Walter Scott (1796-1861) was an evangelist who helped start the Restoration Movement. When coming to a new area, he told the children to raise their hands. Counting off one finger at a time, he explained that salvation consists of faith, repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sins, and receiving the Holy Spirit.
This became known as the “five finger exercise.” Christian churches still use it (in modified form) to explain the “plan of salvation.”
Even if you haven’t heard of the five finger exercise, you’ve probably heard of the “five finger discount.” This is a slang term for shoplifting. Someone gets this “discount” when they steal merchandise from a store.
The five finger exercise is helpful. Evangelists need to use simple, clear methods when presenting the gospel. And they should always call for a response. But without realizing it, Christians turn this exercise into a five finger discount. They rob the gospel of its value by making the five finger exercise their entire theology of salvation.
Discounting the Plan of Salvation
The five finger exercise is a useful evangelistic tool. But it is a mistake to use it as a theological tool. Unfortunately, this is what many Christians do. They use the exercise to summarize God’s entire “plan of salvation.” By doing so, they cause several problems.
First, they limit the “plan of salvation” to conversion. In other words, the plan consists entirely of how we respond to the gospel. Conversion is an important part of salvation. But it isn’t the whole plan.
Salvation isn’t a single point in time. It’s a process that spans all of human history. It began when God predestined us before creation (Ephesians 1:4). And it won’t end until He glorifies us at Jesus’ return (Philippians 3:20-21). The Bible suggests a larger scope and sequence for our salvation than the moment we become a Christian.
Second, the “five finger exercise” focuses exclusively on our response to the gospel. This implies that salvation depends on our initiative. In other words, we can decide to be saved without God’s help. He will only do His part after we do ours.
But the Bible is clear we cannot make that decision on our own. Apart from God’s enabling power, we could never receive Jesus in repentance and faith. We can only make the right response to the gospel if He produces that response within us.
Paul locates the initiative for our salvation in God: “For those God foreknew he also predestined…and those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). We don’t decide to be saved. Rather, God sets His saving plan in motion and moves us through each of its stages.
Securing the Plan of Salvation
Stores make every effort to protect their merchandise from the “five finger discount.” They install security cameras, hire security guards, and prosecute those caught stealing. In the same way, how can we protect the gospel against the “five finger exercise”? How can we keep it secure from the discounting tendencies of well-meaning Christians?
The best way is to appreciate its full scope and sequence as presented in Scripture. We must allow the Bible to expand our understanding of the “plan of salvation.” That is what this series is all about. Each post will progress through the successive stages of God’s saving plan. Be sure to subscribe to my blog to receive the entire series!
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