By Larry Ray Hafley
John said, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (1 Jn. 4:15). This passage is often used by Baptists and others to prove that one is saved before and without water baptism. They connect it with the confession of the Ethiopian eunuch, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). Since the eunuch confessed his faith before baptism, God dwelt in him and he in God before baptism. Therefore, they conclude, salvation, forgiveness of sins, occurs before baptism.
Examination and Refutation of the Argument
On the surface, at first glance, the argument may appear to have merit. Let us look at it a little closer.
(1) False doctrines concerning the nature of Jesus sprang up in the days of the apostles. Some sects said Jesus was a mere man. Certain others said he did not possess a fleshly body. John said, (a) “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1 Jn. 4:2) and (b) “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (1 Jn. 4:15). Each group claimed communion with God, but John shows that- one who denies the manhood and Sonship of Jesus is not of God; God does not dwell in him, and he does not dwell in God. John is not considering the point at which one is saved from his sins.
(2) What about the Roman soldier? He “feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54). Was this soldier of God? Did he dwell in God and God in him?
(3) “And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God” (Mk. 3:11). Were they saved?
(4) Many of the chief rulers of the Jews believed on Jesus, “but they did not confess him” (Jn. 12:42). This poses a problem for “faith only” advocates who use 1 Jn. 4:15 as proof of salvation. They believe one is saved “at the point of faith.” Then these chief rulers were saved, but “they did not confess him.” What do we do with these? According to the faith only argument, they were saved, but in view of 1 Jn. 4:15, they are lost. Will some Baptist tell us the state of these chief rulers? Were they saved or lost?
(5) If one is saved when he confesses Christ prior to baptism, we have one saved before the Lord promised. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). So, if the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 was saved before baptism, he was saved contrary to the promise of Jesus. The same type argument can be made on Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 3:26, 27; Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3, 4; Jn. 3:3, 5.
(6) Confession of Christ as Lord is essential (Rom. 10:9, 10). However, many call him, “Lord,” who will not obey him. “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say” (Lk. 6:46)? “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). If we use 1 Jn. 4:15 to show that one is saved before baptism, if we say confession is always indicative of salvation, then those who call him, “Lord, Lord,” are saved in their disobedience. If not, why not?
(7) An item cannot be a condition of salvation and an evidence of salvation at the same time and in the same sense. Romans 10:9, 10 reveals that confession is a condition unto salvation, while in 1 Jn. 4:15 it is an evidence of salvation. However, the argument we are. reviewing makes no distinction. It would have the confession of Rom. 10:9, 10 equated with (the same thing as) the confession of 1 Jn. 4:15. As such, confession is represented as both a condition and an evidence of salvation at the same time and in the same sense. That is impossible.
Faith, for example, is a condition of salvation (Jn. 8:24; Heb. 11:6). Faith is an evidence of salvation (1 Jn. 5:1). But it is not a condition and an evidence at the same time and in the same sense. A condition points forward; an evidence looks backward.
Belief and confession are conditions unto salvation (Rom. 10: 9,10).
Belief and confession are evidences of salvation (1 Jn. 4:15; 5:1).
In the first case, salvation is to be obtained after the conditions are complied with. In the second, salvation, previously acquired, is demonstrated or evidenced by faith and confession. Without faith, whether before or after salvation, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Without confession, whether before or after salvation, it is impossible to please God (2 Tim. 2:12).
(8) Conclusion: No interpretation of a passage can be allowed if it contradicts other plain statements of Scripture. See point number five above. Even if one could not explain the place of 1 Jn. 4:15, he would know that it cannot prove salvation before baptism because the Holy Spirit said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4, 38).
Truth Magazine XXII: 14, pp. 231-232
April 6, 1978