Born of Water: The “faith was sufficient for Abraham and Israel” argument, Part 4

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5. Hebrews 11

The “rollcall of the faithful” in Hebrews 11 lists many heroes of the OT and declares them saved by faith – even though they lived under either the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants – because the promises God made to Abraham never went away.

(Heb 11:13-16 ESV) 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.

This chapter would make no sense at all unless (a) Israel found salvation through faith, rather than works, and (b) we Christians are saved by the same faith. Again, of course, before Jesus, the Jews believed in a Messiah promised but not yet revealed; Christians believe in the revealed Messiah.

6. Salvation of the Christians

So this brings us back to baptism. The key faith versus works passages speak of the sufficiency of faith in Jesus to save. They never say that circumcision was once essential and now baptism replaces circumcision as the essential initiatory rite. Rather, they say that faith was sufficient for Abraham and for Israel, and therefore faith is sufficient for Gentiles. Hence, there is no need for something that is other than faith, such as circumcision.

Baptism is mentioned and accorded a vital place, but it doesn’t receive nearly the same emphasis or centrality as faith. Only faith goes back to Abraham. Only faith allowed God to save Israel despite their inability to keep the Law of Moses. And only faith allows God to save Gentiles without circumcision. All of Paul’s arguments are centered and focused on faith in Jesus and the receipt of the Spirit (which I’ve not tried to summarize here). Baptism is mentioned and never belittled. But baptism is never at the center of Paul’s arguments.

In Romans, Paul doesn’t even mention baptism in his discussion of how Christians are saved in Rom 1 – 5. It doesn’t come up until Paul deals with the ethical implications of salvation by faith: “Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1). But it’s assumed to be universal, well understood, and very closely tied to our forgiveness.

In Galatians, Paul covers nearly three chapters on our salvation and the gospel and only mentions baptism in Gal 3:27 as explaining or demonstrating the unity that we all have by faith in Jesus.

In Ephesians, Paul covers salvation by faith for three chapters, and then early in chapter 4 mentions “one baptism” as one of the seven ones that demonstrate the unity of Jews and Gentiles through Jesus.

In Hebrews, which speaks to the superiority of Jesus and Christianity to Judaism, baptism is only mentioned in passing (Heb 10:22 and possibly 6:2) –

(Heb 10:19-23 ESV) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Baptism is metaphorically compared to the washing Jews had to undergo to enter the Temple, where the Jews approached God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. Our confidence is in the sacrifice of Jesus (v. 19), but baptism helps assure us that our faith allows us to draw near to God thanks to the work of Jesus.

So it’s not possible that our salvation is based on baptism. Over and over, Paul points us to faith in Jesus. Baptism is not the linchpin. It’s not the foundation. It’s, rather, a critically important assurance of our salvation – a form of assurance that was universally practiced by the early church and administered to all converts who confessed Jesus. In fact, I believe it’s even more than that. But it’s not co-equal with faith in Paul’s theology.

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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.
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3 Responses to Born of Water: The “faith was sufficient for Abraham and Israel” argument, Part 4

  1. Price Futrell says:

    The ring doesn’t make one married… but it is a public declaration of commitment before witnesses that one is married. I see a close analogy…

  2. Chris says:

    All of those listed in the Hebrews Hall of Faith displayed their faith through action from a heart that believed, but no one was described to have displayed their faith by osmosis. What was the “message of faith” that Paul described in Romans as the key element in our faith believing response to the Gospel?

    Romans 10: 8-10: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:
    because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

    And thus is the basis of the oft quoted and widely criticized “prayer of salvation.”

    Not meaning to sound like a late night infomercial – “but wait there’s more…” so let’s not stop there- 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    So, what does “calling on the name of Lord” look like? We catch that phrase tied to an episode with Paul in Acts 22:16
    “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”

  3. Ray Downen says:

    Faith ALONE is dead, being alone. It does not save anyone at any time in any place. If we believe the gospel we obey the gospel and are thereby saved. We are not saved by faith alone. Paul never says that. Every mention of faith fails to claim that it ALONE does anything good for anyone. To imply that Jesus would COMMAND THAT EVERY NEW BELIEVER is to be baptized for no reason to accomplish nothing is absurd. He does command baptism for every new believer. His apostles practiced baptism (immediately) for every new believer. Why? Because it’s AFTER BAPTISM that God gifts the new Christian with His Spirit.

    I fail to see in this writing by Jay any mention of the gift of the Spirit which FOLLOWS BAPTISM. I assume that if the gift of the Spirit is given to newly-baptized believers the Spirit is NOT normally given to unbelievers or to believers who have not been baptized. Do some suppose the Spirit is given more than once?

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