|Vol. 14 No. 5 May 2012||
A father advised his son who was struggling with some math problems in pre-algebra, “Don’t worry about the how’s or the why’s, son. Just learn the rules and apply them to the individual problems and everything will work out.” What a wise principle for us to follow in our relationship with God – simply to trust what He says, not worrying about the how’s or the why’s, just applying His commands and instructions to salvation and the routine of daily living. Everything will work out.
The most wonderful topic of discussion that two minds may entertain pertains to the greatest story of heavenly love – the soul’s salvation from every form of besetting sin and deliverance from eternal ruin. In part, this is because the issue of sin has always, and always will be man’s greatest problem so long as we live in this mortal flesh. Therefore, we are presented with our greatest need in the world – a spiritual one – salvation.
There are those who are not accountable, and thus, have no sin before God. These would include children, and those who are not mentally competent to understand the difference between right and wrong (Matthew 19:14). However, when we transgress God’s commands, we become sinners (1 John 3:4). Becoming sinners, we die spiritually and are enslaved by the captivating power of sin. In this defiled condition, we cannot stand before our holy God. We have alienated ourselves from Him. We become like the sheep God’s prophet described as wandering away from Him (Isaiah 53:6).
While two conversationalists could never find a more newsworthy topic, yet many are quite reluctant to bring the subject to the forefront due to all the confusion and conflicting ideas so prevalent among religious circles. Some, suggesting it is divisive, have attempted to dispense with doctrine altogether. Oh, that Jesus’ prayer for unity would be fulfilled, that Paul’s plea for all to speak the same thing would be heeded. Oh, that all men would be governed by the oneness of the Holy Spirit’s message (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Jesus came to the earth to do the Father’s will, personally, and to deliver the Father’s will to the rest of us. Since Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all of those who obey Him (Hebrews 5:9), it behooves you and me to allow the doctrine of Christ and His chosen apostles to flow as a mighty stream and be presented as the entire thrust of our discussion.
Friend, in the Day of Judgment when the Book of Life is opened, all of our opinions and human reasoning will not hold a candle to the brilliant, radiant light of God’s eternal Word. Let us turn our focus to the pages of the New Testament where we are able to garner insight into the doctrine of Christ and the chosen apostles, who were filled with the Holy Spirit following Jesus’ departure.
In so doing, we will discover that salvation is the most wonderful gift of God, and it is one available to all sinners, not just a select few (Ephesians 2:8; John 3:16; Matthew 28:19; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2). James, our Lord’s brother, identifies our Father in heaven as the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The gift of salvation is second to none.
Turning through the pages of the New Testament, we discover that salvation is made available to all sinners “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). God might have chosen to save us by “grace only,” or he might have chosen to save us by “faith only” but he chose neither (cf. James 2:24). He chose to save us “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
Upon further study of the New Testament, we learn more about the precious and unbelievable grace of God. In one of our reflective, Christian hymns, God’s grace is said to be “deeper than the ocean and wider than the sea.” God’s grace pertains to the good will and undeserved favor He has manifested toward us while we had made ourselves His enemies through our disobedience and rebellion, much like the prodigal son of Luke 15. In spite of our unrighteousness that made us deserving of condemnation, God chose to befriend us, to offer a means of reconciliation and an opportunity to return to Him through his Gospel of grace. God did this through offering His only begotten Son upon the old rugged cross where His blood was shed for you and me. This is God reaching out in compassion and love to every one of us who have gone astray.
In our study of the New Testament, we observe that God has given terms and conditions to becoming a recipient of his gift of salvation. We may receive offers for free gifts either in the mail or in our email. It may be an offer for a free gift card from Wal-Mart for $ 1,000, or it may be an offer for a new laptop computer. Down below it says, “Terms and Conditions” apply, or “Participation” required. The same is true with receiving the gift of salvation. If we will meet God’s terms and participate by faith, He will keep His promise in bestowing upon us His free gift of salvation.
God requires human participation since He will not save an individual in his unbelief and his impenitent, persistent rebellion. God will not save us if we want no part of Him or His gift of life. Because He is God, Sovereign and the Giver of the gift, He is privileged with setting the terms and conditions. Can you imagine the presumption of men who dare alter God’s terms and tell men a different set of conditions because they want to tell men what they want to hear, perhaps for financial gain or some other reason? Woe unto them!
God has called upon all of us to exhibit our faith in Him, His Son and His way of making men righteous through Jesus’ blood. As you likely are already aware, the matter of faith is a major area of confusion in our world. Satan gets the credit here for his deceit and lies. The question of the ages is, “What is the nature of faith?” “What kind of faith response is God looking for?”
Another question that may help make the proper determination is this: “Throughout both Testaments in God’s dealing with men, is faith a quality that is passive, or is faith a quality that is active?” Hebrews Chapter 11 enables us to see clearly the quality of faith displayed in the lives of men, women and young people with whom God was well pleased. God spoke His message. These valiant folks held trust that God meant what He said, that He would reward or punish accordingly, and so they actively obeyed His voice.
Another question for consideration: “Throughout God’s dealing with man, has the quality of faith exercised itself in obedience or disobedience?” We should readily understand that faith always exercises itself in obedience, while in contrast, unbelief is recognized through its disobedience.
Some have held that the apostle Paul and James contradicted each other in their writings in the Scriptures. Concerning the great Old Testament figure Abraham, Paul taught he was justified by faith (Romans 4), while James, in the Second Chapter of the epistle that bears his name, taught that Abraham was justified by works. Rather than having a conflict in their doctrine, James’ teaching gives further clarification as to the nature of Abraham’s faith and how it was recognized as living and complete before God. The Hebrew penman says of the father of the faithful, “Abraham by faith… obeyed” (Hebrews 11:8). This enables us to see there is no contradiction. Abraham was justified because he had an obedient faith, not because he sat on a rock and said, “I believe.” Faith is a quality that is openly visible to both God and man by one’s obedient response to His commands.
James teaches that faith apart from an active response is dead just like a body without the spirit is recognized as a dead physical body. James further indicated that he would show his faith through his works while challenging others to do the impossible: to prove their faith apart from action. James noted that even the devils believed and trembled. Was James speaking of meritorious works that he could perform to have God’s good pleasure? Certainly not! Was James speaking of meritorious works that Abraham performed whereby he was justified before God? In no way!
What, then, about the question of baptism unto the remission of sins (Acts 2:38)? So many object to baptism since they cannot understand the how’s or the why’s about it. Does baptism make void God’s offer of salvation as a gift from sin and death by “grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8)? Is baptism correctly labeled by some as a work (of the law) whereby one merits his salvation? To both questions, a resounding “No” would be the astute response.
God does not speak out of both sides of His mouth to create confusion. He does not say, on the one hand, “Be baptized into my son’s death, that you may receive forgiveness of sins” and then at the same time condemn the obedient follower of faith telling him he was trying to earn his salvation by keeping some work of law for being baptized in the first place.
Such is quite reminiscent of the devil’s conversation with Eve in the Garden of Eden. He is now saying as it were, “Hath God said you must surely be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins lest you die in your sins?” “No, you will not surely die if you object and disobey Jesus’ command to be baptized for the remission of sins.” “Why, God himself has said a man cannot be saved through keeping His instructions and commands.” “Why God doth know in the day you are baptized he will surely condemn you for being baptized rather than just trusting in Jesus’ blood.” “Hee-Hee.” Eve was deceived by Satan’s lie. Have we learned anything about the way Satan works?
Jesus Himself was personally baptized by John “to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). If Jesus had rejected baptism, like so many of our day, He would have violated the Father’s will for Him, and thus He would have been disobedient.
Jesus, who has all authority in heaven and earth, gave the command contained in the context of the Great Commission, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Matthew gives the parallel record, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). Baptism unto the remission of sins is not of human origin; it is by Divine authority. It is not a work of merit; it is a proper response of faith unto which God has called upon us to submit. Disobedience led us away from God; Jesus’ obedience and our obedience unto Him as Lord leads us back to God.
When Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper upon the first day of the week, they are showing Christ’s death until he comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). When sinners obey the form of doctrine delivered by Christ and his apostles, including the act of baptism, they are reenacting the burial and resurrection of Christ from the dead. They manifest their faith in the benefit of the sacrificial Lamb of God. To say that baptism has no role in one’s salvation is the same as saying that we are saved apart from the blood of Jesus Christ.
Hear the Spirit’s message written by Paul:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection… (Romans 6:1-5).
Jesus’ death is where His blood was shed. Unless we are baptized into his death where his blood was shed, the blood of Jesus cannot be applied to our souls. Jesus said that if we die in our sins, we cannot come to be with him where he is in heaven (John 8:21).
The principle under consideration, deliverance from sin and salvation by God’s grace through faith, is well illustrated by a man stricken with leprosy, Naaman in 2 Kings 5. Naaman came to Elisha’s house (God’s prophet), and Elisha sent out a message for Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan River, and he would be cleansed of his leprosy. Naaman reasoned, became indignant and was angry. He rejected such an idea until he was challenged: If the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? Therefore, he, by faith, went down and dipped. On the seventh time, he came up cleansed. This was God’s grace in action. Did Naaman earn his cleansing by a meritorious work? Naaman could have disobeyed and walked away unhealed. You and I have the same choice about our sins. We can object, scoff and walk away uncleansed.
In conclusion, we must observe that salvation is strictly the gift of God. God is known by His qualities of grace, mercy, compassion and abiding love. He longs for us to be blessed in having spiritual freedom and life in His Son. These blessings only come to those who honor and submit themselves without reservation to Jesus Christ our Lord. We have seen that God’s offer of salvation is given by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is God’s working in providing a Savior on our behalf. Since God has chosen to require our participation, faith is our active, obedient response that enables us to be cleansed from sin by the blood of the Lamb through baptism into Jesus’ death.
Luke records the words of Ananias to Saul, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16; cf. Romans 16:25-26). Why do you delay? Will you show God your love and faith in obeying Jesus, or will you show God your unbelief in disobeying Jesus? He will not be your Savior until you submit to Him as Lord.
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