I just got my copy of the October 2010 Spiritual Sword. The issue is dedicated to “What the Church Needs.” Phil Sanders contributes an article entitled “Faith in God’s Plan” (pp. 20 ff). I looked throughout the issue for the article on “Faith in Jesus,” but there was none to be found. So maybe, I thought, Phil had been victimized by a thoughtless headline writer. Surely he would not choose such an unscriptural caption! After all, the New Testament use of “faith” is uniformly “faith in Jesus,” and never, ever faith in a plan!
But the article confirmed my worst fears. The article has sections titled “Believing in God’s Plan,” “Faith in God’s Plan for the Church,” and “Faith in God’s Plan of Salvation.” The article declares,
Faith in God’s plan means that we take our stand that his plan is the right way, the best way, and the only approved way.
Jesus, however, says,
(John 14:6 ESV) 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
For some reason, Jesus thinks we should think of the “way” as Jesus, not a plan by Jesus. The article also asserts,
Instead, those who put their trust in God’s plan of salvation and teach others to do so are Christians who build their houses on the rock.
But Jesus says,
(Mat 7:24 NAS) 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Now, Jesus was referring specifically to the words he’d just spoken in the Sermon on the Mount — not the Plan of Salvation. Do you want your house to be built on a rock? Trust Jesus enough to obey his words spoken in the Sermon on the Mount. And the Plan of Salvation, as we teach it, isn’t found there.
To be fair to Phil, he does quote passages that speak of faith in Jesus and salvation by grace. It’s just that these are all incidental to the point he quite plainly emphasizes. Phil is a clear writer, and he makes his point quite clear. Salvation is found by trusting in a plan.
K. C. Moser dealt with this kind of thinking many years ago, quite famously in a tract called “Christ versus a ‘Plan’” (1952). Moser writes,
To be able to quote scripture, and to preach beautiful sermons are not enough. Nor is it enough to be able to name the conditions of salvation. A correct understanding of Christ as Saviour is essential to a correct knowledge of the conditions of salvation. The conditions do relate directly to Christ crucified, and preaching should show this relation.
Exactly! In the foreword, Moser speaks of his own experience and previous errors in the third person —
He was giving “plan” the emphasis that belongs to Christ himself. It dawned upon him that Jesus did not come to inaugurate another legal system conditioning salvation upon human achievement or human righteousness, but to give his life a ransom for sinners. … Hence unless and until Christ as a sinoffering is preached it is impossible properly to respond to him. Merely to obey him outwardly is not enough. The obedience required in order to salvation must relate directly to him as a sinoffering and express trust in him for salvation.
Yes! It’s all about trust in Jesus himself and his work for us.
After all, the cross is considered but a means to an end, the end being the giving of a “plan”! Times almost without number I have heard sermons on the conditions of salvation without a single reference to the cross. I have heard preaching in meeting that lasted for three weeks in which the cross of Christ received only a passing reference. At no time did the preacher make the cross his theme and teach sinners what Jesus did on their behalf. But in every sermon a “plan” was considered the gospel unto salvation.
The cross! Yes, Paul wrote regarding his own preaching,
(1Co 1:22-24 NAS) 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
(1Co 2:2 NAS) 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Paul’s preaching was Christ and cross focused. This is because we do not and cannot earn our salvation. Rather, we gratefully receive the free gift of salvation earned by Jesus’ sacrifice.
Moser offers these reasons for objecting to the idea of a “plan of salvation” —
Of course, the expression “plan of salvation” is not found in the Bible. This should be interesting to those who propose to call Bible things by Bible names. Certainly God has a plan or method of saving sinners, but his plan is Christ crucified. … Eating is always essential to physical life, but who would think of denominating the mechanical acts of chewing and swallowing a “plan of life”? No inspired man ever preached a “plan.” Every one preached Christ crucified. …
The “plan” theory is the product of a misconception of the work of Christ on behalf of sinners. Christ was not another Moses, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist. He came to save sinners, not by reformation, but by means of an atoning sacrifice. He did not come to show man how to become his own savior. Christ came to be the Savior. He gave “himself,” not a “plan”. …
The “plan” theory logically makes the “plan”, not Christ crucified, the means of salvation. Christ, we are told, came to give man a “plan of salvation,” that is, a “plan” by which man is to be saved. It is easy to see that if sinners are saved by a “plan”, the “plan” becomes the real saving power. The doctor provides the remedy, but it is the remedy that cures. Yes, Christ came to provide the “remedy” for sin, but the “remedy” is himself crucified as an offering for sin. Jesus “offered himself” as the means of salvation (Heb. 7:27; 9:14). Even John 3:16 teaches this easy lesson….
The “plan” theory logically puts the “plan” where Christ belongs. That is why some preach a “plan” instead of Christ. And that is why many have faith in a “plan” as the means of salvation, instead of Christ. …
Faith in a “plan” is devoid of the element of trust, except in the wrong thing. A sinoffering as naturally demands faith in the sense of trust as food requires eating or water calls for drinking. Jesus did not offer himself as an atoning sacrifice merely as a fact to be intellectually accepted. He offered himself to be relied upon, to be trusted in. Christ crucified is as much a challenge to the sinner’s trust as food is a challenge to the hungry man to eat it. God “gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him” should be saved. The Son was given to be believed in, that is, to be trusted in, to be relied upon. …
The law, which provided no saving sacrifice, demanded obedience in the general sense. And if man had been saved by law, his own obedience would have saved him. Since we are saved by the blood of Christ the principle of salvation must be faith in the sense of trust. This principle places saving power in Christ crucified, not in human achievement.
Hence those who make obedience in the general sense the condition of salvation to sinners misconceive the meaning of obedience under Christ. The obedience required means faith or trust in Christ crucified. …
(emphasis in original). That’s a long quotation, but Moser writes too well to let a paraphrase suffice.
Moser doesn’t deny faith, repentance, confession, or baptism. Rather, he denies that those conditions accomplish anything apart from trust in Jesus. Obedience is not enough, or else we’d be replacing one law with another. Rather, God’s covenant doesn’t simply replace Temple sacrifice and circumcision with Five Steps. God’s new covenant gives us the assurance of salvation by causing us to believe, love, and trust a person — Jesus — by the power of his crucifixion and resurrection. And if our “faith” is mere intellectual acceptance and not love and trust, then we are much to be pitied.
In the next post, we’ll consider further why faith in a person is very different from faith in a plan.