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“Faith Journey,” Baptism, Legalism, and Antinomianism

Properly explained in accord with Scripture and the Lutheran confessions, the phrase “faith journey” possibly could have a good meaning, and in that sense, I would be willing to say that I am on a faith journey.

For example, Scripture speaks of our “walk” as a Christian and of the “way” of the Christian faith. For another example, in our life under the cross, our faith is exercised in suffering, trial, and prayer. Indeed, Luther says that trial is the precious possession of the Christian. Contrary to the cheap rip-off of the slogan, “Things go better with Coke” as “Things go better with Christ,” Scripture is upfront that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Trial under the cross aways is trial of faith, and not just any suffering for foolishness or ungodliness. As Peter says:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)

Scripture reveals multiple rich ways in which, if we explained “faith journey” by them, the phrase “faith journey” could be good. Unfortunately, that too often is not what happens. Too often the use of the phrase “faith journey” is not kept closely to the form of sound words of Scripture and the doctrines of the Christian faith.

Two problems often exist when much is made about being on a faith journey.

Baggage from Outside the Church

First, the phrase is borrowed from outside the church from unbelievers who promote “spiritual journey.” Some of them are the spiritual-but-not-religious. Others are into introspective self-discovery. Some of them are on the wheel of reincarnation. Etc., etc., etc.

When the phrase is borrowed and modified to “faith journey,” too often it carries with it baggage from “spiritual journey.” The baggage infects, corrupts, pollutes, undermines, and sometimes even poisons faith with an unchristian journey.

Journey Predominating over Faith

Second, too often the word faith becomes faintly secondary, and the word journey predominates. And also, faith is more about my faith than the faith or at least our faith.

The trouble with the journey predominating is that it underestimates Baptism. It falls into a reductionism that sees Baptism as only an event in the past. In my story, Baptism is my past, my present, and my future, and in that sense, I already am where I am going. By the grace of God, I was baptized in 1953 and by the grace of God I still am right there-here in Baptism. I look forward, if I am still on Earth at sun-up tomorrow, to being still here-there in my Baptism. That would be a good day.

When I participate in Divine Service, the service begins with Baptism. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus commands Baptism in all the world “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We begin the service by invoking the Name into which we are baptized. The Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament keep renewing me in my Baptism. They keep confronting me with the Law, sin , and death, like Baptism did and does, and they keep delivering to me by Word and Sacrament the Gospel, forgiveness of sin, and life everlasting, like Baptism did and does. All these – the Gospel, forgiveness of sin, and life everlasting – were given to me in Baptism in 1953. I am not going anywhere, thank God. There is no predominating journey. Rather, there is the keeping power of the Holy Spirit.

We confess that power and work of the Holy Spirit in the Third Article of the Creed. As Luther explains this Article:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

One Ditch: Legalism

The “journey” so often becomes what I am doing rather than what God is doing, and falls into the ditch of works righteousness, legalism, and presumption which are contrary to the faith given by the Word and Spirit in Baptism. The emphasis is lopsided on what I do to hold to Christ or to sanctify myself in contrast to what the Holy Spirit does to keep me.

Opposite Ditch: Antinomianism

There is a caveat to the foregoing, the error of antinomianism. That is the opposite ditch into which we are tempted to fall.

When we believe that because of the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins, because of our justification before God, it no longer matters how we treat our neighbors, that is error. The way to treat our neighbors still is revealed in the Second Table of the Law. It is another underestimation of Baptism not to rise out of its waters to newness of life in which for love of neighbor we treat our neighbor according to the Law.

Luther preached at length about the conformity of our lives to our doctrine when preaching on Baptism. See Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-39), (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018), “Sermon on Baptism 1534,” pp. 55-59, excerpted below.

Weak on Sanctification; Weak on Baptism

Some people call the love of neighbor in the baptized life sanctification. In Lutheran theology, we call everything God has done, is doing, and will do to save us and make us holy sanctification in the wide sense, while calling the day-to-day course of our lives as baptized saints sanctification in the narrow sense.

I sympathize when Christians of other denominations say Lutherans are weak on sanctification. There is a certain amount of justice in the critique of Lutherans both as to the way too many Lutherans live and as to the antinomian theology of too many Lutherans, particularly when that theology is used to justify, on a prospective basis, intentional ongoing violations of the Second Table of the Law.

But the problem is better viewed as being too weak on Baptism – too weak on the nowness of Baptism, too weak on the baptized life today rather than only an event in the past, too weak on rising out of the water of Baptism no longer dead but alive, too weak on Baptism setting me free to love my neighbor, too weak on being a perfectly free lord of all and at the same time a perfectly bound servant of all.


Maybe it would be okay to talk about being on a “baptismal journey,” but I do not know why we need this new word “journey.” What is supposed to be wrong with the words about Baptism that we already had? What does “journey” add that was lacking?

My advice is to:

  • Get past the underestimations of original sin that persist in both papistic and Americanized evangelical Christianity
  • Get past the underestimations of Baptism
  • Hold closely the form of sound words in Scripture about our walk, the way, the cross, suffering, trial, and prayer
  • Walk in the newness of baptismal life by faith in love to our neighbors.

The following is an excerpt from Martin Luther, “Sermon on Baptism 1534,” Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-39), (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018), pp. 55-59.

Now, I have often said that a distinction should be made between doc­trine and life. The factions both of the Anabaptists and the Papists fall from doctrine and take away either the natural essence of Baptism or else the right use of it. We who have the Gospel, however, praise and honor Baptism as God’s work and order and do not (God be praised!) sin against the doc­trine and God’s Word. Everything is pure and undefiled in the pulpit and in practice as well, since we baptize and are baptized according to them. Where we deserve reproach, however, is in our failure to have our life follow our doctrine. When doctrine and faith are right, the fruit thereof should also follow: that we live a life worthy of Baptism and thereby bear witness that we have not received it in vain. For what good would it do you to have Gods Word and command with a right, clear understanding, if you did not act accordingly? So, even if we do not rail against Baptism, we are not helped by our failure to show our faith and live as a baptized person ought to live. Yet this fault with regard to life is to be sharply distinguished from the sin against the doctrine. Here something can still be done, and the life can be improved. But if the doctrine is false, there is no help or hope for the life either, but both are lost and condemned.

This situation is like that of a citizen in a city who can commit two dif­ferent sins against his superior. For instance, he might disobey his mayor, act against his orders, and thereby fall under his punishment, yet all the while admit that he was doing wrong thereby. It is in this way that these two things, jus et factum, “law and obedience to the law,” or (as we say here) doctrine and life, can be distinguished. For this transgressor or disobedient person still confesses the law and allows the command to stand. But if he decided to go off and oppose the commandment, did not accept the law, refused to admit wrongdoing, but even went so far as to defend his actions—that would be quite another matter and would not be described as disobedience or transgression, but sedition and crimen laesae maiestatis, since he would be directly defying those over him, batting the law aside, and wishing to be the law himself. This calls not for normal punishment from Master Hans, but for the earth to open beneath him and swallow him up, as it did Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16 [:32]).

This world, too, cannot stand it when sin does not want to be sin but wants to be called law—not punished, but affirmed and praised. This is what our good Papists do now. They knowingly persecute the acknowledged truth of the Gospel, try by force to defend their ungodliness, shamelessly contra­dict God to His face, and say that what He says is nothing and that what they say and do, rather, is to be called the law, so that His Word and command are invalid until it pleases them. This is the very definition of knocking God from His throne and opposing Majesty. The sect of the Anabaptists does the same with holy Baptism, waging sacrilegious war against God’s order and making another in its place. This calls not for a sword or temporal punish­ment but for the devil himself and eternal hellfire.

God preserve us from such sin (even as He does)! For in it there can be no grace or forgiveness, since they fight directly against these things. Yet since we are so graced as to have the doctrine correctly held among us, we should also make sure that our lives conform to it, and not abuse this grace or let it be in vain. But having died to sin and become new people through Baptism, we are to walk henceforth in a new life as newborn people, as Saints Peter and Paul exhort [1 Pet. 2:24; Rom. 6:4], so that it may be discerned in our life that we have received Baptism to our benefit and blessing.

Here it is apparent how the devil obstructs us at every turn so that, while Baptism is not treated incorrectly, it nevertheless remains without fruit among us. Although it was without our works and good life that we found grace to obtain Baptism correctly, we are still to devote ourselves to honor­ing and adorning it with words and works and our whole life from now on. Baptismal fonts, altars, and pulpits are there to remind us of this. Since they are to bear witness to the fact that we are baptized and Christians, we should also plan to honor the baptismal font and so live that we may view it with joy and that it may not bear witness against us.

But tragically, many now act as if they might as well always remain as before in their old skin, live as they please, and so make their glorious Baptism only a covering for their shame, as though they had been called to the kingdom of grace in order to have the power to do as they wish. Despite this, they assure themselves that God is gracious and make the excuse: “I am a weak man. Surely God will take this into consideration and forgive me,” etc.

No, not so, dear brother! I did not point you down that path so that Baptism should grant the liberty to sin. Quite the opposite! Your sins have been remitted, and you have now come into favor (who were before in disfavor because of sin) so that you might now live another life and depart from sin. Being baptized and remaining in sin do not go together. It is given for the very purpose of taking sin away so that man would become just and increase in good works. If he was disobedient, angry, spiteful, unfaithful, and unchaste before, he is to depart from that, pray an Our Father instead, and from that point on take care and strive to be obedient, patient, and kind. If you do not do this, do not think that all is well with you nor boast about the grace of Christ a great deal in order to justify your sin.

It would certainly be significant, if you should find yourself so greatly improved that, for a year or two or some length of time, you would not become angry, curse, etc., as before. Then, if you should fall once or twice through oversight or weakness, people could take this into consideration and offer you encouragement again. But remaining in your former ways and persisting in being angry, impatient, and spiteful shows that you have received your holy Baptism to your great harm.

Likewise, if you had been an adulterer, fornicator, or coveter, then Baptism should teach you from that point on not to strike, commit adultery, covet, steal, and rob any longer. The former is forgiven and dead, and from that point on there is to be a different, just, righteous, beneficent, disciplined man. If you find such life and fruits in yourself for a length of time, it is a sign that Baptism has taken effect in you. If it should happen that you go amiss in one or two things, which would be called falling and stumbling, you may take comfort in grace and forgiveness; yet not in such a way that you would remain lying in it or continue and keep saying: “What can I do about it? I cannot get rid of it. Anyway, all is grace and forgiveness,” etc. He will not tolerate that, for thereby you only anger God and go farther and farther from grace until you lose it entirely and finally fall under punishment, even into the accursed sin whereby you despise and slander Baptism and grace, as do the devils factions.

Consider your own life, therefore, and see how it accords with Baptism, and know that even though you have been called and placed into the kingdom of grace and made a partaker through Christ of all that Christians have, yet if you always remain as before, it cannot be beneficial to you, since you are not honoring your Baptism or keeping it pure. While you might be called a Christian, you have let go of Christ, sin is your lord, you are serving the devil, and you have no more than the name and appearance of Christianity by which you deceive yourself and do yourself harm. As I said before, He not only gave this Baptism and Sacrament for the purpose of forgiving and washing away sin by it but also wishes thereby to purge every day whatever sin still remains, and blot it out completely, so that we become quite a different kind and manner of people, inclined and equipped for every good work. Where it has been rightly received, sin will surely be found to decrease and diminish daily. Where it is not, the opposite appears, so that, while you may have put on the wedding garment, there is filth under it with which you soil it and forfeit its beauty.

If we want to have this glorious grace, it is necessary that we adorn Baptism and hold it high as a noble, beautiful jewel. This “adornment” is our living a life above reproach. Thus St. Paul teaches (Titus 2 [:10]) servants and [those in] other estates to live in such a way as to adorn the salutary doctrine in all things. How? By being obedient, not dealing dishonestly, not working mischief, etc. This is the beautiful wreath which adorns Baptism, gives it a good reputation and acclaim before everyone, and testifies to us that we have received it fruitfully and are true Christians. By contrast, whoever does not live in his estate as he ought dishonors and disgraces both his own doctrine and his Baptism, and bears witness against himself that he is unworthy of grace and is no more than a blot and stain upon Christians, as Peter ([2] Peter 2 [:20]) calls such people.63

Therefore, let us earnestly and diligently seek to be found among those who also embellish and adorn this high treasure of ours with their life and conduct, that we may joyfully boast in these before God and all the world and not be ashamed. Then we will not end up like the others who have lost Baptism. All that they taught and did, or still teach and live, has become futile—indeed, damning to them—and now they are seven times worse off than before [Luke 11:26]. Because they have abandoned this treasure, it is their fitting punishment that they are now hopelessly deceived by all kinds of false doctrine; because they did not pay heed to doing true good works to the glory of Baptism, they must now be driven and afflicted with false good works and do all that the devil wants through his deceivers. The same can happen to us also if we are not concerned and vigilant to avoid losing this precious treasure of the Word and blessed Baptism. He who gave it can also have it taken away again, even as the devil seeks and endeavors to do with all diligence.

Let that be enough as a brief admonition for ourselves, for we must use preaching both to refute false doctrine and to rebuke sin, so that both doctrine and life may proceed correctly and so abide. Amen.