Living By Faith, Not By Exception

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“So this guy is walking up to the baptistry…he has repented and made his confession before the congregation and just as he steps in the water he slips hits his head on the floor. He dies right before he is baptized. Is he saved?”

The point normally being made with this type of question is whether or not baptism is really necessary for salvation. First, we aren’t the judge. We leave that to God. Second, we can only answer that question (if we actually want to try to) based on what He has told us in scripture. We could go into a long discussion about the thief on the cross, Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit apart from baptism and all the rest but I am going to save that for another day because that isn’t the point of this post.

Here is the question I want to pose. Does God want us to twist and turn and contrive all possible exceptions that we can come up with in order to replace what He has clearly told us in scripture. Let’s say you take the above example…he had faith, confessed and repented and had a heart to be baptized and was even acting on that desire. Let’s say you concluded that he was saved. Is it really appropriate then to say that God desires the exception to be the rule? Does God really want us to be loophole minded rather than just do the obvious? Why not live by faith and take God at His Word. There is no doubt that baptism is important from a scriptural point of view, why develop and form your doctrine out of the exception that is not even found in scripture but is rather contrived from our own thinking rather than from scripture?

Why is it so hard to look at where Jesus told his disciples what to do to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 and conclude that Jesus thought baptism was really important? Why is it so hard to read Paul and the burial illustration of Romans 6 and conclude that clearly (not maybe…clearly) Paul thought baptism was extremely important. Even if you concluded that it wasn’t necessary for salvation wouldn’t someone devoted to God want to do it anyway and teach others its importance? I wonder sometimes if people try to live by exception rather than by faith and just take God at His Word. Imagine if Paul wrote his letters but made sure to footnote any possible logical exception…it would be a madhouse rife with abuse. Instead, he laid out his theology very plainly and it is up to us to believe it and live by it as best we can and let God make up for any of our short comings.

The question I am asking here is not about baptism…it is about the heart and what attitude we have when we approach God and scripture. Do we legalistically look for loopholes or do we do as Paul said in Romans 1:17 “the righteous will live by faith.” If we are living by faith, wouldn’t we in good conscience try to live our lives as closely in line with what we find in scripture as possible? And don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying we are saved by our own good works (See this post for more on that).

0 Responses

  1. Of course it is not appropriate to say that God desires the exception rather than the rule, but it is also inappropriate to veer to the other extreme and ignore the many times where God ignores the exception and accepts the faithful devotion of his followers.

  2. Nick,

    I agree with you 100%. When God made exception it is normally done in concert with those whose hearts have turned toward him like the Passover Celebration in 2 Chronicles 30. The point I am making in this post is that if we seek to approach God time after time based on exception after exception that is problematic in my mind. For instance, what if Hezekiah and the rest in 2 Chron 30 the next year said, let’s toss aside the rules and not worry about consecrating ourselves in the appropriate manner because last year God let a lot of things slide. That is not the heart that God normally approves of exceptions from. Hope that makes sense…critique me if you will. I always love being sharpened.

  3. For all the talk about God’s grace and our faith and how much we believe in that, it seems that when we seek to discern the normal practice based on the exceptions or ‘out of the ordinary’ examples that we do this because of our lack of trust (faith) in God’s grace. That is we must ‘redefine’ what God has said because we cannot reconcile how God’s could be at work beyond our knowledge, understanding, and ability to see beyond our temporal limitations. This not only happens with an issue like baptism, it also happens with many of the rather difficult moral/ethical teachings of scripture as well (i.e., loving enenmies, marriage and divorce, possession of wealth, etc…).

    I am no exception. Though it may be a different issue than others, I struggle with the same problem as much as anyone. It seems as though our obedient faith (the faith modeled by Abraham) is so often only obedient as far as we can rationally understand the why and how of God’s working. Yet when we look at a passage like Hebrews 11, we discover that faith was obedience rendured even when the rational of how and why was beyond reach.

    May we learn to obediently trust God even when His way makes no sense and may we be humble in deciding the how and why of God’s working.

    Grace and peace,


  4. Matt,

    just my to cents worth:

    Asking such a question reminds me of law school classes. The most common exercise in law school is to read a case(s) and then spend the entire class period saying “well what if the facts were X?” in the American judicial system, unless there is an explicit statute (and in many cases, even when there is a statute) the outcome of the case is determined by the factual scenario presented. If a fact changes, the legal outcome might change. The point of the exercise in a legal classroom is to learn which facts are important to help you be better lawyer in practice.

    I’m not going to take up a lot of space, but I see so much of the American legal system in the CENI hermeneutic. Once you start treating the Bible/New Testament as a law, set of statutes or worse yet, a body of case law, you get drawn into this discussion of which facts are important and which facts will alter the “legal” outcome. The question is necessary in the system.

    BUT, if you have a different system, one where the inspired writings are not treated as “law”, the question suddenly becomes irrelevant, or at least absurd.

    Anyway, just wanted to add those thoughts.


  5. Matt,

    I knew I wrote that poorly! I’m sorry I sounded like I was critiquing you; your writing shines with grace.

    We really DO struggle with the sort of book God has given us; in the brotherhood it goes even as far back as the Declaration and Address. Thomas Campbell, et al, believed that a constitutional view of Scripture would provide a simple way for all of us to read it the same. Alas, it is clear that if we cannot read the Constitution the same, we won’t be able to read Scripture that way, either.

    And you’re so right; while as teachers we must explore the edges of the envelope, as disciples we must teach people to trust and obey.

    1. I didn’t take it in any kind of negative way at all. I invite critique…if one cannot take an evaluative look at one’s own thoughts how do they try to grow and how do they grow any further than the arrogance of their own feelings of superiority? Critique away!

  6. Matt,
    Can the essays you have written on your blog be printed out to give to friends, family, and brethren at church? This essay titled “Living by Faith, Not by Exception” is really good. No . . . it’s great. I want to share it with others at our congregation. Of course, you will receive all the credit for writing it. And . . . does this go for all the essays/musings . . . whatever they are called . . . that you write. You write a lot of good stuff that I want to pass along to others. Let me know when you want to move to Texas. We could use you.

  7. What I meant to say was that when God is through using you in Florida . . . maybe He could choose to use you in Texas. Got any tips on how to word an effective prayer?

  8. I’m thinking the bottom line on this one is that we don’t have the right to judge what we think God will choose to do.

    1. We are not to be judges. We ARE to be disciples and makers of disciples. We do not have the right to judge. We DO have a charge to help others hear the Lord. Some call it the great commission . . . and in that commission He says immerse the believers in My name. The bottom line is that we have the responsibility to help others hear the covenant the Lord has laid out for us. We are right to teach what the Lord has told us. We are right to repeat His thoughts. That’s what disciples do . . . they immitate words and actions.

  9. To take this to the logical conclusion (which, admittedly, you may have done elsewhere on your site — this is the first article I’ve read) we should avoid legalism in all its forms. I’m not saying to follow God willy-nilly, or that “anything goes” in worship, but I think that if God’s grace is sufficient to cover my sins, surely it must be sufficient to cover me when I don’t greet my brothers in Christ with a holy kiss.

    I love the comment about “out-lawyering” God. But in a legal system analogy, I always pictured God as the judge. Satan is the prosecutor, Jesus and the Holy Spirit make up the defense. (This is a fun analogy, since not everyone that says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of Heaven… If we don’t have the Holy Spirit on our legal team, where are we?)

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