Works and Religion meet Grace and Truth


Two religious leaders met on a breezy night long ago in the city of Jerusalem.

One of these men, a trained theologian and an official of the civil court for his faith group, initiated the meeting. He was very likely one of the most respected men in that part of the world, known for his holy life, his piety, and his dedication to the Jewish law. There was no person of his faith who could better represent the religion of the Jews than this man.

The other man was a commoner. He likely had little formal education and could not claim much accomplishment in life by usual standards, except he was good at wood working. He had gained quite a reputation as a spiritual leader himself in spite of His lowly station in life. It was said of him that the blinded eyes were opened, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, and even the dead were raised to life at His command. Some said he was a great prophet, others that he was King of the Jews.

It was his notoriety of doing mighty works (miracles) that drew this educated man to a street preacher under cover of darkness. He could not understand how this plain man, in appearance not unlike other thousands in the area, could do the wondrous things he did. He concluded that only a man sent from God could possibly do such things.

The event and the conversation is recorded in John’s gospel chapter 3 verses 1thru 21.

          1 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16“For) God so loved) the world,) that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not) perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not) believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment the light has come into the world, and) people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

This is the story of law meeting grace, of religion meeting Truth. And it contrasts, not only Nicodemus and Jesus, but Jesus and us.

Had I been in Jesus’ place in the story, and just had such a sincere compliment, by response might well have been “Thank you very much”, said as humbly as I could muster. And then after some small talk about what we had in common I might have invited him to church or even asked if we could study the Bible together. But Jesus after hearing the compliment replied Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” There was no explanation, no quoting of Scripture, just this odd statement. And as Nicodemus understandably asked questions Jesus only repeated the same in different terms. And He added this rebuke “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  He said to Nicodemus in so many words, “Your problem is unbelief”.

This ruler of the Jews, undoubtedly a good man by the measure of a man by men, did not need to “do” more good things. He did not need more religious activity. He did not need to be more “sound” in doctrine or to follow the correct pattern of worship. His only need was Life. He was dead in his sins. He and every other man and woman needed to be born again.

After dropping a bomb on this leader of the Jews Jesus explained.


“ 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16“For) God so loved) the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not) perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not) believed in the name of the only Son of God”.

Not one thing has changed in the last 2000 years. The only way men are made fit for the kingdom of God is by being born again by doing what Jesus told this man to do.

The scandal of modern churches is that instead of telling people about the one who was lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness so those who look can live, is that we have told them to follow Nicodemus rather than Jesus.

We invite them to church, ask them to say a prayer, or repeat some words and be baptized, and then we begin the process of teaching them to behave like our model of a Christian. We tell them to pray, read your Bible every day, don’t cuss, drink, steal, or cheat on your wife, tithe your gross income, and attend church regularly, and “if” you do these things well, and in this church or another just like it, you will go to heaven when you die. This is the modern version of becoming a Christian.

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, even at the cost of life or limb, because “It IS the power of God for salvation” and “In it THE righteousness of God is revealed”. (Romans 1:16, 17) Only by telling folks the good news about what Jesus has already done is the “power of God” (creative power) released to impart faith and repentance and to give everlasting life to a dead man. In the story of Jesus, and there alone, is the sinner introduced to the Righteousness of God whose name is Jesus. Those who believe the message and trust His claims are “made” righteous and condemnation flees forever.

Law (good deeds, rule keeping, religious activity, etc.) kills, but the breath of God (Spirit) gives Life.

May all of us who claim to be gospel preachers and teachers be what we profess in 2009. It is a matter of life and death.

For telling the story of Jesus,

Royce

Advertisements

“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

3 Baptisms in Acts 2


 

Based largely on one statement in Ephesians 4 many Bible teachers insist that there is only one baptism in the New Testament, water baptism. The passage states “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.”(Ephesians 4:4-6) The words I have in bold fonts are the focus. If taken out of context and used as a stand-alone text many verses in the Bible can be construed to mean any number of things which are not true. This is one of those examples. The context is “unity” among believers and here Paul is attempting to get everyone on the same page. The baptism referred to here is almost certainly believer’s baptism in water. The point is that we who are saved share a common faith, in a common God, and have had a common baptism. We are together as one in Christ.

 

In the 2nd chapter of Acts there are clearly two distinct baptisms and another implied. There are 3 specific baptisms related to every believer. Unfortunately not all believers experience them the way God designed.

 

The first of these three baptisms is mentioned by John the Baptist and recorded in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. The Luke passage says “John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The “He” of this verse is Jesus. Later Jesus commands the disciples in Luke 24:49 “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” They did wait as instructed and Acts 2 gives us the story of the sound of a rushing wind, tongues as of fire, and preaching in different languages with great power. When Peter recounted these events to the Jewish brothers as he defended baptizing Gentiles he said to them “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
(Acts 11:15-18) So according to Peter the first baptism in Acts 2 is the “baptism with the Holy Spirit”.

 

In the act of this baptism, Jesus is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the medium. Jesus is the “who” and the Holy Spirit is the “what”. (It is worthy of notice that Peter’s testimony was that he received the gift “when (he) believed on the Lord Jesus Christ”. And further those who were saved had been “granted repentance unto life”. Is it possible then that the more important word in Acts 2:38 is “repent” rather than “baptized”?)

 

Most of our Pentecostal and charismatic friends teach that the Holy Spirit is the one who does the baptizing which is only one of their mistakes on the subject of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Among those mistakes is that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in addition may teach that the sin nature inherent in the flesh is completely eradicated in conjunction with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are false and easy enough for almost any Bible student to refute.

 

The 2nd baptism is the one that gets most of the attention, baptism in water. 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 it, 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.

 

In this baptism the baptizer is the disciples, Apostles, or any other believer, and the medium is water. The “who” is the person immersing the new believer and the “what” is water. 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. 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. That is inconsistent with Peter’s statement quoted above when he declared clearly that he received the Holy Spirit when he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and the experience of Cornelius and those at his house.

 

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.

 

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) 

There is a 3rd baptism that took place in Acts 2 and following in the story of the growth of the church of Christ is the world. I call your attention to 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”. It is the blessed Holy Spirit who regenerates and creates a “new creature”. It is the third Person of the godhead who causes one to be “born from above”. And, it is He (the Holy Spirit) who places that person into the body of Christ, the universal church of Christ on earth and in heaven.

 

Here the baptizer is the Holy Spirit and the medium is the body of Christ. The “who” is the Holy Spirit and the “what” is the body of Christ.

 

  1. Baptism by Jesus with the Holy Spirit. The result is an empowered witness to Christ.
  2. Baptism by Christians of disciples in water in obedience to Jesus command in Matthew 28. The result is the identification of the disciple with Christ, with the body of believers, and separation from the world.
  3. Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. The result is the new disciple is “one” with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with every other believer. The Holy Spirit Himself is God’s guarantee that person is safe for eternity. 

I know many who read this will disagree with my conclusions. That is fine with me. I only ask this of you. Do I have as much right, and responsibility, as any other Christian to search the Scriptures and then teach what I find there? And, when we disagree shouldn’t we do so in a gracious way? Without question we should.

 

Next post: “How to grow a 1st Century church in the 21st Century”

 

Grace to you,

Royce Ogle

God is for us!


Peter, in his first letter, began by addressing those who were, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace be multiplied. 

   
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Paul, in Romans 8 says in verses 28-31, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified   
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

There is a theme in the Bible that is clearly there although it flies in the face of the doctrinal positions many of us have adopted; Or, does it? We shudder at the idea of Calvinism but what do we do with the myriad of verses that teach what we have rejected? In my view, believing these, and many other passages that say the same things, are not in conflict at all with those of us who believe salvation is of the Lord and not of us.

Even Luke in the Acts uses this terminology, “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48b). Then there is that troubling passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16a).

Then that classic first part of the letter to the Ephesians is almost offensive to anyone who does not believe in the doctrine of election at all. I will not quote it but suggest you read carefully the first 14 verses of chapter 1.

One of the marks of deity is “omniscience”, the fact that God infinitely knows everything. If this is true (and it is) then God surely knew before time began who would and would not become obedient believers in His love gift, the Lord Jesus Christ. And, as Peter said it, we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father“. It would be a completely different dynamic if we were elect, period! But, Peter makes it clear that in agreement with what God knows (or knew) we are elected to be His.

I am no theologian so please be kind to me. This is one way I think of these amazing ways of our great God. I have 6 grandchildren. I love them completely! I love them so much that often I will give them what I know is not best for them just because they want it. (I do have an excuse, I am not as wise or as good as God!) If the younger of my twin grandsons is offered ketchup for his french fries, he will reject ketchup every time and request mustard instead. I know this as well as I know almost anything. Howevcer, my knowing does not in any way invalidate his freedom to choose what goes on his fries. So, I can say to you that my first twin grandson is destined to be a mustard lover. Yes, this is perhaps a weak analogy but I think it makes the point quite well, at least the way I understand God’s choosing as stated by Peter in 1 Peter 1.

Just for the sake of brevity lets assume I am correct. One fact is clear, God has chosen those who are His own. Now lets examine that Romans 8 section.

  1. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son
  2. “whom He predestined, these He also called
  3. “whom He called, these He also justified
  4. whom He justified, these He also glorified

God knew us in eternity past, He predestined that we would be not only called but conformed to the image of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and those He called He justified, and those He justified He also glorified! All of these things are spoken of in the PAST tense!

How many of those He forknew will be justified, or “set right” with God? ALL who are called! How many of those who have been justified will be glorified? ALL of them!

Now the following question makes lots of sense doesn’t it? “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Grace to you,
Royce Ogle