Friday, November 27, 2020

Salvation and baptism – baptism

In H. A. Ironside's A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement, he discusses an attempt at reconciliation between the so-called "Grant brethren" and "open brethren" in Plainfield, NJ between 1892 and 1895 (pp. 145–170). He quotes a letter signed by B. C. Greenman, S. Ridout, and F. W. Grant in which they list barriers to fellowship, including "insistence upon certain views of baptism" on the part of "open brethren" (p. 148). 

Better and more godly men than I have disagreed about baptism, so I've made a practice of not kicking that particular hornets' nest. But since a couple folks have asked, I'll make just a few general comments on baptism.

I grew up almost entirely surrounded by people who taught, believed, and practiced believers' baptism. I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say that baptism is "an outward expression of an inward reality." 

Eventually – having read way too much on the subject – I was challenged by the statement that while Scripture says other things are types of baptism (the ark, 1 Peter 3:21, and the crossing of the Red Sea, 1 Corinthians 10:1–5), it doesn't say baptism is a type of anything else. I haven't been able to find a place where baptism is called a type, a symbol, a sign, or anything close to it. That's not a slam dunk, but it does undercut the central assumption behind believers' baptism. Scripture treats baptism like a reality, not a symbol.

I know, "slam dunk" is a horrible pun.

For the past ten or fifteen years I've leaned to household baptism, perhaps a little reluctantly. I'm not really interested in getting into fights over baptism, and I'm not willing to make something a fellowship issue without an actual verse. So I'm perfectly happy fellowshipping with other believers who hold a different view.

There is a paper by J. N. Darby on STEM Publishing, "On the Baptism of Households" that seems to me to be a very clear presentation of the household baptism position. It's well worth a read.

Let me just say: household baptism doesn't mean baptismal regeneration. Baptism doesn't regenerate, give life, or justify in God's sight. I absolutely don't believe that an infant, having been baptized, is now no longer a sinner. 

Household baptism is merely the acknowledgement that there is such a thing in Scripture as earthly, temporal, outward salvation as well as eternal salvation. Baptism is connected with the former, not the latter. 

So yes, I believe in baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16). That doesn't mean God forgives sins because people are baptized. I take it to mean that in baptism, we leave a world under sin and judgment and take our place in a new order of things.  It's not for God's benefit that we are baptized. God counts as righteous the one who believes and does not work (Romans 4:5), baptism has no place in that. But baptism is intimately connected with our place in this world.

So that's my take on baptism. I fully admit that I've read too much on the subject, which certainly affects my thinking.

Let me add a short postscript here... Francis Schaeffer's short paper "Baptism": is well worth a read. He argues for infant baptism by pointing out that circumcision is called a "sign" in Scripture (Romans 4:10–11), and Scripture does explicitly say that circumcision was to be an outward sign of an inward reality (Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:28–29). But Scripture still commanded the circumcision of infants. 

That's a compelling argument: if circumcision – which Scripture explicitly tells us is the outward sign of an inward reality – can be practiced on infants, than surely we shouldn't scruple to baptize infants on the strength of the argument that they haven't believed.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Salvation and baptism – salvation

Having believed God, we are declared righteous without works (Romans 4:5). Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). Having been justified, we shall be saved (Romans 5:10–11). But of course, Romans doesn't stop there.

I mentioned last time that we seem content with a "gospel" that doesn't even rise to the level of the Old Testament. We seem afraid even to teach and declare what Romans 4:1–8 teaches. But even if we fearlessly declare Romans 4:1–8, we still have only gotten as far as the Old Testament. To use the Exodus metaphor, we bring people to Succoth, or perhaps all the way to Etham (Exodus 13:20), and then we try to assure them that they've gotten all God has for them. But of course it's not true.



Someone who hasn't seen the enemy dead on the shore might well be born again. She might well be justified in God's sight, redeemed, regenerated, and forgiven of all her sins for eternity. But she's not saved. Romans doesn't just end at Romans 5:1, and we shouldn't stop there either.

Don't let's forget Colossians 2:6 – we are to walk as we have received. And we must keep Galatians 3:1–3 in mind – we don't start out on one principle and finish on another. We are certainly saved by faith, just as surely as we're justified by faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). It's not that we start out by faith and then earn salvation. But the fact remains that there is progress from justification to salvation.

When we go to the next chapter, we are brought face-to-face with baptism immediately (Romans 6:3). We recall that 1 Corinthians 10:1–2 describes the crossing of the Red Sea as baptism, so it's no stretch at all to say that Romans 6–8 answers to Exodus 14. In other words, we're now talking about salvation.

And we see the same language in Romans 6:1–9 that we saw in Exodus 14:30–31. Both are about baptism, both are about death.

Romans 5:19–21 sets the stage for Romans 6:1–9. We find in Romans 5 that Adam's sin made us all sinners, regardless of our actual guilt. I realize there are many who believe that we are all guilty of Adam's sin, but I don't read that in Scripture. Romans 5 doesn't say that God holds me guilty of what Adam has done, but that Adam's sin made me a sinner. And we read that sin has reigned (Romans 5:21). This theme of sin personified as a master is carried into Romans 6, where we find that the solution to the problem of sin reigning is to put to death the one who had been sin's slave (Romans 6:5–6). Notice Romans 6 doesn't teach that sin has been crucified, nor even that sin is judged. We don't get the condemnation of sin until Romans 8:3, and even then, we realize (Romans 8:23) that while sin has been judged, the judgement hasn't yet been executed. Romans 6 strikes not at sin, but at the sinner. It's about the servant of sin, the man I used to be.

Whether I believe it or not, God sees that I have died with Christ (Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:1–3). But Romans 6:11 commands us to "reckon" that to be true. What that really means is, for us to experience the salvation that God has for us, we need to see things the way He sees them, the way He says they really are.

Notice the parallel here with Exodus 14:30. Salvation isn't merely dead enemies on the shore, it's seeing the enemies dead on the shore. Similarly, salvation isn't merely that I have died with Christ, it's seeing that I have died with Christ.

Exodus 14:31 goes on to say (as cg commented earlier), that when the Israelites saw the enemy dead on the shore, they feared God, and believed in God, and in Moses His servant.

Romans 4:5 says that God justifies the one who "believes on him who justifies the ungodly." Revelation 14:6–7 tells us the "everlasting gospel" – fear God and give Him glory. Notice in both Romans 4:5 and in Revelation 14:6–7, the issue isn't so much what we believe, but whom we believe. When we get to Romans 6:1–11, the issue is still faith (remember, we are to walk as we received), but now it's much more specific about what we are to believe.  We are called to believe that we have been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:11).

So let's be perfectly clear: we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). The question isn't one of faith followed by works; it's faith from start to finish. But the journey that starts with justification (by faith) and goes on to salvation (by faith) isn't a single step. It may take many years for a person to believe God (thus being justified in His sight) to having peace with God, to being saved, having seen the bodies of the enemy dead on the shore. All of these are by faith, but they're not all the same step.

I was justified as a very young person, having believed the gospel. But it was at least fifteen years before I (as an adult) saw that I had been crucified with Christ. At any point in that span of time, I would have said (and did, indeed, say) that I was saved, but I don't believe I was. I was born again. I was forgiven of all my sins. I was righteous in God's sight. Had I died in that time, I would have found myself safe in God's presence. My eternal destiny was settled. But I wasn't saved. I didn't see myself as having died with Christ (I thought that was an aspirational statement about a holy life). I hadn't seen the enemies dead on the shore.

But I did think I had already gotten all God had for me. I honestly thought that, having been forgiven of all my sins, I was now responsible to live for God. I thought I had something to offer Him! See, I hadn't yet learned what it was to be lost. I definitely had not gotten all God had for me. 

And I think that's one reason I keep ranting about being careful with words like "saved." There are consequences to carelessness in holy things.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Salvation and baptism – justification

The distinctions between salvation, justification, redemption, etc. aren't just an academic interest. There are real, practical consequences that come out of carelessness with the text of Scripture. Sometimes when someone points out something in Scripture, there's a tendency to say, "OK... so what's for lunch?" Sometimes it can be hard to understand just where a misreading will lead.

The most valuable and enduring lesson I learned from reading Darby is, the text of Scripture matters. We misread, simplify, or blur distinctions to our own peril. I'm not suggesting (and I certainly don't believe) that any misreading of Scripture is a "salvation issue" (as much as I hate that terminology), but I am certain there are watersheds: small changes with enormous consequences that aren't immediately obvious.

One effect of carelessness here is, we undercut the gospel. It shouldn't be a surprise that confusing justification with salvation means we don't get either one right.

So let's pause and consider what Scripture has to say about justification. Scripture says, "to him who does not work, but believes on [H]im who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). Do we really believe that? I'm afraid many "gospel messages" I've heard add big and small things to that simple statement. Altar calls, sinners' prayers, confessions of sins – these things may not seem like much, but they're not what Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches in the plainest possible terms that all God wants is for us to believe Him. He is eager to declare as righteous anyone who stops calling Him a liar, and admits that He is right. The bar couldn't be set lower.

I've been in many churches in my life – many or most of them "brethren assemblies" – and I've heard a lot of gospel messages, but I haven't heard many that don't add something to the gospel.

[Note: If you haven't recently, it's worth reading William R. Newell's comments on Romans 4:4–5, especially the story in footnote #84.]

I don't think people are setting out to subvert the gospel. I think they are trying to make it more concrete or "actionable". But there's nothing actionable about a declaration that God declares righteous the one who does not work, but believes. That is, by definition, entirely inactionable. It's the declaration that our taking an action is the opposite of what God wants. He wants us not to work, but to believe.

I've heard two speakers of some renown in the last ten years say that if you can't recall a conversion experience, then you really aren't saved. For the moment, let's ignore the misuse of the word saved and focus on the main point. Does Scripture teach the need for a conversion experience? Not that I can find. What it says is, God counts as righteous the person who does not work, but believes. Do you believe God? Then you're justified, regardless of whether you can remember a specific conversion experience.

It seems like many Christians teach a "gospel" that doesn't even rise to the level of the Old Testament. Romans 4:6–8 (quoting Psalm 32:1–2) says that the person whom God justifies (the one who does not work, but believes, Romans 4:5), is a person to whom God will "not at all reckon sin" (Romans 4:8). Do we really believe that? Do we believe and teach that God, having justified a person, will not at all – for any reason –, put sins to their account? Do we believe and teach that someone who has been justified on the basis of faith (not of works) is someone whose sins God refuses to count?

Someone who had been a foreign missionary once told me that they wouldn't teach "eternal security" when they were on the mission field, "because it would just lead to people sinning." Is that a faithful proclamation of the gospel? Is that honestly and faithfully telling what God has said? I am certain it is not.

So we might ask ourselves, if someone came to a gospel meeting in our churches, would they be told that there was nothing for them to do, because it has all been done? Would they be told that God counts as righteous the one who does not work, but believes? Would they walk away knowing that, having believed, God wouldn't count against them any sin they had ever committed, or any sin they would someday commit, even those in the future?

Galatians 1:6–9 warns against "another gospel." So here's a question for our own consciences: are we declaring the gospel accurately and scripturally? Are we faithfully saying the God declares as righteous the one who doesn't work, but believes? Or are we preaching another gospel?

I am convinced that we fail to understand, teach, and declare justification by faith alone in Christ alone, partly because we mix up justification with salvation. They're not the same thing, although they are related. And because we're not careful with what the Scripture actually says, we end up preaching our own ideas, not the word of God.



Friday, November 6, 2020

Salvation and Baptism

The first mention of salvation in Scripture is Genesis 49:18, "I wait for thy salvation, O Jehovah." 

The next place we read about salvation is Exodus 14:13, "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah." It's worthwhile taking a few moments to think about what Exodus can teach us about salvation.

We remember that the children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:41). God had sent Moses to deliver them from Egypt, but Pharaoh refused to obey God, God having hardened his heart (Exodus 4:21–23). And so God did what He had told Moses He would do when He spoke to Moses in Midian – He killed Pharaoh's son (Exodus 4:23).

The children of Israel – having been warned that God would pass through Egypt, killing all the firstborn sons (Exodus 12:23) – were to put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their doors, and not go out of their houses until morning (Exodus 12:22). God would "pass over" them if they were sheltered behind the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:23). 

God did what He said He would do – what He had told Moses He would do when He spoke to Moses in Midian, before Moses ever stood before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21–23). God passed through Egypt, killing every firstborn son (Exodus 12:29–30). So the Egyptians sent the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 12:31–33).

1 Corinthians 5:7–8 tells us that Christ is our Passover, having died for us. It is His blood that shelters us from judgment. It is in His death that He ensured the wrath of God cannot touch us (John 3:36). 

But of course the people of Israel had a long way to go. In fact, the journey was longer than it really had to be, because of the fear that they people would want to return to Egypt, if they took the most direct route (Exodus 13:17–18).

Exodus 14 opens with God instructing the people of Israel to encamp by the Red Sea. And the scripture tells us why: because God intended to destroy Pharaoh by hardening his heart (again!) and luring him into a trap at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1–4). Now, let's pause to think about that for a moment... we might expect God to ignore Pharaoh now that Pharaoh has finally obeyed and sent Israel away. But God isn't done with Pharaoh yet. He hardens his heart (Exodus 14:8) so that he will pursue Israel and be destroyed at the Red Sea.

So the people of Israel are trapped at the shore of the sea, they have nowhere to go. God is essentially using them to bait the trap He has set for Pharaoh, and they are terrified. They know that Pharaoh is coming to destroy them. And Moses tells them, "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:10–14).

Notice that Moses hasn't once described the deliverance of Israel as "salvation" before this. He hasn't called the plagues on Egypt salvation. He hasn't called them sheltering behind the lamb's blood salvation. He hasn't even called their being sent away from Egypt salvation. It's only now, when God is about to destroy Pharaoh that Moses starts talking about salvation.

And we know how the story ends. God tells Moses to stretch his staff over the sea (Exodus 14:15–18), and He parts the sea so that the children of Israel can walk through it on dry ground (Exodus 14:16). And God hardens Pharaoh's heart one last time so that the Egyptians drive their chariots into the sea (Exodus 14:17), then He brings the water in the sea back together, drowning all the Egyptians (Exodus 14:26–28).

And then, just to be sure that we understand the lesson, the chapter reiterates what happened, "Thus Jehovah saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the sea-shore" (Exodus 14:30). That is a working definition of salvation: it's seeing the enemy dead on the shore.

The children of Israel were redeemed in Egypt. They were led by God into the wilderness. They crossed the sea on dry land, by the power of God. But they weren't saved until they saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.

1 Corinthians 10:2 describes the crossing of the Red Sea as baptism. This is one of the reasons I keep insisting that baptism saves. It doesn't regenerate, redeem, justify, or reconcile. But it saves. The connection between baptism and salvation isn't an accident, and it's not made lightly. And notice, it's very much the same idea in 1 Peter 3:20–21.

I am sure that the Old Testament saints were born again. After all, "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets" will be in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:28), and Christ Himself assures us that new birth is necessary for a man to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1–7). And scripture is explicit that Abraham was justified by faith alone (Romans 4:1–5). David, too, being justified by faith alone, is a man "to whom God will not at all reckon sin" (Romans 4:6–8). These are all Old Testament truths.

But the Old Testament saints were not united to Christ. This is one blessing we have and they didn't have. We are united to Christ in His death, His burial, and His resurrection (Romans 6:1–5; Colossians 3:1–4). And notice Romans 6 connects our union with Christ to baptism. It's entirely scriptural to say that one huge difference between the Old Testament saints and the New is that we are now baptized into Christ Jesus.

There's a lot more to talk about here, so I'll save that for another time. But let's make this final point: being saved means seeing the enemies lying dead on the shore. I'm almost fifty years old, and in that time, I've heard many, many gospel messages. I've heard many, many evangelical talks. But I have very rarely heard about the dead enemies on the shore.

It's like we're content to be redeemed, and don't really want all that God has for us: not merely justification, but salvation.