The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned.
(Mark 16:16 NASB)
This verse has two conditions for salvation: the principal and accessory. The principal condition of eternal life is faith which means that you cannot be saved without faith. The accessory condition is baptism since it is a step of obedience. You can be saved without being baptized (i.e. the criminal on the cross – Luke 23:39-43).
This is proven by the second clause that says “the one who does not believe…” It does not say that “the one who is not baptized is condemned.” Baptism is not included in the condition for condemnation. Only faith is indispensable. You cannot be saved without faith. Faith is sine qua non for salvation. Baptism is not.
Before we talk about the true saving faith, let us discuss its counterfeit.
Deceptive faith. On the surface, it looks like true faith. The one with this kind of faith becomes seasoned and cultured with the true believers. He acquired how a believer acts, talks, and lives.
From the Scripture, we can see someone like Simon Magus (Acts 8:13) who has this faith. His profession of faith is very plausible but he has no fruit. He was baptized. He was admitted to the church. But in verse 21, he was confronted by Apostle Peter that his heart is not right with God and he was “bitterly envious and in bondage to sin.” All he had was intellectual faith. It is the most deceptive kind of faith. He can articulate the gospel through and through but it does not spring from a changed heart.
It is like a fake gold necklace and 24-carat gold. You will never know if the first is counterfeit unless it is tested by fire.
Historical faith. This one is familiar with bible stories, studied it and he has a strong grasp and advanced knowledge of the divine truths. He has a conviction that it is true. He can be a Bible Scholar and even be a staunch debater in favor of it.
In Acts 24:14, if there are masters of the Bible, they are the Jews. Paul’s confessed that he believed in the God of his fathers. He was a believer of YAHWEH. This is the very reason why he persecuted the church. But he was not a true believer. In Acts 26:27, Paul understood that Agrippa believed the Prophets. But in the next verse, Agrippa himself said, “In a short time you are going to persuade me to make a Christian of myself.” So, though he believed, he was not a true believer.
Enlightened faith. This one can articulate the blood and righteousness of Christ or the heart of the gospel. He sees the light but cannot enter thereunto. He only lacks the element of trust which comes from the Lord alone. This is illustrated in the parable of the sower, the third seed where the anxiety of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22). He is enlightened but he prioritized the things of this world.
Balaam can be cited as an example. In Numbers 24:16-17, he is described as someone who “knew “the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty“, and saw “a star shall appear from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel.” According to most of the commentaries (Pulpit commentary, J. Gill, M. Henry, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, etc), these words point to the Messiah. We also have Demas, who loved this present world left Paul and went to Thessalonica (2 Tim 4:10).
Hebrews 6:4-6 also mentioned this.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (NASB)
Many argue that this passage supports the idea that salvation can be lost. They say that the descriptions above clearly refer to true believers who have fallen away. However, this is difficult to reconcile with the author’s insistence that the proof that we are partakers of Christ is our perseverance to keep the beginning of our commitment firm until the end (3:14). There are also lots of NT passages that affirm that true believers can never fall away (Romans 8:29-30; John 6:39-40,44, 10:27-29). The change of the pronoun from the first person (we, us) in vv. 1-3 to third person (those who) in vv. 4-6 cannot be ignored to show that the author does not want to identify his hearers to those who have fallen away.
In dealing with this passage, we can say the same thing with Hebrews 10:29 “we believe that the direct teaching of the text should determine the nature of the New Covenant first and foremost. Then, we can look at other passages assumed to be about it and determine, from a solid foundation, if in fact we are addressing apostasy from the New Covenant or apostasy from an empty profession of faith.”
Indeed, this serves as a stern warning on the dangers of apostasy.. If I tell you that the wall behind you has a high electric voltage and one touch of it will kill you, does that mean that you will really touch it? The true believer will seriously take the warning and with all his might by the grace of God to avoid it. Warnings in the Scriptures do not entail that the true believers will fall away. Apostasy is dangerous. According to Peter T. O’Brien in his commentary on the letter to the Hebrews (Pillar New Testament Commentary), “Apostasy is a great danger. It threatens the community… they must avoid the danger at all costs; the point of the warning, and of the encouraging words of vv.9-12, is to urge the listeners to persevere in the faith and obedience.”
In Exodus 14:31, Israel is said to have seen the deeds of the LORD and believed. But later on, God swore that they will not enter the promised land because of their sins. In Hebrews 3:17-18, it is said that God is angry at them for 40 years and God swore that they will not enter His rest. They were described as believers, but they are not true ones.
Those who are saved from the slavery of sin also submits to the LORD who saved them. According to John Macarthur, “Scripture teaches that Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender.”1 He cannot be your Savior if He is not your Lord. In the Scripture, Jesus’ Lordship always precedes His Saviorhood (2 Peter 1:11, 2:20, 3:2, 3:18). This is Lordship salvation. You submit to Him in humility when He saved you by His grace.
No one graduates from Christianity. No true believer falls away. When one falls away, it makes his profession false. The proof of the true believer, though he may experience problems in this life, is his perseverance in the faith. He will remain trusting in God since the LORD who bought Him holds his hands that he may not be lost.
After all that we have talked about, we can still say that those who have counterfeit faith as described above can still be saved. Their false profession does not make them unsavable. If they repent and trust in the blood and righteousness of Christ they will be forgiven. They still have hope in Christ.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!