|Vol. 16 No. 8 August 2014||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
It has been many years since I rode a train, but I seem to remember that I saw written on the ticket the expression, “Not good if detached.” That thought has many applications. Faith is no good if detached from works (James 2:20). The branch is no good if detached from the vine (John 15:1-7). The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The heart of the Gospel is that Christ died for us, was buried and was resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). That is good news. Yet, detached from the terms by which God says we must accept those facts, it is of little value. This is frequently done in denominational groups. On the other hand, it is possible to tell the conditions of appropriation, such as confession and baptism, but detach them, or not properly relate them to the facts of the Gospel. This is also a perversion, and it makes the actions of no value. If a person is told that he needs to be baptized to be saved, but has not really loved the Lord and repented of his sins, he is still lost.
In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified.” The cross is at the center and heart of the Gospel. The cross is like the hub of a wheel. The spokes of the wheel are faith, repentance, confession and baptism. They connect the rim to the hub. It is possible to speak and act as if the spokes have no necessary connection to the hub. If they are thus detached, they are no good as we relate them to salvation.
Often a person says, “I have great faith.” When we probe, we discover that they may have great faith in something or someone, but not in Christ. They may have faith in their feelings, the opinions of their preacher, their mother, some religious rite or ceremony, or other things, but they do not have faith in Christ. We know this because faith in Christ impels one to rely on His Word and obey it.
One may read Mark 16:16 which says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” He says, “I believe, and I am baptized so I am saved.” We have probably assumed that most people who read Mark 16:16 know what it means. They do not. I believe what? I have been baptized on what basis, and for what? “I believe” detached from Christ and his teaching is worthless. “I believe in Jesus, but do not think it is necessary to do his will” is invalid.
Jesus said, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Faith in Jesus must be connected not only with the truth that He died, but that all other apostolic claims about him are so, including that He has all authority. Modernists may say, “I have great faith in Christ, but I do not believe in an empty tomb.” That is not the belief Jesus had in mind. We may have faith in ourselves, faith in our faith, faith in our doctrine, faith in the church, faith in the act of baptism or faith in any number of other things and assume that is the faith that Christ demands.
Many have the idea that strong opinion equals great faith. If you can get a man to the altar, make him ashamed of some sin, tell him if he will give that up and accept Jesus he will be saved. If he believes that and feels good, then he says, “I have great faith.” He may have great faith, but it is not faith in Christ. It is no good if detached. True faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). It does not come from praying, feeling good, assuming things. Faith must have both specific object and content. If detached from these, it is no good as it relates to salvation. A very important point of which we need to be aware is this: One may have faith in a statement about Jesus or even in a statement of Jesus and not have faith in Jesus. One may believe a statement of a known liar such as, “It looks like it will rain today” without having faith in the liar. The converse is not true. That is, if you have faith in Jesus, you also will trust everything he says. The whole religious world, including some connected with the Lord’s church, have a “detached faith” without the proper connection to object or content. We have long been aware that faith detached from works is no good (James 2:26). We need to be as aware that faith in the wrong thing or person is just as dead.
The same is true with repentance. If repentance is not properly related to Christ, it has no value toward salvation. A man may be a thief. He repents and decides to reform his life. That will not save him. If he sees himself as a sinner for whom Jesus died and his repentance is a result of godly sorrow, it is different. He then changes his mind and life concerning Christ. His life can be meaningful. There is a difference in a prodigal son who says, “I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight” and one who says, “I am hungry and made a fool of myself. I think I will go back home.” Repentance is no good if detached from godly sorrow. If only attached to the sorrow of the world, it will work death (1 Corinthians 7:10).
The same is true with confession. Paul said in Romans 10:10, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Often a person says, “I confessed that I was a sinner.” Or, “I confessed that I want to be saved.” Or, “I confessed that God for Christ's sake forgave me of my sins.” None of that is the thing about which Paul was speaking. I need to confess that I have sinned. I need to confess that I want salvation. The center of that is still me and my wants and actions. The confession Jesus wants is the one that puts Him at the center as Lord and Messiah. Confession, detached from that, is no good. Even as beautiful as it is to confess that Jesus is the Savior, that is not primarily what is involved in the confession about which Jesus and Paul spoke. Unless one accepts and confesses Christ as Lord, the Son of God, with all authority in heaven and on earth, that confession is but a spoke in the wheel, detached from the hub, and of no value. There are many that are willing to let Jesus be their Savior, but are not willing to let him be their Lord. If your confession and profession are not related to Christ as the center of your life, that confession is not unto righteousness. It is no good if detached.
The same principle that applies to denominational “faith” applies to people who think they are members of the Lord’s church. There are hundreds or thousands who have great faith in baptism. When I knock on their doors, they usually tell me something like this: “I am a Church of Christ. I have not been to church in 8 years, and I know there is not much difference in the Church of Christ and other denominations. But I am a strong Church of Christ. I have been baptized.” Faith in baptism, detached from a loving obedient faith in Christ is no good. It is worse than worthless. It may blind a man to his real condition and need. Jesus says, “He that believeth [in me] and is baptized [by my authority] shall be saved.” A man says, “I believe (what my preacher says) and have been baptized (by the authority of my church).” Those are not the same thing. Neither faith nor baptism is any good if detached.
Paul says in Romans 6:17-18, “Thanks be to God that ye were servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine delivered unto you. Being then made free from sin, you are servants of righteousness.” Outward acts that look like obedience but detached from the heart are no good.
Is your faith a trusting reliance on Christ and His Word, or on your feelings? Was your repentance produced by godly sorrow, in an awareness that your sins were the kind of things that caused Christ to die? Did that repentance lead to a changed relationship with Him? Or is your repentance simply a desire to quit the sin so as escape the consequences of it? A man who quits illicit sexual activity for fear of AIDS is not in the same relationship with Christ as a man who quits any and everything that is bad because he wants to follow Christ. Is your baptism by the authority of Christ because He told you to do it for remission of your sins, or is it by the authority of some man or church to have membership in that church? It is no good if detached.
There is little doubt that there are many who are on the membership rolls of the church of Christ who were not baptized as an act of surrender to the Lord. The Bible says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is little if any evidence that there is anything new about some. Their baptisms did not connect them with Christ, for they did not become partakers of the divine nature. It only connected them with a congregation of others, many of whom had done the same things they did.