The 34-page internet document, "Are Unbaptized Believers Lost?" found in Grace-Centered Magazine, seeks to remove obedience from GodŐs justification of us so that it can be by "faith alone." Having already examined the errors in its Introduction, we now proceed to the first chapter, "The Foundational Truth," which is actually "The Fundamental Error of Calvinism."
The anonymous author of this document relies upon the book of Romans to make his case, and while he does state some truths in giving his argument, his applications and conclusions are false. To be sure, Abraham was not justified by the laws of men or the Law of Moses, but Anonymous goes beyond that, insisting that "God justified him apart from the very commands [law] that God had given him" (3). Part of this contention is that God justified Abraham by faith "before he could obey" God's commands. Really? How can someone be justified by faith when the very definition of faith requires a demonstration of obedience (Heb. 11)?
While Paul does teach in Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by faith before circumcision, which makes him the father of all the faithful (Jew and Gentile), this fact does not establish that obedience is not part of faith. It only shows that Abraham was faithful prior to being circumcised, which is the point that needed to be made to Judaizing teachers, who were advocating that Gentiles who became Christians had to practice circumcision, also. Christians do not need to obey either the Law of Moses or practice circumcision, a sign of the covenant made with Abraham; Gentiles are not Abraham's physical seed, but his spiritual offspring.
In Romans 4:3, Paul asks, "For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." The apostle is citing Genesis 15:6. It might be helpful to get the context of this passage before us--something Anonymous failed to do.
God called Abraham twice. Stephen preached that, before they dwelt in Haran, God told Abraham to leave the land of the Chaldeans (Acts 7:2-4). Genesis 12:1-5 records GodŐs calling of Abraham out of Haran; at that time they journeyed from Haran to Caanan. In other words, when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, they traveled to the top of the fertile crescent and dwelt awhile in Haran. Later, God called Abraham a second time, and he moved from Haran to Canaan. These two actions alone required great faith on the part of Abraham. We know that he believed God because he obeyed Him. The writer of Hebrews (whom many think is Paul) even commented on this fact:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going (Heb. 11:8).Anonymous did not see fit to mention this fact in his 34 pages of material. In his efforts to prove that we are made righteous without and apart from obedience, he "overlooked" the fact that his prime example, Abraham, is described in the Holy Scriptures as having obeyed God long before the conversation in Genesis 15.
In this chapter Abraham questions God as the means by which he will be blessed (and inherit the promises of Genesis 12:1-3), "seeing I go childless" (Gen. 15:6). God told Abraham to count the number of stars in the heavens, and assured him, "So shall your descendants be" (v. 5). "And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (v. 6), which is quoted in Romans 4:3.
While it is the case that this particular exchange does not involve a specific act of obedience, it is not as though it is the first time that God and Abraham had met. They already had established a relationship; it is obvious that Abraham had lovingly obeyed God previously. Because of his human limitations (and not being privy to God's timetable), he expressed doubt as to the fulfillment of the promise of children. God reassures him that his descendants will be as the stars of the heavens, and Abraham is satisfied. He believed His Word and would continue to follow Him, as he already had. Now how is this event supposed to prove that we are made righteous apart from obedience?
First of all, what is in the heart is subject to change--and swiftly. Remember the two sons who were asked to work in their father's field? The first one refused to go but later changed his mind. The second one readily agreed to work but did not (Matt. 21:28-31). The fact is that, as human beings, we are often inconsistent. We frequently have conflicting thoughts and emotions. One minute we can resolve inwardly to pursue one course of action and the next decide to move in the opposite direction. How many are plagued with the desire to be worldly almost at the same time they resolve to stand for the Lord?
More important, however, is that acts of obedience are always prescribed in the Scriptures with respect to salvation rather than a command to have good intentions. Peter on the day of Pentecost, for example, when asked by the crowd what they should do, did not say, "Brethren, I see that your intentions are good, and God has already saved you, justified you, and made you righteous without a single act of obedience on your part." Why did he tell them to be baptized for the remission of sins--instead of telling them God had seen the faith in their hearts and already saved them. Good intentions are not the basis for salvation.
When the eunuch asked, "What hinders me from being baptized?" Philip did not reply, "You obviously believe already in your heart, and God has saved you; what is all this emphasis on baptism, as though it were important?"
Ananias did not come to Saul and say, "God has seldom seen such good, sincere intentions. He has already made you righteous." If God acted on the basis of faith in the heart, then actions would be superfluous. We can imagine Ananias saying to Saul, "You're already saved but arise and be baptized--even though such a gesture is totally meaningless."
The question here is, "Did God determine to save mankind on the basis of intentions or when our faith moves us to repent of sins, publicly confess the Deity of Jesus, and willingly allow ourselves to be buried into His death" (Rom. 6:3-5)? If it is on the basis of intentions, why does not a single case of conversion demonstrate that hypothesis?
If the blood of Christ is not applied to our sins in baptism, why do the Scriptures imply that fact (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5)? Why are sins said to be washed away WHEN people are baptized--if they are instead removed on the basis of good intentions? How many gospels are there? Does Paul not advocate that there is one true Gospel and that anyone who preaches a different "gospel" should be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9)? How then can two methods of salvation exist (one based on good intentions and one culminating in baptism for the remission of sins)?
Seemingly, the author of this 34-page document must be very close to the Lord to make such incredible statements as: "Salvation is ours when we promptly obey and ours when we sluggishly obey" (10). How else can he know how God views reluctant obedience except he be His confidant? Now the three thousand were baptized on Pentecost, the same day that Peter preached to them (Acts 2:38-41). The eunuch would not wait until getting back to civilization to be baptized (Acts 8:35-39). The Philippian jailer was baptized in the middle of the night. How is it that all these concluded they should obey promptly, rather than sluggishly? Could it be that they knew they were lost and wanted to be saved immediately? Anonymous is not a friend to anyone--except possibly Satan.
If it is all the same to God whether we obey promptly or sluggishly, can it matter if we obey at all? If things delay us for a few days or a few months, why not a few years or even a lifetime? After all, God has already made us righteous. Some of us are just not much on details. We forget birthdays and anniversaries, filing our tax returns on time, being baptized. Faith is the important thing, right? Try telling the IRS about those "good intentions"!
Does Anonymous think we should obey God by being baptized? Yes--but not for God's benefit. He thinks that it is an outward sign of our inward faith (8-9). (It is too bad that Anonymous has been studying Baptist theologians rather than the Scriptures.) In other words, being baptized is only for our benefit--"an outward sign that we can see and take comfort in" (9). It constitutes proof for us that God has saved us. By this logic Naaman was already cleansed before he obeyed the Word of God. He just had to dip in the Jordan River to prove to himself and everyone else that God had already cleansed him. Who can believe it?
Anonymous admits that everyone in the New Testament was baptized immediately and that therefore the subject of postponed baptisms is not addressed. This observation is one of the few he offers that is correct, but he draws the wrong conclusion from it. One might think that what we learn from all these examples is that baptism is so important that people did not want to delay any amount of time at all before being baptized because they understood it as crucial to their salvation. Instead, he misses the point altogether and draws the exact opposite conclusion that baptism is not essential to salvation if faith is present (ignoring the point that faith which does not act is not really faith).
How ironic that someone who begins by refusing to abide by what the Bible implies spends most of his time wandering around in the realm of Implication (which in his case is really the realm of Unwarranted Inference)! He says he once believed that one must add to his faith repentance, and to that confession, followed by baptism in order to be saved (12). (At that time he had correctly reasoned from the Scriptures.)
If he believed those things, then he also probably used the similarity of Acts 22:16 and Revelation 1:5 to demonstrate that sins are washed away by the blood of Christ when a person is baptized, since both the blood of Christ and the waters of baptism are said to wash away sins. So why does he not reference Revelation 1:5 anywhere in his study? Furthermore, he undoubtedly had noticed and taught that Peter uses the identical phrase in Acts 2:38 that Jesus used in Matthew 26:28. Jesus said in that verse: "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Tying that blood to baptism, Peter said, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." Jesus died to provide remission of sins to us; we repent (first) and are baptized to obtain that remission of sins. How can baptism be just important instead of vital? Why does Anonymous ignore the Truth taught in these passages, when he is surely familiar with them?
All of these acts of obedience (repentance, confession, baptism) are not commanded "so that God would save us," but are to be done because God has already saved us and wants them done (13). Notice the end run around Acts 2:38, which Anonymous claimed to believe. Instead of agreeing with what the inspired apostle said, he rewrites it to read, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized--not to be saved--but because you are already saved." Is this revision not an example of which Peter also warned of when he wrote the ones "who are untaught and unstable" twisting the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16)?
These arguments comprise nothing new or original; they do not rise above the information provided by a first-level theology course at any Baptist seminary. Anonymous argues rather ineffectively that confession and repentance are also associated with salvation and that therefore they, along with baptism, are merely individual acts of obedience which should be carried out, but not in any particular order. He knows better than to make such shallow and meaningless statements. For generations, believers have seen how all of these things fit together, yet he seeks to disassociate them.
The approach taken by Anonymous is to take one text, Romans 3-4, as "the foundational truth" and then make every other passage of Scripture subservient to it. This tactic might work, had Paul prefaced these two chapters by saying, "Here is the foundational truth of the New Testament," which of course he did not do. Furthermore, we have already shown that he misunderstands the text anyway. Abraham was not justified before he did anything (he had left Ur and Haran), he was only justified before circumcision, a fact which Paul cites to defeat the teachings of the Judaizing teachers. Anonymous reinterprets the entire New Testament according to his erroneous interpretation of Romans 3-4. For him, error has replaced truth.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "GRACE CENTERED MAGAZINE--THE UNBAPTIZED (PART 3)" (02/02/03)."