WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

FAITH, REPENTANCE, BAPTISM

AND SALVATION: PART ONE

 

       Apostle Paul wrote that salvation is a gift from God. It is freely given by the grace of God through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul instructed that there are no works we can do to merit this gift. Yet 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 requires the works of faith, repentance and baptism?  It is this issue we will address in this Four Part series.

       The study of theology has a number of subdivisions such as eschatology which is the study of last things, Christology which is the study of Christ and Soterology which is the study of salvation.  Within the overall field of Soterology is the study of how faith repentance and baptism relate to salvation. It will be this aspect of Soterology that we will discuss in this series.

       In addressing the sins of Israel, the prophet Isaiah made a rather profound statement as recorded in Isaiah 59:1-2.

       Isaiah 59:1-2: Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

       It is a major tenet of Scripture that sin separates us from God.  To sin is to miss the mark.  To miss the mark is to behave contrary to the will of God.  Scripture shows we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.

       Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

       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. 

       This is akin to a person under civil government committing a crime that demands a penalty. No amount of good behavior subsequent to having committing the crime will erase the penalty for having committed the crime.  The penalty will be enforced unless a judge exercises mercy and forgives the penalty. Paul wrote to the Romans:

       Romans 6:23:  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 do to facilitate escape from the wages of sin which is eternal death, staying dead forever.  Fortunately, Paul did not stop with saying the wages of sin is death. He continued by saying:

       Romans 6:23:  but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

       Jesus, who lived a sinless life, took our sins upon Himself and in so doing experienced  death as we all do.  As Paul wrote, Jesus became sin for us. 

       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.

       However, because Jesus never personally sinned, death could not hold Him and God resurrected Jesus to eternal life.  Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and was resurrected to eternal life and thus facilitated our reconciliation with the Father and the granting of eternal life.  This is the gospel in a nutshell.  The gospel in a nutshell is that we can be saved from eternal death engendered by our sin by placing faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus and what He accomplished in paying the penalty for our sin.

       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 Christ did.

       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.

       Paul taught the Ephesians that salvation results from the grace of God and is acquired as a gift from God and not attained by any works we do. 

       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.    

       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.  Yet the Scriptures appear to teach that we must do certain things in order to be granted salvation.

Conditions of Salvation:

       If reconciliation with God and the granting of eternal life is facilitated by Christ independent of what we do, it would appear that salvation is unconditional.  Yet the Scriptures appear to present conditions.  Faith, repentance and baptism are often associated with salvation in the New Testament (NT).  Paul wrote to the Ephesians that it is by grace through faith that we are saved.  Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus appears as a required dynamic associated with having ones sins forgiven and receiving salvation.

       In preaching the Gospel to Cornelius and his friends and family, Apostle Peter shows that belief in Christ is the pathway to the forgiveness of sin.  When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, Paul and Silas told him to believe on Jesus.

       Acts 10:43: All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

       Acts 16:31: They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-

       Peter, in his Pentecost sermon recorded in Acts 2, speaks of repentance and baptism as apparent conditions of salvation.  Peter’s message instructed his listeners that the man Jesus, who had been put to death, was now resurrected and had been made both Lord and Christ and was now seated at the right hand of God.  It is apparent that this message had quite an impact as it is reported those who heard Peter were cut to the heart and asked Peter what they should do.  Here’s what Peter told them.

       Acts 2:38:  "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. 

      Acts chapter 2 records that about 3000 did as Peter instructed.  They are shown as being baptized which means they must have repented (Acts 2:41). What did they repent of?  What does it mean to repent? 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? 

What is repentance?

       The Greek word rendered “repent” in this passage 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 involves a change of 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. 

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·āṯ. The context wherein these words are found shows these words to define 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.” 

       If missing the mark is sin, what “mark” being missed constitutes sin?  Although the Scriptures speak of sin multiple hundreds of times, few passages of Scripture directly define what sin is.  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).

       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").

      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. 

      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·ḇū) and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, `We have sinned (Hebrew: ḥaṭ·ṭāṯ ), we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; and if they turn back (Hebrew: wə·šā·ḇū) 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 appears to be the requirement of repentance under both the Old and the New Covenant for being saved from the consequences of sin which is to experience salvation. However, if salvation is a free gift, how are we to view the apparent requirements of faith, repentance and baptism for salvation?   How do such requirements 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?  If we have to exercise faith, change our behavior and participate in the very physical act of baptism, aren’t we not having to perform works to receive salvation and doesn’t that contradict Paul’s teaching that we are saved by the grace of God and not by any works we do? 

       The answer to this question relates to what came first, the chicken or the egg.  Some believe the egg came first and hatched the chicken.  However, it is the chicken that lays the egg and then sits on it until it hatches.  It would appear the chicken came first.  The same is true of salvation.  Salvation came first.  Salvation came while mankind was still in their sins.

       Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

     The gift of salvation was provided by God through Christ and not through anything we do.  It is a free gift.  Then why are faith, repentance and baptism seemingly required.  If salvation is a free gift, why does this gift appear to have conditions attached to it?  Isn't  having to meet certain conditions prior to receiving the gift of salvation the same as earning this gift? If this gift is indeed free, it would appear it is given with no strings attached.  Yet it appears there are strings attached.  It appears there are conditions that must be met for this gift to have efficacy.

       Throughout Scripture, salvation is associated with being in the Kingdom. To have salvation is to be in the Kingdom and being in the Kingdom is to have salvation. If salvation is seen as a free gift from God and not based on anything we do or don't do, then being in the Kingdom should equally be a free gift and based on nothing we do or don't do.

        Paul made it clear that salvation cannot be obtained by anything we do. Yet 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

       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.

       Jesus, Peter and 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. Luke records Jesus as teaching that that a failure to repent results in perishing.  

       Luke 13:1-5:  Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?   I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."       

       While Jesus may have been here pointing to nothing more than the coming judgement upon Jerusalem when the city and temple would be destroyed by the Romans, the principle expressed here is that repentance is necessary in order to escape the consequences of sin. 

       The Greek word translated “destroy” here is a tense of the Greek word apollumi. This word, in its various tenses, is found 92 times in the NT narrative.  This Greek word means "to destroy."  However, it does not have an intrinsic meaning of permanent destruction as can be seen by how it is used in other NT passages. It can often be seen by context to mean a temporary loss or ruin. Go to "The case for universal salvation Part Two" for a discussion of this issue.

       So what is going on here?  Is salvation/entering the Kingdom a free gift or are there conditions attached to the facilitation of this gift?  If there are conditions attached to the receiving of this gift, does this place into question this gift being free?  Don't the Scriptures teach that salvation is a free gift? Paul wrote that salvation is a gift.

       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.  What is involved in receiving this gift?  Is this gift free but only available to those who meet certain conditions in order to receive  this gift?

       The answer to this question may be in there being a distinction between the granting of this gift and the receiving of this gift. The granting of this gift is an act of God's grace and the grace of his son Jesus. This act of grace is not conditioned on anything we do or don't do. As Paul wrote, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God having Jesus pay the penalty for our sin is not conditioned on anything we do but purely on the love of God for us. However, our receiving this gift appears to be based on meeting certain conditions.  

Illustration:

       Let’s say I tell you to come over to my house and I will give you a new car provided you promise to take good care of it.  You can choose not to believe me and so you never come over to my house and you never get the car.  To get the car you have to believe I am going to give you the car.  You have to act on that belief by coming over to my house.  If you don’t ever come over to my house to get the car you won’t get the car.  Your coming over to my house to get the car does not in any way earn you the car.  Giving you the car is all my doing.  I have simply asked you to come over to my house to get the car. Coming over to my house to get the car is not a condition of I making the car available as a gift. It's a condition you must meet to receive the gift. It is you acting on the faith that I indeed have a car for you free of charge.

       When you come over and get the car I give it to you and you now have the car. You had faith that I am really going to give you the car and you acted on that faith by coming over to my house to get the car. Now that you have the car, you're very happy and you show off the car to others. There is also an implied requirement that you will take good care of the car. You will do your best to show your appreciation for being given the car by providing it with proper maintenance. 

       Like with the car illustration, salvation is a free gift but to receive it we must believe such salvation is indeed being offered to us at no charge. This is equivalent to believing that when I offer you a new car free of charge, such car is indeed free of charge. You coming over to my house to receive the car is acting on the faith that you will indeed receive from me a new car free of charge.  You believing in my offer of a free car and coming over to my house to receive the car is analogous to expressing faith in the free gift of salvation offered by God.  You promising to maintain and care for the car is analogous to repenting of sin and pledging to do ones best to avoid sin in the future.         

       God, through Christ, has provided the gift of salvation. That is a done deal.  Nothing we have ever done or ever will do earns us this gift. God invites us to come on over to His house so to speak and receive this gift of salvation.  To receive this gift we obviously must believe (have faith) this gift is really available.  This corresponds to believing I really have a car for you. 

       Since salvation corresponds to having a righteous standing before God, God expects us to maintain that righteousness in our behavior.  That’s called repentance and is analogous to making the effort to come over to my house to get the car and proceed to take good care of it. Taking good care of the car doesn't earn us the car.  It is still a free gift.

       The pursuit of righteousness doesn’t earn our salvation either. The pursuit of righteousness is simply a condition that must be met in order to receive the free gift of salvation no different than coming to my house to receive the car and a commitment to care for it is a condition that must be met to receive the free gift of the car.

       Upon our expression of faith and repentance, God gives us the gift of salvation. Once we have this 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.       

       It must be understood that neither faith nor repentance earns us the gift of salvation.  Faith and repentance are conditions that must be met in order to receive what is a free gift that has been provided by the sacrifice of Christ. Faith is to acknowledge the reality of this gift and God’s willingness to give it to us. Repentance is simply respecting this gift by taking proper care of it through changed behavior.  Baptism is a confirmation of having received the gift of salvation. It is a public witness to our having expressed the necessary faith and repentance to facilitate our having received God's gift.

       To express faith that I am going to give you a new car and then fail to come over and get it is to misunderstand what faith is.  Faith is belief in action.  Faith must be acted on for it to have any efficacy.  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).  To profess faith in the sacrifice of Christ is to also 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 profess faith in Jesus and not do what He says is an oxymoron.  It’s a contradiction.  The Scriptures show that 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 Christ 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. Faith, repentance and baptism facilitate access to the salvation God provides through Christ.

       Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

       There is the very clear expectation that 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 (Ephesians 2:10).

       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.  But Paul adds that our acceptance of this gift must be followed by good works.  If good works don’t follow our acceptance of God’s gift, there really isn’t any faith.  As James said, faith without works is dead.

       When Paul said salvation comes through faith, he is saying that we must acknowledge God’s salvation as His unmerited gift and express such acknowledgement by how we think and behave.  For Paul, as was true with James, faith had to be demonstrated by action.  That is why Paul follows his statement about salvation through faith by saying “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

        Salvation is not produced by our faith or our works.  Salvation is produced by the grace of God in facilitating the Christ event.  Faith is our response to the reality of the Christ event and its efficacy for our salvation. However, that faith must be acted upon. It is acted upon through our turning from sin (repentance) and our commitment to righteous behavior. These are the works that we are expected to do in response to the gift of salvation. While this gift is free in that we can’t earn it, it is not free in that it is applied to us without our acknowledging (expressing faith) in the source of this gift and submitting to the will of this source. 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.

       As to faith, 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 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.     

       It should be clear that the gift of salvation and the requirement to express faith validated by works of righteousness are not mutually exclusive.  While salvation is an unmerited gift, this fact does not exclude there being conditions that must be met in order for this gift to be given.  Just as in the above example of the owner of a car requiring certain conditions be met to receive the gift of his car, so the owner of salvation requires certain conditions be met to receive the gift of salvation.   

       The question remains as to how faith and repentance as conditions of receiving God’s gift of salvation plays out in the world at large. There are many Scriptures that indicate Jesus died for the sins of the world and that God wishes all to be saved.  Yet the great majority of the billions upon billions of humans who have lived and died and are living and dying have not expressed faith in the sacrifice of Christ or repented of sin. 

       Billions of human have lived and died never knowing about salvation through Christ. Even among those who know about salvation through Christ, only a small percentage have expressed the faith and repentance seemingly necessary to receive this salvation. This is a critical issue for the Christian theological system. Please go to my Three Part series entitled “The case for universal salvation” for discussion of the dynamics of this issue. 

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