WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

FAITH, REPENTANCE, BAPTISM

AND SALVATION: PART ONE

 

      

       Apostle Paul wrote that salvation is a gift from God and is freely given through the mercy and grace of God. Paul instructed that there are no works we can do to merit this gift.

       To Titus Paul wrote, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).

       To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins" (Ephesians 2:1), "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5), "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

       Paul wrote to Timothy that God “has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9).

       While it is apparent that salvation is a gift given to us by the grace of God; faith, repentance and baptism are seemingly required for this gift to be received. Is there conflict between the Scriptural teaching that salvation is a free gift from God and yet seemingly requires faith, repentance and baptism for it to be granted?  Scripture shows we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.

       Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 6:23).   Sin results in falling short of the glory of God.  To experience the glory of God is to have the barrier that sin produces removed and in so doing attain to a right standing before God.  Scripture shows we can’t attain to a right standing before God by works of righteousness we do because we have already incurred the eternal death penalty through works of unrighteousness or what the Scriptures define as sin. Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).      

What is sin?

       The word sin appears many times in both the Old and New Testaments. One Hebrew word rendered “sin” in the OT is a·ā and has the basic meaning of “a misstep” (see Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon). This word appears 294 times in the OT. There are six additional Hebrew words rendered “sin” in English translations of the OT. These words convey the same basic meaning as that of a·ā. The context wherein these words are found shows these words to define sin as behavior that is contrary to required behavior and established standards.   

       In the NT there are several Greek words rendered “sin” in English translations with the Greek word hamartia being the most frequent. This word, in its various tenses, appears some 216 times in the NT.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as “to be without a share in, to miss the mark, to be mistaken, to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong.” 

      John wrote that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) and “All wrongdoing (unrighteousness in many translations) is sin” (1 John 5:17).  Here “missing the mark” appears to be breaking law and doing what is wrong. What law and wrong doing is John talking about? 

       Paul wrote “I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet” (Romans 7:7).  We know that coveting is one of the prohibitions found in the Ten Commandants. Paul appears to be seeing sin as violation of the Ten Commandments.  We know murder was considered sin from the beginning.  In Genesis 4 we see the anticipated murder of Able labeled as sin (Genesis 4:7).

       The Greek word rendered “righteous” (dikaios) and righteousness (dikaiosynēn) appears 173 times in the NT and is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as “the state of him who is such as he ought to be.”  Throughout Scripture we see righteousness as seeking to be what one ought to be as opposed to what one ought not to be (unrighteousness).

       In Matthew 25:41-46, a failure to give to the poor is seen as unrighteousness. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul defines unrighteousness as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexual behavior and thievery, greediness, being a drunkard, a slanderer or a swindler. In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul shows unrighteousness as sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness and orgies.  In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes that  there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking (Ephesians 5:3-6).

       While it is extremely important to understand what sin is, it is also important to understand what it is not. Over the centuries Christians have often added to the behaviors defined in Scripture as sin and defined behaviors that are not sin to be sin.  Some denominations of Christianity have identified such things as playing cards, playing pool, dancing, wearing makeup, drinking alcoholic beverages and going to a movie as sin.  Such things are not identified as sin in Scripture.  While anyone of these activities could lead to sin if misused, none of these activities are sin in and of themselves. We must distinguish between the use and misuse of a thing. 

       As discussed above, "all unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17). The foregoing behaviors are unrighteous behaviors and constitute sin. In the OT there are some 613 laws that if disobeyed constitute sin.  Many of these laws define moral behavior and appear in the NT in reworded form. Other OT laws (Old Covenant laws) define various worship protocols that are no longer required to be observed and there nonobservance is no longer considered sin as it once was. Old Covenant laws governing the sacrificial system and many laws associated with that system are no longer in operation and it is no longer a sin to not keep those laws (see my series entitled "What is and What ain't").

       As already mentioned, Paul wrote that the wages of sin is death. If we were to stop at this statement and go no further, our future would indeed be bleak since there is nothing we can personally do to facilitate escape from the wages of sin.  Fortunately, Paul did not stop with saying the wages of sin is death. He continued by saying “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus, who lived a sinless life, took our sins upon Himself and in so doing experienced the same death as we all do. 

       However, Jesus never personally sinned. He lived a perfectly righteous life. Jesus took upon himself our sin and paid the penalty for our sin.  Because He never sinned, death could not hold Him and God resurrected Jesus to eternal life.  We are given eternal life by having the righteousness of Jesus applied to us thus facilitating our reconciliation with the Father and the granting of eternal life.  This is the gospel in a nutshell.  The gospel is that we are saved from eternal death through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

       2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

       Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith and that salvation is a gift of God and not of works.  Grace is generally defined as unmerited pardon.  There is nothing we can do to merit the grace of God.  Paul taught that God extended His grace toward us through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus while we were still in our sins.  This shows our salvation has nothing to do with what we do but instead has everything to do with what God has done through Jesus.

       Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.    

       Romans 5:8-11: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

       It is apparent from Scripture that works of righteousness cannot facilitate our salvation.  Since the wages of sin is death, only the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus eliminates that penalty and facilitates reconciliation with God and eternal life.  God has gifted us eternal life through the sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. 

       Romans 3:20-24: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

       It is apparent from Paul’s message to the Ephesians that works cannot produce salvation as salvation is a gift from God based on God’s grace which is unmerited pardon. To conclude that anything we do can merit salvation would be in contradiction to Paul’s statements to the Ephesians, the Romans and the Corinthians.  Paul consistently taught that salvation comes about strictly as a gift of God.  Nothing we do qualifies us for salvation. God does not grant humans salvation in exchange for faith, righteous works or anything else.

       If salvation was based on our works of righteousness, this would present a series problem.  How would it be determined how many works are necessary for salvation?  How would the standard be set? On a scale of 1 to 10, would I need a 10 to “qualify” for salvation?  Would an 8 or 9 do? Could I get by with a 5 or 6?  If I receive salvation with an 8 and my neighbor is denied salvation because he only was at 6 does this give me bragging rights over my neighbor?  The folly of all this should be apparent.

       Paul clearly shows in his statement to the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith so that no one can boast.  No one can say they earned salvation by their works. What does Paul mean in saying “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith?      

Faith:

       The Greek word rendered “faith” in the Greek Scriptures is πίστις (pistis). This word, in its various tenses, is found 243 times in the NT.  Its basic definition in Greek Lexicons is to believe in something as being true.  For example, in Matthew 9:20-22 we have the account of the woman touching Jesus’ cloak and being healed. Jesus said to her “Take heart, daughter, "your faith has healed you."  Jesus said “your faith has healed you.” She firmly believed that if she could just touch Jesus she would be healed.

       In this same chapter we have the account of the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue coming to Jesus and saying "My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live" (Matthew 9:18).  In Luke’s account of this incident, those who had come from the house of this ruler to report the girl’s death told the ruler not to bother Jesus with this matter. It is recorded that Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed" (Luke 8:50). Jesus proceeded to the ruler’s house and raised his daughter from the dead.

       In Matthew 9:27-30, we have the account of two blind men calling out to Jesus to have mercy on them. Jesus asks them if they believed that He was able to restore their sight. They said they believed He was able. Jesus then touched their eyes and said "According to your faith will it be done to you" and their sight was restored. The two blind men firmly believed Jesus could heal them.

       In Matthew 13 we see Jesus visiting His hometown but “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58). It is apparent that people in Jesus’ hometown didn’t have much faith in Jesus to heal so Jesus did not do many miracles there. Is faith a limiting factor as to the facilitation of a healing? Did Jesus not perform many miracles in His home town because He couldn’t or because He wouldn’t when discovering their lack of faith in Him?  I would think it was the latter as Jesus certainly had the power to perform healings regardless of the level of faith people had in Him. 

      In Matthew 15 we have the account of the Canaanite woman crying out to Jesus to have mercy on her and heal her demon possessed daughter. Jesus responded to her by saying "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." It's reported that her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28). In Luke 17 we have the account of Jesus healing a leper and saying "Rise and go; your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:19).

       In Acts 3 we have Peter in the name of Jesus healing the cripple. It is then recorded that Peter said to crowd “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:16).  In this case, it is not the faith of the man healed but Peter’s faith in the name of Jesus and the faith that comes through Jesus that facilitated the healing.

       In Acts 14 we have the account of Paul healing a man crippled from birth. As the cripple was listening to Paul speak, Paul perceived that the man had faith to be healed and said "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk” (Acts 14:10).

       In the above accounts, it is apparent that those who were healed fully believed that such healing would take place and it did.  What role did their faith play in these healings? Does the power to heal depend on the faith of those looking to be healed?  This would appear to be unlikely.  The power to heal was already present in Jesus, Peter and Paul. One would think that these men could have performed healings regardless of the level of faith of the one being healed. Yet faith is seen as a dynamic in the facilitation of a healing.

       There is the account in Mark 9 where a man brought his demon possessed son to Jesus.  This man had previously brought his son to Jesus’ disciples but they could not cast out the demon. The boy’s father says to Jesus “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "`If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes" Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:22-24) Jesus proceeded to cast out the evil spirit.  Here again faith is a dynamic in the granting of a healing. We have seen that the granting of salvation is a gift of God based on His love and mercy and not on anything we do. Is faith (belief) a requirement that must be met in order to be granted this gift?

       In the well known passage of John 3:16, Jesus is quoted as saying "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

       The Greek word rendered “believes” is πιστεύω (pisteuó) and has the basic meaning of “to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit, place confidence in” (See Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). This word has similar meaning to the Greek πίστις (pistis) which is rendered as “faith” throughout the NT. 

       In preaching the Gospel to Cornelius and his friends and family, Apostle Peter shows that belief in Jesus is the pathway to the forgiveness of sin. Peter told them that “All the prophets testify about him (Jesus) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).

       When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, Paul and Silas told him to believe on Jesus. “They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household" (Acts 16:31).

       Paul, in speaking to the Romans, shows that the righteousness that comes from God and is applied to us humans because of the Christ event “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22).

       In Romans chapter 10 Paul writes that “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).  Paul goes on to say that “if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

       Some have argued that it is our faith in Jesus that saves us. Paul's statement to the Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) is seen as proof that faith must be present for salvation to be granted.  As cited above, a number of Scriptures connect belief in Jesus with being saved.  What kind of belief/faith is being spoken of and how does that belief/faith pertain to our receiving salvation?

        In reading through the writings of Paul, it becomes evident that there was much controversy as to how we are justified before God. Under the Old Covenant, justification before God was accomplished through keeping the Law. This was still believed to be the case by the Jews of Paul's day.  Under the New Covenant, justification before God is accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This new means of justification was the focus of Paul's teachings throughout his ministry.      

       Acts 13:38-39: "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.  Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.  

       Romans 3:20-30: For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it,   the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith (RSV).

       Romans 4:2-8: If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."

       Galatians 2:16: know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

       Galatians 3:11: Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."  Verse 24: So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

       Galatians 5:4-6: You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

      Justification comes through the grace of God facilitated through the redemption that came through Jesus. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his (God's) grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24-25).  Paul told the Romans that “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9).

       The Scriptural passages found in Acts, Romans and Galatians, as quoted above, define what it means to be justified by faith.  It is not that faith in and of itself justifies us. It's a matter of believing that justification (and thus salvation) comes about through the mercy of God facilitated through the Christ event and not through keeping the Law (works).  Faith in Christ is not what saves us. The mercy of God and the grace of Christ save us. Faith in Christ is to believe that justification/salvation is granted through Christ and not by works. We are justified by faith in that we believe we are saved through the Christ event and not by works.  Faith is our response to the Christ event in believing it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that provides justification/salvation. Paul made this very clear in his letter to Titus.

       Titus 3:4-7: But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  

       Paul clearly shows we are justified by the mercy of God and the grace of Jesus. The grace of Christ is seen as given to us before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9). Our faith doesn't produce this grace, it acknowledges this grace. It is an acknowledgement of  what was in the plan and purpose of God from the beginning. Paul shows that while we were ungodly and still sinners that Christ died for us (Romans 5:6, 8). Paul shows we are justified while still in a state of wickedness (Romans 4:9).  

       This being the case, how are we to understand the many Scriptural passages that speak of being justified by faith?  Paul clearly taught we are justified by grace while also teaching we are justified by faith. Since justification through Christ is seen as being in the plan of God before the beginning of time, it is apparent that our justification before God is secure regardless of whether or not we believe it. Faith does not produce justification through Christ.  It simply is our response to the justification that already exists. It is our recognition and acknowledgement of what already is.   

       To conclude that justification/salvation is provided upon our recognition and acknowledgement of the mercy of God and the grace of Christ is to conclude that justification/salvation is dependent on something we do. We become the determining factor as to whether we are justified and receive salvation. This is not what I see the Scriptures teaching.    

       This all being said, what does James mean when he says “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Paul taught that justification has nothing to do with what we do.  Are Paul and James at odds here?

       Peter, in his Pentecost sermon recorded in Acts 2:38, speaks of repentance and baptism as apparent conditions of salvation.  "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

      Is the granting of salvation dependent on our expression of faith, our repentance and our being baptized?  Paul explicitly taught that salvation is a gift of God based on his mercy and grace and not on anything we do. Is Peter saying that repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus facilitates forgiveness of our sins or is repentance and baptism an expected response to our sins having been forgiven through the Christ event?  Let’s begin answering this question by defining what it means to repent.

What is repentance?

       The Greek word rendered “repent” in Acts 2:38 is a tense of the basic Greek word metanoia. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as “to change one’s mind.”  The Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon says the same thing. To repent is to change one’s way of thinking. 

       The Greek word metanoia, in its various tenses, appears 58 times in the NT.  While its basic meaning is to experience a change of mind, it is evident from the contexts wherein this word appears that such change of mind must result in changed behavior. It is apparent that it is a change of behavior that is necessary to enter the Kingdom. Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached repentance in association with the Kingdom and Jesus made it clear that repentance is what facilitates entrance into the Kingdom.

       Matthew 3:1-2: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

       Mark 1:14-15:  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

       Matthew 21:31-32: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

       In Matthew 21:32-32, we see repentance associated with the way of righteousness. It is to embrace the way or righteousness that is seen as the ticket to entering the kingdom.  Here repentance (a change of mind) is seen as changed behavior.  It is seen as moving from sinful behavior to righteous behavior. To behave righteously appears to be synonymous with entering and being in the kingdom.  

      We see throughout Scripture that to repent is to turn from unrighteousness to righteousness. Repentance involves a change of mind which in turn results in a change of behavior.  

       For example, the context of Acts 2 indicates that repentance for those hearing Peter was to change their thinking as to whom Jesus was. In Acts chapter 3:13-19 we see Peter chastising the Jews for killing Jesus and thinking he was a false prophet. Peter tells them to repent of what they thought about Jesus and turn to God. Turning to God meant a change in how they related to God.

       We find repentance in evidence throughout the OT as well. The basic word rendered “repent” in English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures is šu·ū.  The basic meaning of this word is “turn back” or “return.”  This word appears in various tenses 1,056 times in the OT and context will determine how it is being used. For example, in 1 Kings 8:46-50, Solomon, in his prayer to God at the dedication of the temple, uses this word to describe a turning away from sin. Isaiah and Ezekiel use this word in the same way.

       1 Kings 8:46-50 "When they (the people of Israel) sin against you--for there is no one who does not sin--and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent (Hebrew: wə·šā·ū) and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, `We have sinned (Hebrew: a·ā), we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; and if they turn back (Hebrew: wə·šā·ū) to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.  And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy.

        Isaiah 59:20: "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent (Hebrew: ū·lə·šā·ḇê) of their sins," declares the LORD.

       Ezekiel 18:30: Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! (Hebrew šu·ḇū) Turn away (Hebrew wə·hā·šî·ḇū) from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

      There certainly is an emphasis on repentance under both the Old and the New Covenant. To repent is to turn from sin. It is not to allow sin to be one’s downfall as Ezekiel points out.  However, when it comes to our destiny following biological death, is repentance a requirement of our being saved from the wages of sin which is eternal death (Romans 6:23). If salvation is a free gift, how are we to view the apparent requirement of faith, repentance and baptism in order to be granted the free gift of salvation?   How do faith, repentance and baptism coordinate with the Scriptural teaching that salvation is a gift of God and not of works? 

       Repentance involves changed behavior.  It involves turning from disobeying God to obeying God. Isn’t that the performance of works?  Baptism is a ritual involving a definite act.  Isn’t baptism a work?  Even faith, if it is to be considered necessary for salvation can be considered a work. If we have to exercise faith, change our behavior and participate in the very physical act of baptism, aren’t we performing works to receive salvation? Aren't we having to quality for the gift of God and if so, doesn’t this contradict Paul’s teaching that we are saved by the grace of God and not by any works we do?       

       The gift of salvation was provided by God through Christ and not through anything we do.  It is a free gift. Salvation is the removal of the eternal death penalty all humans have incurred due to sin.  Paul plainly taught that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). Paul goes on to contrast this death with God granting eternal life as a gift through Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23b). Again we see salvation as a gift from God.  Paul is consistent in his teaching that salvation (eternal life) is a gift given through his grace and the grace of Jesus.

       Romans 5:15-17: But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (NIV).

       Some translations of Romans 5:15-17 insert the word “free” in front of the word “gift” in parts of this passage (See KJV, NKJV, RSV).  However, the word “free” is not in the Greek. All Paul is saying is that God has given us a gift of righteousness through His grace and the grace of Christ. The righteousness of Christ is applied to us.

       If salvation is indeed a free gift from God, what role does faith, repentance and baptism play in this process?  Paul made it clear that salvation cannot be obtained by anything we do. On the other hand, entering the Kingdom is seen as requiring works on our part. Paul made it clear that unless we exhibit works of righteousness we cannot enter the Kingdom.  Paul clearly taught that to be in the kingdom one has to repent which means one has to change ones way of thinking and behaving.

       Galatians 5:19-21: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

       Ephesians 5:1-5: Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.           

        God, through Christ, has provided the gift of salvation. Salvation is deliverance from eternal death. Nothing we have ever done or ever will do earns us this gift. However, since salvation corresponds to having a righteous standing before God, God expects us to express righteousness in our behavior.  That’s called repentance. We are to repent of the kind of behaviors mentioned in the two above passages. To the extent that we practice righteousness versus unrighteousness will determine our inheritance in the kingdom.     

       The Scriptures teach that there will be a resurrection and judgment of all humans who have lived and died. Hebrews 9:27 states that “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”   Acts 24:15 records Paul instructing that both the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected.

       Acts 24:15: I (Paul) have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.      

       Jesus referenced the judgment of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre, Sidon and Nineveh (Matthew 10:15, 11:22 & 24, and 12:41).  These are all people who had died but are seen as being resurrected to face a judgment.

       John records Jesus as teaching that “the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

       It is recorded by Matthew 12:36-37 that Jesus said “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned."  The word rendered "acquitted" in the NIV is the Greek δικαιόω (dikaioó) which has the basic meaning of justified and is so rendered in most English translations.

       The writer of Ecclesiastes  wrote "For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

       Paul wrote in a letter to Timothy that Christ Jesus "will judge the living and the dead" (2nd Timothy 4:1). Paul wrote to the Romans that “we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: As surely as I live,' says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10b-12). 

       Paul wrote the Corinthians that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2nd Corinthians 5:10). In Ephesians 6:8, Paul writes that slaves should obey their earthly masters just as they would obey Christ because “the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he has done whether he is slave or free.”

       It is apparent that all humans will be judged as to how they conducted themselves while in the flesh. This judgement appears to be for the purpose of determining the level of reward or lack thereof in the Kingdom of God.

       While God gives us salvation as a gift, God expects us to bear witness to the gift He has given us.  God wants us to publicly demonstrate our commitment to the gift of salvation He has provided by behaving in accordance with His behavioral standards.  Baptism is a public confirmation of one’s determination to live righteously in response to the gift of salvation God has provided.

      To accept God’s gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus is to also acknowledge Jesus as Lord which is to accept and obey His teaching.  In his Pentecost sermon, Peter spoke of God making Jesus who was crucified and resurrected both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).  The expected response to the free gift of salvation is to acknowledge Christ as our Lord and to acknowledge Christ as our Lord is to be subject to His rule in our lives. At one point during His ministry, Jesus said this:    

       Luke 6:46: "Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?

       To acknowledge Jesus as Lord and not do what He says is an oxymoron.  It’s a contradiction.  To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is synonymous with having faith in Jesus.  However to have faith in Jesus is to not only believe He is the Son of God and that He died and was resurrected for our salvation, it also means we believe in what He taught and we submit to him as Lord of our lives.  Faith in Christ must be combined with works that demonstrate we are in agreement with what He taught.

       Apostle James makes the relationship between faith and works very clear.  Faith must be demonstrated by action.  Faith must be acted upon if it is to have any efficacy. James shows that you can believe that God exists but if you fail to acknowledge who God is and behave accordingly, such faith is useless. 

       James 2:14-23: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 

       James clearly shows that faith and works are two sides of the same coin.  Faith without works isn’t faith at all.  For faith to have any viability, it must be accompanied by works.  Faith must be expressed by action.  James said even the demons believe God exists, but they refuse to submit to His rule and therefore their faith is useless. James wrote that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  However, if Abraham would not have offered his son on the altar, his faith would not have had any meaning.  Action gives meaning to faith.  Action verifies faith.  Action is a confirmation of faith.

       The people who heard Peter speak on Pentecost demonstrated their faith in Christ by changing their view of Christ, submitting to his authority and then being baptized as an outward demonstration of their faith and repentance.

       When the people heard Peter, Jesus had already facilitated salvation through His death and resurrection. The faith, repentance and baptism experienced by the people who responded to Peter’s message didn’t facilitate salvation.  That had already been accomplished by Christ.  However, there is the very clear expectation that faith accompanied by works will follow God’s granting of salvation. Let’s return to Ephesians 2:8-9 and add verse 10.

       Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). Paul followed up his statement to the Ephesians about salvation being a gift of God and not of works by writing that we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

       When Paul told the Ephesians that salvation is a gift from God and not the result of any works we do, he meant it was an unmerited gift that we cannot earn or in any way qualify for.  It was simply God’s bestowal of grace on fallen humanity.  Our response to this gift of salvation is to become a new creation in Christ which is to say we are to do works of righteousness by which we will be judged as to our place in the Kingdom of God.  

       Paul taught that we must respond to the salvation God had provided by living righteously. Paul is saying we must acknowledge God’s unmerited gift and express such acknowledgement by how we think and behave. 

        Salvation is produced by the grace of God in facilitating the Christ event.  Faith and repentance is our response to the reality of the Christ event and its efficacy for our salvation. It should be very evident that the will of God the Father and Christ the Son is for us to practice works of righteousness and avoid sin.

       Hebrews chapter 11 clearly demonstrates how faith and works are two sides of the same coin. The writer of this letter provides many examples of how faith is validated through works.  Here are just a few:

       Verse 11: By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.

       Verse 24:  By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter.

       Verse 29: By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

       Verse 30:  By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.

       Verse 31:  By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

       Faith and the practice of good works is a response to what God and Jesus did to facilitate salvation which is movement from death to life. Our response to what Jesus did includes accepting Him as Lord of our life which means we are now subject to His will.  His will, as we all should know, is to live the Law of Love which means produce works of righteousness in place of works of sin. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans 6.

       Verse 3-4: don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  

      Verse 12-13: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

       Verse 19 b: Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

       So what does James mean when he says “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). He can’t be speaking of being justified in regard to having one’s sins forgiven and being granted eternal life as we see from the teachings of Paul that justification and the granting of eternal life (salvation) is a free gift of God. It’s apparent that James is speaking of justification within the context of our response to God’s free gift of salvation and not the gift itself.  As stated above, all humans will face a judgement subsequent to biological death. We will be judged as to how we conducted ourselves while in the flesh.  We will face either justification for what we did or judgement.   

       The Greek word rendered “justified” in James 2:24 is δικαιοται (dikaioutai). One of the ways this word is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon is “to judge, declare, pronounce, righteous and therefore acceptable.” As discussed above, In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus said “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned” (NIV).

       The word “acquitted” in the NIV (Greek: δικαιόω (dikaioó) is rendered justified in most English translations as this is the basic meaning of this word. The word “condemned” (Greek: καταδικασθήσῃ (katadikasthēsē) is rendered “condemned” in most English translations but may better be rendered as judgement. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as “to give judgment against (one), to pronounce guilty; to condemn.” Young's Literal Translation of Matthew 12:37 renders this passage as “for from thy words thou shalt be declared righteous, and from thy words thou shalt be declared unrighteous.’

       One huge question that remains is what is to become of the so-called unsaved dead. The vast majority of the human race, past present and future, has not placed faith in Jesus with most not even having opportunity to do so. Since Scriptures teach that all humans will be judged subsequent to biological death, what is to become of the multiple billions of people who have lived and died never having learned about salvation through Jesus?  For a comprehensive look at this issue, go to “The Case for Universal Salvation.”

Baptism:

       An initial way we can bear witness to the gift of salvation is to be baptized. Baptism is not a condition for receiving the gift of salvation but it is a public witness to the gift that has been given.  It is a witness to our having received this gift. From the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry and running through the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles, baptism was seen as a confirmation of repentance.

       Peter instructed his listeners to be baptized.  Acts 2:41 records that those who accepted Peter’s Pentecost message were baptized and this resulted in about three thousand added to their number that day.  Faith and repentance are our response to the message of salvation. Baptism is a public demonstration of our response.     

       Water baptism is seen in Scripture as an outward demonstration of faith and repentance.  Within the context of the Christ event, faith and repentance relates to acknowledging Jesus as Savior and Lord and a change of behavior commensurate with that acknowledgement.  Baptism is the explicit demonstration of that acknowledgement.   

       Some see baptism as an outward sign or mark of covenantal acceptance.  When God established a covenant with Abraham, circumcision was instituted as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham.  Baptism is seen as replacing circumcision and becoming the sign of the New Covenant.  Under this perspective one could argue that baptism, as a sign of the New Covenant, is a required ordinance just as circumcision was a required Old Covenant ordinance.  

       Colossians 2:11-12; In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature,  not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 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.

       Some use this seeming correlation between circumcision and baptism to justify infant baptism.  Since Paul associates circumcision with the putting off of the sinful nature and ties it in to baptism, it is felt infants should be baptized in order to put off the sinful nature believed to be inherited from Adam.  Since under the Old Covenant circumcision was done when an infant was eight days old, it is believed under the New Covenant infant baptism is simply a replacement for circumcision.

       However, Paul isn’t talking about physical circumcision as he clearly indicates.  He is speaking of a spiritual circumcision which he analogies to baptism.  Is Paul here talking about a spiritual baptism as well and not the physical act of physically being immersed in water?  We will return to that question in Part two of this series when we begin to take an in-depth look at baptism and its relationship to salvation.

PART TWO