One of the most misunderstood topics of teaching in the body of Christ these days is salvation. I do not say this out of arrogance. Most people I have ever talked to about this topic have approached it with some sort of bias. These biases lead them to one of four off-balanced theologies regarding salvation. Here I hope to settle this issue, though for some a single website page will not be enough. For those who wish to discuss it further, please contact me. This issue is too big for misunderstanding.
Before we begin, I want to say that I grew up under one of these off-balanced theologies, and encountered others who believed differently. At that point, I began an 8-year study of research into the topic to discover the truth. So please understand that I do not approach this topic ignorantly nor arrogantly.
First, before discussing the four different types of theologies on this topic, let's look at Romans 9:15. Paul says, "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.'" I bring up this scripture to say that we must approach this topic with humility. For me or you to say "this person is going to Hell because they are doing it wrong" is at best arrogant, and at worst judging. We need to clear up any discrepancies that exist, and at the same time, recognize that God judges the heart above all! That being said, let us look at the four areas of unbalanced theology.
Sola Fide (by faith alone). This is by far one of the most widely-held positions on salvation in the church today; and with the abundance of scripture supporting it, who can blame them? After all, I was sucked into it for a time. But the fact of the matter is, just because everyone believes it doesn't make it true. I wrestled with this theology for a long time. Let's look at a few key scriptures supporting Sola Fide:
Romans 10:9-11. Because if you confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Everyone believing on Him will not be put to shame."
John 3:14-18. And even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. The one believing into Him is not condemned; but the one not believing has already been condemned, for he has not believed into the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Ephesians 2:8. For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, that not anyone should boast.
So, here we can see an abundance of scriptural evidence to support the belief that faith saves. But if you look real close, we have a problem. Some of the scriptures say that we must simply believe and we will be saved (such as Jesus in John 3:14-18), but then another says we must believe and confess to be saved (Romans10:9-11). So which is it? Believe and confess or just believe? Well, most theologians that I have ever spoken to insist that because one passage gives more information than the other, we must go with the one that gives the more information. Okay, well let us look at another verse:
Acts 3:19. Therefore, repent, and convert, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from the face of the Lord
Now, here we have another problem because repentance is added into the mix. Again, most theologians I have spoken with agree that repentance is important...indeed vitally important to salvation (please understand that I am not basing truth on theologians...I am making the point that the people who maintain Sola Fide must use this line of reasoning). So now, in order to be saved, one must believe, confess, and repent. Now let us look at some more verses.
Acts 2:38. And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized, each of you on the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Mark 16:16. The one believing and being baptized will be saved. And the one not believing will be condemned.
Acts 22:16. And now what do you intend? Rising up, be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Galatians 3:27. For as many as were baptized into Christ, you put on Christ.
1 Peter 3:21. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now, up until these verses, theologians had no problem with "including" things into the salvation message. First it was believe only. Then it was believe and confess. Then repentance was added. But when it comes to baptism, for some reason the theologians have developed a problem with this. They maintain that baptism is only for blind obedience or joining a particular church, or merely "an outward sign of an inward confession" (even though confession should be outward). However, viewing the verses just mentioned, there is an overwhelming scriptural support for baptism being a part of salvation. In other words,when a person asks "what must I do to be saved," according to scripture, we should talk to them about believing, repentance, confession, and baptism (along with the cost of discipleship...something I wish to address elsewhere).
At this point, people start "crying foul" and say, "but baptism for salvation is saying you have to do smething for your salvation, and we are saved apart from works, and that constitutes a work." We have to look at the Bible from a whole picture; and if we start off with a bias, we will end up trying to excuse away all five of the above verses and more. Baptism is not a work...it is a doorway. In fact, Paul very clearly gave this picture in Romans 6:4-5. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. At this point, I have had people say, "well that talks about baptism into death, not water, so it must be figurative." Alright, put down your bias and read it again. Baptism is that channel through which we unite ourselves with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. If you read it with unbiased eyes, it is clear as day. But looking at it through bias is like wearing a pair of red-tinted glasses and looking at a blue picture. You will insist that it is purple! We must read the scriptures without bias.
Sola Aquam (by water alone). Some churches (primarily Churches of Christ and Christian Churches) do teach water baptism, but they place such a heavy emphasis on it that the other aspects of salvation are practically forgotten. I have seen more than my fair share of child baptisms, where the minister was so thrilled to baptize the child that he didn't even think to mention repentance or confession. He would just simply ask the child "do you believe in Jesus?" Sometimes I would hear them say, "are you ready to make Jesus the Lord of your life?" After hearing a "yes" (regardless of whether the child understood what he was saying yes to), they would say, "based on this 'confession' I baptize you..." Then they would welcome the child into the "family of God." Half the time the children don't even know what they are doing! Sometimes when there are other kids being baptized, some kids want to be baptized just because their friends are doing it...and the minister does it! That is NOT what God intended. Salvation is not merely dunking people under water, and it is not merely saying a prayer! It is a culmination of real belief (not Santa Claus belief) repentance, confession, and baptism. Now, I cannot sit here and say that if one of those is missing, a person is not saved...that is up to God. I will say that it is extremely irresponsible and outside of God's design.
Once Saved Always Saved.
Calvinism (predestined to salvation).