The response below is in response to a question submitted to David Winston Busch:
On a different note, something that I was very glad to read about in “Appointed” was your distinction between an Israelite being “saved” eternally from the debt and penalty of their sins, or being “saved” from the physical calamities they were about to face in what was a very soon coming day of the Lord’s wrath. This is an issue that trips up so many folks, especially it seems ones trying to rightly divide. I can say as much as I was one of those people. I am currently engaged in a rather long and ongoing debate with a couple people quite close to me on this subject. It is amazing to me, now that I have a good bit of godly edification under my belt, that we are so willing to throw Romans 4 to the wind, because we have a poor understanding of a few verses in God’s program with Israel. But now, perhaps you wouldn’t mind commenting on this a bit. Being keenly aware of the example of the thief on the cross and the great ramifications of that situation alone, let’s put that aside for a moment and consider another example: Say someone like Nathanael, whom we don’t know much about, at least I’m not aware of anything else said about him other than that brief glimpse spoken of in John 1, obviously he expresses a faith in Jesus being the Christ, and in my understanding is a justified individual in the eyes of God. For the sake of clarification, what would you say would be his fate if he didn’t get water baptized for whatever reason? How does the scenario play out in your mind for someone in his situation who is justified but perhaps fails to then go through the water baptism part of the “prescription for cleansing” as Keith refers to it, and separate themselves thereby from the apostate nation of Israel? The reason I say to put the thief aside is because I think he fits this description, but at the same time, had no opportunity to be cleansed otherwise. My best guess is that the individual would be considered part of the apostate nation, would suffer the physical consequences of the Lord’s day (as with those who failed to go out to king Nebuchadnezzar, and who subsequently lost their life because of it), would no doubt lose reward, may even suffer great delusion because he wasn’t protected by the separation, but would latter on still be in the eternal kingdom of God on earth, as a resurrected saint. Granted, that isn’t very specific, but it seems logical to me even though it lacks the sharpened thinking that it really needs. What are your thoughts on a situation like this, if you care to comment?
Concerning your question regarding the place of water baptism in Israel’s program:
You hit the nail on the head with regard to Romans. It astonishes me that people cannot see that much of what Paul says concerning faith and the law has absolutely no legitimacy if what they say is true concerning justification in Israel’s program (Gal. 3:11). I guess my view is one of understanding it in the same context as the various specific demanded works throughout Israel’s program. There is not the requirement that someone be perfect as it were, which is impossible. However, there were specific things at specific times that were demanded by God, which could be done, which were manifestations and affirmations of that faith. At the same time, it is obvious that they have no efficacy in themselves in that any number of things might interfere with their ability to perform the specific “work” in question, whether it be bringing a certain sacrifice, keeping a feast, water baptism, etc. By the same token, someone could submit to water baptism for one reason or another and still not be a believer. There is therefore no inherent efficacy in the act itself.
However, things then move into the very tricky area of where do things stand if they explicitly reject the work which is itself the specific expression of faith. The real question, I think, is whether someone could truly believe God and yet reject the specific required expression of believing God. It is one thing if there is something to “hinder” (Acts 8:36) and physically keep you from expressing that faith, but what if it is simply being rejected. This becomes tough, because it certainly seems like the rejection of what that baptism signified was the rejection of the faith itself (Luke 7:29).
However, there is clearly another category. Those who believe, do not reject baptism per se, but for “fear” (Jn. 7:13; 9:22; 12:42; 19:38) of being publicly identified with Him, appear to not have been baptized. I say “appear” because it is questionable just how far this “confession” extends, but practically speaking this would seem to be encompassed in this and demanded in some part anyway. As much as I would like to believe this is not possible for the simplicity it would provide theologically, scripture seems to make a specific point of identifying just this type of circumstance. You may want to say very firmly that they will do this if they truly believe, but such would seem to not be the case.
So I affirm all of the above: Water baptism is a special and specific work in Israel’s program identified with the “gate” and “door” as a specific confession which anybody can perform, regardless of how “sinful.” You can’t “keep the law” as it were (Acts 15:10), but you can be water baptized as God has commanded. It has no merit of itself, but is required by God in the context of the program and is the specific expression of faith (intervening “hindrances” being natural and understood as not being contrary to faith). Generally speaking, when it is rejected it is done so as a rejection of the faith, the one rejecting therefore facing the same eternal fate which he already faced before the appearance of Christ as he approaches the prospect of dying “in his sins” (John 8:21, 24) by not believing on the Son. There may be instances, however, in which a “believer” may not submit to it for fear of the “offence” and what that “confession” will mean. In this case, it would seem they are considered “foolish”, perhaps the most foolish, and precisely what you outline below is what would apply to them, as it would to other “foolishness” on the part of the remnant. I can certainly understand someone perhaps saying that a disciple (whether wise or foolish) is one who was first baptized and refusal to do this makes one an unbeliever, but again, while that is pointed out in regard to certain individuals and groups, that doesn’t appear to be the case with others that are pointed out in scripture.
Ultimately, it is a matter of the heart and God will be the judge. It is moot for us since we don’t have a specific work presented to us in connection with believing Paul’s gospel, but what about the corollary belief/work in Israel’s program? Will God justify you if you refuse to bring the sacrifice he has commanded, or say that I “believe” in the idea, but just refuse to actually bring it? How will this effect the “remission of sins” issue presented in connection with it? Given the effect this would inevitably have on your fellowship with the Father and ministry of the Spirit at that time, quite honestly I wouldn’t want to find out and I imagine taking that stance would not anchor your soul or provide you much assurance in the Lord’s Day to come. This of course does not address larger and deeper issues of the nature of the justification and life they did or didn’t have prior to the arrival of Christ, but those are far beyond my scope here. That at least is my understanding, for what it’s worth. Until next time…
Seated in heavenly places with Him,