There are few things that can get people more worked up than a discussion of religious beliefs. You see, the majority of people believe what they do religiously because of strong convictions, which in turn give rise to strong emotions. For nearly two thousand years, believers have debated what the Bible--God's word--teaches, and unbelievers have denied what is taught in the Bible. Perhaps the religious question that sparks the most controversy is: "How is an individual saved?" The opinions that are given in answering this question are as diverse and as numerous as the denominations that have espoused them.
For example, the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages taught heavily that man's salvation was hinged to his performing certain works and rituals or by making financial contributions to the church. Martin Luther, on the other hand, a former priest, broke away from what he considered to be rigid and hypocritical doctrines of Catholicism. He began to teach that man was justified by faith only. The Catholic doctrine of salvation by works motivated Luther to teach that man was saved by faith alone, without works whatsoever. John Calvin, who was a contemporary of Martin Luther, also rejected the idea that man was saved by works, however he did not believe that man was saved by faith only like Luther did. Calvin taught that man was saved by the grace of God only and that man could do absolutely nothing to be saved (not even believe!). He believed it was the work of the sovereign God of all creation to determine who would and who would not be saved.
So, who is right? Is the Catholic Church correct in their answer to this question? Is Luther right? Does Calvin have the correct answer? Could they all be right? Could they all be wrong? Is man saved by grace alone? Faith alone? Works alone? Could it be that man is saved by none of these things, or perhaps by several of them? Listen carefully to this next point: It would be a tragedy for us to rely upon opinions or our own beliefs when answering these questions. Why? Because God has "given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3)! We do not have to guess whose opinion is correct! We can know what is truth and what is error, because God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. This means He has answered the question for us in His book, the Bible. Now, if the answer is in His book, what do we need to do? We need to study it so we can know what it says (II Tim. 2:15)! We need to set our own opinions aside and go to the word of God, searching for His answer to the question--not the Catholic Church's answer, not Luther's answer, not Calvin's answer, not even Stephen Bradd's answer! Everything and anything that I or any other preacher tells you is essentially worthless if it cannot be proven from God's word. Friends, be noble-minded like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Search the Scriptures to see whether or not the things I am saying are true. If I am saying things that are not true, then you should contact me and correct me. In fact, I hope you would correct me out of love for my soul and out of concern for those I am teaching. But, if the things I am saying are true, that is, if they are in harmony with what God has taught in the Bible, then you would be wise to pay careful attention! And, once you know the truth, you should obey it and share it with others!
So, with that being said, let's strive to answer the question: How is an individual saved? And to help us answer this most important question, we will seek the assistance of one of God's faithful servants, Noah.
The accounts contained in the Old Testament were "written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). The events surrounding Noah's salvation provide us with a full picture of how God saved man in the Old Testament and how He still saves man today.
FIRST, NOAH WAS SAVED BY GRACE
Noah was a good man, but he did not deserve to survive the flood in which everyone else (except he and his family) perished. Noah deserved to die because he sinned just like everyone else (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Well, that is not entirely accurate. Noah did sin, but he was not a sinner like everyone else. The difference was that Noah was sorry for his wrong actions and wanted to make them right with God. That was a rare quality in a time when "the wickedness of man was great in the earth" and every intent of the thoughts of men's hearts were only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). You see, there in the midst of humanity stood Noah--faithful, obedient, and righteous. Like a diamond next to ordinary rocks, the sparkling qualities of Noah caught God's eye in heaven, and "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:8). That one word, "grace," meant that Noah would not suffer the wrath of God that would befall the rest of mankind. Grace is something we all desire because it is nice to receive blessings that we do not deserve. Grace does not excuse wrong, but it allows for mistakes and imperfections. Grace rewards with forgiveness when punishment is deserved. This is what Noah found in the eyes of the Lord. He did not earn it or deserve it. He received an unearned favor, a gift from God. Why? Because he lived righteously before the Lord and God chose to favor him as a result.
WE TOO ARE SAVED BY GRACE
With the exception of living on a floating zoo, we really are not that much different from Noah. We too live in a world that is corrupted by and overrun with sin. We would shudder to imagine the world in Noah's day if it were more evil than the one we live in. We may not like to think about ourselves this way, but, just like Noah, we have all sinned and deserve to be punished for our disobedience. Yet, just like Noah, man today can be saved from the sentence of sin by grace! "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9). Just like Noah, we cannot earn salvation, and we do not deserve it. It is the gift of God. "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10).
However, there is an enormous difference between being saved by grace and being saved by grace alone. I do not know if you have thought about it before, but if man was saved by grace alone, then all people would be saved. After all, Jesus died for everyone (I John 2:2), God desires that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), and His grace has appeared to all men (Titus 2:11). So, if grace was the only element necessary for salvation, then God would save everyone, and if anyone was not saved, then it would be God's fault. However, we know that this is not the case. Obviously, there must be more to salvation than just God's grace because according to Matthew 7:13,14 most people will be lost. Jesus says only a few will be saved. Why? Perhaps Noah can shed some light on this question.
SECOND, NOAH WAS SAVED BY FAITH
Noah did not have the technological blessings of the twenty-first century when it came to forecasting the weather. There was no Doppler Radar or Storm Tracker back then, but Noah had two things that worked much better. He had God's Word and his own faith. "By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Heb. 11:7). The Lord issued His own severe storm warning to Noah by saying, "Behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die" (Gen. 6:17). It was by the grace of God that Noah received a warning; without it, he too would have perished. Yet despite the grace of God playing an important role in Noah's salvation, he was not saved by grace alone. The grace of God did not build the ark; it merely warned that there was a need for one. Noah believed God. He had confidence in the Lord and faith that God would do what He said He would do. God said there would be a flood and Noah believed it. We know he believed God because he moved with fear and prepared an ark to save his family. I doubt anyone would spend years building a boat larger than a football field if they did not fully believe that a flood was coming! Did Noah's faith take away from God's grace? Absolutely not! God's grace covers what we are not able to do, and our faith shows that we will not question God's integrity by doubting that He is willing or able to do what He promises.
WE TOO ARE SAVED BY FAITH
Noah was saved because he believed that God was sending a flood. We are saved by believing that God has already sent His Son. The consequences of not believing that Jesus is the Son of God who was crucified for our sins, buried, and raised are as fatal as it would have been for Noah had he questioned God's truthfulness and decided not to built the ark (cf. John 8:24). As Noah benefited from God's grace because of his faith, so we benefit from God's grace by our faith in Jesus. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1,2). Are we any less saved by grace if we are required by God to have faith? No! Paul said it is by faith that we have access into God's grace. According to this verse, if we do not have faith, the grace of God will not do us any good. Remember, Noah was saved by grace and by faith, but not by either of them alone. It is the same way with man today.
THIRD, NOAH WAS SAVED BY WORKS
Genesis 6:22 is a powerful testimony to Noah - "Thus did Noah according to all that God commanded him, so he did." Noah did not stop at the point of having faith in God's grace; he did what God told him to do. Noah was saved because of God's grace warning him, and because he had faith that God was telling the truth, but without an ark, Noah would have been dead in the water. Noah's faith motivated him to work, that is, to do what God had told him to do. Of course, the fact that Noah did work to build the ark did not take away one bit from the importance that grace and faith had in his salvation. We saw in Hebrews 11:7 that Noah's building of the ark was said to be by faith. God did not build the boat for Noah simply because he believed; Noah had to do it. His faith had to prove itself through action. Truly, this is the only genuine kind of faith (Jam. 2:14ff). Doing anything less than all that God had commanded would have been disobedience, and the Lord would have been displeased.
WE TOO ARE SAVED BY WORKS
My mother makes the most delicious homemade bread. I have watched her make this bread and I know that it requires several ingredients--yeast being one of them. I confess that I am not a gourmet chef by any means, but I do know a little about yeast. Yeast does not make the bread, nor does it give it that wonderful taste--the other ingredients do that. Apart from the other ingredients, yeast really has little use, but do not think for a minute that the yeast is unimportant. Without the yeast, the bread resembles a hard, blunt weapon instead of an edible delight.
What does this have to do with being saved by works, you ask? Well, in a crude way, yeast is to bread what works are to the Christian. Without the grace of God and faith, works are useless. Just like without flour, sugar, butter, and milk, yeast is useless in bread-making. However, the opposite is true as well. "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). A faith that is not exercised by works will die, and a dead faith is good for nothing. It is by an active, working faith that we have access to God's grace. Without works of obedience we cannot access His grace. I am not talking about works of merit in which God would owe us salvation, but I am talking about works of obedience--simply doing what God has told us to do! Philippians 2:13 - "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." God works through us to accomplish His will! That being the case, some who profess to be Christians have essentially put God on the unemployment line because they do no works! "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Did you hear that? "Man is justified by works, and not by faith only"!
FOURTH, NOAH WAS SAVED BY WATER
There were eight souls who were saved from the floodwaters in Noah's day. God's grace made salvation possible, faith and works made the building of the ark possible, but the water washed away the sinful world. I Peter 3:20 declares that "...eight souls, were saved through water." Now perhaps you are thinking, "Wait a minute Stephen, I thought Noah was saved by grace?" He was. "I thought he was saved by faith?" He was. "I thought he was saved by works?" He was. But, he was also saved by water! Was this special water or "holy water"? No, it was just what God chose to use to save Noah. He could have used milk, lava, or oil if He wanted, but He chose water.
WE TOO ARE SAVED BY WATER
I once read about a man who shouted in the face of a preacher from the Lord's church: "Baptism has never saved anyone; it does not now and it never will save anyone!" Now, if truth were determined by how strongly this man believed and expressed what he said, then he would have been speaking the truth. But, we all know that yelling something loudly or crying out in rage does not change the truth! When false statements are shouted, they are just as false as when they are whispered or written. Ask yourself the question: Does the Bible say anything about water being necessary to save man? Yes! I Peter 3:21 - "There is also an antitype which now saves us-baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." If you disagree, do not argue with me, take it up with Peter, he wrote it. Actually, take it up with the Holy Spirit, because He inspired Peter to write it! God says that in the waters of baptism one's sins are washed away. That is not my opinion, that's Bible (Acts 2:38; 22:16)! Baptism is a new beginning, just like the flood was a new beginning. God's word teaches that Noah was saved by grace, faith, works, and water. It also teaches that we are saved by grace, faith, works, and water! We are not saved by anything alone. Grace alone does not save. Faith alone does not save. Works alone do not save. Water alone does not save. But, the combination of all of these elements does save! God's love sent Jesus to die for you (John 3:16), His grace teaches you to repent and deny worldly lusts (Titus 2:12), your works will perfect your faith (James 2:22), and baptism will put you "in Christ" (Gal. 3:27) where salvation is found (II Tim. 2:10). Friends, have you been saved by grace, faith, works, and water? If not, please contact us and let us help you. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.