The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 4.3 (The faith that saves)

Comment regarding how to read the “faith is sufficient” passages


In part 2 I listed dozens of verses that declare faith sufficient. You insist that they must say “faith alone.” But there’s more than one way to say something.

(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.”

If you tell you son, “Whoever goes to the grocery store has a $5.00 tip” and your son goes to the store, could you then say, “Well, ‘goes to the grocery store’ is only one of many requirements and I skipped the rest. You should have been here last week when I covered the necessity of also going to the Post Office’”? You are not being fair to the text.

Just so,

(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.”

Could you say, “Son, hear me and believe me when I tell you that if you go to the grocery store you will have a $5.00 tip” and then refuse because he failed to go to the Post Office? No. God keeps his promises. All of them.

And consider –

(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.

Call me crazy, but this seems to say that “all who believe” are saved “through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Now, I have to point out what I’ve said many, many times: “faith” in John and Paul is a submissive faith. It therefore includes obedience — but not necessarily obedience to each and every command. Rather, it includes an obedient heart, which leads to obedient behavior – but imperfectly obedient behavior.

I covered this in considerable detail in —

The Cruciform God: Righteousness and Faith, Part 3

“Faith” in John and Paul therefore includes hearing (how else might one come to faith?), repenting (deciding to follow Jesus, that is, to begin a life of submission to his commands, that is, obedience as defined above), and confession (how do we know to consider you a Christian, admit you to church, or even baptize you if you’ve not told us that you believe?). “Faith” subsumes repentance — indeed, repentance in the Acts 2:38 sense is to change from your old views to the new teaching that Peter had just preached —

(Act 2:36 ESV) 36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Peter wasn’t asking them to become good, moral people — they were observant Jews. He was asking them to accept that Jesus is the Messiah and Lord — and to change their lives accordingly. “Repent” in context is thus to come to faith — a faith that includes faithfulness to God. And faithfulness to God includes both believing Jesus to be the Messiah and submitting to him as Lord. That’s what Peter preached.

Hence, John and Paul do not teach the peculiar notion that “faith” is mere intellectual acceptance of the proposition that “Jesus is the Christ.” It’s much, much more than that. James rightfully teaches against such a misunderstanding.

So the actual scriptural teaching that faith in Jesus is sufficient to save does not deny the necessity of obedience. It affirms the necessity of obedience, because “faith” includes the sense “faithfulness.”

But the word “faith” does not include baptism — other than in the sense that it includes obedience, which does not and cannot be perfect obedience. “Obedience,” of course, is the obedience of faith — the obedience that faith leads to. But it’s not obedience to each and every command perfectly. Nor are we privileged to pick out our favorite commands and make them tests of salvation.

The test of salvation is faith — which includes faithfulness (or submission or repentance). And the presence of the Spirit — because all saved people possess the Spirit and only saved people have the Spirit —

(Rom 8:9-11 ESV) 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Comment regarding the content of faith

Anne, Bruce, Ray, and others,

I agree that we sometimes try to make simple things complicated. But we also sometimes avoid the issue.

One question I ask is how to resolve the paradox created by the many passages that teach that faith is sufficient to save and those passages that insist on baptism. The answer I’m hearing is that we should ignore the faith-is-sufficient verses and pick the baptism verses as controlling — but the only rationale I hear is that the baptism verses say what they say. But that “logic” ignores the fact that the “faith is sufficient” verses say what they say. Others seem to argue that there are no “faith is sufficient” verses.

Sound hermeneutics don’t deny that the verses teach what they teach; nor do they impose entirely unrealistic meanings on such phrases as “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). Rather, the sound approach — the approach that most fully respects the inspiration and authority of scripture — admits that both sets of passages say what they say and then looks for a resolution of the paradox outside tradition and personal preference — instead looking at larger principles than just those passages.

And so far, I seem to be the only one arguing outside the proof texts. As I said in part 2, it’s hard to leave a deeply worn rut.

It is my belief that God meant for water baptism to correspond with Spirit baptism in the normal case — that is, that converts would become saved concurrently with their immersions. In such a world — the world in which the NT was written — the two sets of passages present no paradox and create no interpretive problems.

But they do today because — obviously — there are plenty of people with a genuine, submissive faith in Jesus, giving every evidence of having the Spirit, who were not baptized as the New Testament anticipates. So are they damned anyway? Or not?

The usual Church of Christ answer is to refuse judgment (“only God can say”) and to nonetheless respond with judgment (“how dare you be in fellowship with the unimmersed!”). I don’t think that’s the right approach. Rather, I think the scriptures tell us the answer — in many ways. You just have to get outside the proof texts and read the rest of the Bible, too — for what’s really being said about God, Jesus, and the Spirit.

New comment going deeper into the meaning of “faith”


To complete the thought of the foregoing I have add that you cannot reconcile the baptism verses and the “faith is sufficient” verses by claiming that faith requires baptism. It plainly does not — unless you’ve been properly instructed on baptism and accept the teaching you hear as true to the scriptures.

Abraham was not baptized and yet he had faith. When Paul uses “faith,” he often has Abraham in mind and so is surely not using “faith” in some radically different way.

Indeed, Hebrews teaches some the essence of a saving faith —

(Heb 11:13-16 ESV)  13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

“Faith” here refers to a faith that is so intense that believers live as “strangers and exiles on the earth.” Hence,

(Heb 11:1 ESV) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith means being so assured of God’s promises that how we live is characterized by that faith.

(Heb 11:35-38 ESV) 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — 38 of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

You see, as we considered back in the Cruciform God series, faith is to be like Jesus — faithful in submission and sacrifice. Thus, one reason that today faith must be faith in Jesus, is because Jesus shows us who God really is. If we claim to worship God and yet deny Jesus, well, we’ve denied God, because Jesus is the ultimate revelation of who God is.

This is faith — and it’s a serious misunderstanding to argue that you have no faith if you’ve been baptized by the wrong mode or otherwise less than perfectly — even though you live the life God calls you to because of your submission to Jesus as Lord.

You see, what really bothers me is the notion that God won’t forgive pouring rather than immersion but will gladly forgive a life not remotely like those praised in Hebrews 11. Yes, we should teach baptism. But we our problem is our failure to teach faith. The only reason we imagine that baptism is as important to God as faith is because we woefully misunderstand faith.

Faith is the first step to becoming once again made in the image of God — and Jesus is that image. Faith is the necessary path toward becoming like Jesus. And that’s what it’s all about.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

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.
This entry was posted in Baptism, Fork in the Road, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 4.3 (The faith that saves)

  1. abasnar says:

    Jay, you are proof-texting.

    When you quote John 3:36 you have to read the whole context. And in the same chapter we have the conversation with Nicodemus on the new birth by water and Spirit John 3:3-5, faith again John 3:16, the necessity of good works John 3:20-21. After that we see the disciples of Christ performing baptisms John 3:22. And after John the Baptist's statement you quoted, again we see the connection of baptizing and making disciples in John 4:1.

    So if you take out John 3:36 to proove that faith is sufficient, you are proof-texting. The whole story is a little more complex than that.

    The same is true for John 5:24. In John 5:29 we see that we will be judged according to our works not because we had faith (alone).

    Of course you will point to your conviction that faith must be faithful, obedient. So fauith would eventually encvompass baptism, obedience, fruit, discipleship, self-denial … which are all conditions for salvation according to our Lord.

    But the way this discussion is led, it at least sounds like faith that does not require all of that. As soon as you say, faith is sufficient, the ordinary reader understands: Aha, baptism is not necessary, good works are optional. You don't mean that, but that is the message you convey, because of the meaning the word faith (or to believe) carries in everyday language.

    I won't go through all your examples. I just want to question the proof-text approach. I am convinced – the lonmger the more – that we cannot sum up the Gospel in a short and easy to memorize formula. The way many Evangelicals did that with John 3:16 (and I did that, too) should be a shocking warning:

    For God so loved the world – is understood and presented as: "See how much God loves you, how deepley He longs to have fellowship you." But that#s not the meaning from the context. The context is the snake that was put on the stick in the desert. So we have to understand the signficance of this story from Numebers in order to understand the first six words of John 3:16.

    That He gave his only begotten son – OK, we have to understand, that this speaks of the cross, of the blood of the sacrifial system of the temple. You have to know quite a lot of background to understand these seven words of John 3:16.

    That whoever believes in Him – Since this verse is often quoted in evangelistic messages to invite people to make a "decision for Christ", it got the meaning: Whoever came to believe in Christ as if it were speaking about this "one-time-event" of saying the sinner's prayer. So it strengthens the misunderstanding of faith meaning giving mental assent to a message. But even worse: This verb is not in the Aorist (for on-time-events), but in the Present tense for an ongoing action. So it speaks of ongoing faith and faithfluness, of an obedient faith-relationship that has to be maintained throughout our whole lifetime.

    Shall not perish but have eternal life – I used to understand and teach itr this way: As soon as you are converted (on-time-event) you have (once and for all) eternal life. So everything focussed on the conversion experience, which is the typical Evangelical understanding of salvation. But the ver "have" is in a condition tense; having eternal life depends on maintaing an (obedient) faith. And now this verse sounds totally different, doesn't it?

    Our Lord Jesus did not use proof texts when explaining the Gospel. He normally told parables of the Kingdom. And not just ONE formula. He did not use the word Believe of faith very much in Matthew, Mark and Luke – John, writing later and with a different goal, used it more frequently. But salvation cannot be reduced to a formula such as "We are saved by faith alone". Such formulas come close to heresy.

    And proof-texting (in my opinion) is a fruit of the formula-approach. You seem to want to prove, that we are saved by faith. So you quote verses that only mention "faith" as necessary for salvation; but often in he immediate context some other "ingedients" to salvation are mentioned we lose sight of as soon as we just look at the proof-text- So, in the end, the proof-texts prove nothing but help establishing a misleading Gospel-presentation.

    Again: You most certainly know, what you mean with "faith" and what it all encompasses. And if we know the background to John 3:16 (the snake in numbers, the sacrifices of the Temple the present tense of to believe) we can use John 3:16 as a summary. But whoever has not this knowledge will – anavoidably – be led to the false Gospel of "Easy Believism."


  2. Rich W says:

    Jay said,

    "It is my belief that God meant for water baptism to correspond with Spirit baptism in the normal case — that is, that converts would become saved concurrently with their immersions. In such a world — the world in which the NT was written — the two sets of passages present no paradox and create no interpretive problems."(/blockquote>

    This statement probably best summarizes our philosophical differences. I cannot in good conscience teach something that I know veers away from God's original intent.

  3. Bruce Morton says:

    You asked me about reconciliation of the proposed paradox regarding “salvation by faith” and apostolic teaching about baptism.

    As I have also posted in Part 4 and 5 — with more, no paradox exists regarding “salvation by faith” and apostolic teaching about baptism as an act of God’s grace. Why would there be one? I hope that someday down the road we get rid of thinking that holds us back (along with some Southern Baptists) from seeing that we are saved by grace through faith — and what that means. Correct? (Ephesians 2:8)

    And how are we saved by grace, i.e. “made alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5) through faith? The answer penetrates Ephesians (5:26; 4:5; Markus Barth may be correct in his suggestion that Ephesians was a baptism manual of sorts for Roman Asia — and beyond). Paul answers unmistakably in Romans 6:1ff. The letters we are seeing summarize apostolic teaching — such as occurred for days/weeks/months in the lecture hall in Ephesus, and other locations. But we are being shown what the risen Lord is directing.

    Titus 3:4-7 and Romans 6:1ff. announce that we are washed clean by the grace of God as we are immersed — actually taking part in the death and resurrection of Jesus with Him!

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  4. Jay Guin says:


    You charge that "As soon as you say, faith is sufficient, the ordinary reader understands: Aha, baptism is not necessary, good works are optional. You don’t mean that, but that is the message you convey, because of the meaning the word faith (or to believe) carries in everyday language."

    Go back through this series and notice how many times I've carefully tried to avoid exactly that accusation. I repeatedly refer to "faith" as faithfulness, or submissive faith … I even speak of the "obedience of faith." And I can tell you that it gets old knowing that I can never simply type "faith" without having someone jump up to accuse me of teaching "easy believism."

    I've taught the biblical meaning of "faith" enough that it should be clear that I'm teaching no such thing. And, in fact, there aren't many people who teach an easy believism. There are plenty who practice it — including many in the Churches of Christ who expect to enter heaven because they have all the right positions on the issues, despite their grace-less lives. It's a very real problem — but the problem doesn't stem from quoting passages in John. It comes from defining fellowship based on doctrinal lines — which leads people to think that only those with the right doctrinal positions are saved and therefore that the right doctrinal positions are sufficient to save.

    Regarding proof texting, there are a LOT of "faith is sufficient" passages, and they are often quite plainly worded. Moreover, if we are to avoid proof texting, we have to carefully give the baptism passage the same weight and place in our theology as in NT theology.

    Consider, for example, Romans. Paul goes through the whole faith/works issue in great detail in chapters 1 – 4 and never once mentions baptism. It's not until chapter 6 that he gets to baptism — and it's not even a discussion of how to be saved! Rather, it's a discussion of how to live as a Christian. And that's pretty much it. In chapter 8, Paul discusses the Spirit in detail and the assurance of our salvation, and never mentions baptism. And it comes up again in 16 chapters.

    Whereas faith, love, and hope are major themes that course throughout Romans, and the book is a masterpiece of soteriology — the theology of salvation — baptism isn't even mentioned in the soteriological passages. It's undeniably there, but it's far from being an emphasis. The true emphasis is, of course, faith.

    Galatians is quite the same. As in John. Luke doesn't even mention Christian baptism. Nor does 1 John. Hebrews makes a couple of allusions to baptism — but baptism is never a theme of Hebrews. And yet faith is a dominant, pervasive theme of each of these books. Yes, baptism is mentioned, but it's not what the books are about. When mentioned, it's mention as part of a discussion of something else.

    Now that doesn't make the theology of baptism any less true, but it makes it less central to the mind of God than faith in Jesus. They are not co-equal in the apostolic witness.

    And there are profound and very real reasons why this is so.

    (Gen 15:1 ESV) 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

    (Hab 2:4 ESV) 4 "Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

    God's covenant is based on faith (not baptism).

    You see, when we look at baptism in light of the history of God's redemptive work and in light of the overall context of scripture, we find that the Churches of Christ have placed an unscriptural emphasis on the practice. Yes, it's scriptural, but it's not the centerpiece of our religion.

    Faith, however, is different.

    (Rom 1:16-17 ESV) 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

    (Rom 3:21-25 ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

    Now, if Paul meant to be understood as saying "only those who have faith and are baptized are saved," he sure picked a strange way to say it. Rather, he quite plainly says that God's righteousness if for "all who believe." And it would make nonsense of his argument in chapter 4 to make baptism an absolute requirement —

    (Rom 4:9-12 ESV) 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

    It's no wonder that Paul doesn't bring up baptism in chapters 1 – 4. It wouldn't make sense to argue from Abraham's faith and to then declare that God honors his promises to Abraham by saving Christians based on faith —

    (Rom 4:13 ESV) 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

    Therefore, while I follow your proof texting concern, I think a more detailed consideration of the scriptures actually supports my view.

  5. abasnar says:

    Dear Jay

    I tried carefully to avoid accusing you of teaching "Easy Believism" (so much i have read of you already). I imagined readers who don't know the full meaning of faith northe context of the verses you quoted. I think I mentioned, that I was an Evangelical for about 20 years before I joined the church of Christ – and I had to overcome this Gospel of Easy Believism and unconditional eternal security.

    I, together with many other Evangelical, used the exact same verses to "prove" that baptism or good works cannot be necessary for salvation, because we are saved by "faith alone".

    Because you seem to use the same methodology I though, I had to point it out that this methodology is misleading – even if you yourself have s correct understanding of the matter.

    For instance, ou wrote:

    Consider, for example, Romans. Paul goes through the whole faith/works issue in great detail in chapters 1 – 4 and never once mentions baptism. It’s not until chapter 6 that he gets to baptism — and it’s not even a discussion of how to be saved! Rather, it’s a discussion of how to live as a Christian. And that’s pretty much it. In chapter 8, Paul discusses the Spirit in detail and the assurance of our salvation, and never mentions baptism.

    You tear apart on big discourse on justification that starts in chapter 2 and ends in chapter 8 – these SEVEN chapters are a unity that you cannot divide and take out a passage ignoring the rest of the discourse.

    Chapter 2 shows that we are going to judged according to our works and the Law.
    Chapter 3 shows that all fall short and will be justified by grace through faith.
    Chapter 4 shows from the Old Testament that God justifies without the Law because of faith (exemplified in Abraham)
    Chapter 5 introduces Christ, His sacrifice for us and compares Christ's righteousnes with Adams sin
    Chapter 6 shows how in baptism all this becomes real to us, so we are enabled to lead new righteous lives
    Chapter 7 shows again that our old nature in unable to fulfill the law
    Chapter 8 goes back to the bnew birth and teaches that by living in the power of the Spirit we wil fulfill the Law

    If you the go to Chapters 3 and 4 and point out that we are saved by faith, then you don't tell the whole story. This does not show HOW we obtain this salövation through faith nor HOW we are born again nor HOW we are made righteous. See, we are declared righteous by faith as a first step, but unless we live out this righteousness in the power of the Spirit this profits us nothing. And in order to live in the Spirit we need to become one with the death and resurrection of Christ in baptism.

    There are actually two reasons why Paul did not mention baptism until chapter 6:

    a) His readers were baptized and knew that coming to Christ involves baptism. That was not an issue at all. Circumcision and the Law were the issues.
    b) Paul carefully puts argument upon argument. He is explainingth matter "step by step" in a very logical manner. He was not at the point yet in chapters 3 and 4 to speak about baptism.

    See, Jay, that's what is so wrong with this proof-text approach. People lose sight of the whole thing.

    Regarding proof texting, there are a LOT of “faith is sufficient” passages, and they are often quite plainly worded. Moreover, if we are to avoid proof texting, we have to carefully give the baptism passage the same weight and place in our theology as in NT theology.

    Indeed. And that's explaining God'd word the harder and more accurate way. Because then it is not enough to say: I don't see baptism in these verses, so baptism isn't there. Because then you have to understand the background of each verse as well, realizing they have been written to baptized people in a setting where the conversion took place in baptism, because this was and is part of the great commission.

    This means you always have tio have the big picture in mind when reading one verse. And when it comes to salvation this means:
    – Hearing the Goseple
    – Repentance and faith in Christ
    – Baptism in Water
    – Baptism in the Spirit
    – Perseverance in Holyness and God's Grace

    If you don't do that, you will putr verses in conflictz against each other. Most likely not you yourself, but in the minds of your readers, who don't keep the background in their minds.

    So they will put faith agains holiness and good works!
    They will put faith against baptism!

    Why? Because your reasoning sounds like you are doing the very same thing. You use the very same methodology as all Evangelical Apologists who try to prove to us that we can be saved without holiness and without baptism (once saved always saved). Again: It's the methodology you use, Jay, not what you really believe.

    And coming from that cormer I listen to you maybe with different ears …


  6. Bruce Morton says:

    I appreciate your putting some "life context" around the "Gospel of Easy Believism." Thank you for taking the time to write and post your essay.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

Leave a Reply