In the last two posts, we considered the history God’s dealings with his people, and we learned that God has never refused his salvation to someone who approached him with faith and penitence — even when that person failed to comply with the covenant-means of forgiveness then in effect.
Moreover, we’ve seen cases, such as the Apostles and Cornelius, where God himself took the initiative to break his own rules. The bothers some quite a lot, because we see God as the Great Rulebook in the Sky. But God is a person, with free will, and God does not have to follow his own rules.
Next we’ll consider some additional arguments.
God doesn’t require anything else to be perfect
This is simple enough. To be saved, we understand that our faith can be less than perfect. Indeed, Jesus said that if we had faith as a mustard seed, we could move mountains. And none of claims to have such faith! Moreover, neither is our penitence perfect. We all mess up far too often to make such a claim.
When we first came to Jesus, our faith was especially weak and or penitence was especially immature. And yet we felt perfectly forgiven when we arose from the baptistry. After all, we know that perfection is impossible in such things.
But when it comes to baptism — which is certainly much less important than our faith and penitence — we expect everyone to get it exactly right. After all, it seems entirely doable.
Hopefully, however, a moment’s reflection will correct that. We in the Churches of Christ take great pride in getting our baptisms just right, but I don’t think we really do.
For example, we typically ask our converts to repeat Peter’s Great Confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But how many of us had clue as to what that means when we were immersed? How many of us knew that “Christ” means “Messiah,” the king prophesied by the Old Testament prophets?
How many of us went under expecting to receive an effective, powerful indwelling by the Spirit?
How many of us confessed that Jesus is Lord, as Rom 10:9 requires?
(Rom 10:9) That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
You see, perfection is harder to come by than we like to believe. We pretend our baptisms are perfect because our theology demands perfection, but our theology is wrong. So is our delusion that our baptisms are perfect. I mean, I have 500-page books on my shelves on nothing but the meaning of baptism. Who among us had that level of knowledge while being immersed?
And if God will accept a puny, tiny faith, and a puny, tiny repentance, and our own imperfect baptisms, why not the imperfect baptisms of others? I mean, he loves Baptists and Methodists, too. Doesn’t he?
Our faith is in Jesus
Anytime someone tells me that baptism is ineffective if the convert is unaware that he’s being immersed for forgiveness of sins, I respond, “We are saved through our faith in Jesus, not our faith in baptism.” And that’s right.
The requirement for baptism to “take” is that we believe in Jesus, and yet we sometimes insist that the convert believe in the power of baptism, and this position takes the spotlight off Jesus and makes him share it with a tankful of water. It’s wrong.
Can the presence of the Spirit be discerned by observation?
Let’s suppose that it were possible to discern whether an individual has the indwelling of the Spirit by observation. If that were true, then we could tell if that person were saved, since only the saved possess the Spirit and all who possess the Spirit are saved (Rom. 8:9-11).
Now, it would plainly be a mistake to suppose that all who possess the Spirit may be discerned as such by observation. Clearly, there can be Christians who are in deep spiritual trouble, in need of repentance, who behave in a worldly manner. No one can tell from observation whether the Spirit has left such a person. But this is not the question.
The question ultimately is whether there are some people in whom the Spirit burns so brightly that his presence can’t be denied? What does the Bible say?
Certainly, it was true during the time of Acts that this was the case. Somehow, Phillip knew that the Samaritans had not yet received the Spirit even after their baptism (Acts 8:15-16). Something led Paul to conclude that the Ephesians had might have not yet received the Spirit (Acts 19:1-3). Recall that Paul asked them whether they’d received the Spirit — not whether they’d been baptized.
Here are a couple of verses to consider:
(1 Cor. 12:3) Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
(1 John 4:2-3a, 15) This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. … If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
In each of these passages, the writer declares that faith in Jesus demonstrates the presence of the Spirit. Now we have to understand that merely saying the words is not enough — we understand that the speaker must mean the words, too.
And there are other verses that suggest that Christians may be discerned by their behavior. For example,
(John 13:34-35) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Therefore, the presence of a genuine faith and a Christ-like love for fellow believers indicates the presence of the Spirit.
The Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all Christians “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Moreover, the Spirit changes our hearts and thus our behavior —
(Gal. 5:16-25) So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. …
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
And so we see that the presence of the Spirit is supposed to have an ethical influence — much more than that — it’s supposed to change our hearts and thus our behavior. Now, undoubtedly, there are people who have never so much as heard of Jesus — idolaters even—who live very moral and upright lives. Mere good deeds do not prove the presence of the Spirit. But deeds done by a person of faith demonstrates a Spirit-filled heart. Isn’t that what the verses plainly say?