Faith and Works – Part 2

In continuing to look at the relationship between faith and works, I wanted to spend some time touching on the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and Oneness Pentecostalism problem as it relates to this subject.  The vast majority of Christendom holds to the view that we are justified by faith – we are saved by grace through faith, not by works that we do.  Baptism is viewed as an ordinance – something that is very important in the life of a believer but not something that causes, brings about or merits our salvation in any way.  We are baptized because we are saved, not in order to be saved.

The UPCI view is that until a person is baptized in the name of Jesus, their sins are not forgiven.  But how does this view stand up to the seemingly overwhelming scriptural evidence that our sins are forgiven (we are declared just or right and at peace with God) when we turn to God in faith – that we are justified by faith?

In his book, The New Birth, Bernard addresses the question of grace, faith and works.  He does provide a cursory summary of several primary passages on the subject of justification by faith referring to Habakkuk 2:4, Romans and Galatians and states the following:

The bottom line is this: no one can be justified by observing the law of Moses or by doing good works.  Instead, the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us.  Having established this, we must next determine what true faith in Christ is and how to have it.  (pages 35-6).

Bernard then cites to B.B. Warfield, “Justification by Faith does not mean, then, salvation by believing things instead of doing right.  It means pleading the merits of Christ before the throne of grace instead of our own merits.”  (citing from essay Justification by Faith, Out of Date?, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1911).  As we will see, Bernard is attempting to build the UPCI case in support of the idea that baptism and speaking in tongues are necessary to justification and completing the process of the new birth.

Bernard interestingly, citing to Warfield and the Reformed camp, seeks to argue that justification by faith does not mean just believing but also “doing right”.  Warfield’s point is not that the sinner must both believe and “do right” or be obedient in order to be justified as Bernard seems to allude.  Warfield argues that we are justified by works but not by any of our works.  Warfield writes, “It is justification by Christ’s works.”

Warfield cannot be any clearer in his meaning:

There is no justification for sinful men except by faith.  The works of sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built on them.  Where can he get works upon which he can found his hope of justification, except from Another? … Can God pronounce him righteous except on the ground of works that are righteous?  Where can a sinful man get works that are righteous?  Surely, not from himself; for, is he not a sinner, and all his works as sinful as he is?  He must go out of himself, then, to find works which he can offer to God as righteous.  And where will he find such works except in Christ?  Or how will he make them his own except by faith in Christ? … If we are to be justified at all, it must be on the ground of the merits of Another, whose merits can be made ours by faith.  And that is the reason why God sent his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.  If we do not believe in him, obviously we must perish.  But if we believe in him, we shall not perish but have everlasting life.  That is just Justification by Faith.  Justification by Faith is nothing other than obtaining everlasting life by believing in Christ.  (Emphasis added)

Bernard would argue that it is by faith and our obedience to baptism that brings about our remission of sins.  We should recall that Bernard and the UPCI are strongly in the Arminian camp and believers in the concept of prevenient grace.  Bernard does note that faith “is the means by which man accepts and receives God’s saving grace.”  (page 34).  Bernard acknowledges that faith is a gift from God as well and that no one would have faith in God unless God would grant it.

As far as faith is concerned, Bernard cites to Webster’s Dictionary, The Amplified Bible, and Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words to provide some definitions of faith.  He also cites to Charles Erdman who described faith as meaning far more than a “mere asset to dogmas, or the repetition of a creed” but describes a relationship with Christ in which the believer will trust in and be obedient to Christ and that the love for Christ brings about a trust and obedience that will lead to purity and holiness and a life of unselfish service.  He cites theologian Donald Bloesch as presenting a definition of faith as “a radical commitment of the whole man to the living Christ, a commitment that entails knowledge, trust, and obedience.”  (page 41).

From this definition provided by Bloesch, Bernard seems to identify three components of saving faith as meaning more than simply mental knowledge or assent.  These key components Bernard identifies as knowledge, assent, and appropriation.

Clearly, to have faith one must have a certain degree of knowledge or understanding of what it is that one is being called to place their trust in and a certain degree of acceptance or assent to the truth.  I must have had an understanding of my sin and the state of my relationship to God, a degree of knowledge of the gospel, as well as an acceptance of those facts.  I must have understood my need and recognized God’s ability to meet that need and I must have accepted these things a true.  These concepts Bernard would associate with knowledge and assent.  Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Hearing the word of Christ brings life to faith God has put in our hearts and we respond to this new understanding in faith  to the word.

Bernard then comes to the third component of saving faith – appropriation.  “In other words, there must be a practical application of truth.  … Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, involves more than mentally acknowledging Him as the Savior.  We must appropriate this truth and make it the guiding principal of our lives.  We do this by obeying the gospel of Jesus, by identifying with Him….”  (page 42).  Appropriation, according to Bernard, is appropriating the gospel to my life by being baptized and receiving the Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues.

Bernard cites to a number of passages to support that true faith is accompanied by obedience.  As we have previously discussed, it would seem that according to both Paul and James that saving faith will bring about a change in our lives –we will live out that faith through obedience to the word of God and the evidence of spiritual fruit in our lives.  It would seem impossible that one who is truly grafted into the vine would not produce fruit as evidence of their relationship to God.

Here is where Bernard’s reasoning goes off the rails and flies in the face of his quote of Warfield at the beginning of this chapter.  The UPCI and Bernard don’t see obedience as something that naturally flows out of our being in Christ but as something that we must bring to the table in order to find our way into Christ.  Bernard sees an “essential link between obedience and salvation.”  (page 44).  Yes; saving faith produces obedience, good works, spiritual fruit in the life of a justified and sanctified believer.  But no; my justification is based on the perfect work, life and obedience of Christ and his death on the cross alone.  My obedience – however pathetic my attempts– are not the basis for my salvation.  My obedience flows out of my being in Christ and the Spirit of Christ being in me producing the changes in my life that flow out of the grace that I have received through faith.

Bernard repeatedly cites to passages such as, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.”  (John 14:23) to support the position that my obedience is the basis for my being accepted by God.  Yes; a true believer will keep his words but it was by the obedience of Christ that I stand justified before God.  If my obedience/works are the basis for my salvation, then I am in serious trouble.

Bernard states, “Someone who really believes God’s Word will obey it.  God’s Word teaches baptism, so the Bible believer will be baptized.  God’s Word promises the gift of the Spirit, so the true believer will expect, see, and receive this gift.”  (pages 45-46).  Further, he notes, “we are saved by grace through faith. We rely on God’s work and not our own works to bring salvation.  However, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to respond to God, to obey Him and to act upon our faith.”  (page 49).  Bernard’s statements are contradictory – according to him, our salvation is not based on our own works but we are responsible to obey him to bring about our salvation.

On the subject of faith and water baptism, Bernard states that faith in God will lead to water baptism.  With respect to repentance and water baptism, Bernard states that they “are not works in the sense of things man does to assist in earning his salvation, but they are saving works of God.”  (page 55).  “Saving faith expresses itself in our obedience to Christ’s gospel and by our identification with Him. … The gospel of Jesus Christ is His death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-4).  We apply the gospel to our lives – we identify with Christ and His saving work – by repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  (emphasis in orig., page 61).

Saving faith manifests itself in obedience, among other ways, in the life of a believer.  Yet, because the gospel of the UPCI requires baptism in the name of Jesus to effectuate the remission of sins, they must justify this position in light of the clear teaching of scripture that our justification is by faith.  Implicit in the idea of true faith – being convinced of the promises of God and trusting in Christ and repenting of one’s sins – is the notion of bringing oneself into a state of obeying the gospel of Christ.

Obedience is no longer the evidence of a life in Christ.  My obedience is my faith leading to my justification.  An additional problem if obedience and faith are simply interchangeable, why just stop with baptism and speaking with other tongues.  Isn’t my entire Christian walk, my salvation continually held in a tenuous state dependent on my obedience, my works and deeds to keep me within the good graces of my God.  Bernard speaks of grace and faith and not our works but the works of God but in reality it always comes back to our working to bring about our salvation.  The dangerous aspect of this so-called gospel is that in the end, if one labors, he is paid what he deserves but we need to rely on faith in the work of Christ.

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.  Romans 4:4-5.

 

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Thoughts on Justification – Part 5 – Faith Alone

Abraham and David – Faith Alone

In the last post we took a very cursory look at the subject of justification.  Dr. James White, in his book The God who Justifies, wrote, “To be justified means to be declared right with God by virtue of the remission of sins accomplished by Jesus:  Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer, and the believer’s sins are imputed to Christ, who bears them in His body on the tree.  Justification is from beginning to end a divine action, based upon the mercy of God the Father and the work of Jesus Christ the Son.”

The dreadful problem with man is that all have sinned and the wages of sin is death.  Nevertheless, Paul wrote that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.”  Romans 3:23-25.  God justifies the repentant believer and it is through faith alone that this is accomplished.  It is not through faith and baptism or any other obedient work that you or I might bring before God to appease his wrath or satisfy some criteria for salvation.  As Dr. White noted, “To make any action of man (including the action of faith) the basis of justification is to take away from the righteousness of Christ, which is the true basis of Christian justification.”

Paul was abundantly clear that because justification is through faith, man is in no position to boast of his works or perceived obedience to the commands of God to merit his right standing with God:

Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Or is God the God of the Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one – who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we overthrow the law by this faith?  By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.  Romans 3:27-31

Paul then provides an example from all the way back in Genesis 15:6 to support his understanding of the gospel and this verse of scripture will find itself repeated throughout the New Testament.

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say?  “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Romans 4:1-4.

Paul is looking at one of the most central points of redemptive history, which was the call of and promised to Abraham and Abraham’s believing God.  The scripture says that when Abraham believed God, righteousness was reckoned or imputed to him.  To be ‘counted to him’ comes from a Greek word that holds the meaning of crediting to one’s account just as an accountant might enter an amount in an accounting book.  Abraham’s faith resulted in God crediting to him righteousness.  Paul then continues to use an example of laborers:

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….  Romans 4:4-5.

Here again we find that the idea of grace is the unmerited favor and help of God.  It is a gift.  “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”  Romans 11:6. Paul makes the contrast between the one who labors under agreement – this laborer is paid according to the agreement upon the fulfilling of his obligations.  The employer does not pay him as a favor but pays him what he is due under the terms of the agreement.  As sinners under the law of God we are deserving of death.  If we attempt to live under the terms of the Mosaic law we will find that it only increases our awareness of our sin and need for a savior for no one is going to be justified under the law.  Instead, we find that God justifies not on the basis of some obligation that is owed to us as sinners.  Our justification is not based on the individual’s personal righteousness or anything that they may do in an attempt to merit or earn salvation.  Our justification is based on the legal crediting of the righteousness of Christ to our account on the basis of faith along – on believing in him who justifies the ungodly – his faith is counted as righteousness.  Romans 4:4-5.

The sinner does not make himself righteous through any series of acts that leads up to his justification or the forgiveness of sins.  God credits the sinner with the righteousness of Christ when the sinner is still in his ungodly state.  God credits the person as just because of the obedience of Christ being credited to him – not because the sinner is somehow capable of being obedient enough to merit on his own the remission of his sins.

Paul then quoted from David, stating that he also spoke of “the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” when he who wrote, “Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven, who sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”  Romans 4:6-8.

From these passages we can see a couple of points – first, Christ is the one who satisfies all the demands of God’s justice against the law break through his work on the cross.  His death was the propitiation that satisfied the wrath of God and results in the remission of our sins.  Second, the requirements of perfect obedience to the law were satisfied in the life of Christ and his perfect life of obedience and righteousness is credited to us.  In the cross we can see both God’s justice as well as his grace.  When Paul speaks of no one being able to boast, the message is that it would be pure folly and arrogance on the part of man to assert that through his actions he did anything to bring about the remission of his sins.  Man is not saved through faith and anything else.  It is by faith alone.

If the point wasn’t made strongly enough, Paul continues by delivering a devastating blow to the Judaizers of his day:

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?  For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.  How then was it counted to him?  Was it before or after he had been circumcised?  It was not after, but before he was circumcised.  He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.  Romans 4:9-12.

To drive home the point, Paul notes that Abraham was not circumcised at the time God declared him righteous.  It was by faith alone and not as a result of circumcision, law keeping or any other meritorious act on Abraham’s part.  The sign of circumcision was not going to be given for another decade and the law of Moses did not come for hundreds of years.  Justification by grace through faith has been the means of our right standing with God throughout redemptive history – in this respect nothing has changed.

It is interesting to note that David Bernard notes strongly the necessity of baptism and stresses Paul’s comparison of baptism to circumcision in the Old Testament.  Relying on Colossians 2, Bernard writes, “Water baptism is a spiritual circumcision that separates from sins, cuts away the control of the sinful nature, and results in forgiveness of sins. … Without circumcision an Israelite male was not part of God’s people; he was subject to the penalty of death and could not participate in God’s salvation plan.”  (The New Birth, pages 135-6).

The passage in the second chapter of Colossians is worth looking at another time but for now, suffice it to say that the passage does not quite state what Bernard is asserting.  Further, in typical UPCI style, how can Bernard reconcile his interpretation of Paul’s writing to the Colossians with Paul’s teaching in Romans.  Bernard is associating water baptism with both Old Testament circumcision and resulting in the forgiveness of sins.  Yet Paul very clearly teaches, as the passages in Genesis also make abundantly clear that Abraham was justified by faith before he was ever circumcised.  Circumcision came a decade later and was a sign that was associated with the covenant that God had previously made with Abraham.  It was a covenantal sign that God gave to Abraham to provide assurance that God’s promises were true and would be fulfilled.

Paul describes circumcision as a “sign” and “as a seal of the righteousness that [Abraham] had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11).  This is precisely what baptism is for us today – it is a sign that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ; it is a public confession of a faith that already exists in our lives.  How is this work accomplished in our lives – we are “raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God….”  (Colossians 2:12).

Believers are baptized because they are saved and not in order to bring about their salvation.  The examples Abraham and the writing of David make clear that one is justified or has their sins forgiven by grace through faith.  When you encounter passages that seem to contradict each other, instead of simply disregarding one and stressing the other that better fits your soteriology, it is best to harmonize those passages.  It tends to be the approach of the UPCI to do the former – to stress particular passages at the expense of large portions of other teaching.  This leads to a twisted, proof-text approach to the gospel rather than a true and deeper understanding of the message of scripture for us today.  This will then lead to other issues as a distorted approach to the gospel will lead to distorted views in other areas of our Christian life as well.

Thoughts on Justification – Part 4

The Just Shall Live By Faith – Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:20, 3:11-12, Hebrews 10:38

Once we have an appreciation for the scriptural understanding of man’s state outside of God – that state being one of spiritual death – one can begin to appreciate that to bring about a change requires not the dead to do anything in particular, for the dead can do nothing, but requires the giver of life to take action.  The UPCI would have the general view of Jesus standing at the door and knocking at the sinner’s heart waiting for the sinner to open the door (a twisted view of Revelation 3:20).  Instead, the picture of salvation is best portrayed by the dead Lazarus in the tomb for four days only to be raised and called out by Jesus.  Lazarus would have stayed in his natural state of death had Jesus not intervened.  In that state of death, Lazarus was powerless to do anything of his own accord.  It was only when the call came to him that life came back into his dead body and he was then empowered to walk and be loosed, to eat and fellowship with his family and friends again.

Sinners are in a state of spiritual death and are powerless on their own to free themselves from their state of death.  Paul makes clear that in this state, sinners are the enemies of God, they will not submit to the will of God and are incapable of doing so (see Romans 7, 8).  Yet, the UPCI would teach that a sinner is not born again unless he repents, and is baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in other tongues.  So the spiritually dead – the one who the scripture teaches is incapable of submitting to the will of God and is in rebellion to God – must of his own accord submit to baptism and speak in tongues in order to be brought to a state of spiritual life and peace with God.

What is justification?

We know that the result of justification is our having peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have obtained access by faith into this grace, which brings about our rejoicing in the hope that we have of the glory of God.  (Romans 5:1-20).  Note – the peace that we now have because of our justification stands in contrast to the previous state of our relationship with God as sinners – that being under his wrath, as discussed in the first several chapters of Romans.  Therefore, it is imperative that we understand what it means to be justified.

First, the scripture makes clear that justification is something that is solely an act of God alone – it is something that God brings about and not something we do or contribute to in some way:

…So that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Romans 4:5).

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33).

What does to be justified mean?

Justification is a judicial or legal proclamation about a person’s relationship to God.  Justification does not necessarily change the person but is a change in the person’s status.  Louis Berkhof noted that justification is a judicial act of God, in which he declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner.  It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification.

Thus, justification is a legal declaration by God concerning my status in respect to my relationship with him.  It is not causing me to become righteous or holy in an ethical sense or necessarily changing my inner man but a declaration of my being new status in Christ – I have been declared to be righteous as I have been put into Christ.

Justification as meaning a legal or judicial declaration is shown in a number of passages as well as within the Old Testament.  Deuteronomy 25:1 and Proverbs 17:15 demonstrate the legal nature of justification with its standing in contrast to condemnation.  To condemn does not mean to make one a sinner – but it is a declaration of one’s state of wickedness.  Thus, to justify does not necessarily make one just or righteous but it is a statement or declaration of their state of righteousness in the eyes of God.

How are we justified?

The passage stated above – Romans 5:1-2 – alludes to the fact that this occurs by grace accessed through faith.

The righteousness of God is access through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:22).  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, further, we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25).

Justification is received because of God’s grace, which is an unmerited undeserved gift from God.  How does one have access to this grace?  It is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  Grace must be an unmerited gift from God.  As Paul makes clear, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).  If we inject works or our efforts into the idea of meriting God’s favor or bringing about our justification, it is no longer on the basis of grace.  Grace and works or man’s effort are mutually exclusive when it comes to our justification and being at peace with God.  We bring nothing to the equation other than faith and repentance.

Faith and Repentance

As a side note on faith and repentance, it should also be understood that faith and repentance can be described as opposite sides of the same coin.  In our turning to God (faith) we are turning away from the world and our sins (repentance).  Paul makes clear in Acts 10:21 that faith and repentance are inseparable.  You cannot say that you have genuine faith without genuine repentance and vice versa.  Repentance is a change of one’s mind – it is a recognition that one’s righteousness is as filthy rags and that his only hope is in God’s mercy.  Out of this change of mind a person confesses his sin and turns away from those things and to God.  The proof of a repentant heart is the action that flows out of his changed mind and attitude.  To say that faith and repentance is now something that man brings to the table is also a misunderstanding of the scripture and giving credit where it does not belong – the spiritually dead man.

Scripture seems rather clear that both repentance and faith are gifts from God to man.  In numerous passages, faith is seen as being a gift from God to man – that man’s ability to believe, his faith, is a direct result of God’s sovereign activity in opening man’s heart to have the ability to respond.  Ephesians 2:8 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  The “and that not of yourselves” is most likely modifying the idea of “faith” – that is that faith is not of ourselves but it is the gift of God.  Philippians 1:29 shows that God has granted us two things for Christ’s sake – both faith and our call to suffer for him.

Multiple places in Acts demonstrates that God is the source of faith:  Acts 13:48, 16:14 and 18:27.

Similarly, repentance is something that God has granted to people – Acts 5:31, 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

Back to Justification

In addition to instructing us that justification is an act that occurs as a result of grace through faith, Paul shows us that Jesus was put forward as a propitiation by his blood.  To propitiate is to satisfy.  In order for God to be both just and the justifier, this punishment for sin needed to be satisfied.  His wrath needed to be mollified.  This occurred with Jesus’ death upon the cross.  The wrath of God for those who would believe was satisfied in that it was poured out upon Christ, the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, so that those who believe could have the perfect life and righteousness of Christ imputed to them.  This is known as the Great Exchange.  Upon Christ was poured out the wrath and judgment that I deserved and I have been put in Christ so that his righteousness and perfect life is imputed to me and I can now be peace with God and rejoice for the hope that is within me.

Some other passages:

And you were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.   But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christby grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  Ephesians 2:1-9.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:3-7

Summary

So what pattern should we be seeing here with respect to how we come to be at peace with God?  We are at peace with God by our justification.  Justification is an act by which God, through his sovereign prerogative, undertakes to declare the repentant believer to be just and righteous.  Not a righteousness based on his own life obviously but the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer and his sins are removed.  The wrath of God has been satisfied as it was poured out on Christ in our stead.  God receives all the glory for there is nothing that we as rebellious sinners could have done in order to ever merit or earn God’s favor through our good works to satisfy the judgment and wrath that was upon us.  It is sole based on the perfect and complete work of Christ on the cross.  You and I bring nothing to the table but the faith and repentance that God has granted to us.  Through that faith we have access to God’s grace.  We bring nothing else.  We do not bring money, we do not bring good deeds, we do not bring baptism or speaking in tongues or any other work to somehow merit or appropriate to ourselves the salvation that was purchased for us on the cross.

Paul continues his explanation on justification through faith with a couple of examples in chapter four of Romans, which we will look at next time.

The Gospel According to Oneness Pentecostalism – Part 4

One of the fundamental issues with Oneness Pentecostalism is their hermeneutical approach to understanding scripture.  Unfortunately, it is a poor hermeneutic.  Despite their protestations to the contrary, everything starts and finishes with Acts 2:38.  All other scripture is viewed through the lens of Acts 2:38, which does not bring clarity but distorts their understanding of the gospel.  If a passage does not fit within the model of Acts 2:38, its meaning must be contorted in order to fit their soteriology.  Rather than understanding Acts 2:38 within the broader message conveyed by scripture all scripture is understood and interpreted through the lens of Acts 2:38.

In looking at David Bernard’s statements regarding repentance and baptism, he makes abundantly clear that repentance is insufficient to result in the remission of sins but relies on passages such as Acts 2:38 and 3:19 to argue that baptism must follow repentance in order to effectuate the remission of sins.  By repentance, one has had a change of mind, a change of direction and expressed sorrow for their sins but the sin remains and must be dealt with.  The only way to deal with the presence of sin in one’s life is to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order that those sins may be removed and forgiven.

The book of Acts examples make clear that baptism was viewed as important by the New Testament church.  Baptism always appeared to follow immediately upon a confession of faith in Christ.  The question must be asked of Oneness Pentecostals, were these people baptized because they were saved or in order to be saved?  What was their standing with God at the time they turned to God, repented, and confessed faith in the work of Christ?

In the Oneness view, they had merely repented or turned to God but were still stained with sin and unsaved.  The individuals they saw in the book of Acts who had repented (and even received the Holy Spirit, in the case of Cornelius and his household) remained in a lost state until they were baptized.  They were baptized in order to be saved.  They were baptized in order for the remission of sins to be effectuate in their lives.

Further, they were baptized because they must be born of water in order to be born again and see the kingdom of God.  They were baptized to identify with the burial of Christ and to bury their old nature and to walk in the newness of life.  Unless you are baptized you have not put on Christ.  Further, you must be baptized in order to identify with your spiritual circumcision and being a part of the new covenant.  Each of these assertions by Bernard are examples of proof-texting and, in many cases, argue against the position that Bernard is using these passages to defend – the essentiality of baptism to our being made righteous before God.

The fundamental message of the gospel is that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It has been said that the repentance, which is a turning of direction, a changing of the mind away from sin and turning to Christ in faith are opposite sides of the same coin.  When we turn by faith to Christ and place our confidence in Him and His completed work for us on the cross this necessarily involves repentance of sin – the turning away from sin and turning to Christ.  In making such a turn, our sins are imputed to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to us.  We are justified (declared not guilty, declared righteous) by grace through faith and not by works.  When we stand justified by faith we have peace with God and we are able to stand before him and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  (Romans 5)

We are not justified by faith and baptism or faith, baptism and speaking in tongues or anything else for that matter.  Yet, this distorted view of the gospel turns the gospel from being a God-oriented message of salvation to a man-oriented message.  This leads to a number of other problems in the thinking of those that are trapped in this man’s performance view of salvation.  For man, in his fallen state, is simply never able to measure up.  There is no true freedom and rest in Christ when man is busy measuring what he is able to do rather than focusing on and being thankful for what God has done.  This man-centered mentality has the further dangerous consequence of denying glory to God by shifting the cause of our salvation away from God, Christ’s life and death on the cross and shifting it to corruptible man – away from creator and lifting up the creation.

The Gospel According to Oneness Pentecostalism – Part 3

In this third installment, I want to cover the “next step” in the gospel according to the UPC and that is receiving the Holy Spirit.

Receiving the Holy Spirit According to OP

In addition to repentance and baptism in Jesus’ name for the remission of sins, one must receive the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues in order to complete the new birth process.

According to OP, the baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in other tongues is viewed as not an optional, post-conversional experience.  Bernard cites to Mark 16:17 as supporting the view that speaking in other tongues is the sign of receiving the Spirit.[i]  While there are five biblical examples of people receiving the Spirit (the Jews, the Samaritans, the Gentiles, the apostle Paul and the disciples of John at Ephesus), Bernard notes that three of the accounts explicitly describe speaking in tongues while other tongues are implicit in the other two circumstances.

In Acts 2:1-4 Bernard states that it was the “speaking in tongues ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance’ [that] was the initial sign of each individual filling.”[ii]

“Speaking in tongues was what convinced the skeptical, astonished Jews that the Gentiles had just received the Holy Ghost; tongues alone sufficiently identified this as the Pentecostal experience (Acts 10:44-47; 11:15-17).  They knew they had received ‘the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For they heard them speak with tongues’ (Acts 10:45-46).  The Ephesian disciples also spoke in tongues as the first sign of receiving the Spirit (Acts 19:6).”[iii]

While in Acts 8 tongues are not mentioned, clearly a sign is given causing Simon the magician to desire to purchase the ability to impart the Holy Spirit.  While no mention is made of Paul speaking in tongues at his conversion, Bernard cites to I Corinthians 14:18 to demonstrate that Paul stated he spoke in tongues often.

With respect to the baptism of the Spirit, Bernard also states, “We should always expect speaking in tongues when someone receives the Holy Spirit.  Tongues do not save in any sense, but the Spirit baptism produces tongues as the initial sign.”[iv]

“What is the status of a person who repents and is baptized, thereby receiving remission of sins, but does not receive the Holy Spirit?”  Bernard answers that, “He cannot be condemned for sins that are remitted, yet he cannot enter the kingdom of God without the birth of the Spirit and the holiness imparted by the Holy Spirit.”[v]

What is sad is that I have known individuals, one in particular who was raised in a UPC home with a UPC pastor as her father, who believed that Acts 2:38 literally stated, “And then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, with evidence of speaking in other tongues.”  When she heard this verse read over the pulpit of a non-UPC church and did not hear this final phrase, she thought to herself, “Let me go and see what the King James version says….”  She didn’t find that phrase there either.  The teaching that the reception of the Holy Spirit is always accompanied by the evidence of speaking with unknown tongues is so ingrained in the teaching of the UPC that lifelong members (who do not pay close enough attention to the scripture itself) can fall into this extreme of thinking.  Even if they know that Acts 2:38 does not state this, they absolutely believe that this is the teaching of scripture.

This is what happens when you approach the scripture with presuppositions – you will read into the scripture what you believe it teaches.  And yet, when those scales fall from one’s eyes or one asks and has the Spirit illuminate their sight as they read the scripture, it brings new meaning to the words of Jesus when he said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

In the coming blog posts, I will begin to address the error of the gospel according to Oneness Pentecostalism and I hope that the words of Jesus will come to pass in the lives of any Oneness Pentecostal who will happen across this blog.

[i] Id. at 20.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id. at 21.

[v] Id.

The Gospel According to Oneness Pentecostalism – Part 2

In continuing my series of posts on the gospel according to Oneness Pentecostalism, I want to touch on the subjects of repentance and baptism and the OP view on these subjects.  You will note that OP does not view baptism as a simply an ordinance, however important, but as essential to salvation.  According to OP, you cannot be saved if you are not baptized and if your are not baptized by immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins.

Repentance and Baptism

Repentance, according to David Bernard, is only the first step in dealing with sin in one’s life.  He uses the example of spilling ink on a carpet and notes that there are two steps required for a complete restoration.  There must first be an expression of regret and apology to the owner, which would represent the notion of repentance.  But following repentance there then must be the removal of the stain and this is only accomplished through baptism.[i]

“The inward work of salvation begins at repentance, but repentance alone is not the complete work of salvation.  Water baptism makes the turn from sin complete by burying the old man.  Repentance and water baptism together bring the full work of remission of sins (Acts 2:38).  Perhaps we can say that God deals with the present consequences of sin at repentance and with the past record and future consequences of sin at water baptism.  Both components are necessary.”[ii]

Thus, for OP baptism is essential for the new birth.  It is essential for the removal of sin and for one to be in right standing with God.

Relying on I Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:41, Bernard asserts that baptism is an essential part of salvation and is an expression of faith in God by obedience to his word.[iii]  Bernard argues that baptism must be more than a symbolic ceremony and more than a public declaration of joining the church by citing to the Ethiopian eunuch, who was baptized in the desert with no observer, and the Philippian jailer, who was baptized at midnight, which demonstrated the urgency of the matter of baptism.[iv]

Bernard states the following passages demonstrate the significance of baptism:

  • Remission of sins occurs in baptism (Acts 2:38, 22:16)
  • Baptism is a part of the new birth (John 3:5, Titus 3:5)
  • Baptism identifies with the burial of Christ – it indicates we died to sin by repentance and are burying our past sin, the dominion of sin and sinful lifestyles (Rom 6:4, Col 2:12)
  • Water baptism is a part of the one baptism of water and Spirit that places us in Christ – (Rom 6:3-4, Gal 3:27, Eph 4:5) – by baptism we enter God’s family.
  • Baptism is a part of our spiritual circumcision – (Col 2:11-13) – by the new birth we enter into the new covenant relationship with God.[v]

With regards to baptism, two other points are of note with respect to the OP perspective.  First, OP (as the name implies) argues that baptism should be administered by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and anyone baptized in any other mode, such as in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, should be re-baptized.  Bernard cites to Acts 19 justifying the re-baptism of those who had been baptized in a manner other than in the name of Jesus Christ.

David Bernard cites to Acts 10 and notes that when “a person received the Holy Spirit before water baptism, he has a new spiritual life; nevertheless, he is commanded to be baptized in Jesus’ name, and we must always obey God’s commands to remain in right relationship to Him.”[vi]  There is a great deal packed into this statement that should be addressed.

Once one has repented and been baptized, according to OP, it is essential that the believer receive the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.  I will cover this topic in my next blog post.

[i] Bernard, David K., Essentials of the New Birth, Word Aflame Press, 1987. 16.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id. at 17.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id. at 19.

The Gospel According to Oneness Pentecostalism – Part 1

For the next several posts, I thought I would provide some background on the gospel as it is understood by Oneness Pentecostalism (OP) in general – the UPCI in particular.  I will cite quite a bit to David Bernard, former pastor from Texas and now Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International.  He is also seems to have been, over the years, the chief apologist for OP.  He has written extensively on such subjects as the new birth, the oneness of God (modalism), holiness and other subjects from a OP perspective.  I believe I provide fairly accurately the OP perspective and feel that I am in a good position, though not a theologian or seminary trained individual, to rebut these perspectives.  With that, I thought I would being by looking at the OP perspective on the gospel in general and start by looking at the subjects briefly of the new birth followed by repentance, baptism and the Holy Spirit.

The gospel according to Oneness Pentecostalism (OP) is rooted in the idea of the new birth from John 3.  OP acknowledges that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that the wages of sin is death.  In order to for one to be saved one must be born again – and this means being born of water (baptism) and being born of spirit (filled with the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues).  (John 3:3, 5)  To be born again, one must identify with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection through repentance, baptism and receiving the Spirit, which is the gospel.  (Romans 6:1-7, 7:6, 8:2, Acts 2, and I Cor 15)  Thus, one identifies with Christ’s death through repentance, is buried with Christ in baptism and is raised to walk in the newness of life through receiving the Holy Spirit.

In answering the question, what must one do to be save, OP holds that “Peter was able to give a precise, complete and unequivocal answer: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 2:38 – KJV).  This comprehensive answer to an inquiry about New Testament conversion expresses in a nutshell the proper response to the gospel.”[i]

We will find the recurring theme of Acts 2:38 throughout UPC thinking.  It is absolutely central to the UPC understanding of the gospel and the lens through which the UPC views and interprets scripture.  It is the verse of scripture by which you can define the UPC.  In the coming blog posts, I’ll touch on the UPC notions of repentance, baptism and the Holy Spirit and from there we will examine these views more critically.

[i] Bernard, David K., Essentials of the New Birth, Word Aflame Press, 1987. 14.