Christ or Paul or any other apostle ever said!

Now let’s talk about belief.

Belief

We see now that we are made right with God (a.k.a. "saved") by belief in Christ. But what does that mean?

The typical UPC view of belief is one called "easy believism." The view says that if belief alone is sufficient for salvation then a person can live a life of sin and still be saved. Now there are so-called Christians who believe that, but the UPC might be surprised to find out that those people are not in the majority. Every Trinitarian church that I have attended since leaving has taught strongly against sin. But is the UPC belief correct? Could a person just live however they want and still be saved? Does God just blink His eyes at sin and look the other way? Interestingly enough, Paul was accused of teaching that very thing, and this was his reply:

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!" (Rom. 6:1-2a)

The Greek word that we often translate "believe" or "faith" is the Greek word pisteuō, and it is difficult to translate properly into English. You see, in the English language when we say "believe" we often mean "intellectual acknowledgment." For example, I believe (intellectually acknowledge) that Africa exists, but I don’t put my faith in Africa for anything. If I one day found out that Africa was a myth, the result of a global conspiracy theory, then my life would go on as before. Nothing would change (except for my belief in conspiracy theories). That’s intellectual acknowledgment, but it’s not biblical belief. It’s not pisteuō.

Pisteuō means both intellectual acknowledgment (to be persuaded of a fact) and faith (to put confidence in that fact, or to entrust oneself to it).6 Now, it’s entirely correct to say that intellectual acknowledgment of Christ would by itself lead to "easy believism." Sadly, there are so-called Christians who behave that way. They say, "Oh, I believe in Christ," and they go on about their lives without being changed. They’ve intellectually acknowledged Christ, but they haven’t put their faith in Him. Those people are often called functional atheists, and they’re no more saved than the squirrel outside my window.

To believe in the New Testament sense, though, requires a person to both intellectually acknowledge Christ as Lord and to completely entrust themselves to Him. It is a faith that demands action. If I had New Testament faith in Africa then I would intellectually acknowledge its existence and then move there and live completely off of African products. My life would depend on Africa. If Africa didn’t exist then neither would I. I would have completely entrusted myself to it for life, and if I was wrong then I would be dead. That’s pisteuō, and it’s the type of belief that we’re told to have in Christ.

When we believe in the New Testament sense we throw ourselves upon Christ for our salvation. We recognize that without Him we have no hope of eternal life. We declare Him Lord and pledge our allegiance to Him. It is a faith that demands action. Without action it’s not pisteuō.

That’s why God chose faith as the method through which grace works. You see, people often say that we’re saved by faith, but that’s not entirely correct. We’re saved by grace. Faith is just the catalyst that triggers it (Eph. 2:8). That’s why the proper phrase is "we’re saved by grace through faith," not "we’re saved by faith." (It’s true that the Bible often says we are justified through belief, but when read in context the underlying factor is always God’s grace. Apart from grace faith would be nothing.) Faith is our part, grace is God’s. We throw ourselves on Him for our salvation and He responds. If we try to work our way to salvation then that just won’t work. None of us can make ourselves righteous before God (Rom. 3:10). If we could work our way to salvation then we could boast (Rom. 4:2), but we can’t so we don’t. We throw ourselves upon God and He justifies us, He makes us right before Him. Then we have nothing to boast in except Christ crucified.

With all that in mind, this passage should make a lot more sense:

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-31)

In other words, Christ did things exactly backwards–at least according to us humans (which means we’re the ones who are backwards). Instead of trusting in our strength we trust in God’s.To become strong we become weak. To become first we become last. Instead of trusting in our wisdom we become fools. Why? Because it’s not our wisdom and strength that saves us, it’s God’s.

How much more foolish could you get than being saved by not working? How crazy is it to win a battle by surrendering? But for those of us who are saved by faith it’s the power of God at work. Can we boast? Yes, but not in ourselves. Can we be proud? Yes, just not in us. The only One we can boast in is God.

We can’t brag about how long we spent at an altar or how we prayed through or the experience we had or how loud we spoke in tongues. We can’t even not brag about those things, because those things are irrelevant. We could spend 24 hours a day on our knees at an altar praying to speak in tongues, and if we ever did then it wouldn’t even matter. As a matter of fact we would probably be worse off because our faith would probably be in the fact that we spoke in tongues, not in Christ. We can’t boast in our wisdom or works or power or might or even our faith. The only thing we can boast in is the power of the God who saved us through His grace.

The Relationship Between Works and Faith

So we’re saved by grace through faith, but now what? What about all the Scriptures about works? After all, look at what James said:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Doesn’t this stand in direct contrast to Paul’s teaching? Doesn’t it show that all the Scriptures about justification through faith were just one part of a smaller plan of salvation? Don’t faith and works go hand in hand?

Yes, faith and works do go hand in hand, but not in the way that the UPC interprets it. You see, Paul says that faith leads to works. We’re not saved by works, we’re saved for works (Eph. 2:8-10). Consider this passage:

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:4-10, emphasis mine)

There you see the relationship between faith and works. True faith leads to works. As a matter of fact, Christ has works prepared for us before we’re even saved! Works is an integral part of Christianity, but works are a result of salvation, not a cause of salvation. Because of this, James could rightfully say that faith without works is dead. If James preached that sermon in front of Paul then Paul would have given him a hearty amen! Paul and James presented two sides of the same coin: Paul said that faith leads to works, and James said that without works you don’t have faith. There’s no reason to think that there was a conflict between the two of them regarding the method of salvation, or that Paul was only preaching one part of the larger "plan of salvation."

What About the Scriptures That Talk About Us “Being Saved”?

Paul used the phrase "being saved" a couple of times. In 1 Cor. 1:18 he wrote, "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God," and in 2 Cor. 2:15 he wrote, "For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (emphasis mine).

I have heard more times than I can count that these passages (and others like them) mean that salvation is a process. The people who teach this claim that we are never truly saved until we get to heaven. It may not be an official UPC doctrine, but I heard it in church after church. Are the people who teach this correct? Are we never truly saved until we die or are raptured?

In a sense the people who say that are right. In some ways salvation is a process. That’s why I defined the word sozo at the beginning of this article. You see, the type of salvation we were discussing is most closely related to justification–the idea of being made right with God. It is accurate to say that certain aspects of salvation are a process, but it would not be accurate to say that justification is a process. You see, justification is being made right with God. You’re either right or you’re not, there’s no middle ground. You can’t be partly justified, or 3/4 justified. You’re righteous or you’re not righteous, and that’s that.

When Paul talks about "being saved" in the above passages he is not talking about justification, he’s talking about sanctification. Sanctification is the English translation of the Greek word hagiazō, and it means “to make holy.”7 It would not be inaccurate to take every sermon that you ever heard about "holiness" and replace it with the word "sanctification." (The difference, of course, is that sanctification has nothing to do with appearance, aside from the commands to be modest and moral, and everything to do with the way that we live our lives.)

Paul wrote:

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.

For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:11-23)

(Did you catch that? Paul was being accused of preaching "easy believism" too, and he responded with an emphatic command that grace leads to sanctification (holiness) not sin! As a matter of fact, if you read Romans you discover that Paul taught that people were more likely to sin when they were trying to be saved through works!)

When we speak of sanctification it is entirely proper to say that we are “being saved.” None of us are entirely holy yet, and we never will be. While we walk this earth we strive for holiness while recognizing that we will never achieve it. While on this earth we must trust in God’s grace to cover us. That’s what faith is. Therefore it’s entirely accurate to say that we’re “being saved,” but it’s not accurate to claim that we are not already saved. When we talk about “being saved” we are talking about sanctification, not justification.

In theology sanctification is often broken up into three types. The types sometimes go by different names, but I like to call them “present, progressive, and perfected.” “Present sanctification” is the holiness that is bestowed upon us at the moment of salvation when we are robed with Christ; “progressive sanctification” is the ongoing process of becoming more and more holy as we walk with Christ; “perfected sanctification” is the perfect holiness that will be ours when we are glorified. So we are justified (made right with God) and sanctified (made holy before God) at the moment of salvation, but we are also becoming more and more holy as we walk with God day by day.

Tying It All Together

A call to repentance

"Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"
(Rom. 2:4)

"you were dead in your trespasses and sins"
(Eph. 2:1)

The first thing that God does is call us to Him. You see, we can’t even boast in our ability to seek for Him, because it doesn’t exist! God calls us, we don’t call Him. We’re lost, He’s the divine search-and-rescue party. He calls us to Him and we respond through faith.

It’s worth noting here that I firmly believe that repentance is an integral part of belief. I don’t think it’s possible to acknowledge the holy God as Lord and Savior without being moved to fall at His feet and repent. I don’t view repentance as a requirement so much as I think it’s a necessary reaction to faith. It’s true that we are commanded to repent, but I don’t understand how a person could even have faith without being moved to repentance. The two go hand in hand. After all, a person wouldn’t truly repent if they didn’t think the one they were repenting to was capable of forgiving sins, so repentance in itself is a statement of faith. Conversely, I don’t think a person can truly have faith without being moved to repentance. Therefore, I don’t see a tension in Scripture between the commands to repent and the fact that we are saved by grace through faith. Faith naturally leads to repentance.

A response through faith, leading to justification

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
(John 3:16-17)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
(Ephesians 2:4-7)

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
(Rom. 3:28)

We respond to the call by throwing ourselves upon the mercy of Christ, and trusting Him wholeheartedly for our salvation. We don’t try to work our way to God because He’s already worked His way to us.

When we are justified we are regenerated

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
(2 Cor. 5:17)

We didn’t talk about regeneration yet in this article. It just means "being made alive." Paul summed it up when he wrote:

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17, emphasis mine)

Justification and regeneration leads to sanctification

"For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
(Gal. 3:27)

"But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life."
(Rom. 6:22)

When we are justified and regenerated we put on Christ. He takes our place and we take His. When God looks at us He sees Christ. We are no longer seen as unholy but as holy.

On a side note, there’s some debate over whether or not the "baptized" in Gal. 3:27 refers to water baptism or Spirit baptism. I don’t think it matters, because in the New Testament baptism was something that was done immediately upon a profession of faith. It was not until later that baptism was separated. The authors of the excellent book "Pagan Christianity" have this to say about baptism in the early church:

"[I]t is typical in most contemporary churches for baptism to be
separated from conversion by great lengths of time. Many Christians
were saved at one age and baptized at a much later age. In the first
century, this was unheard of.

In the early church converts were baptized immediately upon believing.
One scholar says of baptism and conversion, ‘They belong together.
Those who repented and believed the Word were baptized. That was the
invariable pattern, so far as we know.’ Another writes, ‘At the birth
of the church, converts were baptized with little or no delay.’

In the first century water baptism was the outward confession of a
person’s faith. But more than that, it was the way someone came to the
Lord. For this reason, the confession of baptism is vitally linked to
the exercise of saving faith. So much so that the New Testament
writers often use ‘baptism’ in place of the word ‘faith’ and link it
to being ‘saved’ (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
This is because baptism was the early Christian’s initial confession
of faith in Christ."

Therefore, I do not think we need to try to decide if Gal. 3:27 is talking about water or Spirit baptism. I think it’s safe to conclude that all believers in the New Testament were baptized.

Sanctification leads to glorification

"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."
(Romans 8:16-17)

"For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified."
(Romans 8:29-30)

When we are called home to heaven, either through death or the rapture, we will be glorified and will spend eternity with Christ. What a beautiful concept! I don’t think anything more needs to be said about glorification, because Paul says it best:

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:14-39)

What About Baptism And Tongues?

I think that these questions have been answered throughout the article. Still, it may be good to make a couple of comments about the relationship of baptism and tongues in salvation before we close.

As I already pointed out, baptism in the early church was just assumed. If you believed then you were baptized. There wasn’t any debate about whether or not it was necessary. Christ commanded it so the disciples did it, and that was that. For what it’s worth, I think that’s the way it should be today. Baptism was commanded by Christ, so when it’s possible it should most certainly be done. (I can’t imagine a scenario when it would be impossible to baptize by sprinkling, even if immersion were not feasible.) However, baptism is not directly related to justification. Baptism is a public confession of faith. Perhaps it has deeper spiritual significance, perhaps not. I honestly don’t know, because arguments both ways are persuasive. (I think there’s a lot to be said for baptism being a symbol of the covenant in the New Testament just like circumcision was a symbol in the Old.) What I do know, though, is that it was commanded by Christ and so it should be done, and that baptism does not lead to justification. Only faith does that.

Tongues is even easier to answer. There is no relationship between tongues and salvation. I can say that with total confidence. Tongues was mentioned three times in Acts (Chapters 2, 10, and 19) and there is every reason to believe that all three of those instances were nothing more than the gift of tongues at work. There is no reason to believe that tongues was in any way related to salvation. The Scriptural relationship simply isn’t there. The Spirit was present and in those three instances the gift of tongues appeared. It’s really that simple. Tongues was never taught as anything more than a gift by any of the apostles, and it was never even mentioned by Jesus.

Additionally, logic says that the Holy Spirit has to be given upon belief. After all, Romans 8:9 says that "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." Yet we know that we are justified (made right with God) upon belief, regenerated (made alive in Christ) upon belief, and sanctified (made holy before God) upon belief. How could all of that happen and yet we still not belong to God? Yet if the UPC view of tongues is correct then that’s precisely what happens. According to the UPC plan of salvation we can repent and be baptized and still not be saved. Are we half saved? Two- thirds saved? How does that even work? It just doesn’t make sense.
If that’s not enough, then consider what Paul says in Eph. 1:13-14:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (emphasis mine)

Did I read that correctly? Did Paul just say that we are "sealed" with the Holy Spirit at the moment of belief? Yes, he did.

So we see, then, that tongues is nothing more than a gift of the Spirit. It’s not the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. If it were then everyone who believed would immediately speak with tongues with no delay. Common experience says that just doesn’t happen.

Conclusion

What does it mean to be saved? It means that we stand righteous before God. We stand before Him pure and holy, not because of the things that we have done, but because of the grace of God. Christ has taken our sin and shame and made it His own, and He has robed us in Him. We are in Him, and when God looks at us He doesn’t see our sins. He doesn’t see our failures and mistakes. No, He sees a person who is perfectly righteous and holy, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done. Our so-called righteousness can never bring us where we need to be. We can’t pray hard enough, be baptized deep enough, or speak in tongues long enough to be saved. The only way to be made right and holy before God is through His grace, and that grace is granted through faith. That’s what it means to be saved.

References:

  1. Dealing with the entire subject of salvation throughout the Old and New Testaments would take hundreds of pages. If a person wants a good scholarly analysis of the topic then I highly recommend the International Bible Standard Encyclopedia article on it, which can be found here. In this article I’m going to deal with the more common use of the word. []
  2. All Scripture references are from the NASB unless otherwise noted. []
  3. The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, G4982, 1992, AMG International Inc []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Thayer’s Greek Definitions, G1344 []
  6. Thayer’s, G4102 []
  7. “Strong’s Greek Dictionary”, G37 []

34 thoughts on “What Does The Bible Say About Salvation?

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author

      T,

      Yes, being saved and entering heaven is the same thing (with the exception of cases like Paul where he was taken into heaven for a brief period of time – 2 Cor. 12:2-4).

      Regarding John 3:5, no Christian debates that a person must be born of the water and the Spirit to enter heaven. However, the point that apostolics often try to draw from the verse (that a person must be baptized in Jesus Name and filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues) is not even hinted at in John 3. Being born of the water probably did not mean baptism (baptism symbolizes death and burial, not birth – see Romans 6). Even if Jesus was referencing baptism He was certainly not giving a particular baptismal formula. Being born of the Spirit was definitely a reference to the spiritual new birth, but there is nothing in the passage about tongues being the evidence of that new birth. Christians everywhere agree that being born of the Spirit is necessary for salvation, the disagreement is over whether or not a person speaks in tongues when they are born again.

      In Christ,
      Josh

  1. Angela

    Josh,

    Another question requesting your input.

    I recently watched a video of a young boy “recieving the Holy Ghost”. I was a bit troubled by it, one, because I believe when you recieve the Holy Ghost no one has to tell you that you did (this kid was being told that he did), and two, because what I saw did not in any way interpret to “tongues” in my ….humble opinion.
    Being troubled by this, I showed it to my Mother and asked if in her opinion this kid had recieved the Holy Ghost. Her reply was (as stated above) no one should have to tell you, and that she felt what she saw/heard was stammering lips. I had a very questioning look on my face after that response and she reminded me of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning tongues. With stammering lips and another tongue will I speak to my people.
    I realize I’ve brought this scripture up to you before, and I agree with your interpretation, but I am also feeling that this was a two fold prophecy. My Mom pointed out that it was said, “With stammering lips AND another tongue”. This has me questioning the stammering lips. What ARE stammering lips? I feel that if that’s what it takes to recieve the Holy Ghost, then I’ve recieved it many times over, but speaking in a very difinitive “tongue” has never happened to me. As I study this, I am curious to know your interpretation, but moreso to know: What IS stammering lips? I’ve seen it. I’ve done it, I’ve heard it, etc, but what ARE they?
    Thanks for any input you can provide on this. Having veiws from others tends to help me in piecing thigs together sometimes.

    In Love,
    Angela

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author

      Hi Angela,

      You asked a great question! In an earlier comment we already talked about how the prophecy of “stammering lips and a foreign tongue” was a prophecy of the impending Assyrian invasion. Paul quoted the prophecy again in 1 Cor. 14 to say that New Testament tongues was also a sign to the unbeliever, just like the Assyrian tongues were a sign to the ancient Israelites. Understanding that foundation helps us to understand what the stammering lips were.

      The word that is translated as “stammering” in Isaiah 28:11 is the Hebrew word “lā‛ēg”, and it means “mocking” or “buffoon.” The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, which is one of my favorite Bible dictionaries, offers this definition: “An adjective describing something as mocking, stammering. It is used to describe the language spoken by foreign lip(s) as (be) stammering (Isa_28:11). It is also used of certain persons as jesters, mockers (Psa_35:16, NIV, “maliciously mocked”).” Brown-Driver-Brigg’s, another great Hebrew dictionary, offers a shorter definition. They define it with a single word: “mocking.”

      The implication behind the word choice is fascinating. Isaiah 28:10 says that God was trying to teach the Israelites by saying “Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line.” This is often interpreted in the UPC to mean that every single point of the Bible must be obeyed. While it’s true that every Word of God is binding upon us, that is not the meaning of this passage. Many Bible scholars believe that “Order on order, line on line” was a method of teaching Hebrew children. In other words, God had made things as plain as He could. He had reverted to speaking to the Israelites like children, but they still refused to hear His message. And why did they refuse? One reason was because the leadership were drunkards. Isaiah 28:7-8 says that the priests and prophets were attempting to pass judgment and see visions while drunk. As a matter of fact, they were so drunk that “the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place.” It’s not a pretty scene to imagine!

      Now that God had tried every kind way to get His children to listen, including speaking to them like children, He was now forced to resort to a harsher measure. The Assyrians would invade and lead the Israelites into captivity. The children of God who would not listen when He spoke to them through His prophet would now be forced to listen to the people with “stammering lips and a foreign tongue.”

      The foreign tongue part makes sense, but what about the stammering, or mocking, lips? What does that mean? Well, the explanation that makes the most sense, and the one that is commonly accepted, is that the Israelites mocked the Assyrian speech and referred to it as crude. The excellent Keil & Delitzsch commentary explains it like this:

      “Jehovah would speak to the scoffing people of stammering tongue a language of the same kind, since He would speak to them by a people that stammered in their estimation, i.e., who talked as barbarians….The Assyrian Semitic had the same sound in the ear of an Israelite, as Low Saxon (a provincial dialect) in the ear of an educated German.”

      What should we take away from this, then? Well, the first and most important thing to take away is that the “stammering lips” in Isaiah 28:11 was referring to an actual language. It was a language that the Israelites found barbaric and even worthy of mockery, but it was still a language. It was not a simple repetition of syllables that do not have any meaning, as the UPC tends to think of it. Now, please understand that I am not mocking modern stammering lips. I think it is a natural reaction to an overwhelming emotional experience, and I’m not saying it is bad. I’m only saying that it is not related to the stammering lips of Isaiah 28:11. After all, how could the stammering lips of the UPC possibly be a sign from God? It’s not logical. Anyone can mimic it and anyone can imitate it. If the UPC interpretation is correct than anyone can fake stammering lips and there would be no way to tell whether or not it was truly from God. When we understand that the stammering lips referred to an actual language, though, then the whole issue begins to make a lot more sense. Stammering lips in Isaiah was a language, and it was not related in any way to the stammering lips that happens in UPC or other Pentecostal services.

      Another point to take away is that we need to remember that the ultimate point behind Isaiah 28:11 is that God used a foreign language as a sign to the unbelieving Israelites. That was why Paul could repeat the prophecy in 1 Cor. 14. Foreign languages were a sign to the Israelites in Isaiah 28 and they were a sign to the Israelites in Acts 2. The first time brought a curse and the second time brought a blessing, the first time the language was natural and the second time it was supernatural, but both times it was a sign to the unbelievers.

      I hope that this answers your question. Isaiah 28 is a fascinating study, but unfortunately the UPC and many Trinitarian Pentecostals have written more into the passage than is actually there. They have taken 1 Cor. 14 and used Paul’s repetition of the prophecy to force an interpretation onto Isaiah 28 that simply doesn’t exist. Isaiah 28:11 referred to the pending Assyrian invasion, and that’s the only thing it referred to. Trying to take the phrase “stammering lips” and apply it to a meaningless repetition of syllables does a serious injustice to Scripture. Again, I do not say this to make light of any experience that a person has had. Stammering lips in the Pentecostal sense can easily happen when a person is overcome by an emotional experience with God. I do not think this is a bad thing. I think it’s a natural emotional response. However, if we want to properly interpret Scripture then we have to understand that those types of stammering lips are not a sign from God, and they are not related to Isaiah 28:11. They are simply a side effect of a powerful emotional experience.

      I hope that helps!

      In Christ,
      Josh S.

  2. Sammy Gibson

    I thank GOD for the understanding of the Scripture that has been given to you, so that you might share it with others.

    I don’t know what to do, really though. I was raised in a Trinity Church of GOD. And, I’ve been going to a Apostolic Church. And, I’ve been going to a Non-Denominational church.

    I really really tried really hard in 2008 when I started back to church and tried going to this Apostolic Church. I tried my best to conform to their every law and doctrine. And, did for a while, for the most part.

    But I allowed the things to get to me. There were times that I just felt a strong sense of Pride in the church, or around people, something that makes your stomach sort of twist, and your soul just screams at you “THIS IS WRONG”. Not everyone is like that I don’t suppose. But the problem with putting emphasis on a “Holiness” way of living, is one, I think tends to become “Proud” of ones own achievements. Rather than letting Works come by Faith, or letting the works GOD has called you to, come to pass for his glory. What tends to happen is one does the works, with the faith they will be justified for them, and then glorify them self, for having done the works. And, not realizing that GOD is the reason for the works, and that is what really gives the light to the world.

    I had a job at the time, and my boss actually said that since I had started living for GOD he could notice a change. He knew how I was, before. This is what gives GOD all the glory. Because, there is no way that I would live my life in such a manner with out GOD in it. I would commit every sin there is. I would be the meanest, hateful, whatever else person you can think of. But, when you let GOD in, and submit to his will, GOD is able to live in you and make himself known to the world through you.

    I’ve been what most would call Back-Slid. I go off and on, but it’s so strange. GOD never leaves you. Even when you think he has, he is still there. He puts people in your life. And, constantly calls you back. He never seizes to amaze me.

    I like going to this church. But I am not sure if that is where I’m supposed to go. I feel that GOD has wanted to do something with me, but I’ve wasted most of my life running from it. And, for some reason I don’t feel that I’m going to do it at this church. I just like going there mainly, because they do believe in the speaking in tongues, while I can’t see how it’s required for salvation, when Paul clearly states that not everyone does speak with tongues, that it’s a gift that not everyone has. I know I’ve spoken in tongues, and stammering lips.

    At the same hand other churches don’t believe in such gifts at all.

    Also, they have the church open 24/7 for prayer, you can pray any hour of the day at the church.

    However, they impose other doctrines that I think are more man made, than GOD made. What am I to do?

  3. honestly

    Good stuff. I thought it was interesting as I was reading Romans 1 how that Paul addresses the saints (those already converted) and says he’s eager to come preach the gospel to them (not to the unconverted). I couldn’t help but realize that if he sees it normal to still preach the gospel to those who are already converted, surely he would have no problem writing about it to them also. And so it became very clear to me that the full gospel is indeed proclaimed throughout the book of Romans, and it does not include having to be baptized specifically with a certain invocation, or even at all, in order to be saved (only as a response to being saved). And it does not include having to speak in tongues in order to know the Holy Ghost has been received. I like chapter 3 and chapter 10; chapter 10 especially. Verse 9 in context of the preceding verses in chapter 10 makes salvation plain as day. I love it.

  4. Ben

    Well said man. Last time I visited your website was about 4 years ago and really lid up something within in me. Check out The explicit gospel. You pretty much touched all but it is still a good read on the the topic you touched. Thanks

  5. Angela

    Josh,

    Thank you so much again!!! I’ve read your article more thoroughly this evening with my Bible in front of me as well as pulled up some references of my own. That coupled with your responses has shed great light on this particular subject for me!!!
    I am so very excited about these revelations! It’s an awesome feeling to know I no longer have to continually question my salvation. This has been one cause of some stess in my spiritual life for some time now. I finally feel I can lay this one down and rest fully in Him!
    He has been pressing upon me here lately that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I can DO to ensure my salvation except to trust Him. LOL!

    Thanks for your time in all this. I am still combing your site, so you will more than likely hear from me again. LOL!

    In Love,
    Angela

  6. Angela

    Thank you so much for the quick explanation! I really appreciate the thoroughness of your articles and replies.

    I gave a quick background on myself on your “What The Bible Says About Wearing Pants” article. To further that just a tad, my Father left church altogether when I was very young, and though his beliefs began to change and mirror yours, there were always questions in his mind, so instead of confusing us girls at that time, he would only talk about it if asked. Needless to say, he and I had MANY conversations because I had/have a TON of questions. LOL! BUT, he never interferred with my Mother’s beliefs which lined up with the UPC/Pentecostal standards. Throughout their marriage, she continued to drag us girls to church with her, and honestly, I’m glad she kept the foundation in our lives. That in itself taught me a great lesson in faith an perseverance even though their marriage was falling apart and eventually came to a divorce after 22 years.
    OK….so all that being said, after I (the middle daughter) moved out, my Mom’s “faithfulness” waivered and though her beliefs never changed, she gave in to “worldly influence”. Back in my bar-hopping days, she and my sisters were the crew who joined me. Here is how amazing God is. When He began dealing with me, I would actually tell Him…God, as long as my Mom and sisters are in the world, I just don’t think I could commit to you. When we get together at Mom’s, we drink… anyway, long story short, it turned out that He drew them at the same time, so we all ended up back at church together! LOL! I praise Him for that!
    I have directed my Mom to your site. Though the church we attend is considered non-denominational (they actually call it an inter-denominational) Mom still struggles with tongues being an issue of salvation. I talked with her about it again last night, and she is very interested in reading your articles, but she did bring up one more scripture I’d like to question you about. I do study this on my own, but it is beneficial to me to be able to “pick” the brains of others…
    My intention is not to debate with you at all as my veiws are MUCH like and much more, mirror yours. The scripture that she talked about is Acts 10:44-48 and namely 45 & 46. Could you give those a read and tell me what your take is on them? I’d really appreciate it. If you decide not to answer on this article’s page, my email is given on the “comment registration.”
    Thank you in advance. There is no doubt in my mind that God led me to your site to help me work some of these things out in my heart and mind. I thank Him for that, and I thank you for your understanding and willingness to help me and others like us.

    In Love,
    Angela

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author

      Angela,

      It’s my pleasure to help any way that I can! I enjoyed reading your story. I know a lot of people like your Mom. I always tell people that there are two types of people who leave the UPC. The first group are the ones who simply come to realize that the doctrine is incorrect. They aren’t leaving God, they’re just leaving a group that teaches a particular “flavor” of Christianity. The second group are the ones like your mom who continue to believe the doctrine is correct, but they get hurt or bitter or frustrated or simply “fall away.” In their minds the UPC is still correct so when they leave they feel that they are leaving God. They never stop to consider that leaving the UPC doesn’t mean you need to leave God. I’m glad that your mother is starting to re-examine her perspective!

      The question that she asked about Acts 10:44-48 is a good one. As you and most readers know, an angel had directed Peter to Caesarea to preach the gospel to a gentile. This was the third group that the gospel had spread to, and it’s important to remember that when reading the passage. The first group that the gospel reached was the Jews and the second were the Samaritans (mixed Jewish and Gentile) in Acts 8. In both cases signs and miracles were focused on the initial outpouring. These signs and wonders both affirmed the gospel and validated the authority of the apostles. Additionally, the evident outpouring of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by signs and miracles, affirmed to the apostles that the gospel was indeed spreading beyond the pure Jews.

      The third group that the gospel spread to were called the “God-fearers.” These people were gentiles who were familiar with Judaism and had adopted it to some extent. They were usually quite friendly towards the Jews and were even invited to attend the synagogue. However, they were not Jews by blood. The Jews called these people “God fearers” because of their acknowledgment of Jehovah as the only God and their obedience to some points of the Law. If you notice, that’s what Cornelius was called in Acts 10:22. The messengers from Cornelius reported: “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.”

      So we see then that this was not just another evangelic opportunity for Peter. This was something quite different. The Jews viewed themselves as God’s chosen people, but now the gospel had already spread to the ones of mixed heritage and now it was going to spread to the gentiles too? This was something that Peter never would have accepted if God’s hand had not forced his acknowledgement–first by the vision that he received of the clean mixed with the unclean right before Cornelius’ messengers arrived, then by the visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius’ family.

      Now that we understand the background, take a look at the passage your mom asked about:

      While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.” (Acts 10:44-48 NASB)

      There are a few interesting points about this passage. Ironically, I think the tongues is the least interesting part! First, we see that Peter’s reaction to the Holy Spirit being poured out on a Roman centurion was amazement! He had been given a vision of the clean being mixed with the unclean, and he had received a claim from a messenger that an angel had directed them to come to that particular house and call him to preach the gospel, yet he was still amazed that it worked! This shows how deep his prejudice ran–and not just his, but the others who were with him as well.

      Next, we see how Peter knew that the Holy Spirit had been poured out: tongues. And here the apostolic says, “Ha! This proves that tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit!” But where does the passage say that? First of all, when tongues was poured out in Acts 2, the people who were speaking tongues were speaking a known language that those around them understood, and they were glorifying God in that language. Apparently the same thing was happening with Cornelius, because Luke records, “they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.” It was a repeat of Acts 2 all over again. (Interesting point: According to Paul, tongues was evidence to the nonbeliever, and in this case it was Peter who was the nonbeliever (not in Christ, but in the salvation of the gentiles) and needed proof, not Cornelius.)

      So in this case tongues did validate to Peter and those with him that the Holy Spirit was being poured out on the Jews. A common interpretation (which I agree with) is that Cornelius and his family were speaking a language fluently that they did not know but the apostles did. Most likely it was Hebrew, but it could have been fluent Aramaic as well. We will never know until we get to Heaven, but that does seem like the most likely interpretation.

      So if tongues was the evidence of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10, then doesn’t that mean that it is THE evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit? Absolutely not. In logic that type of question is called a false dichotomy. Basically it means “false choice,” meaning that a situation is presented as only have two options (A or B) when one or more other possibilities may also exist. (It sounds like this logical fallacy would be easy to spot, but you would be surprised. Politicians use false dichotomies all the time to polarize an issue and paint their opponents in a poor light, and the majority of people simply accept it).

      In this case the false choice is presented like this: Either tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit or it’s not; Tongues was the evidence in Acts 10; Therefore, tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.” The problem is, the UPC doesn’t consider the fact that tongues can be one of many possible evidences of receiving the Holy Spirit without being the only evidence. The distinction is crucial. There’s no doubt that tongues was the proof that Peter needed to convince him that the Holy Spirit was spreading to the Gentiles, but nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that tongues is the only evidence. The UPC acknowledges this point but they still insist that there is a “pattern” of people speaking with tongues when they receive the Holy Spirit, yet a simple reading of Acts shows that their conclusion is incorrect. There are records of thousands of people being saved in Acts, but tongues is only mentioned three times. It’s also important to remember that according to Ephesians all believers receive the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) but common experience shows us that not all believers speak in tongues.

      Tongues not the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. Again, it can be an evidence without being the evidence. Tongues is simply a gift of the Spirit that may or may not be present when a person receives the Holy Spirit. Additionally, tongues is one thing and one thing only: Speaking in a language that the person does not know but that others present do know or could potentially know (in other words, it’s an earthly language, not a heavenly language). It’s not gibberish, it’s not saying “d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d” or “shando-ma-kayah” over and over (I mean no disrespect). Maybe some people doing those things have the gift of tongues and maybe they don’t. Who am I to judge? People often ask me if I believe that I ever truly spoke in tongues and the answer is no, I don’t think I did. Nevertheless, I refuse to judge what gift another person may or may not have. That’s between them and God.

      So why did God choose tongues in Acts 2, 10, and 19? The answer is simple. We can confidently conclude that in Acts 2 and 10 the people speaking with tongues were speaking in a foreign language that they did not know but the people around them did know. In Acts 2 the gift was used to spread the gospel and in Acts 10 it was used to prove to a stubborn apostle that the gospel had spread. In Acts 19 the purpose is not as clear, but the new converts who spoke in tongues and prophesied somehow lead to Paul preaching the gospel in the synagogues for three months, so it’s reasonable to conclude that something like Acts 2 or 10 took place. And if it didn’t then it doesn’t matter because the ultimate conclusion is still the same: There is simply no biblical evidence to lead us to conclude that tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.

      I hope this helps, and if you have any other questions please feel free to reply. I think this type of dialogue benefits others as well, and I love to see it taking place!

      In Christ,
      Josh S.

  7. Angela

    Josh,

    Love the article!
    Agree…but am still searching it out for fear of being wrong! LOL! That being said, could you figure in the scriptures spoken by the prophets concerning tongues?
    Mainly…and possibly only… Isaiah 28:11? If I’m not mistaken, Paul made referrence to this scripture in 1 Corinthians 14:21.

    Thanks. Your website has really benn a God-send for me.

    Angela

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author

      Angela,

      I’m so happy that the Web site has been a help! I think you’re doing the right thing by searching everything out. It’s a long and frightening process, and Scripture makes it clear that the apostles firmly approved of people searching the Scriptures to verify that what they heard was true. If Paul can approve of people questioning him then who am I to complain when people question me! (Not saying you are, but I’m sure many do.)

      The question you asked about Isaiah 28:11 is an excellent one. This is what it says:

      “Indeed, He will speak to this people
      Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
      He who said to them, ‘Here is rest, give rest to the weary,’
      And, ‘Here is repose,” but they would not listen.'”
      (Isaiah 28:11-12 NASB)

      Paul referenced that Scripture in his discussion of tongues, and the apostolic movement frequently uses it as proof that tongues is God’s way of communicating with us in the modern age. Their argument goes something like this: “Aha! Isaiah prophesied hundreds of years before Pentecost that stammering lips and tongues would be the way that God spoke to His people! Tongues is the evidence of the Holy Ghost, and that’s why Isaiah said it brought rest! If you’re weary and need rest then stop resisting God and come up to the altar!”

      Now, don’t think I’m mocking people who teach that. It sounds very logical, but only if one takes Isaiah 28:11-12 out of context. When it’s read in context the message becomes very, very different. The passage is too long to quote here, but the first 8 verses of Isaiah 28 talk about how God is about to judge Ephraim (Israel) for their various sins. Verse 7 points out that the prophets and priests are drunk while “having visions” and “rendering judgment,” and the Lord seems particularly displeased with that. Then, in verse 9, Isaiah asks:

      “To whom would He teach knowledge,
      And to whom would He interpret the message?
      Those just weaned from milk?
      Those just taken from the breast?”

      Now that it is clear that God has tried again and again to teach Ephraim but Ephraim refuses to learn, He says:

      “For He says,
      ‘Order on order, order on order,
      Line on line, line on line,
      A little here, a little there.’
      Indeed, He will speak to this people
      Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
      He who said to them, ‘Here is rest, give rest to the weary,’
      And, ‘Here is repose,’ but they would not listen.
      So the word of the Lord to them will be,
      ‘Order on order, order on order,
      Line on line, line on line,
      A little here, a little there,’
      That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.”
      (Isaiah 28:10-13 NASB)

      As one can see, the tongues that are promised in Isaiah 28 are not good at all. The prophecy isn’t about Pentecost, it’s about Israel being lead into captivity by the Assyrians. Scholars point out that the “stammering lips” was probably a reference to the Assyrian language (the Hebrew language was similar enough for them to understand each other) and the foreign language (translated as “tongues” in the KJV) was just that–a foreign language. In other words, the tongues in Isaiah 28 were very natural and they were the result of a promise because the Israelites had rejected rest, they were not a promise of rest in themselves. As a matter of fact, they were about as far from rest as you can get. The Assyrians were incredibly cruel. They made the Babylonians look like the nicest folks in town.

      Now, the interpretation of Isaiah 28 is very clear. There’s nothing ambiguous about it. So why did Paul repeat the prophecy in 1 Cor. 14:21? And doesn’t he make it seem like the prophecy was about the gift of tongues?

      Yes and no.

      Paul never treated Isaiah 28:11 like it was referring to the modern gift of tongues. This is what Paul said:

      “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written:

      ‘With other tongues
      and through the lips of foreigners
      I will speak to this people,
      but even then they will not listen to me,
      says the Lord.’

      Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Cor. 14:20-22a)

      Is Paul saying that Isaiah 28:11 referred to the gift of tongues? Absolutely not. He’s saying that the “tongues” used by the Assyrians were a sign to Israel because they didn’t believe God, and the gift of tongues is now a sign to unbelievers who do not believe God. In other words, Paul is teaching a message from an Old Testament prophecy, he’s not claiming the fulfillment of the prophecy. In the Old Covenant the tongues were a punishment and in the New Covenant they are a gift. However, Paul hastens to add:

      “prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!'” (1 Cor. 14:20b-25)

      So yes, Paul verified that tongues are a sign, but they’re not a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. Why? Because those who receive the Holy Spirit already believe. They don’t need a sign. To claim that Paul taught that tongues is a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit would be a grave error, because that’s the exact opposite of what he said.

      I hope that answers your question!

      In Christ,
      Josh S.

  8. leaningonGOD

    This was so well-written Josh and covers pretty much everything. Thank you so much for writing it, I appreciate the time and study you put into this article. You have no idea how much you are helping people. :)

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