Faith and Works – Part 1

 Can that faith save him?  James 2:14

In speaking with a UPCI minister once about my newly discovered understanding of justification and sanctification in the scripture, particularly in looking at Romans 3 and 4, one of the immediate responses was, “but you can’t just ignore works….”

On the one hand, when you come from a legalistic mindset that emphasizes man’s performance and meriting the favor of God by doing certain things, it is only natural that you are going to feel that something is terribly wrong with the idea that God forgives me of my sins when I, in my repentant state, turn to God in faith.  Surely that can’t be all.  Yes and no.  Yes, that is all that it takes for God to declare me righteous.  It isn’t about anything that I have done or could do – it is all about what Christ did on the cross and, in his sovereign prerogative, he placed within me the gift of faith and granted me the opportunity to repent.  End of story – and the beginning of the story.

On the other hand, the New Testament does talk about works, obedience, good deeds, and spiritual fruit.  So how does this all fit together?

In Romans 3:38 Paul states, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  In James 2:24, James states, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”  How do we reconcile these two passages?  Are Paul and James simply contradicting one another?  This would seem contrary to our understanding of the divine inspiration of scripture.  Or should we simply look a little more closely at the context in which both men are writing and see if we can harmonize these passages?

Both James and Paul must be viewed in their context.  They are both addressing different issues relating to the subject of salvation but as we will see they are coming at that subject with very different points.

As we are already aware, Paul is addressing justification from the context of redemption.  We are at peace with God as a result of our being justified by grace through faith.  We are saved not as a result of our works or any law keeping but because of our faith in God.  One cannot work their way to heaven or merit God’s favor but the remission of sins is purely a gift of God through the grace of God.  Paul is addressing how it is one moves from being an unregenerate sinner into the church of God and it is through justification by faith.

As we look at the context of James, he is writing to the church and is addressing some very specific issues that he is seeing in the church.  He is not addressing justification from the standpoint of getting “into the church” but he is addressing those that claim to be a part of the church and having been justified by faith.  The problem that James is addressing is those who claim to be believers but that proclamation of faith yields no further fruit.  He addresses situations that he sees in the church that reflect a lack to true faith that would have led to justification in the first place.

James is drawing a line between those who have make an intellectual assent (a form of faith in that it is an intellectual acknowledgement of God) and those that possess true saving faith that results in spiritual fruit, such as obedience, in the life of a person that is truly trusting in Christ.

His point is that true saving faith results in a life of obedience to God – not that we live perfect lives and never make mistakes and fall – but there should be a manifest change in our lives if the Spirit of God is truly living in our hearts.

James writes of true religion being a faith in which professed believers are not merely hearers of the word but doers of the word.  To be a hearer of the word only is to deceive yourself for we must be doers of what we hear.  We must be obedient to the word of God in our lives.  James speaks of true and pure religion being that which produces fruit in the life of the believer.  It will change the way a man speaks and the things which concern man.  He will be concerned with the poor and seek to remain unstained from the world.  (James 1:19-27).  A man will not show partiality among the believers but will seek to fulfill the royal law, which is to love ones neighbors as oneself.  (James 2:1-9).

After showing that faith and religion should produce a change in the life of a professed believer, James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.”  (James 2:14-17).

The point of James:  How can you say that you have true saving faith in your heart if your life and behavior does not demonstrate that faith with consistent works of faith?  Your behavior should reflect your profession of faith.  The answer to James’ question, “Can that faith save him?” is No.  A faith that is not accompanied by any fruit cannot be true faith.

“I will show you my faith by my works.”  (James 2:18).  Works – not in the legalistic sense of meriting anything from God or somehow earning God’s favor by our actions – demonstrate the faith that is in our hearts.  Our works reveal that faith that is within us and, thus, vindicates our profession of faith.  James points out that the devils believe in God and they shudder.  The point here isn’t that faith alone is insufficient to save because even the devils believe – the point being made by James is that the devils don’t have a faith that can restore their relationship and status with God because it does not and will not bring about a conformity on the part of the devil to the image of Christ.  Their faith does not produce obedience.  Their faith is not a saving faith.

John Calvin stated, “He says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works.  Hence we conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name.”  Thus, absent a demonstration of faith, there is truly no evidence that there ever was true faith to begin with.

Abraham

James offers some examples and first cites to Abraham.  In verses 20-24 he states, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ – and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.’

Certainly this is a challenging text but if one looks closely at what is being stated by James, we see this comports perfectly with the notion that we are focusing on the evidence of faith in one’s life justifying or vindicating their profession of faith, not resulting in their justification/salvation by works.

We know, according to Paul and a reading of Genesis 15, that it was when Abraham believed God that his faith was counted to him as righteousness.  Abraham was justified before God – he was declared righteous when he believed God.  It was before the performance of any works, including circumcision and years before even the birth of Isaac.  (See Romans 4:1-3).  Nevertheless, Abraham’s claim to faith was justified or vindicated in the sight of man when he obeyed God, left his country and his family, was circumcised, and even when he offered up Isaac on the altar in obedience to God.  When he was obedient to God, Abraham was demonstrating that his claim to faith was true and a reality.

When James cites to Abraham’s offering Isaac up on the altar, from Genesis 22, we know what Abraham had already believed God and was justified.  God was examining Abraham’s heart by asking for his obedience and through his obedience, Abraham’s faith was justified or vindicated.

Abraham’s obedience was not the grounds for his justification in the sense of salvation.  As James points out “and the scripture was fulfilled” – Abraham’s living out his faith through obedience was fulfilling or revealing that his profession of utter and complete faith in God was a true profession of faith.

Paul stresses that faith along brings about our justification but James shows that a faith that can save/justify us is one that will bring about evidence that faith is truly present in the heart.  James is stressing the expression of faith.  As James asked the question, “show me your faith apart from deeds” he looks to Abraham and says that Abraham’s profession of faith was demonstrably true – he was shown to be righteous – by his actions.

            Rehab

James cites to another Old Testament example in the prostitute, Rehab, of Jericho.  “And in the same way was not also Rehab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”  (James 2:25).

James compares the manner of Father Abraham’s justification with that of the prostitute Rehab.  Rehab hid and protected the two spies from Israel sent to spy out Jericho for its eventual destruction.  Abraham’s faith was revealed in his willingness to offer the son of promise, Isaac, on the alter.  Rehab’s faith was revealed in the fact that she hid the spies when the men of Jericho came looking for them.  This was a demonstration of the faith that was present within her.  It was as clear a demonstration of faith in God as Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac.  Hebrews 11:31 mentions Rehab as one of the heroes of faith and that it was her faith that motivated her actions in hiding the spies.

Afterwards, her words to the spies confirm the faith-based motivation of her actions:  “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  … And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.  Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”  (Joshua 2:9-13).

Summary

There is no contradiction between Paul and James on the subjects of faith and works.  To the contrary, Paul wrote many times on the subject of works or obedience or what he might call the fruit of the Spirit that results from a true profession of faith in God.  In Romans 1:5, Paul ties faith with obedience.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “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.”  So we have been saved by grace through faith – it is not of our own doing and it is not the result of works so no one can be arrogant concerning their salvation.  In the very next sentence, Paul continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  (Philippians 2:8-10).

Paul further exhorted in Titus (2:7, 14, 3:1, 8, 14):

“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity….”

“…who gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work….”

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.  These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

“And lot our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

These are only a few examples from Paul out of Titus alone that stress the importance of living out our faith.  Other passages include:  2 Cor 9:8, Col 1:10, 2 Thess 1:11, 2:17, I Tim 2:10, 5:10, 5:25, 6:18, 2 Tim 2:21, 3:17.

Certainly, Jesus himself taught over and over the necessity of living out our faith and obedience.  Our justification by faith and call to good works are complementary and never in contradiction to one another so long as they are viewed in their proper context and in light of the larger understanding of the nature of man without Christ and with Christ.  As we have previously discussed, can one who is dead in his trespasses and in rebellion to God truly perform good works to somehow earn the forgiveness of sins.  Or is our obedience simply another outflow that results from the change that God has worked within in our hearts?  Paul and James would seem to agree that faith brings about an internal change that brings about an external change through a life lived demonstrating the faith that is now within us.

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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.

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 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.