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The Plan of Salvation

by Tim O'Hearn

Many years ago those in the Churches of Christ would hear a lot about the “plan of salvation.” Usually this was shorthand for the five “steps” people go through in order to be saved: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. Although it is legitimate to say that one cannot be saved without these five, it might not be proper to call them God’s “plan of salvation.” They may be requirements for or even sequential steps to salvation, but God’s plan is much broader than just how to access salvation. God’s plan existed long before the church. One could even say the entire Bible details God’s plan of salvation, but that plan is even older than the written word. It is, as the saying goes, older than dirt.

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. (1 Pet 1:18-21)

It would be wrong to limit God’s plan to a series of actions or inactions, because Peter points out that God had this plan for us from “before the foundation of the world.” Because God is outside of time, he knew that when he created time and man that he would have to have a way for sinful man to return to him. He had to plan salvation as soon as he planned creation.

God’s plan of salvation can be seen as far back as the garden of Eden. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15) It can be seen in the binding of Isaac (Gen 22), the sacrifices under the Law of Moses (Leviticus 1-7), and in the prophets (Isa 9, 53).

Some make a distinction between the character of the God of the Old Testament (angry) and the God of the New Testament (loving). This is a false distinction. God has been a loving God from the creation. In those cases where he had to punish Israel (or mankind in general), it was because of his love for man. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” (Heb 12:6) God was, in Israel showing man the sinfulness of sin. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his own sight: for by law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3:20) Only in showing the impossibility of man’s saving himself could God demonstrate the need for his plan.

Once God had demonstrated the need for his plan, he carried it out fully. The introduction was necessary to the story, but one does not quit reading after the introduction. God had something better in mind.

But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Heb 9:112-15)

God’s plan of salvation is not merely “hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.” Rather, it might be expressed as the gospel: Jesus came as a man; he died as a sacrifice for sin; he was buried; he rose from the dead (and was seen by witness); he is coming back to take his people home.