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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

the Wisdom that Leads to Salvation

and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.--2 Timothy 3:15

Recently, a couple entered my office wanting to be baptized. In our church, such a request requires a detailed interview to make sure they understand the gospel and the purposes for baptism. As they shared, they understood the work of Christ, but struggled with its application. Neither could be sure of their salvation, since each were mixing works with Christ's substitution. I'd reply with the gospel and then ask some questions. Works. I'd reply with the gospel and ask some questions. Works. We repeated this pattern a couple of times...then the dreaded question.

So, when can we get baptized?

Oi Vey!

Here's the rub. This couple was interested. They've been attending services, classes and devouring resources. They're a sweet couple and have even sought to eliminate some bad habits. They're in my office asking to be baptized, for Pete's sake! It would have taken minimal effort to get them to pray a prayer. I could have tweaked their statements and coached them through a more accurate answer. (Uh, but we all know that wouldn't have been right, right?)

Sadly, I'm not sure what I would have done last year. I've shared the gospel and there is no response. I may have caved and tried to justify they "just couldn't articulate what they really believe" and proceeded to baptize. I may have assumed that if they haven't understood it by now they probably won't and given up. I may have asked them to come back in a week and see if repeating the process would have a different result.

I praise God that I receieved some NANC training from Steve Short. In a nutshell, you're encouraged to give hope and let the Bible do its work. So, I encouraged them that God is quite possibly drawing them to Himself, and asked them if we could meet again. I also gave them some "homework." I asked them to read John 3. I tried to share gently that I didn't think they were ready to be baptized yet, but I believe John 3 could clear things up.

Here's the Kicker...

I had an opportunity to meet with the couple again. They shared verses from John 3 they found significant. As they shared (and explained the texts), I started to wonder, "has the light come on?" I asked them to explain the gospel and they nailed it! There was not a touch of "works" in their answer, and they had assurance of their salvation. With zero coaching, they had gone from darkness into light.

Do you know what I did? Nothing.

They didn't "get saved" in my office. I didn't "win them to the Lord." I simply asked them to read the most relevant thing they could get their hands on. Prayerfully, they'll never set it down.

to the praise of the glory of His grace!


  • At 7:04 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Your main point is very well taken: it is the word that saves.

    But if I could inquire as to a secondary point: it seems to me that, compared to the practice of the apostles, many churches impose a much stricter doctrinal inquisition upon those seeking baptism.

    Do you think this is a fair assessment? and If so, how are stricter-than-apostolic-
    standards-for-those-seeking -baptism to be justified?

  • At 8:15 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    good discussion...but i need a little more focus.

    are you asking about churches in general or our church specifically. if you're speaking to the global church...you may have to give me specific standards to work through...rather than me coming up with them myself.

    if you're speaking to our church specifically. our standard is that they know the gospel and know why they are getting baptized (make sure it's not because they think baptism saves). i'm not sure if either of those elements could be considered stricter doctrinal inquisition than the practice of the apostles.

    of course, you may believe that the apostolic standard is simply being born to believing parents. you obviously know i don't share that perspective, and i'm not sure i want to turn this into a credo/paedo discussion.

  • At 9:15 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    No, I'm not trying to get any babies wet with this one- but your request for more focus is fair enough.

    Let me zero in on what you've mentioned. I don't know the details of this particular couple's initial take on works righteousness; they may have been completely off the map, and you may have been fully justified in wanting them to wait. The standard you've described your church using sounds perfectly reasonable. All that to say: I'm not at all trying to criticize what you did.

    But just to use this issue as an example: what scriptural evidence is there that a proper understanding of the relationship between faith and works is a prerequisite to baptism?

    Do you think that the apostles interviewed baptismal candidates on this question? If they didn't, is there something different about our circumstances that now makes this necessary?

    Or take someone who makes a profession of faith and is baptized, but learns only later how properly to reconcile James and Paul- do you think that such a person ought to be rebaptized after being so enlightened?

    And I can't resist throwing this out: what if the person comes to you and says "I want to be baptized because Peter says in his first epistle that baptism does save me"?

    P.S. I really don't have a particular axe to grind here; these are just questions for which I find myself without fully satisfactory answers- so naturally, I want to argue about them.

    Wow. With some descrambling, my word verification reads "smurf".

  • At 3:44 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    wow brad, this is the most delicate i think i've seen you inquire on my blog. the gentleness is nice (not saying you weren't before), but don't worry, recent blog developments do not have me on edge. i know you're asking honest questions and i enjoy them, actually.

    1. What scriptural evidence is there that a proper understanding of the relationship between faith and works is a prerequisite to baptism?

    a perfectly balanced perspective? none. however, sola gratia and sola fidei are both articulations that a reformed (we'd argue biblical) perspective calls for salvation through faith by grace alone. if i sensed a person thought their works were cooperating to create their salvation, i would hesitate to baptize them for all the reasons i think that doesn't sound like a genuine conversion. scriptural evidence? the book of galatians is a good place to start.

    2. Do you think that the apostles interviewed baptismal candidates on this question? If they didn't, is there something different about our circumstances that now makes this necessary?

    while we can't read into the Scripture, and certainly are not going to read from the spaces on the page, i think it is a little presumptuous to think the first thing the eunich said was "what prevents me from being baptized?" (acts 8). romans 10 would suggest to me that paul looked for a verbal profession.

    has anything changed? somewhat, yes. i think our american culture has been inundated with "decisional regeneration." people are counting on a mental assent alone (i think this comes from the fact that "faith" has taken on a different connotation than it did in early centuries. today, people believe that "believing" simply involves a philosophical acceptance, not a full fledged trust that places your life in the hands of that view.)

    i guess i'd say that i think we must interview do to sloppy preaching and loose practice of the church over recent generations.

    3. Or take someone who makes a profession of faith and is baptized, but learns only later how properly to reconcile James and Paul- do you think that such a person ought to be rebaptized after being so enlightened?

    i'd leave this largely in the person's hands. did they simply struggle to understand the faith-works cooperation or were they truly believing their works were saving them? if they were counting on Jesus PLUS something else to save them, if they asked me, i'd seriously encourage them to consider rebaptism. if they simply once came from a "free grace" perspective and did not see the need for works, or conversely, found their speech was a little too strong when referring to works, i'm not sure a rebaptism is necessary.

    4. And I can't resist throwing this out: what if the person comes to you and says "I want to be baptized because Peter says in his first epistle that baptism does save me"?

    Anytime a person asks me a question like that...my first question is "where?" i'd have them give me the reference (not just the book) and then we'd walk through the passage.

    interview may have been a strong word. provided the confession and understanding of baptism goes well, it is also our time to work through the details of the baptism (when, who will baptize them) as well as some mechanics (women should not wear a white t-shirt, etc.)

  • At 4:05 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    Thanks for your responses, Danny. I know they take time to generate, and I do appreciate the interaction. Good thoughts.

    Incidentally, I Pet 3:21 is the verse that says that baptism saves us- but feel free to pass on that discussion (or at least postpone it).

  • At 4:29 PM, Blogger TheReformedThinker said…


    I am sure I am missing something from your perspective, but doesn't the rest of vs 21 define what is meant by baptism - that it is not just "removal of dirt", but is an appeal to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

  • At 7:43 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    I think you're right, Matt. Though I'm not sure that fully solves the puzzle for me.

    Baptism, Peter says, saves us.

    It is clear, of course, as you point out, that it is not the actual physical application of water that saves us.

    But here’s where the question remains, for me at least. By an appeal to God for a clean conscience, is Peter referring:

    1) to something necessarily connected with the act of water baptism?


    2) to something merely represented by the act of water baptism but having no necessary connection with it?

    Think of it from this angle: can someone who has never been baptized with water rightfully say, meaning the same thing as Peter here, that baptism has saved him?

  • At 9:00 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    Peter says, "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you..."(NASB)

    Corresponding to what?

  • At 9:26 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    Corresponding to Noah and his family being saved through water?

  • At 9:27 PM, Blogger TheReformedThinker said…

    All that is required for salvation is repentence of sins and trust in Christ's work. The thief on the cross was not baptized, yet he was promised to enter paradise.

    All that to say that I think the conscience regarding baptism is what is represented by baptism, not the baptism itself.

  • At 10:03 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    In 1 Peter 3, Noah is a part of the explanation of the spirits who were put in prison around the days of the flood.

    And regarding the flood, water is not the picture of salvation: it is the picture of judgement. Water was the agent of death to the flesh.

    The ark is symbolic of salvation, as it was the carrier which brought Noah and his family safely through the water (3:20). The water did not save Noah, the ark did. The water destroyed everything "that had the breath of life in it".

    Those who were in the flood waters never came out. They were baptised into death. But Noah was never in the water becuase he was in the ark. He escaped death entirely.

    So I would say that the whole issue corresponds back to verse 18, on two points: 1) that Christ died putting to death the flesh, and 2) that we were made alive in the Spirit which is possible becuase of the resurrection (3:21).

    Morevoer, when one considers that the Spirit is our seal unto the day of redemption, it should not be forgotten that God sealed Noah and his family in their ark of salvation. That fact guaranteed their inheritance of life on the "other side".

    So, I think that provides the basis for answering your question about whether someone who has never been baptized with water can rightfully say that baptism has saved him.

    He has been saved by the only baptism which can save: baptism in the Spirit which is life, not baptism in water which is death.

  • At 10:07 PM, Blogger fisher said…

    I thank God for you, Danny and your carefulness. Many pastors would let them ride a pew to hell, as long as they ride their pew.

    We need more who share your and Paul's concern for the clarity and purity of the Gospel, as expressed in Gal 1:8,9 - if ANYONE pollutes or dilutes it, let him be accursed.

    Away with soul destroyers in the pulpit, those who travel sea and land to make them twice a son of hell as himself!

  • At 12:22 AM, Blogger Brad said…


    I hear you on the difference between being saved through flood waters and being saved by baptism. They don’t seem to correspond very well (although I can see how the through could be taken instrumentally- the waters are said to have borne up the ark).

    Grammatically speaking, however, it does seem that the that in “corresponding to that” most naturally refers to water, which immediately precedes it and agrees with it in gender and number.

    A clunkily literal translation would be “…saved through water, which also, [being] an antitype, now saves you[, that is,] baptism.”

    Moreover, whatever it is to which that refers, it is said to be an antitype of something (salvation? baptism?). Can we say that Christ’s death and resurrection are the antitype of our salvation? Hmm…maybe. I’m more used to hearing of things being types of Christ’s activity rather than Christ’s activity being a type of something else. Water better fits the definition with which I’m accustomed.

    I’m sure I’m making a complete mess of this.

  • At 4:45 PM, Blogger Noel said…

    Sorry to respond late, but praise to God that the salvation of people is not up to us. How horrible we would mess that up!

    I would agree that "interviewing" would be essential before baptism because of the culture we live in. I hesitate to say that because every culture has its problems and false truths.
    A prime example of this was my cousin who had his one-year-old son baptized in our grandparent’s church. There was a party for the family afterwards, in which I shared Christ with my cousin. He had no idea what it meant to be a Christian let alone how to raise a child up in the faith.

    I first bring the pastor in to question for even allowing this to happen (another issue for another time). How could this baptism be anything but walking through a sterile motion? How could this be the symbolism of the death of my sinful flesh to an alien righteousness through faith alone by grace alone through Christ alone? My point is this: We must make sure people know why and what they are doing before they commit to this most important decision. I would not want to be responsible for growing up Christians a mile wide and an inch deep or worse yet people who think they are saved, and are not. I appreciate the discussion from all of you.

    By the way, Christ did draw my cousin to Himself that day. Praise be to God!


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