Be baptized and be saved

Rev Dr J Vernon McGee is an institution, I really do like hearing his broadcasts, he has a common sense Christianity that is down to earth, assuring, you know you are listening to someone who really has a grasp of genuine doctrine and Christian living.

I give him credit, most Reformed commentators don’t like to get into this question, they operate under the supposition that everyone can “make a decision” for Christ, and that’s the way it should be. The narrator for Dr McGee’s radio program reads a letter from a mother whose son is mentally retarded: “How can he make a decision for God?” she writes. Well Dr McGee does kind of a two-step, “well it’s about reaching the age of accountability, otherwise God will take the baby, because he wasn’t old enough to “choose” God. Well he never really answers in respect to someone who is over the age of “accountability” and is just not competent.

The Reformed position really tends to undermine the entire concept of Christianity. We are all born into sin, therefore how can we be anything but sinners when we are born. Reformed teachers always have a problem with this and I really don’t understand why it’s necessary to even get into it. Let’s remember Martin Luther is the one who started all of this. All of Protestant, as it were, Christianity traces its roots back to Luther. Luther’s original beef with the Roman Catholic Church was the Roman’s idea that “well ya, Jesus died for all of our sins, but we have to do something to augment that. For the Roman Church the over the top error was indulgences. Throw some money in the kettle and you or your relatives get a few thousand years off from purgatory. The Roman church says “ya, while we can die in a state of grace in Jesus, that’s not quite enough, we need to spend a little time in purgatory getting the rough edges burned off, or of course, a little sumpin/sumpin, and maybe we can spring you a little quicker.” Yea, I know a little cynical, but it all comes down to; we have to add to what Jesus did. Well either Jesus is perfect, totally Holy, almighty God and died for the complete redemption and remission of our sins, or He didn’t. It’s either all about Him or it isn’t.

That goes for all the other acts of contrition. Contrition isn’t an issue, if you feel you should do something that shows contrition, give to the poor, give to your church (my person favorite, First St Johns), help the handicapped, the elderly, great! Do it, but not thinking that somehow that is some kind of efficacious atonement, you are saved entirely by what Christ did, nothing you can do can add to that.

It doesn’t matter, if your son is intellectually handicapped, or your mother has Alzheimers, substance abuse, what matters is what Christ has done, what the Holy Spirit does through you. We are saved solely in Christ’s power. You hear, what if that person’s evil? Well that question is so obvious it doesn’t really even justify an answer, we are all evil, case closed. What if they aren’t sincere, really how high is exactly sufficiently sincere to justify being righteous enough to be saved that Christ hasn’t surpassed by infinity? If Christ has made the decision to save me, I’m saved, and there’s nothing I can add to that. In fact it would be incredibly arrogant to think that I could add one hundredth of one percent to what Jesus has done for me. He has saved me entirely and there isn’t one miniscule thing that I can add to that.

The Lutheran says that is why you take the baby to be baptized, we have the assurance in baptism that we are saved, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27) Only in His righteousness, are we saved, only through the baptism that He gives us are we saved. Only through His Body and Blood, through His Word are we saved. What is in there that you did? Yea, nothing. It’s not a question of our decision, it’s a question of what the Holy Spirit does, He moved our parents to take, well some of us, to be baptized, to be saved.
The woman who asked Dr McGee the question doesn’t have, she shouldn’t have to, agonize over the question, she has the assurance of her Son’s salvation entirely through the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It’s not a question of accountability, or sincerity, or works, indulgences, our works, works that can be tainted, do not save us. Nothing we can do will be sufficient, it will all be tainted by our sin. The only assurance is in what God does for us and He saves us in baptism. That does raise one more issue, if for some reason someone who is on the edge of death and hasn’t been baptized. As an ordained, duly called, authorized minister of the Lutheran Church, I authorize you to baptize that person, regardless of age or condition. Address the person by name and say “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” That person is baptized and we trust in the mercy and grace of God that person will be in the presence of the Lord. There are too many people who cannot make a “reasoned” choice for Jesus and even if they could, inevitably doubt arises and they question whether they did it right, right time, right place, were they really sincere, etc, etc. Were you baptized? You are saved. It’s the Holy Spirit bringing you to Jesus through baptism, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what God does to you. He saves you, not your decision to be saved.

2 thoughts on “Be baptized and be saved

  1. Kennon

    This is an interesting position that I haven’t seen articulated this way before. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint as it relates to subject matter you had offered to explore, study, and provide feedback. Now I have a couple of questions to continue the conversation…

    Do you believe that the Bible is the perfect and complete guide for our lives?

    And here’s the second question for you. It is in regards to your reference to Galatians 3:27. The first word of the verse, “for,” is from the Greek word, “gar,” which is defined, “by this means.” What is your belief as to why this word appears in the context? What is the “for” explaining?

    Thank you again.


  2. Pastor Jim Driskell, Lutheran Church Post author

    Hey Ken, thank you, wow I’m impressed, getting some Greek into the discussion. I just want to digress for a moment, for those of you who don’t know, Greek was the language that the New Testament was written in, perhaps a little Aramaic which was the common language of the time,the one that Jesus and the disciples undoubtedly spoke, but everything has come down to us in Greek from the earliest manuscripts that, I believe, scraps of date back to the third century. I really appreciate Ken’s question because the Greek context often denotes, connotes, implies differently then the English translation. That is why newer translations are very helpful, because we have older manuscripts (not just of the Bible, but of many different ancient writings) all of which help us to understand the differences in first century Greek (Koine Greek even), which could well have been translated from another language (Aramaic) which would introduce its own differences. Language is an interesting factor, let’s face it English today is different from English 60 years ago. If you picked someone up from the 1950s and dropped them into 2014, they would have a problem. We, much more than them, have benefitted from satellite television, internet, radio, cell phones, we are much more acquainted by the subtleties of language just because of technology. The differences in language are significant, people 60 years ago just don’t have the cultural context of the last sixty years to understand a lot of things we take for granted. So, that is why an understanding of Greek really helps us to understand what is really being said. We understand it superficially, but as I said so much of language is context, personality, experience, on and on, the study of hermeneutics, I took 20 hours a week of Greek at seminary, for a quarter, and had to pass a competency test before I could start taking regular classes plus reading the Bible in Greek in 4 other classes, plus lectionaries. Hebrew it was a quarter and a half 20 hours a week of classes, and also four other classes reading the Old Testament in Greek. I’m not saying this to wow people (but hey if you are impressed, well ok…. thanks), but to say that the study of the original languages is taken very seriously. I am sure no expert, barely competent, but I try and so it’s impressive when a lay person really wants to dig deeper into what is being said. Particularly with St Paul, because Paul was highly educated and did speak Greek, so when he is writing something his meanings probably go deeper then we even fully understand today. So I appreciate Ken’s encouragement, I really do and that he has heard me out on the Lutheran perspective on baptism and salvation, and I do appreciate his question and I will humbly attempt to try and give something of an academic response.
    But before that, do I believe that the Bible is a complete and perfect guide for our lives? I believe that the Bible is the infallible, perfect revelation of God. Being literate in the Bible certainly guides our life, but it’s not intended to be a “how to manual”. If we understand what Scripture is teaching us, it certainly does guide our lives, we are certainly more in accord with what God wants from us. But I think we get to caught up in “how do I become a better… whatever, according to the Bible”. It’s what a classical college curriculum is supposed to do. It doesn’t teach you skills, it teaches you how to think and act in an educated way and that is what the Bible is supposed to do, teach you to think and act in a Biblical way, according to Jesus’ life and the life of the other prophets. Jesus is of course our perfect example and we should model our lives on His teaching and example, but the other people of the Bible certainly give us important lessons for our lives too. Some by positive examples, some by negative examples. I guess what I’m saying is it’s not a manual, hmmm, need to look up how I’m supposed to be if my kid comes home stoned and he got a girl pregnant. It is more in the sense of hmmm, I remember Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, the Woman at the Well, the Woman caught in Adultery, how He dealt with Peter, others.
    Second question, “gar”, (I was tryiing to impress by putting the Greek on here, but it would only give me English), anyway, as Ken points out, “gar” is a conjunction. Bible Works says “used to express cause, inference or continuation, or to explain…Certainly Ken’s suggestion of “by this means”/cause. I guess I really see this as being by being baptized in Christ, that is the means by which we become an adopted as Sons and Daughters of the Father, we become saved in Christ, that baptism gives this to us. So by that understanding, it would be that God is the cause and effect of our baptism, our salvation, that again, it’s not a matter of our choice, but a matter of God choosing us, guiding us to Him.
    If I’m missing the point, (wouldn’t surprise me if I am) please let me know, I really appreciate you bringing up these questions.



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