Raised Into New Life, 3rd Edition
Were YOU raised into new life with Christ?
Last updated on November 5, 2011.
LINKS (if on the internet): FOREWORD. People live on earth. A good force created the earth and each of our lives. The good force is God. People can be good or we can be bad. Doing bad things is sin. God invites all to join Him in being good and rejecting bad. People must act to reject badness. God has spoken to tell us how we can choose good over evil. We live and later will die. Two destinations lie ahead. Heaven is for those who serve God on earth. Hell is for others who chose to be bad. People are free to choose. God gave the Bible to guide us to Him. The Bible tells how we can please God. This book explains God’s call to goodness. We who do bad things are sinners. If we want to please God we will turn away from all bad things. We will choose to live as God’s unique Son lived while on earth.
PREFACE. Three Bible passages in particular speak to the need of bad people changing. Witness 1, Witness 2, and Witness 3. We explain our plan for study of “new birth” into Christ. Changing from bad to good involves a complete change of ownership. To follow Jesus means making HIM our Lord. He calls for us to experience a new birth of water and spirit if we want to be His followers. In any birth, Birth follows conception. Of course it’s the same sequence in the new birth into Christ.
INTRODUCTION tells of John the Baptist. God sent a prophet to prepare the way for Jesus to teach and then to open the way for bad people to change and become good people. John baptized Jews with
Baptist baptism and won many converts to repentance and baptism for remission of sins. One who came to John was Jesus. Jesus was baptized. His baptism was unique. This is followed by some background facts.
What did Jesus say about new birth? It's Jesus & Nicodemus who first discuss a new birth of water and spirit. We note His statement. We speak to the new birth of water and to baptism in His Spirit by Jesus. Then we speak about what JESUS told His apostles to do to bring others into God's family. Mark words the commission differently.
Early Disciples Were Born Again. The apostles obeyed Jesus. They proclaimed gospel truth. They baptized those who believed. The Gospel message saves. The new (Christian) baptism is not John’s baptism.. And God’s GIFT was given then and promised also for all who later obeyed the gospel. Samaritans then were saved. We learn something when two SIMONS met. Then Philip met an Ethiopian and both were glad. Later, Paul was reborn. And Cornelius was visited with surprising results. Speaking of surprises, A jailer was jolted, then baptized! These are the reported conversions. What did we learn?
Apostles speak, so we can understand conversion into Christ. What shall we think? If we believe, we should admit it. Repent or perish! are the choices. We are all baptized INTO Jesus as we’re born again of water and spirit. So Why do we baptize? And Why do we assemble? The NEW Birth converts sinners into saints in the making. Then as ONE body we grow. And we should keep learning. Disciples are learners. Some wonder, “When are we saved?” The new birth is of water AND spirit.
Baptism cleanses from sin It’s new and different from any other baptism. Work it is NOT. It IS serious business. Baptism must be by free choice. Baptism is always by immersion. The apostle says baptism is
putting on Christ.
Paul met controversy in Galatian churches when enemies came with a different gospel. This is
what Paul taught that some didn’t like. Is it salvation by Jesus PLUS something?
The word means spirit OR breath. God Breathes to start each new life when sinners are saved. *
Seed, is God’s WORD. * Are Only Some Elected To Salvation?, *
When is God’s Spirit given? *
People baptize people,
And CONCLUSIONS. * Victor Knowles Speaks to the Question. *
A Warning. Some Seek To Bypass NEW BIRTH. *
Cecil May Jr. ON GOD’S WORD. *
David Faust Offers Hope.
SCRIPTURES: Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15,16,
1 Corinthians 1:13-16,
1 Corinthians 10:1-13,
1 Corinthians 12:12,13,
1 Corinthians 15:1-8,
1 Corinthians 15:12-28,
2 Corinthians 1:21,22,
2 Corinthians 5:14,15,
2 Thessalonians 1:1-10,
1 Peter 3:15-22.
FOREWORD: A favorite Bible verse for most who know Jesus is John 3:16. It reads,
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in HIM should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 – (ESV). Some who read the verse emphasize the word believes. The correct emphasis is on HIM, Jesus, God’s unique Son. This book aims to help readers see that emphasis. It is good for us to realize that humans are not perfect. We CAN be wrong. We CAN misunderstand what we hear or read. On the other hand, we can learn truth and walk in truth. Some things are wrong. Some people are wicked.
Those who now know there is a God, a God who hates and punishes wrong-doing, may put sin to death by turning away from sin and seeking a new birth as a Christ-follower. Jesus tells of the need (John 3:3-8). Every sinner needs a new birth of water and spirit. Here we discuss new birth and the life which follows. A first step toward eternal life in Christ is to realize that God is good. Jesus came to earth to help people know that God is love. He punishes sin. He rewards those who choose the good life. God is good. People also can be good. We choose. Either good or bad. Selfish or unselfish. Usually most of us are both good and bad.
It’s SINNERS who are offered new life by Jesus. We speak here about the new life He offers. Repentance is essential to changed life! Both Peter (Acts 2:38) and Paul (1 Corinthians 12:12,13) point out that God’s gift of eternal life in Jesus is given to us following our new birth of water and spirit. The new birth of spirit is called repentance. This is more than just a change of mind! Repentance is a change of the will. It’s a change of intention and direction. No longer selfish. Now selfless. Death to sin must precede the NEW life in Christ. Love of self must go.
JESUS SAYS He will become a guest in our life IF we experience a new birth of water and spirit. ”... He said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of spirit.’” John 3:3-8 – (ESV) as edited.
Who knows better than Jesus does what is required to enter His kingdom? We do well to learn from HIM. Salvation comes to those who believe in Jesus, that He lived as a man on earth after having been the actual and active creator of the earth, that He was put to death and then He Himself was raised up into NEW LIFE. Realizing our sin, we’re saved by faith in Jesus when we turn away from sin and choose new birth to make HIM our Lord for life. Then we can enjoy life with JESUS! We serve Him and enjoy it because we love Him. The NEW LIFE is lived in love. Jesus loves us. Jesus wants us to love one another. He wants us to love even the unlovely and the unloving, just as He does.
Here we point to simple scriptural truths concerning entering life with Jesus. In Bible quotations in this study, “Spirit” is sometimes changed by this author to “spirit.” The original Greek does not capitalize the word. Translators do capitalize when they think the meaning is God’s Spirit. When I see the translators are wrong, I choose to remove their capitalization. I explain my thinking about this in the study in this book, “Were You Elected to Salvation?” God invites ALL to come and be saved! He doesn’t “give” faith to some and not to others. He freely offers GRACE to all. Every person is welcome to hear, believe, and obey the gospel of Christ and be saved! Let’s think more about the life which comes by dying to sin and being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE.
Jesus offers to live within us after a new birth of water and spirit. In this book we tell about the NEW BIRTH and its results. All Christians became so by being born again. Surely we will recognize CHANGE in our thinking, our speaking, and our actions when we realize that Jesus now walks within us! Existence dramatically changes when a baby is born. Light is seen. Breathing begins! Hunger awakens. Newborn Christians are “babes in Christ.”
Please join me in first examining briefly Bible examples of conversion to Christ, then learning from apostles of Christ more about being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. Are not all of us sinners? Only what Jesus did on the cross makes our salvation possible. Nonetheless, men of any age are not saved solely by what Jesus did on the cross, or all humans would already be saved. There would now be no sin. We’d all be saved already. With us doing nothing about righteousness or wrong. There would be NO sin! But the Bible says there IS sin, and that there is a Savior. A needed Savior!
Three Witnesses Agree – 1st Witness
I summon three witnesses to support the theory that in order to experience the new birth of water and spirit any sinner must both trust Jesus and obey Jesus. By free choice. We individually choose our own spiritual leader(s) to follow. As he writes to warn of the fate of those who do not make Jesus their Lord, hear the apostle Paul, witness #1,
 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, ... when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not OBEY the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might ... (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 – ESV, emphasis added).
The apostle affirms that those who do NOT OBEY the gospel will be eternally sorry. If Jesus is Lord, should we not follow and obey Him? Paul’s words make it clear that sinners are called on to DO something in order to be saved. God invites us to not only trust Jesus, but to also OBEY Him in order to live. Rejecting is fatal. What the gospel offers is life-giving. It’s important. It’s essential. We can be saved by rejecting sin and obeying Jesus!
That’s witness #1, clear and concise. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, salvation is available for every human. But we must choose to obey the risen Lord. We must turn away from sin. The good news of Calvary’s death and the resurrection of Jesus is the gospel. Sinners are saved only if each believes and is led to OBEY the good news that Jesus loves and can save. Do we understand? Do we believe it? Those who obey JESUS live. Those who DO NOT OBEY THE GOSPEL will be eternally lost.
Next Witness: Jesus told one man that a new birth must be coupled with what His death makes possible, or else any particular person will NOT be saved. His atoning death was all JESUS needed to do. Now each sinner has something to do if the sinner seeks salvation. Hear Jesus, witness #2:
Are sinners LOST until they do OBEY the gospel? Or is the apostle Paul wrong in saying so? Some disagree with Paul. But Paul tells it like it is. As he also did in Romans 6:19:
You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
 Jesus answered him,
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. ... unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God ... (John 3:3-5 – ESV, emphasis added).
We’ve heard the testimony of two witnesses. Jesus died for us. He REQUIRES a new birth of water and spirit. Only those who in obedience to the gospel are spiritually reborn will be saved by what Jesus did on the cross. Being raised into NEW LIFE must follow a new birth of water and spirit!
You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Paul and Jesus both know this and say so. That’s #1 and #2. The message of the cross draws ALL. Only SOME hear the gospel, obey the gospel, and are saved. Others reject God’s call and are lost. If Jesus did it all, then every sinner is saved at birth – no NEW birth needed! Who dares to say Jesus was wrong? Some bravely do, and some know nothing of the new birth of water and spirit Jesus says is preparatory to being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE.
Witness #3 holds the keys to Christ’s kingdom. Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, invites sinners to repent and be baptized in order to receive remission of sins. His invitation to sinners is not,
Come join us because what Jesus did on the cross has already saved you. Hear the apostle Peter:
... ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’
(Acts 2:36-41 – ESV, emphasis added).
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls
Think of these three ancient writings as they relate to one another. Within the last year or so of His ministry, Jesus spoke with Nicodemus about the coming kingdom. That was first of these three. It was prophetic. The kingdom was promised but had not yet come upon the earth. It was to come later. Jesus said that when His Kingdom had begun, entrance was only by way of a new birth of water and spirit.
Birth Follows Conception. Some think conception which leads to new birth is by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is uniquely God’s Son because HE was conceived within Mary by the Spirit. If all Christians were conceived by the Spirit, would not Jesus cease to BE the UNIQUE Son of God? I think, since the Word makes clear that it’s by sinners hearing the gospel that faith comes, then we should believe that faith comes by hearing the gospel rather than by some mysterious
work of the Spirit.
Jesus is God’s Word – creator of all life. Another was inspired to write concerning the new birth:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation (James 1:17,18 – ESV, emphasis added). Paul had said,
You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. I hear James affirming that JESUS saves and that belief in and obedience to His Word of truth (His gospel) brings us into new life. This is explained more fully later in this study. Here you will read what the bible says about how sinners were and are RAISED INTO new life with Christ.
More than three years before disciples of Christ were by Jesus commissioned to convert new disciples into the Jesus Way, a cousin of Jesus of Nazareth had begun preaching
in the wilderness in Judea. Judea was where most
Jews lived. Called
John the Baptist, he began baptizing God’s people,
Jews, who had come to hear John and who wanted to please God and participate in the promised kingdom. The message John proclaimed prior to baptizing his repentant Jewish hearers was that a promised new kingdom was
at hand. In preparation for that kingdom, all Jews were called to repent of sin and be baptized. Jews, he said, were to return to the ways taught by God through Moses and God’s prophets of old. Those who did repent were immersed in water. All who accepted John’s baptism were likely candidates to soon afterward enter the promised kingdom.
John’s baptism of his fellow Jews featured as essential factors: 1) a call to repentance, 2) a promise of forgiveness for past sins, and 3) preparation for God’s soon-to-come Kingdom. Baptism associated John’s followers with his program of preparation for the Messiah through repentance. He had no group or institution for them to join. This is the case also with baptisms performed by disciples of Jesus Himself prior to His ascension back into heaven. Whether performed by John’s disciples or by disciples of Jesus, these were Baptist baptisms of repentant Jews anticipating a future kingdom.
There was no organization of Jews baptized by John and readying for the kingdom. As individuals, all were PREPARING for the coming Kingdom which we now call Christ’s
church. The church is really an assembly, which is what the Greek word means. And it is a separated and organized group, all loyal to the one King and Lord, Jesus. These baptized Jews, however, did not form a church! The church was a future promise. It was after this that Jesus said,
I WILL build my church.
As a faithful Jew, Jesus was among those who responded to John’s call for Jews to be baptized. Yet John realized that Jesus was different from every other respondent. Jesus had no sin. Jesus needed no repentance and remission of sin. So John did not want to baptize Him. However, Jesus insisted on the baptism since all faithful Jews had received God’s call in that day to come to John and be baptized. And Jesus was in every respect a faithful Jew! He kept the law of Moses perfectly. He acted as His Father directed.
John had been sent to prepare the way for the kingdom. It had not yet come time for the King to be crowned. It would be soon! Jesus went about doing good, healing and teaching and preparing for His sacrificial death. He did NOT at that time publicly explain how entrance to His kingdom would be possible. He did have His disciples practice baptism –
Baptist baptism of repentant Jews. He sent His disciples into villages throughout Judea to inform of the coming kingdom, to join His voice with that of His cousin John.
Immersions were performed by John, or by a disciple of John or, later, by a disciple of Jesus. Those who experienced Baptist baptism needed later to be baptized into CHRIST when opportunity came to obey the gospel. John made clear that although he baptized in water, the coming King would later baptize in two different elements – in fire, or in the Holy Spirit.
The aim in this study is to point out some of the things in the bible which make clear what is accomplished when sinners die to sin, are buried, and are then RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. Every instance (recital) of conversion to Christ recorded in the bible is found in the New Testament book of Acts. That’s where we look for examples of sinners becoming saints. What worked then might be expected to work now as it did then.
Some choose to ignore the examples and search until they find verses elsewhere which might be used to suppose that other ways bring sinners into Christ’s kingdom. Surely it’s wiser to see how conversion occured in the apostolic age rather than to search for some other way. Only we who obey the gospel will be saved by what Jesus
already did on the cross. That’s how it was done then. That’s how it must be done now.
Being raised into new life follows burying the old man of sin. Being buried and raised is closely linked with our first really hearing the gospel, believing it applies to us personally, and turning away from sin. Can unrepentant sinners save themselves? Paul wrote to Christians in Rome,
You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Can anyone other than Jesus save from sin? Jesus and Paul agree that dying to sin must precede being raised into new life.
The apostle says that men of any age save themselves by
obeying the gospel. Something is required of seeking and asking in order to receive cleansing by the blood of Jesus. In this study I point out the minimum required for
new birth. Perhaps some have in mind passages which might seem to promise salvation prior to completion of the new birth. Many verses point out that faith in Jesus is essential FOR salvation. None promise salvation by faith ALONE. According to Jesus, required also for conversion into Him is NEW BIRTH of water and spirit. Inspired and reported examples of conversion into new life with Christ in apostolic times are considered in this study. We will point to several Bible passages about conversions to Christ after first inviting consideration of some pre-Christian initiatory and cleansing ceremonies.
Some Background Truths. We’re told that in some
mystery (secretive) religions in the first century, a baptismal ceremony inducted new members into the religion. And many religions included various
washings aimed at purification from sin. Since their purpose was to cleanse from sin they were similar in some ways to acting in obedience to the Christ to seek salvation in Him. In some cases,
cleansing water or other material was sprinkled toward (and/or over) persons seeking cleansing. In other cases, the entire person or the person’s hands were washed to remove possible contamination.
A practice had sprung up among the Jews whereby non-Jews could convert to the
Jewish religion in the first century A.D. by being circumcised and baptized. Jewish proselyte baptism associated the proselyte (any Gentile who converted to the God of the Bible) with Judaism. The purpose of proselyte conversion was to make the converted Gentile a part of the people of God who commonly were called the Jews. These were the community established and perpetuated by faithfulness to the covenant between God and chosen descendents of Abraham.
God’s covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave meaning to circumcision as part of the conversion process into God’s Jewish family. The converted (circumcised and baptized) Gentile, having become one of God’s covenant people, was then said to be dead to his non-Jewish past and origins. Likewise, it is suggested that to have been
baptized into Moses committed those freed slaves who crossed the Red Sea to accept Moses as their leader in bringing God’s people out of Egyptian bondage. Paul wrote about this:  I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea ... (1 Corinthians 10:1,2 – ESV).
Instructions, examples, and relevant information about being raised into new life with Christ are found in the New Testament rather than in the Old Testament. Old Testament books were mainly written in the Hebrew language. They teach us nothing about NEW LIFE in Christ. It’s in the New Testament writings that we read about Jesus saving sinners. New Testament original writings were in the Koine Greek language. This was the language of the common people in the lands where in the early years of church history these books were written. So they wrote in Greek.
At the time of writing of New Testament books, Rome ruled that part of the world about which we Westerners know (not the Orient or American or Asian or Pacific areas). Yet the language of commerce and learning was that of Greece. Most people could understand at least some Greek words and were apt to be able to make themselves understood by speakers of the Greek language. English came much later. In particular, our information source for being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE is that part of the Bible which deals with Jesus on earth and His establishing through His apostles of an
assembly (a church family) for us who would become His disciples. Shouldn’t teaching of Bible truths always be in simple words most people might understand?
The plan in this study is to point first to what Jesus taught about the coming kingdom, then to see how the apostles put into practice what they had been taught, then to look to later teaching by the apostles concerning the Way of life into which they had been led. Conclusions then can be drawn based on what is heard from Jesus and His apostles. We believe Jesus inspired and led His apostles into all needed spiritual truth. They put into practice what He taught them. Some today seek to learn from and to obey Jesus as His apostles and early Christians did. I hope that may be the goal of each reader.
What JESUS said about being
RAISED INTO New Life
JESUS could have raised an armed rebellion. Discontent was rife throughout the land. He was popular. Taxes and tax-collectors were hated. Soldiers were everywhere present and were feared. Jesus taught. Jesus healed. He paid required taxes. Jesus loved and taught others to love. Jewish leaders may have hoped they saw a leader who would free Israel from Roman rule. One of the political leaders came to Jesus privately one evening. The apostle John reports in John 3:1-17:
 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him,
Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him. Jesus answered him,
truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him,
How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered,
truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. (John 3:1-6 – ESV, except that Ray has changed capitals to lower case on two words which for no apparently good reason in ESV and other translations are capitalized. Emphasis added.)
It may be that Nicodemus was seeking an accommodation with Jesus which would combine forces between Jewish leaders and Jesus to make Him king of a rebuilt Jewish political state. If so, Jesus quietly and firmly made clear the impossibility of this situation ever happening. Jesus didn’t directly discuss politics. Perhaps Nicodemus had other purposes for his most unusual private visit. Jesus made clear that only those who were
born again could be citizens of His kingdom. If Nicodemus had supposed all Jews would automatically be citizens of any kingdom ruled by Jesus, he was made aware of his misunderstanding. Only those who were made morally clean (who were wholly dedicated to God) would be within Christ’s organization. This may not have been what the politician expected to hear.
Jews, no doubt including Nicodemus, wanted freedom – for Jews. Jesus offers all good things not only to Jews, but to any person who will seek life in Him. The only way to have life in Jesus is to be born again of water and spirit. Jesus made it unmistakably clear. We who study the matter today can also understand that
new birth into Christ’s kingdom is a change brought about in some way by both water AND spirit, and by being buried and RAISED INTO NEW LIFE.
We are aware that some think by mention here of water Jesus refers to human birth. It seems to me that He speaks of a NEW birth of water and spirit rather than an OLD birth of water and a new birth of the spirit. He did not say,
unless one who was born of water is now born of the spirit. NOTE that Jesus contrasts fleshly and spiritual births. I suggest that’s OUR fleshly birth and OUR possible spiritual REBIRTH.
Disciples of the Christ could not and cannot baptize in either fire or the Holy Spirit. Only God could do so. As John did, they immersed converts in water. Christian baptism also is immersion in water. It has always been so. It will always be so. That’s immersion. And that’s water. No change. Yet it was prophesied by His cousin John that Jesus would baptize some in the Holy Spirit, as He did, and some in fire, as He surely will do at the last judgment. Some want it to be that Jesus baptizes every convert with (in) His Spirit. They think that’s what the prophecy of John means. Some also think that would fulfill the prophecy Peter quotes in Acts 2. But why would Jesus have commissioned MEN to baptize converts if HE was going to do the job Himself? It can’t be doubted that Jesus gave the job of baptizing to MEN to do! Matthew tells of this in Matthew 28:16-20.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit was to confer particular powers and gifts upon a very few selected persons, or to signal God’s acceptance of those baptized in His Spirit. Only a few received baptism in the Spirit. Baptism in fire will be the fate of all who at the final judgment are not found to have become followers of the Way of Christ. Also, Jesus is quoted in Mark 10:38,39 speaking of a baptism other than John’s that He would later experience. It appears that Jesus there spoke of the suffering which He would undergo at Calvary. His apostles were promised that they too would suffer for the sake of the gospel:  Jesus said to them
You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? And they said to him,
We are able. And Jesus said to them,
The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism wth which I am baptized, you will be baptized ... (Mark 10:38,39 – ESV, emphasis added).
Jesus commands that HUMANS shall baptize new believers. Matthew reports His commission this way:
Matthew 28:16-20  Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, ... And Jesus came and said to them,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, BAPTIZING THEM in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING THEM to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:16-20 – ESV. Emphasis added).
Once again Jesus has made clear His claim to being God. After His death and resurrection, He claimed that ALL authority had now been placed in His hands. The confusion could end. Now He was giving His friends and followers their marching orders. No longer were they to dream of an earthly kingdom. They, instead, would travel throughout kingdoms of this present world, everywhere telling others about a risen and loving Lord. Their duties then included baptizing those who came to believe in Jesus, and teaching new converts more and more about what Jesus had said and done and now wanted His disciples to do.
The instructions given by Jesus concerning the baptism He commanded included that the act was to be done
in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism
into Christ is done by the authority of, in respect and honor for, and to bring each convert into fellowship with God in His entire being. In actual practice, we’re told that baptism was actually done
in the name of Jesus, as shorthand for the longer list Jesus gave of the persons who together form our one God, and in recognition of the authority now given to Jesus alone.
Apparently early Christians, and the apostles, did not suppose Jesus in His
great commission meant to be giving some kind of
proper formula for someone to say to make baptism valid. If anything is recorded about what was said when a baptism was performed, no reporter in bible times ever speaks of the baptizer using this particular wording. Generally what the report says is only that the person was baptized
in the name of Jesus. It is not John’s baptism which now is offered.
Hearing the commission from Jesus, the apostles were
caught off balance. Indeed, both confused and off-balance they were. But these disciples (apostles) who were with Jesus in Galilee now were convinced that Jesus had been RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. His friends and followers had fully expected Him to become a king on this earth when it had never been intended to be so. Only now did they understand, and still they did not completely understand. They all were Jews. They now knew that Jesus had risen from the dead, regardless of how dreadful His death had been. They had seen Him alive again. After he had died, they had heard Him and talked with Him. They had eaten with Him. His resurrection could not be doubted. Yet His future plans were not clear to them. He was not doing what they had planned and dreamed He would do. They were Jews. They wanted Jews to again have an earthly kingdom! That had been their dream and hope.
Those to whom the gospel is to be taken are
people groups rather than
nations as such. Note how Mark tells of the great commission with which Jesus sent forth His apostles: Mark 16:15,16  And he said to them,
Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. WHOEVER BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED WILL BE SAVED, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:15,16 – ESV, emphasis added.). Whoever believes and IS immersed shall be saved. This is the promise of Jesus as the gospel of Mark words the commission. It is suggested by some that Mark may have not written the last few verses of the
gospel according to Mark as it appears in most English Bibles. So we can only report that the text as it is found in several ancient manuscripts does include this wording, which in no way disagrees with other Bible teaching.
The text here uses a word which translates as
preach rather than the
make disciples or
teach chosen by Matthew in his account of the giving of the commission. Paul uses a form of the same verb in writing that
God thought (it) good through the folly of the PROCLAMATION to save the believers (1 Corinthians 1:21). Cornelius was told by God’s messenger that Peter would bring him a message by which he would be saved. It’s not just any proclaiming which saves. It’s the proclaimed message of the cross which saves those who obediently respond to it. The
proclamation which saves is summarized by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:
 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – ESV, emphasis added).
What we are told to tell others, whether in conversation or in writing or in proclamation, is the gospel (good news) of Jesus who came to earth to die in place of sinners so that we sinners might have undeserved eternal life. It’s as the proclamation about Jesus is read or heard that
gospel seed which can produce eternal life within sinners is
planted. Only those who HAVE received, then believed, the gospel and who SEEK salvation from sin could ever be baptized, then RAISED INTO NEW LIFE with Christ.
How were early disciples
raised into new life?
1. Acts 2:38-40. (This text is printed on an earlier page). The celebration of Pentecost described in Acts chapter two saw the beginning of Christian experience. Jews from around the known world were assembled in Jerusalem for this particular Jewish feast. Most were probably very aware of the crucifixion of the Galilean pretender to the throne of David. Some of them may have witnessed His death. It is conceivable that some hearing Peter were among the mob who had cried out for Jesus to be crucified.
The Spirit-empowered preaching of Peter employed the best of Jewish logic. This was appropriate since his hearers were Jews. Those present for the Pentecost ceremonies believed in prophecy and its fulfillment. They also realized that Jewish law required the testimony of at least two
witnesses to confirm any questionable matter.
Peter proclaimed as a fact that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the Old Testament requirements to identify Him as the Christ. He pointed out that there were many witnesses to fulfillment by Jesus of Nazareth of the prophetic requirements. Therefore, said the apostle,
Jesus is the promised Messiah. To the Jewish mind, anything foretold in Scripture must someday come to pass. If any event were attested to by at least two witnesses, it must be accepted as fact.
Three thousand men that day heard and believed and acted upon Peter’s message. Peter brought to their attention that it was some of THEM who were responsible for putting God’s man to death. Some then asked the formerly fearful but now-brave spokesman for God what they could do to make right what they had done wrong. Peter’s answer was enlightening and encouraging. They could DO something to put right what they had done wrong. And it was something simple. It was a thing anyone could do. It wouldn’t cost them more than they could afford in money or time or talents. No priest or sacrament was called for. It required only an internal change of heart and mind, and then submitting to a public ceremony to demonstrate that they now believed in Jesus and now wanted to serve Him.
Acts 2:38 (sinners can receive) is key to understanding what Jesus said as quoted in John 3:3-8 (sinners must be
born again of water and spirit). Some think they understand the new birth better than Jesus and the apostle Peter did. They don’t. Peter was inspired. It was promised to him that he would be led into all truth. He exhorted seekers to repent and be baptized in order to receive remission of sins. Shouldn’t we today have the same message for seeking sinners? Or has Jesus revealed a different way to us? I hope each of us wants to understand apostolic teaching as the early church did.
New life in Christ starts by trusting Jesus. Then we obey Him. In order to receive both remission of sins and an unequalled gift of God’s Holy Spirit, God’s spokesman advised these seekers they need only repent, and then submit to a brief immersion in water. These seekers all were familiar with John’s baptism. The action of Christian baptism was the same. The effects were not the same.
The kingdom which John spoke of as coming had now arrived. This NEW baptism required a change of allegiance. Only one sinner was saved while Jesus was on the cross. Jesus died to purchase redemption for all who would later obey the gospel. Yes, also for all who in earlier days had been faithful to God. Peter is saying those who want to turn to Jesus and be raised into new life must accept HIS goals and make His goals their own. In so saying, the holder of the keys of the Lord’s kingdom was explaining that the
new birth which brings sinners INTO the Way of Christ includes a spiritual renewal.
That JESUS did and does
pour out His Spirit is obvious. EVERY convert to Christ RECEIVES the Holy Spirit as a gift as the convert is reborn of water and spirit. Every convert. Not just the rich and powerful. Not just the poor and needy. ALL are promised we will receive, not baptism in the Spirit, but the
gift of the Holy Spirit Himself. The promise is for all. The prophecy is not fulfilled by continuing baptisms in the Spirit but as an indwelling. Jesus comes to live within each as we are reborn. If we have repented of sin and been baptized into Jesus, through His Spirit Jesus walks with us (in us) wherever we go in this world! He promised.
Consider what is made clear in inspired writings about some of the acts of Christians in the earliest days of our history. It appears that the normal conversion experience has always been similar to what we read about in Acts 2:38. Men hear the gospel. Some believe it. Some who believe turn away from sin and are baptized into Christ. Others continue in sin. Those who repent and are baptized receive the promised remission of sins and the almost unbelievable gift of God coming to dwell within them. We move on now to notice other conversions reported by Luke in The Acts, where some of the acts of some in apostolic days are recorded. In Acts we find described only the exceptional conversions. Others are briefly mentioned.
2. Some Samaritans (Acts 8)
When God’s people were taken away into Babylonian captivity, the
best of them were taken – the brave, the beautiful, the useful. The
rest also had lost their government and their religion with its priesthood and temple. Those left behind built new worship centers. They named new priests. The religion of those who were not taken to Babylon became a mixture. Their blood-lines were no longer based on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were no longer proud to be Jews. Much later, when a remnant who had survived in Babylon came back to restore Jewish government and religion in Jerusalem, the ones now called Samaritans offered to help rebuild the city and the temple. Their help was refused. From that time, there was open enmity between
real Jews and Samaritans.
Now however the time has come for Samaritans to hear the gospel. Jesus had told the apostles that they were to witness for Him in Jerusalem first, then nearby in all Judea and in Samaria, and later throughout the world. God sent a strong persecution against the disciples in Jerusalem. They had to flee for their lives. Luke continues the story:  Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:4-8 – ESV).
What we learn happened in Samaria took place several months after the gospel of the risen Christ was first preached in Jerusalem. There had been 3,000 converts the first day the church was in existence. Their number soon grew to 5,000, and the growth continued. Then persecution came.
Luke informs us that the scattered disciples went every direction fleeing from Jerusalem. He tells of one who chose to go to Samaria.
Signs given by God through Philip helped convince the people of the city of Samaria that here was something to which they should pay attention.
All converts during the first thrilling months were Jews. These who were baptized in Samaria were the first who were not fully Jewish who became converts to Christ. Samaritans had once been Jewish, so Samaritans were thought of as part-Jewish, and after signs were seen through apostolic annointing were apparently accepted now with joy as full members of Christ’s church.
Simon of Samaria Meets Simon Peter
Then Luke introduces us to Simon of Samaria:  But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying,
this man is the power of God that is called Great. And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed (Acts 8:9-13 – ESV).
 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:14-16 – ESV).
Philip’s proclamation fell on willing ears. Some Samaritans believed and were baptized. But one of the Samaritans, Simon, enters the picture. From him we learn more about repentance and baptism. As a practicing magician, he wants some of the power he sees being passed on by the apostles. He offers to buy apostolic power. Peter says,
No, that’s not the way it’s done in the kingdom of Christ. Repent and pray. So we observe that Christians can make mistakes and be forgiven. Baptism is a one-time event. It can't be repeated. Like human and animal births, baptism is the climax of a spiritual rebirth.
Note that the pattern for conversion we saw established in Jerusalem worked somewhat differently this time in Samaria. Luke doesn’t mention here that the people who believed and were baptized HAD first repented. I suspect they did, but Luke doesn’t say so. And the
gift of the Holy Spirit, Luke seems to say, was lacking until the apostles came from Jerusalem and
laid their hands upon some of the new Christians. Apostles
laid hands upon some, who then were empowered (as Philip already was by an apostolic anointing) to perform healings and do other unusual things.
By reporting that this time the Spirit had not
fallen upon baptized believers, Luke seems to have meant only that no
special spiritual powers came to these Samaritans when they were baptized. It’s confusing, it seems to me.
What is clear is that the gospel was proclaimed and heard, then believed by some. And Samaritans who believed were accepted into the fellowship of Christ’s people by being baptized. We do not do well to overlook these similarities, which are common everywhere the gospel was taken in response to the great commission.
We can’t see it when the
gift of the Spirit is given to a now-saved sinner. But special power given by the laying on of apostolic hands enabled gifts others could see. That’s what Luke reports occurred after the apostles arrived.
3. An Ethiopian (Acts 8)
 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip,
Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip,
Go over and join this chariot. So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked,
Do you understand what you are reading? And he said,
How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.
 And the eunuch said to Philip,
About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else? Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said,
See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?
  And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:26-40 – ESV).
Luke reports that Philip was called away from fruitful proclamation to thousands in Samaria in order to talk to one man. This was an African Jew who had been to Jerusalem to worship in the Jewish temple there, and who was now returning to his home in northern Africa. Ethiopia was the other side of Egypt from Palestine.
This is an example of God intervening to see that one particular person heard the gospel. We suspect He has also done this on other occasions. As the Ethiopian traveled, he was reading.
Books at that time were scrolls, not simple to read while traveling. We assume this traveler was wealthy. We figure he was not having to drive his own chariot, but that he had at least a driver with him. He was reading from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Luke says Philip had been divinely sent there.
Philip introduced himself and asked the traveler if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian asked for help to understand. This opened the way for Philip to ride with the Ethiopian for a time and talk with him about Jesus. As they approached a body of water (it’s not made clear what branch or creek or pond it was) the Ethiopian asked whether he might be baptized.
It seems obvious that Philip had mentioned something to the man about baptism while they talked, and had explained that you couldn’t be a disciple of Christ without being baptized. Philip said the man could be baptized if he believed in Jesus, the risen Lord about whom Isaiah had written long years before. So the man who had heard about Jesus, and who now believed in Him and His sacrificial death in place of sinners, was baptized then and there.
We’re curious about the church experience which awaited him, since he may have been the only disciple of Christ in Ethiopia when he and his party got home. But that’s another story. This story has him hearing and believing the gospel, then obeying it by being baptized. God plans good things for all who hear and obey His Son.
4. Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9)
In Acts, Luke tells of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (yes, we call him the apostle Paul), then later Luke twice recounts Paul’s retelling of the story. Here’s the record of the first time Paul tells the story:
Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you. ... I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name?’” (Acts 22:1-16 – ESV, emphasis added).
Yes, here’s another exception! This convert had a vision. Jesus appeared to him. He didn’t say to Saul,
Now that you’ve seen me, the risen Lord, you’re saved. Now serve me. He didn’t say,
You’re saved. I died for you. No, Jesus said,
Go on to Damascus. I’ll send a man to tell you what you need to do. The man came, restored Saul’s sight, told him what he was to later do, then baptized him. That’s a shortened form of the story.
In this case, Saul who became Paul already knew the story of Jesus. He just hadn’t believed it. Seeing the living man he had thought he knew was now dead changed Saul’s understanding of the gospel. He no longer thought the resurrection story foolish and false. Now he knew it was true! He had been vigorously fighting against the Lord’s Way. Now he was embracing it.
What a story! So how did he change? When he believed the gospel, he was baptized. Right away when he learned he should do so. That’s how it’s done. Sinners call on Jesus through obeying the gospel by being baptized as He says any repentant believing sinner should do.
5. Cornelius & Household (Acts 10,11)
Peter explains how he came to baptize a Gentile:
 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying,
You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them. But Peter began and explained it to them in order:
I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.
(Acts 11:1-17 – ESV. Emphasis added.)
 “And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?
HERE’S YET ANOTHER EXCEPTION! This is the first true Gentile we hear of being accepted into the family of God which is Christ’s church. Luke tells this story in Acts chapter 10, then has Peter retell it in chapter 11. Cornelius was not a Jew, but he was a godly man, and generous, and good. I earlier mentioned that several miracles were connected with this conversion. It took clear proof to convince Peter that Gentiles were allowed to become disciples of the Jewish Messiah.
Cornelius was visited by an angel who had come to tell him to send for Peter. The angel told him where Peter could be found. This experience would have qualified Cornelius for membership in many
Christian churches today. But it didn’t save Cornelius. Nor would it save anyone. For that’s not how Christian conversion occurs. There were miracles. But what saved Cornelius was that as soon as Peter was convinced baptizing a non-Jew was good with God, the repentant, believing Cornelius was baptized. Consider again the story as told by Luke in chapter 10 of Acts:
 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him,
Cornelius. And he stared at him in terror and said,
What is it, Lord?
And he said to him,
Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside. When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him:
Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said,
By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice came to him again a second time,
What God has made clean, do not call common. This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him,
Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them. And Peter went down to the men and said,
I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming? And they said,
Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say. So he invited them in to be his guests.
 The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying,
Stand up; I too am a man. And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them,
You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.
 And Cornelius said,
Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.
 So Peter opened his mouth and said:
Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days (Acts 10:1-48 – ESV, emphasis added).
Christian baptism in this one case was preceded by careful and powerful preparations which were needed to satisfy Peter and all Jewish Christians that Gentiles could acceptably be baptized into Christ. This Gentile had long wanted to please and serve the true God. Now he could do so, for God had intervened to make it possible, first by providing salvation through His sinless Son, and then by opening the way for Cornelius to learn of Jesus and to obey the gospel by being baptized into Christ.
6. A Shaken Jailer Is Born Again (Acts 16)
Paul and his party came to Philippi. The story is told in Acts 16:11-40. I hope you will read it. Paul and Silas were jailed. God sent an earthquake which opened the jail. The jailer learned of Jesus and His love. He asked,
What must I do to be saved? Told that salvation was in Jesus, he chose to obey Jesus and live.
... then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds. Then immediately he and all his family were baptized. (Acts 16:32,33).
Luke, in reporting this event mentions that the new Christians recognized that believing the gospel meant they should obey it by being baptized to begin a life of service for a new Master.
We learned from examples how conversion of sinner to saint occurs. We also learn from teaching of the apostles who were chosen, taught, and empowered by Jesus. Now let’s consider what the apostles taught about becoming a babe in Christ. The process by which we are buried with Jesus, then RAISED UP INTO NEW LIFE is exampled. It is also explained in apostolic teaching.
Apostles Speak About Being
RAISED INTO New Life
Romans 6:1-23 Readers will note that the gist of being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE is seen in this scripture passage, Romans 6:1-23:
 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. ...
 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:1-23 – ESV. Emphasis added.).
The verses omitted above are printed later. We note that Paul was writing this to Christians – to saved sinners, each of whom had already been baptized. Paul was writing to make sure his readers understood the transaction of receiving new birth through repentance and baptism. He speaks of what it had really meant, and what they should do because through new birth of water and spirit they had entered into the Way of Christ.
Romans 10:8-17 ...
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says,
Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For
everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,
How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says,
Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Paul was writing to affirm the necessity of us telling others about Jesus. It’s as the gospel is presented that it can be obeyed! Only those who obey the gospel will be made part of the Christian family. Paul is not implying that we need a special class of clergy who will be our
preachers. Every Christian is called to tell others about Jesus. As the
word is heard, seed is planted which can produce eternal life.
1 Corinthians 1:13-16  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. [I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else] (1 Corinthians 1:13-16 – ESV).
I hope we all want to understand apostolic teaching as the early church did. Paul calls for us to serve Christ in unity and bases his call for unity on the seven unities he names in Ephesians 4 (quoted later in this study). Foundational to unity is
one baptism. Every Christian has entered into life with Christ by way of turning away from sin and then being baptized into Him. And in every case, it’s in the same repentant spirit that baptism is done – a spirit of humble obedience, of love, and of confidence in our one Lord.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13  I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written,
the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:1-13– ESV).
Whether or not they understood they were doing so, the apostle says those Jewish slaves rescued from Egypt were pledging themselves to follow the leading of Moses. This pledge was sealed, Paul says, as they walked through the sea while being covered by a cloud overhead. Water was above them and all around them as they went into the sea (it was opened before them) and out on the other side. Paul calls this action a
baptism into Moses. A lesson we can learn from Paul’s teaching here is that human choices are not irrevocable. Those who were
baptized that day pledged to faithfully follow Moses as their leader. They didn’t stick to that commitment. All of them who were adults on that day died
in the wilderness without ever entering the promised land. Are we listening? Are we hearing the apostolic lesson? We have been baptized into Christ. Are WE keeping OUR pledge?
1 Corinthians 12:12,13  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12,13 – ESV, emphasis added).
Paul says the baptism which brings us into Christ also brings us into Christ’s church, after which we are led to
drink of God’s Holy Spirit (as Peter promised in Acts 2
;38). He elsewhere describes our relations with the Spirit as our receiving a
renewal of the Spirit as we are baptized (Titus 3:5). Every believing repentant sinner is baptized
in the same (human) spirit, that is, in obedience to the common command of our one Lord, Jesus Christ. We are buried with JESUS. We are raised into new life with Him. It’s equal for each one who is baptized into Christ. And as we join ourselves with Christ, we are added by God to His assembly, the Lord’s
church (Acts 2:47). He does not add us to a denomination or even a local congregation. Likely we JOIN with the disciples who meet where we find ourselves. And if we move, or if they move, we will join ourselves with other disciples with whom we can serve our Lord. They will help us and they will receive our help in the work of the Lord.
The church to which God adds us is the timeless assembly of disciples of Christ everywhere in the world and until the end of time. Much as we learn to love our local fellowships, local congregations come and go. A flourishing congregation may grow, or as the years pass it may diminish or die. But Christ’s church cannot be defeated. It’s the eternal kingdom of Christ. Those who are made members of the church Christ built and who continue faithful to Jesus until the end of their lives or until He returns are sure of eternal life. Paul calls for us to serve Christ in unity. He bases his call for unity on the seven unities he names in Ephesians 4 (quoted later in this study).
Foundational to unity in Christ is the
one baptism Jesus commands humans to perform. Every one of us has entered into life with Christ by way of turning away from sin and then being baptized into Him. And in every case, it’s in the same spirit that baptism is done – a spirit of humble obedience, of love for, and of confidence in, our one Lord.
Note that we have no vote as to who may join us as members in Christ’s body. Every human is welcome to turn to Jesus and find salvation in Him. Each who does so is added to God’s church. God has already elected into membership in Christ’s
one body every person who chooses and experiences new birth of water and spirit. This is regardless of any of the distinctives we humans may prefer when we pick our friends.
1 Corinthians 15:12-28  Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For
God has put all things in subjection under his feet. But when it says,
all things are put in subjection, it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:12-28 – ESV).
In baptismal waters we who are dying to sin are buried. Death is involved. We choose to be baptized because we choose to put sin to death in our mortal bodies. We opt for baptism because we realize that we are mortal. The death we face impels us to make preparations as best we can for the life we think faces us after death. In both these ways death is involved in baptism. Both death and new life are involved. Out of the waters of baptism we each are raised to walk in NEW LIFE with Jesus Christ.
No person could possibly be baptized for another person. No more could we be baptized for another than we can repent for another or believe for another. Our relationship with our God is personal. There are no ceremonies of any kind which can by themselves change our status with God. God says nothing about
sacraments which within themselves can affect how God feels toward any individual. There are no payments one can make for the saving of the soul of the one paying, or for another.
But how important it is that we realize that a repentant
man of sin is being buried in baptismal waters from which a cleansed sinner is raised into new life.
2 Corinthians 5:14,15  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:14,15 – ESV).
The cross of Christ, when considered in the light of His resurrection, meant that Jesus indeed was dying for the sins of others rather than to atone for any wrongdoing of His own. And this means that we who want to take up His cross and follow Him must also die to sin. In baptism, our repentance is pledged. In repentance and baptism we die to sin and are then raised into new life. Is it not so? We now have entered a new life with Christ. He comes to live in us. We are to forsake sin in order to enjoy life with our sinless Lord!
Galatians 3:26,27  ... for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:26,27 – ESV).
This simple apostolic teaching is apparently unknown to many
Christian people today. For many invite sinners to save themselves by reciting a
sinner’s prayer, and then perhaps later be baptized for some reason. I hear the apostle saying simply that faith in Jesus leads us to accept baptism, at which point we become joined to Christ. No one is saved outside the Savior. We who are IN Christ are saved. We
put on Christ in baptism, says the apostle Paul here. We didn’t HAVE Him before. That’s why baptism is not to be postponed. As soon as any sinner learns of salvation in Jesus and is convinced that Jesus IS the risen Lord who can save from sin, that sinner should be
baptized into Christ. If we believe, we will obey!
In baptism any repentant sinner can
put on Christ and be saved. Isn’t that what Paul says in this text? Read it again just above. Faith responds to the Lord’s command! Isn’t that what inspired proclaimers of the gospel that we read about in the Acts always did? There need be no delay. Jesus is willing to save from sin any minute of any day. There’ll never be a better time to be baptized than when a sinner first realizes his or her sin and learns how to be saved from the results of having sinned. Paul also points out that we who are in Christ are heirs of God’s promise to Abraham, and if we remain in Christ’s
one body we are united.
In the Christian Standard for May 18, 2003 is an interesting article by Kevin W. Larsen. It’s titled,
Dealing with Theological Differences. This is what the Viewpoint e-mail Discussion group hosted by Ray Downen is aimed at also, of course. Subscribe by sending Ray an e-note with the subject, “Subscribe Viewpoint Discussions.” I recommend Larsen’s article for your inspection. Address of Standard Publishing is 8805 Governor’s Hill Dr, Suite 400, Cincinnati OH 45249. I believe every church worker should subscribe to the weekly Christian Standard, and every scholar should subscribe if means permit and access is not certain in nearby libraries. Internet access is also possible.
Larsen speaks of
the controversy in Galatia in his article. Galatia is the Roman province into which Paul and Barnabas first carried the
gospel to the Gentiles. Paul had enemies before he became a Christian. He had enemies after he became a Christian. He was preaching primarily to Gentiles in Galatia. He first in every city went to the Jewish synagogue so that the gospel could be heard first by faithful Jews. Of all possible hearers, god-fearing Jews should have been the best prospects for becoming Christians. This is still true. But when opposition to the gospel prevented Paul’s continued teaching in the synagogue, he took with him those who had accepted the gospel as true and began teaching in non-synagogue locations, and broadened his outreach to include Gentiles.
Converts into Jewry needed to be circumcised and only then could be baptized into the Jewish faith and practice. Converts to Christ, according to Paul, did not need to be circumcised, but did need to be baptized. In the earliest years of the church, the gospel was only taken to those who WERE Jews, and therefore to ones who had already been circumcised and who had thereby pledged to obey the Law of Moses. Many Christians assumed incorrectly that before a person could become a Christian he must first, by being circumcised,
become a Jew as Jesus was.
Paul’s accepting into Christ Gentiles who had NOT been circumcised upset some of the Jewish Christians. They felt Paul was wrong. So into each of the new churches which had been established by Paul and Barnabas in Galatia later came other teachers with a
different gospel than that which had won these converts to Christ. These present enemies of Paul were convinced that circumcision was essential for every Christian, and that every Christian must adopt Jewish customs and traditions in order to adequately be saved and then serve Christ.
Paul respected the Old Testament scriptures which included laws which had been given to God’s people by God Himself and by ones inspired BY God to transmit His decrees to His people. Paul taught that these Old Testament scriptures should lead every reader to the Christ toward whom they pointed as a promised
Messiah. Paul taught that sinners were not (could not possibly be) saved by keeping laws, even the perfect law of God. His message was that salvation was found in Jesus Christ and the Way He taught. Circumcision and keeping the Law given by Moses was not (and of course IS not) any part of becoming a Christian or living as a Christian.
Paul taught that the law’s purpose is not for acquiring salvation, but as a tutor to lead one to Christ (Galatians 3:24). One gains salvation [Paul taught, according to Larsen] only by accepting it as a gift offered by God and paid for by the blood of His Son (Romans 5:9). This particular way of summarizing the gospel taught by Paul seems to me to be easily misunderstood. It may seem to imply that Paul taught that all it takes to be saved is to do nothing and just let it happen, that somehow the sinner is transformed into a saint while doing nothing.
But that’s not what Paul taught. He did teach that sinners need not be circumcised. He did teach that saints or sinners should not try to earn salvation by law-keeping (an impossible endeavor). But Paul does not and did not teach that it was possible to become a Christian by passively waiting and doing nothing. Merely
accepting salvation as a gift is not within the scope of accurate presentation of the gospel. Sinners are called to OBEY the gospel. We earlier quoted 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10 where Paul pointed out to brothers in Thessalonica that part of becoming a Christian is OBEYING the gospel – that is, by actively doing something. What Paul taught and what his enemies opposed was that everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, could be saved without trying to earn salvation by keeping laws, without
earning it by the person’s own righteousness. Yet the person must obey the gospel!
Larsen surely is right that sinners come to Christ and are saved by what Jesus did on our behalf and by their recognition that salvation is IN CHRIST. If we turn to Christ for salvation we will, without fail, be baptized INTO Him and thereby have our sins washed away. Christ’s blood cleanses. Peter had said so. Paul concurs. If obeying called for no action, would Paul have pointed out in this very letter to saints in Galatian churches that sinners are baptized INTO Christ and in being baptized
put on (clothe themselves with) Christ? No, Paul clearly taught that our accepting baptism was a part of
accepting the gift from God. Paul taught his converts that it’s in baptism that we come into Christ. His enemies in those early days were insisting that this was true only if the convert were first converted to the Jewish faith, which included keeping the Mosaic Law.
I think this is not made clear by the wording used by Larsen in this sentence. Becoming a Christian is done by doing something rather than by doing nothing. It involves making a choice between competing agendas. It is done by deliberately turning away from false hopes. It requires moving toward the Savior. Does Jesus save people who do not knock on salvation’s door, who do not seek salvation, or who do not ask for what is freely offered? Salvation is not forced upon unwilling victims who only passively accept what must be. It is given to persons who strongly DESIRE and willingly SEEK what is offered. So I don’t like the wording,
One gains salvation only by accepting it as a gift.
Yes, of course it IS a gift. No one can earn it, but to receive it, any person must eagerly and sincerely WANT it enough to repent and be baptized in order to be reborn of water and spirit. Those are saved who obey the gospel. The Galatian controversy was between those who believed that the Jesus Way included being circumcised and those who denied that circumcision was any part of the Christian Way. In his article Larsen does make this truth clear. So it’s only the one sentence which to me seems less clear than it might be that salvation is never by faith alone.
Saved byJesus PLUS Something?
Many today have added human traditions to the Way and are now teaching that you must be baptized, and then must follow their human laws in order to remain in Christ. Galatians deals with works of the Mosaic Law. Today, Paul would have needed to fight against human laws no less than laws based on keeping the Old Testament law code.
The article is well worth our consideration. Larsen is rightly pointing out that if we’re going to contend for
the faith we need first to know what IS the faith revealed through Jesus and His apostles. For what is revealed, we certainly should contend. For most of the things which we are contentious about, we would do well to love one another and realize that men have no business speaking authoritatively in any matter about which God has NOT spoken. Larsen urges us to weigh the importance of anything about which we want to contend, and avoid fighting about matters which are unimportant. And he urges that in all our work for God that we keep the
right attitude. He wants us to keep lines of communication open with all who as we do seek unity in Christ. That seems to me to be excellent advice!
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.
Paul makes clear his knowledge that those who truly believe in Jesus will OBEY Him. He does not here teach that the Spirit is given upon faith alone. The sinner who repents and accepts baptism into Christ is promised that Jesus will THEN take up residence in that person. God’s Spirit is His breath. God’s “breath” is shared with each newborn Christian! Those who assist at human birth eagerly await the first breath taken by the newborn. The apostle Peter, speaking for Jesus, promises that the Spirit (breath) of God will without fail be given to every sinner who repents and IS baptized. In the new birth as in every natural human birth, first breath follows the birth.
spirits are involved in salvation prior to the completion of the new birth of water and the HUMAN spirit which is fully described in this book just as it’s described in God’s book. Jesus told HUMANS to teach and preach, to carry gospel truth to others, and to baptize those who believe. The Lord Jesus offers eternal life to all who will turn to Him in repentance and then accept the baptism in water by which
new birth is publicly accomplished and proclaimed. God’s
breath (His Spirit) is gifted to every newly-elected child of God as the cleansed new Christian is RAISED INTO NEW LIFE.
 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10 – ESV, emphasis added).
It’s God’s GRACE that is His
gift to us – unearned, a totally undeserved opportunity to trust Jesus and obey Him. Some suppose that human faith is
the gift of God. No, not at all. In writing to Roman Christians, (Romans 10:1-17) Paul has made clear how faith
comes to anyone. It’s by hearing (or reading) and understanding the inspired writings, particularly the gospel which tells of God’s love and the work of Jesus on earth. Notice especially verse 17 of Romans 10.
Paul makes clear that we do not deserve the good things God gives us, including eternal life through Jesus. We haven’t earned God’s gifts. We can’t earn them. God wants us to realize that nothing we do could put Him in our debt. Because God loves us, He offers us eternal life as a gift. If God then expects us to
walk in good works, why would anyone think it doesn’t matter how we live? Some suppose all it takes to be saved is to believe in Jesus. They think God does it all, if the sinner just believes something about Jesus.
But there is a spirit at work in God’s world which is at enmity with God and with goodness. Some people are controlled by that wicked spirit. These
worldly people, whether in or outside the church, are disobedient to God. They do not seek to do His will. They want their own way at any cost. Expecting Jesus to have done and be doing all needed for our salvation is to totally misunderstand God’s call to action. We are incited to act. We should trust and OBEY JESUS!
Ephesians 2:10 should make clear to every reader that human response to the gospel (a change of intent and purpose) is essential for salvation. God’s gift of eternal life is given to those who repent and are baptized, and who then live and love as did Jesus. We who have died to sin will now be living for God. we’ll be doing the good works
prepared beforehand with which God wants us to busy ourselves on this earth. If we love Jesus, we will
keep His commandments. Christians have repented of self-love. We have chosen to become servants of God to do HIS will. When we love Him most of all, and obey Him, Jesus, God’s gracious gift to this world, can save us. His plan is that we will turn away from self-will in order to do His will. Those who love self more than they love God will not be saved from sin. Those who follow fleshly desires are lovers of self, and obviously are not in fact spiritually reborn.
 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6 – ESV, emphasis added).
Is not unity a basic, foundational description of the Way of Christ? Paul includes
one baptism in this listing of the essentials for unity in Christ’s church. These are facts, not opinions. The church is built upon these foundations. They’re not optional. Ever. Anyone who has experienced Christian baptism has been immersed into DEATH, the atoning death of Christ, and the personal death to sin from which we rise to walk in a changed life-style. After we each
die to sin in repentance and baptism we then are resurrected to LIVE with Christ and as co-workers with all others who are His.
one body of which Paul speaks is, of course, the assembly Jesus built through His apostles. He adds each of us to His assembly when we are reborn spiritually. We must not seek to split His body apart. It’s our job to maintain the body’s unity by unswerving loyalty to and service for its one head, who is the one Lord, Jesus Christ.
When we all are loyal to Jesus, will we want to split our loyalty by thinking of ourselves as any kind of Christians at all except LOYAL and loving servants of our one Lord? All who belong to Jesus are Christians. Just Christians. Ones whose loyalty belongs to the Christ, held firmly to Him by bonds of love. We exist to daily and hourly in harmony with our brethren serve our one Lord.
God is one, so of course His Spirit will not say one thing to one disciple and bring a conflicting message to another. God’s influence through His one Spirit in His church will bring us together and keep us together. Any thought of splitting the body comes from some source other than our God. We each look forward with longing ... our one hope is for eternal life with our loving Father and His loving Son. Jesus is the one Lord of all. We must remain loyal to HIM and love and serve Him.
one faith which was
once for all delivered to us can be found described in the written Word which is the New Testament. God’s gifts are perfect. The New Testament scriptures need no updating. They need no change. They only need to be believed and obeyed. And they tell us of the one baptism which brings us into the one body. Of course this is the baptism commanded by our one Lord to be performed by His disciples.
Each part of this unity comes from the one God who is in fact three in one, described by Jesus as
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s real prayer (John 17) is that we disciples should seek as perfect unity together as that which exists between God’s unique Son and His Father. And they are one.
If our chief aim in life is to please Jesus, then we will do all we humanly can do to be a friend to every other Christian. Yes, we’ll see some things differently. we’ll not each be exactly like every other child of God. But we will be ONE in spirit and in love and in obedience to our ONE Lord. Our boss has no office on earth. Had we all noticed?
 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33 – ESV, emphasis added).
Paul says that Jesus is Lord of all. He is the HEAD of the church which is His body. We are His church. He owns us. He controls us all. Because we all love and obey Jesus as our Lord we are one body. As
members of His body, we seek the good of the body, which includes our humbly working together with every other part. Shall we not pray and work for unity in Christ’s church of which we each are a part?
How has Jesus
cleansed us (His church) by the washing of water with the word? We should not imagine the apostle doesn’t know the difference between water and
the word. Water is a cleansing agent. Words are not. Our sins are washed away in baptism’s waters as we enter the Lord’s body which is His
church. By Jesus, God’s WORD, and through us hearing or reading of Him, we were begotten for new birth. In baptism into Him, our sin was washed away. We were raised into new life.
The life-giving seed is the gospel story about Jesus of Nazareth. We are saved through hearing and believing and then obeying the gospel. We notice that in several passages, it is said that hearers believed when the obvious meaning is they believed and also acted upon their belief.
Colossians 2:6-15 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:6-15 – ESV, emphasis added).
Paul reminds that the early church was taught what they should believe.
The faith was not being developed by men. It was delivered from the mind of God. We today should remain loyal to what the Lord’s apostles once for all
delivered to the early church. We cannot improve on God’s revelation. Why do we sometimes try to do so? This
faith which came from God tells us how we should think, talk, and act. So Paul pleads with his hearers that they (and we) should
walk as God has taught us to do. That is, our daily way of life should be patterned after that of the Lord Jesus. He loved. We love.
And in what are we taught to abound? It’s in thanksgiving. We need never fret. We should in all things give thanks to our loving Father. We also need to carefully remember what the apostles did teach. We should not seek to change it. We should believe it’s true even if it sometimes seems difficult for us to understand. All the blessings Paul lists as belonging to us who are in Christ are based on our having been born again of water and spirit. Please read this passage again and again and realize Paul is here explaining the PURPOSE of NEW LIFE in Christ. He’s talking about what really happened when we obeyed the gospel. Do we NOW know what happened to us when we were buried with Christ in baptism and raised then to walk in NEW life? In baptism we were united with the burial and resurrection of Jesus. God gave us new life after we had died to sin!
Titus 3:5-7  ... he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of REGENERATION [new birth], and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7 – ESV, with an addition & emphasis).
Some find in these words a statement that the Holy Spirit saves sinners. But the Spirit is given us by Jesus. It’s not the Spirit giving us Jesus. Just the reverse. Is it possible that children are born with no sin, so that renewal of God’s presence within us fits in perfectly with our new birth? Note that the Spirit is the gift, not the giver! The giver is Jesus! Peter promises that we who obey the gospel will be gifted by receiving the Spirit, that is, by JESUS coming to live within us.
What poor understanding is that of those who think Paul is saying that it’s the Spirit who brings us renewal! That is not at all what the apostle is teaching. These exhortations to his friend Titus are another way of saying what Paul has written in Ephesians 2:4-10:  God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us IN CHRIST JESUS. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10 – ESV, emphasis added).
That is, God saves us in new birth because He loves us, not because we’re already or in the future will be marvelous or beautiful or wise or rich or generous. He saves us because of Who He is rather than because of any merit within us. God saves us IN CHRIST through the process of a new birth of water and the (human) spirit which results in His placing His Spirit within us. Our God indeed is gracious, giving us far more than we deserve or could possibly earn. He saves us through the CHRIST and His atoning death on Calvary.
Where does baptism fit into this picture? That’s easy. It’s the culmination of the new birth, the actual birthing of a new life in Christ. Repentance and baptism are
the washing of regeneration here spoken of.
And how does the Spirit fit into the picture? The Spirit is God’s gracious gift to each newly-born Christian. His tasks? To comfort and strengthen us in every way possible that does not take away our freedom of choice; to help us build up our brethren in Christ’s body; and to encourage us in our desire to serve the Lord in the ways most pleasing to Him.
Through their Spirit, both the Father and the Son dwell within us wherever in the world we may scatter as we seek to serve Jesus and do what is right for ourselves and our loved ones.
We do well to remember, however, that God does not promise to miraculously remind US of what Jesus said, as Jesus did promise would be the case with the apostles who heard Jesus speak. God does not promise to lead US into all truth, as He divinely led apostles and prophets in knowing truth and teaching the church in its early days.
The Spirit was active indeed in the lives of early Christians. In those days, some disciples spoke to the churches through the direct inspiration of God’s Spirit. Many sick were miraculously healed. As earlier quoted, Mark’s gospel speaks of unusual miracles which would and did in those days accompany the preaching of the gospel.
Most of us in this generation do not see frequent miracles as we daily serve our Savior. Yet some say they do. We can be sure that God is not dead. His Spirit is still walking WITH (within) US. In every need, we do well to call on God. He can and will both lead and strengthen us in whatever ways He chooses to use. And He works on earth today through His Spirit. Paul reminds Titus of this true fact.
Hebrews chapters 5 and 6 Please thoughtfully read what is written in your Bible in these two chapters. Note especially 5:9:
And being made perfect, he (Jesus) became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him ... And 5:14:
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins ... (Hebrews 10:19-26 – ESV).
Some Bible teachers think it was Paul who wrote Hebrews. Some are convinced it was not Paul. Does it matter? I think not. The early church felt the book of Hebrews reflected apostolic doctrine. I figure they were in a better position to judge the matter than anyone who has lived since their time could possibly do it.
For whatever reason, God set up a system by which only blood could atone for sin. And not just any blood would do. It must be the guiltless which would atone for the guilty. So in the final analysis, only if God furnished a sinless sacrifice could human sin be atoned for. God provided. The blood of Jesus can wash away sin. But how do we access His blood? It’s through a washing with
In fact, any water, clean or dirty, frigid or hot or comfortable, running or stagnant – any water at all will do for Christian baptism. For the purity is in the death of Jesus on the cross. His sacrifice makes baptismal water
pure. Baptism, the seeking of a clean conscience because it’s God’s plan for taking sin away, surely will result in our gaining a clean conscience. In obeying the gospel, we can be sure we have pleased the author and planner OF that good news. It’s baptism that takes away the sin of each repentant believer in Jesus Christ. We’ve tried to
prove this to thoughtful readers by the bible texts previously furnished in this study. It is hoped that they have done the job satisfactorily.
This text also points out that sin is still a possibility for ones who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. And some, using the freedom of choice which God gives each of us, will turn back to sinful ways. Such renegades deserve death, and that’s exactly what they will receive unless they repent. God points out that some who once were saved are later so rebellious that their hardened hearts are not responsive to any call for repentance. Some will sin and repent of their sin and be forgiven. Some will not repent. There is no greater sacrifice for sins than Jesus on the cross. Those who spurn salvation through the cross of Christ have no hope of salvation or eternal life.
Why should Christians meet together? The inspired writer speaks of God’s plan for our spiritual security. Why did our Lord create an assembly, a family of faith? Some say it was so people would worship Him, and frequently remind Him how good He is and how much they love Him. So they meet frequently so they can worship Him together
in church. But what this text (... let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ...), and each bible passage on the subject, calls for us to do as we meet together is to build up other Christians, and to receive encouragement from other Christians.
Do we now see that this text is aimed at us strengthening and encouraging Christians as we meet together? Think about it. Watching telented
performers may not really edify a Christian audience. Friends talking with friends is often edifying. We also may be edified by listening to God’s Word read and explained.
It’s in HEAVEN that we’ll busy ourselves with praise, if we can believe the Revelation. Is there any Bible verse or passage which calls for Christian priests to ever be
led in worship here on earth? Shall we remember that every Christian is a priest. Time invested in priests
praising God together in worship assemblies may prevent our being busy doing what Christians are called TO do.
Here on earth His work for us is that we are to love our neighbor no less than we love our self, and to show that love by our actions. We should seek to do good things for others, particularly those whose needs are great. The work we’re called to do on earth is to tell others about Jesus. Isn’t that what the Bible says? And, as the passage encourages, we want to think well of the church of which we’re members.
The purpose of the communion (the Lord’s Supper) which should be a part of each Lord’s Day assembly is for us to give due consideration to the needs of
all the body which on earth is His church.
1 Peter 3:15-22
 ... but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
BAPTISM, which corresponds to this, NOW SAVES YOU, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:15-22 – ESV).
Peter makes no apology for believing that Christian baptism is involved in salvation. He simply says,
Baptism now saves you. Did Peter believe Jesus saves solely by what He did on Calvary? No, the apostle urged sinners to save themselves by repenting and being baptized. Have we correctly understood Peter then if we think he is teaching that we are saved prior to our baptism into Christ? No. Should we apologize for seeing that the new birth of water and spirit is essential for salvation? No.
Shall we ignore Acts 2:38 in discussing how sinners become saints? We should not. Earlier we called attention to what Peter said at the birthday of the church (Acts chapter two). He exhorted his hearers to save themselves by repenting and being baptized. And as soon as he was convinced that the gospel was for Gentiles as well as Jews, Peter commanded the particular Gentiles in question to be baptized. Even ones who had just enjoyed a unique spiritual blessing were not saved without Christian baptism.
You noticed that the angel told Cornelius that Peter would bring a message that would save him. How urgently we need to proclaim that Jesus SAVES. I point out once again that converts were never told they already HAD BEEN saved by what Jesus did on the cross. There was something sinners were required to DO in order to receive remission of sins. The new birth is of water AND the (human) spirit. A new Christian is one who now believes the gospel so has now repented and accepted baptism in water. Baptism alone is no better than faith alone or repentance alone. The new birth is of water AND spirit.
God’s WORD is the Seed for New Life
seed is the Word which came from God. We
sow that seed by proclaiming the gospel of Christ. We should be diligent to share gospel truth with all with whom we come in contact. God will give the increase. At the time of His choosing. His timing may not agree with ours. So, what is the life-giving seed? It’s the GOSPEL of Christ, of course. What is the life produced by the gospel? It’s salvation in Jesus. And sinners who trust Jesus and obey His gospel by turning away from sin and being baptized into Christ receive the
gift of the Spirit of Jesus being sent to live IN them.
This is identical for every one of us. We were equally sinners, lost apart from Christ. We equally receive the Spirit and new life when we repent and are immersed, then are RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. Faith in JESUS which causes us to obey the Gospel saves us. God is good!
The apostle Paul speaks of the results we may expect from sowing gospel seed. Galatians 3:5 presents the truth as a question,
Does God give you His Spirit ... because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? The expected answer of course is that God’s gifts are given to those who believe rather than to those who try to earn them. Paul agrees with Peter who promised believing sinners that if they turned away from sin and were obedient to the gospel by being baptized that they would receive God’s gift of life (Acts 2:38). Life-giving seed is the good news about Jesus who is able to save any sinner.
Our study of the consequences of being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE continues as we look at two questions concerning the Way: Does God select only a few to be saved while everyone else is destined for Hell? And is there a second baptism which brings sinners into the Lord’s church? We’ve said that a new birth of water and spirit is necessary, and that a gift of the Spirit follows the new birth. Some don’t see it that way.
Were You Elected To Salvation?
Jesus explains how the seed which produces
new life is sown. Those who want
new birth to be of water and the Holy Spirit should note that the planting of seed which produces new life is not commissioned to be done by the Spirit. It’s not DONE by the Spirit. It’s done by humans or the written Word presenting a choice to the human spirit. Saving seed is planted by us humans as we carry the gospel throughout the world.
It’s like the difference between human birth and a virgin birth. God put in place a
normal means of human reproduction. No intervention other than interaction between male and female humans is normally needed to effect human birth.
Nature, God’s reproductive plan, operates as designed.
Being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE is similar. God does not
elect particular persons to be saved. He orders that the good news of available salvation is to be taken to ALL. God chose that all who hear or read and obey the gospel shall be saved. He voted. He provides a Way into eternal life. Satan voted. He opposes. Now it’s our turn! Some do listen, believe, and act as the gospel directs.
elect ourselves to salvation. Just as with the
law of gravity which equally affects every person and object on earth or in space, God has put in place the means of salvation. It’s provided. It’s available. The gospel affects every person equally. We go. We tell. Some hear. Those who obey the gospel are saving themselves. Those who choose to not believe or who do not obey the gospel remain
elected to certain eternal death. Can anyone obey the gospel who has not heard it?
A Viewpoint tract reminds that in Ephesians 1:13, Paul reminds Ephesian Christians that they also
were included in Christ when they
heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. They heard and believed and, when they had obeyed the gospel,
were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.
When is the Spirit given?
Peter (Acts 2:38) says that AT baptism (not before baptism) sinners receive the
gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul (1 Corinthians 12:13) describes this gift of the Spirit as the former sinners being
made to drink of the Spirit. In both cases, this experience is a result of our having already been baptized into Christ. Obviously then, the gift is not baptism itself. Nor is baptism
being made to drink of the Spirit. Both gift and drinking follow baptism and being raised into new life. The scriptures in reference are Acts 2:38 and 1 Corinthians 12:13. Had you realized that in both cases Christ’s apostle makes clear that as Christian baptism took place something has CHANGED? Is it not equally obvious that our interaction with the Spirit FOLLOWS (rather than precedes or in any way causes) our baptism?
If we understand that the new birth is of water and the human spirit, it’s easy to see how Peter’s guidance to sinners seeking salvation ties in with the statement earlier made by Jesus that entrance into His kingdom is through both water and spirit. When gospel truths are heard, sinners are welcome to believe them and are ABLE to believe them. This takes no new revelation from God that wasn’t present already when the very first ones who heard the gospel cried out to God’s spokesman to ask,
What must we DO?
The plan for salvation was in place from the beginning. The plan is from God. It was fulfilled by God’s Son who died in place of sinners so that we sinners could receive eternal LIFE. Peter opened the Way. His reply to seekers was simply that they must turn away from sin (turning TO Jesus as their new boss) and that they must be baptized as Jesus had instructed was to be done when someone heard and first believed the gospel. Our hearing the gospel takes no new action by God’s Spirit. The facts are clear from long ago. The Spirit’s convicting and empowering was fully done in the first Christian century as the truth was proclaimed and recorded. Evangelism happened. Inspired writings were published.
The Spirit’s work is being done when people read and teach the writings inspired through Him. Jesus instructed that those who loved Him should make gospel facts known throughout the world. The Spirit is given to help US tell everywhere about Jesus. But rather than the Spirit, it’s PEOPLE who are told to DO the telling. It’s PEOPLE who are told to do the baptizing and raising into new life! The Spirit helps US tell others. He is given to ones who have already repented and have been baptized.
Jesus Calls for PEOPLE to baptize
PEOPLE are told to immerse (in water of course – what else?) those who hear the gospel and want to join with the risen Lord in living for God. This baptizing is not done by the Spirit. HUMAN hands perform Christian baptism. No divine assistance is required for us to obey the Lord’s clear command that we should teach about Jesus to (make disciples of) all people everywhere, then to baptize those hearers who come to believe in the risen Lord, and then to continue teaching the new disciples. No divine assistance is required for sinners to believe what they read or what they hear from us. Both proclaiming and hearing are within our power as humans. It does not take action by the Spirit to let a sinner believe in Jesus. It does not take special spiritual gifts to tell others about Jesus. It doesn’t require a college education either to understand or to explain the gospel. We need no human authority and no further divine assistance to tell others about Jesus.
Some are troubled by a Bible verse which could mean that it isn’t people who are to baptize people who have repented of sin and want to work for Jesus. Jesus said WE were to carry the gospel with us wherever we go and that WE were to baptize each new believer. He knows best. No one goes wrong by obeying Jesus! The apostle Paul is properly understood in 1 Corinthians 12:13 to be speaking of the spirit of humble obedience which was shown by EVERY obedient believer in Jesus as Lord. Calling us to unity, the apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that our baptisms are all exactly alike in being an immersion in water from which we are raised into new life. Why? Because we all recognized JESUS as Lord and by accepting baptism we all are submitting to HIS leadership. The same spirit. Submission. Obedience. That’s us. EVERY one – all of us.
The apostle is NOT establishing the Holy Spirit as the baptizer! He writes
in ONE spirit we all were baptized into the body of Christ. He’s been writing about gifts given through the Holy Spirit. If the apostle had meant the Holy Spirit did the baptizing, surely he would have written,
baptized by THE Spirit ... rather than baptized
in ONE spirit ... Wouldn’t he? He’s not contrasting spirits of which there may be more than one.
This subject is considered at greater length in a future companion volume, RAISED INTO NEW LIFE, Volume 2. The complete book is simply Were You RAISED INTO NEW LIFE?, available from amazon.com [search for
Were You Raised Into New Life?].
But the great commission IS directed to humans. And Peter, speaking for the Lord urged HUMANS to add to their faith (2 Peter 1:1-15). He didn’t tell us to call on the Spirit to GIVE us these good characteristics. Make every effort, he says, to build up your spiritual strength. Should he have said (written) instead,
Pray to the Spirit to give you ...? Some obviously think the apostle was wrong! As we think about praying, by the way, the model prayer taught by Jesus is addressed to God the Father. And as we think about growth in Christ, we might well realize that as we feed on His Word, we just naturally do grow in Him. And as we use our muscles, strength increases.
The bible speaks of several differing baptisms. The particular topic of discussion here has been the baptism commanded by Christ and associated with sinners being brought into Christ’s kingdom. Baptism is an immersion. Baptism
into Christ is the only baptism commanded to be practiced BY Christians. That’s why no other baptism could appropriately be called Christian baptism. Here we have referred to baptism into Christ as Christian baptism even though the baptismal candidate is not said to be a Christian until the baptism has taken place. From baptismal waters we are RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. This study has invited readers to look at Bible examples of conversions. It has called attention to what Jesus, and later what His apostles, taught about Christian baptism and being RAISED INTO NEW LIFE.
Bible writers who speak of being raised into new life with Christ apparently do so to make sure their readers will more fully understand what had happened as they were baptized. They clarify what was the significance of the baptism Jesus said was to be performed by those who told others about Him. We study the bible to learn what Jesus wants us to know about baptism, and about the NEW LIFE to follow, and many other matters. It was Jesus who made baptism a necessary step in entering His Way – not just in order to join a particular group of godly people, but in fact to join with Him. God’s salvation is offered to sinners who will repent and who will be baptized into Christ.
God’s promise through the apostle Peter is that the Spirit will be given to newborn Christians to help us live for Jesus. But when we decide we need help from the Spirit in order to believe in Jesus and to repent of our sin, we’re going beyond what is written by inspiration. Anyone, anywhere, at any time, is free and is capable of believing the gospel and obeying it. The
gift of the Holy Spirit is given to those who have heard, have believed, and then have obeyed the gospel by repenting and being baptized. Sinners are invited to NOW turn to Christ as Savior and to be baptized into Him, after which they will have received the Spirit to bless and help them walk in Christ’s Way. The new birth is of water and spirit – a human spirit which is free to repent or to NOT repent. We are called to love and serve. God’s Spirit does not make decisions FOR us. We remain free to live as WE choose, and we face daily decisions either for life or for death.
Based on newfound faith in Jesus and a deliberate turning away from sin, baptism is
for the remission of sins,
to wash away sin, (Acts 22:16) and
to clothe ourselves with (put on) Christ. Christian baptism when performed identifies the newly raised-up individual with the death, burial, resurrection, and life of Jesus Christ. The new birth is of water AND spirit, repentance AND baptism.
What is it to die to sin? Peter uses the word repent to call for us to turn away from love of sinning. We turn TO Jesus, to live with Him and for Him in every future day. It’s by acts of our will that we are faithful to or unfaithful to Jesus. We are free. God does not force anyone to sin. He does not force us to NOT sin. We make our own decisions. After the Spirit is given, He may help us avoid sin, but we are still free moral agents!
A political aside in 2010: Is Barack Hussein Obama a Christian? He surely says he is. I've just received a link to possible explanations as to why some of us suspect that Obama is not a Christian. . What's clear to me is that his concern is not the good of the U.S.A. most citizens appreciate. His every action is against us rather than for patriotic citizens. Is he Socialist? Communist? Muslim? The almost-always-public records he keeps secret might tell us more.
Conclusions about our being
RAISED INTO NEW LIFE
Jesus said entrance into His Kingdom was by a new birth of water and spirit. When He said this, the kingdom was still future. The kingdom DID come, as reported in chapter two of Acts. Peter, who had been given the “keys to the kingdom,” as the church was being born, urged seekers after salvation to do what men must do in order to enter it. Peter’s exhortation provides the most easily understood description of the new birth available to Bible readers. Christ’s church is the kingdom ruled by God’s unique Son. It’s His assembly. We speak of it as His “church.”
Jesus had said this entrance requirement into His church was to be born again of water and spirit. Peter’s explanation of how to enter the kingdom was that men must repent of sin and must accept baptism into Christ. The sequence is clear. Hearing is first. Believing truth is next. Choosing to act according to truth follows. “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Did We Learn From Examples? I hope it became obvious what is common with the inspired reports of conversions. After hearing and believing the gospel and TURNING away from sin, they each were baptized and raised into new life. It goes without saying that each conversion came because the sinner did turn away from sin, seeking instead to serve the Savior. Repentance is not mentioned every time, but is sure to have taken place. And repentance and baptism are the elements Jesus (with Peter, Acts 2:38) said make up the new birth (John 3:5). A man of sin was buried (baptized in water) so a man of faith could be raised into new life.
When a Christian sins, the remedy is not trying for another new birth through rebaptism. It’s simply repenting and praying. If we repent, God will indeed forgive a Christian’s sins. We also see that only those outside of Christ can be or could be baptized into Christ. Christian baptism following repentance from sin brings outsiders INTO Christian fellowship. Those already IN Christ are forgiven of recognized sin by repenting and praying.
We hope it’s clear to every reader that SALVATION’s blessings come only to those believers who both repent AND are baptized. Faith alone, repentance alone, or baptism alone does not save us. A prayer won’t do it. The new birth is of water AND the (human) spirit. Having our sins washed away, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and reconciliation with our God all are ours when our new birth is complete. Believers come into fellowship with Christ and Christ’s people through repentance and baptism. We are outside God’s family until we experience new birth. This second birth is completed in the rite of Christian baptism. That’s why men of any age are not saved solely by what Jesus did on the cross! Note again what the apostle Paul says on this subject: ... for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:26,27 – ESV, emphasis added).
Inspired teachers always point out and emphasize that it’s through faith in Jesus (never by faith alone) that anyone is saved. Paul also places great reliance on our continuing at any cost to tell others that we do now believe in Jesus. To Christians in Rome he wrote:  ... if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:9,10 – ESV).
Did the apostle here mean all it takes to become saved is to believe in the resurrection, and all it takes to be justified is to once tell someone we believe in Jesus? We are saved by a faith which leads us to obey! Remember what he wrote in Galatians 3:27 (quoted just above). Paul is saying in Romans chapter ten that those who believe in Jesus are sure to continue to be obedient to Him in all ways. Believing is a way of LIFE. We save ourselves by continuing to believe in Jesus as Lord, and by obeying Him. He’s saying we need to continue to believe and at any cost to continue to say so!
We now may want to read and re-read the Bible, and continue to think about what IT says in addition on this subject. This will surely interfere with entertainments such as watching TV several hours every day. It will cause us to socialize as a means of sharing the gospel, won’t it? That’s the NEW LIFE into which we have been invited. We’ll no longer want others to serve US, but instead we’ll find joy in serving Jesus by serving others.
It’s my opinion that every emphasis on what the Spirit may do is de-emphasizing the free will and responsibilities of us humans. It’s HUMANS who are exhorted to carry the gospel with us wherever we go in this world. It’s HUMANS who are told we should baptize each new believer in Jesus. The message we’re to proclaim is about JESUS, not about the Holy Spirit. Why do some want to bring in the Spirit to do what we humans are told to do? Is it to lessen human responsibility and freedom? It’s by His own choice that God gave work for HUMANS to do. He could have told the Spirit to do all the things some are claiming He should be doing. Realize also that it doesn’t take a clergyman or clergywoman to perform Christian baptism or to tell others about the risen Lord. Every Christian is a priest in Christ’s church, fully qualified to speak up for Jesus any time and in any place.
That which accomplishes new birth of water and spirit brings the reborn person into the fellowship of God’s church. If any reader has not yet been buried with Christ in baptism (immersed in water in Jesus’ name), now would be a good time to obey the gospel. Jesus loves us each one. He wants us to enjoy being raised into NEW LIFE with Him and then happily serving Him each day. All Christians should walk in love toward God and toward all men. And isn’t that what we should be doing?
So What Should We Think About Sinners
Being Raised Into NEW Life?
Human birth requires an involvement of both a father and a mother. Jesus said that the
new birth also required two elements, which were water and spirit. Spiritual change precedes the physical in this spiritual
new birth. Later, the apostle Peter clarifies for our understanding what is the
water and spirit of new birth. It’s a matter of a sinner who now believes in Jesus, in order to receive remission of sins and to receive
the gift of the Holy Spirit, repenting (a spiritual change) and being baptized – immersed into and raised up out of water, as Jesus requires.
Only those who hear the gospel and then choose to live according to the teachings of Jesus can experience the
new birth of which Jesus spoke in John 3:5. Baptism is a part of this new birth, but it’s only the coming out (making viable and visible) of the
new life which began earlier within the believing sinner’s heart (his
spirit). Life does begin prior to birth. Even so, we speak of human life beginning as the baby is moved outside the home where it was nourished and protected until
outside life could begin with a good chance of success.
We realize that in one sense life begins at conception rather than at birth. That’s why in other Bible verses, most of which we’ll not here consider, inspired writers sometimes speak as if the new birth occurred when belief began. But the new birth of water and spirit is not complete without water!
Consider again how new life in Christ begins: New life was conceived when, having heard or read the gospel, the sinner believed the gospel was true. We hope evidence which we’ve presented and which follows will convince every reader that the actual
new birth is not completed in faith alone, or in repentance alone, or in simply confessing faith in the Lord Jesus, or even in some special
feeling. None will be in the kingdom of Christ who have not heard the gospel, turned away from sin, and begun walking with Jesus by being buried and RAISED INTO NEW LIFE.
new birth of which Jesus speaks has nothing to do with physical birth or ancestry. Regardless of who our parents were, humans can be born again of water and spirit. But, as in human birth, the new birth of water and spirit is a PROCESS which begins in conception and later culminates in the actual birth experience. The father’s role in human birth is called begetting. We do not usually say a human baby has been born until the birth is complete. The actual birthing is the duty of the mother. Should we think of the new birth of which Jesus spoke as being complete prior to the actual birth? We see the new birth only as we witness the immersion and
resurrection of one who comes to baptism as a repentant believer in the risen Lord.
Who can doubt that the
new birth Jesus says is essential for entrance into His kingdom is
of water and spirit? Immersion alone (that is, water baptism) is not enough. Action by Spirit or spirit is not enough. It’s water AND the (human) spirit which bring us into the kingdom and ensure having our sins washed away. Clint Gill points out that water and spirit in this case are
co-ordinate, correlative, and complementary. I think that puts the matter clearly if the words themselves are understood.
Some suppose that baptism is only an introduction into our local church life. They want to think that we are baptized because we were already saved. They may imply that baptism is only a show for our family and friends. Paul says that baptism is for salvation. Baptism is into the death of Christ. It is the point at which the one baptized is seen to die to sin. It’s from the waters of baptism that the former sinner is raised up to enjoy new life with Christ. Isn’t that what Luke and the apostles in these texts have explained? So then, as the
new birth of water and spirit which follows believing that Jesus is Lord we are pointed to repentance and baptism into Christ.
And We See New Birth
OUR LORD’s APOSTLE promised his hearers that those who died to sin in repentance and were buried in baptism could then be raised into Spirit-gifted life. They would receive the
gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Luke reports that those who
received (accepted, believed, and were obeying) Peter’s MESSAGE were baptized. They were added to the Lord’s church, new on that very day. The church was new. These first Christians were new. Now saved. Now sanctified. Set apart for service to Jesus!
Two statements by the apostle Paul, written much later than these by Jesus and Peter, also help us understand the simplicity of
new birth. Paul speaks to our need of
obeying the gospel. We just above quoted what the apostle wrote to Thessalonian Christians. In Galatians 3:27 Paul makes clear his understanding that it’s in Christian baptism that we
put on Christ. Our baptism brings us, he states,
INTO Christ. Is not salvation found only IN Christ? Galatians 3:26,27 should be carefully studied by anyone seeking to be RAISED into NEW LIFE with Christ.
Paul also explains (2 Corinthians 1:22) that a
seal of our salvation is receiving the Holy Spirit.
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 1:21,22 –(ESV). We have spoken of this seal as God’s life-giving
breath entering each babe in Christ. Peter had pointed out that those who do repent and who are baptized will as a result receive the
gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised HE could be with us throughout our earthly lives. I suggest that the spiritual gift spoken of in Acts 2:38 is the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made of being
with us to the end of the age.
Neither our baptism nor our resultant receiving of the Spirit took place on the cross. Nor is the gift of the Spirit said to be given prior to, or in any way to cause, the NEW BIRTH of water and spirit. Paul, Jesus, and Peter agree that men of any age must experience a new birth of water and spirit in order to be saved. According to the apostle Peter, men of any age must repent and be baptized in order to enter the kingdom of Christ. It cannot be true then that someone in any condition of life was saved by Jesus in this
church age except by way of personally experiencing a
new birth, or elseas an exception to the Way Jesus said was the ONLY way to enter.
WE BAPTIZE BECAUSE Jesus said we should do so. Jesus now has all authority. It’s by HIS express desire and in order to obey Him that new believers are buried in water and RAISED INTO NEW LIFE out of the water. Why would any Christian want to NOT obey Jesus as Lord? Why would any Christian doubt that it’s AFTER baptism that the new Christian receives the
gift of the Holy Spirit?
Why was Jesus Himself baptized? Jesus said He was baptized
to fulfill all righteousness. He agreed that his cousin was right that He had no sin and had no need of repentance. Yet He was a Jew. He felt it was necessary and only
right to do what God had called every Jew to do. So he persuaded John to immerse Him. God sent signs to let both John and Jesus know that the act was correct and that all was well. They saw a descending dove and heard a thundering voice.
We recognize that any Jew, or any person, who has no sin can be baptized for the same reason as was Jesus. We who HAVE sinned are not sinless. Every sinner needs to be baptized for the remission of personal sin. How blessed we are to be allowed to repent and be baptized into Christ, then raised into new life with Him! We hope all will see this is true. Haven’t we ALL sinned? As was Saul, sinners must
be baptized to wash away ... sin. We are baptized and become disciples of the Christ. What’s a disciple?
DISCIPLES ARE LEARNERS. That’s what a disciple is. We’re students. Jesus asks that we also should
make disciples. We who turn to Jesus for light and life seek to LEARN from Him as well as to teach others what we have learned.
The good example we have from Acts 2 is that disciples then daily sought to learn more about what Jesus did and said. We’re told about this in the bible:  “And they devoted themselves to THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 – ESV, emphasis added).
Just as we can, early disciples could learn from one another. They also could learn by asking questions of the apostles, which we cannot do. But we CAN read the inspired writings which contain apostolic teaching. In our homes and in our church assemblies, should we not diligently pursue learning of Jesus through reading (and hearing) the written Word of God? They also prayed, ate, and shared together.
Through Peter, Jesus had said the first steps to take in entering His Way was for believers to repent and to accept being baptized, then be raised into new life. It’s from baptismal waters that repentant, believing sinners are RAISED INTO NEW LIFE! There is no exact English equivalent of the main two Greek words which more than 1,000 years later were transliterated into English by the created English words,
baptism. If they HAD been translated, in most cases the English words chosen would have been
immersed for the noun, and
bury for the verb. This is certainly true when the word was used to refer to the actions which through a death, a burial and a resurrection brought and bring outsiders into God’s church.
Clint Gill points out that to understand what is taught about Christian immersion in Mark 16:15,16, it is essential to note the sequential order in which Jesus places 1) proclamation, 2) belief, 3) baptism, and then 4) salvation. To say that one who hears the proclamation and believes is saved prior to being immersed is to make Jesus say,
the one 2) believing and 4) being saved shall later be 3) immersed. Is that the same? No. Those who practice
infant baptism are, in effect, altering His statement to read,
the one 3) being baptized and 4) saved shall later 2) believe. Should we dare to change the promise made by the Lord, and then expect Him to honor what we say but what He did not say? No, we must let Jesus speak for Himself. Our responsibility is to listen, believe, and obey Him! Jesus is our Lord! Do we seek to be RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. It’s in Jesus Christ life is to be found, and through our obeying the gospel.
Paul says in Romans 6 it’s because of our repenting and being baptized into the death of Christ that we now should not sin. IN BAPTISM we were united with the death and resurrection of the Christ. The apostle’s appeal is not alone to our faith in Jesus, it’s to our realization that because of our new birth of water and spirit we have died to sin. We have been raised up to walk in new life. IN BAPTISM we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. Is baptism just a show? No way! Our repentance and being raised into new life is where the change occurs.
Christian baptism was and is a cleansing, a
washing away of sin. It seems likely that the earliest Christian believers, because they were familiar with the baptism of converts to Jewry, and because they had become familiar with John’s baptism, had little difficulty in understanding the terminology which was used to introduce this new baptism (immersion)
into Christ. God’s offer through Peter in Acts 2:38 was conditional: Receive these blessings IF you will change to be ones who from now on will live as Jesus showed us is right. You’ll be welcome in the Kingdom of Christ if you now share the goals of God’s Son, and if you are willing to live for Him. God didn’t offer blessings because some persons had earned or deserved them. Peter explained how men must change in order to receive salvation in Jesus. Peter says we save ourselves by repenting and accepting baptism (Acts 2:40,41). The gospel saves those who respond to God’s love and who obey the gospel.
To repent is to change our preferences and practices. But mere change is not enough. We also must be baptized. In repentance and Christian baptism we die to sin and are buried in order to be raised into new life. Jesus was resurrected. The new birth is of water and spirit. After we turn to Jesus, we accept baptism. Then we continue to obey Jesus, living in and for Him, and walking in our new life. We were RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. Now we live for Jesus. We do see that the new birth is not only of water and equally not only of the spirit. Salvation is by grace through faith. It’s God’s gift rather than our purchase. Men can’t buy or earn cleansing from sin, but we ARE able to begin to do what Jesus wants us to do. Does not Peter say sinners must repent AND be baptized? The change internally and externally is our spiritual rebirth. We who have been buried, then RAISED INTO NEW LIFE with Christ are FREE. We are no longer living under law. Saved by grace, now we live by grace. Christian baptism is a sinner being buried after dying to sin, and then being resurrected into a new life with Jesus!
Christian baptism is to change our status. As the Lord’s assembly which we call His
church began, it was made clear that entrance into this
kingdom (one not of this world) demanded certain spiritual changes. Old and familiar ways of living were to be discarded. Ones who are satisfied as they are will not see any need to repent and be baptized. Yet, unless we DO repent and are baptized, we die in our sins regardless of all Jesus has done, regardless of how many good deeds we might do on earth.
Today, do not many select their congregation based on what they like rather than what God likes? Their choice is apt to be a church that likes them unchanged, that approves of them as they now are. But Jesus will not accept or save those who love sin and want to continue sinning. He calls for us to NOT remain as we were. He demands that we make needed changes! Those who in humility come to Christ are seeking to BE changed by Him. Jesus is not going to revise the rules for His kingdom to suit us. He offers to help US change to fit in with HIS kingdom the way it was designed from that first Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in about 30 A.D. Our aim is to live and love as HE did.
We are RAISED INTO NEW LIFE as the climax of being born again of water and spirit. It’s by a new birth of water and spirit that any sinner is transformed into a saint. No new births happened on Calvary. Even today sinners must save themselves by obeying the gospel of Christ. Salvation is made possible by Calvary and what happened there. Individuals
put on Christ when faith in Him leads them to repent and to be baptized. Cornelius was told that Peter was bringing to him a message by which he would be saved.
Would be is future! And we notice that salvation did not come through baptism in or by the Spirit! It never does.
Obeying the gospel saves when we die to sin and are RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. We turned away from sin. We turned to Jesus. We learned that Jesus loves us and wants us to enjoy ETERNAL life. He wants us to enjoy this life on earth also. Raised into NEW LIFE. We no longer enjoy living selfishly. He calls us to deny self, take up a symbol of DEATH and walk in life as a servant, thinking more of others than of self. This way leads to real joy.
Christian baptism is new and different. John the Baptist, and John’s disciples and disciples of Jesus had also baptized people
for the remission of sins. The baptism by John, as is Christian baptism, was by command of God. John was called to prepare the way for the coming kingdom and to baptize all repentant Jews. But the baptism which Jesus Christ commands for repentant sinners then and now, is because the kingdom HAS BEGUN.
We hope each who experienced the baptism of John also felt cleansed from sin. But when the church began, there was an additional promise connected with this new baptism. Peter now promises to those who because of faith in JESUS do repent and are baptized both remission of sins AND
the gift of the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism conveyed no such gift as becoming indwelt by God!
God and Jesus choose to dwell within those who have chosen to obey the gospel. Saved Christians are now temples where GOD lives. Note that this
gift of the Holy Spirit for all who do repent and accept baptism is not at all the special spiritual powers which were transmitted by the laying on of hands by Christ’s apostles. This gift of the Spirit conveys to us no powers, just the assurance that wherever we go God is in us and with us. That God now dwells in men is miraculous, but it doesn’t empower us who have been baptized to perform any miracles at all.
In early days of the church, miracles were frequent rather than rare. Many were being healed. Prophets were speaking directly from God to His people. Some were enabled to speak languages they had never learned. Others understood what was said in the language unknown by the speaker. Many strange things are prophesied by the writer of the last words in the gospel according to Mark:  And he said to them,
Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:15-18 – ESV, emphasis added).
All these promised miracles were seen in that generation They were done by persons who had received from the apostles power to perform
special spiritual things. In some
missionary locations particularly, some of these signs are still being seen, I’m told. Handling poisonous snakes and drinking poisons are not recommended spiritual exercises for Christians today. Cheerful service by all of us is possible and expected.
Christian baptism is not
work in any sense. Let’s realize that being raised into new life is not something done BY the one being baptized. It’s done TO that person. A sinner can work all he (or she) wants to and still could not succeed in burying himself and raising himself out of a
watery grave. The sinner is placed UNDER the water by the hands of another person, and then is immediately lifted up OUT OF the water, still by the hands of another person. The sinner does no work. The raising into new life is done by someone other than the sinner who is being saved.
Being baptized is just submitting to an act that JESUS said was to be performed upon anyone as soon as the person came to believe in the risen Lord and wanted to make Jesus his Lord. The next time you hear someone refer to being baptized as a work, you will do well to point out to the speaker that they’re misunderstanding what is happening when a person is baptized. The one receiving baptism is doing NO work at all. The immersing is not done by, but is done TO the one being baptized. The baptizing was ordered by JESUS, not by any man. Who will say Jesus was wrong? Many do. They would do well to not suppose Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about. They’re brave to dare to criticize Jesus and think they know more than He.
Being raised into new life is serious business. Christian baptism is not to be performed unthinkingly or as if it were unimportant. Those who want to become Christians do so by repenting and being baptized. Jesus is our Lord. We baptize in obedience to our Master. Quickly. Right away. Those who respect Jesus will not think or speak lightly of what HE commands. The invitation to repent and be baptized is open to every person. There’s no limit on who can repent and be baptized. The only limit is that one who does NOT die to sin cannot be raised into new life.
No committee or human power is entitled to decide who deserves baptism. No church body has the right to decide whether or not baptism can be performed upon any seeker. Jesus has commanded that immersion SHALL be done. He makes no provision for us deciding whether or not it’s appropriate or proper. Our obedience of performing baptisms is done by order of our Lord. Why would anyone want to baptize except that Jesus said we should do so? Immersing which is not done by His authority and in HIS name is not Christian baptism. We don’t speak of special ritualistic speech which makes the act
kosher. We speak of the authority by which the deed is done. We baptize to please God rather than men.
Christian baptism is by free choice. Of course we bury and raise into new life only those who WANT to be baptized! Did we even need to mention the fact? But how does a person know they should be baptized? Our sharing the gospel should without fail include our telling of the need those outside of Christ have to repent and BE baptized. That’s how they will know they should be baptized. We TELL them. If they read the bible they will learn from it about baptism.
So what kind of a disciple of Christ is it who urges sinners to come to Christ by performing something OTHER than being baptized? Many do have other invitations. Some suggest reciting a
sinner’s prayer, saying this will bring the sinner
into Christ. No, it won’t. Paul and Jesus and Peter point to the right Way. The Way into Christ’s kingdom is by hearing and believing the gospel, then repenting and being baptized. That’s how it was done on the birthday of the church. God hasn’t changed His mind about how sinners become saints. The JESUS Way remains the one Way that washes sin away.
The apostle Peter promises two wonderful results from baptism of penitent believers in Jesus. Neither is sure to be
felt by the one being baptized. First, God wipes the slate clean in heaven where books are kept which record our deeds. Sin is washed away. It is no longer counted against us. On the record, it’s as if we were newly born, as in fact we are. RAISED INTO NEW LIFE! This result of baptism is based entirely upon our faith in the risen Lord.
We have no reason to trust in baptism itself or even water of softest texture to wash away sin. We need not trust the baptizer. It’s JESUS we trust. It’s Jesus who points out that the new birth is of water and spirit, and who then through Peter calls for us to both repent AND be baptized in order to be saved. When we do so, He keeps His promise. He cleanses us from our sin. Secondly, He gifts us with His Spirit. Those who repent and are baptized are THEN given the Spirit. After we are baptized, the closer we walk with Jesus the more we are apt to feel His presence and sense Him
within us. Jesus is our Lord. Jesus is our Savior. Jesus is our friend. Jesus is the one who commanded that each new believer is to be baptized. Some presume they have some right to vote on whether or not to obey the Lord’s command. Will their ignorance be excused? Why would it?
Christian baptism is immersion in water, then being raised into new life! Jesus commanded that humans are to perform this act. It is not performed by Jesus or by His Holy Spirit. Neither faith nor confession of faith can take the place of repentance and baptism (new birth of water and spirit
into Christ). Only we who do believe in Jesus will obey Him. Of course we also tell others of our faith. How could we not do so? The climax of the new birth is when our
old man of sin is buried and then we are raised up from baptismal water to walk in a life of service and love for all God’s people.
Note that we cannot hate other people and also love the God who LOVES them. The more we love others, the more we will be like Jesus who loves so much that He wants EVERYONE to be saved. Life in the time in which Christ’s apostles lived was in some ways similar to today. Enemies of the Christ were powerful and pervasive. They controlled the government, therefore could make and enforce whatever laws they wished. Christians were persecuted. Christians were martyred. Christians were faithful. So should we be at all times and in all ways.
Christians then were convinced that what Jesus offers is far better than was elsewhere available. This is still true. They chose to live for Jesus despite incredible odds. It was in future days they expected glory and peace. It’s still that way! Many Christians today face torment and torture at the hands of enemies of Jesus Christ. He is worth it. Be reminded that no one is asked to believe in baptism. We accept baptism because of faith in JESUS. He commanded it. His apostles practiced it because the Lord said to practice it. Their motive is our motive as well. We want to please our Lord.
We have been RAISED INTO NEW LIFE. Of course now we will live FOR HIM. We need to regulate our beliefs and our practice by what God teaches. Is it not so? Our words should be carefully chosen to reveal God’s truth and never to conceal it. We ask ourselves,
WERE we buried with Christ? ARE we now walking in new life? If we experienced the new birth Jesus speaks of in John 3:5, we HAVE been buried and resurrected with Christ. We repented. We accepted baptism into Christ. We now ARE reborn. Jesus now lives within us! We have been RAISED INTO NEW LIFE with Christ.
Yet we face persecution and death if we confess that we do believe Jesus is Lord. We need to be faithful unto death, not expecting only peace and prosperity if we are followers of one who earned our redemption by DYING for us. We follow One who endured greatly
for the glory that was set before Him. We also are called to serve and wait for glory which will last forever.
In this generation, many are faced with the same dilemma presented long ago to Roman soldiers. Swear allegiance to the god who is your political ruler or die. Those then who knew Jesus was Lord had no choice. We who know Jesus is Lord also have no choice. God is. Jesus is. Jesus has conquered death and offers us eternal life. Of course we will confess that we do believe Jesus is Lord. Won’t we?
All are saved who hear the gospel and obey its call for sinners to turn away from sin in order to serve Jesus instead, and to be baptized to seal their calling. Age is no barrier. Social status means nothing in seeking membership in God’s kingdom. Both men and women are welcome, as are all children old enough to make sensible decisions concerning their future. No one is too poor to be accepted. No one is so rich that his riches will cause him to be rejected so long as the person is not in love with things of this world. What Paul is saying is that in Christ’s church we should find no barriers to fellowship with every other member. We should love every saved Christian.
CONFESSION OF FAITH is telling something about a Savior rather than about sins of the believer. Some brag about how bad they were until they turned to Christ. We do well to put such evil deeds behind us and not keep reminding ourselves of them.
BAPTISM Is Being
Victor Knowles is founder and director of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, MO. Please notice what he has written about baptism into Christ and the NEW LIFE which follows new birth.
RAISED INTO New Life
by VICTOR KNOWLES
United States Senator Sam Houston was baptized November 19, 1854 in Little Rocky Creek near Independence, Texas. It is said that the two people who had the most influence on leading Houston from a life of sin to Christ were his wife Margaret and Baines Johnson (great-grandfather of President Lyndon Baines Johnson). It is said that when Houston arose from the waters of baptism he exclaimed,
God have mercy on the fish!
Baptism is mentioned more than 120 times in the Bible. The noun
baptism and the verb
baptize are anglicized Greek words that mean
to dip, plunge, or immerse.
The simple act of a new believer being immersed into Christ is a divine drama that illustrates beautifully the washing away of sins by the blood of Jesus and the rising to walk in a new life by faith in the resurrected Christ (Bob Russell, THE LOOKOUT, January 20, 2002).
Baptism was the first public act of Jesus’ ministry. He walked about 70 miles to be immersed in the Jordan River by his cousin, John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17). After his baptism, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and God’s voice was heard:
this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17, New King James Version). ...
Baptism was part of the last command given by Jesus on earth. Jesus said,
All authority In heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18,19). Baptism is the only command in the Bible given in the name of the Godhead.
Baptism in the New Testament
Each of the nine accounts of conversion in the book of Acts culminates in Christian baptism. Believers repented of their sins, confessed Christ, and were baptized. They did not balk at baptism. They did not belittle baptism. They did not bide their time. From the Day of Pentecost onward, baptism was always an immediate faith response to the gospel of grace heard and believed.
In his book Baptism Today and Tomorrow (St. Martin’s Press, 1966), G. R. Beasley-Murray finds five attendant blessings to baptism in the New Testament:
1. Forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16),
2. Union with Christ (Galatians 3:26,27; Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:1-11),
3. Possession of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5),
4. Membership in the church (1 Corinthians 12:13),
5. Inheritance of the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
In the light of these statements I am compelled to conclude that the understanding of baptism as ‘a beautiful and expressive symbol,’ and nothing more, is irreconcilable with the New Testament.
The apostle Paul wrote often about baptism in his epistles. Baptism is the threshold of entrance into Christ, his atoning death, and his glorious church. Paul states that we are
Baptism and the Cross
Recently Timothy George, executive editor of Christianity Today, answered a question from a reader in his column
baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27),
baptized into his death (Romans 6:3), and
baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). The footnotes of several Bible translations indicate that the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew may also read
baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Baptism, then, brings a convert into a new relationship
where God becomes his heavenly Father, God’s Son becomes his personal Savior, and God’s Spirit becomes his indwelling strength (The Beauty of Baptism, by Alger Fitch, 2003).
Good Question. The question was,
What is the role of baptism in faith and salvation? George responded, in part,
Baptism must take place in the context of faith, and it must connect to the central events of the gospel – Jesus’ cross and resurrection (CT, July 2003). This is precisely the point the apostle Paul makes in Romans 6:1-4, where he writes,
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Baptism certainly connects to the central events of the gospel! We are
baptized into Christ Jesus. We are
baptized into his death. We are
buried with him through baptism into death. We are raised
just as Christ was raised from the dead. It’s all there in baptism – death, burial, and resurrection. The passage in Romans is more clearly understood when placed alongside what Paul wrote to the Corinthians when he defined the gospel. He said,
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – as it is portrayed in Scripture. The response to the gospel is our death, burial, and resurrection – as it is portrayed in Christian baptism.
Baptism is more than a commemoration of what has already happened in the sinner. It is a dynamic action, an actual participation, a life-changing event. We are buried with Christ. We are baptized into his death. There we die with Christ. We are raised with Christ, just as he was raised. The saving power in this act is linked to the resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:21). All this is indeed an act of faith that God is graciously doing something special at this time.
Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).
Martin Luther said,
Your baptism is nothing less than grace clutching you by the throat: a grace-full throttling, by which your sin is submerged in order that ye may remain under grace. Come thus to thy baptism. Give thyself up to be drowned in baptism and killed by the mercy of thy dear God, saying: ‘Drown me and throttle me, dear Lord, for henceforth I will gladly die to sin with thy Son’ (as quoted in Down in the River to Pray, John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor, Leafwood Publishers, 2003). The death to sin, the burial of a dead sinner, and the resurrection of a new person all occur in baptism.
Baptism has been likened to a tomb. Alger Fitch says baptism is a tomb in that
the person buried in the tomb of water is to have died to self. Eyes, ears, lips are under the wave. Sex organs, hands, feet, and mind are now ready to rise into a life over which Jesus is to have control. The total surrender of a total person to the total will of God is what baptism confesses. Baptism can also be likened to a womb where one is born again of the water and of the spirit (John 3:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12,13).
Baptism and the New Life
New life, free from the dominion of sin, is the result of our baptism into the death of Christ. Norma McCorvey (of
Roe vs. Wade notoriety) was baptized on August 8, 1995. The same day was her last day of employment at a Dallas abortion clinic. She testified,
I’ll serve the Lord and help women save their babies for the rest of my life. Former NFL great and TV broadcaster Pat Summerall, who nearly ruined his life with alcohol, was recently baptized. He said,
I went down into the water, and when I came up it was like a 40-pound weight had been lifted from me. I have a happier life, a healthy life, and a more positive feeling about life than ever before.
Here’s the bottom line on baptism: So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace – a new life in a new land! That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means? (Romans 6:1-3 The Message).
Here’s a Warning for all
All kinds of mischief can come in the wake of believing that in some way the Spirit of God is involved in the new birth of water and spirit. A 2009 graduate of a Christian-worker training college of my acquaintance [I received a BA(Ministerial) degree there in 1955] stated in my hearing that he had heard of a Muslim who was converted to Christ by a dream rather than by the gospel. The man is said to have felt that the Holy Spirit had inspired the dream so the man wanted to be baptized, perhaps to keep in touch with the spirit of which he had dreamed. But there are many spirits in the world. There were in Jesus’ time. There ARE in our time. These spirits are especially active in less-educated areas, poorer areas, and where witch-doctors or Muslim clerics have influence. Or where religious teachers of many non-Christian persuasions practice witchcraft by any name.
Is it only ignorance which opens people to the influence of evil spirits which often masquerade as good ones? No, but that helps. However some wealthy and well-educated people, even ones who attend and hold membership in churches, are influenced by spirits other than the Holy Spirit of God. For example, those who cast horoscopes, who tell fortunes, who feel they are influenced by the placement of stars. What I understand the young Bible teacher to be saying is that we need to depend on action of the Spirit today when we preach about Jesus. Hearing the gospel is not enough, he thinks, the Spirit determines who will respond to Christ’s gospel. This book presents the gospel of CHRIST. It does not depend on spirits. The gospel interacts with human spirits to result in some sinners choosing to repent of sin. The simple story of God who came to earth and was put to death in thanks by unappreciative men is the gospel. Jesus offers salvation to every man. His offer is that any sinner who seeks to be joined to Him must accept new birth of water and spirit.
The new birth is NOT something mystic and hidden. It happens out of sight. People hear about a God of love and His unique Son who loved so much that He paid for sinners the price of sin. Having heard, some turn to Jesus and turn away from sinful thoughts and deeds. We call this repenting. The one who now is a repentant believer in Jesus as Lord and Savior is then buried in water and raised out of the water to walk in NEW LIFE with Jesus as Lord.
What’s wrong with a salvation based on feelings rather than facts? Feelings may change. Facts remain true. How about someone who rejects the gospel but fears a dream, can that person be baptized and saved by his fear? Not unless the fear causes the person to HEAR the gospel, believe it, and obey it! The motive which is Biblical is NOT fear. Any Christian who seeks to save the lost better go to them with the GOSPEL rather than with a suggestion they seek a dream or vision in order to think they’re saved by the
Much that happens during conversion into Jesus is unseen, yet it happens just the same. One person hears of and believes in a risen Lord. Realizing his sin, he repents of sin. Turning away from sin, the person can find LIFE and peace and love in God’s unique Son. At God’s direction and in the name of Jesus, a person buries another person, a repentant, believing sinner, in water and quickly raises that person back out of the water, raised into new life with Jesus as companion and guide. God looks on with pleasure and approval. Sin is washed away. Jesus adds a name to the Lamb’s Book of Life.
A simple transaction. From death to life. The Lord Jesus does it. The Spirit of God and Jesus is sent to help a new Christian learn and live for Jesus. And the
babe in Christ has a life of service to live with joy and Spirit-help in overcoming any problem. God is good.
Concerning the WORD of God
by CECIL MAY JR.
of Faulkner University in Alabama.
The word of God is the means by which God both communicates and acts (Genesis 1&2).
For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm (Psalm 33:9). When Jesus is accused of
making himself equal with God (John 5:18), he responds not by denying the claim but by demonstrating that the Father has given him two things that only God can do: give life, and execute judgment (John 5:21-23). Jesus accomplishes both by the power of his word. For him, as well as for the Father, he acts by speaking. He causes things to be by telling them to be.
Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (John 5:25). He is speaking of the power of his word, the power of the gospel, to transform the spiritually dead, and to give them spiritual life. He backs that up by adding,
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (5:28,29).
We know the power of his word to raise the dead. His command,
Lazarus, come out, put life back into a decaying corpse and brought Lazarus alive from a tomb. As Marshall Keeble said,
If Jesus had not called Lazarus by name, every body in that cemetery would have come out of their tomb. The word of that same Jesus, who is God, will at the last day, indeed, raise every person who has ever died out of whatever grave or state they may be in, to a renewal of conscious existence. A reformed, converted alcoholic was taunted by old drinking friends,
Do you really believe your Jesus turned plain water into good wine at Cana in Galilee?
I believe he did, the man said,
because the Bible says so. Besides, I saw him turn beer, wine and whiskey into food, furniture and clothes at my house. That is the power of the gospel to change lives today.
The word of God, scripture, is the seed from which we are born again (1 Peter 1:23). It is the light by which we are directed (Psalm 119:105), the food on which we feed (Hebrews 5:13,14), the foundation on which we are built (Ephesians 2:20). It builds us up (Acts 20:32). It is the truth by which we are sanctified (John 17:17). It is the word which is able to save our souls (James 1:21). It is the standard by which one day the whole world will be judged (John 12:48). Never deprecate the word of God. God acts through his word. Gladly receive it to be saved and transformed by it. – Cecil May Jr., Faulkner University. These remarks were published in PREACHER TALK, Vol.25, No.1, July, 2010.
Can We Measure God’s Love?
In THE LOOKOUT magazine for 7/25/10 is a brief essay. It’s by David Faust, who writes regularly for THE LOOKOUT. I wish every person in the world could read and believe what David has written concerning us who have been raised into new life.
By David Faust
In America we resist the metric system, but we have a meter for everything: odometers, thermometers, barometers, speedometers. We measure our trips in miles and hours, our height in feet and inches, our weight in pounds (and sighs). At school we measure grades; at work we measure productivity; at church we measure attendance and offerings. We keep track of sales goals and voter polls, salaries and calories, horsepower and miles per hour. We measure blue jeans and TV screens, package weights and interest rates, fat grams and Virginia hams. We attempt to measure maturity by adding up a person’s birthdays. A rule of thumb in business declares,
If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t matter.
What about God’s love? Can it be measured? In Ephesians 3:18, the apostle Paul prays that God’s people
may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. How wide is God’s love? Broad enough to encompass every era in human history. Expansive enough to override political barriers. Spacious enough to embrace every age, language, and ethnic group on earth. Ample enough to forgive sin without cheapening justice. Wide enough to take a diverse array of men, women, boys, and girls who have next to nothing in common and make them one in Christ.
How long is God’s love? So long it stretches into eternity. So long it reaches back to Adam and forward to the final judgment – back to the days of our ancestors and forward to the days of our great-grandchildren – back to Christ’s death and forward to his return. How high is it? Taller than a redwood tree, loftier than a mountain peak, elevated above the moon and sun. God’s love
reaches to the heavens and his
faithfulness to the skies (Psalm 36:5). It soars beyond the farthest galaxy, beyond the reach of our strongest telescope, beyond what mortal eyes can see. How deep is it? According to geology.com, the North Pacific’s Mariana Trench contains the deepest point in the earth’s oceans, some 35,840 feet below sea level. If Mount Everest were placed at this location it would be covered by a mile of water. Yet, God’s cavernous love is so vast that he will
hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).
God loves you. Who can measure the impact of those simple words? God not only
so loved the world, he so loves you. You are not a mistake or a miscalculation. You are not an afterthought, an oversight, or an underdog. You are not a nobody on your way to nowhere. You don’t have to be a lone wolf or a lost sheep. In Christ you are not forgotten or forsaken, but forgiven. You are not worthless, but worthwhile. Life is not pointless, but purposeful. The one who created the universe places infinite value on you. He considers you a treasure worthy of his personal attention and sacrifice.
No mind can comprehend it, no scale can measure it, and no price tag can determine its value, but it’s true.
Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).
For Us Who Serve Jesus, the apostle
says There is O-N-E Baptism
The apostle Paul is an advocate of unity in Christ. In particular, when he wrote to Ephesian Christians, he spoke of seven ones in which we are united: one God, one Lord, one spirit, one assembly (the Lord’s church), one hope, one faith (the body of teaching given through Christ’s apostles), and one baptism. I ask, was Paul inspired in calling out these unities? Was he mistaken in one or more of them? There IS ONE BAPTISM commanded by the one Lord.
Aren’t there more baptisms mentioned in the inspired writings than just one? Yes, indeed there are. Others are mentioned on earlier pages. Yet Paul calls for us to be united in only ONE baptism. Is that John’s baptism? Perhaps baptism in the Spirit? Or is it some other baptism? Since Jesus speaks of a baptism which is to accompany spreading the gospel, we might well think the “one baptism” all Christians experience is the one Jesus commands us to perform. I certainly think so.
The birth day of the ’one body” is reported in chapter two of Acts. The spokesman for the risen Lord, the one whose words are recorded for our information by the reporter, was the apostle Peter. Peter responded to a plea for word as to what sinners could do to make themselves right with God. His advice, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus had connected baptism with our telling others about Him. Peter connects baptism with repentance and turning to Christ. Earlier in the chapter where this connection is made we read of a baptism in the Spirit, which was heard and seen in accompanying strange events. Jesus had promised His apostles that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit only a few days after the promise was given. The apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit and thereby were empowered for the tremendous task to which they had been called.
But the baptism Jesus spoke of tobe performed BY His disciples is not a baptism in the Spirit. That was performed by Jesus Himself. The baptism men were to perform was in water, as is made clear in many passages in the New Testament scriptures. I’ll mention only one this time as we think about the “one baptism.” Jesus spoke prophetically about a new birth of water and spirit which He said was essential for admission into His Kingdom. His Kingdom is His assembly (church). Peter was inspired to call for a change in the human spirit as necessary for admission into the church of the Lord, and linked with it was a baptism IN WATER. I see both water and the (human) spirit there.
In the history of the early church as told us by Luke, we have read of several instances of conversion which brought people into Christ’s church. In the latter part of chapter eight of Acts we note in particular that the baptism in reference was an immersion in water. Baptism in God’s Spirit could only be performed by God. Baptism in water can be performed by men. Jesus calls for MEN to preach the gospel and to baptize.
Shall we try to baptize in the Spirit? How could we? Apparently the apostles who were first given the commission we call the great commission thought the baptism spoken of by Jesus was in water. That’s how they did it. Now some brothers are trying to pick out selected uses of “baptism” and “baptize” in inspired writings and say that those references refer to a baptism by the Holy Spirit. The next essay in this book quotes verbatim one such teaching by a Church of Christ brother. Some say this unseen immersion takes place at the instant of belief in Christ. Others place it as coincident with an immersion in water in the name of Jesus. Yet for Christians, there’s only ONE baptism.
Baptism BY the Spirit! In which Bible verse is such a baptism promised or foretold? None. In which Bible verse is such a baptism seen to have been performed? None. Why would any Bible teacher then try to create a second baptism when the Bible clearly teaches there is only one baptism for us? None should, of course. Why do some do so? It’s because one verse is handled wrongly by many translators. That’s 1 Corinthians 12:13. The apostle Paul there speaks about the unity which should pervade the church of God. What many translators cause him to have said is that entry into the church is through a baptism performed by the Holy Spirit. The New International Version has it read: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Those who speak and study the Greek language know that the phrase some translate in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as “by one Spirit” could easily and correctly have been translated as “in one spirit.” But some translators choose in this one passage to create a baptism by the Spirit, an immersion which is never spoken of by inspiration by Paul or any of the writers of the Bible.
Would Paul have here contradicted his clear teaching that there is ONE baptism? Of course not. Paul was inspired. He taught truth. He certainly would not then have created a second baptism to exist alongside the ONE baptism which he testifies exists for the body of Christ. Baptism IN the Spirit was performed, Luke tells us, twice in the history of the church. Baptism BY the Spirit is never spoken of except in this one mistranslation.
Why then would anyone jump in to say Paul was mistaken in teaching there is ONE baptism for Christians? Well, they seldom speak of this as the second or third baptism it is, for they want to believe in a baptism by the Holy Spirit and don’t want anyone to worry about this not being what the apostle really taught. Some translators have created a second baptism for us! Why do some want to believe in a second baptism for Christians? It may be because Paul makes clear more than once that baptism is the point at which we are admitted into the church of Christ and brought into Christ Himself. That is, we enter into fellowship with Jesus as sons and daughters of the Father. And some don’t want to believe that water baptism is essential for salvation. No way, they say.
Writing to Galatian Christians, Paul affirms, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
Paul appeals for unity in Christ. All who obey the gospel do so by repenting and being baptized. Babies can’t do this. That’s obvious. It’s ones who have sinned who need to turn away from sin and be baptized. It’s ones who now believe in Jesus who need to obey Him. Babies can’t believe. Babies can’t repent. Babies can’t choose to be baptized. Accepting baptism is an act of the will.
How does the Spirit become involved in baptism into Christ? The Spirit is given by Jesus to those who have repented and were immersed in obedience to the gospel call. Note that the apostle didn’t say the Spirit chooses to come to the new Christian, but that He is a gift. Gifts don’t normally give themselves. They are given by a gift-giver. Just as Jesus said He would send baptism in the Spirit to His apostles, Peter says Jesus will send the Spirit to join Himself with the spirits of us who have obeyed the gospel of Christ.
There is no baptism BY the Spirit, regardless of what any translators might think. Salvation is in Jesus Christ. Jesus saves. Jesus sends His Spirit to glorify the Lord Jesus in the lives of all who submit to the one baptism which brings us into Christ and into His church.
What is it to die to sin? Peter uses the word ’repent” to call for us to turn away from love of sinning. We turn TO Jesus, to live with Him and for Him in every future day. It’s by acts of our will that we are faithful to or unfaithful to Jesus. We are free. God does not force anyone to sin. He does not force us to NOT sin. We make our own decisions. After the Spirit is given, He may help us avoid sin, but we are still free moral agents!
Are Christians Baptized
BY the Holy Spirit? NOT!
The apostle Paul wrote to Corinthian Christians to set them straight on at least two problems within the group. They were ignoring rather than handling recognized sexual sin by one in the group. And they were splitting themselves into groups loyal to one beloved leader or another beloved leader. The study here begun has to do with the disunity problem. Some English versions incorrectly translate a verse in such a way as to create conflicting teaching between the apostle here and in several other passages. A brother’s study here quoted sets the stage for teaching salvation by faith only, that is, for salvation prior to obeying the gospel. The brother writes:
“We must get our eyes off some elusive humanly perceived pattern, derived largely from mere assumptions, and direct them toward the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
RAY: This introductory statement is absolutely correct, yet is not what the writer’s later remarks in fact do. The writer speaks of a pattern to which he objects. But no “pattern” is involved in entering the Way. Obeying JESUS saves sinners. Obeying JESUS is the Way to eternal life. JESUS is Lord. Jesus is head of the church. The gospel is telling about JESUS. Our unity is in JESUS, in loving and serving HIM. Our spirits are one in HIM.
It seems not to be a “pattern” to which the writer is opposed. It’s the fact that our unity is in and through JESUS rather than in the Holy Spirit, which he seems to prefer. Why emphasize the Spirit? Is Jesus not able to save and unite us?
“It is a ‘unity of the Spirit’ that will ultimately prove to be transforming, not this futile quest to force the Family of God into some form of our own devising. Our unity, therefore, is not based upon what we do, but rather upon who we are. And the force that brings this oneness to His universal Body is none other than the Holy Spirit.”
RAY: And all along I thought it was JESUS and our love for HIM which should make us one. If we obey JESUS, if we ALL obey Jesus, we will surely be one in our spirits. But now we’re told it’s the Holy Spirit rather than the one Lord who creates and sustains unity. I don’t agree. Isn’t ONE Lord enough? Why seek to worship and serve the Spirit instead of Jesus Himself?
“I believe we too often discount the operation of the Spirit among the called-out people of God. He has been given for a purpose, and far too many disciples ... have sought to utterly remove the Holy Spirit as the vital life-giving, unifying force within the Lord’s One Body.”
RAY: I’m quite sure that JESUS is the vital life-giving, unifying force Who unites us within HIS body. He always has been. Should we all unite around the Spirit instead of God’s SON? If we love and serve Jesus we are Christians. What name would be right for those who love and serve the Spirit? Spirit-ists? Surely not “Christ-ians.”
“This is a grave error, and the result has been apparent to the world about us. Rather than believing, they merely mock. Who wants to be part of a dismembered, dysfunctional Body? Brethren, it is time once more to be indwelt, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.”
RAY: I think it is time still to be led and empowered by the living and powerful SON of God to whom our loyalty belongs. Is the Spirit the head of our churches? Did He die for us? Jesus claims He has ALL power in Heaven and on earth. Shall we agree with Jesus, or shall we think the Spirit is our source of power and truth? I’m with JESUS. I trust and serve JESUS. And if we all are loyal to JESUS, where will disunity come in?
“The apostle Paul wrote to a group of believers who were struggling greatly within themselves, saying, ‘Just as there is one body that has many members, and all of the many members of the body are one body, so also is Christ; for we were all immersed into the one body by the one Spirit, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free men; and we all have been given to drink of one Spirit’ [1 Corinthians 12:12,13, Hugo McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel, emphasis added by Ray].”
RAY: So we’ve now arrived at the mistranslation. Jesus commissioned MEN to baptize each new believer. Paul would not, he could not claim that unity required everyone to have been baptized by the Spirit instead.
Was the great commission given to the Spirit? We know better. Every baptism recorded in Acts, the history book of the early church, was performed either by Jesus Himself or by one of His disciples. Not a single baptism was said to have been performed by the Holy Spirit. Every convert was baptized in water in the name of Jesus. The immersing was done by human hands.
What Paul in this verse appeals to is the shared experience that all Christians had submitted to because they learned of Jesus and sought salvation through Him. All were baptized IN one (human) spirit rather than BY one Spirit. And shall we think Paul thought God had more than ONE Spirit so that the apostle would have to write here about ONE Spirit? Surely we know better.
The Holy Spirit did no baptizing. At least none recorded by inspired writers. But every convert to CHRIST received baptism because they were submitting to the authority of JESUS. “In one spirit” is the proper translation of the phrase which speaks of being baptized into the body which we call the church.
No Bible baptism was ever performed by the Holy Spirit. Paul is appealing to a baptism in water which ALL disciples had experienced. Each KNEW they had experienced immersion in water. Now yet another red herring is introduced to draw attention away from the truth:
Not a few biblical interpreters have taken the view that this passage is sacramental in nature. In other words, the baptism mentioned is water baptism and the drink has reference to the cup of the Lord’s Supper.
There’s no reason to think a reference to drinking of the Spirit has anything to do with the Lord’s Supper! It’s obviously the “gift of the Spirit” in reference (compare Acts 2:38). Baptism into Christ and the GIFT of the Spirit are linked! Neither is a sacrament, of course. Both point to JESUS as Savior and Lord.
Frankly, I do not believe either “sacrament” is in view in this passage. Contextually, neither practice fits. Rather, Paul is speaking of the concept of unity within the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing about this reality.
RAY: Our unity is in JESUS, not in the Holy Spirit. JESUS is the head of the church to which we belong. His word is supreme. His wish is our command. Unity comes from JESUS and our shared love for HIM. For what reason does anyone want to try to insert the Spirit into leadership of Christ’s church?
“I really appreciate the manner in which Ken Taylor phrased this passage in his Living Bible – ‘Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit.’ Paul is not talking about water baptism, nor is he speaking of the Lord’s Supper. He is talking about the power of the Spirit to unite us as beloved brethren in the universal One Family.”
RAY: Paul certainly IS talking about water baptism. That’s the ONE baptism to which every Christian has submitted. It signifies our acceptance of JESUS as Lord. As dying sinners are buried and raised up into new life it shows forth HIS death and resurrection as well as our own. Why does anyone want to try to replace Jesus as our Lord and Master? Are we not all loyal to HIM? Do we not all seek to please HIM? For Christians are there two Lords? Two heads? Two Masters?
Why would anyone assume drinking of the Spirit would refer to anything other than Peter speaks of in Acts 2:38? The ’gift of the Spirit” is promised as a result of our repenting and being immersed in water. It’s obvious the apostle is not speaking here of the Lord’s Supper. Why bring it in? And “two sacraments”? A sacrament is an act which creates merit, as I understand it. What do Christians have to do with sacraments? Is that an apostolic word or concept? It’s not. Neither baptism into Christ nor communing with Him in the “meal” are sacraments.
“Some have taken these thoughts as references to the Christian sacraments — water baptism and the Holy Communion. ... It is doubtful that this is Paul’s primary intent. Rather, he is emphasizing spiritual baptism, and the communion of spiritual food and drink” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 264].
RAY: And now we’ve reached the ultimate false teaching. Our brother writes:
“I’m thoroughly convinced that the baptism mentioned in this passage is not some ritual or rite or sacrament, but is rather simply a use of the Greek word to convey the idea of complete immersion into something. That ‘something’ into which the people of God are completely plunged is JESUS, and, by extension, His universal One Body. And the One who places us WITHIN HIM is none other than the Holy Spirit.”
RAY: Must we read Acts 2:38 again to see who sends the Spirit to us? This quoted writer disputes with Peter’s inspired statement of how sinners are saved. The word translated “baptism” is exactly the same as in all other uses of the word. In all cases, it’s the Greek for baptize or baptism. Compare this theory with the inspired truth that the Spirit is GIVEN to those who obey the gospel of CHRIST. It’s an uninspired claim indeed that it takes the Holy Spirit to save us by “placing us within JESUS.&8221;
“The aorist forms argue against the view that this verse refers to the ongoing practice of water baptism and Communion, as though the physical acts would somehow make the Christians one body. If the physical rites were in view, present tense verbs would be expected” [ibid, p. 265].
“John Gill, in his classic Exposition of the Entire Bible, in commenting on this passage, concurs: ‘This is to be understood not of water baptism.”
“Dr. Albert Barnes, in his monumental work Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, also agrees: ‘Many suppose that there is reference here to the ordinance of baptism by water.’ ‘However,’ Dr. Barnes notes, ‘this seems clearly out of touch with the context of the passage.’ I completely concur.”
“Thus, by the agency of the Holy Spirit we are all completely plunged into (immersed into) the Lord Jesus, with all who are thus incorporated into Him constituting the One Body universal of our Lord on earth. This passage, therefore, has nothing whatsoever to do with water baptism, but has everything to do with the power of the Holy Spirit to unite us with the Son of God, and in so doing to unite us with all others the world over who also have been added to Him. It is ‘the unity of the Spirit.’”
RAY: This supposed ’baptism by the Spirit” can’t be seen with human eyes. There’s no evidence that any such second baptism occurs. It’s a figment of imagination, not any result of inspired teaching. What the text says, and what agrees with all other Bible teaching, is that our baptism which is by immersion in water into Christ brings us into the ONE BODY which is HIS church. It’s not the church of the Holy Spirit. The baptism is not done by the Holy Spirit. All are baptized into Christ IN one spirit, a spirit of humble obedience.
“As the passage states, ‘we were all immersed into the one body BY the one Spirit.’ This is an ‘immersion’ effected BY the Holy Spirit, the purpose of which is to unite the many diverse parts into a unified, harmonious, functional whole body.
RAY: The purposes for the ONE BAPTISM which brings us into Christ and His church are “the remission of sins and to RECEIVE THE SPIRIT.” This is made clear in Acts 2:38. The purpose of a second baptism imagined by the writer and some translators is, the writer says, “to unite.” Yet obeying the one LORD brings sinners into unity with Him and with all who also love Him. We are reborn of water and spirit and ALL are made one by our obedience to the ONE LORD.
“Therefore, Paul immediately goes on to say that as a result of this spiritual ‘immersion,’ there is no longer the distinction of Jew or Greek, slave or free, or any other such human perception of separateness. We are all now ONE by the action of the Spirit, who has incorporated (immersed) us all into Christ Jesus.”
RAY: And some imagined that JESUS saves and that the baptism Jesus said WE were to perform had something to do with obeying the gospel and clothing sinners with HIM in His body. But this writer thinks the work is done by the Holy Spirit rather than by those told to preach throughout the world, baptizing those who believe the gospel of JESUS. Notice that the quotation from Barrett which follows provides no proof of what the writer says Barrett believes and teaches.
“Dr. C. K. Barrett, who at the time he produced his commentary was a professor of theology at the University of Durham, points out that the intent of Paul in this passage was very practical in nature: he sought to illustrate the reality of their oneness, and that this was the work of the Holy Spirit. ‘The various national and social groups, and the dissident religious cliques at Corinth, have all entered into the unity of the Body of Christ, which they ought to express, and not deny, by means of their various gifts’ [A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 289].
RAY: Feel free to quote the Bible itself if authority is needed to provide light on what the apostle really said and meant. It’s JESUS who is exalted and to be obeyed. JESUS is Lord. Or are we to obey whatever we think we hear the Spirit telling us to do? How would that unite us when the messages claimed to be from the Spirit are so often conflicting and contradictory?
“Again quoting from the work of Dr. Albert Barnes – ‘it means, that by the agency of the Holy Spirit, they had all been suited, each to his appropriate place, to constitute the Body of Christ – the church. The Spirit had so endowed them as to fit them to constitute One Body, or to be united in one, and to perform the various duties which resulted from their union.’
“Dr. G. R. Beasley-Murray, in his great study Baptism in the New Testament, observed, ‘Baptism into the one Body by the one Spirit overcomes the deepest religious and social divisions of mankind: in the Body there is no room for maintaining the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, and slaves and free; in Christ they are “one man” (Gal. 3:28), and the one Spirit divides his gifts to all.
“The unity of the Body thus does not consist in uniformity of character and function, on the contrary Paul is about to explain how the very idea of a body presumes the necessity of members with different functions; but these differentiated functions are possible because the Body is a unity, informed by one life and inspired by one Spirit’ [p. 171].”
“There are a couple of companion passages that I strongly believe provide us some additional insight into the thinking of the apostle Paul on this matter. ‘For as many of you as were immersed into Christ clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female, for you are all united in Christ Jesus’ [Gal. 3:27,28, Hugo McCord’s translation].
RAY: The ONE BAPTISM which unites us is the one commissioned by JESUS. And with what little regard these scholars treat what the Lord commands! And how greatly they value an act, this second baptism spoken of only in this one mistranslation, an act they’ve made up entirely out of their own imaginations. The baptism commanded by JESUS is to be performed by the same ones who carry the gospel throughout the world. It’s an immersion in water.
“Many translations render the final phrase: ‘For you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ This is essentially the same message as that found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul is stressing our oneness, and a unity of diverse brethren which comes from the immersion by the Holy Spirit of these diverse elements into spiritual union with Jesus Himself, thereby making of us One Body. When the Spirit plunges us into Him, we are thereafter fully ‘clothed’ with Christ Jesus.
“The Greek word translated ‘clothed’ is enduo, which signifies ‘to be arrayed, invested; to be clothed with.’ The Analytical Greek Lexicon states, ‘to be invested with spiritual gifts, graces, or character’ [p. 138]. When the Holy Spirit plunges us completely and intimately into Jesus, we are so utterly immersed in Him that we are daily thereafter increasingly transformed into His character, overwhelmed with His grace, and endowed with His gifts.
“It is this immersion of which Paul speaks, NOT the rite of water baptism. It is an immersion performed BY the Spirit of God that incorporates us into the Son and thus not only unites us with Him, but also with all others who have been thusly incorporated by the Spirit into the Son. THEREIN is the basis of our unity and oneness!
“Paul tells us that when this is our reality, we, in effect, have cast off our ‘old man’ and have ‘put on the new self’ who is being transformed into the very image of the One into whom we have been immersed – ‘a renewal in which there’s no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all’ [Colossians 3:10,11].
“It is an immersion we dare not deny, and dare not diminish, both of which I believe we do when we seek to restrict the meaning of &8216;baptism’ in these passages to the rite of water baptism.”
“Does this perception in any way whatsoever diminish the place of water baptism as a visible demonstration of faith; as an evidence essential to our faith response? Of course not. I am in no way suggesting such a thing.”
RAY: Is he in no way suggesting that water baptism is NOT the baptism involved in obeying the great commission and in securing the remission of sin? That’s precisely what the writer IS suggesting and far more than only suggesting. He's swallowed this heresy hook, line, and sinker!
“I am merely suggesting that perhaps we have misapplied the above passages in our zeal to prove a particular doctrine and practice that, frankly, if one is not careful, can be easily given improper emphasis and thereby abused. Water baptism most definitely has its place in the process that leads us to and evidences our union with Christ Jesus. I fear, however, that too many for too long have elevated it to such a place of distinction that the work of the Spirit has been all but forgotten, if not replaced altogether. This is dangerous, and such a practice really needs to be challenged.
RAY: Yes, many do indeed challenge Jesus as Lord, seeking to replace the baptism HE commands in any way they can find to displace His authority. They place salvation prior to our obeying the gospel by repenting and being baptized. But they say they’re not teaching salvation by faith alone. Just ask them, and they’ll explain why their strange teaching is NOT attempting to make their substitute replace what Jesus commands. They deny that their imagined “baptism by the Spirit” is only possible by replacing the baptism commanded by Jesus.
“There are many uses of the term ‘baptism’ within the pages of the New Covenant writings. Thus, it is totally fallacious to assume they all have reference to water baptism.”
RAY: Quite true. No one is saying or thinking or teaching or implying in any way that every use of the word ’baptism” in New Covenant scriptures refers to Christian baptism. We knew better all along. But each time baptism is associated with salvation in Jesus, it’s in reference to the ONE BAPTISM which unites us, or else Paul’s unifying appeal in Ephesians 4:4-6 means nothing. The “one baptism” is not Baptist baptism, which is mentioned in the gospel records and also in Acts. It’s not the experience of the Israelites as they moved through the Red Sea while fleeing from Egypt. No one tries to say it is. Here’s another effort to confuse the question with a nonsensical application.
“Jesus, by way of a singular example, spoke of a baptism He would soon experience, and which many of His disciples would experience as well (Mark 10:38,39; Luke 12:50). This was an immersion into suffering and death, however, which had nothing to do with the rite of water baptism. Let us always remember those three essential rules of biblical interpretation: context, context, context! It can prove to be a life saver ... literally!”
RAY: The context of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is important. The context surely proves that Paul is not trying to confuse his readers by speaking of a unifying baptism that they’ve never heard of before and yet they all supposedly share. I believe there’s ONE BAPTISM associated with being added to Christ’s church. It’s in water. It’s performed by human hands. It’s identical for every convert. It brings us into Christ’s ONE BODY as it brings us into Jesus Christ Himself.
The “gift of the Spirit” received by every Christian follows the new birth, both in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and in Acts 2:38. Parallel passages inform no less than does the context of any problem passage. The baptism commanded by JESUS is the ONE BAPTISM commended by the apostle Paul. It inducts us into Christ. It clothes us with Christ. It brings us into the church which is His body. It’s an immersion in water. It’s performed by the same people who respond to the great commission given by Jesus to His apostles and put in practice by the apostles and those who were led to Christ by them. We are united in and by the one Lord, Jesus Christ! And all who obey the gospel by repenting and being bptized in water receive the GIFT of the Holy Spirit.
A good friend has protested my claiming that the new birth is of water and the (human) spirit. He has come to believe surely that the new birth is of water and the Holy Spirit. In explaining to me how the Holy Spirit is involved IN the new birth, it has become obvious that if what he’s been thinking about the Spirit’s involvement IN the new birth is true, there’s no change in how the Spirit works within us after we receive the ’gift of the Spirit.” How could that be? Does the gift mean nothing?
The ’gift of the Holy Spirit” is given to those who have heard, have believed, and have then obeyed the gospel. Sinners are invited to NOW turn to Christ as Savior and to be baptized into Him, after which they will have received the Spirit to bless and help them walk in Christ’s Way. The new birth is of water and spirit – a human spirit which is free to repent or to NOT repent. We are called to love and serve. God’s Spirit does not make decisions FOR us. We remain free to live as WE choose, and we face daily decisions either for life or for death.
PROPER Bible Understanding
by Ray Downen, based on material
taught by SETH WILSON
We believe the Bible is God’s written Word. We see that many who read the Bible find in it things we believe are not there. The suggestions we make here point to PROPER Bible understanding. This particular edition of PROPER Bible Understanding is introduced by a study written by Gaylon Embrey. A second study by the same author follows the sections of study written from SETH WILSON’s teaching material.
One simple test we each might make of our understanding is this: Does our reading of the Bible lead us to respect and seek to be in unity with all other Christians. If it does not, in some way we are misunderstanding what we have read. Bible books are not all alike. Some deal with Old Testament law. Some others are written to Christians who are not living under a law system. The four gospel accounts tell about the life of Jesus Christ while He lived on this earth. The history book for the early church is Acts. A New Testament book of prophecy is Revelation. The letters address particular problems met by early Christians.
A method of Bible study some use is called CENI. It surely helps understand the Old Testament writings. It looks for Commands, Examples, or Necessary Inferences by which God’s requirements and prohibitions may be recognized. Some have earlier read these suggestions and failed to see that the CENI system of seeking Bible truth is here rejected for understanding the New Testament. CENI cannot but lead to misunderstanding the law which leads to life. The Old Testament is based on law. The New is not a legalistic document. We point to PROPER Bible understanding instead of looking for laws where no laws can be found, and then creating laws we like.
How Does God NOW Speak?
Gaylon Embrey wrote what follows in this essay to the TruthQuest e-mail list. With his permission I share it with you.
To All – Well here I am having to disagree to some degree (I think) with dear brothers and friends. It’s not easy for me to do this, believe me, but nonetheless I feel the need to express a few thoughts on God’s “communication” to man. I feel sure there is no doubt in any mind in these parts that God cares about and communicates with His children. The question is, “How does God now speak to us?”
Several impressive stories have been related to the list in this regard. In one story there was a “strong impulse” that prompted an action, in another there was a specific verse that would not go away until it was acted upon, in another case a prayer was evidently answered in behalf of a very trivial matter, eternally speaking. I would not say, nor would I even want to say, that God was not involved somehow in these remarkable happenings. But then, neither can it be factually “proven” that God took any specific action in these events. This is a matter of “faith” in the heart of the recipient in each case. And this is how it should be, I think.
Personally I have no problem believing that God might intervene and answer a prayer, even one over a very insignificant matter. We “answer” the requests of little children (little grandchildren even quicker), although they are begging us about something of no consequence at all in our life, or theirs. But if it is “big” to THEM, it becomes important to us for that reason.
We respond and answer their prayer to us because we love them. I can see God doing the same for us, and for the same reasons. We are told to not be anxious about anything, “but in everything by prayer and supplication to make our requests known to God.” If it’s big enough to make us concerned, God is concerned. We need to believe this.
Likewise I do not have a problem believing that a passage might weigh heavy on the mind of a true disciple, especially when it is one that obviously applies directly to a major, major concern one is having at the time. This is the effect the scriptures are supposed to have on us. Nor do I have a problem with thinking that a distinct “impulse” to act in a given situation might have been generated by God. How He does this, however, is open to question. I am not certain God has to “operate” on the mind or do an “invasive procedure” on the brain for this to be considered His doing.
For instance, I knew a very elderly gentleman years ago (not a Christian, though he attended most every meeting with his wife) who would regularly say something like, “My daddy always told me” or “My daddy used to say” or “My daddy taught me to...” His daddy was long since dead.
But I am sure that oftentimes in this man’s life he felt “strongly moved” to do certain things that he knew would have pleased his father. And whether he realized it or not, what was behind those “urges” was in fact his father. His obvious love for his father, coupled with what he knew about his father’s wishes, was clearly a dominant influence in his thinking, his feelings, his motivations, and therefore in his actions.
I believe it is the same with the children of God. Both consciously and subconsciously, we “feel compelled” at times to act in certain ways, to say this or to do that good thing. Is this our heavenly Father “influencing us” to do His will. I would say that it is. But I am not so sure that God has to do anything directly to disturb our brain waves in order for Him to receive credit in these instances. But then, perhaps no one is suggesting this.
One thing about this is clear to me. God’s direct intervention in such matters is something that could be argued about forever, but is an issue that can never be “settled” one way or the other. Certainly the magicians in ancient Egypt would not be convinced that “this is the finger of God” any more than a modern American atheist would be. It is those of us who have “faith” (the “conviction of things not seen”) who have no trouble “seeing” the hand of God in such events. This is what it means to walk by faith. In a manner of speaking faith is the ability to see Him who is invisible. So I have no quarrel with those who believe and thus “see” the hand of God at work in their lives.
At the same time, another thing clear and certain in my mind is this: God has “communicated” with man in many ways in times past, but now “God has spoken to us in these last days by his son” (Hebrews 1:1,2). Jesus is God’s WORD made flesh to dwell among us. Jesus is not part, or some, or a lot of, but ALL of God’s WORD for human kind. He is the ultimate and final Word. And guess what? All we know about Jesus of Nazareth is on record in the Scriptures. Therefore here is where I personally put the period and not the comma.
Jesus “declared” God (John 1:18). This fact leads us to and limits us to the sacred scriptures. Why? Because they tell the story of Jesus. Does ANYONE today know ANYTHING Jesus Christ ever said or did that is not recorded in the Scriptures? The Catholics say they do. The Mormons say they do. Some Charismatics say they do. (Oral Roberts had a message directly from Jesus about his big hospital, remember?) Personally I reject all such claims. Does this make me a “cessationist?” I would say no and yes. No, I do not think God has “retired” and gone off somewhere to leave us all alone. God can indeed intervene in our lives. He can still answer prayer.
But yes, I do believe God had “ceased” talking to mankind in one sense of the word. He has nothing more to say than what He said through His Son. God is not still adding to “the way, the truth and the life” that was embodied in His Son. God “finished” His work on the first creation according to Genesis 2:1. In other words, God “ceased” working on that project once it was finished. Since the time God “ceased” that work, as far as I know, God has not “created” any new matter, or added a single new element to the universe He “formed” in the beginning.
In like manner God “finished” the New Creation with His Son as its center and circumference. I do not believe God is still tinkering with it, trying to improve it, or working to get it “right” one of these days. There are no NEW facts, new commands or new promises relating to the “will of God” in need of being disclosed today. All that God wished to say to mankind, He said through Jesus and His apostles. In this sense, God has “ceased” speaking to man.
The only way around this is either to believe that Jesus failed in his mission of revealing his Father, or to believe that God has changed His mind about some things He had Jesus teach back then, or to believe that God wakes up now and then and says, “Oops, I plumb forgot to have my Son tell them thus and so.” In any one of these cases there would be need for God to “speak again” with an active voice through someone today. I cannot believe any of the three. Therefore I conclude that no one is receiving any kind of direct “voice mail” message from God today. This is my firm conviction.
But I want to say something else about God’s “communicating” with man. Is it not fair and correct to say that God has always “communicated” His will to man by means of WORDS? He did to Adam and Eve. God SPOKE to them. They did not have a “strong feeling” that it would be unwise to eat stuff growing on that tree in the midst of the garden. They KNEW what God’s will was because of what God TOLD them. In words. Noah did not “feel the urge” to build that big boat. He was TOLD to do it, in words.
Open the New Testament and it is the same. The apostles and prophets, and all the people who were addressed by these inspired spokesmen, were told “in so many WORDS” what God wanted them to do. This is the way important messages are always communicated. The words may have come from Jesus himself, from an angel, from the Holy Spirit, through a dream or a vision, or simply from an inspired human spokesman: but the message was in plain WORDS. I can think of only one exception to this.
In Acts 10, while he was waiting for the meal to be cooked, Peter was not specifically told to go to the gentiles. He was, however, spoken to in specific WORDS and told something he was to do: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Later on he understood what those WORDS really meant. My question is, does God “communicate” His will to us today by means of “feelings” or “hunches” or “intuitive impulses” that occur in our minds? If so, does this mean we are in direct violation of the “will of God” if we do not follow these mental inclinations? How strong must a hunch be, or how compelling must an “intuition” be before we can be certain it is actually the “voice of God” speaking to us? I see no way to figure this out.
Case in point. I had a “strong feeling” this very evening that I ought to take my dear wife out to dinner since she had a hard day at the office. A Christian husband has a duty before God toward his wife, does he not?
After umpteen years of married life I sorta “felt” like I knew what she wanted and needed. Alas, I did not “follow through” with my “hunch” about her being hungry for Mexican food. Was I in rebellion to the “voice of God” communicating with me? Or was it the “voice of Ginger” communicating with me instead? (Women have a way of “communicating” without speaking, you know.) As it turned out, I discovered a bit later that she was not all that hungry and was perfectly happy to nibble at home. So evidently, my “hunch” was wrong. So I didn’t commit any sin by not succumbing to it. Or did I? Maybe God wanted me to take her out whether she wanted to go or not.
Anyway, my question is this. Is every “hunch” we have the voice of God speaking to us? Or is it just an occasional “hunch” that qualifies? And how do we know the difference? I do not know how we can know which hunch is the Holy Spirit talking to us, and which one is not. This is why I would rather not refer to subjective “inclinations” as being “communications” from either God or the Spirit. God can “communicate” better than that. His voice has always been clear because He makes His specific wishes known by means of EXPRESSIONS rather than IMPRESSIONS. There may be an exception to this rule but it does not occur to me at the moment.
Here is the way I look at this, in case anyone is still reading. I believe God’s “will” has been fully and finally and forever “communicated” to mankind through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Not a particle of the holy will of God for me or you or anybody else was left out of that great revelation. However, the way we as disciples APPLY to our daily lives the truths of that revelation is a lifelong struggle. It is not only a challenge to “do His will” but also to “figure out” how, exactly, we should apply God’s will in all the various and varying circumstances we pass through during our journey.
RAY REMARKS: One exception is obviously a “regulative principle” for “Christian worship” which God never spoke but which He forcefully impressed upon some of our forefathers. Some have the IMPRESSION that theory came from God.
In other words I know I am to “love my wife” as Christ loved the ecclesia (we call it His church). But how do I APPLY this truth in real time, in real life. Does that mean in order to please God I actually have to take her out to eat on Thursday night each time it “strikes me” that this would be a nice thing to do? Or, can I just take her out for Sunday dinner like the Bible plainly says? [Grin.]
More seriously, I am to “love my enemy and do good to those who hate me.” This is the “will of God” as taught by Jesus. It has come to me in WORDS. But what does this teaching mean, specifically? How do I translate what these words say into action when, let’s say, I have a mean “master” at work, or a vindictive co-worker who did not get the promotion I received, or a sorry neighbor who hates my guts for no good reason. How should I respond to these situations? I will no doubt have to pray hard and try to “figure out” what I should do, or not do, in each case. But where is the actual “voice” of God here? Is it in the teachings of Jesus which come to me in words, or is it in the decision of what to do which “comes to me” after much thought and prayer?
I get the feeling that some think the “voice of God” telling me the right thing to do might somehow be communicated directly to my mind by the Holy Spirit, in which case the teaching of Jesus is
quite superfluous. Personally, I prefer to believe the “voice of God” is what has been revealed and spoken and written for my learning.
This is “God’s will” made known in words. What goes on in my mind as I decide what to do or not to do in a given situation, is my struggle to conform my behavior to what the “voice of God” has said. Of course there is a chance all of this is only a problem of semantics, as many problems are. I would hope so. I actually have one other thought in this area that I may get around to mentioning. But this is much too wordy as it is. In fact I have a strong “hunch” it might be good to stop right here. – Gaylon.
What do you think? Is God still speaking and adding to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints”? After catching his breath, Gaylon later wrote:
Let’s take a quick tour of Acts, the only inspired history we have of the early disciples, and notice the instances where people actually received direct communications from God. After his resurrection Jesus appeared and spoke to the apostles off and on for about forty days. After breaking them out of jail the angel of the Lord spoke to the apostles telling them to return to the temple and preach. An angel spoke to Philip instructing him to travel south toward Gaza. The Spirit later spoke to Philip telling him to bum a ride on a stranger’s chariot.
Jesus made a return trip from heaven and spoke to Saul of Tarsus as he neared Damascus. Jesus then appeared and spoke specifically to Ananias about Saul and his future work. An angel spoke to a Roman soldier named Cornelius telling him to send men to Joppa and fetch Peter. A “Voice” from heaven spoke to Peter in a vision telling him that what God had cleansed was no longer unclean. The Spirit spoke to Peter telling him to go with those men Cornelius had sent.
The Holy Spirit spoke to folks in Antioch about separating Barnabas and Saul for the work they were to do. As Paul and Silas journeyed to revisit the brethren they knew they were “forbidden” by the Holy Spirit to preach in Asia and were “not allowed” by the Spirit to go into Bithynia.
In a vision at Troas Paul heard a man of Macedonia speak to him about coming there to help them. When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem the Lord came to him by night and told him that he would testify in Rome just as he had in Jerusalem. And on the perilous ship journey toward Rome when it appeared they would all die at sea, an angel of God appeared to Paul again and reassured him that he would stand before Caesar.
Now these are the recorded instances wherein someone definitely received direct communications from heavenly beings. Perhaps I missed one, but if so, I can’t think of what it is.
[Charles Gash reminds that God also spoke to Paul in response to his appeal to have a “thorn in the flesh” removed. This is not spoken of in Acts. And the revelations shown to John as recorded in Revelation are also examples of understandable communications from God.]
In any event, two or three things need to be noted about these communication cases. First, there was absolutely nothing ambiguous about any of the messages thus delivered. The communication was not in the form of nudges, hunches, impressions, intuitions or “feelings” either weak or strong. Without exception the communication was direct, definite, verbal, audible, specific and unmistakably clear. This is true in EVERY reported case. Go back and read them in detail and notice how positively CLEAR each one of them was.
The communication was in the form of actual language, WORDS saying things like, “Do not leave Jerusalem,” or “Go back to the temple and preach,” or “Go south on the road leading to Gaza,” or “Arise and go into the city,” or “Go to the street called Straight to the house of Judas,” or “Send men to Joppa to the house of Simon the tanner,” or “Don’t go there” but “Come to Macedonia,” or “You will make it to Rome,” etc. What you have every time is detailed instruction and information being conveyed from one intelligent being to another.
COMMUNICATION! This is what “communication” is. At least this is what I understand it to be. If nothing else, these stories demonstrate that when God really wants to communicate a message to a person He can most certainly do it.
Now, please contrast the above with what is passed off as “communications from God” today. Aside from a few tele-evangelists, hardly anyone today claims to be receiving specific, verbal, audible messages from either God, Jesus, an angel or the Spirit. Instead, you hear people say things like, “The Lord laid it on my heart to... I felt the Spirit leading me to... God has been dealing with me lately and I can tell He wants me to.... The urge was so strong I knew God was telling me to... I felt God speak to my heart today and just know He wants me to..., etc.”
I am not sure exactly what is going on in the minds of people that such language is trying to describe. But whatever it is, I sincerely do not believe it can correctly be called “communication” from God. If it is, God’s communication ability has certainly declined dramatically since Bible times. If it is, it is a very, very low form of communication very much UNLIKE that which occurred in the New Testament era. I believe this fact is indisputable.
One other thing shows up in reading the historical record of “direct communications” from God to man. I don’t know how important it is, but it is interesting. Please notice that in no instance (in the above readings) was the communication sent to the recipients in order to help them solve a personal problem, make a personal decision, or guide them in their “personal walk” with the Lord. ALL these direct communications had to do with the broader “work of God” going on at the time. Is this significant? By contrast again, today what is considered “communication from God” almost always has to do with personal problems, decisions, or issues in someone’s private life. This seems to be its predominant purpose.
Is this contrast not a bit strange? Further, looking back over the whole of Bible history from Genesis onward you find the same thing. There are many, many instances of God’s contacting and communicating with individuals in much the same way as in the book of Acts. But if you review all these cases I believe you will find that when God spoke DIRECTLY with individuals it was seldom (if ever) for the purpose of aiding that individual in some personal matter. Usually (if not always) it involved larger issues having to do with God’s eternal purposes and plans.
It had to do with Abraham’s family through whom Jesus was to come, or it had to do with the nation Israel and the covenant which “foreshadowed” the good things to come, or it had to do with the work of one of the prophets, etc. I am not saying no individual was ever helped out of a pickle as a result of God’s direct communication with them. (King Hezekiah comes to mind.) But overall, the purpose of “direct messages” sent from God seems to have been primarily connected to God’s developing program for the redemption of mankind rather than the current concerns of some individual. Sometimes these overlapped, of course.
What I have said is this: 1) One would be hard pressed to find in the Scriptures many instances in which God “communicated” with an individual in the vague manner in which present day “communications from God” are usually described. 2) One would be equally hard pressed to find cases in which a “direct communication from God” was for the sole purpose of meeting the immediate “need” of some individual.
(This study is available separately as Viewpoint CD-D03.)
I do hope everyone understands that I am not suggesting here that God is unconcerned with our present distresses. We get into pickles often and need special help from Him and from one another. God can still answer our prayers. He can still intervene in our lives in ways that we by the eye of “faith” can see. But it is always a matter of “faith” and not empirical evidence. Remember, the Christian “way” is simply called “faith.”
Let me also add one other thought. There may be occasions when Christians can “feel” the presence of God in a special way. Have you ever been all alone, then suddenly “sensed” the presence of someone, turned around and there they stood? Most of us have. So there may well be times when we distinctly “feel” that God is with us, very near at hand. But I would not call this a “communication” from God unless some message is communicated. Our “faith” in God and our belief that He is present in the world and “with us” in our personal lives is a great comfort.
But this does not mean, in my opinion anyway, that God today is wanting and trying and striving to “communicate” with us but can manage nothing better than nebulous, nonverbal “impressions” now and then. God can do better than that. He has always “communicated” His will and wishes to men in ways much clearer than that. This is what the biblical evidence shows. I guess this is basically what I wanted to say on the subject, a subject on which I have probably said too much already. And, of course, I will grant full absolution to all those who disagree. – Gaylon.
IF WE’RE ENJOYING NEW LIFE IN CHRIST, WE’LL SEEK GUIDANCE FROM HIS WORD. PROPER Bible Understanding FOLLOWS OUR READING and studying THE BIBLE.
LIVING WITH JESUS
AS OUR LORD
VICTOR KNOWLES has written: “In Christ we have more than enough. Christ fills up our lack. He supplies our every need. Do you need more wisdom to discern between good and evil so as to make good decisions? The all-sufficient Christ has been made to us the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30).
“Do you need more faith to live in these fearful times? Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Hear His voice in every line, and between the lines. Are you lacking in bravery and courage? When you realize that Christ is our righteousness you will become bold as a lion. Is it hard to forgive? Christ can empower you to forgive even as He forgave.
“Do you need more patience with your mate, your children, or that irritating person? Was there anyone more patient than Jesus? Let His plenty supply your lack.”
We“ve pointed out that we ENTER Christ’s kingdom through a new birth of water and the (human) spirit. It’s good for anyone, before and after being reborn to learn as much as possible from the written word of God. We offer here some suggestions to help readers understand what is written in the Bible or anywhere. Here we present the basic study of PROPER Bible Understanding as 13 sections of study written by Ray Downen to summarize the teachings of Hermeneutics by SETH WILSON of Ozark Bible College in Joplin, Missouri. Surely every Christian and every sincere seeker after truth will want to understand what they read in the Bible. Here’s help.
PROPER Bible Understanding
leads to Christian Unity
<< Section 1 >>
Use of a language of words to convey meaning and to receive ideas is one of the most universal of all human practices. “Rules” of interpretation (“right reading,” also called Hermeneutics) have been in use since Adam and Eve first received the power of speech. They listened to the voice of God, and spoke with Him, and each spoke to and listened to the other. And they understood one another.
CORRECT METHODS and good practices in interpretation are natural to the human mind. They are used by everyone who really wants to find out just what someone was thinking and trying to communicate by what was said or written. If our eyes, ears, and hearts are open we will understand those who, as God did, are able to communicate clearly, and who choose to do so.
Many claim to speak for God. And some in fact do so. If a person claims to speak for God, you’ll often be wrong if you believe it! Some people sometimes lie, and some prefer lies over the truth anytime. What God has made is good. God made us with minds that question, that seek answers. We do not, and should not, automatically believe everything we hear.
If a book claims to be the words of One who cannot lie or be deceived, what is the right use of human reason in dealing with it? The Bible includes instructions claiming to have absolute authority to enlighten and rule our lives. It appeals to our judgment to discriminate between its true words and conflicting writings which are not true. In the Bible itself and in the manner of its origin, God gives reasonable evidences and testimonies that enable persons who will do so to decide intelligently concerning its source and authority.
We believe the Bible comes from God. Our belief is not because we’ve tested each Bible statement to be sure we find it true. How could we possibly do this? What human was there to observe when the world began? We believe that the One who was there when this universe was made has in the Bible told us truly of those incredible events! And of many other improbable things, past and future, which we believe are true because the Bible says they are!
When God, by special enlightenment through His Spirit, reveals things which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and which never entered into the heart of man (1 Corinthians 2:6-16), it is foolish and irreverent to try to prove whether God told the truth. It’s unreasonable to expect the scope of human (finite) experience and reason to provide the proof of (infinite) things reaching far beyond both human reason and human experience.
Some say that all Bible statements must be discovered by scientific method, proved by rational processes, or confirmed by results in practice before they can be regarded as authoritative or established truth. This is simply a demand that God must not be greater than man, and that He must not reveal anything man could not find out for himself with his own closely-limited and earthbound senses. How absurd! It would be thoroughly irreverent and unbelieving for me to question the truth of any message after I have assured myself that it is from the One who made me. If a message truly comes from God, we may be sure that, in the sense that He meant it, the message is unfailingly true.
A revelation of authoritative and infallible truth gives us a degree and kind of certainty which could never be approached by the incomplete inductions and the fallacy-ridden experiments of scientific methods. The fact that such a revelation HAS been made is established by the best combination of many independent evidences, both of experience and reason. Several of these will be mentioned in this brief study.
<< Section 2 >>
God doesn’t ask humans to vote on what is right and what is wrong in moral matters. He tells us what is right and what is wrong. To learn what is right, instead of asking our neighbors, we should know to ask God (who made us) what is right for us to do and not right for us to do.
A UNIQUE BOOK
Those who read other “holy books” and compare them with the Bible will see remarkable differences. The Bible was written by more than 30 different men over a period of about 1500 years, yet every page reflects one mind. The men who wrote different parts of the Bible were in most cases unaware that they were writing for posterity. Their audience was by them thought to be persons near them and persons who were alive to read right then or soon after their missive was penned.
Without consulting together, they managed to write cohesive truth. Unaided men are not apt to easily accomplish this very well even when a committee of 30 might gather at one time around one table to work on just one simple project. A strong reason why I’m convinced the Bible is God’s Word is its unity in purpose (its coherence).
Miracles, prophecies, claims, scope, unity amid diversity, candor of judgment, and the unique character of the Bible message ... these all plainly indicate that this book is from some higher source than men unaided. In human language, Almighty God has spoken to us. He calls on us to hear and heed what He has said for our sake because He loves us.
Hearing is just making the right choices about what we give our attention to. We generally “tune out” many more things than we choose to notice and “hear.” When GOD speaks, every man should listen! His words count for more than even good financial advice which affects only our money.
Those who listen to God learn of the dangers men face who “know to do good, and do it not.” The Bible claims to be from the Creator who made the world and all that’s in it. Jesus, who says He is God, invites us to walk with Him on the only Way which leads TO God. Wise people (homo sapiens) will use their minds to investigate the Bible’s claims!
Yet it’s well that we remember that human wisdom and logic is helpless to determine the right answers to some questions! We should note that no method of science or philosophy can prove [or disprove] some statements which are of central importance in Bible study. For instance:
1) The death of Christ atones for sin (see Romans 3:24-26; 5:6-11; Hebrews 2:9; 10:8-14, Isaiah 53:4-12; Matthew 20:28; 1 John 2:2; 4:10, 1 Peter 1:18,19; 2:24), or 2) Jesus will return to earth and receive us to Himself (promised in John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17; and others), or >3) The baptism of a penitent believer in Christ obtains the forgiveness of that believer’s sins, and is accompanied by the believer receiving the Holy Spirit! (See Acts 2:38; 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, and see Viewpoint studies CB-Q01, CB-K01 and CB-K02).
THESE AND OTHER BIBLE DOCTRINES must be accepted upon the authority and reliability of the One who says it is so! God knows, and God has spoken. It’s because we recognize the divine mind from which those statements have come that we believe them. Since the Bible is God’s Word, it’s not our privilege to re-write its message. We only accept or reject it. Those who become convinced that the Bible is a word from the Creator should use their best efforts to correctly understand the message. Then we should live accordingly!
WE HAVE NOW SAID THAT
These are right uses of human reason in relation to divine revelation. Also, it is certainly reasonable, as well as respectful to God, for us to
make every effort to determine exactly what He means by what He has said to us.
1) men do well to investigate the Bible’s claims,
2) those who investigate will find convincing proofs, and
3) those who then believe the Bible to be God’s Word should live as the Bible teaches.
Science is the search for and study of those dependable rules by which God operates His universe. We must follow rules in EVERY discipline – in laboratories, in factories, in writing, in operating vehicles in traffic ... Because builders obey rules, our bridges and buildings are safe, our planes fly, our automobiles run. Without sensible rules, we’d have chaos in traffic, and daily tragedies caused by unsafe construction.
<< Section 3 >>
Rules Help Us Communicate Clearly
Let’s talk about using human reason in understanding the Bible. That is, [please face it bravely], there are guides to right reading which we correctly call, ’Rules for Right Reading.” Lovers of freedom resist rules, but here also we do need them! Writers and speakers do well to follow rules of grammar. Readers and hearers
also follow sensible rules to assist us in correct understanding (interpretation) of what is said or written.
We note that good reading rules make good sense. Rules we here consider are thought to be merely methods every person uses to gain correct understanding of whatever the person reads or hears. These are principles based upon the nature of the human mind and upon the nature of truth. They are, in fact, inherent in the very structure of language itself.
Reading “rules” should be logically analyzed and tested by use in subject matter as free from bias as possible. Sometimes the effect of emotional bias, the influence of bad examples, the fog of superstition, or some other circumstance, interferes with our normal thought processes, or hinders our usual intellectual honesty. Especially then, in order that we may by them be guided back to straight thinking, we need to consider what principles and methods have been generally found to lead to true interpretations. Then, to correctly understand it, we must read and study the BIBLE! As with any newspaper, magazine, or book, we’ll surely not understand the Bible if we don’t carefully READ it. In the Bible, God has addressed the human mind in its natural state, in its own language, with its own terminology and speech forms. It’s not gobbledygook that can only be understood by the initiates.
I note that some literary works which are called Bible translations DO qualify as gobbledygook by seeming more to transform the text than to translate it into understandable everyday speech. This is less apt to be the case when the work is done by many (a committee working together) rather than by only one “scholar.” There are Bible translations into most languages which literate readers can with few difficulties understand. Translations made hundreds of years ago are recognizably harder to be understood by readers who speak modern languages.
Some Bible scholars disagree with the claim that all who read the Bible should be expected to be able to understand it. They think some special assistance is required before readers can understand “the things of the Spirit.” They may think of 2 Peter 1:19-21, where Peter writes: And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21 NIV).
In some translations, such as the Contemporary English Version (CEV), verse 20 emphasized above is not so clear as it is in the NIV first quoted. The CEV rendering is: “But you need to realize that no one alone can understand any of the prophecies in the scriptures.”
It would be a mistake in this case to assume the newer version is the better. It isn’t. It appears to me that the verse following, when taken with verse 20, sheds light on the intent of Peter in verse 20. He was referring to the one making the prophecy rather than those of us who later hear and/or read the prophetic word. Before he could speak for God, the prophet himself needed the Word of God within.
Even without special divine guidance, readers who follow common-sense rules for right reading can and will understand what God caused the prophet to say. I think Peter did not intend us to understand him to be saying that the Bible can’t be understood by ordinary readers. But those who wrote or spoke for God could deliver the message only after they had heard God’s voice telling them what they were to speak and/or write in His name.
<< Section 4 >>
Inspiration surely occurred, but readers must
do our part in order to understand
Even without special divine guidance, readers who follow common-sense rules for right reading can and will understand what God caused His prophets to speak and write. Those who spoke and wrote FOR God did so only after they had heard God’s voice telling them what He wanted said. This is Peter’s message in 2 Peter 1:19-21 as discussed above.
Another passage on this same subject is in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 (actually this subject begins in chapter 1, verse 18). It’s the wisdom of GOD rather than the wisdom of MEN which is source for gospel truth. He wants readers then and now to realize that we walk by faith rather than by sight, and that it’s GOD we honor and learn from. The apostle writes,
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
SETH WILSON writes, “A careful study of these verses in their contexts, will show that they do not disagree with the stated principle. This Corinthian passage is speaking of the need of inspiration by apostles in their receiving the divine word to deliver to others. Paul does not speak of those doing the reading after it had been delivered in written form.
However, as it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him,” but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?
In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. ...
“This view is shown by the context both before and after the verses, and it is in harmony with all the scriptures which call upon men, women, children, masters, and slaves, to read the scriptures for themselves without any reference to special spiritual qualifications. In fact, it is the same message, whether spoken or written, which is the instrument of the Spirit in convicting the world and converting the carnal mind.” [RAY: I also believe that the gospel, whether oral or written, is the power of God to salvation, as is here affirmed. How could the Bible serve as the instrument of convicting and converting if it took a special power from God before the reader could understand its message? I believe it could not do so.]
Seth Wilson continues, “PETER ALSO is speaking of the origin of prophecies, of the writing, not the reading of them. His parallel expression in verse 21 plainly shows this to be true. The language in verse 20 is best understood to mean, No prophecy of scripture is of the prophet’s own releasing (prompting, or impulse). THEREFORE, we say that interpretation of the Bible is not an esoteric art known only to experts or mystics who have been initiated into the mysteries of the art!
“The Bible has by some been considered so different in authority and purpose that methods of interpretation have been proposed for it which no one would ever use for understanding a plain message in human language. Because they are not governed by and limited to the actual forms of language used to express the author’s ideas, methods of interpretation just for the Bible could not be expected to yield right results.
“Instead of seeking the author’s intention, some ‘special’ methods of interpretation draw upon the imagination of the interpreter (or some other outside source of ideas) to supply meanings that the author’s words themselves do not clearly signify when studied with normal application of rules for right reading.”
<< Section 5 >>
Reading God’s News & Views
The Bible is no more difficult to understand correctly than your daily newspaper. In many cases the writers of the Bible are more easily understood than some who frequently write opinion pieces in our newspapers. In particular, the New Testament writings are a clear Word from God inviting sinners to salvation. You should read your Bible seeking light from God. You’re sure to find it. The Bible is GOD’s Word.
These principles lead to PROPER Bible Interpretation (understanding):
* God is able to communicate to man. His words then, CAN be understood by sensible men who want to correctly understand them.
In 66 separate Bible books, we read of events spanning the creation of the world and its dissolution which will come. Some of those events may be considered more important than others. The Bible includes words of crooks and scoundrels as well as those of God and saints. Some of the words are true. Some are not. When the Devil’s words are reported in the Bible, does this mean he was speaking truth? By no means!
* The true (correct and proper) interpretation is whatever the author intended to say. We want to learn what the writer’s intended meaning is!
* Bible writers are not mystery writers, seeking to withhold the “answer” from the reader until the final page, nor seeking by Delphic utterance to give many conflicting answers in one.
* Meanings men read INTO the Bible rather than read FROM the Bible are not Bible words at all. We need to avoid saying, “God says” when God really didn’t say.
* Even when it is used to express divine truth, the language of the Bible is the language of men, and was meant to be understood.
Right reading requires us to determine then, even in the Bible, WHO is speaking, and WHEN. The words are important, but even more important is the who, when, and why. Obviously, some words are much more important than others. And some words which were very important to other people may be relatively unimportant to us today. The most important to us are ones which apply to us. Of lesser interest should be words which applied to other people and only indirectly (if at all) to us.
Studying the Old Testament is a matter of history and (now fulfilled) prophecy. We profit from studying history, but people today are expected to live by the teachings of the New Testament. It’s Jesus who gives life. The Old Testament says He will come. In the New Testament He is revealed!
Interpreting (understanding) the Bible is merely reading it so as to grasp fully and accurately what the author thought he expressed. If we by reading get as much thought from the author’s mind as he intended to convey by his words, we have read well. We then have fulfilled the purpose of our reading the inspired Word – to pull out (exegete) the intended meaning of what God“s men were led to speak.
We have no business putting words in the author’s mouth by claiming he said more than he said, by omitting part of his message that we don’t agree with or like, or by saying it means whatever we want it to mean!
Many in our day don’t like what Peter said (Luke reported it in Acts 2:38) on the first Pentecost in church history. But that’s what he said just the same. We should learn to LIKE what God’s men have said and written. We should accept it as God’s truth!
These simple, sane, and sensible rules for right reading point to correct (proper) Bible understanding. To correctly understand the Bible, WE NEED TO:
<< Section 6 >>
1) Recognize the meaning of the words as used by the writer,
2) Interpret according to the grammatical structure of the sentences,
3) Read each passage in the light of its context,
4) Take into account all relevant historical circumstances, and
5) Interpret in harmony with parallel passages, and in the light of all Bible
teaching on the same subject.
We want to recognize the meaning
of each word as used by the author
Any word in any language means whatever it is used to mean. From their uses, we learn the meaning of words we didn’t already know. We recognize that the same word may be used with various meanings by different people and in different areas or departments of their knowledge.
For this reason, the reader who would correctly interpret diverse writings must have a broad and accurate understanding of words and how they are being used. If he/she does not (and even sometimes when the person does) have this knowledge, ridiculous and amusing, or sometimes tragic, misunderstandings occur. To know how words should be used, the most accurate and complete dictionaries are helpful. But they must be supplemented by continual observation of the various uses being made in the public arena of words in our own language.
Investigation of (Bible) word meanings must be made from the point of view of the AUTHORS of passages under consideration. We should give attention to the author’s special uses, and to all uses nearest him in time, in territory, and in subject matter. The writer’s own explanation of his language is final and sufficient. It must not be ignored by those who honestly wish to make a correct interpretation. Words of the writer’s original expression in his own language are always surer evidence of his meaning than words of any translation.
Our knowledge of word use gained from study of past usage and of word origins (etymology) of words in a translation must not be substituted for etymologies of words in the original language. If we want to study the Bible well, we may need to study the Hebrew and Greek languages used by its authors! A caution: some “experts” have an axe to grind. The meanings they allege for any word should be accepted only if other reputable (genuine) scholars agree with the “expert.”
God's Words Do MEAN Something Before we had telephones so people could speak and listen to one another over wires, we had telegraph and short-wave radio that enabled communication between people who all had learned the (usually Morse) code. But the users had to know and use the same code. They couldn’t assign their own preferred meanings to the code bits and then understand the message that had been sent. Words are like that too.
A WORD is accepted by a group of people as the sign of some thought or experience which they have in common. Words we have in common enable us to communicate with one another. Obviously, the words must mean the same thing to the hearers as to the speakers. If not, why call what we’re doing communicating? Dictionaries include listings of normal usages of words there listed.
Codes are when some choose to use words abnormally, with meanings different from the usual and accepted. Some segments of society make use of coded speech. By using words with different and unusual meanings known only to the initiates, they disguise their thought from others they want to confuse. But that’s not normal. Normally we want our hearers to understand, so we use words in known ways.
God speaks to Bible readers in human languages, expecting to be understood. Therefore, persons who know the language in which it is given, and know facts presupposed to be familiar to original readers, should be able to understand the Bible with the same abilities by which they
ordinarily understand all other written messages.
<< Section 7 >>
God's Words Have Only ONE Intended Meaning
If we each understand the Bible correctly, our understandings will be alike except for differences in the degree of fullness of our conception. Because they lack experience, children may not fully understand teachings on matters which many adults comprehend because they’ve been through it. And not all adults have reached the same level of maturity!
Each person is unique. God has given a written word which can be understood by simple students and which yet challenges the intellect of the most profound thinkers. We learn by experience. Some learn more quickly than others. It may be that only those who have suffered the loss
of a mate or a child will fully understand some of God’s consolation in the Bible.
The more deeply we study some themes, the more we may comprehend of truth that was always there but that we earlier failed to see. We should always be willing to study and learn more. How grand it is that some do eagerly “search the scriptures” wanting to learn lessons from God! Those who seek will find.
Our goal always should be to understand the Bible’s words as the writer did. Bible readers are not editors whose duties might include changing the message. Our chosen task is to derive from what others have written the full truth they intended to express. Note that the better understanding we gain of words, the more apt we are to be able to correctly understand what others say or write. One who often speaks is most apt to listen well when others speak. One who is master of words is most apt to understand why particular words were chosen or not chosen for this particular use.
We Recognize the Particular Usage of the Words * We’re proud of our children when they learn a new word (generally – some we’d rather they hadn’t learned, of course). Pride turns to dismay if they don’t soon start to string their words together into sentences. “Mommy” becomes “Mom, may I?” “Dad” turns to “Dad, may I use the car tonight?” Whether or not we always like what they choose to say, we’re proud when our children have learned to communicate their thought in understandable words and sentences.
In our schools, we used to teach thoroughly and thoughtfully both vocabulary and how words are correctly used. We who sincerely want to understand the Bible are sure to study to learn the difference between nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, and we’ll study to learn how words are used to clearly communicate the writers’ thoughts. It’s not terribly difficult to learn good grammar. Poor knowledge of grammar will detract from our communicating with others, and seriously hamper right reading.
Most people who have studied a foreign language can remember instances of students (perhaps themselves) being able to give a meaning for every word in a sentence to be translated, and yet being unable to put together the author’s thought. What the student lacked was the ability to perceive the relation of the words to each other, and the meaning indicated by those relations. The “grammar” escaped the student.
Seth Wilson puts it this way, “Words are the bricks and boards of which a house of meaning is built. Grammar is the design by which these are put together to create a house rather than a heap. What the author thinks and feels about the things designated by his words is shown by the grammar he uses. Even people who think they know no grammar do grasp the meaning of the most usual and simple grammatical constructions, or they would not be able to read and/or speak the language.”
<< Section 8 >>
Words Work TOGETHER
Since we want to properly understand, we should study word relations as much as necessary in order to understand the grammar used by Bible writers. In different USES of a word, there is meaning beyond the basic meaning of the word itself. Those who want to be good students of the Bible need to study language as well as vocabulary.
Grammar is studied and taught in language courses. This brief study is not a language course. We have pointed out the importance of words, and the necessity of understanding relationships of words to one another. A word’s meaning is seen in every different voice, mood, tense, number and person of the verb, and in every other inflection of any part of speech. It seems likely that any person who wants to correctly handle the Word of Truth may eagerly study the grammar which holds the key to right reading.
Bible writers used words well, and followed normal rules of grammar. We don’t need to learn special rules of grammar in order to understand the Bible. Since some concepts are not part of our daily converse, we do learn a few words that we don’t frequently use in normal daily conversation.
It’s not that the ideas are foreign. Think of the word, “justification.” It’s one that modern translators are apt to consider “too difficult” for modern readers. But even young children may be called on to “justify” some act they thought no one would notice, and they learn the concept of justifying what they’ve done. “Justification” is not far from “justifying,” so the concept is not all that difficult for most readers.
“Grace” is not an unused word apart from the Bible, but is more frequently used there. Some want to reduce all Bible vocabulary by omitting or “simplifying” all specialized words entirely. And that’s not necessary.
Relationships include both grammar and context. We seek to not apply an author’s words to something far from the author’s purpose and thought. We have no right to misapply (misappropriate) a passage to try to make it seem to say what was not the intent of the writer. We’ll remember that our purpose is to learn what the writer meant, not to put thoughts into the Bible, but to read thoughts from the Bible.
By means of careful attention to the paragraph, section, chapter, or book in which any expression occurs, we learn to:
1) determine the subject on which the author is speaking,
A helpful context may be remote from the focus of attention, especially (with Paul) in the case of intervening digressions. The full context will usually supply some of the historical facts we also need to consider.
2) follow the author’s course of thought,
3) find the author’s purpose for each word or phrase,
4) feel the author’s own places and matters for emphasis, and
5) see the author’s mental or expressed antitheses so that the exact sense of the words is shown by the way they fit together and what the author considers the opposite of what is said or written.
For the context to be properly helpful to our understanding, we must be able to determine what exactly is the context of any particular word or phrase. Some isolated passages (as many proverbs, for example) may have no context on the same subject. While some contexts are quite limited, or nonexistent, others are extended even to the full length of a book or related books by the same author.
There May Be Some Question About THAT
Word meanings may be indicated, limited, or affected otherwise, by any or all of the following particulars: Who wrote this? About what? In what form? To whom? When (under what covenant)? Under what personal circumstances? With what helps? For what purpose? With what special
knowledge of the persons to whom the writing is addressed? With what related facts that the readers might be expected to know?
We’ve Been Saying ... To correctly understand the Bible, WE MUST
1) Recognize the meaning of the words as
used by the author.
And thus we’ve stated five “rules” for right reading. We can always follow these simple, sane, and sensible rules. This will help us do the proper Bible understanding we want to do! And you’re correct in noticing that the only thing here said so far about historical circumstances is that they mustn’t be ignored and that the context is apt to mention or imply them if they’re pertinent. Also following are comments about parallel passages and inferences. Stay with us!
2) Interpret according to the grammatical structure of the sentences.
3) Read each passage in the light of its context.
4) Take into account all relevant historical
5) Interpret in harmony with parallel passages, and in the light of all Bible teaching on the same subject.
<< Section 9 >>
In The Bible, We Find
TRUTH and HARMONY
An intelligent and alert honest man will not knowingly contradict himself. Men may fail in this regard. But God never fails. Any true statement must be consistent with all related inspired statements and established truths. Here is where the Bible is different from other books. Inspired writings, when accurately preserved and correctly understood, will never conflict with other inspired writings or with any truth.
Yet some Bible passages sometimes seem to conflict with other passages. Two suggestions may help:
1. Passages which are obscure or capable of more than one meaning must be interpreted to agree with those which are clear and definite in meaning.
Compare LIKE passages. Every Bible verse must be allowed to stand and speak its part and never be completely overshadowed or ever denied by another Bible verse. There is some danger in interpreting too exclusively by means of parallels. Every passage must be read as fully as possible in its own context, and by its own wording, or we cannot even tell whether another passage IS parallel with it. One passage cannot be a guide to, or a limitation on, the meaning of the other, unless they treat of the same subject!
2. Those passages which are general or incomplete in expression must be considered to include or make room for all specific statements on the same subject by the same or any other inspired writer.
Even when the same words may be prominent in two passages, they may still NOT be on the same specific subject. For example, consider the word “faith” in these two passages.
Romans 10:17 “Faith comes from hearing ...” “Faith” in this verse is what we believe about God and His revealed message. That’s what comes from hearing.
Romans 14:1,2,23 “Accept him whose faith is weak ... Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. ...”
In Romans 14, Paul speaks of conscience and how we sin when we do what we think is wrong for us to do. Or, of course, when we fail to do what we’re sure we ought to do. Conscience is not based solely on God’s revelation. By no means! But saving faith comes by believing what God says. A syllogism using “faith” from Romans 10 and Romans 14 as if the word had the same meaning in both passages can never produce correct results.
It’s NOT The Same Following our conscience is different from
accepting as true what God tells us by His Word. He clearly points out that men who have done what they thought was wrong (they’ve offended against their conscience) will be held guilty even if they had not heard God’s law against the wicked deeds.
In Romans 14, Paul speaks of “disputable” matters, questions of conscience which often trouble Christians who are eager to please God in everything they do. It’s not about church meetings, but about daily living. And Paul encourages them by letting them know that only when God has spoken to say a thing is wrong is it really wrong for those whose conscience is clear. Yet, he says, if a person thinks any action is wrong, that makes it wrong for that person. But the person’s thinking it wrong does not make it wrong for his brother unless the brother also feels it is wrong. What God tells us is wrong is of course always wrong regardless of how we feel or what we think about it!
Those are mistaken who think that Paul was teaching that our conscience should only be clear on matters which are specifically or inferentially taught as being necessary parts of Christian living. That’s not his subject in Romans 14. Yet many construct doctrinal systems based on the supposed truth that only what is taught in the Bible is acceptable to God.
A real knowledge of any Bible subject is formed by observing and comparing all Bible statements relating to that subject, which is by a true inductive investigation of all the available truth.
.<< Section 10 >>
Affect Ancient Writings
Has the ancient writing come down to us unchanged, or has the text suffered some alteration or loss? Through the ages since Bible books were written, men of God have made strenuous efforts to preserve the exact text of books known to be from God.
Scribes of the Jews kept the Old Testament books carefully, copying the books repeatedly by hand with scrupulous checking and rechecking to avoid introduction of any errors. Prior to the introduction of the printing press, copying was always done by hand. Despite the copier’s best efforts, sometimes errors were made. Many recent scholars have attempted to determine what the originals actually said.
An amazing number of very old manuscripts and manuscript portions have been preserved. Although we do not have the original “autographs,” (the actual first writings that were made), we believe that our present texts are actually what the original writers put on their pages. We can read what God caused his men to write. And we will be blessed by the reading.
All Bibles in English are translations. Bibles in the English language are all translations. Old Testament books were mainly written in Hebrew. New Testament books were early made available in the Greek language. No Bible book was written in English. We seek the most accurate and clear
translation that can be made. Since the Bible was written in different languages than English, those who don’t speak and read the original languages must rely on translators to put the original thoughts into English words which we ordinary (non-scholarly) readers of English will understand as the writer intended them to be understood.
It’s important then that we read and study from translations made by honest and intelligent and capable persons who succeed in conveying to us God’s meaning in words that we can easily comprehend. When our purpose is correct understanding, the words are important!
Note also that words may change in meaning over the years. A translation that was good for our grandparents may be very poor for their grandchildren. New words come into use. Old words may no longer be used. The way a word is used may change. Recent translations are apt to reflect those changes. Older ones couldn’t possibly do so.
In the late 20th century, as this was being written, many American Christians and many of their preachers and teachers had accepted the New International Version (NIV) as a generally accurate and acceptable translation for our day. For good reasons, others prefer the Today's English Version (TEV, of the American Bible Society). And Seth Wilson highly recommended the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Since it has become available (after this was first written), I have used and appreciated the English Standard Version (ESV).
There are several other good translations into English, and a few that are less good. You may want to check out the New King James Version. Best are ones made by a committee rather than by one scholar, and ones made by independent scholars rather than a group whose work is directed by one particular denomination. The personal library of any Bible student is apt to include several translations which are frequently consulted.
<< Section 11 >>
Prophecies May Be
Hard To Interpret
Another proof that the Bible is inspired is that prophets of God foretold many events hundreds of years prior to the time they actually happened, and we can be sure that the prophecy actually was made long in advance of the event. Prophecies from God are always exact and true. But
some quite strange understandings of prophecy are heard. How can we know what a prophet meant?
Modern prophets come up with often-startling interpretations, some of which are obviously incorrect. Those who assign a date for the 2nd coming have all been wrong so far. Has Revelation’s beast been correctly identified yet? Many have made guesses and called them inspired interpretations. But if the guess turns out to be wrong, we all will know it was only a guess. If it was right it still may have been a guess, of course. The surest guide to the exact meaning of any prophecy is to be found in the facts of the clearly identified fulfillment of the prediction. When Luke says, “This is what Joel was speaking of...,” then we can know that the events Luke describes were what God had in mind when He had Joel speak.
When Matthew, Mark, or Luke tells us that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in a particular way, we can be sure that the inspired writer is accurately stating the intent of the prophet. When Jesus says that the prophetic “sign of Jonah” is to be fulfilled by His being in the tomb, we may be sure that the duration and fact of Jesus being in His tomb for parts of three days was known by God when this “sign of Jonah” was first spoken of.
Fulfilled prophecy helps us to realize that the Bible contains God’s words, words from the One who knows all things even before they come to pass.
Figurative Is NOT Literal * To designate something quite different from what they usually name, but suggesting some vivid association between the literal and the figurative, words are sometimes used figuratively. If Jesus says He is a door, a gate, or a vine, He does not mean He has ceased being a person. When He asks His friends to eat of particular bread which He identifies as “my body,” He does not mean that He is no longer in His body. When a hungry man says, “I’m starved,” we realize he has not really starved. He’s only exaggerating. He’s not exactly lying. But his exact words are understandably not entirely true in their usual meaning.
If ordinary, well-established meanings fit the passage being read, readers should not assume a figurative meaning, or any new meaning, was intended by the writer. We can usually tell easily whether or not the normal word definitions are intended. We let the speaker or writer convey his thought by sympathetically understanding his/her intention.
<< Section 12 >>
When Are INFERENCES (Really) Necessary?
IN ORDER TO COMPREHEND and apply the full teaching of a Bible passage, it’s often necessary to draw some inferences–to see implications which are clearly associated with that passage. Speakers and writers often intend to convey somewhat more thought than the actual words used might express. We expect the hearer or reader to draw necessary inferences.
One clear statement, when understood and fully accepted, establishes in the mind all the immediate and necessary inferences.
These include the converse and obverse of the same expression. Another necessary inference is the refutation of any statement which actually contradicts what we said. In a broad and practical sense, we fully interpret a passage only when we can and do safely and accurately draw the immediate inferences. Note that in drawing even the most simple inferences, our accuracy depends upon the correctness of our understanding of the original statement, not as it appears we may use it, but exactly as the author intended his words to be understood.
It’s not RIGHT reading to dodge any clear, immediate implication of a truth or command given us by God. Neither, however, should we suppose that the inference WE have read into the writer’s words must be similarly understood by every other reader. INFERENCES ARE BINDING on the conscience of the person who sees them. Yet inferences drawn from the Bible but not stated in the Bible must be regarded as human statements liable to human error.
To what extent should our inferences be considered equal in authority to what God has actually said? Not at all. The Bible doesn’t need our additions! Our inferences must not be made tests of fellowship to separate ourselves from others who cannot see our inferences as the real meaning of divine utterances. As our conclusions, inferences may be taught freely. But they should NOT be taught as if they were clearly stated words from God, for they are not.
Implications of Inferences
It is often true that errors are committed in the use made of passages or phrases to construct conclusions or systems of doctrine. Such errors are not based on simple reading of the Word. The error is in our use of what we read. Many sincere Bible readers seem able to put 2 and 2 together and get 7 if they feel the 7 is devout enough! Others add 2 and 2 and get 22. But the correct answer is still 4.
1) No Bible verse or passage can honestly be used as authority for anything except the one meaning it was intended to convey.
2) No statement in the Bible denies anything except that to which it is essentially opposed.
3) Any passage of Scripture actually supports only those conclusions which must be true if the passage is true. Implications which are merely possible or even probable are not the same as really necessary inferences.
4) Analogies may clarify affirmation, or indicate its probability, but they furnish no positive proof of any inferential conclusion.
5) There cannot be proof for more in the conclusion of any logical thought than is actually contained in the premises or evidence from which it is drawn.
Not a TOY for children to play with, the Bible instead is a TOOL for serious adults to use in seeking to know God and His will for our lives. The Bible calls for all Christians to love one another and to serve God in one body. Many Christians today ignore this truth. But ignoring it will not make the truth go away.
WE WILL BE JUDGED by how we used the Bible and whether or not we followed its teachings. Those who want to pass the test will surely study the Bible with enthusiasm, eagerly seeking to learn more each day.
Those greatly err who imagine there is no God or that God doesn’t care about us and what we think and do. God loves us. We should love God. Any Bible student will find these suggestions helpful. Applications of RIGHT READING follow.
<< Section 13 >>
The Gospel Of Christ Is Contrasted
Religions Based On LAW-Keeping
Some who think of the gospel AS IF IT WERE LAW suggest we must search the New Testament to find justification for every act we perform as Christians. With special interest in Christian assemblies, they speak of “commands and necessary inferences and examples which they think have the force of commands.” These students are apt to think God is much more interested in what we do when we’re together than during the much longer periods when we’re alone with Him or busy in daily life. No such emphasis is found in the New Testament!
To such readers, the New Covenant is only an updated law code. It’s like the Old, except that the laws are not spelled out clearly by God, as they see it. It’s up to their editors and designated experts to tell everyone exactly what the new law requires. They’ve developed a “Christian law code” in which whatever is not required is not permitted. Their understanding is that if Jesus or His apostles say to do a thing, we must without exception do it (the lawyers do except some things!). If apostles didn’t say we had to do it, unless they speak approvingly of others doing it, we don’t dare do it. Unless, that is, the lawyers can cause the Bible to seem to say what they want it to have said to forbid or to require the particular act.
Inferences are necessary if they want them to be. Examples are “binding” if they want them to be. It seems that any Bible passage means whatever they want it to mean. This is not good reading, nor in fact is it the Christianity of the Bible. Many religions, including the Jewish religion, are based on legalism, but the gospel of Christ is not a code of law.
Paul sums up our religion by pointing out three abiding characteristics of Christianity, which are faith, hope, and love. He says, “The greatest of these is love.” That’s LOVE, not law. And that’s Christianity! Rather than having earned salvation by our good works, we’re saved by grace through faith FOR good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Rules For RIGHT Reading lead (in other words, proper Bible understanding leads) us to an understanding of the gospel which is quite different from a code of law. Jesus gave no code of laws. His apostles gave no code of laws. Those who prefer to live by law make up their own rules and regulations. No code of laws is contained in the New Testament, but men have created many laws out of phrases and inferences from that text.
Paul encourages us to realize that the gospel sets us free. It gives us life. It causes us to love God and to love all who are loved by Him. Legalism does none of the above!
Any Bible reading we do which leads us to love ourselves and our thoughts and our practices and our ways, and to despise those who do not also love us supremely, is somehow skewed. It’s not right. Whatever our rules for reading were, we’ve not read the Biblerightly if our reading makes us think of ourselves (and/or our logic and/or our opinions) more highly than we ought to think.
If we choose to follow them, Seth Wilson’s rules proposed and presented in this study will lead us to right reading, which should lead to right understanding and, if our heart is good, to right living. This will take us all (together, in unity) to glory with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. We need to read the Bible more, and then put its clear (proper) teachings into practice in our lives. This will result in our having LOVE, JOY, AND PEACE in our hearts.
Right reading of the Bible is also apt to give us a strong desire to be in unity here on earth with all others who also love Jesus. This is ’proper” Bible understanding!
<< 13X with Seth Wilson >>
The study now concluded deals with the written inspired Word of God. The books recognized as being from God are 66 in number, 39 of which are part of the Old Testament. They deal with times prior to the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. In addition to these books God has sometimes spoken to selected other prophets who were then told to carry God’s message to His people or to whomever His message concerned.
Surely God can still speak as He once did. Yet the inspired Word speaks of the message which came through Jesus as being “the faith once for all delivered.” One thing is sure: if a prophet contradicts the Bible, the prophet is not speaking for the author of the Bible. The Bible is true. Any teaching which is not in harmony with the Bible is questionable at best. We are still wise to check the credentials of anyone who claims to speak for God! But are we able to understand God’s Word? Gaylon Embrey thinks we are.
<< Gaylon Embrey Reasons >>
Who Can Understand
Do some think it takes special training and talent to read and understand the Bible? Yes, indeed. Some do think so. One who thinks so says so in writing to the TruthQuest e-mail list. GAYLON EMBREY points out why “Travis” is dead wrong in thinking only Roman Catholic theologians can properly understand the Bible. To Travis, Gaylon wrote:
TRAVIS, with reference to your, mine and the (Roman) Catholic Church's ability to correctly interpret scripture I have a couple of thoughts. I don’t make my “interpretation” superior to anyone’s. Nor do I believe that a perfect understanding, and agreement on every Bible truth is vital to spiritual life. I think Bob’s comment on the “simplicity” of the fundamental truths is to the point.
To me the “new creation” of God is like the universe. It can be understood at many levels. Intelligent and highly educated scientists may comprehend a LOT about how and why plants grow and how they are digested by the human body and the means by which they are turned into energy, etc. An uneducated, unintelligent peasant may only know that he needs to keep the seed from one year to the next, plant it and eat the fruit when it comes up because it tastes good. But both can survive. Man’s basic needs are not all that complex at the survival level.
The list of good (Roman) Catholics is impressive. But not impressive enough to prove anything. You could probably come up with an equally impressive list of atheists. But the fact is, all those bright men you named were or are “free” to think and study for themselves ONLY as long as they end up with the exact conclusions contained in official (Roman) Catholic doctrine.
Otherwise they are “malcontents and dissidents” as you once called them, like the man on TV I mentioned (Robert Novak I believe it was.) And if they persist in such “thinking for themselves” too much, they get themselves excommunicated don’t they? Regarding understanding what one reads, you apparently think you can understand normal writings but feel that the New Testament is somehow different than any other writing insofar as “understandability” is concerned, requiring “expert” and “authoritative” interpreters to make it comprehensible to readers like you.
You say for example, “I make no claims to understand it outside of its context which is the church. I“m not a biblical scholar, I“m not a linguist, nor am I a theologian, so I have to aid my understanding by appealing to a credible authority.” Later you add, “I possess no right to proclaim what is or isn“t divine revelation by my own authority. I may understand in part this or that verse in the literal sense of the words, but this is divine revelation we are talking about here. There is more to it than may appear on the face of the text.”
I believe you have embraced a basic flaw here: that is, that the language of the bible is somehow “different” from any other. The bible is a special, special set of writings, no doubt about that. The documents in the Christian Bible are “inspired” and from that standpoint are unlike any other. But the “difference” is in the writing, not in the reading.
On the receiving end, the reading end, the Good Book is not one bit different from any other book written by someone interested in conveying a message to his readers. When God communicated his will to man He used the words that men were currently using and in the exact same way. Otherwise He would have been deceptive. He did not invent a new language. He utilized the words on the market at the time, in the dictionary of the day, those that men were familiar with and with which they were already communicating with one another.
Start with oral language. When God said to Abram, “Take thy son ... and offer him upon one of the mountains that I will tell thee of, etc.,” could Abram understand what God meant? Of course. If God had written that command out and sent it to Abram in a letter, could he have understood it? Of course. God wrote the Ten Commandments Himself in tables of stone. Now this was a “special” document if ever there was one, as far as the writing of it is concerned. But when read, the words were no different or more difficult to understand than if they had been “thought up” and written by some mortal. There certainly was not “more to it than appeared on the face of the text,” as you suggest.
Take some key Bible words. Like love, joy and peace. Or born, live and die. Or teach, baptize and observe. I could go on, but you see the point. All those words mean the same, whether used by God or man. Yes the Bible is, as you say, a revelation. But it is a revelation made to us in WORDS. And if those words are not used in the same way and manner as we humans use them, they are simply of no account. Instead of “revealing” something to us, they serve only to hide the truth from us. No word in the New Testament has a different definition merely because it was employed by the Holy Spirit.
To be sure, there is figurative language in the Scriptures just as there is in the writings of men. And yes, some words have taken on new significance when used in a biblical context. Baptism, for example, when done “in the name of Jesus Christ” takes on a deeper meaning than the ldquo;baptism” of a boy playing in the swimming pool. But when the WORD “baptism” is used in the New Testament it always retains the basic meaning accepted at the time. It does not become different or beyond our understanding just because Jesus and the apostles used it.
So to make a long story long, what I am saying is, there is no reason on earth for you to think that the words of scripture cannot be “understood” by common readers. Please read the opening of the letters and notice that they were all written to CHRISTIANS, either individual Christians or congregations. They were addressed to “them which are sanctified in Christ Jesus,” or “to the saints and faithful brethren,” or “to ALL that be in Rome,” etc. Why were these documents sent to these “average Joe” disciples if they could not understand them as written? There is not the slightest suggestion anywhere that the inspired writers thought the recipients of these letters would be unable (without a Church “expert” to help them) to understand what they wrote.
What you are saying is, either God (by means of the Spirit) sent letters to these disciples and TRIED to make it understandable and could not do it. He failed. Or else, God sent a letter for these disciples to read and deliberately fixed it so they COULD NOT comprehend it. He played a trick on them. Either view does not make God look too good. Or so it seems to me.
... With reference to the “words” of scripture and whether an average reader is capable of understanding them, in the end you simply say this: “What I am saying is that the words of the bible are more than just the words of men, they are the words of God, and as such, they can never be fully understood by man, no matter how simple the text may seem.”
I must say, Travis, given what you believe about the scriptures being beyond the understanding by any man [other than Officials of the (Roman) Catholic Church of course] I do not see why you should waste a moment reading the holy Bible. By your own admission you can“t understand it. Or as you put it, “They (Bible words) are also the words of the inscrutable God, and therefore have meanings beyond the literal (and) I don“t pretend to know the meanings of the words apart from a strictly literal sense.”
Why read a book you know ahead of time you feel you cannot comprehend? Is that a wise use of time? But even if you can comprehend bits and pieces of it, there is a second reason you should not spend precious time with a Bible. The conclusion as to the REAL meaning of Bible words has already been (or will be) reached by Official Church Officials. Therefore you certainly don“t need to read the scriptures in order to find out the truth about anything. The (Roman) Catholic Church tells you what that is without your having to bother. Your total responsibility is to embrace without question what “the Church” tells you is the truth.
For the two reasons given, I think you need to close your Bible and find better uses of your time. I can“t think of a reason why you need to read an incomprehensible book. And finally, It“s your lucky day. I have a BONUS thought for you. I was wondering about the words contained in those dogmas delivered to you by the (Roman) Catholic Church. Do you have the ability to understand THOSE words all right? Do those words have any “meaning beyond their literal sense” that makes them incomprehensible to you? Or, do you also need an authoritative “interpreter” to tell you what those words really teach? I think that“s a legitimate inquiry, don“t you?
The scriptures were written by INSPIRED writers, the dogmas of the (Roman) Catholic Church were written by UNINSPIRED writers. You have never suggested that you have any problem at all understanding the words of any Official (Roman) Catholic proclamation. Why is that? Oh, I guess it's because the uninspired writers of Official (Roman) Catholic doctrine did a much better job expressing themselves than was done by the inspired “apostles and prophets” of the New Testament. I don“t know why inspired authors did not call in some uninspired “church officials” to help them do a better job writing the New Testament documents. Then you might have been able to understand Bible words also. I guess Bible writers just didn“t think of that. – Gaylon Embrey
RAY REMARKS: There were no Roman Catholics, either members or “officials” during the lifetime of Christ“s apostles, of course. All disciples were members of the Lord“s church which is headquartered in Heaven rather than in Rome. Christ“s kingdom was not and is not of this earth. The Bible tells about that church/kingdom. It also speaks of some who at a later time would “forbid to marry,” and who would require their followers to abstain from meat. I guess we can say that the Bible speaks of both Christ“s church and also of the Roman church. Yes?
It“s important that all who love JESUS should also love one another and even our enemies. We will not all see the inspired Word exactly alike. But every Bible student should see that Jesus wants all His followers to be in the ONE BODY He set up as told of in the Bible book of Acts. By careful and prayerful study of God“s inspired Word, you can help bring about restored unity. Yes, the reading must be joined by faithful obedience to what is there taught. Of considerable importance also is the truth that every reader who wants to understand God's written Word must believe that the New (Christian) covenant is not a legal document. It does not set forth laws by which our daily and communal conduct must be conducted. God's gracious gospel is NOT another law code.
To understand the NEW Testament, we must put aside any theories which helped us understand the OLD Testament. A legal system is understood using a system such as CENI (Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inferences create law). Law is specific commands given to direct our thinking and action. We now are treated as sons and daughters of God who can be trusted to think for ourselves and yet act in ways pleasing to God. Paul makes this point by explaining that children and slaves may need specific instructions. As our children mature, they grow into freedom of choice. We no longer seek to make every decision for our mature children, for we realize they are free and must be free. So also are we free who are in Christ.
Galatians 5:4 (ESV) You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:13,14 (ESV) For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Galatians 5:18 (ESV) But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.
It helps if we understand well the distinction between the covenant of Jesus Christ and any OLD covenant. Boyce Mouton speaks to this matter:
The One OLD Covenant, and
the One NEW Covenant
by BOYCE MOUTON
of Carl Junction, Missouri
Consider how two covenants from God are alike and how they differ ... Life is filled with agreements, that is, with covenants. Before signing any agreement (entering into a covenant) it is wise to understand well the exact nature of that covenant (read the small print as well as the large). Human judges render verdicts every day based upon what participating parties agree by covenant to do.
God also has written covenants. He will someday render His eternal verdict based upon the new covenant mediated by His unique Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important than our understanding the nature of our covenant relationship with God, or its lack by some of us. Note that in the Bible, God“s written Word, the words covenant and testament are used interchangeably.
The Hebrew word for covenant is berith. The word “testament” is not found in Old Testament scriptures. In the New Testament scriptures the Greek word diatheke is used to translate berith. In the King James Version this word is translated into English as both testament and covenant. As testament: 2 Corinthians 3:6,14; Hebrews 7:22, 9:15-20, etc.; and as covenant: Hebrews 8:6-13; 9:1,4; 10:16, etc. Many covenants are mentioned in the Bible, seven of which are found in Genesis:
1. God with Noah regarding the ark (Genesis 6:18).
2. God with Noah and every living creature regarding future floods (Genesis 9:9-17).
3. God with Abram concerning the promised land (Genesis 15:18).
4. God with Abraham and his descendants concerning circumcision (Genesis 17:1-21).
6. Isaac with Abimelech (Genesis 26:28).
7. Jacob with Laban (Genesis 31:44,45).
When the Bible speaks about “the OLD covenant,” it is not referring to any of these listed covenants. The contrast between the covenant mediated by Jesus and the “old covenant” it replaced is in reference to the Mosaic covenant rather than any other previous agreement between God and men. Consider these facts about “The Old Testament”:
The OLD TESTAMENT Defined
It is a common practice today to refer to the first 39 books of the Bible as “the Old Testament” or the old covenant, and the final 27 books as “the New Testament” or the new covenant. This usage of words is incorrect. It is not right. The “old covenant,” in the language of scripture, was the Ten Commandments. It was not the first 39 Bible books. Facts:
* Not one verse of scripture ever refers to the first 39 books of the Bible as a covenant or testament.
* The “old” testament was made when “God took His people by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (Hebrews 8:9). The books we call the Old Testament were written much later than at the time of the Exodus.
* God made the “old” covenant with His people in Horeb (Deuteronomy 5:2), or in the language of Galatians 4:25, “Mt. Sinai in Arabia.” The “Old Testament” books were written later in Palestine, Babylon, and Persia. None were written at Mt. Sinai when the covenant was made. Only the commandments were written at the time the covenant was begun.
* The “old” covenant was broken by the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:32). Only some of the Old Testament books had been written by that time.
The Scriptures state explicitly that Moses received a covenant while he was 40 days upon Mt. Sinai. This covenant, also called the Ten Commandments, was written on two tablets of stone. The stone tablets were placed in a receptacle identified as the “Ark of the Covenant” (Numbers 10:33). Once this covenant was completed, God “added nothing more” (Deuteronomy 5:22; and see also Exodus 34:27,28, Deuteronomy 4:11-13; 5:1-3; 9:11, etc.).
While there are many covenants mentioned in the Bible, the “old covenant,” (“Old Testament”) as mentioned in Hebrews 8:6-13, was in fact the Ten Commandments (as written on stone tablets). It was NOT the first 39 books of our Bibles. It was not an agreement between God and Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob. It was the Ten Commandments.
The Old Testament was written on stone. It was cold, rigid, and inflexible. For example, when a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, it was “not clear what should be done to him” (Numbers 15:34). In this instance they prayed to God for guidance. The Lord said to Moses that the man must die. Under the Old Covenant, lawbreakers died “without mercy” (Deuteronomy 13:8, 19:13; Hebrews 10:28, etc.).
The Hebrew Scriptures are inspired and were written to a covenant people, but these 39 books of the Bible are NOT the “old covenant.” They never were. They never will be.
The NEW TESTAMENT (Covenant)
The Scriptures teach that God decided to write a new covenant (Hebrews 8:7,8). The new covenant would be totally different and distinct from the old one. Like new wine and old wineskins, the two cannot be combined. The revolutionary new covenant is not cold, rigid, and inflexible. It is written in the hearts and minds of believers in Jesus as the Christ (Hebrews 8:6-13).
Not once within the 27 books we call the New Testament are they ever described in that way by inspiration. Inspired writers simply do not call some or all of these books a “New Testament.” The books we call the New Testament were written with ink on paper (papyrus?) (2 John 12, 3 John 13). The “New Testament” is written with the Spirit of the Living God (2 Corinthians 3:3). The New Testament became an immediate reality on the first Pentecost after our Lord“s resurrection. Thousands were saved and became covenant people on that day, yet the New Testament scriptures were not written for many years. The books are ABOUT the new covenant. They are not, however, the covenant itself. The New Testament Scriptures came gradually as God guided inspired men into all truth. The canon (approved list) of New Testament Scripture was not completed until near the end of the 1st century. It was not generally accepted until the 4th century. Many thousands of Christians had died as martyrs before even one word of the New Testament Scriptures was written.
Covenantal DIFFERENCES (Contrasts)
The Old Testament was written on tablets of stone (the covenant, the Ten Commandments). The New Testament is written upon the fleshly tables of human hearts and minds (2 Corinthians 3:3, Hebrews 8:8-10). It was given by a merciful and faithful High Priest (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Old Testament was kept in that part of the Jewish temple called the “Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place.” The New Testament transforms US into temples of the Living God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Just as the glory of God was associated with the Ten Commandments, so also we are to glorify God in our bodies in which God now dwells.
Under the old covenant, little children and aliens had no knowledge of God. They had to be taught (Deuteronomy 6:7). New covenant people do not have to be taught basic covenantal truths. From the least to the greatest, we already know God (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:11). We learn basics before we enter the covenant. We study and learn after we are reborn, but the basic truths were learned to enable us to obey the gospel.
The old covenant was kept in a box (Deuteronomy 10:5, Numbers 10:33), but the new covenant is put within our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Old Testament worship was confined to particular places (Deuteronomy 12:5). New Testament worship (in spirit and truth) can happen anywhere (John 4:23).
The old covenant was administered by priests “without pity” (Deuteronomy 13:8). The new covenant is administered by a high priest who is both faithful and merciful (Hebrews 2:17). And every Christian is a priest!
When the old covenant became a reality, 3,000 were put to death (Exodus 32:28). When the new covenant became a reality, 3,000 were given new life and the gift of God“s Spirit (Acts 2:41).
The Old Testament priesthood came from the tribe of Levi. New Testament priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek, which is superior to that of Levi (Hebrews 8:6).
The Old Testament high priest ministered on
earth in a tabernacle made by man. The New Testament high priest ministers in heaven in the true tabernacle made by God (Hebrews 8:2).
Death prevented Old Testament priests from continuing their service. Jesus, our great High Priest, ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).
It was GOD who decided to write a new covenant (Hebrews 8:7). Ishmael and Isaac are used in Scripture to help us understand the dramatic difference between these two covenants. These two sons of Abraham, and their mothers, are said to be an allegory of the two covenants (Galatians 4:24). The Greek word translated as allegory is “allegoreo.” “Allos” means “other.” “Agoreuo” means “to speak in an assembly.” An allegory is a teaching tool that describes one thing under the image of another. By understanding the difference between Ishmael and Isaac we gain insight into the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. Ishmael and the old covenant represent slavery. Isaac and the new covenant represent freedom from slavery (Galatians 4:25,26).
Ishmael and Isaac
Ishmael and Isaac were half-brothers. They had the same father, but different mothers. They were similar in many ways. Abraham begat both in his old age. God spoke to both mothers and prophesied about the future of both sons. Both sons were circumcised. Both fathered great nations. Both lived in the same part of the world. Both helped bury their father. Since both had the same father, it is quite possible that they were similar in appearance. We may assume that both wore the same type of clothing, ate the same type of food, and had the same lifestyle. If we saw them from a distance, we might easily confuse one with the other.
Although these two may have seemed alike, they were radically different. The word “radical” comes from the Latin “radix,” which means root. This is the basis of our English word radish, which is a root. These brothers were radically different, as is slavery and freedom.
Judaism and Christianity are also similar in many superficial ways. In Corinth, for example, the Christians met in a house next door to the Jewish synagogue (Acts 18:7), but their meetings, although similar, were not alike. Both met each week. Both studied inspired writings. Both were evangelistic, willing to accept new members. Both baptized their converts by immersion in water. Both sang hymns while gathered. Both had nothing to do with pagan idols. Both had high standards of moral conduct. Both emphasized the importance of prayer. Both had elders and deacons. When seen from a distance, one might easily be confused with the other.
As were Ishmael and Isaac, however, the groups were radically different. The Jewish synagogue was based upon the old covenant, that is, the Ten Commandments. As the old covenant was to be administered without mercy, the synagogue gave punishment without mercy. It was not at all uncommon for people to be physically beaten in the synagogue (Matthew 10:17, Mark 13:9, Acts 26:11, etc.).
While the Christians were filled with joy, the Jews were filled with fear. They were so afraid of taking the name of God in vain that they would not even try to pronounce the name of God. Moreover, the actual meaning of each of the Ten Commandments was also a constant source of controversy.
For example, consider the commandment to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. What exactly was necessary? We“ve already mentioned the case of the man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath. When it was not clear what the authorities should do about this breach of Sabbath law, God intervened and commanded that he be stoned to death (Numbers 15:34,35). Notice that it was “not clear” until God rendered judgment. Over the years there have been thousands and perhaps even millions of controversial cases in which the Lord did not intervene to explain what must be done.
The synagogue became a place where these controversial points of law were debated. The commandment is that the day is to be kept holy and that no work is to be done that day. But what“s “no work”? Some felt that to carry a burden on the Sabbath was work, which raises another question, “What is a burden?” Scribal law defined a burden as “food equal in weight to a dried fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member, water enough to moisten an eye-salve, paper enough to write a customs house notice upon, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, reed enough to make a pen,” and the list continued.
So rabbis spent endless hours debating the meaning of the old covenant. The people were never quite certain which rabbi to follow. Simple procedures like moving a lamp, stitching a garment, wearing a wig, putting in false teeth, lifting a child ... all became focal points of debate, controversy, and division.
Thus the old covenant is controversial, as was Ishmael. Before he was born, the angel of the Lord said to his mother: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man. His hand will be against everyone and everyone“s hand against him. He will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:11,12).
The name Ishmael means “God hears.” There are at least two reasons why the name was appropriate. First, the Lord “heard” the cries of Hagar“s misery. Second Ishmael kept crying out to God about the loss of his inheritance, and thus was in constant hostility with all his brothers.
A brief review of Ishmael“s life will help us understand his combative nature. For almost 14 years he had every reason to believe he would inherit the wealth of his father. During those years, he was not only the firstborn son of Abram, he was the only son. He was also much loved by his father. Note that when Abraham was informed that Sarah would have a son, he cried out to God: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Genesis 17:18). Such, however, was not to be.
Soon after Isaac was born, an incredible thing happened. Ishmael, the firstborn and beloved son of Abraham, was driven out and disinherited. The Scriptures are clear in this regard: “Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac” (Genesis 25:5). No wonder Ishmael was angry. He must have cried out to God in his misery, just as his mother had cried out in her misery so many years before.
This is, of course, an allegory that helps us to understand the nature of law. The very essence of law is litigious and quarrelsome, just as Ishmael was. That which is written in stone never changes. Our understanding, however, does change. Consequently, our understandings of particular laws are in a constant state of flux.
Human beings are seldom all at the same level of knowledge and understanding. Sometimes we even learn new information that requires us to abandon a previous position about which we once felt confident. This is one reason why the old covenant, written in stone, will always be controversial. Likewise with us if we attempt to enforce laws created by men who went before us. Times change. Only our God needs no change, no updating.
Sarah and Isaac
Sarah and Isaac are much different from Ishmael and his mother. They are an allegory of the new covenant. Let us briefly review their story. Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God appeared again to Abram. He renewed His promises. This time, the promises were given in association with the covenant of circumcision and the changing of names. Abram (exalted father) was given the name Abraham (father of multitudes). Sarai (Jehovah is Prince) was given the name Sarah (Princess).
The essence of Isaac“s birth involved the supernatural. From a human point of view, Sarah couldn“t possibly have a baby. It had ceased to be with her after the manner of women (Genesis 18:11). She was “past age” (Hebrews 11:11). She had a dead womb (Romans 4:19). She had wanted to have a baby all her married life, and had failed. The very idea that she now could conceive and carry a baby was preposterous. This idea, as we know, did not come from man. It came from God.
The name Isaac means “laughter.” Abraham laughed at the idea of his birth (Genesis 17:17). So did Sarah (Genesis 18:12). When he inherited everything Ishmael had hoped for, Isaac also must have laughed. As has been already pointed out, when Abraham died he left his considerable fortune, everything he owned, to Isaac (Genesis 25:5). The son of the bondwoman was not an heir with the son of the free woman (Galatians 4:30). Likewise, our inheritance in Christ is both miraculous and undeserved. Our inheritance is like that of Isaac. While Ishmael was arguing and complaining, Isaac was laughing. This is indeed a poignant allegory of the two covenants.
The New BIRTH &
the new COVENANT
On the third day of creation, God created living things that reproduced by means of seeds (Genesis 1:11). Each seed reproduced after its own kind. Apple seeds produced apple trees, pear seeds produced pear trees, etc. Even human life comes from seeds. It is interesting and significant to note that the first time Jesus is mentioned in Scripture, He is described as the “seed” of woman (Genesis 3:15).
Every seed has a specific genetic code that produces a specific form of life. That“s why Jesus explained to Nicodemus that he had to be born again (John 3:1-8). Flesh gives birth to flesh. Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6). If Nicodemus wanted spiritual life, he had to receive it from a spiritual seed. So must we. It is not an option.
If we want to enter the kingdom of Christ, we MUST be born again of water and spirit. Our physical birth came from a physical seed that contained the “deoxyribonucleic acid” or DNA of our parents. Our spiritual birth gives us the DNA of our Spiritual Father. Our physical bodies will die. Spiritually, we can live forever.
Peter reminded his readers that Christians are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23). This spiritual seed places God“s nature within us. Just as a physical seed gave us the “image” of our earthly father, spiritual rebirth gives us the image of our Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 15:49). The kingdom of God is spiritual. That“s why it cannot be inherited by flesh and blood. Even though the product of being reborn is spiritual, it is very real. In fact, Christians are called “new creations” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).
If God has written His laws in our minds and hearts, the transformation of our lives will be obvious. Here are some of the ways the apostle John describes us who have been born again:
* “... Everyone who does what is right has been born of Him” (1 John 2:29).
* “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him. He cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
* “ . . . Let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
* “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well” (1 John 5:1).
* “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
* “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin. The one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him” (1 John 5:18).
Our Fatherhood and Brotherhood
Something is obviously wrong in our brotherhood of Christian congregations, (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) a reformation or restoration movement. Jesus prayed that we would be “one,” but we are not one (John 17:21). There are literally hundreds of divisions within this family of God. Incredibly, it seems that the brethren who study the Bible the most are often the most divided. Perhaps a reason for this division is a basic misunderstanding of the new covenant.
I repeat that what we call the New Testament is NOT the covenant of Christ. Our unity is not based upon the New Testament writings, but rather upon the one Lord about whom the New Testament is written. Yes, the Bible is inspired by God. Yes, the Bible is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. But the written documents are not the covenant. We should find unity in the new COVENANT.
* The Jerusalem church was united in Christ before even one word of the New Testament scriptures was written.
* Christians in the first century were united even though the canon of Scripture was not settled until the 4th century.
* Even after the invention of the printing press, the majority of believers in the world today still do not have a Bible of their own. Millions do not even have a written language. This lack does not keep us from being united in Christ!
* The majority of people who have Bibles have not read them. If you find this hard to believe, check at your own church and see how many members have ever read the entire Bible.
* Many who have read the whole Bible have yet not studied the whole Bible.
We who study the Bible are invariably guided by the preconceptions and prejudices of our own religious fellowship. To illustrate: Two Christian brothers told me that they, simply by studying the Bible, had come to identically the same view of the millennium and the rapture. This is remarkable especially since the words “millennium” and “rapture” are not even once found IN the Bible. These and other considerations make it difficult if not impossible for all of the brethren to understand all of the Bible in identically the same way.
Corinthian Christians were divided because their unity was in men like Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. The only true foundation for Christian unity is Jesus Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Paul faced death with confidence because he knew “Whom” he had believed (2 Timothy 1:12). Our faith is personal, not propositional. “Whom” we believe is far more important than what we believe. We can be wrong about a lot of things as long as we are right about Jesus. If we are wrong about Jesus, it doesn“t matter about what else we may be right. If we are born again with seed from our Heavenly Father, we are in the same family with Jesus. Even though we are in every way inferior to Jesus, He is not ashamed to call us His brethren. We have the same father. This is specifically stated in Hebrews 2:11.
How then should we live?
Believers are to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This brief study leaves many questions unanswered. It raises issues that are yet to be resolved. The serious student will not avoid these questions, and will pray to God for wisdom in finding answers. He will test everything just as he is commanded to do. It is important to remember, however, that we are not saved by knowledge but rather we are saved by faith. Just because someone is ignorant or uninformed on some point of Biblical teaching does not necessarily imply that he is not Christian.
1 Thessalonians 5:22 commands us to avoid every kind of evil. What does this mean? A child at five years will not have the same understanding of these inspired words as will his brother who is 15 years of age. This doctrinal discrepancy does not mean that the two boys are not brothers.It certainly should not be a basis for division between them. The boys are brothers because they have the same father. Fraternity is based upon paternity or adoption.
So also in the religious world we have brothers who are at different levels of wisdom and maturity. The only way they can have identically the same view on every point of Bible doctrine is by turning off their minds and blindly accepting a creed spoken or written by someone else. This is obviously wrong. It is the very basis of denominationalism. True unity is not in Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, but in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).
The church at Corinth had many problems. In fact, they seem to have been plagued with more problems than any other church mentioned in apostolic epistles. They were divided. They tolerated fornication. They had serious problems over a wide variety of important issues. They needed teaching on marriage, idolatry, the Lord“s Supper, the work of women, spiritual gifts, and even the resurrection. Their most pressing need, however, was not more knowledge. They needed more LOVE. As we all know, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). The apostle exhorts:
“Eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Summary Thoughts on covenant
The first 39 books of the Bible are NOT the “Old Testament.” The final 27 books of the Bible are NOT the “New Testament.” The Bible is inspired by God. It is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. It, however, is NOT a covenant between God and man.
“If I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8).
Even though the Bible itself is not a covenant, study of the Bible is still desirable and necessary. Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3 and emphasized that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
Regarding earthly matters, it is important to understand the nature of contracts (covenants).Many have lost a house, or a car, or incurred great debts simply because they did not understand the nature of a contract or covenant to which they agreed. If this is important regarding earthly covenants, and it is, it is even more important regarding our covenant with God.
Like all spiritual teaching, this brief study should be approached with skepticism. We are commanded in Scripture to “prove (test) all things.” Let us each as did the noble Bereans in an earlier day search the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so. • BOYCE MOUTON.
RAY adds: Just another reminder that baptism alone accomplishes nothing at all. Salvation comes to those who believe in Jesus, that He lived as a man on earth after having been the actual and active creator of the earth, that He was put to death and then was Himself raised up into NEW LIFE. We“re saved by faith in Jesus when we turn away from sin and choose to make HIM our Lord for life.
The NEW LIFE is lived in love. Jesus loves us. Jesus wants us to love one another. He wants us to love even the unlovely and the unloving, just as He does.
Our life may not be merry or carefree. Likely it won“t be. Our burdens may be heavy. But His love helps make them light, for remembering His love lights up every day we live. We no longer will live for self. Selfishness was left behind. We now will be busy acting as Jesus did, looking for people we can love and care for and share with, doing whatever we are called to do joyfully and courageously.
Some of us will serve as soldiers, battling against evils of this world. Some of us will serve as nurses and doctors, helping cure disease wherever found. Some of us will clean up after others who make messes in the world. All of us will share the burdens of others as much as we possibly can. We“ll find JOY in putting Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last in priority. If our NEW LIFE is in Christ, we“ll love because He loved, we“ll serve because He served, we“ll help others because He loves them just as He loves us. We“re saved to save others. To help and serve others. Wherever we are. With whomever we are. And He will be with us.
We invite you to consider what another brother in Christ wrote in 1839 concerning understanding what God has caused to be written:
The Christian System, 2d. ed. (1839)
CHAPTER II. THE BIBLE.
I. One God, one moral system, one Bible. If nature be a system, religion is no less so. God is “a God of order,” and that is the same as to say he is a God of system. Nature and religion, the offspring of the same supreme intelligence, bear the image of one father; twin sisters of the same Divine parentage. There is an intellectual and a moral universe as clearly bounded as the system of material nature. Man belongs to the whole three. He is an animal, intellectual, and moral being. Sense is his guide in nature, faith in religion, reason in both.
The Bible contemplates man primarily in his spiritual and eternal relations. It is the history of nature, so far only as is necessary to show man his origin and destiny; for it contemplates nature, the universe, only in relation to man“s body, soul, and spirit.
II. The Bible is to the intellectual and moral world of man, what the sun is to the planets in our system; – the fountain and source of light and life, spiritual and eternal. There is not a spiritual idea in the whole human race, that is not drawn from the Bible. As soon will the philosopher find an independent sunbeam in nature, as the theologian a spiritual conception in man, independent of the one best book.
RAY: Are Mohammed“s ideas or Hitler“s found in the Bible? I think not.
III. The Bible, or the Old and New Testaments, in Hebrew and Greek, contains a full and perfect revelation of God and his will, adapted to man as he now is. It speaks of man as he was, and also as he will hereafter be; but it dwells on man as he is, and as he ought to be, as its peculiar and appropriate theme. It is not, then, a treatise on man as he was, nor on man as he will be, but on man as he is, and as he ought to be; not as he is physically, astronomically, geologically, politically, or metaphysically; but as he is and ought to be morally and religiously.
IV. The words of the Bible contain all the ideas in it; – these words, then, rightly understood, and the ideas are clearly perceived. The words and sentences of the Bible are to be translated, interpreted, and understood according to the same code of laws and principles of interpretation by which other ancient writings are translated and understood; for when God spoke to man in his own language, he spoke as one person converses with another, in fair, stipulated, and well established meaning of the terms. This is essential to its character as a revelation from God; otherwise it would be no revelation, but would always require a class of inspired men to unfold and reveal its true sense to mankind.
V. We have written frequently and largely upon the principles and rules of interpretation, as of essential importance and utility in this generation of remaining mysticising and allegorizing. From our former writings, we shall here only extract the naked rules of interpretation, deduced from extensive and well digested premises; fully sustained, too, by the leading translators and most distinguished critics and commentators of the last and present century.
VI. Rule 1. On opening any book in the sacred Scriptures, consider first the historical circumstances of the book. These are the order, the title, the author, the date, the place, and the occasion of it.
The order in historical compositions is of much importance; as, for instance, – whether the first, second, or third, of the five books of Moses, or any other series of narrative, or even epistolary communication.
The title is also of importance, as it sometimes expresses the design of the book. As Exodus – the departure of Israel from Egypt; Acts of Apostles, etc.
The peculiarities of the author – the age in which he lived – his style – mode of expression, illustrate his writings. The date, place, and occasion of it, are obviously necessary to a right application of anything in the book.
Rule 2. In examining the contents of any book, as respects precepts, promises, exhortations, etc., observe who it is that speaks, and under what dispensation he officiates. Is he a Patriarch, a Jew, or a Christian? Consider also the persons addressed; their prejudices, characters, and religious relations. Are they Jews or Christians–believers or unbelievers–approved or disapproved? This rule is essential to the proper application of every command, promise, threatening, admonition, or exhortation, in Old Testament or New.
Rule 3. To understand the meaning of what is commanded, promised, taught, etc., the same philological principles, deduced from the nature of language; or the same laws of interpretation which are applied to the language of other books, are to be applied to the language of the Bible.
Rule 4. Common usage, which can only be ascertained by testimony, must always decide the meaning of any word which has but one signification; – but when words have according to testimony (i.e., the dictionary,) more meanings than one, whether literal or figurative, the scope, the context, or parallel passages must decide the meaning: for if common usage, the design of the writer, the context, and parallel passage fail, there can be no certainty in the interpretation of language.
Rule 5. In all tropical language, ascertain the point of resemblance, and judge of the nature of the trope, and its kind, from the point of resemblance.
Rule 6. In the interpretation of symbols, types, allegories, and parables, this rule is supreme: ascertain the point to be illustrated; for comparison is never to be extended beyond that point--to all the attributes, qualities, or circumstances of the symbol, type, allegory, or parable.
Rule 7. For the salutary and sanctifying intelligence of the Oracles of God, the following rule is indispensable – We must come within the understanding distance. There is a distance which is properly called the speaking distance, or the hearing distance; beyond which the voice reaches not, and the ear hears not. To hear another, we must come within that circle which the voice audibly fills.
Now we may with propriety say, that as it respects God also, there is an understanding distance. All beyond that distance cannot understand God; all within it, can easily understand him in all matters of piety and morality. God, himself, is the center of that circle, and humility is its circumference.
The wisdom of God is as evident in adapting the light of the Sun of Righteousness to our spiritual or moral vision, as in adjusting the light of day to our eyes. The light reaches us without an effort of our own; but we must open our eyes, and if our eyes be sound, we enjoy the natural light of heaven. There is a sound eye in reference to spiritual light, as well as in reference to material light. Now, while the philological principles and rules of interpretation enable many men to be skillful in biblical criticism, and in the interpretation of words and sentences; who neither perceive nor admire the things represented by those words; the sound eye contemplates the things themselves, and is ravished with the moral scenes which the Bible unfolds.
The moral soundness of vision consists in having the eyes of understanding fixed solely on God himself, his approbation and complacent affection for us. It is sometimes called a single eye, because it looks for one thing supremely. Every one, then, who opens the Book of God, with one aim, with one ardent desire–intent only to know the will of God; to such a person, the knowledge of God is easy: for the Bible is framed to illuminate such, and only such, with the salutary knowledge of things celestial and divine.
Humility of mind, or what is in effect the same, contempt for all earth-born pre-eminence, prepares the mind for the reception of this light; or, what is virtually the same, opens the ears to hear the voice of God. Amidst the din of all the arguments from the flesh, the world, and Satan, a person is so deaf that he cannot hear the still small voice of God's philanthropy. But receding from pride, covetousness, and false ambition; from the love of the world; and in coming within that circle, the circumference of which is unfeigned humility, and the center of which is God himself–the voice of God is distinctly heard and clearly understood. All within this circle are taught by God; all without it are under the influence of the wicked one. ‘God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.“
He, then, who would interpret the Oracles of God to the salvation of his soul, must approach this volume with the humility and docility of a child, and meditate upon it day and night. Like Mary, he must sit at the Master“s feet and listen to the words which fall from his lips. To such a one there is an assurance of understanding, a certainty of knowledge, to which the man of letters alone never attained, and which the mere critic never felt.
VII. The Bible is a book of facts, not of opinions, theories, abstract generalities, nor of verbal definitions. It is a book of awful facts, grand and sublime beyond description.
These facts reveal God and man, and contain within them the reasons of all piety and righteousness; or what is commonly called religion and morality. The meaning of the Bible facts is the true biblical doctrine.
History is therefore the plan pursued in both Testaments; for testimony has primarily to do with faith, and reasoning with the understanding. History has, we say, to do with facts – and religion springs from them. Hence, the history of the past, and the anticipations of the future, or what are usually called history and prophecy, make up exactly four-fifths of all the volumes of inspiration.
We who have been RAISED INTO NEW LIFE with Christ are FREE. We are no longer living under law. We live by grace. We invite you to consider next what Al Maxey encourages us to believe about Christian freedom ...
Shhh ... Do Not Disturb!
Saints are Slumbering
by AL MAXEY
I can“t help but think that Proverbs 6:10 is a rather apt depiction of far too many disciples of Christ today: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.” In verse 9 the question is posed to these spiritual sluggards: “When will you rise from your sleep?!” The apostle Paul, adapting a quote he took from the prophet Isaiah, pleaded, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead” [Ephesians 5:14]. He also informed the Roman brethren, “it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep” [Romans 13:11]. We have become a people “at ease in Zion” [Amos 6:1], tucked away in our cozy little comfort zones.
Too many have become little more than believers within a box, shielded from those about them, shut off from all who might dare to challenge their cherished convictions, personal preferences, and party perceptions and practices. It is a blissful ignorance; a calm repose. Their box is a coffin, however, and the hush that descends about them is the silence of a tomb. There is the smell of death, not the sweet savor of a life of sacrificial service offered up unto the Lord among those about us who are perishing in the darkness.
Voltaire [1694-1778] nailed it when he spoke of Brutus sleeping while Rome was in chains. Too many who profess to be disciples of Jesus today are similarly indisposed. There are precious souls all about them in chains – in bondage to the harsh masters of legalism and sin. Yet these “walled-in weekend warriors” slumber peacefully within their comfortable religious boxes while others perish in shackles. They are seemingly oblivious to the oppression that exists about them.
A soldier asleep on watch, or snoozing in a foxhole, is of little use to our Commander-in-Chief; indeed, such are a liability. So is an entombed disciple – one encased within his own peaceful mausoleum while the world suffers and dies on his doorstep. President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) rightly observed, “If men and women are in chains anywhere in the world, then freedom is endangered everywhere.” Brethren, we must abandon our religious boxes. We were not called by Christ to slumber in cozy chambers; we were called to put on armor, take up a sword, and engage the forces of darkness on the front lines of the battle for men“s souls.
I fear that the church has grown comfortable. We have found that “zone of comfort” which, in reality, equates to a zone of complacency. We no longer feel a sense of urgency to accomplish our mission. Why are we here? What is our purpose? To what have we been called? And, what can you and I do, individually as well as collectively, to help achieve these godly goals?
These are questions that have not only gone unanswered, but largely unconsidered. Why? Because we have been much too busy tip-toeing around sleeping saints to sound the trumpet summoning God“s people to action. “Let“s not disturb them!” Au Contraire! Let“s blast them out of their padded pews and into the streets. Let“s shake their box until they spill forth from it, so that they might start being the church, instead of going through life just going to and doing church, neither of which are biblical concepts.
It is time for us to take the Light into the darkness, rather than merely cursing the dark from behind our sectarian walls of exclusion. Salt cannot flavor and preserve while in a crystal shaker, and yeast does not do its work unless mixed in with the dough. Sealed in a protective wrapper, it is useless. So too with the genuine disciple of Jesus Christ.
I heard an old preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ once declare within a sermon that if he were given a single wish that would be immediately fulfilled by the Lord God, then he would wish for every church building on earth to burn to the ground overnight, thus forcing the people of God to spill forth into their communities. It was his feeling, and I believe he has a point, that we have become a people who tend to “practice Christianity” within a building; behind closed doors. Our light has been placed under that proverbial basket, thus hiding it from those who need it most.
I“ll be honest with you, brethren, I“m personally convicted that we would be far more effective within our communities if we were all meeting in homes and inviting in our neighbors, instead of meeting in a single church building, waiting for the lost to come to us.
If the legalistic patternists want to “restore the pattern,” why don“t they start here, instead of worrying about the preciseness of some “act of worship” within some “worship service” inside some “church building”—none of which are even mentioned in Scripture, must less regulated. Focusing on these, rather than our true mission in this misguided world, has transformed us into feuding factionists and squabbling sectarians, rather than everyday evangelists of the grace of God to a perishing world. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves!
A gifted brother in Christ, Max Lucado, once did an article on what happens when fishermen do not fish. A group had gone to a lake for a week of fishing, but the rains were really heavy, so they ended up packed together inside a cabin. It wasn“t long before they were at one another“s throats. When fishermen do not fish, they fight.
It was an amusing story; an attention grabber. It shares a valid insight into human nature. If we, as disciples of Christ, as fishers of men, are failing to fulfill our calling, then our sights will turn from the lost and turn upon one another. Rather than harvesting souls, we are harassing saints. Rather than picking the grain from the stalks in the field, we“re nitpicking our siblings in the Family of God. Brethren, we have simply been “cooped up” too long. It is time for us to get “out and about,” once again becoming focused upon and engaged in the “business of our Father.”
Let me develop this thought in a somewhat different, but certainly no less critical, direction. I am convinced that too many within Christendom, and especially within various faith-heritages (and sub-sects thereof), have theological perspectives and traditional practices so “neatly packaged” (dare I say “pre-packaged"?) that they have become virtually sealed air-tight.
These personal and party preferences (now elevated to precepts) are paraded as The Pattern for fellowship and salvation, and they are so tightly wrapped and boxed that they are impervious to review, much less to reform. Open the box and expose the contents? Never ever. This is exactly why the more legalistic and patternistic a group is, the less willing they are to engage in open and responsible dialogue with those who differ with them. That is why they will hide under their desks rather than answer questions responsibly. That is why their internet “discussion” groups are so restrictive and regulated, and why virtually no one can get in. Their theology is “neatly boxed,” arranged just as they like it, and they don“t want it “messed with” by those godless “outsiders.”
Such a “boxed” theology is an almost certain recipe for religious calcification. Their thinking becomes rigid, their practices become rigid, and their outreach to the world about them becomes increasingly ineffective, for in our enlightened day and age people have no desire to exchange freedom of thought for mind-control, and freedom of worshipful expression for a humanly deduced and devised regulation of every particular of some elusive pattern, a pattern that varies greatly with each and every party, sect, faction and schism in Christendom.
If a Biblically-conservative congregation is not growing, both spiritually and numerically, if there is tension among the members, I can almost guarantee you that there are “legalistic patternism” issues at work within that group of religionists. [Or worldliness.] I can also guarantee you that unchecked, in time it will destroy that congregation. Such little groups are closing their doors for the last time in ever increasing numbers, and many predict that by the end of this century such hardened legalistic congregations of patternists will be all but nonexistent. If they won“t wake up, abandon their boxes, and embrace the freedom in Christ Jesus to effect the necessary changes to their teachings and practices, they will perish ... and deservedly so!
I receive emails, letters, phone calls and even a few personal visits from people every day who are fed up with being “boxed in” by the tedious tenets of a tyrannical Traditionalism. They“ve had it, and they are leaving such churches in droves! Frankly, I understand their concerns completely. Indeed, I“m in sympathy with them. Saints should never be shackled by their sectarian siblings.
Believers should not be berated for voicing convictions contrary to the accepted “group think” of the party. We are free in Christ, and if a religious group seeks to limit that freedom ... then flee it, is my advice. The only exception to this is if you feel you are in a position to perhaps challenge that legalistic mindset from within and bring about some degree of change that may yet transform a few within this faith-heritage into what the Lord intended them to be. Such is my own personal determination. My weapon? The “box-cutter (sword) of the Spirit,” with which one may do battle with those walls that box us in and keep us from fulfilling our mission.
A dear brother in Christ, who is a leader with a well-known international mission effort recently shared with me a letter he had written to an individual who was struggling with some of the changes being made by an awakened leadership at her congregation. They are attempting to come “out of the box” in their thinking and practice, and to become more relevant to the lost about them. Such requires responsible change, and this is truly uncomfortable for those who have, in some cases, been slumbering for decades!
One of the changes taking place at that congregation of Churches of Christ is that they have introduced an instrumental service, while also maintaining an a cappella service. This brother has stated to me: “Maybe some of your readers can critique my position—either to affirm or refute it. I would welcome your comments as well, but I think I know at least the gist of what you would say!”
Needless to say, I will not reveal this brother“s identity, or his location, or even the organization for which he works, as we all know what would happen. The “keepers of the box” would go after him without mercy, seeking to destroy him. This brother is doing a tremendous work for the Lord throughout the world, and I won“t jeopardize that in any way. However, I will share some of his letter to this woman in the hope that it will touch your hearts and minds, and challenge you to “think outside the box.” If you have any comments for this brother, I will forward them on to him if they are sent to me.
Dear –––––, I“m distressed that you are having such a difficult time with the changes at ––––––. I wish I knew how I could help you in this.
I think many people do not realize the number of assumptions that have to be made to arrive at our traditional position on use of instrumental music in Christian assemblies:
You must assume that our hermeneutic is correct in its approach to the silence of the Scriptures. AND You must assume that absence of a specific command or example prohibits an action. AND You must assume that the word “sing” always means without instruments.
But, our hermeneutic has not been given to us by God. Are our inferences the same as God’s Word? The same as what He has said? I really don’t think that my reasoning (or that of any other man) can measure up to being called “the Word of God,” no matter how good I think my “reasoning” might be.
Does the absence of a specific command or example prohibit an action taken to help/aid in obeying a command of God? If so, why do we find Jesus in the Synagogue on the Sabbath? Or in the Temple at the Winter Festival? Both of these things, the Jewish Synagogue and Hanukkah, had their beginnings during the intertestamental period, not as part of the revelation of the Old Testament writings.
Does the word “sing” carry with it the idea that the singing is to be UNaccompanied? I’ve heard it preached so all my life – but does it? In our normal speech in English, it doesn’t. If I should say that I like to hear Perry Como sing, I am not saying that I expect him to be singing without any accompaniment, and that if he does sing with accompaniment, then I won’t like it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing UNaccompanied, and yet I do enjoy hearing him sing.
This, I believe, is equally true in the Greek. In Revelation 5:8,9 and 15:1-3 we have some in heaven holding harps and singing. The word used for “singing” in these texts is ado. I’m not making an argument here about there being harps in heaven [I did, however, in my article Holding Harps of God – Reflections #297 – Al Maxey]. What I’m doing is talking about the meaning of the Greek word ado.
It means to sing – but the way it is used in Revelation shows that it does not exclude the use of an accompanying musical instrument. And this is the word for “sing” that is used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Most all of our discussions of the Greek within those verses has centered on the word psallo – “Speaking to yourselves in psalms (a noun form of psallo), and hymns and spiritual songs (a noun form of ado), singing (the verb ado) and making melody (psallo) in your hearts to the Lord.”
This is entirely a lexical argument, not a hermeneutical argument. It only seeks to answer the question: Does the word “sing” inherently exclude the act of accompanying the singing with a musical instrument? I am simply not convinced that it does. Yet, an assumption of prohibition must be made for our traditional interpretation to be sustained.
In fact, if any one of the above three assumptions that I have listed at the beginning of this letter fails, then our position fails as well. And I’m not sure that any of those assumptions is solid enough to allow us to tell someone that he is sinning by using the instrument. And yet, if these fail, that still does not require that we USE an instrument. However, all of these assumptions must be absolutely valid for us to demand dogmatically that the instrument be forbidden. And yet, I suspect that there are also other assumptions besides these three that are involved in our argumentation if the whole truth be known.
I personally prefer not to use the instrument. I will not introduce it. If someone tried to introduce it at my home congregation, I would object because it would split the congregation. Things can be lawful, and still not be profitable. I do think some will probably be lost because of attitudes about the use of the instrument, whether for or against. I cannot say categorically and dogmatically, however, that people will be lost because they use it or do not use it.
If I’m wrong in this analysis, I’d like to know it. I hope that this has given you something to think about, and that it just may give you some peace of mind.
–from one wanting to help. CONCERNED, and having learned.
Clearly, this writer has sought to challenge his sister (and all who may read his letter) to “think outside of the box,” with the “box” being our traditional perceptions and practices which tend to bind us back from any significant forward progress in our efforts to reach the lost and edify the saved with the relevance of eternal Truth (which should never be frozen in time and place and cultural expression). Although Tradition may be limited and limiting, Truth is truly limitless. It transcends all barriers and boundaries, and may be both embraced and expressed in a wide variety of culturally acceptable ways by any person any place and at any time. You can“t box Truth! It will always burst through such barriers ... as it should ... as it must. Truth is on the move, and it is bringing change in its wake.
So, wake up, brethren ... shake off your shackles ... climb on board ... and let’s journey boldly together into the glorious future our Lord has prepared for us. It might not look like our recent past, but isn’t our aim to restore ourselves to the ideal church as led and taught by Christ’s apostles?
WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE
Though skeptical of his teenage son“s newfound determination to build bulging muscles, one father followed his teenager to the store’s weight-lifting department, where they admired a set of weights.
“Please, Dad,” pleaded the teen, “I promise I’ll use ’em every day.”
“I don’t know, Michael. It’s really a commitment on your part,” the father said.
“They’re not cheap either,” the father said.
“I’ll use ’em, Dad, I promise. You’ll see.”
Finally won over, the father paid for the equipment and headed for the door. After a few steps, he heard his son behind him say, “What! You mean I have to carry them to the car?”
The comparison to our Christian lives is all too obvious. We can be told how much commitment is involved in being a Christian. We can be told how much will be required of us when we become a Christian. We say that we understand all that is involved and we are still willing to give our “all” to Christ. But, often, we are barely dried off from our baptism before we are complaining about what is expected of us — “Surely you don’t expect me to spend that much time, that much money, that much effort!”
The truth is, those of us who are Christians rarely see Christianity as much of a struggle. Christianity is an easy way of living for most of us. Perhaps too easy. I think there’s enough in scripture to label Christianity as a struggle for our faith. In Luke 13:24, Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” We don’t just walk through the narrow gate; we have to strive to get through. That word suggests there is to be a great deal of effort on our part. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul describes the Christian life in this way: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
The picture Paul paints for us is a picture of struggling, a picture of constant battle. The Hebrew writer constantly alludes to the fact that we need to put a great deal of effort into our Christian lives. The word diligent is frequently used. "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest….” (Hebrews 4:11). But that truth applies to far more than just financial matters; it applies to all of life.
Rudyard Kipling once said that if anyone did not get from life what they really wanted, it was because either he didn’t really want it or because he began to quibble about the price. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but I do think there’s a great deal of truth there. We must be willing to pay the price for what we want.
The price for the Christian life is high, and Jesus wants us to count that cost as part of our decision to follow him.
Have a great day! – Alan Smith
Counting the cost of living for Jesus? We gain much. We lose things we“re better off without! Our health is better than if we were living selfishly. We have more friends, for we’re thinking of others rather than only ourselves. We likely have fewer belongings, for we’re always willing to share what we have with others whose need we learn of. It really costs little to live with Jesus in a free land. It costs a great deal where men are not valued except for what can be taken from them. Christians flee temptation to evil. We eagerly join in doing good. And life is good!
by ALAN SMITH, as a thought for the day
This story was told by a chemistry teacher at school. A female student wanted to make some potassium hydroxide solution (aqueous) and decided to throw a large lump of potassium into a bucket of water.
Out of the corner of his eye, her professor observed what she was about to do and hurried toward her. After confirming what she was intending to do, he asked her to first stir the water in the bucket for five minutes before adding the potassium. She was puzzled and asked the purpose of this action. “It will give me time to get away,” said the professor.
There are times when running away is the proper response. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul said to “Flee sexual immorality” (I Cor. 6:18) and “Flee from idolatry.” (I Cor. 10:14). Fleeing is especially important when we encounter temptation. We sometimes make the mistake of putting ourselves in situations where we are tempted, thinking that we are strong enough to handle it. Sometimes we are, but often we are not.
Remember when Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife? She “cast longing eyes on Joseph and she said, ‘Lie with me.’” (Gen. 39:7). Joseph refused to commit adultery with her, but she persisted to the point that finally Joseph needed to flee. “He left his garment in her hand, and fled outside.” (Gen. 39:12).
There may not be a Potiphar’s wife in your life, but there is likely some temptation which you find difficult to resist. If alcohol is your temptation, flee. Make a decision to avoid people and places
where alcohol will be readily available. If sexual impurity with a boyfriend or girlfriend is a temptation, flee. Make a decision to avoid situations where you are alone and the temptation is stronger. If inappropriate use of your money is a temptation, flee. Stay away from the mall!
The worst mistake any of us can make is to think that “I can handle it. I know this is a strong temptation but I won’t give in. I’ll hang around close, but I won’t cross the line.” The real question we need to consider is this: “Who (or what) do we want to stay close to?” Because fleeing is not just running away from something; it is also running toward something.
“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (I Timothy 6:11)
Alan Smith • Helen Street Church of Christ •
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Concerning NEW LIFE in Christ
We now may want to read and re-read the Bible, and think about what IT says in addition on this subject. This will surely interfere with entertainments such as watching TV several hours every day. It will cause us to socialize as a means of sharing the gospel, won’t it? That’s the NEW LIFE into which we have been invited. We’ll no longer want others to serve US, but instead we’ll find joy in serving Jesus by serving others.
It’s my opinion that every emphasis on what the Spirit may do is de-emphasizing the free will of us humans. It’s HUMANS who are exhorted to carry the gospel with us wherever we go in this world. It’s HUMANS who are told we should baptize each new believer in Jesus. The message we’re to preach is about JESUS, not about the Holy Spirit. Why do some want to bring in the Spirit to do what we humans are told to do? Is it to lessen human responsibility and freedom? It’s by His own choice that God gave work for HUMANS to do. He could have told the Spirit to do all the things some are claiming He should be doing.
But the great commission is directed to humans. And Peter, speaking for the Lord urged HUMANS to add to their faith (2 Peter 1:1-15). He didn’t tell us to call on the Spirit to GIVE us these good characteristics. “Make every effort,” he says to build up your spiritual strength. Should he have said (written) instead, “Pray to the Spirit to give you ... ”? Some obviously think the apostle was wrong! As we think about praying, by the way, the model prayer taught by Jesus is addressed to God the Father. And as we think about growth in Christ, we might well realize that as we feed on His Word, we just naturally do grow in Him. And as we use our muscles, strength increases.
If any reader has not yet been buried with Christ in baptism (immersed in water “in Jesus’ name”), now would be a good time to obey the gospel. Jesus loves us each one. He wants us to enjoy being raised into NEW LIFE with Him and then living with Him. All Christians should walk in love toward God and toward all men. What keeps us from being members together of the body of Christ which is His kingdom, His church? It doesn’t take a clergyman or clergywoman to perform Christian baptism or to tell others about the risen Lord. Every Christian is a priest in Christ’s church, fully qualified to speak up for Jesus any time and in any place. And isn“t that what we should be doing?
Do we disrespect the Father? Are we ignoring the Spirit? Some suggest that believing Jesus saves through new birth of water and the human spirit implies that God the Father and His Holy Spirit are being left out of the picture by mistake. They may not realize that conversion of sinner to saint depends on functions long ago put in place. Peter was not saying that human merit saved those who repented and were baptized. He was not slighting the part God played in making salvation available! He was only pointing out that NOW it was the sinner who needed to do something to be saved! The Father had already acted. The price had been paid. Just as gravity was put in place once for all, so is salvation“s price already paid. And the written Word which convicts the world of sin is already in place. It does not have to be redone each time a sinner seeks salvation.
In Romans 6:12-19 the apostle urges:  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
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