The Plan of Salvation, Negatively Viewed
One way to learn a truth or subject is to establish the negative, what it is not. For instance, one way in which James treats the subject of saving faith is to show what saving faith is not (Jas. 2: 15-20, James also presents the positive, what saving faith is, vs. 21-26). Salvation is clearly set forth in the scriptures as requiring man's humble obedience and participation (Acts 2: 37-41, Tit. 2: 11-14). Salvation is not the result of an after thought on the part of God, but is the product of much planning (I Pet. 1: 9, 10, vs. 2, Eph. 1: 4, Matt. 25: 34). Hence, the expression "plan of salvation" is a scriptural concept. Let us now turn our attention to what God's plan for the salvation of man is not.
The means of entering a denomination. Some believe that the plan of salvation is a means of entering a man made religion. The closest we can come to modern day denominationalism in the scriptures is I Corinthians 1: 10-13. However, the principle of denominationalism is condemned in this passage. In the First Century, there was only one church, the Lord's church (Matt. 16: 18, Eph. 4: 4, compare with Eph. 1: 22, 23). When men and women "obeyed the gospel," they were added by the Lord to his church (Acts 2: 47, KJV, I Cor. 12: 13, Gal. 3: 26, 27). If God did add man to a denomination today, which one would it be of the thousands?
The plan of salvation is not a system whereby man merits salvation. The scriptures offer no doubt as to the possibility of man meriting salvation, he simply cannot (Tit. 3: 5, Eph. 2: 8, 9, Rom. 11: 6). If man could merit and earn salvation, Jesus' coming and death would have all been unnecessary. However, without Jesus' death, man, all men, would have been helplessly doomed to an eternity in hell (Rom. 5: 6-10).
It is not a plan of relativity. It is true that the gospel is for all, regardless of race, gender, and place in life (Mk. 16: 15, 16). However, salvation is not relative in the sense that it is different for every person (Acts 2: 14-47). The same person (Jesus) and the same plan of salvation applies to one and all (Rom. 1: 16, Acts 8: 35ff.). All responsible men must believe, repent, confess Christ's deity, and be baptized for the remission of sin, no exception (Jn. 8: 24; Acts 17: 30, 31; Rom. 10: 9, 10; Acts 2: 38).
The plan of salvation is not a process of subjectivism. So many use the criterion of, "I know I am saved because I feel saved." Paul said in referring to the time that included his persecution of Christians, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26: 9). The Wise Man wrote, "He that trustheth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered" (Prov. 28: 26). One reason we have so many divergent "plans of salvation" is because people are looking to subjectivism (their personal feelings) and not objectively considering the matter (teaching of the Bible). Emotions are important and vital, but emotion alone is not the answer (Rom. 6: 17, 18).
Not a national, theocratic matter. The Law of Moses was a theocracy or combination of religion and civil government (Ex. 20-21). This is why Israel as a State was able to implement capital punishment. The Law of Moses was, for the most part, peculiar to the Nation of Israel (Duet 5: 1-3). However, the gospel that contains God's plan of salvation is for all races and all men (Matt. 28: 19). Peter said, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10: 34, 35).
It is not a robotic, simply intellectual experience. While the plan of salvation appeals to the mind of man, it is not cold intellectualism. There was emotion associated with becoming a Christian in the First Century (Acts 2: 41, KJV, 8: 26-40). The happy balance between the intellect and emotions is seen in Romans 6: 17, 18:
"But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness."
The plan of salvation for sinful man is not an idealic plan that cannot be realized. Since the means of salvation from sin has been effected by a perfect God, some have concluded that the plan is so perfect that it is only ideal and not practical. However, this is not the case. The Jews present on the first Pentecost following Jesus' crucifixion were informed by the apostle Peter that they were sinners in need of salvation (Acts 2: 23). Their response was, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (vs. 37). Peter answers their question:
"Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2: 38, they had already been told to believe and confession of Jesus' deity is inferred, vs. 36; Rom. 10: 9, 10, Acts 8: 37, KJV).
The question is, did these penitent people obtain the salvation and forgiveness that they sought? Notice what we are told, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (vs. 41). We further read of these obedient people, "Praising God, and having favour with all the people, and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (vs. 47, KJV). Hence, Peter extended the plan of salvation and about three thousand accepted it. As a consequence, these people were saved. Therefore, God's plan is practical.
As mentioned, some concede the perfection of God's plan of salvation, but they go too far when they say it is only idealic and not practical. Indeed, perfection is seen in God's arrangement and means of man's salvation. God's plan does not exclude man's free will and participation. It makes requirements of man that preclude man earning salvation, but these requirements do bring about desired changes on man's part.
In retrospect, one can, for the most part, reverse each of the foregoing negative points and glean a positive truth. For instance, God's plan of salvation does not provide entrance into a denomination, but does involve the means of entering Jesus' church (first negative, cp. Gal. 3: 26, 27). The fact that God has been mindful of man is unquestionable, but the greatest expression of God's awareness of man is seen in God's perfect plan of salvation (Ps. 8: 4). Studying what the plan is not, should cause us to know more regarding what it is, I trust.