Jesus Calls Us To Join Him
in HIS Church
VIEWPOINT Brief Bible Studies
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STUDIES ON CHRISTIAN BAPTISM
CB-B01 How Do We ENTER the Way?
Jesus Alone Opens
Way Into Heaven
A Christian scholar and teacher well-known in an earlier day was J. W. McGarvey. In connection with Acts 2:37ff, (where Peter was asked, “What must we do?”) McGarvey wrote: This is the first time, under the reign of Jesus Christ, that this most important of all questions was ever propounded; and the first time, of course, during the Christian age, that it was ever answered. (Sinners had cried out, “What must we do” about our sin?).
Whatever may have been the true answer under any previous dispensation, or on any previous day in the world’s history, the answer given by Peter on this day of Pentecost in which the reign of Christ on earth began is the true and infallible answer for all the subjects of His authority in all subsequent time. It deserves our most profound attention; for it announces the conditions of pardon for all men who may be found in the same state of mind with these inquiries. Luke tells us — “Then Peter said to them, Repent and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is suggested by some that for in this clause means “on account of” or “because of.” Hence, Peter is understood to command, “Repent and be immersed on account of remission of sins already enjoyed.” This interpretation is subject to two insuperable objections:
We observe further in reference to this interpretation, that even if we admit the propriety of supplanting the preposition for by the phrase on account of, the substitute will not answer the purpose (verse 40) for which it is employed. The meaning of this phrase varies, according as its object is past or future. “On account of” some past event may mean because it has taken place; but on account of an event yet in the future, would, in the same connection, mean in order that it might take place. The same is true of the equivalent phrase, “because of.”
1--To command men to repent and be immersed because their sins were already remitted, is to require them not only to be immersed on this account, but to repent because they were already pardoned. There is no Possibility of extricating the interpretation from this absurdity (of salvation given to an unrepentant sinner, which is NOT the Lord’s Way).
2--It contradicts an obvious fact of the case. It makes Peter command the inquirers to be immersed because their sins were already remitted, whereas it is an indisputable fact that their sins were not yet remitted. That’s what Peter had just been telling them! They were not already saved. On the contrary, Luke tells us, these seekers were now pierced to the heart with a sense of guilt, and by the question they propounded were seeking how they might obtain the very pardon which this interpretation assumes that they already enjoyed. Certainly no sane man would assume a position involving such absurdity, and so contradictory to an obvious fact, were he not driven to it by the inexorable demands of a theory which could not be otherwise sustained.
If then the parties addressed by Peter were already pardoned, “on account of the remission of sins,” this would mean they should repent because their sins had been remitted. But as this is an indisputable fact that the parties were yet unpardoned, what they are commanded to do on account of remission of sins must mean, in order that their sins may be remitted. Such a rendering therefore (that Peter was saying sinners should be baptized because they were already forgiven of their sins), would not fit the obvious meaning of the passage.
McGarvey has said that the passage in Acts 2 lets readers understand that those inquiring the Way of salvation had just been told that they were at that moment guilty of sin and were NOT yet pardoned. Peter points the way. He tells sinners lost in their sin that in order to be saved from their sins and in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit of God, they must do two specific things.
1) They must repent. That is, they must recognize that they are sinners and NEED salvation. But recognizing their sin and wanting to change is, Peter tells them and us, not enough by itself to secure salvation.
Baptism is a one-time act. Repentance should follow every sin which fallible humans commit. Yet Peter links the one-time act with the act which must often be repeated. He does not thereby imply that repentance ONCE is sufficient, but that repentance must occur prior to the act of Christian baptism. It often will occur later as well. Nor does Peter imply that baptism must be repeated each time we repent. In THIS passage, he addresses only the question of what is required for a sinner to become a saint.
2) Peter says sinners must repent and be baptized. McGarvey chooses to translate the word. He correctly translates it as “immersed,” for the word indeed refers to a dipping or plunging of an object into the material in which the baptism is performed. In this case, the immersion is in water. Peter was speaking of a change of mind and will which he calls repentance, and of a change of state which is brought about by the act of Christian baptism. He links these acts.
Peter’s simple answer needs to be believed and shared with EVERY inquiring sinner. Please study and believe what Luke reports that Peter and inquiring sinners together teach us concerning the Way of salvation through Christ. Coming INTO Christ involves hearing the good news of salvation possible through Christ, and responding in the ways Peter here speaks of. First comes a change of desires. When the sinner speaks out concerning his or her desire to quit sinning, the sinner’s state is changed by the one-time act of baptism (immersion in water) which brings the sinner INTO Christ.
At this time, the Lord Jesus adds the one who is now reborn to the roster of the saved. Our names are written into “the lamb’s book of life.” As seal of the transaction, we each then receive God’s Holy Spirit within. The cleansing blood has been applied. Our sins are covered, hidden from God’s sight, and put behind us. As is made clear by the apostle Paul in Romans 6, we rise from the waters of baptism to walk in new life, to live as Jesus did. Our sins must be put behind US. We must aim to walk apart from sin.
Baptism is the point at which we change from being a sinner to living as a saint. We must see to it that our friends can SEE that we have changed. The act signifies change. Our deeds must confirm it. If we do NOT change, if we continue to walk in sin and love sin and enjoy wallowing in mire, what good was it to us to have been made wet?
The act of baptism means NOTHING unless it is preceded by repentance and followed by a changed life style. Every inquiring sinner must be made aware that baptism brings us INTO Christ only if we surrender TO Him. When we recognize His worth and seek to make Him our Savior, THEN we are fit candidates for baptism. Baptism which does not mark a desire of the one being baptized to live LIKE Jesus and live WITH Jesus and live FOR Jesus is mockery. The Bible clearly teaches that it’s at the point of baptism that we “put on” Christ. We are baptized INTO Christ (see Galatians 3:26,27). But baptism is only the completion of a new birth “of water and spirit.” In Acts 2:38 and other Bible passages, we see that the new life of the spirit (repentance) must occur PRIOR TO the actual birth through immersion in water.
The Scriptural and correct answer to any inquiring sinner(s) (who ask “What must we/I do?”) is that every sinner who now believes in Jesus is to “Repent and be baptized … for the remission of sins.” As a result of our “new birth” (which Peter here identifies with repenting and being baptized), we will indeed have our sins forgiven and THEN God will dwell within us. This is good news indeed!
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CB-N01 begins here
Were You BURIED
(You will note that 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 think the translators are wrong, I choose to remove their capitalization. I explain my thinking about this in the study available separately, “Were You Elected to Salvation?”)
We like writing which makes good use of words. Words are tools to say exactly what writers or speakers do mean and not what we don’t mean. An especially gifted Christian writer published in the year 2003 a well-written article which says something I wish he didn’t mean. His exact words were, “Ignorant as I was at that age (10 years) about the finer points of Christian doctrine, I also knew instinctively that nothing I did that night (he was baptized into Christ) saved me. Only Jesus could do that, and he had already done that on the cross.”
While it’s true that 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. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, salvation is available for every man. The message of the cross draws ALL. Only SOME hear the gospel, obey the gospel, and are saved. The “good news” of Calvary and resurrection is “the gospel.” We are saved only if we believe AND OBEY the gospel. I summon three witnesses to support the theory that in order to be saved we must both trust Jesus and obey Jesus. We individually choose our own spiritual leader(s). Hear the apostle Paul, witness #1, as he writes to Christians to warn of a future judgment:
 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, 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, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 – ESV).
Paul is agreeing with what Jesus and Peter had already taught. If Jesus is Lord, we should follow Him. Paul points out that sinners are called on to DO something in order to be saved. God calls on us to not only trust Jesus, but to also OBEY Him. That’s witness #1, clear and concise. Next: Jesus plainly says that a new birth must be coupled with what His death makes possible, or else any particular person will NOT be saved. Hear Jesus, witness #2:
 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 the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God ...” (John 3:3-5 – ESV).
Paul and Jesus have testified. Jesus died for us. Only those who in obedience to the gospel are spiritually reborn will be saved by what Jesus did on the cross. Paul and Jesus both know this and say so. We note that it’s by a “new birth” that we ENTER the kingdom. And note what is taught in James about this 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) That's #1 and #2. 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.” 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 (Acts 2:36-41 – ESV).
Think of these three ancient writings as they relate to one another. Within the last year or so of His ministry, Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the coming kingdom. That was first. It was prophetic. The kingdom was promised but had not yet come upon the earth. Jesus said that when it had begun, entrance to His kingdom was only by way of a new birth of water and spirit. When the kingdom DID come, as reported in chapter two of Acts, Peter (remember he had been given the “keys to the kingdom”) replied to seekers after salvation. He urged them to do what men must do in order to enter the kingdom. Jesus had said this requirement was to be born again of water and spirit. Peter’s explanation of the “new birth” was that men must repent of sin and must accept baptism into Christ. Those who did these things would have their sins taken away and would receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit!
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 quoted that scripture. 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 says, “INTO Christ.” Salvation is found only IN Christ. Paul also explains that a “seal” of our salvation is the Holy Spirit. Peter had pointed out that those who do repent and who are baptized will as a result receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Neither our baptism nor our resultant receiving of the Spirit took place on the cross.
Paul, Jesus, and Peter agree that men of any age must experience a new birth of water and spirit in order to be saved. 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.” Yet this peculiar pattern of speech (salvation is by faith alone; Jesus did it all) has in recent years crept into the thinking and writing even of several who surely should know better. Do you believe that the implication is correct that repentance and baptism in response to the gospel have nothing to do with salvation? Do you think people are saved “solely by what Jesus already did on the cross”? Please DO consider what the bible does clearly teach on how sinners become saints (disciples of Christ):
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Christian baptism is closely linked with faith and repentance. These, for sinners, are “for the remission of sins,” to “wash away” sin, and to “clothe ourselves with Christ.” Christian baptism also identifies the raised-up individual with the death, burial, resurrection, and life of Jesus Christ. That which accomplishes “new birth” brings the reborn person into the fellowship of God’s church. Citations and quotations from God’s Word will support each of these claims as our study continues. Please let God’s Word speak to your heart.
Only we who OBEY the gospel will be saved by what Jesus “already did on the cross.” Men of any age save themselves by “obeying the gospel.” In this book I point out the minimum required for “new birth.” I wish I could believe that the writer quoted above did not mean to contradict this revealed truth! I think he had in mind passages which might seem to promise salvation prior to completion of the new birth. God’s Word makes clear that faith alone does not save. Many verses point out that faith in Jesus is essential FOR salvation. The required faith is NOT faith alone!
My aim in these brief remarks is to point out some of the things in the bible which make clear for what purpose Jesus commands that His disciples are to baptize each new believer, and what is accomplished when we do baptize in Jesus’ name. Then, as now, there were apparently those who had experienced immersion in the name of Jesus Christ who did not fully understand what had happened to them. This is not strange when one remembers the practice of baptizing new converts “the same hour of the day or night.” Why did they do this? What did they know that some of us obviously do not know?
Every instance (story) of conversion to Christ recorded in the bible is found in the New Testament book of Acts. The church of God first received sinners into its membership on the Day of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus was raised from the dead. These conversions told of in the bible all closely “match” in what was done to become a saved person. The “candidates” mainly responded to the gospel in the same ways. Did you know this? Does what the bible teach affect what we believe and practice? Why would we think an unbiblical “plan of salvation” is just as good as the one given by God?
Baptism is an immersion. The bible speaks of several differing baptisms. Our particular topic of discussion is the baptism commanded by Christ and associated with sinners being accepted into Christ’s kingdom. Here we will refer to this baptism as Christian baptism even though the baptismal candidate is not a Christian until the baptism has taken place. Baptism “into Christ” is the only baptism commanded to be practiced BY Christians, so no other baptism could appropriately be called Christian baptism. That IS what the bible teaches.
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. In this study we’ll look at bible examples of conversions. And we’ll study what Jesus, and later what His apostles, taught about Christian baptism. Bible writers who speak of baptism into Christ apparently do so to make sure their readers will more fully understand what had happened as they were baptized, and to 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 other matters. In particular, our information source for Christian baptism is that part of the bible which deals with Jesus on earth and His establishing of an “assembly” for us who have become His disciples. Instructions, examples, and relevant information about Christian baptism 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 baptism into Christ. It’s in the New Testament that we first read about Christian baptism. New Testament original writings are in the Koine Greek language, the language of the common people in the lands where in the first years of church history these books were written. At the time of writing of New Testament books, Rome ruled the “known” world. 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.
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, baptize and baptism. If they HAD been translated, in most cases the English words chosen would have been “immersed” for the noun, and “immerse” or “bury” for the verb. This is certainly true when the word was used to refer to the “ceremony” which through death, burial and resurrection brought and brings outsiders into God’s church. We will look at several bible passages about Christian baptism after first considering similar pre-Christian initiatory and cleansing ceremonies.
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We’re told that in some ancient mystery religions, a baptism associated new members with that religion. Likewise, it is suggested that to be “baptized into Moses” committed those “Jews” who crossed the Red Sea to accept Moses as their leader in bringing God’s people out of Egyptian bondage. Paul wrote about this:
[10:1] 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).
The Jewish religion included various “washings” aimed at purification from sin. These were not usually immersions (baptisms) but since their purpose was to cleanse from sin they were similar in some ways to baptism into Christ. In some cases, “cleansing water” was sprinkled toward (and over) persons seeking to be cleansed. 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 by being circumcised and baptized. Jewish proselyte baptism associated the proselyte (a 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 (commonly called the Jews), the covenant community established and perpetuated by faithfulness to the covenant between God and Abraham. God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave meaning to circumcision as part of the conversion process. The converted (circumcised and baptized) Gentile, having become one of God’s covenant people, was now said to be dead to his Gentile past and origins, to be risen into a new life, and was thought by some to have been born, or begotten, again.
More than three years before disciples of Christ were by Him commissioned to baptize new disciples, John, a cousin of Jesus of Nazareth began preaching “in the wilderness” in Judea, and began baptizing those Jews who heard him and wanted to please God. The message John proclaimed prior to baptizing his repentant Jewish hearers was that a new kingdom was “at hand,” and that in preparation for that kingdom Jews needed to repent of sin. He called all Jews to return to the ways taught by God through Moses and God’s prophets of old. Those who did repent were then immersed, in the Jordan river, by John or one of his disciples.
Baptism of Jews by John was for “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism featured as essential factors: 1) a call to repentance, 2) a promise of forgiveness for past sins, and 3) preparation for God’s Kingdom, which was promised to come soon. John’s baptism associated his 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. “Christian baptism” was not practiced until the events spoken of in chapter two of Acts, after both John and Jesus had been put to death.
As a loyal and 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. So John wanted not to baptize Him. Jesus insisted, since all Jews had received God’s call in that day to come to John and be baptized. Jesus was baptized, He said, “to fulfill all righteousness.” He agreed that his cousin was right that he had no sin and had no need of repentance. Yet, as 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. Any Jew who has no sin can be baptized for the same reason as was Jesus. We who HAVE sinned are not sinless. We need to be baptized for the remission of our sins.
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Some Other Baptisms
John made clear that although he baptized in water, the coming King would later baptize in two different elements – fire, and the Holy Spirit. Disciples of the Christ did not (do not, never will) baptize in either fire or the Holy Spirit, but as John did, they immersed their converts in water. Christian baptism is immersion in water. It has always been so. It will always be so.
Yet it was prophesied by His cousin John that Jesus would baptize some in the Holy Spirit and some in fire. He did and will do so. Holy Spirit baptism was to confer particular powers and gifts upon selected persons, or to signal God’s acceptance of those baptized in His Spirit. Only a select few received Spirit baptism. 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. None but God can safely perform baptism in fire or baptism in the Spirit. Neither of these baptisms is the baptism Jesus commanded His DISCIPLES to perform.
Also, in Mark 10:38,39 Jesus is quoted speaking of a baptism other than John’s baptism that He would later experience. It appears that He there spoke of the suffering which He would undergo at Calvary. His apostles also 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 with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, ...” (Mark 10:38,39 – ESV)
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What JESUS Himself Taught
About Baptism in His Name
The apostle John reports:
[3:1] 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 the 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 some other translations are capitalized.)
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. That is, 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 a 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 wanted 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.
We are aware that some think Jesus refers to human birth by mention here of a birth of water. There’s no way His words could possibly be construed to mean that. He speaks of a NEW birth of water and spirit rather than an OLD birth of water and a new birth of spirit. He did not say, “unless one who was born of water is now born of the spirit.”
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 that the “water and spirit” of new birth is a matter of a sinner who now believes in Jesus repenting (beginning a spiritual change) and, in order to receive remission of sins and to receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” then 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. The new spiritual life itself is said to begin at baptism, just as we speak of human life beginning after the baby is outside the home where it was nourished and protected until “outside” life could begin with a good chance of success. But, as in human life, in another sense life begins at conception rather than at birth. That’s why in other verses, most of which we’ll not here consider, inspired writers speak as if the new birth began when faith came. Consider the new life in Christ:
New life was conceived when, having heard the gospel, the sinner believed the gospel was true. We hope evidence 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. None will be in the kingdom of Christ who have not heard the gospel, turned away from sin, and begun walking with Jesus. The “new birth” of which Jesus speaks has nothing to do with physical birth or ancestry. Regardless of who our parents were, we 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 say a human baby has been born until the birth is complete. The actual birthing is the duty of the mother. We should not think of the new birth of which Jesus spoke as being complete until the new birth is complete. The visible “new birth” itself is, in this case, our baptism into Christ.
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. Spirit alone (that is, faith and repentance) is not enough. It’s water AND spirit which bring us into the kingdom and ensure having our sins washed away. One brother points out that water and spirit in this case are “co-ordinate, correlative, and complementary.” I think that puts the matter clearly even if the words themselves are not the most short and concise in the dictionary.
Jesus commands that HUMANS shall baptize. Note the giving of “the great commission.” –
 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 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).
“Doubted” in this case might better be translated as “were confused.” They were “caught off balance.” Indeed, both confused and off-balance they were. But these disciples who were with Jesus in Galilee now were convinced that Jesus was God. They just had expected His kingdom to be of this world when it had never been intended to be so. 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. 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 wanted an earthly kingdom!
Jesus made clear once again His claim to being God. He claims that ALL authority, after His death and resurrection, had now been placed in His hands. The confusion could end. Now He was giving them 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 Jesus. Their duties then included baptizing those who came to believe in the risen Lord, and teaching disciples 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 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 the convert into fellowship with, God in His entire being. In actual practice, we’re told that baptism was usually done “in the name of Jesus,” as shorthand for the longer list Jesus gave of the persons who together form our one God.
Apparently early Christians, and the apostles, did not think 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 said 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.”
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).
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?
Jesus said the first step to take in entering the Way was to accept being baptized. Others suggest perhaps first telling others about the new faith you’ve found. We call this “confessing our faith.” Some suppose that means we must confess to every wrongdoing of which we’re guilty. But no, the confession is simply, “I BELIEVE that Jesus IS the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” or words to that effect.
Those to whom the gospel is to be taken are “people groups” rather than “nations” as such. In the book of Acts, Luke records the exciting story of how disciples of Christ did exactly as Jesus had directed we should do. This included that each new disciple was “baptized into Christ.”
 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).
“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 in Mark uses a word which translates as “proclaim” or “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). It’s not proclaiming which saves. It’s the message of the cross which saves those who respond to it in obedience. The “proclamation which saves” is summarized by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8: [15:1] 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).
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 might have undeserved eternal life. It’s as the proclamation about Jesus is shared that gospel “seed” which can produce eternal life within sinners is “planted.”
Only those who HAVE heard and believed the gospel could ever be “baptized into Christ.” One brother points out, “To understand what is taught about Christian immersion in Mark 16:15,16, it is ssential to note the sequential order in which Jesus places 1) proclamation, 2) belief, 3) baptism and 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.* Those who practice *infant baptism* are, in effect, altering His statement to read, *3) the one being baptized and 4) saved shall later 2) believe.*” Should we change the promise made by the Lord, and then expect Him to honor what He did not say? No, we must let Jesus speak for Himself.
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How Did Early Disciples
Understand Their Commission?
(This text is printed above). Pentecost and the beginning of Christian baptism. Jews from around the known world were assembled in Jerusalem for this particular feast of Pentecost. Perhaps many of them had been there the 50 days since Passover. 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 of them were among the mob who had cried out for Him to be crucified.
The preaching (Spirit-empowered) of Peter employed the best of Jewish logic, which was appropriate since his hearers were Jews. Those present for the Pentecost ceremonies believed in prophecy and its fulfillment. They also realized that the 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 of the prophetic requirements by Jesus of Nazareth. 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 THEY who were responsible for putting to death God’s man. So they 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. 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.
New life in Christ starts by trusting Him. 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 baptism like that of John (which they all were familiar with), but which was not identical to John’s. Those who had called for the crucifixion of Jesus had made up their minds that Jesus had different goals than theirs. They wanted an earthly kingdom. He would even do as the king, if He would lead them where they wanted to go. But by then they were sure His goals differed from theirs. Some of them may have heard His reply to one of His judges, “My kingdom is NOT of this world.”
Peter is saying those who want to turn to Jesus 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 – a “new birth” of water and spirit. No sinner’s new birth took place while Jesus was on the cross. Jesus died for us on the cross. It’s in the person’s repentance and the Christian baptism humans are to perform that any individual’s sin is washed away.
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Baptism Effects CHANGE
As the Lord’s assembly which we call His “church” began, it was made clear that entrance into this “kingdom” (which is 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, and regardless of how many good deeds we might do on earth.
Some people today join a particular church organization thinking they should influence it to make it like what THEY want it to be. God’s planned church is perfect. It is not improved by changes made by us or our forefathers or our children. 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.
Peter’s offer was conditional: Receive these blessings from God IF you will change to be ones who from now on will live as Jesus showed us is right. You’ll be welcome here if you share the goals of God’s Son, and if you now will live for Him.
Peter didn’t offer God’s blessings to persons who had earned or deserved them. He explained how men must change in order to receive. We save ourselves by repenting and accepting baptism. To repent is to change our preferences and practices. But mere change is not enough. We also must be baptized. In Christian baptism we die to sin in order to be resurrected to new life as Jesus was. 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 do see that the new birth is not only of water. It’s obvious that 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 surrender to do what Jesus wants us to do. Does not Peter say sinners must repent AND be baptized? The change is our new birth.
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Baptism is not a Work
Let’s realize that baptism is not something done (a work) 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 raised up OUT OF the water, still by the hands of another person. The sinner does no work. The baptizing is done by someone else.
Yet some claim that baptism is a “human work.” How can they think so? Was it not ordered by Jesus? Being baptized is just submitting to an act that JESUS said was to be performed upon anyone as soon as one came to believe in the risen Lord and wanted to make Jesus his Lord also. 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.
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Baptism is serious business
Christian baptism is not to be performed unthinkingly or as if it were unimportant. Jesus tells us we ARE to baptize all who come to believe in Him. Those who want to become Christians do so by repenting and being baptized. Jesus is our Lord. We baptize in obedience to our Master. Those who respect God will not think or speak lightly of what God commands.
The invitation to repent and be baptized is open to every peron. There’s no limit on who can repent and be baptized. The only limit is that one who does NOT repent must not be baptized. No committee or human power can 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? Baptism which is not done in obedience to Jesus 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.
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Baptism is by choice
Of course we baptize only those who WANT to be baptized! Did we even need to mention that 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. Not if 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 works.
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Baptism is effective
The apostle Peter promises two wonderful results of baptism, neither of which are sure to be “felt” by the one who was baptized. 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!
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 He 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. He gifts us with His Spirit.
Please don’t miss seeing this truth. Sinners do not possess God’s Spirit. Those who are outside Christ are not possessed by the Spirit of God. 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 commanded that new disciples are to be baptized. Some nonetheless say baptism doesn’t matter much and accomplishes little or nothing.
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Christian Baptism is new and different
John the Baptist had also baptized people “for the remission of sins.” 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 do repent and are baptized both remission of sins AND “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” John’s baptism conveyed no such gift as receiving the Holy Spirit.
The baptism by John, as is Christian baptism, was by command of God. John was called to prepare the way for the coming kingdom. But the baptism which Jesus Christ commands for sinners then and now, is because the kingdom HAS BEGUN. So God and Jesus choose to dwell within those who surrender to Christian baptism.
Note that this “gift of the Holy Spirit” is not at all the special spiritual gifts which were transmitted by the laying on of hands of Christ’s apostles. This gift 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 were miraculously enabled to understand those “tongues.”
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).
All these promised miracles were seen in that generation, performed 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 us Christians today.
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Baptism is for all
Whosoever will is invited to become a “born-again” believer in Jesus Christ. Both men and women can repent and be baptized. Persons of any race or mixture of races are welcome to turn to Jesus and be saved from sin. All are welcome. But at first only Jews were invited into this thrilling fellowship. Jews, then their Samaritan cousins, and several years later, non-Jews. The “growing pains” were evident as each new barrier was crossed by these who loved and lived for Jesus. Do we ever welcome change? Yet as we learn more, we each may see changes which are needed.
Samaritans were baptized, but until two apostles appeared on the scene, the Samaritans were said to have not “received the Spirit.” After the apostles laid hands upon some Samaritans, those so favored had “special” miraculous powers which were seen as evidence that they by then HAD received the Holy Spirit of God. Everyone was then convinced that Samaritans could become Christians. They still were hated and looked down on by non-Christian Jews, but Jews who had become Christians now recognized as their brothers in faith those formerly-despised Samaritans who now believed in Jesus.
Another crucial time came when God pushed buttons to bring into His family those who were obviously not Jews or in any way related to Jews. It took several miracles to convince Peter that he should welcome into the family of God those who were Gentiles. One of those miracles was a repeat of the signs which occurred on the first day the church was in existence. This was a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit, which so far as is known (so far as the bible reveals) occurred only twice in recorded history. Other unusual events will come to light as we look at later conversions recorded in the Acts.
Here we find recorded exceptional conversions. 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. While others continue in sin, those who repent and are baptized receive the promised remission of sins and a gift of the Holy Spirit of God coming to dwell within them.
We hope it’s clear to every reader that these promised blessings come only to those who repent AND are baptized. Repentance alone does not save us. Baptism alone does not save us. The new birth is of water AND 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. We come into fellowship with Christ through repentance and baptism.
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Sinners are baptized into Christ
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 what the apostle Paul says on this subject: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
Inspired teachers always point out and emphasize that it’s through faith in Jesus (never by faith alone) that anyone is saved. Paul 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 10 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. He’s saying we need to continue to believe and say so!
Christian baptism is immersion in water. Jesus commanded that humans should perform this baptism. 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 into Christ). Only we who do believe in Jesus will obey Him. We WILL tell others of our faith. We move on now to other conversions reported by Luke in The Acts.
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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. 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 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).
Luke informs us that the scattered disciples went every direction. 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 they should pay attention to. 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).
Philip’s proclamation fell on willing ears. Some Samaritans believed and were baptized.  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).
What we learn happened in Samaria took place several months after the gospel of the risen Christ was first preached in Jerusalem. There were 3,000 converts the first day the church was in existence. Their number soon grew to 5,000, and the growth continued. All converts during those first 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 were accepted now with joy as full members of Christ’s church.
But one of the Samaritans, Simon, enters the picture. As a practicing magician, he wants some of the power he sees being used by the apostles. He offers to buy the power. Peter says, “No, that’s not the way it’s done in the kingdom of Christ.” So we observe that Christians can make mistakes. Repentance is a continuing ongoing process. When a Christian sins, the remedy is not trying for another new birth through baptism. It’s simply repenting and praying. If we repent, God will indeed forgive a Christian’s sins. We see that only those outside of Christ can be or could be baptized “into Christ.” Christian baptism brings outsiders INTO Christian fellowship.
Note that the pattern for conversion we saw established in Jerusalem works somewhat differently in Samaria. Luke doesn’t mention here that the people who believed and were baptized first repented. I suspect they did, but Luke doesn’t say so. And the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” Luke reports, was lacking until the apostles came from Jerusalem and “laid their hands” upon some of them, who then were empowered (as Philip already was) to perform healings and other unusual things.
Luke may have meant only that no “special” spiritual powers came to the Samaritans when they were baptized. For that’s what he reports occurred after the apostles arrived. It’s confusing, it seems to me. What is clear is that the gospel was proclaimed and heard, then believed. And then people 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.
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An ETHIOPIAN Traveler
 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?”
(Note that if persons of other races were not welcome in God’s family, this would have been a perfect time for Philip to say so. He didn’t. God loves us all equally!)
  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 Ethiopia, which was the other side of Egypt from Palestine. This is an example of God intervening to see that one person heard the gospel. We suspect He has also done this on other occasions. Ask Roy Weece about “personal” evangelism. As he traveled, the Ethiopian 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 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 apparently was 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. O.K.?
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SAUL of TARSUS (the apostle Paul)
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: [22:1] “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).
Yes, here’s another exception! This convert had a vision. Jesus appeared to him. He didn’t tell Saul, “Now that you’ve seen me, the risen Lord, you’re saved. Now serve me.” 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, 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 was now dead changed Saul’s understanding of the gospel. He no longer thought it foolish and untrue. 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.
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CORNELIUS & HOUSEHOLD
Peter explains how he came to baptize a Gentile: [11:1] 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. 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?” (Acts 11:1-17 – ESV).
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 Cornelius to send for Peter. He 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, Cornelius was baptized. Consider again the story as told by Luke:
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[10:1] 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 nd the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Let’s interrupt the story to consider what Peter has just said. “Everyone who BELIEVES” in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins. Surely this proves that baptism is NOT essential for salvation. Yes? So Peter will next whip out a tract with a “sinner’s prayer” for these new Christians to recite so they’ll be saved by “faith alone.” Things have changed since chapter 2 of Acts. No longer is it necessary for outsiders to “repent and be baptized” in order to receive new life. Is that how it is? Luke continues his story:
 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)
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.
I hope it has become obvious what is common with these reports of conversions. Yes, they each were baptized after hearing and believing “the gospel.” It goes without saying that each conversion came because the sinner turned 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). It’s by a new birth that any sinner is transformed into a saint. New births didn’t happen on Calvary. Even today sinners must save themselves by obeying the gospel of Christ.
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Apostolic Teachings Concerning
Entering the Way of Christ
[6:1] 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.
 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.
 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).
We note that Paul was writing this to Christians – to saved sinners, each of whom had been baptized. Paul was writing to make sure his readers understood the transaction of baptism – what it meant, and what they should do because they had entered into the Way of Christ. Some suppose that baptism is only an introduction into our local church life – that we are baptized because we are already saved. They may imply that we are baptized as a show for our family and friends. Paul says here that baptism is for the sake of God. 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 Paul in this text is carefully explaining?
Paul says that we now should not sin because by being baptized into the death of Christ we have died to sin. IN BAPTISM we are united with the death and resurrection of the Christ. For this reason, the apostle says, we should not sin. His appeal is not alone to our faith in Jesus, it’s to our realization that IN BAPTISM we have died to sin and been raised up to walk in new life. This is made explicitly clear in this text. Do you now understand?
In earlier chapters in this book, Paul has expounded on the truth that it was the death of Christ which bought our redemption. It was His death which paid for our sin and makes possible our life with Him and the Father in glory. IN BAPTISM we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. Is baptism just a show? No way! Baptism is where the change occurs.
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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 men 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 our baptism, our repentance is pledged. In repentance and baptism we die to sin and are raised to new life. Is it not so? We now have entered a new life with Christ. We are to forsake sin in order to live for the Lord!
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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).
We 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. Foundational to unity is “one baptism.” 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 unity, of love, and of obedience to Christ.
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1 Corinthians 10:1-13
[10:1] 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 what they were doing, 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 “baptized” that day pledged to faithfully follow Moses as their leader. They didn’t stick to that commitment. They all – all 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?
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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).
Paul says that our 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. He elsewhere describes our relations with the Spirit as our receiving a “renewal” of the Spirit as we are baptized (Titus 3:5). Each is baptized “in the same spirit,” that is, in obedience to the common command of our one Lord, Jesus Christ. We die with Him. We are raised up 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.”
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 and who will help us and receive our help in the work of the Lord. But 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 in the New Jerusalem with the Father and with Jesus.
Note that we have no voice in who our fellow members in Christ’s body will be. 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 new birth of water and spirit. This is regardless of any of the distinctives we humans may prefer when choosing our friends.
All are saved who hear the gospel and obey its call for sinners to turn away from sin and 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. Are we each that kind of Christian? Shouldn’t we be?
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1 Corinthians 15:12-19
 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. Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Corinthians 15:12-29 – ESV).
Is there baptism “for the dead” in God’s church? Well, we would more likely word it, “for death.” In baptism we each die to sin. 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, for up out of the waters of baptism we each are raised to walk in NEW life.
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 knows 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.
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 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. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29 – 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. 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.”
In baptism the sinner can “put on” Christ and be saved. Isn’t that what Paul says in this text? 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 wants to be saved from the results of having sinned. Yes, 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 Discussion group hosted by Ray Downen is aimed at also, of course. I recommend Larsen’s article for your inspection. Address of Standard Publishing is 8121 Hamilton Ave., Cincinnati OH 45231. I believe every church worker should subscribe to the Christian Standard, and every scholar should subscribe if means permit and access is not certain in your nearby libraries.
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 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 to Jewry needed to be circumcised and only then could be baptized into the Jewish faith. Converts to Christ, according to Paul, did not need to be circumcised, but only needed 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 was Jesus).
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 established by Paul and Barnabas in Galatia 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 serve Christ.
Paul respected the Old Testament scriptures which included laws which were 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.
Larsen suggests, “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 did not need to 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.
If that HAD been what Paul taught, would he have pointed out to brothers in Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 1:1-10, page 2) that part of becoming a Christian is OBEYING the gospel? 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 being baptized was a part of “accepting the gift from God.” 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 and moving toward the Savior whose blood WILL wash away sin.
Jesus does not save people who do not knock on salvation’s door, who do not seek salvation, and who do not ask for what is freely offered. Salvation is not forced upon unwilling victims who 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. 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. Larsen surely is right that sinners come to Christ and are saved by what Jesus did in 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.
The Galatian controversy was between those who believed that the 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. 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.
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 in any matter about which God has NOT spoken, men have no business speaking authoritatively. 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!
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[2:1] 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).
If God expects us to “walk in” good works, why would we think it doesn’t matter how we live? Some suppose all it takes to be saved is to believe in Jesus. God does it all, if the sinner just believes, they think. 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. 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.
It should be clear to every reader that God does not save through faith alone. Human response to the gospel is essential for salvation. God’s gift of eternal life is given to those who repent and are baptized. 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, God’s grace 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 God will not be saved from sin.
We should realize from this text and every word of apostolic doctrine that the works we are called to do are not to assemble regularly in order to praise Him. It’s in heaven that we’ll do that. Here on earth His work, He says, is in doing good to other people, particularly those whose needs are great. His work is to love our neighbor no less than we love our self. His work wherever we go is to tell others about Jesus. Are we DOING these good works? Or are we so busy being “led in worship” that our service just falls by the wayside? By the way, do you know any Bible verse or passage which calls for Christian priests to ever be “led in worship”? We should not lose sight of the fact that every Christian IS a priest. Or did you realize that?
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[4:1] 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).
Unity is a foundational description of the Way of Christ. Paul includes “one baptism” in this listing of the essential unities of Christ’s church. These are not opinions. The church is built upon these foundations. Everyone 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 “die to sin” in repentance and baptism we also are resurrected to LIVE with Christ and as co-workers with all others who are His.
The one body of which Paul speaks is, of course, the assembly Jesus built. 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 its one head, who is the one Lord Jesus Christ. When we all are loyal to Jesus, we’ll not split our loyalty by thinking of ourselves as “Methodist Christians” or “Baptist Christians” or any kind of Christians at all except LOYAL servants of our one Lord. All who belong to Jesus are just Christians.
God is one, so of course His Spirit will not be one thing to one disciple and something else 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.
The “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.
Each of these unities come 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 Son and His Father. 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 you noticed?
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 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).
Shall we repeat Paul’s thought? 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. We are one body because we all love and obey Jesus as our Lord. 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 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 as we enter the Lord’s body which is His “church.”
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 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).
Paul reminds that the early church was taught, and they learned, 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 “delivered” once for all to the early church. We cannot improve on God’s revelation. We shouldn’t try to do so. And 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.
And in what are we taught to abound? Yes, 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. God makes no mistakes. Human traditions can be wrong. Apostolic ways cannot be improved on.
All the blessings Paul lists as belonging to us who are in Christ are based on our having been born again. Please read this passage again and again and realize Paul is here explaining the PURPOSE of baptism into Christ. He’s talking about what really happened when we received Christian baptism. 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 are united with the burial and resurrection of Jesus. God then gives us new life!
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 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).
These exhortations to his friend Titus are another way of saying what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:4-10. That is, God saves us in new birth because He loves us, not because we’re marvelous or beautiful or wise or wealthy. 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 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.
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 His Spirit, God, both the Father and the Son, dwells within us wherever in the world we may scatter as we seek to serve Him 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 had in fact heard Him speak. God does not promise to lead US into all truth, as He divinely led apostles and prophets in teaching the church in early days.
The Spirit was active indeed in the lives of early Christians. In those days, many disciples spoke to the churches through the direct inspiration of God’s Spirit. Many sick were miraculously healed. As 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 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 to provide and bless and help us. He can and will, in whatever ways He chooses to use, both lead and strengthen us. And He works on earth today through His Spirit. Paul reminds Titus of this true fact.
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 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 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 “pure water,” says this writer. 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. For 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 a 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. But 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.
This text also speaks of God’s plan for our spiritual security. Why did our Lord create an assembly? 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, 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 by our assembling as God’s people. Do you see that the text is aimed at us strengthening and encouraging Christians as we meet together? Think about it.
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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 Paul 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 is essential for salvation? No. Shall we ignore Acts 2:38 in discussing how sinners become saints? We should not. Some do so. Some contradict what the apostle there said.
Earlier we called to your attention what Peter said at the birthday of the church. He exhorted those who heard him 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. 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. There still is.
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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 immersion “into Christ.” What do you, after reading this brief study, think that the bible teaches about Christian baptism? The question is not what people who call themselves Christians teach. But what do we see the bible teaching? We need to regulate our beliefs and our practice by what God teaches. Is it not so? Do you see that Christian baptism is a sinner dying to sin and being resurrected into a new life with Jesus?
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 now are walking with Christ in new life.
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Are we SAVED
by God's Spirit?
We are saved by faith in Jesus which causes us to OBEY the gospel call for sinners to repent of sin and to be baptized into Christ. This response to hearing gospel truth is not dependent upon particular activity of God’s Spirit. Every sinner is free to choose life instead of the sure death which will come to those outside of Christ. When I mentioned this fact to a good bible student recently, he reminded me of a passage in John:
 “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:7-15 (ESV)
Some may suppose Jesus is saying that the Spirit has an active part to play in every conversion. “... When he (the Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment ....” Does Jesus mean that individual sinners won’t recognize their sin until the Spirit in some unearthly way “convicts” them? I think not. I think the gospel does the convicting – that gospel which tells of Jesus and His life and His death and His resurrection. That story could not be told until Jesus had completed His work on earth, at which time the Spirit’s work could begin. The Spirit’s work is to bring glory to Jesus. “He will take what is mine and declare it to you,” (to apostles) is what Jesus promised concerning the work of the comforter who was to come.
In a real sense the declaring in the world is to be done, not by the Spirit, but by us who have been sent into the world to tell the gospel story to every person. We are to baptize those who believe us. The Spirit HELPS us. He doesn’t do the telling. He doesn’t do the baptizing. We are not saved BY the Spirit. When we hear, believe, and obey the gospel message (in repentance and Christian baptism) we are saved by Jesus.
The saving message is not about the Spirit. It’s about JESUS, the Lamb of God – our savior; our Lord. Paul affirms hearing and obeying this message brings us into Christ. Jesus assures us that entrance into His kingdom is through a new birth of water and spirit. We hope all can agree that salvation is “in Christ.” When we share in His death, burial and resurrection (by repenting and being baptized into Him) we are brought into Christ and into His eternal assembly which is the “church of the Lord” (not of the Spirit.) Believe it. Salvation is ours when we come “into Christ.”
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When is the Spirit given?
Peter says that AT baptism (not before baptism) sinners receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” Paul 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.” That follows baptism. 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 something has CHANGED as Christian baptism took place? Is it not equally obvious that our interaction with the Spirit FOLLOWS (rather than precedes) our baptism?
A good friend has protested my claiming that the new birth is of water and spirit. He has come to believe surely that the new birth is of water and Spirit. In explaining to me how the Spirit is involved IN the new birth (which I deny), 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?
If we understand that the new birth is of water and spirit, it’s easy to see how Peter’s guidance to sinners seeking salvation ties in with the promise 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. 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 enjoy eternal LIFE. Peter’s 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. Jesus instructed that those who loved Him should make gospel facts known throughout the world. The Spirit is given to HELP people tell everywhere about Jesus. But PEOPLE rather than the Spirit are told to do the telling.
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 baptize those who come to believe in the risen Lord, and then continue teaching the new disciples. These actions are within our power as humans. It does not take special spiritual gifts to tell others about Jesus. It doesn’t require a college education. We need no human authority and no further divine assistance to tell others about Jesus.
God’s promise through the apostle Peter is that the Spirit will be given to us 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 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.
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Peter’s Keys Opened the Way
into Christ’s Kingdom
IN PARTICULAR it was the apostle Peter who was told by the Lord Jesus that he was to receive the keys to the so-long-awaited Kingdom of God. The story is told in the gospel according to Matthew:  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Matthew 16:13-20 (ESV)
Luke records in the New Testament book of history, Acts, in chapters two, eight, and ten, how the KEYS to the Kingdom of God were used. In chapter two, 3,000 Jews were added to the newly-born assembly of Jesus Christ. When seekers had inquired how they COULD be saved, the clear instruction was given. They were to turn away from sin and they were to be immersed in water in order to receive remission of sins and also the “gift” of the Spirit of God within. Some heard but did not obey. On that first day in Christian history, 3,000 DID repent and WERE baptized into Christ. The keys had been used to open the Way. But only Jews were present that day.
Some days later, after a period of growing acceptance in Jerusalem, hard times came for the new Christians. Persecution drove them away from the city. They carried with them the news of the coming of the Kingdom to earth. Converts were made in Samaria. Jews rejected Samaritans as unworthy of even any social contact. These Jewish Christians knew their commission was to share the good news even with Samaritans. So some Jews told some Samaritans that the Way was now open even for Samaritans. Many Samaritans wanted what Jesus through His apostles now offered.
Peter had a part to play in making clear that the Way WAS open for Samaritans. He came to these new Christians and was used to confirm the authenticity of their conversion and acceptance into the new Kingdom. Peter and other apostles “laid their hands upon” the converts, and God made clear through apostolic benediction and by received powers that those Samaritan converts were welcome in His Kingdom.
But centuries of prejudice were not fully overcome. Even if Samaritans could enter the new Kingdom, still the Jews were God’s “chosen people” who felt they were unique upon the earth and uniquely loved by God. For a time the Christians welcomed into their number only Jews and Samaritans, and ones who had converted to Jewry even if not born as Jews. Then God intervened yet again to make clear His Kingdom was for all. Miraculous events brought together with the key-holder a seeker who was NOT a Jew. As He had done in chapter two, God “poured out His Spirit” upon the Gentile household of Cornelius.
Recounting the event back in Jerusalem later, Peter said this was “as on us at the beginning.” And Peter made use of the keys which were in his keeping. The first Gentiles were baptized into the Kingdom of God and Christ. This is told of in chapter ten of Acts. Do some doubt that these were genuinely saved? Some now question whether Peter knew how to insert converts into the Kingdom. So they seek better light than is provided in Acts 2:38. There, the inspired apostle says there are two essentials involved in entering the Kingdom then forming. Luke tells us of the response to Peter’s announcement OF the Kingdom: Acts 2:36-41  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:37-42 (ESV)
Converts to Christ were told to turn away from sin and they were required to be immersed in water in Jesus’ name. When later Peter became convinced that Gentiles also could be saved (without first converting to the Jewish religion), those Gentiles also were immediately baptized “into Christ.” Peter’s keys had been employed to open the Way. In those earliest days of the Kingdom, men and women were won to Christ and we believe they were thoroughly saved from sin.
Some months before Jesus was crucified, He had informed one seeker that those who sought entrance into His Kingdom must come by way of a “new birth of water and spirit.” Some suppose that the inspired apostle didn’t understand the new birth and so brought in a different way of salvation than through new birth. I think Peter was simply telling his hearers what the new birth consisted of – repenting and being baptized.
The seed of new life is the gospel, the good news about what Jesus has done and will do. That seed must be planted within any person before new birth can occur. Jesus calls for us who love Him to be seed-planters. Wherever we go, we are to tell others the good news. As the seed affects human affections, men and women seek God’s grace which they have heard about. Those who seek are on the way to new birth. Life has begun within their heart. But the birth itself comes when the seeker publicly turns away from sin and chooses to do what Jesus calls any sinner TO do, which is to be immersed in water in the name OF Christ. The birth process is complete when the now-believing and now-repentant sinner is raised out of the baptismal waters to walk in new LIFE.
Peter opened the Way. Jesus had earlier revealed only to Nicodemus that the Way would be by a spiritual change which brought the sinner through a watery grave into new life. No Bible passage will change what Peter said and did to make clear to every seeker how entrance into Christ’s kingdom comes about. We do well to believe what has been revealed from God. Later revelation does not change what was revealed to seekers on that first day when entrance was possible into Christ’s Kingdom.
Confession of faith is expected of us throughout our life as a Christian. But confession of faith does not bring us into the Kingdom. Trusting Jesus is for every day of the Christian life. But trusting does not bring us INTO the Kingdom. Jesus commanded that we who know Him as our Lord should tell others about Him and about salvation. Those who believe our joyful message are then to be baptized, and Jesus will remain with us throughout our days. He walks WITH us who have been baptized. HIS Spirit comes to dwell within us when we do repent of sin and then are baptized in water.
Paul explains that in our turning away from sin and being baptized into death we have died WITH Christ, and in our being raised up, we are RAISED to walk with Him in NEW life. At baptism into Christ we “put on” (are “clothed with”) Christ. Entrance into the way, as Peter who holds the keys clearly told us, is by repenting and being baptized. Those who do so are brought INTO the Kingdom of Christ. Why would anyone believe those who choose to NOT do so are in the Kingdom? Do some now believe that Peter did not know the Way?
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