Repent and be Baptized


 

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 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—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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 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!

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Secret Weapon!


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Today I attended the monthly men’s fellowship luncheon at The Pentecostals (church) in West Monroe. Each month a well known community leader, politician, coach, or other notable speaks. There is also singing by either a group or individual, and of course great fellowship around a delicious meal prepared by a local businessman and the ladies from the Pentecostal church. The event is free and very well done. (They also have a monthly luncheon for ladies)

Today’s speaker was our Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney. He gave a very informative and interesting talk about things the sheriff’s office is doing to make our parish safer and more appealing economically. Then, near the end of his presentation he unveiled something that had been covered by a large white cloth with two signs that said “Secret Weapon“. All of us wondered what it could be.

When the white cloth was pulled away we saw a large galvanized cattle tank used to water cows. He said that in his fight against crime this is his newest secret weapon, a portable baptistery. He went on to tell of the dozens of inmates (223 out of a population of 800) who have found Christ and have been baptised in the last few months. He mentioned Celebrate Recovery and what a fine job they are doing inside the bars and razor wire fences.

The recidivism rate in our parish is 80% compared to a national average of only 40%. He is convinced the way to lower that rate and our crime rate is to change hearts one man at a time. What a great thing for our sheriff to be proudly displaying a baptistery and saying faith in Jesus is the way to make our communities better!

This story reminded me that our Angola Prison, with one of the worst reputations in the nation for being a violent, tough place, has been transformed by winning men to Christ. Violence has greatly diminished since they have aggressively been allowing Christ to be preached and have even sent out missionaries two by two into other prisons to evangelize and disciple men for Christ.

The gates of hell, nor the gates of prisons, will prevail against what God is doing in bringing sons and daughters to himself. I am so proud of Mac and Mary Owen for bringing Celebrate Recovery to our people. And, I am equally proud of my friend John Grigson and others who head up CRInside. They are building churches inside the walls!

Christ be praised for the good things He has done and is doing!

Royce

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing


When Jesus gave the great command of the great commission He said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in 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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Here the Scriptures cannot be clearer. 1. Go make disciples. 2. Baptizing them (disciples) 3. Teaching them  (disciples). The disciples were to make more disciples by preaching the gospel, baptizing those who believed , and then teaching them to obey all that Jesus had commanded. Interestingly, no plan for world evangelism has been devised that beats that plan. It is the only one that is tested and proven and mandated by Jesus Himself. It worked in Acts 2, it worked with the man from Ethiopia, it worked with the house of Cornelius, and it worked for the Apostle Paul. Preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in the power of the Holy Spirit, baptize those who believe, and then teach them to be obedient to all Christ taught. This is not complicated. 

Water baptism in the New Testament is clearly immersion. I can find no other method. Baptism is only for believers. It is only for those who believe the facts of the gospel or “good news” about Christ and put their whole trust in Him. The criteria is not church membership, what one believes ought to be said at baptisms, or even what one believes about baptism.

 

What about “baptism for the remission of sins”?  John the Baptist baptized “unto repentance”, (Matthew 3:11). His water baptism was not actual “repentance” but was “unto” repentance. Those he baptized desired to be identified with the community of faith who had chosen to repent (change their minds) and follow the one who would come, of whom John preached. Being immersed in water was not the cause of repentance; it said to the onlookers “I have repented”. In exactly the same way baptism “for” the remission of sins is not a mechanical action that obligates God to forgive sins in conjunction with immersion. Over 50 times in the New Testament it is made plain that salvation is by faith. Obedience always comes after faith in Christ, not before. The “natural” or unregenerate mind is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can he be. (Romans 8:7) Those who teach that no person can be saved until he or she is immersed also teach that only after baptism will they receive the Holy Spirit. This is inconsistent with Peter’s statement when he defended baptising the house of Cornelius to the church leaders in Jerusalem saying “ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)  In Acts 10 the record is given of Peter’s visit and his message to Cornelius and those of his household. Peter ended his message to them by saying “To him (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit was given to those who believed the message of the gospel and Peter asked “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) This is consistent with all of the other Bible passages that teach clearly that men are saved by grace through faith.

 

When the believer is immersed in water he is saying to the world and to God, I am dying to myself and my way of doing things, and I am being raised to live my life God’s way. We thus reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and are “marked out” as followers of Jesus and of the household of faith. Water baptism never stands alone and one baptized 100 times will still be lost if he or she did not first have faith in Christ. In baptism we look to Christ and what He accomplished on our behalf when He died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Water baptism does not join us to the church nor does it join us to God but it does cry out to a watching world “I belong to Christ and I purpose to live only for Him!” So we correctly sometimes say he or she was “baptized into Christ”. Of course we speak figuratively just as we do when we eat the bread and drink the cup. We are not literally eating the body of Christ or drinking His blood. We know that we receive Him by faith, not by physical eating. The symbols are not nearly as important as what they represent. We might eat unleavened bread, a cracker, or some other bread. And, we likely drink Welch’s grape juice, or perhaps even wine, but not literal blood. So the elements of the supper, when we commune with our Lord and His people, only represent His body broken for us and His blood shed for us until He comes. It is not a literal eating and drinking of his body and blood.

 

In my view, water baptism is much the same. We are not literally dying when we go under the water, we are symbolically dying. We are “baptized into His death” in a figurative way, we are not literally dead as He was. We are symbolizing our death to self and sin and our being raised to live the new life He gives. Thus it was necessary for Paul to say right after he talked about being “baptized into His death”, “reckon yourselves to be dead” (Romans 6:11). We are baptized “for the remission of our sins” by submitting to immersion in the watery grave of baptism.

 Just as Adam was our head before we became Christians so now Christ is the “new Adam”, our federal head. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all live (1 Corinthians 15:22). Because Christ is now our representative, when He died we died with Him (2 Timothy 2:11), and when He was raised we were raised with Him. Baptism is a beautiful and holy reenactment of those truths. Thus our eternal salvation was completed before we were born, completely outside of us or our abilities. “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him,We shall also live with Him.”(2 Timothy 2:11) 

When we come to God’s open book we should come with an open heart. Unless we are willing to be shaped by it, both in what we believe and practice, we will miss many of its truths. We should be careful to not give more weight to a thing than the Bible does. Some Bible truths are more important than others (1 Corinthians 15:3, Hebrews 6:1) and we should assign the same importance to them the Bible does as best we can. (This makes all the fuss about singing in worship pretty silly..)

The mission of the followers of Jesus has not changed since He gave the great command “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in 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”. If we are faithful to do this we have done well. It is not our job to “convert”, win debates with sinners, but to preach the good news about what Jesus has accomplished for them in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is worthy of noting that the reason we can “go” and “make disciples” is because He has all authority and power in heaven and on earth. We go in his name, his authority, to tell the good news and then baptise and teach those who believe with all their hearts.

Churches that make a big fuss about Jesus and what He has done and is doing are growing. Those who major on anything else are not likely to grow. Our task is not to build churches, church growth is a result of preaching the good news about Jesus. If we will keep the main thing the main thing church growth will happen. Our mandate from heaven is to invite people to Jesus, not to church. There is a difference.

Royce

“Churches of Christ in the Untied States”, 2006 Edition raises some questions


Today a copy of the book “Churches of Christ in the United States” 2006 Edition was placed into my hands for my review. This was quite an opportune time since my only productive function this week is to attend to my wife, who is ill, and help boost the stock of Kimberly-Clark, the makers of “Kleenex”. I have the mother of all allergic reactions, a condition I unintentionally succumb to at least twice each year. After an injection in my left hip today, beginning a “Z-Pack” and various and sundry other remedies my wife forced me to take, I am still a mucus fountain. Enough with my complaining, back to the book.As I thumbed through this volume I was impressed with the obvious time and effort spent to produce such a large book with well over 600 pages of facts, statistics, and detailed data. My hat is off to anyone who embarks on such a task. I think it is very well done. It did raise some questions though.

First, since we are a fellowship whose favorite text of the Bible is Acts 2:38, and since our teaching on baptism is one of the distinctives that separates us from the rest of the evangelical world, I thought it was curious that baptism only got a category in the stats along with “adherents””(both baptized and unbaptized individuals)”,  who regularly attend in a given location. “Members” include only those who are “baptized”.

Had I been gathering data for such a volume, one of the most important questions I would have asked would have been something like, “How many folks has your congregation baptized since we last surveyed?” If think the absence of a question such as I suggest is a glaring omission. Why would we not want to measure baptisms? It is interesting that Southern Baptists (the historical objects of our collective scorn) measure their churches effectiveness by “baptisms”. Although their numbers are in decline, in 2006 they reported 364,826 baptisms (world wide), down from 2005 by 7,024. They don’t measure their evangelistic efforts by how many “prayed the sinners prayer”, or “how many came forward” but by number of converts they baptized. I can’t imagine why we in churches of Christ would not want to know that about ourselves.

The second curiosity is that in the book, “mainstream” congregations include both what I would tag “traditional” and “progressive”. All of the other usual divisions result from different nuances of methodology and teaching about how a congregation “does” what it does on Sunday morning. I too find this interesting since the largest 1,000 congregations in the United States and its territories comprise only about 7.5 % of the total congregations, yet have about 35% of all members. It is comical to me that at the top of that list is North Richland Hills church in Texas, slowly inching its way toward being double the size of any other congregation in our fellowship. If I am to believe the “brotherhood” publications, blogs, and messages given in several lectureships, NRH is hardly “mainstream” to many, many of our brothers. I don’t have the information, but it would be interesting to know how many of those largest 1,000 congregations have been the objects of brotherhood wrath because they are not perceived to be “mainstream” in teaching and ministry?

Perhaps in the future, more and more congregations will lift high the blood drenched banner of a crucified and resurrected Christ, who alone is the only answer to man’s common evil enemies, sin and death. I pray that it is so.

His peace,
Royce Ogle