Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Hypothetical Faith

     “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ …. After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized” (John 3:5, 22, 23).1 “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). “‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’” (Acts 22:16). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).2

     What does God require in order to receive his gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation? Not one of the above scriptures discounts believing in Jesus, repenting of sins, or confessing faith. Why, then, do so many have trouble accepting baptism as a divine requisite? I’ve heard people retort, “But what about the person on his deathbed? If he accepts Jesus in his heart, surely the Lord will save him without baptism!” Or for a more emotionally stirring argument, “What about the soldier dying on the battlefield? If he can’t get baptized but says the sinners prayer, are you saying he won’t be saved?!” Maybe you’ve heard this one: “What if the person dies in a car wreck on the way to the baptistery? Is he going to burn in hell forever just because he wasn’t dunked in water?!!!!”

     What are we to make of these hypothetical scenarios? They certainly stir the emotions, but do they affirm the truth? Do they provide a solid foundation upon which to build one’s faith? Here are six points to consider.

1. Hypotheticals do not change what the Bible says. A deathbed experience won’t make Mark 16:16 say, “He who believes and is not baptized will be saved...” One might cherry pick verses emphasizing faith, but this won’t eliminate all the other passages that link saving faith to obedience.3

2. Hypotheticals do not overrule divine providence. If “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), surely he will providentially ensure that everyone who is willing has the opportunity to learn and obey the truth. Did you notice that the truth-seeking Ethiopian official didn’t die in a chariot crash before he found a body of water as he learned the truth of the gospel? (Acts 8:26-39)

3. Hypotheticals do not eliminate personal responsibility. “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psa. 14:2; cf. Matt. 7:7; John 7:17; Acts 17:27). What has the ninety-year-old man on his deathbed been doing the past ninety years? When people dismiss God until the last moment or until it’s too late, neither God nor his inspired word is to be blamed (2 Cor. 6:2).

4. Hypotheticals do not support logical conclusions that can’t be consistently applied. What if the soldier on the battlefield dies before engendering faith in his heart? Does this tragic scenario eliminate faith from the salvation process? If not, why stop short of baptism? What about repentance, or anything else the Lord requires? 

5. Hypotheticals do not excuse those who aren’t in these situations. Even if I were convinced that God saves an incapacitated person without baptism, how does this affect what is required of me or anyone else who is fully capable of obeying the whole counsel of God?

6. Hypotheticals do not determine one’s eternal destiny. After death, it’s in God’s hands (Heb. 9:27). I’m happy to leave the final judgment to him. But as long as I have a beating heart in my chest and still have my mental faculties, I am compelled to study, learn, obey, teach, and defend the truth of God’s word.

     People are separated from God because of sin (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 3:23). Reconciliation is offered through God's Son, but an obedient response is required (2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 5:9). Don’t just pick and choose what you want to accept from the Bible, while dismissing everything else. Don’t tenaciously cling to long-held preconceptions that may very well be misconceptions. Don’t substitute emotional arguments for biblical truth. And don’t build your faith on the shaky ground of hypotheticals.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 See also Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12-13, 35-39; 9:18; 10:33, 48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; Rom. 6:3-5, 17-18; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:12; Tit. 3:5; Heb. 10:22.
     3 See Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46; John 3:21; 7:17; 8:12, 51; 14:15, 21-24; 15:10-14; Rom. 1:5; 5:19; 6:16-18; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 2 Cor. 7:15; 10:5, 6; Gal. 5:6; 1 Thess. 1:8; Philem. 21; Heb. 5:8-9; Jas. 2:14-26; 1 John 2:3-5; cf. Rom. 10:16; Phil. 2:12.



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