"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" The Unforgiveable Sin (3:22-30) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                    The Unforgiveable Sin (3:22-30)


1. During His earthly ministry, Jesus faced great opposition from
   religious leaders...
   a. By Pharisees and Herodians who plotted to destroy Him - Mk 3:6
   b. By scribes from Jerusalem, who accused Him of using demonic power
      - Mk 3:22

2. In our text for this lesson, Jesus easily answered the scribes'
   a. For Satan to cast out demons defeated his (Satan's) own purpose
      - Mk 3:23-26
   b. On the contrary, casting out demons was integral to defeating
      Satan - Mk 3:27

3. On this occasion Jesus mentioned an "unforgiveable sin"...
   a. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - Mk 3:28-29
   b. For which there is no forgiveness - cf. Mt 12:31-32

[These words of Jesus have troubled many, who wonder if they have
committed this "eternal sin" (ESV) that "never has forgiveness".  Let's
first seek to identify exactly what was...]


      1. Jesus described it as blaspheming the Holy Spirit - Mk 3:29
         a. Blaspheme - "to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile,
            calumniate, blaspheme" - Thayer
         b. Thus to speak evil of the Holy Spirit in some way
      2. Mark reveals exactly how they spoke evil of the Spirit - Mk 3:30
         a. "because they said, 'He has an unclean spirit.'"
         b. By attributing Jesus' power to cast out demons to Beelzebub
            (Satan), they spoke evil of the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus
            cast out demons - cf. Mt 12:28
      3. In effect, they were calling the Holy Spirit a demon; in so
         a. They denied the evidence that Jesus was truly from God
         b. They deprived themselves of evidence to believe in Jesus
         c. They divested all hope of forgiveness that comes only
            through Jesus
      -- The unforgiveable sin was to believe that the Holy Spirit was
         in fact Satan!

      1. "Probably not. It was a sin committed when Jesus was on earth
         performing miracles. Since He is not physically on earth today,
         casting out demons, the same possibility of blaspheming the
         Holy Spirit does not exist." - Believer's Bible Commentary
      2. "People who worry that they have committed the unpardonable sin
         have not done so. The very fact that they are concerned
         indicates that they are not guilty of blasphemy against the
         Holy Spirit." - ibid.
      3. From the NET Bible:  "Three things must be kept in mind..."
         a. "The nature of the sin is to ascribe what is the obvious
            work of the Holy Spirit (e.g., releasing people from Satan's
            power) to Satan himself"
         b. "It is not simply a momentary doubt or sinful attitude, but
            is indeed a settled condition which opposes the Spirit's
            work, as typified by the religious leaders who opposed
         c. "A person who is concerned about it has probably never
            committed this sin, for those who commit it here (i.e., the
            religious leaders) are not in the least concerned about
            Jesus' warning"
      -- Even if it can be committed today, if you worry that you have,
         you haven't!

[Speaking of "unforgiveable sins", we do well to review how we can still
fall into a condition where forgiveness is not possible as long as we
remain in it...]


      1. There is a sin by which we "crucify again" the Son of God - He6:4-6
      2. There is a sin for which there "no longer remains a sacrifice
         for sin" - He 10:26-31
      -- This sin is one in which there is no hope for forgiveness!

      1. Note carefully that it is an ongoing sin, a condition of
         rebellion against God
         a. Committed openly - cf. He 6:6
         b. Committed continually - cf. He 10:26 ("go on sinning", ESV,
         c. Committed willfully - cf. He 10:26 ("deliberately", ESV,
         d. Committed knowingly - cf. He 6:4; He 10:26
      2. A spiritual condition in which one is doing grave things 
         - He 10:29
         a. Trampling the Son of God underfoot
         b. Treating the blood of the covenant (Jesus' blood) a common
         c. Insulting the Spirit of grace
      3. A spiritual condition that left unchecked has grave
         a. Fearful expectation of judgment - He 10:27
         b. Fiery indignation - He 10:27
         c. Worse punishment than death - He 10:28-29
         d. Vengeance and judgment by the Lord upon His people - He 10:
      -- It is any sin that we knowingly refuse to repent of, despite
         many opportunities!


1. Many today worry about blaspheming the Holy Spirit...
   a. A serious sin indeed, but likely cannot be replicated today
   b. If one worries about it, they are certainly not guilty of it!

2. People should be more concerned about any sin...
   a. They knowingly commit
   b. They refuse to give up

Whether one is obeying the gospel of Christ for the first time, or has
already "tasted the heavenly gift" (He 6:4) and "received the knowledge
of the truth" (He 10:26), all sins are "unforgiveable" unless we repent.

Are we willing to let the goodness of God lead us to repentance...? -
cf. Ro 2:4-5
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" The Family Of Jesus (3:20-21) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                     The Family Of Jesus (3:20-21)


1. The ministry of Jesus in Galilee certainly drew the attention of
   a. Multitudes followed Him everywhere - Mk 3:7-8
   b. Jesus' very life was endangered by the crowds - Mk 3:9-10
   c. The house where he stayed was besieged - Mk 3:19b-20

2. It also drew the attention of His physical family...
   a. Who were concerned about what they heard - Mk 3:21a
   b. Who sought to take Him into custody - Mk 3:21b
   c. For they even questioned His sanity - Mk 3:21c

[The reaction of His family is interesting, somewhat understandable.
Before we consider their reaction, and how they later responded to
Jesus, let's review what is revealed in the Scriptures about...]


      1. Mary - His birth mother
         a. A virgin until Jesus was born - Mt 1:18-25; Lk 1:26-38
         b. Visited her cousin Elizabeth - Lk 1:39-56
         c. Gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem - Lk 2:1:19
         d. Took Jesus to Jerusalem when He was 12 - Lk 2:48-51
         e. Present with Jesus at a marriage in Cana - Jn 2:1-10
         f. Sought Jesus when He was teaching - Mt 12:46; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19
         g. Present at the cross, committed to John's care - Jn 19:27
         h. With the disciples in Jerusalem following the ascension - Ac1:14
      2. Joseph - His adoptive father
         a. Descendant of David - Mt 1:1-16
         b. Took Mary as wife, did not know her until Jesus was born
            - Mt 1:18-25
         c. From Nazareth, enrolled at Bethlehem - Lk 2:1-5
         d. Presented Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, returned to
            Nazareth - Lk 2:22-30
         e. Fled to Egypt, later re-settled in Nazareth - Mt 2:13-15,
         f. Took Jesus to Jerusalem when He was 12 - Lk 2:48-51
         g. Supposed father of Jesus, a carpenter - Mt 13:55; Lk 3:23;
            4:22; Jn 1:45; 6:42
      -- Jesus was blessed to be born of a virtuous woman, and raised by
         a just man

      1. Brothers - James, Joses, Simon, Judas
         a. All four mentioned by name on one occasion 
            - Mk 6:3; Mt 13:55
         b. They accompanied Jesus and His mother from Cana to Capernaum
            - Jn 2:11-12
         c. Later, with Mary they sought to see Jesus 
            - Mk 3:31; Mt 12:46; Lk 8:19-20
      2. Sisters - Mary, Salome
         a. There were at least two sisters - Mt 13:56; Mk 6:3
         b. No names are given in the Scriptures
         c. Later Christian literature gives the names Mary and Salome
            - Protevangelium of James 19:3-20:4; Gospel of Philip 59:
            6-11; Epiphanius, Pan. 78.8.1; 78.9.6
      -- Jesus was blessed to have a number of half-siblings

[Some believe these "brothers" and "sisters" were actually step-siblings
or cousins, that His mother Mary remained a virgin all her life.  In any
case, let's now direct our attention to...]


      1. Some thought He was crazy - Mk 3:21
         a. They thought "He is out of His mind"
         b. They endeavored to take custody of Him
      2. His brothers did not believe in Him - Jn 7:3-5
         a. They taunted Him to prove Himself
         b. To show Himself openly to the world
      -- When their brother claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God,
         who can blame them?

      1. Jesus appeared to James - 1Co 15:8
      2. His brothers became His disciples - Ac 1:14
      3. James
         a. Became identified as "the Lord's brother", a pillar in the
            church, likely author of the epistle of James - Ac 12:17;
            15:13; 21:18; Ga 1:19; 2:19; Jm 1:1
         b. Martyred by being thrown from the pinnacle of the temple
            - Josephus, Eusebius
      4. Joses - little known, evidently became a traveling missionary
         - 1Co 9:5
      5. Simon - little known, likewise a traveling missionary - 1Co 9:5
      6. Judas - believed to be the author of the epistle of Jude - Ju
      -- Jesus' resurrection from the dead overcame any misgivings by
         His brothers


1. The initial unbelief of some members of His family is
   a. Mary never doubted, for she alone really knew the truth about
      Jesus' birth
   b. But the doubt of His brothers was a normal reaction to His
      outlandish claims

2. Their initial unbelief and eventual faith can be thought-provoking...
   a. They did not believe despite the miracles of His ministry (why
   b. Yet they later chose to follow His apostles and suffer for His
      cause (how come?)

3. The transformation in the skeptical members of Jesus' family is
   easily understood...
   a. If in fact Jesus did rise from the dead and appear to them
   b. Thus "The Family Of Jesus" serves as a powerful testimony to the
      resurrection of Jesus!

One last thought:  if Jesus was not truly born of a virgin, what kind of
mother would let her son suffer like Jesus did on the cross and not say
a word?  A simple admission that Joseph (or someone else) was the father
of Jesus, and He could have come down from that cross.  Her silence
speaks volumes...!
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

Pharaoh's Heart Weighed in the Balance by Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.


Pharaoh's Heart Weighed in the Balance

by  Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.

“Let My people go” was the demand that set the stage for a conflict that literally changed history. In a devastating series of plagues, Yahweh systematically humbled the contemptuous Egyptian monarch into compliance with His will. The theological impact of these plagues has been elucidated dramatically by Egyptian mythology, which demonstrates that these phenomena were not mere random, punitive acts recklessly performed by an angry God. To the contrary, they were polemical scourges carefully calculated to expose the impotence of Egypt’s so-called gods, whom the Egyptians believed were personified in nature (Exodus 12:12). In fact, scholars have detected a direct relationship between each plague and an Egyptian god, or some aspect of ancient Egypt’s religion (see White, 1975; Davis, 1971).
Egyptian mythology also produces a deeper meaning to another aspect of the Exodus narrative: the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The heart, according to Egyptian belief, was the seat of emotions, and represented the integrity and purity of an individual. According to the papyrus of Hu-nefer (1550-1090 B.C.), the jackal-headed god, Anubis, weighs this organ against a feather in the balance of truth. If the deceased’s heart weighed more than the feather, he or she would be judged a sinner and eaten by Amenit, the Devouress. If, however, the heart weighed no more than a feather, the deceased gained eternal life (see Pritchard, 1958, pp. 356-357; Currid, 1993).
Interestingly, one of the three words used to describe Pharaoh’s heart (all translated harden) in the Exodus narrative is kabed, which basically means “to be heavy or weighty” (Oswalt, 1980, 1:428). No doubt Pharaoh’s obstinacy was under consideration. But this word used to describe his heart has far-reaching implications in light of Egyptian mythology. It possibly suggests that, contrary to the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was a divine being whose heart was the epitome of purity, and therefore light as a feather, the Egyptian monarch was a sinner unworthy of eternal life (Currid, 1993, 9[6]:51). This would serve, as did the plagues, to demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy over the Egyptian god-king. Such information further suggests that the author of Exodus was intimately familiar with the nuances of the Egyptian religion. And, of course, Moses fits that bill perfectly.


Davis, John J. (1971), Moses and the Gods of Egypt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Currid, John E. (1993), “Why Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?,” Bible Review, 9[6]:46-51, December.
Oswalt, John (1980), “kabed,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R.L. Harris, G.L. Archer, Jr., and B.K. Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody), 1:426-428.
Pritchard, James (1958), The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
White, W. (1975), “Plagues of Egypt,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 4:805-807.

In Defense of the Golden Rule by Caleb Colley, Ph.D.


In Defense of the Golden Rule

by  Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

Christ’s summary ethical principle, stated in Matthew 7:12, is often called the “golden rule”: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” We have demonstrated that Christ’s principle is unique—distinct in principle and fruit from the ethics of utilitarianism and other human systems of conduct—and also that it is superior to any other moral principle (Jackson, 1996). Consider the following account of an attack upon the rule, and a response, by Wayne Jackson:
Some, like Dan Barker (a former Pentecostal preacher who converted to atheism), have suggested that the golden rule should be characterized as “bronze”.... Barker argued that if one were a masochist, the golden rule would justify his beating up on someone else (1992, pp. 347-348). His argument assumes that it is rational to be a masochist! Others, not quite so much of the fringe element, have suggested that the golden rule might at least be improved: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Such a view, however, is fatally flawed, and even someone who is as ethically confused as Joseph Fletcher (the famed situation ethicist) has acknowledged such (1966, p. 117). The weak may want you to supply them with drugs, or indulge them with illicit sex, etc., but such a response would not be the right thing to do. If I am thinking sensibly, I do not want others to accommodate my ignorance and weakness (1996, emp. and parenthetical items in orig.).
This response to Barker and other critics rightly suggests that the golden rule cannot be manipulated to encourage an action that one perceives as evil prior to applying the rule. On this point, we have defended the golden rule previously.
However, others have suggested that Immanuel Kant’s ethical principle, summarized in his “categorical imperative” does a better job of tracking our moral intuitions than Christ’s rule. The categorical imperative has three formulations, which Kant thinks are equivalent to one another:
  1. “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
  2. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.”
  3. “[One’s acts—CC] ought to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends as a kingdom of nature” (1994, pp. 30,42).
Each formulation, according to Kant, is equivalent to the others (p. 41). It is not necessary to develop a full understanding of the categorical imperative here (for more information, see Copleston, 1994, 6:308-348). Of concern here is the alleged superiority of the categorical imperative to the golden rule. The argument goes like this (adapted from Pecorino, 2000):
  1. Kant’s rule, as traditionally interpreted, tells us to act as we would want all other people to act toward all other people, and atrocities would be disallowed.
  2. The golden rule tells us to act toward others as we would have them act toward us.
  3. The golden rule would allow us to do terrible things to others, as long as it is what we wish they would do to us (e.g., masochistic desires could be fulfilled in accordance with the rule).
  4. Therefore, Kant’s principle is superior to the golden rule.
In order to dispute the conclusion (4), we must show that either (1) or (3) is false. I will dispute both, in order to demonstrate that the golden rule is superior to the categorical imperative.


There is doubt concerning whether the categorical imperative is equipped to forbid terrible actions. John Stuart Mill, for example, writes:
But when [Kant—CC] begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur (2001, p. 4; parenthetical item in orig.).
Mill thinks that, even though Kant would have wished to prevent atrocities, his categorical imperative does not do the job.
To assess Mill’s claim, consider an application of the universal-law formulation to an act like masochism or suicide. In this case, Kant uses the universal-law formulation to assert that a person has a duty to avoid harming oneself because the maxim of self-love that is necessary for suicide “cannot possibly hold as a universal law of nature and is, consequently, wholly opposed to the supreme principle of all duty” (1994, p. 31). Let us suppose that Mill views license to commit suicide as one of those “outrageously immoral rules of conduct” (he does think suicide is at least wrong; see Mill, 2003, p. 163). Mill’s objection (above) does indeed contradict Kant’s position here. Kant eschews a world in which everyone feels free to commit suicide, but there is no evident contradiction in such a world, as there is in the world where everyone makes promises they do not intend to keep. The universal-law formulation of the imperative clearly forbids the lying promise, because if everyone lied, it would no longer be effective to lie, and so there is a contradiction in the very conception of such a scenario.
However, it would seem just as easy to harm oneself in a “perturbed social world” where everyone commits suicide as in the world we actually inhabit (the Kantian “perturbed social world is the imagined world wherein the proposed principle of action is universalized according to the categorical imperative; see Rawls, 1999, p. 501). Humanity might destroy itself in such a circumstance, but that result is not equivalent to a contradiction in conception. Mill is correct, based on the first interpretation of his argument, that Kant’s rule allows for atrocities (Kantians would disagree, maintaining that Kant is consistent at least on some interpretation, and I will briefly address this objection before concluding).
Since Mill’s objection is justified in the case of the first formulation (but not in the second or third), then it is not the case that the other formulations are merely new statements of the first formulation, as Kant asserts (p. 41). Robert Johnson observes about the supposed unity of the formulations: “Perhaps Kant thought this, but it is not very plausible: That I should always treat Humanity as an end in itself, for instance, does not seem to mean the same thing as that I should act only on maxims that are consistent with themselves as universal laws of nature” (2008).
One Kantian response to my position would be that I am unfairly manipulating the definition of Mill’s “outrageously immoral” tag. However, if this objection is valid, then suicide is not outrageously immoral, and Kant clearly thinks that it is (pp. 82-85). Johnson mentions another possible Kantian solution: “if the formulas are not equivalent in meaning, they are nevertheless logically interderivable and hence equivalent in sense” (2008). However, it is much more difficult to establish that three separate ethical claims are “equivalent in sense” when they do not yield the same practical results, than it is to agree with Mill that something is wrong with Kant’s model. It is not at all clear that the categorical imperative disallows the kind of actions the permission for which are, allegedly, the downfall of the golden rule. If the golden rule disallows such atrocities, then its superiority to the imperative will have been maintained.


The golden rule certainly does not allow for what are generally considered moral atrocities. Consider two essential principles.
1. The golden rule presupposes natural care for one’s own person. Objections such as Pecorino’s presuppose that the golden rule liberates a person to decide how to treat oneself. The golden rule simply is not designed to determine how one should treat oneself. However, when describing or promoting general ethical guidelines that are based squarely upon the very principle that people act out of self-interest, it is necessary to assume a typical level of self-interest; otherwise the point is unintelligible.
Paul made precisely this assumption in his epistle to the Ephesians: “So husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (5:28-29). Paul’s implication is that no rational person is interested in destroying his own body (this is not to say that a person must be unwilling to suffer physically or emotionally for a good cause, or to promote longer life to the neglect of all other considerations; cf. Acts 4:1-20; Revelation 2:10). Jesus obviously was speaking from this perspective when He announced the golden rule.
Yet, someone might wonder whether Jesus took into account the possibility that someone might apply the golden rule to promote atrocities (or, for that matter, whether Paul accounted for cases such as spouse battery or self-mutilation). To answer this question, consider the following.
2. The golden rule must not be separated from the overall context of biblical ethics. We, along with scores of ethicists, have allowed Kant to contextualize his principle in order to explain and defend its implications. Why should we not allow biblical ethics the same privilege? Christ Himself made it clear that the golden rule reflected a large body of doctrine (i.e., “the Law and the Prophets”; see Jackson, 1996; Lyons, 2009).
Moreover, as we interpret Christ’s statement, we must remember that it is part of a larger, verbal presentation to people who presumably did not have self-destruction on their minds. After all, in the very same presentation that includes the golden rule, the Lord made the following statements, all of which promote respectful, loving treatment of self and others:
  1. “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7:9-10).
  2. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.... Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (5:7,9).
  3. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (5:11).
  4. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned.... You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
  5. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (5:21-22).
  6. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:27-28).
  7. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (5:43-45).
These passages from Christ’s sermon do not include many other scriptures that corroborate and enlarge upon His teaching in this sermon. Such texts include Pauline injunctions that coincide with the golden rule and disallow sins such as battery (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:3-4; Galatians 5:13, 22; 6:10; Ephesians 4:3, etc.).


It is utterly impossible that, at the announcement of the golden rule, Christ’s audience took the golden rule as an endorsement of moral atrocities. Rather, members of the audience would have understood the golden rule as a practical tool to help a person with common-sense intuitions to decide how to treat others, in light of what Jesus previously said in the sermon. There is no reason we should interpret the rule differently.
On the other hand, Kant’s categorical imperative may reasonably be shown to allow moral atrocities. Therefore, the golden rule is better than Kant’s rule. May we strive to implement Christian moral principles in our lives, no matter what may be fashionable in the field of modern or contemporary ethics.


Copleston, Frederick (1994), A History of Philosophy (New York: Doubleday).
Jackson, Wayne (1996), “Three Rules of Human Conduct,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/231.
Johnson, Robert (2008), “Kant’s Moral Philosophy,” Stanford University, [On-line], URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/.
Kant, Immanuel (1994 reprint), Ethical Philosophy (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett), second edition.
Lyons, Eric (2009), “‘This Is the Law and the Prophets’,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1655.
Mill, John Stuart (2001 reprint), Utilitarianism (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett).
Mill, John Stuart (2003 reprint), On Liberty (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).
Pecorino, Philip A. (2000), “Categorical Imperative,” [On-line], URL: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/pecorip/scccweb/INTRO_TEXT/Chapter%208%20Ethics/ Categorical_Imperative.htm.
Rawls, John (1999), Collected Papers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

God--In Process or Perfection? by Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.


God--In Process or Perfection?

by  Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.

Influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, Alfred North Whitehead introduced the first systematic presentation of a panentheistic world view in 1929 (Geisler, 1971, p. 194; cf. Brown, 1974, pp. 424-425). Panentheism, also known as process theology, should not be misconstrued with pantheism. Pantheism suggests that God is the world, while panentheism argues that God is in the world as the soul is in the body. Hence, the world actually is the temporal manifestation of God.
Building on this God/world relationship, process theologians suggest that God has two poles: potential and actual. His potential pole is His unchanging, perfect, absolute nature, while the actual pole is that aspect of God which is reflected in the changing, imperfect, and incomplete creation. In this regard, the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution is evident. Though our world, according to the evolutionary scenario, is characterized by apparently purposeless meanderings, “the circuitous wanderings of cosmic evolution seem to mask a faint but persistent urge toward order” (Brown, 1974, p. 433). This “urge toward order” in process theology reflects God’s progress toward His potential pole—He is in the process of becoming all He can be. The theological implication of this position is that God not only has created the world, but is being created by the world (Edwards, 1972, pp. 198-202).
While panentheism has emphasized correctly God’s intimate connection to His creation, its concept of God does not correspond to the biblical portrait. Scripture presents God as the great “I AM”—the self-existing, self-sustaining Being Who created the physical Universe ex nihilo (Exodus 3:14; Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 1:2; 13:4). Thus, while God is intimately concerned with the creation, He is an eternal spirit Being Who is both superior and prior to the creation (cf. John 4:24; Luke 24:39). In panentheism, the creation (and thus God) is incomplete, and progressing toward its potential perfection. However, the Bible shows that the transcendent God completed His creative activity and pronounced it “very good” (Genesis 2:3; 1:31). As a corollary to this perspective, the Bible suggests that, unlike the optimistic world view of process theology, the creation is experiencing degenerative, not progressive, change. God, on the other hand, is unchanging in His nature (Hebrews 1:10-12). In the final analysis, panentheism is a bold, though failed, attempt to develop a theology that is consistent with the evolutionary world view.
[See related article: “Purpose, Goodness, and Evolution”]


Brown, Delwin (1974), “The World and God: A Process Perspective,” Philosophy of Religion: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Norbert O. Schedler (New York: Macmillan).
Edwards, Rem B. (1972), Reason and Religion: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).
Geisler, Norman L. (1976), Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Dead Teen Understood Implications of Evolution by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Dead Teen Understood Implications of Evolution

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

It is the bitter truth that the theory of evolution implies that no moral absolutes hold sway over the human populace. If it is true that humans evolved from non-living, primordial slime, then any sense of moral obligation must simply be a subjective outworking of the physical neurons firing in the brain. Theoretically, atheistic scientists and philosophers admit this truth. On a pragmatic level, however, when a person or group of people actually allow the theoretical idea to influence their actions, the brutality of evolution’s immorality is brought to light, and its absurdity is manifested.
For instance, recently in Finland an 18-year-old young man named Pekka Eric Auvinen marched into his school, shot and killed seven of his schoolmates and the headmistress. He then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. When such gruesome carnage occurs, the question that naturally arises is, “Why?” What would drive a young man like Auvinen to commit such horrific atrocities? In Auvinen’s case, the answer is clear.
Auvinen explained the philosophy that led him to commit this dastardly mass murder. On a Web site message board post from before the slaying, he explained that he was a self-avowed “cynical existentialist, anti-human humanist, anti-social social-Darwinist, realistic idealist and god-like atheist.” He went on to state: “I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection” (“Teen Dead...,” 2007, emp. added). There you have it. The reason he murdered eight innocent people is because he was an atheistic evolutionist who devalued human life and believed that he had the right to destroy any living being who he considered to be less fit than himself.
As much as evolutionists would love to distance themselves from such disgusting displays of immorality, the logical implications of their godlessness tie them indubitably to Auvinen’s actions. The only thing that separates Auvinen from other atheists is that he acted out the logical implication of his atheistic belief. It is high time atheism’s immorality is recognized, repudiated, and exposed for the reprehensible fruit it bears.


“Teen Dead Who Opened Fire on Finnish Classmates, Police Say” (2007), [On-line], URL: http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/11/07/school.shooting/index.html.

How Important is the Bible to America’s Survival? by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


How Important is the Bible to America’s Survival?

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

There was a time in American civilization when the Bible was integral to every aspect of life. It was reverenced in the home. It was taught and used in the schools. It was incorporated into our laws and integrated into our courts of justice. It was quoted by politicians, judges, educators, and even entertainers. It permeated the great literature of Western Civilization. But with the multitude of attacks on the integrity, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible over the last century, respect for the Bible has waned significantly. Particularly after World War II, confidence in the Bible as the divine Word of God has been seriously undermined in America. Amazingly, a recent poll still shows the Bible to be the all-time favorite book for American adults: “Researchers said it’s rare to find such consensus among Americans, regardless of gender, education level, geographic location, race/ethnicity or age” (Hamm, 2008).


How important is belief in the Bible to the survival of any nation? The Bible speaks directly to this point: it is absolutely critical to both personal and private life, as well as national life. Consider these few biblical declarations:
Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?... You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land (Deuteronomy 4:5-8,40, emp. added; cf. 5:33; 6:2-3,18).
Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life, and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land (Deuteronomy 32:46-47, emp. added).
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it (Jeremiah 18:7-10, emp. added).
I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life. Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:93,97-98,100,103-105, emp. added).
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12, emp. added).
If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.... He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.... Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 8:31-32; 12:48; 17:17, emp. added).
This means that the Bible is the most important book on the planet, in a class by itself, surpassing all others. Indeed, whereas all other books are the word of men, the Bible is the Word of God.


How important was the Bible in the minds of the architects of American civilization? History is decisive on this point as well: the Founders viewed the Bible as absolutely indispensable and integral to the survival of the Republic. It is no wonder that, after a decade-long study in an effort to identify where the Founders acquired their ideas for the formation of the nation and the writing of its constitutions of government, political scientists conducting the study concluded that the Founders cited the Bible in their political utterances far more often than any other source (see Lutz, 1988, pp. 140-141).
Indeed, we live in a time warp far removed from America’s origins. The Founders clearly believed that the initial founding and the future survival of the Republic were both heavily, if not exclusively, dependent on the successful diffusion of the Bible throughout society. In fact, the Framers of the first state constitution of Massachusetts emphasized that very point in its third article:
Article III. [As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of...teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily (Constitution of the...,” emp. added).
The Framers of the Massachusetts constitution believed that “public instructions in piety, religion and morality” could come only from the Bible.
The Continental Congress considered the Bible so important to national life that they actually passed resolutions to make certain that Bibles were in abundance in the country. The Continental Congress directed a committee to investigate ways by which Bibles could be secured. The committee made its report on September 11, 1777, stating “that the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great...your Committee recommend [sic] that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different ports of the states in the Union.” Congress promptly ordered the importation (Journals of..., 1907, 8:734-745, emp. added). Four years later, as the colonies suffered from the effects of the British embargo, and as the shortage of Bibles continued, importation became sufficiently impractical that Congress was again petitioned for approval, this time to print Bibles in America, rather than to import them from outside the country. The request was approved and upon completion of the printing, on Thursday, September 12, 1782, the full Congress not only approved the edition, but gave permission for their endorsement to be placed in the front of the Bible! It read: “Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled...recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States” (Journals of..., 1914, 23:574). Who today would believe that the members of the original Congress of the United States considered the Bible so important to national existence that they would expend effort—even in wartime—to make certain that Bibles were available to the American population? The present widespread loss of respect for and interest in the Bible, is disgraceful, and if continued, will spell our national doom.
Numerous Founders gave eloquent testimony to the critical importance of the Bible to America. For example, Constitution signer and Secretary of War under the first two Presidents, James McHenry, insisted:
The Holy Scriptures...can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability, and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses (as quoted in Steiner, 1921, p. 14, emp. added).
Patrick Henry believed that the Bible is “a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed” (as quoted in Wirt, 1818, p. 402). The first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1789-1795), John Jay, wrote to Peter Jay on April 8, 1784: “The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts” (1980, 2:709, emp. added). One of the Fathers of American jurisprudence, Joseph Story, called the Bible “the common inheritance, not merely of Christendom, but of the world” (1854, p. 259). In his The Age of Revelation (a devastating response to Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason), Elias Boudinot declared:
[W]ere you to ask me to recommend the most valuable book in the world, I should fix on the Bible as the most instructive, both to the wise and the ignorant. Were you to ask me for one, affording the most rational and pleasing entertainment to the inquiring mind, I should repeat, it is the Bible: and should you renew the inquiry, for the best philosophy, or the most interesting history, I should still urge you to look into your Bible. I would make it, in short, the Alpha and Omega of knowledge; And be assured, that it is for want of understanding the scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, that so little value is set upon them by the world at large (1801, p. xv, emp. added).
Noah Webster asserted: “[C]itizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion” (1832, p. 6). Webster also insisted that “[t]he Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil in human society; the best book for regulating the temporal concerns of men” (1833, p. v). He further claimed: “All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible” (1832, p. 339). Who today believes these statements? According to this prominent Founding Father, the Bible is responsible for our Republic, our civil liberty, our constitutions of government, and for correcting and regulating human behavior. Yet, we have banned the Bible from public schools, we allow college professors to impugn its inspiration and integrity, and we disallow its use in jury deliberation rooms (People v. Harlan, 2005).
Constitution signer, Gouverneur Morris, observed: “The reflection and experience of many years have led me to consider the holy writings not only as the most authentic and instructive in themselves, but as the clue to all other history. They tell us what man is, and they alone tell us why he is what he is” (1821, p. 30). Declaration of Independence signer, Dr. Benjamin Rush, declared that the Bible “should be read in our schools in preference to all other books from its containing the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public temporal happiness” (1798, p. 100, emp. added). Signer of the Declaration and second President of the United States, John Adams, wrote in his diary on February 22, 1756: “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited.... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be” (1854, 2:6-7, emp. added). In a letter to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1813, John Adams stated that “the Bible is the best Book in the world” (1856, 10:85). Robert Winthrop, who was Speaker of the House in the 1840s, explained: “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet” (1852, p. 172, emp. added).
Another telling indication of the Founders’ attachment to the Bible is seen in their affiliations with Bible societies that were formed to facilitate the distribution of Bibles throughout the country. “A list of Bible society founders reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the early Republic” (“Our Story,” n.d.). Founded in New York City in 1816, the American Bible Society provided Bibles to the U.S. military in the 1817 provision of Bibles for the U.S. Navy, and produced its first translation of the Bible in 1818 in a Native American language (“Fact Sheet...,” 2008). The founder and first president of the American Bible Society was Elias Boudinot, one-time President of the Continental Congress. The first vice-president of the Society was the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Jay, who became the Society’s president on the death of Boudinot. Other Founders who were members and/or officers of the American Bible Society included:
James Brown (Revolutionary War soldier; Minister to France; U.S. Senator)
DeWitt Clinton (U.S. Senator; Mayor of New York City; Governor of New York)
Jonas Galusha (Revolutionary War soldier; Vermont State Supreme Court justice and Governor)
William Gaston (U.S. Congressman; North Carolina State Supreme Court justice)
Charles Goldsborough (U.S. House member; Governor of Maryland)
William Gray (Revolutionary War solder; Constitution ratification Massachusetts convention delegate)
Felix Grundy (U.S. House member; U.S. Senator)
William Jones (Revolutionary War solder; Governor of Rhode Island)
Andrew Kirkpatrick (New Jersey House Member; New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice)
Rufus King (Revolutionary War solder; Signer of federal Constitution;U.S. Senator)
John Langdon (Delegate to Continental Congress; Constitution signer; U.S. Senator)
George Madison (Revolutionary War soldier; Governor of Kentucky)
John Marshall (Minutemen officer; U.S. Congress; Secretary of State; U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice)
David Morril (Physician; Clergyman; U.S. Senator; Governor of New Hampshire)
Joseph Nourse (Military Secretary to General Charles Lee; Clerk/Paymaster for Board of War)
William Phillips (Lt. Governor of Massachusetts; State Senator)
Charles C. Pinckney (Revolutionary War officer; Signer of federal Constitution)
Thomas Posey (Revolutionary War officer; State and U.S. Senator)
Isaac Shelby (Revolutionary War officer; first Governor of Kentucky)
John Cotton Smith (U.S. House member; Connecticut Supreme Court Judge and Governor)
Caleb Strong (Constitutional Con­vention delegate; U.S. Senator; Governor of Massachusetts)
Smith Thompson (New York State Supreme Court Chief Justice; U.S. Supreme Court justice)
William Tilghman (Federal Constitution ratification delegate; Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice)
Daniel Tompkins (New York State Supreme Court justice; Vice-President under James Monroe)
Robert Troup (Revolutionary War Lieutenant-Colonel; New York U.S. District Court judge)
Peter Vroom (New Jersey Governor; U.S. House; State Supreme Court Chief Justice)
Bushrod Washington (Revolutionary War soldier; Constitution ratification Virginia delegate)
William Wirt (Virginia State House member; U.S. Attorney; U.S. Attorney-General under Monroe)
Thomas Worthington (Ohio state constitutional convention delegate; U.S. Senator; Governor)
Still other Founders were associated with various Bible societies. Revolutionary War soldier and Governor of New Jersey, Joseph Bloomfield, was a member of the New Jersey Bible Society. Revolutionary War officer and Governor of Massachusetts, John Brooks, served as president of the Middlesex County Bible Society. Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and U.S. Senator, James Burrell, Jr., served as president of the Providence Auxiliary Bible Society. James McHenry, Secretary of War and signer of the federal Constitution, was a founder and president of the Baltimore Bible Society. Rufus Putnam, Revolutionary War Brigadier-General as well as Surveyor-General under Presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, served as president of the Ohio Bible Society. Declaration signer and Surgeon-General of the Continental Army, Benjamin Rush, served as founder and vice-president of the Philadelphia Bible Society. These lists could be greatly expanded. [NOTE: see American Bible Society, 1816 and Barton, 2000, pp. 139-143, for lengthy listings.]
The following Founders were members of the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others (see Holmes, 1808):
James Bowdoin (Constitution ratification delegate and Massachusetts Governor)
Francis Dana (Continental Congress member; Constitution ratification Massachusetts delegate)
Samuel Dexter (U.S. House; U.S. Senator; Secretary of War/Treasury/State under John Adams)
Benjamin Lincoln (Revolutionary War Major-General; Secretary of War)
John Lowell (Continental Congress member; Court of Appeals judge; U.S. federal judge)
William Phillips (Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor; state constitutional convention delegate)
James Sullivan (Massachusetts Supreme Court judge; elected to Continental Congress)
Increase Sumner (Consti­tution ratification Massachusetts delegate; State Supreme Court justice)
Such indications of the importance of the Bible to national health were typical of the mass of American Founders. Some Founders served as Christian chaplains in the Continental Army, including Abraham Baldwin, who signed the federal Constitution and served in both the U.S. House and Senate; Joel Barlow, who filled various foreign diplomatic roles; and Robert Treat Paine, a preacher who signed the Declaration of Independence and served as a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge.
Still another indication of the central place of the Bible among America’s Founders is seen in the fact that U.S. Presidents still follow the tradition, set at the very beginning of the Republic by the “Father of our country,” by placing their hand on a copy of the Bible while being sworn in as President (“Bibles and Scripture...”). History even records that immediately after taking the oath of office, George Washington leaned down and kissed the Bible (“Inaugurals of Presidents...”). The Bible has been so thoroughly part and parcel of American culture that a Bible is still included in most motel and hotel rooms across America.


Yet, a full-scale, culture-wide assault on the Bible continues in America. Three plaques, with verses from the Psalms on them posted at lookouts over the Grand Canyon, were removed by the Department of Interior following threats by the ACLU, which claimed the verses were an illegal endorsement of religion by the government (“Scripture Yanked...,” 2003). A U.S. District Court judge ordered the removal of a Bible from a monument that sat in front of the Harris County courthouse in Houston, Texas for 50 years, on the grounds that it violated separation of church and state (“Remove Bible...,” 2003). The Colorado Supreme Court commuted the death penalty conviction of a man on death row (who had kidnapped, raped, and murdered a woman) on the grounds that one of the jurors used the Bible in the decision-making process (Johnson, 2005). The highest judicial figure in the state of Alabama was expelled from the court for his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the foyer of the judiciary (“Ten Commandments...,” 2003). And the insanity continues....
Indeed, the judiciary of America has been a primary perpetrator in the war on the Bible, as the U.S. Supreme Court banned the practice of requiring students in public schools to read Bible verses every morning (Abington School District v. Schempp, 1963), banned postings of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, since worship of God is included in them (Stone v. Graham, 1980), and banned teachers from sitting at their desks and silently reading the Bible in front of students during a classroom silent reading period (Roberts v. Madigan, 1990). And what of the incessant, ongoing assault in universities across America for the last 50 years, as professors have paraded before their students, steadily chipping away at the integrity of Bible. Such instances are legion. Founder and physician Benjamin Rush’s words, written in 1789, could not be more relevant to our predicament: “The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools” (1951, 1:521). This systematic cleansing of American culture in an effort to jettison the Bible from public life is absurd, demented, and utterly foolish.


If the Bible is correct (and the Founders of American civilization believed it to be), the future of the Republic is inextricably linked with and inherently dependent on the extent to which Americans are willing to return to an intimate acquaintance with the Bible. In a speech delivered in Denver, Colorado in 1911, President Woodrow Wilson referred to the Bible as “the great charter of the human soul, as the ‘Magna Charta’ of the human soul” (Wilson and DiNunzio, 2006, p. 54). He insisted that “America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture” and that Americans must “realize that part of the destiny of America lies in their daily perusal of this great book of revelations, that if they would see America free and pure they will make their own spirits free and pure by this baptism of the Holy Scripture” (p. 59, emp. added). The 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, warned: “The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country” (as quoted in Thomas, 1996). Time will tell.
Words spoken by God to our predecessors who strayed from His Word are sobering:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you...; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame (Hosea 4:6-7, emp. added).
Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (1 Corinthians 15:34, emp. added).
We remove the Bible from public life to our shame—and at dire peril. May God bless us with a sufficient number of citizens, educators, preachers, and political leaders who will recall America from her shame. May God bless Americans with the will to return to the Bible in order to bask in the marvelous light of His glorious Word (1 Peter 2:9).


Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), 374 U.S. 203 (1963), The Oyez Project, [On-line], URL: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_142/.
Adams, John (1850-1856), The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, ed. Charles Adams (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company).
American Bible Society (1816), Constitution of the American Bible Society: Formed by a Convention of Delegates, Held in the City of New York, May, 1816: Together with Their Address to the People of the United States: a Notice of Their Proceedings: and a List of Their Officers (New York: G.F. Hopkins), [On-line], URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=uXsXAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA9&lpg=PA9&dq=”Constitution+of+the+American+Bible+Society”&source=web&ots=U3Nhsz-BxA& sig=psatMhvNw81TY5k7tiMTo-3NQV8&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result#PPT1,M1.
Barton, David (2000), Original Intent (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilders).
“Bibles and Scripture Passages Used by Presidents in Taking the Oath of Office,” Library of Congress, [On-line], URL: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pihtml/pibible.html.
Boudinot, Elias (1801), The Age of Revelation (Philadelphia, PA: Asbury Dickens), [On-line], URL: http://www.google.com/books?id=XpcPAAAAIAAJ&q=baptized.
Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, [On-line], URL: http://www.mass.gov/legis/const.htm.
“Fact Sheet: Who We Are” (2008), American Bible Society, [On-line], URL: http://www.americanbible.org/pages/about-more-facts.
Hamm, Brittani (2008), “Poll: Bible is America’s Favorite Book,” USA Today, April 22, [On-line], URL: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-04-22-bible-favorite-book_N.htm.
Holmes, Abiel (1808), Discourse, Delivered Before the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America (Boston, MA: Farrand, Mallory, & Co.), [On-line], URL: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=ChATAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22Society+for+Propagating+the+Gospel+Among&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=CGHJcDhcpY&sig=l2TPzRA6q069U63GfH65dYp-KiI&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result#PPA64,M1.
“Inaugurals of Presidents of the United States: Some Precedents and Notable Events,” Library of Congress, [On-line], URL: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pihtml/pinotable.html.
Jay, John (1980), John Jay: The Winning of the Peace. Unpublished Papers 1780-1784, ed. Richard Morris (New York: Harper & Row).
Johnson, Kirk (2005), “Colorado Court Bars Execution Because Jurors Consulted Bible,” The New York Times, March 29, [On-line], URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/29/national/29bible.html.
Journals of the Continental Congress (1904-1937), (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office), [On-line], URL: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwjc.html.
Lutz, Donald (1988), The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press).
Morris, Gouverneur (1821), “An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris on September 4, 1816,” in Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1821 (New York: E. Bliss & E. White).
“Our Story” (no date), National Association of State and Regional Bible Societies, [On-line], URL: http://www.nasrbs.org/.
People v. Harlan (2005), Colorado Supreme Court, Case No. 03SA173, [On-line], URL: http://www.courts.state.co.us/supct/opinions/2003/03SA173.pdf.
“Remove Bible from Courthouse Display, Judge Says” (2004), The Associated Press, August 11, [On-line], URL: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=13849.
Roberts v. Madigan (1990), 921 F. 2d. 1047 (10th Cir. 1990).
Rush, Benjamin (1798), Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical (Philadelphia, PA: Thomas & Samuel Bradford).
Rush, Benjamin (1951), Letters of Benjamin Rush, ed. L.H. Butterfield (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
“Scripture Yanked From Grand Canyon” (2003), World Net Daily, July 14, [On-line], URL: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=33564.
Steiner, Bernard (1921), One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland: 1810-1920 (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Bible Society).
Stone v. Graham (1980), 449 U.S. 39 (1980), The Oyez Project, [On-line], URL: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1980/1980_80_321/.
Story, Joseph (1854), A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (New York: Harper).
“Ten Commandments Judge Removed from Office” (2003), CNN News, November 14, [On-line], URL:font http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/11/13/moore.tencommandments/.
Thomas, Cal (1996), “Silent Cal Speaks: Why Calvin Coolidge is the Model for Conservative Leadership Today,” The Heritage Foundation, [On-line], URL: http://www.heritage.org/Research/PoliticalPhilosophy/HL576.cfm.
Webster, Noah (1832), History of the United States (New Haven, CT: Durrie & Peck).
Webster, Noah (1833), The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, in the Common Version. With Amendments of the Language (New Haven, CT: Durrie & Peck).
Wilson, Woodrow and Mario R. DiNunzio (2006), Woodrow Wilson: Essential Writings and Speeches of the Scholar-President (New York: NYU Press).
Winthrop, Robert (1852), Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, & Co.).
Wirt, William (1818), Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (Philadelphia, PA: James Webster).

Taking Possession of What God Gives: A Case Study in Salvation by Eric Lyons, M.Min. Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Taking Possession of What God Gives: A Case Study in Salvation

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Relatively few within Christendom would deny that eternal salvation is a free gift from God. The New Testament is replete with statements stressing this point. The most oft’-quoted verse in all of Scripture teaches this very fact: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...” (John 3:16). God did not offer the gift of eternal life to the world because of some great accomplishment on the part of mankind. Rather, as Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Later, in that same chapter in Romans, Paul spoke of the “free gift” of spiritual life through Christ (5:15-21). He wrote to the church at Corinth, indicating that it is God “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57, emp. added). And earlier in this epistle, Paul expressed gratitude for the Corinthians and their salvation, saying, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus” (1:4, emp. added). Truly, God gives His grace away to anyone who will humbly and obediently accept it (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; cf. Revelation 22:17). It is, as so many have noted, unmerited favor.


To better understand the relationship between God’s gifts and man’s reception of those gifts, it is helpful to study one particular gift from God—one that is mentioned in the pages of the Old Testament more times than any other thing that God is ever said to have given. If a person were to open a concordance and look up the word “give” or one of its derivatives (i.e., gave, given, giving, etc.), he would discover that whenever this word is found in conjunction with something God does, or has done, it is used more in reference to the land of Canaan (which God gave to the descendants of Abraham) than with any other subject. Although the Old Testament mentions numerous things that God gave the Israelites (e.g., manna, quail, water, rest, etc.), the gift of God cited most frequently (especially in Genesis through Joshua) is that of God giving the Israelites the land of Canaan. He promised to give this land to Abraham almost 500 years before his descendants finally “received” it (Genesis 12:7; cf. 13:15,17; 15:7; 17:8). While the Israelites were still in Egyptian bondage, God spoke to Moses, and said: “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord” (Exodus 6:8, emp. added). After the Exodus from Egypt, God instructed Moses to send twelve men “to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel” (Numbers 13:2, emp. added). In the book of Leviticus, one can read where Jehovah gave the Israelites laws concerning leprosy—laws that He introduced by saying, “When you have come into the land of Canaan, which I give you as a possession...” (Leviticus 14:33-34, emp. added). During the years of wilderness wanderings, God reminded Israel of this gift numerous times—and it always was spoken of as a gift, never as an earned possession.
Notice, however, some of the things that the Israelites still had to do in order to “take possession” (Numbers 13:30; Joshua 1:15) of this gift. They had to prepare provisions (Joshua 1:11), cross the Jordan River (Joshua 3), march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, and seven times on the seventh day (Joshua 6:1-4), blow trumpets and shout (Joshua 6:5), and then utterly destroy all that was in Jericho (Joshua 6:21). They also proceeded to do battle with the inhabitants of Ai (Joshua 8). Joshua 10 records how the Israelites “chased” and “struck” the inhabitants of the southern part of Canaan (Joshua 10:10). They then battled their way up to the northern part of Canaan, and took possession of it, too (Joshua 11). Finally, after the land on both sides of the Jordan had been divided among the Israelites, the Bible records how Caleb courageously drove out the giant descendants of Anak from Hebron. He seized the land given to him by God (Joshua 14:6-15; 15:13-19; Judges 1:9-20). Such is an overriding theme throughout the first six books of the Bible—“The Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they [Israel] took possession of it” (Joshua 21:43, emp. added).
Perhaps the fact that God gave this land to the Israelites was never made clearer than when Moses spoke to them just prior to their entrance into Canaan.
So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage....
He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers (Deuteronomy 6:10-12,23).
God did not award this land to the Israelites because of some mighty work on their part. This land, which flowed “with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), was not a prize handed out to them because of some great achievement by the Israelites (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7). They did not deserve it. The Israelites did not purchase it from God with any kind of earned income. They did not earn the right to be there. God, Who owns everything (Psalm 24:1; 89:11), gave it to them as a gift. It was free. God described it as a gift when He first promised it to Abraham (Genesis 12:7), and He described it as a gift after Israel inhabited it hundreds of years later (Joshua 21:43). It was unmerited. The Israelites’ acceptance of God’s gift, however, did not exclude effort on their part.
When it comes to the spiritual Promised Land that God has freely offered to anyone who will “take” it (Revelation 22:17; Titus 2:11; cf. Matthew 11:28-30), some have a difficult time accepting the idea that man must put forth effort in order to receive it. Many today have come to the conclusion that effort cannot be part of the equation when the Bible speaks of God’s gracious gifts. The idea is: “Since God’s grace cannot be earned or merited, then anyone who claims that human effort is involved in its acceptance is in error.” Clearly, though, many scriptures indicate that man’s efforts are not always categorized as works of merit. God gave the Israelites freedom from Egyptian bondage, but they still had to put forth some effort by walking from Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the Wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:22; cf. Exodus 16:32; Joshua 24:5). The Israelites did not “earn” Canaan, but they still exerted much effort (i.e., they worked) in possessing it. God gave the Israelites the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:2). But, He gave it to them only after they followed His instructions and encircled the city for seven days (Hebrews 11:30). Furthermore, Israel did not deserve manna from heaven; it was a free gift from God. Nevertheless, if they wanted to eat it, they were required to put forth effort in gathering it (Exodus 16; Numbers 11). These Old Testament examples clearly teach that something can be a gift from God, even though conditions must be met in order for that gift to be received.
This point also can be understood effectively by noting our attitude toward physical gifts today. If a friend wanted to give you $1,000,000, but said that in order to receive the million dollars you had to pick up a check at his house, take it to the bank, sign it, and cash it, would any rational person conclude that this gift was earned? Of course not. Even though some effort was exerted to receive the gift, the effort was not a work of merit. Similarly, consider the young boy who is on the verge of drowning in the middle of a small lake. If a man heard his cries, and then proceeded to save the boy by running to the edge of the lake, inflating an inner tube, tying some rope around it, and throwing it out to the young boy who was struggling to stay afloat, would any witness to this event describe the young boy as “saving himself ” (or “earning” his rescue) because he had to exert the energy to grab the inner tube and hold on while being pulled onto the bank by the passerby? No. A gift is still a gift even when the one receiving it must exert a certain amount of effort in order to possess it.


The New Testament leaves no doubt that the grandest of all gifts (salvation through Christ—a spiritual gift that was in God’s mind “before the foundation of the world”—Ephesians 1:4; 3:11) is not the result of any kind of meritorious work on the part of man. The apostle Paul stressed this point several times in his writings. To the Christians who made up the church at Ephesus, he wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In his epistle to Titus, Paul emphasized that we are saved, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy” (3:5). Then, again, while writing to young Timothy, Paul highlighted the fact that we are saved by the “power of God,” and “not according to our works” (2 Timothy 1:8-9). This truth cannot be overly stressed; however, it can be, and has been, perverted and misrepresented.
Unfortunately, some have come to the conclusion that man plays no part in his being saved from sin by God. They teach: “Salvation is a gift of God that is from nothing we do ourselves” (Schlemper, 1998). Or, “Salvation is a gift from God—we do nothing to get it” (MacPhail, n.d.). “[W]e do nothing to become righteous...God did all that was necessary in His Son” (“The Godhead,” n.d.). The truth is, however, when it comes to the gift of salvation that God extends to the whole world (John 3:16), there are requirements that must be met on the part of man in order for him to receive the gift. Contrary to what some are teaching, there is something that a person must do in order to be saved. The Jews on Pentecost understood this point, as is evident by their question: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Saul, later called Paul (Acts 13:9), believed that there was something else he needed to do besides experience a personal encounter with the resurrected Lord on his way to Damascus, for he asked Jesus, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). And the jailor at Philippi, after observing the righteousness of Paul and Silas and being awakened by the earthquake to see the prison doors opened (Acts 16:20-29), “fell down trembling before Paul and Silas...and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ ” (Acts 16:30). If those who responded to these questions (Peter in Acts 2, Jesus in Acts 9, and Paul and Silas in Acts 16) had the mindset of some today, they should have answered by saying, “There is nothing for you to do. Just wait, and salvation will come to you.” But their responses were quite different from this. All three times the question was asked, a command to do something was given. Peter told those on Pentecost to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38); Paul and Silas instructed the Philippian jailor and his household to “[b]elieve on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31); and Jesus commanded Saul to “[a]rise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Notice that none of them gave the impression that salvation involves us “doing nothing.” Jesus told Saul that he “must do” something. When Saul arrived in Damascus as Jesus had directed him, he did exactly what God’s spokesman, Ananias, commanded him to do (Acts 22:12-16; 9:17-18). Similar to how the land of Canaan was “received” by an active Israel, so the free gift of eternal life is received by man taking action.
Much controversy within Christendom is caused by disagreement on how much action an alien sinner should take. Since God has extended to mankind an indescribable (2 Corinthians 9:15), undeserved gift, we are told that the acceptance of such a gift can involve only the smallest amount of effort, else one might be accused of salvation by “works of righteousness.” Usually, this action is said to involve nothing more than confessing faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and praying that He will forgive sins and come into a person’s heart (see “Prayer of Salvation,” n.d.). This, we are told, is man’s way of “taking possession” of God’s grace. Allegedly, all one must do in order to lay hold on the eternal life that God freely gives to all is to
[a]ccept Christ into your heart through prayer and he’ll receive you. It doesn’t matter what church you belong to or if you ever do good works. You’ll be born again at the moment you receive Christ. He’s at the door knocking.... Just trust Christ as Savior. God loves you and forgives you unconditionally. Anyone out there can be saved if they accept Christ, now! Let’s pray for Christ to now come into your heart (see Staten, 2001).
The prayer that the alien sinner is urged to pray, frequently goes something like this:
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be (see McDowell, 1999, p. 759).
According to The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Web site, in an article titled, “How to Become a Christian,” “[w]hen you receive Christ into your heart you become a child of God, and have the privilege of talking to Him in prayer at any time about anything” (“How to Become a Christian,” n.d.). This is what many within Christendom believe one must do to take possession of God’s grace. The overriding thought seems to be, “There can’t be much involved in getting saved, because God saves, not man. We have to make it as easy and painless as possible so that no one will accuse us of ‘salvation by works.’ ”
Contrary to the above statements, the New Testament gives specific prerequisites that must be followed before one can receive the atoning benefit of Christ’s blood (Revelation 1:5; 1 John 1:7). These conditions are neither vague nor difficult to understand. A person must confess faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24; Romans 10:9-10; cf. 1 Timothy 6:12), and he must repent of his past sins (Acts 26:20; Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38). Although these prerequisites are slightly different from those mentioned above by some modern-day denominational preachers, they are genuinely accepted within the Protestant world. By meeting these conditions, most people understand that a person is merely receiving God’s grace (by following God’s plan). Few, if any, would accuse a man who emphasizes these prerequisites of teaching “salvation by works of merit.”
However, the Bible discusses yet another step that precedes salvation—a step that has become unquestionably controversial within Christendom—water baptism. It is mentioned numerous times throughout the New Testament, and both Jesus and His disciples taught that it precedes salvation (Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38). The apostle Paul’s sins were washed away only after he was immersed in water (Acts 22:16; cf. Acts 9:18). [NOTE: Even though it was on the road to Damascus that Paul heard the Lord, spoke to Him, and believed on Him (Acts 9), Paul did not receive salvation until he went into Damascus and was baptized.] The book of Acts is replete with examples of those who did not receive the gift of salvation until after they professed faith in Christ, repented of their sins, and were baptized (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 8:26-40; 10:34-48; 16:14-15; 16:30-34; 18:8). Furthermore, the epistles of Peter and Paul also call attention to the necessity of baptism (1 Peter 3:21; Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:1-4). If a person wants the multitude of spiritual blessings found “in Christ” (e.g., salvation—2 Timothy 2:10; forgiveness—Ephesians 1:7; cf. Ephesians 2:12; etc.), he must not stop after confessing faith in the Lord Jesus, or after resolving within himself to turn from a sinful lifestyle. He also must be “baptized into Christ” (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3) “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
So why, one might ask, if so many passages of Scripture teach the necessity of baptism, is there so much controversy about baptism being a condition of salvation? Several reasons could be mentioned here (e.g., “The thief on the cross was saved, yet not baptized. Thus, we do not have to be baptized to be saved.” For a full refutation of this line of reasoning, see Miller, 2003), but one that is extremely popular (and has been for some time) is the idea that baptism is a “work.” And, since we are not saved by “works” (Ephesians 2:8-9), then, allegedly, baptism cannot be required in order to receive (or “take possession of ”—cf. Revelation 22:17) salvation. Notice how some religionists have expressed these sentiments.
In Part three of a series of articles on baptism, called the “FUD Series” (FUD standing for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), Darrin Yeager wrote: “The act of baptism is a work (or ritual). Paul makes clear the point works do not (and cannot) save us. Even the faith we have is a gift of God. Since works cannot save us, baptism plays no part in the salvation of the believer” (2003). Yeager concluded this article by saying: “Its [sic] tragic baptism has become such a point of contention in the church. Considering the whole counsel of God, several points become clear.” Included in those points was: “Baptism is a work, and the Bible is clear works to [sic] not save us.... [B]aptism is absolutely, positively not required for salvation” (emp. in orig.).
In an article titled, “What Saves? Baptism or Jesus Christ?,” Buddy Bryant cited Titus 3:5, and then wrote: “Baptism is a work of righteousness and we are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done” (n.d.).
Under the heading, “Water Baptism is Not for Salvation,” one church Web site exclaimed: “Water baptism is a ‘work of righteousness’.... Our sins were not washed away by water, but by the Lord Jesus Christ...” (see “Water Baptism,” n.d., emp. in orig.). Similarly, another church Web site ran an article titled, “Does Water Baptism Save?,” declaring: “Water baptism is a work (something that man does to please God), and yet the Bible teaches again and again that a person is not saved by works” (see “Does Water,” n.d., parenthetical item and emp. in orig.).
These statements summarize the feelings of many within Christendom concerning baptism: “It is a ‘work,’ and thus not necessary for the person who wants to be saved.” The truth of the matter is, however, when careful consideration is given to what the Bible teaches on this subject, one will find no discrepancy between the idea that man is saved “by grace...through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works, and at the same time is saved following baptism.
Part of the confusion concerning baptism and works is the result of being uninformed about the biblical teaching regarding works. The New Testament mentions at least four kinds of works: (1) works of the Law of Moses (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20); (2) works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21); (3) works of merit (Titus 3:4-7); and (4) works resulting from obedience of faith (James 2:14-24; Luke 17:10; cf. Galatians 5:6). The first three works mentioned here certainly do not lead to eternal life. The last category frequently is referred to as “works of God.” This phrase does not mean works performed by God; rather, the intent is “works required and approved by God” (Thayer, 1977, p. 248, emp. added; cf. Jackson, 1997, 32:47). Consider the following example from Jesus’ statements in John 6:27-29:
Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life.... They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent (ASV, emp. added).
Within this context, Christ made it clear that there are works that humans must do to receive eternal life. Moreover, the passage affirms that believing itself is a work (“This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent”). It therefore follows that if one is saved without any type of works, then he is saved without faith, because faith is a work. Such a conclusion would throw the Bible into hopeless confusion!
Will anyone step forward and espouse the idea that faith is a meritorious work? Can a person “earn salvation” by believing in Christ? To this day, we have never heard anyone assert that belief is a work of merit. Although it is described in the Bible as being a “work,” we correctly understand it to be a condition upon which one receives salvation. Salvation is still a free gift from God; it is the result of His grace and Jesus’ work on the cross, not our efforts.
But what about baptism? The New Testament specifically excludes baptism from the class of human meritorious works unrelated to redemption. In fact, the two books where the apostle Paul condemns most vehemently the idea of salvation by works—Romans and Galatians—are the very books that relate the fact that water baptism places a person “into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). Also, the fact that baptism is not a work of merit is emphasized in Titus 3:4-7.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This passage reveals at least three things. First, we are not saved by works of righteousness that we do by ourselves (i.e., according to any plan or course of action that we devised—see Thayer, 1977, p. 526). Second, we are saved by the “washing of regeneration” (i.e., baptism), exactly as 1 Peter 3:21 states (see also Ephesians 5:26). [NOTE: Even Baptist theologian A.T. Robertson believed that the phrase “washing of regeneration” refers specifically to water baptism (1931, 4:607).] Thus, in the third place, baptism is excluded from all works of human righteousness that men contrive, but is itself a “work of God” (i.e., required and approved by God) necessary for salvation.
When one is raised from the watery grave of baptism, it is according to the “working of God” (Colossians 2:12), and not any manmade plan. Although many have tried, no one can suggest (justifiably) that baptism is a meritorious work of human design, anymore than he can logically conclude that Naaman “earned” his physical cleansing of leprosy by dipping in the River Jordan seven times (see 2 Kings 5:1-19). When we are baptized, we are completely passive. If you really think about it, baptism is something done to a person, not by a person (thus, one hardly can have performed any kind of meritorious “work”).


The Bible, in a multitude of passages, affirms that people are saved by, because of, on account of, or through their faith. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians: “Therefore, having been justified by faith (pistis), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). A few chapters earlier, Paul declared: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith (pistis) apart from the deeds of the law” (3:28). The writer of the book of Hebrews concluded that “without faith (pistis) it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe (pisteuo) that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6). In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: “For by grace you have been saved through faith (pistis), and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” With this tiny sampling of verses about faith, it is easily seen that every person who is saved must have faith. But what is biblical faith?
The word translated “faith” in each of the above verses derives from the Greek noun pistis (the verb form of which is pisteuo). Respected Greek scholar Joseph Thayer said that the word pistis in the New Testament is used of “a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it” (1977, p. 512). When the verb form pisteuo is used “especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus,” it means “a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah—the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (Thayer, p. 511).
The word pisteuo often is translated by the word “believe.” For instance, in Acts 10:43, the apostle Peter spoke of Jesus, saying: “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes (pisteuo) in Him will receive remission of sins.” The apostle Paul wrote: “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (pisteuo)” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Paul, in Romans 10:11, made a similar statement when he declared: “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes (pisteuo) on Him will not be put to shame.’ ”
These verses, taken by themselves, seem to suggest that any person who maintains a mere mental conviction that Jesus is the Son of God has eternal life. Many people (and denominations) have taken such a position. Baptist scholar L.S. Ballard, in his debate with Thomas B. Warren, affirmed this position: “The Scriptures teach that faith in Christ procures salvation without further acts of obedience” (Warren and Ballard, 1965, p. 1). Herschel Hobbs declared: “Instantaneous salvation refers to redemption from sin (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:10). This experience occurs immediately upon one’s believing in Jesus Christ as one’s Saviour” (1964, p. 90). Albert Mohler, in discussing his particular denomination, stated: “We cherish the gospel of Jesus Christ as the means of salvation to all who believe. We know that there is salvation in the name of Jesus and in no other name. Sinners come to Christ by faith, and are justified by faith alone” (2001, p. 63, emp. added).
It is to those last two words that we must direct our attention—“faith alone.” Mohler (and most of the denominational world) teaches that a person can be, and is in fact, saved by faith alone, or faith only. This idea of “faith only” was popularized by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. The Catholic Church of Luther’s day had grown corrupt, and was prescribing a host of unscriptural ways to obtain forgiveness. Forgiveness could be obtained, according to the Catholic Church, by purchasing “indulgences,” and a soul could be “bought” out of Purgatory if the proper amount of money flowed into the Church’s coffers. In reaction to this “works-based” plan of forgiveness, Martin Luther developed his idea of a “faith-only” plan of salvation. He took this idea so far, in fact, that when he translated Romans 3:28, he inserted the word alone into the text so that it would read, “We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law,” even though the word alone is not found in the original text (see Lewis, 1991, pp. 353ff.). Luther’s “faith only” doctrine has become a principal tenet in the thinking and teaching of most denominations.
Interestingly, even though Martin Luther often taught that salvation is based on faith alone, and is not received based upon a person’s meritorious works, he did not take “faith alone” to mean that mere mental assent to Christ’s deity was sufficient to obtain salvation. Luther’s idea of faith alone does not conform to the modern-day idea that baptism is a work, and cannot be required for salvation. According to Luther:
[I] affirm that Baptism is no human trifle, but that it was established by God Himself. Moreover, He earnestly and solemnly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved.... The reason why we are striving and battling so strenuously for this view of Baptism is that the world nowadays is full of sects that loudly proclaim that Baptism is merely an external form and that external forms are useless.... Although Baptism is indeed performed by human hands, yet it is truly God’s own action (1530, pp. 98-99, emp. added).
Four primary lines of reasoning show that the Bible does not teach a “faith only” or “belief only” plan of salvation. First, numerous passages insist that other things besides belief in Christ are necessary to obtain salvation. Second, biblical faith involves not only mental assent, but also obedient action to God’s commands. Third, the book of James explicitly says that no man is justified “by faith only.” And fourth, the Bible contains examples of people who believed (pisteuo) in Jesus, yet who still were lost.
First, numerous Bible passages insist that something other than a mere belief in Christ is necessary to obtain salvation. Concerning confession, Paul wrote: “For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Romans 10:10). In Luke 13:3, Jesus declared to His audience: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The inspired historian, Luke, in the book of Acts, recorded that God had “also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18). After healing the lame man, Peter instructed his audience to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). We see in these verses that belief, confession, and repentance are required of all who desire to obtain salvation through Christ.
Another item that the New Testament writers included as necessary for salvation is obedience. Hebrews 5:9 states: “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Peter made the statement, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1 Peter 4:17). In the second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul forewarned that Christ one day will execute judgment on those who “do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8).
The list of things required of a person in order to obtain salvation could go on: hope (Romans 8:24), baptism (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), and love (1 John 4:7-8) are just a small sampling. The point is that none of these things, in and of itself, saves anyone. Faith without confession does not save. Confession without hope cannot save. And obedience without love is powerless to obtain salvation. The “faith only” doctrine is in error because it bases its entire case for salvation on one aspect listed in the New Testament. Using that type of logic, a person could turn to 1 John 4:7-8—“Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”—and say that love is the only thing necessary for salvation—apart from faith or repentance.
In several of these verses, we see the New Testament writers using one or more figures of speech. For instance, the figure of speech known as synecdoche, in which a part of a thing is used to describe the whole, is used often in passages that discuss salvation. Dungan wrote:
This is many times the case with the salvation of sinners. The whole number of conditions are indicated by the use of one. Generally the first is mentioned—that of faith—because without it nothing else could follow. Men were to call on the name of the Lord, in order to be saved (Romans 10:17); they must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31); they must repent of their sins (Acts 17:30); they must be baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). But it is common to have one of these mentioned, without any statement to the presence of any other (1888, p. 305).
E.W. Bullinger, arguably the most respected scholar in the world on figures of speech in the Bible, specifically mentioned 1 John 4:15 as an example of a biblical idiom. He commented that the phrase, “to confess,” in this verse means more than a simple verbal statement. The phrase “is used of abiding in the faith, and walking according to truth” (1968, p. 828).
In truth, it would be possible to go to any number of verses and pick out a single thing that the verse says saves a person. According to the Bible, love, repentance, faith, baptism, confession, and obedience are but a few examples of the things that save. However, it would be dishonest, and poor Bible scholarship, to demand that “only” repentance saves, or “confession alone” saves, or that “baptism by itself ” has the power to save. In the same sense, one cannot (justifiably) pick the verses that mention faith and belief, and demand that a person is saved by “faith only” or “belief alone.”
Second, the biblical use of the word faith involves much more than mere mental assent to a certain fact. It also involves obedience to God’s commands. Recalling Thayer’s definition of the word, faith is “a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah—the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (1977, p. 511, emp. added). Throughout the New Testament, we see this definition of “obedient belief ” used by the inspired writers. In 1 Peter 2:7, the apostle wrote: “Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’ ” (emp. added). In this verse, Peter used disobedience as the opposite of belief. The Hebrews writer also equated unbelief and disobedience. In Hebrews 3:18-19, the Israelites were not allowed into the Promised Land because they “did not obey” (3:18). But the next verse states: “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief ” (3:19). And Hebrews 4:6 also declares that they “did not enter because of disobedience.”
Repeatedly, faith is coupled with action in the New Testament. In Galatians 5:6, we read that “faith working through love” is the process that avails for salvation. Hebrews 11, recognized by Bible students as “the faith chapter,” shows this action process by using Old Testament examples of individuals who pleased God. By faith, Abel “offered” (vs. 4); by faith, Noah “prepared” (vs. 7); and by faith, Abraham “obeyed” (vs. 8). Verse 30 of this chapter demonstrates perfectly the relationship between belief and action. The verse states: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.” Joshua and the Israelites believed that God would give them the city of Jericho, but that belief was effective only after they “encircled” the city for seven days.
Another good example of the biblical use of “belief coupled with action” is found in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were in prison, and were singing hymns when an earthquake loosed their chains. The Philippian jailer in charge of the prison thought his prisoners had escaped, and was about to kill himself, when Paul and Silas stopped him. Immediately, the jailer inquired: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (vs. 30). They replied: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (vs. 31).
Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household (vss. 32-34, emp. added).
When the jailer asked what he needed to do to be saved, Paul and Silas told him to “believe (pisteuo) on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet the passage does not say he “believed” until after he had been baptized. His belief was coupled with obedience. A similar situation is found in Acts 2. In that chapter, Peter’s listeners asked him, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (vs. 37). “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins’ ” (vs. 38). A few verses later, we read that about three thousand souls were obedient to Peter’s plea and were baptized. Then, in verse 44 the Bible describes the obedient group of followers by saying, “Now all who believed were together.”
But some object to this biblical usage, and maintain that such a use contradicts passages like Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8-9, which teach that a person is not saved by works. First, Romans 3:28 does not separate faith from all works; rather, it states: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (emp. added). The “law” discussed here is the Law of Moses, as is shown by Paul’s references to circumcision in verse 30. This passage does not say that faith saves apart from all works, but apart from works of the Law of Moses. Ephesians 2:8-9 states that a person is saved “by grace through faith...not of works,” yet verse 10 says Christians are created in Christ Jesus “for good works,” and the rest of the chapter discusses how the Jews and the Gentiles were both justified because the “law of commandments” (i.e., the Law of Moses) had been abolished (2:15). No person has ever been righteous enough to earn his or her salvation. Nor had any person been able to comply fully with the Law of Moses in order to earn salvation. But that does not mean that faith “apart from all action” saves a person. In fact, just the opposite is the case.
The second chapter of the book of James deals a crushing blow to the doctrine of “faith only.” Verses 14-26 systematically eliminate the possibility of a person being saved by “faith only.” James wrote to the Christians, asking, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” These rhetorical questions demand a “No” answer. Then, in verse 17 he declared: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” He went on to say that Abraham “was justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar. Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect” (vss. 21-22)? Of course, Abraham did not earn his salvation, nor was he saved because of a sinless adherence to the Law. On the contrary, he was saved by “offering” and “working” exactly as God commanded him. Abraham first showed his active faith when he obeyed God’s call to leave his homeland (Hebrews 11:8). He continued to show his active, living faith when he offered Isaac. Throughout his life, he was saved because he obeyed the “works of God”—works that God approved in order to obtain salvation.
James further commented: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (vs. 24, emp. added). It is interesting to note that this is the only place in the entire New Testament where the words “faith only” are found together, and it explicitly states that a person is not saved by faith only. James concluded his chapter on faith with this statement: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Faith without the “works of God” is a dead faith that cannot save. Abraham was justified after he “offered,” the walls of Jericho fell by faith after they were “encircled,” the Philippian jailer’s belief was not complete until he was baptized, and Noah’s faith caused him to “prepare.” It is the case that if the Israelites had not walked around Jericho, the walls would not have fallen, regardless of their belief. It is the case that if Noah had not “prepared” the Ark, he would not have been saved from the Flood, regardless of what he believed about God’s warning. And it is the case that if a person does not confess Christ, does not repent of his sins, and is not baptized for the remission of those sins, then that person will not be saved, regardless of what he or she believes about Christ.
In order to prove this last statement, we move to the fourth objection regarding “faith only”—the Bible refers to individuals who believed (pisteuo) that Jesus was the Son of God, yet who still were lost. In Mark 1:21-28, the Scriptures record an instance in which Jesus was confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. Upon contacting Jesus, the spirit “cried out, saying, ‘Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God’ ” (vss. 23-24). No one would argue that the demon was saved just because he believed that Jesus was the “Holy One of God.” Why not? For the simple reason that, although the unclean spirit acknowledged the deity of Jesus, he was not willing to penitently obey Christ. James, in his moving chapter on faith, said as much when he wrote: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead” (2:19-20)?
The inspired apostle John documents another example of a group of people who “believed in” Christ, but who were lost in spite of their belief. In John 12:42-43, the text reads: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed (pisteuo) in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Is it the case that these rulers of the Jews were saved because they believed in Jesus, even though they were too scared to confess him? To ask is to answer. They were lost, even though they “believed (pisteuo) in Him.”


The Bible nowhere teaches that a person can be saved by “faith only.” No mere mental consent to the deity of Christ can save (cf. Matthew 7:21). True biblical faith in Christ is belief in His deity, conjoined with obedience to His commandments. Saving faith always has been made complete and living only through obedience to God’s commands. It is a living faith that “works through love” to accomplish the “works approved by God.” It is a living faith that brings about repentance, confession, submission to water baptism, and love for God and one’s fellow man. Similar to how Israel received the Promised Land from God after following His instructions, today, any alien sinner can “take possession” of the free gift of salvation at any time by taking these steps.


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