The “5 Step Plan” and the Gospel: Part 1 (of 5)

Growing up in the Churches of Christ, it was advertised to me as long as I can remember—in sermons, in Bible classes, at camp, in outlines and tracts, on bulletin boards, on websites, and in personal Bible study with someone about to become a Christian. God had a plan for us to be saved, avoid Hell, go to Heaven. It was obtainable in five simple steps: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, be Baptized. It was easy to memorize, easy to count. It was a bullet point plan to perfection. It was a reachable solution that I myself could perform to be a good Christian. And for a number of years in my youth, I assumed it was the best way to view the operation of being saved by God.

In my early college years, I began to reconsider this layout. It was not the case that I was doubting salvation, but that I was doubting how salvation had often been presented to me. I didn’t think at first that it mattered—If it’s factual, it’s correct, right? The steps were in there. As long as we have the truth, we’re thinking what’s right, and if we follow it we’ll do what’s right. But I later came to realize that not only may this not be the best way to layout the work of God in our adoption, it can actually have hampering consequences on how we teach, how we think, and how we live.

But even after I came to this conclusion, I decided to study it more closely. I decided to read both the Bible and Church history. And I decided that although I learned to see salvation in a deeper way, I wasn’t going to reject what I believed was a sound way of coming to it. I want to respectfully question the use (or rather misuse) of a tradition.

I want to start this series of 5 posts by answering a very serious question that will establish a common ground for everyone: Are the five elements in the “5-step plan of salvation” in the Gospel? My answer is yes, I believe that they are. You can find each of these essential elements of any person’s journey to God in scripture.

  1. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
  2. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
  3. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
  4. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
  5. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Yes, it is true that the elements of hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being immersed are logical events in the coming of a person to the kingdom of God and to salvation through Christ. There is nothing inherently false about this presentation of the operation of our way toward salvation. I want to make that clear before I go any further. No person who reviews this list to another person is by default a teacher of false doctrine, nor are they misleading anyone by the mere use of such a list. However, I do intend to demonstrate how this list of steps can be easily be abused, and how we should be wary of letting such a list substitute the ways in which the Gospel itself has laid salvation out for us.

…along came social media

With the advent of social media, new opportunities arise for avenues of sharing Christ, but it has also become much easier for us to be even more lazy, reposting and reposting images of plans and points and bullets and charts—sometimes accurate, sometimes not—that squeeze short phrases and passage references into what appear to be neat little packages of the Word, the “5 step plan of salvation” being among them. Conversations about salvation can develop, but sometimes the one posting is not interested in having a conversation, but proving a point. Or it merely becomes like a bumper sticker: Someone sees it, comes to a conclusion about the person posting it based on the chart itself, and moves on. Presentations like these can be lost in the myriad of condensed formulas offered by all kinds of denominations and sects, as those sharing feel they are doing God’s kingdom a favor. Sometimes, harm can be done by abusing both the tools of Bible study and social media.

planofsalvation2

An example table of the “5-step plan” as often presented in literature circulated by typically conservative Churches of Christ, this one including a 3-point summary of “God’s part” preceding man’s.

It is first necessary to talk about Church history because Church history is how we got this 5-step plan, and Church history is also a record of how Christians have handled the teaching of such an idea. Join me in the upcoming posts as we examine the use of this list of steps. We will first begin with the inception of the list of steps and its history in Christian churches.

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6 responses to “The “5 Step Plan” and the Gospel: Part 1 (of 5)

    • I think that was one of the articles I came across when researching. In one of my posts I have a few links to other blogs and articles that helped me convey my thoughts, as well as demonstrate how this plan is evaluated by different Christians. Thank!

  1. I like everything you said. Years ago when I analyzed the “5 Steps of Salvation,” I found that there was a important step that was left out: Counting the cost (Luke 14:25-33).

      • Of course! Perhaps some would say that counting the cost is included in repentance, but I don’t think so. Part of the reason is because (I believe) most of the evangelism that is done in conservative Churches of Christ completely leaves counting the cost out. I know it may be a good subject for another story, but (I believe) most evangelism in conservative CofC is more intellectual-focused instead of heart-focused. Counting the cost pieces people down to the heart and is one of the things that cause many people to reject Christ before rashly devote themselves to Him (such as the rich young ruler). I’m rambling. Peace and so forth!

  2. Pingback: The “5 Step Plan” and the Gospel: Part 2—Church History | CALEB COY

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