August 29, 2011

The Meaning of Baptism, Part 3

In the last two weeks we have established two biblical facts:

1. Baptism does not, and cannot, save a person … nor add even an ounce to what Jesus has already done. Repentance and faith in Christ alone are what save a person.
2. Yet baptism is vitally important … because it is the New Testament way of making public profession of our faith. And, thus, every believer ought to go through the waters.

But now a third question: Why has God chosen baptism as the means by which we should make known our faith in His Son? Why is baptism the New Testament way to make a profession of faith?

Answer: Because baptism is a perfect picture of what Jesus has done for the believer. And what has He done? What has happened to us, if our faith is in Christ? Well, yes, our sins have been washed away. But that’s not really what baptism pictures. Rather, according to Romans 6, baptism symbolizes death and resurrection – both Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our own! Think it out.

First, Paul says in Romans 6.4 that we have been “buried with Christ through baptism into death.” In other words, Jesus died … and carried our sins to the grave with Him. So, if we belong to Jesus, our old sinful selves have been buried with Him! Sin no longer has mastery over us – it’s dead! And baptism symbolizes that. We are “buried with Christ through baptism!” In other words, when the believer is submerged under the water, it is a picture of burial – both Jesus’ burial, and the burial of our old sinful selves with Him! “We have been buried with Him through baptism.” What a marvelous picture!

And when we come out of the water? Well, that symbolic resurrection is a picture of an actual resurrection – both Jesus’ and ours. In verse 5, Paul says it like this, in the context of his description of baptism: “As Christ was raised from the dead … so we too might walk in newness of life.” Christ was buried, and rose … and, because He did, we rose, too! Because Christ rose, we have new life, both here and now, and in heaven forever! And we see this, in picture form, in baptism. We are buried under the water, symbolizing our death, and that of Jesus; and then we are raised back out of the water, picturing Jesus’ resurrection, and our corresponding new life of faith, hope, and love in Him!

Summary? Baptism does not save you. Baptism is a symbol and declaration of what happened to you (past tense) when you were saved by Jesus. And what happened to you? If you truly belong to Jesus, your old sinful self was buried with Him, and God created new life in your soul through Christ’s resurrection from the dead. And what better way to picture such a miracle than by having the new believer come before his fellow Christians and be symbolically buried and raised in front of them? That’s baptism! Praise God we got to see it again, recently. Let us pray that we have more and more opportunities to do so!

August 22, 2011

The Meaning of Baptism, Part 2

Last week we spent our time nailing down the fact that, important as it is, baptism is not a part of salvation. A person may be saved by the blood of Jesus without ever having gone through the waters of baptism. But having said that, we may be in danger of minimizing baptism’s importance; of treating it is though it were marginal and unimportant, which it is clearly not.

So what gives? If baptism doesn’t save us, why do we do it? And why do we require folks to undergo believer’s baptism as a precursor to membership in the church? If it doesn’t save, why do we make such a big deal of it?

The simple answer is because the New Testament makes a big deal of it! And why so? Because, while the New Testament clearly teaches that baptism does not cause us to be saved, it also teaches that baptism is a public declaration that we have been saved already!

That’s right: Baptism – not aisle walking, or card-signing, or verbal testimony sharing – is the New Testament way for a new Christian to proclaim to the world that he or she is now a follower of Jesus. Baptism is the New Testament method of making a public profession of faith. Now that is not to say it’s wrong to give verbal testimony of our faith in Jesus! Would that we all did more of that! But the fact is that baptism was the way the early believers announced their commitment to follow Jesus. And so it should be today. The way we declare our faith publically is through the ordinance of baptism!

And, you know, every believer really ought to declare his or her faith publically, oughtn’t he? Surely! And, as I said, there are other ways of doing that – some of them even good ways. But if there is a definite New Testament way of professing faith in Jesus; and if every believer ought to profess his faith publically, it stands to reason that baptism is a really big deal!

So yes, baptism is only a picture. It never has saved a single soul … and never will. It’s just a symbol. But it’s an incredibly important one … because it is the symbol which God has given us to declare our faith in Jesus! Praise God for the opportunities we have, from time to time, to see the symbol acted out in the church!

Let’s pray that we’d have even more occasions, in the months ahead, to be thanking and thinking about baptism!

August 15, 2011

The Meaning of Baptism

This Sunday we at PRBC will have the high privilege of enjoying the ordinance of Christian baptism. But what is baptism? What does it do? And what does it symbolize? There is often much confusion on the issue.

It is easy to just assume that baptism is a symbol of the washing away of our sins. What else could all that water be for, right? A few folks are even convinced that baptism actually does wipe away our sins … or that it is at least a necessary part of a person’s salvation. But is that what all that water is really all about? Is it really a symbol of washing? And does it save?

We’ll see in the weeks ahead that these ideas sail a little bit wide of the mark. In fact, what I’d like to do is to spend three weeks examining the issue of baptism in this column – asking what it is and isn’t, from Scripture.

Today, let’s be careful to notice that baptism is a symbolic ordinance, not a saving one. Baptism does not save a person, nor even contribute anything to his or her salvation! Rather, it is a symbol that he or she has already been saved.

Baptism (like good works) happens as the result of salvation, not as the cause of it! In other words, you could go through the water every Sunday from now until kingdom come, and still not necessarily be forgiven of sins … because it’s not the water that cleanses a person! No, rather we are taught that “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7). It is blood, not water, that saves sinners!

But someone may argue: ‘Yes, it is the blood of Jesus that saves us. But baptism is a necessary act that enables a person to gain access to that blood. You cannot benefit from the blood, and you cannot be saved, without being baptized.’ Really? What about the thief on the cross in Luke 23? He went to paradise with Jesus that very day, without ever having a chance to be baptized in water! Simple repentance toward God and faith in Jesus was enough. And if it was enough for him, it will be enough for us!

So that’s the first big thing to notice … and we’ll content ourselves having nailed this one truth in place this morning: Baptism does not save a person … and is not a part of his salvation in any way. It is only a symbol after the fact. But praise God for the symbol! And praise God for what it symbolizes! Praise God that, in Jesus, sinners may become believers in Jesus and followers of God!

August 11, 2011

Three Sermons on King Joash

Recently we have given three messages more or less to the life of King Joash. His is a fascinating true story - with great ups and horrific downs. Listen in. I hoped you will be helped and challenged as I have been.

2 Chronicles 24.15-25 - "But after the death of Jehoida ..."

August 8, 2011

"Remember the prisoners"

At least three different times in recent weeks – in a couple of sermons (here and here), and in last week’s article – I have drawn your attention to the persecuted church. Let me do so again today. Why? Not to depress you, or even to frighten you as to what may come our own way someday … but rather because the Bible mandates that I do so. Did you know that? The Bible actually commands that we keep in our hearts the plight of those who suffer for the sake of Jesus. Where? In Hebrews 13.3: “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated.”

Now, while it is important that Christians reach out to all sorts of prisoners, and not forget them as they languish … the author of Hebrews has in mind, particularly, those who are “prisoners” for Jesus’ sake; those who are “ill-treated” because of their faith. After all, there were a number of such people in the early days of the church. But even more today. Yes, in spite of all the horrific persecution that we read of during the times of the Roman Empire, the number of Jesus’ sufferers is greatly multiplied in our own era – especially in the Muslim North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. And, even though they are so many and so far away, the Bible tells us not to forget them! Even though we have never met them face-to-face, we are to “remember” them. How so? Let me make four suggestions:

1. Know them. How hard is it to remember someone you’ve never met? Quite! And so how can we, who probably do not know many persecuted believers, remember such people? By learning their stories! By signing up, perhaps, for the free monthly newsletter published by The Voice of the Martyrs. In it you will find a half-a-dozen or so stories every month – stories of real live people who have been threatened, arrested, beaten, tortured, widowed, or orphaned simply for being Christian. It’s not upbeat news. But it is uplifting to read of these wonderful believers and their faith in our good, wise, merciful God. I cannot recommend too highly that you subscribe! Doing so will help you know these dear men and women, which will help you “remember” them in these next three ways …

2. Pray for them. Perhaps there is no better way to “remember the prisoners … and those who are ill-treated” than to remember them in prayer. I want and need to do better at this myself. I hope you do, too. If so, you could get the aforementioned newsletter, and pray as you finish each article; or pick a certain day of the week on which you will consistently pray for the persecuted believers you’ve been reading about. But, however you do it, do it! Remember them in prayer!

3. Support them. What would we need if radicals burned down our church building this week? Or if several of our families became widowed and orphaned by mob violence against our church leaders? Or if one of our members was hospitalized for three months, recovering from burns or broken bones received from those who hate our Lord? What would we need in these situations … especially if we lived in the third world where insurance is only a dream? You get the picture, I think. O how many of our brothers and sisters need rebuilt buildings and homes! How many widows need a stipend and job training to help them get back on their feet! How many brothers in the Lord would clap for joy if their enormous hospital bill came back with “paid” stamped in red on the front! How many orphaned children need food and clothing that their murdered fathers are no longer there to provide!

And what a privilege if we had the opportunity to chip in! Indeed, we do! Again, I point you to The Voice of the Martyrs. They are constantly on the ground in various persecuted regions – paying bills, rebuilding buildings, supporting widows, caring for orphans … and providing gospel materials so that these intrepid saints can keep reaching out to their communities! And I urge you to pitch in! There are few, if any, better causes that meeting the needs of those who suffer for Jesus!

4. Join them. Paul has taught us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). Maybe it won’t always be to the extent of burnings, beatings, and so on. But, if we are godly, people will oppose us just like the opposed our Lord. And so, in this last segment, let me just urge you to be that kind of godly. I’m not suggesting you go out looking for persecution. Just encouraging you to live in such a way that the enemies of the cross will take notice! The rest will take care of itself. “Remember the prisoners … and those who are ill-treated” by not being afraid to join them!

August 2, 2011

It Could be Hotter

If you’re at all like me, maybe you’ve been whining a bit about the record heat wave we are experiencing these days. I hate hot weather … with a passion. I think it’s surely one of the effects of the fall! Give me 65 and breezy any day of the week!

But I’m trying to remind myself of something quite important in these dog days of summer – it could be hotter! For one thing, I could be back in Mississippi where what Cincinnati calls record highs are simply the norm, and where the humidity often feels, literally, like you’ve closed the bathroom door too long while taking a hot shower. Or the air conditioner could be out, or non-existent, like it is for so many people in our city every summer. So there’s a lot to be thankful for, even when the sun is beating down and the A/C is having trouble keeping up.

But even if you’re A/C is out and you’re trying (in vain) to sleep at night with no sheets on, and under the minor comfort of a mere ceiling fan … it could still be much, much hotter! So, if you’re tempted (like me) to murmur, think about three ways that is so:

First, you and I could be facing the fiery furnace of persecution. We could, in other words, be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. Yes, I know, they seem not to have actually felt any of the heat. But for most of our suffering brothers and sisters in the world, that is manifestly not the case. The furnace is turned up very, very hot for many of our brothers and sisters in the persecuted world … such that they’d take a ceiling fan and safe haven any day of the week – air-conditioning or not.

Second, we could be enduring the wasting heat of guilt and condemnation. Listen as King David describes it: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me. My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer” (emphasis mine, Psalm 32.3-4). In other words, unconfessed sin can become like the drain that comes at the end of a hot, un-air-conditioned summer day. It can literally wear you out, “as with the fever heat of summer”. And, having been worn out with both, more than once in my life, I’d choose “the fever heat of summer” any day over the groaning and oppression and shame and condemnation of sins un-repented-of. I hope you would, too.

Finally – most predictably and most seriously – we could be consigned to the fires of hell. We could be without Christ and without God in the world. We could be forever without the hope of mercy … in that place where, according to Isaiah 66.24, the “fire will not be quenched”; that place where the longing for even a single drop of cool water upon our tongues will never, ever be satisfied (Luke 19.24). If we are on our way there, we ought to bless God’s mercy that we aren’t there yet … and then flee to Christ who, alone, can rescue us from such a fate. And if we have run to Christ, and been rescued forever from the flames, we ought to bless God all the more! For, yes, I will be the first to admit my dislike for 95 degree day after 95 degree day … but let me never forget that, without Jesus, it could be much, much hotter!