In the post, “A Decision of the Heart,” I discussed the life and conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the apostle Paul. From his life and conversion I drew the conclusion that to answer the call of Christ, to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, is a decision of the heart, a choice between self and Christ. To accept Christ is a surrender of the heart, mind, soul, and life to Jesus Christ. Answering the call of Christ is a commitment of life–body, heart, and mind–to Christ.
In the last post, “Raised with Christ,” I discussed Romans 6:3-13. There Paul describes baptism as the experience of being untied with Christ in his death and his resurrection. The outcome of dying with Christ and being raised with Christ in faith, is a new life, a new creation, a new birth, a transformed heart, mind and life. I stressed the transformation of the child of God in Jesus Christ. Raised with Christ we are being renewed and created after the image of God.
Today’s post is a look at the response of the sinner who comes to believe and accept the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I stress, as in the past two posts, what goes on in the sinner’s heart and mind as he or she makes that decision to follow Christ. What leads him or her to be united with Christ in his death and his resurrection in baptism.
The words are familiar. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing [nasb not of yourselves]; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). In response to the message of Christ a choice is made, reject it or believe it. Belief is more than a mental assent to the truth of the message, the truth of what happened. Belief is faith, trust, in God through Jesus Christ.
N. T. Wright explains as follows. “The gospel–the ‘good news’ of what the creator God has done in Jesus–is first and foremost news about something that has happened. And the first and most appropriate response to that news is to believe it. God raised Jesus from the dead, and has thereby declared in a single powerful action that Jesus has launched the long-awaited kingdom of God, and that (by means of Jesus’s death) the evil of all the world has been defeated at last.”1
Wright continues. “Ultimately, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is a matter of believing and trusting in the God who would, and did, do such a thing. This is where our word ‘belief’ can be inadequate or even misleading. What the early Christians meant by ‘belief’ included both believing that God had done certain things and believing in the God who had done them. This is not belief that God exists, though clearly that is involved, too, but loving, grateful trust.”2
Faith expresses itself with confession. “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). This is not looking at a checklist that we can mark off as each step is accomplished and be satisfied we have met the requirements on our part to obtain salvation. Belief, faith, is the conviction of the truth of the gospel of Christ. It is trust rising from that conviction of what God has done, who God is, who Jesus is. Confession is trust in God, “loving, grateful trust,” openly expressing itself.
Confession naturally flows from that trust. Confessing with your mouth, not afraid but wanting to express your belief in, your trust in, Jesus as Lord. More than a statement of a fact believed, confession is a statement of the conviction of the heart. It is a confession of the surrender and commitment of your life to the one you know to be God and to be his Christ. It is a confession of your trust in God, a confession both heard from your mouth and seen in your actions.
Faith humbles the heart in repentance. Paul spoke of his ministry in Ephesus. “Testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). To the people gathered in Jerusalem Peter draws the dramatic and bold conclusion of his argument from Scripture and the eye witness testimony of himself and the other apostles. “‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles. ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:36-38). Their hearts were crushed as they believed the truth of Peter’s words. In believing the message of Jesus presented by Peter the people realized their own sin, the truth of God, what offenses they had committed against God, especially the crucifixion of Christ. We see in this incident what faith in Christ, in the message of his gospel, does to the heart, to the soul.
As we see ourselves in the light of Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection, we realize the extent to which, as Paul puts it in Romans 3:23, we fall short of the glory of God, falling short of what we were created to be.3 Peter’s words were direct and heart rending, “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” It becomes clear, however, (read Romans 3:21ff), that Peter’s words speak to us also. Our sins crucified Jesus as well. The guilt is also ours. The realization strikes us that without God’s forgiveness and love there is no hope.
What checklist of moral achievement, of religious duties, can be given to overcome this reality, this guilt, to be deserving of God’s favor and forgiveness? There is none!
Peter responded, “Repent!” I think of David as he contended with his guilt over his sin with Bathsheba. His are the words of a broken and repentant heart. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Seeing ourselves in the light of Jesus Christ, seeing God’s holiness and love we face our sins. We feel the burden of sorrow. We find ourselves in the valley of humiliation before God. As David when we are confronted with the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth of our sins, and believe the message, we are brought to our knees before God with a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. We find ourselves crying out with David. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4). Repentance is sorrow, but it is more. Repentance is the desire, the hunger, the determination to have a new attitude toward sin, the attitude of Christ. Repentance is faith making commitment to live new life in Christ. Repentance is faith, loving, grateful trust in God, in Christ, crying out for forgiveness, for a new heart, and surrendering heart, mind, and life to God in Christ.
Faith surrenders to God in baptism, trusting in Christ, in God who raised him from the dead. Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Note, “for the forgiveness of sins.” Studying Romans 6 in the last post, “Raised with Christ,” I looked closely at the significance of baptism as Paul described the transformation that takes place through faith in Christ. I emphasized the transformation that comes as a person is baptized into Christ, united with Christ in his death and his resurrection.
Baptism is faith’s trusting in and yielding to the call of Jesus Christ to believe in him and to trust him. It is faith humbling oneself before Christ, loving him, and surrendering to him. Faith and baptism are joined together. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). In Christ we are sons of God through faith, for, because, when we were baptized into Christ we were clothed with Christ. Baptism is faith trusting in and yielding to Christ.“Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). In baptism faith trusted in the powerful working of God in raising Christ from the dead, faith trusting in the resurrection of Christ.
Notice that faith, confession, and repentance, we do, our hearts responding to the message of Christ. Baptism is something to which we yield, to which we surrender. Baptism is done to us. It is not a person’s work to somehow purchase or earn the right of salvation. In baptism God works upon us. He unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection. God raises us up out of the death of sin to life in Christ by the power with which he raised Christ. God made us alive in Christ. God forgave and saved us through faith in Christ.
Looking back at my own baptism, when I was baptized I was trusting God, trusting his Word, trusting his promise, trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus, trusting in God’s grace. In baptism I experienced death and resurrection with Christ. In baptism I experienced the cleansing blood of Christ. In baptism I died to the old self and rose to a new life, forgiven, a child of God, saved. Why? Because of what I did? No. Anyway I didn’t do anything. I yielded. I surrendered. I said, ‘I can’t. Only You can!
Frederick Dale Bruner writes, “Baptism, according to the New Testament, is the place where God…physically-individually, spiritually-really gives and applies what the spoken Word has creatively promised, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (to speak with Luke), washing, justification, sanctification (to speak with Paul), new birth, regeneration, renewal (to speak with John and the Epistle to Titus).”4
N. T. Wright writes, “The important thing, then, is that in the simple but powerful action of plunging someone into the water in the name of the triune God, there is a real dying to the old creation and a real rising into the new–with all the dangerous privileges and responsibilities that then accompany the new life as it sets out in the as-yet-unredeemed world. Baptism is not magic, a conjuring trick with water. But neither is it simply a visual aid. It is one of the points, established by Jesus himself, where heaven and earth interlock, where new creation, resurrection life, appears within the midst of the old…for many, baptism remains in the background, out of sight, whereas it should be the foundational even for all serious Christian living, all dying to sin and coming alive with Christ.”5
Faith, confession, repentance, and baptism, are not individual steps, not a check list. They are a joined, united, and inclusive whole. Picture faith as a circle. Within this circle is the circle of confession, within which is the circle of repentance, within which is baptism, all within faith. Joined. United. An inclusive whole.
Faith, confession, repentance, and baptism are not simply religious practice. The means by which we are now allowed to participate in church. The steps taken to get ourselves right with God, to be right. They are the experience of conversion, of new birth, of new creation, of dying and rising with Christ, of transformation in Christ. Faith, confession, repentance, and baptism are all the response of the heart brought to its knees by the message of Christ. Here is the decision of the heart to choose Christ over self, sin, and all false gods. Faith expressed in confession, repentance, and baptism is the surrender of the heart, mind, soul, and life to Jesus Christ. Here is faith making the commitment of life, of body, of heart, and of mind, to Christ.
1N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 206.
4Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1970), 263.
5N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One, 2008), 272-3.