The Salvation of the Christians: The Cross, Part 4 (Baptism, Part 2)

Bible and cross

Something old, something new …

So having hopefully avoided some of the more tedious arguments, let’s talk about something new. Well, not “new” but old. Really old.

Paul writes in Gal 3 and Rom 4 that we are saved by the covenant with Abraham in which God promised to count faith as righteousness. That covenant survives the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and remains true today.

But faith saved Abraham without baptism. God went through an incredibly elaborate blood oath covenant to demonstrate his sincerity to Abraham in Gen 15:9-21. But God credited Abraham with righteousness based on his faith before the ceremony (in Gen 15:6), in fact, the day before.

There was no ceremony exactly comparable to baptism in Judaism. (Proselyte baptism was a human invention and dates no earlier than the First Century so far as the historians can determine.)

The closest analog would be circumcision. And if circumcision is the closest analog, then we should remember that Israel failed to circumcise their children from the time of Sinai until after they crossed the Jordan.

(Jos 5:4-7 ESV)  4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt.  5 Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised.  6 For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; the LORD swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.  7 So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. 

For 40 years, God led them through the desert and gave them victory over their enemies. They even conquered the people east of the Jordan while uncircumcised. They made covenant with God when the book of Deuteronomy was read to the children of Israel by Moses just before crossing the Red Sea. And yet they were still uncircumcised.

God required that they be circumcised before beginning their campaign to conquer Canaan, but for some, that was 40 years after they’d been born. Circumcision was a sign of a relationship with God but not the cause of that relationship. The cause was God’s election of Israel and Israel’s faith in response.

God was obviously very serious about circumcision, but it was not a sine qua non. After all, the duty to circumcise was placed on the parents, and the parents were faulted for the failure of their children to be circumcised, not the children.

Just so, when we fail to properly baptize a convert to Jesus, the sin is committed by the person teaching the convert. The convert has no more reason to be faulted for an error in his baptism than a child should be faulted for not being circumcised. Indeed, the scriptures refer to converts as children in Christ. It’s their spiritual father or mother who errs in teaching them baptism incorrectly.

It’s unimaginable that God would damn someone who comes to him with the faith of an Abraham and faithfulness of a Moses and the trust of a David because he or she, a babe in Christ, was taught baptism incorrectly. To think this way is to seriously misunderstand the roots of our religion. Indeed, it’s to turn a faith-based salvation into legalism.

But that no more makes baptism optional than circumcision was optional for the children of Israel. But it just wasn’t the basis of God’s salvation. He saved based on faith, remembering his promises to Abraham. But they were not allowed to march on Jericho until they were circumcised.

So when does God save? At the moment of faith or the moment of baptism? Well, who says it has to be one or the other or that it’s always the same? Who says that God even thinks in these terms, given that he exists outside of time as we experience time? Time is, after all, a created thing.

The cross saved the Jews as many as 2,000 years after they believed, and yet they were saved when they had faith. Or did God keep their souls on ice pending the crucifixion? When were they saved? When Jesus died on the cross? Or when they believed? Or both?

Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration even though Jesus had not yet been crucified. So they weren’t in cold storage awaiting salvation. They were already saved — surely — even though nothing had happened yet with the power to save them. Really.

A lawyer would say that the cross is a “condition subsequent,” which is an elegant way of saying that they were saved when they believed — conditioned on the obedience of Jesus happening later — which God foresaw with perfect foreknowledge and so credited before it even happened. Or credited in his own timeless realm. However you prefer to look at it. Both points of view have merit. Neither is a complete description.

In short, while it’s hardly the most important conclusion from our study of covenant theology, surely we can see that the covenant regime is built on God’s transcendence above and across time. Time is just not a barrier to God’s grace, and so arguing over when someone is saved is like arguing over how my sins could have been nailed to the cross when I hadn’t even been born at the time.

We try to fit God’s transcendent salvation into our linear time frame and so create odd metaphors — such as thinking of the cross as creating a pot of saving power that is then available in the future for the forgiveness of sins as they are committed. Which is kinda true and kinda not true. Because our sins were forgiven when Jesus submitted to the cross.

(Isa 53:5-6 ESV)  5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned– every one– to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

(Rom 5:6 ESV)  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 

(Rom 5:8 ESV)  8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Heb 9:27-28 ESV)  27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,  28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Jesus bore our sins before we even committed them, before we were even born. And if God can do that, then saving people baptized too early or without enough water or with less than ideal baptismal theology is no problem for the Lord of Hosts.

But that doesn’t make baptism optional or irrelevant.

(Jos 5:8-15 ESV)  When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.  9 And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.  

10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho.  11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.  12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.  

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”  14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”  15 And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. 

I love this story. It’s filled with mystery and wonder. It reveals a God of incredible grace and patience, who gives his people what he promised them. I mean, just imagine being there, finally eating the fruit of the land, camping in the Promised Land, and finding that God has an angelic army ready to fight with you as you prepare to conquer your new home.

And then imagine someone asking, “Did you become a Jew when you were born, when you first had faith, or when you were circumcised 40 years later?” Far better to be busy following the commander of the army of the LORD into battle.

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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 Atonement, Connection of Church with Israel, Election, Soteriology, The Salvation of the Christians, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The Salvation of the Christians: The Cross, Part 4 (Baptism, Part 2)

  1. Jim H says:

    Good stuff! Recommendations for a study of covenant theology? I want to spend time on studying this. Thanks

  2. Richard constant says:

    you know J those last two paragraphs.
    somethings just don’t change. although there is a difference between Newtonian physics, and quantum physics.
    Ah yes
    now let’s just see here if God’s not changing.
    what was that definition of faith in Hebrews 11 :1/2
    Romans chapter 1. God showing himself through the things created so that we are without excuse.
    just exactly how dark was the dark ages.
    i Call 14th and 15th century theology, flat worlder theology.
    hey Columbus you’re pretty stupid you’re going to fall off the edge of the world.
    and then there’s God going boy oh boy when these kids going to grow up

  3. Richard constant says:

    here’s a good 1 j
    Schroeder’s box or the cat what’s funny is it’s flatlander theology and that’s what we argue about isn’t it or have been I hope!
    little bit of irony there.
    or kinda like Voltaire when he said God’s a comedian with an audience that forgot how to laugh.
    Now he’s got a chapel over the top of his old house Bible book store or something like that

  4. Richard constant says:

    now Schroeder’s box and I thought the conclusion would be obvious. although!
    one of my pet phrases that I used on John marks site.
    Some things are easier too simple for my complex mind.
    Or too complex for my simple mind.
    And I’m the one that has to figure out which one it is.
    God is the observer.
    Or kinda like Jesus is the righteous Judge the Messiah and why would that be? that should be obvious.
    because He loves us. the good way.
    You know what is reconciliation but restoring God’s good oh well.
    Deep subject for a shallow mind, now that’s one that I can handle.
    Blessings all rich

  5. Richard constant says:

    And a little PS.
    That last sentence J or three or four we are there only here and now .
    now what was that definition of Faith.

  6. Richard constant says:

    THat would be Hebrews 11:1 through 16
    that’s why I walk around and say thaT the Spirit has my back.
    as far as Roman’S 8 is concerneD I got no problems.
    cuz I know.
    God is faithful, the Lord is faithful, and the Spirit working for me. as long as I believe.
    You know that faith trust thing.

  7. laymond says:

    “So when does God save? At the moment of faith or the moment of baptism? Well, who says it has to be one or the other or that it’s always the same? Who says that God even thinks in these terms, given that he exists outside of time as we experience time? Time is, after all, a created thing.”

    Well if we are saved by faith, we save our self, no one can give you faith except you.

  8. rich says:

    strike three….

  9. John F says:

    John 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” NASU
    without being Calvinistic, belief is a work (of God).
    And yet, was when was Paul saved? Arise and be baptized, washing away your sins.

    Perhaps the best we can hope o agree on is “head to the water”; as in the Ethiopian. . . . let God may the final decision; refusing to head to the water is rejection of a Biblical mandate, and the rejection becomes as very real problem.

  10. Richard constant says:

    John.w &Lamond
    now then
    You too both get on skype, or whatever you use nowadays, go back I think its 10 weeks and read to each other all of the post the J hash put together.
    one of the things that I really didn’t like about school.
    was in the fourth grade there was almost 6 months 4 months anyway of review.
    since you guys didn’t get it.
    Go back and read it again.

  11. Richard constant says:

    good morning J.
    One of the problems with using having faith in Christ.
    Instead of reading the faithfulness of Christ.
    which by the way is the correct way to read those six different places of Scripture.
    is that it makes it extremely difficult not to read into the scripture where it’s used with a new understanding.
    The words are just so subtly different.In perspective
    that you miss the difference between” the chair and my chair”

  12. Richard constant says:

    to say nothing of the fact.
    That Paul goes from Romans 1 vs I think 17, 18 and jumps into the wrath of God is revealed continues down to Romans 3 19 and then Starts to explain why.What’s really bad.
    Is no one reads the Bible I would think hardly anyone isTaught this way.
    Which is simple, one of the big problems, no one reads them like a letter.

    the way I started as I started reading as a letter maybe when I was 27 years old maybe younger.
    I read for coNtexts then I kept looking for answers in the scriptures because it all had to fit it all had to Dove tail.
    to be like Solomon’s Temple I couldn’t use a little piece of document hammered on here on my temple and I couldn’t cut a little piece off here because it didn’t fit with my theology.
    Solomons temple there wasn’t supposed to be the sound of a hammer or saw.
    you know go figure what is that mean well I think it means exactly what I said.

  13. Richard constant says:

    you know Jay I think that we would have been burned at the stake around 1850 I mean I got so much black / just looking into the curse of God it was unreal specially the cross.
    everybody is so indoctrinated.
    Look at what Jesus during is 30 years growing up.
    god is faithful to His scriptures god is faithful to his words righteously faithful doesn’t miss a beat.
    Jesus was Rachel righteously faithful to the will of God which propelled the word of the Messiah the prophecy of the Messiah.
    The Holy Spirit is explaining it to us.
    but we threw out the old old covenant years ago change the Scriptures miss the Christ event.
    changed it into what well here I want to be a Protestant ok take these glasses.
    Okay I want to be a Baptist ok take these classes.
    Ok I want to be a Lutheran ok take these classes and we wonder why churches are losing membership people aren’t stupid anymore.
    the teachers better get on point.
    is not about being right.
    This is about being loved by God to the extent that he cursed his son on a tree. for what, our tradition s Botched things up so bad that we couldn’t See a relationship if we had to.
    I know it’s tough.
    But you know the old saying when the going gets tough the tough get going.
    blessings J

  14. Richard constant says:

    oh and a.s a PS it’s not like I didn’t go talk to Greek scholar so K or guys that were teaching upper division greet I went to Biola, the School of Theology in Claremont, I went to the Lutheran School in Irvine I went over to the Church of Christ the disciples in Claremont. I went to that big one in Pasadena.
    just picking Brain s. asking questions…

  15. Richard constant says:

    oh yeah and Pasadena that one was called fuller

  16. Richard constant says:

    in Irvine by name was called Concordia I got a pretty good handle on the way that they view the Romans

  17. Richard constant says:

    I called and talked to Randy chestnut I think that’s his name I know it’s chestnut.
    I talked to a few people when I went to Pepperdine for the lectureship.
    I’m asking specific questions.
    And they gave me specific answers.
    Randy chestnuts the only one when I asked Jesus with righteous under law.
    He said no
    and I have always wanted to talk to him again

  18. Richard constant says:

    I studied with a guy I don’t know years ago probably close to around 2000 he used to teach Greek at a church of Christ school for Greek preachers.
    I hammered in him about the faith of Christ but I don’t know how long. he taught me a lot.
    He go back into the groups Greek Scripture now you can’t pull a book of Wright out of his hand.
    we studied for about 6 months once a week.
    that was before I ran into John Mark that would be November of 2008.
    his name is Steve something I’m sorry Steve
    what a wonderfully patient man.
    although guess what happened.
    I had a reason to believe maybe sorta kinda I might even I have a perspective to say.
    boy oh boy its not that I just haven’t been out there looking for someone to talk to trying to find an expert.

  19. laymond says:

    I just took it that Paul was the expert on his writings. 🙂

  20. Richard constant says:

    well LaYmond it’s been quite the journey.
    to be sure….

  21. John F says:

    “And then imagine someone asking, “Did you become a Jew when you were born, when you first had faith, or when you were circumcised 40 years later?” Far better to be busy following the commander of the army of the LORD into battle.”

    So ask someone “Did you become a Christian when you believed the message, or when you confessed Christ, or when you were baptized?” The answer is “Yes.”

    So, when was Cornelius saved? If saved without the message from Peter, why was Peter sent? A bit confusing if “calling on the name of Lord” is sufficient (Jay states “calling” includes faithful response, but how to know of what the faithful response consists?

    Rom 10:12-17 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. NASU

    Acts 10 is a prime example of Romans 10.
    Did Corneilus et al speaking in tongues “confirm” salvation? The Spirit took control and expressed Himself through Balaam and also Caiaphas, so perhaps some caution is in order — not all expressions of the Spirit confirm fidelity to God and salvation of the one through whom God is working, do they? If so, when God was using the Assyians, Egypt, and others to judge Israel, does God’s use of that nation of the nation;s leader indicate a salvific relationship?
    Was Saul saved on the road? If so, why go to see Ananias and be told “what to do.” Was Ananias wrong when he indicated Saul was still in his sins when Ananias said “Arise and be baptized, washing away . . . ?

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