New Testament Baptisms


Let’s begin by turning In Acts 1:5, notice that we see two baptisms, 

For John truly baptised with water,   but you shall be baptised  with the Holy Spirit.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.                                            Matthew 28:19

The Verb “Baptise”

We are working our way systematically through the six great foundation doctrines of the Christian’s faith as stated in Hebrews 6:1-2. The six doctrines listed are the foundation of the doctrine of Jesus:

    1. Repentance from dead works
    2. Faith toward God
    3. The doctrine of baptisms
    4.   Laying on of hands
    5.   Resurrection of the dead
    6.   Eternal judgement

In previous sessions, we examined the first two of these six doctrines, repentance from dead works and faith toward God – or, more simply, repentance and faith. Now we shall move on to the third of these great foundation doctrines, the doctrine of baptisms.

The logical way to begin this study is to discover, if possible, the correct, original meaning of the word baptism – or, more accurately, of the verb phrase “to baptise,” from which the noun baptism is formed.

Upon examination, this word baptise proves to be a most unusual word. Actually it is not an English word at all. It is a Greek word, transliterated into letters of the English alphabet. If we write out the original Greek word in English letters, as accurately as it is possible to do, this gives us baptizo. Then, with the change of the final o to an e, we have the word in the form which has now become familiar – baptize– though we will use the British form baptise.

At this point someone may reasonably ask: Why was this particular word never translated? Why was it simply written over from Greek to English letters? Was it because the correct meaning of the original Greek word was not known, and therefore the translators did not know by what English word to translate it?

No, this is definitely not the explanation. As we shall see in due course, the Greek word baptizo has a definite and well-established meaning.

Root Meaning

By far the best known and most influential of all the English translations of the Bible is the King James Version – the version which was translated and published through the authority of King James of Britain in the early years of the seventeenth century. It is through this translation that the word baptise has gained a place in the English language. Through this King James Version the word baptise has been carried over into the majority of all subsequent English versions of the Bible, as well as into a great many translations of the Bible into the languages of the world. Yet this word baptise, both in its origin and in its form, is in fact completely alien to almost all those languages.

How did this unusual and unnatural form first find its way into the King James Version of the Bible?

The answer lies in the fact that King James, though holding political power as an absolute monarch, was answerable in matters of religion to the bishops of the established Church of England. Now the relationship between James and his bishops was not always too cordial, and James did not wish the new translation of the Bible, published in his name and with his authority, to make his relationship with his bishops any worse.

For this reason he allowed it to be understood that, so far as possible, nothing was to be introduced into the translation which would cause unnecessary offence to the bishops or which would be too obviously contrary to the practices of the established church. Hence, the Greek word baptizo, which could easily have become, in translation, a source of controversy, was never translated at all, but was simply written over directly into the English language.

In this connection, it is interesting to remark that the very word bishop is another example of precisely the same influences at work. The word bishop is no more an English word than the word baptise.

Bishop is just another Greek word that has been taken over, without translation, into the English language; but in this case it has come by a slightly less direct route, by way of Latin. If the Greek original of the word bishop had been translated everywhere it occurs in the New Testament by its correct translation – which is “overseer” – the resulting version could have been interpreted as a challenge to the hierarchical order of government that existed in the established Church of England. Therefore, in various places, the translators avoided the issue and simply left the Greek word to stand in its anglicized form – bishop.

However, let us now return to the Greek word baptizo and its English equivalent, “baptise.” This Greek verb baptizo is of a special, characteristic form of which there are a good many other examples in the Greek language. The characteristic feature of this verbal form is the insertion of the two letters –iz into a more simple, basic root. Thus, the basic root is bapto. The insertion into this root of the two extra letters iz produces the compound form – baptizo.

The insertion of the additional syllable -iz into any Greek verb produces a verb that has a special, causative meaning. That is to say, the compound verb thus formed always has the sense of causing something to be or to happen. The precise nature of that which is thus caused to be or to happen is decided by the meaning of the simple root verb, out of which the compound, causative form has been built up.

 With this in mind, we can now form a clear and accurate picture of the Greek verb baptizo. This is a compound, causative form, built up out of the simple root form bapto. Obviously, therefore, to get a proper understanding of baptizo, we need to ascertain the meaning of bapto.

This simple root form bapto occurs three times in the Greek text of the New Testament which formed the basis of the English King James Version. In every one of these three instances the original Greek verb bapto is translated by the same English verb “to dip.”

The three New Testament passages in which bapto occurs are as follows.

First, Luke 16:24. Here the rich man, in the torments of hell fire, cries out to Abraham:

Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.

Second, John 13:26. Here, at the Last Supper, Jesus identifies the traitor who is to betray Him by giving His disciples a distinguishing mark.

It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.

Third, Revelation 19:13. Here John describes the Lord Jesus Jesus as he sees Him coming in glory, leading the avenging armies of heaven.

He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood.

In all three passages both the English word used by the translators and also the context of each passage make it clear that the Greek verb bapto means “to dip something into a fluid and then take it out again.”

In that standard work of biblical reference – Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible – the author gives the following as the primary meaning of the verb bapto: “to cover wholly with fluid,” hence, “to dip.” We also find in the New Testament a compound version of the verb bapto, formed by prefixing the Greek preposition en-, or em-, meaning “in.” This gives the compound form embapto. This compound form, embapto, also occurs three times in the Greek text of the New Testament. The three passages are Matthew 26:23, Mark 14:20 and John 13:26. Any student who cares to check for himself will quickly discover that in all three passages this compound form embapto is translated (just like the simple form bapto) by the English verb “to dip.”

We thus arrive at the following conclusion. The Greek verb bapto – either in its simple form or with the prefix em– meaning “in” – occurs six times in the Greek text of the New Testament, and in every instance in the King James Version it is translated “to dip.” In every instance, also, the context plainly indicates that the action described by this verb is that of dipping something into a fluid and then taking it out again.

Having arrived at the correct meaning of the simple verb bapto, there is no difficulty whatever in discovering the correct meaning of the causative compound form baptizo.

If bapto means “to dip something into a fluid and then take it out again,” then baptizo can have only one possible literal meaning. Logically, it must mean “to cause something to be dipped into a fluid and then taken out again.” More briefly, baptizo – from which we get the English word baptise – means “to cause something to be dipped.”

Historical Usage

This conclusion can be confirmed by tracing the word baptizo back into the earlier history of the Greek language.

In the third century before the Christian’s era, the extensive conquests of Alexander the Great had spread the use of the Greek language far beyond the geographical confines of Greece herself, or even of the Greek cities and communities of Asia Minor. In this way, by the time of the New Testament, the Greek language had become the generally accepted medium of communication for most of the peoples in the lands bordering on the Mediterranean Sea.

It is this form of the Greek language which is found in the New Testament and which traces its origin, linguistically, back to the purer form of classical Greek originally used by the Greek cities and states in the preceding centuries. Thus, most of the words used in New Testament Greek trace their origin and meaning back to the earlier forms of classical Greek.

This is true of the verb baptizo. This word can be traced back into the earlier, classical form of the Greek language as far as the fifth century B.C. From then on it has a continuous history in the Greek language right down into the first and second centuries A.D. (that is, throughout the whole period of the New Testament writings). Throughout this period of six or seven centuries, the word retains one unchanging basic meaning, “to dip,” “to plunge,” “to submerge.” In this sense it may be used either literally or metaphorically.

The following are some examples of its use throughout this period.

    1. In the fifth or fourth century B.C. baptizo is used by Plato of a young man being                        “overwhelmed” by clever philosophical arguments.

  2. In the writings of Hippocrates (attributed to the fourth century B.C.) baptizo is used of people being “submerged” in water and of sponges being “dipped” in water.

3. In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament attributed to the second or             first century B.C.) baptizo is used to translate the passage in 2 Kings 5:14 where Naaman         went down and “dipped himself” seven times in the Jordan. In this passage baptizo is used in verse 14, but a different Greek word is used in verse 10, where the King James Version       used “wash.” In other words, baptizo means specifically to “dip oneself,” not merely to “wash,” without dipping. 

4. Somewhere between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., baptizo is used by Strabo to describe people who cannot swim being “submerged” beneath the surface of water (in contrast to logs of wood, which float on the surface).

5. In the first century A.D. baptizo is used metaphorically by Josephus to describe a man “plunging” a sword into his own neck and of the city of Jerusalem being “overwhelmed” or “plunged” to irremediable destruction by internal strife. It is obvious that such metaphorical uses as these would not be possible unless the literal meaning of the word was   already clearly established.

    1. In the first or second century A.D. baptizo is used twice by Plutarch to describe either the body of a person or the figure of an idol being “immersed” in the sea.

From this brief linguistic study it will be seen that the Greek word baptizo has always had one clear, definite meaning which has never changed. From classical Greek right down into New Testament Greek it has always retained the same basic meaning: “to cause something to be dipped,” “to immerse something beneath the surface of water or some other fluid.” In most cases this act of immersion is temporary, not permanent.

This brief analysis of the meaning of the word baptism brings out two distinctive features which are found everywhere that this word is used in the New Testament. Every baptism, considered as an experience, is both total and transitional.

It is total in the sense that it involves the whole person and the whole personality of the one being baptised; it is transitional in the sense that, for the person being baptised, it marks a transition – a passing out of one stage or realm of experience into a new stage or realm of experience never previously entered into.

The act of baptism may thus be compared to the opening and closing of a door. The person being baptised passes through a door opened up to him by the act of baptism, out of something old and familiar, into something new and unfamiliar. Thereafter the door is closed behind him, and there is no way of returning back through that closed door into the old ways and the old experiences.

Four Different Baptisms

Bearing in mind this picture of the nature of baptism, let us turn back once again to the passage where baptism is specified as one of the foundation doctrines of the Christian’s faith – that is, Hebrews 6:2. We observe that the word baptism is here used in the plural, not in the singular. It is “the doctrine of baptisms” (plural), not “the doctrine of baptism” (singular). This indicates plainly that the complete doctrine of the Christian’s faith includes more than one type of baptism.

Following this conclusion through the pages of the New Testament, we discover that there are actually four distinct types of baptism referred to at different points. If we set out these four types of baptism in chronological order, conforming to the order in which they are revealed in the New Testament, we arrive at the following outline.

First, the baptism preached and practised by John the Baptist – a baptism in water – is directly connected with the message and experience of repentance.

John came baptising in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4).

Second, there is a type of baptism which is not precisely described by any one word in the New Testament, but which we may call “the baptism of suffering.” Jesus says:

But I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50).

It is also referred to in Mark 10:38. This passage records a request made by the sons of Zebedee to have the privilege of sitting with Jesus on His right hand and on His left hand in His glory. To this request Jesus replied with the following question:

You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?

It is plain that Jesus here refers to the spiritual and physical surrender that lay ahead of Him as He trod the path to the cross – the surrender of His whole being, spirit, soul and body – to the appointed will of the Father that He might take upon Himself the guilt of the world’s sin and then pay by His vicarious sufferings the price required to expiate that sin. By these words Jesus indicated to His disciples that the fulfilment of His plan for their lives would in due course demand of them also a like total surrender of their whole being into the hands of God – even, if need be, for the suffering of death.

The third type of baptism revealed in the New Testament is Christian’s baptism in water. Jesus told His disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).

The primary feature which thus distinguishes Christian’s baptism from the baptism of John the Baptist is that Christian’s baptism is to be carried out in the full name and authority of the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This was not so with John’s baptism.

The fourth type of baptism revealed in the New Testament is the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks about this baptism in Acts 1:5 and carefully distinguishes it from baptism in water. He says to His disciples:

For John truly baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

Although in the New King James Version the preposition used is “with” – baptised “with” the Holy Spirit – in the actual Greek text the preposition used is “in” – baptised “in” the Holy Spirit. Throughout the entire Greek text of the New Testament there are only two prepositions used with the verb phrase “to baptise.” These are in and into. This is in full accord with our conclusion as to the literal meaning of the word baptise: “to cause to be dipped or immersed.”

Jesus also reveals the basic purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He says:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me (Acts 1:8).

Primarily, therefore, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a supernatural enduement with power from on high to be a witness for Jesus.

Of the four types of baptism which we have discussed, there is one – the baptism of suffering – which belongs to a more advanced level of spiritual experience than the rest and therefore does not come within the scope of this series of studies, which is deliberately limited to the basic doctrines and experiences of the Christian’s faith. For this reason we shall say nothing more about this baptism of suffering, but we shall confine our attention to the other three types of baptism. We shall deal with these in the order in which they are unfolded in the record of the New Testament:

        • the baptism of John the Baptist,
        • Christian’s baptism in water,
        • the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

John’s Baptism Compared to Christian’s Baptism

Many  professing Christian’s may not be clear as to the difference between the baptism of John the Baptist and Christian’s baptism. Therefore it is helpful to begin the study of these two forms of baptism by turning to Acts 19:1-5, where these two types of baptism are set side by side and the important difference between them is clearly brought out.

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptised?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptised with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Jesus Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Here in Ephesus Paul encountered a group of people who called themselves “disciples.” At first Paul took them to be disciples of Jesus – that is,  professing Christian’s – but on closer examination he discovered they were only disciples of John the Baptist.

They had heard and accepted John’s message of repentance and the form of baptism that went with it, but they had heard nothing of the gospel message of Jesus Jesus, or of the Christian’s form of baptism directly connected with the acceptance of the gospel message.

After Paul had explained the message of the gospel to them, these people accepted it and were once again baptised – this time, the Scripture states, in the name of the Lord Jesus.


            This incident shows clearly that the baptism of John and Christian’s baptism are distinct in their nature and their significance and that once John’s ministry had closed and the gospel dispensation had been inaugurated, John’s baptism was no longer accepted as being equivalent to, or a substitute for, Christian’s baptism. On the contrary, those who had only received John’s baptism were required to be baptised again with full Christian’s baptism.

John’s Baptism – Repentance and Confession

Mark 1:3-5 provides a summary of John’s message and ministry with its accompanying form of baptism.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.

John came baptising in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptised by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

In the providence of God, John’s message and ministry served two special purposes: 1) They prepared the hearts of the people of Israel for the advent and revelation of their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Jesus. 2) They provided a link between the dispensation of the law and the prophets, which was closed by John’s ministry, and the dispensation of the gospel, which was initiated about three years later as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Jesus.

In fulfilling both these purposes of God, John’s ministry was of necessity brief and temporary. It did not constitute in itself a dispensation but merely a period of transition.

In his message and ministry, John made two main demands upon the people:

        • repentance,
        • public confession of sins.

Those who were willing to meet these two conditions were baptised by John in the river Jordan as a public testimony that they had repented of their past sins and were committing themselves henceforward to lead better lives.

John came baptising in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4).

More literally, John preached a baptism of repentance into the remission of sins. This agrees with a similarly literal rendering of Matthew 3:11, where John himself uses the two prepositions in and into.

I indeed baptise you in water into repentance.

Here we see, that John’s baptism was into repentance and into remission of sins. It is therefore important to establish the meaning of the preposition into when used after the verb phrase “to baptise.”

Obviously it does not mean that those who were baptised by John only entered into the experience of repentance and forgiveness after they had been baptised. On the contrary, when many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John to be baptised, John refused to accept them and demanded that they produce evidence of a real change in their lives before he would baptise them.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:7-8).

In other words John demanded of them: “Prove first by your actions that there has been a real change in your lives before you ask me to baptise you.”

John demanded that those who came to him for baptism should produce evidence in their lives of repentance and remission of sins before he would baptise them. Plainly, therefore, the phrase “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” should not be taken as indicating that these two inward experiences of repentance and forgiveness only followed after the outward act of being baptised. Rather it indicates – as the context makes plain – that the outward act of being baptised served as a visible confirmation that those being baptised had already passed through the experiences of repentance and forgiveness.

Thus the act of baptism served as an outward seal, giving assurance of an inward transformation which had already taken place.

Understanding this point is of great importance because the phrase “to baptise into (or unto)” occurs in two subsequent passages of the New Testament, once in connection with Christian’s baptism in water and once in connection with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In each case we must follow the same principle of interpretation as that already established in regard to John’s baptism. However, we shall leave until later the detailed examination of these two subsequent passages.

To return to John’s baptism, we may sum up its effects as follows. Those who sincerely met John’s conditions enjoyed a real experience of repentance and forgiveness which was expressed in lives changed for the better. However, these experiences were similar in character to the ministry of John – they were essentially transitional.

Those whom John baptised did not receive abiding, inward peace and victory over sin, made possible only through the full gospel message of Jesus Jesus; but their hearts were prepared to receive and respond to the gospel message when it should be proclaimed.

Christian’s Baptism – Fulfilling All Righteousness

Let us now turn from the transitional to the permanent – from the baptism of John to full Christian’s baptism ordained by Jesus Himself as an integral part of the complete gospel message. The best introduction to Christian’s baptism is the baptism of Jesus Himself.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptised by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptised by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. Then Jesus, when He had been baptised, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13-17).

Although Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, the form of baptism through which He passed was not at all on the same level as that of all the other people whom John baptised. As we have already pointed out, John’s baptism made two main demands upon the people: repentance and confession of sins.

However, Jesus had never committed any sins which He needed to confess or repent of. Hence, He did not need to be baptised by John in the same way as all the other people who came to John for baptism.

   John himself clearly recognized this fact, for he says:

I have need to be baptised by You, and are You coming to me? (Matt. 3:14).

However, Jesus answers in the next verse: Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness (Matt. 3:15).

In Jesus’ answer we find both the reason why Jesus Himself was baptised and also the true significance of full Christian’s baptism, as distinct from the temporary form of baptism administered by John. Jesus was not baptised by John as the outward evidence that He had repented of His sins because He had no sins to repent of. On the contrary, as Jesus Himself explained, He was baptised in order that He might fulfil (or complete) all righteousness.

In this – as in many other aspects of His life and ministry – Jesus was deliberately and consciously establishing a standard of behaviour. By being baptised by John, He was setting an example and pattern of the baptism in which He desired Christian’s believers to follow Him.

This is in full accord with Peter’s description of Jesus’s actions.

For to this you were called, because Jesus also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

“Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth” (1 Pet. 2:21-22).

This confirms what we have already said: Jesus was not baptised by John because He had repented of His sins. On the contrary, as Peter states, Jesus “committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth.” But in being thus baptised, He left an example for all  professing Christian’s, that they should follow His steps.

With this in mind, let us turn back to the reason which Jesus Himself gave for being baptised and examine His words in greater detail: “thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).

We may divide this reason into three sections:

        • the word thus,
        • the phrase “it is fitting,”
        • the concluding section, “to fulfil all righteousness.”

First, the word thus, or more plainly, “in this manner”: By His example Jesus established a pattern for the method of baptism. Jesus was not baptised as an infant. While Jesus was still an infant, His parents “brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord,” but there is no thought or suggestion here of baptism (see Luke 2:22). Jesus was not baptised until He had come to years of understanding, so that He knew at that time both what He was doing and why He was doing it.

We read in the next verse, Matthew 3:16:

Then Jesus, when He had been baptised, came up immediately from the water.

By simple logic we deduce from this that in being baptised, Jesus first went down into, and then came up out of, the water. Taken in conjunction with the literal meaning of the verb phrase “to baptise” (which we have already discussed), this leaves no reasonable room to doubt that Jesus permitted Himself to be wholly immersed beneath the waters of the Jordan.

Let us move on now to the second section of the reason given by Jesus for being baptised: “it is fitting.” This phrase suggests that, for those who would follow Jesus, being baptised is something ordained by God. It is not exactly a legal commandment, such as those imposed upon Israel by the Law of Moses, but it is for  professing Christian’s a natural expression of sincere and wholehearted discipleship.

By using the plural form “us” – “it is fitting for us” – Jesus by anticipation identified Himself with all those who would subsequently follow Him through this appointed act of faith and obedience.

Finally we come to the concluding section: “to fulfil [or complete] all righteousness.” As we have already pointed out, Jesus was not baptised as evidence that He had confessed and repented of His sins. He had never committed any sins; He was always perfectly righteous. This righteousness was, in the first instance, an inward condition of heart which Jesus had always possessed.

However, in allowing Himself to be baptised, Jesus fulfilled – or completed – this inward righteousness by an outward act of obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. It was through this outward act of obedience and dedication to God that He actually entered into the active life of ministry by which He fulfilled the plan of God the Father.

So it is with all true, believing  professing Christian’s who are baptised. Such believers are not baptised merely because they are sinners who have confessed and repented of their sins. This would place Christian’s baptism right back on the same level as John’s baptism. It is true that  professing Christian’s have confessed and repented of their sins. Without this, they could not be  professing Christian’s at all. But they have passed beyond this into something much fuller and greater than was ever possible for those who knew only the message and baptism of John.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Jesus (Rom. 5:1).

True  professing Christian’s have not merely confessed and repented of their sins. They have done this and more. By faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Jesus, they have been justified; God has imputed to them the righteousness of Jesus Himself on the basis of their faith.

This is why they are baptised – not simply as evidence that they have confessed and repented of their sins, but “to fulfil [or complete] all righteousness.” By this outward act of obedience they complete the inward righteousness which they have already received in their hearts by faith. This explanation shows us how totally different Christian’s baptism is from the baptism which John preached. We can now understand why Paul would not accept John’s baptism for those who desired to be true  professing Christian’s. Instead, he first instructed them in the full truth of the gospel centering in Jesus’s death and resurrection and then insisted on their being baptised once again with full Christian’s baptism.

In conclusion, Christian’s baptism is an outward act of obedience by which the believer fulfils, or completes, the inward righteousness he already enjoys in his heart through faith in Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection.

The True Righteousness

A man went to the doctor complaining of a pain in his stomach. After an examination the doctor diagnosed the man’s trouble as appendicitis.

“Appendicitis!” said the man. “What’s that?”

“Appendicitis,” explained the doctor, “is a condition of irritation or inflammation of the appendix.”

“Well,” the man confessed, “until now I never even knew that I had an appendix to be inflamed!”

In a similar way, many professing Christian’s are conscious of some deep-seated trouble in their spiritual experience – trouble that finds expression in such symptoms as instability, inconsistency, lack of assurance, lack of peace. If such  professing Christian’s were to be informed that the root cause of their trouble lay in the failure to understand such basic New Testament teachings as the relationship between faith and works, or between law and grace, these  professing Christian’s would have to confess, just like the man with appendicitis, “Well, until now we never even knew that the New Testament had anything to say about such things as that!”

Let us briefly outline the conclusions we have reached on these two related topics thus far.

    1.   The whole New Testament teaches emphatically that salvation is received through faith            alone – faith in Jesus’s finished work of atonement – without human works of any kind.
    2.   The faith that brings salvation is always expressed thereafter in appropriate works – in              corresponding actions.
    3.   The works by which faith for salvation is expressed are not the works of the law. The              righteousness which God requires cannot be achieved by observing the law of Moses.

These conclusions concerning the nature and purpose of the law of Moses naturally lead us on to one further question: If saving faith is not expressed by the observance of the law, then what are the works by which saving faith is expressed? What are the appropriate actions we should expect to see in the life of every person who professes saving faith in Jesus?

The answer to this question, as well as the key to understanding the relationship between law and grace, is given by Paul in Romans.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3-4).

The key phrase here is “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” where “us” denotes Spirit-led  professing Christian’s. It is not the law itself which is to be fulfilled in  professing Christian’s but the righteous requirement of the law.

What is meant by the phrase, “the righteous requirement of the law”?

The answer is given most clearly by Jesus Himself, in response to a Jewish lawyer’s question concerning the law.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:35-40).

The Two Great Commandments

In these words Jesus defines the righteous requirement of the law to which Paul refers. The law of Moses was only given at a certain period in human history to a small section of the human race. But behind this complete system of law there stand the two great, eternal, unchanging laws of God for the whole human race: “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The system of law given through Moses was merely a detailed application and outworking of these two great commands – love for God and love for our neighbour. These two commandments were the basis of the whole legal system of Moses and the entire ministry and message of all the Old Testament prophets. Here, then, is “the righteous requirement of the law” summed up in two all-inclusive commandments: “love God” and “love your neighbour.”

This same truth is taught by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:5-7.

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

Notice that illuminating statement: “the purpose of the commandment is love . . .”

The supreme purpose and object for which the whole law was given was to inculcate love – love for God and love for man. Paul goes on to say that all who seek to teach or interpret the law of Moses without understanding this basic purpose of the whole law “have turned aside to idle talk . . . understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.”

In other words, such interpreters have completely missed the main point of the law, which is love. This law of love – love for God and man – is the law behind all other laws.

Paul expresses the same truth about this one supreme law of love in Romans 13:8-10:

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

And again, more succinctly, in Galatians 5:14:

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Thus “the righteous requirement of the law,” with all of its complexities and all of its enactments, can be reduced to one word: love.

Love, the Fulfilling of the Law

At this point someone may feel inclined to say: “You tell me that, as a Christian’s, I am not under the law or the commandments of Moses. Does this mean I am free to break those commandments and do anything I please? Am I free to commit murder or adultery or to steal, if I so desire?”

The answer to this is that, as a Christian’s, you are free to do anything that you can do with perfect love in your heart toward God and man. But, as a Christian’s, you are not free to do anything that cannot be done in love.

The man whose heart is filled and controlled by the love of God is free to do whatsoever his heart desires. For this reason, James twice refers to this law of love as the law of liberty.

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).

So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:12).

James calls this law of love “the perfect law of liberty” because the man whose heart is filled and controlled at all times by the love of God has liberty to do exactly what he desires. Whatsoever such a man desires to do will always be in conformity with the will and nature of God, for God Himself is love. The man who lives by this law of love is the only truly free man on the face of the whole earth – the only man who is free to do at all times what he will. Such a man needs no other law to control him.

James also gives this law of love yet another title. He calls it the “royal law.”

If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you do well (James 2:8).

Why is this the “royal” law? Because the man who lives according to this law lives indeed as a king. He is subject to no other law. He is free at all times to do whatever his heart dictates. In fulfilling this law, he fulfils all law. In all circumstances, and in every relationship toward God and man, he reigns in life as a king.

This analysis of what is meant by “the righteous requirement of the law” leads us to the following conclusion: There is no conflict or inconsistency between the standard of true righteousness put forward in the Old Testament under the law of Moses and that put forward in the New Testament in the gospel of Jesus Jesus. In each case the standard of true righteousness is one and the same. It is summed up in one word: love – love for God and love for man.

The difference between the two dispensations – the dispensation of law under Moses and the dispensation of grace through Jesus Jesus – lies not in the end to be achieved but in the means used to achieve that end.

In each case alike, both under law and under grace, the end to be achieved is love. But under the law the means used to that end is an external system of commandments and ordinances imposed upon man from without; under grace the means used is a miraculous and continuing operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer’s heart.

The law of Moses failed to achieve its end, not because of anything wrong with the law itself, but because of the inherent weakness and sinfulness of man’s fleshly nature. Paul makes this abundantly plain in the latter part of Romans 7.

Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good (Rom. 7:12).

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin (Rom. 7:14).

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (Rom. 7:22).

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:23).

The law itself is righteous and good. The man who seeks to live by the law may be perfectly sincere in acknowledging the law’s standards and in seeking to live by them. But in spite of all this, the power of sin within him and the weakness of his own fleshly nature continually prevent him from living up to those standards.

Under the New Testament, the grace of God in Jesus Jesus still directs man to the same end – love for God and love for his neighbour – but puts at man’s disposal completely new and different means to attain that end. Grace begins with a miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer’s heart.

The result of this operation is called “being born again” or “being born of the Spirit.” This experience is prophetically described in the Old Testament where the Lord says to the children of Israel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).

The effects of this inward change are further described in Jeremiah.

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (Jer. 31:31).

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jer. 31:33).

This new covenant here promised by the Lord is the new covenant of grace, through faith in Jesus Jesus, which we today call the New Testament.

Through this new covenant the sinner’s nature is completely changed within. The old, stony, unresponsive heart is taken away; in its place a new heart and a new spirit are implanted within. The new nature is in harmony with God’s nature and God’s laws.

Thus it becomes natural for the man who has been recreated by God’s Spirit to walk in God’s ways and to do God’s will. The sovereign law of love is by the Spirit Himself engraved upon the responsive tablet of the believer’s heart, and from thence it is naturally worked out in the believer’s new character and conduct.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

The law failed to achieve God’s standard of righteousness, not because of any fault in the law, but because of the weakness of man’s fleshly nature. Under grace the Spirit of God changes man’s fleshly nature and replaces it with a new nature, one capable of receiving and manifesting God’s love.

We may sum up the basic difference between the operation of law and the operation of grace in this way: Law depends upon man’s own ability and works from without; grace depends upon the miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit and works from within.

The New Testament tells us the human heart can only come under this law of divine and perfect love through the operation of God’s Holy Spirit.

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5).

Notice that it is not mere human love in any form or degree, but it is the love of God – God’s own love – which the Spirit of God is able to pour out in our hearts.

This love of God poured out in the human heart by God’s Spirit produces, in its perfection, the nine fold fruit of the Spirit. This fruit of the Spirit is the love of God manifested in every aspect of human character and conduct. It is described by Paul:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

Once again Paul emphasizes that the life in which divine love is perfectly manifested in this nine-fold spiritual fruit does not need to be controlled by any other law. Therefore, he says: “Against such there is no law.”

This law of love is thus the end of all other laws and commandments. It is the perfect law, the royal law, the law of liberty.

The New Testament Pattern of Obedience

However, we must guard against leaving any impression that the love of God is something vague, indefinite, unrealistic or sentimental. On the contrary, the love of God is always definite and practical. According to the New Testament, love for God and love for man alike are expressed in ways that correspond to God’s own love – ways that are definite and practical.

Throughout the whole Bible the supreme test of man’s love for God can be expressed in one word: obedience.

In the Old Testament, God stated this truth to His people in Jeremiah 7:23:

Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people.

True love for God is always expressed by obedience to Him.

In the New Testament, likewise, Jesus, in His parting discourse to His disciples, emphasized above all other requirements this point of obedience. In John 14 He stresses this point three times in succession within the space of a few verses:

If you love Me, keep My commandments (v. 15).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me (v. 21).

Then He puts the two alternatives of obedience and disobedience very clearly side by side, for He says:

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (v. 23).

And then, on the contrary:

He who does not love Me does not keep My words (v. 24).

In the light of these words, it is plain that for any Christian’s to profess love for Jesus without obeying the will of Jesus revealed in His words and His commandments is mere self-deception.

The supreme commandment of Jesus in the New Testament is love. Without love, it is impossible to speak of obedience. But if we go on to examine the nature and the outworking of Christian’s love, we discover that the New Testament offers us the pattern of a life that is controlled in every aspect by this love.

It covers the believer’s own individual and personal life, his relationship both to God and to his fellow man. It directs and controls Christian’s marriage and the life of the Christian’s family, including both parents and children. It provides for the life and conduct of the Christian’s church. It regulates the attitude and the relationship of the believer to secular society and government.

For us to follow this pattern in our lives, first we must prayerfully study and apply every part of the New Testament’s teaching. Second, we must continually acknowledge our moment-by-moment dependence on the supernatural grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In this way we shall prove in our own experience the truth of 1 John 2:5.

But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.

The Purpose of the Law

To Reveal Sin

The first main purpose of the law is to show men their sinful condition.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19-20).

Notice, first of all, the very emphatic statement “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20).

In other words, no human being will ever achieve righteousness in God’s sight by the observance of the law.

Side by side with this, Paul states twice, in two different phrases, the primary purpose for which the law was given. He says first that “all the world may become guilty before God.” An alternative translation is “that all the world may become subject to the judgement of God.” Second, he says, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

We see, therefore, that the law was not given to make men righteous but, on the contrary, to make men conscious that they were sinners and, as such, subject to the judgement of God upon their sin.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7).

Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful
(Rom. 7:12-13).

Paul uses three different phrases which all bring out the same truth.

I would not have known sin except through the law (Rom. 7:7).

But sin, that it might appear sin . . . (Rom. 7:13). . . . so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful (Rom. 7:13).

In other words, the purpose of the law was to bring sin out into the open – to show sin in its true colors as the subtle, destructive, deadly thing that it really is. Thereafter men were left without any excuse for being deceived as to the extreme sinfulness of their condition.

In the practice of medicine, when treating diseases of the human body, there is a certain order which is always followed: first the diagnosis, then the remedy. First of all, the doctor examines the sick man and tries to ascertain the nature and cause of his disease; only after he has done that does he attempt to prescribe a remedy.

God follows the same order in dealing with man’s spiritual need. Before prescribing the cure, God first diagnoses the condition. The basic cause of all human need and suffering lies in one condition common to all members of the human race: sin. No satisfactory remedy for human needs can be offered until this condition has been diagnosed.

The Bible is the only book in the world which correctly diagnoses the cause of all humanity’s need and suffering. For this reason alone, apart from all else it offers, the Bible is invaluable and irreplaceable.

To Prove Man’s Inability to Save Himself


The second main purpose for which the law was given was to show men that, as sinners, they are unable to make themselves righteous by their own efforts. There is a natural tendency in every human being to desire to be independent of God’s grace and mercy. This desire to be independent of God is in itself both a result and an evidence of man’s sinful condition, although most men do not recognize it as such.

Thus, whenever a man becomes convicted of his sinful condition, his first reaction is to seek some means by which he can cure himself of this condition and make himself righteous by his own efforts, without having to depend on the grace and mercy of God. For this reason, throughout all ages religious laws and observances have always made a strong appeal to the human race, regardless of differences of nationality or background. In practicing such laws and observances men have sought to silence the inward voice of their own conscience and to make themselves righteous by their own efforts.

This was precisely the reaction of many religious Israelites to the law of Moses. Paul describes this attempt of Israel to establish their own righteousness.

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3).

As a result of attempting to establish their own righteousness, Israel failed to submit to God and to God’s way of righteousness. Thus, the basic cause of their error was spiritual pride – a refusal to submit to God, a desire to be independent of God’s grace and mercy.

Nevertheless, whenever men are really willing to be honest with themselves, they are always obliged to admit that they can never succeed in making themselves righteous by the observing of religious or moral law. Paul describes this experience in the first person; he himself had at one time striven to make himself righteous by the observance of the law. Here is what he says, as recorded in Romans 7:18-23:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

Here Paul speaks as one who sincerely acknowledges the righteousness and desirability of living by the law. The more he struggles, however, to do what the law commands, the more he becomes conscious of another law, another power, within his own fleshly nature, continually warring against the law and frustrating his strongest efforts to make himself righteous by observing the law.

The central point of this inward conflict is expressed in verse 21.

  I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.

This is an apparent paradox, yet it is confirmed by all human experience. A man never knows how bad he is until he really tries to be good. Thereafter, every attempt to be good only brings out more clearly the hopeless, incurable sinfulness of his own fleshly nature, in face of which all his efforts and good intentions are entirely in vain.

The second main purpose for the law, then, was to show men that not merely are they sinful, but they are wholly unable to save themselves from sin and make themselves righteous by their own efforts.

To Foreshadow Jesus

The third main purpose for which the law was given was to foretell and to foreshadow the Savior who was to come, and through whom alone it would be possible for man to receive true salvation and righteousness. This was done through the law in two main ways: The Saviour was foretold through direct prophecy, and He was foreshadowed through the types and ceremonies of the ordinances of the law.

An example of direct prophecy, within the framework of the law, is found in Deuteronomy 18:18-19, where the Lord says to Israel through Moses:

I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.

Peter later quotes these words of Moses and applies them directly to Jesus Jesus (see Acts 3:22-26). Thus, the prophet foretold by Moses in the law is fulfilled in the Person of Jesus in the New Testament.

In the sacrifices and ordinances of the law many types foreshadow Jesus Jesus as the Savior who was to come.

For example, in Exodus 12 the ordinance of the Passover lamb foreshadows salvation through faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Jesus, shed at the Passover season upon the cross at Calvary. Similarly, the various sacrifices connected with expiation of sin and approach to God, described in the first seven chapters of Leviticus, all foreshadow various aspects of the sacrificial, atoning death of Jesus Jesus upon the cross.

For this reason, John the Baptist introduced Jesus to Israel with these words:

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).

By the comparison of Jesus to a sacrificial lamb, the people of Israel were directed to see in Jesus the One who had been foreshadowed by all the sacrificial ordinances of the law.

This purpose of the law is summed up in Paul’s words in Galatians:

But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise of faith in Jesus Jesus might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Jesus, that we might be justified by faith (3:22-24).

The Greek word here translated “tutor” denotes a senior slave in the household of a wealthy man whose special responsibility it was to give the first elementary stages of teaching to the wealthy man’s children, and thereafter to escort them each day to the school where they could receive more advanced instruction.

In a corresponding way, the law gave Israel their first elementary instruction in God’s basic requirements concerning righteousness, and thereafter it was a means to direct them to put their faith in Jesus Jesus and to learn from Jesus the lesson of the true righteousness which is by faith, without the works of the law.

Just as this slave’s educational task was complete as soon as he had delivered his master’s children into the care of the fully trained teacher in the school, so the law’s task was complete once it had brought Israel to their Messiah, Jesus Jesus, and had caused them to see their need of salvation through faith in Him. For this reason Paul concludes:

But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Gal. 3:25).

That is, we are no longer under the law.

To Preserve Israel

In the words of Paul, there is a phrase which reveals one further important function of the law in connection with Israel. Speaking as an Israelite, Paul says:

We were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed (Gal. 3:23).

The law kept Israel as a special nation, set apart from all others, separated out by its distinctive rites and ordinances, preserved for the special purposes for which God had called them. The prophet Balaam, in his God-given vision of Israel’s destiny, sets forth God’s plan for them.

A people [Israel] dwelling alone,

Not reckoning itself among the nations (Num. 23:9).

God’s perfect will for Israel was that they should dwell alone, as a unique and separate nation, in their own land. But even when Israel’s disobedience frustrated this first purpose of God for them and caused them to be scattered as exiles and wanderers among all nations of the world, God still ordained that they should not be reckoned among the nations.

In the past nineteen centuries of Jewish dispersion among the Gentile nations, this decree of God has been most wonderfully fulfilled. In all the lands and nations whither they have come, the Jews have always remained a distinct and separate element which has never been assimilated or lost its special identity. The main instrument in keeping Israel a separate nation has been continued adherence to the law of Moses.

In conclusion, we may sum up the four main purposes for which the law of Moses was given.

    1.   The law was given to show men their sinful condition.
    2.   The law also showed men that, as sinners, they were unable to make themselves righteous by their own efforts.
    3.   The law served to foretell by prophecy and to foreshadow by types the Saviour who was to come and through whom alone it would be possible for man to receive true salvation and righteousness.
    4.   The law has served to keep Israel a separate nation throughout the many centuries of their dispersion, so that even now they are still preserved for the special purposes which God is working out for them.

Perfectly Fulfilled by Jesus

Our examination of the relationship between the law and the gospel could not be complete without taking into account the words in which Jesus Himself sums up His attitude and His relationship to the law.

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18).

In what sense did Jesus fulfil the law?

First of all, He personally fulfilled it by His own spotless righteousness and by the faultless, consistent observance of every ordinance.

God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).

Notice the words “born of a woman, born under the law . . .” By His birth as a man, Jesus Jesus was a Jew, subject to all the ordinances and obligations of the law. These He perfectly fulfilled throughout the entire course of His life on earth, without ever deviating one hair’s breadth from all that was required of every Jew under the law. In this sense, Jesus Jesus alone, of all those who ever came under the law, perfectly fulfilled it.

Second, Jesus Jesus fulfilled the law in another sense by His atoning death on the cross.

Who committed no sin, Nor was guile found in His mouth . . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness (1 Pet. 2:22, 24).

Himself without sin, Jesus took upon Himself the sins of all those who had been under the law and then paid in full on behalf of them the law’s final penalty, which is death. With the full penalty thus paid by Jesus, it became possible for God, without compromising His divine justice, to offer full and free pardon to all who by faith accept Jesus’s atoning death on their behalf.

Thus Jesus fulfilled the law first by His life of perfect righteousness and second by His atoning death, through which He satisfied the law’s just demand upon all those who had not perfectly observed it.

Third, Jesus fulfilled the law by combining in Himself every feature prophetically set forth in the law concerning the Savior and Messiah whom God had promised to send. Even at the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry we read how Philip said to Nathanael:

We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (John 1:45).

Again, after His death and resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples:

These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me (Luke 24:44).

            We see, then, that Jesus fulfilled the law in three ways:

1) by His perfect life,

2) by His redeeming death and resurrection, 3) by fulfilling all that the law foretold and foreshadowed concerning the Savior and Messiah who was to come.

We thus find ourselves in perfect agreement with the words of Paul:

Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (Rom. 3:31).

The believer who accepts the atoning death of Jesus Jesus as the fulfilment of the law on his behalf is thereby enabled to accept, without compromise or qualification, every jot and tittle of the law as being completely and unchangeably true. Faith in Jesus for salvation does not set aside the revelation of the law; on the contrary, it fulfils it.

For Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4).

The Greek word here translated “end” has two related meanings: 1) the purpose for which something is done, 2) that which brings something to a close. In both senses, the law ended with Jesus.

In the first sense, once the law has successfully brought us to Jesus, it is no longer needed in this capacity. In the second sense, Jesus by His death put an end to the law as a means of achieving righteousness with God. Faith in Him is now the one, all-sufficient requirement for righteousness.

In every other respect, however, the law still stands, complete and entire, as a part of God’s Word, which “endures forever.” Its history, its prophecy and its general revelation of the mind and counsel of God – all these remain eternally and unchangeably true.

Law and Grace

            In our previous session we came to the following conclusion: According to the New Testament, salvation is received through faith alone – faith in Jesus’s finished work of atonement – without human works of any kind. But thereafter this faith always issues in appropriate works – actions which correspond with the faith that has been professed. A faith that does not produce these appropriate works is a mere empty profession – a dead faith – incapable of bringing a real experience of salvation.           

            This conclusion naturally leads us to a further question. What works should we look for in the life of every person who professes faith in Jesus for salvation? More specifically, what is the relationship between faith in Jesus and the requirements of the law of Moses?          

            The answer of the New Testament is clear and consistent: Once a person has trusted Jesus for salvation, his righteousness no longer depends on observing the law of Moses, either wholly or in part.           

            This is a subject on which there is a great deal of confused thinking and speaking among  professing Christian’s. In order to clear up the confusion, we must first recognize certain basic facts about the law.           

The Law of Moses: One Single, Complete System

            The first great fact is that the law was given complete, once for all, through Moses.            

            For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ(John 1:17).             

            Notice that phrase “the law was given through Moses.” Not “some laws,” or “part of the law,” but the law – the whole law, complete and entire in one system – was given at one period in history and through the human instrumentality of one man only, and that man was Moses. Everywhere in Scripture, unless some special qualifying phrase is added to modify or change the meaning, the phrase “the law” denotes the complete system of law given by God through Moses. Confirmation of this is found in Romans.             

            For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam (5:13-14).             

            Notice the two phrases indicating a definite period of time: “until the law,” and “from Adam to Moses.” When God created Adam and placed him in the garden, He gave him not a complete system of law but a single negative commandment.           

            You shall not eat . . . the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden (Gen. 3:1-3).         

            When Adam transgressed this commandment, sin entered into the human race and came upon Adam and all his descendants from that time onward. The evidence that sin came upon all men from the time of Adam onward is the fact that all men became liable to death, which is the outcome of sin.           

            However, from the time that Adam transgressed against that first, single God-given commandment until the time of Moses, there was no God-given, God-enforced system of law revealed and applied to the human race. This explains how the two phrases “until the law” and “from Adam to Moses” denote the same period of human history – the period from Adam’s transgression of the single commandment in the garden down to the time when the complete system of divine law was given by God through Moses.           

            During this period the human race was without any system of God-given, God-enforced law. This is in full accord with the statement already quoted from John 1:17.             

            The law was given through Moses.          

            This law, so given, was a single, complete system of commandments, statutes, ordinances and judgements. All these are contained, in their entirety, within the compass of four books of the Bible – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.          

            Before the time of Moses there was no divine system of law given to the human race. Furthermore, after the close of this period, nothing further was ever added to this system of law. That the law was thus given once for all, complete, is made plain by the words of Moses.             

            Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgements which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you (Deut. 4:1-2).             

            These words show that the system of law given by God to Israel through Moses was complete and final. Thereafter nothing more was ever to be added to it and nothing was ever to be taken away from it.           

            This leads us naturally to the next great fact which must be clearly established in relation to the keeping of the law: Every person who comes under the law is thereby obliged to observe the whole system of law in its entirety at all times. There is no question of observing certain parts of the law and omitting certain other parts. Nor is there any question of keeping the law at certain times and failing to keep it at other times. Any person who comes under the law is necessarily obliged to keep the whole law at all times.            

            For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10-11).             

            This is both clear and logical. A person cannot say, “I consider certain points of the law to be important, so I will observe these; but I consider certain other points of the law to be unimportant, so I will not observe those.” Any person under the law must observe all of its requirements at all times. If he breaks only one point, he has broken the whole law.          

            The law is a single, complete system which cannot be divided up into some points which are applied and others which are not applied. As a means of righteousness, the whole law must be accepted and applied, complete and entire, as a single system, or else it is of no benefit or validity whatever.             

            For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Gal. 3:10).             

            Notice that phrase “continue in all things.” This indicates that a person who is under the law must observe the whole law at all times. A person who at any time breaks any point of the law has transgressed the whole law, and has thus come under the divine curse pronounced upon all transgressors of the law.           

            Following on from this, we come to the third important point which must be recognized in connection with the law, and this is a matter of actual historical fact: The system of law given by Moses was ordained by God solely for one small section of the human race, and that was the people of Israel after their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt.           

            Nowhere in the Bible is there any suggestion that God ever intended that the Gentiles, either nationally or individually, should observe the law of Moses, either wholly or in part. The only exception to this is found in the case of a few individual Gentiles who voluntarily decided to associate themselves with Israel and thereby to place themselves under all the legal and religious obligations which God had imposed upon Israel. Such Gentile converts to Judaism are in the New Testament called “proselytes.”           

            Apart from these, the obligations of the law have never been imposed by God upon any Gentile.           

            Thus we may briefly sum up the three important facts necessary to recognize before we study the relationship of the Christian’s believer to the law.             

    1.  The law was given once for all, as a single, complete system, through Moses; thereafter,           nothing could ever be added to it or taken from it.
    2. The law must always be observed in its entirety as a single, complete system; to break  any one point of the law is to break the whole law.
  1.   As a matter of human history, this system of law was never ordained by God for                        Gentiles, but only for Israel.           

             Professing Christian’s Are Not Under the Law 

            Having established these three facts as a basis, let us examine in detail what the New Testament teaches about the relation between the Christian’s believer and the law. This question is referred to in many different passages of the New Testament, and in every passage the same clear, definite truth is taught. The righteousness of the Christian’s believer does not depend upon observing any part of the law.           

            Let us look at a number of passages in the New Testament which make this plain.           

            First of all, Romans 6:14 is addressed to Christian believers:             

            For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.             

            This verse reveals two important truths. First, Christian’s believers are not under law but under grace. These are two alternatives which mutually exclude each other: A person who is under grace is not under the law. No person can be under both the law and grace at the same time.           

            Second, the very reason why sin shall not have dominion over Christian’s believers is because they are not under the law. So long as a person is under the law he is also under the dominion of sin. To escape from the dominion of sin a person must come out from under the law.             

            The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56).             

            The law actually strengthens the dominion of sin over those who are under the law. The harder they strive to keep the law, the more conscious they become of the power of sin within themselves, exercising dominion over them, even against their own will, and frustrating every attempt to live by the law. The only escape from this dominion of sin is to come out from under the law and to come under grace.            

            For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:5-6).             

            Here Paul says that those who are under the law are subject to the passions of sin in their fleshly nature, which cause them to bring forth fruit to death; but that, as Christian’s believers, “we have been delivered from the law . . .” that we should serve God, not according to the letter of the law, but in the newness of spiritual life which we receive through faith in Jesus.

            Again, in Romans 10:4 Paul says:            

            For Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.             

            As soon as a person puts his faith in Jesus for salvation, that is the end of the law for that person as a means of achieving righteousness. Here Paul is very precise in what he says. He does not say that there is an end of the law as a part of God’s Word. On the contrary, God’s Word “endures forever.” There is an end of the law for the believer as a means of achieving righteousness.           

            The believer’s righteousness is no longer derived from the keeping of the law, either wholly or in part, but solely from faith in Jesus.           

            Paul states that the law as a means of righteousness came to an end with the atoning death of Jesus upon the cross.             

            And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).             

            Here Paul says that through the death of Jesus, God “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us” and took “it out of the way . . .” Paul does not speak about the wiping out of sins but about the wiping out of requirements. This word could better be translated “ordinances.”          

            These ordinances are the ordinances of the law which stood between God and those who had transgressed them, and therefore they had to be taken out of the way before God could bestow mercy and forgiveness upon them. The word ordinances here denotes the whole system of law which God had ordained through Moses, including that particular section of the law which we usually call the Ten Commandments.           

            That this “wiping out” includes the Ten Commandments is confirmed by Paul later in the same chapter.


            Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths (Col. 2:16).    

            The word therefore at the opening of this verse indicates a direct connection with what had been stated two verses earlier; that is, the wiping out of the ordinances of the law through the death of Jesus.           

            Again, the mention of “the sabbaths” at the end of the verse indicates that the religious observance of the Sabbath day was included among those ordinances which had been wiped out. Yet the commandment to observe the Sabbath day is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. This indicates that the Ten Commandments are included among the totality of the ordinances of the law that have been wiped out and taken out of the way through the death of Jesus.          

            This confirms what we have established: the law, including the Ten Commandments, is a single, complete system. As a means of achieving righteousness, it was introduced as a single, complete system by Moses; and, as a single, complete system, it was done away with by Jesus.             

            For He Himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace (Eph. 2:14-15).             

            Paul here tells us that Jesus, through His atoning death on the cross, has abolished (that is, made of no effect) “the law of commandments”; He has thereby taken away the great dividing line of the law of Moses which separated Jews from Gentiles, making it possible for Jews and Gentiles alike, through faith in Jesus, to be reconciled both with God and with each other.         

            The phrase “the law of commandments” indicates as plainly as possible that the entire law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, was made of no further effect as a means of righteousness by the death of Jesus upon the cross.           

            In 1 Timothy 1:8-10 Paul again discusses the relationship of the Christian’s believer to the law and reaches the same conclusion.             

            But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.             

            Here Paul defines two classes of persons: On the one hand, there is a righteous man; on the other hand, there are those guilty of the various sins enumerated in Paul’s list. A person guilty of these sins is not a true, believing Christian’s; such a person has not been saved from sin by faith in Jesus.

            A person who trusts Jesus for salvation is no longer guilty of such sins; he has been justified, he has been made righteous – not with his own righteousness, but with the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Jesus to all and on all who believe.

            Paul affirms that the law is not made for a righteous man such as this; he is no longer under the dominion of the law.             

            For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Rom. 8:14).             

            God’s true, believing sons are those who are led by God’s Spirit – that is what marks them out as sons of God. Concerning such people, Paul says:             

            But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (Gal. 5:18).            

            Thus, the very thing which marks out the true, believing sons of God – being led by God’s Spirit – also means that such people are not under the law.           

            We may put it briefly thus: If you are a true child of God by faith in Jesus, the evidence is that you are led by the Spirit of God. But if you are led by the Spirit of God, then you are not under the law. Therefore, you cannot be a child of God and under the law at the same time.           

            God’s children are not under the law. We may illustrate this contrast between the law and the Spirit by the example of trying to find the way to a certain place by two different means: one means is to use a map; the other means is to follow a personal guide. The law corresponds to the map; the Holy Spirit corresponds to the guide.           

            Under the law a person is given a completely accurate and detailed map, and he is told that if he follows every detail of the map faultlessly, it will direct him on the way from earth to heaven. However, no human being has ever succeeded in following the map faultlessly. That is, no human being has ever made the journey from earth to heaven by the faultless observance of the law.    

            Under grace a person commits himself to Jesus as Saviour, and thereafter Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to that person to be his personal guide. The Holy Spirit, having come from heaven, already knows the way there and has no need of the map. The believer in Jesus who is led by the Holy Spirit needs only to follow this personal guide to reach heaven. He need not depend on the map, which is the law. Such a believer may be absolutely confident of one thing: The Holy Spirit will never lead him to do anything contrary to His own holy nature.           

            Therefore, the New Testament teaches that those who are under grace are led by God’s Spirit and do not depend upon the law.          

            We conclude, therefore, that God has never actually expected men to achieve true righteousness by the observance of the law, either wholly or in part.           

            This conclusion raises a very interesting question: If God never expected men to achieve righteousness by the observance of the law, why was the law ever given to men?           

            We shall deal with this question in the next session.

Faith and Works

            The relation between faith and works is an important subject which is referred to in many different passages of the New Testament. Yet it is one about which remarkably little teaching is given in most Christian’s circles today. As a result, a good many  professing Christian’s are left in confusion or partial bondage, halfway between law and grace. Not a few  professing Christian’s also, through ignorance on this point, are led astray into false teachings which lay unscriptural emphasis on the observance of some particular day or the eating of certain special foods or other similar matters of the law.           

            What do we mean by “faith” or by “works”? By “faith” we mean “that which we believe,” and by “works” we mean “that which we do.”           

            Thus we can express the relationship between faith and works as taught in the New Testament by the following simple contrast: Faith is not based on works, but works are the outcome of faith. Or, in still simpler words: What we believe is not based on what we do, but what we do is the outcome of what we believe.                       

Salvation by Faith Alone           

            Let us begin by considering the first part of this statement: Faith is not based on works. In other words, what we believe is not based on what we do. The whole of the New Testament bears consistent testimony to this vital truth. This fact is supported by the account of the final moments of the sufferings of Jesus upon the cross.             

            So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit (John 19:30).            

            The Greek word translated “it is finished” is the most emphatic word that could possibly be used. It is the perfect tense of a verb which itself means to do a thing perfectly. We might perhaps bring this out by translating: “It is perfectly perfect,” or “It is completely complete.” There remains nothing more whatever to do.           

            All that ever needed to be done to pay the penalty of men’s sins and to purchase salvation for all men has already been accomplished by the sufferings and death of Jesus upon the cross. To suggest that any man might ever need to do anything more than Jesus has already done would be to reject the testimony of God’s Word and to discredit the efficacy of Jesus’s atonement.           

            In the light of this, any attempt by any man to earn salvation by his own good works is in effect an insult both to God the Father and to God the Son. It carries the implication that the work of atonement and salvation, planned by the Father and carried out by the Son, is in some sense inadequate or incomplete. This is contrary to the unanimous testimony of the entire New Testament.

            Paul continually and emphatically teaches this. For example, in Romans 4:4-5 he says:             

            Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.             

            Notice the phrase “to him who does not work but believes.” In order to obtain salvation by faith, the first thing any man must do is to stop “working” – to stop trying to earn salvation. Salvation comes through faith alone, through doing nothing but believing. So long as a man tries to do anything whatever to earn salvation, he cannot experience the salvation of God which is received by faith alone.           

            This was the great mistake which Israel made, as Paul – himself an Israelite – explains.             

            But Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works (Rom. 9:31-32, NIV).             

            Again Paul says concerning Israel:             

            For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3).             

            Why did Israel fail to obtain the salvation God had prepared for them? Paul gives two reasons, which go very closely together:

    • “they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works,”
    • they sought to “establish their own righteousness.”           

            In other words, they tried to earn salvation by something which they themselves did in their own righteousness. As a result, those who did this never entered into God’s salvation.           

            The same mistake which was made by Israel in Paul’s day is being made today by millions of professing  professing Christian’s around the world.           

            There are countless sincere, well-meaning people in Christian’s churches everywhere who feel that they must do something to help earn their salvation. They devote themselves to such things as prayer, penance, fasting, charity, self-denial, the careful observance of church ordinances, but all in vain! They never obtain true peace of heart and assurance of salvation because – like Israel of old – they seek it not by faith but by works.           

            Such people go about to establish their own righteousness, and in this way they fail to submit to the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Jesus alone.           

            Paul emphasizes the same truth when he tells Christian’s believers:             

            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 (Eph. 2:8-9).             

            Notice the tense that Paul uses: “You have been [already] saved.” This proves that it is possible to be saved in this present life and to know it. Salvation is not something for which we have to wait until the next life. We can be saved here and now.           

            How can this present assurance of salvation be received? It is the gift of God’s grace – that is, God’s free, unmerited favor toward the sinful and undeserving. This gift is received through faith – “not of works, lest anyone should boast.” If a man could do anything whatever to earn his own salvation, then he could boast of what he himself had done. He would not owe his salvation entirely to God, but would owe it, in part at least, to his own good works, his own efforts. But when a man receives salvation as a free gift of God, simply through faith, he has nothing whatever to boast of.             

            Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:27-28).            

            In Romans 6:23 Paul again presents the total contrast between that which we earn by our works and that which we receive solely by faith, for he says:             

            For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Jesus our Lord.           

            There is a deliberate contrast between the two words wages and gift. The word wages denotes what we have earned by what we have done. On the other hand, the word translated “gift” – in Greek charisma – is directly related to the Greek word for “grace,” charis. Hence, the word denotes explicitly a free, unmerited gift of God’s grace or favor.           

            Thus, each of us is confronted with a choice. On the one hand, we may choose to take our wages; that is, the due reward for our works. But because our own works are sinful and unpleasing to God, the wages due to us for them is death – not merely physical death but also eternal banishment from the presence of God.           

            On the other hand, we may choose to receive by faith God’s free gift. This gift is eternal life, and it is in Jesus Jesus. When we receive Jesus Jesus as our personal Savior, in Him we receive the gift of eternal life.             

            Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He [God] saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).             

            Nothing could be plainer than this: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us . . .” If we desire salvation, it cannot be upon the basis of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely upon the basis of God’s mercy. Our own works must first be excluded, in order that we may receive God’s mercy in salvation.           

            In the second part of this same verse Paul tells us four positive facts about the way God’s salvation works in our lives: 1) it is a washing – that is, we are cleansed from all our sin; 2) it is a regeneration – that is, we are born again, we become children of God; 3) it is a renewing – that is, we are made new creatures in Jesus; 4) it is of the Holy Spirit – that is, it is a work of God’s own Spirit within our hearts and lives.

            None of this can be the result of our own works, but all of it is received solely through faith in Jesus.             

Living Faith vs. Dead Faith         

            If salvation is not by works but is solely by faith, we may naturally ask, What part, then, do works play in the life of the Christian’s believer? The clearest answer to this in the New Testament is given by James.             

            What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 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? Was not Abraham our father 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? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (2:14-26).             

            In this passage James gives several examples to illustrate the connection between faith and works. He speaks of a Christian’s who sends away a fellow believer, hungry and naked, with empty words of comfort but without food or clothing. He speaks of the demons who believe in the existence of the one true God but find no comfort, only fear, in their belief. He speaks of Abraham who offered his son, Isaac, in sacrifice to God. And he speaks of the harlot Rahab in Jericho who received and protected Joshua’s messengers.           

            However, it is in the last verse, verse 26, that James sums up his teaching about the connection between faith and works by the example of the relationship between the body and the spirit. He says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”           

            This reference to the spirit, in connection with faith, provides the key to understanding how faith operates in the life of the believer.          

While learning about “The Nature of Faith” we referred to the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:13.             

            But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak.           

            Here Paul states that true, scriptural faith is something spiritual – it is the spirit of faith. Through this we are able to understand James’s example of the body and the spirit.         

            In the natural order, so long as a man is alive, his spirit dwells within his body. Every action of the man’s body is an expression of his spirit within him. Thus, the actual existence and character of the spirit within the man, though invisible, are clearly revealed through the behavior and the actions of the man’s body.           

            When the spirit finally leaves the man’s body, the body ceases from all its actions and becomes lifeless. The lifeless inactivity of the body indicates that the spirit no longer dwells within.           

            So it is with the spirit of faith within the true Christian’s. This spirit of faith is alive and active. It brings down the very life of God Himself, in Jesus, to dwell within the believer’s heart.           

            This life of God within the believer takes control of his whole nature – his desires, his thoughts, his words, his actions. The believer begins to think, speak and act in an entirely new way – a way that is totally different from what he would have done previously. He says and does things which he neither could nor would have done before the life of God came in, through faith, to take control of him. His new way of living – his new “works,” as James calls it – is the evidence and the expression of the faith within his heart.           

            But if the outward actions are not manifested in the man’s life – his works do not correspond to the faith he professes – this proves there is no real living faith within him. Without this living faith, expressed in corresponding actions, his profession of Christianity is no better than a dead body after the spirit has left it.           

            We may briefly consider, in order, each of the four examples which James gives and see how each illustrates this principle.           

            First, James speaks of the Christian’s who sees a fellow Christian’s naked and hungry and says to him, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but nevertheless does not offer him either food or clothing.           

            Obviously, this man’s words were not sincere. If he had really desired to see the other person warmed and fed, he would have given him food and clothing. The fact that he did not do it indicates that he did not really care. His words were an empty profession without any inward reality. So it is when a Christian’s professes faith but does not act according to that faith. Such faith is insincere, worthless, dead.          

            Second, James speaks of the demons, who believe in the one true God but tremble. These demons have no doubt whatever about the existence of God, but they know also that they are the unrepentant enemies of God, under His sentence of wrath and judgement. Therefore, their faith brings them no comfort, but only fear.           

            This shows that true, scriptural faith is always expressed in submission and obedience to God. Faith that continues stubborn and disobedient is dead faith that cannot save one from God’s wrath and judgement.           

            Third, James gives us the same example of faith as that given by Paul in Romans 4 – the example of Abraham. Abraham believed God, and it was “accounted . . . to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).           

            Living faith in God’s Word came into Abraham’s heart. Thereafter, this faith was expressed outwardly in a continual walk of submission and obedience to God. Each act of obedience that Abraham performed developed and strengthened his faith and prepared him for the next act.          

            The final test of Abraham’s faith came in Genesis 22, when God asked him to offer up his son, Isaac, in sacrifice (see also Heb. 11).             

            By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac . . . accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19).             

            By this time, through continual exercise in obedience, Abraham’s faith had been developed and strengthened even to the place where he really believed that God could raise up and restore his son to him from the dead. This faith in Abraham’s heart found its outward expression in his perfect willingness to offer up Isaac, and it was only the direct intervention of God that kept him from actually slaying his son.         

            Concerning this, James says:             

            Faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect (James 2:22).             

            We may therefore sum up Abraham’s experience as follows: His walk with God began with faith in his heart in God’s Word. This faith expressed itself outwardly in a life of submission and obedience. Each act of obedience strengthened and developed his faith and made him ready for the next test. Finally, this interworking of faith and works in his life brought him to the climax of his faith – to the point where he was willing even to offer up Isaac.           

            The fourth example James gives of the relation between faith and works is that of Rahab. The story of Rahab is related in chapters 2 and 6 of the book of Joshua.           

            Rahab was a sinful Canaanite woman living in the city of Jericho, which was under the sentence of God’s wrath and judgement. Having heard of the miraculous way in which God had led Israel out of Egypt, Rahab had come to believe that the God of Israel was the true God and that He would give Canaan and its inhabitants into the hand of His people Israel. However, Rahab also believed that the God of Israel was merciful enough and powerful enough to save her and her family. This was the faith Rahab had in her heart. This faith found expression in two things that she did.

            First, when Joshua sent two men ahead of his army into Jericho, Rahab received these two men into her home, hid them and enabled them to escape again. In doing this, Rahab risked her own life.           

            Later, in order to claim God’s protection upon her home and family, she hung a line of scarlet from her window to distinguish her house from all the others. This was the same window through which Rahab had previously helped the two men to escape.  

            As a result of these two acts of Rahab, her house and family were saved from the destruction that later came upon all the rest of Jericho. Had Rahab merely believed secretly in her heart in the God of Israel but been unwilling to perform these two decisive acts, her faith would have been a dead faith. It would have had no power to save her from the judgement that came upon Jericho.

            The lesson for us as  professing Christian’s is twofold. First, if we profess faith in Jesus, we must be willing to identify ourselves actively with Jesus’s cause and Jesus’s messengers, even though it may mean real personal sacrifice, perhaps the risking or laying down of our very lives. Second, we must be willing to make a definite, open confession of our faith, which marks us out from all the unbelievers around us. The scarlet line speaks particularly of openly confessing our faith in the blood of Jesus for the remission and cleansing of our sin.           

            For a final summary of the relation between faith and works we may turn once again to the writings of Paul.             

            Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).             

            Here the relationship is plain. First, God works in us both to will and to do. Then we work out, in our actions, what God has first worked in us.           

            The important thing to realize is that faith comes first, then works. We receive salvation from God by faith alone, without works. Once having received salvation in this way, we then work it out actively in our lives by our works – by the things we do. If we do not actively work out our salvation this way, after believing, this shows that the faith which we have professed is merely dead faith, and that we have no real experience of salvation.           

            We do not receive salvation by works. But our works are the test of whether our faith is real and the means by which our faith is developed. Only real, living faith can make a real, living Christian’s.

Faith For Salvation

            So far we have considered faith in the widest and most general sense as related to all the statements and promises of God in the Bible. However, there is one part of the Bible’s message which is of the greatest importance because it decides the eternal destiny of every human soul. This part is called “the gospel,” and it reveals the way of salvation from sin and its consequences.           

            Very often people think of “the gospel” as something of a vague and emotional nature which is impossible to explain in a rational way. Even in the preaching of “the gospel” there is often so much emphasis on an emotional response that the impression is created that the whole of salvation consists of an emotional experience.          

            Yet this is incorrect and misleading. The actual gospel message, as stated in the Bible, consists of definite facts, and salvation consists of knowing, believing and acting on these facts.

The Four Basic Facts of the Gospel 

            What are these facts which constitute the gospel? For an answer to this question we may turn to two passages in the writings of Paul: Romans 4:24-25 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.           

            In Romans 4 Paul analyses the main features of the faith of Abraham and sets forth Abraham’s faith as an example to be followed by all Christian’s believers. He points out that according to the Old Testament Scriptures Abraham was not justified before God by his works, but that his faith was imputed to him for righteousness. Then in verses 23-25 Paul directly applies this example of Abraham to us as believers in Jesus, for he says:             

            Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised because of our justification.             

            The gospel, as here stated by Paul, contains three definite facts:

    • Jesus was delivered to the punishment of death for our offences;

    • God raised Jesus up again from the dead; 3) if we believe this record of the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf, we shall be justified or accepted as righteous before God.           

            In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul reminds the  professing Christian’s at Corinth of the gospel message which he had preached to them and through which they had been saved, and he again sets forth for them the basic facts of the message.             

            Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4).             

            Again we see that the gospel consists of three definite facts:

1) Jesus died for our sins,

2) He was buried,

3) He rose again the third day.           

            Paul also emphasizes that the first and most authoritative of all testimonies to the truth of these facts is not the testimony of the men who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’s death and resurrection, but the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had prophetically foreshown these events hundreds of years before they actually took place. The testimony of contemporary eyewitnesses is only mentioned later as supporting that of the Old Testament Scriptures.           

            If we set side by side the teaching of these two passages from Paul’s epistles – Romans 4:24-25 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 – it is possible to determine the basic facts which constitute the gospel.         

            These facts all center exclusively in the Person of Jesus Himself – not in His earthly life and teaching, but in His death and resurrection.           

            Here are the four basic facts:

1) Jesus was delivered by God the Father to the punishment of death on account of our sins;

2) Jesus was buried;

3) God raised Him from the dead on the third day;

4) righteousness is received from God through believing these facts.           

The Simple Act of Appropriation

            Let me restate that there is a vital difference between faith in the mind, which is nothing more than the intellectual acceptance of the facts of the gospel, and faith in the heart, which always results in a positive response to the facts. The whole New Testament makes it plain that the experience of salvation comes to each soul only as a result of this personal response to the gospel.           

            Various different words are used in the New Testament to describe this personal response to the gospel. All the words thus used have one essential point in common: They all denote simple, familiar acts which anybody can understand and carry out.           

            For example, Paul explains that salvation comes through believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth the truth of the gospel (see Rom. 10:8-9). He concludes his explanation of the way of salvation by saying, “For ‘whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ ” (Rom. 10:13).           

            Here the simple act which brings with it the experience of salvation is that of calling upon the name of the Lord; that is, asking God out loud for salvation in the name of the Lord Jesus Jesus.           

            In Matthew 11:28 Jesus uses the simple word come to describe the response which He requires to the gospel invitation, for He says:             

            Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

            Jesus adds to this invitation a very gracious and assuring promise.             

            The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:37).             

            Thus the invitation is supported by the promise, and the promise creates the required faith in those who desire to accept the invitation.           

            In speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus uses the simple act of drinking, which was appropriate to that particular situation, to express the necessary response to the gospel. He says:             

            But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14).            

            Here the act of receiving salvation is compared to that of drinking water. In this instance the promise is given first – he will never thirst – then later in the New Testament the promise is supported by an invitation. Jesus says:             

            If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink (John 7:37).            

            And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).           

            In John 1:11-13 the word used by the apostle John to denote this active response to the gospel is receive. In these three verses John writes, concerning Jesus:             

            He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.             

            Here the key thought is that of personally receiving Jesus. The result of this response of faith is described by John as becoming a child of God, or “being born of God.” Jesus Himself refers to the same experience in John 3:3, where He calls it being born again. He makes it plain that without this definite, personal experience no person can ever hope to enter God’s kingdom, for He says:            

            Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.            

            Once again this challenge to respond to the gospel by personally receiving Jesus is supported by a definite promise from Jesus Himself.             

            Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20).          

            Here Jesus speaks directly to each individual soul who has heard the gospel and who desires to respond by opening the heart’s door and receiving Jesus within.           

            To each soul who will make this response, Jesus gives a clear, straightforward promise: “I will come in.”           

            We have seen that in each case where the gospel is presented, faith is required to make a simple, personal response. The word used to describe this response may vary, but the essential nature of the response is always the same. In the cases which we have considered, the following words are used to describe this response: to call; to come; to drink; to receive.           

            As we have pointed out, each of these denotes a simple, familiar act such as anybody can understand and carry out. There is one other vitally important feature which is common to all these acts: Each is an act that the person must do for himself; no one can perform any of these acts on behalf of another person.           

            Each person must call for himself; each person must come for himself; each person must drink for himself; each person must receive for himself. So it is with the response to the gospel. Each person must make his own response; no person can make the response required from another.    

            Each person will be either saved or lost solely by his own response.         

            It is the duty of every responsible Christian’s – whether minister or layman – to be thoroughly acquainted with these simple facts of the gospel and also with the various ways in which the New Testament presents the need for a personal response to the gospel from each soul.           

            Most members of within the churches had never once had the basic facts of the gospel presented to them and had never been faced with the need to make a personal response to those facts. They had exchanged paganism for a form of Christianity; they had memorized a catechism; they had been through a form of baptism; they had been accepted as church members; many of them had been educated in mission schools – yet of the essential facts of the gospel and the experience of salvation they had no knowledge nor understanding whatever.           

            The supreme purpose of every true Christian’s church, the chief duty of every Christian’s minister, the main responsibility of every Christian’s layman, is to present to all who may be reached, in the clearest and most forceful way, the basic facts of the gospel of Jesus and to urge all who hear to make the definite, personal response to these facts which God requires. To this, the supreme task, every other duty and activity of the church must be secondary and subsidiary.          

            Let me now state once again these basic facts of the gospel and the response which each person is required to make.             

    1.   Jesus was delivered by God the Father to the punishment of death on account of our                 sins.

    2.   Jesus was buried.

    3.   God raised Him from the dead on the third day.

    4.   Righteousness is received from God through believing these facts.             

            In order to receive salvation, each individual soul must make a direct, personal response to Jesus. This response can be described in any of the following ways: calling upon the name of Jesus as Lord; coming to Jesus; receiving Jesus; drinking of the water of life which Jesus alone can give.           

            To every person who has read this far I would ask this question: Have you believed these facts? Have you made this definite, personal response?           

            If not, I urge you to do it now. Pray with me, Say these words:           

            Lord Jesus, I believe that You died for my sins; that You were buried; that You rose         again the third day.           

            I now repent of my sins and come to You for mercy and forgiveness.

            By faith in Your promise, I receive You personally as my Savior and confess You as my Lord.           

            Come into my heart, give me eternal life and make me a child of God.



The Uniqueness of Faith

The Uniqueness of Faith

            We have already considered the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1. The writer goes on to describe the part played by faith in man’s approach to God.

            But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).

            Notice the two phrases: “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and “he who comes to God must believe.” We see from these that faith is the indispensable condition for approaching God and for pleasing God.

            The negative aspect of this truth is that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). This means that anything a person may do at any time, if it is not based on faith, is reckoned by God as sinful. This applies even to religious activities, such as church attendance, praying, singing hymns or performing deeds of charity. If these acts are not done in sincere faith toward God, then they are in no way acceptable to Him.

            Unless such acts have been preceded by true repentance and unless they are motivated by true faith, they are nothing but “dead works,” totally unacceptable to God.

The Basis of All Righteous Living 

            Perhaps the most all-inclusive statement concerning the relationship between faith and righteousness is found in Habakkuk 2:4.

            The just shall live by his faith.

            The two English words just and righteous are two alternative ways of translating one and the same word in the original text. This applies equally to the Hebrew of the Old Testament and to the Greek of the New Testament. In both languages there is only one root word which, as an adjective, can be translated either by “just” or by “righteous,” and, as a noun, can be translated either by “justice” or by “righteousness.” Whichever translation may be used, there is no difference whatever in the original sense.

            Thus, in translating Habakkuk 2:4 we may say either “the just shall live by his faith” or “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

            This statement of Habakkuk is quoted three times in the New Testament: in Romans 1:17, in Galatians 3:11 and in Hebrews 10:38. In each of these three passages the New King James Version renders it, “The just shall live by faith.” It would be difficult to think of any sentence as short and simple as this which has produced as great an impact upon the history of the human race.

            In the New King James Version the entire sentence consists of only six or seven words, none of which contains more than one syllable. Yet this sentence provided the basic, scriptural authority for the gospel message preached by the apostolic church. The proclamation of this simple message by a tiny, despised minority changed the course of world history. Within three centuries it brought to his knees the great Caesar himself, the head of the most powerful, the most far-reaching and the most enduring empire that the world had ever seen.

            About twelve centuries later this same sentence, quickened by the Holy Spirit to the heart and mind of Martin Luther, provided the scriptural lever that dislodged the power of papal Rome and, through the Protestant Reformation, once again changed the course of history – first in Europe and then, by its outreach, in the world at large.

            There is no doubt that, still today, this same simple sentence, when once apprehended and applied by faith, contains within it the power to revolutionize the lives of individuals or the course of nations and empires.

            Though so short and so simple, the scope of this sentence, “The just shall live by faith,” is immense. The word live covers almost every conceivable condition or act of any sentient being. It covers all areas of the human personality and experience in every conceivable aspect – the spiritual, the mental, the physical, the material. It covers the widest possible range of activities – such as breathing, thinking, speaking, eating, sleeping, working and so on.

            The Scripture teaches that, for any person to be accepted as righteous by God, all these activities within that person must be motivated and controlled by the one great principle of faith.

            Paul actually applies this principle to the familiar act of eating, for he says:

            But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).

            This shows that, in the life of righteousness which alone is acceptable to God, even an act so commonplace as eating food must proceed from faith.

            Let us therefore consider for a moment: What does it mean to “eat from faith”? What is implied by this?

            First, it implies that we acknowledge that God is the One who has provided us with the food we eat. Thus, the provision of nourishing food for our bodies is an example of the principle stated in James 1:16-17.

            Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

            It is also a fulfilment of the promise contained in Philippians 4:19.

            And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Jesus.

            Second, because we acknowledge that God is the One who provides our food, we naturally pause before eating to thank Him for it. In this way, we obey the commandment contained in Colossians 3:17.

            And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

            In this way, too, we are assured of God’s blessing upon the food that we eat, so that we obtain the maximum amount of nourishment and benefit from it. This is explained by Paul.

            For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5).

            Thus, through our faith and prayer, the food we eat is blessed and sanctified to us.

            Third, eating in faith implies that we acknowledge that the health and strength we receive through our food belong to God and must be used in His service and for His glory.

            Now the body is not for sexual immorality [not for any immoral, unclean, foolish or harmful use] but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (1 Cor. 6:13).

            Because our bodies are thus by faith and by holy living given over to the Lord, the responsibility for their care and preservation also belongs to the Lord; and we have every right to expect the fulfilment of Paul’s prayer:

            And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Jesus (1 Thess. 5:23).

            All these – and many more besides – are the implications and the outworking’s of the principle “The just shall live by faith,” as applied to only one simple aspect of our lives – that of eating. And when we thus analyze what is implied by the phrase “to eat from faith,” we are forced to the conclusion that the great majority of people, even those who profess Christianity, do not “eat from faith.” In the provision, preparation and consumption of their daily food, no thought whatever is given to God.

            No doubt this is one main cause of such diseases as indigestion, ulcers, tumours, cancer, heart disease and many others. The Western world has enjoyed an unprecedented abundance of both food and money. Yet countless thousands are misusing and abusing this abundance to their own physical distress, because by their indifference and unbelief they have shut God out of their lives. Solomon gives us a picture of the carnal, sensual man who makes no room for God in his daily life.             

            All his days he also eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness and anger (Eccl. 5:17).             

            This description is still as true today as when Solomon wrote it. Not to eat in faith is to eat in “darkness,” and three consequences that commonly follow this are “sorrow . . . sickness and anger.”           

            There is another simple act, familiar and essential to us all, in which the principle of faith can have a decisive influence: the act of sleeping. In Psalm 127:2 the psalmist says:             

            It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He [God] gives His beloved sleep.             

            Through the continual, restless pursuit of wealth and pleasure, millions today are losing the ability to enjoy either food or sleep. Who can count the millions of pain killers, digestive tablets and sleeping tablets that are consumed each day throughout the Western world – and often with so little effect? But to God’s believing children, to those whose lives are based on faith in God, sleep comes as a gift of God’s love, a provision of His daily mercy, “for so He gives His beloved sleep.”         

            Someone has said, “Money can buy medicine, but not health; a bed, but not sleep.” It is not only very costly, but it is also very injurious to our bodies to shut God out of our daily living.           

            The psalmist David was a man whose way led through many troubles and dangers, but in the midst of them all his faith in God sustained him and gave him the assurance of sweet, untroubled sleep. Listen to David’s own testimony of what prayer and faith could do for him.             

            I cried to the Lord with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept;        I awoke, for the Lord sustained me (Ps. 3:4-5).             

            I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Ps. 4:8).          

            This same blessed assurance of calm, untroubled sleep at the close of each day is still available to those who will enter into all the provisions of God’s love and mercy contained in that simple phrase: “The just shall live by faith.”           

            At this point I can imagine a reader saying, “You have spoken about simple, familiar acts such as eating and sleeping and the part that faith can play in these. But the problems of our modern world are much greater and more complex than simple things like eating and sleeping. What solution can faith offer to our great national and international problems today?”          

            Yes, it is certainly true that we are confronted with vast and intricate problems – social, economic, political. We must acknowledge this. But let us take the truth one step further: There is no human mind and no human wisdom that can comprehend all these problems in their entirety, much less work out solutions to them all. If we must depend solely upon human wisdom for the solutions, then the outlook is hopeless.           

            But faith is always united with humility. True faith causes man to acknowledge his own limitations. True faith distinguishes between those things which are within the province of man and those which are within the province of God.           

            Someone has stated the relationship between man’s part and God’s part in the life of faith as follows: “You do the simple thing; God will do the complicated thing. You do the small thing; God will do the great thing. You do the possible thing; God will do the impossible thing.”          

            God’s simple plan for living, “The just shall live by faith,” still makes sense today. Let man do his part – let man by faith and obedience seek God’s guidance and blessing in the simple acts of daily life, in the familiar relationships of home and community. There will come a relief and a release from the strains, the tensions, the physical, mental and moral breakdown of modern life. And in the vast areas of the modern world that are outside man’s comprehension and control, God will move in response to man’s faith and will overrule the affairs of nations in a way that will amaze us by its effectiveness.           

            This simple principle, “The just shall live by faith,” which has twice changed the course of world history, still contains today the power to revolutionize the life and destiny of any modern nation that will apply it. This is still God’s answer to man’s problems, God’s provision for man’s needs: “The just shall live by faith.”           

            Of all man’s faculties and capacities, there is only one by which he can solve the problems that confront him today – one human faculty which is potentially greater than all his material and scientific achievements – and that is man’s faith in God.           

            In order to comprehend the latent possibilities of man’s faith in God, it is necessary to look at two statements made by the Lord Jesus Jesus during His earthly ministry.           

            But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).             

            Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23).            

            Set these two statements side by side: “with God all things are possible,” and “all things are possible to him who believes.” This means that through faith God’s possibilities become ours. Faith is the channel by which God’s omnipotence becomes available to man. The limit of what faith can receive is the limit only of what God Himself can do.             

            Appropriating All of God’s Promises 

            We have spoken hitherto of faith as an experience of the human heart which revolutionizes human behavior and provides a principle by which to direct the whole course of human life. However, it is most important to add that faith is not merely something subjective, something private and personal in the heart of each believer. It is this, but it is also more.

            Faith is based on definite, objective facts. What are these facts? It is possible to give a very wide answer to this question. On the other hand, it is possible also to confine our answer within quite narrow limits.           

            In the widest sense, faith is based upon the entire Bible. Every statement and every promise in the Bible is a potential object of faith. As we have already said, faith comes through hearing the Word of God; and faith is therefore based upon everything that God’s Word contains. For the Christian’s believer there is nothing within the statements and promises of God that is outside the scope of his faith. This is plainly stated by Paul.             

            For all the promises of God in Him [Jesus] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us (2 Cor. 1:20).             

            Side by side with this we may set Romans 8:32.             

            He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?             

            All things that God possesses – all His blessings, all His promises – are made available freely to each person who will receive them through faith in Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection.           

            There is a tendency today to base the interpretation of Scripture on a system of dispensations in such a way that only a small proportion of God’s blessings and promises are made available to  professing Christian’s.    

            According to this system of interpretation, many of God’s choicest blessings and promises are relegated either to periods in the past, such as that of the Mosaic covenant or the apostolic church, or to periods in the future, such as the millennium or the dispensation of the fullness of times.

            However, this does not tally with Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 1:20, which we may amplify as follows:             

            For all the promises of God [not some of the promises of God, but all the promises of God] in Him [Jesus] are [not were nor will be, but are here and now] Yes, and in Him Amen [not merely Yes, but a double affirmative Yes and Amen], to the glory of God through us [not through various groups in different ages, but through us who receive these words today].             

            The context makes it plain that “us” includes all true Christian’s believers.

            In the life of any Christian’s believer, there is no need which is outside the scope of God’s promises.             

            And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:19).            

            For every need that can arise in the life of any Christian’s, there is somewhere in God’s Word a promise that meets that need and which may be claimed through faith in Jesus.           

            Whenever a need arises in the life of a Christian’s, therefore, there are three steps that he should take.             

    1.   He should ask the Holy Spirit to direct him to the particular promise or promises that apply to his situation and meet his need.
    2.   He should obediently fulfil in his life the particular conditions attached to those promises.
    3.   He should positively expect their outworking in his experience.             

            This is faith in action, and faith of this kind is “the victory that has overcome the world” (1 John 5:4). The secret of this victory lies in knowing and applying the promises of God’s Word.

            Peter states this same truth very forcefully.             

            His [God’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him [Jesus] who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:3-4).             

            Here Peter’s message is in perfect agreement with that of Paul. He tells us that God has already provided us with all that we can ever need for life and godliness and that this provision is made available through Jesus by the claiming of God’s promises.          

            In the Old Testament, under Joshua, God brought His people into a promised land. In the New Testament, under Jesus, God brings His people into a land of promises. The parallel is made more exact by the fact that Joshua and Jesus are two different forms of the same name.           

            In the Old Testament God showed Joshua the principle of active, personal, appropriating faith.           

            Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you (Josh. 1:3).          

            In the New Testament this principle remains the same. God says, in effect, “Every promise that you personally appropriate, I have given you.”           

            However, it is necessary to add one word of warning: The great majority of God’s promises, in the Old and New Testament alike, are conditional. There are conditions attached which must be fulfilled before the promise can be claimed. For example:             

            Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass (Ps. 37:5).             

            The promise here is: “And He shall bring it to pass” – that is, “He shall work out the way of the believer for him.” The two conditions which are stated first are: “commit your way” and “trust also in Him.” The word commit denotes a single definite act; the word trust denotes a continuing attitude.           

            Thus, the conditions attached to this promise may be interpreted as follows: 1) make a single, definite act of commitment, 2) thereafter maintain a continuing attitude of trust. When these two conditions have been fulfilled, the believer can then claim the ensuing promise, “He shall bring it to pass,” in whatever way is appropriate to his own particular situation.

            This kind of active, appropriating faith is the key to victorious Christian’s living. It must be based on the promises of God’s Word, and it must follow the three successive steps:             

    • find the appropriate promise,
    • fulfil all the conditions attached,
    • claim the fulfilment of the promise.             

            Subject to these conditions, the scope of the Christian’s faith is as wide as the promises of God.

The Nature of Faith

            Outside the Scriptures the word faith has many different meanings, but in our present study we do not need to concern ourselves with these. Within the Scriptures there are two definite, distinguishing features of faith. First, faith always originates directly in God’s Word; second, it is always directly related to God’s Word.

            Faith is one of comparatively few words actually defined in the Bible. This definition is found in Hebrews 11:1.

            Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

            This verse might also be translated: “Now faith is the ground, or confidence, of things hoped for, a sure persuasion, or conviction, concerning things not seen.”

Distinguished From Hope

            This important verse brings out various facts about faith. First of all, it indicates a distinction between faith and hope. There are two main ways in which faith differs from hope. The first is that hope is directed toward the future, but faith is established in the present. Hope is an attitude of expectancy concerning things that are yet to be, but faith is a substance – a confidence, something real and definite within us – that we possess here and now.

            The second main difference between faith and hope is that hope is anchored in the realm of the mind; faith is anchored in the realm of the heart. This is very strikingly brought out in Paul’s description of scriptural armour required by the Christian’s soldier.

            But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8).

            Notice that faith – together with love – is found in the region of the breast; that is, the region of the heart. But hope is pictured as a helmet, in the region of the head, or mind. Thus, hope is a mental attitude of expectancy concerning the future; faith is a condition of the heart, producing within us here and now something so real that it can be described by the word substance.

            In Romans Paul again directly associates the heart with the exercise of faith, or believing.

            With the heart one believes unto [literally, into]* righteousness (Rom. 10:10).

            Many people make a profession of faith in Jesus and the Bible, but their faith is only in the realm of the mind. It is an intellectual acceptance of certain facts and doctrines. This is not true, scriptural faith, and it does not produce any vital change in the lives of those who profess it.

            On the other hand, heart faith always produces a definite change in those who profess it. When associated with the heart, the verb “to believe” becomes a verb of motion. Hence Paul says, “With the heart one believes [into] righteousness” – not merely “unto righteousness,” but “into righteousness.” It is one thing to believe with the mind “unto righteousness,” merely as an abstract theory or ideal. It is quite another thing to believe with the heart “into righteousness”; that is, to believe in a way that produces a transformation of habits, character and life.

            In the words of Jesus, the verb phrase “to believe” is regularly followed by the preposition into, to express change or motion. For instance, He says:

            You believe in [literally, into] God, believe also in [literally, into] Me (John 14:1).

            This brings out the fact that the verb phrase “to believe” is associated with a process of change or motion. It is not enough to believe “in” Jesus with mere mental acceptance of the facts of His life or the truths of His teaching. We must believe “into” Jesus – we must be moved by heartfelt faith out of ourselves and into Jesus, out of our sin and into His righteousness, out of our weakness and into His power, out of our failure and into His victory, out of our limitations and into His omnipotence. This scriptural faith of the heart always produces change. It is always believing into Jesus and into righteousness; and the result is always something definite, experienced here and now, not something merely hoped for in the future.

            For this reason, in John 6:47 Jesus uses the present and not the future tense. He says, “He who believes . . . has everlasting life” – not shall have, but already has, everlasting life. Scriptural faith into Jesus produces everlasting life here and now within the believer. It is not something that we hope to have in the next world after death. It is something that we already possess, something that we already enjoy, a reality, a substance within us.

            So many people have a religion which they hope will somehow do them good when they reach the threshold of eternity. But true Bible faith gives the believer a here-and-now experience and an assurance of everlasting life already within him. His faith is a real substance within him. Because of this present faith he also has a serene hope, a sure confidence concerning the future. A hope that is based on this kind of faith will stand the test of death and eternity; but a hope that lacks this present substance of faith is mere wishful thinking, doomed to final, bitter disillusionment.

Based Solely on God’s Word

            Let us turn back now to the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1 and note one other important fact about faith.

            Faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” or a sure conviction concerning things not seen. This shows that faith deals with things not seen.

            Faith is not based on the evidence of our physical senses but on the eternal, invisible truths and realities revealed by God’s Word. Paul brings out this contrast between the objects of faith and the objects of sense perception when he says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

            Faith is here contrasted with sight. Sight, along with the other physical senses, is related to the objects of the physical world. Faith is related to the truths revealed in God’s Word. Our senses deal with things that are material, temporary and changeable. Faith deals with the revealed truths of God which are invisible, eternal and unchanging.

            If we are carnally minded, we can accept only that which our senses reveal to us. But if we are spiritually minded, our faith makes the truths of God’s Word more real than anything which our senses may reveal to us. We do not base our faith on that which we see or experience; we base our faith on God’s Word. Thereafter, that which we see or experience is the outcome of that which we have already believed. In spiritual experience sight comes after faith, not before it.

            David says:

            I would have lost heart, unless I had believed

            That I would see the goodness of the Lord

            In the land of the living (Ps. 27:13).

            David did not see first and then believe. He believed first, and then he saw. Notice also that the experience which faith produced for him was not merely something after death, in the next world, but here and now, in the land of the living.

            This same lesson is brought out in the conversation between Jesus and Martha outside the tomb of Lazarus.

            Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:39-40).

            Here Jesus makes it plain that faith consists in believing first, then seeing – not the other way around. Most carnally minded people reverse this order. They say, “I only believe in what I can see.” But this is incorrect. When we actually see a thing, we do not need to exercise faith for it. It is when we cannot see that we need to exercise faith. As Paul says, faith and sight are opposite in their nature.

            Quite often in our experience we find an apparent conflict between the evidence of our senses and the revelation of God’s Word. For instance, we may see and feel within our bodies all the evidence of physical sickness. Yet the Bible reveals that Jesus “Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses” (Matt. 8:17) and “by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).

            Here is an apparent conflict. Our senses tell us we are sick. The Bible tells us we are healed. This conflict between the testimony of our senses and the testimony of God’s Word confronts us, as believers, with the possibility of two alternative reactions.

            On the one hand, we may accept the testimony of our senses and thus accept our physical sickness. In this way we become the slaves of our carnal mind. On the other hand, we may hold firmly to the testimony of God’s Word that we are healed.

            If we do this with genuine, active faith, the testimony of our senses will in due course be brought into line with the testimony of God’s Word, and we shall then be able to say we are healed, not merely on the basis of faith in God’s Word, but also on the basis of actual physical experience and the testimony of our senses.

            At this point, however, it is necessary to re-emphasize that the kind of faith that produces these results is faith in the heart, not in the mind. We must recognize that mere mental acceptance of the Bible’s statements concerning healing and health lacks the power to make them real in our physical experience. The words of Paul in Ephesians 2:8 concerning faith for salvation apply equally to faith for healing. Thus we may say:

            For by grace you have been saved [healed] through faith, and that [faith] not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

            The faith that brings healing is a gift of God’s sovereign grace. It cannot be produced by any kind of mental gymnastics or psychological techniques. This kind of faith can be apprehended only by the spiritual mind. To the carnal mind it appears foolish. The carnal mind accepts the testimony of the senses in all circumstances and is thus ruled by the senses. The spiritual mind accepts the testimony of God’s Word as invariably and unchangeably true and then accepts the testimony of the senses only insofar as it agrees with the testimony of God’s Word. Thus, the attitude of the spiritual mind toward the testimony of God’s Word is summed up by David.

            I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! (Ps. 119:31).

            Concerning Your testimonies,

            I have known of old that You have founded them forever (Ps. 119:152).

            The scriptural pattern of this kind of faith is found in the experience of Abraham (see Rom. 4:17-21). Paul tells us that Abraham’s faith was directed toward God . . .

            . . . who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (Rom. 4:17).

            This statement that God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” means that as soon as God has declared a thing to be true, faith immediately reckons that thing to be true, even though no evidence of its truth may be manifested to the senses.

            Thus, God called Abraham “a father of many nations,” and from that moment forward Abraham reckoned himself as being what God had called him, “a father of many nations,” even though at that time he had not even one son born to Sarah and himself.

            Abraham did not wait until he saw evidence being worked out in his physical experience before he would accept God’s statement as true. On the contrary, he accepted God’s statement as true first, and later his physical experience was brought into line with what God had declared.

            In the next verse Paul tells us that Abraham, “contrary to hope, in hope believed” (Rom. 4:18).

            This phrase “in hope believed” tells us that at this time Abraham had both faith and hope – hope concerning the future and faith in the present – and that his hope concerning the future was the outcome of his faith in the present.

            [Abraham] did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb (Rom. 4:19).

            Abraham refused to accept the testimony of his senses. The testimony of his senses undoubtedly told him that it was no longer possible for him and Sarah to have a child. But Abraham did not accept this testimony because it did not agree with what God had said. Abraham turned a deaf ear to the testimony of his senses; he refused to consider it.

            He [Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief . . . being fully convinced that what He [God] had promised He was also able to perform (Rom 4:20-21).

            This shows clearly the object upon which Abraham’s faith was focused: God’s promise. Thus, faith is based on the promises and statements of God’s Word and accepts the testimony of the senses only insofar as they agree with the statements of God’s Word.

            A little earlier in Romans 4 Paul calls Abraham “the father of all those who believe” (v. 11), and in the next verse he speaks of those “who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had” (v. 12).

            This shows that scriptural faith consists in acting like Abraham and in following the steps of his faith. In analysing the nature of Abraham’s faith, we have seen that there were three successive steps or stages.

    1.   Abraham accepted God’s promise as being true from the moment it was uttered.
    2.   Abraham refused to accept the testimony of his senses as long as it did not agree with the statement of God.
    3.   Because Abraham held fast to what God had promised, his physical experience and the             testimony of his senses were brought into line with the statement of God.

            Thus, the thing which he had first accepted in naked faith, contrary to the testimony of his senses, became reality in his own physical experience, confirmed by the testimony of his senses.

            By many, this attitude of accepting God’s Word as true in defiance of the testimony of our senses would be dismissed as mere foolishness or fanaticism. Yet the remarkable thing is that philosophers and psychologists of many different ages and backgrounds have agreed in declaring that the testimony of our physical senses is variable, subjective and unreliable.

            If, then, the testimony of our senses cannot be accepted by itself as true and reliable, where can we find the correct standard of truth and reality by which the testimony of the senses must be judged? To this question neither philosophy nor psychology has ever been able to offer any satisfactory answer.

            Indeed, all through the centuries, philosophers and psychologists have echoed the question asked by Pilate as he sat in his judgement hall: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). For the Christian’s believer, however, the answer is found in the words of Jesus to His Father: “Your Word is truth”
(John 17:17).

            The ultimate, unchanging standard of all truth and reality is found in God’s Word. Faith consists in hearing, believing and acting upon this truth.

     In considering the relationship between faith and our physical senses, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between true, scriptural faith on the one hand and such teachings as mind-over-matter or Christian’s Science (falsely so-called) on the other hand.

            The two main points of difference are as follows: First, teachings such as mind-over-matter or Christian’s Science tend to magnify and exalt the purely human element – such things as man’s mind, or reason, or willpower. Thus, these teachings are essentially man-centered. On the other hand, true, scriptural faith is essentially God-centered. It abases all that is human and magnifies only God and God’s truth and power.

            Second, teachings such as mind-over-matter or Christian’s Science are not based directly, or even mainly, upon the Word of God. Many of the things they assert and seek to make real by the exercise of the human will are not in accordance with the teaching of God’s Word. In fact, in certain respects, they are contrary to God’s Word. On the other hand, scriptural faith, by its very nature and definition, is confined within the limits of God’s Word.

            We need also to distinguish between faith and presumption. The line that divides these two is very fine, but it marks the boundary between success and disaster.

            Presumption contains an element of human arrogance and self-glorification. It is the assertion of man’s will, even if it is cloaked in spiritual language. Faith, on the other hand, is totally dependent on God, and its outworking will always glorify God. It never takes the initiative away from God.

            We come back to the words of Paul: Such faith is “not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Its attitude is summed up by John the Baptist.

            A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven (John 3:27).

            Very simply stated, faith receives, and presumption grabs.

Expressed by Confession

            We come now to another important feature of scriptural faith. We have already considered the words of Paul in the first half of Romans 10:10.

            With the heart one believes to righteousness.

            In the second half of this verse, Paul adds: And with the mouth confession is made to salvation.

            Paul here brings out the direct connection between faith in the heart and confession with the mouth.

            This connection between the heart and the mouth is one of the great basic principles of Scripture. Jesus Himself says:

            For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34).

            We might express this in modern phraseology by saying: “When the heart is full, it overflows through the mouth.” It follows, therefore, that when our hearts are full of faith in Jesus, this faith will find its proper expression as we confess Jesus openly with our mouths. A faith that is held back in silence, without any open confession, is an incomplete faith which will not bring the results and the blessings that we desire.

            Paul refers to this connection between believing and speaking when he says:

            But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak (2 Cor. 4:13).             

            Note the logical connection indicated by the word therefore: “we also believe and therefore speak.” Paul here speaks about the “spirit of faith.” Mere intellectual faith in the mind may perhaps keep silent; but faith that is spiritual – faith that is in the spirit and the heart of man – must speak. It must be expressed in confession with the mouth.

            Actually, this truth follows logically from the very meaning of the word confession. The English word confession – just like the Greek word homologia of which it is a translation – means literally “saying the same as.” Thus, confession, for professing Christian’s, means that we say the same thing with our mouths as God Himself has already said in His Word. Or, more briefly, the words of our mouths agree with the Word of God.         

            Thus, confession, in this sense, is the natural expression of heart faith. We believe in our hearts what God has said in His Word – this is faith. Thereafter we naturally say the same with our mouths as we believe in our hearts – this is confession. Faith and confession center in one and the same thing – the truth of God’s Word.

            There is a revelation of Jesus in Hebrews which further emphasizes the importance of confession in relation to faith. Jesus is called “the High Priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1).

            This means that Jesus in heaven serves as our Advocate and Representative in respect of every truth of God’s Word to which we on earth confess with our mouth. But whenever we fail to confess our faith on earth, we give Jesus no opportunity to act on our behalf in heaven. By closing our lips on earth, we also close the lips of our Advocate in heaven. The extent of Jesus’s high-priestly ministry on our behalf in heaven is determined by the extent of our confession on earth.

            What, then, are the main features of faith as defined and described in the Bible?

    •   Scriptural faith is a condition of the heart, not the mind.
    •   It is in the present, not the future.
    •   It produces a positive change in our behavior and experience.
    • It is based solely on God’s Word and accepts the testimony of the senses only when this             agrees with the testimony of God’s Word.
    •   It is expressed by confession with the mouth.             

            * The Greek preposition use here is eis, which is regularly translated “into”.

The Basic Doctrines

            When we set out to study the Bible in detail, is there some easy way to identify the basic and most important doctrines that should be studied first?           

            This is a reasonable question, and, like all such questions related to the study of the Bible, an answer to it may be found within the pages of the Bible itself. The Bible does clearly state that certain of its doctrines are more important than the rest and should therefore be studied first. In fact, the Bible gives a list of six such basic, or foundational, doctrines.             

            Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Jesus, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgement (Heb. 6:1-2).           

            In the margin of the 1611 edition of the King James Version, the alternative reading suggested for the elementary principles of Jesus is “the word of the beginning of Jesus.” This brings out the point that we are here dealing with the doctrines which should constitute the beginning – the starting-off point – in our study of Jesus and His teaching as a whole.          

            This point is further emphasized by the use, in the same verse, of the phrase “the foundation.” The writer of Hebrews is setting two thoughts side by side: 1) the laying of the right doctrinal foundation; 2) going on after this to perfection – that is, to a completed edifice of Christian’s doctrine and conduct. The purpose of his exhortation is that we should go on to perfection, to the completed edifice. But he makes it plain that we cannot hope to do this unless we have first laid a complete and stable foundation of the basic doctrines.           

            In speaking of this foundation, the writer lists in order the following six successive doctrines: 1) repentance from dead works, 2) faith toward God, 3) the doctrine of baptisms, 4) laying on of hands, 5) resurrection of the dead, 6) eternal judgement.           

            We need to note one particularly important feature of this inspired outline of basic doctrines. If we follow it through in the order given, it spans the entire gamut of Christian’s experience. It starts – in time – from the sinner’s initial response: repentance. It takes us on, by a logical succession, to the climax – in eternity – of all Christian’s experience: resurrection and final judgement.           

            While it is important to study carefully each of these individual doctrines, we must never lose the vision of the single divine and perfect plan that runs through them all. In particular, we must never become so occupied with the things of time that we lose the vision of eternity. Otherwise, we may suffer the tragedy described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:19.          

            If in this life only we have hope in Jesus, we are of all men the most pitiable.             

            The studies that follow in this section focus on the first two of these doctrines: repentance and faith.             

Repentance – Explained From Greek and Hebrew 

            First of all, we need a clear understanding of the meaning of the word repentance as used in the Scripture.           

            In the New Testament the English verb “to repent” is normally used to translate the Greek verb metanoein. This Greek verb metanoein has one definite meaning throughout the history of the Greek language, right through classical Greek down into New Testament Greek. Its basic meaning is always the same: “to change one’s mind.” Thus, “repentance” in the New Testament is not an emotion but a decision.         

            Knowing this fact serves to dispel many false impressions and ideas connected with repentance. Many people associate repentance with emotion – with the shedding of tears and so on. It is possible, however, for a person to feel great emotion and to shed many tears and yet never repent in the scriptural sense. Other people associate repentance with the carrying out of special religious rites or ordinances – with what is called “doing penance.” But here, too, the same applies: It is possible to go through many religious rites and ordinances and yet never repent in the scriptural sense.           

            True repentance is a firm, inward decision; a change of mind.           

            If we turn back to the Old Testament, we find that the word most commonly translated “to repent” means literally “to turn,” “to return,” “to turn back.” This harmonizes perfectly with the meaning of repentance in the New Testament. The New Testament word denotes the inner decision, the inner change of mind; the Old Testament word denotes the outward action which is the expression of the inward change of mind – the act of turning back, of turning around.           

            Thus, the New Testament emphasizes the inward nature of true repentance; the Old Testament emphasizes the outward expression in action of the inner change. Putting the two together, we form this complete definition of repentance: Repentance is an inner change of mind resulting in an outward turning back, or turning around; to face and to move in a completely new direction.             

The Sinner’s First Response to God

            The perfect example of true repentance, defined in this way, is found in the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32). Here we read how the prodigal turned his back on father and home and went off into a distant land, there to waste all that he had in sin and dissipation. Eventually he came to himself, hungry, lonely and in rags, sitting among the swine, longing for something to fill his stomach. At this point he made a decision. He said, “I will arise and go to my father” (v. 18).           

            He immediately carried out his decision: “And he arose and came to his father” (v. 20). This is true repentance: first, the inward decision; then the outward act of that decision – the act of turning back to father and home.           

            In his own unregenerate, sinful condition, every man that was ever born has turned his back on God, his Father, and on heaven, his home. Each step he takes is a step away from God and from heaven. As he walks this way, the light is behind him, and the shadows are before him. The farther he goes, the longer and darker the shadows become. Each step he takes is one step nearer the end – one step nearer the grave, nearer hell, nearer the endless darkness of a lost eternity.           

            For every man who takes this course, there is one essential act he must make. He must stop, change his mind, change his direction, face the opposite way, turn his back to the shadows and face toward the light.           

            This first, essential act is called repentance in the Scriptures. It is the first move any sinner must make who desires to be reconciled with God.             

            Distinguished From Remorse

            Of course, there are some passages in some translations where the verb “to repent” is used in a different sense, but when we examine these passages carefully, we find that the English word “to repent” is used to translate some other word in the original language. For example, in the 1611 King James Version we read in Matthew 27:3-4 that when Judas Iscariot saw that Jesus had been condemned to death, afterward he “repented” of betraying Jesus for money.             

            Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to that.             

            Here we read that Judas “repented himself.” But the Greek word used in the original is not the word metanoein defined earlier. The Greek word used of Judas, metamelein, denotes that which people often wrongly interpret as repentance: remorse, anguish. There is no doubt that at this moment Judas experienced intense anguish and remorse. Nevertheless, he did not experience true, scriptural repentance; he did not change his mind, his course, his direction.           

            On the contrary, the very next verse says he went and hanged himself; in Acts 1:25 this is expressed by the words:             

            Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.             

            Certainly Judas experienced emotion – strong emotion, bitter anguish and remorse. But he did not experience true repentance; he did not change his mind or his course. The truth is that he could not change his course; he had already gone too far. In spite of the Savior’s warning, he had deliberately committed himself to a course from which there could be no return. He had passed “the place of repentance.”           

            What a terrible and solemn lesson this is! It is possible for a man, by stubborn and willful continuance in his own way, to come to a place of no turning back – a place where the door of repentance has, by his own willfulness, been forever slammed shut behind him.          

            Another man who made this same tragic error was Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.             

            For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears (Heb. 12:17).            

            In a foolish, careless moment Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob in exchange for a bowl of soup. Genesis records: “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:34). We must remember that in despising his birthright, he despised all the blessings and the promises of God that were associated with the birthright. Later, Esau regretted what he had done. He sought to regain the birthright and the blessing, but he was rejected. Why? Because he found no place of repentance. (In the margin of the 1611 King James Version the alternative translation is: “He found no way to change his mind” Heb. 12:17).           

            Here is further evidence that strong emotion is not necessarily proof of repentance. Esau cried aloud and shed bitter tears. But in spite of all this, he found no place of repentance. By a trivial, impetuous act he had decided the whole course of his life and his destiny both for time and for eternity. He had committed himself to a course from which afterward he could find no way of return.           

            How many men today do just the same as Esau! For a few moments of sensual pleasure or carnal indulgence, they despise all the blessings and promises of almighty God. Later, when they feel their mistake, when they cry out for those spiritual and eternal blessings which they had despised, to their dismay they find themselves rejected. Why? Because they find no place of repentance, no way to change their minds.             

The Only Way to True Faith 

            The New Testament is unanimous on this one point: True repentance must always go before true faith. Without true repentance there can never be true faith.          

            The call to repentance begins at the very introduction to the New Testament with the ministry of John the Baptist.             

            The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.”          

            John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:3-4).             

            John the Baptist’s call to repentance was a necessary preparation for the revelation of the Messiah to Israel. Until Israel had been called back to God in repentance, their long-awaited Messiah could not be revealed among them.           

            A little further on we read the first message that Jesus Himself preached after John had prepared the way before Him.            

            Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel . . . and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).             

            The first commandment that ever fell from the lips of Jesus was not to believe but to repent. First repent, then believe.           

            After His death and resurrection, when Jesus commissioned His apostles to go out to all nations with the gospel, once again the first word in His message was “repentance.”             

            Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Jesus to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).             

            Here again it is repentance first, and after that, remission of sins.         

            Shortly after the resurrection, the apostles, through their spokesman Peter, began to fulfil this commission of Jesus. After the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost, the convicted (but still unconverted) multitude asked: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). To this inquiry there came an immediate and definite answer.             

            Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Jesus for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).           

            Here again it is repentance first; after that, baptism and remission of sins.

            When Paul spoke to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he outlined the gospel message which he had preached to them.             

            I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Jesus (Acts 20:20-21).             

            The order of Paul’s message is the same: first repentance, then faith.           

            Finally, as we have already seen in Hebrews 6:1-2, the order of the basic foundation doctrines of the Christian’s faith is first repentance from dead works, then faith, baptisms and so on.           

            Without exception, throughout the entire New Testament, repentance is the first response to the gospel that God demands. Nothing else can come before it, and nothing else can take its place.

            True repentance must always precede true faith. Without such repentance, faith alone is an empty profession. This is one reason why the experience of so many  professing Christian’s today is so unstable and insecure. They are seeking to build without the first of the great foundation doctrines. They are professing faith but they have never practiced true repentance. As a result, the faith which they profess procures for them neither the favor of God nor the respect of the world.           

            In many places today the simplification of the gospel message has been taken one step too far. The message often preached today is “Only believe.” But that is not the message of Jesus. Jesus and His apostles preached “Repent and believe.” Any preacher who leaves out the call to repentance is misleading sinners and misrepresenting God. For Paul tells us that it is God Himself who “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). That is the general edict of God to the entire human race: “All men everywhere must repent.”           

            In Hebrews 6:1 repentance is defined as “repentance from dead works”; in Acts 20:21 it is defined as “repentance toward God.” This means that, in the act of repentance, we turn away from our dead works and face toward God, ready to hear and obey His next command.          

            The phrase “dead works” includes all acts and activities that are not based upon repentance and faith. It includes even the acts and activities of religion – even of professing Christianity – if they are not built on this basis. It is in this sense that Isaiah cries out:             

            And all our righteousness’s are like filthy rags (Is. 64:6).             

            There is no reference here to acts of open sin and wickedness. Even those acts which are done in the name of religion and morality, if they are not based on repentance and faith, are not acceptable to God. Charity, prayers, church attendance, every kind of religious rite and ordinance – if they are not based on repentance and faith – are merely “dead works” and “filthy rags”!           

            There is one other fact about scriptural repentance which must be emphasized. True repentance begins with God and not with man. It originates not in the will of man but in the free and sovereign grace of God. Apart from the working of God’s grace and the moving of God’s Spirit, man left to himself is incapable of repentance. For this reason the psalmist cries out for restoration.             

            Restore us, O God . . . and we shall be saved! (Ps. 80:3,7).             

            The word translated “restore us” means literally “cause us to turn back.” Jeremiah uses the same word in Lamentations 5:21.             

            Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored.             

            Unless God first moves man toward Himself, man cannot of his own unaided will turn to God and be saved. The first move is always made by God.           

            In the New Testament Jesus expressed the same truth.             

            No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).           

            The supreme crisis of every human life comes at the moment of the Spirit’s drawing to repentance. Accepted, this drawing leads us to saving faith and eternal life; rejected, it leaves the sinner to continue on his way to the grave and the unending darkness of an eternity apart from God. The Scripture makes it plain that even in this life it is possible for a man to pass “the place of repentance” – to come to a point where the Spirit of God will never again draw him to repentance, and where all hope is lost even before he enters the portals of eternity.           

            It is fitting to close this study with the words of Jesus in Luke 13:3 (which are also repeated in verse 5).             

            Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.             

            Jesus was speaking of men who died in the very act of performing a religious rite; that is, a company of Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their own sacrifices. While carrying out their sacrifices in the temple, these men had been executed by order of the Roman governor, and their blood had been mingled on the temple floor with that of their sacrifices.           

            Yet Jesus tells us that these men perished; they went to a lost eternity. Even their religious act of sacrifice in the temple could not save their souls, because it was not based on true repentance.          

            The same is true of the religious ceremonies of many professing  professing Christian’s today. None of these religious activities is any substitute for true repentance. Without such repentance, Jesus Himself said, “ . . . you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

The Revelatory Effects of God’s Word


            The seventh great effect of God’s Word is that of cleansing and sanctification. The key text for this is Ephesians 5:25-27.


            Jesus also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. There are several important points in this passage that deserve attention.

            Notice, first, that the two processes of cleansing and sanctifying are closely joined together. However, although these two processes are closely related, they are not identical.

            The distinction between them is this: That which is truly sanctified must of necessity be pure and clean, but that which is pure and clean need not necessarily be in the fullest sense sanctified. It is possible to have purity, or cleanness, without sanctification, but it is not possible to have sanctification without purity, or cleanness.

            Thus cleansing is an essential part of sanctification but not the whole of it. Later in this study, we shall examine more closely the exact meaning of the word sanctification.

            Turning again to Ephesians 5:26 we notice, second, that one main, definite purpose for which Jesus redeemed the church is “that He might sanctify and cleanse it”.

            The purpose of Jesus’s atoning death for the church as a whole, and each Christian in particular, is not fulfilled until those who are redeemed by His death have gone through a process of cleansing and sanctifying. Paul makes it plain that only Christian’s who have gone through this process will be in the condition necessary for their final presentation to Jesus as His bride – and the condition which he specifies is that of a glorious church, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish” (v. 27).

            The third point to notice in this passage is that the means which Jesus uses to cleanse and sanctify the church is “the washing of water by the word” (v. 26). It is God’s Word which is the means of sanctifying and cleansing; in this respect, the operation of God’s Word is compared to the washing of pure water.

            Even before Jesus’s atoning death upon the cross had been consummated, He had already assured His disciples of the cleansing power of His Word which He had spoken to them.

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you (John 15:3).

            We see, therefore, that the Word of God is a divine agent of spiritual cleansing, compared in its operation to the washing of pure water.

            Side by side with the Word, we must also set the other great agent of spiritual cleansing referred to by the apostle John.

            But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

            Here John speaks of the cleansing power of Jesus’s blood, shed upon the cross, to redeem us from sin.

            God’s provision for spiritual cleansing always includes these two divine agents – the blood of Jesus shed upon the cross and the washing with water by His Word. Neither is complete without the other. Jesus redeemed us by His blood so that He might cleanse and sanctify us by His Word.

            John places these two great operations of Jesus in the closest possible connection with each other. Speaking of Jesus, he says:

            This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus; not only by water but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness because the Spirit is truth (1 John 5:6).

            John declares that Jesus is not only the great Teacher who came to expound God’s truth to men; He is also the great Savior who came to shed His blood to redeem men from their sin. In each case, it is the Holy Spirit who bears testimony to Jesus’s work – to the truth and authority of His Word and the merits and power of His blood.

            John teaches us, therefore, that we must never separate these two aspects of Jesus’s work. We must never separate the Teacher from the Savior, nor the Savior from the Teacher.

            It is not enough to accept Jesus’s teaching through the Word without also accepting and experiencing the power of His blood to redeem and cleanse us from sin. On the other hand, those who claim redemption through Jesus’s blood must thereafter submit themselves to the regular, inward washing of His Word.

            There are various passages concerning the ordinances of the Old Testament sacrifices which set forth, in type, the close association between the cleansing by Jesus’s blood and the cleansing by His Word. For instance, in the ordinances of the tabernacle of Moses, we read how God ordained that the laver of bronze containing clean water was to be placed close to the sacrificial altar of bronze and was to be used regularly in conjunction with it.

            Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them – to him and his descendants throughout their generations” (Ex. 30:17-21).

            If we apply this picture to the New Testament, the sacrifice upon the bronze altar speaks of Jesus’s blood shed upon the cross for redemption from sin; the water in the laver speaks of the regular spiritual cleansing which we can receive only through God’s Word. Each alike is essential to the eternal welfare of our souls. Like Aaron and his sons, we must regularly receive the benefits of both, “lest we die.”


            Having thus noted the process of cleansing through God’s Word, let us now go on to consider the further process of sanctification.

            First we must consider briefly the meaning of this word sanctification. The ending of the word – ification – occurs in many English words and always denotes an active process of doing or making something.

            For example, clarification means “making clear”; rectification means “making right or straight”; purification means “making pure,” and so on. The first part of the word sanctification is directly connected with the word saint it is simply another way of writing the same word. Saint in turn is simply an alternative way of translating the word which is more normally translated as “holy.”

            Thus, the simple, literal meaning of sanctification is “making saintly,” or “making holy.”

            The New Testament mentions five distinct truths in connection with sanctification:

                        1) the Spirit of God,

                        2) the Word of God,

                        3) the altar,
                        4) the blood of Jesus,

                        5) our faith.

Following are the main passages which mention these various truths of sanctification:

            God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thess. 2:13).

            Peter tells Christian’s that they are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:2).

            Thus, both Paul and Peter mention “sanctification of [or by] the Holy Spirit” as an element of Christian’s experience.

            Sanctification through the Word of God was referred to by Jesus Himself when He prayed to the Father for His disciples.

            Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).

            Here we see that sanctification comes through the truth of God’s Word. Sanctification through the altar is likewise referred to by Jesus. He told the Pharisees on Matthew 23:19:

            Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?

            Here Jesus endorses that which had already been taught in the Old Testament – that the gift which was offered in sacrifice to God was sanctified, made holy, set apart, by being placed upon God’s altar. In the New Testament, as we shall see, the nature of the gift and the altar is changed, but the principle remains true that it is “the altar that sanctifies the gift.”

            Sanctification through the blood of Jesus is referred to in Hebrews 10:29. Here the author considers the case of the apostate – the person who has known all the blessings of salvation but has deliberately and openly rejected the Saviour.

Concerning such a person Paul asks:

            Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

            This passage shows that the true believer who continues in the faith is sanctified by the blood of the new covenant which he has accepted – that is, by Jesus’s blood.

            Sanctification through faith is referred to by Jesus Himself, as quoted by Paul as he related the commission which he received from Jesus to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

            To open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me (Acts 26:18).

            Here we see that sanctification is through faith in Jesus. Summing up these passages, we arrive at this conclusion: Sanctification, according to the New Testament, is through five means or agencies:

1) the Holy Spirit,

2) the truth of God’s Word,

3) the altar of sacrifice,

4) the blood of Jesus and

5) faith in Jesus.

            The process may be briefly outlined as follows:

The Holy Spirit initiates the work of sanctification in the heart and mind of each one whom God has chosen in His eternal purposes. Through the truth of God’s Word, as it is received in the heart and mind, the Holy Spirit speaks, reveals the altar of sacrifice, separates the believer from all that holds him back from God, and draws him to place himself in surrender and consecration upon that altar. There the believer is sanctified and set apart to God both by the contact with the altar and by the cleansing and purifying power of the blood that was shed upon the altar.

            To accomplish their sanctifying work in each believer is decided by the fifth factor in the process; that is, by the individual faith of each believer. In the work of sanctification, God does not violate the one great law which governs all His works of grace in each believer – the law of faith.

            As you have believed, so let it be done for you (Matt. 8:13).

            Let’s examine a little more closely the part played by God’s Word in this process of sanctification. First, we must note that there are two aspects to sanctification – one negative and the other positive.

    • The negative aspect consists of being separated from sin and the world and from all that is unclean and impure.
    • The positive aspect consists of being made partakers of God’s holy nature.

            In much preaching, both on this and on other related subjects, there is a general tendency to overemphasize the negative at the expense of the positive. As  professing Christian’s we tend to speak much more about the “do not” in God’s Word than about the “dos.”

            For example, in Ephesians 5:18 we usually lay much more stress upon the negative “do not be drunk with wine” than we do upon the positive “be filled with the Spirit.” However, this is an inaccurate and unsatisfactory way to present God’s Word.

            With regard to holiness, the Scriptures make it plain that this is something much more than a negative attitude of abstaining from sin and uncleanness. For example, in Hebrews 12:10 we are told that God, as a heavenly Father, chastens us, His children, for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness. Again, in 1 Peter 1:15-16 we read:

            But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

            We see that holiness is a part of God’s eternal, unchanging nature. God was holy before sin ever entered into the universe, and God will still be holy when sin has once again been banished forever. We, as God’s people, are to be partakers of this part of His eternal nature. Separation from sin, just like cleansing from sin, is a stage in this process, but it is not the whole process. The final, positive result which God desires in us goes beyond both cleansing and separation.

            God’s Word plays its part both in the negative and in the positive aspects of sanctification. Paul describes the negative aspect of Romans 12:1-2:

            I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

            There are four successive stages in the process which Paul here describes.

    1. Presenting our bodies as living sacrifices upon God’s altar. We have already seen that the altar sanctifies that which is presented upon it.


    1. Not being conformed to the world – that is, being separated from its vanity and sin.
    1. Being transformed by the renewing of our minds – that is, learning to think in entirely new terms and values.
    1. Getting to know God’s will personally for our lives. This revelation of God’s will is granted only to the renewed mind. The old, carnal, unrenewed mind can never know or understand God’s perfect will.

            It is here, in the renewing of the mind, that the influence of God’s Word is felt. As we read, study, and meditate in God’s Word, it changes our whole way of thinking. It both cleanses us with its inward washing and separates us from all that is unclean and ungodly. We learn to think about things – to estimate them, to evaluate them – as God Himself thinks about things.

            In learning to think differently, we also act differently. Our outward lives are changed in harmony with our new inward processes of thought. We are no longer conformed to the world because we no longer think like the world. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

            However, not to be conformed to the world is merely negative. It is not a positive end in itself. If we are not to be conformed to the world, to what then are we to be conformed? The answer is plainly stated by Paul.

            For whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29).

            Here is the positive end of sanctification: to be conformed to the image of Jesus. It is not enough that we are not conformed to the world – that we do not think and say and do the things that the world does. This is merely negative. Instead of all this, we must be conformed to Jesus – we must think and say and do the things that Jesus would do.

            Paul dismisses the negative type of holiness as quite inadequate in Col. 2:20-22:

            Therefore, if you died with Jesus from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using?

            True sanctification goes far beyond this barren, legalistic, negative attitude. It is a positive conforming to the image of Jesus Himself; a positive partaking of God’s holiness.

            This positive aspect of sanctification and the part played in it by God’s Word, is beautifully discovered in 2 Peter 1:3-4,

            His [God’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

            There are three main points to notice here.

    1. God’s power has already provided us with all that we need for life and godliness. The provision has already been made. We do not need to ask God to give us more than He has already given. We merely need to benefit ourselves to the full of that which God has already provided.
    1. This complete provision of God is given to us through the exceedingly great and precious promises of His own Word. The promises of God already contain within them all that we shall ever need for life and godliness. All that remains for us now to do is to take and apply these promises by active, personal faith.
    1. The result of applying God’s promises is twofold, both negative and positive.

            Negatively, we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust; positively, we are made partakers of the divine nature. Here is the complete process of sanctification that we have described: both the negative escape from the world’s corruption and the positive partaking of God’s nature, of God’s holiness.

            All this – both the negative and the positive – is made available to us through the promises of God’s Word. It is in measure as we take and apply the promises of God’s Word that we experience true scriptural sanctification.

            Jacob once dreamed of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. For the Christian’s, the counterpart to that ladder is found in God’s Word. Its foot is set on earth, but its head reaches heaven – the plane of God’s being. Each step of the ladder is a promise. As we lay hold by the hands and feet of faith upon the promises of God’s Word, we lift ourselves by them out of the earthly realm and closer to the heavenly realm. Each promise of God’s Word, as we claim it, lifts us higher above earth’s corruption and imparts to us a further measure of God’s nature.

            It was for this reason that Jesus prayed to the Father: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).