The Keys of the Kingdom
You will recall the Lord’s promise to Peter, after his good confession, that Peter would be given “the keys of the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). Keys are for opening doors. Peter was the first preacher to give the keys to enter the church or Kingdom of God to both the Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). The word “keys” does not refer to those two events, because the gospel message was the same for both occasions. Peter, rather, proclaimed the facts of the gospel and the terms God gave for entering the church – faith, repentance, confession, and baptism.
Evangelical Christians agree on the facts of the gospel (Christ’s atoning death, burial, and bodily resurrection), but still, differ on the terms for entering the kingdom of God. This was brought home to me again recently when one of my sons showed me a card distributed by a large Baptist church around the city where he lives. This card gave “The Bible Way to Heaven” as follows:
- Recognize your condition (then it quoted Romans 3:23).
- Realize sin’s penalty (Romans 6:23).
- Recognize where sin came from (Romans 5:12).
- Believe Christ died for you (Romans 5:8).
- Trust Christ as your Savior (Romans 10:13).
- Claim God’s promise for salvation (Romans 10:9-10).
The list closed with these words: “Now pray, confess that you are a sinner, ask God to save you, and receive Christ as your Savior.” No Scriptures are given for this formula because there are none.
The above plan of salvation is called the Roman Road. Many in our brotherhood use it. Most (but unfortunately not all) of them add Romans 6:3-5 to include baptism. However, I have never seen any version of the Roman Road which mentions repentance. Most evangelicals are content not to include repentance and baptism, although both were clearly included in the “Keys of the Kingdom” (Acts 2:38).
ALL THE KEYS
Our church decided to distribute a card around our area giving the complete plan of salvation. We started with the Roman Road, but branched out as follows:
- Recognize your condition (quote Romans 3:23).
- Realize Sin’s Penalty (Romans 6:23).
- Trust Christ as your Savior (Acts 16:31).
- Repent of your sins (Acts 3:19).
- Be baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27).
- Receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
When you read all of the gospel terms for salvation, it looks pretty simple, doesn’t it? So, why is there so much confusion about God’s plan of redemption? One reason is that there is a lot of single-verse theology going on. Someone quotes John 3:16 and says, “That’s all there is to the plan of salvation. All you need to do is believe in Jesus.” That is true, but what is involved in believing in Jesus?
One frequently overlooked principle of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation) is: “Each Scripture must be understood in the light of all other Scriptures.” When you study the entire New Testament, you learn that believing in Christ also requires repentance, confession of faith, and being buried with the Lord in the watery grave of baptism.
Sound hermeneutics also includes such principles as considering the dispensation (patriarchal, Mosaic or Christian) to which a Scripture belongs and who is speaking to whom. It is interesting that most salvation Scriptures used by faith-only proponents come from John’s gospel and the book of Romans. The gospels cover a period when the law was still in force, and Romans was written to Christians who had already repented and been baptized. Sound Bible interpretation would suggest that if you want to learn how people became Christians, you would study a book which contains numerous conversion accounts. It is no mystery why faith-only people do not linger long in the book of Acts.
THE KEY OF REPENTANCE
The church began in Acts chapter two. When Peter preached that first gospel sermon, he declared that Jesus was both Lord and Christ. Many people were convicted and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter’s first response was “repent.” Peter did not try to make the people feel good about themselves. But he assured them that if they repented and were baptized, they would receive “the forgiveness of sins and gift of the Holy Spirit”(Acts 2:37-38).
When we lead someone to Christ, we must not neglect to tell them about repentance. Faith and baptism are not enough to save a soul. Repentance means that we turn from our sins and surrender to Christ as our Lord if we would enjoy him as our Savior. Jesus said in Luke 13:3, “Unless you repent, you will perish.” In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus said you should count the cost before becoming his disciple. He said that we must love Him more than anybody else or anything else. That is the essence of repentance--to turn from sin and self and surrender to the Lordship of Christ.
Obviously, preaching repentance has never been popular. Yet, God did not exempt anyone from the need to repent. Are we as committed to proclaiming repentance as we are to proclaiming faith and baptism? We have no right to treat God’s desires for us like a buffet, taking what we like and leaving out what we don’t like.
Paul summed up his ministry in Acts 26:20. Everywhere he went he told people “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” We ought to teach the same thing.
THE KEY OF BAPTISM
In Acts 2:38 and 10:47-38 we see that baptism is a point of entry into the church, which is the Kingdom of God on earth.
In Acts 10 after Cornelius and his household received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Peter “ordered that they be baptized in water.” Why did they need water baptism if they already had the Holy Spirit? Well, unless he has changed his mind from Acts 2:38, they needed to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.
When you read the conversion accounts in the book of Acts, you see a sense of urgency about baptizing new converts (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12-18; 8:35-39; 10:44-48; 16:14-15; 16:25-34; 18:7-8; 19:1-5;22:14-16). Those who accepted Christ did not eat a bite, drink a drop, or sleep a wink before being baptized. It is the responsibility of the evangelist to see that new believers are baptized as soon as possible. Our Lord’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) commands us to urge people to become disciples, to baptize those who respond, and then teach them the whole counsel of God.
People who argue that baptism is not essential for salvation seldom quote Scriptures which speak of the meaning and purpose of baptism. They usually cite such texts as John 3:16 or Romans 10:9-10 and say, “All you need to do is believe and confess your faith.”
How can we respond to this? When someone is confused about infant baptism, sprinkling vs. immersion or the necessity of baptism for salvation, I will sometimes give them a copy of the page from my concordance which has all the Bible references to “baptism,” “baptize,” “baptized” and “baptizing.” I encourage them to read all those Scriptures on baptism and see what they say about who was baptized, how they were baptized and why they were baptized. Nobody, after doing that, has ever gotten back to me to insist that my teachings on baptism are mistaken.
One practice which is becoming popular in our churches is having “Baptism Sundays.” People who have never been baptized are urged to do so on this special day. An appropriate message is given and perhaps even personal contacts are made to encourage those who need to take this step.
This is not a new idea. Forty-five years ago, a church I was serving purchased a building from an evangelical congregation. We were pleased that this building had a baptistery at the front of the sanctuary. However, when we examined it more closely, we discovered that the tank in this baptistery had a large rust hole in the middle of it. I called their preacher about this. He said, “Oh, we haven’t used that baptistery in years. We just baptize our people once a year in a swimming pool at our annual church picnic.”
Now, not only is that practice unbiblical, but it also guarantees that some people will fall through the cracks and never be baptized. Will they be lost? Only God can judge. But God will judge those who fail to baptize new believers.This is not to imply that all churches who have baptism Sundays are like the church just mentioned, but it could be a slippery slope. Also, there is a greater risk of people yielding to the “herd instinct” when you hype up a big Sunday for baptisms. Is peer pressure a substitute for personal conviction by the Holy Spirit?
All that we have said underscores the fact that we should not tinker with the Keys of the Kingdom. Part gospel preaching does not please the Lord. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments... anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching ...” (John 14:15, 24)
These words of Christ bring to mind an illustration used by our Restoration forefathers. It tells of a pioneer who climbed the mountains of Virginia and entered the new land of Kentucky. He staked out a claim and drew a map of where he wanted to build a barn, dig a well, and build a cabin. He took the plans back to his two sons in Virginia and sent them on ahead to Kentucky to get the homestead ready for the family.
When the sons got there, they looked at the map and said, “This is where Dad wants the barn. Yes, that’s a good spot for the barn,” and they built it. They looked at the map again and said, “Here is where Dad thinks the well should be. Yes, that’s a logical spot,” and they dug the well. Finally, they looked again at the map, then at each other, and said, “That’s not the best spot for the cabin,” and built it in an entirely different place.
At this point, the restoration preacher would ask, “Did these sons obey their father?” Someone might reply, “Well, they obeyed him two times out of three,” to which the preacher would conclude, “No, they only obeyed their father when they agreed with him, and that’s not faith, trust, or obedience at all.”