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Baptism-a part of the Gospel message

why not baptizeThe Bible clearly unites baptism to the preaching of the Gospel. Yet many disagree on what baptism means, what part it plays in the salvation of a sinner, who can be baptized, when they should be baptized, etc., etc.

Rather than talk to the recipients of the Gospel message, I would like to address this post to those who teach the Gospel message. When you teach someone who is not a Christian but expresses interest in studying about God’s word or even in becoming a Christian, what is it that YOU tell them to do in order to become a Christian?

Granted, the question may be a hard one because some don’t think you need to “DO” anything. However, setting aside whatever action might be taken by a sinner, what is the message that a person trying to produce Christians should preach?

Consider this: Two of the Gospels (Matthew and Mark) actually commission the apostles with the word “baptism” just before Jesus leaves the earth to ascend into Heaven.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Mat 28:18-20)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
(Mar 16:15-16)

Both of these statements take place after the resurrection and may even be the same instructions given at two different times. However, even if Jesus only commanded them one time, it took place during the 40 days Luke says he was speaking to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) Since Pentecost took place 50 days after Passover (when Jesus was crucified) it leaves as few as 10 days from Jesus’ ascension to Peter’s first sermon; not much time to forget what Jesus had said.

Since Peter spoke to them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I think one would be safe in thinking that Peter not only accurately preached what God wanted but that it is also what we should preach too.   What did he tell his audience to do?

You see, if we set aside the question about WHAT baptism does; if we set aside the question about is role in the salvation of the one who hears the message, are we able to conclude anything at all about what Peter preached on the day of Pentecost? I suggest that we can.

What we can conclude is that when Peter told those inquiring Jews (who had been convicted that Jesus was the Messiah) what they should do, he told them to repent and be baptized.  How many preach that today?

Today, too many preach  Jesus and instruct the recipient to pray what is commonly called the Sinner’s prayer. It is in many books, it is included as a “bonus CD”, and placed at the end of many TV religion shows. Something like “Jesus I believe in you, please forgive me of my sins and live in my heart. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen”

My question to those who teach the sinner’s prayer is simple: Where is that in the Bible? What example do we have of the Apostles ever instructing any person to pray such a prayer when they respond to the Gospel message?

Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize, Peter commanded his audience to be baptized, and Phillip, who “preached Jesus” (acts 8) to the Eunuch must have mentioned it  because the Eunuch’s question was “here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?”  When you preach Jesus, do you get that response? Hey, there is a swimming pool, river, baptistry real close, why can’t I be baptized?

Today, few who “preach Jesus” would ever have someone ask them that question. My question is “why not?”

So if you do not preach baptism, if you do not include it in your message as you try to save someone, “why not?”

ALL I have to do is believe?

The idea of belief and faith is one that I think Hollywood and others have misappropriated for their own purposes. It seems to be true that when a person is up against the wall that they are told that is the time that they have to have the most faith. The problem is that such faith is generally not based in any real evidence. Consider two passages, one from Romans and one from Hebrews.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
(Rom 4:18-20)

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
(Heb 11:17-19)

The Faith of Abraham is an heralded example for us to follow, as well it should be. However, Abraham did not believe based on nothing. God had already been working with Abraham. For Abraham, the situation was not as we sometimes think, that he just ignored all the facts based on nothing (and the way people sometimes use faith today, it is truly nothing). No,  his faith was in the God who had called him to leave his homeland and had blessed him through the years. So what if 90 year olds don’t have babies and women who are both in their 80’s and barren on top of that don’t suddenly conceive. Those facts he could ignore, the fact he put his faith in was the promise of the Almighty. So what if a childless son who dies can not have children, Abraham could ignore the fact that dead children do not produce heirs, and put his faith in a promise that God had made that through that son, whom he was about to kill, God would make Abraham a great nation. How Abraham jumped to the conclusion that God could raise him from the dead is amazing in its simplistic faith. It may be simple but it was not based on “nothing”.

How do you define belief? In the last post we revisited the idea of  “fact acceptance” vs “actions in alignment with that fact that you accept”. To accept the fact and not live the fact, is of no value. Can that faith save? (James 2:14) However, there is also the idea that I can do whatever I want, as long as I accept that fact. That it can mean to me whatever it needs to mean to make me happy and satisfied. This is also an unfortuanate view.

When God struck down Nadab and Abihu, Moses told Aaron that God is to be sanctified by those who come near to him and glorified among the people. (Lev 10) So many want to do what they think is best and ignore clear Biblical teaching. When we repent, which I would argue is also something we need to do when we believe, we are not simply repenting of our sins, as in being sorry for them, but rather, changing our mind and mindset, doing a 180 degree turn from Satan who we were serving toward God whom we now choose to serve.

If you want to have a faith like Abraham’s, a saving faith, you need to believe and do as Abraham did. He followed God. No, not perfectly (which is a good thing since we would soon be discouraged by our imperfection) but faithfully.

Here is a question to consider: If you had been a Gentile in the day of Moses and came to the temple and wanted to follow God, what would they tell you to do? Why would they tell you to do that?  If you are a spiritual Gentile today and want to come to Christ, what are you told to do? why do they tell you to do that?

Lord, willing I will answer those in later days.

Faith working in our lives

Well, the last few posts have been a lot of fun but as my wife said, “it isn’t a light topic.” So inspired by the last few posts and in particular yesterday’s I decided to preach on this topic today. If anyone listens to the sermons and wishes to comment, you are welcome to do so.

Today’s lessons started with last weeks sermon on the unrighteous servant who showed no mercy to the fellow servant who begged for more time to pay. This, after having been forgiven such a huge amount himself. Transitioning we moved to James 2:1-13 where the audience James is writing to were urged to not show partiality based on something so superficial as money.  Paying special attention to the admonition to be merciful if you want to receive mercy we moved into the last 1/2 of the chapter.

It is important I think to understand that the audience that James writes to have some serious issues. Issues that need to be corrected and I think that they were susceptible to the idea that believing that Jesus was the Christ was sufficient but that those other things like, doing the word (not just hearing), visiting widows and orphans, loving your brother, etc was too much and got in the way of  their ambitions.

With this in mind, James informs them in very certain terms that Faith without works is not going to work. (no pun intended)  Of course, we should be able to see that James is using the word faith in a way that is not a full faith but only a partial faith. One in which the fact is agreed to but there is not any response to that fact. Like a car that doesn’t have an engine, it is still a  car in one sense but of what value is it for getting you to work?

Of course, does the principle of faith and works apply to the our initial salvation?  I think it must. So we take a look at it that question in the PM and try to show how faith, works, and salvation fit together.  The conclusion is that if a person preaches the Gospel that Jesus sent the disciples out to preach that the only response of the person with a saving faith will be to do the things that the preacher (who should only be preaching what Christ told HIM to) tells them to do.

Faith only can either be right or wrong depending on how you define faith. If you define it like James was, it will not work. If you define it the way the Hebrews writer was using it, it works fine.

The links are here for part 1 and here for part 2.

From this point forward, we will move on to Chapter 3 of James.

Faith only and salvation. It works.

Because of comments made by some readers who understandably thought of our initial salvation, I thought I would explain how I think James’ principle of  ‘faith must have works’ would fit. Remember though, James didn’t write this to speak of our initial salvation but I think we can make application.

After reading James 2:14-26, one is led to the conclusion that “faith only” does not save. In other words, “faith” by itself,  is as dead as a body without the spirit. The conclusion then would seem to be that works are necessary for our salvation. Yet a good study of Paul, in Romans, would reveal that works do not save either. (Though it might be better to say ‘works do not earn salvation.”)

So how can I stand up and say I believe in faith only? The key to this statement is in the definition of faith. This is the crux of the problem and causes many many problems in the mind of believers. If used the way those mentioned in Hebrews 11 used it, I don’t think I would have a problem saying I am saved by my faith alone.

However, if faith is used the way so many use it today, then I would line up with James and say ‘Faith only’ will not save. This is because many use it in just the way James says we should not use it.  This is not as surprising as it is distressing. Language changes and I think it is one of the reasons why God, in His wisdom, gave us the New Testament in a dead language.  

Most know that, while the Greek language is still alive today, the Greek of the New Testament hasn’t been spoken or used in 2000 years (give or take) so “faith”, as used then, should be the way we use faith today OR the concept should be found in a modern word.

“Quicken” is a word used in the Old King James Bible. Today, if someone talks about Quicken we think of Tax software but since English has changed, today,  “make alive” is a better translation than “quicken” would be.  Faith is like that.  However, when the word itself is still used and the meaning has changed, it creates problems, confusion and misunderstanding.

I remember the first time I was asked if I was “gay”. (Yes, I know, I am dating myself.) This was in the 70’s and I was in Jr. High. To me, at that time, ‘gay’ meant happy. (“Gay”wasn’t a word used a lot to begin with but I knew what it meant, just not how they were using it.) Teasing of Jr. High boys aside, the word was just beginning to change and no one uses the word to mean “happy” today.

James is the only writer that took time to pull “faith” apart into separate components and separate the belief in something from the actions that result from that belief.  While he condemns this thought process, this is exactly how it is used today.  This is why if I say that I believe in ‘faith only’ an impression is left that I don’t mean.

So in relation to Salvation, does faith only save?

If I were to suggest (and I do) that a person be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved, I will quickly be accused of believing in water salvation  or baptismal regeneration. Yet, If I suggest (and I do) that person needs to repent or confess Christ, people nod in agreement. What is the difference?

All three are actions. All three are works. And even more to the point, NONE of the three earn your salvation. They do, however, like Abraham, complete our faith. (2:22) Take any or all three of them and separate them from faith, will the actions save? No. Take Faith and separate them from the actions, will the faith save?  Only “yes” or “no” will answer the question. Which is it?

Because so many are against a works based salvation, anything that sounds like earning your salvation is considered anathema and I agree, earning your salvation cannot be done.  Even faith does not earn it but who would suggest that without faith you can be saved? (Heb 11:6 ‘without faith it is impossible to please Him…)  But is it works based salvation to preach what Jesus told the apostles to preach? Is it works based to say “repent” or “confess” or “be baptized”?

Teaching must be done on this subject. Let me speak to those who are teachers for a moment. Which may be appropriate since James is going to talk about teachers in chapter 3. If faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), what word of God are you teaching to those you preach to? If you tell a person about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, do you do it the way it is practiced today or the way the Apostles practiced it in Acts?  

Somewhere, it has become popular to add the “sinner’s prayer”. When I read the original commission by Jesus to the disciples, I don’t see it. When I read the book of Acts and listen to the sermons of the Apostles, I don’t see it. When I read the epistles and see Paul talk about when your sins were forgiven, I don’t see it referenced.

Would someone who reads this blog, please point me to the sinner’s prayer in the Bible?

I would suggest that anyone who preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ will do it the way Peter did it. (cf Acts 2) Because that is what Jesus told them to do. In this way, those that respond in faith to the Gospel will respond the way people did in the book of Acts.  

If it is going to be salvation by faith, I would rather it be faith in the words of Christ, than faith in the modern practices of today.

Faith without works. How sad.

Side note: As with all my posts, I present them in what I believe to be a contextually correct and Biblically sound manner. Some may disagree with me on this post. If it is a matter of semantics, please suggest a better way to say it. Do you have a better illustration? Offer it. My goal is to explain the Bible the way God would and to be an encouragement to all seeking to do God’s will.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (Jas 2:14)

Perhaps you have heard the old expression “Now you’ve stopped preaching and started meddling.”  One cannot study the book of James without giving serious thought to this next section. I know that it is difficult to work through (pardon the pun), but unless you wish to throw James out of the Bible, you are going to have to come to an understanding of both his question and his answer. Some will think I am meddling, others will agree with me. I am not dealing with simple verses here (e.g. Do not steal), even Martin Luther had problems with this book. You have to wrestle with it, ask questions in light of  other passages even, perhaps, in light of your own particular belief system.

Most of us would grasp the rhetorical nature of the question. The answers James is looking for are “No good” and “No, of course not!” What?! What about “free gift” and “can’t earn your salvation” and all of that?  These ideas come from Romans and it is no wonder that Martin Luther did not think very highly of James which seems to stand, not just in contrast to the message of Romans, but in contradiction to Romans.

Of course, James has already introduced the seeds of works along with faith from the very beginning of the book. Enduring trials, putting away filthiness, being a doer (and not just a hearer), visiting the orphans and widow, treating your poor brother with respect are all works that go along with the Christian faith.

I feel like Jesus when answering the question “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?”  He understood the problems with answering “yes” or “no”. Fortunately, James is the one asking and answering the question. Unfortunately, many of us do not understand his answer. Let’s agree that James is being rhetorical and the answer really is “no, that kind of  faith cannot save.” If you disagree that this is what James is saying, show me why; I would like to know.

Next let’s agree with what most good Bible students will agree: “We cannot earn our salvation.” Let me say it again, “Nothing we do will earn us a place in Heaven.” Unlike with my jobs, I cannot go to God and say “I did this and that so you owe me.”  When Paul wrote in Romans  “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” (Rom 4:4), he was talking about a works based system.  So if James is now going to propose that we earn our Salvation, then truly he and Paul are at odds. I don’t think that is the case.

I think it might help to realize that our salvation is a salvation by redemption. When we sinned, we transgressed the law of God. It didn’t matter which law either, God’s laws are based on Love, God is Love and His character always acts out of Love.

Had we lived a life of perfection and not transgressed the law of God, we would not need to be redeemed. Our place in Heaven would be ours by right. However, our sin required a death and, unless we wanted to pay for it ourselves (eternal death), we needed a Savior. Jesus paid the price. However, not just the price to cleanse us once and then, let us try all over again to be perfect, but rather pay the price for all future sins and assure us that sin would no longer keep us out of Heaven. Christ’s blood was able to cover that. Wow!

So now we are saved. We can go to Heaven. Yay us! But hold on. We no longer belong to ourselves. We are the object redeemed, our souls belong to another. (Fortunately to Christ and not to Sin) We can take hold of Heaven but not by our own merit and nothing that we do will ever allow us, by our own merit, to do so.

However, since we are now servants, redeemed by the blood of Christ, there is a certain way that we are to live. The book of Hosea shares a story of redemption and expectations of the redeemed. James also shares expectations of his audience: we now “speak and act as those who will be judged by a law of liberty”  (2:12), we look into the will of God and become “doers not forgetful hearers” (1:22) and we practice a ‘pure religion in the sight of God (by) visiting the orphans and widows” and remaining unspotted by the world. (1:26-27)

All of this is because we have faith in the message of the Gospel. Faith that saves, of course, cannot only be simply an acknowledgement that something is true. I have faith that George Washington was the first President but that faith does little to affect my life. I have Faith that Jesus died, was buried and raised again on the third day according the Scriptures and THAT has a major impact on my life. That impact will be seen in my works.

I now work for God. I do what James said I should do because of my faith. Faith that has works can save me. Notice!!! Faith can save me. What kind of Faith? Faith that has works. Do the works save me? No. Are they perfect sinless works? I wish!  But Faith that has works can save.

What about Faith that does not have works? Remember when I said “if you don’t agree that James is being rhetorical, to say something”? This is why! The only answer that James is looking for is ” No”.  If faith without works will not save, then the only conclusion is that faith with works will. If there is another answer to James’ question, let me know.

But if you have Faith in God and Christ who died to redeem you and you choose to sit there and do nothing ….Well, James is going to explain that further in the  next several verses.

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