All I could see dangling over the edge of our shed’s roof were his feet. My words ascended up to a boy obscured from view, “Son, slowly let yourself down. I will support you.”
The response was short and terse, “I’m afraid.”
In the most security inspiring tone I could muster came the words, “It’s OK. Just six more inches and I will be able to grab your feet. Trust me.”
In that moment, a young boy instinctively knew something which has formally eluded many. How we trust is situationally specific. Declaring faith is necessary does not inform us how to trust.
For example, earlier that week he had exhibited faith in his dad by simply believing the promise, “I’ll be home on time so we can play soccer together.” But now, as he lay on his stomach on a warm asphalt shingled roof, even he knew that this situation would require a different faith response than just being fully convinced his dad would grab his feet. Faith in dad would require moving another six inches off the roof.
On another occasion earlier that summer, a couple of bees had circled around his body. I had commanded, “stand still.” It had taken a lot of faith in dad to remain motionless. But to remain frozen now would not constitute trusting in his dad or believing in his dad. No, in order for him to possess faith in his dad at this moment would require him to slowly back off of the roof until he could feel his dad’s secure hands supporting his tennis shoes.
The nature of faith impacts the doctrine of salvation.
All of us have discovered ourselves in a situation far worse than merely dangling our feet over the edge of a roof. When God looks at people, he perceives the stain of sin upon us,condemning us to what has been prepared for Satan and his angels. And so, in love the Father took the initiative to rescue us, yet to do so without violating his righteous nature./1 By sending his Son to die on our behalf, God avoided the problem of trampling upon the requirements of justice which demanded sin to be condemned while simultaneously also creating through grace the basis for a new relationship with himself. People could now be forgiven and belong to God, not based upon their own merit, but rather upon the sinless righteousness of Jesus./2 God’s promise to forgive those who would receive Jesus is called the new covenant./3 God chose those within this new covenant community of Christ, known as the body of Christ or the church, to belong to himself and be forgiven.
Understandably then, through the gospel God calls us to stop creating further guilt and begin to trust in Jesus for salvation./4 Since God has provided salvation to us on the basis of grace through faith, and since he has determined how we are to trust in Jesus’ blood, the gospel’s call to rely upon Jesus by being immersed is unequivocal and unilateral./5 In baptism, Christ performs a surgery cutting off the sinfulness of our old person in order to create a new creature in Christ raised up from the water forgiven, adopted as a child of God and a servant to righteousness./6 God adds those who have faith in Jesus to his saved people./7
Everyone who preaches the gospel must tell the listener how to respond to Jesus in order to believe in him. How we are to rely upon Jesus is not determined by the word faith, but through looking at the gospel and the contextual framework supporting it, namely covenant. Neither a letter nor an historical example in the New Testament suggests that we are to trust in Jesus by inviting him into our hearts through saying a sinner’s prayer.
What we do repeatedly find are examples and teachings clearly indicating faith in Jesus starts with baptism and that baptism is the point at which the promises of the new covenant are bestowed.
If the goal is to have exegesis drive doctrine, then there is only one direction the discussion of salvation by faith can go when people realize the nature of faith tells us to trust, but does not in and of itself inform us how to rely. The dike which separated baptism from salvation by faith has been breached. The collapse of a major branch of Christendom’s proclamation of how we are to rely upon Jesus is inevitable. The resulting flood waters will sweep away with it all naysaying opposition as multiple biblically-induced paradigm shifts naturally occur.
Yet, the impact of this Wittenberg Door will take time for several reasons. A primary reason is security. Many people derive their sense of security and notion of what is true, not from exegesis or seeking God’s praise, but from being in the midst of a large movement, or in relying upon the opinions of others within their socio-religious context, or in their perception of how their religious or professional peers will view them.
Nevertheless, the blindspot of the sinner’s prayer, namely the nature of faith, has been exposed and it will challenge the prevailing current dogma eventually altering it. Hopefully, sooner as opposed to later the gospel message will universally return to its original proclamation.
(This article is the last article in a three part series.)
1/ Romans 5:8; 3:25-26
2/ Romans 8:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 Peter 1:18-21
3/ Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 8:10,12
4/ Romans 6:1-4; Luke 24:46,47; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 10:43
5/ Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:25; Galatians 3:26-27; Titus 3:4-7; Acts 8:12,13
6/ Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1f.; Romans 6:3-4, 17-18, 22-23; Titus 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16
7/ Acts 2:47, 41