Remembering the Role of Supplementation When Learning about Salvation
If Matthew 1:1 was the only Bible verse a person ever read about the family and genealogy of Christ, then one might think that Jesus was the immediate son of David, rather than a descendant of David separated in time from the second king of Israel by 1,000 years. If Matthew chapter two was the only passage a person ever considered regarding the birth and early childhood of Jesus’ life, then one would never know that shepherds visited Jesus shortly after His birth. According to Romans 3:23, “[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If this sentence was the only inspired statement that a person ever read regarding sin, and disregarded both the context of Romans 3 as well as the rest of the New Testament, then one would think that Jesus was a sinner. But Jesus, of course, was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Are football referees supposed to know only a few of the rules in order to officiate a game correctly? Is a baker content in knowing only one of the ten ingredients that go into a pineapple upside-down cake? Would you be pleased if the only traffic law that truck drivers knew was the law regarding on what side of the road to drive? The answer to all of these questions is obvious. People generally understand the need to learn the entire rulebook, driver’s manual, or recipe. Knowing just part of these things will result in chaos and negative consequences. Likewise, taking only a part of God’s Word, to the neglect of the rest of His Word, is a recipe for confusion and disaster. Since the “entirety” of Scripture is truth (Psalm 119:160), all of God’s Word on any subject must be considered.
Most Bible students seem to understand the importance of the holistic approach to Bible interpretation when considering any number of topics, including the aforementioned genealogy of Christ and His perfect, sinless nature. Sadly, however, when it comes to the question regarding what a person must do to be saved, this rational approach to Bible interpretation is discarded.
Consider, for example, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Many people have the idea that this one sentence is all they need to know to be saved. I once had a conversation with a man who said that the only part of the Bible that he needed was John 3:16. It did not matter what any other verse says. As long as he knew John 3:16 and believed what it said, he believed he was saved.
Notice, however, one problem (among many) that such a shallow interpretation of the Bible causes. If every student of the Bible picked a different verse and lifted that one verse above all others as “my little recipe for salvation,” then “Christianity” would be in a constant state of contradiction. Someone could say that nothing else matters except baptism because 1 Peter 3:21 says that “baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (NASB, emp. added). Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that a person must be immersed to be saved? Yes. But anyone who claims that immersion in water is all a person must do to be saved would be wrong. Likewise, anyone who claims that a mere mental assent that Jesus is the Son of God is the only thing necessary for salvation would be equally wrong (cf. James 2:19).
The fact is, the Bible teaches that a person must believe and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:16). A person must believe in Jesus and confess His name to receive salvation (Romans 10:9-10). A person must repent and be baptized to have his sins forgiven (Acts 2:38). Additionally, a person must remain faithful until death in order to receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
Bible students will never properly understand Scripture if they adopt an interpretation method that pits one inspired passage against another. They will never understand what to do to be saved if they elevate one verse to the exclusion of all others. The truth is, the Bible is in perfect harmony with itself. One passage will never contradict another, but they will supplement each other. John 3:16 is a wonderful, truthful passage of Scripture. But, so is 1 Peter 3:20-21. And so is Mark 16:16, as well as the rest of Scripture. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB, emp. added).