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.



1 comment:

HandWrittenWord said...

I am reminded of a well-known quote by a prominent (in some circles)
preacher of the last century, Martin Lloyd-Jones:

"If your preaching of the gospel of God's free grace in Jesus Christ
does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism, you're not
preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ."