[PODCAST] Regeneration: The Holy Spirit and Baptism

I decided to record an episode discussing the work of the Holy Spirit and the role of baptism in regeneration. I argue that the Holy Spirit is the facilitator of rebirth by working through the preaching of the word, and that baptism is the occasion in which one is born again. This discussion was originally presented as an essay, which can be found here.

You can access the episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments, or feedback. Also, let me know if you have any suggestions for topics that you would like for me to discuss. I can be reached on Twitter and Instagram as @sydsnotebook, or you can email me at sydsnotebook@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Regeneration: The Work of the Holy Spirit and the Role of Baptism

Introduction

Regeneration is a highly debated topic in Christian theology. The two well-known opposing thoughts are Calvinism and Arminianism. While in Calvinism a sinner must be regenerated first in order to have faith in Christ, in Arminianism, regeneration comes after faith (“Explaining Regeneration Preceding Faith” by Matthew Slick; “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?” by Ben Henshaw). Both theologies have at their core the doctrine of original sin and total depravity, which teaches that, due to the sin of Adam, all humankind has become wholly corrupt in body, mind, will, and spirit (“Regeneration Precedes Faith” by R.C. Sproul). The difference, however, is that Calvinists believe that due to this totally depraved state, God’s grace must irresistibly cause people to respond to him, whereas Arminians believe that God’s grace only enables a response. The debate is in fact a matter of man’s free will. Does God regenerate man against his free will, or does he allow man to choose to believe in order to be regenerated? The answer to this question has crucial implications for certain elements of the Christian faith, such as the role of baptism in God’s plan of salvation. If God regenerates man against his free will in order to have faith, baptism ends up being a mere symbol of faith and is not essential for salvation. However, if man must have faith in order to be regenerated, baptism then serves as a work of faith, and thus, is essential for salvation as the occasion for regeneration. The aim of this paper is to argue that baptism is indeed an essential component of God’s plan of salvation. It is the moment in which a penitent sinner is regenerated through faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit serves as the facilitator of regeneration by bringing about faith through the preaching of the gospel. Therefore, the order of salvation is as follows: faith -> baptism -> regeneration.

Before proceeding, we must lay the groundwork, as no one can truly make an argument without the influence of certain basic principles and presuppositions. First, the veracity of God’s word must be taken as a crucial underlying principle. The word of God never contradicts itself. If one truth is mentioned in one part of the Scriptures, and a different truth in another part of the Scriptures, we are not to consider these truths to be opposing in any way, as God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). What we must keep in mind, rather, is that everything in the word of God is truth. The psalmist says, “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psa. 119:160). If one principle in God’s word could contradict another, we would have to conclude that nothing in his word is true, or that truth is subjective, which flies in the face of passages such as John 17:17 where Christ says, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Second, it is presupposed that when the Scriptures speak of baptism in relation to regeneration, the type being referenced is that of water. Peter explains that the flood that saved the eight souls in the days of Noah is a figure of baptism that involves salvation through water (1 Pet. 3:18–21):

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Also, the Hebrew writer tells us that Christians have had their bodies washed with “pure water” (Heb. 10:22):

And having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Additionally, we know that the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in water (Acts 8:36–38):

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

Lastly, the arguments presented in this paper are the general beliefs shared among the members of the church of Christ. Anyone who seeks to follow Christ’s doctrine should not identify with any label that is not of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10–13). Therefore, as members of the church, we do not subscribe to the general theologies of Calvinism or Arminianism. However, as it relates to the debate on regeneration and faith, the church of Christ cannot deny that her belief aligns with the Arminian thought that regeneration comes necessarily after faith.

Paliggenesia – Regeneration

The Greek word paliggenesia, which is directly translated as “regeneration,” is defined as new birth, born again, or rebirth (Strong’s Concordance 3824). It occurs only twice in the New Testament. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus uses the term in speaking with his disciples about the coming of the kingdom of God. That is, he foretells the establishment of the church and the ministry of the apostles during the Christian age. In Titus 3:5, Paul uses “regeneration” when he talks about humankind receiving salvation by God’s grace. Our focus will be this second use of the term. Along with regeneration, Paul mentions “renewal” in Titus 3:5. This word comes from the Greek term anakainósis and is defined as renewal or change of heart and life (Strong’s Concordance 342). Anakainósis is also used in Romans 12:2, Hebrews 6:6, and Colossians 3:10. Despite being conceptually related to paliggenesia, anakainósis differs in that it refers to a process of complete change towards renovation (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Later we will see that this word is not normally used within the context of salvation, but rather, appears in passages that speak of the change occurring in one’s lifestyle after the initial point of salvation.

Although the term “regeneration” scarcely appears in the Scriptures, the idea of new birth shows up in several New Testament passages. The following list enumerates different words and phrases that express this concept:

  • renew (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23 (“ananeoó”); Colossians 3:10; Hebrews 6:6)
  • new man (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10)
  • newness of life (Romans 6:4)
  • born again/or God (John 3:3,6; John 1:13; 1 Peter 1:23–25; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1,18)
  • brought forth (James 1:18)
  • begotten again (1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:1)
  • new creation/creature/created (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:24b)
  • made alive/quickened/give life (John 6:63; Ephesians 2:1; Romans 6:11; Romans 8:11; 2 Corinthians 3:6)

Upon analyzing the uses of these phrases, the Scriptures clearly reveal that salvation is a process that involves regeneration, in which the Holy Spirit acts as the facilitator, and baptism serves as the occasion.

Regeneration and Salvation

According to the epistles of Peter, James, Paul, and John, regeneration is related to salvation. Paul, in particular, states the following in Ephesians 2:4–5:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

In these verses, he shows that being “made alive with Christ” is part of the salvation process. He also reveals that regeneration is something that God performs; it is a gift from above (Jas. 1:17). It is according to his grace and mercy and not based on works that we have done (1 Pet. 1:3; Eph. 2:10). Paul had to explain to the Galatians that regeneration was a spiritual matter, independent of the Mosaic Law; that is, becoming a new creation is not based on the flesh (Gal. 6:13–15). We have the opportunity of regeneration because God desires that his creation be righteous and holy (John 1:13; Jas. 1:18; Eph. 4:24b). He accomplished his will through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:3; Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10). He continues to regenerate his creation through the preaching of his word (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23–25). However, to be children of God, we must have faithful obedience to Jesus Christ (John 1:12–13; 1 John 5:1–5; Eph. 2:1–10). Once we have been born again, we are able to please God in our good works and righteous living. We have the living hope of receiving an inheritance, which is reserved for us in heaven if we continue to be faithful to the Lord (1 Pet. 1:4). A careful reading of the regeneration passages shows that the word of God and faith are what gives us access to rebirth. God’s word and faith are closely linked to the work of the Holy Spirit and the act of baptism.

Holy Spirit: The Facilitator of Regeneration

The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is the facilitator of regeneration. That is, he sets regeneration in motion by working through the word of God. Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel of John that the Spirit gives life; however, he does not work independently of God’s word. Jesus says in John 6:63, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” Later, he says that the Spirit of truth would guide the disciples into all truth and that he would not speak on his own authority, but he would speak whatever he heard from Christ (John 16:13–15). Notice that he refers to the Spirit as the “Spirit of truth.” In John 17:17, Jesus says that God’s word is truth. Therefore, we can conclude that the work of the Spirit is always through the word, which is why Paul, in his second letter to the church at Corinth, says that God made the apostles ministers of the new covenant that is of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:3–6). Furthermore, Peter tells the saints that they had obeyed the truth through the Spirit and had been born again of incorruptible seed through the word of God. Here he refers to the preaching of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:22–25).

An example of the Spirit working through the word to bring about regeneration is seen in Acts 8:26–39 where Luke writes about a eunuch who was returning to Ethiopia after having worshiped in Jerusalem. The evangelist Philip was instructed by an angel of the Lord to leave Jerusalem and head to Gaza. When he arrived, he encountered the eunuch who was in his chariot reading a passage from Isaiah about the Messiah. In that moment, the Spirit told Philip to approach the chariot, and when he did so, he heard what the eunuch was reading, and he asked him if he understood. The eunuch responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” He invited Philip to sit with him, and Philip began to preach the gospel to him, which resulted in the eunuch’s obeying the gospel and being baptized. We observe two facts in this account. First, Philip was willing to do as the Spirit directed because he was convicted by the words of Christ to preach the gospel to all nations (Read Matthew 28:18–20). Second, the Spirit facilitated the salvation process in that he initiated the preaching of the gospel through the evangelist (Read John 14:25–26). As the word was preached, the Spirit convicted the eunuch’s heart, leading him to confess Jesus as the Son of God and to request baptism (Acts 8:36–38; Read Acts 2:36). The Spirit did not save the eunuch. He did not perform any direct miraculous work to regenerate him. He facilitated the preaching of the gospel and pricked the eunuch’s heart through the word. It is in this way that the Spirit gave him life. He never works independently of God’s word and authority. A sinner must hear the gospel for the Spirit to bring about rebirth and salvation. The question that remains then is when does regeneration occur. Is a sinner regenerated at the moment of belief in Christ? Is it his mental process of acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God that brings about his rebirth, or is there another moment that God uses to regenerate him? It is argued here that regeneration does not occur at the moment of mental acknowledgment, but rather when the sinner submits to baptism—the occasion in which God gives life.

Baptism: The Occasion of Regeneration

Romans 6:3–11 and John 3:3–8 are the two main texts in which the concept of regeneration is connected with baptism. The facts of baptism presented in these passages reveal that this act is the occasion in which God regenerates those who have believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and confessed Jesus as the Son of God. In chapter 6 of his letter to the Romans, Paul explains why a Christian should not continue in sin despite receiving an abundance of grace through the death of Christ. He says in verses 3–5:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of his resurrection.

Notice that he employs the phrase “newness of life,” which indicates that he is addressing regeneration. He shows in verses 3–5 that baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. That is, those who submit to this act experiences a death, burial, and resurrection as Christ did, and thus, are united with him. Being pulled out of the water represents being raised from the dead to walk in newness of life, that is, to live as regenerated people. Paul supports his point further by showing that in baptism we crucify the old self, and we are freed from sin. We die to sin in order to become alive to God in Jesus Christ (vv. 6–11):

Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul shows in this passage not only that baptism comes before rebirth, but also that it is the moment at which we are regenerated. Baptism is a symbol of Christ’s death, but it is not a symbol of our faith. It is in fact a work that manifests our faith in Jesus Christ.

In John 3, we read about a Pharisee named Nicodemus who goes to Jesus to know what he must do to enter the kingdom. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). First, we can take from this single verse that the passage is concerned with regeneration by the use of the phrase “born again.” Also, we observe that regeneration is a requirement for entering the kingdom of God. When Nicodemus hears these words, he is perplexed because he does not understand how a man can enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born again. Jesus therefore clarifies his statement (vv. 5–8):

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Notice here that Jesus tells him that being born again means being born of water and the Spirit. This verse is a perfect parallel to Paul’s words in Titus 3:5 in which he explains that God saves us in baptism: “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus shows that we are born again when we submit to the act of baptism, as it is the only occasion in which rebirth can occur. The phrase “born of the Spirit” is a reference to our previous comment concerning the Spirit as the facilitator of regeneration by means of God’s word. The gospel brings about obedience to the word in those who have been convicted by the Spirit. That is why Peter says in Acts 15:9 that Cornelius and his household had their hearts purified by faith. When they heard the preaching of the gospel, they obeyed the command to be baptized.

When we begin to see baptism as the occasion in which God regenerates a sinner, we understand that baptism does not save by itself. That is, there is no such thing as baptismal regeneration. Peter does indeed say that baptism saves; however, he explains how that is. He says, “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 3:21). Baptism is an appeal or a calling out to God so that he cleanses your heart. Observe how the words of Peter and the Hebrew writer are perfectly harmonized on this point:

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:22)

Anakainósis – Renewal

As previously discussed, Paul also mentions in Titus 3:5 the term “renewal,” which comes from the Greek word anakainósis. Although it is similar to paliggenesia, the context in which it is used uncovers a different meaning. Anakainósis can be defined as a process of complete change towards renovation, which includes the renewal of one’s heart and life. Notice that it is with this word that Paul connects the Holy Spirit in Titus 3:5:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and [renewing of the Holy Spirit].

Regeneration occurs in the waters of baptism, but the process of renewal is by the Holy Spirit. This process is made clear in passages such as Romans 12:2, Hebrews 6:6, Colossians 3:10, and Ephesians 4:24.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:2)

If they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Heb. 6:6)

And have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. (Col. 3:10)

And that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:23–24)

These passages do not refer to the initial point of regeneration and salvation. They discuss the life of a person who has already become a child of God through obedience to the gospel. It is at this point that the Holy Spirit begins to work through the word to change the heart and lifestyle of a Christian. Putting off the old man and putting on the new man is a behavioral change. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about how they used to be (vv. 18-19):

Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

But then he says that they were changed by the truth that is in Christ, renewing the spirit of their mind and putting on the new man “which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23–24). This change is required; however, it is possible only after being regenerated in baptism through faith in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

The Scriptures teach that faith precedes regeneration and is a necessary component for rebirth to occur. Although he gives life, the Spirit does not work by his own authority. He facilitates regeneration by working through the word of God. It is by the power of the Spirit that the gospel is preached in order to produce faith in the sinner. The preaching of the word allows the Spirit to convict those who hear the gospel so that they respond in obedient faith. They must obey the command of baptism because this work of faith marks the point at which God regenerates believers and make them his children. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 3:26–27: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Here we see that faith and baptism are connected. People become children of God—that is, they are regenerated—by having faith in Christ, which is realized in baptism. Clearly, faith leads to baptism, which in turn, results in regeneration.

The Faith of Abraham Is Not Faith Alone

When people say that salvation is by faith alone, they define faith incorrectly, or they ascribe faith to the wrong person. They believe that faith is merely a mental process or that it comes only from God. They often use Ephesians 2:8–9 to confirm their belief:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The problem, however, is that Paul does not express in this passage that we are saved by faith alone. Furthermore, there is no indication that faith is directly from God. If we truly want to understand these verses, the best way to do so would be to refer to the conversion account of those to whom Paul writes this letter, that is, to the Ephesian Christians (Read Acts 19), as he is simply recounting their moment of acceptance of Christ. However, instead of analyzing the Ephesians’ response, I want to focus on Abraham, a biblical character Paul discusses in his letter to the Romans. If there is anyone besides Jesus that we could look to as a model of faith, that person is Abraham. I believe he is the best scriptural example to analyze because he is considered the father of all those who have faith in Christ (Rom. 4:11,16). God chose him as the one through whom all nations would be blessed, and his choice was on the basis of faith.

Paul makes an important statement in Romans 1:17 that serves as a focal point of his entire letter. He says, “For in it (that is, in the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

This statement cited from Habakkuk 2:8, “the just shall live by faith,” can also be worded as follows: “the [just by faith] shall live.” Notice that I place brackets around “just by faith” to highlight the idea that one is made righteous by faith, and thus, receives eternal life. We therefore can all agree that faith has a significant role in justification and salvation.

After he establishes that all humankind is guilty of sin in the sight of God, Paul clarifies that neither Jew nor Gentile can use the Mosaic Law as a means of justification. He says in Romans 3:27–28, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Then he uses the example of Abraham to show how one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. He says that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). That is, Abraham was justified by his faith, not by God’s faith. Notice that Paul says in Romans 4:16 that the promise is for those who are of the faith of Abraham. He does not say the faith of God. Therefore, we can conclude from this account that the faith spoken of in Ephesians 2:8 is not a faith that belongs to God, but rather a faith man has in Christ through God’s word (See Romans 10:17). Note also that the original statement in Habakkuk 2:8 is that the just shall live by his faith; that is, it is the faith of the righteous person.

We can also determine from the example of Abraham that faith is not simply a mental process, but rather, it involves taking action that is rooted in trust. James says that faith is dead without works (Jas. 2:14–17):

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

He later uses Abraham as an example (Jas. 2:21–24):

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Here we see that Abraham did not just mentally believe God; he took action in obeying the Lord’s command to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22:18). Abraham’s faith and obedience went hand in hand, showing that they were not separate things. Therefore, a correct definition of faith is that which includes trust and obedience to God’s word. One cannot be saved by faith alone or by works alone because one is incomplete without the other (Jas. 2:22).

Being justified by faith and obedience does not nullify the grace of God. Paul says in Romans 4:4–5, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Abraham clearly did not earn justification by his obedience, because if it were so, it would not have been a gift from God, but rather a debt owed to him. When we say that one must be baptized to be saved, we are simply stating that obedient faith in God is essential, not that it merits salvation as a work of righteousness. In Titus 3:5, Paul shows that baptism is not intended to be a work of righteousness:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The contrastive conjunction “but” distinguishes works of righteousness from the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, these two being the rebirth in baptism Jesus speaks of in John 3. Without them we cannot be justified, nor can we enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Therefore, if justification and entrance into the kingdom is obtained in baptism, as is stated in Titus 3:5 and John 3:5, it stands that baptism as a work of faith is essential for salvation, and not mental belief alone.

Ekklesia

Christ is going to save only one ekklesia, so it behooves all of us to be in the right one. Ekklesia is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as follows: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly.”

This term is used in the Bible with this general sense, for example, in Acts 19 when the people assembled during the riot in Ephesus. Christ used this term in Matthew 16:18 referring to a group of followers who would believe him to be the Son of the living God. Caesarea Philippi—the location where Peter made his confession concerning Christ—has significance because the region was a religious center where people practiced pagan worship. There must have been many ekklesias during that period. Christ highlighted that he would build his own ekklesia. Thus, we know that there is an ekklesia of Christ.

Related to Christ’s use of the word, Paul employs ekklesia to refer to a company of Christians located in different regions (See 1 Corinthians 4:17, Romans 16:1, and Colossians 4:16). This is not to say that Christ has different ekklesias. All those who have believed in Christ and have gone through the conversion experience described in various parts of the Book of Acts have been added to Christ’s ekklesia (e.g., Acts 2:38-47). Paul simply used the term to refer to a congregation or gathering of those believers. Modern English Bible translations use terms such as congregation, assembly, and church, the latter probably being the most common. The church is the body of Christ, and to be saved, you must be in that body because Christ is the Savior of the church:

“And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. ‭1:22-23‬).

“For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23‬).

Christ is coming for his church, not the Baptist church, the Pentecostal church, the Methodist church, the Catholic church, the Orthodox church, the Episcopalian church, the community church, etc. He is going to save the church that he purchased with his blood, the church that is made up of those who have been called out of darkness into his marvelous light (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:9). That ekklesia is the church of Christ—the body of Christ.

[COMMENTARY] Romans 4

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 4

Click here to read the passage.

To further his point that no one is justified by works of the law, Paul goes on to use Abraham as an example of someone who was justified by faith. He asks the following question: “what then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” In other words, what did Abraham gain from keeping the law? If we have followed Paul’s argumentation, we know that the answer is nothing. If Abraham had truly followed all of God’s law perfectly, he would have something to boast about—he would have earned his righteousness. However, the Scriptures teach that Abraham sinned just like everyone else (See Genesis 12:13,16:1–4), but was justified by his faith in that he obeyed God in sacrificing his son Isaac in spite of God’s promise to make him a father of many nations by way of that very same son (Gen. 15:6; 22:1–18). He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Here we see the biblical definition of justification, that is, to be made righteous on the basis of faith in God apart from works.

Clearly, Abraham was justified by his faith, that is, by his obedience. The question then is does obedience nullify the grace of God. Paul says in verses 4–5 that to him who works, the wages are counted to him as a debt, not as grace (i.e., a gift). However, to him who believes—the one who has obedient faith—his faith is reckoned as righteousness. That is to say, God’s justifying people based on their obedience does not invalidate the free gift of justification. In fact, God requires obedience in order for one to be justified. Paul affirms in verse 6 that God imputes righteousness apart from works. If justification is defined as faith being credited as righteousness apart from works—and faith is obedience—we must conclude that obedience is not a work, and therefore, does not nullify the grace of God.

The word “work” is being used in these verses to mean a deed of the law—in this case, the Mosaic Law. Paul cites David, who said, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven.” A blessed man is one who is forgiven for committing deeds that are not of the law; his transgressions are forgiven. This quote further supports the argument that obedience is not a work and is a requirement for justification.

If the blessedness of justification by faith were only for the circumcised, it would not align with the facts concerning Abraham, which is that his faith was credited to him as righteousness while he was still uncircumcised. Once again: he was justified apart from works of the law. His circumcision was a seal of his justification. Justification before circumcision is important because it makes Abraham the father of all who have faith regardless of their being circumcised or not. Justification is a result of faith, not of circumcision. Although some would use verses 11–12 to refute the essentiality of baptism, Paul’s intention is not to speak against this act of obedience, as the spiritual circumcision is much more significant than the physical circumcision mentioned in this text (See Romans 6 and listen to my episode titled Baptism of No Avail).

Paul says in verse 15 that where there is no law there is no transgression. The inverse is also true: where there is a law, there is transgression. The law brings wrath to those who are under it, because no one can be made righteous through it (Rom. 3:10ff). If God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the heir to many nations were through the Mosaic Law, the only ones who would receive the promise would be the adherents to the Law—the Jews. In that case, faith would be useless and the covenant of promise would be annulled (Gal. 3:15–18). There would be no justification by faith, and all humankind would perish.

Notice that the promise was made to the seed of Abraham, that is, to Christ (Gal. 3:16). In order for the covenant of promise to be ratified, Christ—the testator—had to come and die (Heb. 9:16–17). During the time between the promise and the death of Christ, the law was put in place as a tutor to expose sin and to bring sinners to faith in order to be justified (Gal. 3:24). The covenant of promise ensures that all are justified if they have faith like Abraham’s, not if they adhere to the Law. For this reason, Abraham is the father of us all who believe (Rom. 4:16–18).

The reason why Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness was because he was not weak in faith. Abraham’s loins were dead, and his wife Sarah was barren. These conditions made it impossible for any couple to have a child. Yet God promised him that he would make him the heir of the world. Genesis 17 and 18 records Abraham’s reaction when he conversed with God concerning this promise.

We should not think that Abraham was not apprehensive of God’s plan. Genesis 17:17 says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed when God told him that he would have a son. He said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man that is one hundred years old?” And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen. 17:17) Even Sarah laughed when she heard the promise (Gen. 18:13). However, observe Paul’s statement in Romans 4:20. He says, “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.” The Young’s Literal Translation renders these verses as follows: “and at the promise of God [Abraham] did not stagger in unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, having given glory to God, and having been fully persuaded that what He hath promised He is able also to do.” Abraham did not allow his unbelief—his doubting—to take him away from doing the will of God. After his conversation with the Lord, and despite his apprehension, he took Ishmael and all the other males in his house and circumcised them according to what the Lord had commanded him. He gave glory to God in his obedience, and he was fully convinced that God was able to perform what he had promised. As a result, he was strengthened in his faith, so much so, that he was willing to sacrifice his son of the promise—Isaac—because he knew that God would be able to raise him from the dead (Heb. 11:17–19).

We see here that faith is a process in which there is growth as a result of following God’s word; hence, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). His word provides the evidence that fully convinces us that he is able to perform what he has promised both in salvation and after it. Just as Abraham was justified by faith, we also have the opportunity to be justified when we have faith in God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

[COMMENTARY] Romans 3:19–31

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


 

Romans 3:19–31

Click here to read the passage.

Paul establishes in verses 1–18 that both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of sin and, despite their excuses, will not escape the judgment. Starting in verse 19, he argues that anyone who seeks to be righteous according to the deeds of the law will not be justified (Gal. 2:16), because the law brings about the knowledge of sin. The law speaks to those who are subject to it, and since all have sinned, those who are subject to the law are guilty before God.

The righteousness of God through faith in Christ has been made known apart from the law. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ (Acts 15:11; Eph. 2:8–10), not by the Mosaic Law. However, the Mosaic Law and the Prophets bear witness to salvation through faith in Christ. When Jesus spoke to the Jews concerning his authority as the Son of God, he told them that Moses had written about him (John 5:46). Moses had told the children of Israel that God would raise up from among them a prophet like him. He had instructed them to do as the prophet said because God would put his word in the prophet’s mouth, and he would speak to them all that he commanded him (Deut. 18:15). Moses was referring to Christ (Acts 3:20–23).

God does not save individuals based on any other distinguishing factor but obedient faith in Christ. We cannot be righteous on our own because we all have sinned, and we fall short of the glory of God (Gal. 3:22). Christ redeemed us by paying a price for us so that we would be justified freely by the grace of God (Rom. 8:1; 12:5; 2 Cor. 5:12). God made Christ serve as a propitiation for our sins (1 John. 2:2; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 Tim. 2:5–6). His blood was shed as an atonement to satisfy God’s wrath. The free gift of salvation demonstrates the righteousness of God, because he has forgiven even the sins of the faithful ones spoken about in the Old Testament. Forbearance refers to God’s passing over the sins that were previously committed until the death of Christ took place. His death would cover sins retroactively and prospectively. Therefore, God is just and is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.

The Jews had no room to boast because justification was by faith, not by the law. God is not God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, and has justified the former by faith and the latter through faith. God does not have a special relationship with one race or nation above others since he saves all people who have faith in Jesus. The law, however, was not made void by this fact, but rather was established, because it served its purpose in showing the need for justification by faith. That is, it exposed that all were under sin and needed to trust God to save them—not their works of righteousness.

[PODCAST] You’re Just Not Good Enough

The topic of this episode is based on Romans 3:9–18. I discuss the doctrine of total depravity and the idea of being “good.” I use Cornelius as an example of someone who was good, but not good enough for salvation. You can find a commentary and an essay that I wrote based on Romans 3 here and here.

The episode can be found at the following links:

Anchor
Apple Podcasts
Google Play

I hope you enjoy!.

Let God Be True

As we study the epistle written by Paul to the Romans, we learn that, although the Jews were God’s special people, God always intended to grant salvation to the Gentiles also (Read Isaiah 56). Jesus’ death put an end to the separation between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11–16). Several of Paul’s writings focus on the reconciliation of these two groups into one body (See Colossians and Galatians). Jewish Christians had to get used to God’s acceptance of their Gentile counterparts as his people without the requirements of the Mosaic Law. They became children of God through faith in Christ (John 1:12; Rom. 3:21–26; Gal. 3:26). In his Roman letter, Paul anticipates four objections that the Jews could have in response to his teaching (Rom. 3:1–7). The focus of this discussion is the answer Paul gives to the second objection (vv. 3–4):

For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”

The Jews overlooked that they also were justified by faith, and not by works of the law (Rom. 3:30). Although God gave them a written law, they were not able to live by it perfectly; therefore, they needed to put their faith in the Lord in order to be saved. Anyone who thought they could achieve righteousness strictly based on their adherence to God’s ordinances, and not because of their faith in Christ, would be condemned (Gal. 5:4, John 3:18). The Jews’ objection to this principle, however, would be that God is unfaithful in not saving them if some did not believe. They probably thought their unfaithfulness could nullify the faithfulness of God. Paul’s answer to this false conclusion is, “Certainly not!” Man is a liar, but God is always true. No one will ever be able to find fault in him. He will accomplish anything he wills to do, because he is faithful to his promises. As Christians, we can always count on the faithfulness of God. We read in his word that he is not like man that he should lie or go back on his word (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6). He will always fulfill his promises.

Several examples of God’s faithfulness and commitment to his word are evident in the Scriptures. In Numbers 11, God fulfilled his word to give the Israelites enough meat to be able to eat for a whole month. Although Moses could not believe it, God told him, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not” (v. 23). In Numbers 14, when the Israelites refused to enter Canaan because of fear, he promised that no one in that generation—except for Joshua and Caleb—would possess the land. When the people tried to enter despite God’s decree, they were defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites (vv. 39–45). In Numbers 22­–24, when Balak, the king of Moab, asked Balaam to curse the Israelites, Balaam was able to utter only blessings upon them. He said, “Behold, I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” The most significant promise God made was to Abraham (Genesis 12, 17, & 22). He promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. God fulfilled this promise by sending Christ to die on the cross, thus granting the opportunity of salvation to those who have faith in Christ (Gal. 3:29).

Because of God’s track record, we know that we can always trust him. When we sin, John says that if we confess those sins, God is faithful and just to cleans us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). James writes that, if we ask God for wisdom as we endure trials, he will give it to us liberally and without reproach (Jas. 1:5). He also writes that we will receive the crown of life the Lord has promised when we have successfully endured trials and temptations (v. 13).

The Jews were indeed unfaithful. Some disobeyed God and did not walk holy and blameless before him. They refused to believe that God would give them power to overtake their enemies and possess the land that was promised to them. However, their disbelief did not nullify the faithfulness of God. The Hebrew writer confirms this in verses 2–3 and 6–8 of chapter 4,

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:

“So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest,’”

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:

“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Clearly, in these verses, the author shows that the promise God made in former times concerning Canaan was not reversed because the Israelites refused to enter. Since God made the promise, some must enter. Who will possess the land—that is heaven—will be those who have heard, believed, and obeyed the word of God.

Paul writes in Romans 11:29 that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Here he refers to Israel’s salvation if they put their faith in Christ. However, we can apply these words to our lives by understanding that whatever God decrees, he will carry out. Whatever he promises, he will fulfill it. God is not slack concerning his promises (2 Peter 3:9). For this reason, we know that whatever we deal with in life, we can continue to have hope, because God is faithful. As long as we strive to live righteously, according to what he commands, he will make a way for us.

Let every man be a liar, but let God be true!

[COMMENTARY] Romans 3:1–18

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 3:1–18

 

Click here to read the passage.

In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul condemns both Jews and Gentiles for their sinful practices. Although they knew that how they lived was wrong, the Gentiles suppressed the truth (Rom. 1:18). The Jews—who were once God’s special people—were hypocrites because they passed judgment on those who practiced sin, but yet they also broke God’s law. They believed that simply having knowledge of the law was sufficient; however, God requires that people carry out his law (Rom. 2:13; Jas. 1:22,25), not just know it. The Jews thought they were justified on the basis of circumcision; however, their sin brought them under the judgment of God, thus making circumcision null and avoid. Considering Paul’s stance, they could raise some objections (Rom. 3:1–7): 1) what advantage does a Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision?, 2) if some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?, 3) if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, is God unjust for inflicting wrath?, and 4) if the truth of God has increased through our lie for God’s glory, why are we still judged as sinners?

The Jews did indeed have an advantage in that they were God’s people and had received his law (Deut. 4:5–8). They were the seed of Abraham to whom the promise was made that all nations would be blessed (Gen. 21:16–18). However, because God would punish part of the seed for not believing, they thought that God would be proved to be unfaithful to his promise—they were mistaken. Paul writes, “Let God be true but every man a liar.” That is, God is always faithful, and it is man who breaks his promise. The Jews did not keep the covenant, and therefore, they would suffer the consequences because the promise had conditions. Israel also believed that—because God was shown to be still righteous through their unrighteousness, and his truth increased through their lie—God would be unjust in judging them as sinners and punishing them. Paul explains that God is fair in his judgment because they were the ones who sinned. Their status did not allow them special treatment in spite of their sins, even though God was able to show his glory through their trespasses. Doing evil for the sake of good is not acceptable to God.

The conclusion of the matter, therefore, is that Jews were no better than the Gentiles. They were all under sin. Paul cites passages from the Scriptures to support this charge: 1) no one is righteous and without sin (Psa. 14:1–3,53:1–3; Eccl. 7:20); 2) all men are deceitful—they have nothing good to say (Psa. 5:9,140:3; Psa. 10:7); 3) men run to evil and make their path crooked (Prov. 1:16; Isa. 59:7–8); and 4) there is no fear of God (Psa. 36:1). Although several theologians use these verses to propagate the doctrine of total depravity, this passage does not support such teaching.

Paul says in verse 9, “we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” Leading up to this statement, he showed that no one was righteous according to the law. He accused the Gentiles for breaking the law that was written on their hearts, and the Jews, for breaking the written code received from God. Paul makes his statement in verse 9 because they all transgressed the law; that is, they practiced sin (1 John 3:4). He then expounds on his statement in the following verses by using Scriptures. He does not make the claim that man is totally corrupt or incapable of doing good from birth, but rather, that he is guilty of transgressing the law. Mankind has become corrupt by continually practicing sin. Notice that the characteristics presented in verses 10–18 are those of people who are of an age of accountability. Infants and children are not born with a mouth full of deceit and cursing, nor are they born with their path crooked. The Scriptures say that men make their path crooked (Isa. 59:7–8); that is, there is a process in which they stray away, not that they are born already astray.

[PODCAST] Baptism of No Avail

In this episode, which is based on Romans 2:25–29, I discuss the meaning of being circumcised in the heart. This topic is a continuation of my commentary on Romans 2:17–29 and the essay titled “Dishonoring God’s Name.” I talk about Christian conduct and baptism, which I then connect to the spiritual circumcision received when a person is in Christ.

The episode is available at the following links:

Anchor – Baptism of No Avail
Google Play – Baptism of No Avail
Apple Podcasts – Baptism of No Avail

Please feel free to leave comments, feedback, and suggestions for future episodes.

I hope you enjoy!