Friday, April 21, 2006

The New Testament Review (2)

This is part 2 of 3 of chapter 7 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

What can we learn?

Today, many people avoid the Christian life, because they think they will have to change who they are or give up a lot of fun stuff they like to do. What they often do not realize is that the fun stuff may become not so fun, and new fun stuff will be more fun than they ever could have imagined! Perhaps the greatest Christian to ever live was Paul, whose life we briefly examined in the previous chapter. Paul said, “‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23).

Paul had to neither behave in a certain way, nor do certain things, nor abstain from certain things in order to be saved. He was saved by God’s grace alone! That said, Paul allowed the Holy Spirit, upon understanding God’s grace, to change him from within, conforming him into the image of Christ. Paul learned to live for Christ out of gratitude for God’s gift of amazing grace. Paul realized he was no longer bound by laws and rules and regulations. Rather, he was free to do all things for the glory of God. Anything done not for the glory of God was worthless; everything done for the glory of God was priceless.

The same experience Paul had should happen to the new Christian, all by God’s grace. Can you substitute your name for Paul’s throughout the above paragraph? The new Christian may slowly realize, when his or her actions are not glorifying God, he or she must change (or be changed). Once people become aware of sin in their lives, they should do everything to rid themselves of that sin.

Paul experienced one of the greatest conversions to Christianity of anyone; he recognized that sin does not belong in the life of the Christian. Despite the fact that grace through faith saves us, we should still live according to God’s law. Paul said: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that [God’s] grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” (Romans 6:2)?

When we accept Christ’s death as a substitutionary death—He died in our place for our sins—we receive an abundance of God’s grace. The more sin we carry to God, the more sin Christ nailed to the cross, the more grace we receive in being forgiven. Jesus explained to Simon the Pharisee that the person with the larger debt is more gracious when his debt is forgiven than the person with a smaller debt whose debt is also forgiven (see Luke 7:36-47).

We should not take advantage of God’s grace as if each little bit was worthless. Jesus paid a great price to offer us forgiveness. He gave all He had—His life. We do not show Him much appreciation or gratitude when we continue to sin. Paul said: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, Who is in you, Whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

When we accept by grace the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life, we are born again! Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Once we become Christians, we should no longer live for ourselves, but for Him Who died for us.

Take the following example: Say you are outside digging in the garden all day in the pouring rain. Upon completing your work, you are covered with mud and soaking wet. What next? Do you take a bath and put the same clothes back on? No! You take a bath and change clothes! Sin sticks to us like wet, muddy clothes. When we become Christians, we must make every effort to get rid of sin, those nasty clothes. We do not put them back on after we become Christians. We publicly demonstrate our faith, as well as our having been cleansed of sin, in baptism and by putting on clean, dry clothes; we are clothed with Christ. Days, weeks, months, and years down the road, we can look back at ourselves when we were in sin, in those dirty garments, and praise God for making us clean.

J.I. Packer mentions several critical aspects of baptism. Baptism is a sign of our faith, that we understand the Gospel. Baptism symbolizes our marriage to Christ through burial with Him in death to the world and resurrection with Him to new, eternal life. Baptism is like a spiritual birthday celebration, though not necessarily our actual spiritual day of rebirth; it is like an admission ceremony into God’s adopted family and a commissioning service to be under Christ’s Lordship as a servant.

When we choose to be baptized, we are obeying the command of Jesus Christ and giving others a sign of our genuine faith. Is baptism required for salvation? No. Jesus said: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Notice He only condemned those who do not believe! We can look further at the words of Christ as He spoke to the thief crucified next to Him. Their dialogue follows:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the
Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you
fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished
justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this Man has done nothing
wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’
Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in
paradise’ (Luke 23:39-43).

The thief made a last-minute confession of faith in Christ, and Jesus said he would be in heaven. The thief had no good works to rely on, no baptism to show others as a sign of his faith, but God knew his heart. God graciously gave him faith in Christ. This criminal was guilty on earth and rightly condemned to death, and apart from God’s grace, he would have also been rightly condemned to the second death, a spiritual death that would have destined him to hell for eternity, permanently separating him from God. By grace, he was forgiven of his sins and declared innocent of wrongdoing. He still died that day on the cross next to Christ, but he lives now with Christ in heaven for all eternity. He never had a chance to come down off that cross and do good works or be baptized, but we do have the opportunity to serve God through good works and obey Him in baptism.

As I mentioned earlier, baptism is a point of disagreement among Christians today, but that disagreement is based primarily on the who or when and the how, not so much the what and why, of baptism. When we read the Bible, examining the passages where believers are baptized—see the Book of Acts for the majority of cases—it is clear that immersion was the how; the who consisted of those who were of the age to decide for themselves whether or not to be baptized; immediately upon realizing the need to be baptized, generally after confession of and repentance from sin, was the when.

In the Bible, the faithful were often asked to give a sign of their faith, usually in baptism. As mentioned earlier, the original New Testament was written primarily in Greek. “The Greek for the word ‘baptizo’ means to immerse, plunge, dip, or bury in water.” Because of these cases in Scripture, many Christian churches trying to follow the Bible as closely as possible will demand baptism by immersion as a requirement for membership. Some even go too far by declaring that baptism is a requirement for salvation.

Of course, in many other Christian churches today, sprinkling is the how, infants are the who, and within a couple months after birth is the when of baptism. Perhaps an oxymoron, a sprinkling baptism for infants did not become prevalent until the twelfth century A.D. and even then only as a matter of convenience. While there are Scriptural references to being cleansed by sprinkling (see Ezekiel 36:24-29; Numbers 8:5-7, 19:20; Hebrews 10:15-22)12, they neither mention nor associate with a physical baptism. Instead, they relate with more of a spiritual baptism, which is, without objection, more critical than the physical baptism anyway. I think if we make the effort to obey Jesus Christ in our walk with Him, then we will allow ourselves to be baptized both physically and spiritually, just as the Bible illustrates.

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