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!

What Good Works Are Good For

Work Sign

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.

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

In the Beginning

Many of the classic works of literature begin with a memorable line. A few I like:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis.

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

And of course …

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis

The apostle John begins his gospel in the same way …

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

This Word is not like our words, for this Word has the power to accomplish what it commands and what it promises. When this Word says, “Let there be light” we immediately read “there was light.”

This Word is truth. Our belief or disbelief has no bearing on it. It simply remains as it has always been and always will be: the whole truth. This truth shines a light into our darkness.

This Word sets us free. We find ourselves born into slavery –  a slavery we inherited and a slavery of our own making. But the Word sets captives free by announcing the arrival of a new kingdom. In this kingdom, the weak are made strong, the hurting are healed, the lost are found, the deaf hear and the blind see, and forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world.

This Word is alive. The printed page cannot capture it. It speaks today as loudly and clearly as when it was first spoken. Much noise in our world makes hearing a challenge, but the Word is present, speaking forgiveness and life. It’s this Word I want to hear and receive. It’s this Word that transforms hearts, relationships, and eternity.