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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saving Faith, Once Again

There will always be debate, on what level of faith is enough, from simple assent to the proposition that God exists, to a martyrdom in faith-response to the resurrection-after-crucifixion of Jesus.  What is the faith that saves?

A simple quotation of John 3:16 will not settle the matter.  That one-liner falls into place, deeply embedded in context, within a theologically complex document.  One does not finish with the meaning of 3:16 until the Fourth Gospel has been processed.

Much is lost in current discussions where ignorance of covenantal-relating clouds discourse.  Throughout Scripture, faith(fulness) is responsible covenant-relating.  Period.  It denotes such love and respect for one’s covenant partner (such as a spouse in marriage) that faith always does right regarding the partner.  A faithful partner is “righteous”—not merely adhering to some code of morality, but in action staying true to covenant, true to partner.

It has been noted that faith bears a broad range of meanings:  belief, trust, faithfulness, loyalty and fidelity.  And it is rightfully said that the entire range is embraced by—and only by—a martyr.

Faith also must be a direct response to the Cross.  Some wispy conviction that there is a God “out there”, without a personal encounter with crucified Jesus, is simply not the faith that saves.  Yes, one must believe that God exists (Hebrews 11:6).  Nor is it sufficient to assent to some denominational creed or belief statement and stake salvational hope on that “faith”, without letting the Cross make its own demands.

In the Cross, Jesus gave the ultimate faith(fulness) to prospective partners in a New Covenant.  He was the martyr, par excellence.  And His responsive demand of any who would engage His faith with “faith” of their own, and so to be saved, is their martyrdom also.  Nothing less is saving faith, and I speak boldly here without apology to anyone.  The only fitting response any can offer to One who gave all for them, is to give all in return.  There must be a death:

25 Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them, 26 If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? 29 Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, 30 saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. 33 So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. 34 Salt therefore is good: but if even the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? 35 It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill: men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.  (Luke 14:25-35, ASV)

Imagine the throngs of American church-goers who have never died.  Participated in sacraments; but never died.  Worshiped and prayed; but never died.  Made a few right moral decisions; but never died.  Read the Bible; but never died.  Got religion; but never died to sin in response to the Cross.  None should attempt to join Christianity who have not counted the cost of martyrdom.

The setting for a cartoon I once saw is a living room Bible study with two couples.  A woman speaks as the others lean-in attentively but with bewildered dismay, and she blurts out:  “Well, I haven’t actually died to sin, but I did feel kind of faint once.”  Something is dreadfully wrong with our churches and with our evangelistic work when people enter membership without dying.

The Restoration Movement set aside “old perspective” Reformed dogma and went back to the Scriptures to see what was required for salvation.  Understanding “faith” to be the essence, we rightly understood the full range of requirements to fall under this rubric.  It is all part of the faith-response to Jesus.  

And Restorationists were not bound by the Reformed demands for a totally passive convert, one who deferred to the sovereignty of God, who as God not only did all of the saving work for the convert, but (for reasons beyond us) did this work for some people but not for others—(but I digress).  We ignored this faulty theology and recovered the covenantal framework, and covenants—like all relationships—require bilateral effort from active partners.  The “new perspective on Paul” has shown that the Lutheran objection that denies the convert any responsive actions (thus involving “salvation by works”) is a terrible misunderstanding of Paul’s writings.  Unlike Reformation thinking, Paul fully expected an active convert who would approach the Cross, and respond.  Reformed theology seems to expect converts modeled after "Stepford Wives", whose relational responses are all programmed by their partner!

So, also expecting believers who were not bound-up in such “total depravity” and were actually capable of responding to God, we went to the Bible to see what exactly was required for salvation.

Well, one must believe/have faith.  And one must repent of sins.  And one must confess the Lordship of Jesus, verbally (with the lips).  And one must call upon the Lord’s Name.  All of this requires that one hear the Gospel—the message of the Cross.  And, contrary to Reformed Protestantism largely, one must be baptized.

I have suggested (in my course on Covenant Relating) that these requirements stimulate covenantal/relational responses that, taken together, constitute the believer’s martyrdom.  They bring death, followed by resurrection life.  The baptism is the climactic death-blow.  It is an immersion in water that results--following death--in remission of sins and reception of Spirit.  That is, baptism now saves you.

I suggest that each requirement, set forth by God in Scripture as a requirement for salvation, evokes a particular “relational dynamic”.  Each plays a role in achieving the quality of relationship that God demands prerequisite to salvation.  If you die for Jesus, as He did for you, the implications carry you in certain directions and rule out others as no longer acceptable.  Repentance brings the “dynamic” of holiness.  Confessing the Lordship brings the dynamic of “established lines of authority.”  And make no mistake, salvation is a function and product of relationship, of covenant.

It should be said that the believer’s martyrdom is not necessarily physical, is not mortal in that sense.  Some describe each person as having a “personal throne” in their heart and, prior to conversion to Jesus, each individual rules his/her own life.  But that little ruler must be put to death.  The self gets mortified.  And Jesus takes over the throne, in full authority that He rightly merited on the Cross.  This is why Jesus, in Luke 9:23, insists that we die not once, but daily.  Martyrdom becomes relational dynamic, as Paul expressed:

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.  (2 Cor 5:14-15, ASV)

So saving faith is nothing less than that response to the Cross that results in Jesus living in, ruling over, making ethical, moral, and spiritual decisions for a yielding martyr.  Nothing less is saving faith.