Pigeonholing One’s Doctrines
June 28, 2015
I believe many of Christianity’s teachers try to restrict God, or oversimplify His ways, by putting their doctrines into tidy boxes. It seems that they like formulas and insist that the formulas always be carried out precisely. Yet in comparing passages in God’s Word, such as John 3:5-8, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:44-48, and others, we see that the born again experience is not achieved through a formula.
If we look at Rom. 10:9,10, two verses which Christianity emphasizes, we read that salvation comes from confessing with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord” and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. (v. 9) We also read that it is with our hearts that we believe and are justified, and it is with our mouths that we confess and are saved. (v. 10) This, then, would seem to raise the question, “Can a person believe and thus be justified, but refrain from confessing aloud and thus not get saved?” And what about verse 13 which tells us that salvation comes by way of calling on the name of the Lord? Must the name “Jesus” or “Yahshua” be used? Or can a person merely say, if said genuinely, “Lord, save me”, and say this even without stating any pledge concerning repentance from sin? Or is a pledge of repentance and/or proof of repentance necessary, as Luke 13:1-9, Acts 26:20, and 1 Peter 3:21 seem to indicate? Furthermore, is a turn from the power of Satan to God necessary for the forgiveness of sins, as Acts 26:18 teaches?
If we look at the dying thief on the cross, we see that his conversion does not fit any particular formula. Instead, he mentioned the importance of fearing God, he acknowledged his guilt, he acknowledged the innocence of Jesus, and by asking Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom, the thief was also acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah. (Luke 23:40-42) However, we do not see where the thief said those words acceptable within the formula that is taught throughout most of Christianity, such as, “Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins, so please forgive me, cleanse me, come into my heart, and save me.” In verse 43, we see that Jesus accepted this thief, so is it more about formula-based words, or about the heart? In fact, look at what is implied in Acts 10:44, for we don’t see any confessions with the mouth at all, but instead that “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.”
If we look at Mark 16:16, it says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Acts 2:38 seems to confirm the “Water Baptism Doctrine” implied there by saying, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So we could ask, “Must we be baptized in water in order to be saved?” But the thief wasn’t baptized in water. And is the baptism in water necessary as well as that baptism with the Holy Spirit? (John 1:33 // Acts 1:5) And did not those mentioned in Acts 10:44-48 receive the gift of the Holy Spirit before they openly confessed Jesus, repented, or were baptized in water? Yes, but then why do we read in Acts 8:12-17 about those who, because they believed Philip’s message, got “baptized [in water] into the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 16), yet did not receive the Spirit until some time later –when Peter and John prayed for them and placed their hands on them?
When we look at the conversion of Paul, we do not read anything about him repenting or calling on the Lord Jesus. Though undoubtably he did, at least in his heart, the omission in the record helps negate any formula. Rather, what we do read is that Jesus forcibly halted Saul’s (Paul’s) sinfulness, and that without any record of Paul’s confession of sin, Ananias, at the Lord’s command, placed his hands on Paul so that Paul could “see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17) Only after this, was Paul baptized. (v. 18) What is emphasized is Paul’s submission and obedience to the Lord, and Paul himself, while testifying later about his conversion and commission, said, “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” (26:19)
My reason in bringing all this up is to point out that Christianity should be careful about attempting to pigeonhole their every doctrine. Therefore, for anyone to point to “death-bed conversions” as a way to uphold the false doctrine of “Faith Alone”, rather than to be explaining what following Jesus entails, is not only inappropriate, but to give others, who are still carrying on with their lives, the wrong impression. It is to aid the dismissal of the numerous commands in the Word of God to obey Christ continuously.
If a person claims to be born again and saved, he is to be controlled by the Spirit, he is to be Christ-like, he is work righteousness (not sinfulness), and he is to walk in this conduct, with increasing excellence, for the rest of his life. If the rest of his life is only one more day, then that person is to do good for that one more day –as much as he is able. In the case of “Phil” (of whom we have not had any news about him passing away yet), his good works (God-pleasing works done in God’s power) would be that initial work of humbling himself in order to ask God to forgive him and save him, and then going forward with those good works –works such as, for example, forgiving all those whom he may have refused to forgive before, being patient and gracious with his wife and with the hospital staff, making right whatever needs to be righted (as much as he is able), etc. Truly, the works of righteousness involve the heart, mind, and soul, as well as one’s strength. (Mark 12:28-34)
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (Ja. 4:17) This is the case whether a person has 90 years, or just one hour, left to live.