Always Biblical, Sometimes

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Caught part of a message on the radio by a local pastor of a large Baptist church. His overall message was easy to accept, even by a Lutheran like me: you’re dead religion won’t save you.

Unfortunately the pastor includes infant baptism among the dead religious works that will not save. In making his case he states:

“There is not one instance in the Bible of any baby being baptized … the Bible doesn’t teach baby baptism, it teaches believers baptism.”

This pastor sees baptism as a physical sign of an inward spiritual reality. It’s “a sign you’ve trusted in Jesus as your Savior … a way of showing that you belong to Him.” For this pastor, baptism is something you do to show you’re a Christian.

I once held this view of baptism, but I’ve since come to a different understanding of what the Bible says about baptism. But that’s not really what caught my attention in the radio broadcast.

What caught my attention was how many times the pastor claimed that since infant baptism isn’t biblical, we should not baptize babies. Because of course, if it’s not biblical, we ought not do it.

Yet at the end when he invites his audience to say yes to Jesus, he tells the story of a man who said yes to Jesus when he “prayed the prayer of salvation and asked God to change his life.” Perhaps you too want to pray the prayer of salvation and are wondering just where to find that prayer. One place you won’t find that prayer is in the Bible.

There is not one instance in the Bible of anyone praying “the prayer of salvation.” The Bible doesn’t teach “the prayer of salvation”, it teaches baptism.

If you look it up you’ll find that though the prayer of salvation isn’t found in the Bible, there’s a pretty common understanding of just what is meant by  “the prayer of salvation” or “sinners prayer”. It’s a prayer written by well meaning people who claim to be biblical. Yet when it comes time to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” give a response not found in the Bible.

So to claim you don’t baptize infants because it’s not biblical but then to turn around and call people to trust in Christ by praying the prayer of salvation that is not biblical is a bit inconsistent. Because this pastor separates the water from the Word in baptism, I don’t expect him to baptize babies anytime soon, but I do expect him as a teacher of God’s Word, to give more biblical answers to those seeking forgiveness in Christ.

Ananias, after announcing the good news to Saul, said this in Acts 22:16:

“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’”

Now that’s biblical!

By the way, I don’t get too worked up over how people express faith to trust in Christ, but when you claim you’re biblical, well, I’m just saying go all the way and be biblical!

Devotions – Ephesians 1:3-14

How are you?

We often reply “Good”, but that doesn’t even begin to describe it! I am in Christ, therefore I am rich, for I possess every spiritual blessing. I am chosen by God to be holy and blameless. I am covered in grace. I am redeemed. I am forgiven. My future is secure as I have an eternal inheritance which is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.

So, how am I? I am doing quite well, thank you!

The gospel of salvation announces to us: God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, even when we were dead in our sin, made us alive in Christ (by grace we are saved!). It’s all God’s grace – pure gift and not a result of our works. To be in Christ is simply to hear the message of truth, the gospel of salvation, as God’s promise of forgiveness for us, and to believe. 

My Changed View of Baptism

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For most of my believing life I believed baptism was only for believers – those who could give credible confession of their faith in Christ alone as their Lord and Savior. If you were baptized as an infant you needed to be baptized, not again, since your first baptism wasn’t a real baptism, but for the first time and with a testimony of how you have now decided to place your trust in Christ for your salvation.

I now believe baptism is for everyone – for adults and children, infants and the mentally disabled (who may not be able to understand or communicate a faith in Christ.) The Bible says a lot about baptism, far more than many realize. It’s a big deal. But your view of baptism is usually driven by your view of the gospel, sin nature, and how forgiveness is received.

One way to get at your view of baptism is to ask, “What happens in baptism?” I used to believe not much happens:

  • You get wet

  • You raise your Christian flag – you publicly identify yourself as a Christian

  • In some cases, you identify yourself with a church

  • You give public testimony to your faith in Christ

In this view, baptism is important, but for a new believer not more important than reading your Bible, finding a church, joining a small group, and meeting with someone for ‘follow up’. Baptism can be scheduled for a later time. This makes sense because nothing really happens in baptism. Baptism is a sign of something that has already happened (you’ve become a Christian).

In this view, you are the primary actor: you decide, identify, testify, and announce your faith in Christ.

I now believe everything happens in baptism:

  • God calls you by name – baptism is for you in particular.

  • God claims you as His own. You are made a child of God.

  • God delivers to you the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won at the cross.

  • God unites you to Christ.

  • God puts to death (drowns) your old sinful nature and raises you up to new life in Christ.

  • God gives you the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in faith and empower you for service.

In this view, baptism is of utmost importance. Baptism is the means by which God delivers His gifts to you. As such, when someone turns to Christ in the New Testament, they are immediately baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 16:31-33; 18:8).

In this view, God is the primary actor: calling, claiming, delivering, putting to death, raising up, and giving. This the gospel of grace: God gives you what you don’t deserve, God gives you what you cannot get on your own. Some key texts: Romans 6:1-11; Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 3:4-7; I Peter 3:21.

If man is the primary actor in his salvation, it makes sense to withhold baptism until he has the mental capabilities of understanding the gospel and making a decision to trust the gospel. If God is the primary actor, then it makes sense that a baby can receive all the benefits of salvation, because they are not dependent on the baby understanding and deciding, but on God delivering and acting.

Those who do not believe in infant baptism believe that all that I listed – being forgiven, united with Christ, etc. takes place, but it takes place before baptism based upon an inner faith that might be expressed in praying a prayer or walking the aisle, etc. I don’t disagree that this happens, but you will be hard pressed to find New Testament support for this being the way God has promised to work. God repeatedly attaches his promises to baptism.

I don’t believe baptism operates apart from God’s Word. It’s God’s Word combined with the waters of baptism that accomplishes such great work. Water without the Word is just plain water. Water with the Word delivers forgiveness and new life. God’s work isn’t limited to baptism, but it’s one place He has assured us He will work.

Matthew 28:19-20 is helpful in seeing the role of baptism.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Some take this verse as evidence that baptism is only for those who can express their faith. They say, “First we go and make disciples (converts) then we baptize (as a sign they have identified themselves with Christ), and then we teach them to live as disciples.” In this interpretation, the sentence has four sequential commands: 1) Go, 2) Make disciples, 3) Baptize, and 4) Teach.

This view is not supported by the grammar. The grammar indicates one command with three participles explaining how we are to carry out the command. So you have make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. Notice baptism precedes teaching. The way we make a disciple (convert is not a good interpretation of ‘make disciples’ but that’s for another day) is by baptizing and teaching. I certainly allow for faith coming through the Word and converting an adult who would then be baptized. But I also would allow for an infant to first be baptized and then taught. These verses offer baptism to all.

Your view of original sin and faith will also shape your view of baptism. I’ll tackle those issues in another post. For now I rest in the assurance that in my baptism the Lord has called my by name and made me His own apart from anything I have done.

 

Heaven’s Work

The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Apostle’s Creed

That’s a lot of sitting and waiting for the end to come. But Jesus isn’t waiting around watching youtube videos. He’s praying, for you.

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

I like the way Jaroslav J. Vajda says it in the hymn Up through Endless Ranks of Angels:

Death destroying, life restoring,

Proven equal to our need,

Now for us before the Father

As our brother intercede;

Flesh that for our world was wounded,

Living, for the wounded plead!

Jesus’ last words on the cross were “It is finished!” And indeed His work of atonement is finished. But Jesus’ work continues in heaven as He prays for us on earth. Take comfort in whatever you face today: He knows, He’s praying.

The One Note of the Law

“When a tone-deaf person sings, it can be painful to hear. But if you have to listen to theologians who know only the one note of the law, it is not only painful but deadly.” Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians

The law is simply everything we aOne Notere supposed to do. In the Bible, the law is good. The law is very good at what it does, which is accuse us before a holy God. Because of the law, we know when we step outside of God’s will. Because of the law, we stand condemned as law-breakers.

Good preachers preach the law to afflict people with their failure to keep the law. But if a preacher only knows the one note of the law, they keep preaching the law, even to those already broken by their sin. This serves only to weigh down people with burdens they cannot bear.

Good preachers preach a second note, a greater note, of gospel to those crushed by the law. The gospel announces to those who cannot bear the burden of their sin that Jesus Christ has already carried their burden on His own body to the cross. At the cross, their sin was nailed to the cross. Jesus declared, “It is finished!” putting an end to our sin bearing.

Few preachers would see themselves as preaching only the one note of the law. Most preachers see themselves as gospel centered in all they do. But if the law is simply everything we are supposed to do, consider: How much of the sermons you hear encourage, call, or exhorts you to do something?

The sermon may not be on the Ten Commandments or even the Old Testament, but if its major note leaves you challenged to do something, you might have a one note preacher. One note preachers may talk about the gospel, but their note of emphasis will be on what you should do in light of the gospel. In other words, on the law.

The problem with the one note of the law: while the law does a great job exposing our sin, it’s a complete failure in making us right with God. A steady diet of one note law will leave you burdened by your failure to keep the law. Only the second note of gospel, of God’s work for you, gives life, sustains faith, and leads to new life.

What Good Works Are Good For

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In his letter to Titus, Paul emphasizes the importance of good works.

He tells Titus “to be a model of good works”.

Those God redeems are to be “zealous for good works.”

And we are “to be ready for every good work.”

Those who believe in God are “to devote themselves to good works.

At the same time Paul makes clear that though good works are important, they are not good for everything. One thing in particular they are not good for: saving ourselves.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6).

So we are to be diligent in doing good works, but good works do not save us. So why do good works? Some would say …

to prove we are really saved, or

to show our appreciation to God, or

to keep in God’s favor

If these are your reasons for good works, you may find yourself quickly turning the good news of what Jesus did for you into the not-so-good news that a relationship with God depends on your works. People on this road find an ever increasing burden of wondering: If good works prove I’m saved, how many are enough to feel good about me and God? I’ve tried to show appreciation to God, but I’m sure I could have show more. I need to read the Bible so I’ll have a good day …

Stop. Return to the good news: God our Savior saved you not because of your works, but because of his work for you. When Jesus said, “It is finished” He announced the end to the futile attempt to work for God’s favor.

So why do good works? Paul states it most clearly at the end of his letter where he says,

“And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).

We do good works for our neighbor. God is fully satisfied with the work of Jesus on our behalf. He does not need our good works, but our neighbor does. God uses our good works performed through our vocations to provide daily bread for us and our neighbor.

Think of it this way: the grace of God comes down to us (vertically) and as we believe that grace is poured out through us (horizontally) to our neighbor. The vertical is all God. The horizontal is God working through us to our neighbor. The vertical is a one way street – grace flows down. Our good works never flow up.

In answer to the question, “How many good works are enough to prove I’m saved?” I would answer “One: Jesus’ work for you is sufficient. Now go, free from the burden of earning God’s favor, and love your neighbor.”

Interpreting the Gospel

My biased attempt to represent various theologies in how I believe they understand one phrase taken from Romans 5:10:

“… we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …” 

Catholic: “… we were reconciled to God [given a clean slate, a do over] by the death of his Son …”

Calvinist: “… we [the elect] were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …”

Evangelical: “… we were reconciled to God [if we place our trust in Christ] by the death of his Son …”

Baptist: “… we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son [the moment we bowed our heads/prayed the prayer/raised our hand/walked the aisle/threw our stick in the fire] …

Lutheran: “… we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …”

Your biased views are welcomed in the comments.

No Performance Zone

I usually skip over the Facebook posts of quotes on pictures because … well I just do. This one caught my attention because of my friend’s note at the top:

Evans Quote on Serving

“No performance zone …” 

If only that were true! I read this quote and all I hear is performance.

“God doesn’t want you serving Him only because you are supposed to”

So you are supposed to serve (perform) because you are supposed to, it’s just not the only reason you are to serve. That’s a bullseye in the performance zone.

“He wants you serving Him because you love Him.”

So in addition to serving (performing) because you’re supposed to, you’re also supposed to serve (perform) because you love Him. Double bullseye in the performance zone.

It’s this kind of teaching that leaves people exhausted and broken. When you look within and find a lack of love for God, what is there to do? You do more and try harder. Read more Bible, pray more, confess more, repent more, praise more … and hopefully you’ll feel more love for God so you will serve Him more. Or you give up.

So many gospel believing friends are trapped in the “performance zone.” You know Jesus died for your sins. You know you can’t earn your salvation. It’s all grace. So why isn’t that enough? Why the constant call for more and more with right motives?

When Jesus said “It is finished” he didn’t mean “I finished the first part, now I need you to get off the couch and serve Me and make sure you serve Me out of love.” He meant it is finished. All of it.

Listen, God doesn’t need your service! He’s got this. Jesus entered the performance zone and performed perfectly, for you. Jesus takes all your failure to serve God and all your failure to serve God out of love on Himself. At the cross Jesus died and with Him died all our failed efforts to serve God. And Jesus rose and declares us forgiven.

This is good news, liberating, freeing, joy-filled good news: it is finished! Rather than analyzing motives for serving Christ, simply rest in Christ’s finished performance for you.

And before you google “how to rest in God” and find an article telling you the “Ten Basic Steps to Resting in God”, just stop. Leave the performance zone behind. It is finished for you. Take a nap, watch TV, read a book, go for a bike ride, read the Bible, help a friend, whatever brings you joy. Really, you’re free. It is finished.

 

 

 

 

The King Must Suffer

“Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” … the Son of Man must suffer … Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him … “Get behind me, Satan! … If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mark 8).

Peter is the first disciple to confess Jesus as the Christ. Jesus affirms His confession, even says Peter didn’t come up with it on his own, but it was revealed to him by the Father in heaven.

As true as Peter’s confession was, it was incomplete. Peter’s Christ was a warrior king like David who would conquer Israel’s enemies and return the nation to glory. Perhaps Peter would be vice-president in the new kingdom.

When Jesus explains that the Christ will be rejected, will suffer, and be killed, Peter’s head explodes. This is not the Christ according to Peter. So Peter pulls Jesus aside to correct his foolishness. In return Peter gets the rebuke of the Bible: “Get behind me Satan!”

Just as Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness to grab the glory now and skip the cross, so Peter calls on Jesus to man up, be the warrior king, and conquer our enemies apart from the cross.

We know better. We know the cross must come before the crown. The Christ must suffer before the Christ will rise victorious.

But we don’t know better. We live as if the cross were an event in history a long time ago. We’re resurrection people now. We live the victorious Christian life. Those times we stumble and fail only serve to remind us of the need to train harder, have more faith, and claim the victory that Christ has won for us.

We have no patience with suffering. Suffering is merely a test of faith. Or God’s discipline for some sin. It’s surely not a part of the normal Christian life.

We know better. We would never rebuke Jesus. We know He is God and He has a wonderful plan for our life.

But we don’t know better. We’re not as direct as Peter. We deliver our rebukes with a little more sophistication. Our pouting when life punches us in the nose reveals a not so subtle demand for heaven now. Our impatience over the sin that we can’t shake leaves us wondering why God doesn’t come through. The difficult person that God seems uninterested in fixing … where is God we quietly ask?

We want to be beyond the cross. Jesus invites us to take up the cross, to die to the demand for heaven now, and to follow Him. We won’t find freedom from suffering, but we will find a Savior who suffers for us. We won’t obtain a complete understanding of the Christ, but we will find rest in the Christ who completed His work for us.

 

 

 

Asking for What You Already Have

If we’re forgiven in Christ, why does Jesus tell us to ask for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer? Why do we need to ask for something we already have? Is our forgiveness dependent on our asking?

Martin Luther provides a helpful thought in his teaching on the Lord’s Prayer:

“There is here again great need for us to call upon God and to pray, “Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses.” It is not as though He did not forgive our sin without and even before our prayer. (He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or even thought about it [Romans 5:8].) But the purpose of this prayer is that we may recognize and receive such forgiveness.”

The Large Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer, 88-89