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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Are Paul's Writings as Authoritative as Jesus' Words?

Many years ago as a young man, I heard it said by a young lady of my own age that the apostle Paul just had a thing against women with the idea being that what he wrote on the subject of women had no authority but was merely the expression of personal prejudice on his part.  That young lady many years later became a preacher within her denominational body contrary to Paul's teaching on the subject in 1 Tim. 2:12.

Over the course of the many years that have transpired since that time, I have heard the same or similar comments regarding things Paul wrote.  It seems many believe he lacked the authority of Christ in the words he spoke or wrote.  That is the subject I wish to pursue in this article.  I add that the reality is that if what Paul wrote is not authoritative then we cannot stop there but have to go right down the line and ask about what Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, and Jude wrote. 

The truth of the matter is every single word of the New Testament excepting only those words added by translators for clarification (usually marked by being printed in italics) came directly from God the Father including the words of Jesus himself.  In John 1:1 Jesus is called "the Word" (NKJV) and he is recorded as saying, "He who rejects me, and does not receive my words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  For I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that his command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak." (John 12:48-50 NKJV)  He says again, "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." (John 14:24 NKJV)  One could add to these references but the point has been made. 

Before Jesus ascended back to heaven he promised to send the Holy Spirit to his apostles.  "But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:26 NKJV)  "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another helper (the Holy Spirit--DS) … even the Spirit of truth." (John 14:16-17 NKJV)  "But when the helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, … he will testify of me." (John 15:26 NKJV)  Now here is where one needs to pay special attention.  Did the Holy Spirit speak free-lance style?  Listen carefully. 

"However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will tell you things to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are mine.  Therefore I said that he will take of mine and declare it to you." (John 16:13-15 NKJV)  The apostles were commanded by Jesus to stay in Jerusalem until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5 NKJV).  That day came on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. 

The important thing to see thus far is the chain of command.  Even though God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all one, all being equally God, they have an order in which they of their own accord have chosen to work.  Jesus, "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant." (Philippians 2:6-7 NKJV)  Jesus thus submitted himself to God the Father and spoke only the Father's words.  When the Holy Spirit came after Jesus returned to heaven it is clear from the passage just quoted in the prior paragraph (John 16:13-15) that he did not originate truth for he did not speak on his own authority but spoke what he heard.  He glorified Jesus by taking what was of or from Jesus and declared it to them. 

Thus when an apostle spoke by means of the Holy Spirit he spoke not out of himself but rather spoke the very words of God.  Peter speaks of "those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven." (1 Peter 1:12 NKJV)  On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 Peter himself spoke just such a gospel sermon after the Holy Spirit fell on him and the other apostles.  Paul says, "No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor. 2:11-13 NKJV) 

If Paul was not an inspired writer (as well as a gospel preacher) then Peter was in error for he said of Paul's writings that some twisted them "to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the scriptures." (2 Peter 3:15 NKJV)  Not only does Peter compare Paul's writings with the rest of the scriptures but also says his writings can be twisted to one's destruction.  That would be a little hard to do if they were uninspired writings would it not?  If one recalls correctly Ananias was sent to Paul at his conversion with one reason being that Paul might be "filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NKJV)  

Sometimes people latch on to a few statements made by Paul in 1 Cor. 7 and read into them more than they should in that they feel Paul is there giving uninspired advice or giving only his own judgment or opinion apart from any direction of the Spirit.  For example, Paul says in verse 12, "I, not the Lord, say," (NKJV) and then in verse 25 he says, "I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in his mercy has made trustworthy." (1 Cor. 7:25 NKJV)  Well, is Paul trustworthy or not?  He closes this very chapter with these words, "According to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 7:40 NKJV)  Do you think Paul had the Spirit of God?  Do you think he was questioning himself by making that statement?  You know better. 

Here is the bind that those get themselves into when they begin questioning scripture and taking some of it as inspired and other parts of it as not inspired—how do you decide which is which?  Are you that all wise and knowing so that you can declare beyond doubt that this scripture is inspired while that one is not?  How do the rest of us know you are that smart, even God-like, in your declarations?  How did you come to possess these mighty powers of discernment?  Maybe showing us a miracle would help the rest of us build confidence in you.  In New Testament times miracles were performed to confirm the word as being from God (Heb. 2:1-4).  We need confirmation of like nature if you are going to start cutting out scripture from the Bible for proof is needed that your word is from God when you do such cutting.   After all, you will be giving us a new Bible when your cutting is done. 

Needless to say, all such approaches to scripture end up being faith-destroying.  How do you have faith if you do not know what to have faith in and what not to have faith in?  Yes, I know these types proclaim their faith but genuine faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17) and not by one's own “I think so.”  It does not come by one declaring himself to be God and thus able to give man the true scriptures versus the false ones. 

The bottom line ends up being that one either has to hold to the scriptures as being authoritative, and verbally inspired by God, or else he holds to the words of some man that declares otherwise but can work no miracle in proof of his declaration. 

In closing yes the words of Jesus in red are authoritative but no more so than the words in black in your New Testament for the truth is the source of all inspired writings is God the Father.  When Paul or Peter or whomever the New Testament writer was spoke with pen and ink or otherwise on matters of the faith his words came from the same source that Jesus' did while Jesus was on the earth.  The idea that Paul was writing for Paul's sake promoting his own doctrine contrary to what Jesus would have said is as unscriptural as it gets. 

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NKJV) 

Postscript:  This article is not meant to imply that Bible translations, man-made, are infallible.  However, to the extent a translation accurately represents the original manuscripts of the New Testament, it is reliable.


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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Conversion of Lydia – Acts 16:13-15

In Acts 16:13-15 we find the account of the conversion of Lydia in the city of Philippi.  This is a very interesting conversion account and one that men have debated as to what actually happened.  It is a short account so let us read it and see if there is anything to debate or to cause controversy. 

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. (Act 16:13 NAS77) 

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Act 16:14 NAS77) 

And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (Act 16:15 NAS77)”

Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as you recall, entered the city of Philippi to preach the gospel.  Their first opportunity, as far as we can tell, is to a group of women out at the riverside at a gathering place for prayer.  Lydia is one of the women assembled there. 

The first mystery to some people is found in the statement in verse 14 where it is said that "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."  Well, how did the Lord do that?  Did God take a kind of spiritual crowbar to her heart and mind and force conversion on her?  Did the Holy Spirit come upon her in some mysterious operation taking over her will and making her receptive to the gospel as Paul preached it?  Some think so.  The reality is there is no truth to such suppositions as will soon be shown. 

God opened Lydia's heart to the gospel simply by the preaching of the word.  How do I know?  That is a fair question.  If God acted miraculously on the heart of Lydia resulting in a sort of forced conversion, one of which she had no way of resisting, and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34 KJV), shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11, Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25), and teaches us that it is a sin to show partiality (James 2:9), then God did the very thing in converting Lydia that he says, through his word, that he does not do and that he condemns in us.  None of us believe that. 

Lydia's heart was opened by God's word in the same natural way yours and mine are.  For example, all of us have read passages in the Bible that condemn us for something we have done at one time or another resulting in a pang of guilt and sorrow within us.  Is that the Holy Spirit acting miraculously on my heart or is it the power of the word of God upon a man's heart?  Yes, it is the Spirit working but working through the word, not miraculously separate and apart from the word.  We retain the free will to either believe what we read thus allowing it to touch our hearts or the free will to pass it off and reject it.  

Our hearts are left free to choose either for or against the gospel thus we can be fairly condemned for choosing to reject it.  If it was otherwise how could it be said that God was fair to all?  In conversion, God treats all the same and does not play favorites. 

But, I want to make a note here about Paul's preaching that day.  In earlier articles, I have tried to show that in first-century accounts of gospel preaching all men who preached taught the same thing with the same results among those who believed.  Whether it was Peter, Philip, or Ananias doing the preaching, and now Paul the result was that in every case where the preaching was believed the result was that believers were baptized.  When we believe the words of Peter preaching by inspiration in Acts 2:38, we readily see why that was the case. 

What did Paul preach to Lydia?  We all agree he taught the fundamentals of the Christian faith.  With Paul, as with the other evangelists of his day, that included baptism for the remission of sins.  The text says Lydia was baptized along with her household (Acts 16:15) but when did she do this and why?  The verse before, verse 14, tells us that she was responding "to the things spoken by Paul." (NAS) 

Paul preached to her the gospel.  Paul preached baptism because Lydia was baptized in response to the things spoken by Paul (verse 14).  Baptism then is a part of the gospel.  The gospel cannot be preached without baptism being preached.  We see it preached by Peter, by Philip, by Ananias, and now by Paul. 

Some might respond by saying in earlier accounts found in earlier chapters of Paul's missionary efforts accounts are given where baptism is not mentioned - passages like Acts 13:12, 13:39, 48 and Acts 14:1, 14:21.  The reader ought to realize two things regarding such passages. 

(1) They are summary statements of what happened and not detailed accounts of conversion.  For example, Acts 14:21 simply says they "made many disciples."  There is no attempt to say how that was done.  Acts 13:39 says, "Everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses." (NAS)  True, but what is not stated is what is to be believed.  In Acts 13:48 the text says "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (NAS)  Believed what?  If they believed what Paul preached then they believed, among other things, that they must be baptized.  But, the point is that such passages are just summary statements without details being provided. 

Let the reader ask himself this question.  None of these accounts mention a word about repentance nor should they given the fact they are, as has been stated, summary statements.  Do we believe that there is such a thing as salvation by faith without any repentance of sins?  Again, when it is simply stated that people believed it is a summary of what took place and not a detailed account of everything they believed and believed to the point of obedience. 

If we were studying the subject of biblical hermeneutics we would say the word "believed" when used in such passages as we have been talking about is used as a figure of speech called a "synecdoche."  A synecdoche is "a figure of speech by which we speak of the whole by a part." (Hermeneutics, by D. R. Dungan, page 300)  As Dungan says, "This is many times the case with the salvation of sinners.  The whole number of conditions are indicated by the use of one.  Generally the first one is mentioned-that of faith-because without it nothing else could follow." (page 305) 

In more detailed accounts we know what was preached and what was believed by what was done.  Lydia was baptized because the text says she was responding to what was preached and Paul was the preacher.  

(2)  Paul preached the same gospel wherever he went, not one thing in one place and something else in another.  If you can find what he preached once you know he always taught the same elsewhere.  Paul says, "But 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)  Paul did not preach different things in different places when it came to the gospel.  If he preached baptism to Lydia he preached the same wherever he went and we know he preached it to her. 

If Paul did not believe baptism for the remission of sins was essential to gospel obedience (and thus salvation) then please tell me how he could have written what he did in passages such as Rom. 6:3-4 and Gal. 3:26-27.  Tell me why when Ananias told him "now why do you delay?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16 NAS) that Paul did not object and respond to Ananias along the line of now look here Ananias, I know you have the Spirit of God but the minute I met Jesus on the road I believed and was saved and so both you and the Spirit are in error.  I need not be baptized to "wash away" any sins for they were forgiven me when Jesus appeared to me and I first believed.  Why did he not respond that way? 

It astounds me that people can claim to be saved by faith, apart from baptism, given the fact their claim to believe is fraud.  How can I believe in Jesus and yet deny what he taught?   Jesus taught both personally on the subject of baptism (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, John 3:5) and through his Holy Spirit-inspired apostles and prophets.  Believe in him, just not in what he has said, and you will be saved seems to be the idea.  What!  How does that work?  Someone needs to explain that. 

What does it mean to be faithful to God as a new convert?  Lydia says, as a new convert speaking to Paul and his party, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." (Acts 16:15 NAS)  That they did because they judged her, as she says, as one who was faithful to the Lord. 

What did she do to become faithful?  She believed what Paul preached (including baptism) and responded to it by acting upon it.  If one wants to become faithful to the Lord they need to do what she did assuming they have not already done so.  Would she have been judged faithful if she had not been baptized?  Think about that long and hard.  Paul taught it.  Let us say she refused to do it.  Would she then have been judged to be faithful? 

One final fact about Lydia's conversion that has caused trouble is that the text says "she and her household " were baptized (Acts 16:15 NAS).  The thought is that this means she and her young children maybe including infants.  It is easily seen that infants were not baptized for the simple reason that baptism is of no value to one who is not a sinner as its purpose is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and infants have no sin.  They are safe in the arms of God as is. 

But, there is another point as well confirming there was no infant baptism or baptism of very young children.  Baptism saves only when accompanied by faith (Mark 16:16) for it is "he who has believed and has been baptized" that shall be saved.  It is not he who is too young to believe and is baptized shall be saved.

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Saturday, April 8, 2023

Ashamed of Jesus and His Words

In Luke 9:26 Jesus made the following statement, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (NAS)  There are two things here that we are told we must avoid if we are to keep Jesus from being ashamed of us in the day he returns to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31) – (1) being ashamed of Jesus and (2) being ashamed of the words of Jesus.

We might well ask what is there about Jesus to be ashamed of.  The answer is obvious, nothing at all.  But lest we think we are clear on this count and before we begin to pat ourselves on the back thinking we are not ashamed of him let us think a little deeper about the matter.  Is Jesus just talking about our state of mind about him when he gives this warning against being ashamed of him?  I think not.

Jesus made another statement found in Matt. 10:32-33 which I believe ties in with the Luke 9 passage just quoted above.  He says, "Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my father who is in heaven.  But whoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my father who is in heaven." (NAS)  It is easy to say to ourselves I am not ashamed of Jesus and mean it but as the American idiom goes "when the rubber meets the road" and we should speak of Jesus, speak up and be heard when that test comes, is it not true that too often, maybe most all of the time, we hold our silence and fail to speak on his behalf?  I think that is generally true.

We do not speak because we do not want to be embarrassed or shamed by the world that ridicules faith in Jesus thus we are more concerned about receiving honor from men rather than the honor that comes from God alone.  We do not speak because we do not want to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3).  We do not speak because we do not want to wield "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph. 6:17 NAS)  We want to just get along.  As the saying goes there are two things you do not talk about lest you get into a fight--religion and politics.  However, man said that not God.  Jesus never held his peace and he was continually involved in verbal fights.

Yes, I am sure there is a time and a place for such discussions of Christ.  But here is the problem--we never find the right time or place do we?  It is like the right time and place never arises with us.  It is out there somewhere but we just never have found it and unless our hearts change we never will find it.  The bottom line is we are embarrassed or ashamed to talk of Christ to others unless we know them very, very well (immediate family?) and have judged what we think their reaction will be beforehand.  Others may know we are believers for we attend services regularly but they would never know it by our talking about Jesus.

Contrast that with Christ while he was on earth.  Every day he was talking religion, talking of God his Father, talking of faith and obedience and God's will for man.  Every day he was into discussions and often arguments with men over religion.  Is he our example?  Will we follow that example?  Are we afraid too?  Who are we more afraid of—other people or God?

That said there were two parts of the verse we are discussing, Luke 9:26.  We are also warned against being ashamed of the words of Jesus.  There are far more people who are willing to confess Jesus before men and uphold his honor in that regard than there are people who are willing to accept his words. 

First of all, I want all to understand that the words of Jesus are not just confined to the words printed in red in your New Testament.  Jesus, in John 16, spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit and said this, "He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you." (John 16:13-14 NAS)  What was Jesus' that the Holy Spirit was to disclose?  The words of Jesus.

My copy of the original ASV of 1901 New Testament has on its title page these words: "The New Covenant commonly called The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  That is what it is exactly.  Every word on its pages came from Jesus either directly or indirectly through the Holy Spirit.

Great indeed is the number of those who claim to be Christians that will not believe but parts of the word and are thus ashamed of the words of Jesus.  How many denominationalists will ever preach what Peter preached, by means of the Holy Spirit, in Acts 2;38, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins"? (NAS)  They are ashamed of those words of Jesus and do not believe them and will not abide in them and will not teach them.  To them those gathered on that Pentecost day were saved the minute they repented and as they would put it "received Jesus into their hearts" so you cannot believe these words about baptism for the forgiveness of sins that Peter spoke on behalf of Christ.

You can go to other passages and try and convince them.  For example, Ananias told Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name." (NAS)  To them, Ananias did not know what he was talking about Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit for they say baptism cannot wash away sins even if God says it can.  To them, the Holy Spirit should have worded that passage differently.  

Peter says, by the Holy Spirit, "baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21 NAS) but not with them for they will not believe the words of Jesus and are ashamed of all such as related to baptism.  Even when Jesus spoke directly on the subject, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5 NAS) it is not accepted.  Of such people, it will never be said of them that they obeyed Jesus who said, "If anyone keeps my word he shall never see death." (John 8:51 NAS)  His word is what they are not keeping.  This is only an example, one topic, where people are ashamed of the words of Jesus, even religious people.

I will say this; it is not easy to live up to the demands found in this Luke 9:26 passage.  It takes courage, great courage, to speak of Jesus to others and defend the words of Jesus.  It takes great courage to overcome the fear of contention, fights, debates, and strife that will naturally arise when one does speak up and does not hold his peace.

I am reminded, however, of the passage found in Matt. 10:34-36 where Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household." (NAS)  We all want peace but each of us has to make up his/her mind as to where we prefer that peace--here or the hereafter.  Which will last the longest? 

Jesus suffered a violent death and it was because he spoke up and did not hold his peace.  Most historians think most of the apostles suffered similar fates and we know from history of burnings at the stake and violent deaths of many early Christians.  Again it was not because they held their peace but because they spoke up.  They were not ashamed to speak up for Jesus and were not ashamed of his words.

It takes strength to defend the very words of the New Testament, the words of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, said clearly, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NAS)  Many seem to feel that day is still in the future.  They are wrong.  It may continue to get worse but that day is already here.  Here is the proof.

People commonly believe that people in and from every denomination will be saved thus proving Paul's point when he said "they will not endure sound doctrine."  Follow the train of thought here.  If people are saved from every denomination, all teaching different doctrines, then there is no such thing as sound doctrine.  If one denominational doctrine is as good as another there is no such thing as sound doctrine or enduring sound doctrine.  That being the case what Paul prophesied is already here and does not need to await the future.

One can take the commonly accepted stance that the church of which one is a member does not matter and all will speak well of him, they will be glad to hear he feels that way.  One can take the stance that baptism is not for the remission of sins and receive the applause of men.  But, that will not change what the Bible says about either of those subjects.  "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets." (Luke 6:26 NAS)  What we ought to do is quit being ashamed of the words of Jesus and start following them.

If Jesus is ashamed of us on the last day we are not going to be saved.  Most who read this article probably have children.  How would a parent feel, how does one feel, when his children are ashamed of him and his words?  Now apply that to how Jesus must feel when we are ashamed of him and his words.  There can be little doubt it hurts him deeply.

We all need to take Luke 9:26 to heart and do better.  It will take a great deal of strength and courage, even faith, to do so.  It will also take love for God.  Do we have what it will take and will we do it?  That is the question we all must answer. 

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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

God’s Plea -- Be Reconciled to God

The word reconciliation is a very emotionally laden word.  There are millions upon millions of people in this world of billions who have sorrow in their lives that words cannot express.  It is a sadness that continues with them daily, month by month, year by year, and how can they tell anyone?  What can they say?  They cannot verbalize their feelings even to themselves let alone to others.  It is sadness, depression, emptiness, a sorrow that words cannot describe.

Why such sorrow, such longful mourning, such a sense of despair; because there is alienation within the family.  Families are torn apart because one member or another became alienated and will no longer have anything to do with the rest of the family or at least with the one with whom they are alienated.  The alienated one becomes angry and lives in bitterness, hate, and resentment.  Sometimes both parties involved come to feel that way but often it is a one-party matter.  The individual feels that he/she was done wrong and mistreated whether true or not; that is how they see it.

I knew a family, and there are many such families, whose only child, a son, ran away from home while alienated as a teenager and that was the last they saw him or heard from him, at least for many, many years, into decades.  They had no idea where he was.  The mother died without ever seeing her son again or knowing what became of him.  I cannot imagine the pain that mother and dad dealt with all of those years.  No doubt that mother would have rejoiced in tears to have seen her son at her bedside, just one time, as she passed from this world into the next.  However, that was not to be.

I did recently learn, I had lost touch with the family for years, that before the father’s passing the son had communicated with him.  Whether there was a genuine reconciliation or not I know not as I received my knowledge of this from a third party.  But how sad it was that this family had to go through this.

When I came to know the mother and dad they were devout church members.  I am sure faith in God is all that allowed them to live all those many years from middle age on into old age.  The one who suffers the least in these family breakups is the alienated.  They feel justified, maybe a sense of getting even, I will show you, and so in their desire to do this, they emotionally kill the other party and seemingly find some fulfillment in doing so.  The Bible would call this malice or hatred and condemn it but the alienated feels justified.

Two great examples in the Bible of men whose sons became alienated were David with his son Absalom and in the New Testament the case of the prodigal son.  David suffered immensely over Absalom.  It would take up too much space to retell the story of David’s relationship with Absalom so let me speak here only of David’s love for Absalom even after Absalom rebelled and had sought to overthrow David as King and take his father’s life.

Prior to David’s army going into battle against the army of Absalom David commanded Joab, the commander of his own army, to “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (2 Sam 18:5 NKJV)  When word was sent back to David as to how the battle had gone the first thing David wanted to know was, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” (2 Sam. 18:29 NKJV)  When he was told that was not the case, that Absalom was dead, the Bible gives us some of the most heart-wrenching words ever uttered by a father.

“O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place!  O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33 NKJV)  The Bible says David, “was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept.” (2 Sam. 18:33 NKJV)  You always love your child no matter how deeply they grow to despise you.  Oh, what it would have meant to David if there could have been reconciliation before it came to this but reconciliation requires two willing parties.  One alone is not enough.

The New Testament example of alienation did not end in tragedy as was the case with David and Absalom but rather in great joy, in rejoicing.  In the prodigal son, we have a son who was not as alienated as Absalom was but who, nevertheless, was not satisfied and wanted to part ways from his father.  He felt he was being held back from the good life while at home.

The New Testament example of the prodigal son is too well known to repeat here other than to mention the father’s overwhelming joy when he saw his son coming down the road home.  “When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20 NKJV) 

Thus we have two examples of alienation with two totally different endings.  One wonders why people refuse to be reconciled when reconciliation is the road to peace, joy, and happiness.  Whatever the cause alienation begins with perverseness of the heart.

The account of the prodigal son and his father is really about you and me and God.  We are God’s creatures, his people, “It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3 NKJV)  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” (Isa. 53:6 NKJV)

We are or have been, depending on where we are now in our standing with God, like the prodigal son.  We left God when we chose sin over him.  “There is none righteous, no not one.” (Rom. 3:10 NKJV)  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23 NKJV)

The gospel message is God’s call for the prodigal to come home.  It is the message of the father seeking the son or daughter who has gone astray who waits patiently until their return if only they are willing to be reconciled.  He is longsuffering and forbearing not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4 NKJV)

The gospel is as if God was standing and calling to us to come for as Paul said to the Thessalonians, “He called you by our gospel.” (2 Thess. 2:14 NKJV)  It is “the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19 NKJV)  “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’  And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17 NKJV)

It is an invitation but it is more than that.  It is a plea, “as though God were pleading through us:  we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20 NKJV)  Reconciliation is a choice, a decision to be made.  The son I told you about earlier whose father and mother I knew made a choice, a choice to not be reconciled for those many years.  It was a bad choice.  It is a horrible choice, even a tragedy, any time a person makes the decision that he will not be reconciled with those against whom he is alienated.  All are losers, none winners. 

We ought to be reconciled to our fellowman if alienated.  We are to forgive one another so that we might be forgiven.  “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14 NKJV)  We ought to grow tired of fussing and fighting, of anger, hatred, and bitterness.

You know if we were to ask the question of why heaven is going to be such a grand and joyous place we would have to talk not only about what will be there but also about what will not be there--all of these evil things that burden the heart and bring tears and sorrow.  Heaven is a place of love.  It is not a place of alienation, anger, and bitterness. 

The Bible says when Jesus drew near the city of Jerusalem, as he drew near to it for the last time (from afar), “he wept.” (Luke 19:41 NKJV)  What do you think brought him to tears?  In Matthew, we find his feelings expressed when he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37 NKJV)  This was God crying for his lost alienated children who would not come home.

God’s plea is that we be reconciled to him.  He is the prodigal son’s father, figuratively speaking, looking down the road to see if we will come home.  Are you going to tell him you are not willing?  If so is that where you will find happiness and contentment—find it in alienation?  We ought to come home to God with tears of rejoicing that the alienation is over and we are home at last, that wonderful word and wonderful place--home.  Home is where you belong, where I belong, where we all belong, home with God.

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Monday, March 6, 2023

God's Hardening of the Human Heart

Does God ever harden people's hearts?  No doubt about it.  Every Bible student is aware of God's hardening of the heart of Pharaoh back in the book of Exodus.  This was God's plan before Moses arrived in Egypt.  "And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go." (Exod. 4:21 NKJV)

Why did God do this?  He tells us, as he told Pharaoh, "But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." (Exod. 9:16 NKJV)  Paul quotes this passage in Rom. 9:17 and then in the very next verse says, "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens." (Rom. 9:18 NKJV)  God willed to harden Pharaoh's heart.

Does God harden people's hearts arbitrarily; just pick out people at random to harden their hearts?  We know he does not for "God is love." (1 John 4:8 NKJV)  He "desires all men to be saved." (1 Tim. 2:4 NKJV)  He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV)  "He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." (Lam. 3:33 NKJV)  God does not harden a heart willingly since a heart hardened against God represents a lost soul.  There must be a reason that God hardens a heart. 

There are difficult issues involved in understanding this subject.  Whose hearts does God harden?  Why?  How does he do it?     

Many that I have read after are pretty much under the conviction that the way God hardened Pharaoh's heart and thus the heart of others whom he has hardened is through his word.  That is to say, God gives a command that a man does not want to receive and obey.  He (the man) refuses to do so.  The man thus hardens his own heart but there is a sense in which it could be said God hardened the man's heart by giving the commandment.  The idea is that God's word is the tool that God uses to harden the heart.

We can see there is truth that words can harden hearts from our everyday conversations and simple observation.  Say the wrong thing to someone, innocent as your intentions may have been, and the first thing you know they are angry at you and develop a hardened attitude toward you.  Hopefully, in your adult life, this has seldom happened to you personally but I think we have all seen or observed the thing.   

There is no doubt God's word when directed at one's heart can harden a heart already inclined to disbelieve and disobey (belief being against their perceived self-interest as they see it).  His word rebukes the sinner who then gets his back up and rebels even further.

There is much merit in the argument that God's word does harden some.  However, is that the only means God uses to harden people's hearts whom he hardens?  That is a very difficult question to answer.  After all of the plagues were over and Pharaoh had released the children of Israel to leave Egypt, God instructs Moses to camp at Pi Hahiroth by the sea (Exod. 14:2) the reason being, "Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD." (Exodus 14:4 NKJV)  Here it seems a further hardening was coming.  God intended for Pharaoh and his army to enter the Red Sea for their destruction.

That this is certain we can ascertain from the following passage: 

"And the LORD said to Moses, 'Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.  But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.  And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen.  Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.'" (Exod. 14:15-18 NKJV)

This hardening seems to have come when the Egyptians were on the very edge of the bed of the Red Sea.  It is hard to see how this hardening was just a function of the rejection of God's word for this hardening seems to be in addition to the hardening that had occurred earlier.  On its face, it seems to be a hardening separate and apart from the word.

In Joshua 11 we find a similar passage along much the same lines.  Joshua and the children of Israel are at war against the inhabitants of Canaan (the Promised Land).  The passage reads as follows:

"There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle.  For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses." (Josh. 11:19-20 NKJV)

There were 7 nations in the land of Canaan that God wanted totally destroyed.  They were the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (Deut. 7:1-2).  Why were they to be destroyed?  Was it just to make room for the children of Israel?  No, it was because of sin.  "It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you." (Deut. 9:4 NKJV)  How sinful were these nations?  "Every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods." (Deut. 12:31 NKJV)  For other passages describing the sins of these nations in greater detail see Lev. 18 and Deut. 18:9-14.  God obviously did not harden hearts that were not already hard.  It takes a hard heart to burn your son or daughter to death. 

Both of these cases, that of Pharaoh and the Egyptians and that of the people who inhabited the land of Canaan, seem to be examples of what some would call a judicial hardening.  God had determined to pass judgment on them due to their sins and thus hardened their hearts to bring about their destruction.  It was judgment day for them.

Two points ought to be made here.  (1) People seem to be under the impression, and I have heard it said most of my life, that one can always repent and obey God as long as there is life in them--the idea being that we are judged after death.  There is just enough truth in this line of thought, the truth being that God is longsuffering, to make it exceedingly dangerous to a man.

In both the cases above just cited was God not executing judgment on men while they lived by ending their lives?  Many other such examples could be given from the Old Testament and then we have Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts 5).  I do not see where the Bible teaches that a man can go on and on and on in sin without any need of fearing God here and now.  A person living in sin ought to be fearful everyday of God’s judgment.  I am not saying what God will do but I do not see how we can say what he won't do.

(2) The second point is that God inhabits eternity.  He knows what will be tomorrow as well as what was yesterday.  "I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done." (Isa. 46:9-10 NKJV)  He knows us from beginning to end.  While we have free will he knows what we will choose before we make the decision.  You say how can this be?  It is one of the great mysteries of God how God can have foreknowledge and yet man have free will.  Some things are beyond man's ability to understand.  Some things we must accept by faith.

The point to be made is that God does not harden a man for destruction who was going to repent if given more time to do so for God knew already what the man would choose.  There is no evidence in the Bible to support the idea that God ever has or will harden a heart that is not already hard.

Whatever means God used to harden Pharaoh's heart, or anyone else's for that matter, is then in a sense immaterial for the very reason that God does not harden hearts that are not already hard.  It was only after the sixth plague that the Bible says the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart (Exod. 9:12).  Prior to that plague it was Pharaoh who hardened his own heart. 

John 12:37-40 is a New Testament passage on this subject that has caused some people some problems:

"But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him,   that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: 'Lord, who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?'   Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:  'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and understand with their heart, lest they should turn, so that I should heal them.'" (John 12:37-40 NKJV)

In this passage it sounds like the Lord made it impossible for people to believe by blinding their eyes and hardening their hearts apart from their free will, that is he did it before and without giving them an opportunity for salvation.  If that would be the case then it would not be true that God "desires all men to be saved." (1 Tim. 2:4 NKJV)  It would not be true that God is "not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV).  We thus know that if God did in fact blind their eyes and harden their hearts, and in some sense or way he did for the text says he did, it was not before they had an opportunity for salvation.

Isa. 6:10 is where Isaiah makes the statement about the hardening of the heart that John quotes in John 12:40 above.  This same passage from Isaiah is also quoted by Jesus himself in Matt. 13:14-15 and by Paul in Acts 28:26-27.  There is a slight twist, however, in Jesus' and Paul's quoting of the passage which helps clarify the text when considering how the hardening effect came about.  Jesus in quoting the Isaiah passage says, "their eyes they have closed" (Matt. 13:15 NKJV), and Paul says exactly the same thing in Acts 28:27.  Compare Matt. 13:15 with Acts 28:27 (Jesus and Paul) and you will see, at least in the New King James version, the exact same wording in both verses which I quote:

"For the heart of this people has grown dull.  Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them." (Matt. 13:15, Acts 28:27 NKJV)

Jesus makes it clear that it was the Jews themselves who closed their eyes and if you will read the Acts passage in its context (Acts 28:23-28) you will see Paul was blaming the Jews for a refusal to accept the message of the gospel.  As stated earlier, God's word can harden people who are already in their own hard hearts immune to it.  When that is the case it can certainly be said with justification that God has hardened a person's heart.  That is what we seem to have in the Isaiah quotation found in the New Testament passages listed above, people who already have hard hearts that are hardened even further by the hearing of God's word.  God hardened their hearts by his word.

We today seem to think that the door of opportunity for salvation remains open endlessly for a man.  It makes, so we think, little difference whether I obey the gospel today or twenty years from now (assuming one should live that long).  If we as Christians are living in unfaithfulness we have much the same attitude about time.  We think I can always repent.  However, the Bible says, "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2 NKJV)

Not only do we not know the day or hour of our death neither do we know whether we shall be hardened making salvation impossible.  I do not say God will directly harden your heart (nor would I say he would not) but I know you can harden your own and I also know when people are rebellious long enough and beyond hope that God will give them up (Israel and Judah of Old Testament times being examples).  Judgment day is not necessarily some day off in the distant future.  For all practical purposes judgment day for you or me is the day we die or otherwise become incapable of responding to the Lord.  Here is a quote from the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Vol. 2:  New Testament, page 34; I think is applicable, "The cumulative effect of unbelief is a hardened attitude that becomes more impenetrable as time progresses."  

God is a God of love who offers to all the hope of salvation, at least up to a point in time largely determined by our own hearts.  God will use us to accomplish or fulfill his will.  If we are willing we can be a vessel of his for honor (2 Tim. 2:21).  But, if we are unwilling he can if he so desires still use us for his glory as he did the Egyptians who drowned in the Red Sea.  We get to choose which way it will be.  We are all given free will for a time but who can say how long or short a time that may be?

"Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2 NKJV)  "Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." (Heb. 3:15 NKJV)  Amen!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Denominationalism’s Attitude Toward Peter

The apostle Peter has taken a beating among denominationalists.  I would feel sorry for him save for the fact that I would be feeling sorry for the wrong party seeing as how he was an inspired apostle of God and his antagonists are but mere men, men without inspiration. 

It was not always the way it is today.  For at least a few hundred years after his sermon in Acts 2 he was honored by those who proclaimed faith in God and belief in Christ as the Son of God.  Today, however, men who claim Christianity pretty much just ignore his sermon that day on Pentecost approximately two thousand years ago for they do not like what he said and they no longer believe it. 

Peter was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven by Jesus himself in Matt. 16:19, "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (NKJV)  He used those keys on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 for the first time, did so by preaching God's plan of salvation for man.  I have never heard anyone argue against that point.  

However, few to no denominationalists believe that what he said that day is bound in heaven thus fight against both Jesus and Peter as well as the Holy Spirit by which Peter spoke that day.  Wow!  Is there no one they will not take on? 

On that day in Acts 2 when those to whom Peter spoke "were cut to the heart (by Peter's sermon--DS), and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do'" (Act 2:37 NKJV) Peter responded to them by saying, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Act 2:38 NKJV)  Their faith was evident by their asking the question. 

Denominationalists say Peter could not have meant what the words he spoke seem to be saying--baptism is for the remission of sins.  Hmmm!  I thought he was inspired; I thought the Holy Spirit fell on him and the other apostles that day prior to the sermon.  If so, and I thought it was, I thought God was capable of saying what he meant to say.  Have I been wrong?  But then Jesus did say that "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mar 16:16 NKJV)  Did Jesus promise in this Mark passage that he who is not baptized will be saved?  Some seem to think so the way they talk.  The reality of Mark 16:16, according to their interpretation, is "he who believes and is not baptized will be saved."  

But they would object and say I am misrepresenting them.  They would say they never said that.  Aren't things that are equal to the same thing equal to each other?  If they say baptism does not save us, has no role in doing so, one can be saved without it, they are saying "he who believes and is not baptized will be saved" and they can object all day long if they desire but that is exactly where their doctrine leads them. 

Poor Peter never did get it right his whole life.  If only he could have received some counseling by today's Christians (?) who are in the know.  In Acts 10:48 he is again commanding people to be baptized at the house of Cornelius.  "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." (NKJV)  The gall of the man, commanding a non-essential, but then if memory recalls correctly I believe that man was inspired was he not?  Maybe it is not Peter who has the problem.  

Sadly, many years later (approximately 30) Peter is still preaching error according to denominationalists for he goes so far as to say now for a second time that baptism is for salvation (Acts 2:38 & 1 Peter 3:21).  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." (1 Peter 3:21 NKJV) 

I am in a minority but I think I will just go with Peter's misunderstanding and let the denominationalists go their own way.  If they are saving a seat for me this coming Sunday it will be free for someone else's use.  I am sure they are nice enough people and people who mean well but at my age I cannot afford to go along with the crowd.  I want to go with Peter.  I'll just take a chance that he knew what he was talking about and that God was able to use language plain and clear enough that a simpleton like me can understand.  I will take him at his word.

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Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Case of Cornelius and the Holy Spirit

There are many who believe beyond doubt that Cornelius was saved at the time the Holy Spirit came upon him and his household.  It is a topic that ought to be discussed.  While I have written once before on this subject more needs to be said as there has been some objection to what was written. 

I know of no person who claims to be a Christian who would deny the fact that the very first gospel sermon ever preached after Christ's death, burial, and resurrection was in the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two.  Neither do I know a man who would deny but what the words spoken by Peter were given by the Holy Spirit. 

The reader ought to note and carefully digest what the Holy Spirit, speaking through Peter, said on that occasion in response to those who asked "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37 NKJV)  They had heard the sermon Peter preached, believed it, and now these men who were "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37 NKJV) find themselves in need of forgiveness.  What is Peter's reply speaking by the Holy Spirit?  It is "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) 

Now note, when does the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter promise these believers they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?  Is it before repentance and baptism for the remission of sins or after?  The answer is evident.  This raises a question.  Is there one gospel in one location and another in a different location so that we can never really know what the gospel is?  Does the Holy Spirit preach one message concerning salvation in one location but a different one elsewhere?  Does God show partiality toward some?  Are some saved one way and others in a different way?  The Bible says, "there is no partiality with God" (Rom 2:11 NKJV) and Paul says there is but "one faith" (Eph. 4:4) while saying also of one who preaches another gospel "let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8). 

All of this being the case then how does one account for the fact that in the account of Cornelius' conversion we have the Holy Spirit arriving before, rather than after, baptism?  Has the Holy Spirit suddenly changed his mind on repentance and baptism being for the forgiveness of sins as he formerly taught?  And, if he has changed his mind this one time is it possible he may change his mind again?  Has he changed his mind on there even being but one gospel? 

The answer is obviously no.  What the Holy Spirit taught on the day of Pentecost he also taught approximately 10 years later at the household of Cornelius.  Repentance and baptism still retain the same position in God's plan of salvation for man as they did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. 

How then does one account for the Spirit arriving before baptism in the case of Cornelius?  If one reads carefully all of Acts 10 and 11 he will see God's reason.  The gospel was meant to be preached to all men of all races and nationalities.  And, yet, quite a number of years have gone by since Pentecost and where are we at?  We are still at the point where the vast majority of Jewish Christians cannot believe the gospel is for Gentiles as well as Jews.  Judaism, out of which they came, had been an exclusive religion to the Jewish race.  Yes, there were proselytes to it but there was never a Great Commission in Judaism to go out into the world and make converts of the Gentiles. 

Even Peter, an apostle, though inspired so he could teach and preach without the possibility of error, does not fully comprehend the meaning of the message Christ taught in Matt. 28:18-19--the Great Commission.  This was nothing new for prophets often did not know the full import of the inspired words they spoke. (see 1 Peter 1:10-12) 

In reading Acts 10 one learns by seeing Peter's initial reaction to the heavenly sent vision he had that Peter was still observing as law the dietary restrictions found under the Law of Moses all the while living under the law of Christ.  Then in verse 28 of chapter 10 he says, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.  But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean."  This was the purpose of the vision—to bring about a change in Peter's attitude toward going to the Gentiles. 

Note the word "unlawful" in that verse.  Up until the time of this vision Peter was lacking a full understanding of how the Law of Moses had now been completely done away with.  He was still, up to this time, concerned about dietary commands and keeping a distance from Gentiles.  It took the vision of the sheet let down from heaven and the Spirit speaking to him directly (Acts 10:19-20) to convince Peter it was God's will to go to the Gentiles and preach. 

Why did the Holy Spirit fall upon Cornelius and his household before baptism for the remission of sins?  Was it because that was the means of salvation or because Cornelius was already a saved man without repentance and baptism?  No.  It was because it was going to take a miracle, not now so much for Peter because he seems to be getting the idea, but in order for the whole Jewish Christian body to come to an understanding that the gospel was for all and not just for Jews and to get them out preaching and teaching the Gentiles.  In fact, when the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household the Bible says of those Jews who had traveled with Peter that they were "astonished" that this had happened, that God would grant this to Gentiles. (Acts 10:45) 

When Peter went back to Jerusalem, to show you and me how great the prejudice was against the Gentiles, the Bible says, and it is speaking of Jewish Christians (read the context), that "those of the circumcision contended with him." (Acts 11:2 NKJV)  Peter had to rehearse the whole account of what had happened to silence his critics but having done so they realize for the first time that "God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." (Acts 11:18)  The world has now changed in that henceforth the gospel will be preached to all men everywhere as God intended but it took a miracle to get the job done.  They, the Jewish Christians, would never have been convinced without it.  They now confess, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." (Acts 11:18 NKJV) 

Thus we have the real reason the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household prior to baptism.  It was not for the forgiveness of sins for the gospel had not changed.  Peter still needed to "command them to be baptized." (Acts 10:48)  But, who really commanded them to be baptized?  Was it Peter the man or the Holy Spirit?  If the Holy Spirit commanded it why did he do so?  

I know one who argues that Cornelius and his household were already saved having received the Holy Spirit.  Yet, the Holy Spirit commands them to be baptized.  Is this baptism to be for some other reason than what the Holy Spirit first said in Peter's inspired sermon in Acts 2:38?  Is baptism for one reason or purpose at one time and place but then for another reason in another time and place? 

God granted, in the case of Cornelius and his household, the Spirit prior to baptism (baptism for the remission of sins which the Spirit taught in Acts 2:38) for a special reason but the reader must bear in mind that God knows our hearts and what we will do before we do it.  God knew Cornelius would obey the command and be baptized for the very reason those on the day of Pentecost were--because they believed every word Peter spoke and part of that word was baptism for the remission of sins (or to be saved which is one and the same thing).  This is as it was on the day of Pentecost for the message never changed.  What was preached in one place was preached in every place. 

They were the things the angel said Peter would tell them--"tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved." (Acts 11:14 NKJV)  An essential part of that word that we know Peter spoke was baptism for the text says "he commanded them to be baptized."  (Acts 10:48 NKJV)  Without preaching on that topic Cornelius and his household would have no idea of what, why, or how. 

Yes, some say baptism is just a symbol or a picture and is meaningless other than as a symbol.  Tell Peter that.  Better yet tell the Holy Spirit he did not know what he was talking about in Acts 2:38 on the day of Pentecost.  If those in the audience on the day of Pentecost were saved without baptism they did not know it for they are asking what they must do after they had already come to faith.  Furthermore, Peter did not know it for he told them what to do.  That is pretty much the end of the story. 

Yes, the case of Cornelius was unique and an exception to the rule but it is not the only such case for when God has seen a need he has acted for the specific purpose he had in mind.  Saul was converted and became the apostle Paul but not because he heard the gospel in the normal way and responded.  We doubt that would ever have happened with Saul left to his own devices with the attitude he had.  But, God acted directly and the Lord appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus.  Why, because he had a special reason for doing so.  The case of Cornelius is similar in that regards. 

I close with this.  One who has objected to my position has said that 1 John 4:13 means Cornelius was saved before baptism.  I deny that.  1 John 4:13 is the word of God and truth.  But, the case of Cornelius and his household, like the case of Saul in his conversion, was a special act of God for a specific purpose God had in mind but neither set aside the commands God himself had given.  Cornelius still had to be baptized for the remission of sins and Saul still had to do the same (Acts 22:16).  God is not in a battle with his own law.  

I might add this as I close.  What if Cornelius that day after receiving the Holy Spirit had responded to Peter's command to be baptized by refusing to do it?  Would he have been saved?  The Holy Spirit does not force a man to do right against his will.  What if Cornelius had said no?  If he was already saved and baptism does not matter, as so many teach, it is hard to see how a refusal would have mattered.

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