How Can We Know We Are Saved?

Since the gospel is the central theme of Scripture, one could easily fill up a whole website just expounding upon it. My ambitions are not so grand. This article exists to address recurrent errors introduced to the gospel by hyper-fundamentalist churches, which preclude their members from understanding it accurately.

Furthermore, even for those who leave these churches, these errors often follow them and prevent them from living a victorious Christian life.

Before I expound on hyper-fundamentalist errors concerning the gospel, we should start with a clear conception of what it is.

What is the Gospel?

The word “gospel” is a translation of the Greek word “euangelion,” which means “good news.” It was a secular word that readers of the original manuscripts would have been familiar with.

This word appears nearly 100 times in the New Testament, starting in the book of Matthew.

Matthew 4:23, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”

In this first usage, the “good news” refers to the coming kingdom of God. The “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” is used many times in the New Testament to refer to the messianic kingdom brought by Christ’s first appearance. It is typified in Daniel 2:35 as a stone not cut by human hands, that crushes the kingdoms of men and grows to fill the whole earth. John the Baptist shouted that it was near (Matthew 3:2); Jesus proclaimed that it had arrived. “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20)

However, this use of “gospel” paired with the explainer “of the kingdom of God,” is just one of several modifiers the Bible uses for the term.

Other modifiers of the word gospel include:

  • Gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23, 24:14, Mark 1:14)
  • Gospel of Jesus Christ (or similar title) (Mark 1:1, Romans 1:9, 1:16, 15:19, 15:29, 1 Corinthians 9:18, 2 Corinthians 4:4, 10:14, Galatians 1:7, Philippians 1:27, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:8)
  • Gospel of God (Romans 1:1, 15:16, 2 Corinthians 11:7, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 2:8, 2:9, 1 Titus 1:11, 1 Peter 4:17)
  • Gospel of peace (Romans 10:15, Ephesians 6:15)
  • Gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24)
  • Gospel of your salvation (Ephesians 1:13)

So, the “good news” is a message about at least all those concepts—the messianic kingdom, Jesus himself, God Himself, peace, God’s grace, and our salvation. How does the Bible connect these concepts into a coherent story?

Paul does this for us in several places, but uses the word “gospel” explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15:1–26,

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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 of Cephas, then of the twelve:… Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed….

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

This passage references all of the concepts associated with the word “gospel” throughout the scripture. It talks about the coming of God’s kingdom, through Christ’s literal death and resurrection for our sins. This sacrifice, by the grace of God, makes peace between those who believe and God, granting them salvation and entrance into His kingdom.

There are also “pre-requisite” concepts, such as the existence of God, the fall of man, the nature of sin, and others. Some of these Paul alludes to, others he assumes his audience is already familiar with.

Another excellent synopsis of these concepts appears in Ephesians 2:4–10,

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”


How Do We Respond to the Gospel?

In referring to his kingdom, Jesus told Pilate that it was not of this world (John 18:36). To see the Kingdom of God, Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3 that one must be “born again.” He goes on to explain that being born again is similar to how the Israelites were saved from the serpents in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8). They were not saved by any great exertion on their part, but simply by believing the message of God and looking at the bronze serpent that Moses elevated at God’s command. John 3:14-16 reads,

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John 3:16 reveals that the primary response required to the gospel is sincere belief (also referred to as faith).

This is backed up in numerous other references, with some occasional modifiers, but the focus is always on belief.

  • Acts 15:7, “And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.”
  • Acts 16:30, “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
  • Romans 10:9, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
  • Romans 10:16–17, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” [Note that “obeying” the gospel is believing the gospel]

All of these verses make it clear the belief or faith alone is adequate for salvation, though it infers some other traits of the convert as well. We can call these traits evidence of faith.


Evidences of Faith

While the Bible is clear that faith alone is adequate to save, it is equally clear that there are subsequent steps which demonstrate the sincerity of that faith. If the faith is not sincere, then the gospel has not been adequately responded to.

One of the earliest pieces of evidence of faith is obeying the ordinance of baptism:

  • Matthew 24:19, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
    Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
  • Acts 16:32–33, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”

While I would not claim that baptism is necessary to pass from death to life, the Bible does not know an unbaptized believer. An analogy from my time in Germany might help illustrate the intensity of the point. Germans are renowned for their high degree of compliance with rules. An American friend of mine once asked a German about what would happen if he chose to drive with a suspended license.

German: “You have to have a license to drive. You wouldn’t be able to drive if your license was suspended.”

American: “Yes, but what if I did, and I got caught? What is the penalty?”

German: “It is not possible. You can’t drive without a license…”

I think this is how Paul might respond if we asked him if a believer can go to heaven while skipping baptism or delaying it for years. An unbaptized believer is a nonsensical concept to him. Believers get baptized; it’s what they do.

In the New Testament, all who put their faith in Christ were baptized in very short order—with occasionally less delay than an hour (Acts 8:36). While not all Holiness movement churches are the same, when I was saved as a child (complete with an altar call), I recall sharing my testimony with the church, but no one thought to encourage baptism for nine more years. It is ironic that with as many standards that they made up to be “safe rather than sorry” in pleasing God, they routinely overlooked this very clear command of Scripture.

Subsequent to baptism, the primary evidence of salvation is a life full of righteous works.

  • Ephesians 2:8–10, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
  • James 2:14–18, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”
  • Matthew 7: 17–21 [in speaking of false prophets], “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

The Bible also teaches that Salvation involves the indwelling of the Spirit of God, which we have addressed in a separate article. This indwelling is what empowers the good works.


Will We Be Judged Based on our Works?

The Bible does refer to being “rewarded according to works” in a few places. How do these references square with the idea that works are the fruit rather than the means of salvation?

  • 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
  • Revelation 22:12, “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

There are two basic ways to understand this.

The first is that, in keeping with first century Jewish thought, Paul saw no tension between being saved by grace and being “judged according to works.” This is because Paul wouldn’t have thought about good works as things that were summed to surpass a set goal (like adding up tickets in an arcade to buy a frisbee), but rather as things which the righteous had and the unrighteous didn’t. “Good works” to Paul were simply binary. The righteous (saved by grace) would have them, the sinners would not. Thus, Paul and other New Testament writers see works as evidence of saving faith and are using “judged by works” and “saved by faith” interchangeably.

As evidence, we can point to Jesus’ story of the last judgement in Matthew 25, where he separates the sheep from the goats. The “sheep” are lauded for their many good works (visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, etc.). The goats are told that they have done nothing worth mentioning.

In Matthew 7:22, Jesus points out that many of these “goats” will claim to have done much good in his name on the last day. But he will remark that he never knew them. They may have done what they thought was good, but it clearly didn’t count, because they lacked saving faith.

Lacking from any of these parables is an account of a person on judgement day who is told they “did some good works, but not enough to make it in.” Judgement by works seems to be an all or nothing affair. There are no close calls. This aligns perfectly with the idea that we are saved by faith, evidenced by works.

The second way to understand this is that there are two judgments. One to separate the sheep from the goats, and the other to account for the works we have done on earth. While they do not determine our salvation, they do determine our level of reward in heaven. There is some evidence for this view as well, and it is popular in evangelical circles.


Mainstream Misconceptions of the Gospel

The gospel is one of the plainer teachings of Scripture. While we can have interesting debates about the exact mechanism of salvation through means like the incarnation and propitiation, the simple instructions to believe on and live for Christ could not be more clear.

Despite this, there are numerous errors we make with these plain instructions. Some errors are more prevalent among mainstream evangelicals, others among hyper fundamentalists.

The first error that hyper fundamentalists are generally safe from is that of “easy believism.” This is the error that salvation is assured simply by the virtue of praying a sinner’s prayer, regardless of whether any action follows that prayer. James clearly teaches that “faith without works is dead” and therefore any alleged believer who bears no fruit can be said to have a “dead” or inadequate faith. James asks rhetorically “can that faith save him?,” inferring that it cannot (James 2).

The second error that hyper fundamentalists are less prone to is the belief that after they’ve shown some initial fruit, they can “live any way they want” and remain confident in their salvation, even to the degree of gross unrepentant sin and the explicit rejection of God. Very significantly, this is actually a separate question from whether one can “lose one’s salvation” under any circumstances. The questions seem identical, but are not. It’s worth mentioning that, unfortunately, we have seen some people leave hyper fundamentalism and fall into this error. No doubt the gospel distortions they grew up with, along with a lack of understanding on how to interpret Scripture, made them vulnerable to this heresy. It’s important to avoid pendulum swings.

The vast majority of people I’ve discussed the issue with who are in the “unconditional eternal security” camp, also believe that someone can appear saved, believe they are saved, and at a later time be definitively not saved. Take the hypothetical case of a pastor who abandons his family and becomes an atheist. People who believe loss of salvation is possible would say he likely had saving faith, and then lost it. Most who believe in eternal security would say he was never truly saved in the first place. Crucially, they agree he is not saved.

When this logic is applied at the individual level, the majority of people functionally do not operate under the belief that they can “live any way they want” and be assured of their salvation, even if they nominally hold to the doctrine of eternal security.

In my experience visiting 100+ mainstream evangelical churches I can say that while the errors of easy believism and “live any way you want” do exist, they are not nearly as common as I was led to believe in my Holiness upbringing. Furthermore, I have never seen them expressed by leadership, only by less mature believers. Of course, my sample is one that was intentionally targeting Biblical churches, if I had gone off looking for false teaching, I probably could have found it.

It is not as though you must choose between these errors and the hyper-fundamentalist errors. It is quite possible to find churches that steer clear of both ditches.


Hyper Fundamentalist Misconceptions of the Gospel

While we have determined that there are gospel errors which tend to affect mainstream evangelicals, there are also errors that hyper fundamentalists fall prone to.

Error 1: Misidentifying the evidence of salvation

Legalism is the belief that salvation is attained through doing good works, often this includes following elements of the Mosaic law. Holiness groups are quick to resist this charge. They typically say that good works don’t save, they just evidence sincere conversion. This is correct, as per the scripture above, so it can make the debate rather confusing. If they are not legalists, then why are they so judgmental about 101 issues that no one in the mainstream church cares about?

The answer is quite simple. Hyper fundamentalists have gotten confused about which works are evidence of salvation. When I read that Christ has “prepared good works beforehand for me to do” (Ephesians 2:10), my mind now goes to my work in trying to transform charity in America or perhaps to fulfilling my duties as a husband, father, and Sunday School teacher. When I was Holiness, my mind would have gone largely to extra-biblical standards (not wearing shorts, not wearing a wedding ring, attending camp meeting, shouting in church, running around the church).

In hyper fundamentalism, the “fruit of your salvation” is a list of man-made rules in the categories of personal appearance and entertainment. We have addressed many of these standards at length elsewhere and pointed out that their biblical justifications range between nonexistent to explicitly contradicted in scripture. It is no accident that the two categories in which most of the rules appear are both the most visible to outsiders (vis-à-vis standards about how you raise your children or spend your money).

Following these extra-biblical rules provides an “assurance of salvation,” which is affirmed vocally and frequently by other people.

The real holiness that the Bible calls us to has very few if any identifiers visible from across the room, and very many identifiers visible only in relationship. It’s far less about your appearance, and more about your love, patience, and self-control. While virtue will no doubt have some impact on clothing choices, it is unlikely to result in niche clothing standards with high degrees of conformity among attendees of particular churches. When you see a church in which everyone “got convicted” about short sleeves when they got a new preacher, you are watching group think, not people being transformed to the image of Christ.

Ultimately, this constant desire to be affirmed in your salvation by others originates in an insecurity that is tied to a separate error.

Error 2: Once saved, never saved

This error is an extreme reduction of the position that people have genuine free will to accept or reject God’s gift of salvation. Note that I’m not attempting to say that belief in free will is an error, nor am I making a case against the Reformed understanding. Such a discussion is far beyond the scope of this article or the focus of Berean Holiness.

However, for those with a free will view, it is not difficult to make a case that if we accept the generous grace of through an act of free will, we could reject it through an act of free will later. I’ll call this the “full freedom” view. You can freely choose God, and freely reject him, at any time on earth. If “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6), it is logical that if faith were initially present, and later rejected by the erstwhile believer, God would cease to be pleased.

There is textual evidence for this logic in verses like Hebrews 6:4-12,

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Also see 2 John 8-9,

“Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”

Many proponents of unconditional eternal security also believe in free will. We can call this the “one-way freedom” view. You can freely choose God, but you cannot choose to reject him subsequently. Your freedom has either been removed or perhaps no true believer would ever be willing to exercise that freedom. They might counter with verses like John 10:27-29,

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

Without delving too deep into this issue, which I think generally falls into the category of “a reasonable, biblical argument can be made for both sides,” and having already pointed out the potential error of “you can live any way you want,” let me point out the most dangerous error from the full freedom camp.

I call it “once saved, never saved.” This is the view that your salvation is so tenuous that if were in right standing with God, but you looked up from texting while driving to see you were on a collision path with a semi-truck and had an ungrateful thought in the instant before you died, you would lose your salvation and face eternal judgement (the Bible clearly lists being unthankful as a sin in 2 Timothy 3:2).

This error mistakes the mechanism of salvation for the fruit of salvation. The fruit of salvation is a pattern of good works, but they will occasionally be interspersed with sins of omission, commission, as well as other imperfections and ignorance that may or may not rise to the level of sin. It is not for me to say if you “sin every day,” but given that the Bible lists any failure to do good as sin (James 4:17), you probably sin more than you are aware of. The Holiness claim that Christians never sin is explained (and rebutted) at length here.

1 John 5:16 makes clear that, from believers, at least some sin does not lead to damnation.

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death.”

1 John 2:1-6 points out that while we should not make a habit of sinning, if we sin, we are covered.

“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Jude 24 points out that Jesus can “present you faultless” to God.

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy…”

But what is the nature of that presentation? Is it us finally learning to live without any error or lack of thankfulness? No. It is us presenting the righteousness we are given in Christ, due to his work and sacrifice.

As in Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:10–13), the “garment of righteousness” is something he provides, not something we weave ourselves.

“So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

While metaphorical imagery is not always uniform across Scripture, the image of “robes of righteousness” is a recurring theme. Isaiah 61:10 provides some clarity on what marriage robes represent, and who supplies them to us:

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”

Revelation 19:8 picks up the same metaphor in talking about the marriage of the Lamb and the clothing of the bride (the church):
“And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”

Note that even the “righteousness of saints” is “granted” to the church—not earned.

Our salvation is clearly secured in the righteousness of Christ. As long as we remain with him, he will present us faultless on the day of judgement, regardless of any unfortunate thoughts in the milliseconds before we die.

This understanding has great practical significance, because many hyper-fundamentalists live in terror of displeasing God. I have heard stories of children being terrified that glancing at the TV’s in a store could cause them to unwittingly lose their salvation. In business, the surest way to fail is to spend all your energy trying not to fail. Without some positive vision of success, fear of failure will paralyze and destroy.

This paranoia tends to result in fixation on clear man-made standards, since they are much easier to resolve than matters of the heart. It creates a bunch of terrified rule-followers who are always looking to spend more time in “safe” spaces like church, and avoiding the “danger zones” such as the contexts where one could evangelize unbelievers. The “once saved, never saved” doctrine is a demonic recipe that makes Christians irrelevant.

Error 3: More works make you “more saved”

An often-heard refrain in the hyper fundamentalist world is “I’d rather make heaven by a mile than miss it by an inch.” A gospel song from my youth picks up the same theme: “Lord I’m runnin’, tryin’ to make a hundred, ninety-nine and a half won’t do.” In some verses, “Lord I’m running” is replaced with “Prayin’ hard.”

The message of these aphorisms is that our appearance in heaven will be make-or-break, contingent upon the volume of our effort in producing good works such as prayer or perhaps by following man-made rules from the 60’s

This mistakes the nature of Salvation for something earned progressively. In fact, salvation is granted solely on belief, not on how “hard” you pray. While your works evidence the state of your heart to others, they do not evidence it to God. God knows the sincerity of your beliefs regardless of your works (Jeremiah 17:10).

The idea that more works would make God more likely to let you in to heaven pre-supposes either that salvation is earned or that works are mere evidence of heart change, but God cannot detect the status of your heart, and is thus making a determination based on whether “there is enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian.”

There is at least one passage that seems to address this issue. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15,

“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

This passage does appear to show that some people who get to heaven will be relatively more pleasing to God than others. However, the context of this passage is more limited than general conduct. The passage is talking about how different teachers and evangelists build a local church. The “building” in the metaphor is explicitly the local church, not a Christian’s own life.

Those who add “wood, hay, and stubble” to the church can be saved, but their life’s work will be lost, because nothing they added had any eternal value. While we are doubtless all guilty of adding our own beliefs to scripture, our additions don’t help, and won’t stand. It’s like a toddler trying to improve the Mona Lisa with her set of fingerpaints.

This passage is not intended to make believers doubt their salvation, it is intended to make church leaders question their own motivations and traditions. Since leaders and teachers will receive stricter judgement (James 3:1), we do well to be extra careful. Even unintentional false teaching, while not always sufficient to condemn the teacher, will make everything you have done in the name of Christ a waste of time and it will all be lost in the end.

Error 4: Apostolic Oneness additions to the gospel

I am aware that there are certain subgroups, notably the Apostolic Oneness movement, who have explicitly added to the gospel. They claim, for instance that Jesus’ command to baptize in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is insufficient, and that only Acts 2:38 provides the magic formula for baptism “In Jesus’ name” that leads to salvation. Furthermore, they dispute the biblical writers’ assertion that people are known by their good works and replace them with speaking in unknown tongues (it’s unclear if they would count miraculously speaking in known languages, but that doesn’t seem to happen in their churches). On their view, if you do not speak in tongues, you can’t go to heaven. There is also a fellowship of Free Holiness (Trinitarian) churches that would claim speaking in glossolalia/tongues is a salvation requirement.

How do they arrive at conclusions so contrary to the body of evidence in Scripture? By changing the rules of evidence to disregard all evidence outside of their preferred verse. It’s about as honest as if a judge in a criminal trial ruled that all physical evidence collected within 100 miles of the crime scene was dismissed, and he would only accept verbal testimony from people named “Kevin.” You would do well to question whether such a judge had reached his verdict before he set the rules of evidence.

In their case, Apostolics claim that only the book of Acts provides reliable testimony on the means of salvation, since it is the “only book written to unbelievers.” This falls apart immediately when you realize that the forward to the book of Acts shows that it was written to the same person to whom the book of Luke was addressed. A person with a pseudonym meaning “Friend of God,” whom scholars believe was an influential Roman. So, Acts was written to a believer. And the gospel of Luke was written to the same believer. Excluding the theology of Luke, but including Acts based on a claim about intended audience is a hermeneutic that works backwards from its preferred end rather than seeking to read scripture’s plain meaning.

The Bible is not a book of spells and incantations with magic power. If it were, we would likely have to speak them in an ancient language anyways. The Bible is a book of truth that uses multiple phrases and words to describe the same concepts. The way to understand what the Bible means in one unclear verse is to read other passages on the same topic. Not to arbitrarily dismiss them all and reshape theology around a preferred interpretation of a single verse.

Including a formulaic baptismal mantra and speaking in tongues into the gospel is sufficient to constitute preaching a new gospel. To these teachers I extend the somber warning of Paul in Galatians 1:8,

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

Note that Paul here is referring to his own writing and teaching to that point as establishing the one true gospel (which aligns fully with the testimony of the other New Testament writers). It is a risky gambit indeed to assert that Paul had secret teachings he didn’t write down, which only Luke wrote down in Acts, and that these teachings are the “true gospel.” It seems far more likely that we should take Paul at his word, and let anyone who adds to his depiction of the gospel consider themselves accursed.

For numerous other resources addressing Apostolic specific teaching, check out our Apostolic resources page:



The gospel is the central doctrine of scripture and the climactic point of the human story. Its simplicity and profundity have enlightened the simple and confounded the wise throughout the past two millennia. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

God doesn’t ask us to improve it; He asks us to share it.

—Nathan Mayo


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