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Friday, December 29, 2023

For By Grace You Have Been Saved Through Faith Alone

No, Eph. 2:8-9 does not read that way but that is the way most seem to want to read it.  Let me quote the verses for you from the New King James version. 

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." 

No believer would discount the grace of God in man's salvation.  You surely do not believe you deserve to be saved, do you?  If you cannot count your own sins I suspect it would not be too hard to find someone who would be willing to do it for you.  And, I add, that is to say nothing of those hidden sins that no man can see in another, those sins that only God knows about you. 

Many people are unaware that evil thoughts are sinful in God's sight.  "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man." (Matt. 15:19-20 NKJV)  "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)  That means me; it means you. 

So, I am thankful for grace for my sins but it distresses me to see what man has done to Eph. 2:8-9.  The passage has been perverted; the perversion has been made the be-all and end-all of God's teaching on the subject.  It is as if no other verses in the Bible have any authority on the topic of salvation.  If God has spoken elsewhere it makes no difference for these two verses (I should say the perversion of them) are all we will take into account and accept.  We tell God do not waste your time telling me anything else for I do not want to hear it. 

We are unwilling to accept that the same man who wrote Eph. 2:8-9 by inspiration of the Holy Spirit also wrote other books of the New Testament by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and also spoke in those books on the subject of salvation.  We forget the Psalmist said, "The entirety of your word is truth." (Psalms 119:160) 

We pit Paul against himself to make sure that Eph. 2:8-9 (our perversion of it) remains on a pedestal above all other passages on the subject.  The passage in Eph. 2 teaches the truth on how man is saved when properly understood and not perverted but my problem is with the perversion.  The passage is a summary statement of how man comes to have salvation but where the trouble comes is man's willingness to define the terms there as he very well sees fit and desires.  For example, who gets to define terms like grace, faith, and works?  And, that is where the perversion comes in. 

Let me define grace for you the way it is commonly defined by man--grace is God doing all the work and me not lifting even my little finger.  It is total unconditional salvation.  The idea is if God makes any demand on me (puts a condition on salvation) it cannot be grace.  Well, tell that to Noah who found grace in God’s eyes (Gen. 6:8 NKJV) but nevertheless had to build an ark to be saved. 

Faith is commonly defined, in this context (Eph. 2:8), as what I believe.  It is subjective, not objective; it does not depend on a book, chapter, and verse because it is what I believe.  I knew a lady who once said words to the effect that she did not care what Paul said about women preachers.  She knew what she believed was her idea.   That is how faith is commonly defined among men today as it relates to Eph. 2:8-9. 

Works is defined as being anything that requires me to take a single breath.  If I have to lift my eyelids it is salvation by works.  That is the way much of so-called Christendom views works as it relates to salvation. 

I totally reject all of the above. It is a perversion of truth.  It is a perversion of the teaching of Eph. 2:8-9.  Let us hear a little from Paul, the one no one seems to be willing to listen to except in Eph. 2:8-9.  Let him explain himself. 

"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe.  For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:21-24 NKJV) 

Does this sound familiar to Eph. 2:8-9?  It ought to.  But, how does the passage say we are justified by faith and grace?  Answer--"through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (v. 24) 

Well, how does Paul say a man enters Christ Jesus where this redemption is--redemption "is in Christ Jesus?"  He says just two chapters later, "do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus." (Rom. 6:3 NKJV)  Was this a slip of the tongue or of the pen?  No, for he says it again, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Gal. 3:26-27 NKJV)  By the way, can you put on Christ without baptism?  If so where is the verse that says so?  (see also 1 Cor. 12:13) 

Why is a man a son of God through faith in Christ Jesus?  Because he was baptized into Christ.  Reread Gal. 3:26-27 again.  I challenge one and all to find even a single passage of scripture in the New Testament that tells you how to get into Christ outside of baptism. 

By faith, a man is led to be baptized into Christ Jesus.  No one would or could be baptized into Christ without first having faith in him.  Forgiving grace is found in Christ.  The reader will see readily that I do not pit Paul against himself.  Faith, grace, and baptism all fit together into one package.  Paul meant what he said in every single passage of scripture he wrote but those who interpret Eph. 2:8-9 the way most do today have him fighting himself for they cannot admit he meant what he said in passages like Gal. 3:26-27. 

They cannot understand why he arose and was baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16) unless of course the passage does not mean what it literally says.  They have to symbolize all such passages (and dream up what the symbols are supposed to mean for the Bible does not tell them).  Paul could not have literally meant that a man enters Christ by baptism no matter what he said about it for that would mean one had to be baptized to be a Christian, to be in Christ, the very thing they deny.  They thus pit Paul against himself by their man-made tradition. 

Paul was baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16) and taught that one enters Christ by baptism.  He said Christ is the savior of the body (Eph. 5:23) and that the church is his body (Eph. 1:22-23) but says that body is entered through baptism.  "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13 NKJV)  If Christ is the Savior of the body and you are baptized into that body how are you going to be saved without being baptized (for the remission of your sins--Acts 2:38, Acts 2:16) the same way Paul was baptized?  This body one is baptized into, the body of Christ, the church, is cleansed "with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:26 NKJV)  No washing of water (baptism) then no cleansing. 

Paul, unlike those today, did not see a conflict between being saved by grace through faith and being baptized for the remission of sins.  As said earlier, it was all part of one package.  Baptism for the remission of sins is a part of God's grace.  A man is led to it by faith. 

When Paul was baptized to wash away his sins he did not see that as salvation by works but salvation by a living faith (by grace you have been saved through faith).  When Ananias, a Holy Spirit filled man sent by God to Paul, told him to "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins" (Acts 22:16 NKJV) faith led him to believe that this was God speaking to him.  When he complied with God's command he was, you get to choose:  (a) justified by faith (b) justified by works. 

Let me ask another question.  What if Paul had refused to be baptized to wash away his sins?  Would his faith have been a living faith or a dead faith?  When you answer that one you will know why you will find baptism in a proper exegesis of Eph. 2:8-9.  The way Eph. 2:8-9 is commonly understood today it demands a dead faith for there will be no baptism to wash away your sins found in it according to the common understanding. 

Paul believed and obeyed and was saved by grace.  We disbelieve and disobey and say we are saved by grace.  Friends, there is a world of difference in those two positions.  Both cannot be right.    

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Thursday, December 28, 2023

Sinning Without Law

That man has always been under some kind of law from God I think there is little doubt.  We know Adam and Eve were under law but what about those who came after them but before the Law of Moses?  The flood came upon mankind because of "wickedness" and "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5 NKJV)  The earth was "corrupt before God" and "filled with violence." (Gen. 6:11 NKJV)  Peter spoke of the world before the flood as "the world of the ungodly." (2 Peter 2:5 NKJV)

Were these people innocent, not having a law of God before them for guidance and direction in life?  Did they not have a way of knowing right from wrong, good from evil?  There is no evidence we have of a written law but we do know Noah was "a preacher of righteousness." (2 Peter 2:5 NKJV)  How did Noah know what was righteous and what was not?  What is my point?  It is threefold:  (1) God had a law by which man was to live even if unwritten, (2) man had some means by which to know God's will and (3) man could sin "without law," that is, in this case, without written law.  God would and did hold man responsible for man's lawlessness by means of the flood.

Moving up to the account of the events surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah the Bible says, "The men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD." (Gen. 13:13 NKJV)  Lamentations 4:6 speaks of “the sin of Sodom.” (NKJV, NAS)  But, there was no written law.  They sinned against God but they sinned without law but only in the sense of written law.  God had a standard, a law, against their conduct whether written or not. 

To elaborate Peter says, speaking of Lot and his time in Sodom, "That righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds." (2 Peter 2:8 NKJV)  Lot saw them; Peter called them "lawless deeds" so there was law there even without a formal code, as was later found in the law of Moses.

I have said all of this to lay some background material for Paul's discussion of the sins of the Gentiles in Romans 1.  (I remind the reader the Gentiles were never given the Law of Moses; it was given to the Jews at Mt. Sinai while the Gentiles remained without a formal law code or written law from God.)  I cannot quote it all here but the reader would be advised to stop and read Rom. 1:18-32 before proceeding.  Paul lists the sins of the Gentiles, especially in Rom. 1:29-32.  How did the Gentiles come to know these things were sins?  They had no written law and in that sense they were "without law," a phrase Paul uses later in Rom. 2:12.

I ask again, how did the Gentiles come to know these listed sins were sins when they were without law?  That they did know is evident for Paul says in Rom. 1:32, "Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." (NKJV)  They knew; Paul says so.

I do not propose in this piece to give you answers that would be mere speculation on my part as to how the Gentiles were to know sin from righteousness other than the fact that some things ought to be self-evident to all men.  The Gentiles went for thousands of years, up until Christ, without any kind of formal law from God but they "sinned without law." (Rom. 2:12 NKJV)  One might ask how can this be since "sin is the transgression of the law?" (1 John 3:4 KJV)  That is the question.

This is my opinion and mark it down as that, just opinion, which is that God has law (or put another way a set of standards for conduct) whether it is given to man or not and any violation of that law is sin.  For example, as far as we know God never told Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel not to murder or kill.  Does that mean Cain did not sin when he murdered his brother?  (Should one not know instinctively that this is sin?)

Sin is the transgression of God's law but one can sin without a formal law being in place.  How would one do that?  Well, one could not do it today since all men today are under the law of Christ but back in Old Testament times after Mt. Sinai and God's covenant that was made there with the Jews things were different.  The world was divided thereafter into two groups of humanity.  You were either a Jew or a Gentile (anyone not a Jew was a Gentile).  To the Jews, God gave a formal law—the Law of Moses.  The rest of humanity was without law, that is without a written formal code of law.

The Jews obviously sinned anytime they broke the Law of Moses.  The Gentiles sinned without law, without a formal law code such as the Law of Moses.  However, that does not mean they did not break God's law for God has a standard of right and wrong whether it has been delivered to man formally or not.

Sin is a transgression of God's law period.  Romans 1:18-32 is the Holy Spirit's listing of and condemnation of the sins of the Gentiles.  Paul says, "where there is no law there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15 NKJV) thus the Gentiles were under condemnation for the very reason that they had transgressed God's law.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23 NKJV), Paul said in Rom. 3:23, but that would not be true of the Gentiles in the period under discussion if they had no law of God to transgress.

Where did this law that was never formally given to the Gentiles, that the Gentiles lived under and a law they could and did violate, come from since it was not formally given?  Some of it came, evidently, naturally or instinctively as Rom. 2:14 says, "For when Gentiles who do not have the law do instinctively the things of the Law, these not having the Law, are a law to themselves." (NAS)   

The law the Gentiles lived under was not as strict as that the Jews lived under.  Of that, there can be little to no doubt.  When the scriptures talk about doing instinctively the things of the Law they are surely not speaking of offerings, sacrifices, clean and unclean foods, etc., the kinds of things that were regulated in detail and could only be known by a direct revelation from God (the very thing the Gentiles did not have).  The scriptures thus had to be speaking of things that relate to man's relationship with his fellowman and of his reverence toward God.  Paul summed up the fulfillment of the law when he said, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14 NKJV)  A Gentile was capable of doing that without a formal written code.

Did anyone, Jew or Gentile, ever live perfectly without sinning against the law under which he lived?  Of course not!  That is the point Paul is driving home in Romans chapters 1 and 2.  He says, "We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one.'" (Rom. 3:9-10 NAS)

Paul says, "Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20 NAS)  Does this mean that since the Gentiles did not have a formal written code or even an oral code from God they had no knowledge of sin?  No!  Why not?  Paul speaks of "the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending themselves." (Rom. 2:15 NAS)  Is there a man, living or dead, Jesus being the exception, who ever lived to manhood who could honestly say he never violated his own code of conduct, his sense of right versus wrong, never ever violated his own conscience?  Our own heart has condemned us all at one point in time or another.

Law has condemned all men, even those the Bible refers to as being "without law" for that phrase means only without a legal code of the likes of the Law of Moses. 

There is a passage in Rom. 5 that raises questions that ought to be dealt with.  It reads as follows:  "For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV)

If a person were to read this for the first time ever and have no knowledge of the Bible he would think that God did not punish sin or hold man accountable for sin before the Law of Moses but we have already discussed the account of the flood and why it came and talked about Sodom and Gomorrah and we have even discussed how God held the Gentiles to account for their sins as recorded in chapter one of this very same book—the book of Romans.  We have also discussed how men had law but just not a law of a formal code given by direct revelation and we have shown how the Gentiles violated the law or light they did have.

My take on this verse (Rom. 5:13) then is this—we take it at face value.  What do I mean?  It is a simple declaration, "sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV)  Thus, if sin exists at any place, anywhere, or anytime among anyone then there was a law that was violated even though that law may not have been in the form of a written or oral code and may not have been in the form of a specific commandment such as Adam was given.  Put another way one could say it is impossible to sin against a law that does not exist thus if there is sin there is law.

If Gentiles who lived in the period between Adam and Moses were eternally lost because of sin how could it be said that sin is not imputed when there is no law (they had no law given by revelation as did the Jews)?  We have already shown the wickedness of many in that time.  The answer is there was law, just not a written code of the nature of the Law of Moses.  I add in closing I do not presume to become the judge of the Gentiles before the Christian dispensation.  That is God's realm, not mine.  I am only saying God was not unjust in those he condemned because they were "without law." 

What God will do with the Gentiles of those ages past who lived without a written code is a question only he has the answer to.  I do know each of us will stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment individually, not as a group, to answer for our own deeds.   Luke 12:47-48 seems to teach we will be judged to an extent on our ability to know and do.  My purpose in writing this article was certainly not to make myself a judge of the Gentiles or to answer questions men have been contemplating for centuries but I do have an answer.  "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25 NKJV)   

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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Faith in the New Testament--Different Meanings

The word "faith" is a word that has different meanings in different places where it is found in the New Testament.  It can be disconcerting when one first becomes aware of this but at the same time, we benefit from knowing it.

In preparation for this article, I looked up the word "faith" in a little paperback Merriam-Webster Dictionary I have curious as to what I would find.  I found 4 meanings listed as follows:  (1) allegiance to duty or a person which you could call loyalty (2) belief or trust in God (3) complete trust and (4) a system of religious beliefs.

I then went to another book I have entitled An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W. E. Vine.  This is a standard work, a word definition book quite well known by Bible students.  This book allows you to take the English word found in your King James Bible, look it up, and it will give you the Greek word or words behind the English, and give you the meaning of those Greek words as used in the scriptures in the first century. 

When I looked up the word "faith" in Vine's dictionary I found the Greek word behind it to be "pistis."  Vine says the word means, depending on the passage in which it is being used, (a) trust (b) trustworthiness or faithfulness (c) what is believed, the contents of belief (d) the grounds for faith, assurance, and (d) a pledge of fidelity.  He gives scriptural references for each of these usages.

We can see then that the word “faith” has different meanings in different contexts in which it is found.

Generally speaking, as it relates to the New Testament, we think faith means trust in God or the Lord Jesus and it most certainly does.  The word is used with this meaning more than any other meaning given the word in the New Testament scriptures.  I think the classic example of this kind of faith (trust in God) found in the New Testament is found in Heb. 11:17-19 referring back to Abraham.  The text reads as follows:

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (Heb. 11:17-19 NKJV)

That is trust (or faith) in God to the utmost degree.  It is a faith we all need to develop but note one thing about this faith--note what it is based on.  It is based on the "word of God."  What had God promised Abraham concerning Isaac?  Abraham had been given God's word and was thoroughly convinced God could, would not, lie (Titus 1:2).  "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17 KJV)

Scriptural faith is never based on what a man thinks, a man's opinions or ideas, but upon God's word.  If there is no word from God then whatever a man believes is not faith but opinion.  Abraham had word from God--"In Isaac your seed shall be called."  Noah had the same faith regarding the coming flood and the need to build an ark.  It was not his opinion that a flood was coming.  He had God's word on it.

Another use of the word faith that is an uncommon usage but a scriptural one is faith as a spiritual gift.  In 1 Cor. 12 the subject is spiritual gifts (see verse 1).  In verse 8 Paul begins listing various spiritual gifts that had been given the Corinthians and in verse 9 includes faith.  He says, "To another faith by the same Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:9 NKJV)  I do not understand the nature of this faith but it was of such strength, evidently, that it could only be acquired by a direct spiritual impartation. 

This might explain what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 21:21.  "So Jesus answered and said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done.'" (NKJV)

Another different use of the word faith is found in Rom. 14:23, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." (NKJV)  Here the word refers to having a good conscience with regards to what you allow or do.  If you violate your conscience in doing a thing it is sin for one must act based on faith with the belief that what he is doing is in accord with God's will.  One cannot doubt and do a thing without it being a sin.

Taken in context the verse is found in a discussion about the eating of meats.  Under the Law of Moses, certain meats were unclean, and eating them was sin.  Under Christ, this was no longer so but some doubted and thus for them to eat, thinking it was possibly a sin to do so, and eating anyway, to them it became sin.  Their conscience was not clean.

Faith is at times used as a reference not to trust in God but as a reference for the whole Christian system, the entirety of New Testament teaching.  The best example and one all can readily see for such a usage, is found in Jude 3, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (NKJV)  The phrase "the faith" is a reference to the entire gospel system of salvation. 

What a lot of people do not know is that the phrase "the faith" is found in your Bible more times than you know.  Why do I say that?  Because those who translated our Bibles left it out (the “the” before the word “faith”) thinking it unnecessary to translate both words.  Let me give you some examples.

Gal. 3:14, "That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith." (NKJV)

Gal. 3:25, "But after ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." (NKJV)

Gal. 3:26, "For you are all sons of God through ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith in Christ Jesus." (NKJV)

There is a difference between "the faith" and "faith" thus such omissions are a serious error in translations.  If you doubt me just type in "interlinear" in your search engine and check me out.  I used the interlinear at Biblos but any of them should do just fine.  Young's Literal Translation accurately translates these verses leaving the word "the" where it belongs. 

Other places where "the faith" is used to mean the gospel system is 1 Tim. 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith," (NKJV) "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith," (2 Cor. 13:5 NKJV) "… and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7 NKJV)  In fact, the phrase "the faith" is used 39 times (without the omissions already mentioned) in the New King James Version.  I do not claim every single instance refers to the gospel but many of them do.

Another phrase often used in the Bible is the phrase "by faith."  One finds this, especially, in Hebrews chapter 11.  By faith, this man or this woman did this or that.  We read of that in verse after verse.  The phrase generally means they "acted" based on faith, because of faith, or out of faith.  One would be hard-pressed in life to find any meaningful act ever done by a rational person without a motivation of one kind or another behind it.  Faith is the motivating factor for the man or woman of God.  People act on God's word because they believe it.  When one does not believe one does not obey.  This disbelief is one reason so many who claim the name Christian are never baptized.  They do not believe what the Bible says about it.  Others who do believe are baptized.

Actually, the Hebrew writer explains this earlier in the book.  In Hebrews chapter 3 the writer is talking about those who came out of Egypt with Moses headed to the promised land.  As you know that generation did not enter therein for they refused to go up and fight in direct violation of God's command.  The Hebrew writer is talking about those people when he says, "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?  So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief."  (Heb. 3:18-19 NKJV)  He ties their disobedience in directly with their unbelief.  They did not trust God's word and thus refused to obey.  So it is today.  Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)  Only those who believe will obey.

There is no such thing as saving faith without diligent seeking of God which means in part obeying him in all he commands us to do.  "But 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) 

A good goal for all of us would be to so live that when we die it could be said of us that we lived by faith while living and then died in faith in passing.  We all ought to try and live such a life.  "The just shall live by faith." (Heb. 10:38 NKJV)

Finally, let us all try and read the Bible with more discernment.  I include myself in that.  We will all get more out of it if we put more time into it instead of just rapidly passing over the text.  It is great to read the Bible but far better to read it and study it.

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Saturday, November 18, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 9, 2023

Diotrephes Loves To Have the Preeminence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 4, 2023

Christian Circumcision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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