Apologist/preacher/evangelist Ravi Zacharias has the following tag line on the first page of his ministry website, “Helping the thinker believe, and helping the believer think“. And the name of his nationally syndicated radio show is “Let my people think“. My goal in writing this piece is not to change anyone’s mind but rather to stir up whoever reads these words to do some thinking. I’m convinced thinking is becoming a lost discipline. It is very easy to get into the habit of going to Google rather than your own cognitive skills, and the Teacher who is the Holy Spirit.
Remember the “greatest command”?
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.” Matthew 22. 36
Not much is said about the part of this command from Jesus that I have in bold fonts, but there it is. How do you love God with your mind? Some of the ways are that you think much about him, that you store away in your memory his promises, that you discipline yourself to think about the right things, and that you actually do some critical thinking about what you believe and why you believe it. So, my challenge is “Think about these things“. That’s all I request.
How John the Baptist got his last name. In the Old Testament we read often of ceremonial washings, and other religious cleansing related to water but not until we meet this strange man, John The Baptist, do we begin to become acquainted with water baptism.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s-hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them,“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves,‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn,but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12
In verse 11 of the passage above John said “I baptize you with water for repentance”.
John’s baptism was not repentance. John’s baptism was “for” repentance. He cried out as he preached “Repent!” (vs. 2) He called on people to change course, repent means do a mental U-turn and begin doing things differently. He emphasized the urgency of his appeal, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (vs.2) Notice that those who were coming to him to be baptized were “confessing their sins”(vs.6), a sure sign they had repented. Baptism was not repentance, the people repented and then were baptized. John’s response to the religious bunch who came to be baptized is proof. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. ” (vs.7a-8) He knew they had not repented. They had no works to show they had. Rather, they were depending on a heritage of faith, And John wasn’t buying it for a second.
Is there any thinking person who believes that unrepentant sinners were coming to John to get repentance? Or that the people had not repented until the split second they were raised from the water? Such thinking defies human logic. No, the record is clear, John baptized those who had repented, the sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t qualify precisely because John knew they had not repented. John’s baptism was “for repentance” but it was not repentance. Again today I carefully read every text mentioning John the Baptist’s baptism and the only logical conclusion is that John baptized people who had repented. They were identifying with those who had repented of their sins and had decided to follow God. If this is true, and it is, why then would we conclude that baptism in Acts 2:38 would follow a rule we just decided would be illogical?
Believer’s baptism is not faith. When Peter began his great address following the events of Pentecost he first explained that what the people were witnessing was a fulfillment of the prophet Joel who said the result of this outpouring of the Spirit would be…”And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) Peter recited a promise from God to the people that was true then, and is true now, but a promise that many people absolutely deny.
Peter also used the same word John the Baptist had used before, and one Jesus himself used often, Repent! To participate in John’s baptism one needed to repent first, and then be baptized. Acts 2:38 records Peter’s answer to men whose hearts had been convicted of their sins and convinced about Jesus, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent always precedes baptism. And, “repent” or repentance, implies faith. It is impossible to repent without faith and it is just as impossible to have faith without repenting. I cannot go out my front door to the mail box without leaving my house behind. And, I can’t come closer to my house without getting farther away from my mail box. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. That is the exact point James was making when he said “show me some works” and I’ll believe you have faith.
Christian baptism is believers baptism. Our church of Christ tradition is that we baptize lost people. The candidates we baptize can have faith but it means nothing until after they are immersed. The Bible never teaches or implies any such thing. Rather, over and over and over again the Bible teaches that believers are saved. The biblical order is this one illustrated by Philip’s ministry. In Acts 8 Philip preaches and the response was (vs.12-13a) “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip”. The people heard the gospel (Romans 10:17), they believed, and they were baptized.
According to the Bible unbelievers are lost and believers are saved. I can’t find on place in my Bible where unbelievers were baptized. We don’t baptize lost people, we baptize those who are trusting Jesus Christ and the Bible record is clear, they are saved.
(I should say here that in the Bible the words “faith” and “believe” and forms of “belief” do not mean only giving mental assent to a set of facts as one would “believe” Ronald Reagan was once President of the United States. Always, “faith” and “believe” or “belief” means a reliant trust, a dependence upon Christ. And true biblical faith is present only in those who are repentant and whose future works/obedience prove up their faith.)
To “Obey the gospel” is to believe it. It grieves me that in far to many instances baptism gets more attention than Jesus and his work for sinners. Tens of thousands are betting their souls on the fact that they have been “scripturally” baptized. Unless those dear people either went down into the water with their faith set on Jesus or have since put their trust in him, they are lost. Only those who are actively trusting the Lord Jesus Christ are Christians, period.
I have carefully read and re-read every passage in the New Testament that discusses obedience or disobedience and not once does the Bible even hint that to “obey the gospel” is to be baptized in water. Not once! I have asked someone, anyone to prove me wrong and to date no one has. In every case the Bible record is clear. Those who are obedient to the message of the gospel believe it and those who do not believe it are disobedient. There is not one exception to this rule. I think it is a good practice to use Bible names for Bible things and here many have jumped off course. (See my post, “Obey the gospel” on this blog, Grace Digest.)
I conclude with a quote from the post referenced above dated April 2, 2007
“After Christ’s death and resurrection, I can find no instance in the Bible of a Christian who was not baptized. Nor can I find any case where it was not believers who were baptized. The Bible pattern is always the same. They hear the gospel, they believe, and they are baptized. The great commission says we are to “go and make disciples, baptizing them….” How do we make disciples, or learners? By preaching the gospel. That is the way Paul and Peter did it.
Every person I have talked to who believes that water baptism is essential to salvation will agree that it is possible, and even likely, that a person can be baptized and yet be lost. And they will also agree that the reason that could happen is that they did not believe. So what saves? No person can believe on Christ and be lost. Baptism does not save then, faith in Christ does. We are baptized showing a good conscience toward God, identifying with Christ and His church. We are saying when we are immersed, the “old man” has died, my “old self” is being buried, and I will be raised to live a New Life in Christ. We are baptized into His death that we might be raised with Him in life everlasting. In baptism we “put on” Christ by faith and we live “in Him”. Saving faith, or belief, or trust, is much more than giving mental assent to the facts of the gospel story. You may believe in the historical record of Jesus and even believe that His resurrection from the dead actually happened. But if those facts you believe in your head are not “mixed with faith” (Hebrews 4:2) you will die in your sins.
If I am diagnosed with a serious heart problem that requires surgery to correct, it will not be sufficient to know the doctor and have confidence in him. For the result I want and need I must trust him to do the surgery. I must place myself at his disposal, leaving the results to his care. Anything short of that will not solve my heart condition. You and I have been diagnosed with a fatal condition, SIN, and the result is physical and spiritual death. Jesus is the doctor. Only He can cure the SIN problem. Only he can give life to the dead. Trust yourself to Him to do what He has promised. Place yourself at his disposal by simple trust and He will give you eternal life and forgiveness of sins.”
In his letter to the church at Ephesus Paul wrote these words.
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Do you agree that a dead man is very limited as to what he can do? Yet, that is the picture Paul used to describe the people of God before God did his work of grace. We were dead (vs. 1, 5) but God made us alive together with Christ (vs 5). God did that, you did not do that! “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”. (vs 8) God did it this way “so that no one may boast” (vs 9) Not one of us can truthfully say, “Look what I have accomplished, I am now a Christian.” The one who does is very deceived and wrong. Salvation is God’s doing. “We are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” (vs 10)
So, let the one who glories, glory in the Lord! There is an old song that most people who read this will know well. Part of is goes like this.
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
“Rock of Ages Cleft for Me”
May we see the beauty of Christ and have a glimpse of his matchless grace that makes dead men live forever, and creates new hearts that want to please God, and love everyone. Jesus saves, Jesus saves!