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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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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Gospel Obedience at Corinth--What Really Happened?

Did Paul preach the same gospel at Corinth that he taught elsewhere?  Everywhere else he taught, as part of the gospel, baptism for the remission of sins.  One can go to Acts 16 and read two accounts, in the same chapter, of conversions made by Paul--Lydia and the Philippian jailer--in which in both instances those being converted were baptized. 

Paul himself, in his conversion, was baptized.  You may recall the words of Ananias to him, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins." (Acts 22:16 NAS)  I might add that it is hard to wash away your sins if you do not have any so evidently Ananias felt pretty sure that Paul still had some that needed to be taken care of.  Many modern-day preachers speak as though they know more about it than what Ananias did as they say men are saved at the point of faith without baptism and thus have no sins to wash away. 

There is a passage in 1 Corinthians that cause some people trouble on the subject of baptism--1 Cor. 1:14.  Paul preached baptism, personally baptized some, was baptized himself, and yet here he says, in writing to the church at Corinth, "I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius." (NAS)  What gives?  That is a good question deserving a response. 

We know Paul preached baptism at Corinth.  How do we know?  In Acts 18:8 we find the result of Paul's preaching at Corinth.  The text says, "Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized." (Acts 18:8 NAS)  I stop here and ask a question.  If Paul was not preaching baptism at Corinth who was?  Someone was as people were being baptized.  However, if you will read Acts 18:5-8 you will see clearly the one doing the preaching was Paul.  But we read 1 Cor. 1:14 and doubt enters our mind. 

There is no need for doubt as will be shown.  If Paul preached one gospel in one location that had baptism in it and another gospel in another location that did not then why should any of us listen to anything he had to say?  He says, "Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8 NAS)  If Paul preached more than one gospel he condemned himself by his very own words.  That did not happen.  

In the book of Galatians, Paul says in chapter 3:26-27, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (NAS)  We need for our study to emphasize the words "baptized into Christ".  

But first, what does the word "for" mean?  Has Paul not tied faith in Christ directly with baptism with his second use of the word "for" in this passage?  If you have faith in Christ you are baptized.  If you do not have faith in Christ you are not baptized.  It is that simple. 

True faith in Christ demands baptism for the reason that Jesus taught it.  You cannot have faith in Christ and yet lack faith in what he taught and commanded.  (See Matt. 28:19 and Mark 16:16 on what Jesus taught on the subject of baptism.  See also John 3:5.) 

Let me ask some questions based on this passage--Galatians 3:27.  Paul says, again, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."  What about those who were not baptized?  Did they clothe themselves with Christ?  Did Paul say for all of you who were not baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ?  Is that what he said? 

How does one get into Christ, the only place salvation can be found?  Does not the text tell us clearly if we will only listen? 

If Paul preached baptism once he preached it everywhere he went whether the text says he did or not.  There is absolutely no choice but to infer that he taught baptism to both Lydia and the Philipian jailer or else how did they know about it and why did they do it? 

All of that said we need not make necessary inferences about baptism at Corinth for Paul in writing to the church at Corinth says in 1 Cor 12:13, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."  Baptized into what body?  The body of Christ as per Gal. 3:27.  Who was baptized?  "We were all baptized," Paul says.  

One may object and say that the body is the church (Eph. 1:22-23) so baptism is just about getting into the church.  Baptism is about getting into the spiritual body of Christ and, yes, that is the church but that is also the very thing Christ is the Savior of.  "He himself being the Savior of the body." (Eph. 5:23 NAS)  He has not said a word about saving anything else save his body. 

One needs to get himself into Christ where salvation is and the road to doing that is certainly faith but not faith alone apart from repentance, confession of Jesus, and baptism for the remission of sins which places one in Christ.  God adds one to his church but not randomly.  He adds only those who meet his qualifications. 

The reader should not confuse being in the church mentioned in the Bible with denominations.  The thing Paul is discussing is not denominationalism which did not exist when Paul wrote and would not for hundreds of years to come.  One is baptized into the New Testament church, the one Christ established and gave his life for and which will be saved on the last day.  Everyone in the church will be saved provided they live faithful lives, a big if. 

Now to the passage at hand which troubles some, 1 Cor. 1:14-17, Paul speaking, "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name.  Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void." (NAS) 

There are two points about this passage that we have to keep in mind lest we be led astray.  (1) The problem at Corinth that Paul is discussing in the first chapter of First Corinthians is that of men making themselves disciples of various evangelists rather than of Christ thus creating division.  In verse 13 Paul says, "Has Christ been divided?  Paul was not crucified for you, was he?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (NAS)  "In the name of Paul" should read instead "into the name of Paul" (see the side margin notes in the NASB reference edition which lists the word "into" as the literal translation). 

Baptism is "into Christ" (Gal. 3:27) and not "into" man.  Only in Christ is salvation found.  No one at Corinth was baptized into any man's name other than Christ.  Paul was thus thankful he had not personally baptized many at Corinth "that no man should say you were baptized in ("into" is the literal translation--DS) my name." (1 Cor. 1:15 NAS) 

He says that in light of what was going on there.  Had he baptized more then the more likely there would be those claiming to be of Paul and Paul wanted no part of this division in the church that was occurring.  His point is that men are baptized into Christ, not into a man, and thus should wear the name of Christian only.  There is no such thing as being of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas and it is wrong to claim allegiance to such and divide the church. 

(2) The second thing we must understand is that just because Paul did not do the baptizing does not mean that his helpers such as Timothy and others did not do so on his behalf in rendering aid to him in his work.  We know both Silas and Timothy were with him in Corinth (see Acts 18:5-8).  We have another account of this very thing with Jesus.  John says, "When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were) he left Judea." (John 4:1-2 NAS) 

We need to use our common sense.  Paul is not going to preach baptism and then not see that it is done when people respond to his preaching.  None of us think that Peter personally baptized the 3,000 who responded to his preaching on the day of Pentecost when he preached baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).  We are sure he had help.  If we were to find Paul had men traveling with him who did this work why should we be shocked?  1 Cor. 12:13 certainly proves someone was doing the baptizing there. 

I think we have pretty much covered the ground that needs to be covered concerning what happened in Corinth with regard to Paul's preaching and practice.  The same thing happened at Corinth that happened everywhere else he preached -- the same gospel, the same baptism for those who believed.    

One final comment – why did Paul say Christ did not send him to baptize?  Because any man can baptize another.  It is a physical act as far as immersion is concerned.  Anyone could do that for another but not every man could preach the gospel with Holy Spirit inspiration as could Paul.  That was his main mission and others could follow up his preaching by baptizing those being converted. 

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Monday, July 17, 2023

I Don't Go to Church Much Anymore

I suppose it could be said of many people, "I don't go to church much anymore."  I wonder why?  Old age with infirmity and ill health will certainly slow one down but I am thinking more now of the many who simply have quit attending church services not having any reason for doing so.  Their health is fine.  They have just quit going.

I know of one who said she rarely goes anymore who went on and said, "But I am as close to God as ever."  How does she know that?  How can she know it?  Did God tell her; did he whisper it in her ear?  Did she read it in scripture?  Or, did her emotions and they alone tell her this?  To ask is to answer.

Many people's faith does not rest on the ground of God's word but on their emotions, on what their feelings (they call it their heart) tells them.  Their conscience does not bother them because their heart tells them all is well.  However, the faith of the Bible rests on God's word and that alone.  "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17 NKJV)

Every person's prayer to God ought to be Father let me see myself as you see me.  Let me look through your eyes, which is in this case his word, so that I might see myself as I am and not as I think I am.  Let me cease measuring myself by my standard of measurement and accept with purity of heart whatever your word tells me about myself be it good or bad.

If God gives me a command and I habitually ignore it how can I say I love God and it’s okay with my soul?  "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some...for if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins." (Heb. 10:24-25 NKJV—the reader would do well to read on through verse 31)  This passage is destructive of the idea that one can ignore church services and still be close to God.  "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." (1 John 5:3 NKJV)

Some may say, "That is just your interpretation."  That is pretty much the standard line that is being used today against any doctrine of the Bible that does not satisfy the one who wishes to ignore what it teaches.  It doesn't matter if a teaching is so clear a third grader could not misunderstand it if it does not satisfy the longing of the one who wishes to discard it.  It is "just your interpretation."  We have become a dishonest people.  We are dishonest with the scriptures, with God, and even with ourselves.

Many others have reached the point, and many more are headed that way, where they no longer make any claim to faith in Christianity and look with scorn on anything from the Bible.  While they still claim love as their own it will be love as they alone define it and they are not about to the let the book of God define it for them.  It will be defined by what they feel in their hearts.  But, here is the problem:

"The heart is deceitful above all things,  And desperately wicked;  Who can know it?  I, the Lord, search the heart,  I test the mind,  Even to give every man according to his ways,  According to the fruit of his doings." (Jer. 17:9-10 NKJV)

We will be judged by our ways and doings when put up against the word of God, not by our deceitful hearts.

“The word I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” (Jesus speaking, John 12:48 NKJV) 

We are going to be judged by the word of God, not by our inward feelings or emotions. 

 "But everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell.  And great was its fall." (Matt. 7:26-27 NKJV)

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven."  (Matt. 7:21 NKJV)

"He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)

But, then, as stated earlier, in our society today “that is just your interpretation.”

The Bible does not teach we can be saved by perfect commandment keeping, we are saved by grace, but neither does it teach we are free to ignore God's commands and tell ourselves fantasy stories about how it is well with our soul.

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