Posts tagged ‘baptism’

When Was Cornelius Born Again?

I once heard a man of Italian descent say that God’s message of salvation went to the Jews first, and then to the Italians. Technically, he was correct! But some debate has occurred over the centuries about what the conversion of Cornelius means for us today as it relates to salvation. It all centers around the question of when, exactly, Cornelius was saved? It is a legitimate question to ask. At what point in time did Cornelius and his family receive salvation? Let’s take a look at chapter 10 in the book of Acts and find out.

When he had performed good deeds and prayed to God?
No, that can’t be it. If that were the case, then why would God have an angel appear to Cornelius and instruct him to send for the Apostle Peter?

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (Acts 10:1-4 NKJV)

Did God recognize that Cornelius was doing many things right? Sure he did! But there was no way Cornelius, no matter how much he did, was ever going to find the God he sought via his own efforts (Eph. 2:8-9).

Back eight chapters before, this same apostle had spoken to a large crowd on Pentecost about salvation. When those who heard him were convicted in their hearts and asked what they should do, Peter said to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NKJV)
While Peter did say they needed to get “saved”, every serious Bible student I have spoken with agrees that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit here equates to salvation. This fits perfectly with what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3 when he came at night to talk about salvation (Nick at Night?). Jesus described the salvation above as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

So back to the account in Acts 10, what happened in the case of the first gentile convert?
During the discourse by Peter, Luke records the following:

To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. (Acts 10:43, 44)

Now there’s an attention getter! No doubt, those who heard the message of salvation from Peter instantly believed and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who had accompanied Peter were astonished and even Peter said ““Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? ” (Acts 10:47) Please notice that in this instance, if we follow the phrasing of Acts 2:38, Cornelius and his household were saved, and then obeyed the command to be baptized. And they were saved in the same way as the Apostles!

But does this fit with the instructions given to the first Jewish converts in Acts 2? Well according to the Greek text, yes it does. How so? Well, it has to do with verb tenses and how they cause words in a sentence to relate to one another. To put it briefly, we know which verbs go together if their verb tenses match. Greek is a very precise language, and a thorough look at Acts 2:38 shows that the verb tenses for “repent” and “receive” are the same (2nd person plural), and the verb for “be baptized” is third person plural. So what that means is that repent is tied to receiving the Holy Spirit, while baptism is not. It is still a command, and is required, but is separate.

So in Acts 10, what was witnessed was the Holy Spirit baptizing them into the body of Christ at moment they believed (1 Corinthians 12:13), and then Peter commanding that they be baptized in water. That also explains why, when Peter was explaining the reason he had preached to a gentile, he said,

And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ (Acts 11:13, 14).

Notice it was words, not actions, by which they will be saved. Peter went on to confirm that Cornelius and his household had received salvation in the same way as the apostles themselves had received it.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17).

The reaction was unanimous and joyous, and it also confirmed the mechanism that had caused these Gentiles to receive salvation.

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18).

Yes, they believed (a change of mind), which caused repentance (a change of life), which was demonstrated by baptism (a change of allegiance). Does this diminish the importance of water baptism? Not in the least! Far from being an empty ritual, it acts as a marker in time, just like altars did in the Old Testament. It is a point of reference we, as well as those who are witnesses, can point back to and say, “you publicly swore your allegiance to Jesus Christ in water baptism. Don’t you dare forget it!” And may I say, someone who claims to be a Christian but refuses water baptism is demonstrating that they were never really saved. Also, there is no mention of a “sinners prayer” here either. What happened was a group of new believers being born from above when they heard the message of life in Christ Jesus and believed it in their hearts. When that occurred, they were immediately baptized.

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The Altar Principle

God likes altars. All through the Old Testament, altars are frequently mentioned as being something God commands for His people to build when there has been a spiritual victory. These altars serve as constant reminders, sometimes long after the original builders has passed on, of what God has done for His people. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David all built altars as reminders of what God had done.

But does at carry over in any way to the New Covenant? Are we supposed to go outside and pile up some rocks and burn animals in sacrifice? No, in spite of what my barbecue may look like, burnt offerings are not for today. But I believe there is an “Altar Principle” in place that we would do well to remember. We already practice the Altar Principle when couples marry. The wedding rings serve as visual reminders of a spiritual covenant that was entered into, and in that way function as a kind of altar. The brides ring may even include a rock!

I’m not sure of the precise accuracy of these numbers but they are at least directionally correct. It has been said that students remember 25% of what they hear, 50% of what they hear and see, and 75% of what they hear, see, and participate in. This is especially true when repetition is added into the equation. I that way, the Lords Supper, or Communion Feast, exemplifies that principle. On a weekly basis we hear about what Jesus did, see the elements that represent the body and blood of Christ, and eat and drink together, the salvation message is reinforced in the hearts of believers. That is how the altar principle works.

When a married couple is being counseled, they can be told to look at their rings and remember the promises they once made to each other and to God. They serve as a point of reference for them and help them to focus on what is important. One huge danger sign is when either partner removes their wedding ring in public, so as not to be noticed. They are attempting to hide the sign of their covenant from sight so they will not be reminded that they are bound to another.

Baptism also has a altar principle attached to it. Paul would refer to the fact that believers had been baptized and remind them of what that meant.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4 NASB)

Paul is saying that when Christians are tempted to willfully sin, that baptism serves as a reminder that they have a new life in Christ and have been freed from sin, so with that in mind, how can we walk anymore in it? For that reason, we need to think back and remember our baptism and what it symbolized. We need to remember that we, too, have died, been buried, and risen with Christ.

I would recommend to anyone that they think back often of their conversion experience, and specifically their baptism. Use it as an altar, or a reference point in your life that you can point back to and remember what great things The Lord has done for you when He saved you from darkness and translated you into the Kingdom of the Son of His love.

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The Parable of the Operating Room

The Parable Of The Operating Room
I don’t know anybody that relishes the idea of surgery, especially major surgery. But when it is a matter of life and death, most will submit to it willingly because it still beats dying. Well I want to talk about another operating room. In fact, I call it “The Parable of the Operating Room”.

There was once a young man who, as far as he could tell, was leading a fairly normal and healthy life. Nothing seemed amiss, he wasn’t suffering from any maladies that he knew of, and he had every expectation for a long life. But at the insistence of a friend, he decided to have a physical examination anyway. If for no other reason than to be able to tell everyone around him that he was in perfect health.
At the doctor’s office, many tests were run, and everything was checked to make sure nothing was overlooked. The young man was not nervous at all while waiting for the test results, because he felt fine. To his surprise, the doctor entered the room with a very concerned look on his face. He was looking over the test results and slowly shaking his head.

Finally, the doctor looked up and broke the news to the young man. He said, “Young man, I hate to break this to you, but I am looking at these tests, and there are ten clear symptoms here that you are not only very ill, but are terminally ill.”
Starting to panic, the young man what these symptoms could possibly be. As the doctor ran down the list, the young man could only agree and wonder why he had never thought of the symptoms as a warning. The doctor said that everyone with these symptoms thinks they are normal untitled hey see the way the test results should have come out. Then it becomes painfully obvious that the condition is lethal.
“But, rest assured, young man,” the doctor said. “There is a cure that has been found and I can take care of this problem. All you need to do is submit to this operation and you will have a new life ahead of you. The procedure is very costly and you could never afford it, but I am willing to do it for free. Shall we proceed?”
Of course, now that the young man is aware of his true condition, he is more than willing to have the surgery. So the doctor has him admitted, has the young man wheeled into the operating room, and performs life saving surgery. All is well and the young man is eternally grateful for what the doctor has done. This is especially true since the doctor performed the surgery without charge.

So what is the meaning of my little parable? Glad you asked!
The young man is every one of us when we were without God. We were condemned by our sins, but had no idea that we were in any danger. All the while, we were in a spiritually terminal condition, doomed by the silent killer called sin. But at some point, often at the urging of a loved one, we are exposed to the Word of God. We looked into the Word and there, perhaps for the first time saw our true condition.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12, 13 NASB)

When the Holy Spirit, through the Word, convicted us of our sinful condition before God, we responded by gladly asking God to do whatever was required to cure our condition.
Please notice that the young man did not submit to this life altering surgery because the doctor had convinced him that, while he was okay, this procedure would make him even better and make his life easier. It was not until the young man was told of his true condition and its consequences that he gladly submitted the the master surgeon’s hands.
Jesus Christ is the doctor, and the tools of His surgery are grace, faith, and His own blood. Baptism is, if you will, the operating room. Now operating rooms never operated on anyone. Surgeons do that. And surgeons don’t use an operating room as the cure for anything. The scalpel and other tools do that, in conjunction with a supply of blood. But the operating room is where the surgery is supposed to take place! No surgeon, if given the choice, wants to operate on the hospital lawn. The proper place for surgery is in the operating room that was designed for that purpose. And when we try to omit the baptismal surgical suite, we are attempting an unnecessary shortcut that will endanger those we are trying to help.

Thus endeth the parable; thus endeth the lesson.

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Circumcision of the Heart

The Old Testament is replete with types and shadows that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. One of those Old Testament symbols of the covenant was circumcision. Circumcision was so integral to the Old Covenant that the concept of an uncircumcised Jew was unheard of.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he says that baptism is the spiritual fulfillment of circumcision.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11, 12 ESV)

Now that we are in the New Covenant with Christ, we experience a circumcision that is spiritual and of the heart. And according to Paul, this spiritual circumcision occurs at baptism. Fittingly, the concept of an unbaptized Christian is just as foreign to the New Testament as an uncircumcised Jew was to the Old Testament.

But is this verse in Colossians saying that baptism is what saves us? Well, was Abraham declared righteous before being circumcised or afterwards? According to Romans chapter 4, at what point was Abraham declared righteous?

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:7-10 ESV)

It was Abraham’s faith that caused him to obey the commandment of God and be circumcised, and it would be accurate to say that if Abraham had refused to obey God that he did not have faith. His obedience proved his faith. In the same way, we are declared righteous when we have faith, and that faith is proven, or validated, by our submitting to baptism.

Thus, salvation is by faith, and that faith is shown by our baptism. Righteousness comes by faith, and is not of works. We are saved by faith, not by faith plus a ritual. But that sign of the covenant must not be diminished or disregarded, either. Just as faith without obedience is out of context, obedience without faith is useless as well. But the connection of the old circumcision to baptism is clear. And Abraham was declared righteous because he believed God before he was circumcised. In the same way, we are declared righteous when we believe, and we submit to the sign of our covenant relationship when we are baptized. Failure to do so proves we didn’t really believe in the first place.

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Keeping It Simple

I like keeping things simple and easy to understand. There is a virtue in making sure we make things understandable for people, especially when it comes to salvation. We are not Gnostics with some special knowledge that is only for us. We have a life giving message that our Lord commissioned us to proclaim to everyone on earth. We don’t have time for a 1000 page dissertation on what it takes to become a Christian. So let’s break it down to three essential questions and answers we can give to someone who would ask us about what is required to be a Christian.

1. How much am I required to know?
You have to know something, but you don’t have to know everything. The Apostle Paul summarized it well in his letter to the church at Corinth.

“1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”
(1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

You must believe that Christ died, was buried, and rose again. That is the Gospel message. But that leads to the next question,

2. What must I do about what I know?
You must participate in that death, burial, and resurrection, too. It’s called baptism. It sums up what you believe and shows that you have turned from your old way of life (called repentance). Again, Paul illustrates it for us, this time in Romans 6.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, (Romans 6:3-5 NASB)

In effect, we are participating in what we know.

3. What happens after that?
We gather with other believers and remember that death, burial, and resurrection and encourage one another as we strive to follow Jesus.

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16 NASB)

This walk of faith is not designed to be done alone. We gather to remember what Christ has done and to be equipped to share that message with others.

I realize this is very basic, but we must all begin somewhere. If we focus our evangelistic message on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we also make sure that the message is not about us — it’s about Jesus. We are not commanded to convert people to us; we are commanded to make disciples of Jesus.

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.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NASB)

There are our marching orders. He tells us to make disciples and also tells us how to do it. Let us go forth in the simplicity of devotion to Christ with the truth of Jesus’ death burial and resurrection as our message. Amen.

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Circumcision Via Baptism

Circumcision By Baptism

Under the Old Testament systems in the Patriarchal and Mosaic covenants, there was a sign instituted between God and Abraham that would show who truly belonged to God. This sign was called circumcision and was instituted by God, because no man would ever have thought of this.

and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. (Genesis 17:11 NKJV)

But circumcision is no longer a requirement today. It has been replaced by baptism (amen) as stated by the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Colossians chapter 2.

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11, 12 NKJV)

In former times, circumcision was a sign between man and God, but under the New Covenant, it is that and so much more! For Abraham, the circumcision of the flesh occurred after faith, so Romans 4:9-12 says he was justified by faith before the circumcision happened. But in baptism, the saving faith by which one is justified before God happens simultaneously with immersion.

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28, 29 NKJV)

So now, instead of a sign on our flesh, God uses baptism to mark or hearts permanently as His. This is a mark that only God can see. Someone can say they have the mark, but only God knows if they are true or not. At is why their praise is from God, and why we need to be satisfied with little or no praise and recognition from men. We must learn that only God’s approval matters in the end.

When people witness our baptism, they are not just watching as a soul is saved. They are seeing a circumcision take place. By salvation being a public thing, we are telling all who see it that we desire to be in covenant relationship with Jesus. Like it said in Colossians 2, as we participate in the death, burial and resurrection at baptism, we enter into the covenant that His blood was shed to inaugurate for us. And because of the faith we have in the “operation of God” that is transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Son, our faith and obedience combine to spiritually mark us and set us apart for God.

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The Anointed One

The Anointed One
Jesus of Nazareth was and is truly the Son of God. Of this the Bible leaves no reasonable doubt. The angels proclaimed on the night of His birth that He was to be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was “The Lamb of God.”
He has always been Jesus. But when did He assume the title “Christ”?

Contrary to what some may assume, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It is in fact a title which means “anointed one” in Greek, and is the Hebrew equivalent of “messiah”. While Jesus had been chosen to be the Messiah from the foundation of the world. It’s like someone who has been hired for a position but has not started work.
Let’s look at the biblical narrative to see what we can discover.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)

So Jesus insists on being baptized, but not for repentance, for He has to sin. What was needed was for Jesus to begin His messianic ministry. Up until this time, He was growing up “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52 ESV)”. His baptism was the point at which he offered himself to God. It was a point of reference in his life, where His life as a carpenter ended and His true mission began.

As Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to Him. At this point He has full recollection of His existence in heaven with the Father and all that His mission would entail. How significant that the act that began his ministry would prefigure the end of his earthly mission as he was buried in the watery grave and rose again to a new type of life.

The Holy Spirit then descended upon Him, anointing Him as the Christ/Messiah. So, while he had eternally been the Son of God, at His baptism He became the anointed One. Jehovah God sealed this anointing with an audible, spoken blessing, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Years later, that same Holy Spirit would descend and signal the beginning of the church. And now as members of that church, we can say with the Apostle John, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God:” (1 John 3:1 KJV)

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