Sunday, 31 March 2013

When Jesus Wants Silence

      A consistent theme in the Gospel of Mark is the repeated accounts of Jesus ordering certain ones to keep quiet about his identity or what they have witnessed him doing (1:25, 34, 43-44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26, 30; 9:9, 30): the so-called "messianic secret." While the reasons are not explicitly given, there are at least four possibilities along with practical applications for our lives today.
      First of all, Jesus was no doubt concerned about the source of the prospective testimonials (cf. Mark 1:25, 34; 3:12). Certain ones (e.g. demons or unclean spirits), even though they may have spoken the truth about the Lord, would not have been reputable advocates. The lesson is simple. If we are not living for Christ or behaving in a Christlike manner, we have no legitimate right to wear his name or speak on his behalf. Paul issues a scathing rebuke against a number of Jews who claimed to be God’s children while living like sons of the devil. He observes: "You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written" (Romans 2:23-24 NKJV). May we never bring shame and reproach upon the precious name of our Lord or of his church by claiming allegiance to him without the requisite lifestyle. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
      A second factor that may have prompted the Lord’s calls for silence is the likelihood that his ministry would have been impeded (cf. Mark 1:43-45; 5:43; 9:30). Whenever the word spread about his mighty deeds, he was thronged by multitudes who wanted to see him, touch him, receive healing, and/or observe a miracle. The more crowds demanded his time and attention, the more he was hindered from moving on to other areas where people needed him. Do our lives ever get so busy that we don’t have enough time or energy to accomplish all that needs to be done? Are our priorities sometimes misplaced and our schedules filled with time-wasting activities, while our service to God, to our family, to the church and to our community gets neglected? "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:15-17). The word "redeem" means to exchange one thing for another. What are the things we regard as so important that we are willing to exchange for them the limited time that has been entrusted to us?
      There is a third possibility for the Lord’s pleas for silence. Publicizing his identity and works too quickly could have led to his premature death and thus kept him from accomplishing all that needed to be done in his earthly ministry (cf. Mark 8:30; 9:9). When we get in too much of a hurry and end up rushing through important tasks (e.g. worship, Bible study, prayer, family time, etc.), we seldom get the desired result. If God and his kingdom truly have first place in our lives (Matthew 6:33), we will make the time and expend the effort to fulfill his expectations to the very best of our abilities. He deserves no less!
      A final reason that Jesus may have ordered certain ones to keep quiet was the potential of his message being distorted (cf. Mark 7:36; 8:26). A number of popular misconceptions about the Christ were circulating, and most who encountered Jesus for the first time were not sufficiently taught. There was a real danger of inadvertently spreading falsehoods about him and his teachings. The same can happen today. There is a reason the Lord’s brother penned the words of James 3:1. "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment." Now this is certainly no excuse for refusing to teach others about Christ (cf. Hebrews 5:12), but it reminds us of how important it is to know the message we are propagating. This should be a strong incentive for diligently studying the scriptures in preparation for our God-given ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
      When Jesus wanted silence, the lessons seem to be clear. (1) To genuinely represent Christ, we must ensure that we are walking the walk and talking the talk. "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:16). (2) Let’s not get so busy with trivial matters that we neglect what is really important in this life in view of eternity. "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2). (3) If something is worth doing (especially for the Lord), it is worth doing right. "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men" (Colossians 3:23). (4) Before we speak for Jesus, we need to make sure that we are adequately prepared and know what we are talking about. "But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts" (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
--Kevin L. Moore

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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Questions About Baptism (Part 4 of 4)

     Abraham, having been justified by faith before his circumcision, was later circumcised as a ‘sign’ or a ‘seal’ of his justification and is ‘the father of all those who believe’ (Romans 4:9-12). Since baptism replaced circumcision under Christ’s new covenant (Colossians 2:11-12), doesn’t it follow that a person is justified by faith before he is baptized and his baptism is simply an outward sign of the justification he has already received?  
     Remember that Paul’s epistle to the Romans was written to believers who had already been baptized (6:4). In the context of Romans chapters 2, 3, and 4, Paul was establishing the fact that the Jews now have no advantage over the Gentiles -- all are guilty of sin and stand before God on equal terms (cf. 2:6-11; 3:9, 22-23, 29-30). There was no need for Gentile Christians to be circumcised (or obey any other requirement of the Law of Moses), and the Jewish [circumcised] Christians needed to understand that works of the Law (3:20), including circumcision (2:25-29; 3:1), could not save them. To illustrate, in chapter 4 Paul showed that Abraham was not saved by the Law of Moses (v. 13) but by faith. And yet Abraham’s faith was an obedient faith (cf. Hebrews 11:8-19; James 2:21-24), and all of Abraham’s spiritual descendants exhibit the same kind of faith (Romans 10:17; 6:16-18; Acts 10:34-35; Hebrews 11:6; 5:9). To be “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” now requires an obedient faith which includes baptism (Galatians 3:26-29). Any conclusion to the contrary is a misapplication of Paul’s teachings.
     It is true that Abraham was justified prior to his circumcision (Romans 4:10), but circumcision was not a requirement at the time of Abraham’s initial justification and he was never under the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 5:1-3) wherein circumcision was a fundamental element. However, for the Jews who were amenable to the Law of Moses, as long as the Law was in effect, circumcision was essential (Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:3). 
     The purpose of Romans 4 was to show Jewish Christians that we are no longer bound to the Law of Moses (including circumcision), but this has nothing to do with gospel obedience in general or baptism in particular. And Paul addresses an entirely separate issue in Colossians 2, so to indiscriminately mix these two passages together in an attempt to prove a point is to distort Paul’s arguments. In Romans 4 Paul was addressing physical circumcision under the Law of Moses. In Colossians 2:11, Paul talks about spiritual circumcision, “made without hands,” under the law of Christ. While Paul links baptism with spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12), nowhere does the Bible suggest that baptism was a replacement for physical circumcision. Baptism is for all accountable persons who believe (Matthew 28:19; Acts 16:15, 33), while physical circumcision was only for male Jews (Genesis 17:2). The only similarities between OT circumcision and NT baptism are: (1) each was/is deemed essential for those amenable (Genesis 17:14; Mark 16:16); (2) each was/is considered necessary to be in a covenant relationship with God (Genesis 17:9-14; Galatians 3:27-29); and (3) failure to obey result[ed/s] in condemnation (Genesis 17:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; John 3:5).
     Paul affirms in Colossians 2:11-13 that “faith in the working of God” is demonstrated when we are buried and raised with Christ in baptism, by which we put off “the body [of the sins] of the flesh,” become dead in our trespasses, and are made alive with Christ through forgiveness of sins. We cannot be saved in our sins (Romans 6:16, 23). We can only be saved, by God’s grace, when our sins are forgiven and removed. This takes place when we exhibit our obedient faith through belief, repentance, and water baptism (Acts 2:37-47). We have this new life, free from sin, after (not before) we are buried and raised with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3-5; Acts 22:16). The Bible never describes baptism as an alleged “outward sign of the justification already received.”
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Thief on the CrossQuestions About Baptism (Part 1)Part 2Part 3

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Questions About Baptism (Part 3 of 4)

     Isn’t the Bible filled with verses which teach that people are saved without baptism (e.g. John 1:12-13; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40; 8:24; 11:25; et al.)?  
     The Bible is filled with verses which emphasize the necessity of faith in the salvation process, but none of these excludes baptism. There are just as many verses in the Bible which underscore the necessity of obedience (e.g. John 3:21; 7:17; 8:12, 51; 14:15, 21-24; 15:10, 14; et al.), including baptism (John 3:5; Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:21; et al.). Salvation is not a matter of either faith or obedience, but is rather the result of both faith and obedience, i.e. obedient faith. ALL of the biblical information must be considered and harmonized before final conclusions are reached about God’s will. 
     Mark 16:16 says that ‘he who does not believe will be condemned,’ but it doesn’t say that a person who isn’t baptized will be condemned, so how can baptism be so important?  
     In this verse Jesus gives a formula for salvation and a formula for condemnation. The salvation formula contains two prerequisites: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” To remove baptism is to eliminate one of the Lord’s conditions. The condemnation formula is: “he who does not believe.” This one condition is sufficient to be condemned, because a person who does not believe the gospel is not going to be baptized or do anything else the Lord requires. To illustrate, consider the following statement: “He who eats food and digests it will live; but he who does not eat food will die.” The condition of food digestion is irrelevant if the condition of food consumption is not met, but if food is eaten, then it must be digested in order for a person to live. The condition of baptism is irrelevant if the condition of belief is not met, but according to Jesus’ statement, if one believes the gospel, baptism must necessarily follow in order to be saved. On the textual validity of Mark 16:15-16, see Ending of Mark Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.
     When the Philippian jailer asked what he needed to do to be saved, he was simply told, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household’ (Acts 16:30-31). Why was baptism not included in this statement?  
     Although there is only one system of faith (cf. Ephesians 4:4-6), different people are told to do different things depending on where they are in the salvation process. Bear in mind that the jailer at Philippi was a pagan who did not believe in Jesus and in all probability had never even heard of Jesus. Without the initial step of simple faith he could not go any further in the process of salvation. Thus Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (v. 32). After this family had heard the gospel and obviously believed, what was the next step they needed to take? Having exhibited repentance by washing the wounds of his ex-prisoners, “immediately [the jailer] and all his family were baptized” (v. 33). It was not necessary for Paul and Silas to give more information in v. 31 until this man and his family had heard and believed the gospel. 
     In Acts 2:37-38, when the Jews had asked the apostles the same question, they were given a different answer -- not because there was a different pattern for them to follow but because they had already heard about and believed in Jesus. In other words, they were further along in the salvation process than the Philippian jailer initially was, and so they were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. In the end, they all followed the same pattern: hearing, believing, repentance, and baptism. To be saved, what must unbelievers do? They must hear the gospel and believe (Acts 16:31). Once they become believers, what must they do? They must repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Once they are penitent believers, what must they do? They must be baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:12; 22:16). And once they are penitent baptized believers, what must they do? They must continue in the faith (Acts 2:42; 14:22).
     It is interesting to note that in Acts 2:44 the disciples are simply described as “all who believed” [lit. 'all the believing ones'], even though they had just been baptized (v. 41). The Philippian jailer is merely described as one “having believed in God with all his household” (Acts 16:34), even though he and his household had just been baptized (v. 33). Obviously it is not necessary for the word “baptism” to be mentioned in every verse that talks about salvation since the Bible clearly includes it in the process.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Questions About Baptism (Part 2 of 4)

     Since Paul said, ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . .’ 
(1 Corinthians 1:17), how can baptism be such an important part of the salvation process?  
     To understand why Paul said what he said in this verse, it is necessary to read the context. He was addressing the problem of division among the Corinthian disciples (vv. 10-17), who, incidentally, had already been baptized (cf. 12:13; Acts 18:8). They had been dividing into factious groups (i.e. claiming to be followers of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ), but in so doing many were exalting fallible men above their one and only spiritual Head -- Christ. Paul was trying to redirect their misguided focus, especially away from himself. Christ had died for them and they had been baptized in the name of Christ, not of Paul (v. 13). Although a few people in Corinth had been immersed by Paul’s own hands (vv. 14-16), he was glad he had not personally baptized more if it was going to result in such problems. Since Paul was such a prominent figure in the early church, he apparently tried to refrain from personally baptizing people “lest anyone should say that [he] had baptized in [his] own name” (v. 15). That was not his mission; rather he was entrusted with pointing souls to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel (v. 17), and his co-workers no doubt did the actual baptizing when people responded to the gospel he preached. By considering the entire ministry of Paul and his writings, rather than isolating a single verse out of its context, it is obvious that Paul believed in baptism, preached baptism, administered baptism, and certainly never intended to undermine the importance of baptism (cf. Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12). See also Pauline Amnesia
     Since the Bible says we’re saved by faith and not by works (e.g. Romans 3:27-31; Ephesians 2:8-9), how can baptism be necessary for salvation? 
     Among other things, this query shows a limited understanding of biblical faith and biblical works. It is true that certain kinds of works play no part in our salvation, e.g. works of human merit (Ephesians 2:9; Mattew 23:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5) or ingenuity (Acts 7:41), works of the Law of Moses (Romans 3:27; Galatians 2:16), works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) or of the devil (1 John 3:8). But not a single verse in the Bible places baptism in any of these categories. The Bible also speaks of works which do play a fundamental role in our salvation, namely works of God [including belief in Jesus] (John 6:28-29), works of [divine] righteousness (Acts 10:35) [as opposed to self-righteousness Titus 3:5], and works of humble obedience (Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 5:8-9). Since baptism is a command of God (Acts 10:33, 48) and not something humans have invented to save themselves, to exclude it from saving faith would be no different than trying to exclude repentance, which is also required of God (Acts 2:38; 17:30). Because the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1; etc.), there are at least two things a conscientious Bible student must take into account: (1) the fatal error of carelessly discarding the many scripture references which also emphasize obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 8:51; 14:15, 21-24; 15:10-14; Romans 6:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Hebrews 5:8-9; et al.), including baptism (Mark 16:15-16; Galatians 3:26-27; et al.); and (2) the fact that biblical faith is clearly a working, active, obedient faith (cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26; Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; James 2:14-26). The only time the words “faith only” appear together in the Bible is in James 2:24, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” To exclude every kind of works from the salvation process is to exclude belief in Jesus (John 6:28-29), and to accept that the Lord does require us to do certain things (Matthew 7:21; James 1:21-22; 1 John 2:17) is to accept baptism. Baptism is not a work of human merit but a humble submission to the will of God.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Thief on the CrossQuestions About Baptism (Part 1)Part 3Part 4

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Questions About Baptism (Part 1 of 4)

     If one maintains that baptism is essential to salvation, is he not therefore affirming that men are saved by something they do themselves rather than by the grace of God?  
     This query fails to acknowledge the many aspects of God’s salvation plan and twists complementary elements into a false antithesis, overlooking the fact that man does have a part to play in his own salvation. Otherwise, since God desires all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), why will everyone not be saved? (cf. Matthew 7:13-23). The Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:5, 8), God’s mercy (Titus 3:5), God’s longsuffering (2 Peter 3:15), God’s word (James 1:21), Jesus (Matthew 1:21; 18:11), Jesus’ name (Acts 4:12), Jesus’ blood (Romans 5:9), Jesus’ life (Romans 5:10), apostolic teaching (1 Corinthians 1:21; 9:22), the gospel (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2), faith (Luke 7:50; 18:42), confession of faith (Romans 10:9), repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10), obedience (Hebrews 5:9), belief and baptism (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), works [of God] (James 2:14, 24), ourselves [as we comply with God’s directives] (Philippians 2:12; 1 Timothy 4:16), calling on the Lord’s name (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13), endurance (Matthew 10:22), and hope (Romans 8:24). Because all of these things work together, it is a mistake to isolate just one of them and suggest that it somehow excludes any of the others. Since the Bible says that baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21), would it be reasonable to affirm that baptism must therefore eliminate faith? If not, why do some contend that God’s grace eliminates gospel obedience? When a person submits to baptism, he is simply doing what the Lord has commanded him to do and is not negating the grace of God but is rather appropriating it. The Corinthians received God's grace (2 Corinthians 6:1) when they received the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2) and submitted to its condition of baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 18:8).
     Since the Bible says that all one must do to be saved is ‘call on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13), and since a person on his deathbed who can’t get up to be baptized can still accept Jesus into his heart, how can anyone say that baptism is essential to salvation?  
     Yes, the Bible does say that “calling on the Lord’s name” is necessary for salvation, but that’s not all the Bible says. To reach the conclusion implied in the above question one must do at least two things: (1) disregard everything else the Bible has to say on this subject, and (2) ignore how the Bible itself defines “calling on the name of the Lord.” However, when all of the biblical information is taken into account, including the context of Romans 10, the gospel requirements for salvation are clear. To “call on the name of the Lord,” in the biblical sense, certainly includes a verbal acknowledgement of one’s faith (Romans 10:9-10), but it is by no means limited to this (cf. Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46; James 1:22; 2:17-26). The scriptural pattern, as set forth in Romans 10, is as follows: the gospel is to be (a) preached,  (b) heard, and (c) believed, then one must (d) “call on the name of the Lord” to be saved (vv. 12-17). Yet to exclude baptism from this process is to disregard what Paul had just stated four chapters earlier in Romans 6, and is to ignore how this same pattern is laid out in the book of Acts, and is to overlook other relevant passages of scripture. Paul had just written that baptism is necessary to have new life in Christ and freedom from sin (Romans 6:3-5, 17-18), and the book of Acts shows that in apostolic times when the gospel was (a) preached, (b) heard, and (c) believed, (d) baptism immediately followed (Acts 2:37-41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; et al.). As a matter of fact, baptism is explicitly included in the summary act of “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21, 38; 22:16). If the Bible says that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins and consequent salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:21), how can any professing Bible-believer say that it is not necessary?
     What about someone on his deathbed? Does this scenario cancel out what the Bible says? If the person on his deathbed is in a coma and is therefore incapable of developing faith in Jesus, does this mean, therefore, that faith in Jesus in unnecessary? If not, why do some contend that this situation somehow nullifies baptism or any other requirement of God? This person has had his whole life to seek after God and to learn and obey the truth (Matthew 7:7; John 7:17). One’s waiting until the last moment or until it is too late cannot be blamed on God (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2) and it does not change the requirements that God has set forth in his word. Do our fallible emotions and desires carry more weight than the infallible word of God? Even though some wish to argue that a “deathbed conversion” is valid, this is an emotional (not a biblical) appeal and still does not alter or eliminate what is necessary for the multitudes who are not on their deathbeds.
--Kevin L. Moore