Baptism: Grace and Baptism, Part 2 (The Understanding Grace Problem)

baptism of JesusGrace is not an easy concept for most people. To some, it sounds like what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” From his The Cost of Discipleship,

cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

But grace is not cheap grace. Like the Pearl of Great Price (Matt 14:45-46), it costs everything, even though it’s free.

(Mat 13:45-46 ESV) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Which I admit is a little confusing. Others water down grace by insisting that we must add the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2) to grace, so that grace must be earned. Call this Works-Grace, but this is a contradiction in terms. (The Law of Christ is really the command to love our neighbors in response to God’s love for us, not a list of laws on how to run a church.)

(Rom 5:17 ESV) 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Rom 6:23 ESV) 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So grace is free but costs everything. But isn’t a result of works. Paul says it all very simply in —

(Eph 2:8-10 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It’s not of our doing, but it’s in order for us to do good works. Hmm … I find it best to start by analogizing to human relationships. We too quickly try to interpret as those these principles were laws, and so, quite naturally, we impose a legalistic reading. But God urges us to understand him in relational terms. He is our Abba Father. Jesus is the husband of the church. We are Christ’s body. The church is the household of God. And human relationships don’t follow laws. They are built on love. So imagine that a man adopts a child who lives in the garbage dumps of Rio. How much does the child have to pay for the adoption? What does he have to do to be adopted? It’s free. No cost at all. He does not have to do anything. If you’re familiar with adoptions of older children — no longer infants — well, they can be difficult. The child is inevitably desperate for parental love, but the child doesn’t know how to trust his new father not to abandon or beat him. And so he rebels by testing his father’s love. He acts out. And it’s incredibly difficult for the father to see this child on whom he’s lavished love and gifts not know how to accept it all. But good parents know that love will prevail, they love their new child through all the rebellion and acting out, and the child learns about a different, better kind of parent — a parent who loves him even when he’s bad — but also loves  him enough to set boundaries and impose discipline. Almost always, it works out. The child learns to accept love — and then he learns to reciprocate love. He can’t help himself. We are made to respond to love with love. The child’s love is unlearned, prone to mistakes and misunderstanding, but deep from the heart — and the father accepts and celebrates it in all its imperfection. Now, sadly, I also know of adoptions that went badly. It’s a distinct minority of cases, but it happens. Sometimes an adopted child (and this is true of biologic children, too) rebels to the point that the parent is forced to disown the child. It doesn’t happen quickly or easily. And it’s always preceded with months, even years, of prayer and desperation. But it happens when the child refuses to obey or even to love his adopting father. Rarely. But it happens. When I was baptized, it was in a church that taught a legalistic Christianity. We found it hard to accept that God really could love us so much that it would be free. We kept trying to hang a price tag on ourselves. Some of my fellow church members rebelled — and ultimately left Christianity altogether. Some stayed because they got to know God better and learned to love him for who is he is, not for fear of what he might do. Others stayed but remained in fear — in misery. And a few hung a high price on themselves and decided they were actually holy enough to have earned it with their superior Christianity. It happens. Back to our analogy of the adopted child. When a child finally learns to love his adopting father — reciprocating the father’s sacrificial love — the child takes on an incredible burden. Loving someone is never free because loving someone means wanting what’s best for the other person — which is expensive. Consider the man who falls in love with a woman and gives his wife everything he earns, working at a job just for the pleasure of spending the money he makes on his wife. Consider the parents who bring a baby into the world just to lavish the baby with love, financial support, an education, and the incredibly difficult gift of raising her into mature adulthood. Love sacrifices because love takes more pleasure in the other person’s happiness. If we truly understand what God has done for us, we love him and his happiness becomes more important than our own. It’s more accurate to say that his happiness makes us happy. This is the attitude that leads people to travel the world in near poverty to be missionaries, to serve as ministers in congregations, to give of their means to support their congregations, to volunteer in church ministry, to seek and to save the lost. So how expensive is the love the child received from his father? It’s free. But it cost him everything because when he learned to love his father, he became willing to do anything for his father. But it was a price he was delighted to pay. To him, it was bargain. Indeed, free, because what he had to pay was of no value to him. In fact, he gave up nothing that was important to him — like the man who bought the Pearl of Great Price.

(Phi 3:7-11 ESV) 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

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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14 Responses to Baptism: Grace and Baptism, Part 2 (The Understanding Grace Problem)

  1. I love your description of cheap grace in its diverse guises!

  2. Ray Downen says:

    How true it is that God’s grace covers our sin if we turn to Him and learn to love as He loves. Jesus speaks of an essential new BIRTH as entry into His Way. As does human birth, it involves two separate “elements.” Human birth requires a father AND a mother working together–male and female with the birth then coming via the female even though it’s started by the father.

    We do not do well to think of conversion happening without the TWO elements spoken of by Jesus combining to create the new life. Water AND spirit, Jesus said. Peter explained to seekers how new birth is accomplished. Repent (spiritual change) and be baptized (in water) and THEN be added to the church, God’s family on earth.

    Was this Peter’s idea, or the idea of the apostles rather than being the idea of the Master? I’m sure it was exactly in accordance with what Jesus spoke in His “great commission.” He instructed His apostles to carry a message with them wherever they went in the world and to BAPTIZE those who believed in the message of the risen Lord Jesus, alive from the dead, offering life to all who hear and believe.

    Since the Spirit is God’s gift AFTER the new birth, it should be obvious that the Spirit isn’t active in a seeker prior to when He is given. Everyone who hears is free to believe and be saved by obeying the gospel, the GOOD NEWS about a risen Savior, Jesus, who invites all to turn to Him and be baptized INTO HIM.

  3. Randall says:

    Hi Ray,
    You write a number of things I appreciate. However, as to your understanding of Jesus conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 I have a comment: It doesn’t matter how many times you suggest the “water” refers to Christian water baptism. It still won’t make it so. Would you please consider reading and studying some more on the issue of what water and spirit (wind -pneuma) refer to in John 3. I know for those raised in the CofC considering any other possibility here can be an obstacle. In fact, an obstacle so large many refuse to even attempt to see another possibility. After all, the text used the term “water” so it absolutely has to refer to water baptism, right? Don’t laugh. I have heard that argument used more than once.

  4. Dwight says:

    Randall, What then does the water refer to?
    Those that argue against water baptism are at a logical loss of explaining what the water refers to and why the Spirit would be tied to it. Up to this time the Spirit had not come, but John was baptizing for repentance, but after the Day of Pentecost the Spirit had come and into Jesus upon Peter’ command. vs. 5 “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” they were being baptized.
    It is clear that Jesus was tying both “born of water and the Spirit” as the way to enter the kingdom.
    Of the items that are argued for gaining entrance into the Kingdom…faith…repentance…confession, baptism is about the only thing that is hinted at here in association with the Spirit.
    It is interesting that those other thing are represented here. Not that they aren’t important, but it is hard to argue for being born through faith or repentance or confession, but water makes sense from the baptism standpoint.
    Rom.6:3-5 ““Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
    Eph 2:8-10 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
    As faith is called a work in many places in scripture, faith doesn’t cheapen grace. Grace is still there.
    But what happens if we have weak faith, does that cheapen grace?
    Supposedly if by grace we are saved though faith, then faith no matter what saves us, even though it is the weakest faith around.

    Unless grace is given by God and then we gain the grace by faith, but this still is our faith and our work of faith. The gift is priceless and yet it is worthless if not used.
    True story- I once gave a not great, but running car to my brother, who parked in his yard. My intent was for him to use it, but he didn’t and it did nothing for him. The car was free, extremely so, but he didn’t value it and didn’t make use of it, even though he was in need of extra transportation.

    The point is that Jesus died and offered grace because of love, but we aren’t automatically saved without our knowing or participation. The grace is there as a gift and we cannot initiate the grace by doing work, but we can participate in it our of faith.
    I can build a baseball field in a cornfield, but it doesn’t do any good unless someone comes. Out of my grace I have invested time and money have n building a field for players, but the players must come willingly and come they must.

  5. Randall says:

    My comment was directed to Ray. Do you think it appropriate to jump in and answer/reply to comments directed to another before they even have sufficient opportunity to reply themselves?

    However, since you have jumped in to reply to my comment to Ray would you please consider doing what I suggested to Ray? That is: Would you please consider reading and studying some more on the issue of what water and spirit (wind -pneuma) refer to in John 3?

    Thanks in advance for doing this. Perhaps after you have taken the time to study and reflect we could continue the discussion. I would be interested in knowing what you learn after your study.


    P.S. BTW, I’m in my 60’s and was raised in, baptized in and attended Churches of Christ for more than 50 of those years. I have kept up with changes and discussions in the CofC since then. This is simply to say that if you are plan to give me the same CofC arguments that I am already familiar with it could be a show stopper for continued discussion. Please learn something new first. Thank you.

  6. Grace says:

    Not everyone who reads the context of Jesus speaking to Nicodemus about born of water and the Spirit believes He is saying born of baptism in water and the Spirit. Such as, I see Jesus saying to Nicodemus he must be born again of the Spirit by the context of their conversation. Nicodemus couldn’t see being born again after the (first birth) of the womb, Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus about being “born again” in John 3:6-8 is what the new birth (second birth) is that Nicodemus needed to understand. Jesus was saying the (second birth) is being (born again) of the Spirit. The contrast is physical birth to spiritual birth.

    John 3:6-8 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

    John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (NKJV)

    John 3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (NET)

    John 3:6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh. Whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. (NLV)

    John 3:6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. (NLT)

    John 3:6 The only life people get from their human parents is physical. But the new life that the Spirit gives a person is spiritual. (ERV)

    John 3:6 A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. (GNT)

  7. Dwight says:

    Sorry, I guess I didn’t catch the address to Ray and I just read the text. Ray can answer for himself I assume he will. I never attempted to argue for Ray, even though I am pretty sure that I know what Ray’s position is. I then told you what I think my thoughts are on the matter.

    Basically I was curious about what you think the water in this passage means, as you didn’t posit it in your statement. It is easy to tell others to go and read elsewhere, but what do you think it means? And I have read others on this. Technically spirit is pnuema or air in all occasions, but does this mean that this is just wind or something else as in the Holy Spirit?

    Most do argue that the Spirit is indeed the Holy Spirit and that the water is water, but in regards to the water that this is simply water baptism based on the cleansing with water in the OT, but the fact that Jesus often states that He is the living water and that this John was baptizing for repentance during this time, that Jesus was baptized and the fact that Jesus often spoke in cryptic terms that many did not understands doesn’t deny that this was probably baptism of some sort and while water cleansing did offer cleansing and in a sense renewal, you would think that Nicodemus would have understood it from this direction, but strangely he didn’t. He was still dumbfounded.
    Jesus even says in vs.14 “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” so Jesus was looking forward to a future time and future event. Nicodemus didn’t have to understand all of it and didn’t.

    Whatever the case it wasn’t until the of Pentecost that the Spirit came and that the apostles baptized with the thought of those who were baptized “receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit” and this baptism was in water.

    I still am drawn to Rom.6:3-5 ““Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

    This states what Paul thought of baptism and what Paul thought baptism did, “walk in newness of life…united with him in death.” This shows the action of the one who was baptized over just being baptized by another.

    I happen to attend with others of the coC, but do not carry all of the coC doctrine under my belt, but then many groups have some things that are right and wrong. And just because many studies point to one way of thinking doesn’t make it so as homosexuality is now stronger in churches and accepted by many scholars, but it is still not right scripturally. Jesus would also argue that they could eat his flesh and drink his blood, which was definitely not a Jewish thought as drinking blood was sinful to the Jew, but Jesus intended this in a spiritual way and it would be revealed in the Lord’s Supper as well that wouldn’t happen until after His death. This may or may not be the coC argument, but it is mine.

    God Bless

  8. buckeyechuck says:

    I posted the following comment in response to Jay’s post titled “Is Baptism a Work, Part 6B, Part 2” on 12/28 @ 3:48 pm if you want to refer back to the comment. In the entire thread of conversation, no one commented on my thoughts.

    “For those suggesting we turn to John 3:5 to claim authority for water baptism as THE born again process, such is proof-texting this passage to insert a message not contained. Verse 5 “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’” Jesus then explains what he meant in the following verse 6 ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’ The contrast is the physical to the spiritual and nothing there to do with water baptism. If you weren’t trying to find water baptism already, you would never see that in this text.”

    One of the techniques that Scripture uses is the metaphor that identifies one thing as being the same as some unrelated other thing, thus strongly implying the similarities between the two. That is what you have here in the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3.

    All you have to do is read the text without any preconceived meanings. There is no hidden or inferred meaning here. It is revealed quite fully by Jesus himself. Prior to verse 5 we find this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.
    “3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
    4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

    The comparison is between the physical natural childbirth process (the water) and the spiritual birth Jesus speaks of, the process of being born again. Water baptism may seem to fit when you already understand from other texts that water baptism is part of the salvation process, but Nicodemus was not told that by Jesus and he would never have understood it that way. Therefore, it is not correct to interject into this specific text what is not here. This is not the text to find water baptism.

    In verse 12 Jesus further explains: “12 I have spoken to you of earthly things (water) and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things (spiritual)?” Again, Jesus makes the comparison of the physical and the spiritual.

    Verse 8 “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Some would like to make this describes baptism of the Holy Spirit. Or, is this possibly illustrating the intangible, non-physical nature of the spiritual rebirth and not an explanation of the process of Holy Spirit baptism or of water baptism throughout John 3?

  9. Randall says:

    Hi Buckeye,
    I didn’t reply to your comment not even sure I saw it as I sent a comment on another post at about 1:45 PM central time today and last time I checked it hadn’t shown up on the blog. Since you’re looking for one I’ll simply say I agree with you. Perhaps Ray and Dwight will read your comment and critique it if they have a problem with it.

  10. Larry Cheek says:

    I remembered Jay posting on the same subject, so I finally found two by looking up “wind”. It seems odd it appears he did not get any comments on them.

    John’s Gospel: 3:1-5 (Begotten again)
    Posted on December 17, 2012 by Jay Guin

    John’s Gospel: 3:6-8 (the wind blows where it wishes)
    Posted on December 18, 2012 by Jay Guin

  11. R.J. says:

    “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead

    This doesn’t refer to attaining eternal life but coming to an intimate knowledge of Christ’s resurrection and how it foreshadows our’s-a consequence of knowing his death!

  12. Dwight says:

    Buckeye, the problem with your argument is the cojugate of “and” as in “water and Spirit” which he relates to “being born again”. Jesus doesn’t separate water or spirit, but ties them together under the “being born again”. The Jews never understood the concept of being born of water as in being born and this is never related in the scriptures in any sense of this concept. We don’t even use this term when a baby is born. Nicodemus makes the distinction in saying when Jesus says “you must be born again”, by saying, “can I again enter my mother’s womb”, then Jesus states the “born of water and Spirit”, so Nicodemus understanding of being born again is of being born again through His mother and it has nothing to do with water in general, which is introduced later by Jesus.

  13. Dwight says:

    Note: Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Nicodemus understands that the flesh is involved in being born, but not water, which is tied to the Spirit. The flesh harkens back to the “womb” statement of Nicodemus and not the water statement of Jesus, otherwise Jesus is wiping out part of his own statement on “seeing the kingdom”. And just because Nicodemus might not have understood what Jesus was saying and that it would refer to a future thing, doesn’t argue against it as Jesus said many things that weren’t understood until later, many to his own apostles who you think would know better.
    One point that no one approaches is the fact that Jesus also says, “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” so is Jesus referring to being lifted on to a donkey later on or in being lifted up in His resurrection, but if Nicodemus doesn’t understand this “heavenly thing” which Jesus tells him does that make it not a future event. The fact is Jesus is speaking in “heavenly thing” speak in such a way that this knowledgable, but “earthly” thinking person would not understand it.

  14. buckeyechuck says:

    Dwight, your argument regarding the conjunction “and” is certainly one I’ve heard all my life, growing up in the church of Christ. However, grammatically, it makes absolute sense that Jesus is using a metaphor to contrast the first birth and the second birth. You said that “Jesus doesn’t separate water or spirit, but ties them together under the “being born again.” That is just not grammatically correct. Rather it is a contrast. I remember from my youth one preacher during a Gospel Meeting making an entire sermon on what does water mean? His point was that of course it means water, as in water baptism. So, this is certainly no new concept to me. It’s called proof-texting.

    The argument you make hangs on the idea that the entire conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus was a riddle that left him scratching his head having no idea what Jesus was talking about or that Jesus was referring to a water baptism that had never been preached to anyone at this point or until after Pentecost. Was Jesus’ purpose to confuse Nicodemus and only to lay out salvation doctrine for the reader?

    You said the Jews would never have understood that being born of water would have anything to do with physical birth. It seems that is exactly what Nicodemus thought. Was he not Jewish? Have you not experienced a human birth where the baby passes through the birth canal after being submerged in “water” for 9 months. Every mother I have ever known can tell you exactly what “my water broke” means during the birth process.

    Nicodemus could never have understood Jesus’ message to mean water baptism. As much as you would like it to be, water baptism is just not in this text. There are many New Testament texts about water baptism being part of salvation. It doesn’t have to be in this text to make Acts 2:38 valid. We must be honest with each text and not read into any text what isn’t there. I don’t often agree with Grace, but on this text I think she has it right.

    And yet another journey down a rabbit hole off Jay’s topic. I thank God for His grace because I can never be even close to deserving a relationship with Him because of a multitude of failures.

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