We will be ministering again in Baguio, Philippines. There we will hold the annual First Love Pastors Conference and participate in hosting the local Christian radio station.  

Because so many Christians in the Philippines lack basic essential theological teaching, they are targets for prominent non-Christian cults and world religions. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (2020) almost 80% of professing Christians are Roman Catholic, followed by Islam with 6,981,710 persons (6.4%), and then, the anti-Trinitarian cult, Iglesia ni Cristo (‘Church of Christ’[1]), which has nearly 3 million members, which makes them the largest aboriginal so-called Protestant church in the country.

 

Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)

The subject matter of this Conference will be on Scripture – the inspiration, sufficiency, authority, and Scripture as the sole authoritative infallible rule of faith for the church—the NT is the final and complete revelation to the church, thus, a closed canon.         

Scripture alone is an important and necessary topic for all Christians, esp. pastors. Again, the dominating religion in the Philippines is Catholicism, which teaches that “Scripture” is contained in both the written Word and so-called “Tradition” (i.e., the general consensus of early church Fathers on particular doctrines). The official Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that God’s infallible Word, “Does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (CCC, paragraph 82).

Opposing Rome’s and her salvation by faith + works, the Protestant concept salvation is summarized in the five Solae (or Sola’s): solus Christus (through Christ alone), sola Gratia (by grace alone), sola Fide (through faith alone), sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), and soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”). It is important to realize that the Reformers did not invent the five Solae. Rather, the concept of the five Solae was reactionary to Rome’s denial of all of them. Contra Rome’s rejection of sola Scriptura, the Reformers loudly proclaimed that the church’s sole infallible authoritative rule of faith for issues of faith and practices that involve doctrine was Scripture.

 

Main topics: the inspiration, sufficiency, authority, and canonicity of the NT.

 

Inspiration: The entire content of divine revelation (Scripture alone) is God breathed out. 2 Peter 2:20-21: 20 “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Timothy 3:16: 16 All Scripture is God-breathed [theopneustos, from Theos, ‘God’ + pneuma, ‘breath’] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be equipped, having been thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The phrase, All Scripture is God-breathed” seems to refer to, not a canonical list of books, but rather, the nature of Scripture—as inspired by God. 

Sufficiency. Because the content of both the OT and NT is “God breathed out,” it is sufficient in and of itself to thoroughly equip the one devoted to God “for every good work,” says Paul. Everything necessary for our salvation is contained in the biblical content. Hence, the Scripture is the only infallible standard upon which to test all things determining truth from falsity.   

Authority. Again, inspired Scripture is the sole authoritative infallible rule of faith for the church. In the Temptation narrative (Matt. 4:1-11), Jesus’ answers the devil from the authority of Scripture (Jesus cited five passages from the OT).[2]

Canonicity (viz., the NT canon). This will my primary area of address “Canon,” (Greek, kanōn, Latin, canon). Originally, meant “reed,” then, measuring rod or rule (cf. Gal. 6:16; Phil. 3:16 [TR]). Later it was used to mean standard or norm to denote the list of authoritative OT and NT books. Athanasius first used it to refer to the 27 books of the NT in Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter in A.D. 367. The main criterion of canonicity of the NT books for the early church was apostolicity. Namely, a book had to be written by a first century eye-witness apostle (Matthew, John, James, Peter, Jude, Paul) or by one who had apostolic authority—one who was closely associated and/or called by an eyewitness apostle (Mark, Luke, the author of Hebrews).   

 

In the first four centuries, there were many books being circulated, many of which were falsely ascribed by NT characters or apostles (e.g., “Gospel” – of Thomas, of Peter, of Barnabas, of Philip, of Mary, of Jude et al. and many of these forgeries were called “Acts” – of Paul, of Peter, of Pilate et al. Even more, some were called “Apocalypse” – of Paul, of James, and many more. Most of these were Gnostic in content.

Although others were edifying to be read in churches, they were not canonical (e.g., Didache, 1 Clement, The Shepherd of Hermas et al.). In regards to the NT (before official recognition of the 27 books), it was necessary for the Christian church to establish and distinguish the books that were “apostolic,” that is, canonical. This was especially needed for teaching in the church, proper evangelism and missionary purposes. Although there were additional criteria; again, the primary criterion of the NT canon was apostolicity. The canon is a list of authoritative books. Opposing Rome’s idea that canon is an “authoritative list of books”—, which implies an “ultimate authority” (as in the Roman Catholic Church) that created and oversaw the NT canon. 

 

Regarding the official recognition of the NT canon, subsequent to Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter in A.D. 367, there were two regional Councils (or Synods) that affirmed (not invented) the 27 NT books as Canon: The Council of Hippo, A.D. 393 and The Third Council of Carthage A.D. 397. First, we must understand that these Councils never made a claim of infallible authority as Rome does. Rather, these Councils merely discovered and codified that which was already recognized by the people of God before them. Consider this, presently (extant), there are thousands of NT quotations contained in early church documents, such as Ecumenical Councils and their resulting Creeds, Confessions, church Fathers, etc. In fact, before the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), there are about 36,000 NT quotations in the literature of the early church Fathers.

 

Canon within a Canon

However, long before Athanasius and the two regional Councils, we find an authoritative, yet partial, NT Canon within the NT. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul refers to Luke’s Gospel as graphē (Scripture): “For Scripture says, ‘you shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ [Deut. 25:4] and ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’” Both citations are under the phrase, “Scripture says.” But the latter phrase is only found in Luke 10:7. Since Luke also wrote Acts, then, Acts would also be “Scripture.” In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s “letters” as “Scripture.” Moreover, in 2 Peter 3:2-3, it seems Peter was dependent on Jude (cf. 1:7; or the converse). So then, most of the NT was canonized, that is, established as “Scripture” by the NT authors in the first century.

Lastly, as the NT record shows, immediately after the NT letters were written, they were, collected (cf. Rev. 1:11); circulated (cf. Col. 4:16; 2 Pet. 3:15-16), and read-quoted in the original first century churches (cf. 1 Thess. 5:27: “I charge you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren”; cf. Rev. 1:3). The first century church enjoyed and recognized the apostolic teachings, contained in the letters, which were sufficient for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, faith and practice.      

 

The Canon is Closed

 It is closed theologically. As said, every NT book was written by an apostle (or one with apostolic authority). Subsequent to the OT canon, it was these writings alone that were Theopneustos (“God breathed”- 2 Tim. 3:16; cf.  2 Pet. 1:19-21). The Apostolic Age ended with the death of the apostles (cf. Acts 1:22)—upon which the church was once for all time built (Eph. 2:20)—with Christ as the corner stone. Thus, God’s ‘last day’ revelation is complete (Heb. 1:2).

It is closed historically. There is no evidence that anyone possessed the special gift of apostolicity after the death of the apostles (cf. Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3-4); nor is there any evidence that a letter that was authentically apostolic was not included or missing from the canon of the NT. The early church drew a sharp distinction between apostolic writings and the writings of others.

It is closed providentially. God’s providence secured that His infallible Word would be complete. God promised that His Word would endure forever. Since God orchestrates all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11), the NT canon is really a matter of God’s providence. That a historical selection process undertaken by fallible human beings and fallible institutions, originally established the canon – is no reason to reject the role of the providence of God in the formation of the canon.

 

Evangelize & Teach Pastors = Reach ALL People 

The ultimate goal of these annual pastor conferences, is to evangelize and teach the pastors. Evangelize, in the sense of increasing their biblical understanding of the gospel. For the same reason, Paul stated to the Roman Christians: “I am eager also to preach the gospel to you.” All pastors should be eager to preach the gospel to their people—ensuring the gospel presentation is accurate. When the pastors are theologically equipped on essential doctrines of the Christian faith, they will equip their people to boldly defend and positively affirm the Christian faith to the saved (Rom. 1:15) and the unsaved (Rom. 1:16), and in the Philippines, particularly to the groups that so aggressively attack it (viz., Rome and Iglesia ni Cristo).      

 

Christian Radio in the Philippines

 In between the conferences, we spend hours hosting Christian radio. Before we came several years ago, the station was merely playing country Christian music. Although music can be calming—the people need biblical teaching. On the radio shows, we provide teaching on essential issues, apologetics and biblical Q&A. In a country dominated by Roman Catholics and hard-hitting unitarian groups, the Christians here really need help.   

April 15-30th – Please pray for God’s mercy and favor in ministering to the pastors and the people in the Philippines at the conferences and hosting the radio shows – affirming the sola Scriptura- that salvation is through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone—all to and for the glory of God alone.

 

              

For more information on theological, apologetic, and evangelistic subjects, visit our YouTube page, 

 We thank you graciously for your continual support both financially and prayerfully especially during this unprecedented time. Rest in His Sovereign Grace during this time and always!

 


Notes 

[1] Not to be confused with the Stone-Campbell Movement, known as the Church of Christ, which emerged in America in the nineteenth century.   

[2][2] Matt. 4:4 (Deut. 8:3); 4:6 (Ps 91:11-12); 4:7 (Deut. 6:16); 4:10 (Deut. 6:13). 

According to the NT (esp. in Paul) and OT, the gospel is simply the incarnational and atoning work of the Son. The work of man in his faith-act, repentance, obedience, etc. is the “result” and not the substance of the gospel. In other words, the gospel has nothing to do with man, rather, all to do with the Son.

The gospel is not limited to one doctrine, such as election (as many overly zealous, yet unripe, Christians assume), rather, the gospel is the work of the Son consisting of both His Humiliation (incarnational work, life, suffering, death, being buried) and His Exaltation (resurrection, ascension, seated at the right hand of God, second coming).

Paul clearly summarizes his gospel of the Son definition in esp. in such places as Rom. 1:1, 3; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; and 2 Tim. 2:8 (see below). However, in many other places, the apostle provides a positive detailed delineation of the gospel—namely, the Son’s incarnational and cross work, even without using the term “gospel” (cf., Rom. 5:1, 10; 8:32; 9:5; 1 Cor. 2:8; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 5:25; Phil. 2:6-11; Titus 3:5-7 et al.).  

 

The Gospel is the work of God the Son 

 

Rom. 1:1, 3: “the gospel of God. . . . regarding His Son”

1 Cor. 15:1-4 (A.D. 54):

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel [euaggelion] which I preached [euēggelisamēn- aorist ind. of euaggelizō], which also you received in which also you stand, 2 By which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached [euēggelisamēn– aorist ind.] to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as first importance [prōtos] what I also received that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

2 Tim. 2:8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel.” 

 

So Rom. 10:15: “How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written [Isa. 52:7], ‘How beautiful [hwraios, ‘timely’] [are] the feet of those gospelizing [euaggelizomenwn] good things.”

 

 

A Biblical Perspective of Justification

Key issue: as noted below, the Greek verb dikaioō (“to justify”) does not have the lexical meaning of, “to make righteous,” as if the sinner is subjectively made righteousness (as in Catholicism). On the contrary, it denotes a declarative act of God pronouncing the guilty sinner innocent (cf. note 4 below).

The Apostle Paul’s epistle to the church at Galatia was specifically an anti-Judaizer polemic. Paul was very concerned as to the pervading heresy of the Judaizers. The Judaizers taught that “faith in Christ” was not enough. Hence, one had to add the Old Testament ordinances, especially circumcision, and the keeping of the ethical and ceremonial laws, to the finished work of Christ:

Some men came from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom [Law] of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; cf. Gal. 2:1ff.).

This kind of teaching, in the apostles’ mind, was not a doctrinal on the rim issue. By teaching that man must co-operate with God’s grace by adding works (any works) to his faith, the Judaizers stripped Jesus’ atonement of its efficacy. So toxic was the works/salvation doctrine of the Judaizers that the apostle wasted no time (from his opening statement) in sharply anathematizing (i.e., pronouncing a divine curse) men and even angels from heaven who might promulgate it:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed [anathema]! As we have said, before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:6-9; emphasis added).

Paul never gets tired impressing to the Galatians: justification is through faith alone; i.e., faith apart from, without, modifications or additions of works:

knowing the a man is not justified by the works [ex ergōn, lit. “from works”] of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (Gal. 2:16; emphasis added).

You foolish Galatians, who as bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you; did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? . . . Even Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS (Gal. 3:1-3, 6; emphasis added).Paul further declares that it is dia tēs pisteōs (lit. “through the faith”) alone that enables one to be adopted as a son of God.

For you are all sons of God through faith [dia tēs pisteōs] in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized [i.e., unified, see above] into Christ have clothed yourself with [eis] Christ (Gal. 3:26-27; emphasis added).

Romans 4:4-8

It becomes increasingly clear as one works through the Pauline corpus that salvation by grace alone through faith alone is clearly the theological starting point for the apostle. Scripture is clear: the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground of justification (man excluded), and the sole means is faith alone apart from works. There is no shortage of passages that that clearly define this divine truth. Since a detailed analysis of each passage is beyond the scope of this work, it is enough to highlight a few where this grand them of justification by faith is presented. For example, in Romans 4:4-8, we read

Now to the one who works, his wages are not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessings on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT” (NASB).

Consider the following:

1. In verse 4, Paul explains that wages from works are not credited as a gift or a favor; but “what is due.” The literal rendering is even clearer: “Now the working one, the reward is not reckoned [or “imputed,” logizetai] according to grace [charin, Paul’s normal word for “grace”], but according to debt [misthos].” In other words, if an employer, after giving a paycheck to the employee, says, “Thanks a lot, here is your gift,” the employee would object stating that he or she “earned” (worked for) those wages! Exactly the argument Paul makes here: wages are the result or reward from works (viz. “what is due.”). In verse 5, he contrasts “wages” that one earns by works, with being “credited” or imputed as righteousness by faith (or “belief”) alone—apart from additions or modifications. This contrast cannot be missed: works vs. faith.

2. Paul presents a contrast between the working man as seen above and the man who does not work, but has faith: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him . . . his faith is credited as righteousness.” The same participle is used for both verses 4 and 5. But Paul inserts a negation in verse 5:

v. 4: tō de ergazomenō (lit. “but the one working”).

v. 5: tō de mē ergazomenō (lit. “but the not working one”).

It is God, Paul says, “who justifies the ungodly.” The righteousness of Christ was imputed to the sinner’s account when they were justified and the sinner’s sins were imputed to Christ in His sacrificial death upon the cross over 2,000 years ago (cf. Rom. 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:19-21).

3. In verse 6, Paul now shows that David understood that “God credits righteousness apart from works [chōris ergōn; emphasis added].” Thus, verse 6 literally reads: “Blessed is the man to whom God imputes or credits righteousness without works [theos logizetai dikaiosunen choris ergon].” Again, Paul does not here limit works only to “works of the Law” (a Catholic assertion). Please note once again, Paul does not even here the phrase ho nomos (“the law”), but ergōn (“works”)—any works (cf. Rom. 5:1; Eph.2:8; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5-7).

To avoid the plain and straightforwardness of Romans 4:4ff., some would appeal to Ephesians 2:10 (“created . . . for good works”). However, in the Ephesians passage Paul is simply teaching that salvation is chariti, (“by grace”), and dia pisteōs (“through faith”), and ouk ex ergōn (lit. “not from works”; 2:9). Hence, works are the result (not the cause) of genuine faith (as pointed out above). The Apostle James draws the same point: genuine faith does not result in a deedless life.

4. Then Paul quotes David (Psalm 32:1-2) in verses 7 and 8: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” When the sinner is justified through faith, he or she is legally declared: not guilty![1] Justification is a one-time declarative act in which God pronounces the sinner just or righteous. God does not count their trespasses against them (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). Note the strong and specific language that Paul uses in verse 8. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (emphasis added).

Many times the full import of particular passages is lost in translations, which is the case here. In first century Greek, there were several ways to negate (i.e., to say “no”) something. Each way had its own, to some extent, nuance. The strongest possible way, however, to deny or negate a future possibility was to use the double negative (ou mē) followed by an aorist subjunctive verb (i.e., generally, a verb of possibility). This construction was only used about eighty–five times in the New Testament. In verse 8, Paul uses this construction: “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account [ou mē logisētai; emphasis added].” The NIV reads, “whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” Paul is denying that there is even a possibility (due to the aorist subjunctive verb logisētai [“take into account” or “count”]) that the Lord will count sins against the one justified. This same construction (i.e., double negative + the aorist subjunctive) is used in John 10:28:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow me and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish [ou mē apolōntai]; and no one can snatch them out of my hand (vv. 27-28; emphasis added; cf. Deut. 32:39).[2]

There is not, Jesus says emphatically, even a possibility, of His sheep ever perishing. Jesus uses the double negative construction to emphasize that the eternal life that He gives is not dependent on man’s self-determination, for man can fail. But rather, eternal life is the promise to those who He has justified, to those whose sins will never be counted against them, to those who have been imputed with the righteousness of Christ to their account. They are declared righteous and they, by no means, will ever perish—not even a possibility!

To be sure, the Apostle Paul saw justification as an essential and fundamental to true biblical Christianity. To deny justification through faith alone (viz. without additions or modifications) was the same as denying the deity of Christ! This is clearly seen in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As we have seen above, the main purpose of Paul’s letter was to pointedly refute the heresy of the Judaizers (cf. Acts 15:1ff.; Gal. 1:6ff.). To add to God’s work—is to add to Scripture. “Who,” Paul rhetorically asks, “will bring a charge against God’s elect? . . . who is the one who condemns? . .” (Rom. 8:33-34).[3] Therefore, how can anyone undo the work of God? It is God alone, who declares the sinner eternally righteous, and hence justified.

 

Romans 5:1

Therefore having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

Paul constantly taught that justification comes not by works, formulas, or laws, but rather, a man is declared rightness before God through faith alone. Paul was theologically precise as to how the sinner is justified before the presence of God. Notice first that the sinner having been justified has peace with God. The participle dikaiōthentes, translated “having been justified,” is the aorist passive of dikaioō.[4] Grammatically, the aorist here tells us that the action of the participle dikaiōthentes (“having been justified”) was a past action (as rendered in most translations). Furthermore, the participle is in the passive voice. This indicates that the action of being justified was not by the sinner in any way (otherwise the verb would be in the active voice), but rather the justification was done to the sinner, in the past, which was solely a divine act of God (cf. Rom. 8:33). Thus, the ones having been justified now “have [echomen][5] peace [eirēnēn][6] with God [pros ton theon]” (emphasis added).

It is not the action or work of the sinner, which then results in justification, rather, Paul, simply affirms it is ek pisteōs (“through faith”). This is important to realize, that if Paul thought that “water baptism” or “works” were an aspect or a requirement of justification, he could have easily modified the clause to say, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, baptism, and works, then let us have peace with God” (as in UPCI soteriology). Hence, “faith alone” is simply faith without additions or modifications. Justification is never deemed as a reward for meritorious works or performance, rather it is said to be a gift,[7] which cannot be earned. Paul was clear and consistent in all of his letters: justification is through faith alone, “apart from” works, any works. This is wonderful news. By faith alone the one God regenerated (“made alive”) has been legally declared righteous (justified) in the sight of God, whereby has present active and continuous peace, that is, final and permanent reconciliation and fellowship with God. In his solid exegesis of Romans, Wuest can say of this beautiful passage:

The word “therefore” reaches back to the contents of chapter four—therefore being justified, not by works (1-8), not by ordinances (9-12), not by obedience (13-25), but by faith, we have peace. The first three never give peace to the soul. Faith does . . . The context is didactic. It contains definite statements of fact. It is highly doctrinal in nature. It has to do with a sinner’s standing before God in point of law, not his experience. As Denney [James Denney, D. D.] says; “The justified have peace with God, . . . His wrath (1:18) no longer threatens them; they are accepted in Christ. It is not a change in their feelings which is indicated, but a change in God’s relation to them.[8]

Paul announces to the Christians at Ephesus: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8; emphasis added). “If it is by grace,” Paul says, “it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). Contrary to a faith + works = salvation soteriology, which groups such as the ICC, UPCI, LDS, JWs, Catholic Church, etc. hold to, Scripture presents that justification is through faith alone without any mention of additions or modifications such as the necessity of water baptism: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the jailer asked, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). 

How are sins forgiven? Scripture is clear:

Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes on Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43; emphasis added).

Let us pause and think; why is it that over and over the New Testament teaches that eternal salvation is explicitly tied to faith or belief alone with no mention of water baptism if, in fact, water baptism was essential to one’s salvation?[9] Paul’s own statement refutes the notion that water baptism was an indispensable means of salvation: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. . . .” (1 Cor. 1:17).

Water Baptism: a Deed of Righteousness

In Scripture, water baptism is defined as an “act” or deed “to fulfill [not to receive] righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Yet, Paul clearly refutes this idea:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6; emphasis added).

Again, the question to a Mormon or Roman Catholic (or any baptismal regenerationist whose church denies justification by faith alone) is this: “Can one walk in your church and be saved by faith/belief in Christ Jesus alone, without being water baptized in the name of Jesus?”[10] For these groups mention above, the answer is categorically: No. The most important issue that every man must deal with can be summed up in this question: “How is a man justified before God?” Is that not the question of the ages, from the first man to the present? How can man be reconciled to God? How can man be declared not guilty in the sight of a perfect God? I think we would do well to allow Jesus Christ, the authority on the matter, to answer:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

Before leaving this verse, it would be wise to breathe in the grammatical significance of the words of Christ. Starting with the first clause: “He who hears [akouōn] My word, and believes [pisteuōn] Him who sent Me. . . .” The participle akouōn (“who hears”) is in the present tense, and the active voice. The participle pisteuōn (“believes”) is a present active participle. Note that both participles verbs are in the present tense, literally: “the one hearing and the one believing.”

Then the phrase: “has eternal life.” The verb echei (“has”) is the singular present active indicative of echō. The indicative mood of the verb indicates a clear presentation of certainty that the event will happen (i.e., “eternal life”). And because echei is in the present tense, it indicates that the one believing (apart from any works) possesses de facto eternal life presently and continuously. For this reason, those (the believing ones) will never come into God’s wrath and judgment (see John 10:28).

We now come to the last clause of the passage: “but has passed out of death into life.” The Greek verb metabebēken (“has passed”) is a perfect tense.[11] The perfect tense indicates a completed action that normally occurred in the past, which has continuous results into the present.[12] Hence, the reason as to why the one believing “does not come into judgment” is because he “has passed out” of perfectly, completely spiritual death. Therefore, the full force of what Jesus was literally saying can be translated:

He who presently and continuously hears My word and believes Me (who I am), I promise that he will presently and continuously possess, without end, eternal life, that is, salvation. And he will never come into condemnation. He has, in times past, been called to be declared righteous (justified) and then to be glorified, whereby passing out of death into life.[13]

Christian water baptism is never even a subject of discussion in John’s gospel. The main theme of the apostle was (a) the full deity of Jesus Christ (e.g., 1:1; 18, 8:24, 58; 20:28; etc.) and (b) eternal life/salvation (e.g., 1:12; 3:16; 6:37-40, 47; 10:27-29; etc.). Never once in John’s gospel is salvation connected to Christian water baptism. Salvation is exclusively by faith/belief alone. If water baptism were in fact an indispensable means of salvation as baptismal regenerationists teaches, you would think that John or Jesus would have taught it—at least once. That water baptism, circumcision, ordinances, rituals, ceremonial or ethical old covenant laws, or any works for that matter, adds (or is a part of) to one’s justification places one firmly under the anathema of the apostle: cursed by God. In the end, looking at all the non-Christian cults and world religions we do find doctrinal harmony on at least two points. The first, of course, is that they all reject Jesus Christ as eternal God, that is, they deny the doctrine of the Trinity in some way or other. And second, they all attack and deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Hence, they add some kind of creaturely work to their system of salvation.

Yes indeed, it is difficult for mere man to comprehend that through faith alone God freely justifies the sinner. However, we cannot rely on our faulty emotions to test truth. For, in spite of, our limited, finite, conventional wisdom and understanding, the Apostle Paul, who wrote as the Holy Spirit enabled him, declares:

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works. . . . (Rom. 4:4-6; emphasis added; cf. John 6:47; 10:28-29; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; Eph. 2:8).

The Final Question

How is a man justified before God whereby his sins are forgiven? The baptismal regenerationists’ response is clear: repentance, water baptism (and for the UPCI: baptized in the name of Jesus” with the evidence of speaking in tongues),[14] and living by strict biblical obedience, and only to those is salvation achieved. In sharp contrast, Scripture does tell us clearly how a man is justified before God: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes on Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43; emphasis added).

Therefore having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1; emphasis added).

NOTES

[1] In Romans 8:28ff., Paul employs legal terms to underscore the status of the justified: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (v. 33); “Who is the one who will condemn?” (v. 34); “who [Jesus] also intercedes for us” (v. 34). These terms (“charge,” “condemn,” and “intercedes”) were used in court proceedings in the first century. Hence, Paul’s Roman audience would have understood clearly, as to what he was communicating.

[2] Jesus also uses the same construction in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out [ou mē ekbalō; emphasis added].”

[3] Cf. n. 35 above.

[4] The term “righteous” and “just” are translated form the same Greek word: dikaios (adj.), dikaiosunē (noun), and the dikaioō (verb). The noun dikaiosunē simply means the “quality or state of judicial correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness” (Walter Bauer’s, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., ed. and rev. by Frederick W. Danker [Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000], 247). Commenting on forensic nature of the term in the OT, Protestant apologist James R. White notes:

In the Old Testament, the term “to justify” is often used in the judicial sense, that is, in the context of the court of law [e.g., Exod. 23:7; Deut. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; Isa. 5:23]. . . . Because the doctrine of justification by faith says justification is something God does based upon the work of Christ: it is a forensic declaration, not something that involves a subjective change of the believer (James R. White, The God who Justifies [Bethany House, 2001], 77, 79).

It should also be noted that the verb dikaioō does not mean, “to make” righteous as if the sinner is subjectively made righteousness (as in Catholicism). On the contrary, it denotes a declarative act of God pronouncing the guilty sinner innocent. As Lutheran scholar Leon Morris rightly explains:

How can the death of Christ change the verdict on sinners from “Guilty” to Innocent”? Some have said in effect, “It is by changing the guilty, by transforming them so that they are no longer bad people, but good ones. No one will want to minimize the transformation that takes place in a true conversion or to obscure the fact that this is an important part of being a Christian. However, such a transformation does not fit the justification terminology. It is sometimes argued that the verb normally translated “to justify” (dikiaoō) means “to make righteous” rather than “to declare righteous.” But this agrees neither with the word’s formation nor with its usage. Verbs ending in–oō and referring to moral qualities have a declarative sense; they do not mean “to make—.” And the usage is never for the transformation of the accused; it always refers to a declaration of his innocence (Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 70).

[5] The verb echomen (“have”) is the present active indicative of echō. However, there is a textual variant concerning echomen (omicron [echomen] or omega [echōmen]?). Note that the majority rendering is the hortatory subjunctive echōmen (“let us have peace”). Even though the subjunctive is possible, I do not see it as contextually probable. Moreover, all the evidence considered suggests the present indicative as the greater witness (cf. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, [New York: United Bible Societies, 1994], 169-70; James R. White, The God who Justifies [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001], 237, n. 8). Greek exegete Kenneth Wuest explains further:

The context is didactic. It contains definite statements of facts. It is highly doctrinal in nature. It has to do with the sinners standing before God in point of law, not his experience. . . . Furthermore, there is a difference between having peace with God and having the peace of God in the heart. The first has to do with justification and the second with sanctification. The first is the result of a legal standing, the second, the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. The first is static, never fluctuates, the second changes from hour to hour. The first, every Christian has, the second, every Christian may have. The first, every Christian has as a result of justification. What sense would there be in exhorting Christians to have peace when they already possess it? The entire context is one of justification. Paul does not reach the subject of sanctification until 5:12-21 where he speaks of positional sanctification and 6:1-8:27 where he deals with progressive sanctification (Wuest, Romans in the Greek New Testament, 76-77).

[6] The peace is the present possession of all who have been justified. The peace is the blessed result of what true justification is: abiding shalom with God Himself. No more enmity, no more hostility!

[7] Eternal life is never classified in the NT as misthon (“a reward” to the elect; cf. Rom. 4:4), but always as charisma (“a gift”).

[8] Wuest, Romans in the Greek New Testament, 75-76.

[9] E.g., John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 10:43; 16:30-31; Romans 4:4-11; 5:1; 10:9-13; Galatians 3:2-3; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5-7; and 1 John 5:1, 11-13.

[10] Note, other than water baptism, “in the name of Jesus,” the UPCI teaches its followers that unless they speak in tongues they do not have the Holy Spirit and hence NO salvation. Their assertion is usually derived solely from the narrative accounts in Acts. It should be noted however that there are only three explicit references of the tongues phenomena in Acts: 2:1-4; 10:44-48; and 19:6. It is a hermeneutical error to take a narrative and force it to become a teaching. This violates the hermeneutical principle of the priority of didactic as defined in this chapter above. In point of fact, we read in the Acts account of many converts who were water baptized or said to have been “filled” with the Spirit and yet no mention of tongues (e.g., 2:37-41; 4:31; 6:3-6; 11:24). In fact, there are at least forty times that the Bible mentioned people as being “filled with,” “baptized in,” “fallen upon by,” “come upon by”, “poured upon by” the Spirit, and only three verses explicitly mention tongues (cf. Beisner, “Jesus Only” Churches, 64).In Ephesians 5:18 the Apostle Paul commands to “be filled with the Spirit” (en pneumati). However, grammatically en (“with”) followed by the dative case pneumati (“Spirit”) does not indicate content, but rather means (cf. Wallace, Beyond the Basics, 162, 372-75).

Hence: “be filled by means of the Spirit.” Further, Paul then characterizes the results of being filled: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks . . . subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Grammatically, these characteristics above are participles of result. Hence, they indicate the results of being filled by means of the Spirit—wherein tongues are not mentioned. The point is that Scripture knows nothing of the idea that the sole evidence of being filled, baptized, indwelled, empowered, etc. with/by the Holy Spirit is the gift of speaking in tongues. If tongues were the sole evidence, then Paul would not have taught that the gift of tongues is not bestowed on all (cf. 1 Cor. 12:30; note here the negation mē: “all do not [] speak in tongues” (emphasis added). The negation expects a negative answer: “No.” Hence, this passage is of no comfort for those who insist that Paul there was speaking of a different tongue, not the “gift.” Paul nowhere in his letters makes this distinction. Further, Paul taught that “all” Christians were baptized (by Christ) by means of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; note the double usage of pantes [“all”]).

[11] Specifically, metabebēken is the perfect active indicative of metabainō.

[12] The perfect tense “indicates a completed action whose effects are felt in the present. The action normally occurred in the past” (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993], 218-19). It denotes a “present state resulting from a past action” (Harold J. Greenly, A Concise Exegetical Grammar of New Testament Greek, 5th ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986], 50). The import of the perfect tense can be seen in 1 John 4:2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come [elēluthota] in the flesh is from God.” Thus, verb translated “has come” (elēluthota) is in the perfect tense; literally: “has come and remains in the flesh.” John’s letters (1 and 2), as with Paul’s letter to the Colossians, were a pointed refutation against the Docetic Gnostics (cf. chap. 2, n. 27) who denied that Jesus became flesh. Hence, John’s main refutation was made clear: Jesus has come and even remains (utilizing the perfect tense, elēluthota) in the flesh forever more (cf. 2 John 7).

[13] See also John 6:47; 1 John 5:12 where the present active indicative echei is utilized to indicate the certainty of one’s salvation.

[14] Ibid.