Questions about the Essential Nature of Baptism (by Immersion)

This entry is more along the lines of a position statement as I am answering questions for potential employment. These questions may be helpful to some of you as well. I hope they help.

A. What about death-bed confessions? Aren’t they valid expressions of faith for salvation?

Rather than being a purely hypothetical question, I have been witness to a few of these, most recently this summer, where we had a patient who desired to be baptized on their deathbed. The patient was going into hospice the day we baptized the patient, and died about a week later. So I think this patient qualifies. When I went to talk to the patient in the morning, the patient could barely speak. But as the day progressed, the patient became more animated. On the patient’s request, the patient was baptized by immersion thanks to some helpful equipment we have at our hospital.

I tell you what I have seen, that those on their “death-bed” who express faith in Christ, and are capable of doing do, usually have enough time for us to make arrangements for them to be baptized, even by immersion. Now that’s not going to be true in the home, or maybe even at the nursing home. But what I remember is this: Without faith, you cannot please God. If that death-bed confession is an honest expression of faith, I cannot tell that person that they are not going to heaven. I can’t make that call. But what I have seen is that such a person, with a desire to be baptized, will be given enough grace by the Lord to be able to be baptized before they die.

What I have seen far too often is the families of such individuals who beg and plead the Chaplain to save their dying loved one, and by the time we receive the call, the person has passed into unconsciousness and doesn’t wake up enough to even be addressed by the Chaplain.

B. What about the thief on the cross? He had no opportunity to be baptized, and yet Jesus told him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

I think we make a lot of assumptions about the thief on the cross.

First, that this is the first time he had ever met Jesus. From Luke 23:41, we get a sense that the thief knew about Jesus, enough to be able to pronounce him innocent compared to himself. It’s very likely that the thief had heard Jesus speak, maybe even was baptized by John or even the disciples. We just don’t know enough to make that assumption.

Second, we assume that the thief wanted to be saved. From Luke 23:42, it seems the thief wasn’t asking that at all. He simply asked Jesus to remember Him when Jesus comes in power. It is possible to construe here that the thief believed in the resurrection, just as Martha did in John 11:24.

Third, as an argument against the essentiality of immersion, we must remember that baptism marks the death, burial and RESURRECTION of Jesus. There is no way at this point in time that the thief could have received Christian baptism, since Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. The thief’s faith, if we may be so bold, is the same kind of “saving faith” expressed by Abraham, Moses and David. They believed in the Coming One, though they had not seen Him risen. Jesus simply extended that same grace that He extended to Abraham, Moses and David (and many others) by promising the thief entry into “Paradise”, which I argue is not the same thing as “Heaven” theologically, but that’s another subject.

C. Are you saying that without baptism a Person is not saved?

First, let me clarify what salvation is. Salvation is salvation from the eternal penalty of sin, i.e., Hell. Salvation is eternal life with Jesus and His people, living in Heaven with Him. Salvation on this earth means living in Christ, through the Holy Spirit before God the Father. We have a way of escape from temptation. We have fruits of the Spirit because of His abiding in us. We have a fruitful and abundant life because of the Spirit who lives in us. Our salvation in Jesus Christ is the only true hope we have in this world. But we cannot achieve or receive it on our own. We MUST have help.

Jesus laid down His life for our sins nearly 2000 years ago. This we apprehend by faith and a decent amount of reason. We know such a One named Jesus of Nazareth died in Roman custody outside a small town in Judea called Jerusalem on a cross. We apprehend by faith that He did it to pay with His own perfect blood the penalty of our sins, the way sacrifices work to pay for sin. Jesus said, after He rose from the dead to His disciples, that they should go and preach this gospel to the whole world doing three things: making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. Thus throughout the New Testament, baptism is a part of the ongoing story, from Saul (Paul) to Cornelius, to the Phillipian Jailer, etc. The Apostles thought baptism necessarily followed belief in the gospel. I don’t think I know better than the Apostles or the Christ who initialized it.

I don’t proclaim myself an expert in all things baptism. Such is a mystery too deep and too profound for me. But I do know amazing things happen during baptism that we cannot receive any other way, namely, the cleansing of our soul through the “washing of regeneration”, the seal of the Holy Spirit, the promise of eternal life, and the beginning of an abundant life in Christ. I believe that baptism (by immersion) is essential to receive these things. God will not place His Spirit into an unholy place. The altar of our souls must first be cleansed by the sprinkling of blood, just as the altar of the Tabernacle once was. We must be made holy before the Holy Spirit can abide in us. This doesn’t not simply happen with faith, otherwise the saints of the Old Testament would have enjoyed this too. The presence of the abiding Spirit is unique to the New Testament (as evidenced by Pentecost) and can only be received through Christian baptism.

To put it conversely, what do you do with a Christian who refuses baptism? Is some one who resists baptism still considered saved? I believe that if a person is not baptized, but believes in the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart, he can still be saved (by reason of his faith) but I would not want to be in his shoes when he stands before God. God will ask him why he didn’t take that step in baptism. What would you tell God? I also believe there will be a host of preachers on that day who will be held accountable for the myriad of souls they led astray by not telling them about baptism.

D. What About Foot-Washing?

Having examined the foot-washing issue, I think there is far more to it than merely washing feet. The symbolism behind it actually solves a problem we have had in the Christian Church for decades, that is, what to do when a backsliding believer wishes to be re-baptized or re-dedicated. I believe as Peter protested to be washed, hands feet and head, Jesus’ response is most telling:

Jesus answered, “People who have bathed and are clean all over need to wash just their feet. And you, my disciples, are clean, except for one of you.” (Joh 13:10)

Now consider the one who has been “soiled by the world” and feels repentant, and wishes to come back to the fold. They may wish to be re-baptized. While some see no problem with this, I do, since I believe that which happens in baptism cannot be replicated.

But what about people who turn away after they have already seen the light and have received the gift from heaven and have shared in the Holy Spirit? What about those who turn away after they have received the good message of God and the powers of the future world? There is no way to bring them back. What they are doing is the same as nailing the Son of God to a cross and insulting him in public! (Heb 6:4)

While they are still sinning, they can’t come back. But if they repent, I believe Jesus allowed them a way home. They have been washed (i.e., baptized) so they don’t need to be baptized again. But since their “feet” have been “soiled”, they do need their feet washed. Coincidentally, notice that Jesus does this the night before all the disciples (but John) abandon Him. And this foot-washing is a powerful statement. Rather than Jesus dying again for their sins and their reenactment of the death, burial and resurrection, it is a fellow believer, kneeling before them, taking towel and bowl, and humbly washing their feet. There is a direct sense of accountability in this act of humility. It is humbling for the one receiving as well as the one giving it, especially as it is done before the body of believers. (There is also a subtle call-back to the OT tradition (See Ruth 4:5-8) of the “unsandaled”, that is, one who refuses to carry his responsibility in the raising up of children to his deceased brother. In foot-washing, the sandals are removed, for the feet to be washed, a reminder of responsibility broken, and after the feet are “baptized”, the sandals are restored. It can be a very powerful and moving moment for all involved, and it satisfies the need to do “something” as a show of repentance and acceptance back into the Church. This is why I think it never shows up again (except Hebrews 6:2?), because of its rarity in the life of the church. Also, it reinforces the uniqueness of baptism, but allows the repentant a way back that is repeatable, and can be done again and again as a show of repentance.

Why Do I Believe Baptism (By Immersion) Is Essential?

Recently I was asked to defend my position on baptism and so I am including my work here. Thought you might benefit if you are interested.

Baptism is essential to the Christian believer for four reasons, two doctrinal, and two personal.

First, Baptism is essential because the Scripture commands it, both by direct command and by frequent precedent. This isn’t something that early Christians did once or twice, but consistently.

Second, Baptism is essential theologically. When you understand how people are saved, and this only through the blood of Jesus, how and when is that blood applied, except through Christian baptism?

Third, Baptism is essential for Christian witness. Others can attest that you in fact were baptized, and thus applied yourself to the Christian tradition.

Fourthly, Baptism is an essential witness to yourself. You may doubt your salvation in the face of hardship, but baptism is an anchor in history, and you can always point back to it as the day you were saved.

  1. It is essential by Scriptural command and precedent. It is well-attested in the gospels, the early history of the church, and in the letters to the church. In every case in Acts where baptism is applied, it is applied directly after a conversion.
    • (Mat 28:19)  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    • (Mar 16:16)  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
    • (Act 2:38)  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    • (Act 8:36-38)  As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?” . . . So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
    • (Act 9:18)  At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he [Paul] regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.
    • (Rom 6:4-5)  Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.
    • (Tit 3:5)  he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing [using the word luo here, instead of baptizo, of which luo is a synonym] of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
    •  (1Pe 3:21)  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not as the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
  2. It is essential theologically.
    • All people have sinned and need a solution to their sin problem. Man cannot save himself, as no one can be saved by their own works (Ephesians 2:9). There is no good thing we can do ourselves that will pay for the sin we have committed, because once we sin, we are forever corrupted, and no good act of our own can undo the corruption.
    • In order for sin to be forgiven in the justice of God, it must and can only be covered by the blood of Jesus shed at the cross (Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5).
    • Before baptism, one must have faith in Jesus (Hebrews 11:6). This is an essential prerequisite for baptism. Baptism without faith is pointless and does nothing for the individual. This faith ought to be followed by personal repentance for sin (2 Corinthians  7:10) and a public confession of faith (Romans 10:9). Then in baptism (immersion) the body is washed in water while the soul is cleansed by the blood of Christ (i.e., the washing of regeneration, Titus 3:5), so that in the baptismal pool, the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) comes upon the believer, the down payment of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14), so that he or she may live life freed from sin and can escape temptation by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Christian is no longer subject to eternal death, to sin, or to the authorities of this world, but is a citizen of Heaven. Thus the Christian begins at baptism the process of sanctification (becoming holy, 1 Thess. 5:23), becoming more like Christ, until the fulfillment of his sanctification at his calling to heaven.
    • Only by dying to sin, being buried in immersion, can one hope to have eternity with Christ in His resurrection (Romans 6:4-5)
    • Though some may contest that baptism is a work (as we are not saved by works – Ephesians 2:9), the work of baptism is not done by the believer, but the work of salvation was done at the cross by Jesus (Revelation 5:9). In baptism, you are agreeing with Jesus’ work, that His sacrifice is for you, by the figure of death, burial, and resurrection done in baptism (Romans 6:4).
  3. It is essential for Christian witness to others.
    • Deciding in your heart to follow Jesus is seen by only you and God.
    • Jesus said He will testify of you before His Father if you testify before men of Him (Matthew 10:32).
    • Baptism is a sacred and unique act of testimony and identification with Jesus and the body of Christ. It can be and is witnessed by others as an outward sign of an inner act of faith. It is Jesus’ preferred act of identification with the name of the Trinity, The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). It also identifies you with Christ’s unique sacrifice on the cross, His death and resurrection (Romans 6:4). By being baptized, you demonstrate your faith and belief in the unique truth of Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection.
  4. It is essential for personal encouragement.
    • Deciding in your heart to follow Jesus (putting faith in Jesus, saying a Sinner’s Prayer) is a personal and secret act. As you grow older and more mature, you may doubt your decision, or if you even made a decision.
    • An obvious, well-attested act, like baptism by immersion, is a public act of private faith.  It is an anchor in time. You can know and remember that you were baptized, and even long after, have the certainty that you did what the Lord asked you to do. You can point back to a date and a time and know that you have done it. It becomes a touchstone of faith for you.

Proof of God, If You Will

www.bible.com/1713/1ti.2.5-6.csb

In our very Westernized society, we need, seek, demand even, PROOF! Especially for those things we are to be convinced of, not things we already believe. We have a strong confirmatory bias, that we only believe evidence or information which confirms what we already believe. We demand a much higher degree of evidence for an opposing viewpoint.

I suspect that most people who are Christian (at least in this country) are so because they were raised in Christian environments, homes, with grandparents, etc. We have a strong legacy of Christianity in this nation. It is inherent in our government, corporate systems, even social culture. Why else would be have hospitals?

Hospitals exist because we do not believe that the weak ought to be culled from the herd. We believe the weak ought to be helped. If our culture did not have a cultural sense of Christianity, we would have no desire to call the ambulance when someone gets sick. We would simply kick them and say, “Be done with it. I’ve got better things to do than watch you die!” Christianity instills the expectation that when someone is sick, we seek to get them help and treatment. Christianity offers hope, that even if this life is awful, there is hope for a better world after death.

But is that proof of God? No. Just because a culture adopts in principle the underlying assumptions that life is valuable and ought to be protected, doesn’t prove that God exists. It may show that being Christian is more reasonable, but not necessarily better.

The better proof is what inspires Christianity. When did it start? Where does it begin? Of course, the answer lies in its namesake, Jesus Christ, or, Jesus the Christ, since “Christ” is a title rather than a name. The passage of time tends to forget that. He was called “the Christ” because Christ transliterated from the Greek “Xristos” and means “messiah” or “Anointed One”. How was this man so anointed? You might remember that in the four books written about him, he was anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit. The clouds parted at his baptism and a being like a dove descended upon him. A voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son in whom I am well-pleased.” Now, is this proof of God? Well, it’s better, but it’s still an old document, established by the presence of eye-witnesses (a., because it was written so close to events of the story that eye-witnesses would still have been around to corroborate or deny it, and b., eye-witnesses attested to writing it, not someone who wrote centuries after it happened). If eye-witnesses can say they say the clouds part, heard a voice and a dove, and what the voice said, that is better proof of God, is it not?

But perhaps the better proof, especially if you are not a Christian, is the man Christ Jesus Himself. While the New Testament documents could have been faked (though the evidence is much stronger for the New Testament than against it, and those who deny the veracity of the New Testament documents as authentic have a much harder time establishing any other document from antiquity), it is much more likely that they are genuine, and are written by people who saw and heard the Christ. That being the case we have a good idea that Jesus lived, worked and ministered in first century Palestine, performed miracles that could not be explained scientifically, and died on a Roman cross (as attested by Roman historians, namely Tacitus) and yet inexplicably rose from the dead a short time later. All of these elements combine into a powerful proof for God, for as atheists like to remind us, no one rises from the dead. Dead is dead. Such an occurrence is impossible and unlikely. So for anyone to do it, with a number of eye-witnesses to attest to it, must be proof that a higher, directive power exists. That Jesus both predicted and fulfilled this death, burial and resurrection, established this higher power as intelligent, and may even be Jesus Himself. No one else could do the things He did. And while some may argue that other gods of other religions have done these and similar things, I would counter by asking if the evidence is as good. While with Jesus we have eye-witness testimony, all other “god” stories rely on hearsay, documents wrote long after the events in question and so forth.

But you may again counter that of course the documents were written long after, because writing didn’t exist until then. Okay. Does that make the events they describe more likely or less likely? While some like to apply the “telephone” analogy (i.e., messages degrade with transmission) to the gospels, they don’t like it when applied to Osiris, or Zeus. While there has been a corruption of the text of the gospels, the degree of corruption is known, since much older documents exist which can be checked. Anyone with a casual knowledge of document transmission and the 5000 New Testament documents, copies and early translations extant can verify this. The New Testament is a very well established document of history.

Proof of God? A better proof than I can think of. But there is something I always notice about God. God never provides 100% proof. Despite the volume of evidence that He provides us about Himself, there is always, always a certain percentage of faith required. Because the truth of God is never acquired by scientific truth, evidence, or even vaunted reason. God is Spirit. And those who approach Him must do so with a degree of faith. It is the “leap of faith” that gets you from evidence to trust.

Something to think about on your Thursday. Thanks for reading.

Sorry for the Delay

I know it’s been a bit since I’ve posted. I apologize to my faithful readers. Life has been a little different lately. I’ve been interviewing at the Church of God for a worship ministry position so I’ve been busy putting worship services together and practicing. I hope to get back to this at some point when life settles into its routine.

I hope you have all been safe free from the COVID. With everything going on right now, it’s been challenging to find out what “normal” is anymore. School was supposed to be started by now in our corner of Kentucky, but our Governor decided to wait until September for in-person study, so the kids are starting online work tomorrow. We will see how that goes. But it does seem that every day there is a new rule, a new ordinance, or a new guideline from on high that we are expected to be immediately obedient to.

Thanking God then for two things today. First, the grace He gives when charging us to do things, because we are often not immediate in our obedience. And two, His word never changes. He is the same God. His gospel is the same gospel, there is no flipping a 180 on what His expectations are. He is the constant throughout all of this storm. Thank You Jesus for being our anchor and our rock.

God of Peace

www.bible.com/1713/php.4.9.csb

Need some peace today? With the tumult and discontent so evident today, it’s far easier to be worried than peaceful. Worry about our culture, our political process, protection from the evil that men do can consume and overwhelm us. Not to mention that money is right, work is scarce, and there is always a need for more. Lord what is this world coming to?

But God is a God of peace. In Him is ultimate peace, safety and security from all alarms. There is confidence in Him that things will be okay. There is no worry in Him, but blessed assurance. In Him is the peace that we have longed for, and unconsciously seek when we cry out for a break. But how can we receive this peace?

Paul offers this: put into practice what you have seen and heard him do. Paul preached and taught, and lived with the assurance of God in him. He faced down his enemies with truth and love. He fiercely loved his friends, and even confronted them when they were wrong, but never stopped loving them. Paul imitated Christ. And that what he encourages us to do. Follow Jesus, and you will know this peace.

I’ve seen men and women on death’s doorstep rejoicing in the Lord. I’ve seen folks in extremity of circumstance smiling, because they’ve met this God of peace, and He so fills them that they do not fear anymore. Do you want to meet Him?

Heavenly Father, in the faces of the forlorn, I have seen anger, worry and concern replaced by the great peace You offer when given the chance to turn their pain in Your peace. It is an awesome sight. I pray for that peace in my own life. You are the great and mighty God, and to You I have given my life and soul’s direction. Guide me this day into following the Son, so that I may be more like Him. In His Name I pray, Amen.

I Still Love You

www.bible.com/1713/isa.54.10.csb

Have you ever felt like God has abandoned you? Maybe you’ve been going through a tough time and you’ve cried out to God over and over again, only to feel like your prayers are just hitting the ceiling. Maybe you’ve cried out to God again and again but nothing has changed. You’ve tried to be “prayed up” and holy, looked for every flaw in every corner of your being trying to figure out why God doesn’t answer. It’s very easy to come feeling that God just doesn’t love you anymore.

This 54th chapter of Isaiah addresses this issue. God through Isaiah is speaking to Judah, the last remnants of the people of the promised land. The Assyrians had destroyed and carried off their brothers of Israel to the north, and Judah alone was left in the world, God’s only people left on earth. They were the only ones who worshipped the True God, and yet even this God seemed like he had abandoned them.

“For the LORD has called you, like a wife deserted and wounded in spirit, a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “I deserted you for a brief moment, but I will take you back with great compassion.””
(Isa 54:6-7)

In the next verse, God explains Himself to them:

“In a surge of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but I will have compassion on you with everlasting love,” says the LORD your Redeemer. “For this is like the days of Noah to Me: when I swore that the waters of Noah would never flood the earth again, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.””
(Isa 54:8-9)

God did not have to do or say anything. God is completely justified in all that He does. Yet, he wanted Judah to know why he had abandoned them for a little while. He wanted them to know that He was angry with them, and that He “hid” from them for a while. I would suspect He hid from them for their protection, rather than out of any fear on His part. God’s absolute righteousness was offended and angered by their actions. He “hid” Himself so that He would not reflexively destroy them. How do you discipline those you love? When your children go astray, do you lash out in anger, or do you temper your response by first leaving the room until you compose yourself? That would be an analogy of what God does here. Because of their sin, and His absolutely justified response in wiping them out, God “takes five”, removes Himself from them for a moment, and then returns in His compassion. He recalls to them what happens when His anger is allowed to work — the Flood. There was a time when God released His justice upon the world (in the days of Noah) and destroyed every human being on it, save eight aboard the Ark. That’s God’s anger. Maybe we ought to be grateful that God “takes five” from time to time.

It’s like an old joke I heard once about fathers and their children. When Mom comes home to find out what misadventures dad had had with the kids, he says, “at least they didn’t die!” I think we can get a bit narrow-minded in our understanding of God’s blessings. We look at all the things we don’t have. We mourn that our lives just aren’t as good as others. And we complain about it. Sometimes our prayers are hitting the ceiling because God has hidden His face from us, perhaps fuming that we haven’t acknowledged a single gift He HAS given us, let alone the eternal gift of life everlasting, which we have never and cannot ever earn for our ourselves. Yes, often we sound like ungrateful punks to the Lord, who don’t appreciate the things we have, complaining like the Israelites in the desert: “Well yeah you miraculously freed us from the most powerful nation on this planet, but where’s my lunch?” We complain about not getting everything we think we deserve when we have been freed from the most powerful enemy on this earth, death and Hell. What is your freedom worth to you? The Israelites, though free from any oppression in the wilderness, and on their way to the Promised Land, reminisced about how good they had it back in Egypt under slavery, with plenty to eat.

Yeah, we have cancer. Yeah, our heart is a mess. Yeah, our kids are causing all kinds of heart-ache, but it sure beats Hell. Yes, I am beset on every side with stress and conflict. Yes my world is falling apart, but Hell is worse, and I’ve been saved from that. I wonder sometimes if we are subjected to some of there horrible circumstances just to remind us of what we are being saved from. We don’t know what Hell is like, but whatever we are going through now, we know Hell must be worse, and for the Christian, this is the worst Hell we will every experience.

Lord, I know I must sound very ungrateful at times, selfish, unconcerned with all the GOOD You have given to me. I know that when I complain, I still have many blessings that I didn’t earn, nor deserve. I cannot thank You enough for my salvation in Jesus, and when it comes down to it, that’s the only thing that matters. Please fill me again with the joy of my Lord. Please pour into me the joy of my salvation, drowning out all the cares of this world, so that I may see You afresh. Thank You Jesus for giving Your life for mine. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Hidden

www.bible.com/1713/psa.119.11.csb

There are things we like to keep concealed, not available for public viewing. Surprisingly, despite the best efforts of social media to extract from us our most closely held secrets, even the people who let it all hang out on the Facebooks the weblogs are still not the same people behind the screens. I think in part it has to do with the way our brains work.

There is a me who is revealed through my personality and my speech and interaction with others. This is generally a me who works to exist alongside others, work with others, and tries to present a genial person to the world. This is the personality I’ve found to work the best in social environments. Then there is a me that is revealed in writing, whose voice tends to be more direct, to the point of an issue, who rushes to get to a point even though there are necessary evidences that ought to be presented along the way. It is my writing brain that perhaps is more revealing of who I am than the person I present otherwise. And so things slip out more easily through my fingers than through my lips.

I think this is why Facebook rants tend to be so vitriolic. Stuff you would never say out loud tends to slip right out with SEND or POST. A “slip of the tongue” is much easier in writing than in face to face conversation. This is what people keep hidden, their hidden sorrows, hidden desires, hidden lusts kept away from the rest of the world, with only brief glimpses through speech they can’t actually “hear” when when they say it.

Let me share this little passage with you:

Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
(Mat 12:34-37)

O wicked man that I am. Who will save me from this body of death? Ah, but there is an answer, isn’t there? It’s in the verse that started this monologue from the Psalms. Where is the one place you can hide God’s word that will do the most good? That will transform the heart? That will bring purity to the heart of a man? (Jeremiah 17:9, “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable — who can understand it?”) What can cleanse the wickedness of the human heart? The Word of God. The one place where you hide the Word of God is the one place that needs it the most.

How can I hide the word of God in my heart? Read it. Put the word through your eyes into your mind where it will be digested by the heart in thinking about it. Allow yourself to memorize key passages like the ones above to let those verse percolate through your thinking and shape your thoughts. Consider the word and let it shape you, mold you, and transform you, so that “as a man thinks, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)

Lord, help me transform my heart. I know my heart is filthy and needs a good wash. Once you did that for me when I was baptized. You cleansed my heart fully. And now as you once told Peter, he was is is washed is clean, and needs only to wash his feet. Lord I feel my time in this world has soiled my feet again, and I need to bathe in the purity of the Lord Jesus. Lord hear my prayer, help me be pure again before You. In Your holy Name I pray, Amen.

Worthy

www.bible.com/1713/rev.4.11.csb

I can’t tell you how true this is. I really can’t, because to tell it to you would imply I could understand it, communicate it, and you could understand it too. I don’t think either of us is capable of this kind of understanding. For to understand the worthiness of God would also be to understand His eternal and infinite nature. My human mind just isn’t up to the task. But I can easily say “You are worthy!” and fully believe and trust every word of it. For God is worthy.

The writer names three things that God is worthy of 1) glory, 2) honor, and 3) power. This statement by the way is communicated to the Lord via the 24 elders that surround the throne. That offers a little context here, as the source of God’s praise and glory here does not come from an earthly source, but from these creatures in Heaven who in all likelihood represent the Church and Israel. In context, before they offer this word of praise, these 24 elders cast the crowns from their heads before the throne, an act of utter submission and humility before the One who sits on the throne. If there are any who understand among the human race what these three things are, I would hope it would be these glorified men before the throne of God. This raises the stakes of understanding, as they have a deeper understanding of the very things we are discussing.

So whatever glory these elders have received (they are wearing crowns and have received some glory to be able to sit in the presence of the throne), the One who sits on the is worthy of more glory. Whatever honor these men have received for the same, the One who sits on the throne is worthy of more honor. Whatever power these men have to sit at foot at the throne, the One who sits on the is worthy of more. For all the glory, honor and power they have been given, it is nothing compared to the One who sits on the throne, the Eternal One, the All-Powerful One. Even these men in their glorified state know that they are not the One.

If these glorified Elders can acknowledge the glory, honor, and power of the One, what are we doing? We have no glory, no honor, and certainly no power, yet we grasp at it ourselves, claiming some kind of divine favor because God loves us. Compared to Him, we are microbes, and that’s being generous. The only grace, glory, honor, and power we have is what He has given to us, to use for His glory. There can be no pride in the presence of a Christian. It is anathema to God, for whom all credit for all things is due. He is the Creator. He made all things. He deserves all the praise, because all things owe Him their existence. He ALONE is worthy. We are privileged, PRIVILEGED, to receive any grace whatsoever.

I am sorry, we must start here, with who God is, Hie eternal nature, His worthiness, His absolute sovereignty over the universe, before we can being to understand Jesus, and what it meant for Jesus to become a man, lay His life down for us, bearing upon Himself the weight of man’s sin before this Almighty God. As worthy and amazing as God is, the Lamb is given this honor:

“When He [the Lamb] took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.'”
(Rev 5:8-9)

That’s Jesus. That’s the Jesus who came from the worthy God and demonstrated that worthiness before us. Jesus showed us what God’s worthiness means. He is worthy of glory, honor and power, not just because he sits on a distant throne and surveys the universe He created. That alone would have been enough, more than enough. But He also sent His Son, His equal, His second Person of a Divine triunity we still do not understand, both God but also Man. This One showed us what God’s worthiness means. He would give it all up, all the glory, honor, and power, to live as one of us, to tell us about Himself, and ultimately to die in our place. He would take all of the offenses against HImself that all of us have or will ever commit, and took the penalty upon Himself. He is both a just God, and a God willing to pay the price for His own justice.

All for you.

Who is worthy? He is.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, the Lamb who bears the sins of the world, oh my God, may I never forget all that You are. I am ever in Your debt, because I can never repay what I owe you. All that I have is Yours, for it was Yours from the beginning. May I be of service to You today, casting aside my foolish pride, so that You may count me as one of Yours. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

To All Generations

www.bible.com/1713/eph.3.20-21.csb

Who do you think Paul is talking about here? Is he talking about Jesus? You might think so, but Jesus is mentioned secondarily in this passage. He isn’t primary. To find the subject of this passage, you have to go all the way back to verse fourteen, where Paul writes, “I kneel before the Father.” Interesting huh? Context!

Now, does it change how we read this text? Well, not a lot. But it does show us a bit about how Paul thought of God. You see, of all the terms Paul could have used here, his favorite is “Father” when referring to God. This of course is in reference to Jesus, the Son. But Father is also important to us as believers in Christ, since we are also “sons” of God through faith. While there is one Son, the Son, we are also “sons” and “children” of God. And it is pretty remarkable.

I want you to notice something else about this verse. He is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think. I know that when I pray to God, and petition Him for certain outcomes, my imagination can only go so far. I can imagine a healing or a relief from stress or something minor like that. But God has infinite creativity. He is able to “do” beyond anything that we can “ask or think.” God “does” more before breakfast than I could ever imagine thinking. So in our limited capacity, we can ask, we can hope, and we can imagine, but God can DO. And His work surpasses anything that we could come up with.

I can remember when I was between churches and just bumming out, feeling sorry for myself about what God’s purpose and role for me was. Never in a million years would I ever have imagine looking in the want ads in the newspaper for a ministry position, but God did. My wife happened to see it first, showed me the classified, and thus began a four year ministry at Browns Corner Chapel outside Scipio, IN. I would have never imagined it, but God did, and God arranged circumstances to get me started there. God is like that.

The last piece I wanted to focus on is from my title above. Don’t let anyone tell you that the Bible is an old dusty book that belongs to history. There are books like that, but this isn’t one of them. This book, though it describes historical events and was written nearly 2000 years ago, is fresh every day. It wasn’t just written to the first generation, but to every generation. Jesus is just as alive and real today as He was for your grandparents and your ancestors. You can have as close a relationship with Jesus as the Apostle Paul, or even as Peter did, if you want it. Do you?

Lord Jesus, Heavenly Father, sweet Holy Spirit, I cannot help but be awed by what I see and hear. Your word continues to stand today as the best source of authority, Your message of hope that I will ever read. I cannot but be in awe and wonder by how Your old book still speaks. I am grateful that even such a one as I, far removed from the events of the Bible, can still read and be blessed, as if I too were participating in the events as they unfold. I too can experience the presence of God in my life just as the early disciples did, because You are just as real today as 2000 years ago. Lord, however I may serve You today, let me serve. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

You Are God’s Temple

www.bible.com/1713/1co.3.16.csb

Every once in a while, I run into an individual who quotes this verse to support their position against smoking, or taking drugs, or alcohol. The rationale is that since our body is a Temple, then we need to treat it as a holy place, hence none of these intoxicating substances are allowed, since they are considered “unholy”. Well, that’s not exactly correct.

You see, Paul isn’t about about individual bodies here. You might get that if you were looking at the English. You might think that Paul is addressing each individual as a Temple of God, but that’s not so. If you peel back the thin veneer of English and look at the Greek, you might see that the term “you” used in this sentence is a plural you. It is as we say here in the South, a “y’all” which I have to admit is probably one of the smartest additions in the English language in this region, since the singular “you” and the plural “you” both sound the same to ear.

How does that change our understanding? Instead of each individual person being a Temple (and as such to treated as a holy place) it instead puts the onus upon the group as a whole. Collectively, we are the Temple, as the Church. This isn’t a text that is appropriate to use against drugs and smoking (there are better texts for that). This is a text to reinforce that the Church is the place of God’s presence on Earth, and we ought to treat it as such.

Let us no more squabble or argue as God’s Church. His Presence is here among us. His Holy Spirit fills us and indwells us. We ought to respect that fact. We ought to acknowledge that we do not rule here. Boards do not rule here. Little old ladies with crooked fingers do not rule here. God rules here. We are the Temple, as we ought to better resemble our namesake, not in buildings and gold and finery, but in beauty, love and peace, compassion, welcome, sacrifice, and holiness. We are God’s Temple. We need to start acting like it.

Lord, forgive me where I’ve forgotten just how important we are to Your plan to bring the gospel to this world. Let us be filled again with Your Presence, to remember again our purpose and direction You have called us to. Let us be Your Temple again. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.