Sunday, July 09, 2006

Something to Think About

Something I’ve been wrestling with for the past couple of weeks intrigues me. According to Romans 4, Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. Does this mean Abraham’s faith resulted in his justification?

If so, then there are ramifications that need to be considered. Since justification is being declared innocent, can we say that Abraham was saved? If so, then God imputed righteousness to Abraham because of his faith and his faith saved him. This seems to match Paul’s argument in all of Romans as he says we are justified by faith.

Here’s something else to consider. Works did not save Abraham. Abraham’s faith led him to work. The same can be said of all the heroes of the faith considered in Hebrews 11. By faith, Abraham responded to God and left Ur of the Chaldees. By faith, Noah built an ark. Would I be correct to say that throughout all time, it was faith that justified men? In the Old Testament, then, those who had faith kept the Law. The Law didn’t save, but because of an explicit trust in God they obeyed him. Further, those who trusted God for their salvation observed the sacrificial system because it took blood to remit sin and each sacrifice pointed toward Jesus whose blood washes away all sin for those who trust God. At the same time, going through the motions without confidence in God was empty ceremonialism. Over and over, God warned the people not to trust in the ceremonies, the Law, or the sacrifices. According to the Word, obedience is better than sacrifice because obedience is borne of faith.

In other words, God had no Plan B for a person’s salvation. Regardless of what the Roman church or the Orthodox church taught, no work could ever possess any merit. As Jack Cottrell says so often, works are only what we ought to be doing anyway. Good deeds can’t save simply because as a creation of God, every human being belongs to him and owes him obedience. Only explicit faith (belief plus trust) can do that. The only text of this sort of faith is obedience borne of faith. Therefore, it is never faith plus works that save. It is, however, faith that leads to justification and is demonstrated in one’s obedience and upright acts (Ephesians 2:8-10).

If, and I’m just presenting a chain of thought here, faith results in justification and has done so throughout time, what is the relationship of justification and the presence of the Holy Spirit. You see, here is the rub! If the Old Testament saints were indeed justified, or saved, by their faith they were saved without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Why do I say that? It is because the Holy Spirit never indwelt anyone in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit “came upon” certain individuals to empower them for a task, but he never took up residence. Am I correct here? If so, then there is something remarkable to consider here.

Is it possible that God could justify a person prior to baptism without the immediate bestowal of the Holy Spirit? Alexander Campbell seemed to argue that a baptism was the formal indication of the remission of sins. Is it possible that the Holy Spirit takes up residence at the time God formally remits sin (see Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32)? But is it also possible that a person is counted righteous by his or her faith?

If a person really, and I really mean really, had explicit trust in God, wouldn’t he or she do what God asked? Why would anyone who trusted Christ question the baptismal command? Why, if they truly trusted Jesus and his Word, wouldn’t they want to be baptized as soon as possible? Why would there be any argument? After all, the faith that justifies always leads to appropriate action!!

I’d really like feedback on this.  


Anonymous said...

I think this is where Boatman's thoughts about the difference between forgivness and remission fit in. Forgiveness of sins is in God's mind, remission is in ours. Even if justification occurs through faith only, how we cheat ourselves by not experiencing remission. I had a client who was suffering from anxiety who made the comment to me that he prayed the sinners prayer every night but it seemed to do no good.

I do not think there is sufficient grammatic evidence to support Boatman's argument, but out of respect for the man and my experience, I have considered it.

As a movement we have recognized that we are not the only Christians, but only that our practice would be what the Apostles taught the first church. We have recognized that God knows those who truly trust Him. Our responsibility as a restoration movement is to live and teach as the Apostles taught. Going beyond that is done at our own risk.

A person who has bowed his head and raised his hand and prayed the sinners prayer is trusting in the works of man more than God! He might be saved, but in spite of it more than because of it!

--Hawkeye Gold

Anonymous said...

Is baptism, or the Lord's Supper, for that matter, just what the baptists said it is, an outward sign of an inward grace?

--Hawkeye Gold

Steven C said...

While I can appreciate your perspective concerning forgiveness I must respectfully disagree with the direction it seems to lead since it suggests salvation prior to baptism. If this is not the case I sincerely apologize. Yet, if it is meant to depict a forgiveness that excludes salvation prior to baptism, such a forgiveness would seem meaningless since salvation is the ultimate goal of our faith in God.

I fully accept that it is grace through faith by which we are saved (Ephesians 2: 8), but the suggestion that forgiveness may come through faith that falls short of obedience to the gospel message is opposed to apostolic principles. There is, according to both Paul and Peter, an aspect of the gospel message that is to be obeyed (1 Peter 4: 17). Additionally, participation in the covenant requires a portal through which we enter that covenant. In the first covenant participation was a birthright; it was through childbirth that the Israelite became heir to the covenant of Abraham. In the new covenant it is the new birth. Thus we have Jesus' statement to Nicodemus concerning entrance into the kingdom only through the birth of water and Spirit (John 3: 5). This is also why Peter compared the waters of the flood, the means through which creation was reborn, to the waters of baptism (1 Peter 3: 21).

We find that no time other than baptism is defined as the moment of unity with Christ (Romans 6: 1-5) and at no other time are we promised forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 38). No other time is given when our sins are cut away from our carnal being (Colossians 2: 12). Paul says that if we are buried with Him we will be raised with Him (Romans 6: 1-5). The "if" here is significant since we can rightly presume that it's function is to establish a condition and limit participation to those who have performed that which is presented as that condition.

Some have suggested that baptism is an outward sign. The fact that baptism can be witnessed is undeniable, but it is never treated in scripture as a covenant sign. While circumcision (Abraham) and the rainbow (Noah) were intended to be reminders of their respective covenants, nowhere is baptism given this role. It is neither perpetual or intermittent in nature so as to offer a reminder; but it is a one time event in the likeness of childbirth.

Peter wrote that "baptism saves" (1 Peter 3: 21) and Paul wrote that it is at the time of baptism that we "put on Christ" (Galatians 3: 27). Noah could have had all the faith available to man, but a faith that fell short of obediently building the ark would have denied him and his family escape from the flood. So it is with us. We may have an abundance of faith, but faith that falls short of obediently submitting to baptism will not save. This fact is undoubtedly the very thing that prompted Jesus to say, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved..." (Mark 16: 16).

Michael Hines said...

Responding to Steven C.

The particular entry to which you refer is the result of some rumination on my part. I would not want to suggest that salvation (in its formal sense) would occur prior to baptism. In the dispensation in which we live, I think it is clear that "something" happens at the time of one's immersion. That something, according to Scripture, is the forgiveness of sin, the "putting on of Christ, "adoption into the family of God" and so on.

On the other hand, it seems to me that one is justified by faith. Formal recognition of that fact occurs at baptism, but one also has to take into consideration some of the variables that can create problems for those of us in the Restoration Movement.

One place this becomes evident is in Campbell's "Lunenburg Letter." Is it evident in that correspondence that Campbell opened up a "can of worms" when he suggested there were Christians in the denominations. Campbell suggests ignorance and innocense may be mitigating factors. You and I have known of those whose life exhibited tremendous confidence in Jesus, but had misunderstood the biblical teaching about baptism. Were they lost prior to our instruction? I frankly don't know! I do know there is greater assurance when a person submits to "correct" biblical teaching. It my view, it is not my prerogative to pass judgment. It is within my commission to teach what I believe is the "full counsel of God."

You made some excellent points to add to my ruminations. I will add them to my consideration and give them thought.

My thoughts stemmed from Jack Cottrell's comments in his commentary on Romans. We recognize that the sacrificial system of the OT pointed to Christ. We also know Abraham was justified by faith, but the Scripture doesn't really say "when" Abraham was justified. It just says "why" he was justified. The same is true for his descendants. The Law didn't justify, trust in God justified.

I posted this message precisely for the kind of input you gave me. If you, or others, have thoughts on this, comment away! I appreciate it.

Steven C said...

Thank you for your kind response. Your point concerning Campbell is well-taken, except that our beliefs are not based upon Campbell's or any other man's point of view. Actually, however, I can accept that there are those among the denominations who will be saved...not because they are Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian, but because they have been obedient to the gospel message despite what is taught by the particular denomination where they attend.

What will be the fate of those who simply misunderstand the gospel message? Certainly there are those who will never have the opportunity to fully hear that message. Here I fully agree with Cotrell that these should be held responsible for what they know. Had Cornelius died prior to Peter's visit I believe Luke's narrative depicts a man who was, by all accounts, righteous based upon what he knew. We have every reason to believe he would have been saved.

Here in America in this day and age it is difficult to imagine anyone who does not have full access to the gospel message. The question is, how responsible are individuals to discover that message? I have no desire to stand before Jesus with the excuse that I misunderstood because someone incorrectly explained the gospel to me, admitting that I never to the time myself to discover the truth.

I agree that it is not our place to judge, but it is our place to teach fully the message of Christ. It is difficult to imagine, however, that those with full access to Scripture will not be held accountable for a seemingly less than diligent attempt to understand God's will. We can only pray that God will be gracious.

Michael Hines said...

A second reply to Steven C.

I think you and I are agreed. I, too, realize we are accountable to God and His Word, not to any human individual -- even Alexander Campbell. I do think, however, that A.C. has something to offer to the discussion just as I think my friend, Jack Cottrell, has something of benefit to add. We are still accountable to God. The fact others may help us understand doesn't remove that responsibility.

Now, take what I've said a step farther. Every individual is responsible to God for his/her response to the Gospel. Others, however, may play a part in shaping that response and sometimes they teach false doctrine. Does that remove or mitigate the responsibility? No to the former, perhaps to the latter. For those taught less than the truth, it may be more difficult for them to understand it. I'm not saying they can't, but I also know it is more difficult because others have clouded their minds. Perhaps those who teach incorrectly bear a greater part of the responsibility. Doesn't James say something like that?

I think it is important for us to teach the truth ... at least as we understand it. But we need to teach humbly and with a teachable spirit. We, too, answer to God for what we teach ... and the spirit in which we teach it. We have no authority to receive the unimmersed into membership of a local church, but we also have no authority to judge whether or not God will accept them. We can't see the heart nor do we recognize roadblocks to understanding. All I'm saying is that we should teach the truth with all the persuasive fervor we can muster. Let each individual make their own decision and trust God to do what is right.

You may be absolutely correct in that God may choose not to accept anyone who is mistaken or who misunderstands. He is fully within His right to do so and I trust Him to be just and fair in such matters. I just refuse to put myself in His place.

At the same time, we must be careful lest we make perfect understanding a condition of one's acceptance. If perfect understanding is required of baptism, might it also be of other details as well? Is it only is "salvation issues" where we must have perfect understanding or would it also convey to a host of other issues, too? I think it best for a Christ-follower to continue to "study to show himself approved..." and I think spiritual growth and understanding is a process, but I pray that God's grace is more expansive. I guess I hope God is perfect but not a perfectionist. If we must all have perfect understanding, then I fear we are all condemned.

In everything you wrote in your second comment, I concur. You've said what I've said. I've just been longer winded about it. We must preach truth! Your last paragraph is a statement I could have written -- in fact, I did so in much the same terms above.

Michael Hines said...

A reply to Hawkeye Gold

Of course baptism is "an outward sign of an inward grace." If I understand the doctrine of baptism correctly, there is a cleansing of the inner man by the Spirit that occurs simultaneously with water baptism. Water baptism shows publicly what is happening internally. In that sense, baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace.

There is nothing "in the water" itself that produces regeneration. If there were, then we in the Restoration Movement are "water regenerationists." See Colossians 2:12, 13 for a parallel construction that explains what happens:

...having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ."

Notice that the operating factor in being buried and raised is through, or because of, your faith. I think we would agree that a burial in water without faith produces a wet sinner. But when you are dead in sin and the dead sinner is buried in water, something happens. I think it is at that moment that the Holy Spirit regenerates and renews and washes (Titus 3:5) and brings the sinner into Christ's kingdom -- he is made alive!

Our Baptist friends make too much of the phrase because they believe salvation occurs at the moment of faith, but I don't. I'm still wrestling with how faith saves through the history preceding Christ but it is clear that in most cases (there could, I opine, be exceptions -- you know the "old come to belief in the desert and get hit by a train" scenario -- it occurs at baptism. I haven't changed one iota on that although a lot of those who are critical of CCV think I have.

I haven't considered Boatmans argument or terminology, but Campbell used the term formalwhen talking about the remission of sins occurring at baptism. He used another term to apply to what happens at the moment of faith, but I can't remember what it is right now.