Do Baptism and Faith Hook Us Up With Christ’s Death?

“In real time, through baptism and faith, we were united with Christ in His effectual penalty bearing death.”

Let me begin by saying that there is something good in this statement. Christ’s death is effectual. God’s justice demands that Christ’s death take away the guilt of all for whom Christ died and give them all the blessings of salvation. So, the statement is correct that Christ’s death is effectual and also with the idea that Christ’s death was not sufficient to save everybody but only effectual for some.

At least the statement is talking about getting hooked up with what Christ did in the past, and not hooking up with Christ to get us to do now what needs to be done. And that’s a big thing.

But having said that, as you have come to expect, I disagree with the rest of the statement I not only disapprove of the idea that water baptism by something which calls itself “the church” (and claims that God is objectively doing something and promising something) is what causes the imputation. I also disapprove with the idea that faith is what unites us to the imputation.

I know that some Reformed confessions point to such ideas, but the Bible does not say that water baptism and faith unite us to Christ’s death. The Bible says justification is by faith, through faith, but this means that imputation creates the faith in the gospel in us. There is no justification without faith, but logically there is imputation before faith.

So I dislike the statement. I think the statement aids conditionalism and sacerdotalism. What does “baptism” mean? I am rational enough to want some definitions. Is the idea that “baptism” won’t work without faith, but also that the faith won’t work without the “baptism”? So what exactly is the “baptism”? Is it water? Is it God’s imputation? Is it regeneration? Is it both, or all three?

If you make imputation rely on water baptism rather than God baptizing us into Christ, then the consistent implication would be a man-centered false gospel. Humans calling themselves the church are claiming to be one of the two (or three) factors in uniting us to Christ’s death.

Another weird thing that I notice is that, you could say make this statement, ie that it’s water and faith that hooks you up, and still say that what you are hooked up is what Christ did, not what you are doing. God caused you to hook up with the death, and then after you are hooked up, it’s not your faith or your hooking up that saves, because after that, it’s only Christ’s death saving you.

That order of salvation application would still be wrong, but logically you could read it that way, and the tradition does read it that way for “justification” but not for “sanctification”. Because some Reformed confessions tell folks that “sanctification” is a process, and they read that into the Bible.

Even more seriously, once you have “front-loaded” the gospel (or at least the order of application) with regeneration before imputation, then you don’t really have justification of the ungodly anymore. You have justification of the regenerate.

And with many folks it seems to be a very quick step from that statement to saying that the same regeneration which makes you godly enough to have the faith which is the condition of justification, that this same regeneration is going to make you godly enough and believe enough so you will keep getting better.

And most Calvinists think that, if you don’t agree with them about that, then you must be an Arminian who simply denies that we need to be regenerate before we can believe the gospel. So the Arminian idea of faith without needing a new birth first is seen as the only other alternative to the idea of sanctification as “getting better.

Saying you can have faith and be justified, all before you are
regenerate, that’s what Arminians say, and then some of these Arminians also deny (as I do) that “sanctification” is “regeneration causing you to be better”. The third alternative, the correct view, that imputation causes regeneration, is not much considered.

Of course it doesn’t divide up this neat, with Arminians and Calvinists on each side, because many of the Arminians (like Tozer) agree that “sanctification” means getting better and that if you don’t get better that means you weren’t justified. And many of the “Calvinists” don’t really talk about imputation at all, much
less imputation before faith. No, most Calvinists are only talking about regeneration being first, and not about the atonement, or election the atonement, imputation.

Most Calvinists doesn’t talk about election when they talk about legal identification with Christ’s death.They talk about “baptism” and faith and regeneration, not about election.

Even though there is a sense in which we “count ourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6), we sinners are never the primary imputers. Our counting only true if it’s based on God’s counting. We don’t do something to “make the exchange”. We don’t even “contribute our sins”. God already did or did not count our sins to Christ.

Also, in the application of Christ’s death to sinner, in our uniting to Christ’s death, again it’s not our counting which is first but God’s counting. We don’t believe so that God will impute. God imputes so that we believe.

Remember that “impute” sometimes has two sense, always  declare, but sometimes also “legally share We don’t ever cause the “legal sharing.  God both declares  and does legal sharing. We do declare, but only after God has declared, and we count (agree, say amen, reckon) based on God’s declaration.

But what good is this “declaration”, since it’s not audible words we hear from God, telling us “you are justified”? And no, when we hear a sacerdotalist or a clergyman’s absolution, that’s not God’s declaration, no matter if the guy is from Rome (I forgive you) or from Geneva (God forgives you).

So what good is a legal thought in God’s mind, a declarative transaction we can neither hear nor see? To me, it’s my only hope, because I know that a. this is the gospel which I believe and that b. I only believe it as a result of God’s imputation, and my believing it was not a condition to make it happen, to get me hooked up or in union with Christ.

I simply don’t care even if you were getting as better as you think, because if you are still a sinner (and have been, always been one) then your only hope is if God imputes Christ’s death to you. God won’t do that, if God has not already elected you and has not already imputed your sins to Christ when Christ already died.

Notice I did not say that “God won’t do that, if you don’t believe.” Rather, if you end up not believing the gospel about God’s imputation, then that will be evidence that God never imputed Christ’s death to you and that Christ never died for you.

And if you say that this is not fair and gives you nothing to do, then that shows you that your religion is still man-centered and that as of yet you have not been regenerated so that you believe the gospel.

There is of course a sense in which God hasn’t forgiven justified Christians yet for the sins they haven’t committed yet. But I would not say that dailty forgiveness depends on daily confession as its condition. What do we confess? Do we confess in order to be forgiven? Or we do confess the evil or our sins and also the grace of God already forgiving our sins?

There is an one time justification, a before and after, so that we have passed from death to life. We are not being re-justified every day, nor are we passing from death to life every day, even though some Lutheran rhetoric sounds that way. But that’s what you expect from people who think Christ died for and justified everybody, but that somehow in the end not all these folks are justified.

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5 Comments on “Do Baptism and Faith Hook Us Up With Christ’s Death?”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    I’m reminded of that movie, Source Code. What did Colter contribute to the train crash? Nothing! It had already happened. He could do nothing about it. Could not change it, could not stop it, could do absolutely nothing to effect it in any way whatsoever. It makes me think of the most Calvinists you talk about here, how he kept thinking he could do something to save the girl. They think they can do something to improve upon an atonement that God clearly says is already completed. The blood has already been spilt. It’s over. Can’t change it, can’t improve upon it.

    “Another weird thing that I notice is that, you could
    say make this statement, ie that it’s water and faith that hooks you up, and still say that what you are hooked up is what Christ did, not what you are doing. God caused you to hook up with the death, and then after you are hooked up, it’s not your faith or your hooking up that saves, because after that, it’s only Christ’s death saving you.”

    Luther said that very thing, right?

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Lutherans tend to say that sin and unbelief can un-hook you from the cook. Makes sense. Faith is not a tattoo. If you could be given something which united you to Christ’s death, then it’s only reasonable that the something could be taken away, and then Christ’s death which had worked for you for a while, then would stop working for you. Of course you can find statements both ways from Luther himself on this, and also on the extent of the atonement.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 6:14 links the indicative “no more dominion” to “not under law”, to no more guilt. But most sermons say that Romans 5, and Romans 6 is not about guilt but the presence and pattern of sin. 1. This assumes that guilt has no power. 2. Much worse, it cannot account for Christ having been under law. Christ wasn’t under the presence and pattern of sin. Christ was under guilt, which is why He died. The basic problem is that most sermons still think we are “under law” (Some explain 6:14 simply by redemptive history, ie we are not under mosaic law anymore, we are new covenant—but that does not get to the guilt question. Today, there are many many people who are ‘NOT in the new covenant, and who ARE UNDER LAW (even if it’s not Mosaic).

  4. markmcculley Says:

    3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

    mark: And the Lutheran says, God is objectively reconciled with every single sinner. But this universal objective thing only works if you do what we do. It only works if you do things the right way, like we do. Some of the people God loves and wants to save begin to receive the universal reconciliation by works of love. But the rest of us receive the universal reconciliation the correct way. You must do “not doing” the way we do.

    Romans 9: 30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.

    mark: And the Lutherans say, God has an objective righteousness for every single sinner. But this universal righteousness only works for those who keep pursuing it the right way, the way we are doing it. The Reformed preaching makes it as though the righteousness were not for everyone (but only for those who believe), because the Reformed make it sound like the righteousness is enough to save all to whom it is given.

    But the Lutherans know that the righteousness is given to everybody, but that it doesn’t work for those who do not continue to pursue it the right way. And the Lutherans say that it was grace that will cause those who pursue the right way to pursue the right way. But they do not agree with the Reformed that being placed into the death of Christ results in true faith. Instead the Lutherans think that continuing in pursuit and true faith is the difference which makes the righteousness (which is for everybody) only work for some.

    Because the Lutherans have never heard of such a thing as there being no water in Romans 6, because everybody knows that God uses means in imputation, and everybody knows that being placed into the death does not mean necessarily that you will stay in Christ or in Christ’s death. Because everybody knows that there is nothing more real and concrete than the water (with words)

    Because even though the death was really real for every sinner, the water makes the universal justification more real, not for everybody, but for everybody who receives the water, and this is not a subjective reality, because water (with words) is an objective reality.

    “Objective justification” is for the eventually non-elect also, because even though it’s a generalization that everybody is forgiven, in reality only some are in the end forgiven, and they are not forgiven because they are elect. Instead they are elect because they are the ones who are really forgiven in the end.

    The subset of those who are objectively forgiven who get the promise by means of word with sacrament are not given an “if, then” duty. They are told upfront that Jesus died for them, and to therefore believe it.

    But here’s the catch. Since the indicative comes before the imperative, even if we don’t do the imperative, the indicative is still true. This means that those who perish in the second death can remind themselves (as they continue in sin) that they were objectively forgiven, and that this never changed, because it never depended on them to make it true, even though it seems that some other realities did depend on other factors, but as they perish, they can still do so with the comfort that they were objectively forgiven.

    But isn’t it necessary to make the indicative come first in order to avoid Arminianism? Believing it’s so doesn’t make it so, so it’s so before you believe.

    It’s so so that you will believe. But then again, because even though the objective forgiveness which was true from the first is still true when you perish, SO WHAT? The universal objective forgiveness didn’t make it worse for you, since you were already condemned, but then again, the universal objective forgiveness means zero when some of you still die the second death by the just wrath of God.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    mark—What does “imputed to me by faith alone” mean? Does it mean that my faith is what gives me Christ and his righteousness? That cannot be, because faith comes to us through Christ’s righteousness. (II Peter 1:1) What does “imputed to me by faith alone” mean? Does it mean that I am not the imputer, and that God needs to wait for me to impute Christ’s death to me? That cannot be, because unless God places me into Christ’s death, then Christ’s death will not justify me and give me faith in the gospel? If it was up to me or to my faith to impute Christ’s righteousness to me, you might as well say it’s up to me to decide if Christ is going to die for me or not. But Christ already died for me (or not) because Christ already did not die for the non-elect.

    John Piper- That death, that he died for us all, takes effect as our death when we are united to Christ by faith. Well, here is a need for education. We must learn what happened to us. We must be taught these things. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me [Why? Because I died, that is, my old rebellious, unbelieving self died]; and the life which I now live in the flesh [so, yes, I am alive, but it isn’t the same “I” as the “I” who died] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/christ-crucified-our-boast

    John Piper– In other words, the “I” who lives is the new “I” of faith. The new creation lives. The believer lives. The old self died on the cross with Jesus. And if you ask, “What’s the key for LINKING UP WITH this reality? How can this be mine?”

    Galatians 2:20. “The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God.” That is the link. God links you to his Son by faith. And when he does, there is a union with the Son of God so that his death becomes your death and his life becomes your life.

    John Piper–And how can you become that , where all your exultation is traced back to the cross? Answer: realize that when Christ died on the cross, you died; and when you trusted him, that death took effect in your life. Meaning: when you put your trust in Christ your bondage to the world is broken, and the overpowering lure of the world is broken. You are a corpse to the world, and the world is a corpse to you. Galatians 6:14, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world

    John Piper–The old you is dead. A new you is alive. And the new you is the you of faith


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