Our basic response to God's grace is faith (Hebrews 11:6). In one sense, faith is a simple matter, yet at the same time it has several aspects. For example, there are certain specific truths that must be believed. We must believe that God really did raise Jesus from the dead and that He is who He claimed to be, namely the Son of God (John 8:24; Romans 10:9). Jesus was not merely a uniquely devoted spiritual teacher; He was God in human flesh and is still the living Lord of the universe.
We must also believe that Jesus' death is the penalty that pays for our sins (Romans 4:25; I Corinthians 15:4; Galatians 1:4). There is nothing we could do independently of Jesus' sacrificial death to cover for the sins we have committed. We have to trust that the death penalty He suffered is counted as the punishment we deserve.
Faith is not merely "believe that," however, it is also "believe in" (John 6:29). It goes beyond merely believing that certain statements are true. It includes the idea of personal faith or trust in Jesus. Many people can tell us facts and we will "believe that" those facts are true. In contrast, there are not nearly so many people of whom we will say, "I believe in him." Believing in someone entails a deep confidence that he or she is reliable and trustworthy. If we come to have that kind of confidence in someone, we will believe that the things he tells us are true, but we will also trust him, rely on him, and even act on what he says. So it is when we come to believe in Jesus.
In order to receive God's gracious provision of salvation, we must also respond to His grace by repenting (Luke 13:1-9). To repent is to "change the mind." This is not so flippant as our common references to changing our minds about simple plans we had made. Rather, it refers to a radical reorientation of our minds. It is a whole new way of thinking. It is a whole new direction for our lives. Previously, we were headed in a predominantly self-centered direction. Repentance means heading in a God-centered direction. A good synonym of repent is "turn." We turn back from our selfishness and neglect of God and turn toward Him.
Genuine repentance is both inward and outward (Acts 26:20). It is not mere behavior modification. It is a sincere change of heart. But neither is it merely a New Year's Resolution. The genuine change in our hearts shows up in actual changes of behavior. We adopt God's thinking and begin to adopt His ways as well. We will not be able to do this perfectly, of course, but there is a definite, noticeable change nevertheless.
Being forgiven by God is also dependent on our confessing in the presence of others that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10). This is not a mindless, rote confession. Rather, it is an expression of our earnest belief. What's more, it is not merely words. It is an expression of our heart's intent. To confess Jesus as Lord is not only to state that we believe the fact but is also an announcement to others that we are embracing Him as the Lord of our lives.
If we understand the word "Lord," we will not lightly confess Jesus as Lord of our lives. "Lord" means "master." It is the word that was used to describe the master of a slave. To confess Jesus as Lord, then, entails us adopting the role of a slave. A failure to recognize this makes our confession worthless (Luke 6:46). The word "Lord" is also used in the New Testament to describe the Emperor of the Roman Empire (Acts 25:26). Thus, to be Lord is to be the absolute ruler. To confess Jesus as Lord is to embrace Him as the absolute ruler of our lives.
To participate in God's salvation, we must also be baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:36-38). Baptism is an immersion in water, but it is much more than that as well. In baptism we die to our old lives, are buried, and then are raised up from the dead to begin a new life (Romans 6:1-4). What's more, in baptism we have the incomparable privilege of participating in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus-the very event that provides the basis for our salvation! Through the mighty power of God, we are carried back spiritually over all the years and all the miles to be joined with Jesus on His cross, buried with Him in His tomb, and raised up with Him by the power of God. We are crucified with Christ and then begin to live a powerful new life in Him (Galatians 2:20). We are "baptized into Christ," that is into a whole new relationship with Him.
Baptism, like confession, is not a mindless ritual, and it's not for just anyone. To be baptized into Christ, a person needs to be old enough to understand the good news of what God did through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:22-37). He or she needs to be capable of and willing to repent (Acts 2:38). The person must be willing to embrace Jesus as Lord. What's more, since the benefits that come when a person is baptized are the result of God's working, the person being baptized must be able and willing to believe that God will indeed work through it (Colossians 2:11-12). When received with understanding, faith, repentance, and acceptance of Jesus as Lord, God works mightily through baptism to wash a person clean.
Baptism also provides us with a tangible beginning point for our new lives in Christ (Romans 6:4). We don't have to look back and wonder if or when we may have gotten into a relationship with God. Baptism provides us with a specific time and place that we can look back to as the beginning.
Next: The Sum of the Matter