Ask your Bible class to explain briefly "The Plan we of Salvation," and many will be content to say, "Faith, Repentance, Confession, and Baptism" or the like. I could tell you flatly that is not a complete answer, and leave you in shock; or we can study our subject and the place of faith, repentance, confession, and baptism in that plan, and perhaps all will gain a better perspective of important material.
The commands, faith, repentance, confession, and baptism, are not found as a stated unit in the Scriptures, as most of you know. For that matter, the expression "plan of salvation" is not found in the New Testament. The demoniac woman of Philippi said of Paul and his company, "These men . . . show unto us the way of salvation," (Acts 16:17) although I know of no one who would insist she referred to faith, repentance, confession, and baptism. The gospel is called "the power of God unto salvation," (Rom. 1:16) and the word of truth is the "gospel of your salvation" (Eph. 1:13); but responsible exegetes realize there is far more under consideration here than faith, repentance, confession, and baptism. Please note, "more . . . than," for we are not pitting "The Man" against "The Plan," nor do we accept the fallacious argument that "gospel" is limited to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We seek means of impressing you with basic elements in God's plan for man's salvation which will be missed if we limit ourselves to thinking faith, repentance, confession, and baptism every time we hear "plan of salvation."
We can not know God's full purpose in creating man, but Scriptures indicate there was a "plan" for innocent obedient creatures. Paul told the Athenians God made man to "seek the Lord . . . feel after him, and find him" (Acts 17:24-27). From the Roman letter we learn all men are expected to "glorify" God and "be thankful" (1:21). Such praise, honor, and "glory" could not come from brute beasts nor from men who were but puppets without a will of their own. God's plans for man necessitated moral creatures with the power of choice — and that is exactly how man was made. God gave man something of Himself, for he made him "in the image of God": capable of forming purposes, and directing thoughts and actions to attain these ends. Man can say "Yes" or "No" to his Maker — something many theologians find impossible to swallow. But what seems a divine limitation is in reality God's plan to attain eternal purposes. Obviously, man can not say "No" with impunity. The absolute sovereignty of God is vindicated in final judgment.
Did God know man would sin? Yes, He did, although we remind the reader that foreknowledge is not the same as foreordination. God knew man would sin, but this does not make God responsible for sin. On the contrary, at great cost His plan for man's redemption from sin before man was created. Ephesians 1:4 tells us we were chosen "in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world." This is the "eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:1). God "saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim.1:9). Careful study of the above will greatly assist us in understanding "grace," as well as God's plan for our salvation, for they are inseparable.
God acts in keeping with His nature. Being a just God, "the soul that sinneth, it must die." But God is also merciful, and "full of grace and truth." Paul says sinners are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24); i.e., in Christ's death on behalf of sinners (v. 25; 5:8-9). Look at it carefully! We are justified (freed of guilt, forgiven) by grace (God's benevolent disposition toward man), through redemption (a buying back process); namely, Christ's blood (His life, given in our stead). I sinned, therefore I should die. But God gave His Son to die in my stead: "that he might be just" (consistent with His justice) "and the justifier" (merciful, consistent with His grace), of those who believe (put their trust in Him).
Here is God's plan for man. Having made him a self-determining, free moral agent, God intended man, of his own free will, to love and praise his Creator. Failure on man's part condemned man to eternal separation from God. But there is God's plan for man's salvation. He freely gave of Himself (His Son) to die in man's stead (Isa. 53) and promised to forgive all who would, of their own free will, put their trust in Christ. The means of salvation is Christ; the operation of salvation is forgiveness; and the condition for salvation is faith - complete loving, obedient trust. Forgiveness at the point of obedient faith is not a denial of grace; it is wholly consistent with God's purpose in making these free moral agents.
The woman soothsayer of Philippi said the Philippians had been shown "the way of salvation" (Acts 16:17). Judging by what follows, she must have referred to Christ. We can know that when the Philippian jailer asked what he "must do to be saved," he was told to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (vv. 30f). This is no "faith only" passage, as the context clearly shows, but emphasis is given to faith in Christ as a basis for all that followed. Repentance, confession, and baptism are the results of a proper trust in the Savior who died for us. They are embodied in the condition (faith) as stated in Romans. The same principle is observed in all New Testament sermons.
On Pentecost, Peter preached the resurrected, glorified and enthroned Christ. Then, when believers asked what to do, they were told to repent and be baptized. Note the emphasis in Acts 3. In Acts 8 Phillip preached Christ as ruler (kingdom) and means (name) to lead Samaritans to baptism (vv. 5,12). To the Eunuch, he began with Isaiah 53 and preached Jesus (Acts 8:35f). An explanation of Isaiah 53 is a most appropriate way to preach Christ today and to lead people to want to obey Him in baptism.
Walter Scott is credited with having "organized" what many call the "Plan of Salvation" about 150 years ago. (His "order" was faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of Holy Spirit — five items he counted on his fingers.) Scott knew that Christ was our Savior, but he assumed common ground with his hearers and moved from that to fight "faith only" and "experience of grace" advocates. T.W. Brents in his great book The Gospel Plan of Salvation, said Christ was "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world" (Intro.); and "the elect one . . . on whom others believe to their salvation" (p. 17). Then he stated his immediate purpose: "We are more concerned in examining the election of men . . ." And our emphasis, for the past 150 years, has been on just this. But while we were telling people what to do, we have to some extent slighted the gift of God that gives meaning to that obedient faith. This ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. To truly appreciate and have others to appreciate the glorious gospel of Christ, we must resolve to preach a balanced "Plan of Salvation."