by Barry Newton
During the 1970’s, the tv character Archie Bunker from “*All In The Family*” spewed forth racial slurs exemplifying a bigot. While the producer wanted us to laugh at him, evidently the real goal was to effect social change by inducing a nauseous reaction against Archie’s prejudices.
Today American society generally recognizes the injustice of denouncing an entire racial group based upon a small sampling. Each person should be evaluated upon his or her own merit. Yet somehow it seems to have escaped our notice that if the logic of prejudice is deeply flawed, so too is that rational which would condemn baptism as being a work incapable of ushering us into salvation.
Just as we might notice that one member of a social class is afflicted with a debilitating limitation not impacting his or her peers, so too Paul riveted our attention upon the limitations of the works of the Law within that larger category called human activity.
In his Ephesian letter Paul instructed his assistant to scratch out the words, “For by grace are you saved through faith … not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Echoing Ephesians 2:9’s sentiments, Paul would continue to repeatedly denounce the self-reliance rising from the works of the Law as being incapable of justifying or saving us (Romans 3:27-28; Galatians 2:16). The human activity associated with these works creates a street to nowhere (Romans 4:2-5; Galatians 3:3-12).
While the hustle and bustle characteristic of the works of the Law are a soteriological dead end, Paul wrote favorably about another form of human activity, namely works of faith (2 Thessalonians 1:11) and the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5). To avoid the fallacy of a sweeping generalization endemic of prejudice, each type of human activity should be evaluated independently.
According to Paul, the gospel’s call is intended to produce an obedience of faith expressed by confessing with one’s mouth, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 16:25-26;10:8-9). Confessing Christ involves doing something. Yet the activity of confession results in being saved (Romans 10:9-10).
However, acknowledging Christ is not the only active response to the gospel an obedient faith must manifest. Paul knew and taught that relying upon Jesus through being baptized would release a person from their sins (Acts 22:16; Romans 6:17-18). Accordingly he described this act of faith as causing someone to become a child of God (Galatians 3:26-27), as well as being the time when God gives someone spiritual life and grants him or her forgiveness (Colossians 2:11-13).
Just as an unjustified leap exists in criticizing an entire ethnic group based upon a single individual, so too irrationality spews forth in denouncing all human activity as being unrelated to our salvation.
Prejudice distorts social truth. Denouncing all human activity as being futile in accepting salvation, because of what has been written about the works of the Law, distorts spiritual truth.
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