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Baptism: What, Who, Why?
Baptism is a biblical subject of which many people have questions? Like, What exactly is baptism? Who is a proper subject of baptism? And why should one be baptized? The proper answers to these questions can only come from the Scriptures.
It is important to understand what the action of baptism is. Does it involve sprinkling, pouring, or immersion? The word "baptism" in our bibles come from the Greek word "baptizo" which means, "to dip, to immerse, submerge" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). When people were coming to John to be baptized the Scriptures tell us that he "was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there" (Jn. 3:23). The apostle Paul described baptism as a "burial" saying, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death..." (Rom. 6:3-4). The examples we have of the action of baptism suggest the same as the subjects "went down into the water" and then "came up out of the water" (cf. Ac. 8: 38-39; Mt. 3:16). Thus, the action of baptism is to be immersed in water.
We also may ask who should be baptized, and why? Jesus commanded His apostles before He ascended, "Go teach all nations, baptizing them..." Jesus implied that the subjects of baptism were those who would be taught the gospel. Jesus also declared, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mk. 16:16). The gospel is designed to save "everyone that believeth" (Ro. 1:16). Belief must proceed baptism. Thus, the subjects of baptism are to be believers in Christ. According to the inspired apostle Peter, repentance and baptism is "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38). Saul was baptized to wash away his sin (Ac. 22:16). In Acts 8:12 we find that it was "men and women" who were being baptized at their belief of the gospel. Therefore, the subjects of baptism must be men or women who have become believers in Christ who are in need of having their sins forgiven. Infants are not subjects for baptism. They cannot be taught the gospel, they cannot believe, nor do infants have sin of which to be forgiven (cf. Mk. 10:14-15).
As sinners we must come in contact with the blood of Christ for salvation. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7). Of course we cannot contact the actual physical blood of Jesus, but we must contact his blood to be saved. Jesus shed His blood in His death on the cross and apostle Paul explains that baptism is the means by which we are buried into His death. Thus, he states it is through baptism we begin a new life (i.e. we are born again). "We are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:-4).
Divorce and Remarriage
While Jesus was miraculously healing people beyond the Jordan, the Pharisees came testing Him asking a question that is still asked by many today; "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" (Mt. 19:3). Many today are confused concerning what the Bible teaches concerning divorce and remarriage. Yet, Jesus' answer to the Pharisees is still the answer for us today.
Jesus replied, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mt. 19:4-6). To answer their question Jesus referred back to God's institution of marriage in the beginning (Gen.1-2). This record of God's creation of man and woman and their union should have told them the answer to their question. From the beginning God made male and female and united them as one. Anything that would break this union would be a violation of God's original plan.
Notice that Jesus did not say, WHO God has joined together, but "What God has joined together." It is a man and a woman who submit to be joined, but it is God who bonds the marriage covenant. The courts of our nation state all kinds of conditions for the marriage union to be broken. Some preachers declare there are many reason for breaking the marriage bond. But it is God that joins man and woman in this holy union and only He has the authority to allow and state an exception to this lifetime bond.
After Jesus' reply the Pharisees said, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" (Mt. 19:7). Jesus reminded them that this was not a command, but only something God permitted them to do because of the hardness of their heart. This, however,was not God's original design for marriage (Mt. 19:8).
He then said, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Mt. 19:9). In this statement Jesus brought marriage back to God's original design (one man and one woman for a lifetime), and gave only one divine exception-- the sexual immorality of one's spouse. To divorce and remarry for any other reason is to be guilty of adultery. "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Heb. 13:4; see Rev. 21:8).
Jesus stated the truth concerning marriage in a way that should not be misunderstood. If men and women enter into marriage with this understanding they will have happier, fulfilling , and lasting marriages. How we follow God's truth concerning marriage, like all other things in life, will not only have consequences in this life, but throughout eternity.
Appointments You Will Keep
There are many things that we can choose to do or not do, appointments that we can make or break. There are, however, two appointments that each and every one of us will keep; for these appointments have been set by the Lord. "...It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment..." (Heb. 9:27).
All of us are going to die, and one day be judged by the Lord. The fate of every man is that, "The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). Those who refuse to take time to think about death are fools. "The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure" (Eccl. 7:4). This is not saying that we cannot enjoy life and are to go around moping and mourning all the time. Yet, it is teaching that those whose only interest is in the here and now, who has no concern for their soul, are fools.
A truly wise person takes time to reflect upon the brevity of his life and strives to prepare himself for the inevitable. As the psalmist cried out in Ps. 39:4, "Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days, Let me know how transient (frail) I am." The Lord does make known our frailty, "...You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (Jas. 4:14).
Yet, to most people, death is something that seems to be only a remote possibility. If we are younger we feel like we don't have to think about dying just yet. As we grow older it is still something that we want to put out of our minds till later. But the fact of the matter is, death comes to all, to young and old. Life is short, fleeting, vanishing, and for some it's shorter than for others-- we don't know how long we will live.
Therefore, it is wise to think about the brevity of our life no matter what our age, and be prepared for death when ever it comes.
Many people fear death and do not want to contemplate it because they are not prepared for it. The only way to be prepared for death is to be in a right relationship with God. Such a relationship comes only by obedience to the gospel of Christ, repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38). If there is sin in our life we cannot think of death without fear; for to die in sin is to be lost eternally. But Heb. 2:14-16 tells us that Jesus came to deliver us from the slavery of the fear of death. If one has had their sin and guilt removed by the blood of Christ there is no fear of death; for death to the Christian is simply the ticket home-- simply a means to leave this realm for a better one (1Cor. 15:55-57).
Thus, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones" (Ps. 116:15). Like God, death is a precious thing to the Christian, something even to be looked forward to as they will leave a world of sin and grief to be comforted by their Lord for an eternity. As the voice John heard from heaven "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from now on!" (Rev. 13:14). Death and the Judgment are appointments you'll keep, Are you prepared?
God's Plan of Salvation for His Lost Children
By Wayne Jackson
It is truly a tragedy that so many Christian people labor under the illusion that it is impossible for them ever to be lost. Unfortunately, though, the Calvinistic dogma of "once-saved, always-saved," has infected the brotherhood of Christ - at least practically, if not intellectually. It is a grim reality that there may be more lost people in our Sunday morning assemblies, who are identified as "members," than there are those visiting with us - who have never obeyed the first principles of the gospel.
New Testament Evidence for Apostasy
Though denominationalists dispute the matter, the New Testament is emphatic in asserting that a Christian can depart from the faith and become lost. Simon was a sorcerer who lived in Samaria. He heard the gospel and submitted to its conditions. His conversion is described in precisely the same language as those of his fellows in the city (cf. Acts 8:12-13).
Subsequently, however, Simon became intrigued with the apostles' ability to convey spiritual gifts by means of the imposition of their hands. He attempted to bribe them so that he too could accomplish this feat. In a stinging rebuke, Peter informed him that, with such a disposition, he would "perish" (8:20). A.T. Robertson, a Baptist writer, says: "The natural meaning of Peter's language is that Simon was on the road to destruction" (Word Pictures, Vol. III, p. 107).
Without piling up the evidence, we merely introduce the following:
"My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he who converts a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins" (Jas. 5:19-20).
1. "brethren" are in view;
2. a brother can "err";
3. the erring one needs to be "converted";
4. such conversion results in "saving" the apostate's soul;
5. the destiny of the wayward soul is "death."
This is not physical death - which all experience - but spiritual death, i.e., eternal separation from God in hell (Rev. 20:14; cf. 2:11).
The Route Back to God
There are degrees of apostasy from the Lord. Some are stone-cold dead; there is no sign of spiritual life in them. Others are "lukewarm" (cf. Rev. 3:15-16), maintaining some semblance of identification with the church. In either case, these precious souls are lost. The question to be considered, therefore, is this: Once a Christian has wandered from the path of safety, what must he do to return?
Just as there are definite steps which on must take in order to become a child of God initially, e.g., believing, repenting of sin, confessing one's faith, and being immersed in water (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38, etc.), just so, there are requirements to being restored to Heaven's favor. Let us reflect upon the following.
Apostasy from the Christian Way is fundamentally a matter of the loss of faith. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus spoke of those who "for a while believe," and then in a time of temptation, "fall away" (Lk. 8:13). The writer of Hebrews admonished: "Take heed, brothers, lest perhaps there should he in any one of you a wicked heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God" (3:12). Note the connection between "unbelief" and "falling away."
A careful study of the term "belief," as that word and its equivalents are employed in the book of Acts, reveals that true faith involves a submission to the Lord's will (cf. Acts 16:33-34). Correspondingly, when one ceases to be obedient, there is a sense in which he has stopped believing.
The first step of the prodigal, therefore is a rekindling of his faith. And since it is the case that the ultimate source of faith is the word of God (Rom. 10:17), the Scriptures must be brought to bear again upon the wayward heart. It may he more difficult to ignite faith the second time around, but there is no substitute. The fallen saint must have the historical facts of the gospel instilled once more in his heart, he must trust the Savior, and commit himself to a program of fidelity. "Faith," without the obedience that is supposed to accompany such, is futile (cf. Jas. 2:14-26).
Once faith has been planted in the erring brother's soul again, it should move him to repentance. In the case cited earlier, Simon was told to "repent" as a prelude to forgiveness (Acts 8:22). But what is repentance?
The term "repentance" is used in at least two senses in the New Testament. Occasionally it signifies simply deep emotion, the contrition one has when he realizes he has sinned against his Creator. John the Baptizer spoke of this emotion, and cautioned that "fruit" must accompany it (Mt. 3:8).
"Repentance" also may signify the transformation of life that results from sorrow. The Jews who were assembled on Pentecost already had hearts that were "pricked," yet they still were commanded to "repent" (Acts 2:37-38). Paul argued that "godly sorrow" produces "repentance" (2 Cor. 7:10). Clearly, "repentance" is something in addition to emotion; it entails a change of conduct.
Any experienced Christian leader can cite numerous instances where wayward church members allegedly "repented," when no modification of conduct was discernible at all. Mere words do not constitute a return to God.
The word "confess" derives from a compound Greek term, homologeo. The roots are: homo, "same," and leo, "to speak." The term carries the idea of agreement, assent. In the context of our discussion, it means this: When a Christian is convicted by the Scriptures of transgression, he must humbly agree with the divine assessment, and be willing to say so!
The apostle John wrote: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn. 1:9). If one refuses to concede his sin, what then?
There are three possible venues of confession:
1. to God alone;
2. to God and to other persons - who may have been victims of the sin, or privy to it;
3. a general public acknowledgment.
Let us think about each of these for a moment.
First, when one has sinned a sin that is against God alone, or perhaps known only to the Omniscient One, the matter can be settled between the principals involved. For example, if one, in anger, mentally lashes out at the Lord (as Job did on occasion), he need merely, in his petition to the Father, ask for forgiveness. It is not necessary to "blab" mental sins to the entire world, as a former President did, for instance, when he told the whole of society of his spiritual lapses of lust for some women. As a minister I've had folks respond to the invitation, only to confess the most private infractions. Frequently I've had to ask: "Do others know of this?" When the reply is in the negative, I tell them that there is no need to "advertise" this circumstance. A general statement is then made to the congregation and prayer is offered for the agonizing soul.
Second, when our sin is known to others, we are obligated to confess the fault - at least to those who are privy to the situation. Altercations that are private should be settled between "him and thee alone" (Mt. 18:15). Occasionally, though, it is the case that a brother sins against another, but the transgressor does not have the courage to approach the offended party directly, acknowledging wrong and asking pardon. Rather, he will walk down the church aisle and make a generic confession: "I have done and said things against others that I shouldn't have; I ask for your prayers." That is not the way to remedy a personal sin against another.
Third, there is the matter of public confession. Sometimes one's sin is so widely identified that nothing but a public confession will suffice to satisfy the matter.
Near the conclusion of his third missionary campaign, Paul came to the city of Ephesus. As a result of his teaching, a church was established. These saints were zealous initially, with a genuine love for the Lord (cf. Rev. 2:4). Some of them, though, became entangled again in their old habits - apparently reverting to "magical" practices (for which Ephesus was known).
According to Luke's record, though, they were convicted of their error, and they came "confessing and declaring their deeds" (Acts 19:18). The sense of this passage seems to be this: These erring brethren openly acknowledged what had been widely known, i.e., their sinfulness in practicing magical crafts. Additionally, they brought their little scrolls, containing ritual inscriptions, and burned them "in the sight of all" (19:19). Lenski says that the implication of this language is that Paul was directing the procedure (Acts of the Apostles, p. 799).
Some see the term "deeds" as a reference to the secret incantations of their sorcery practices (F.F. Bruce, Acts, p. 359). McGarvey also takes the position that these brethren were merely exposing the magical formulas of their pre-Christian activities (New Commentary, II, p. 157). We must respectfully disagree. This view does not appear to comport with the term "confessing," which stands separate from the "declaring." A Christian does not need to "confess" what he knows was forgiven at the time of his immersion (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Better is the view that these were new converts who continued to condone and/or practice these "deeds" after their primary obedience to the gospel (see: Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers, p. 783).
That brings us to this question. How is it that some brethren fantasize that they can abandon the Lord's service - for weeks on end - and then, ultimately smitten by conscience, silently slip back into a regular church routine, without so much as a word of confession that they have neglected the Christian responsibilities?
Those who have strayed from faithful duty must concede that wrong, and somehow make their renewed disposition know to the church.
They might respond to the public invitation at the conclusion of a service. They may ask the elders to announce their penitence to the congregation. Or they could request that a statement be published in the bulletin, etc. The manner of their acknowledgement is a matter of expediency; the necessity of it is a point of law.
"Time" per se does not transform apostasy into fidelity. One cannot hope that God will simply "forget" a breach of fildelty, and so ignore the lack of prescribed procedure involved in restoration.
We cannot trifle with the Lord - who can both "forget" our sins, and yet "remember" our failure to obey (see Jer. 14:10).
There is a passage in one of John's epistles that is germane to this discussion. The apostle writes.
"If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request" (1 Jn. 5:16).
This text, among other things, suggests there are those for whom we may, and should petition God's forgiveness. By way of contrast, there are those for whom such efforts are futile. In the first instance, the brother is not persistently sinning (present tense) toward (pros) death (spiritual destruction). On the other hand, there is sin toward death, i.e. unrestrained rebellion. The distinguishing difference obviously is this: In the former case the brother confesses his sin and turns therefrom (1 Jn. 1:9). In the other instance, the apostate pursues in his rebellion.
A case in point is found in the Corinthian correspondence. It is rather apparent that the brother in Corinth, who had so scandalized the church by his flagrant fornication (1 Cor. 5), had, at a later time, repented and openly acknowledged his wrong. And so the brethren were encouraged to forgive and comfort him (cf. 2 Cor. 2:6-7).
How can one pray for a brother's actual forgiveness, if he has no knowledge that the offender has conformed to God's law of pardon? Under normal circumstances, confession authenticates the sincerity of the penitent's heart.
In summary: When one's sins are strictly personal and private, he is not required to broadcast them. On the other hand, when a person's transgressions involve other people and are widely known, they must be resolved in a more public format. Silent meditation will not suffice.
Finally, the penitent is instructed to pray for forgiveness, which, ultimately, only God can grant. We ought, therefore, to pray for ourselves (Acts 8:22), and then request others to petition the Lord on our behalf (Jas. 5:16). We have been assured that when we sin, Christ, as our Advocate, will mediate for us, and that his blood will cleanse our wickedness (1 In. 1:7).
Here is a sobering reality. Just as there are many who believe they have conformed to the divine plan of salvation in becoming a Christian - but actually have not; even so, there are members of the church who, perhaps unknowingly, have neglected God's plan of salvation for his lost children. Each Christian should examine his life - and make sure he is right with God.
Are the Unfaithful Still "Christians"?
By Wayne Jackson
This semantic problem has generated confusion among the Lord's people for many years. The controversy results from the different ways in which the term "Christian" is employed among the people of God. The issue is not one that is easy to resolve, due to the fact that not even scholars are agreed as to the precise significance of the Greek term Christianos. Note these possibilities.
1. One authority, Nigel Turner, a highly respected British scholar, contends that the suffix "ian" conveys the idea of "belonging to" in the common Greek of the New Testament era, so that in the parlance of the New Testament it denotes those who "belong to Christ" (cf. also Grundmann, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Kittel & Friedrich, eds., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974, Vol. 9, p. 537).
Turner also suggested that Christianos might relate to the Greek term chiro (to anoint - as reflected also in the title "Christ"). It thus could be a term signifying those who have been "anointed" - in the sense of 2 Corinthians 1:21, "Now he that establishes us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God" (Turner, Christian Words, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, p. 66).
If this view is correct, then anyone who has obeyed the gospel will technically be a "Christian," until the time of the Judgment, since he will "belong to" Christ until then. At that point, however, those who have abandoned the Lord will be gathered "out of his kingdom" (Mt. 13:41). Until then, they remain in the kingdom, though they may have become unfaithful. We acknowledge that apostates are still "children of God" inasmuch as we do not require their re-baptism (the only way to enter the body of Christ - 1 Cor. 12:13) as a condition of their restitution.
2. On the other hand, if one followed the suggestion of J.H. Thayer, he might conclude that Christianos signifies "a follower of Christ" (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, p. 672). In that case, one might reason that whenever one ceases to "follow" the Lord, he has disqualified himself from wearing the name "Christian."
The question becomes, then, whose definition is to be accepted? The fact is, the term "Christian" is used only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). Since the word is without definitive contextual definition in any of those references, one simply cannot be too dogmatic in his use of the term, as it applies to one who has genuinely obeyed the gospel plan of salvation at some point in his life.
Every knowledgeable person must concede that when a brother/sister in the Lord abandons Christ, he/she is lost. And really, we should not wrangle over whether or not "Christian" can be applied technically to such a person. Let us rather employ our energies in seeking to reclaim those who are in danger of eternal separation from God.
Finally, we must respectfully note that one who has only a nominal identification with the Christian faith, who has not legitimately yielded to the gospel (cf. 1 Pet. 4:16-17), cannot be designated as a "Christian" in the genuine sense of that term