Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 3

three-thumb.jpgAlthough I think the baptism verses are powerful and persuasive, the “faith only” verses are powerful and persuasive, too. There are just a lot of verses that promise salvation to all who have faith.

Before we get into these, I should urgently say that in most of the New Testament, “faith” includes penitence. There are a few places where they are separated, such as in James and in Acts 2:38, but as a rule, the New Testament writers include penitence with faith.

This is true because faith includes not only believing that Jesus is the Son of God, but also believing that he’s Lord — and submitting to his Lordship.

(Rom 10:9-11) 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. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who [believes] in him will never be put to shame.”

(The NIV says “trusts” in v. 11, although the verb is “believes” or “has faith.”) In context, you can see that when Paul says anyone who has faith is saved, he is only including those who confess Jesus as Lord. Therefore, there’s nothing in “faith only” that leads to Antinomianism (the idea that we can live lawless lives and yet be saved).

Okay — here are some of the verses —

(Mark 9:23) “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

(John 1:12-13) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

(John 3:14-18) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

(John 3:36) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

(John 5:24) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

(John 6:29) Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

(John 6:35) Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

(John 6:40) “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

(John 6:47) “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.”

(John 7:38-39) “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

(John 11:25-26) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

(John 12:46) “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

(John 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(Acts 10:43) “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

(Acts 13:38-39) “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”

(Acts 16:31) They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

(Rom. 1:16-17) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Rom. 3:22-24) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom. 3:25-28) God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

(Rom. 4:4-5) Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

(Rom. 5:1-2) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

(Rom. 10:4) Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

(Rom. 10:9-13) 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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

(1 Cor. 1:21) For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

(Gal. 2:15-16) “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

(Gal. 3:2) I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?

(Gal. 3:22) But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

(Gal. 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

(Eph. 1:13-14) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

(Eph. 2:8-10) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(2 Thess. 2:13) But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

(1 Tim. 1:16) But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

(Heb. 10:39) But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

(1 John 3:23-24) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

(1 John 4:2-3) 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, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

(1 John 5:1) Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.

(1 John 5:3-5) This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

(1 John 5:13) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

I could make a much longer list, you know. These are just the most obvious verses.

And so we have this problem. Bunches of verses say that all who have faith are saved, and bunches (not as many, but bunches) of verses say salvation occurs at the moment of baptism.

Moreover, there are verses that say only those with the Spirit are saved (such as Romans 8:9-11) and other verses that teach that the Spirit is received at baptism.

(Acts 2:38) Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

(1 Cor 12:13) For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

(Titus 3:4-7) But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

(Col 2:11-12) In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. [Although the Spirit is not mentioned by name, the Spirit’s work in “circumcision” is implicit. Rom. 2:29.]

(Eph 5:25-27) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. [Again, the “washing” accomplished by baptism is implicitly by the Spirit, as is explicit in Titus 3:4-7 quoted above.]

(John 3:5) Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Now, the meaning of each of these passages is controverted. Those with a Calvinist bent refuse to associate the receipt of the Spirit with water baptism, but the arguments are generally from presupposition, not from the inspired words themselves. For example, John R. Stott comments in The Message of Galatians regarding Gal. 3:27,

Verse 27: “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This cannot possibly mean that the act of baptism itself unites a person to Christ, that the mere administration of water makes him a child of God. We must give Paul credit for a consistent theology. … The apostle clearly makes faith the means of our union with Christ.

This is, of course, the last-verse-read argument. We all want to make Paul consistent. It’s just that the Calvinists read the faith-only verses last and the Churches of Christ (and others) read the faith + baptism verses last. But having one set of verses override the other, in either direction, hardly respects inspiration.

As mentioned in Part 1, one solution to the conundrum is suggested in my book Born of Water. I’m hoping to convince you of another, deeper solution, which we’re getting to.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 3

  1. Alan says:

    The faith verses tell who can be saved. The baptism verses tell when.

    I think this verse provides a sort of key to the puzzle:

    (John 1:12-13) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

    Note that those who believe get the *right to become* children of God. At the point of faith prior to baptism, they have the right to become children of God, but have not yet done so.

  2. Donald says:

    You left out a key verse– one which I believe is one of, if not the most powerful indication that the spirit is received at baptism. That is the example of Jesus. The scripture says the spirit descended upon him and remained. And regarding the sign to John the Baptist in John 1:33 "I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'
    The spirit's involvement seems to be more than coronation, but rather that of empowerment to begin God's work. Up to that point, Jesus had done nothing miraculous that we know of, but following his baptism he is driven by the spirit into the wilderness and begins his miraculous ministry.

  3. mark says:

    There is something to be said about seeing the scriptures in its totality. Baptism is just one of many subjects that when truly observed becomes more than a rite, it becomes a act of faith. Our imaginational lines of when salvation begins and when it could possibly end is really a subject best left to God. I think baptism and predestination as combined theology fixes such challenges of free will and baptismal ideologies.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Alan,

    John 1:12-13 is an intriguing passage. It could be read as saying that faith gives one power (a better reading than "right" based on parallels in John) to be saved (by being baptized). But that reading runs contrary to literally dozens of verses in John that say all with faith are saved.

    Moreover, the clause at the end contrasts being born of God with being born of "human decision or a husband's will" — obviously saying it's not human will but God's will. This is not teaching Calvinistic election so much as the fact that salvation follows faith is because God — not humans — causes those with faith to be saved.

    Birth obviously suggests John 3 — being born of water and the Spirit. Birth by the Spirit is plainly God's doing and God's choice. We think of birth by water as our choice.

    However, I've long preferred Luther's take on baptism. It's a gift — not a work. We don't cause God to do anything. Rather, upon our faith, we receive God's blessing in the form of baptism. And faith qualifies us for the blessing.

    And so, I don't see 1:12-13 telling us what happens if we fail to be properly baptized. The underlying assumption is that those with faith will be baptized. But if we fail to be baptized out of ignorance (not rebellion), does God's will that we become his children overrule our ignorance?

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Donald,

    I entirely agree that Jesus' baptism is an example of how baptism works for Christians — we become God's children, we receive the Spirit, and we are declared to be well-pleasing to God.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Mark,

    You wrote, "I think baptism and predestination as combined theology fixes such challenges of free will and baptismal ideologies." How does that work? You've got me interested.

  7. Ric says:

    Jay,

    I tend to think Alan has a point that deserves deeper thought. I agree that the term "right" is better translated "empowered"; I think that is more consistent with many of the remaining faith/believe/belief verses in John. However, neither term answers the question. In reading this post, it struck me, for the first time, how many times you see the terms faith or believe coupled with the permissive term "may". If weight is given to the term "may" in many of these passages, then it becomes much easier to reconcile them with the repent, believe and be baptized verses. To cut to the chase, we end up with our faith in Jesus giving us permission to submit to His lordship and receive God's grace in baptism.

    [NOTE: That having been said, I have not studied the greek that is being translated as "may" in the verses; so, please feel free to redirect any discrepency in this argument based upon a misuse of that term.]

  8. Mark says:

    There is a single scripture we need to ask one question which then becomes the foundation of our confidence in salvation. John 10:29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. Question can anyone snatch them out of the Fathers hands? I See predestination intricacy involved in our salvation even to the point baptism as a rite is really a cultural side issue. I’m not saying it not important but rather where baptism falls in the process of salvation is simply up to God not us. Campbell’s unusual baptism is a good example.

    1 Peter brings this out, “who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” So much for the “if you were going to die tonight where would you go?” through faith the kind of faith you have before you are baptized we are shielded.

    Whats the implication human responsibility or fatalism are not the answers. I always loved what Jesus did at the wedding he turned water into wine. What is being revealed in these passages is how salvation happens we are like the jars of water being asked for by jesus to presented as the best wine for wonderful God,

  9. Alan says:

    Jay,

    I agree that John 1:12-13 doesn't say what happens in judgment if we have faith but do not get baptized. In fact, I don't know of any scripture that specifically answers that question. (John 3:3-5 comes closest I think…) However, John 1:12-13 does describe people who believe as being given power/right/authority to "become" sons of God. That is consistent with every major translation I know of.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Ric,

    Let's look at some of the "may" verses —

    (John 3:14-15) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

    (John 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    (Gal. 2:15-16) “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

    Now, notice first that the vast majority of the verses that speak in terms of all with faith being saved do not speak in terms of "may." But the "may" verses certainly exist — in the English.

    But in the Greek, things are less clear. In John 3:15 and 20:10, "may have" can be subjunctive or indicative. If it's subjunctive, the hypothesis is whether you believe. For example, "If you finish your homework, you may have ice cream." The promise is firm but conditioned. "May" refers to whether you meet the stated condition (finish homework) — not an unmentioned condition. Hence, "may have eternal life" is conditioned, not on baptism, but on faith, which is clearly the intended hypothesis.

    In Gal 2:16, "may" is not in the Greek, as the verb form is indicative, not subjunctive.

    You can check these conclusions and research other Greek verb forms at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/

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