Walter Scott was a pioneer preacher. Born in Scotland, Scott immigrated to the United States in 1818 and subsequently moved west. Scott famously contrasted the tenets of Calvinism with a five-finger exercise.
When he came to preach in a community, Scott would teach children that Acts 2:38 teaches (1) faith, (2) repentance, (3) baptism, (4) forgiveness, and (5) the gift of the Holy Spirit. He’d then tell the children to tell their parents that he would be preaching that message later on in the day.
Scott’s mnemonic device is imminently scriptural, and provides a basis for more teaching on how God saves man. He helped people find salvation in Christ using this teaching method. However, if we are not careful, it can transform into something resembling a check-list, which after completion obligates God and satisfies our service.
I want to suggest a complement of sorts. Consider, if you will, four steps that will take you from where you are to eternity.
Step one: Out of self
Pride and selfishness are the besetting sins of mankind. All strife and unrest in society can be traced back to pride and selfishness. In stepping out of self, we deny ourselves. Since man cannot serve two masters, self-denial is a prerequisite to following Christ. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV, see also Matthew. 16:24, 25; Mark 8:34-37). When we step out of self, we allow the will of God to subsume our own.
Stepping out of ourselves means that we have changed actions and attitudes. “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9). We no longer trust in ourselves (Proverbs 3:5, 6; Jeremiah 10:23), nor do we seek to glorify ourselves (Matthew 5:16). We see ourselves and others as God does, regarding no one according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16).
Step two: Into Christ
When we step out of self we must step into Christ. In Christ we are all new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). All spiritual blessings are found in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), and no condemnation is found for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).
How do we step into Christ?
We are baptized into Him. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death…” (Romans 6:3-4a). We engage in a form of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (see Romans 6:1-14).
Those who have heard and believed in Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:16), who have counted the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33), and who are willing to turn in repentance (Acts 2:38), enter into Christ – and put on Christ – when they are baptized into Him (Galatians 3:27; Acts 2:38). It is here that sins are forgiven (Acts 22:16), and the new life can begin.
Step three: With the Spirit
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life … We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:4, 6).
This “newness of life” is a life lived by walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). We direct our steps by the word of God, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; see also Psalm 119:105).
Walking in the Spirit means walking in love (Ephesians 5:2; Romans 14:15), and walking in truth (3 John 3, 4). It is a life lived as Jesus lived (1 John 2:1-6). It is a lifetime of transformation, faithfulness, humility, mercy, and love.
Step four: Into glory
We must remember that while this life will end our existence continues. Eternity awaits every soul. Unless Jesus comes during our lifetime we will all die. It is “appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). All people will stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10), where we will “receive what is due for what [we] have done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Heaven pronounces a blessing on those who die in the Lord, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13).
If we die to self, put on Christ, and live a Spirit-directed, Christ-like life, then our final step will be into glory. There we will spend eternity with the Father who loved us, the Lamb who saved us, and the Spirit of God who directed us.