That old familiar numbness invades the legs as the long-distance runner enters the zone. The pace no longer is the result of strenuous effort. What matters most is deciding which fork in the road to take. Will I press along where this path carries me, or will I follow that one?
While a runner’s choices might not be so significant, how we understand biblical words and phrases related to salvation can be.
Here’s one runner’s suggestions for which fork in the road we should choose for the journey. You may differ with me. If so, why?
First fork in the road: When the New Testament describes water baptism, does it have in view sprinkling or an immersion?
Choose the path of baptism referring to a watery burial followed by being raised up (Romans 6:3-4). This was the earliest Christian practice.
Second fork in the road: In composing what we call Romans 4 and Galatians 3, was Paul’s intention to define how people need to respond to Christ with faith or was he engaged in defending the principle of faith?
If we choose the former, then citing the example of Abraham would mean faith in Christ requires mere belief. If Paul intended the latter, than the example of Abraham’s belief defends the principle of trusting without delineating how we must rely upon Christ.
Pick the latter. Opting for the former not only goes against the greater context, but it causes Paul to become self-contradictory throughout his writings.
Third fork in the road: When Paul wrote in Romans 8:1, “there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus,” does this phrase capture the essence of ongoing grace or forgiveness? What might seem like a subtle fork in the road leads to vastly different mindsets.
Arguing that this expression outlines the nature of grace, some have claimed that with this teaching Paul affirms Christians possess freedom to live and worship according to their own desires without fear of condemnation. Whereas the other path would cause us to understand Paul is simply asserting that Christians are forgiven.
Select forgiveness, not grace. The context describes freedom from sin and death, not a freedom releasing us from an obligation to please God.
Fourth fork in the road: When Paul used the phrase “faith of Christ” (Romans 3:22-26; Galatians 2:16; 3:22; Philippians 3:9) to identify the foundational principle causing us to become worthy of being justified, did he intend us to understand this as our faith in Christ or Christ’s faith / faithfulness?
Choose the latter. Not only does the other option cause human faith to become a type of work meriting justification, but how can anyone, other than Christ, be worthy of justification based upon who they are, even if it is their faith? Furthermore, in most of these contexts Paul also teaches that Christians “believe in him” in order to appropriate what Christ’s faith has made possible.
Journeys are shaped by the goal. Goals proliferate. Some may pursue security at the crossroads by running down popular wide roads or following a particular person. Others may choose to blaze a never-before-discovered trail, thereby attempting somehow to chisel their own mark of significance.
There is also another goal-shaping course. This goal calls for a humility and commitment to the author’s guidance in seeking an ever closer understanding of the originally intended message.
When it comes to the journey of understanding the biblical text, where do you want to go?