Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 12

That was touching story. And it kind of makes sense. But I’m still struggling with how any of that is “faith”! To me, “faith” is what you believe.

Welcome to the 16th Century. It’s time to learn what’s been learned since then.

N. T. Wright explains in Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 263, how “faith” was used by First Century Jews. He refers to a story told by Josephus regarding a Jewish rebel named Jesus –

I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me … ; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.

(quoted by Wright at p. 250.)

Wright notes that the Greek translated “prove his loyalty to” is found in the New Testament, where it is translated “believe in.”

Wright explains,

Josephus asked Jesus the Galilean brigand leader, ‘to repent and believe in me,’ in other words, to give up his agenda and follow Josephus instead. Jesus of Nazareth, I suggest, issued more or less exactly the same summons to his contemporaries.

The confusion results from the fact that the Greek word translated “faith” also can mean “trust in” or “be faithful to” (or be loyal to). And we find all three uses in the New Testament.

For example, the Greek word for faith, pistis, is translated faithfulness in —

(Rom 3:3)  What if some did not have faith [pistis]? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness [pistis]?

(Gal 5:22-23)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis], 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

You see, we begin our readings by assuming “faith” is somehow divorced from repentance, when in fact “faith” means faithfulness as well as belief.

And we find “trust” as a meaning in such passages as —

(Heb 11:6 ESV)  6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

To believe that God rewards those who seek him is to trust God to keep his promises. That’s faith.

English can be the same. “I have faith in my son” could mean “I expect my son to honor his promises” or “I expect my son to be obedient” but not really “I believe my son exists.”

We want to use “I believe in Jesus” in the sense of “I believe in ghosts,” rather than “I believe in the Tea Party,” which means “I’ve committed to support the Tea Party” or “I trust the Tea Party’s principles.”

You see, we don’t have to know Greek to get this.

James uses “faith” in an ironic sense, meaning a false faith that does not produce works. He intends a scathingly ironic challenge to those who take faith to not require faithfulness and trust. I do not for a minute disagree with James.

But this means that “saved by faith and not by works” does not mean “saved by believing that Jesus exists and not by doing anything.” No, it means we are saved by meaning our confession of Jesus as Messiah (=King) and Lord.

When we submit to Jesus as Lord, we bring nothing to the table other than our loyalty and trust. Obviously, we must believe he exists to be loyal to him and to trust him. But he demands much more than acknowledgment of his reality!

Thus, we are saved by our faithfulness and our trust. Not that “faithfulness” means we must attain to perfection or some secret standard. It’s about the heart.

Let’s return to the story of the adopted child from the last post. I do estate planning. I’ve more than once written a will where a child was cut out — disinherited and disowned. It’s rare, and the parent is always deeply uncomfortable with such an anti-natural decision.

It always turns out that the child rebelled. Not in the teenage, sneak-out-at-night sense, but in the sense of refusing any obedience at all and bringing great shame on the family. And it’s always after many, many warnings and pleadings. No parent does this easily. It always hurts nearly as much as the death of the child. No parent makes this choice if there is any other choice available.

But it happens, because some children rebel despite the free gift they’ve received. They turn away from their parents in rebellion, reject all pleas to return, and usually wind up dead before their parents.

Does the fact that an adopted child might be disowned mean that he has to earn his adoption? No, but he can lose it — if he works hard at it. Not for just any act of disobedience. All children disobey. Not for any act of rebellion. All children rebel. But if the adopted child refuses to love his parents, despite their generosity, the relationship will end.

But if he loves them, he’ll obey them. There is no love without obedience. It’s not a law; it’s the nature of love.

Loving your Father enough to be an obedient child of his, following in the footsteps of your brother Jesus, is faith — even if your obedience is as flawed as that of a child, so long as your heart is as open to your Father’s love as that of a child.

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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7 Responses to Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 12

  1. laymond says:

    So many things to discuss about your post. But I will just say, Jay, you need to get out of your neighborhood more often.

  2. Royce Ogle says:

    So faith that does not prove to be faithful and obedient isn’t really faith, instead it is only simple belief of a set of facts. We ask potential candidates for baptism and church membership “Do you believe….” Maybe we should be asking “Are you trusting ….”, or “Are you depending on…”. Simply saying “I believe Jesus is the Son of God” is worlds away from actually trusting him, depending on him and his promises.

    It is with this trusting, depending upon, faithfulness view of “faith” that I teach sinners are saved by faith which is what the Bible clearly teaches.

  3. laymond says:

    Royce, I don’t know of anyone every telling you , a person could be saved without faith, but saying you are saved by “faith”, is like saying you are saved by “hearing” how can you have faith in someone you have never heard of? How can you claim you have faith in Jesus if you don’t obey the words he spoke, Obedience is another step on the road to salvation, Yes salvation is a step by step, life long commitment. And it does include “faith”.

  4. Charles McLean says:

    Laymond wrote: “How can you claim you have faith in Jesus if you don’t obey the words he spoke…”

    Again, Laymond conflates cause and effect. Thunder has nothing to do with the making of lightning, it is simply evidence that lightning already exists. Likewise, obedience is the evidence of faith, not the making of it. As to claiming to have faith when we don’t obey His words, well, who does NOT do this– EVERY DAY? Laymond, you do this every day, unless you are sinless. I do it every day, with perhaps my greatest sin being failing to love my brothers as Jesus has loved me.

    Yes, I have faith, and yes, I fail to obey. No one can live in Christ otherwise. And no one ever has. We are all disobedient. However, if one wishes to compare the quality of his own obedience to the quality of someone else’s obedience, he should consult the Pharisees for encouragement. He will get none from anyone else with the humility to examine himself.

  5. Grizz says:


    It is perhaps this discussion that I have been looking forward to most all along. Faith is not intellectual acceptance of facts, but rather the trusting reliance upon and loyalty to someone so much that you surrender to them as your absolute Lord and Master.

    Intellectual acceptance of facts is a point in the process that has to be part of the overall process, but it certainly cannot stop there. And this is where I see immersion into Jesus Christ as having its fullest meaning and expression. Until I am buried with Him, I am not yet fully trusting in and loyal to Him as my Lord in every respect in the life He creates within me. Indeed that life does not exist until I have been buried with Him, if Paul was any judge of the matter. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “When Christ, who IS YOUR LIFE appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.” (3:4)
    (emphasis mine, GZ) And also to the Romans, “We were BURIED therefore WITH HIM BY BAPTISM into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (6:4 – emphasis GZ)

    Our life was hidden with Him by faith through our immersion into Him, into His death, and through our being raised from that water grave “in newness of life.” That it was His death into which we were buried gives meaning and force to our trusting that He also has raised us to walk in newness of life. Baptism expresses that trust in a way not otherwise possible – burying the old man of sin to be raised by the power of God (not by any power of our deed, but because we trusted Him enough to do as He commands) to walk as new creatures in Him.

    And this reminds me of our earlier discussion of circumcision, without which any descendant of Israel (nor even a servant in their household) will be cut off from any gift promised to the children of Israel (Genesis 17:14). One who was circumcised only gained from it by the faith/trust/loyalty expressed to God that caused that person to be circumcised. In the shadow that preceded the reality (circumcision preceding baptism) it was the faith being expressed that mattered most, though the deed was certainly required by God – just as it is in baptism our faith being expressed, faith in God to cleanse, renew and raise up to new life the one who so surrenders their life to Him. It is not faith in the water or faith in certain words that may be said at the time that is the effective force at work. It is faith in God and His promise to raise up the one who surrenders to the water grave to be raised up clothed with Christ that makes it effectual to do so. It is, as Peter describes it, our appeal to God for a cleansed conscience, a cleansing from inside out that leaves us new creatures born again into life, born again into pure and un-defiled relationship with our Father in heaven – an appeal made on the basis of Christ’s work culminating on the cross and in God’s working in our death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus – that matters.

    Baptism, like circumcision, means nothing without faith/trust/loyalty/surrender to God. So also the one who claims to have faith but will yet not die to self and not be buried with Jesus – that one cannot hope to claim the promise reserved for those who truly trust God to do as He has promised … vis-a-vis, raise them to walk in newness of life. An unsurrendered life – one that knows Christ for who He is but which will not die with Christ – is an uncleansed and un-renewed life.

    This is why Apollos needed Priscilla and Acquila. This is why the Ephesians need Paul. We cannot be faithful and yet ignore an incomplete birthing process. It is not enough that the fertilization (seed-planting) occurs. There must also be an implanting and the development of amniotic sac and umbilical cord to sustain the baby to complete the birth process. Skipping from fertilization straight to delivery outside the womb does not result in life. Neither does skipping from intellectual acceptance and willingness to learn more and skipping straight to a welcoming embrace in any way complete a new birth in Christ.

    Jesus called those trailing after Him to count the cost of true discipleship over and over again. Wanting to become a disciple did not complete the process. Otherwise the rich young man could have followed without any instruction about how to manage his wealth. Jesus required more than words. He required active trust. Can we do any less and be faithful to Him?


  6. Monty says:

    Not sure how much any potential convert really understands or needs to understand about some of the concepts being tossed around here in order to be saved. How much could the Eunech have understood as Philip preached to him Jesus before they came across water or how much the jailor and his Gentile family understood the “same hour of the night” when they were baptized or Lydia as she was taught by Paul along the riverside. Certainly “saving faith” is little more than the understanding that Jesus is God’s Son who died on our behalf and was raised from the dead to reign in heaven as Lord and Savior. When a person believes this, the gospel call is to obey what you believe in turning from sin(repentance) and being immersed to have forgiveness of sins. I used to have this argument with my brother-in-law who was in the Boston Movement (ICOC). They (as you probably know) had certain levels of study before they would accept you as a candidate for the kingdom. Count the cost and all of that. But when one reads the NT it is often times surprising to see how quickly a conversion took place. After all, how much can a 12 year old really undestand about Lordship obedience no matter how much they give you the right answers when they have trouble understanding why they should obey mom and dad .

  7. Pingback: Faith that Works: Paul’s Defense in Romans 3 | One In Jesus

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