If We Know "What," Is "How" Significant?

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Their faces are kind and time worn. Often beneath the aged brows eyes still sparkle. On this autumn day they have come to sit on leather padded chairs around scattered tables in a sitting room for another weekly Bible study in their retirement village.

Respresenting something of the landscape of Christendom, common agreement resonates from senior to senior regarding what is needed. Christ crucified provides us with hope. People need to repond to Jesus' death upon the cross by depending upon him for salvation. Clearly, these white-haired residents understand "the what" of the gospel. People need to trust in what Christ has done for them.

Unfortunately, they are ignorant about "how" the gospel calls us to trust in Jesus. Although scripture beckons us to rely upon Jesus through immersion, perhaps it was a family member or maybe a Sunday school teacher who years ago taught them that they could depend upon Jesus for salvation by inviting Jesus into their heart through a prayer. So, just how significant is it that we trust in Jesus as the Bible prescribes?

The answer to whether or not we need to conform to "how" the gospel calls us to rely upon Jesus lies not in our strongly held opinions, but in the cross. Through Christ crucified, God unilaterally offers us the promise of a new relationship with him. Through the new covenant of the cross, God has determined how we are to rely upon Jesus. Baptism involves trusting in Jesus' death to receive the promises of the new covenant including being in Christ.

A chorus responds, "But surely, baptism can't be required. After all, these nice elderly people are so loving. Many of their lives have been filled with good deeds in service to God - why must it matter how they relied upon Jesus?" The new covenant is offered by God. We are in no position to alter the conditions God has specified. Where is there any evidence that God allows us to determine how we can accept his covenant?

Since salvation comes through trusting in Jesus, we cannot argue that loving people are saved because of how good they are. Such wishful thinking simply exposes a works based view of salvation. It also betrays our shallow understanding of the nature of faith and our failure to appreciate the significance of salvation being embedded in the context of the new covenant. What makes us think we can somehow divorce how we trust in Christ's redeeming blood from the context of Jesus' death establishing the new covenant which prescribes how we are to trust in Christ crucified?

Each situation of faith has its own specified response. For example, consider Abraham. In one situation in order to have had faith Abram had to believe God's promise, instead of doing something. On another ocassion, just believing would not constitute faith, rather if he was going to trust in God the context required Abram to leave his country. Similarly, the context of the gospel calls us to rely upon Jesus by being baptized.

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Matthew 28:19

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Galatians 3:26,27

Just how significant is it that we trust in Jesus as the Bible prescribes?

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8 Comments

I am confused by the ending of this article. Everything up to the last two paragraphs was very clear. It seems that you "backed up" in the last part. Please clarify.

Thanks,
Jimmy

I find this article rather perplexing. What exactly is the author trying to say? Is baptism necessary or is faith enough? The repeated use of sentence fragments is very confusing and somewhere in the last few paragraphs I completely lost the author's point.

Thank you for your feedback. As a response to the first comment, I hope the outline below will be helpful. I've also re-edited the final paragraphs.

As to the second inquiry, yes faith is necessary and this faith requires baptism. Contrary to a modern assumption that in the context of the gospel the two can be divorced, the NT reveals they were united in the original proclamation as I have described elsewhere.


Perhaps the following two questions can bring to the surface the unseen modern assumptions about faith which might contribute toward some confusion.

1) Does every situation requiring faith demand the exact same response or can faith demand different responses in order for someone to have faith?

2) Does God require us to trust in Jesus in a particular way or are we free to rely upon Jesus in whatever manner we might choose? (To illustrate this principle with an absurd suggestion - if someone were to claim that saying "Jesus" three times fast means someone trusts in him does this human proclamation make it so?)


The following outline provides the framework of understanding from which this article was written:

1) Each context determines how a person is required to trust in order to possess faith in that situation. (In some contexts, such as where a promise is offered, in order to possess faith a person merely needs to believe the promise given! In other situations, such as where a command has been issued, to have faith demands both belief and action! Hebrews 11:7,8) The word faith describes someone trusting, but by itself it does not provide us the details about how to trust in that particular instance.

2) To claim that we are Christian does not make us Christian, regardless of how good we might have been.

3) Being Christian is dependent upon God recognizing us as his people.

4) Scripture reveals that the principle by which God claims someone belongs to him today is whether or not that individual is in the new covenant which Jesus' death created.

5) We enter the new covenant by relying upon Christ which the NT calls salvation by faith. To say salvation comes by faith does not tell us how to trust in Jesus, rather only that we need to rely upon him in order to be saved.

6) The context of the gospel (the new covenant) calls us to trust in Jesus by being immersed. (Biblically, where is there support for the belief that saying "the sinner's prayer" causes a person to trust in Jesus?)

The final two Scripture references in the article illustrate: 1) Jesus commanding baptism as how to respond to the gospel and 2) Paul understood that trusting in Jesus involves a person responding to Christ by being baptized.

Thank you for your kind explanation. Your article is much clearer as it is written now. I especially appreciate the outline you have included in your comments. There is another good article in that outline.

You might want to correct the article as it appears on the Forthright homepage since it is still in the original format.

Thank you for addressing this problem! It needs more attention!

I appreciate the encouraging feedback.

I would suggest that a number of difficulties arise in a variety of areas whenever people unwittingly impose human inspired definitions or implications upon faith, works or grace within the biblical text.

Perhaps a helpful starting place for musing on these building blocks might be to ask the questions:

1) When Paul decried works as being insufficient to save us, was he describing "doing something" or a "self-reliance" through the Law? While these can overlap they are not identical concepts!

2) Do the practical results of grace specify: a) we do not deserve salvation AND what was previously unacceptable to God is now acceptable, hence we are empowered to explore our own creative and self-willed paths, or b) we do not deserve salvation BUT this does not nullify God's desire for us to seek to conform to his ways?

I am not sure I understand what you are saying in this article???

Are you suggesting that a person does not have to understand what they are doing when they accept Christ? Do they not have to understand why they are being baptised? Acts 2:38 Acts 19 Can a person be taught wrong and be baptized right?

Because baptism is a faith response to the proclamation of the gospel, by definition biblical baptism entails understandng that one's response involves trusting in Jesus. I might add Acts 22:16 to the verses previously cited as describing a purpose of baptism.

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This page contains a single entry by Barry Newton published on November 22, 2007 5:52 AM.

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