This will be my 3rd entry in this debate.
I feared that a written debate would cause Jacob and I to talk past each other. Unfortunately, that is a weakness of this format. It is important for the reader to realize that Jacob and I have never spoken, passed questions, agreed on terms, etc. I hope eventually this written debate will evolve into an oral debate at a place of Jacob's choosing.
First, let me state that I am thankful that Jacob is willing to present his position on this very important subject. I appreciate the fact that he has a respect for God's word and sees it as the inerrant word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). I certainly agree with him on that matter for sure. Therefore, it is imperative that we both listen carefully and adhere completely to the will of God (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46). Someone must change their position or choose to displease God. Again, both positions are not correct.
Jacob hates the practice of the “Sinner's Prayer” which I also hate. Why? Because its practice is foreign to the inerrant word of God. So, to proclaim it or practice it results in one doing something outside the will of God. No one in the New Testament ever received salvation by merely saying a prayer. In fact, arguments could be made to show that God does not listen to the prayers of the unredeemed.
I am also thankful to anyone who is carefully reading this debate. A carefully orchestrated debate is a means of Bible study. Each and everyone of us has the obligation to study the word of God and mine out its truths. Paul wrote, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:17 ESV).” Also, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Mat 7:21).”
Baptism is important because God made it part of His plan for saving man. Who is willing to argue or debate with God? Naaman argued with God's messenger about being baptized seven times in the dirty Jordan River. However, it was not until he complied with the will of God that he was set free from the horrible, disfiguring disease of leprosy.
God commanded John the Baptizer to go preach and baptize and that is exactly what he did (Luke 3:2-3). In the “Great Commission”, Jesus commanded the Apostles to go into all the world and preach it (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16); and that is exactly what they did.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus instructed the Apostles to begin in Jerusalem then go to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world. They obeyed their Lord by taking the Gospel to those places. They took the Gospel to Jerusalem (Acts 2:38); Judea (3:19); Samaria (8:1ff); and the World (18:8). Later, the Apostle Paul indicated the Gospel had been preached throughout the world (Col. 1:23).
Baptism was part of the proclamation of the Gospel and it was an urgent matter. Urgent is defined as “requiring immediate action or attention”. Why is baptism urgent? Because prior to baptism the individual:
- Had Not Received The Remission of Sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16)
- Had Not Put On Christ (Gal. 3:27)
- Was Not “In Christ” (Rom. 6:23)
- Was Condemned (Rom. 8:1)
- Was Not A Child of God or Christian (Acts 11:26, 26:28)
- Had Not Received The Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 5:32; Eph. 1:13-14).
- Had Not Received All Spiritual Blessings (Eph. 1:3ff).
- Was not “in” or into the Godhead (Matt. 28:18-20)
Jacob Misuses 1 Corinthians 1:17Jacob, like many others, has misused 1 Cor. 1:17 in an attempt to reduce the importance of baptism. It is ironic that he uses that passage to diminish baptism but throughout his rebuttal he states again and again that baptism must be done to obey God. Failure to do so is to disobey God. He even stated that one's failure to be immersed might call into question that individual's justification/salvation. He gave several illustrations (mechanic, dog, monk) and then wrote, “...we have good reason to question a person’s justification if they refuse to submit to the plain teaching of Christ and refuse to be baptized.” Why would the Apostle Paul create doubt in the minds of so many “divided” Christians? Jacob, are you suggesting even for a moment that Paul was diminishing “obedience to God”? You can't have it both ways.
Context is absolutely essential in understanding the meaning of a particular verse. First, Paul is addressing Christians and not the world - “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints...” (1 Cor. 1:2). He is addressing individuals that had already been immersed (Acts 18:8) and made up the local church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2).
The context reveals that there is division in the church (1:10) due to several issues which are dealt with throughout the 16-chapter epistle. There were individuals that were elevating themselves based on who they knew, etc (1:12). Paul is thankful that he only immersed a few because it may have caused some to “think more highly of themselves” (Rom. 12:3) and place themselves above others. Recall this sense of superiority is dealt with throughout the book of Corinthians.
Today, in foreign lands, missionaries will often allow the local people to immerse there own for this very reason. Otherwise someone might say, “I was immersed by an American” possibly suggesting his baptism or position was superior to his peers. I suspect this is also the reason Jesus did not physically immerse anyone (John 4:2). People today get excited and even braggadocio if they know someone who knows a famous actor like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. Imagine, if someone could actually claim they had been immersed by Jesus himself?
Others will travel to the Jordan River thinking an immersion there is superior to any other body of water. The Bible places no emphasis on the body of water chosen or the individual doing the immersing. I emphasis that because many have falsely suggested that those in churches of Christ teach that one must be immersed in their buildings and by their preachers. That is simply not true and has been used to prejudice one against churches of Christ.
Paul himself was immersed (Rom. 6:4; Acts 9:18) Ananias told him, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name (Act 22:16).” Isn't it interesting that Paul recounts his conversion mentioning the fact that he was immersed? Why would he mention something that was supposedly unimportant and unnecessary? He is giving his defense for his life and he decides to talk about baptism. Why even mention baptism if it is unnecessary and unimportant according to your understanding of 1 Cor. 1:17?
In addition, Paul baptized other individuals. In 1 Cor. 1:14 he mentioned that he had immersed Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. Paul also regularly wrote to Christians on the subject of baptism to express its importance and meaning (Rom. 6:1-18; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 2:11-13 & 3:1; Eph. 4:5). Remember, in Paul's epistles he is addressing individuals who have already been immersed. I continue to be amazed at individuals who misuse 1 Cor. 1:17 in a very feeble attempt to disprove the necessity of baptism. A gross misuse of this passage indicates one's incredible bias in my estimation.
Jacob Misquotes Me...
In the third paragraph of Jacob's 1st rebuttal he states, “ But our disagreement is what brings about “justification”. James says very clearly that one is justified by water baptism”. That statement is a misquote or a misunderstanding. I have never stated that one is justified BY WATER BAPTISM. I do not teach or preach that there is something in the water or the water does something to the individual. The inerrant word of God states,”Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9; c.f. Rom. 1:18).” Justification is from God and is made available through the perfect, precious blood of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:20; Rev. 1:5, etc.). There is nothing magical in the water of the baptism of the “Great Commission” just like there was nothing magical in the water of Naaman's healing (2 Kings 5:1ff).
Jacob then quotes Romans 3:21-31 and then states, “Verse 26 says that God is the justifier of who? The person who gets baptized? NO. The person who has faith in Jesus.” This seems to be the major issue in Jacob's misunderstanding. Each time he sees the word “faith” his mind automatically thinks “faith only”. However, those words are not used EVER in reference to one's salvation. In my first rebuttal I challenged you to find reference to “faith only” in the Scriptures. It will be interesting to see if you have found one passage that teaches one is saved or justified by faith only or faith alone.
Also, please remember that if you conclude “faith only” you are negating everything else that God requires like repentance, confession, and love. Remember, while the inerrant word of God tells us other things one must do to be saved; there is no passage telling us that “faith alone” saves.
One of the key words in the book of Romans is righteousness and justification. It is the same word in the Koine Greek. Clearly, justification comes through faith but not “faith only”. In fact, notice several other times in Scripture where the word justification or justified is used:
- Justified by His Grace & Made Heirs (Titus 3:7; Rom. 3:24)
- Justified by faith (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:8, 24)
- Justified by Christ (Gal. 2:17)
- Justified by Blood (Rom. 5:9)
- Called, Justified and Glorified (Rom. 8:30)
- Justified from sin (Rom. 6:7)
- Washed, sanctified, justified (1 Cor. 6:11)
- Heathen justified through faith (Gal. 3:8)
- Justified by works (James 2:21)
Jacob, your position in this debate is that one is saved at the moment of his faith. The moment he believes in Jesus? What exactly does he have to believe in order to be saved? Does he need to believe in His virgin birth, His perfect life, or His qualified death? Are you suggesting that at the moment he believes facts about Jesus his sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus? Is it just mental assent (agreement) that causes one to make him justified?
You have continued to state that it is faith alone or as you concluded in your last rebuttal “faith alone in Christ alone”. Yet, you have yet to produce one single passage that says one is saved by “faith alone” or “faith only”. So, your position teaches that repentance and confession is unnecessary to one's salvation. Yet, God's word says that repentance and confession are necessary for one coming to Christ. Now, remember, you claimed that you believed in the word of God as inerrant – right? So is it “faith only” or is it faith + repentance + confession?
In John 8:31-32, the Holy Spirit wrote, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Greek word used for believed is pisteuo indicating they had confidence, trust in Him. Would you suggest that those Jews were saved? They had obviously indicated faith in Jesus. However, by the end of the chapter they have picked up stones to stone Him (8:59).
Similarly, in John 12:42, inspiration again writes, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue (John 12:42).” Again, the same Greek word pisteuo is used to describe the position of the rulers. According to your position “faith alone in Christ alone” they were right with God but they refused to confess the Lord. Recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
How about Nicodemus? He sheepishly came to the Lord at night. The Holy Spirit recorded, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.'" Obviously Nicodemus was a believer – right? He had seen the incredible miracles of Jesus and recognized that He had come from God (John 20:30-31). Yet, despite his faith, Jesus who knew his heart (2:24-25) quickly exclaimed - “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3 ).”
Obviously, these individuals were not right with God. Remember John 1:12-13, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
1. Jacob wrote - “Abraham, the biblical example, is counted righteous not on account of his deeds but because of his faith. He believed God’s promise and he was justified by faith.” Yet James, the half brother of the Lord, wrote, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"--and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:2124).”
2. Jacob wrote - “In fact the notion of baptism is not ever tied to the concept of justification ever, even once, in the New Testament.” That is a false statement. Justification is tied to blood (Rom. 5:9). Blood was shed for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:14; Col. 1:20; Rom. 1:5, etc). In Romans 6:7 in the very context of the one baptism, “for he that hath died is justified from sin”. The one who died had been cleared of sin. Hence baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38) and is part of the justification of God.
3. Jacob wrote, “So the Bible is emphatic in stating that it is not what we do that brings about justification, not baptism or any other work, but justification is simply applied to us by faith.” It always boggles my mind when people say – “there is nothing you do” yet then turn around and say - “you have to have faith”. Does faith come by osmosis? Do you believe in Universal Salvation? The Scriptures teach that faith comes by hearing the word of God. Some instantly hear, inquire and obey (Acts 2:37-41); others may take time as they study (Acts 17:11). Do you realize belief is a work (John 6:28-29)? Repentance is required (Acts 2:38) and it too is a work (Jonah 3:10).
4. Jacob wrote, “The Churches of Christ are correct when they point out that eis can sometimes express aim or purpose. If Luke intended that usage, then this passage would teach that baptism is necessary to receive forgiveness of sins.” I would like to make several points about Jacob's assumption here and it is a huge assumption. In fact, I would suggest the only reason he takes this position is because he has to; otherwise, as he clearly states, his position would be incorrect and baptism would be necessary for salvation.
- Jacob states that if EIS means FOR in Acts 2:38 then his position is false.
- Jacob indicates that EIS can be used to indicate the basis or ground of something.
- Jacob suggests A.T. Robertson has found 3x in the NT
- Jacob concludes - “Acts 2:38 can mean that one is baptized because his or her sins have already been forgiven. Acts 2:38 does not prove the necessity of water baptism for salvation.”
The word “EIS” is found over 1,700x in the Greek New Testament? Jacob turns to A.T. Robertson who claims he has found 3x in which the meaning might be the basis or ground of something? So, 3 out of 1,773 times convinces you that Acts 2:38 and Mark 1:4 also mean “the basis” or “ground of something”. Are you willing to risk your own soul and the souls of others based on 3/1773. Have you studied other scholars?So, you are suggesting the following:
- Mark 1:4 - “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” You say, it should be translated or mean - “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance because of forgiveness of sins.” So, they were immersed in water because they ALREADY had their sins forgiven. Does that even make sense?
- Acts 2:38 - And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” You say it should be translated or mean -“And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Does that even make sense?
- Mark 1:4 - John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for (eis, 1519) the remission (859) of sins (266).”
- Acts 2:38 - “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for (eis, 1519) the remission (859) of sins (266).”
Jacob has concluded that the two verses above really mean “because of” and not simply for or unto. Yet, neither one make any sense in the context in which they are housed. How about this almost identical verse?
- Matthew 26:28 - “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for (eis, 1519) the remission (859) of sins (266).”
Should that verses be translated “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many because of the forgiveness of sins”? Are you suggesting that the blood of Christ was shed because sins had already been forgiven? It does not make sense.In addition, you have serious issues messing around with Act 2:38. A lot of your problems will begin with the conjunction - AND. Repentance and baptism are tied together by it. So, are you suggesting that both repentance and baptism come after the remission of sins? Despite these very obvious problems you wrote that both meanings are legitimate. That is not legitimate at all.
I found it ironic in that you suggested one decide which meaning to use by considering “the greater context of the New Testaments teaching about salvation”. You will consider the greater context of the New Testament but will not consider the greater meaning of EIS as spread throughout the Bible (i.e. for = for). Out of the 1,773 times that the word is used I do not know of one time it is translated “because of”.
Wayne Jackson, in his excellent commentary on Acts, wrote, “A.T. Robertson, a Baptist – who had no difficulty in ascertaining that eis signified “purpose” in Matthew 26:28 – noted that the matter is one of 'endless controversy,' and so he sought to find a view consistent with his Baptist theology. He suggested that “because of” could be a meaning for eis. However, the great scholar revealed more than he intended when he, in his massive Historical Grammar, asserted (regarding eis in 2:38), that sometimes grammar must give way to theology (1919, 389).”1 It seems Jacob has done the exact same thing.
Again, in Jackson's commentary, he records that Thayer states it means “to obtain the forgiveness of sins” and Ardnt & Gingrich states that it means “so that sins might be forgiven. It is amazing what people will do to twist God's word to make it read like they want to read it.2 Again, as I stated earlier, some linguistic gymnastics will need to be performed on Acts 2:38 to make it fit.
Jacob then draws the conclusion that Mark 16:15-16 is not in the sacred text. That would be typical since he believes baptism is unnecessary in God's plan for salvation. Like “for” in Acts 2:38, it completely destroys his position of “faith only”.
He states that scholars universally believe its not there but in every copy of the New Testament I have seen; its there. Despite his unbelief in its reality, he shares his thoughts on the “false” passage stating that non-belief is the basis of condemnation. Again, the force of the Greek says otherwise. Also, note that an individual who does not believe will never be baptized. If I am a terrible, dishonest salesman then an individual's lack of faith in me will result in him not purchasing a car from me. I will not dwell on this passage since he concludes that it is non-existent. According to him, it is not part of the inerrant word of God.
Jacob goes on to suggest that baptism is a work. I have always wondered why an individual believes it is a work. Is it because a person physically gets up and is immersed? Is that why its called a work? The Bible describes at least 2 types of works. Belief is a work (John 6:28-29). I wonder why belief is not recognized as such especially since it often takes individuals time of study and research before choosing to become a child of God (Rom. 10:17; Acts 17:11). Also, repentance is a work (Jonah 3:10; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Baptism is actually part of the “working of God” (Col. 2:11-12).
1 Jackson, Wayne. (2005), The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome (Stockton: Christian Courier Publications. Pg. 28
2 Jackson, Wayne. (2005), The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome (Stockton: Christian Courier Publications. Pg. 27.
Jacob, please answer these True/False (T/F) questions and send them through Mr. Cade before next Sunday. Thank you!
T/F God's word contradicts itself.
T/F The Apostles were guided into All Truth
T/F Today, there is only one baptism
T/F Baptism places one into the Lord's church.
T/F The 3,000 in Acts 2, were saved when they were “cut to the heart” or before.
T/F One must hear or read the word of God before being salvation is ever possible.
T/F Preaching Jesus also includes preaching baptism.
T/F Saul was saved prior to being baptized.
T/F The Philippian Jailer Was Saved Before Baptism.
T/F Acts 19 speaks of some disciples whose baptism was invalid.
T/F The baptism in Romans 6 is the baptism identified in Matt. 28:18-20.
T/F Upon rising from the baptism in Romans 6, one has newness of life.
T/F Must one obey the Gospel to be saved.
T/F One puts on Christ by Faith Only.
T/F Colossians 2:12 describes the one baptism (Eph. 4:5)
T/F Naaman had leprosy removed by faith only.
T/F Baptism places one into the Baptist church.
T/F Repentance from sin is unnecessary to be saved.
T/F The Galatians became Christians Through Faith Only (Gal. 3:26)
T/F One is baptized into the One body (1 Cor. 12:13)
Second Rebuttal: Jacob Allee
James starts off his first rebuttal challenging us to find a passage that uses the term “faith alone.” This however is a fallacious argument, especially coming from someone whom I would assume accepts the doctrine of the Trinity? Just because a specific word or phrase isn’t said “just so” in the Bible doesn’t meant that the Bible doesn’t clearly teach the concept itself. The Bible does of course constantly refrain that salvation is by faith and not by works (again, John 3:16; all of Romans 3 & 4 constantly and Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:8-9 just to name a drop in the bucket), but if you want it to say “faith alone”, then I guess you are right, the Bible doesn’t coin it in that exact phrase. The Bible also never says “baptism is necessary for salvation”. I challenge anyone to find that exact utterance in the Bible, and yet this is James’ position in the debate. So by his logic his own position is unbiblical because the exact wording is not found in the Bible. Obviously this is a bad argument, so let’s move past it.
James moves on to say that “Faith is the initial ingredient that leads one to do what God requires him to do.” So then faith is just the first step towards salvation in James’ model. He then refers to Naaman and his cleansing from leprosy by washing in the water, but this is irrelevant to our discussion because Naaman was washing to be physically healed. God may require someone to do something to be healed physically, a work of some sort, but he doesn’t ask us to do works for our salvation, so this is a red herring and a misuse of examples. He mentions again Acts 2:38, which I dealt with in my first rebuttal and I still stand by what was said there, I will have a bit more to say about that in a minute. Then James gives us a reference to Galatians 3 stating “Notice “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3:26-27 ).” Does one “put on Christ” before or after baptism?
Now here James exposes a false assumption, namely, that this passage refers to water baptism. This passage actually does not refer to water baptism but to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Just as John the Baptist said “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”(Mark 1:8). It is a mistake to come to a passage that has the word baptism and simply assume that it is referring to water baptism and it is interesting that John contrasts his baptism with water with the more important baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 1:13-14 the Scripture states “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” So then we are sealed into salvation by the Holy Spirit when we believe the gospel message. Notice baptism with water is nowhere in view here.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 strengthens this position that baptism is not always a reference to water baptism but at times it is a reference to the baptism of the Spirit of God. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” This Spirit baptism, that which unites us as one spiritual body of Christ, is not a baptism of water but it is the Spirit indwelling and sealing us into our salvation, uniting us with Christ by faith. This Spirit baptism is that application of Christ’s life, death and resurrection to our soul that saves us. Water baptism then is a work of obedience that is a symbolic expression of what Christ as already done for us. Water baptism is a public declaration of our faith in Jesus and an act of obedience to Christ our Lord and already Savior.
And if it is not clear enough already that baptism in the New Testament sometimes refers to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit rather than water baptism and that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit which happens at the moment of faith which saves us, then everyone ought to find this truth irrefutable in Acts 10:34-48:
“34So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." 44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”
So then, I ask you, did God give the Holy Spirit to unsaved people? Would these who believed and were baptized by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus have been lost to eternal Hell if they had a heart attack on the way to the river? Certainly not! In Acts 11 Peter recounts this experience at the Jerusalem council explaining to everyone how God had extended salvation to the Gentiles stating:
15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?" 18When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."
It is the receiving of the Holy Spirit, baptism of the Spirit, which occurs at the moment of faith that applies the finished work of Jesus to our lives. It is unthinkable to imagine God granting His Holy Spirit to someone who was not yet saved and yet, logically, this would have to be the case if James’ understanding of salvation by “water baptism” is correct. However when we realize that at times the New Testament is referring to water baptism, and at times it is referring to Spirit baptism, and we are clear on which is which, we see that baptism of the Spirit is the baptism that actually “seals” us into salvation (Eph. 1:13-14) and that is an experience that occurs apart from water baptism. The Spirit of God did not always manifest Himself through the gift of tongues at the moment of salvation as He did in Joppa, and we recognize that in some instances He manifests himself after water baptism in the book of Acts too, but in the case of Peter speaking to the Gentiles at Joppa God’s Spirit did indeed manifest Himself through the gift of tongues and this was prior to water baptism which means that salvation occurs apart from water baptism.
James continues on in his rebuttal stating “The fact that God expects other things in view of salvation negates a “faith only”position. Does God expect an individual to repent (metanoeo)?” Well, yes, God does expect people to repent. But then what is repentance and how is it used in the New Testament? The already stated Greek word “matanoeo” which we translate as “repent” literally means to change ones mind. People often use the word wrongly and think that repentance means “change of action” but this is not so. To repent is to change your mind about things, which inevitably will lead to a change of actions, but those actions are a result of repentance and not repentance itself, hence John the Baptist’s exhortation to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Acts 3:8). A person who has truly repented (changed their mind) will act differently because their thinking has changed. In the New Testament repentance is used in conjunction with the idea of faith or belief because what the Lord Jesus and his apostles are urging people to do is “repent” or “change their mind about their sin” and believe in the Lord Jesus. So then is repentance a part of salvation? Yes, but only insofar as it is impossible to separate repentance and faith! In other words, in order to believe the gospel one has to change their mind about the life they are living and trust in Jesus. Repentance is a necessary part of what it means to believe then and coincides with salvation by faith. To make repentance and faith a separate concept is mistaken because they both necessarily entail the other.
Repentance and faith, however, are not works. They aren’t tasks to be accomplished like baptism or any other command that requires effort of will and action to obey, rather, these are mental responses and/or inward commitments that one makes when presented with the gospel of Jesus Christ. One simply hears the message of the gospel and either believes it (changing their mind about what they have believed previously) or rejects it, but these are nor works and they are inseparable from one another. Repentance and faith are like the opposite sides of the same coin and should not/cannot be separated from one another. If a person repents it is because they believe, if they believe it necessarily entails repentance.
James’ also asks “is confession necessary”? Well, confession is something that will be a part of a true believers life and therefore will always be present among those who are saved, but it is not necessary as in it brings about justification. It is a fruit of justification. But here it might be helpful to note that the New Testament also clearly delineates between saving faith and non-saving faith. In other words, the words “faith” and/or “belief” can be used in more than one way. There are those who believe in the sense that they merely think something is factually true and then there are those who believe something to the point that it changes their action. This is the subject that James (the Lord’s half brother) deals with in his epistle. In James 2:19 He notes that “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Obviously the demons are not expressing saving faith in God, they simply recognize God for who he is, but there is a major difference in believing something factually and believing something in the sense that you trust in it and it then changes how you behave. A person who believes/trust in Christ for salvation will indeed confess him as their Lord, but again confession is a fruit of saving faith not something that brings about salvation. Romans 10:10 is brought up which states “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” But see that it states clearly that when one believes they are justified. Are we to think that justification by faith and being saved by confession are different? Can a person be justified but not saved? That is a contradictory idea. Is it not better to understand that those who believe and are justified will confess and thereby identify themselves among the saved? I think this is more on course with the New Testaments teaching in general.
James (my debate opponent not the epistle writer) continues his rebuttal with the following:
He then quotes Ephesians 2:8-10. The passage quoted is a beautiful passage but it does not teach “faith only”. It is true that we have been saved by God's grace. God's grace is free and available to each and every person; however, an individual acquires it by passing through the channels of faith. It is interesting this passage is found in a letter to the church that had controversy concerning baptism in its origin. (Acts 19:1ff, c.f. 18:24ff). In fact, they had been taught incorrectly and baptized incorrectly. John's baptism was no longer valid (Eph. 4:5).
First of all I want to deal with the idea James presents stating that God’s grace is “free” and yet he also states “an individual acquires it by passing through the channels of faith”. How can it be both free and something we have to get for ourselves by doing works? I mean “passing through the channels of faith” is simply a coded way of saying “we have got to do things ourselves if we are going to be saved” is it not? And yet Paul specifically addresses such a notion in Romans 4:4-5 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Grace, by definition, is the unmerited favor of God. It is God giving us something good that we don’t deserve. But by James’ view of salvation grace can hardly be said to be “unmerited” unless we change the definition of the word “merit” to exclude all of the works that James thinks we have to do to receive God’s grace!
James’ discussion of problems in the church at Ephesus is misguided and anachronistic. What I mean to say is the church that is being addressed in the epistle of Ephesians by Paul could hardly be said to have really been established when Apollos was preaching. Furthermore, no one had been taught incorrectly, but simply they lacked the whole of the teaching they needed. Just as only knowing how to solve the first part of a complex math problem doesn’t mean what you have been taught is wrong but only that you need more information to solve the entire problem. In fact the Bible actually says in Acts 18:24-25 “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” So then the Scripture, in reality, praises Apollos and simply tells us that he didn’t know about Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 28:18-20). But he is said to have “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” But if James is right, again, Apollos was an unsaved man telling people accurately about Jesus? This doesn’t make much sense. Apollos needed to know some things he didn’t but he was a believer who was faithfully preaching the gospel.
James asks “Acquiring faith, is that something a person must do before they can receive the free gift of God?” But actually according to Ephesians 2:8-9 grace, faith and salvation are all a gift from God, so it is not something that we ourselves produce ourselves but something that God works in us.
James says “Prior to leaving Earth, Jesus commanded immersion” and then asks me “Are you going to deny that?” Well, no James I’m not. Why would I deny that? I am a “Baptist” after all. James seems to have difficulty with the idea that Baptism is a command of our Lord Jesus but not necessary for salvation. He says it “does not make any sense” to say it is command but not necessary for salvation. But the fact that Jesus commanded Baptism doesn’t mean it is a requirement for salvation. If we have to perfectly fulfill all of the commands of Jesus for salvation then we might as well resign to an eternity in Hell now because Jesus commanded "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). I don’t know about you, but I fail to always love God with all my heart, soul and strength and I definitely am not always loving my neighbor as myself. Or how about Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How are you doing on your perfection lately? I am a ways off from it myself.
So then the argument that because Jesus commands something it must then be obeyed without fail in order to bring about our salvation is actually quite untrue unless Jesus’ whole point in His coming was to make sure we all know that there is no chance anyone will ever be saved! But no, thank God, Jesus came to fulfill the law and commands of God on our behalf so that by faith in Him His righteousness might be imputed to us and we might be justified before God. I am so thankful that I am not burdened to accomplish all of this for myself but that Jesus, my Lord and Savior, accomplished these things for me. And now I join Paul in crying out “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
James brings up the passage in 1 Peter 3:18-22 and I would like to address it here. The passage in context reads:
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
And yet it is important to read this in light of Hebrews 11:7 which says “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” So then I ask you to decide for yourself, what saved Noah? Was it the water? Or was it the ark which Noah constructed in faith, believing that what God said was true and that there would be a flood? You see the water washed away the evil people in the world, cleansing the earth. But it was the faith of Noah which led him to build the ark which was the vessel that actually saved him and his family. So just as Noah was brought safely through the water which was a result of his faith, so we who believing in Christ submit to water baptism as an appeal to God for a good conscience, that is, when we obey God’s commands our consciences are clear and we know that we are in Him by faith. Salvation is by faith, but obedience is the fruit of the redeemed and we should be able to look at our lives and know we are truly saved because our life is bearing fruit keeping with faith/repentance.
Now, back to Acts 2:38, James says “Those against baptism at this point will want to do something to the words here to try and make it say what they want it to say. Yet they have been proved to be incorrect each and every time.” Well I encourage you to read my first rebuttal and the discussion of the Greek word “eis” because this is not just word twisting it is simply reality. The word can be understood to be the ground/reason for something or the cause of something and it depends on the context which translation of the word is appropriate. Acts 2:38 can legitimately be translated as “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” or “repent and be baptized because of the remission of sins.” I quoted A.T. Robertson who was one of the most respected Greek scholars of the last century, not some backwoods 1st year bible student. So, James, if you want to dismiss my point I suggest putting forth an actual argument rather than just making a claim that people who are “against baptism” (which is a straw man characterization of my view since I am actually for people being baptized), “do something to the words here to try and make it say what they want it to say.” Perhaps you might demonstrate how people like myself have been proven wrong “each and every time”? The reality is that I am not twisting anything but that the Greek word “eis” can really mean either of the above and so we have to be good Bible students to determine what the author originally intended. And since the Scripture without fail points to faith as the trigger of our justification and never baptism I suggest that “eis” is better understood as “because of” and that Baptism is something we do because Christ has already forgiven our sins.
As far as the Ethiopian Eunuch is concerned, I am suggesting that he jumped at the opportunity to identify himself publicly as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth after he had trust in Christ for salvation. An often missed aspect of baptism these days is that in the first century water baptism was a very public way of identifying yourself as a follow of Jesus. Where there was a body of water there was usually other people and so getting baptized marked you as one of Jesus’ people and was a public testimony of your faith and salvation. So the Eunuch wasn’t in a hurry to get saved from being baptized in water, but he was in a hurry to publically proclaim his faith in Jesus in obedience to Christ’s command.
James mentions the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, but how ironic that he does for when the jailer asks "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" they respond "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Yes, indeed they do get baptized later on, but that is the fitting response of a person who has just been saved by faith. In fact we should expect to see true believers who are quick to obey the commands of Jesus.
In his opening statement and first rebuttal James seems to be suggesting (and I would love for him to correct me if I am misunderstanding him) that we have to keep all of Jesus’ command in order to attain salvation, something no one can actually do. Yet the Bible says, that Jesus perfectly obeyed God on our behalf so that we might be saved by His righteousness rather than our own.
In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says:
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees were exceedingly good at keeping the letter of the law and yet Jesus says that their own righteousness by their works of obedience was insufficient. Our righteousness has to exceed theirs if we have any hope. But who could do better than the Pharisees who painstakingly obeyed God’s commands? Only Jesus who perfectly obeyed without ever failing once. So I will never attain a righteousness through my own deeds that will make me right before God, but by faith in Jesus His perfect obedience and fulfillment of the law is applied to me. Romans 3:22 says it all when it tells us that we can have “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” I need his righteousness, not my own. It is a free gift to me offered by God’s grace which I do not deserve that is accepted by the gift of faith given by God.
By Faith Alone in Christ Alone,