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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Fear God

I have often heard it said that a Christian should have no fear of God.  I have mixed feelings when I hear that for it is one of those truths that can easily lead to false conclusions unless the statement is clarified. 

John indeed says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.  But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18 NKJV)  It is true that every Christian can have fear banished from his life.  

A few verses later John says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (1 John 5:3 NKJV)  This freedom from fear is available to any Christian living a faithful and dedicated life, one who is observing all the commandments of God, who truly repents when he does transgress, who puts God first in his life in every respect.  Such a person fears neither man, death, nor the judgment. 

Paul was such a man.  Near the end of his life he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8 NKJV) 

One is also reminded of the stories of the early martyrs of the church who rather than deny the faith allowed themselves to be burned at the stake during the Roman persecutions.  These men and women were fearless and their love perfected. 

It ought to be the goal of all Christians to have this kind of faith in God and love for God that would lead us to become martyrs too if need be.  It is ours for the taking but we must first conquer ourselves. 

Paul told those who were already Christians at Ephesus to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.”  (Eph. 4:22-24 NKJV)  

We know that this is not always easy to do.  Paul said to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.” (1 Cor. 3:1-3 NKJV) 

Did the Corinthians at this stage of their lives have anything to fear?  Were they guilty of unforgiven sin at the time Paul wrote the letter?  The book of First Corinthians is a book that lists sin after sin for which Paul rebukes them. 

In the second letter to the church at Corinth Paul speaks of their repenting.  He says, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance.” (2 Cor. 7:9 NKJV)  He goes on to say, “Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation." (2 Cor. 7:10 NKJV)  It sounds much like repentance was a requirement for their salvation meaning, of course, that there was a period of time in which these Christians were not in a saved state, a time when they had sinned but had not yet repented.

Another example of the same sort of thing was Simon the sorcerer as found in Acts 8 where Paul tells him, “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.  Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”  (Acts 8:21-22 NKJV)  

Thus the point to be made is that this freedom from fear, this perfect love that casts out fear, is not for all but only for a certain class of Christian--the totally dedicated and faithful one, the obedient one.  It is a goal to be sought after but also a goal that is obtainable by all if they are willing to make the necessary commitment and sacrifices in their lives. 

The subject also needs to be looked at from another angle.  I know of no man who holds a position of authority whose authority will be respected and honored unless there are some negative consequences to be suffered for disobeying the rules he establishes.  Law without punishment for its violation will not be obeyed and thus practically speaking ends up being no law at all.  

A teacher who will not discipline those who disobey the classroom rules will have utter chaos in the class.  A boss who is not obeyed is really boss of no one, a boss in name only.  In our own country we have laws against illegal immigration.  Those laws have no teeth behind them thus are disobeyed so that we have millions of illegal immigrants in our country.  There must be some fear of authority for there to be any authority and that fear only comes if there are real consequences for disobedience, for breaking the law. 

There are those who want to emphasize reverence for God over godly fear.  We should reverence God but how can there be reverence for God without Godly fear?  It is said that God is like our earthy fathers whom we love and obey and whom we do not fear.  What?  Kids obey Mom or Dad without fear?  

A family where children have no fear of breaking the rules is a family where the children run amuck, who are out of control, disrespectful, disobedient.  Every parent worth their salt has some kind of punishment for their children who break the rules.  Yes, the kids love their parents but the fear of punishment also plays a major role in their obeying the rules.  Is it any different with us in our relationship to God? 

We do not run around as children in stark terror of our parents but certainly we have a fear of pushing them too far by breaking their rules knowing that consequences will follow if we do.  So it is in our relationship with God. 

Those who speak of reverence for God rather than fear of God often leave out, so it seems to me, the element of godly fear.  If asked to define reverence they would use words like respect, honor, deference, and veneration but too often leave out godly fear.  Godly fear is an essential element of true reverence for God.  This kind of fear is not a contradiction of 1 John 4:18.  In fact, godly fear leads to the banishment of the fear described in 1 John 4:18 for it leads to a faithful life. 

Observation of life shows us many who have no fear of God whatsoever.  The fact that a man has no fear of God does not prove he is a man whose love has been perfected.  Many who lack fear of God are atheist and godless men.  They are those who should fear God but who do not. 

What does the Bible say and teach about fearing God?  Noah is the earliest man we read about in the Bible of whom it is said he had godly fear.  In the book of Hebrews, the eleventh chapter, the chapter known as the faith chapter, it is said of Noah that, “by faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household.”  (Heb. 11:7 NKJV)  You can interpret that any way you want but what I get out of it is that Noah was afraid not to build the ark.  Why, because he believed God.  

A man who believes God today concerning what he has had to say about the judgment to come and eternal punishment and orders his life accordingly will simply be following in the footsteps of Noah who acted out of godly fear.  

Moses in recounting the events at Mt. Sinai says the people spoke to him the following words at that time, “Now therefore, why should we die?  For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die.  For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (Deut. 5:25-26 NKJV)  They were fearful for their lives because of what they were seeing and hearing.  What was God’s response? 

Three verses later God says, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deut. 5:29 NKJV)  God is saying that his people ought to fear him for their own good.  Has that changed today? 

There is an interesting passage in the book of Jeremiah dealing with this subject.  God speaking says, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.  And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.”  (Jer. 32:38-40 NKJV)  The fear of God is for our good and will help keep us faithful for that is what God is saying. 

God makes it clear that fearing Him is not an evil thing as some seem to feel that it is today.  Some talk like they think God is just Big Daddy.  That kind of thing is very disrespectful.  God is not one of us.  He is not a man.  When we see God we will be on our knees.  We do not bow down to men.  “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”  (Rom. 14:11 NKJV, see also Isa. 45:23)  Being in God’s presence is not like going to grandfather’s house.  

The Psalmist says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalms 111:10 NKJV)   Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7 NKJV), “is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death,” (Prov. 14:27 NKJV), “by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” (Prov. 16:6 NKJV) 

Just a few more verses from the Old Testament before turning to the new.  What is the whole duty of man?  Solomon concluded in Eccl. 12:13, NKJV, that it was and is to “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” or as the old King James version put it, “this is the whole duty of man.” 

What are the blessings to those who fear God?  “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”  (Psalms 34:7 NKJV)  “Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints!  There is no want to those who fear Him.”  (Psalms 34:9 NKJV)  “Surely his salvation is near to those who fear Him.” (Psalms 85:9 NKJV)  “For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.” (Psalms 103:11 NKJV)  “As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.”  (Psalms 103:13 NKJV) 

Finally, and then we move to the New Testament, Psalms 89:7, NKJV, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.”  One wonders, has that changed?  Was it ever meant to change? 

Well, how about the New Testament?  We can have no higher authority than Jesus who said, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell: yes, I say to you, fear Him!”  (Luke 12:5 NKJV)  Paul says we are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12 NKJV) 

There is an interesting passage found in 2 Cor. 7:11 where Paul is recounting how they had repented at Corinth after his first letter admonishing them and he says this, “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner:  What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear … “ and he goes on.  I have a question.  What were they afraid of?  Was there some godly fear?  Was there fear of condemnation?  

Remember Solomon said in Proverbs, “by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” (Prov. 14:27 NKJV)  That is to say by fear of the Lord one repents. 

Paul says we are to perfect holiness “in the fear of God”.  (2 Cor. 7:1 NKJV)  One of the reasons Paul gave for preaching the gospel, in his own words, was “knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Cor. 5:11 NKJV)  The writer of Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31 NKJV) 

Peter, in fact, commands us to fear God.  He says, “Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king.”  (1 Peter 2:17 NKJV) 

The last verse I will use is Rev. 14:6-7, NKJV, “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth--to every nation tribe, tongue, and people--saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” 

I believe the Bible is as clear as it can be that man is to fear God.  Call it godly fear if you will for that is what it is.  It is the kind of fear that helps a man stay faithful.  It is the fear that Noah had and that we all ought to have.  The foolish man is the man who does not fear God.  Such a man lives for himself and fears not to disobey God. 

In Rom. 3:18, NKJV, Paul says of those who he has been describing as sinners, talking about their nature and what they had done, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

Yes, reverence God but also understand what is included in that--godly fear.  Godly fear, as stated in the beginning of this article, can lead a man to that state described in 1 John 4:18 where fear is banished for love has been perfected--perfected by the kind of faith and obedience that Noah and Abraham had.  “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”  (1 John 5:3 NKJV)  Such a man ceases to fear for he is faithful to God.  He would fear to be unfaithful.   

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

No Inheritance in The Kingdom of God – Part III

This is now the third article in a series on sins of which the apostle Paul, speaking by means of the Holy Spirit, says will deny one an inheritance in the kingdom of God if practiced.  Of course, one can quit the practice of a sin and repent of it but to continue on in any of these sins without repentance is to be condemned.

In Part I of the series the sins of adultery and fornication were dealt with.  In Part II the sins of homosexuality, sodomy, uncleanness, and lewdness were covered.  In this installment I will be dealing with idolatry, covetousness, thievery, extortion, sorcery, hatred, and drunkenness.

The text used for this series can be found below, the underlining being my own.

1 Cor. 6:9-10

Gal. 5:19-21

Eph. 5:5-7

 

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1Cor.  6:9-10 NKJV)

 

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,

idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21 NKJV)

 

“For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Eph. 5:5-7 NKJV)

Most people have an understanding of pagan idolatry so little needs to be said of that.  There is still a lot of that kind of idolatry in the world but not in the modern day western world.  One finds it, however, not just in some remote tribal regions in say Africa or Southeast Asia but also in more advanced nations like India (Hinduism) and China and Japan (Buddhism – let the reader decide).  Most people from the West generally recognize pagan idolatry when they see it.  Few westerners are likely to be attracted to that type of idolatry.

Our danger in the West is of the more insidious types of idolatry.  For example, Paul says in Col. 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry.  An idol does not have to have a physical, material form and set on a shelf or be placed in a temple.  An idol is anything we worship ahead of God or in place of God.  It can come in the form of a hobby or sport, it can be money, it can be a job, it is anything you put before God, in place of God, as number one in your life. 

Covetousness, which Paul says is idolatry, is also on the list of sins that will keep one from an inheritance in the kingdom of God.  What is covetousness?  Well, Paul says in Acts 20:33, “I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel.” (NKJV)  Thus, to lust after another person’s possessions, desiring them for yourself is to covet.  In 1 Tim. 6:10 Paul speaks of some whose love of money led them to stray from the faith in their greediness for it.  Greediness is a synonym for covetousness.

We are not to lust after evil things (1 Cor. 10:6).  Paul speaks of those who “being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” (Eph. 4:19 NKJV)  Remember greediness is just another word for covetousness.  One can thus covet the immoral.

Covetousness is a desire for more and more.  "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15  NKJV)  I think we get the general idea of things or ways in which a person can covet and become covetous.

Somewhat related to covetousness is the sin of being a thief.  This would seem to be a sin so commonly understood that little would need to be said of it.  However, one must bear in mind there are things one can steal other than another person’s money or possessions.  I could steal your good name; I could steal your spouse if I was able to do so.  Yes, these sins would involve other sins as well as theft but, nevertheless, it would still be theft.

Then one could also steal by cheating on an exam or in a competition.  One can be a thief in many different scenarios.  If you are a thief, unrepentant, there is no inheritance in God’s kingdom for you.  We need to be perfectly honest in all of our dealings, no cheating, and no stealing.

Extortioners are another class of people who will not inherit God’s kingdom.  An extortioner is also one who covets but since one might covet only in his/her heart without taking action an extortioner acts on the sin in his heart.  David Lipscomb, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:10, gives the easiest to understand definition of an extortioner.  He says, “An extortioner is one who by power or threats takes what is not his own or more than is right.  The man who takes advantage of another’s poverty, or his necessities, to obtain exorbitant gain, is an extortioner.”  Thus one might charge an exorbitant interest rate to one to whom you loan money who is in no position to seek the loan elsewhere.  The idea seems to be that the extortioner is in a position to exert his power over the other due to the other’s inferior position and lack of options.

John the Baptist, speaking to the tax collectors who had come to him asking him what they should do, told them “collect no more than what is appointed for you.” (Luke 3:13 NKJV)  He was saying do not extort the people from whom you are collecting taxes.  They were in a position where they could easily have extorted the people and gotten by with it had they a mind to do so, they had that power.  We are to be fair and honest in all of our dealings with others.  We are entitled to a profit in our business dealings but not an excessive one to the hurt of the other person who has no choice but deal with us.

We move now from sins related to greed to sorcery.  The Greek behind this word is translated by the word “witchcraft” in the New International Version and some other lesser well known translations.  It has the idea of the occult behind it.  Philip Schaff in his commentary says sorcery is “a secret tampering with the powers of evil” usually in association with idolatry.  Zerr in his commentary says, “It means any attempt to accomplish a result by means of pretended supernatural power or knowledge, such as fortune telling, palm reading, astrology, etc.”  It involved spells, incantations, enchantments, and magic.  David Lipscomb said of sorcery, “The use of magical enchantment, divination by supposed assistance of evil spirits, witchcraft.”

Perhaps the most well known biblical account of such activity was with King Saul at En Dor when he consulted the medium there (see 1 Sam. 28).  Sorcery was common in the world of the Old and New Testaments.  Paul encountered this activity more than once in his travels (see Acts 19:19 as an example, also Acts 8:9-11, 13:6).  One wants to stay as far away from fortune telling, consulting the dead, etc., as is possible.  “And when they say to you ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God?  Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isa. 8:19 NKJV)

We get an idea of God’s attitude toward all things occult from Deut. 18:10-12, “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.  For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord.”  The distinctions made here in the Old Testament among various aspects of the occult I do not find in the New Testament but I think they would all be covered under the word sorcery.

Hatred will also keep one from an inheritance in the kingdom of God.  We generally associate hatred as being an inward trait or feeling one has toward another individual or group.  That is certainly condemned, however, seldom if ever can one have a loathing in his/her heart for another without some manifestation of it in their behavior toward that individual.  Perhaps when around that individual you just make it obvious that you are cool toward them, want nothing to do with them, or perhaps you speak ill of them to others.  However it is done there are usually outward evidences of your animosity.

In worst case scenarios hatred can lead to malice where the hater seeks to do harm or injury to his object of hatred.  It can lead to violence and death.  Even when it does not go that far the apostle John says, “He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (I John 3:14-15 NKJV)  Earlier John says hatred blinds one.  “But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness … because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:11 NKJV)  We have all seen people or read about them so blinded by hatred that they cannot reason rationally.  Think Hitler if no other.

One might ask the question, is all there is either love or hate?  The only other thing I can think of is indifference but what is indifference?  It is not love.  Since it is not love it is not willing to help.  So where does that leave indifference?  One thinks of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-36.  The priest and the Levite walked away from the injured man in need of assistance.  One can certainly say they had no love in their hearts for the man.  “He who does not love his brother abides in death.” (1 John 3:14 NKJV) 

The sin of drunkenness will also keep one out of any inheritance in the kingdom of God.  As is the case with all the sins listed by Paul in our texts we are talking about drunkenness that is unrepented of and that is ongoing.  Jesus said all sins will be forgiven the sons of men except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Mark 3:28-29 NKJV)  Drunkenness is not the unforgivable sin if repented of. 

We live in a society that seems to view drinking as a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood and what would a party of adults be if we could not serve and drink alcoholic beverages?  It is as if our society idolizes alcohol and as if drinking makes a man a man and a woman a woman.  No one dare speak of the lost lives and ruined lives from drinking whether one wants to talk about those maimed or killed in car wrecks, those who commit crime while under the influence who would not have done so had they been sober, or those who become alcoholics and lose control over their lives and wreck havoc in their families.

When one becomes addicted to alcohol, or any drug, it is a tough climb out of addiction but it can be done.  Many have done it.  That is not to say it is easy.  I have often thought of this much like the difficulty one has who marries say in their late twenties or early thirties.  We are to live sexually pure lives and in many ways our standard under the law of Christ is even tougher than it was under the Law of Moses for it reaches even into the heart.  It is tough to live up to that standard as a single person through the many years of one’s youth who does not marry until late.  When you learn the correct definition of what God calls fornication, learn how extensive the meaning of that word is (translated “sexual immorality” in modern translations) you will understand what I am saying.  My point is nearly everyone fights strong prolonged temptation; if it is not this it is that or something else.  It is a difficult battle but it must be fought until victory is won. 

We ought always to fight temptation to win but, and if, we lose on occasion we should not despair and give up but get back up and start the fight all over again until finally with God’s help we win.  God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and so he will help the determined individual who will turn from his or her sin.  If God was out to get us he would zap us the first time we sinned.

To the person not addicted to a drug or alcohol that just enjoys getting high or drunk – are you out of your mind?  Having eyes to see can you not see?  Have you learned nothing from observation?  Do you not care about others and your example before them and what they might be led into because of you?   

I, obviously, have not yet finished this series of articles on sins that will keep us from an inheritance in the kingdom of God but we have gotten close enough I think one more article will do it and enough has been written for this time.   

[To download this article or print it out click here.]

Monday, September 5, 2022

Does Jesus’ Baptism Condemn You?

Does baptism matter?  Most Americans have come to the conclusion that it does not, a person can be saved and go to heaven baptized or not.  It is such a settled conviction with most that they are not willing to give the study of the topic the time of day.  

It seems to me this is taking the same attitude the Pharisees took back in the first century.  They had their settled law and there was no point in thinking there was any possibility that they might be in error.  When Jesus came along and started questioning some of their beliefs and practices there was nothing to do but crucify him for there was no possibility in their mind that they could be wrong in their religion.  What he had to say had to be heresy. 

A person ought to be cautious in reaching conclusions in spiritual matters for once this life is over and the next one has begun there is no going back a second time and getting it right.  There are no second chances and eternity is eternity.  I would like to look at baptism and want to start with an account that is often overlooked--the baptism of Jesus when John baptized him. 

It is certainly true that the baptism of John differs from that which the Lord commanded in the great commission as given in Matthew 28 and Mark 16.  If I was to be baptized with the baptism of John today it would not do me any good for its time has long since come and gone.  Nevertheless, that was not the case when Jesus came to John to be baptized approximately 2,000 years ago.  

Mark tells us, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Mark 1:4 NKJV)  We know that Jesus never sinned and when Jesus comes to John to be baptized John is hesitant.  “John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’” (Matt. 3:14 NKJV) 

Now, note carefully how Jesus responds.  “But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’  Then he allowed Him.”  (Matt. 3:15 NKJV) 

Why was Jesus baptized?  To fulfill all righteousness for that is what he says.  What did he mean by that?  The answer is found in Psalms 119:172, “My tongue shall speak of Your word, For all Your commandments are righteousness.” (NKJV)  Jesus was baptized because it was the righteous thing to do for God had commanded it and all of God’s commandments are righteousness. 

In Matt. 21 Jesus is being confronted by the chief priests and the elders who want to know by what authority he is doing the things he is doing.  The Bible says, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things:  The baptism of John, where was it from?  From heaven or from men?’  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  ‘But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.’” (Matt. 21:24-26 NKJV) 

Jesus is saying John’s baptism has to be either from God or from man, which is it?  Jesus knew it was from God and was baptized.  The Pharisees did not believe it was from God and thus were not baptized.  In Jesus’ case belief led to obedience; in the Pharisee’s case disbelief led to disobedience. 

In Luke 7 Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist and the Bible says, beginning in verse 29, “And when all the people heard Him (Jesus was the one speaking -- DS), even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John.  But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” (NKJV)  This provides further proof that John’s baptism was from God. 

The counsel of God was that men receive John’s message and be baptized.  John’s message was that men repent and be baptized, a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.    

The Good News Bible translates Mark 1:4 as follows:  “So John appeared in the desert, baptizing and preaching. ‘Turn away from your sins and be baptized,’ he told the people, ‘and God will forgive your sins.’"  This was the message of God to the people that was rejected by the Pharisees, lawyers, chief priests, and elders. 

But, the Bible says “even the tax collectors justified God, have been baptized with the baptism of John.” (Luke 7:29 NKJV)  What does it mean “justified God”, how is that done?  The New American Standard translation of this verse clarifies it a lot.  It reads, “And when all the people and the tax-gatherers heard this, they acknowledged God's justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.” 

Part of John’s message was that there was to be wrath to come and the way of escape was to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.  When men obeyed John’s preaching they were in effect saying by their actions that God was just in bringing this wrath upon them unless they did repent and obey and that it was just of him to demand their repentance and baptism. 

Now what does this have to do with you and me today, with men and women in general?  There is a direct application and an argument I think no one can reject save at their own peril. 

Jesus asked the question where did John’s baptism come from, from God or man.  Here is the question for you and me today -- where did the baptism Jesus commanded come from, from God or man? 

Why would it be wrong to reject John’s baptism in its time but right to reject Jesus’ baptism in our time?  Jesus made it clear that to reject John’s baptism in its time was to reject the counsel of God against themselves.  Are we not doing the same thing today, rejecting God’s counsel against ourselves, when we refuse to be baptized with Jesus’ baptism, the baptism of the great commission?  If not, why not?  

One cannot reason his way out of this dilemma but it gets even worse for those who want to reject baptism.  Please note it was a salvation issue with Jesus concerning John’s baptism.  Are you going to say it is not a salvation issue today with Jesus’ baptism? 

How much difference is there in the meaning of the words, “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4 NKJV) spoken concerning John’s baptism and the words “repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38 NKJV) spoken concerning the baptism Jesus requires in our own time?  The words sound very similar to me.  

Am I saying that both baptisms were identical?  No, but the difference lay not in the end to be achieved.  John’s baptism ultimately would have done no good had Jesus not died on the cross.  In that sense, it looked forward and was a promise.  We have this in our everyday lives all of the time.  If I do this then I am promised that even though that may be down the road a ways.  Paychecks are like that.  We work trusting by faith the promise that we will be paid down the road in a couple of weeks.  This was John’s baptism. 

Does this mean their actual forgiveness lay down the road somewhere in the future and was not immediate?  No, for it was a certainty, not just a promise, that Jesus would die on the cross.  The deed was as good as done the day it was first prophesied, actually, even before when it was first conceived in the mind of God.  When Moses and Elijah met Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus had not yet died on the cross.  Was their salvation hanging in the balance until he died?  To ask is to answer.  So it was with those who obeyed John’s teaching.  Their sins were forgiven then and there or else John misled them for he said it was for the forgiveness of sins.     

The baptism Jesus gave humanity by way of the great commission was based on the fact that Jesus had already died and shed his blood for the remission of sins and the salvation of man.  Man has to believe the gospel -- the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4).  In short, for a man to receive the baptism of Jesus he must believe in the historical Jesus, the Savior of the world. 

If a man today refuses to obey the command to be baptized he refuses to do what Jesus said he was doing when he said, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  (Matt. 3:15 NKJV)  It has already been pointed out that all God’s commands are righteousness (Psalms 119:172).  If we have a command to be baptized today, as far as I know, all agree we have, should we not obey it and fulfill all righteousness?  Why is it wrong to follow Jesus’ example?  

Does Jesus' baptism condemn you?  It well could for when all is said and done you will either make camp with the Pharisees and other unbelievers who could not take God’s word at face value, believe, and obey it, or you will camp with those who did believe and did obey.  You will either reject the counsel of God against yourself refusing to be baptized or else you will accept it, believe and obey it.  Make no mistake about it, for there are way too many passages that teach it, God has commanded baptism for you and me today thus it becomes a matter of either we will or we won’t.  We will either accept his counsel or we will reject it. 

I am sometimes taken aback by how people can just blow off baptism as being an insignificant thing unworthy of time or trouble.  It is a reflection on God.  Really is that not what Jesus was saying way back when--you don’t believe God?  There are so many today that want to be saved by faith apart from baptism and cannot see, as though blinded, that baptism is a part of faith, a part of the faith that saves.  You are either going to believe God or you are not going to believe him when he speaks of baptism in his word.  Why is it we can see this when Jesus addresses the subject of John’s baptism but cannot see the direct application to our own response in our time to Jesus’ baptism as commanded in the Great Commission? 

I doubt any of us can fully grasp the power that tradition exerts on us when it comes to how we see things and how we think.  Add to that the influence of friends and family and the desire for it to be the way we want it to be often because of family, friends, and loved ones.  All that be as it may God’s word stands and so what are we going to do about it becomes the question.  Many have answered “I am not going to believe it,” as did the Pharisees.  They did not believe it because they did not want to believe it.  We pretty much end up believing what we want to believe instead of what we ought to believe. 

Belief is a choice.  We can base what we believe on our personal feelings or emotions or we can base it on our God-given ability to reason from his word.  How we come to belief, in reference to doctrine and what we will accept and obey or reject and disobey, makes all the difference in the world in our ultimate destiny.  The route of the Pharisees was the route of personal feelings and desires deciding doctrine.  They could thus reject John's baptism.  Much the same line of reasoning, based on deeply held feelings, lead people to reject baptism today. 

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Friday, September 2, 2022

Peter's Second Gospel Sermon -- Acts 3

Most people who know anything at all about the Christian faith realize that Peter preached the first gospel sermon ever preached on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.  The second recorded sermon in the Christian dispensation of time is again a sermon preached by Peter as found in the next chapter in Acts -- chapter 3.  That there was preaching being done between Peter's first sermon and his second there is no doubt for the Bible says "the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47 NAS) and this was after Pentecost but before the events recorded in Acts 3.

Of those sermons, of which we know nothing, we can only say with certainty that the truth was taught and what was taught was the same as that taught by Peter in Acts 2 by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  For it to be otherwise would be to say two or more different gospels were preached which we are sure was not the case.  Peter did not preach one gospel one day and another gospel another day.  He did not have a different gospel for everyday of the week or month nor did one apostle preach one thing and another apostle preach something else.

In order to not make this article too long I want to zero in on only one issue -- what did Peter tell those he preached to on this second preaching occasion that they needed to do in order to be saved?  The answer to that is found in Acts 3:19, "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." (NAS)  The English Standard Version has, "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out."  The New King James has, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."

Albert Barnes, the well known Bible commentator, says of the Greek word translated "return" or "turn again" or "be converted" in this passage that it "means properly to 'turn; to return to a path from which one has gone astray; and then to turn away from sins, or to forsake them.' It is a word used in a general sense to denote 'the whole turning to God.'” (This is from his commentary on Acts.)  It does not then designate one specific thing but includes everything not covered by the word "repent."

One needs to ask some questions.  Earlier in this sermon Peter had accused those of whom he was speaking to of delivering up Jesus to be killed (Acts 3:13), disowning Jesus (Acts 3:13), and asking that a murderer be set free rather than Jesus thus condemning Jesus to death (Acts 3:14-15).  In view of Jesus' innocence of all wrongdoing this was sin and sin of the worst sort since Jesus was the Son of God.  What they had done was evil and repentance was needed.

Now what is repentance?  Paul says, "Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation." (2 Cor. 7:10 NKJV)  Thus godly sorrow precedes repentance and is not itself repentance.  Judas was sorry but did not repent in the biblical sense of the word and was not saved thus the sorrow he had was not "godly sorrow" since godly sorrow leads to repentance and salvation.  Jesus said with reference to Judas, "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born." (Mark 14:21 NKJV)  Jesus could not have said that of Judas had Judas been saved in the end.

John the Baptist spoke of bearing "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matt. 3:8 NKJV) thus reformation of life is a product of repentance and is not in itself repentance but a result of repentance.  Repentance is that which lies between godly sorrow and reformation of life and we might ask what that is?  It is a determination made in the mind and will of man to cease sin and to turn to God and live for God.  It is a matter of the mind and will of man, a decision made because of godly sorrow that will lead to reformation of life, a turning from sin and a turning to God and a godly life.

The point being made is that when Peter used the phrase "return" in Acts 3:19 he had something in mind other than repentance.  He had already told them to repent.  He was not being redundant in his language.  He was not just using different words to refer to the same thing.

Now the careful reader who reads the entire sermon (Acts 3:12-26) will note that just like in Peter's first gospel sermon (Acts 2) he does not mention faith in Christ.  Is it because he does not think it matters?  That is ridiculous in view of the fact Peter is speaking by means of the Holy Spirit and the whole New Testament emphasizes faith.  The explanation lies elsewhere.  In Acts 3 faith in Christ is understood.  How so?  No one repents until convicted by guilt.  No one is convicted by guilt of sin until they come to believe.  It is not possible to repent until you believe.  Repentance itself will be proof of faith.

If one will take the time to read Acts 3:12-18 he will see clearly that Peter has preached Christ to them and the sin he points out to them that they are guilty of is not just the murder of any ordinary man but of God's "Servant Jesus" (Acts 3:13 NAS), the "Holy and Righteous One" (Acts 3:14 NAS), the "Prince of life" (Acts 3:15 NAS).  Now they have just witnessed a miracle done in the name of this Jesus whom they had put to death (the man lame from his mother's womb--Acts 3:2) and Peter has done this preaching to them.  If they repent it will only be because of faith.  They will have come to believe what Peter preached.

We are now at a point in this sermon that we were in Peter's first sermon.  No mention of faith but faith is necessarily implied.  We are then told directly in both sermons the necessity of repentance (Acts 2:38 and Acts 3:19).  We are also told in both sermons that if we will do as Peter has said, said by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will have "the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38) or that which is the same ""your sins may be wiped away." (Acts 3:19 NAS)  But in both sermons there is something else mentioned in addition to repentance that is necessary unless we desire to cut sentences in half and delete part of God's word on the subject.

We can now come to an understanding of what the word "return" means in Acts 3:19, the other thing Peter says that is needed to have sins wiped away, by seeing what it was Peter required of those on the Day of Pentecost in order to have "the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38 NAS).  What was that one thing he mentioned that it would take to obtain the forgiveness of sins in addition to repentance on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2?  It was baptism.

Now note what Barnes said as quoted earlier.  "It (a reference to the Greek word translated "return" in the NAS or "be converted" in the NKJV--DS) is a word used in a general sense to denote 'the whole turning to God.'”  All that is left of that turning to God according to Peter in his Acts 2 sermon is baptism.  Should we be surprised?  Why should we be surprised?  Do we think the Holy Spirit preached different gospels at different times?  If baptism was required of those not Christians on the Day of Pentecost why would we think it would not be required of those not Christians some days later? 

But one might argue that the word "return" does not mean baptism.  No it does not for it is a general term, not a specific term.  In the KJ and the NKJV the Greek word is translated "be converted."  Surely everyone can see that phrase is general not specific.  It tells you to do something but not how to do it.  You have to learn that elsewhere.  How would one do that?  Simple!  By seeing how the thing was done under similar circumstances elsewhere--in Acts 2.  How were sins wiped away elsewhere?  What was required elsewhere for the forgiveness of sins?

But one might object and say it means in this context of Acts 3 return to God.  Yes, but how is that done in this gospel dispensation?  How did Peter say it was done in his first gospel sermon, the first one ever preached to humanity?

A lot of denominational people do not like Peter's Acts 2 sermon because of what he says about baptism and would like to somehow or another get rid of it.  One common way is to try and pit Peter against Paul mistakenly thinking Paul taught something different on salvation (he did not).  That effort will not succeed.  Paul, then called Saul, was not converted until Acts chapter 9 some 3 years after the church was established and after the gospel was being preached (dating according to "The Oxford Companion to the Bible," edited by Metzger and Coogan, pages 120-121).  Were there no Christians until Paul began preaching?  Acts 2:47 says there were daily conversions.  Thousands were converted before Paul.

Later in his preaching on this occasion Peter quotes Moses saying, "The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to him you shall give heed in everything he says to you.  And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:22-23 NAS)

If I had not been baptized for the remission of sins I would be scared by that statement for it was Jesus who said, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5 NAS)  It was Jesus who said, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16 NAS)  It was Jesus who said to the apostles while delivering the Great Commission to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." (Matt. 28:19 NAS)  It was Jesus that said all of that.  It was Peter, quoting Moses, who said if you do not heed everything he (Jesus--DS) said you shall "be utterly destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:23 NAS)  Was Peter inspired to say that?  What do you think?     

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