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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Circumcision and Baptism

Many believers in Christ teach that baptism is just a sign of salvation that has already been received and thus whether or not one is baptized is of no great consequence as pertains to the soul’s salvation.  Many see baptism in the same light they see circumcision in the Old Testament, as just a sign.  Is baptism just a sign of salvation by faith that is already in one’s possession? 

In the Old Testament long before the Law of Moses it was said of Abraham, “He believed in the Lord, and he accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6 NKJV)  Certainly, no Bible believer would doubt Abraham’s salvation at that point in time.

Many years later the Lord appeared to Abraham and commanded him and all the males in his household to be circumcised (Gen. 17:10-14).  The Lord declared it to be “a sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Gen. 17:11 NKJV)

Even though circumcision was just a sign it was not unimportant.  The male child that was not circumcised “shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen. 17:14 NKJV)  How seriously did Abraham take this command that was but a sign?  Abraham obeyed it immediately, “that very same day.” (Gen. 17:23-27, see Gen. 17:23 specifically)

In Romans 4 Paul talks about this event and again reiterates that circumcision was a sign (Rom. 4:11) and makes the declaration that Abraham was saved, prior to circumcision, by his faith (Rom. 4:3-12, specifically v. 9-10, NKJV).

In thinking about this specific command of God to Abraham, his household, and his descendants one must keep in mind the relationship of faith to obedience.  Without faith, believing God, Abraham would never have obeyed.  Faith had already obtained a righteous standing before God but it was a living active faith that willingly obeyed God that kept Abraham’s standing firm before God.  No one ever seems to ask the question, “what if Abraham had not obeyed?”

Faith is primary in the lives of God’s people whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament.  Faith always has primacy for without it nothing else follows.  Men do not obey nor follow after one, unless coerced to do so, without belief in the one they follow.  Atheists do not seek to follow God and looking at it from their point of view we readily understand why.  Why would they?  Abraham obeyed because Abraham believed.

Well, how about baptism?  Is baptism just the New Testament’s version of circumcision?  There is no doubt about there being some similarities but just because two things are similar does not mean they are equivalent serving the same purpose.  Horses and mules share similarities but it is error to not distinguish between them for there are some real differences.  Mules do not race at Churchill Downs for a reason.

Circumcision and baptism share the necessity of faith for either act to have spiritual meaning.  Circumcision itself had no spiritual significance for man until God gave the command at which time man (Abraham) had the option to either trust and obey or disobey.  Would Abraham honor God by obedience or would he rebel?   In that sense, baptism shares a similarity with circumcision.  As a man of faith Abraham obeyed.  Because of faith, his descendants had their sons circumcised on the eighth day after birth. 

One Hollywood actor can baptize another on film but it amounts to nothing before God.  One can be baptized to please mom or dad, husband or wife, or even the church community but it amounts to nothing other than getting wet until such a time as the person does the act out of faith in God in obedience to God’s command.

Those who talk about people believing in water salvation are generally in error in doing so.  I never knew a person who believed just going down into the water and coming up out of it saved the person who lacked faith in the command giver, faith in the God who commanded it.  Without faith nothing can save a man.  “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6 NKJV)

Faith leads to things that accompanying faith make faith alive and active versus the dead faith that James says cannot save (James 2:14, 17, 20, 26).  Faith leads to repentance and where is the man who would deny that repentance is required for salvation?  There is no motive for repentance toward God outside of faith.  Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness…” (Acts 17:30-31 NKJV).  “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish!” (Luke 13:3, 5 NKJV)  

Peter, in the first gospel sermon ever preached, in Acts 2 tied repentance with baptism, “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)  He repeated himself years later in regards to baptism when he wrote 1 Peter saying, “There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely 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.” (1 Peter 3:21 NKJV) 

Peter certainly did not mean to say water will save you without faith and repentance, water salvation, but was merely making the point he desired to make regarding baptism.  Baptism is a part of God’s plan for mankind in the age of Christianity as much as circumcision was a part of God’s plan for his people in Old Testament days.   The failure to be circumcised in Abraham’s day and afterwards would cut a man off from God’s covenant.  In the Christian era baptism is the initiatory rite by which man comes into covenant relationship with Christ for man is “baptized into Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:3 NKJV, see also Gal. 3:27, 1 Cor. 12:13)  

While the Bible speaks of circumcision as a sign it nowhere speaks of baptism as being a sign.  I searched the concordances for the word sign in seven major Bible translations in a context where baptism was also mentioned.  Not one translation yielded a result.  Man may call baptism a sign but that is man, the Bible does not do so.  

The one passage in the New Testament that relates circumcision to baptism is found in Col. 2:11-13:  “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) 

Paul wrote this Colossian passage and provides the best commentary on it in something else he wrote back in Rom. 6:2-4:  “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?  Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (NKJV) 

Paul makes it clear that there is a “circumcision made without hands.”  It is Christ’s circumcision.  This is a circumcision that is performed on a person spiritually dead in sins, one whose sins have not yet been forgiven.  That spiritually dead person is buried in baptism into death to sin but arises from his burial with Christ a new creation (Gal. 3:27, 2 Cor. 5:17), “raised with Him through faith” (Col. 2:12) to “walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4)  The circumcision of Christ is the cutting off of the person’s sins which is done in baptism when preceded by faith and repentance.  Only Christ (God) can forgive sins thus it is the circumcision of Christ. 

Peter says in the passage quoted earlier, the passage talking about baptism, that he now has, “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” (1 Peter 3:21 NKJV)  He is a new creation, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV)  He was “baptized into Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:3 NKJV) 

It is only through faith that one arises from baptism with an answer of a good conscience.  Only through faith can such a person believe that old things have passed away and all is new in his life.  Only through faith can he believe he has been forgiven of all trespasses. 

When a person submits through faith to be baptized into Christ he is submitting himself to accept in that act of faith Christ’s circumcision.  It is not a sign; it is the reality itself. 

As a final note one should not confuse the “circumcision…of the heart” in Rom. 2:28-29 with the “circumcision of Christ” in Col. 2:11-13.  In Romans, Paul is making the point that physical circumcision alone without obedient faith accompanying it was of no avail to the Jew.  God cares about a man’s heart toward God.  “He is a Jew who is one inwardly.” (Rom. 2:29 NKJV)  In Romans it is man who circumcises his own heart, it is man’s circumcision, that which he is responsible for.  In Colossians it is Christ’s circumcision, what Christ does for man when man complies with God’s will by faith.  Man can circumcise his heart as he possesses free will; man cannot forgive his sins.  That is God’s dominion, Christ’s circumcision.

This is a teaching that was found in scripture long before Paul’s time or writings.  Moses spoke of the need for the Jews to circumcise their hearts in Deut. 10:16 and the Lord spoke of the same need in Jer. 4:4.  This did not mean physical circumcision was unnecessary but that more was needed than just the physical act.

There is much more that could be said on this subject and perhaps I will tackle that at a later date. 

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pilate’s Question and Postmodernism

Pilate’s response to Jesus’ statement that he had come to bear witness to the truth, John 18:37-38, is well known.  Pilate’s reply “What is truth?” is a question that has been asked down through the ages.  Up until recent times, the idea of truth as a thing man could find, grasp, and hold onto was not in doubt.  Truth was out there, all you had to do was find it.  Today that is being called into question, enter the age of postmodernism.  Postmodernists do not believe objective truth exists in matters of values, morals, and religion.

The postmodernist immediately comes into conflict with Jesus for how can Jesus say he came to bear witness to the truth if the truth does not exist?  Again, Jesus said in John 8:45 “I tell the truth” (NKJV) but he does not tell the truth if the postmodernist is right for truth cannot be told if it does not exist.  The word “truth” is found in 100 verses in the New Testament of the New King James Version of the Bible but to the postmodernist mindset talk about truth is meaningless.  Postmodernism is anti-Christian.

Postmodernists contradict themselves and thus prove the fallacy of their philosophy when they say objective truth does not exist while declaring it to be objective truth that “objective truth does not exist?”  One might add that any talk about “subjective truth” is an oxymoron.  If truth exists at all it is objective truth. 

Truth either exists or does not.  Truth cannot exist sometimes but not at other times.  No one would deny that there are times when we are unable to discern truth from error but the truth always exists whether we discern it or not.  My ignorance of truth does not destroy truth.

It is easy to see the attractiveness of postmodernism in our society.  If truth does not exist in an absolute sense then you can have your own personal truth and I can have mine.  I will call it “my life.”  No one will be able to judge me or condemn me justly and I will take God and thus accountability out of the picture altogether.  It allows me to live my own life the way I want to live it.  Of course, that is the very thing Jesus came to save us from—save us from ourselves.

We have a desire to live our own lives without being judged or held accountable for our actions.  We desire respect and honor even when we do the dishonorable, no one and no authority dare shame us.  If objective truth does not exist who can hold us to any moral accountability?  Not even God himself can for we took him out of the picture, so we think. 

If we try and rationalize our life and behavior by saying this is what is true for me that does not get us off the hook.  It is not about the way I see things, not if God exists and there is a higher power.  "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways," says the Lord.  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9 NKJV)  “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12 NKJV)  “It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jer. 10:23b NKJV) 

If we say no one believes postmodernism, no one believes truth does not exist, then how does one explain the change in moral values that has come about in America in the past 50 to 60 years?  It is hard to say our culture has not been affected by postmodern thought.  According to the Pew Research Center, only 5% of our children were born outside marriage in 1960.  Today that number is 41%.  Have our values changed?  We have adopted the idea in our society that anything in moral (should one say “immoral”) conduct should be allowed to stand and no one should say a thing against it or criticize it in any way. 

As for the New Testament, it is not to be allowed in making moral judgments; in that sense, it is to be banned from having any influence on our thinking or way of life as a society.  Who among us would deny the effort to secularize America and to take Christianity entirely out of the life of our nation on every level except, at least so far, inside the four walls of places of public worship?  

When I was growing up I remember the Billy Graham crusades would be nationally televised from time to time by one or more of the major TV networks.  Can anyone, and I do mean anyone, imagine such a thing happening in the America of today?  I add I am not a Baptist but I am just making the point of the change that has come over American society just during my lifetime.     

When one takes away the foundations upon which to build a life, some solid rock, some absolute standards of right and wrong, which is the very thing postmodernism does, how does one ever judge what one ought to do?  Under postmodern thought you may never be wrong for there is no judgment but can you ever be right for there are no standards?  Life becomes an element of chance, just a guess as to what is the best course of action.

Postmodernism takes away hope, guidance, and direction.  It takes away a purpose for living.  It is ungodly.  There is no hope for heaven.  God becomes a myth.  Here and now is all you have and since there are no standards do as you well please as long as you can stay out of prison.  

Postmodernism is intolerant.  It is not to be questioned.  It is to be accepted no questions asked.  To question it would be to pass judgment, a thing postmodernism will not allow.  If truth does not exist, a tenet of postmodernism, then judgments cannot be passed for if there is no truth there is no standard by which to judge.  But the postmodernists contradict themselves again for they do not hesitate to judge Christianity.  While they claim tolerance they prove themselves to be very intolerant to any who would oppose them.

Postmodernism makes it impossible to judge evil from good and thus comes into conflict with the Bible for judging evil from good is a thing one finds on almost every page of the Bible.  Evil, from the postmodernist’s point of view, is not to be fought for who can define evil?  Who can pass judgment?   

If one cannot judge evil then one wonders what action a true postmodernist might take if someone was to break into his home to rape, pillage, and kill?  If objective truth does not exist how can one declare the intruder’s actions to be evil and therefore justifiably resist them? 

When as the old saying goes the rubber meets the road this is a most dangerous philosophy for it presumes real evil does not exist in this world.  Evil is just a judgment call.  Postmodernism cannot declare Hitler or Isis evil.  If there is no evil you cannot confront it.  When evil is not confronted where does that leave the individual or the nation?

The postmodernist’s mindset undermines the foundation of many of what man has considered to be virtues down through the ages--things like love, kindness, goodness--for without absolute truth existing how do you define any of these things?  If you cannot define virtues how do you express them?  Was Hitler’s definition of love as good as anyone else’s?  A postmodernist cannot be consistent and say no but a Christian can.

More and more people are coming down on Christianity declaring it to be intolerant and judgmental, an evil in the world.  Why?  The answer is because very subtly postmodernist thought has crept into the very pores of our society.  One can almost say of our society today that if the Bible is for it we are against it and if the Bible is against it we are for it.

Adultery is commonplace today, fornication and living together outside of marriage are things people think little about, and now the desire seems to be to make homosexual relationships an honorable thing on par with the marriage God ordained in the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6) between a man and a woman.

Add to those things abortion which runs rampant.  Planned Parenthood reported 327,653 abortions in 2014 which averages out to 37 an hour and the president of the organization says they are proud to provide the procedure so we kill babies and are proud of the opportunity to help people do it.

In our quest to live our own lives the way we want we end up discarding the New Testament of Christ as having any real impact on our lives and our society.  We will do as we please.  We have become a secular non-God fearing society where nearly anything goes.     

The problem every man has with the Bible is that it acts as a mirror.  We read it and begin thinking thoughts that trouble us for we see ourselves as we truly are—sinners.  The word of God judges us (John 12:48) and we know that judgment condemns us.  It is more pleasing to reject the word of God and its values than to accept it.

God offers grace and salvation to sinners but that would require giving up the life we desire to live and submitting our will to God’s will.  After all, we have some sins we kind of enjoy and who wants to give those up.  “Everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20 NKJV)  “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light…” (John 3:19 NKJV)

How does one create within a man or woman love for God, a longing, and a desire for God?  How does one create within a man a felt need for God?  Right now those feelings are in short supply and a national longing for God does not exist.  According to the statistics I have seen only around 17 percent of Americans will be in any kind of Christian worship service on an average Sunday (see The American Church in Crisis by David Olson, 2009).  As long as America is at war with God truth will elude it.

If America and the modern-day American cannot find objective truth that does not mean God has lost it.  God knows good from evil; he is willing to judge it.   

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  (2 Cor. 5:10 NKJV)

Where does that leave the postmodernist in the Day of Judgment?  They can only hope Christianity is just a fairy tale but if it is then man is just another animal whose life ultimately amounts to nothing.  That is the joy found in postmodern thought.  Hope is destroyed and man is doomed to an eternal grave.

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