One of my favorite sermons is entitled The Five Steps Is Not The Gospel. I am fond of it because I believe it is important to focus on God’s grace extended to me through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God. “The Five Steps” (hereafter TFS) are often referred to as the “Plan of Salvation” and my fear is an emphasis on our proper reaction to the gospel and not the actual good news of God’s sacrifice of his Son as a spotless lamb for my sins. TFS (hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized) describe what a sinner should do in response to the gospel, but their real utility is as a defense against Calvinism.
My personal epiphany about TFS came while trying to commit to memory a set of verses to use as proof texts when trying to convert my faith-only friends. After a lifetime of listening to sermons about TFS, reading about them in tracts, and being told, “We have the truth.” based on their teaching; I was shocked to find not one, single apostle ever gave a sermon on TFS. In fact there is no chapter in the Bible containing a list of TFS. This really shook me. Before this revelation, if you had asked me what the gospel message was, I would have rattled off TFS and challenged you to show me from Scripture where I was wrong. With my eyes opened, I saw TFS were a set of undeniably true teachings that had been put in order, not by the Scriptures, but by men. Why? Did it mean it is wrong to teach TFS? If the apostles didn’t teach TFS, why do we? The answer is Calvinism.
To understand TFS we have to know what other religious groups teach about salvation and why. Protestant churches made up the bulk of congregations in America in the 17-and-1800’s and still do in our part of the country. They all teach some form of Calvinism or what we call “faith-only” salvation and trace their roots to Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin. Soooooo, what does Calvinism teach and how do TFS refute it? Glad you asked.
We often get into a proof text tennis match with our faith-only friends. After we have alternately shouted Acts 2:38, John 3:16, Matthew 28:19, Ephesians 2:9, and Mark 16:16 at each other for hours (weeks or years), we both go home without any change of heart. But Calvinism isn’t about the verses, it is about a systematic theology of the Bible. Instead of reading the Bible and accepting what it says; our faith-only friends take a human understanding of what the Bible means and then cherry-pick the verses that fit. The systematic theology comes first and that is what we call Calvinism.
Calvinism starts by teaching God’s sovereignty in the affairs of man. This teaching declares only God can choose. Since God does the electing, humans have no part in their salvation. A sovereign God decides who is saved and who is damned. True faith-only doctrine claims: All people inherit Adam’s sin. God chose each individuals fate before creation. Jesus only died for those God chose to save. And God “saves” a person when he sends the Holy Spirit to produce faith in a person whether they want salvation or not. This is what an evangelical calls a religious experience or when they “got saved.” They believe and teach that God has chosen to give them faith and sent the Holy Spirit as a “better felt than told” sign of that salvation.
It has been my experience most of my faith-only friends don’t know the basis for the teaching they accept. But if they belong to a group that claims nothing happens at baptism, like it or not, they belong to a church with roots in Calvinism. The great problem they have is their doctrine is foreign to the Bible and is in direct contradiction to clear Scripture. Next week, we will examine how TFS refute this false teaching in part two.
Here is part two: https://www.north2ndcofc.org/in-defense-of-the-five-steps-part-ii/