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.
(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 —
“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.