This is in reply to a comment from Paul McGinty,
The reason I’ve written the books I’ve written and posted here, and the reason I set up this blog back in 2007, posting daily for 7 years, is my concern and passion for the members of the conservative Churches of Christ.
I published The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace in 1994 or so. I then wrote Do We Teach Another Gospel? and decided to make it available at no charge via the Internet. I also obtained permission from my publisher to make The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace available for free on the Internet.
I give these away because I fear for the souls of my brothers and sisters in the conservative Churches of Christ. As you point out, there’s a sad irony in the fact that my studies reveal that the Churches of Christ aren’t the only ones going to heaven (praise God!), but also that certain teachings of the Churches of Christ can be damning. That is certainly not the result I hoped for — I have many dear friends among the conservative Churches — but I do no one any favors by concealing what I’ve learned.
I mean, if you found out that a doctrine held by a dear friend potentially damns, wouldn’t you tell that friend, even if it meant risking the loss of your friendship?
I tried to explain this problem in the main post. I see nothing in your comment that shows that I managed to make myself clear. Let me try again — because this is important — literally spiritual life and death.
Everyone who hears, believes, repents, confesses, and is baptized is saved. What do we hear, believe, and confess? Well, the gospel — in particular, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (Surely we are agreed to this point.)
In reality, hear, believe, and confess are all usually subsumed in the New Testament in the term “believe” or “faith.” The authors rarely break “faith” down into all three components, but to have faith you must hear the gospel, and for me to know you have faith, you must confess.
“Repent” usually means “submit to Jesus as Lord.” In fact, Paul rarely uses the word (5 times in the epistles) because “faith,” as used by Paul, includes a range of meanings that picks up “repent.”
To believe that Jesus is the Christ is to believe that he is the Messiah or anointed King of Israel (into which we Gentiles have been grafted). It implies a commitment to loyalty or faithfulness. In fact, the Greek word for “faith” is sometimes translated “faithfulness” in every translation I’m familiar with. To be faithful to Jesus is not greatly different from being penitent. Either way, the thought is that we submit to him as King/Lord.
Thus, Paul says the Christian confession is “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9), which is a pledge of submission to Jesus as Lord as well as recognition of his divinity. “Lord” is the word used in the Septuagint for YHWH.
So “faith” includes penitence/faithfulness/loyalty/submission to Jesus as King/Lord/Messiah/Christ. Sometimes the writers speak of both “faith” and “penitence” in the same verse to emphasize the need for change (penitence is not just submission but change to become submissive).
Another sense of “faith” is trust. When Abraham was commended by God for his faith, it was because he trusted God to keep his promises. And if you look up the dictionary definition of pistis (Greek for faith), you’ll find trust as one of the meanings.
Therefore, in Paul’s vocabulary, to say that we are saved by “faith” includes the ideas of faithfulness and trust. Indeed, the issue was rarely whether Jesus really walked the earth but whether he is Lord and whether we submit to him as such. And to submit to someone as Lord involves both faithfulness and trust.
Therefore, we enter salvation by faith (normally at the moment of water baptism). How do we fall away? Well, common sense suggests that we fall away when we no longer have faith. God doesn’t move the boundaries or constantly shift the target. The standard doesn’t slowly get higher. Rather, the test remains faith/faithfulness/trust, but as we mature in Jesus, our ability to do better increases, and faithfulness will therefore show itself by greater obedience, because faithful people who’ve grown in their knowledge of God will understand and do more for God.
So if I’m right, I should be able to produce passages that show that people can be damned for losing their faith — which can happen multiple ways. Well —
(Heb 10:26-27 ESV) 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
If we surrender our faithfulness, not by making an honest mistake or having a difficult time in our walk with God, but by rebelling against God’s will, we can lose our salvation.
Another way of looking at it is if we surrender the repentance that originally led us to faith and the baptistry, we lose our salvation.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
(1Jo 4:2-3 ESV) 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Just so, if we deny the very confession that allowed us to be baptized, we can lose our souls. Again, we leave by the way we came in.
(Gal 5:2-5 ESV) 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
Church of Christ literature routinely quotes v. 4 for the proposition that we can fall from grace. Amen. We really can. But I’ve seen very few efforts among the conservative Churches to explain what that means in context.
Certain Judaizing teachers were insisting that believers in Jesus could not be saved merely based on faith. They taught that circumcision was also necessary, because the Torah commands circumcision. But Paul teaches that faith is sufficient.
Study v. 6 very carefully.
(Gal 5:6 ESV) 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Note the “only.” Paul’s argument is that circumcision may not be added, not because circumcision is a wicked practice, but because it’s not faith working through love. And this is the culmination of an argument that goes all the way back to chapter 2, insisting on the sufficiency of faith —
(Gal 3:6-9 NET) 6 Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, 7 so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer.
(Gal 3:11-14 NET) 11 Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith. 12 But the law is not based on faith, but the one who does the works of the law will live by them. 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith.
(Gal 3:23-26 NET) 23 Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.
Paul argues to the same effect in Romans.
How does this fit with the meaning of “faith”? Well, God promised Abraham and Israel, through the prophets, to save those with faith. Either we trust God’s promises or we don’t. If we trust him, then we don’t need to add a cappella music to faith as a second salvation issue.
Now, the usual retort at this point is to cry that we must obey God, which, of course, we must do because obedience is a natural, inevitable, necessary result of having faith. Faith will always produce obedience because faith includes submission to Jesus as Lord, as explained above.
The next retort is to insist that obedience requires a cappella singing only. But in making that argument, we make a subtle shift in the meaning of “obedience.” In normal English and normal Greek, I can say that my son is “obedient” to me, even though he sometimes disobeys. Otherwise, there’d be no obedient children at all!
You see, the normal meaning of “obedient” is that the person’s heart is in submission and wants to obey and so normally does obey. But obedience does not require perfect obedience — or we’d all be damned.
And so, even if a cappella singing only is really required, if someone were to sing with instruments unaware of this rule, we’d still refer to such a person as obedient. That’s a fact. Indeed, even if someone mailed them a tract on a cappella singing and that person were unconvinced, without rebelling, honestly intending to obey, they’d still be “obedient.” Obedience is a state of the heart — or else we’re all damned, because none of us is perfectly obedient.
You see, your and my salvation does not depend on our being experts in theology or hermeneutics. It depends on our having enough faith to confess our Lord and submit to baptism. And then we really are saved.
And we stay saved until we lose our faith — by denying Jesus, by rebelling against Jesus’ lordship, or by losing our trust in Jesus’ promises.
And I am saddened and dismayed beyond my ability to express by the fact that so many in the Churches of Christ do not trust Jesus enough to believe his promises.
(Gal 5:5 NET) 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.
Do you do that? By faith in Jesus or by faith in your understanding of a cappella singing and weekly communion? Is your confidence in Jesus or in your own understanding of how to discern the silences of the texts?
(Gal 5:6 NET) 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight – the only thing that matters is faith working through love.
Do you trust that promise? Really trust that that only thing matters is faith in Jesus working through love? I do. But if you think a baptized believer must understand the necessity of engaging in five acts of worship weekly on a Sunday to be saved, then you just don’t trust the promise.
And the very sad result of this lack of trust is the very, very long list of things that must be believed in addition to the Lordship and Messiahship of Jesus to be saved. Indeed, the conservative Churches of Christ seem to be adding to the list of “salvation issues” every year — and each addition takes away that much more hope from the unfortunate members who must agree with the preacher on hundreds of obscure doctrinal points — many built entirely on silence.
The solution is simple. Trust the promises. The following are found in just Romans 9 – 11. I could add many, many more.
(Rom 9:30-33 NET) 30 What shall we say then? – that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, 31 but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
(Rom 10:4 NET) 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.
(Rom 10:11-13 NET) 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
(Rom 11:20 NET) 20 Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear!
My request of you and the rest of the Churches of Christ is simple: trust God’s promises. Please.
I’m sure you have questions. Please ask them in the comments or by private email. I’ll do my best to answer them.
Previous posts in this series are —