From November, 1989 to April, 1990, Max King took the time to correspond by snail mail with an enthusiastic young reader of his books (me) about the relationship of faith and grace to works and baptism. These three messages below, which have been edited and revised, are the doctrinal portions of the three principal letters I sent to Max King during that time of correspondence.
December 06, 1989
I cannot help but agree that if God requires us to be baptized in order to be initiated into His Kingdom, then that way must be "the sphere of the operation of God, wherein His grace is purely grace," since we are saved by grace. But I find it difficult to reconcile baptismal regeneration with salvation by "pure grace" through faith, for the following reasons:
First, I understand that faith without works is dead, but is a Christ-centered faith that generates works "dead" before it produces a work? If I "have enough faith in God's power and grace to surrender myself to the absoluteness of Christ's death," but I have not yet been baptized, is my Christ-centered faith a "dead" faith? Such, it would seem, must be the case if baptismal regeneration is true.
I would also like to discuss baptism's meritorious aspects. While it is agreed that baptism does not merit one's salvation, it is however, a work. And as I'm sure we agree, all works are meritorious to the extent that Christ rewards us as Christians for our works. But baptism is not like other works, in the Church of Christ's view, in that it is the unique work which brings us (by the blood of Christ) into the Kingdom of God (through faith); it is the peculiar work that is the immediate cause of regeneration; it is the work that indirectly brings about our salvation through Christ.
To me, it seems that this concept of salvation might be logically reduced to "do and live." While the Church of Christ does teach that baptism is cross-centered and non-meritorious unto salvation, it still teaches that baptism is the act, the deed, the work that one must perform or there is no salvation. Is this not "do and live," regardless of baptism's focus on the cross? The Jews tried to obtain the Kingdom of God by works of the law (especially the work of the rite of circumcision), and according to the Church of Christ today, people can obtain the Kingdom of God only by faithfully completing the rite of baptism. Are not both of these schemes of salvation "do and live," or Salvation by something just less than pure grace?
February 21, 1990
In your #1 and #2, you used the example of Israel being saved from bondage and rejoicing in salvation after they crossed the Red Sea to show the truth of baptismal regeneration, since the obtaining of their salvation involved personal action on their part. I would like to point out what I believe to be some very serious and great differences between the Red Sea episode and individuals being saved (at baptism).
It was the children of Israel who were saved - God's covenanted people under the Abrahamic covenant. The Israelites were already God's children before they crossed the Sea (see Exodus 2:23-25 and 6:2-6). In the Church of Christ scheme though, all today are covenanted to God at the time of baptism. The analogy does not stand.
The salvation at the Red Sea was collective. In this sense, it doesn't seem to bear a literal resemblance to people being individually put through the baptistry, but it fits more into the idea of spiritual baptism --spirit-baptism being collective and progressive.
Furthermore, although Heb. 3:7-19 and Rev. 15:3 give the Red Sea passage a pre-Parousia application, would it not be prudent to see the Red Sea passage as being in process of application or fulfillment from the cross to the Parousia, and not finding its complete fulfillment at Pentecost or with each individual conversion? After all, the deliverance from bondage was not completely established until the destruction of "Egypt" in A. D. 70.
In your #3, 1 would hope that my postulate, that the moment one has faith (the faith or Christ), one has life, is not a mere assumption:
Rom. 4:5: "But to him that works not, but believes on Ilim that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
Rom. 5:1,2: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand."
Rom. 10:10: "For with the heart man believes unto righteousness."
Gal. 2:18: "A man is.. Justified by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be Justified by the faith of Christ."
Gal. 3:2: "(You received) the Spirit . . . by the hearing of faith."
Gal, 3:8: "God would justify the heathen through faith."
Gale 3:24: "that we might be Justified by faith."
Gal. 3:26: "For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."
Eph. 2:8: "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."
Philippians 3:9: "not having my own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of God, the righteousness which is of God by faith."
II Thess. 2:13: "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth."
Jn. 3:l8: "He that believes on Him is not condemned."
Jn. 3:36: "He that believes on the Son hath everlasting life."
Jn. 6:47: "He that believes on me hath everlasting life."
I Jn. 5:1: "Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God."
Jn. 20.31: "and that believing, you may be having eternal life in His name."
It is evident from these verses that faith justifies. That baptism should be added to those verses I don't believe is so clear. I'm not sure how you interpret verses like these. Perhaps you might help me with this.
I backed up my position that faith apart from (i.e., before) works brings life, with the "assumption" that faith must be "alive" in order to produce true good works. Let me now try to demonstrate that this also is not an assumption:
How can someone with "dead" faith do the works of Christ? Such a person can only do the works of himself, his righteousness being as a filthy rag (God having concluded all under sin). The works of one who has a dead faith can never be "good" works before God. One who has only a dead faith can do humanly good deeds, but of what value is his work under the reign of God? It can have no imputed value. In this sense it can't be a good work.
From this viewpoint, how could it be anything but a living faith which produces works which are wrought of and approved of God? "For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). A true good work is that which God initially works in us to will to do (the working of faith), and then that which God works in us to do. Otherwise our work (as well as our faith) is dead and vain.
Finally, you said that I concluded that "the need for works of faith in being saved is eliminated," but this is not exactly what I concluded. (I had previously implied that "works of faith" in an individual in this Christian age are an impossibility before salvation.) What I concluded was that the need for works (beside the work of Christ --the only work of faith which determines regeneration) in becoming a saved person is eliminated.
Jn. 8:29: "This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He has sent."
James chapter two: As we've seen, our basic difference on this passage stems from our understandings of the phrase, "faith without works is dead." As I understand it, your view is this:
Any given individual's faith in Christ is dead until it is completed or made perfect through works, especially the work of baptism.
My view is this: Any so-called Christian whose life is void of works is a, sinner whose faith is dead.
James' discussion in this chapter is with people who had been Christians for some time, and his instructions are about the Christian life. James is referring only to the works of already-baptized Christians. Indeed, what is the difference between James and John in this matter?
I Jn. 3:17: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"
James 2:14-17: "What good is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. As the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."
A Christian who does not do good is void of living faith and of love. This biblical truth does not necessarily apply to a believer who has not yet been baptized.
From the time that Paul became a believer to the time that he rose up and was baptized, perhaps a matter of hours or minutes, was his faith dead? From the time the Ethiopian believed in the desert to the time that "they came unto a certain water" and he was baptized, was his faith dead?
It would be an error to attribute James' saying of dead works to men such as these, or to someone today who comes to faith in Christ in the Sunday service and for minutes (or perhaps hours, or perhaps even days) he is forced to wait to be baptized. Such a one may yearn to be baptized with all his heart, but he must wait at least a minute or two. We cannot say that he is void of living faith (and of love.)
So James' teaching is about living a life of worklessness. The instruction is strictly for a professing Christian's practical living and not to be applied to someone who is waiting for two minutes to be baptized. The two situations are worlds apart.
In answer to your question, "If faith alone can save in advance of its works, why are not believing devils saved, for James said they also believe and tremble?" I would answer, Show me a devil that has ever committed a good work in Christ. There is not one. That is the nature of their faith; it is dead, and worthless.
In your #6, you said, "there is nothing in the message of the cross including man's response to that saving event, that resembles the 'do and live' principle that Israel struggled with under the law." Since, by "message of the cross you mean "baptismal regeneration," I'm afraid I must differ, and elaborate at the risk of being frustrating. There are two resemblances, they are: "do" and "live:"
Old Testament: Do --obey law-- and live.
New Testament: Do --get baptized-- and live.
Is there not a resemblance? In principle these are identical.
June 11, 1990
In your #1 you said that the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea prefigured individual salvation in this manner: The children of Israel crossed the Sea but did not enter the Promised Land until 40 years later; and in the first century, a person was saved in water baptism, but did not enter the Promise until about 40 years later.
It should not be overlooked that the Red Sea episode prefigured A. D. 70. When the Israelites had crossed over, they sang, "…Yahweh is a Man of war. ... Yahweh dashes the enemy to pieces. And in the greatness of Your majesty, You pull down those who rise up against You; You send forth Your wrath; it consumes them like stubble ... You guided in Your strength to Your holy dwelling. Peoples heard; they tremble.…" Did this song not point to the Day of the Wrath of the Lamb? On that day the true children of Israel did not see the Egyptians again forever (Ex. 14:13).
I would agree that the Red Sea passage was applicable to first century Christians for instruction in righteousness (I Cor. 10:11), but it does not appear that it was completely fulfilled at Pentecost. In light of what happened at the Red Sea, might it be too strict (or literal) an interpretation to make the forty years from the Red Sea to the promised land fulfilled in the exactness of chronological order in the forty year period from Pentecost to Parousia? For what violent annihilation of the enemies took place at Pentecost? Surely there was not such an occurrence until the Last Day.
In my last letter, I brought up the fact that the children of Israel were already covenanted to God under the Abrahamic covenant when they crossed the Red Sea. I did this to show that their action of crossing the Sea should not be used to show how we are saved in individual conversion. Your response was this:
Although the Israelites were the subjects of the Abrahamic covenant, they were, none the less, not yet under the Mosaic covenant. They had to cross the Red Sea to get to that point. My response to that is this:
Is it not the Abrahamic covenant that matters much more than the earthly, typical, intermediate covenant? By this I mean, we can't ignore the Abrahamic covenant. As Paul said that the Abrahamic covenant remained in force before, during, and after the Red Sea and before, during, and after the giving of the Law at Sinai. With this in mind, is it not evident that the covenant promised to Abraham should not be treated as irrelevant when examining the covenant dealings of God with the children of Israel at the Red Sea and with each individual today?
Concerning collective baptism: I agree, every individual was baptized into Moses at the Red Sea. I understand that there was individual baptism within the collective baptism. But the Red Sea baptism comprised all of Israel. They were baptized at once. Was "all Israel," as the term is used in Rom. 11:26, baptized at once in the time from A. D. 30-70? No, but each individual person or group of people at that time was baptized as they came to Christ over the forty years. Again, I would say that this process of events as they were worked out in the New Testament lends credence to the Spiritual application (fulfillment) of the Red Sea, rather than the Spiritual/water (H20) baptism application.
I do not intend what I have said thus far to be proof of a "dry" salvation. Instead it is meant to show that baptismal regeneration cannot be proven through the baptism of Moses.
Concerning your position that faith is faithful action/obedience to a God-sponsored commandment:
To begin my comments on this point, I would like to present my understanding of covenantal things, such as faith, being "of Christ": The "faith of Christ" is Christ's own living faith granted to us. This is why it can be that inward conviction that brings salvation to the soul. This makes it much more than an inactive state of mind. This is why Peter said in I Peter 1:7 that the faith of Christ is much more precious than gold. It is that salvific attribute of God (Christ) which He spiritually imputes to us in salvation, by His grace. An attribute of God should not be despised as being an inactive state of the mind. If that were the case, then joy and peace are merely states of the mind. (Or are we to say that the [other] fruit of the Spirit are also synonymous with action, as you have said faith is?).
Having the Spirit "of God," I believe, should be understood in much the same way. It is not simply the Spirit that God "sponsors," but it is (as you probably agree) God's own living Spirit (God Himself-His innermost being, His nature) in us (I Cor. 2:11). It is that which is truly "of Himself." I see no essential difference as far as this discussion goes in having the Faith (heart-belief/conviction) of Christ and in having the Spirit of God.
Concerning faith and action being one and the same, you said that obedience can take on the meaning of "works" in some cases, and in other cases it has the meaning of "faith." I will now touch upon most or all the verses you listed as being references to "obedience" (works) which is supposedly really "faith," or vice-versa.
You said the central meaning of "faith" or "by faith" in Hebrews eleven is that of "faith-action." From this statement and from its context I assume you are saying that Hebrews eleven is an example of a passage where "faith" is actually "action." Hebrews eleven, however, shows that faith is not action, as all the saints did their good works "by faith." Faith-action was brought about by their faith. We see here the textual distinction between faith and faith-action. By faith (inward conviction, trust) Abraham obeyed... (11:8). How could there be a sharper difference drawn between faith and faith-action (obedience/works)? Was it by faith-action that Abraham committed faith-action?
Concerning Rahab in v. 31, you said "her action of receiving the spies was not additional to her faith, it was purely faith-action" (faith), "by which she was saved." But is this not contrary to the meaning of the verse? It says that "by faith" she committed the faith-action. What can this mean except that her faith-action was the result of her faith? It was done "by faith." This is a textual/grammatical distinction between her faith and her work. Even James in the parallel passage makes the same distinction even though he uses the word "works" as meaning "faith-action" in contrast to Paul: "Ye see then how that by works ("faith-action") a man is justified, and not by faith only."
If faith and faith-action (obedience/works) are one, then James chapter 2, of all passages should bring that out. But throughout the passage we still see faith and works as being two separate entities. James' motif reveals this, "Faith without works is dead." If faith and faith-action are the same, then we should understand James as saying, "Faith-action without faith-action is dead." If the Bible really says that faith is action, then why do both Paul, with his emphasis on faith, and James, with his emphasis on works ("faith-action"), both treat faith and works as being two different things?
You compared the verses that I quoted that said that those who believe shall be saved, with verses that said that whoever obeys shall be saved, and you used these verses to demonstrate that faith and faithful obedience (action) are one and the same. (I might add here that by the same interpretive standard we could say that since Hebrews 9:28 says that Christ's Appearance was for salvation and Jude 15 says His Coming was for rebuke, then salvation and rebuke must be the same thing because they both characterize a common object. Therefore, even though faith and works are both used to describe our life in Christ, this alone is not enough reason to conclude that they are the same thing.) Perhaps the "he who believes shall be saved" verses and the "he who obeys shall be saved" verses can be reconciled without making faith and works into one word (faith-action):
I believe most of the verses you listed may be explained in this way:
The faith of Christ must produce works. It is a true Christian's nature to do good works. How else could we be if God Himself lives in us? So it is fitting that works are connected with faith in the Bible, or with the Christian Faith. Someone who never does good in the sight of God never had the faith of Christ. Or as John said, "Everyone sinning has not seen Him, nor known Him." So a continued life of workless-ness (of practicing sin) in one who is created in Christ is not possible because a workless life, or a life of worthless works, is a life that is emanating from a soul that has not the faith of Christ. He is dead to God.
From this it can be seen that works are not necessary to become saved, but are instead an inescapable effect or outcome of salvation. This is why Paul says to put ourselves to the test, lest we may prove to be reprobates. Christ created us (as Christians) to bear fruit, i.e., to do good works in His sight. Who can resist His will? Or do we do good (bear fruit, such as in baptism) in order that He will Create us? Are we really to act in accordance with the nature of the realm of His Reign before He has even Created us? Are uncovenanted people supposed to have a covenanted nature (faith-obedience) so that God will then make them covenanted people? This is what baptismal regeneration (and Arminianism) implies. To the contrary, only the living faith of Christ, which is the faith of one who is in Christ, works the works of Christ.
In John 17:3, What other way is there to know God in Christ but to first of all have the Spirit-generated, living, inward Conviction of His Presence?
I Peter 1:22, Heb. 5:9, "the obedience of the truth" would be (initially) to put our trust in God. Since we are commanded to have the inward conviction of God, then having the inward conviction of God is obedience, the obedience of the truth. But nonetheless, since our inward Conviction is not self-produced, but is that which is of God's own nature (an attribute of Himself), it is faith that inevitably, inexorably, irreversibly brings about faith-generated works, or faith-action.
I hope it is evident from what I have said thus far that I by no means despise works (if I appeared that I did in my past letters). I surely don't believe someone can be saved without being delivered from the dominion of sin. I don't share the faith of many Baptists that if one asks Jesus into his heart once then he is automatically secure for the rest of his life no matter what he does ("once confessed, always possessed"). I don't believe our salvation is based on our commitment, but it is based on God's commitment to change our sinful natures into His righteous nature, through inward trust in the blood of Jesus.
In John 8:51, and I John 3:2-5, whoever keeps God's sayings is one who is believing in God. How can I have the inward conviction or faith of Christ and not keep His words? It is impossible. Works are the unstoppable outcome of Christ's faith. Someone with the inward conviction or trust of Christ chooses to do works empowered of Christ.
I believe it can be shown that these two verses are not showing conditions which one must meet before God can make him alive, but they are showing two qualities of a true Christian's life. If a Christian is really a Christian then he will have these qualities.
But if the verses you listed do indeed tell of conditions we must meet before we can be saved, then it would be safe to say that these works are all to be committed by a dead faith if they're done before baptism. We must also say that a dead faith leads us to salvation.
Can an Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? If so, then a spiritually dead man can do God-approved good works. Or can a tree will or will not to bear an edible species of fruit or a poisonous species of fruit? A tree bears its kind of fruit not because it "willed" to, but because it is its God-given nature to do so. It is true that Christians choose to do good, but Who gives us the new spiritual nature (ability or freedom as Spiritual beings in His Reign) that chooses to do and does His will? It is God Who created us by His Word which does not return void.
Repentance and baptism, in Acts 2:38: Again the faith of Christ produces the works of Christ. There was nothing to keep the Jews at Pentecost from being baptized since they already believed from the heart. They showed this by their being stabbed in the heart and by their submissive question, "What shall we do, men, brothers?"
Peter’s response in 2:38, from the view point of the doctrine of salvation by grace through the inward conviction/belief of Christ, was apropos. For Peter to have told the people to believe would have been redundant. Instead it was time for them to prove their faith by their works (which is what James was talking about in Jms. 2). What could be more fitting for those Jews after believing into Christ, than to begin the working out of the reformation of their ways by being baptized on the Name of the Messiah?
James 2:14-26: Is there, do you feel, any difference between a faith which does not work and a faith which has not yet worked? Surely there must be a difference. One who does not work is rebellious at heart. One who has not yet worked may be one who loves Christ. Does God view the two people the same way? Is our heart condition of soteriological irrelevance to God until we perform for Him (in baptism)? Is this the way of the God Who is a refuge to all who pour their hearts out to Him, Who causes all hearts that seek Him to live, and who does not look at the outside but weighs the motives of the heart?
If we have identified with Christ in conviction and have reckoned our sinful nature as dead through heart-faith in the power of God and have poured out our heart to God beseeching Him to have mercy on us, dedicating ourselves to faith-action, but neglect to submit to water-baptism, is God to be unrighteous so as to forget our work and labor of love which we showed to his name, ministering to our fellow Christians? But why cannot death to sin and resurrection to life be brought about through the inward faith of Christ who dwells in us, since the inward changed nature is His own and so is holy in the sight of God?
Was Abraham's faith dead before he offered up his son? Since Abraham must have performed other good works of faith in his life before he finally offered up his son, Abraham must have therefore had a living faith before he offered up Isaac. So if Abraham already had faith and works before he offered up his son, then that must mean that the word "justified" in James 2 does not need to mean "regenerated/saved." The same would go for the example of the person not caring for his Christian brothers or sisters. The example was of every day Christian life. Granted, the scenario in verses 14-16 was not James premise, but an illustration of it. But if James was speaking about works (especially baptism) related to regeneration, he proved the need for such by showing an example from every day Christian living. From this there is no escape. Or does James mean to say that if someone helps a Christian in need then God will "regenerate/save" him? This would be what he meant if "justified" means "regenerated/saved."
Concerning my implication that there are two categories of faith, a faith alone that saves, and a faith that is not alone for Christian living: If we are to take "faith alone" to its literal extreme (which is what I believe the Church of Christ does), then it would be true that every time we are caught in between good works, then our faith for that few seconds or minutes or hours must be dead, because for that literal time we had "faith alone." Is this not logically true according to your interpretation of "faith alone"? If faith alone even for a second is dead, then we have dead faith every time we are in between works. If this is true, then we must work continually in order to remain justified. Sounds a lot like the Law, "do-and-live."
But if instead God-approved works are the super-natural outcome of saving faith, then the principle is transformed from a principle of slavery, to the glorious Christological principle of freedom: "Live and do."
A "dead" faith is a faith that does not work, and not a faith that has not yet worked, as "dead" implies perpetual inactivity. What is immoral about one who has committed his spirit to Christ but has not yet committed a physical good work? But there is certain immorality in one who believes but does not work, as do the devils.
In conclusion on this point, I would say that if the inward faith of Christ before works compared to the inward faith of Christ after works necessitates the distinction of two different types of faith, then a pleasant fruit tree which has not yet borne fruit, in comparison to itself a season later after it has borne fruit, necessitates the distinction of two different kinds of trees.
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