The Belief/Action Disconnect

[Note: I wrote this on the plane ride home yesterday, but sitting here tidying up my sermon for today this is the first opportunity I’ve had to post it.  I hope it is helpful reading for those who may be sick or otherwise under the weather and not able to make it to services!]

I just read Mr. Meredith’s lead article in the most recent Tomorrow’s World magazine (“YOU Need Salvation!” on p. 4; not online yet), and it reminded me of a series of discussions I had with a co-worker many years ago P.M. (that is, Pre-Ministry…).  For purposes of this story I will call her Betty, though her name was not actually Betty.  Her name was actually Alice.  Just kidding!  No, her name was neither Betty nor Alice.  And my name, also, is not Betty or Alice.  Have I wandered off the track?  Yes, I think so.   Must be altitude sickness or something.  Let me attempt to return…

I worked in actuarial and Betty worked in marketing, and we had been assigned a huge project that would impact both of our departments in a dramatic way.  (Actually, our insurance company was eventually purchased by a larger foreign insurance company—an action that would prove to turn our “huge project” into an “obsolete project.”  But that is an entry for another day…)  Due to the size and pressing deadline of the project, we were working together quite a bit and our conversations eventually turned to topics of a religious nature.

“Do you believe a person is required to be baptized to be saved?” she asked?  Rather than get into what “saved” actually meant at that time, I responded, “Yes, I believe that Jesus commands us to be baptized and that we must obey.”

Thus began the first of what became fairly frequent discussions about the interaction between faith and works.  Going into everything we discussed would take a lot of time, but there is one point that was really at the heart of our exchange and it is the point I want to share.

Betty was, by most measures, a “good Christian.”  She attended a very large church in Texas and was very active in her faith and participated enthusiastically in her congregation’s programs and community’s outreach efforts.  And Betty was a “good person.”  She was kind and friendly.  She placed her family above her work to the point of quitting her successful and promising career once she had her first child.  It was a pleasure knowing her and I enjoyed every one of our interactions.  I not only liked her, I respected her.  If I unexpectedly bumped into her again at the grocery I would be thrilled, and I suspect the rest of my day would be better for it.

But she didn’t know the first thing about following Jesus Christ.

While Betty certainly considered herself a Christian, she readily admitted that she refused to be baptized.  She also readily admitted that she understood the fact that Jesus Christ commanded her to be baptized.  But she refused to do it.  Why?  According to her, she did not want to be baptized because that would mean being saved by works and not by faith, and no work is required (according to her) to be saved.

How is it that such a dogma can become so ingrained—so hypnotic—that it is possible for someone to believe that her faith in Christ allows her to willfully ignore Christ’s commands?  I imagine a scene in the second resurrection like something out of a Douglas Adams’ tale of “Adam” using “God’s” words to prove that “He” doesn’t exist…

Betty: Well, Jesus, here I am—you have to save me!
Betty’s “Jesus”: Um, Betty… I commanded you to be baptized…
Betty: I know!
Betty’s “Jesus”: And you weren’t…
Betty: Yup!
Betty’s “Jesus”: So, I have to save you because…?
Betty: Well, you also taught us through Paul that works have nothing to do with salvation, so thanks to your teachings I am free to ignore your teachings!
Betty’s “Jesus”: Oh!  Well, I suppose I hadn’t thought of that.  Saved you are! [At which point, Disney’s Tinkerbell flies in with her wand and “ping!”]

[Please note that I said “Betty’s ‘Jesus’” above because the real and living Christ would never say such a thing.  I might as well have said “Betty’s ‘Paul'”, as well, since the real Paul taught nothing like Betty’s claim of him.]

I could go through the verses (and have before), but Mr. Meredith covers them very well in his Tomorrow’s World article, and I would refer the reader to that article.  I would rather here discuss the reasoning behind such thinking.

What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?  What does it mean to call Him “Lord”?  Doesn’t He answer that question Himself, when He says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

Don’t listen to those who start whining and saying, “But you can’t follow Him perfectly!  You can’t obey perfectly!  You can’t… etc., etc.”  Such people are setting up a straw man to knock down.  The perfection of our obedience is not the issue here.

Really—think about it.  How in the world can you begin a relationship with Jesus Christ—how can you begin your acceptance of His Lordship in your life and your life of faith in His coming rule as King of Kings—when your very first act is one of disobedience?  It is completely bonkers.

“Jesus, I want to follow you and have you as my Lord!”

“Repent and be baptized.”

“Ahhhhh… No.  No, really, I refuse to do that.”

How is it so easy for some to imagine that such a conversation makes sense?  Is it because they don’t see Jesus in front of them?  What if they could and the conversation were face to face?  Would they refuse so blatantly?  That’s hard to imagine.

And if they would refuse so blatantly, would they actually expect to be taken seriously?  If the former is hard to imagine, imagining this seems to me almost impossible.

So maybe those who consider themselves followers of Christ, calling Him “Lord,” and who admit that Christ commands water baptism, all the while refusing to obey His simple command, do not really believe He really exists—that He is real, that He thinks, that He reasons (that is, they hope for the truth of the second half of Isaiah 1:18, but deny the possibility of the first half).  Perhaps they do have faith, but it is a faith in a technical doctrine (“workless salvation”) as opposed to a Personal God.  I don’t know.

But if someone is told that the building in which they sit is on fire and that they need to evacuate immediately at the risk of their life, and they continue to sit there unmoving and unresponsive, reading their book or whatever, while telling the messenger, “I believe you, I really do!” – I think I would be justified in questioning the sincerity of that profession of faith.  The disconnect between belief and action would be just too great.

Regardless, give me a faith that is honest and clear: a Lord to follow who says what He means and means what He says, a religion in which the doctrines don’t need four centuries’ worth of theologians and philosophers to “figure out” and finalize, and apostles whose teachings do not contradict the teachings of the Messiah to whom they point me.

Thankfully, the Father has done just that.

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6 thoughts on “The Belief/Action Disconnect

  1. RB

    So where is God’s grace? What role does that play in all of this? I wondered after comparing your post to this article:

    [Link deleted. Sorry — no offense intended! See my comment below (after the next two), where I address this. — WGS]

    That article admittedly does not mention the “works” side of faith.

  2. kildrum

    Yes, we know baptism is a formal and commanded ceremony denoting a willing, surrendered and obedient mind and will: but let us not forget it is not any more magical than wafers turning into the Body of Christ or grape juice or wine magically turning into the literal Blood of Jesus (as pretended in the Roman Church’s Eucharist).

    Baptism is a ceremony and not a ‘magical rite’.

    “The connection of baptism with the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38…. A literal rendering of the verse runs: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for/on the basis of the forgiveness of your sins.” The disputed word is the preposition eis, which could indicate purpose and thus be taken to mean that baptism is the prerequisite for the forgiveness of sins. There is ample evidence in the New Testament, however, that eis can also mean on the ground of, on the basis of, which would indicate the opposite relationship—that the forgiveness of sins is the basis, the grounds for being baptized.129 Perhaps more significant, however, is that the usual connection of the forgiveness of sins in Luke-Acts is with repentance and not with baptism at all (cf. Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; 5:31).130 In fact, in no other passage of Acts is baptism presented as bringing about the forgiveness of sins. If not linked with repentance, forgiveness is connected with faith (cf. 10:43; 13:38f.; 26:18).131 The dominant idea in 2:38 thus seems to be repentance, with the other elements following. Repentance leads to baptism, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Spirit.”
    129 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (New York: Doran, 1914), 592; also WP 3:35.
    130 See Beginnings 4:26.
    131 B. Sauvagnat, “Se repantir, etre baptisé, recevoir l’Espirit: Actes 2:37ss.,” Foi et Vie 80 (1981): 77–89.
    Polhill, J. B. (2001, c1992). Vol. 26: Acts (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (117). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

    The Scripture cannot be broken!

    For God to be obligated and dutifully always to grant the Holy Spirit unto Salvation to anyone immersed in water followed by the Laying of Hands ceremony would contradict several NT examples to the contrary, one of which is Acts 10:44 and confirmed again clearly in verse 47.

    ἐπιπίπτω 2aor. ἐπέπεσον; pf. ἐπιπέπτωκα; (1) literally fall on someone, throw oneself on (AC 20.10); idiomatically ἐπιπίπτειν ἐπι τὸν τράχηλον literally fall on the neck, i.e. embrace, hug affectionately (LU 15.20; AC 20.37); (2) press or push against (MK 3.10); (3) figuratively, of unexpected events, misfortunes, apprehensions come on, seize, happen suddenly to (AC 19.17); of the Holy Spirit in relation to a person come down on, fall on (AC 10.44) (Analytical Lexicon of the Greek NT, p 166)

    Some have ‘gone off on their own” thinking they carry with them the right to dispensing a ‘magical rite’ all the while in rebellion of heart against the Good Message. Such show of religion is, of course, in vain, and many there be who follow it.

    Yes, we should be baptized but baptism is a ceremony acknowledging repentance from dead works – not a ‘magical rite’! In other words, even if the minister ‘got it all wrong’ (READ: was deceived by any of those seeking baptism) God is our Basis and He is the One who grants His Spirit in accordance with fruits of repentance. Could this help answer why so many who used to be with us in former associations are no longer with us? I Jn 2:19.

    Betty thought in the context of ‘magical rite’ and therefore saw no need for baptism since she was convinced she possessed the Spirit of God already.

    But, as we know, submission to the Government of God (the Gospel or Good Message, including obedience to His Laws) IS a requirement in order to become eligible for eventual Salvation.

    This is what Betty failed to understand and it wasn’t her fault. (Jn 6:44, 65)

  3. Deano

    I marvel too at the absurdity of how Scripture is so very plain and at the same time so thoroughly disregarded by those who claim to adhere to It. Seems to be a testament to the fact of the spell Satan has cast upon this world and also that it takes God to break that spell and open up our minds to the Truth.

    Just think, a few more years and no more stumbling in darkness for mankind.

  4. Howdy, RB, and thanks for writing! I appreciate your question, and I have read the article to which you link. I am very familiar with the work of that author — both his point of view and the history of his religious “development.”

    [The link has been deleted because the “gospel” that author pushes is a false gospel. Preaching a false gospel carries *dire* consequences according to the apostle Paul (Gal. 1:8-9), and I don’t want to even accidentally contribute to its spread. If my removal of the link bothers you and you would rather I delete your entire post, please let me know — I mean no offense and I would be happy to comply.]

    Many create a straw man (as has the author to whom you linked) and knock it down, saying they have destroyed the arguments of Christ’s Church. It just isn’t so. God’s grace is not nullified in any way by the fact that He commands things of us (indeed, the gift of His law — the gift of a Godly path for our lives, which we could never find on our own) is but one facet of the beautiful expression of God’s grace in our lives. Keeping His commandments, including the command to be baptized, cannot earn God’s love, nor can it earn our salvation. Nothing can do that! As expressed in the lengthy comment above this one, baptism is not a “magical rite”.

    Yet God’s grace and love cannot be separated from the law — at least, not in the way that the article’s author fantasizes. Love and the commandments are very much related.

    How do we know who loves Christ? Jesus tells us we will see such people keeping His commandments (John 14:21). Jesus connects keeping the commandments with abiding in His love and in the love of the Father (John 15:10). Christ says through John that whether or not we love the brethren is evident by whether or not we keep God’s commandments (1 John 5:2) and He directly connects “the love of God” (which is to be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Romans 5:5) with keeping God’s commandments (1 John 5:3).

    It is interesting that John is often called the “Apostle of Love” because love is strong theme of his writings. Yet, many fail to recognize how often the law and God’s commandments are a powerful theme in his writings as well, and he strongly intertwines the two — one is impossible without the other.

    The author of your article professed to understand that once. But if so, he has traded the truth for the lie (cf. Romans 1:25). If the preacher he describes is who I think he is, then the author also either never understood that preacher’s teachings, or — worse — he intentionally distorts them.

    The author — who mocks admonishing others to keep God’s law — simply does not know Christ. And should he claim to know Him, Christ has an answer: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23, cf. 1 John 2:4).

    This author exhibits the worst of what I am talking about: the disconnect between belief and action (or between trust and action). His abuse of John 6:28-29 (implying that it means there is nothing for you to do) is such an example. His writing — however well written — is a dangerous mixture of truth and lie. He is right in that we enjoy that gift by trusting Christ. But we can’t honestly say we “trust” Christ if we are unwilling to obey Him. His false theology sucks the life and vitality out of the commands of Jesus Christ by reducing the power of the words he uses (grace, gift, faith, saved, trust) and turning them into a shell of what they actually mean.

    I would highly recommend that you consider ordering our free booklet: “What Is a True Christian?” It is clear, straightforward, and will address this issue using the words of Jesus Christ and the Bible — not a man-made *twist* on the message of Christ. You might also consider our booklet “Christian Baptism.” They are free and can be ordered at our website (click here), or they can be read online at the “Booklets” link on the Tomorrow’s World website.

    Thanks, again, for writing, RB! I hope this is helpful.

    Best regards,
    Wallace Smith

  5. Doug Young

    In responding to those who say it is impossible to keep God’s laws, I ask them “Why would God give us laws we can’t keep and then punish us with death for not keeping them?”

  6. If I can find a way to copy this page, I may write something by way of background for our Personal Correspondence Dept. There are a number of issues that need to be dealt with here.

    Actually, I tried to write a reply here already, but for some reason it didn’t go through. When I tried to resend it, WordPress told me it looks like I was sending something I’d send already — but where is it? So instead of rewriting that lengthy text, I will just send this to let you know I’m interested.

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