Glimmers of God’s Perspective

Two years ago last month I got an email from my mother. She had forwarded an email from the church office back in Alabama that a dear friend had passed away. I was stunned. Sammy couldn’t have been much more than 40 years old. I checked my email later in the day and the strangest thing happened, my mother had forwarded to me all the past emails that had been bouncing around since Sammy’s accident all the way up to the last email about his death that I had already read.

The first email said he was in a wreck and that the whole congregation needed to pray that he would recover.  There were more. One email said he was getting better and that doctors were hopeful. The next would say he had taken a turn for the worse. Up and down his struggle for life went and the emails chronicled his journey toward death. There were moments of hope and there were moments of sorrow. I am not usually much of a crier but reading all of that certainly did a number on me.

I cannot tell you how strange it was to know your friend had died and read that initial emails with that in mind. Usually you read these emails as the events unfold but this was different. I was listening back in on emails that had been sent in the days prior already knowing that the end result was his death. It got me thinking about God’s perspective on everything. When we go through these things, God already knows how it is going to turn out. He already knows how the last email is going to read (more on that in a minute). There isn’t anything that is going to catch God off guard. He already knows everything. Psalm 139:1-4 says,

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.

Isaiah 55:8-9 puts it this way,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God is amazing and incredible. What am amazing blessing it is to be made by God, loved by God and sustained by God. God is answering prayers we don’t even know how to ask! (Rom 8:26-27). Paul says the end result of it all is that God will work good for those who love Him! (Rom 8:28). So let us live with confidence that God knows how this whole thing is going to turn out and while some times seem like they are full of despair Psalm 30:5 tells us that mourning may last for a night but rejoicing always comes in the morning. Let us remember that in Christ we are new creations, a new dawn has come and we are to be people who find joy in the midst of suffering and who find peace in the middle of the storm because God already knows how it is all going to work out. Not even death can stop Him!

Let me let you in on a little secret…I want to tell you how the last email regarding this whole messed up world of sin and death reads. Here is what it says…

“Death has been swallowed up in victory” – 1 Cor 15:54

What if we read these words and then started living our lives through that lens? We can conclude the same thing Paul concluded a few verses later…” Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Sermons on Worship and the Water of Life

Just posted two sermons from December.

Living Water – A sermon based on Ezekiel 47 where Ezekiel witnesses water flowing out of the temple, down to the Dead Sea. Life grows out of the low places around the Dead Sea as the water nourishes places that had long been dead. Application – we also have to get out the doors of the building and go to the down and out and struggling to bring them life. The water can’t just stay in the temple…God won’t allow that.

Worship – Based on Romans 12:1-2. Joel, who is our youth minister, and I split the sermon a few Sunday’s ago into two very short sermons. We spent the rest of the service singing and taking the Lord’s Supper. It was a powerful service!

 

Infant Baptism

I had slacked on my baptism series because this post has been a difficult one to publish. I really want to make sure I have my facts straight here and not stir things up based on faulty information. Infant baptism is practiced by a very high percentage of Christianity and it is important to understand the practice and how it is supported by those who practice it.

Advocates of infant baptism have several points they use to support the practice. Let me start with one example from the Roman Catholics who view baptism as a sacrament necessary for all mankind regardless of age due to our fallen nature,

“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.51″ (link)

First and foremost, Catholics view baptism as necessary for salvation. Supporters of infant baptism make several points they say support the baptism of infants:

  1. Tradition – Some believe the earliest witness to infant baptism dates back to Irenaus in the second century and that the tradition of infant baptism over the last 1800 years carries a lot of weight.
  2. Apostolic origin – they cite Origen and St. Augustine as saying the practice had apostolic origin – See #4 in the 1980 Catholic Instructions for Infant Baptism. That link is to a very interesting document where they even bring up the issue of believers baptism and talk about why it is more important to baptize people when they are infants. More on that in a moment.
  3. Scripture -They believe scripture supports the need for infants to be baptized. The biblical support comes from two sources. The first are passages they believe support original sin. The second are the household baptisms found in Acts (Acts 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, 1 Cor 1:16, 2 Tim 1:16, 4:19). The assumption is that infants and small children would have been baptized along with the adults .
  4. Replacement of circumcision – Many believe that baptism is the new covenant’s form of circumcision. Circumcision was done to infant males on the 8th day of their life. There are many parallels between baptism and circumcision and they view those parallels as including being done as an infant including as a sacrament that gains someone access to the grace of God.

Let’s examine these.

Tradition – Everett Ferguson has a wonderful book on baptism called “Baptism in the Early Church,” which is just under 1000 pages of invaluable information. Ferguson gives the Irenaeus quote that many say is the first witness/support of infant baptism (A.H. 2.22.4).

“He sanctified every age of life by having the like age in himself. For he came to save all by means of himself, all (I say) who by him are born again to God – infants, children, boys, youths, and the old.. He therefore lived through every age, made an infant for infants and sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying these…”

It is not convincing and the word baptism is never even used (Ferguson, 308). Irenaues is saying that Christ went through all stages of life so that he might be able to sanctify all. Ferguson believes that the Irenaeus reference does not actually favor infant baptism and that many of the quotes that people cite to support the practice, when looked at in context don’t actually lend much support at all.

Everett Fergus says the first mention of infant baptism came from Tertullian (2nd century) and was actually written in opposition to the practice. That tells us that the practice was a very early one but it is an assumption to say that it had apostolic origin. Here is what Tertullian had to say (quoted from Ferguson, 364),

According to the circumstances and nature, and also age, of each person, the delay of baptism is more suitable, especially in the case of small children. What is the necessity, if there is no such necessity, for the sponsors as well to be brought into danger, since they may fail to keep their promises by reason of death or be deceived by an evil disposition which grows up in the child? The Lord indeed says, ‘Do not forbid them to come to me.’ Let them ‘come’ they while they are growing up, while they are learning, while they are instructed why they are coming. Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you be seen to have given ‘to him who asks.’ (On baptism, 18)

The sponsors Tertullian mentions are those who stand in the place of the baptized infant in order to make a confession for them. More from Ferguson on Tertullian’s take,

“Tertullian confronts and already definite scriptural argument for baptizing children, namely Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14. Tertullian’s response underscores the importance for him of teaching, learning, and personal knowledge of and commitment to Christ – the reasons for his advocacy of a delay of baptism until these conditions had been fully satisfied. He joins a host of earlier Christian writers in the affirmation of the innocence of children, a condition making infant baptism incosistent in his view with the generally recognized meaning of baptism as bringing the forgiveness of sins.” (Ferguson, 365)

Apostolic origin – Origen supported infant baptism as seen in his commentary on Romans (V:9) in 244 AD. There he says that it was passed down from the apostles (See under Tradition/Church fathers I.). He doesn’t get any more specific than that. His view was that at birth all are ritually unclean and stained by sin that must be washed away. This is slightly different than original sin. If it was passed down by the apostles I am not sure why Tertullian had such a tough time with it. We don’t have any biblical evidence of apostolic origin (some assume household baptisms give us that support…that is an assumption with no specific verses telling us infants were baptized in those instances).

Scripture – The strongest point here are the household baptisms in Acts 16 & 18. If you read Acts 16:31-34 it sounds like the salvation of the household was dependent upon the faith of the jailer himself (the head of the house). Again, this is layered with all kinds of assumptions. Do we know children were baptized in the households? In Beasley-Murray’s book “Baptism in the New Testament” he tackles Jeremias’ assumptions about the signficance of the household baptisms. Jeremias believed that the whole house must include every single person in the house. Bruce makes an interesting parallel in the case of Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:44-48). Beasley-Murray points out that in that instance the Holy Spirit was poured out on the entire household so that everyone spoke in tongues and praising God. He says if we are to be consistent here that would require the infants in the house to be just as involved in speaking in tongues and praising God as it would involve in them in being baptized (p.315). In this instance “all” would not include every member of the house.

How does that go along with the necessity of faith for salvation? We have no way of knowing who that included but reserve the possibility that it included the entire household. The scriptural argument is inconclusive and filled with assumptions. here is the key question – Would the apostles have practiced something incompatible with the rest of the New Testament teaching regarding baptism? In other words, if the rest of the New Testament teaches that faith is a part of baptism, how then can you conclude that those without faith were baptized by those who taught the necessity of faith for the baptized? More on that in the next point.

Replacement of circumcision – Circumcision and baptism have some similarities. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant. Baptism is a part of the new covenant. However, it is not a perfect 1-to-1 match. Otherwise we would be baptizing only 8 day old males. There are significant differences. In Romans 4, Paul makes the point that Abraham is father of both the circumcised and uncircumcised who have faith. In other words, circumcision no longer matters. Faith does matter and it matters especially when it comes to baptism.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” – Colossians 2:9-12

Here Paul parallels baptism and circumcision. He calls our baptism a circumcision done by Christ through faith in the power of God. That is incompatible with infant baptism. Faith and baptism are inextricably linked. We see this connection in the Gospels as well. When Jesus commissioned the apostles he told them to make disciples by teaching and baptizing (Matt 28:19-20). We see the connection in Acts (Acts 8:12,13, Acts 18:8). I could site many other examples and verses but it boils down to this – we don’t have any examples or teaching that baptism is to be practiced on unknowing or unwilling participants. Baptism is always a choice. It is a choice to turn from worldly ways to turn to follow Jesus Christ.

I don’t personally find any of the pro-infant baptism arguments to hold water. For those of you who are reading this who worship in a group that practices infant baptism, I would be very interested in hearing your view and response to this post.

Click here to read one person’s defense of infant baptism.

The Beauty of Baptism

Paul wrote in Romans 6:2-11

“We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

I love those verses because we are directly told that in our baptism we are connected with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of a more beautiful, Christ-imitating act than baptism.

For a long time we, in Churches of Christ, have had a view of baptism that is too small. That may sound funny because we are the guys who have harped on baptism the most. But I believe that much of what had been said made baptism out to be too small. We boiled it down into a step and in doing so missed the beauty of baptism as seen in the New Testament. I am not saying we were unaware of verses like Romans 6:1-6 but our legalistic lenses influenced us to read those verses through a reductionistic framework that missed the forest for the trees. I think sometimes we got so caught up in what we were trying to get people to do that we missed the very reason why they were to do it.

Paul says that when we are baptized we are united with Jesus Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. Just as Christ was put in a tomb, we are lowered into the water. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we are raised from the waters of baptism freed from sin and (spiritual) death. Who wouldn’t want to participate in that? Paul very explicitly connects our baptism with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

United with his death:

  • “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
  • “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death”

United with his resurrection:

  • “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
  • “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

Connecting baptism with forgiveness:

  • For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Connected with eternal life:

  • “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Anyone here want their old self crucified? Baptism is the only way the New Testament tells us God does that. What does Paul mean when he says our old self was crucified. He just told us that in baptism we die. What dies? Our old self. Why? “So that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

I don’t really understand how anyone could read the New Testament, especially verses like these, and reject the importance of baptism. I understand people make up their mind first based on what Pastor Steve  told them on Sunday or how they have seen their church convert people and then try to make the Bible fit that mold. I don’t understand how someone would read the New Testament and come away thinking baptism was an unnecessary ritual that just the crazy conservative Christians practice. To be fair, I am sure someone could say the same of me…that I think it is important so I find that everywhere in the New Testament.

Contrary to popular belief, baptism is the most graceful display of God’s saving work. There are several things that happen to us in the salvation process. We hear the word. We  are baptized. We receive the Holy Spirit. Baptism is passive in the New Testament. That means it is something done to us. We don’t even do it ourselves but we submit ourselves to it. Everything else, confession, repentance, etc are things we do (not that those are works either) but baptism is done to us. It makes it sound even sillier to call it a work when we aren’t even doing it ourselves! If we are willing to submit to God in that way he is able to do some amazingly graceful things in us (doing away of our body of sin, uniting us with Christ’s resurrection, etc).

Baptism is beautiful!

Summaries of the New Testament Books

To follow up on this post summarizing the books of the Old Testament, here is the list for the New Testament. Here is this list in pdf. These are just quick helps to help people get a feel for these books and see how they connect with each other.

Bible Study Helps – New Testament

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is also divided into sections that help keep similar writings together. Here are the four sections that divide the Old Testament:

1 – Gospels

  • Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  • The Gospels are ordered by the date some people believed they were written. You don’t have to put a name on a Gospel until there are more than one and only Luke is the only one of the four to identify himself. A few hundred years after these were written false teachings entered the church that forced the church to decide which writings were inspired/from God and which were not. It was during this process that the New Testament was laid out in its current form.

2 – Historical

  • Acts of the Apostles
  • Acts is the history that all of Paul’s letters fit into. You read about Paul visiting the churches he wrote letters to in the book of Acts (the cities of Ephesus, Galatia, Corinth, etc)

3 – Paul’s Letters

  • Romans – Philemon
  • These are ordered from longest to shortest with Romans being the longest and Philemon the shortest of Paul’s letters
  • These are some of the earliest writings in the New Testament with Galatians being the earliest book written (48 AD)

4 – General Letters

  • Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude
  • These are all the letters written by people other than Paul

5 – Apocalypse

  • Revelation
  • This is the last book of the New Testament to be written, nearly 60 years after Jesus’ ministry

Gospels

Matthew

Date written – 60s

Author – Matthew

Summary – All four gospels tell about the life of Jesus from the time before his birth to the time after his death and resurrection. Yet each Gospel has a distinct emphasis. It is like hearing the same story from four different points of view. Each writer is remembering and focusing on different aspects of who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Matthew’s emphasis – Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Matthew also emphasizes Jesus as King as prophesied Messiah and descendent from David’s throne.

Mark

Date written – 50s

Author – Mark

Summary – Mark is about who Jesus is. At first Jesus is more secretive about who he is because he doesn’t want to fulfill the wrongly directed hopes of who the Messiah was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do. In the first half of Mark (1-8) It is not uncommon in Mark for Jesus to tell people to keep who he is a secret. Once Peter confesses Christ in Mark 8 Jesus speaks much more freely about who he is and what he came to do. Like Matthew, Mark ends with Jesus commissioning his disciples to spread the Gospel all over the world.

Mark’s emphasis – Jesus as Redeemer

Luke

Date written – 60s

Author – Luke

Summary – Luke and Acts are both written by Luke and tell the story of Christianity from the birth of Jesus through the growth of the early church. There are many teachings and miracles in Luke that points us right to the heart of God and just how compassionate he is toward mankind.

Luke’s emphasis – Jesus as compassionate and uplifter of the oppressed

John

Date written – 80s

Author – John

Summary – The Gospel of John tells the story of the life and ministry of Jesus through an insider point of view. Matthew was a disciple of Jesus but not in his “inner circle” like Peter, James and John were. Luke and John were not part of Jesus’ 12 disciples. So John holds a special place in teaching us about God and Christ as an “insider.” One things you will notice in John are a lot of double meanings that often leave people confused (being born again is one example from John 3). Like the other three Gospels, John shows Jesus on his way to a cross. Like the other Gospels Jesus defeats death through his resurrection and shows us that there is hope beyond the grave.

John’s emphasis – Jesus as the Son of God and his unique relationship with His Father.

History

Acts of the Apostles

Date written – 62

Author – Luke

Summary – Luke wrote the book of Acts to tell the rest of the story. Acts covers the first thirty years of the church and tells how the Gospel went from being believed by just a few disciples waiting in Jerusalem to the Holy Spirit inspiring them to convert thousands and take the message all over the world. In the book of Acts we see missionaries including Paul, Barnabas, Mark and Luke (who both wrote the Gospels) travelling around the world, spreading the message of Christ to Jews and Gentiles. They travel to many of the cities Paul later writes the letters that follow.

One major dividing line in the book is Acts 10 where God allows the message of Christ to be preached to the Gentiles for the first time. This had been God’s plan all the way back to Abraham when he promised Abraham he would be the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5).

Paul’s Letters

Romans

Date written – 55

Author – Paul

Summary – Romans was written to a racially divided church. The Jew and Gentile Christians were struggling to find unity. Paul writes Romans to reconcile their relationships and to understand that the message of Christ should act as a common bond across all nations just as God planned for it to do from the beginning.

1 Corinthians

Date written – 54

Author – Paul

Summary – Corinth is a town in Greece where Paul visited in Acts 18. The Corinthian church was also very divided (1:10-17). Paul sets them straight by talking about how true leaders should bring unity and not division but that ultimately our leader is Christ and not any earthly leaders. Paul also deals with many of their specific concerns as a congregation including marriage (chapter 7), the eating of food sacrificed to idols (chapters 8-11) and issues in worship (chapters 11-14).

2 Corinthians

Date written – 55

Author – Paul

Summary – 2 Corinthians seems to be about Paul’s defense of his ministry to those hostile toward him at Corinth. He upholds his integrity and commission from God and defends many of his travel plans in this letter.

Galatians

Date written – 48

Author – Paul

Summary – Galatians was written to address a specific concern among the Christians in the region of Galatia. It seems those who were Jewish Christians were beginning to enforce various aspects of Judaism (circumcision for one) on the Gentile Christians. Paul writes this letter to assure them of the sufficiency of Christ apart from the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and to help mend the broken relationships left behind between the Christians in the Galatian churches.

Ephesians

Date written – 60

Author – Paul

Summary – One of four letters Paul wrote from prison. Normally Paul’s letters have a specific occasion that prompted him to write these churches. Ephesians is the hardest to pin down. What stands out in Ephesians is the connection between knowing God and what he has done for us (Chapters 1-3) and the resulting actions that should be in our lives in response to all God has done for us (Chapters 4-6).

Philippians

Date written – 61

Author – Paul

Summary – Paul invites the Philippian Christians to live their lives for Christ even if it includes suffering (Phil 1). He encourages them to imitate Christ’s humility (Phil 2) and to keep in mind the importance of Christ (Phil 3). Even though in jail, Paul has found contentment (Phil 4:11-12).

Colossians

Date written – 60

Author – Paul

Summary – One of four letters Paul wrote from prison. Colossians was written to help combat some false teachings that were taking place in the house churches of Colossae. It seems some believed that it was necessary to appease angels by doing certain religious ceremonies in order to gain entrance to the presence of God (see especially Col 2). Paul assures them, as he did the Galatians, that we don’t need anything more than Jesus Christ to be in the proper relationship with God.

1 Thessalonians

Date written – 50

Author – Paul

Summary – 1 Thessalonians may have been written to Christians in Thessalonica who struggled with understanding the second coming of Christ and what that meant for Christians who died before his return. Some believed in the early church that Christ would come back within a generation due to some of Jesus’ teachings (like John 21:22). Paul encourages them toward purity, love and responsibility.

2 Thessalonians

Date written – 51

Author – Paul

Summary – Paul wrote this letter to alleviate even more concerns they had about the return of Christ. It seems some had taught Christ has already come back (2 Thess 2:1-2) and that there were false teachers in their midst (2:3-15). Paul writes this letter to inform and encourage them toward faithfulness so that they will not be led away from God through false teaching.

1 Timothy

Date written – 62

Author – Paul

Summary – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are called the “Pastoral epistles”. They were written by Paul to help equip these men of God toward a more productive ministry. They were also written to help these ministers of the Gospel (Timothy and Titus) to effectively lead in the congregations they were a part of. These three letters are very practical covering everything from how to dress to qualifications of elders and deacons and how to treat others in the church.

2 Timothy

Date written – 63

Author – Paul

Summary – Written as Paul nears the end of his life in Roman prison. He writes this to ensure the faithfulness of Timothy and to encourage him to finish strong just as Paul is doing himself. The most famous verse in this book is found in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 where Paul encourages him to study the scriptures and explains the extent of their usefulness.

Titus

Date written – 62

Author – Paul

Summary – The last of Paul’s pastoral letters, this letter is written to give instruction to Titus on how Christians are to live and what should be taught to those in the church. Another very practical letter.

Philemon

Date written – 60

Author – Paul

Summary – One of four letters Paul wrote from prison. This letter was written to reconcile the relationship between a slave and a slave master who were both Christians in the church in Colossae. The slave, Onesimus, came to Paul so he could help him make things right again with his master, Philemon. Paul put the pressure on Philemon to make things right, even if it wasn’t easy.

General Letters

Hebrews

Date written – between 60 & 70

Author – Unknown

Summary – Hebrews reads more like a sermon than a letter and that may have been how the book of Hebrews started out. Hebrews is about the sufficiency of Christ and his exaltation above all others in all creation. The book proves that by showing his fulfillment of many things found in the Old Testament including the priesthood, sacrificial system, and many other things. This letter was undoubtedly written to a Jewish audience, who would have readily seen the connections the writer of Hebrews makes with the Old Testament.

James

Date written – 44

Author – James

Summary – James was the half brother of Jesus, sharing the same mother, Mary. James is often thought of as the Proverbs of the New Testament. It is very practical and easy to understand. This is a great place to start studying the Bible if you are looking for something practical and easily applicable.

1 Peter

Date written – 65

Author – Peter

Summary – 1 & 2 Peter were written to remind Christians of their special status with God so that they could endure some pretty intense persecution. Peter speaks to unjust suffering and living as a Christian in a hostile world.

2 Peter

Date written – 65

Author – Peter

Summary – 2 Peter was written near the end of Peter’s life and he is calling them to the truth and reminding them of the legitimacy of the Gospel, that what Christ had done for them was real. As an eyewitness who is about to die defending his faith, he wants to make sure those he is leaving behind will hold true to the Gospel because Christ will return and Christians are called to live with that in mind.

1 John

Date written – 90

Author – John

Summary – If Timothy and Titus are pastoral letters to individuals, 1-3 John read like pastoral letters written in love to help them grow closer to God and to other Christians. In 1 John, John tells us what it means to walk in the light and just how connected our love of God is with our love for others (1 John 3). We also get more “insider” facts about who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

2 John

Date written – 90

Author – John

Summary – This letter is addressed probably to a local congregation in order to help them combat false teaching. That false teaching had to do with whether or not Jesus really came in the flesh. John, who knew Jesus first hand, assures them that he did.

3 John

Date written – 90

Author – John

Summary – 3 John is written toward a specific problem in a specific church. A man named Diotrephes was causing a problem in the church and John writes to Gaius, a leader in the church, in order to help him deal with this issue.

Jude

Date written – 70

Author – Jude

Summary – Jude is very much like 2 Peter and is written to combat wickedness in the church. Jude uses several examples from scripture and Jewish tradition who did the same things and were punished by God.

Apocalyptic

Revelation

Date written – 90s

Author – John

Summary – Revelation is an often misunderstood book. It was written to Christians who were undergoing some severe persecution in order for them to have the courage to hold to their faith, even if it meant they would die for Christ. Much of what is found in the book has already taken place but a few things still have not. The book concludes the New Testament with a beautiful picture of how this world will end up. Everything will be made right and whole again and there will be no more pain, tears or death as we live in perfect relationship with God.

Living By Faith, Not By Exception

“So this guy is walking up to the baptistry…he has repented and made his confession before the congregation and just as he steps in the water he slips hits his head on the floor. He dies right before he is baptized. Is he saved?”

The point normally being made with this type of question is whether or not baptism is really necessary for salvation. First, we aren’t the judge. We leave that to God. Second, we can only answer that question (if we actually want to try to) based on what He has told us in scripture. We could go into a long discussion about the thief on the cross, Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit apart from baptism and all the rest but I am going to save that for another day because that isn’t the point of this post.

Here is the question I want to pose. Does God want us to twist and turn and contrive all possible exceptions that we can come up with in order to replace what He has clearly told us in scripture. Let’s say you take the above example…he had faith, confessed and repented and had a heart to be baptized and was even acting on that desire. Let’s say you concluded that he was saved. Is it really appropriate then to say that God desires the exception to be the rule? Does God really want us to be loophole minded rather than just do the obvious? Why not live by faith and take God at His Word. There is no doubt that baptism is important from a scriptural point of view, why develop and form your doctrine out of the exception that is not even found in scripture but is rather contrived from our own thinking rather than from scripture?

Why is it so hard to look at where Jesus told his disciples what to do to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 and conclude that Jesus thought baptism was really important? Why is it so hard to read Paul and the burial illustration of Romans 6 and conclude that clearly (not maybe…clearly) Paul thought baptism was extremely important. Even if you concluded that it wasn’t necessary for salvation wouldn’t someone devoted to God want to do it anyway and teach others its importance? I wonder sometimes if people try to live by exception rather than by faith and just take God at His Word. Imagine if Paul wrote his letters but made sure to footnote any possible logical exception…it would be a madhouse rife with abuse. Instead, he laid out his theology very plainly and it is up to us to believe it and live by it as best we can and let God make up for any of our short comings.

The question I am asking here is not about baptism…it is about the heart and what attitude we have when we approach God and scripture. Do we legalistically look for loopholes or do we do as Paul said in Romans 1:17 “the righteous will live by faith.” If we are living by faith, wouldn’t we in good conscience try to live our lives as closely in line with what we find in scripture as possible? And don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying we are saved by our own good works (See this post for more on that).

What is Your Most Encouraging Verse in the Bible?

What has been the most encouraging verse in the Bible to you? Here are some of my favorites:

  1. 1 Peter 1:3-4 – “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
  2. Romans 8:28-39 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[j] who[k] have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[l] 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  3. Psalm 23 – You know it already!
  4. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
  5. Matthew 28:6 – “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
  6. Revelation 21:1-6 – “1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
  7. 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  8. 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
  9. John 14:1-4 – “1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.””
  10. Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the LORD with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;  6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Misconceptions About Our Contribution to our own Salvation

There are a lot of misconceptions floating around out there about our salvation and what is expected of us in the process. Two misconceptions fall on the extremes of the pendulum of what is required of us to be saved. On one side, you have the misconception that because salvation is a “free gift” that comes by grace that there is nothing we have to do or are required to do to receive it. On the other side of the pendulum you have the misconception that because God places requirements on us that somehow we earn our salvation through faith and/or works.

Both misconceptions have elements of truth in them. It is true that salvation is a “free gift” but that does not mean it has no requirements. But those requirements do not mean we earn our salvation. Here is a passage from Romans 3 that serves to unravel some of these misconceptions and help us come to a more biblical understand of the cost of our salvation.

Romans 3:21-26:
21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Here, Paul says that righteousness comes from God, apart from the law (implying obedience to the law). It comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ. If righteousness comes from God it does not come from us. In other words, we are unable to make ourselves righteous because of what verse 23 says. We cannot accomplish enough good things in order to be declared righteous apart from God’s work in us. Keep in mind what righteousness is. It is a big word we use for a simple concept – being in the right. You are not “in the right” if there is even one wrong thing in you or about you. So because we all have sin, we are not righteous in and of ourselves or by our own merits.

In verse 24 he says all have sinned and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Notice, this is not a universal statement that all people, everywhere are justified no matter what they believe. He is writing to a specific group of people for some specific reasons that we cannot go into here. Next Paul tells us that justification comes by grace and it is free. What is justification? It is the verb that means being put into the right/being made right. It is the verb that has the result in making someone righteous or in the right again. How does this happen, this justification or act of making us righteous? Paul tells us plain and clear. It happens through redemption that came by Jesus Christ (vs. 24). What does that mean? Justification is free (3:24) in that we don’t have to pay for it. But someone did have to pay for it, through the redemption (a financial/marketplace term) that came by Christ Jesus”. So being justified came at a price to Jesus Christ and with that price being paid in order to redeem us from sin we were justified and therefore made righteous.

Notice that this is all free to us (3:24). That does not mean that we are not involved in the process. Here is where people get confused. They believe that if they have any part in the process (faith, repentance, baptism, etc) that it is no longer free because they partnered in it. They did what God required and so God brings salvation because they met his requirements. But Paul says flat out that justification is free.(That doesn’t make baptism and repentance any less important or any less required, by the way…it just means that those acts don’t pay for or merit/earn salvation. Salvation is still a free/already paid for gift).

So how do you make all that fit together in a way that is consistent with scripture? God freely paid the price for our salvation. He did it through Jesus’ reconciling and redemptive work on the cross. Through his blood (which was the price to be paid) he has removed all debt from those who put faith in Christ Jesus (= redemption, remember…a financial term). Our responding in faith doesn’t “pay” for anything. If we actually could pay anything toward our salvation it could only be accepted if we lead perfect lives of obedience as Jesus lived and died with no sin, perfect. But we cannot do that and so we do not contribute toward “paying” the debt of our sin. We contribute to meeting the conditions God has set for those who will receive the justification he has already paid for (through the blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice – 3:24-25). So we do contribute through faith but that contribution does not pay /merit/earn our salvation in and of itself. Only the blood of Jesus can do that. Read Romans 4-5 and catch the language Paul uses about salvation being a gift, not paid out of obligation as if we had earned it.

So let’s not get caught up into thinking that because we have to meet certain conditions means we contributed toward the actual cost of our justification. Paul makes it clear, that is only done through the blood of Jesus. We can’t pay that price. But that doesn’t mean we don’t contribute by faith to meet the conditions God set forth for us to meet in order to receive the justification he has in store for those who want to receive it freely from him.

Romans 8 Greek Wordle

I left out the articles, conjunctions, etc to help the main themes of Romans 8 stand out better.

Wordle: Romans 8 in Greek

Here are some of the Greek wordles posted on the blog in the past:

John 3
John 1:1-18

Baptism – Related to Salvation but Not a Work

Two insights from Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament that help us get a better understanding of baptism:

1) Baptism is seen in the New Testament as part of God’s reconciling process. Here are some words from Oepke in Kittel,

“Christian baptism certainly has as its final goal new and eternal life…the new life stands in firm causal connection with purification from the guilt of sin. This is particularly clear, though, often overlooked, in Paul. Because God is the only source of real life, and His holiness excludes sin, the basic conception both of Paul and of the NT generally in relation to baptism is that of the cleansing bath (1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26; Heb 10:22; cf. Acts 2:38; 22:16). The significance of baptism thus depends on the fact that it is a real action of the holy God in relation to sinful man. Hence both a superstitious and also a purely symbolical understanding are excluded…” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol 1, p. 540)

2) Baptism is done to us in submission by God through the hands of others:

“Though mediated by men, baptism is the action of God or Christ (Eph 5:26). Hence baptism by others rather than self-baptism, and hence also the predominance of the passive. The middle [voice] is used of Christian baptism in the NT only in Acts 22:16. Standing in a definite and absolutely indispensable historical context, baptism derives its force from the reconciling action of God in Christ, or more exactly from the atoning death of Christ (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph 5:25f; Tt 3:4f; 1 John 5:6; John 19:34; 1 Peter 1:2; Heb 10:22). It places us objectively in Christ, the second Adam; it thus removes us from the sphere of death of the first Adam to the δικαιωσις ζωης and divine sonship (Gal 3:26f, Rom 5:18f).” – Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol 1, p. 540-541

Baptism, Faith, Grace and Works – Putting the pieces together:
Many people who do not believe baptism is necessary for salvation turn to Ephesians 2:9-10 for the solution, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The argument is that because baptism is something we do it qualifies as a work and since we are saved by faith, not by works baptism must not be essential for salvation. A work, as defined by Paul in Romans is something you do with hopes of being compensated (Rom 4:4). It earns something. Yet salvation is God’s gift (Rom 5:15ff & Eph 2:9-10) and there is not enough good we can do to earn it.

However, in Greek the verb for baptism used in the New Testament is Baptizo (Βαπτιζω) and it is used almost entirely in the passive voice (as was mentioned above). That is why we have in English to “be baptized.” It is something done to you and not something you do to yourself. That is the first reason it is not a work, as defined by Paul. The second reason it is not a work is the mindset. A work is done to earn something. When we are baptized we do not believe that being dipped in water is a sufficient to earn our salvation. Baptism doesn’t pay the price for our sins, Christ does. We don’t pay the price for our sins earning it through submitting to baptism. It is done to us in faith as a response and in recognition of salvation as God’s gift.

What about belief, repentance, and confession?
What is even more amazing to me is that those people who have a problem seeing baptism as necessary for salvation don’t have a problem with hearing, repentance or confession being necessary. Those are all actions on our part, things we do that are clearly found in scripture. If anything could be seen as a work it would be these things, not baptism. And yet baptism gets the boot in the minds of many as unnecessary or merely symbolic and is quickly and easily replaced with a “sinner’s prayer” that is never found in scripture. What is ironic is the “sinner’s prayer” is far more an act we do than baptism and yet it is done in lieu of baptism because baptism is a “work”! Unlike baptism, which we are commanded to submit to, these things we are commanded to do ourselves. And yet, correctly, none of those are “works” because we know that none of these things earn our salvation but yet are necessary responses of faith in light of what God has done for us through Christ.

Who is to blame?
Maybe we in Churches of Christ have some blame here. It is easy to point the finger and say other people need to study harder or whatever. I wonder if by calling it things like “5 Steps of Salvation” we haven’t painted ourselves into a corner because from the very beginning we make it a list of things we are supposed to do to be saved with little focus on what God is doing in us. That doesn’t diminish the importance of these scriptural responses to God. We just need to be careful that we are giving God more focus and more credit than we give ourselves in the saving process. The good news is we can do that in a very biblical way as people like Paul spoke of these things in terms of what God is doing in us.