In order to defend the gospel, we must first be clear about the gospel, what the gospel is exactly. In order to know what the gospel is, we must go to the clear declaration of the gospel written and preserved for us by God Almighty in the Holy Scriptures. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, gives a clear definition of the gospel in the book of 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Throughout the epistles the gospel, the work that Jesus Christ did on our behalf (His crucifixion and resurrection), is defined and defended. It is important for us to study those verses so that we can refute error and be steadfast in our faith. In the verses from 1 Corinthians 15, Paul made our salvation contingent upon our steadfast embrace of the gospel.
By Satan’s deceitful design, there are many within the visible church who think we cannot know doctrine (which they rename theology) well enough to discern the truth of the Scriptures, and therefore, within certain parameters, we are not held accountable for what we believe. In reality, God through the Bible lets us know this isn’t true. Listen to what Paul had to say about those who twist the gospel message:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9
According to these verses, we are accountable for what we believe about the gospel, and anything that deviates from the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the gospel gives a perverted gospel that doesn’t save but condemns. Those who hold to or teach contrary to the Scripture regarding the gospel are accursed. There are many man made doctrines within the visible church that outright gainsay the Scriptures about Christ’s work on the cross for us and His resurrection from the dead. As we look to the doctrine of the Bible that teaches us about the gospel we can pinpoint and refute these false teachings.
Within a large segment of the visible church are those who hold to the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Within this false doctrine is the teaching that infant baptism secures that soul a place in the body of the redeemed. The Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Anglican Church, and Reformed churches believe and teach baptismal regeneration, but not everyone within the Anglican and Reformed Churches believe that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. What do the Scriptures have to say about baptismal regeneration? First, the Scripture taken out of context that is used to promote this heresy is found in Titus 3:5. It is good to include the verse in its context so that the meaning is certain.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. Titus 3:3-8
Notice that the washing of regeneration and renewing are the work done in us by the Holy Spirit as we believe in Jesus Christ and His all sufficient work for us. There is no mention of water baptism here! This verse aligns closely with the verses out of Ephesians chapter two.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-10.
That God accomplishes this in our hearts by His Holy Spirit is clearly declared in 1 Thessalonians and Romans.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-7
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors-not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:1-14
Based upon these verses we can see that salvation is a work of God in the life of the sinner from first to last. The regeneration spoken of in Titus 3:5 is the saving work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we put our faith in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior, who died that we can be forgiven of our sins, His blood cleansing us from all of our sins, and who rose again that we may be born again and walk in newness of life. There is not one word about water baptism in any of these verses. Believing that water baptism regenerates a lost sinner is clearly a work of the flesh and is therefore opposed to God’s genuine work of salvation wrought in our hearts by His Holy Spirit through belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
The Holy Scriptures are our source for the gospel and sound doctrine for our salvation and edification as believers. If we go to any other source for teaching regarding the Lord God Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ and the gospel of our salvation, then we are going to a polluted well that will poison our souls and lead us to death. The traditions of men, church councils, teachings of the early church fathers, and the opinions of men undermine our trust in Jesus Christ and confidence in the gospel of our salvation.
Purgatory, another false doctrine that emanates from the darkened hearts and minds of unbelievers, undermines the sufficiency of the work of Christ Jesus on our behalf; it is embraced by the Catholic Church, and many Anglican and Lutheran churches. Purgatory is a place where the “faithful ” who are not holy enough for heaven, can suffer for a limited time to be purged from their sins. This devilish doctrine declares that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross does not make us holy before our holy God. If our standing before our holy God is in any way dependent upon our behavior then we are all doomed. This depending upon our own works to commend us to God accords well with the works righteousness false teaching that comes from the Catholic Church. What does the Bible have to say about our standing before God?
Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:20-23
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come-In the volume of the book it is written of Me-To do Your will, O God.’” Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:5-14
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 1 John 1:6-2
The testimony of these verses is the solemn witness that Jesus Christ has secured our righteousness, our perfection, our standing before our holy God for all eternity; our naked faith in Christ Jesus gives us the promise of forgiveness and cleansing of our sins and secures our access to God in heaven not only now, but when we die, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and He ever lives to make intercession for us. He is the Advocate before the throne of grace, and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins. What else is there for us to do other than to repent and place our faith in Jesus Christ? There is nothing that we can add to or take away from the perfect work of Christ Jesus on our behalf. His only command is that we repent and believe. Those who hold to baptismal regeneration and purgatory declare the work of Christ Jesus is insufficient for our salvation and believe in another gospel that cannot save. Those who hold to these false doctrines are enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ and are accursed. We must remember though that the sin of holding to false teaching has also been dealt with by the cross of Jesus Christ, so we can share the truth with the lost and trust the Lord to save them through repentant faith in His gospel of salvation. We can share the truth with the lost, but we must not include the lost with the redeemed by embracing an attitude of latitude towards non-biblical doctrines. Let us join with Paul and hold fast the doctrine of our salvation as clearly declared in the Scriptures to God’s glory and praise.