Recently, I was questioned on my views of salvation and how I preach it. I figured the best way to try and articulate my thoughts would be to write them down. First, my backstory. I grew up sixth generation pentecostal. As such, I’m extremely familiar with pentecostal theology and its views on salvation. I say views, plural, because there are several views from the past hundred years that the theology has built up from.
Sitting on a pew a couple of times a week, I hear familiar theology as what I grew up in. Yet, even today I see distinctions between the theologies. I wouldn’t say that the pastor at my local church community assembly is ignorant of the scriptures, because that would be untrue. In fact, he is very skilled with knowing verses. Yet, he rarely touches upon certain topics. And while I am not yet sure of the reason, I can gather that the primary reason he hesitates to speak on certain matters is for one reason: doubt.
Doubt is a powerful blocker. It places one into a vulnerable position, one that, if in leadership, cannot be taken lightly. Imagine a preacher that teaches “what the Bible says” while also having a background in ministry. That is, the preacher was taught what the Bible says in the teacher’s point of view.
When teaching, preaching, or pastoring, one must be aware that some topics are not as black and white as we wish them to be. It’s easy to just make the claim that salvation is simply black and white, situations, examples, and even the Bible itself make a case for grey areas. For example, many Christians teach that a spouse cannot divorce their spouse over physical or sexual abuse. They cite Jesus when making this claim:
I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for the problem of sexual sin, and marries another woman is guilty of adultery.” - Matthew 19:9 ERV
Yet others cite Paul for justification (a dirty word in pentecostalism) on divorce:
Now, I have a command for those who are married. Actually, it is not from me; it is what the Lord commanded. A wife should not leave her husband.  But if a wife does leave, she should remain single or get back together with her husband. And a husband should not divorce his wife.  The advice I have for the others is from me. The Lord did not give us any teaching about this. If you have a wife who is not a believer, you should not divorce her if she will continue to live with you.  And if you have a husband who is not a believer, you should not divorce him if he will continue to live with you.  But if the husband or wife who is not a believer decides to leave, let them leave. When this happens, the brother or sister in Christ is free. God chose you to have a life of peace. - 1 Corinthians 7:10-13,15 ERV
Now we, as Christians, know that if a person who claimed Christ were abusing their spouse in anyway, they do not have God neither do they know Him.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. - 1 John 4:8 ERV
The same could be said about salvation. The typical pentecostal stance on salvation is a two step plan (they’ll say three steps but technically the last step is a promise, not an actual step). The steps are: repent and be baptized. The promise is the gift of the Holy Spirit/Ghost dwelling in you. Biblically, repentance and baptism aren’t steps. They are commandments.
But what is salvation? Salvation simply can refer to being rescued or delivered. We are rescued or delivered from the shackles of sin and Satan. How does one attain salvation? While some teach that a simple prayer will suffice, others teach that you must be baptized and speak in tongues. Inaccuracy lies among both sides. A simple prayer accepting Jesus as your savior is not biblical. as confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord is typically done when one converts to Christ, usually during repentance or baptism.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; - Acts 3:19
At the same time, those who teach that tongues are required usually do so by saying you have to seek the Holy Ghost. This places those who teach this doctrine into a difficult spot. For one, Acts 2:38 states that it is promised to those who repent and are baptized. But what happens when someone does those steps and still hasn’t received the Holy Spirit? Two things, first, this person is told they have to seek after the Spirit. Quite ironic, since the Holy Spirit is God and if God visits and you’ve done what is required of you, why would He withhold it from you? That’s when you are told you are holding back from God and hiding sin. It’s a quick phrase to explain away why the two step plan isn’t working. “It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s that you are not right with God!” I disagree. The Bible states that one is promised to receive the Holy Ghost and secondly, the Spirit gives out gifts to whom He will and in measure to whom He will.
But a step further. Acts 10 brings up the example of Cornelius and his household. This particular example breaks the original two step plan, for Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before baptism, but after repentance. Did God accept the cry for forgiveness and forgive before or after Cornelius received the Holy Ghost? In fact, what did Peter preach to Cornelius and his household?
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. - Acts 10:43 KJV
Peter taught that remission of sins comes from believing in Christ. Peter also sated earlier that one would repent (turn away and ask for forgiveness) and be converted (come to Christ/believe on Christ). Conversion requires repentance. You cannot become a Christian without first (A.) Believing in Jesus and, (B.) ask Him to forgive you of your trespasses. To say anything contrary to that would be going against what Jesus and His disciples taught.
Of course, we read that Peter also baptized Cornelius and his household after they had repented and received the Holy Ghost. Apparently before the baptism, God was satisfied with Cornelius to the point He sent His Spirit upon him and his household. Does God reside in unclean vessels? If not, then at what point had Cornelius and his family been remitted of their sins? Rhetorical, as the question has already been answered in the text of Acts 10 during Peter’s sermon.
As we know that repentance is necessary for salvation, one might wonder about baptism. Most pentecostals will say that baptism is not an outward display of conversion and symbolic display of being buried with Christ. Instead, they will say baptism is when the blood is applied and sins are remitted.
If one is a Christian, then one of their strong desires should be to hold recognition among the Church. Paul was baptized by another believer who could vouch for him. Imagine if Paul, who was Saul, had not had an existing believer able to vouch for him. There is a biblical practice of making disciples who make disciples. Someone leads us to Christ, we lead someone else to Christ, they lead someone else to Christ. The process repeats. What we do gain, however, is recognition. We have someone who can vouch for us publicly. That is to say, we have an outward display of our conversion and confession in Christ, witnessed by at minimum, a second believer. It’s also an important practice, as baptism does symbolize us being buried with Christ. But, again, at which point are ones’ sins remitted? Are sins forgiven before or after you receive the Holy Ghost? At this point, you may accuse me of implying that baptism is not necessary. Hard disagree. Baptism is important, not only for the points I’ve already made, but secondly, because Christ commands it. That’s not to say that there aren’t situations that exist where baptism would be extremely difficult. Such cases include prisons on anti-Christian countries or places where people are subjugated/enslaved (human trafficking). Paul also stated that his goal was not to baptize others, but do other things for God. While this might seem to go against the great commision, Paul still did baptize a few people. However, he did not seem to make it his mission in life neither did he focus on baptism. That’s not to say Paul was excluding baptism, but that baptism was seen as something a Christian does during the full conversion process. It’s much like the classical pentecostal view between salvation and the full salvation experience. A quick summary of that would be found in this analogy: you are a lighter, the Holy Spirit is the lighter fluid. You may have salvation, but until the lighter is flicked, you do not have the full salvation experience.
Another point I’d like to bring up is found in Acts 19:
He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.  And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.  Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. - Acts 19:2-4 KJV
Paul met a group of believers, or who he thought were believers. Paul did not first ask if they were baptized, but instead asked if they had received the Holy Ghost. It seems the importance of salvation for Paul centered on Christ within a person. Upon hearing they had never heard of the Holy Ghost, he questioned their baptism. You see, if someone claims to be a believers and hasn’t heard of the basics, then you would want to know if they were baptized and if so, from whom. These men were followers of John, so Paul tells them to follow after Christ. It seems that by this point, Paul must’ve mentioned being baptized into the Christian Church, for they were baptized soon after Paul spoke to them. Of course, we read that after that, Paul laid his hands upon them, something not consistent in the Bible as a form of receiving the Holy Spirit, and some of the men spoke in tongues while others prophesied, all claiming to have received the Holy Ghost.
I could continue, but I’m sure you get the point. Baptism is commanded, and those that out right refuse it are being disobedient. Since obedience is better than sacrifice and disobedience towards God is a sin, one would be sinning by rejecting a commandment from the Lord Jesus Christ. Mark 161 states that one who believes and is baptized shall be saved. However, it doesn’t stop there. It also states that those who do not believe are damned. Yes, unbelieving people could be baptized or unbaptized, the case here is clear. Without faith in Christ, you will perish. For the phrase “who believes and is baptized,” here is a snippet of the Moody Bible Commentary:
As stated before, while I do believe to out right reject a commandment is disobedience and sinful and will cause you to lose out with God, we must be wary of stating an enforcement of baptism on those stuck in situations that forbid the Christian action of such commandment.
Now we’ve talked a lot on repentance and baptism, but we’ve barely covered the Holy Ghost aka the Holy Spirit. We are taught in Mark 162 as well as other books in the Bible, that disciples of Christ who believe and have power from God will perform signs and wonders. Mark gives us a list which are found through the book of Acts and spoken about in the various letters sent throughout the churches.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;  They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. - Mark 16:17-18 KJV
Most pentecostals are quick to “…tongues! It says tongues!” with little regard to the rest of the signs. Perhaps a lack of faith prevents them from focusing on the other signs? An intriguing premise, but I”ll save that for a later article. The main point is, as with my previous analogy with the lighter and lighter fluid, when God gives you that power from on high, you will have signs. The Bible is not limited to a single, initial sign, neither does it require everyone to have the same sign. We’ve seen that in Acts 19, where some of the men spoke in tongues while other prophesied. But, as it says in John 3, we all must be born from above to enter into heaven. One cannot see heaven without God residing in them. While God is the ultimate one who decides in what way and capacity He uses a person, we must have Him dwelling in us to make it to heaven.
But referring back to those times where one is required to seek the Holy Ghost, I’ll use the common pentecostal bank analogy. Imagine you are promised a million dollars. Of course, the million dollars are stored in a bank and won’t come to you, you have to go to the bank to get it. Never mind that (A.) Jesus said He would “come to you” and “send the Holy Ghost to you”, but also (B.) so many people keep checking all the wrong banks asking for their money only to be told, “sorry, we don’t have your money.” Seek and you shall find? The one hundred and twenty found in the upper room were told to tarry in Jerusalem where God poured out His Spirit on them. God came to them. They didn’t have to run around finding the Holy Ghost. They got it where they were sitting. The wind blows and you won’t see where it comes from or where it goes, but it will have some type of affect on your life where God dwells with you.
So to answer the question of how do you know if you have the Holy Ghost, I’ll answer it with another question. Have you been affected? When God gets a hold of you and dwells with you, you’ll know it.
*1&2 Some manuscripts omit verses 9-20 so don’t build doctrine on those verses alone.