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Monday, July 15, 2024

Running From God

Why do men run from God?  It has been a question with me for years and one I have had the deepest interest in.  I cannot understand it and things I cannot understand when it comes to the way people behave have a way of bothering me.  I have always wanted to know why people do what they do.  I have wanted to know how men think, why they think the way they do, and thus what motivates them.   The reality is only God can know for sure for only he can see inside a person and read a person's heart.  As for you and me the Bible says, "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?" (1 Cor. 2:11 NKJV)

Our best hope for knowing another lies in their willingness to open up to us.  Even then we may end up scratching our heads in bewilderment.  They may tell us what they think but do they themselves understand the processes of the heart and mind that have led them to the point where they are at?

If there is a God (I am not expressing doubt) then by definition of what it means to be God it is clear one could not successfully run from him.  Hear David in the 139th Psalm.

"O LORD, You have searched me and known me.   You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.   You comprehend my path and my lying down,  And are acquainted with all my ways.   For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether…Where can I go from Your Spirit?   Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.   If I take the wings of the morning,  And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,  Even there Your hand shall lead me,  And Your right hand shall hold me.   If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall fall on me,' Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You." (Psalms 139:1-4, 7-12 NKJV)

The writer of the Book of Hebrews put it this way, "There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." (Heb. 4:13 NKJV)  To try and run from God, hide, or win a battle against him is folly and only shows how foolish a person can be.

Since man cannot run from God why try?  While we may never know a particular individual's thinking or motive for attempting to do so the Bible tells us of some who have tried to run from God and gives us their motivation. 

Adam and Eve were the first to try and run from God.  When they sinned in the Garden of Eden by eating of the forbidden fruit, breaking God's commandment, they attempted to hide from God.  Adam said to God he was hiding because of his nakedness (Gen. 3:10) but that had never been a problem before.  Sin made it a problem and thus sin caused the first man and woman to run from God and try and hide from him. 

Every case of running from God or away from God has been caused by sin in a man's life.  “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  (John 3:20 NKJV)  Those who love God and obey his commandments do not run from God.  "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." (1 John 5:3 NKJV)

God is man's great benefactor.  Why run from one who is the only one who can give you eternal life and save you from hell?  There is only one reason, the fact of sin in one's life, sin that has not been repented of or forgiven.  Every reason we can list as motives for man's attempt to run away from God will in every case come back to the matter of sin in the person's life.  But the question remains why?

What was the reason behind Adam and Eve's sin?  There are some things here that we can learn.  Eve was willing to listen to someone other than God for guidance.  Eve listened to the serpent.  Adam was willing to listen to Eve.  The world is full of people whose desire is to get you to listen to them and follow them and their lead not only out in the world but even in what is styled Christendom.  What folly!  The word of God lies in the hands of the man or woman who holds the Bible, there and there only will you find God’s guidance.  God's word is the only sure guide man will ever have.

In the Christian faith, God speaks to us through the pages of the New Testament.  There we are told how to become Christians, how to worship acceptably, and how to live the Christian life.  We are warned much like Adam and Eve were.  We are neither to add to that word nor take from it.  There is a simple reason for that – whatever is added is not God’s word but man’s word, whatever is subtracted leaves God’s word incomplete and thus not whole.  In the latter case, you end up with partial truth, not the whole truth.  

Adam and Eve were God's children.  Eve sinned by listening to another who was enlightening her, so she thought, who knew better than God himself.  We ought to learn a lesson here.  If you cannot quote book, chapter, and verse from the New Testament for your practice or doctrine you have listened to someone other than God and need to leave it alone.  Adam and Eve did not have a Bible but they had God's word directly spoken from his mouth.

In our dispensation of time, the New Testament is the last will and testament of Christ our Savior and thus God's word for man to live by until time shall end and Jesus shall return.  God “has in these last days spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb. 1:2 NKJV)  Peter in his sermon in Acts 3 speaking of Moses' prophecy concerning Jesus said, “For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord you God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren.  Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.  And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’” (Acts 3:22-23 NKJV)

If we are not listening to Jesus’ words (the New Testament) we are listening to men or to ourselves.  We must also remember that adding to God’s word in how we worship or otherwise is as bad as subtracting from that word.  It is only, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8 31 NKJV)  That is what Jesus said about it.  God’s word has boundaries.  Adding or subtracting, either one, changes those boundaries

But, why did Eve do that, why did she listen to another?  Because she liked what she heard from the serpent more than she liked what she heard from God.  So the second thing we can learn from Adam and Eve is to not allow our personal desires to guide us.  “It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jer. 10:23 NKJV)  Always remember it is not what seems good or right or desirable to you or me that counts with God but whether or not we are obeying him by obeying his word. 

I don't know that a man can have too big a heart but I do know our great love for a wife, a husband, a child, a parent, a friend, or whoever can lead us to reject God's word to have them saved.  We then start running from God.  The person we love will either not accept or obey the gospel or if they have done so go off into false doctrine or apostasy and we want them saved so badly that we start looking at scripture differently.  Suddenly we find the word of God changing and old passages that used to teach us one thing now seem to be teaching us something entirely different.  What has changed?  Has the Bible changed or has it been our heart?

Our great passion for and love for our fellow man can easily result in our rejection of God's word for the word we want it to be rather than the word it is.  Adam’s love for Eve seems to have overwhelmed him.  The Bible says Adam was not deceived, Eve was. (1 Tim. 2:14)  Did Adam love Eve more than he loved God?  Love is a wonderful thing but we must love God foremost.  "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me," said Jesus. (Matt. 10:37 NKJV)  Love for a person or persons can cause people to run from God.

Do we think God is unjust in condemning those who will not believe the truth and obey it?  Do we think we love more than God who gave his only begotten son on the cross to die to give man a means of salvation?  Do we think we love more than Jesus who died for us all?  Do we think God is just too strict, many do.  However big your heart is I can assure you it is not as big as God's but do we really expect God to save unrepentant sinners and people who do not love him?  If he did how would heaven be any better than life on earth? 

So, what lessons have we learned from Adam and Eve?  (1) Sin led them to run from God.  (2) This sin was caused by or the result of listening to the words of another who was not God.  (3) Eve listened to another other than God for she desired the doctrine he brought more than the doctrine God gave.  (4) Love for one's mate, or for others, even for all of humanity cannot supersede one's love for God and if it does so it will only result in disaster.  Are you and I immune today from falling into one or more of the same traps?  No, not at all.  

Jonah is another example and with little doubt the best known example in the Bible of a man who attempted to run from God.  God sent him to Nineveh to preach against that city's wickedness.  Jonah did not want to go and do that for fear that Nineveh would repent and God would not destroy its inhabitants but rather forgive them and spare them (see Jonah 3:10-4:2) which is exactly what ended up happening.  The story is well known.  Jonah wanted to see the city destroyed and fearing that preaching God's message to the people there would end up saving the city he tried to flee from God, got caught up in a storm on the sea, a storm God sent purposely, and was tossed overboard by the sailors to save their own lives.  He was thereafter swallowed by a great fish, one that spit him out after he repented of disobedience to God's command.

Once again then we have another example of a man running from God because of disobedience to God but what was his motivating factor in his disobedience?  In Jonah's case, the motivating factor was a lack of love for his fellow man.  One could call it hate.  He wanted to see the people of Nineveh die, 120,000 of them.  Jonah had a heart problem. 

When a person has a heart problem they will want no part of God and will naturally flee from him.  Not every sin is heart-related.  One might sin out of ignorance for example but when sin is in the heart man wants no part of God and will seek to run from him.  The heart must be changed to change the man.

Then we come to the rich young ruler we find in the New Testament who thought he wanted eternal life and came to Jesus seeking an answer as to how to obtain it.  We find this account in Matt. 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, and Luke 18:18-23.  Jesus invited the young man to sell his goods and come follow him.  The young man could not bring himself to do that and ended up walking away from God.  Why?  Because he loved his wealth, his money, more than God and eternal life.  He had a heart problem, the love of money.

There is another account found in John of those who ran away from God.  The text says, "Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." (John 12:42-43 NKJV)  Again, the problem lies within the heart of the man.  It is men wanting the wrong things out of life leading them into sin and away from God.

In the example just given the rulers were going away from God but headed out to the synagogue for worship.  They wanted to be religious but just not Jesus’ way.  In today's world men will search and search and search to find the denomination that will teach it the way they want to hear it so that Paul's prophesy finds its fulfillment.  "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NKJV) 

You tell me what it is you want to hear today and I think I can find you a place to go if you will let me research it just a little.  You can find the doctrine that comforts you in whatever state of sin you are living in and in whatever beliefs you are holding if you will only search awhile.  You may well end up in a place you do not want to be in the next life but for here and now you can find a place of comfort, a place where they will tell you the lie you are living is nothing other than God's truth.  

The Bible only teaches one church and one faith and it does not teach a thousand different competing doctrines.  "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Eph. 4:4-6 NKJV)  Churches today have people in them who are in reality running from God but are not willing to admit it to themselves.  They left the old place and came to the new so they could persist in their sin rather than be cleansed from it.  

Yes, we can run from God; we just cannot stay hidden from him.  We must give an account.  The day of accounting will be a terrifying day for many for in that day the heart of man will be revealed and we will all have to come clean.  Why did we believe what we believed?  Why did we practice what we practiced?  Was it because of God's word or was it because we had a heart problem we would not admit to or face up to?  Is your faith and trust in your own heart, in your own mind, in what seems best and right to you, or is it in the words spoken by the Holy Spirit?  God's word is just an extension of himself.    Jesus is called the word (John 1:1-2, 1 John 1:1)  He is revealed in his word.  Are you running away from God?  I hope not for I can promise you he will find you in the Day of Judgment when you do not wish to be found. 

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Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Place of Hate in a Christian’s Life

It goes without saying that Christians do not associate hate with the characteristics God would have his children possess.  Christianity is about love for God and for our fellow man.  Hate would seem to be the antithesis of all Christianity stands for and yet there are things a Christian must come to hate if he is to become like God in his character.  If God hates a thing can I as his child love the thing he hates?  "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3 NKJV)  God's child must learn to hate what God hates to walk with God.  Please note I say things, not people.  We strive to hate the things people do, not the individuals.

One of the best known passages in the Bible regarding things God hates is found in Prov. 6:16-19, “These six things the LORD hates,  Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look,  A lying tongue,  Hands that shed innocent blood,  A heart that devises wicked plans,  Feet that are swift in running to evil,  A false witness who speaks lies,  And one who sows discord among brethren.” (NKJV) 

Another very well-known passage is found in Malachi 2:16, “The Lord God of Israel says that he hates divorce.” (NKJV) 

The Lord says he hates thinking “evil in your heart against your neighbor.” (Zech. 8:17 NKJV) 

In a prophecy of Jesus found in Psalms 45:7 the Psalmist says, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness.” (NKJV)  If you turn to Heb. 1:9 you will find this Old Testament passage quoted and applied to Jesus.

This short list is far from an all-inclusive list of the things God hates, for example we know he hates idolatry, but all the things he hates can be summarized by saying God hates sin.  We must also come to hate it if we are to be like him. 

There are, however, some passages found in the scriptures that tell us specifically things we ought to hate.  “A righteous man hates lying.” (Prov. 13:5 NKJV)  A wise man will hate “pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth.” (Prov. 8:13 NKJV) 

In Rev. 2:6 the church at Ephesus was commended for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans which the Lord said, “I also hate.” (NKJV) 

The bottom line is we must come to hate all sin.  “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalms 97:10 NKJV)  “Hate evil, love good.” (Amos 5:15 NKJV)  “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” (Prov. 8:13 NKJV) 

We might talk a little bit about hate.  When we think of hate we generally think first of hate directed against people, ill will accompanied by deep emotion to the point the person hated is detested and we wish him/her nothing good.  However, the word hate can mean more than one thing so one must beware of how the word is used in context to determine its true meaning in each instance.  Even in the use of the word as already given one must remember not all persons hated are equally hated with the same passion and to the same degree. 

Sometimes all the word hate means is an aversion to something evil.  For example, I hate poison ivy and sunburns.  One is to hate in scriptural language "iniquity" (Heb. 1:9 ASV). 

Another usage expresses a preference for one thing over another.  For example, I hate pecan pie compared to cherry pie.  In the New Testament one hates his/her parents, even his own life also, in comparison to his love for Christ (Luke 14:26).  Nowhere does the New Testament teach hatred of one's parents or of one's own life, just the opposite (see Matt. 15:4, Eph. 6:2-3, Eph. 5:28-29). 

There are those today here in America, and their numbers are increasing, who see the Bible as a book of hatred because it condemns sin in the flesh (sin in humanity).  They are unwilling to admit the actions they are engaged in are sin and do not want to hear it or hear it preached.  The only sin they can see is the Bible itself, a book of hatred from their point of view because it is intolerant of the sin in their life. 

Many of them would like to see hate speech legislation enacted to control any condemnation of what the Bible calls sin.  They are at war with God, with Christ, with the Bible, and with all Christians who hold to the word of God and they are growing in political power.  Perhaps that will change; time will tell. 

God is not a God of hate but of love.  He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV) which is one reason the earth still stands today, because of God's longsuffering toward sinners.  "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)  "'For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says the Lord God.  'Therefore turn and live!'" (Ezek. 18:32 NKJV)  This has always been God's plea to man—turn from sin to me and live.  Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)  That excludes no one except for those who prefer their own way of life to God's.

Race, age, gender, nationality, intelligence, talents, looks, education, social class, or standing, no one is excluded from eternal salvation save for those who just will not have it because of their preference for self over God.  God is a gracious and generous God.  "For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon you." (Psalm 86:5 NKJV)

A God who loves and who is good cannot tolerate that which is unloving and evil.  Only God as God has the knowledge or ability to know what is best for man, only he knows right from wrong for we can only know as he reveals this knowledge to us.  We are all born knowing nothing.  As human beings, we are all limited in every aspect of our life even as we grow and acquire knowledge and understanding.  There is only so much we can know; only so much we can do.  We are continually changing for the better or the worse.  God does not change.  "For I am the Lord, I do not change." (Mal. 3:6 NKJV)  Who God is, what he is, his nature, his character, cannot change.  God cannot quit being God.

Gamaliel gave good advice to the men of Israel in Acts 5:39 when he told them they could not fight against God and win.  One will either fight against God and lose or bring his will into accord with the Lord's will and be found as a friend of God.  The ramifications of the choice made are eternal and cannot be altered once our final breath departs from us.

In bringing our will in line with the Lord's will we must learn to love what he loves and hate what he hates.  While God hates sin he does not hate the sinner for he has done everything in the world he could possibly do to save the sinner except for saving the sinner in his sins unrepentant.  God would have to love sin (evil) to do that.  What would be good about a God who would save an unrepentant Hitler or Stalin?

In 1 Cor. 2:16 Paul says, "We have the mind of Christ." (NKJV)  Let us love what Christ loved and hate what he hated. 

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Friday, July 5, 2024

Paul's Conversion—How Justified by Faith

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who was soon to be known as Paul the apostle, is one of the most interesting accounts of conversion to Christianity found in the Bible.  One can read about Paul's conversion in 3 different accounts given in the book of Acts--Acts 9:1-19, 22:1-16, 26:9-20.  Saul of Tarsus was one of the really bad men we read about in the New Testament which makes his conversion even more dramatic.  How bad a man was Saul?

In Acts 9:1 we read about Saul "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord." (NKJV)  Evidently, if it was something he was still doing it was pretty much a habitual thing with him.  This was said at a time when he was setting out to Damascus to find Christians he could bind and bring back to Jerusalem for punishment. (Acts 9:2)  Paul says of himself, "I persecuted this Way (Christianity--DS) to the death." (Acts 22:4 NKJV)  He says, testifying against himself, "many of the saints I shut up in prison ... and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." (Acts 26:10 NKJV)

Will God have a man like this, a man this bad?  Saul clearly had personal responsibility in the death of Christians.  Christians died because of his actions whether he ever cast a stone personally or not.  But, the answer to the question of whether or not God will have a man this bad or not is easily answered.  The first people the gospel was ever preached to lived in Jerusalem and were guilty of putting Jesus the Son of God to death.  When Pilate wanted to release Jesus they would have none of it (John 19:12).  They wanted him crucified.  Peter confronts them with their guilt over this matter in Acts 2:23 and again in Acts 3:14-15.  The good news is that "Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6 NKJV) and thus as a result of Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost faith was created, about three thousand (Acts 2:41) responded to the preaching, obeying Peter's command to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and were forgiven.

Would God forgive Saul?  Most certainly!  Paul later says, "But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life." (1 Tim. 1:16 NLT)  The NLT (New Living Translation) is not a literal translation but I believe it is an accurate rendition of the meaning of this verse and makes it easy to understand what Paul is saying.  Paul considered himself to be chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and said he was "not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Cor. 15:9 NKJV)  He said as all Christians must say, "by the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor. 15:10 NKJV)  We must all say I am saved by the grace of God; I am what I am (assuming we are doing our very best to be what God would have us to be) by the grace of God.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith." (Eph. 2:8 NKJV)

Thus far we have seen the kind of man Saul of Tarsus was prior to his conversion and also the change of attitude and heart a result of his conversion but what of Paul's conversion itself?  The word preached was having no effect upon him.  He would have none of it and to preach it in his presence would have meant as a minimum imprisonment if he could affect it at all.  Certainly, Paul had heard of Christ but wanted none of him or his message.  He rejected Christ and yet Christ intervened directly in his life for a purpose--see 1 Tim. 1:16 quoted above.

It took a miracle to convert Saul of Tarsus.  Without Jesus appearing directly to him and speaking with him on the road to Damascus there appears to have been little to no likelihood of Saul of Tarsus ever being converted but the question of interest to us in this article is when in Paul's conversion was he justified by faith.  Certainly, there is no doubt that this miraculous wonder Paul experienced, a light from heaven (Acts 9:3, 22:6) brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13) surrounding him and his party and a voice out of heaven telling him it was Jesus speaking to him (Acts 9:5, 22:8, 26:15) totally destroyed unbelief in Paul's life and that instantaneously. 

Likewise there can be no doubt repentance was immediate.  Paul immediately became submissive to the will of God.  He was told directly by Jesus that he (Paul) was a persecutor of the one who spoke to him--Christ (Acts 9:4, 22:8, 26:15).  He was blinded.  This was no time for rebellion against the God who was speaking out of heaven nor was there any inclination on Paul's part to be rebellious.  I think we all understand that clearly.  Paul's only response after knowing it was Jesus who was speaking was, "What shall I do, Lord?' (Acts 22:10 NKJV)

Virtually every denomination in the land according to their idea of what it means to be justified by faith has to have Paul saved right then and there.  He has all the faith any man will ever have.  He is most certainly penitent.  Nevertheless, Jesus' response to Saul's question, "what shall I do, Lord," is "arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do" (Acts 22:10 NKJV) or as recorded in Acts 9:6, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (NKJV)  Does must mean must?

Jesus sent the man Ananias to Saul in the city of Damascus to tell Saul those things which were appointed for him to do.  One wonders what it was Ananias had to tell Saul.  Was it Saul's mission to be?  No!  How do I know?  I know because Saul had already been told that by Jesus on the Damascus road.  Read Acts 26:16-18.  He was told he was being made a minister, to be sent to the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light.  It is true Ananias did reiterate what Jesus had already told Saul (Acts 22:14-15) but that was all it was--a retelling of what Saul had already been told by Jesus directly.

The best way to find out why Ananias was sent to Saul is to read what Jesus and Ananias had to say about it.  Jesus said it was so Saul "might receive his sight." (Acts 9:12 NKJV)  Ananias said Jesus "has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NKJV)  The only other comment we have on why Ananias was sent to Saul is found in Acts 9:6 and Acts 22:10 both quoted two paragraphs above. 

So what was it that Saul was told by Ananias that he (Saul) was appointed to do that Saul did not already know from having heard it from Jesus himself?  Was it a specific geographic area he was to move to in order to begin his ministry?  If so there is no mention of it in the scriptures.  There was but one thing at that specific point in time he was told by Ananias that he was appointed to do.  "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16 NKJV)

But, wait, that cannot be.  He was justified by faith alone when he was converted on the road to Damascus.  Says who?  Did your Bible tell you that or was it your denominational pastor?  Perhaps it was your religious heritage that told you.  Paul was certainly justified by faith but when and where is the matter to be decided and not just assumed.  Now I do not debate for a single second that Paul's heart was changed on the road to Damascus but did that change his state is the question?

Let me illustrate.  A young man and a young woman begin keeping company with one another and fall in love.  They become fully committed to one another and to no other.  Their faith in one another and love for one another becomes as solid as it can get.  Yet, the marriage date is down the road a few weeks.  Their hearts have been changed but not their status, not until the marriage ceremony is performed. 

Christians are married to Christ.  "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." (Rom. 7:4 NKJV)  But, one is not married until he/she is married despite the feelings of the heart.  Baptism seems to be the marriage ceremony (so to speak) of the disciple with Christ. 

Paul himself says we die in baptism (Rom. 6:4) and walk in newness of life upon our baptism, read all of Rom. 6:1-8.  This means our state or status is changed at baptism.  He says Christ cleansed the church "with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:26 NKJV)  The washing of water is certainly baptism.  One might ask cleansed the church of what but the answer is obvious--sin.  Was Paul ever washed in water and cleansed of sin?  Ananias told him to be (Acts 22:16) and the Bible says he was (Acts 9:18).  When one has been cleansed of sin his status with God has been changed.  His state has changed.  He is now a Christian.

A very close relative of mine use to say there was nothing in water to cleanse from sin.  One might just as well say there was nothing in water to cleanse Naaman of leprosy either (see 2 Kings 5).  But, you see when God tells you to do something saying you will receive a certain blessing upon acting by faith and doing as he says you will get the result you seek by such faith and obedience.  The God who made the world is able to make good on his promises.

The real key to water for both Naaman, Paul, you, and me is nothing in the water itself (other than God's promise--God's promise is there) but God acting on our behalf when we act by faith upon the command he gave.  To Naaman it was the promise of the healing of a physical disease upon dipping 7 times in the Jordan River.  For you and me it is the promise of the remission of sins upon baptism.  "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38 NKJV)  "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (Jesus, John 3:5 NKJV)

Paul most certainly was justified by faith but Paul knew when that happened and if we would read the things Paul wrote on the subject and would consider them as closely as we should we would realize it just as well.  "According to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5 NKJV)  The washing here is baptism and it is called the washing of regeneration which means (the word means) rebirth thus a washing resulting in a new birth.

The old Paul, the man of sin, died to sin (Rom. 6:2) when he was baptized into Christ's death (Rom. 6:3) having been crucified with him (Rom. 6:6).  Paul says, "if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (Rom. 6:8 NKJV) but we died with Christ by being "baptized into his death." (Rom. 6:3 NKJV)  When we are baptized on the basis of faith we come up out of the water to "walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4 NKJV)  We have been born again, born of water and the Spirit (John 3:3, 5).

One really ought to also consider Paul's state of mind at that point in time prior to Ananias' arrival on the scene.  He was not yet an inspired man.  He knew he had been told to go into Damascus and wait for further directions and he knew of the vision he had of "a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight." (Acts 9:12 NKJV)  When Ananias does come he tells Paul that Jesus has sent him to him (Acts 9:17).  Paul has no problem believing this because it corresponds with the vision he has had and also because of what he had been told by Jesus himself on the road to Damascus.  He is expecting further enlightenment from God and knows God had told him in a vision a man was coming called Ananias.

Now here is the point.  Is Paul in any frame of mind to doubt the message that Ananias delivers to him?  To ask is to answer.  When Paul was told to arise and be baptized to wash away his sins did Paul doubt he had sins to be washed away?  Did he believe at that point in time that baptism was just a figure, a symbol, or a representation of a salvation already received?  Now be honest with yourself before you answer that.  A man comes from God and gives you this message and you know full well he was sent from God and you are going to do what--doubt him and his message?  I don't think so!

Here is a point that is often overlooked at is relates to justification by faith and baptism, tying them together, and which pretty much proves the point I am trying to make relating to Paul's conversion.  Speaking of the baptism taught and practiced by John the Baptist the Bible says, "The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him (by John--DS)." (Luke 7:30 NKJV)  In Mark 11:30 Jesus asks the question, "The baptism of John--was it from heaven or from men?  Answer me." (NKJV)  This was said by Jesus to those who confronted him in the temple.  Now watch closely as the Bible describes their thinking as they contemplate a response to Jesus"And they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' " (Mark 11:31 NKJV)  This shows that one who believed was baptized.  One who did not believe was not baptized.  Those who did not believe and obey were certainly not justified by faith and it has always taken faith to save a man.

Now apply the same reasoning to the baptism Jesus gave as a part of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16).  Is one going to be so daring as to claim he is justified by faith all the while disbelieving and disobeying Jesus on the subject of baptism?  Jesus commanded baptism (Matt. 28:19), promised that those who believed and were baptized would be saved (Mark 16:15-16), and said that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5 NKJV).  If a man sinned and was condemned for not believing and obeying the baptism taught by John then one must remember one far greater than John is found in Jesus the Son of God.  A man was not justified by any kind of faith while rejecting John's baptism.  Is it now somehow different with Jesus' baptism?  I would hate to have to make that kind of argument but it is the very argument a man must make who believes justification by faith has nothing to do with baptism and is not essential to salvation.  

I have one other question to ask then I bring this article to a close.  The Bible says one reason Ananias was sent to Saul was that he might be "filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NKJV)  My question is this--what part did Ananias have to play in that?  Only Jesus could baptize men with the Holy Spirit.  True the apostles had the power to lay hands on others and impart spiritual gifts but only Jesus could baptize in the Holy Spirit.  So, the question remains what role did Ananias have to play in that?  He was not an apostle, had no power to impart spiritual gifts, and he had no power to baptize a man with the Holy Spirit. 

The answer has to be only one thing.  He told Paul what to do in order to become a Christian.  Paul had faith, had repented, was willing to confess Jesus, but had not yet been told about taking the final step into Christ--baptism.  It is Christians that God gives the Holy Spirit to.  The only time in Christian history (which is Pentecost onward) a non-Christian was baptized with the Holy Spirit was the case of Cornelius and his household and there was a specific reason behind that just as there was a specific reason God directly intervened to make Paul a believer and convert him.  Ananias helped Paul be filled with the Holy Spirit by telling him what else God had appointed for him to do, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins." (Acts 22:16 NKJV)  When that was done Paul had put away the old man and put on the new man (the Christian man) and the Holy Spirit was given.

You say how can I be sure?  Ask yourself some questions.  What was keeping Jesus from filling Paul full of the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus?  Since Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit directly from heaven (day of Pentecost and the apostles, Cornelius and his household) what does he (Jesus) need Ananias for?  Why wait on Ananias?  There was only one reason.  Paul needed to hear the completion of the first gospel sermon ever preached by man (Acts 2:38)--Peter's on the Day of Pentecost.  Peter was not there to preach it but Ananias was.  He needed to be told that he had sins that needed to be remitted or as Ananias phrased it washed away and needed to be told how to do that.  He needed to be cleansed in God's sight.  Then the Holy Spirit could be given.

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Thursday, July 4, 2024

Mary of Bethany--Doing What You Can

Sometimes even when we do well we receive criticism and blame as though what we did was evil rather than good.  Such was the case with Mary of Bethany, a friend of Jesus and one whom Jesus loved (John 11:5).  If you are not familiar with the story of Mary who anointed Jesus with some very expensive oil of spikenard not long before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion you can read the account in Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-8.

I will summarize the story for you briefly.  A supper had been made for Jesus (John 12:2) in the home of Simon the leper (Mark 14:3).  Jesus was there as the invited guest along with others which included his disciples (Matt. 26:8), and Martha, Lazarus, and Mary (John 12:2-3), the latter three being a brother and his two sisters.  This was the same Lazarus that Jesus had raised from the dead (John 12:1, 9).  While Jesus was reclined at the table, according to the custom of the time, Mary came up behind him with a flask of fragrant oil (John 12:5), opened it, and anointed both his head and feet with the oil (Matt. 26:7, John 12:3).

This angered some among them.  "When his disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, 'To what purpose is this waste?  For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.'" (Matt. 26:8-9 NKJV)  Mark says, "They criticized her sharply." (Mark 14:5 NKJV)  Jesus intervened on her behalf saying, "Let her alone.  Why do you trouble her?  She has done a good work for me. … She has done what she could.  She has come beforehand to anoint my body for burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the whole world, what this woman did will also be spoken of as a memorial to her." (Mark 14:6-9 NKJV)  Is that not what we are doing even now as we bring up this story and seek lessons from it?

Mary of Bethany loved Jesus deeply and had "sat at Jesus' feet and heard his word" gladly (Luke 10:39 NKJV) at an earlier time.  On that earlier occasion, Jesus said of her, "Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42 NKJV)  Mary was still choosing that good part which would not be taken away as she poured the oil onto the Lord's head and his feet wiping his feet with her hair (John 12:3).  The oil was not cheap.  A footnote in the New Living Translation of the Bible at Mark 14:5 says that the 300 denarii cost of the oil would be the equivalent of 300 day's wages.

What lessons can we learn from this account?  There are several.  (1) When you love someone money doesn't matter.  If you have it you are more than willing to give it whether little or much.  Mary was not alone in this.  Remember the poor widow who gave "all that she had, her whole livelihood?" (Mark 12:44 NKJV)  Remember the churches of Macedonia of whom Paul spoke of their "deep poverty" (2 Cor. 8:2 NKJV) how that Paul says, "I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints?" (2 Cor. 8:3-4 NKJV)  Loving God means we long and desire to give to him and his work.

We cannot bestow our goods on Jesus directly as did Mary of Bethany but we must remember that the church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23, Col. 1:18, 24).  When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the church and Jesus met him on the road to Damascus he said to Saul, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4 NKJV)  When we give to the church (notice I said "the church," not a denomination) we are giving to Jesus.  Saul was persecuting the church yet Jesus associated that with being persecuted himself.  Why?  Because, the church is Christ's body.

It is understood that in giving to the church the funds given will be used for the purposes God would have them be used for else they are not being given to God at all.  One cannot take out of the church treasury funds to take a group to a recreational site to enjoy themselves and say "It is God's work."  God's work is to preach the gospel, help the poor, and do the work God's people are supposed to do.  Entertaining ourselves is not a part of that.

I was recently watching a travel show on television showing some of the exquisite cathedrals of Europe, inside and out.  Words fail one in speaking of the beauty of some of these man-made monuments.  Words like amazing, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, incredible, stunning, all seem to fall short as descriptive terms for some of the most magnificent.  Yet, God never meant money contributed to the church to carry on his work to be used to satisfy man’s vanity in building such structures.  Their appeal is to the carnal, fleshly man, not to the spiritual man.  It was the sinful side of man that built them, not the spiritual.  Those vast sums of money spent to build these monuments should have been used in preaching, teaching, and benevolence.

(2) Another thing we can learn from the account of this story about Mary of Bethany is that worship of God is as important as good works.  I would call what Mary did an act of worship on her part.  No doubt those complaining about what they considered a waste of money were right about the fact that much good could have come from selling this expensive oil and using it to help the poor.  God is all for helping the poor (a good work) but helping the poor is not all there is to being a disciple. 

Should we stop worship services saying it is a waste of time and the time could be better spent out in the community helping the poor keep up their houses, doing errands for them, etc.?  Let every member cease assembling together for worship and use the time instead to do good works and no doubt much help could be rendered but God is to be worshipped.

It is not wrong to worship God because you are taking time away from helping the poor.  If all of our time, all of our money, all of our effort was used to simply help man and we exclude God from it all we end up with is a social gospel of sorts, one that pertains to this world only, and that benefits man only on a temporal basis.  One cannot exclude the spiritual replacing it with the material and hope for the eternal.  We must have and must be continually building a spiritual relationship with God. 

(3) One must accept the fact that one will be criticized even for doing good on occasion.   Read your New Testament and see how many times Jesus was criticized for doing good.  It would be interesting to add the total up.  Anyone who has ever read the New Testament knows this happened to him time and time and time again.  If it happens to a follower of Christ why should we be surprised? 

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!" (Matt. 10:24-25 NKJV)

Do not misunderstand, I am not comparing the disciples who criticized Mary of Bethany over the oil with those who criticized Jesus during his ministry but I am only saying we need to expect criticism while doing good and learn to live with it.  Our real problem comes when we never receive criticism.  "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26 NKJV) 

(4) Finally, this is the point I have been wanting to get to.  The text (Jesus speaking) says of Mary, "She has done what she could." (Mark 14:8 NKJV)  What more could be asked of a man or a woman?  What more does God ask of any man or woman?  When a person has done all they can do that is it, it is the end of the line; they have gone as far as it’s possible for a man or woman to go and have done all God expects from them.  God does not expect of man more than man is capable of doing.  What a great epitaph this would make at one's passing from this life into the next.  He/she has done what he/she could do.

Every man and every woman is capable of obtaining just such an epitaph from God.  I would like to mention three of whom I believe this could be said.

The Poor Widow.  I have already mentioned this poverty-stricken woman but one who was rich spiritually.  As you recall Jesus was sitting opposite the treasury watching people putting money into it.  The Bible says, "And many who were rich put in much.   Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.  So he called His disciples to himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood." (Mark 12:41-44 NKJV)  She had done what she could.

Tabitha or Dorcas.  Of this lady, the Bible says, "This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did." (Acts 9:36 NKJV)  As you recall the Bible story Tabitha died.  Peter in a nearby town was sent for and when he came raised her from the dead.  Just before he raised her from the dead the Bible says, "And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them." (Acts 9:39 NKJV)  Tabitha was a Christian lady who had done what she could while living.

Lazarus the beggar.  Of this man the Bible says, "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom." (Luke 16:20-22 NKJV)  You may well be wondering why I would include Lazarus in a list of those who had done what they could.  The answer is we need to realize that no matter how desperate a man's plight is, no matter how little it seems he has accomplished, no matter how great a failure he seems to be to other men still it matters none to God if he has done what he could in his life.  This ought to be encouraging to us for it ought to give the lowliest of us hope.

You may be saying how do I know this man had done what he could?  Because God saved him.  God will not save a man who will not try, who does not care, who is indifferent.  We are not saved by works.  If we were Lazarus would probably have little to show.  His condition was such as to not be able to help himself let alone help others.  Yet, he did all he was capable of and if that consisted only of faith then that was all that was required of him. 

There will come a time most likely, if we live long enough, where we will be unable to do a lot in God’s kingdom.  People often get to the point physically where they can no longer assemble with the saints which would under normal circumstances be sinful for we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25) but do we think God is going to hold that against those too frail and aged to attend, some even confined to nursing homes?  No, for they have done what they can everything else being equal.  God is not a God without mercy and understanding.  No doubt Lazarus was a condemned man in the eyes of many a man but not in God's eyes.

I have deliberately picked the 3 people I did here as examples because of their station in life.  None held positions of importance.  None were well known or known at all outside the immediate area.  One suspects that two of them were hardly spoken to during a normal day (the poor widow and Lazarus) and yet we have three saved people who as little as it might have been had done what they could.

We must remember there is no partiality with God.  Our station in life is inconsequential to him as far as our eternal destiny is concerned.  His ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8-9) and he does not see as man sees ("for the Lord seeth not as man seeth" I Sam. 16:7 KJV).  "Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5 NKJV)  "Not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." (1 Cor. 1:26 NKJV)

The person who is saved is the person who has done what he or she could do (read the Parable of the Talents).  We can all obey the gospel if we will.  There is no reason the epitaph "she has done what she could" needs to be reserved exclusively for Mary of Bethany.  God would have us all have that epitaph.

One final admonition, do not say it is too late for me; I have not done what I could.  None of us has done so one hundred percent.  Surely, none of us think the poor widow, Tabitha, or Lazarus always lived sin-free.  If so why did they need Jesus?  Mary of Bethany was not sin-free.  Those who wrote about Mary--Matthew, Mark, and John--were not sin-free.  Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23) 

The question is not about the past but the here and now and now on.  What are we going to do here and now and now on?  While we will never be perfect we can do what we can. 

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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Is Denominational Baptism Scriptural

Many different baptisms are being performed today by religious people, using different methods and modes and for different purposes.  However, the only baptism that I as an individual facing eternity ought to be concerned with is the baptism that Jesus spoke of when he said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16 NKJV)

This is the baptism of the Great Commission when Jesus told the apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in (literally “into”—see NAS reference note—DS) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20 NKJV)  This is the “one baptism” Paul spoke of in Eph. 4:5 that places one in Christ (Gal. 3:27) where salvation is found (2 Tim. 2:10).  It is therefore spoken of as being “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38) and is a baptism into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) of which he is the “the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23 NKJV), the body being the church (Eph. 1:22-23). 

It is a baptism you are required to teach for the Great Commission that was given to the apostles was that they teach those they had made disciples of and baptized to go and do the same thing teaching and baptizing others. (Matt. 28:20)  This continual handing down of the teaching and practice from one generation to another is to last as long as the Great Commission remains in effect--until the day of Christ’s return.  It is the one and only scriptural baptism that was to last for all generations.

While the baptism we have just discussed is the only one a man or woman needs to be personally concerned about the truth is man has come up with his own inventions thus we have differences in baptisms today.  Solomon said, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” (Eccl. 7:29 NKJV)  Human nature never changed and so it is today as it was back then.

The first invention of man, relating to baptism, was the idea that he could sprinkle men and call it baptism and put his man-made invention on an equal plain with the baptism of the Great Commission.  Man can try it and use that procedure and pay for his error in the end.  God never gave man the authority to change the meaning of his inspired word or to add to it.  “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches.” (1 Cor. 2:13 NKJV)

The words baptize, baptism, etc., found in your New Testament were words from the Greek carried over into the English without ever being translated.  We call them transliterated words.  Why were these Greek words never translated?  Because the Greek means to submerge, immerse, to dip.  By the time the Bible was being translated into English men had already become wedded to their invention--sprinkling and calling it baptism.  To translate the word accurately using the word immerse would end their deception for any capable of reading.  Sprinkling for baptism was officially adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in 1311 A.D. at the Council of Revenna hundreds of years after no apostles were around to object.

Vine’s “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,” a standard work, says of the word baptism, “consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence.”  I encourage the reader to do a Google search or use any other computer search engine and do their own research.  Type into your search engine the keywords “transliterated +baptism” minus the quotes.  Read and learn.

Paul says, “We were buried with him through baptism.” (Rom. 6:4 NKJV)  He was talking to people who had been buried in water, not sprinkled or poured, for baptism was a burial. Sprinkling and pouring are not only frauds but also exceedingly dangerous in that many who know no better believe they have been scripturally baptized.  It would only be scriptural if one could change the meaning of God’s word.  Wise people will not do that, not if they have read scriptures concerning those who would do so.

Scriptural baptism is immersion and immersion only but many denominations do practice immersion and are still in error on the subject of baptism.  How so?  They are in error on the meaning or purpose of baptism.

Let me ask a question that will help clarify.  If I dive off a diving board or someone pushes me into a swimming pool or a lake and I end up immersed is that a scriptural baptism?  If young children were in a backyard pool playing church and one immerses the other would that be a scriptural baptism?  We would all say no to both but why so?  It would be because baptism is about more than just being immersed in water.  There has to be understanding, purpose, and heart behind it of such a nature that will make it pleasing to God.

God has told us if we will accept it exactly what the purpose of baptism is and what it accomplishes.  Acts 2:38 tells us what we need to know about the purpose of baptism but how many believe what they read there today?  Not many.  Man came along generations later and began denying what Peter speaking by the Holy Spirit said in that sermon recorded in Acts 2 and gave baptism a different purpose and meaning to suit themselves and then said “God is pleased.”  When one changes an ordinance of God and gives it an entirely different meaning than he gave it then it is a little presumptuous to just assume he is pleased.  What we have done is set ourselves up as God, displaced God as the lawgiver, and said this is now what this ordinance is going to mean.    We now decide.  He does not.

I do not know of a denomination that believes one must be baptized either for the remission of sins or to enter Christ (which is essentially the same thing) although there may be a few that do.  Generally speaking, they believe one is saved by faith with or without baptism and prior to baptism.  It is to them either a symbolic act or, in some cases, the means of entrance into their denomination.  In the latter case, there is a world of difference between entering a denomination (which they admit is not the body of Christ but only a segment of it) and entering the body of Christ, the church he established.  What denomination was Lydia a member of?  Lydia had it right, denominationalism has it wrong. 

Why is one who believes he is already saved, had his sins remitted, already entered into Christ through his faith alone, and thus already in Christ’s church baptized to get into a denomination?  There were no denominations in New Testament times.  Not a single person in the New Testament was ever baptized to enter into a denomination so why do it now?  Certainly, this kind of baptism is not scriptural for as I have said it was impossible to do such a thing in New Testament times thus baptism was never designed for that purpose.

For those who believe they are saved by faith alone apart from baptism passages like 1 Cor. 12:13 become meaningless, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (NKJV)  It becomes meaningless for that is the very thing a saved by faith-alone advocate must deny.  He must deny that “we were all baptized into one body.”  His point of view is that he was already in the body (Christ’s body and thus saved) before and without baptism.

Salvation is in the body of Christ (Eph. 5:23, 1:22-23).  You are baptized into that body (1 Cor. 12:13) but the saved by faith alone man must claim to have gotten into that body some other way since he claims to be saved without being baptized into the body of Christ.  It logically follows then that his baptism, since he feels it does not put him into the body of Christ, must be to put him into a denomination of which the New Testament knows nothing or else be merely symbolic since it is not a baptism into Christ.

If one is baptized only as a symbolic gesture much of what has just been said applies as well.  Why is one who believes he is already saved, had his sins remitted, already entered into Christ through his faith alone, and is thus already in Christ’s church baptized as a symbolic gesture?  When did God command man to be baptized as a “symbolic gesture?”  My Bible does not say anything about “symbolic gestures.”  If someone would grab a concordance and look up the word “symbol” or “symbols” or “gestures” it might help but when I tried it I only got one hit on the word “symbol” and it related to the head covering in 1 Cor. 11.  I also tried the word “sign” and the word “figure” and came up dry as well.

The old King James does use the word “figure” in 1 Peter 3:21 related to baptism but it does not help those who want baptism to be just a figure for it says, “the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us” and that is not the figure those who promote denominational baptism are wanting.  The bottom line is that all of this business about baptism being just a symbol is not found in my Bible or yours but only in the minds of men who have wandered from the truth.  It is a baptism that has no scriptural meaning and is an invention of men who want some changes in the Bible so it will read more to their liking.

Whether one views baptism as a passageway to enter a denominational church, to gain membership in it, or as just a symbol both are inventions of men and worthless as far as the Bible is concerned.  If you were baptized for either reason you were simply immersed like a man diving from a diving board (that is if you were immersed at all).

But the objection is made that I did it to obey God.  How can you obey God when you do a thing he has not commanded?  He never commanded you to be baptized into a denomination (obviously since they did not exist back then) nor did he ever command you to be baptized as a symbol for anything.  He did command you to be baptized for a specific set of purposes none of which are found in denominational baptism. 

One cannot accidentally obey God.  Let me explain.  If I was to partake of the Lord’s Supper without knowing the meaning of it could it be truly said I worshipped God in that act in a way pleasing to him?  We would all say of course not.  So it is with baptism.  To obey God you have to know what you are doing and why and desire to do it for the reasons he said.  One is to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7) and faith comes by hearing God’s word (Rom. 10:17).  We cannot walk blindly without knowing what we are doing and think we might just get lucky and do the right thing by accident.  There is no such thing as obedience in that type of action.

Finally, and this is important, when a person presents himself to be baptized with denominational baptism there are certain beliefs assumed by the body or congregation about him and what he believes.  By presenting himself to them as a candidate for their baptism he is assenting to their set of beliefs about what is happening in that procedure.  You are saying by your actions that you are doing this either to enter that denomination or as a symbolic gesture--whatever they teach.  If you did not assent to that and told them chances are they would not baptize you.

Furthermore, there is little doubt that certain things will be said during the baptismal ceremony about what is being done and why.  If you hold your silence you are assenting that you too accept those things.  If you do not agree and hold your silence (you are being baptized for some other reason than what the group holds to be the truth) then you deceive those around you.  Can a deceiver in the act of deceiving be scripturally baptized?

The bottom line is this--in presenting one’s self for denominational baptism one either believes the wrong things about baptism giving it an unscriptural meaning and application or else he believes correctly but deceives all around him into thinking he is going along with their erroneous beliefs about the subject and its results.

Say, for example, I believe baptism is for just what the Bible teaches and says it is--for the remission of sins, to place one into Christ, to place one in his body the church.  However, the denominational group I am associated with believes all that to be true by faith without baptism and believes that baptism is just a symbol of salvation already achieved.  I allow myself to be baptized by them never uttering a word of dissent to their belief or to what they say at the baptismal ceremony.  Have I deceived them?

Why bring this up?  Because years down the road after the fact there are those who learn the truth about baptism and need to be baptized scripturally but they look back some decades earlier and deceive themselves into thinking that way back when 30 - 40 years ago when they were baptized it was for the right purpose.  If it was for the right purpose those decades ago they deceived those baptizing them and being a deceiver is not a good way to go to judgment day.

Furthermore, we all learn the truth gradually, not all at once.  Minds are changed and/or brought to the truth gradually over time bit by bit.  This article will change no one’s opinion but it might be one straw that if other straws are added later will gradually change a mind given enough time which might be years.  Because this process is so gradual by the time we have finally come around a full 180 degrees in our thinking we look back and cannot remember a time when we did not think as we do now.  There is great danger in this.

Because of it we may never obey the truth, never be scripturally baptized, and thus never enter the church of which Jesus is the Savior, because we cannot remember the truth of our thinking and motives at the time years earlier when we first were immersed.  We tell ourselves we thought back then the way we think now thus we do nothing to change our state.  Denominational baptism ends up sinking another ship.  There is but one scriptural baptism and denominational baptism is not it. 

The purpose of this article has not been to be a wrecking ball but before one can build in a location already occupied the old structure must first be torn down.  Denominational baptism is an old structure that needs tearing down so that the truth can be built in the location that old structure once occupied.

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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Willful Sin--Can Anyone Be Saved

The text for this article is Heb. 10:26-27, "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.  But a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries." (NKJV)

These verses, when read in the King James and the New King James versions of the Bible, have probably caused Christians about as much anguish as any you will find in the pages of the New Testament.  Make no mistake about it the verses are directed at Christians as is the whole book of Hebrews.  Each of us knows we are guilty of having committed willful sin and this passage troubles us.  When we read the verses in the larger context of verses 24 through 31 it is very easy to become fearful and feel it is hopeless, we are lost without remedy.  We are sorry about our sins but we feel it is too late. 

However, there are things we ought to consider before reaching that conclusion.  When we take a look at verse 26 in the New American Standard version we readily see that the verse is not talking about a single act of willful sin.  It reads as follows, "For if we go on sinning willfully," thus the sin of verse 26 is a way of life rather than an individual act of sin.  (See also the NIV which reads, “If we deliberately keep on sinning.”)

All sin other than sins of ignorance is willful sin.  One may struggle mightily before committing the sin that has enticed him/her but nevertheless, it was their decision to take the leap and commit it.  It was a willful sin in that sense, a sin of personal choice. 

If a willful sin of that kind necessarily led to condemnation without hope then who could be saved?  Would it be Peter? 

Peter, according to Paul, stood condemned (Gal. 2:11).  Why?  Because "he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision" (Gal. 2:12 NAS) refusing to eat with the Gentile Christians.  Barnabas did the same thing.  Do you think this was a sin of ignorance?  Paul gives the cause which was not ignorance but fear of the circumcision party.  It was a willful sin in the sense that Peter knew what he was doing.  It was a sin committed out of fear, weakness of the flesh, we might say weak knees. 

How about the man in 1 Cor. 5:1, "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife." (NAS)  Did this man who was doing this not know it was a sin?  You know he did.  Yet, in 2 Cor. 2:7 Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive the man as he had repented.  I remind the reader Paul wrote and spoke by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

2 Cor. 12:21 clinches the meaning of Heb. 10:26 for me.  It reads as follows, "I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced." (NAS)  What do we have here?  Christians practicing sin.  That implies certainly that we are not talking of one-time acts.  Are they lost?

Yes, if they do not repent but please note that is the very thing Paul is saying they can do.  Why is Paul fearful that he may end up mourning?  Because they have not repented but that implies they could if they would and thus would be forgiven.  We also understand they knew what they were doing.  The word translated "immorality" in this verse in the NAS is translated in the NKJV and others as "fornication".  It is the Greek word "porneia."  Do you really believe these people did not know fornication was sinful?  They were committing willful sin and yet we see they could be forgiven if they would but repent. 

What then is the meaning of Heb. 10:26-27?  Any sin you knowingly commit and continue is a willful sin as long as you continue in it and fail (refuse) to repent.  While involved in that there is no sacrifice for that sin that can save you as a willful practicing sinner.  When you repent that is another matter. 

I believe verse 27 bears the truth of this interpretation.  It says of such a person (a Christian involved in a sin on a continual basis willfully) that there is "a certain fearful expectation of judgment." (NKJV)  Why would you fear judgment if you were a complete apostate who no longer believed?  What you are is a man who believes but willing persists in sin.  Such a man fears judgment. 

Do not despair because you knowingly did that which was wrong even if you engaged in such a sin over a period of time.  Do not despair but rather repent and turn back to God. 

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