In the first article we discussed salvation while technically free to mankind, it cost God his son and Jesus his life. In this article we will explore the fallacy promoted by evangelicals that salvation is “easy.”
Someone once said the surest way to tell if someone is an evangelical is to ask them if they admire Billy Graham. For this reason, we will again refer to him when considering our second myth.
Billy Graham like many evangelical preachers before him offered a gospel that was free and easy. I was offered the same gospel as a seventeen year old boy. I was told I did not have to give up my old way of life to be saved. That was something I would deal with after I was saved. Then, I would have the spiritual capacity to change. In truth, I “accepted Jesus into my life” and shortly after dedicated my life to him completely. Months later I would undergo baptism as a public declaration of my committment. My experience, however, is atypical and hardly the norm.
Myth # 2: Salvation is EASY
The biblical concept of salvation is difficult. It demands a repentant attitude followed by acts (fruit) of repentance as proof saving faith has been exercised. Baptism was also required as a visual representation of the spiritual cleaning that was taken place concurrently. An outward act of an inward grace.
This article will discuss the two key elements in the salvation process: Repentance and Baptism or a “baptism of repentance”(Lk. 3:3).
“To change one’s mind”
The above definition in a biblical context tells only half the story as we will see. While repentance is a change of mind, proof of the genuineness of repentance is a lifestyle change or “the fruit” of repentance.
It seems strange one has to defend the need for repentance to the very group, evangelicals, who profess a slavish devotion to a inerrancy and a literal rendering of the Bible. Furthermore, it seems logical one who truly understood the gospel would unquestionably be repentant. A laissez-faire attitude hardly seems appropriate considering the gravity of the cost and immensity of the gift.
John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance.
Note to Reader: All biblical text are NIV. Underlined and bold texts have been added for emphasis throughout article.
4”And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”(Mark 1:4, see also Mt. 3:2, Lk. 3:3)
Luke provides helpful information concerning repentance by describing some of the “fruit” true repentance generates.
7”John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”(Luke 3:7-14)
The parallel passage in Matthew also stresses the fruit of repentance.
7”But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.10”The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”(Matthew 3:7-10)
Jesus also preached the same message of repentance
14”After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”(Mark 1:14,15, see also Mt. 4:17)
Note: We learn from John’s gospel (3:22-4:2) baptism was as integral to Jesus as it was to John the Baptist’s ministry. It has been expunged from Christian tradition due to its conflict with “spirit baptism” which began at Pentecost. Hypothetically, John was offering forgiveness and physical deliverance from a wrath that never came. Christian baptism offered escape from physical death as well as everlasting life in the event of death. Neither John nor Jesus’ gospel contained the concept of “eternal life.” It was introduced by Jesus’ followers after the resurrection story.
17”On hearing this, Jesus said to them,“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”(Mark 2:17)
31”Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:32)
The absence of “to repentance” at the end of Mark’s text above, indicates in was assumed since Luke includes it. Lack of specific mention of repentance in other passages is not, as proponents of “repentance-free” salvation maintain, evidence it was not required. Rather repentance should be assumed when not included. Again, in Acts 10 Luke records the conversion of Cornelius with no mention of repentance. However, in the next chapter when recounting the event, he specifically mentions “repentance that leads to eternal life” (Acts 11:18, see full text below). The hermeneutic principle of analogy of faith maintains clear texts must be used to interpret unclear texts. We can deduce based on the sheer volume of references to repentance its integral role in the salvation process of the early church even though not mentioned in every passage.
The risen Jesus talking to his disciples prior to his ascension indicates the necessity of repentance.
46″He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”(Luke 24:46,47).
The repentance means faith argument
Obviously it is impossible to ignore the plethora of text calling for repentance for the forgiveness of sins, so evangelicals simply change the meaning of the word to fit their methodology.
There are those evangelicals who argue repentance does not mean repentance but simply faith such as “repent and believe” in Mark 1:15 above making the two terms synonymous. Why are some evangelicals so desperate to reduce repentance to mere faith?
To answer this question we must speculate it has something to do with making salvation as easy as possible to stress the “faith alone” not “faith plus repentance” idea. Also, contained in this view is not adding “works” to the front end of salvation. I think the solution lies in understanding repentance is an attitude of contrition resulting in true faith and salvation. Proof the faith is genuine are the actions that follow salvation, e.g., fruit. The test of true faith is fruit. The test of false faith is no fruit or bad fruit or a return to sinful practices (see below).
17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”(Matthew 7:17-20)
1″Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6″Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8“ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”(Luke 13:1-9)
Jesus relates two dramatic (unknown) historical events followed by a parable to illustrate the supreme importance repentance plays in salvation. Both stories involve the sudden and cruel deaths of Israelites. To the Jewish mind, it might seem God had specially selected these for judgment. Jesus cautions every Israelite who does not repent will suffer a similar fate.
The parable incorporates the same idea introduced by John the Baptist of “fruit” as symbolic of repentance. A barren fig tree, like an unrepentant (fruitless) Israelite, is of no use and will be “cut down.” The fig tree being given a year to produce fruit is a dire warning to Israelites to repent and produce fruit or “perish” (vs. 5).
Once again this is offered in the context of a kingdom that never came. Evangelicals are forced to give this an eschatological interpretation. The use of the perfect tense for “come near” (Mt. 3:2; 4:17, Mk. 1:15, Lk. 10:9) precludes a futuristic rendering. It unique force is to emphasize that which has already taken place with the effects continuing in the present. Jesus believed his ministry was God exercising his power through him in preparation for the arrival of the kingdom. Establishing a righteous environment suitable for God was the goal. Later, Christians would insert Jesus into this role as heavenly messiah and Lord (Acts 2:36)
This parable is an allusion to John’s similar analogy and Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. We may infer “cut off” includes the idea of thrown into the fire (Mt. 3:10 and Lk. 3:9) which is consistent with the Jewish understanding of the messianic kingdom.
The Parable of the Sower
23″But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”(Matthew 13:23)
In Matthew thirteen Jesus tells the well known parable of “The Sower and the Seeds.” Christians have been using this as an evangelistic illustration for centuries. What may be overlooked is seed that falls on “good soil” is the only one that produces fruit because “they hear the word and understand it.” Evangelicals consider this the only true believer.
The force of this passage is “crop production” from the seed that falls on the good soil which is a receptive heart. Evidence of good soil is fruitfulness.
This parable and others are packed with details suggesting righteousness is the only qualification for being considered “wheat” or “good fish.” The common picture is sorting or separating the good from the bad. The good inherit the kingdom while the bad are burned. Whether or not it is a future picture of the Tribulation or end of the Millennium, the point is righteous fruit is the only qualification for entrance.
Jesus’ sends out the the twelve
12″They went out and preached that people should repent.”(Mark 6:12)
There is no question John, Jesus and their disciples were not offering “easy” salvation. They demanded interested parties verbally confess their sins and vow to make specific changes in their lives as proof of repentance. If evangelical preachers adopted this style of evangelism, conversions would drop considerably.
A quick note on Dispensationalism
Evangelicals subscribe to a strange and synthetic system of interpretation called, Dispensationalism. According to this teaching Jesus was operating in a transitional period when the Mosaic Law was ending and the period of grace was beginning. They appeal to this to explain the many theological tensions found throughout the gospels. For instance, Jesus’ insistence on keeping the commandments to inherit eternal life.
There are too many flaws in this concept to address here. While it offers a convenient rationalization for Jesus’ complete lack of “Christian” teaching, it effectively turns him into a deceiver who while knowing the entire Judaistic system is about to end with his death, he continues to point others to it for deliverance.
It is remarkable, if Christianity is true, Jesus did not spend the brief time he had on earth informing Israelites of his impending death and resurrection so they could be spiritually saved. Instead his entire focus is on physical salvation from wrath attending the arrival of the earthly messianic kingdom of God which never came.
The Acts of Apostles which record the “history” of the first Christians is equally emphatic on repentance and baptism.
Peter’s Pentecostal sermon
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38Peter replied, “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.”(Acts 2:36-38)
Peter addresses the crowd in Solomon’s Colonnade
17“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”(Acts 3:17-21)
Cornelius household’s conversion and Peter’s recounting
“Then Peter said, 47“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.“(Acts 10:46c-48)
15“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” 18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”(Acts 11:15-18)
Note: Acts 10:47,48 explicitly mentions water baptism which Peter describes as being “baptized with the Holy Spirit”(see above). It is illogical to think baptism was optional or non essential simply because it is not mentioned. It is better to assume it was always required even when not specified as in the case above. This was also the case with repentance as previously discussed.
Paul’s plea on behalf of Gentiles at the Jerusalem Council
19“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”(Acts 15:19, see Acts 26:20 below, also 3:19 where similar phraseology is used with repent)
Paul’s sermon in Athens before a Gentile audience
30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30,31)
Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders
21I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”(Acts 20:21)
Paul’s defense before King Agrippa
19“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.”(Acts 26:19,20)
In the face of such overwhelming textual evidence supporting a “baptism of repentance,” why are evangelicals so reluctant to embrace this teaching?
When one traces the birth of American evangelicalism, it emerged during the period of revivalism in America. During this time, contrition was clearly a hallmark of conversion. Baptism is seldom mentioned because most of those who were (re)saved had been baptized as infants and did not require it. At some point repentance was seen as a prerequisite to faith and therefore an obstacle. Therefore, if salvation was free, nothing should prevent a person from receiving it. Baptism would also be seen as “work” and thus a violation of the doctrine of “grace alone” through “faith alone.”
The Fast-food gospel of American evangelicalism
I think American evangelicals have popularized a fast-food gospel style– quick, cheap and easy — because it is so appealing. Anyone can receive it with minimal effort, no commitment and a life time guarantee. Compare this to the biblical model where a sinner must fully understand (no infants or children) the gospel message, then be willing to change their lives by giving up sinful practices and producing righteous fruit and finally undergo public exposure via baptism as a testimony to all of becoming a Christian.
I will leave it up to my reader to determine for themselves the role repentance plays given the copious texts. While no doubt believe is inextricably linked to repentance, is it really fathomable to think when John called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” he wasn’t suggesting they be willing to change their lives if the wanted forgiveness? Is it conceivable to think salvation is so cheap it doesn’t require one not only acknowledge their sin but profess a willingness to change after conversion?
Repentance gets in the way of easy believeism in the name of pure unobstructed salvation when evangelicals are desperate to attract as many new Christians as they can. Challenging prospective converts with repentance and the evaluating post conversion “fruitfulness” makes salvation a sticky affair. In essence, one would have to call into question the authenticity of faith and demand a re-conversion. And what about baptism? Does a person have to be re-baptized? It is not surprising prospective converts were thoroughly prepared for their conversion experience. You wanted to make sure they were ready and get it right the first time!
“The outward act of an inward grace”
Introduction: The muddy waters of baptism
The topic of baptism is murky. The reasons are many and most Christian denominations are to blame for clinging to a tradition, infant baptism, with no biblical merit. Jesus exhorting his listeners to be as “innocent” (read sinless) as children to inherit the kingdom is no foundation upon which to build an entire doctrine. Household conversions assume the children follow the faith of their parents and in the case of infants, they would be raised in the faith to convert later.
Originally, becoming a Christian was not easy. It began with public declaration of faith followed by “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4).
Repentance was an attitude of total remorse for sins committed, an awareness of Jesus’ work on the cross to forgive sin and a concerted effort to change one’s life. This declaration was followed by baptism which outwardly illustrated the inward spiritual reality taking place. The symbol was simply the vehicle through which the faith was expressed. After baptism the new convert was expected to fulfill his obligations or risk having his faith questioned. The result of which could be church discipline or excommunication from the household of faith until he or she repented.
Anyone who has been to a Billy Graham crusade knows how incredibly easy he made it to be a Christian. He even encouraged those “watching at home” to say the simple sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus into their hearts. During most of Christianity, such a lax approach would be considered heretical.
The ministries of John and Baptist, Jesus, Peter and Paul unanimously stress the need for repentance and baptism. The Acts of the Apostles which serves as a general blueprint for first century Christian practice repeatedly attaches both to salvation. These two key elements in the salvation process were essential if one wanted to be forgiven and cleansed of their sin.
Baptism, whether infant or adult, has remained prominent throughout Christendom in most denominations because it has such strong traditional and biblical support. Repentance, however, is almost non existent as a pre-requisite because it demands an abrupt change of heart and lifestyle which few are willing to make. Also, most Christians are baptized or christened as infants making repentance impossible.
The rise of believers baptism over infant baptism and its demotion from sacrament to ordinance requires brief mention.
During my theological training I was astonished not only to learn of how engrained infant baptism was throughout the history of the Catholic church, but also within Protestantism and even evangelicalism. I had evangelical friends in school who had been baptized as infants and seemed perfectly comfortable with it. It is such a common practice, its validity is unquestionable. Most of Christianity’s great Reformers advocated for it while questioning other salvation related issues. How could it not be biblically sound?
I remind the reader I have no “dogs in the race” when it comes to the role of baptism. I was baptized months after my conversion. I do not think for a moment baptism has any eternal significance since there is no Christian afterlife. So my position is non partisan.
Salvation is invisible. No one really knows when it takes place (hypothetically speaking). Experientially, those who have not been baptized can be more Christian like than those who have, so who’s to question when or if baptism has resulted in salvation. So much of Christianity is subjective, anything can be thought of as spirit induced or revealed by God. It is a matter of conscience and feelings of assurance.
Infant baptism is unbiblical! If you read the New Testament through a million times, you would never arrive at the doctrine of infant baptism. It is scripturally baseless. Furthermore, everything about saving faith involves a conscious awareness of its import. It is the realization of your own sin. It is the realization of the value of Jesus death. And it is the realization of the necessity of repentant faith to acquire the benefits of Jesus’ work on the cross. No child is capable of such mental maturity. It is ludicrous to think anyone could every believe such a contrived teaching UNTIL you see it through the eyes of Christian parents.
It is precisely because Christians have attached so much significance to baptism, infant baptism arose.
Christians in the early centuries were not theologians, most could not read and orthodox belief had not been established. They were mothers and fathers concerned with the physical and spiritual well being of their children. It was because so much importance was placed on baptism’s role in salvation Christians began to want their children baptized as early as possible. Eventually the act began to supplant the attitude as younger and younger children were being baptized. Infant mortality no doubt factored in as well.
It seems fairly obvious how this transition occurred. Some believed baptism conferred divine grace on the child predisposing him or her to becoming a convert later. This dormant faith helped steer a child to the time when it would be activated in saving faith. The only thing missing was the endorsement of Christian leaders. Here again, we must remember it was before Christianity had consolidated its beliefs and practices. Reliance on the guidance and instruction of the holy spirit would allow for ministers to give this mode of baptism divine sanction. By the time the age of the church councils arrived, this practice would have been deeply entrenched in Christian belief never to be questioned.
The Anabaptists were the first to seriously challenge infant baptism. They would (re)introduce adult baptism as the only theologically warranted method. However convincing parents not to baptize their children at the risk of possibly playing with their eternal destiny was a hard sell and remains so today.
Parenthetically speaking, I have known the most non practicing religious parents who would never consider not baptizing or christening their children. Again, it often baffled me how these parents rarely went to church and only professed faith in the most general way but were insistent on having their children baptized. Infant baptism lives and thrives on parental fear.
The cynic in me would also argue, church leaders would be inclined to support the practice. It allowed them to control Christians by keeping them tightly connected to the church as the dispenser of divine grace. It also had the further benefit of being a lucrative service which almost everyone would use at some point. The threat of withholding of this sacrament was a powerful tool.
The next phase in the change in how Christians viewed baptism was its efficaciousness. In other words, could you be saved without being baptized?
The first time I began to question the biblical accuracy of my evangelical faith was on the subject of baptism. At the time, I attributed my doubts to my own lack of knowledge which would be resolved in time through theological training. I was very wrong.
Every argument I heard as an evangelical against the efficacy of baptism appealed to the “works” defense. It maintains baptism involves a human act so it was technically work and therefore must be non essential to salvation. Such thinking seemed to ignore so many obvious flaws not the least of which was the practice of Jesus’ disciples immediately after Pentecost.
Note: In the New Testament, “works” specifically refer to “the law” and are directly connected to Paul’s efforts to circumvent Judaism.
20″Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”(Romans 3:20)
28″For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”(Romans 3:28)
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(Ephesians 2:8-10)
We might sum up Paul’s argument this way: Christians are saved apart from the works of the law to perform good works. Good works are a necessary by-product of faith and proof salvation has occured. Baptism has nothing remotely to do with the biblical concept of works which was obedience to the Mosaic law.
First and foremost, baptism could not be more passive. A participant literally puts themselves in the hands of someone else who performs the act. Second, no theologian on the planet believes the act of baptism itself carries magical power to cleanse a person. It provides an outward sign to those witnessing it of what God is doing miraculously and spiritually within the believer. This entire process is one hundred percent dependent on the repentant faith of the one seeking salvation. Anything less nullifies the act.
Repentance and baptism were an integral necessary part of salvation. Repentance prepared the heart. Baptism was the outward act symbolizing an inward renewal. The participant was passive negating any suggestion of human effort or “works.”
When, where and why did baptism-less salvation originate?
Without a doubt, this question was the beginning of the end of my evangelical faith. It started soon after my conversion, which by the way was baptism-less. I was told baptism was not necessary but came later if I chose to commit my life to Jesus.
The prevailing attitude among evangelicals is baptism should never stand in the way of someone’s salvation.
I have always had an healthily obsession with church history. Early in my theological training I was struck by the immense importance placed on baptism in the Bible and throughout all of Christian history. From the time of John the Baptist onwards the rite of baptism dominated Christian faith. The church fathers are unanimous in the importance of baptism. For men like Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Origen, to name a few, affirmed the necessity of baptism for salvation.
At first it puzzled me. How could Christians have deviated so significantly from a major doctrine if it was part of the trappings of Catholicism? If baptism indeed violated grace, could centuries of baptized Christians obtain salvation? The waters of baptism were indeed muddy.
How one procures salvation is as important as the work of Jesus Himself on the cross. What good is forgiveness if you can’t take advantage of it?
My evangelical brethren stressed how the world was full of “fake Christians” who had never “accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.” Most had been baptized (as children) and assumed they were saved because of it. However, unless they made a conscious informed decision about who Jesus was and what his death provided, they could not be Christians. This made perfect sense to me at the time.
The Protestant Reformation solved this dilemma for Christians by attacking the sale of indulgences. No longer could the church profit by incentivizing salvation by allowing believers to purchase their way out of purgatory. Problem solved except, nothing changed concerning the central role of baptism in the church. Martin Luther steadfastly maintained its practice as a divine sacrament bestowing grace on those who underwent it.
After graduating from Bible college I attended a secular university. One of my courses was, “History of Western Civilization.” During one class, when we were discussing the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, I innocently asked, “Where the real Christians were at this time?” What I meant was, “Where the evangelicals were?” My professor had obviously encountered other evangelical students who had asked similar questions. His response was stern and to the point. “These were the real Christians,” he barked! It left an indelible impression on me which would ultimately contribute to the unravelling of my faith.
From that moment, I determined to find the answer to my question if indeed one existed. Surely God would have to have preserved a remnant of true Christians who practiced a biblical faith and not a perverted version called Catholicism, as I had been taught In Bible College. This drove me to an in depth study of the Bible and history of the doctrine of salvation. I would be rewarded for my efforts.
When I began to suspect evangelicalism had taken a theological wrong turn somewhere down the line, it was the role of baptism in the salvation experience where I began my investigation.
Imagine if you could start a movement within Christianity that completely undermined what it meant to be a Christian, one that would cast doubt on whether or not you were saved. Suddenly, you would have millions of potential new converts. Enter evangelicalism.
The beginnings of American evangelicalism also saw the rise of the “Baptist” denomination which grew out of the separatist movement. Before the Protestant Reformation, water baptism was indisputable for salvation. After the Reformation, most Christians view of baptism did not change despite the emphasis on “grace alone” and “faith alone” for salvation. In other words, no Christian leader thought baptism violated either of these. Luther and Calvin saw it as essential.
There are many anecdotal examples I could provide but here is one which was particularly meaningful to me.
My mother was raised Lutheran. This meant baptism was pivotal to being saved. She used to tell me her biggest regret was not having her seven children baptized. Presumably because she believed she had somehow jeopardized their eternal destination. After I got “saved” (without being baptized), I wanted to make sure I told my family about Jesus and being born-again so they too could know they were going to heaven one day. I started with my mother.
When I told her I became a Christian she was both happy and confused at once. She asked when I had gotten baptized and I told her you didn’t needed to. Then I asked her if she had accepted Jesus into her heart (It still sounds stupid even when I write it). Thus began a strange and confusing conversation with each of us questioning the others salvation. I can assure similar conversations have taken place millions of times as evangelicals try to convince non evangelical Christians they are not saved.
Today’s evangelical church is full of complacency and theological illiteracy due in large part to the promotion of a brand of Christianity that elevates emotional experience over doctrinal precision. In fact, it is precisely this that gave evangelicalism its impetus several hundred years ago.
Repentance is the key to unlock the door of salvation
If “Christians” truly believe the Bible is divinely authoritative and their salvation depends on it, they should not risk their eternal destiny on the hunch they don’t have to produce fruitful lives of selfless deeds of charity, kindness, devotion, generosity, love and sacrifice and still make it to heaven.
13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”(Matthew 7:13,14)
14“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”(Matthew 7:14)
Repentance is the key to unlock the door of God’s blessing. Simply asking is not enough. One must approach God with a contrite heart and willingness to conform to His righteous standard or the door remains closed. Neither simply asking nor being baptized will save anyone without true repentance.
John the Baptist stressed this by demanding “good fruit” as proof genuine repentance had taken place, no fruit, no forgiveness. So if any Christian is uncertain whether their conversion has been sincere, they need look no further than what proceeded from it. Was their life transformed? Did it mark the beginning of a life of devotion to good works? Was it followed by acts of love, charity and kindness? Did it result in the sacrifice of one’s time, money and energy? Did it yield an attitude of servility and humility? Did the needs of others transcend your own desires for comfort, wealth and happiness? Faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”(Galatians 5:22-26)
There are no secrets to knowing if you’re a Christian or an impostor, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them“(Mt. 7;20). If I was a Christian, I would want to make certain I was saved above all else. I would scour the New Testament writings searching for confirmation of my salvation and I would find one inescapable theme:
Nobody can mistake who is a Christian. It has little to do with what they say and everything to do with what they are. Righteous deeds not words determine true believers. If the Bible is true, America is littered with fake Christians who have been deluded into thinking they have a one way ticket to heaven, no strings attached. No fruit, no faith.
10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”(2 Corinthians 5:10)
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”(Matthew 25:44-46)
Evangelicals have been sold a fake bill of goods when it comes to salvation, partly because they desperately want to believe they can coast through life indulging in the pleasures of sinful delights and still slide into heaven. Throughout my evangelical experience I lived everyday in the fear of God. What I said, what I thought and what I did or didn’t do was driven by a conscious awareness of God’s holiness and his Holy Spirit who lived within me.
I have mentioned it before but it bears repeating. To the degree you are grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice and its impact on your life, is directly proportionate to the depth of your commitment. If you have only known the Christian life from a child, hence you have always been saved since you can remember, you level of appreciation may not be as high as someone, like me, whose life was radically transformed.
If I were to say what is the most ignored sin in which evangelicals indulge, it would be sex related. Whether adultery, pornography, homosexuality, premarital sex, promiscuity, lust and dressing or dancing provocatively, evangelicals are notoriously lax about how severely bodily sins are viewed by God.
15″Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” [Genesis 2:24] 17But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”(1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
I no longer believe any of this anymore. When I did, it was a powerful force in my life. It gave me purpose and self respect. Discipline, denial, sacrifice and self control were my gifts to God which I undertook willingly and joyfully. I loved God but I feared Him more.
11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”(Revelation 20:11-15)
For years I heard Christians downplay, “The Great White Throne Judgment.” It was always assumed no Christian would ever experience pain or suffering. Heaven was a place of eternal happiness and joy. Verse, like those above, that seemed to suggest otherwise were quickly rationalized away as applying to non Christians. And if Christians did have to undergo “judgment” it would be a positive thing where rewards were handed out.
I sincerely think there are a few, relatively speaking, Christians who would look forward to having their lives exposed by God. Every thought, word and deed as a Christian laid bare before the holiness of God. A Christian with few regrets who could testify to a life of good works (aka. ‘good fruit’). A life marked by righteous living at the highest level, a rejection of materialism and consumerism. One where the needs of others were placed before your own.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”(Matthew 20:16)
Absence of repentance in John’s gospel
One of the premier arguments against repentance being a prerequisite to salvation is John’s failure to mention it even once.
In answer to this, if repentance equals belief, what does it matter then? According to proponents of the repents is no different from faith, this is insignificant to the argument.
More importantly, John’s gospel from a literary criticism point of view is vastly different from the synoptics for several reasons, the obvious being its later date by a few decades which is important.
32″Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34I have seen and I testify that this is the son of God.”(John 1:32-34)
By the time John wrote his gospel, any hope of a literal earthly kingdom was lost. Christians saw a protracted delay in Jesus’ return as a reality. In the gospels, repentance and baptism were linked to preparation for this coming kingdom and had a distinct Judaistic flavor which John’s gospel resists. If the writer of John had access to any of the other gospels, he used them sparingly.
The writer of John provides an elevated Christology. He views Jesus in a heavenly spiritual light unlike the synoptics which provide a more “earthly” version of Jesus. Jesus role as the divine logos and eternal son of God are stressed. The physical baptism of Jesus is not recorded nor the Last Supper. Jesus is the “Bread of Life.” The nature of the kingdom becomes spiritual and the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer connects Jesus to his followers.
The argument from silence is very often an unreliable argument. I would maintain, it quite reasonable that repentance was so obvious as the necessary attitude one needed to become a Christian, the New Testament writers sometimes did not include it every time in their narratives. In John’s case, very little of his material includes Jesus’ offering salvation because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
37On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified“(John 7:37-39).
In the above passage we see John the editorializer writing decades after the event he describes from the perspective of a more evolved Christianity. It begs the obvious question if historical, why would Jesus offer something he could not yet provide? And why not take this opportunity, and the many others, to present his future death and resurrection to his listeners so they could be ready?
In a series of articles on the resurrection of Jesus and its plausibility and probability, the most damning piece of evidence, which ironically the gospels provide, is the total lack of anticipation of his resurrection. It is argued this is because he kept it a “secret” from all but his disciples who also did not expect it. Throughout John’s gospel, the writer presents his material in a manner that makes it inconceivable not a single listener would understand the supreme importance of Jesus’ resurrection. None of what Jesus taught would make any sense if his death was the end. Therefore, either Jesus kept everybody in the dark about his resurrection though offering a salvation that was impossible to appropriate without it. Or, Jesus fully disclosed in great detail the importance of his dying and rising but each of the hundreds (thousands?) of his followers forgot almost immediately after hearing it. This would explain why none of them were keeping vigil outside his tomb awaiting his glorious promise.
The final option is, Jesus’ followers behaved exactly as one would expect those who had never heard about an individual rising from the dead and going to heaven in a glorified body, because they had never heard about someone rising from the dead and going to heaven in a glorified body.
YOU be the judge!