Before time began God had planned to save sinners. The revealing of this plan and the completion of this plan for God’s glory seems to be the purpose of creation. How does God’s plan of salvation become a reality for us?
GOD’S ETERNAL PLAN
In Ephesians 1:3-8, Paul described this eternal plan God had to save people. The Scripture says:
Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding.
Paul wanted his readers to know that God had planned for sinners to be saved through the work of Christ. The emphasis in this passage is God’s plan and work.
GOD’S EFFECTIVE WORK
Since God planned for the salvation of the lost, God also made salvation possible. God did not plan for sinners to be saved and then leave it up to the sinner. God planned salvation and God made salvation possible. In Ephesians 2, Paul wanted his people to know they were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2).
God brought about the salvation of sinners—he resurrected them from death to life—through the work of Christ. Paul said, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace have you been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-6).
Salvation, then, rests upon God’s plan and God’s work. This work was accomplished in Christ through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Peter described this divine accomplishment in 1 Peter 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
RECEIVING GOD’S GRACE
How is God’s work applied to the lost so that they are saved? This question is what we focus on most often. In order to fully appreciate the question “what must I do to be saved?,” we must first better appreciate what God has done to plan and bring about salvation for the lost. Once the appreciation for God’s plan and work have been fortified, the question of the application of salvation becomes a bit different. Instead of seeing salvation as something we earn or deserve or just acquire, we can better understand that salvation is a gift to be received.
Fifty days after Jesus died, there was a festival which celebrated the crop harvest called Pentecost. It was at this Pentecost harvest festival that God began to bring his harvest home to salvation. Peter preached a sermon that confirmed Jesus was the fulfillment of all God’s promises to save and that Jesus was in fact true God. The sermon culminated with Peter’s affirmation that God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ.
The crowd cried out “what must we do?” because they wanted to be saved—they wanted to be a part of God’s eternal plan that he had worked out in Christ. Peter’s response to the crowd was really quite easy to understand. Peter said, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So, in order to be saved, Peter said the people (and all people) had to repent and to be baptized. This command does not teach that the people could save themselves without Christ or that they could work to earn their salvation by filling a worklist. Instead, Peter declared the Savior and how salvation is applied.
Having heard and believed (accepted) the word Peter preached, the crowd needed to repent. To repent is to change your way of thinking that leads to a change in the way you live. Then, Peter commanded that those who believed and repented should be baptized. BDAG, the standard Greek Lexicon of our day, offers this reading of Acts 2:38, “repent and be baptized so that your sins will be forgiven.” This is the way Acts 2:38 is translated in the NRSV and was originally in the NIV ’84. Baptism, immersion in water as a ritual cleansing (BDAG), was not a magical ritual. Baptism was and is the moment at which salvation is applied. Verification of this claim is seen in the fact that in Acts 2:37 the crowd asked “what must we do?” as a demonstration of their faith and desire to be saved, but they still commanded to repent and be baptized. If their sins were already forgiven, surely Peter would have offered assurance. Instead, he gave them directions of how to become a Christian. The gift was applied and received. God made Christians.