In the church of Christ, everything is connected to the cross and to the will of Christ. In other words, all we do is completely motivated by faith. “If it is not faith, it is sin.” When I’m explaining salvation, I help the person to see that I am not going to say anything that is anti-grace, anti-faith, anti-Jesus, anti-Bible. Religious folks today have been conditioned to believe things about the church of Christ which aren’t true. When I study with a truly sincere and religious person who says he or she knows something about the church of Christ, I know what they think they know isn’t true. There is a certain disinformation campaign going on against the church of Christ. It’s heard in statements by opponents who say, “they believe that baptism ‘in and of itself’ saves.” Those words can be seen in Bible notes/included commentary to explain away 1 Peter 3:21 and other passages. Those who say such things like “if it’s all about baptism then why did Jesus die” have been misled. I and all members of the church of Christ recoil at such an attitude. Truly. What it’s all about faith in the sanctifying work of Christ. More on this in point 3.
Second, God in His sovereignty, always acts according to His nature which means he remains perfectly just while also respecting the free will He’s given to each of us. He’s just because when He condemns people to hell, it’s due to their trespasses against His will and just to save people of faith who also commit sin, but God’s righteousness determined that One could pay the debt of others if the others believed. This second point is important because we mustn’t think we have no say in our salvation since the alternative would ignore some important characteristics of God. God is not a respector of persons which He would be if he by fiat, separate and apart from anything we have done, decided specifically the person who goes to heaven and which go to hell. Also if we have no say in our salvation it would make a mockery of faith since faith is what God requires of me and all sinful men who would be saved. It’s nonsensical to think that God is just to judge the world but to offer salvation to those who have faith WHICH He then gives to those He wants to save. There’s no place for Biblical faith to fit into such a theological position. So “sovereignty” from a kind and loving God truly holds out salvation to ALL men because He loves them ALL. He desires for all to be saved, Jn 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4,5. That “desire” and “love” of God would be just words and more like mocking if God in His sovereignty only gives faith to some people and the rest go to hell because He didn’t give faith to them. So the second point here goes to being consistent with God’s nature and with the nature He has given to us. Unless WE have something to do — in faith, NOT according to fleshly motives — then it’s all on God and WHEN you teach that salvation, from first to last, is in and on God’s hands alone, then it betrays what we know about Him.
Third, all of the things that we say WE must do to be saved are “a work”. But before you jump ship or close your mind, let me explain further. “Works” fall under two categories, works of the flesh and works of faith. When a person adopts the doctrine that salvation is by “faith alone” he has committed a couple of errors. First, he or she has adopted a view that contradicts Scripture which says clearly “we are NOT saved by ‘faith alone'”. That’s one error. The other is the mistake of lumping all works together; sounds like “faith alone” makes simple obedience a bad thing. “The obedience of faith” which Paul says he’s been made an Apostle to bringing about isn’t a bad thing; “obedience of faith” is NOT “works of the flesh”. Let me explain why there’s a distinction between works. Works of the flesh are works where faith is not in God, but are instead faith in the flesh – boasting about, pride in beautiful voices, smooth tongues, doing many good deeds, following man’s traditions are all the work of the flesh. Works of faith are about faith in Jesus instead of self; the faith isn’t in the work itself, but in God’s power to save.
Everything we do is IN faith. When we believe in Jesus Christ, it’s belief in the Cross and in the resurrection of Christ. To be saved we need to go to the Cross. Belief happens when we believe in something bigger than ourselves. A man who still boast in himself, still believes in the goodness of his own works. He’s not ready for salvation. Belief is believing in His Sonship, his perfection, and in the power of His blood to cleanse. When we stand before the cross, we are like the Centurion who said ‘this truly was the Son of God.’ This is the only thing faith can do when you realize who Jesus is. And we tell people they must repent, turn away from sin in order to be saved. But this requirement isn’t antithetical to faith. It’s part and parcel to it; you can’t pick up one end of a stick without moving the other end. You can’t believe in Christ as one ought to without thinking repentance. Before the Cross a person is struck by the thought that the innocent Jesus died for the sins of others. If I believe in Jesus – before the Cross – then it’s simply unthinkable and unreasonable that I continue in my sin. When I go to the Cross, repentance is necessary for salvation (see Acts 3:19 “repent and return in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”). Repentance isn’t a work of the flesh unless the person is saying, “I’m good, look at me repenting, I deserve eternal life.” Repentance must be an act of faith or it’s pointless in regard to salvation. Building on this, Romans 10 and Matthew 10 say we must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and if we don’t, if we won’t confess Him, then He won’t confess us before the Father. So it’s very true to say that you must not only believe and repent of sins, but YOU and every sinner must confess in order to be saved. When we go to the Cross and are struck with the message of the Gospel, that He came and died to save sinners, that’s called ‘Good News’. If and when we believe that the Cross is good news, then confessing can no longer be considered a work of merit or of the flesh. When we believe in the message of salvation through Christ, we can’t help but confess it. Confession, like belief and repentance, are NOT separate from faith – they are the faith. A person of faith doesn’t resent God because God expects him to confess to receive His salvation. When it’s faith, confession is integral to that faith. In the most absolute and complete sense, repentance and confession CANNOT be separated from the faith God requires of sinners in order to save them.
Baptism is not an act of the flesh. Baptism is an act of faith. It’s the only reasonable and appropriate thing to do when a person understands what the Gospel is: the death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism is so integral to saving faith that the forgiveness bestowed through the blood of Christ is said to be received AT baptism – not before or after. God’s salvation through the cleansing blood of Christ is for those who “obey the Gospel” and the Scriptures make this very clear. As we saw before, the “obedience” God requires is not a demand for fleshly merit, but it is the obedience intrinsically tied to faith. Let’ s take a look at the passages which say the Gospel must be obeyed, not believed alone. All 3 instances of spoken of in negative, i.e. what happens to those who DON’T obey the Gospel:
— 2 Thess 1:8 “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
— 1 Pt 4:17 “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God ; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
— Rom. 10:16 “However, they did not all heed the good news ; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” (note: “heed” is the Greek for “obey” and “good news” is the same as “Gospel”.
No one can be saved who stands before the Cross and isn’t moved to repent, confess, and obey the Gospel in Baptism. See the Gospel is defined as “the death, burial, and resurrection” of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:3,4) and in Baptism “we obey the death, burial, and resurrection” of Jesus. It is AT baptism that a person truly passes from death to life – not before or after.
We must preach faith in Jesus and the Cross. That’s why we preach like Philip who “preached Jesus” starting in the book of Isaiah. When the Ethiopian Eunuch was taught Jesus, the Eunuch’s very next words are, “Look, here’s water, what prevents me from being baptized”, Acts 8:36. Philip the inspired preacher didn’t say, “Whoa, hold on there, you are in jeopardy of confusing faith and works” because when taught properly, baptism is the act of faith where God first applies His saving grace. We preach the faith as Paul did. Passages like Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:11-13 shows that Baptism is the participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In Baptism we see perfectly how Paul says in Ephesians 2:8,9 that “we are saved by grace, through faith”. God is the only one that can save. Only the Holy Spirit can renew and make us new in Christ. The cleansing power in the the blood of Christ and my soul knows it very well. WE TESTIFY THAT WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE. But God’s saving grace is applied when He says, which is AT the baptism of faith.
Let’s make something else clear that God’s grace is actually experienced by all men. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that ALL men witness the grace of God so that they might see Him. But to be saved by grace is only for those who have the obedience of faith. To all men God shows a degree of love and kindness so that men may find Him. SAVING grace is for those who obey the Gospel. It’s God’s righteous choice to save only those who believe and obey the Gospel. Romans 2:4 says that it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. That kindness and patience which God shows to all men is that they might seek Him. Romans 2:11 says God is not a respecter of persons. Acts 14:17 and Matthew 5:45 shows that God shows Himself and His goodness to all men that the ALL might understand His true nature and come to trust in Him, Rom. 1:20. To love even your enemies is to be like God towards them but not to the point of accepting their evil deeds. SAVING grace is for those who believe and obey the Gospel revealed at the Cross.
Sincere people, sincerely misled people, are dismissing or diminishing what Jesus said in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:14-16). Jesus said we must “make disciples” of men. We are to preach the Gospel to all creation because God desires that all men be saved. We go about fulfilling this work by preaching to them the Gospel, where the saving power is, Rom. 1:16. After we have given a sinner the low down on His spiritual condition, the sinner chooses to believe or not. If he believes, he’s immediately confessing, repenting, and looking to be baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we are in a church that tells people they don’t need to be baptized or that they can put off baptism until a later date, then we are in a church that’s not preaching like the Bible. Baptism is essential. It’s why 3,000 were baptized on Pentecost and their sins were washed away. It’s why there was immediacy in the Eunuch’s words. It’s why the jailer was baptized in the same hour of the night that he was taught about Jesus. It’s why Ananias said to Saul “why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on His name.” Jesus commanded what the church of Christ teaches that “he that believes and is baptized will be saved.” Baptism isn’t contrary to the Gospel, it’s interconnected to the Gospel by Jesus’ own words.
We in the church of Christ do everything by faith or we don’t do it at all. Baptism is a holy command and not a work of the flesh. A person is added to the church of Christ by God; he doesn’t join it. A person is saved by the grace of God, not by His works. Baptism is a work of faith, just as are confession, repentance or belief. We in the church of Christ do not diminish faith by teaching the person to be baptized – in fact, we uphold it.
Peter, the great Apostle said, “Baptism now saves you”, 1 Pt 3:21. He explains that baptism saves a person through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power is not in the water. It’s by faith in the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary.
Many of our religious friends today who are opposed to teaching “baptism for remission of sins” are relying on false reformation theology. The “reformers” like Luther, Wesley and others were rightly rejecting the traditions of the Catholic church that taught penance and paying the debt for your own sins – e.g., purging them away in purgatory, saying so many “Hail Marys”, etc. But the “reformers” went too far, swinging to the other end of the spectrum to the point of teaching another error: namely, “faith alone”. The pendulum swing to the other extreme caused Luther to regard James, not as the practical inspired book that it is, but as an epistle of straw, a work of man, which burns up in the fiery judgment. For those who adopt his “faith alone” doctrine it becomes nearly impossible to see works and obedience through the proper optics of Scripture. By embracing reformation theology, works of faith don’t register (but see 2 Thess 1:3). “Faith alone” theology doesn’t quite know how to handle Paul’s words in Romans 1:5 and 16:26 that His work is to bring about “the obedience of faith”. “Faith alone” doctrine has real difficulty with words from Christ like “whoever does not deny himself is not worthy of me.” These teachings of Christ, Paul, and James are not in opposition to saving faith — they are in perfect harmony when we realize the Scriptures don’t teach “faith alone” doctrine. The Bible shows us that we are all doing either works of the flesh (which bring death) or we are doing the works of faith, of the spirit, which brings life and peace, Rom. 6:13. All of us, none are excluded, are either presenting our members to do sin and works of the flesh OR we are presenting ourselves to God, as instruments of righteousness to do works of faith. Later in the same chapter Paul says, “thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you BECAME OBEDIENT FROM THE HEART TO THAT FORM OF DOCTRINE TO WHICH YOU WERE COMMITTED, AND HAVING BEEN FREE FROM SIN, YOU BECAME SLAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.” See Paul had no issue with directly connecting obedience with forgiveness. He wasn’t betraying Biblical “salvation by grace through faith” theology. Paul knew that there’s no salvation until we stop sinning and start doing God’s will. Romans 6:3-5 shows WHEN they became obedient from the heart – when they were united with Christ in baptism and were raised to walk in newness of life.
Baptism that is taught in the church of Christ is in perfect harmony with God’s saving grace. It’s in perfect harmony with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It’s in perfect harmony with the works of faith
God requires that we demonstrate faith for salvation.
All that I’ve said here is the Truth. And I have said it with a spirit of love. May it be received for what it is, the effort of a humble servant of God to help others find the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Categories: Faith, obedience, works of flesh
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