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Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Church As The Family of God--Things Found in It

The church in the New Testament is often referred to by men as the family of God.  It is the designation that touches the heart with the greatest force.  We long to be part of a family, to have people who care about us and care how we are doing and who will help us willingly and gladly should we need it, people who love us.  One of the saddest things one can experience in life, a gut-wrenching experience, is feeling alone, abandoned, and that you matter to no one.  It rips your heart out and then shreds it to pieces.

Many people truly are alone; no one cares enough even to pray for them and the saddest thing is many who are in this condition realize it.  It is not hidden from them and they thus bear the burden of that knowledge suffering the emotional pain that comes with it. 

The sickness of heart so many experience who feel abandoned and alone is far more painful than any physical ailment for it touches the soul.   When one is unloved and unwanted then what is left when that comes into a person’s life?  “By sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” (Prov. 15:13 NKJV)  All human experience has borne out the truth of this spirit-inspired statement of scripture.

In Christ one always has family for the church of God is the family of God, people who love one another and care about one another, people who will pray for you as well as help you.  How thankful we ought to be to find someone who cares enough to pray for us.  Many people have no one who will do that for them.  Have you ever wanted someone to pray for you and there was no one to do it--no one who cared enough, no one close enough to you even to know your need?

While the phrase “the family of God” is not found in the New Testament the concept is.  We are the children of God, “Beloved, now we are children of God.” (1 John 3:2 NKJV)  Christians are born of God, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 John 5:1 NKJV)  We are begotten of God in that he has “according to his abundant mercy…begotten us again.” (1 Peter 1:3 NKJV)  The Christian has been born again into the family of God.  We call God Father for, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1 NKJV)  If we are his children he is our Father.

We are God’s household, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19 NKJV)  Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Tim. 3:15 NKJV)  Thus the church is our spiritual family, the house of God, and if we live in it long enough and are faithful it becomes as close to us as physical family, even a closely knit physical family, and even dearer to us as the years go by and we grow older.  That is the way God meant it to be.  

We are brothers and sisters in Christ for in Jesus’ own words he says, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:50 NKJV)

What should one experience in the family of God?  Here are but a few of the things.

(1)  Love.  “In sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22 NKJV)  “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NKJV)  “By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16 NKJV)  “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NKJV)

I think the greatest desire of the human heart is for love, to be loved and cared about.  In the church if the brethren are what they ought to be they will love you and care about you.  You are their beloved family. 

(2)  Compassion.  “The members should have the same care for one another…if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Cor. 12:25-26 NKJV)  Sounds like what we expect in our own homes does it not?  Sounds like people care for one another does it not?  That should be the church when the membership lives as Christ has directed them and have the love of God in them.

(3)  Kindness.  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.” (Eph. 4:32 NKJV)  Every Christian is to have “brotherly kindness” (2 Peter 1:7 NKJV) in his life.  Kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22 NKJV).  Have you ever wondered how much kindness the homeless receive?  What value do you think they would place on a little kindness?  How much value do we place on kindness in our life--kindness both shown to us and that which we show or should show to others?  In the church one should always find kindness being shown one member to another for we are family.  We should show kindness to all, the Bible teaches that, but certainly we need kindness to one another in the family of God.

(4)  Longsuffering or patience.  Life in any family requires patience or longsuffering with one another.  You should find that in the church as well.  God’s people, his family, learn to put up with one another’s quirks of character--those things that can be annoying--because of the love we have for one another.  We are “bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:2-3 NKJV)  Is that not the way it is with a husband and wife?  We all know it is and that is the way it is in any successful family.  It is that way in God’s family if it is the family God would have it to be.

(5)  Forgiveness.  “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32 NKJV)  “Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another.” (Col. 3:13 NKJV)  We all feel the need to be forgiven.  In the church, God’s family, one needs to find that forgiveness and I am speaking here of the forgiveness by our brethren specifically. 

Sin is a burden we carry and yes, certainly, we must first be concerned with the forgiveness of God but we also must feel our spiritual brothers and sisters in God’s family will forgive us and help us unload the burden and guilt of sin.  “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2 NKJV)  To know our family will have us back, forgive us, and love us despite our past sin is a wonderful thing.  An unforgiving Christian is an unsaved Christian.  “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15 NKJV)

(6)  Help and support.  If it is needed the family of God helps one another out with the matters of this life.  “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17 NKJV)  “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10 NKJV)  In 1 Tim. 5 Paul instructs Timothy as to how the church is to care for those who are “widows indeed” (1 Tim. 5:3 KJV) having no one to help them.  It would be a disgrace for a church to have hungry and needy brethren uncared for, a mark of a lack of love.

This list could be extended but brevity must rule.  Based on the 6 items I have listed, without extending them, I think we would all agree that any family sharing those traits is going to be a happy and successful family in meeting the inner human needs we all have.  Give me a family that loves me, has compassion for me when I need it, is kind to me, is patient with me, forgives me as needed, who will help me in my life, and I would say I have a wonderful family.  God’s family, when it is what it ought to be, is a wonderful family.

A few comments are appropriate here as regards the head of our spiritual family, God the Father.

(1) God loves me and you.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)  He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (1 Peter 3:9 NKJV)  He “desires all men to be saved.” (1 Tim. 2:4 NKJV)  “We love him because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NKJV)

(2) He will never give up on me or come to the point he no longer wants me as long as I will come home even if I was to wonder afar--the story of the prodigal son as found in Luke 15.  He will always have me if I will repent and come to him.

(3) He has prepared great things for me as a rich inheritance. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

(4) He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5 NKJV)  What a wonderful Father!  That last promise means a lot to me for I know whether they want to or not family and friends will leave me for death is inevitable.  I have someone in God my Father who will be with me no matter what even if it comes down to being just the two of us alone.  He is the only one who can go with me through the gate of my own personal death.  It means a lot to know he will be by my side through life and death.

Finally, I must close with the elder son of the Christian family, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  How much does he love me; how much does he love you?  To ask is to answer for there was and ever will be the cross.  “He himself is the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 2:2 NKJV)

When I think of Jesus I cannot help but think of him in the garden praying, “And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly.  And his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 NKJV)  He “offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and was heard because of his godly fear.” (Heb. 5:7 NKJV)  What more could one ask of an elder brother in giving himself to save his younger brother or sister?  Greater love has no man than this.

The family of God is the greatest family any man or woman can ever have.  Likely if it is not what it ought to be the reason is you or me, we are not the children we ought to be.  We know the Father is the best and the older son wonderful but how are we as children--rebellious or loving and faithful?  The church can always be made better, made better as you and I make our lives better and become more like our elder brother.  How Christ-like are we?

I end with this final thought.  We have often sorrowed in our lives as our earthly family has been struck down by death.  The family of God is not torn asunder by death.  It is a family that will always be ours unless we leave it.  When we die as a Christian we just go on where other family members have already gone and are reunited with them.  How wonderful that will be to be reunited with those we have loved in the past and who loved us and are now waiting on us.

But bear in mind the promise we have is only to those in God’s family.  Everyone today seems to think they are in God’s family regardless of doctrine or practice.  The Bible does not teach that every sincere person is going to be saved.  There is a way to be born into the family of God (John 3:5) so study your Bible and compare what you did to become a Christian, a child of God, with what they did in the first century.  Read Acts 2 as that is the day the family of God, the church, was established (a topic for another time).  Do as they did and you will be on safe grounds in the family of God.   

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Thursday, November 9, 2023

Diotrephes Loves To Have the Preeminence

In the third book of John, we read about a man by the name of Diotrephes as follows:  

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.  Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words.  And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” (3 John 1:9-10 NKJV) 

The English Standard Version reads in 3 John 1:9 as follows: 

"I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority." 

Diotrephes was a Christian man whose faith failed.  In that he had the power to put brethren out of the church one suspects that he was an elder who had gained preeminence over time above the other elders.  He had become so emboldened that he would not even accept the apostle John. 

The desire for power is one of the ugliest of all the various kinds of lusts mankind is subject to.  The desire to be boss, to rule over people, to be seen as top dog, the main man, to set rules and regulations for others, to strut our stuff, and to be bowed down to is not only a sin but it also turns people against us.  It has the exact opposite effect of that desired.  However, once a man gains such power his power in itself may be such as to shield him from the knowledge of the truth as to how people feel about him and relate to him.  We tend to not confront people who have power over us. 

If, by chance, such a person does get a hint of the truth such power-driven people feel so superior to others that the opinion of others is of no account to them.  Whatever you say makes but little difference to me seemed to be the attitude of Diotrephes.  I run the show here and I am the man.  I know best.  This is the arrogance of power.  

Too often we see such attitudes in politicians.  They know what is best, you are a nobody, and they are going to take care of you whether you want them to or not.  Unfortunately, as in the case of Diotrephes, we sometimes find such men in the church too. 

Such men may be elders in the church, preachers, teachers, deacons, or just any member whose desire it is to separate himself from the rest of the brethren.  He feels superior to others.  He ought to run things for he knows better; he has better insight and understanding.  

These men can generally be spotted a mile away but they cannot see themselves as others do.  Such men can rip a church apart.  A proud heart, the writer of Proverbs says, “stirs up strife” (Pro. 28:25 NKJV) and that is as true in the church as elsewhere.  In the business world, no one wants to work with or for them.  They are very capable of destroying their marriage and alienating their family.  And it is not just men but women can be guilty as well. 

Spend some time around a high school and you will soon learn by observation that this attitude of superiority starts early in life.  If you are in the right crowd you are superior to others not in that group.  

In Acts chapter 8 there was a man by the name of Simon who was converted by Phillip.  Before his conversion he had practiced sorcery in the city of Samaria and had astonished the people of Samaria, the Bible says, “claiming that he was someone great.” (Acts 8:9 NKJV)  In verse 10 of Acts 8, the Bible says, speaking of the people of Samaria with regards to Simon, that they “all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God.’” (NKJV) 

When Peter and John arrived Simon saw that the Holy Spirit could be conveyed to others by the apostles laying hands upon them.  Simon reverted back to his days before his conversion, desired this power, and sought it by means of offering to Peter and John money in exchange for the power they had in doing this.   You know the rest of the story.  He was condemned for this.  Peter says to Simon, “Your heart is not right in the sight of God.  Repent … and pray … .” (Acts 8: 21 -22, NKJV) 

Simon seemed to have the same problem Diotrephes had, the desire to be seen as special among God’s people, to be the man.  

In Acts 20 Paul calls the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet with him and tells them what the future would bring.  He says, in part, “From among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30, NKJV)  Elders in the church desiring power, the praise of men, desiring their very own flock.  Forget about the church being God’s, make it mine.  It is MINE!  That would be their attitude.  History teaches Paul's prophecy was fulfilled with such an attitude ultimately culminating in the office of the Pope. 

What causes men to be this way?  Their inability, or unwillingness, to see themselves as frail, feeble human beings dependent on God for their very next breath, their very next heartbeat. 

In talking to Adam after Adam’s sin God says to him, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19 NKJV) 

In Ecclesiastes 3:18-19 the inspired writer says, “Concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.  For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other.  Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals … .” (NKJV) 

Mankind needs to see and understand his real state of being as delineated in the passages just quoted.  If we understand what we are we will not exalt ourselves.  The same teaching is found in the following passages. 

The Psalmist says, “For when he dies he shall carry nothing away; His glory shall not descend after him.” (Psalm 49:17, NKJV)  And again, (Psalm 49:20), “A man who is in honor, yet does not understand, Is like the beasts that perish.” (NKJV) 

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him … .” (Psalms 8:3-4 ESV) 

The man who desires preeminence has difficulty seeing himself as he is, a man of sin.  He may fain humbleness or humility but does not feel it in his heart.  He feels, for all practical purposes, that he has risen above sin, that is any sin that in his/her mind is in any way serious.  Thank God that he can now show everyone else how to do the same seems to be the attitude. 

This is an exceedingly dangerous sin in that it is very difficult for such a person to ever be made aware of their sin.  Who will tell them the truth about themselves?  After all, is it not true it is a kind of judgment thing?  Who will tell the man or the woman the truth?  It may be as clear as it can be that the individual is such a person but who will tell them to their face? 

The pride of life is what drives such people.  Pride as any Bible reader knows is condemned over and over again in the Bible.  Since this is common knowledge I will quote only one such passage, Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishnessAll of these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” (NAS)  “God resists the proud.” (1 Peter 5:5 NKJV) 

Paul teaches the way we are to live when he says, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” (Rom 12:10, NKJV)  This passage is clearly violated by such people as we have been discussing.  What does it mean to be kindly affectionate to one another?  Does it mean to lord it over them and make yourself out to be superior to them?  Does it mean to belittle them in your heart?  I think not.  Neither do such people give preference to the other.  They give preference to themselves. 

Paul again, just a few verses later, says, “Be of the same mind toward one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.  Do not be wise in your own opinion.” (Rom. 12:16, NKJV)  The Diotrephes of the world have set their mind on high things.  They have become wise in their own opinion. 

The Bible, however, teaches that “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”  (James 4:6 NKJV)  The writer of Proverbs says, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD.” (Prov. 16:5 NKJV) 

Peter tells us, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time”. (1 Peter 5:6, NKJV)  Jesus was the one who took the towel and washed the disciple's feet and said we ought to be willing to do the same, that is serve our fellowman and one another. 

Jesus said, in speaking to the twelve, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28 NAS) 

The message of this article is not that men should flee from taking proper leadership roles in the church, business, education, or any other worthy endeavor.  It is a message to consider seriously who and what every man is – a man just like every other man.  If we will do that pride will flee. 

“For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14, NKJV)  As James says let us not boast in our arrogance.  (James 4:16).  Rather let us know that we all can become full of ourselves, we can become people full of pride and arrogance, and let us fight against becoming that with all our might.  Let us be the kind of men and women that the righteous love and that God will honor on the last day.  Pride can easily overtake us without our being fully aware that it is happening.  May we all guard against it.

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Monday, September 4, 2023

Christian Circumcision

Most everyone is aware that in Old Testament times beginning with Abraham God required that the males among whom he was in covenant relationship with be circumcised or else be cut off (excluded) from among his people.  We first read about this commandment when God made a covenant with Abraham in Gen. 17 (read especially verses 10 through 14).  It was a fleshly circumcision (v. 11), it was to "be a sign of the covenant between me and you" (v. 11 NKJV), it was to be done on the eighth day after birth (v. 12), and for any male that was not circumcised "that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (v. 14 NKJV)

Those who were not fleshly descendants of Abraham were not totally excluded from having a spiritual relationship with God among the Jews.  They could become what we call proselytes as shown by Exodus 12:48, "And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it." (NKJV)  To be uncircumcised was to be unclean and unholy.

Circumcision was to be a sign of a relationship, of a covenant that was being kept, not of one being disregarded.  It was meant not to be just an outward act but an act that tied the heart of man to the heart of God.  True an 8 day old child knows nothing of any of this but as he grew up and was taught it was to have meaning to him, importance.  Even so, it did not work out that way.  God says in Jer. 9:26, "All the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart." (NKJV)  Fleshly circumcision did not set them apart to God as it should have for their heart was not into a relationship with God where they would allow God to rule over them.

Paul says of the Jews of his own day that they sought "to establish their own righteousness" (Rom. 10:3 NKJV) and did not submit to the righteousness of God.  Of Israel of old he says they pursued the law of righteousness but did not attain it because they sought it by works rather than by faith (Rom. 9:31-32).  The circumcised of the Old Testament were to "walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised." (Rom. 4:12 NKJV)  This the majority of them did not do.  There is an important lesson in this that needs a little explanation.

One must obey God.  Disobedience is sin and will condemn a man.  The question is not whether or not a man ought to obey for he must.  Many see an emphasis on obedience as being the same as trying to obtain heaven by works.  That is a misguided view of the matter.  The real key to the matter is within the heart of man with the question being "why am I obeying?"  Is it because I think I can keep the commandments of God so well that he will almost owe me heaven (salvation by works) or is it because God gave me a command, I have faith in him to know that he knows best, I love him, and thus my heart is such that I am driven to obey?  It becomes a matter of the heart.  Never let yourself be misled by one belittling obedience to a command.  In reality, such a person is encouraging rebellion against God and has a heart that is not right with God.

This brings us up to the era of Christianity.  When Christ died on the cross, was buried, resurrected, returned to heaven, and then sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 an old era ended (the Law of Moses) and a new era began (the era of Christianity).  The Jews continued to circumcise their male children but it was no longer required in the law of God.  "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters." (1 Cor. 7:19 NKJV)  "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." (Gal. 5:6 NKJV)  "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation." (Gal. 6:15 NKJV)

However, while circumcision of the flesh no longer matters there is a circumcision that does matter and always has--the circumcision of the heart.  "Circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." (Rom. 2:29 NKJV)  "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." (Phil. 3:3 NKJV)  The "we" in this passage are Christians.  Yes, circumcision matters--circumcision of the heart, not circumcision of the flesh.  The heart must be right in God's sight.

In Col. 2:9-13 Paul talks about spiritual circumcision when he says:

"For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power.  In him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with him in baptism, in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (NKJV)

Forgiveness of sins is found in Christ.  Salvation is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:10).  The phrase "in him" is used 3 times in the passage just quoted.  According to Paul elsewhere we are "baptized into Christ Jesus" placing us "in him." (Rom. 6:3 NKJV--see also Gal. 3:27)  It is in Christ where forgiveness takes place but we enter into Christ by the process of "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ." (Col. 2:11 NKJV)  Paul in Rom. 6:3-8 (see especially verses 5 and 6) teaches that in baptism our old man dies "that the body of sin might be done away with" (Rom. 6:6 NKJV).  We have here parallel passages teaching the same thing both passages having been written by the same man inspired by the Spirit of God.  One could really summarize all of verse 11 by simply saying, "In him, you were forgiven." 

The phrase "with him" is also used 3 times in this passage of Col. 2:9-13.  We were "buried with him in baptism" (compare with Rom. 6:4), we were "raised with him" (compare with Rom. 6:4-5), and we were made "alive together with him" (compare with Rom. 6:4--the last phrase).  Also, take a close look at Rom. 6:8-11 on being made alive to God and compare it to Col. 2:13.

The last phrase of our passage (Col. 2:9-13) confirms the connection of this spiritual circumcision with baptism.  Paul says, "having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col. 2:13) which ties in perfectly with Peter's command to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost when they were told to repent and be baptized "for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38 NKJV)  We have forgiveness in both passages for when sins are remitted they are done so by God's forgiveness of them.

To develop this line of thought further we have Peter's statement in 1 Peter 3:21 where he says, "There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (NKJV)  Baptism is "the answer of a good conscience toward God" thus a matter of the heart.  Let us take a look at some examples showing this.

On the Day of Pentecost when Peter required those who believed to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) if you were a believer could you have turned your back and walked away and said “I am a believer and I can have a good conscience (a good heart) even if I defy Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired command?”  Could you have done that and been truthful?

When Paul was directed by Ananias to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16) could Paul have walked away from it disregarding the command and said “my conscience (my heart) is clean?”  How about the Philippian jailer (Acts 16) who could have said "see here it is already past midnight, let's just put this thing off (baptism--Acts 16:33) to a more convenient time when we are not all so worn out?"  Yes, circumcision is a matter of the heart--what kind of heart?  I think the answer is clear enough when you give it a little thought about what happened versus what could have happened.  The good heart acted, obeyed the command, and was baptized.

In fleshly circumcision, a part of the physical body was cut off and cast away.  In spiritual circumcision (the circumcision of Christ) the old sinful man (sinful in heart, mind, and actions) is cast off and replaced by a new man of the spirit.  Christ does this but he uses means to do it.  By his word faith is created, the heart is changed, and then in baptism the old man is put away and one arises from the water to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4-5), a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). 

This is not water salvation but salvation by faith for Paul says in Col. 2:12, one of our principle verses, "you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God," (NKJV) raised, that is, after being "buried with him in baptism." (Col. 2:12 NKJV)  There is no such thing as a scriptural baptism that is not first preceded by faith.  Without faith in what God, not man, has said about baptism and faith in what God has said he will do for us as a result of faithfully obeying him in baptism, without that faith baptism amounts to nothing.  If you do not believe what God said about baptism, speaking through Peter by means of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38, why waste your time with it?  There is no point. 

Quickly, I want to run through three or four other passages found later in the book of Colossians confirming what has been said.  In Col. 2:20 we have this, "Therefore, if you died with Christ" (NKJV) why do you subject yourselves to various things--things Paul then lists.  How and when do we die with Christ?  Paul, the writer of the book of Colossians, says in Rom. 6:3-8 that it was in baptism.  Combine that with what Paul says here in Col. 2:20 and in Col. 2:12 and you come to the conclusion, inevitably, that the Colossians were a baptized group of believers.  So, so what you might say? 

Here is the what--what if you did not die with Christ in baptism?  Well, if you didn't then don't worry about what Paul has to say (Col. 2:20) for he is talking only to those who have died with Christ.  Thus for those who claim to be Christians without baptism, the circumcision performed by Christ, parts of the Bible do not pertain to you for you never died with Christ.  You die with Christ in baptism.  You were not baptized.

Another similar passage is Col. 3:1 where the text says, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above." (NKJV)  Well, if you were never buried with Christ in baptism you were not raised with him (you have to be buried before you can be raised) thus you need not concern yourself with seeking things above for this passage relates to only a certain class of people--those who were raised with Christ.

Col. 3:3 is another like passage.  It says, "For you died." (NKJV)  This is not for you if you never died with Christ in baptism.  “We were buried with him by baptism into death.” (Rom. 6:4 NKJV)  I do not know of any passage in the Bible anywhere that teaches one can die to sin or die with Christ other than in baptism.

The last Colossian passage I will use is Col. 3:9-10, "Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." (NKJV)  We have already given the passages that show us where the old man with his deeds was put off and the new man put on (read Rom. 6:3-8 again and Col. 2:11-13).

Sometimes people grow upset with the idea that God uses means to accomplish his ends.  When a text says God does a thing they seem to have the idea he must act alone--that he is not allowed to use means to accomplish ends.  If we applied that to life as we live it daily we would readily see how ridiculous that kind of thinking is.  Am I not allowed to build a house using hammers, saws, tape measures, squares, and even engage other men to help me do it?  God punished Judah but the reality is he used the Babylonians to do it (read Ezekiel).  What does this have to do with our topic?

Just this much--men seem to be determined that God cannot use baptism as a means to an end he has chosen, the end being the salvation of man.  He can use other tools if he so desires but just not this one.  Why not this one?  Because they see it as being something a man must perform and salvation is a work of God, not man.  Let me ask a question.  Who and what cleansed Naaman of leprosy in 2 Kings 5?  He was told by Elisha to go dip in the Jordan 7 times.  Naaman had something to do.  When he did it he was cleansed.

Now let us think about that just a little.  Who really cleansed Naaman of leprosy, was it the water, or was it God?  Was Naaman saved by works or by faith?  Had Naaman never heard of Elisha and had just gone down on his own to the Jordan and dipped in it 7 times with no idea of being cleansed but just dipping as in bathing would the water have cleansed him?  We all know the answer.  God cleansed him but on a condition.  What was that condition?  Faith!  Do you Naaman believe me enough (Elisha was speaking to Naaman as God's spokesperson) to go do this?  If you do you will be cleansed.  If not you will remain a leper. 

As you recall Naaman refused at first.  He wanted God to heal him merely by having Elisha speak the word--let it all depend on God, put no burden on me.  Only when time had elapsed, others spoke to him reasoning with him, and he humbled himself and gathered enough faith to obey was he cleansed.  However, one must always remember it is not the process that saves but God.  God could have cleansed Naaman any way he wanted to or not cleansed him at all.  It was God's call, God's decision.  But, once God has made up his mind as to how he wants to go about achieving an end man has no choice in the matter but either comply or rebel.  Naaman had that choice and came close to going back home the way he came--as a leper.  His change of heart leading to compliance saved him.

It is no different with baptism.  It takes a change of heart to get a man into the baptismal waters.  Jesus uses means to cleanse us and puts us to the test.  It is not only a test of obedience but also one of faith.  The man without faith will never submit to a baptism that is acceptable to God.  He may be baptized to please his family, or to join some manmade denomination, or for some other reason but until he believes the scriptures and what they say about baptism and acts out of faith in those scriptures in obedience he will never be circumcised with the circumcision of Christ.  Christ ultimately cleanses us regardless of the conditions he imposes upon us for doing so--faith, repentance, confession, and baptism being the conditions.  A man who has complied with those conditions out of faith in the word of God is a man who has experienced the circumcision of Christ.  He is a man with a circumcised heart.    

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Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Peter's Preaching and the Apostle's Preaching

It is not uncommon to hear people express doubts about the harmony of the preaching and teaching found in the New Testament often doing so by making the claim that the various writers of the New Testament differed in what they taught.  Often those who make such claims will pit Paul against James or Peter against Paul.

The truth is the scriptures do not belong to Paul, or James, or Peter, or any other writer even if their name happens to be attached to a letter.  "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2 Tim. 3:16 NKJV)  The scriptures came by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  God used men's tongues and pens to give us the message of inspiration.  To say that one New Testament preacher/writer contradicted another is to say that God himself is inconsistent and says and teaches one thing at one time and another thing at another time.  It is to say there is more than one gospel which is the very thing scripture denies.

One can "pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7 NKJV) but you cannot make two gospels out of one.  Paul says, by inspiration, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8 NKJV)  One gospel was preached by inspiration.

Jesus commanded the apostles, "But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:11 NKJV)  I quote that passage as I want you the reader to have it in mind for I want to take a look at a specific instance of just such an occasion and the preaching that was done on that occasion.  I want to examine the sermon Peter and the apostles gave in Acts 5 with a view of showing its harmony with Peter's first gospel sermon in Acts 2 and thus the agreement in preaching the gospel among all the apostles including one yet to come--the apostle Paul--who will not be converted until chapter 9 in the book of Acts.

In Acts 5 we have the apostles arrested and imprisoned (Acts 5:17-18).  That night while in prison an angel came to their rescue releasing them and instructing them to go to the temple and resume their teaching (Acts 5:19-20).  This they did but once again were rearrested and brought before the high priest and the Jewish council (Acts 5:27). 

Which of the apostles was the spokesperson for the group in Acts 5 we are not told but the text says "then Peter and the other apostles answered" (Acts 5:29 NKJV) so we can be certain that all the apostles were in agreement for the answer made is attributed to all of them.

The entire discourse as recorded follows:  "But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.'" (Acts 5:29-32 NKJV)

Let us examine this sermon starting by talking about "obedience."  As it relates to the gospel being preached it is the last use of the word "obey" in this discourse that is of greatest interest in determining the gospel being preached.  Who receives the Holy Spirit?  It is "those who obey Him"--obey God, obey Jesus--as clearly stated in the text.  The Hebrew writer says of Jesus, “He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)

Is obedience a part of the gospel?  Did Peter preach obedience in his first gospel sermon, the first such sermon ever preached to mankind, in Acts 2?  He commanded those that day to, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38 NKJV)  This statement was made after the Holy Spirit had fallen on Peter (see Acts 2:4) and he was thus speaking by means of the Holy Spirit.  Could you do what Peter asked those in that audience to do that day without being obedient?  Of course not!  Yes, Peter preached obedience on the Day of Pentecost just as he and the other apostles are doing this day in Acts 5.

They say the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God (Acts 5:32).  One must obey God to have the Spirit.  When Jesus returns it will be "in flaming fire taking vengeance…on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess. 1:8 NKJV)  All the apostles were thus in agreement on the need for obedience and this would include Paul when he later became an apostle.

This was what Peter preached in his second gospel sermon recorded in Acts 3 as well when he quoted Moses, "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren.  Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.  And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.'" (Acts 3:22-23 NKJV)  To "hear" does not just mean the physical act of hearing but rather means to obey.

To obey meant to obey what?  Well, it meant to obey all things the apostles spoke by the Holy Spirit.  What was that as it related to gospel obedience, to making one a Christian?  It included what Peter commanded in his Day of Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 preached by means of the Holy Spirit.  "Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2:38 NKJV) 

Some may be troubled by the fact that faith is not mentioned in that sermon (the Day of Pentecost sermon in Acts 2).  My question is does it have to be when it is clearly implied?  For that matter, no mention of faith is made in this Acts 5 sermon either but it is implied.  Where is the man to be found capable of scriptural repentance who does not first believe?  Where is the man who is willing to be obedient to baptism who does not first believe?  Can a man be scripturally baptized who does not believe?  No!  When a thing is clearly implied in scripture it does not need to be mentioned.

It is said that the Catholics baptize babies who cannot believe.  Do they?  Where does the Bible teach that sprinkling is baptism?  Men made sprinkling baptism, not God.  It became a tradition of men.  In the New Testament a man was baptized when he was buried in water.  There was no other way to be baptized.  Secondly, the Bible teaches, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16 NKJV) and not "he who is incapable of believing and is baptized will be saved."  One comes from God; the other is a man-made doctrine.  Besides, babies are pure in God's sight, sinless, and have no need of baptism. 

In Acts 5:31 the apostles state that Jesus is the Savior who gives repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  How does he do that?  Peter has preached this before, saying basically the same thing simply phrasing it differently, in the Acts 2:38 passage.  God gives man repentance by giving him motives to lead him to repent.  One must first see his need for repentance, see his own sins so he will feel them in his heart, before he is capable of repenting of them.

In both the sermon in Acts 2 and this one in Acts 5 sin is pointed out--there is need of repentance.  In Acts 2 Peter says, "you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death" Jesus. (Acts 2:23 NKJV)  In Acts 5 the apostles refer to those whom they are addressing as murders (see Acts 5:30).  In Acts 3:15 Peter says to the crowd gathered there that they "killed the Prince of life." (NKJV)

The point is that apostolic preaching preached about sin and the need to repent.  So, we see repentance was preached by the apostles.  It was preached in Acts 5:31; it was preached in Acts 2:38; it was preached in Acts 3:19.  Preaching the gospel always involved the subject of repentance from sin and always will for that is a part of gospel obedience.

How did and how does Jesus give to man forgiveness of sins?  We could say salvation is the gift of God and is by grace and that would be true.  But is there anything God has asked man to do before he will extend that grace to man and grant him forgiveness?

If you say no then you have immediately rejected the need for both faith and repentance.  If we believe faith is essential and if we believe repentance is essential then we must admit man plays a role in his salvation despite it being a gift and we admit there are things man must do.  In Acts 2 Peter said one of the things a man must do was be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38 NKJV) 

Does Jesus give forgiveness of sins?  Yes, but it is conditional.  Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mark 16:16 NKJV)  Most people want to make that read "he who believes and is baptized or is not baptized will be saved" but that is adding to the scripture and is not what Jesus taught but what man desires to teach.

Peter, by the Holy Spirit, speaking on the day of Pentecost told penitent believers, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38 NKJV) 

Some say yes that is what the text says but it is not what it means.  Evidently, Peter did not know that for years later he was still saying, "There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism." (1 Peter 3:21 NKJV)  If a man is saved he is saved from sin and the only way that is accomplished is through God's forgiveness.  Peter says baptism saves.  He does not say baptism alone without faith or repentance. 

There was no disagreement among the apostles when Peter first preached baptism for the remission of sins on the Day of Pentecost.  All the apostles were in agreement with Peter's preaching.  Jesus himself had taught them while still on earth that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5 NKJV)  They had been commanded at the time Jesus ascended back into heaven to go make disciples and do what?  Baptize them! (Matt. 28:19 NKJV)  Which ones?  Every single one of them with no exceptions.  If you say no then you are under obligation to tell us which ones were not to be baptized.

Just by coincidence, I am now reading a book entitled A History of Christianity, Vol. 1, Beginnings to 1500 by Kenneth Scott Latourette, copyright 1953, Revised Edition.  (That was years ago when this article was first written.)  This is a large book of nearly 700 pages by Mr. Latourette who was Director of Graduate Studies at the Yale Divinity School at the time of his retirement in 1953.  I want to quote from that book for it bears directly on the subject at hand.  "In its earlier days the Church maintained rigorous standards for its membership.  As we have seen, baptism was believed to wash away all sins committed before it was administered." (Page 138)  He says of the Emperor Constantine that he "did not receive baptism until the latter part of his life…from the conviction, then general, that it washed away all previous sins." (Page 93) 

People today do not want to believe that anyone at anytime ever believed that baptism was God's means of washing away (spiritually speaking) the sins of man but that will not change history or the teaching of the New Testament on the subject.  The modern-day idea of salvation by faith alone came from the Middle Ages and not from the first, second, third, or fourth centuries or from the Bible.

In the same book, I quote again only this time of Augustine.  "As a youth Augustine was given Christian instruction.  His mother did not have him baptized because, accepting the belief that baptism washed away sins committed before it was administered, she wished him to defer it until after the heat of youth was passed and with it the excesses of that ardent age." (Page 96)  Born in 354 AD he was baptized on April 25, 387 AD.

In closing, I want to point out that thousands of people were saved by obeying the gospel before Paul ever became an apostle.  Some would like to claim that Paul preached a grace that Peter did not.  They desire two different gospels.  Paul himself denied, as pointed out earlier in this piece, that there were two or more gospels.  When one understands Paul's preaching correctly he will find Peter's preaching for both taught and preached the same gospel and that gospel had baptism in it for the remission of sins.  It was the same gospel the 12 apostles put their stamp of approval on the Day of Pentecost.  They put their stamp of approval on it for the Holy Spirit gave it and who were they to dispute the Spirit of God.  Who are you and I to do so today?

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