“Household baptisms” are baptisms of believers

INTRODUCTION. One of the arguments used to justify the practice of Paedobaptism (Paedobaptism is the practice of sprinkling water on the head of an infant or a small child and calling that New Testament baptism) is based on the so-called “household baptisms” in the New Testament. Household baptisms appear in Acts 16:15 with Lydia’s household, in Acts 16:33 with the household of the Philippian jailer, and in 1 Corinthians 1:16 with the household of Stephanas in Corinth. This post will take a critical look at these passages and assess whether “household baptisms” provide any justification for the practice of Paedobaptism. The material used here will (hopefully) be part of a more complete work critiquing all the arguments attempting to justify Paedobaptism.

THE PAEDOBAPTIST ARGUMENT STATED

In my own words, the justification for Paedobaptism from household baptisms states that, in the New Testament there are clearly cases where whole households were baptized. These households are assumed to have contained infants or small children who could not repent or believe, but who were nevertheless baptized. From this, the Paedobaptists infer that it is biblically justified to sprinkle all infants and small children of believers.

THE METHOD OF CRITIQUE

To critique this Paedobaptist argument, we will question its major assumption, namely that there were unbelieving small children or infants in these households who were “baptized” (actually, sprinkled). It will be shown that, not only were there no unbelieving infants and small children (thus eliminating the need to sprinkle rather than properly immerse them), but in fact all those baptized were believers. The reason the members of these household were baptized was because the members were believers.

LYDIA’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:14-15. We begin by examining the verses about Lydia in Acts 16. In Acts 16:15, the Scriptures read, “And when she (Lydia) and her household had been baptized.” So, it is obvious that Lydia’s household was baptized. But now, for the Paedobaptist argument for infant baptism to hold, it must be shown that Lydia’s household included an unbelieving infant or small child. What is the evidence for this case?

  • The most obvious clue against there being infants or small children in the household is that no children are mentioned in Acts 16:14-15. None. At all. So, for there to be any children, they must be inferred and inserted into the household. Is there any good reason to infer that there were small children?
  • If there were children in Lydia’s household, there would need to be a father. This would necessitate Lydia having a husband, but there is no mention of a husband for Lydia. Ever. In the whole text, there is no suggestion that Lydia has a husband. In his typical detailed fashion, Luke tells us (16:14) Lydia’s name, where she is from (Thyatira), what she does for a living (seller of purple fabrics), that she was a worshiper of God, and that she was listening to Paul. Then, after “the Lord opened her heart” (16:14), we find out that Lydia has been judged to be faithful to the Lord (16:15), that she has a house that can accommodate a few travelers, and that she can invite male strangers into her home. In those days, it would have been scandalous for a woman to invite men into her home without her husband’s consent, unless, of course, there was no husband to ask.
  • All of this evidence suggests not that Lydia was a mother of infants or small children, but rather that she was a single woman, a merchant of some means, whose heart had been opened by the Lord as Paul proclaimed the gospel to her by the river. There is no evidence for any unbelieving infants or small children.
  • But it must be remembered that the central figure in this gospel scene is not an imaginary infant or small child, but is Lydia, the new believer. “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (16:14). This certainly means that Lydia believed in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation. Then, following her coming to faith, she was baptized (16:15). According to the pattern given throughout the book of Acts, Lydia believed and was baptized (confirm Acts 2, twice in Acts 8, Acts 9 (Saul), Acts 10, twice in Acts 16, Acts 18, and Acts 19). And the only reason that Lydia was baptized was because she had believed in the Lord Jesus.
  • Now, since the only reason the apostle Paul ever baptized anyone was because they had believed in the Lord Jesus, we can conclude that all in Lydia’s “household” were baptized because they had believed in the Lord Jesus, just as Lydia had.

CONCLUSION ABOUT LYDIA’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:14-15. After examining this occurrence of a “household baptism,” we have seen, first, that there is no valid reason to infer that there are unbelieving infants or small children in Lydia’s household in this scene, and second, that the reason that Lydia’s household was baptized was because Lydia’s household believed. Thus, the household baptism in Acts 16:15 provides no justification whatsoever for Paedobaptism and, in fact, is correctly understood as portraying household faith.

THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:31-34. Once again, we see the occurrence of a household baptism in Acts 16:33. (As a technical note, the word for “household” does not appear in the Greek in 16:33, but it is certainly allowed and implied. The Greek actually reads “he was baptized and all his.”) An examination of this passage will reveal that it provides no support for Paedobaptism.

Paul answers the jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” with a clear call to faith in Jesus: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:31). Any salvation for this jailer or his household is clearly dependent on believing in the Lord Jesus. If the jailer (or his household) is to be saved, he must believe in Jesus.

Having given the jailer the key to being saved, Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house (Acts 16:32).” In the same way that Peter had preached to Cornelius and all those who had gathered in his house in Acts 10, now Paul preaches the word of the gospel to the jailer and all those in his house. Paul told the jailer to believe in Jesus (16:31), and now Paul is giving him the details of the gospel. He is explaining to him about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and calling him (and his whole household) to faith in Jesus, the risen Savior. And because of what happens in 16:33 and what we read in 16:34, we know that the jailer and his household believed in God.

What happens next? In 16:33, the jailer washes Paul’s and Silas’ wounds (Maybe they go to the same place of prayer in the river where Paul first spoke the word to Lydia.) and then, since they have believed the message that Paul proclaimed, the jailer and his whole household are immediately baptized.

Their coming to faith is then celebrated with a meal as they “rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (16:34). Again, the reason that the whole household was baptized was because the whole household had believed, as is explicitly stated here.

CONCLUSION, ACTS 16:31-34. This passage about the Philippian jailer provides no justification for Paedobaptism. In fact, the only way to see Paedobaptism in this passage would be to forcibly introduce it into the text. Instead, what we see here is the power of the gospel to convert a hard and cruel man, and his household, to faith in Jesus Christ.

THE HOUSEHOLD OF STEPHANAS, 1 CORINTHIANS 1:16; 16:15. The final occurrence of household baptism is the household of Stephanas in 1 Corinthians 1:16. Paul writes, “Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.” Who is Stephanas, and does this baptism offer the Paedobaptist a justification for the practice of baptizing babies?

We find out who Stephanas and his household are by simply reading 1 Cor. 16:15-16: “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.” It becomes immediately obvious from this glowing commendation from Paul and his testimony to their usefulness in his ministry, that “the household of Stephanas” was a household of believers, and that the reason Paul baptized them (1 Cor. 1:16) was because they had believed the gospel. No further comment needs to be made.

CONCLUSION, THE HOUSEHOLD OF STEPHANAS, 1 COR. 1:16; 16:15. Once again, there is no hint of Paedobaptism here in this text. Instead, we see that Paul baptized the household of Stephanas because the household of Stephanas believed the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As is true of all baptism in the New Testament, the reason whole households are baptized is because whole households believed. There is no baptism in the New Testament apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

CONCLUSION

Upon examination of the “household baptisms” in the New Testament, it has been shown that there is no basis for the Paedobaptist claim that these passages can be understood as justifying Paedobaptism. There are no hidden infants or small children in these household baptisms that were somehow given a faithless sprinkling. In these occurrences, the reason whole households were baptized because whole households believed. As is true of all baptisms in the New Testament, there is no baptism apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 1/21/2022                   #487

Cut down the fig tree! (Luke 13:6-9) – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is the second part of a study from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. This post will take the form of a sermon, calling the sinner to repentance before it is too late. The context for this parable is the subject of saving repentance. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:1-5 stresses the critical importance of repentance, and the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 stresses the urgency of repentance.

In the previous post #485 on January 17, 2022, we had looked at the “big picture” interpretation of the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. We saw that the parable could be understood as a picture of national Israel and their long-term rebellion against God culminating in the rejection of their promised Messiah, Jesus. God finally decides to “Cut it down,” which He does in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

THE MEANING FOR THE INDIVIDUAL SINNER

But there is another way to understand this parable that applies to every unbeliever who hears the gospel. For just as Israel continued in their rebellion against God and their rejection of the Messiah until God’s patience finally ran out, so the individual sinner can continue in their own personal rejection of Jesus the Messiah until the Lord closes the door to repentance and salvation. In other words, in this parable, instead of the fig tree representing the nation of Israel, the fig tree represents the individual who continues to reject Jesus as Lord of his life. In this case, God would figuratively come to the individual looking for the fruit of repentance and faith. After all, this person has heard the gospel many times, so by now there should have been a response to Jesus. But, in fact, there has been no response at all to the gospel call. Instead, the person has continued in their sin and has rejected and despised Jesus. Thus, God the vineyard owner decides to cut the fig tree down, by ending the person’s life. But in this hypothetical conversation, the vineyard-keeper, Jesus, intercedes and asks for a little more time. But if there is still no response to the gospel, then the fig tree will be cut down.

The chilling reality for every unbeliever is that only the Lord knows when your life will be over or when you will have rejected Jesus for the last time, and you will be “cut down.”

We know that there are many people in this world who never hear about Jesus. They never hear the gospel message of Jesus’ sinless life, of His atoning death, or of His glorious resurrection. They never hear a herald calling them to faith in Christ and calling them to repentance from sin. They never hear of Christ and so they perish (Romans 2:12) and are forever condemned.

But we also know that there are many who do hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, but who never respond in faith. Perhaps they are always learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7), but the gospel message is useless to them. They hear the glorious, good news, but they go away unchanged. In the New Testament, Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist (Mark 6:20), but he never believed his message. The philosophers in Athens (Acts 17) heard Paul tell of the resurrection of Jesus, but they scoffed and did not believe. In Corinth (Acts 18:6) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:9), the people rejected Paul and his gospel and did not believe. Felix (Acts 24:26) talked often with the apostle Paul, but he never believed. Agrippa and Festus heard Paul proclaim the gospel (Acts 26), but they never believed in Jesus. In each of these cases, there came a last time to hear the gospel. The gospel was proclaimed, Jesus was exalted, and the people were urged to repent and believe, but they refused, and so there came a time when the Lord said, “Cut it down!”

What I am saying is that you must respond now to the gospel call, for you do not know when God will decide that you have heard your last salvation message and it is time for you to be “cut down.” In Luke 13:1-5, the Lord Jesus speaks about the necessity of repentance for salvation, and then He follows that teaching with a parable about the urgency of repentance. Now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2), and you do not know if there will ever be another such day.

EXHORTATION TO THE UNBELIEVER

It is urgent that you repent and believe now, so I offer you these words of exhortation.

O, unbeliever! O, you who refuse to confess Jesus as Lord! You who continue to live as if your life will go on forever and who despise God’s gracious gift of His crucified Son! You do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?” You do not know when the Lord will finally harden your heart so that you cannot respond to the call to repent and come to Christ. The gospel declares your moral ruin, that you have sinned against the living God. You have violated God’s holy laws and you have rejected the offering of His Son, and you are condemned and stand under God’s terrifying judgment.

But now consider this parable that we have read. As long as you still draw breath there is time to repent. O, today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart, for you do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does he still use up the ground?”

Today, right now if you hear God’s voice, believe in the Lord Jesus. Today you must respond to Christ. Know that your response to Christ is never neutral. You either embrace Christ as Lord or you rebel against Him and reject Him and despise His salvation. You are either for Him or against Him, and there is no middle ground (Matthew 12:30).

“Maybe tomorrow I will come to Christ.” But tomorrow never comes! Today is the day of salvation. If you do not come now, you have rejected Christ.

“The next time I hear the gospel, then I will respond.” That would be a foolish response, for there will never be a time like now. Now the Lord is delaying the axe and is offering Christ. If you wait till next time, you have rejected Christ.

Know that to reject Christ is to continue in your rebellion. Know that today, if you do not worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then God sees you as a rebel and as an enemy. And, dear friend, you must understand that if you die as a rebel, you will be a rebel against God forever. For all of eternity, God’s holy wrath will be poured out on you.

But today you can pass from death to life! If you will bow the knee to Jesus, you will be adopted as a child of God. If you confess Jesus as Lord today, right now, you will never hear the Lord say about you, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?”

SDG                 rmb                 1/18/2022                   #486

Cut down the fig tree! (Luke 13:6-9) – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. A study in two parts from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. This first post examines this parable as it applies to the nation of Israel and their rejection of Jesus the Messiah.

After His clear teaching on the necessity of repentance in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus goes on to tell a parable that illustrates the urgency of repentance. We would be wise to carefully consider the Lord’s message so that we do not get cut down like this fig tree.

THE PASSAGE, LUKE 13:6-9

And He (Jesus) began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9

The action in this parable is simple enough to understand. The owner of the vineyard (or garden) has come to harvest some fruit he expected to find on the fig tree, but once again, there is no fruit on that tree. He tells the keeper of the vineyard that this fig tree is useless and needs to be cut down so another tree can take its place. But the vineyard keeper suggests that they should wait one more year for fruit. Then, if still there is no fruit, cut the tree down.

As with any parable, the key is to interpret the meaning of the parable. The meaning of this parable will be determined by understanding its intent in its context. It turns out that this parable can be understood on two levels.

THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE – BIG PICTURE

First, then, we will consider the “big picture” meaning of the parable. The big picture has to do with the nation of Israel and their rejection of Jesus, their promised Messiah. The fig tree is a symbol for Israel. Ever since the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, the Lord has been calling national Israel to obedience of His commandments, to forsaking their idols and to stopping their rebellion against Him. And Israel and Judah have persisted in their stiff-necked disobedience. God is the vineyard owner looking for fruit, and now His patience has run out. Cut down the tree (the nation of Israel) and plant another one in its place (the Gentiles) that will bear the fruit of repentance (Matthew 21:40-43; Luke 3:8-9)! The vineyard-keeper symbolizes Jesus. He is Israel’s promised Messiah, and His coming to the vineyard represents Israel’s “last chance.” “Wait one more year. If they reject Me and continue in their rebellion even when their promised Messiah is in their midst, then go ahead and cut them down.”

Of course, we know that Israel did reject Jesus the Messiah. They despised Him and opposed Him and finally crucified Him. And the details of this parable were fulfilled in AD 70 when, as a result of Israel never bearing the fruit of repentance, “the fig tree was cut down” when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. This is the “big picture” understanding of this parable.

APPLICATION

Before we move on to another way to view this parable, we should consider how this parable applies to us. Consider that the nation of Israel had free access to God’s word. In fact, Israel was unique among the nations because they “were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). The LORD had given His Word, the Old Testament, to the nation of Israel. But despite having the Scriptures and having true prophets who called the people to obey the LORD, Israel continued in their rebellion and their disobedience. Finally, when their promised Messiah appeared in the flesh, instead of receiving Him with joy they rejected Him. So, most of the people perished in their sins.

But can you see the parallel with any person living in America? Like the nation of Israel, we have free access to God’s word, the Bible any time we want. Unlike countries where even reading a Bible is a capital offense, the people in this country can read and own the Bible without any risk of punishment or persecution. Preachers in America freely preach the Bible, bookstores sell Bibles, radio and TV programs teach the Bible, seminaries dissect the Bible. But despite an abundance of Bible resources and an immense number of proclaimers of the gospel message, most people ignore and reject all these opportunities and continue in their disobedience and rebellion. In the midst of easy access to the message of the gospel of salvation, most people run headlong toward destruction. So, most of the people perish in their sins. If you are one of those people who have ignored God’s word and have remained willfully deaf to the call to Jesus, I beg you to turn to Jesus Christ in faith before the Lord says, “Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?”

ANOTHER INTERPRETATION

So, one way to see this parable is to see Jesus giving a final warning to national Israel that they needed to receive their Messiah. But there is another way to understand this parable that has application to every single person who ever hears the gospel. We will explore that in our next article.

SDG                 rmb                 1/18/2022                   #485

The prominence of prayer in the new covenant – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. The new covenant, which was announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus on the night that He was betrayed, and established by Jesus’ death on the cross, differed dramatically from the old covenant, which had been in effect since the Fall and which the LORD formalized when He gave the Law on Sinai. The old covenant was a covenant of works whose purpose was to bring the awareness of personal sin (Romans 3:20) and of sin’s corresponding condemnation (Romans 5:16a), while the new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7) and imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only do these two covenants differ in their purposes, but they also differ dramatically in the day-to-day practices of each covenant. One of the most apparent ways that the new covenant differs from the old is in the area of prayer.

Post #483 (January 13, 2022) examined prayer under the old covenant, while this post (#484) examines prayer in the new covenant.

First, we examined prayer under the old covenant and saw that prayer was rare because few people knew the LORD.

AND IN THE NEW COVENANT?

The previous comments (Post #483) were focused on the old covenant. As we turn to the new covenant, we ask the question, “Has anything changed?” Well, some things have not changed. In the new covenant, as under the old, it is still true that those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord, and those who do not know the Lord do not. This is an immense truth. In fact, this can serve as a diagnostic tool to determine spiritual health and even to assess whether or not someone is a genuine follower of Jesus. A feeble or nonexistent prayer life may very well indicate a nonexistent relationship with Jesus Christ, even for a person who claims to be a Christian, even for a person who regularly goes to a church. But in the new covenant, this truth has not changed: “Those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord, and those who do not know the Lord do not.”

But with the coming of the Lord Jesus and the new covenant, everything else related to prayer has changed, and changed dramatically. In the new covenant, prayer becomes prominent, even primary in the life of the individual believer and in the life of the church. One of the major features of Jesus’ earthly ministry was His time spent in prayer. Since Jesus prayed, all His disciples should pray. In fact, on more than one occasion, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. So, in contrast to the old covenant and the Law, there is explicit instruction on prayer in the New Testament and there are many examples of prayer. The New Testament epistles are full of prayers to guide the disciple in their own conversations with the Lord.

We also see that every believer is commanded to pray. A few examples will suffice. Paul charges every believer to “Pray without ceasing” in 1 Thess. 5:17. No comment needs to be made on that verse, does it? In Ephesians 6:19, again the apostle Paul directs his readers to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and petition for all the saints.” Prayer saturates the life of the new covenant believer and the worship of the new covenant church. Since the new covenant church is made up of those who know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:33), the church should be a place of prayer (Matthew 21:13). This is different from the old covenant temple, which was not a place of prayer, but a place of sacrifice.

Consider this for a moment. The Law of the old covenant loomed over the temple and demanded the blood of sacrifices to hold back the wrath of God. But in the new covenant, the final sacrifice has been offered and the wrath of God has been quenched (Romans 3:21-26; 1 Cor. 5:7). The Law’s demands have been satisfied (Romans 8:4) and the wages of sin have been fully paid (John 19:30). The believer has now been reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Romans 5:8-11) and fear of judgment has been nailed to the cross. The veil of the temple that intentionally separated sinful man from holy God has been ripped in two from top to bottom to show that God now dwells with His people; indeed, God, by His Holy Spirit, now dwells in His people! Now God’s people know Him because He indwells them (Ephesians 1:13-14). And as we stated before, those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord.

As we examine the contents of the book of Acts, we see that prayer is prominent in the early church. In Acts 1:14, the apostles are “devoting themselves to prayer.” In 2:42, they were continually devoting themselves to the prayers.” A bold prayer to God is prayed in 4:24-31 that results in the place being shaken. In Acts 6:4, the apostles select deacons so that they can “devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” In Acts 8:15, Peter and John come down to Samaria from Jerusalem and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” There is no need to go through the entire book to see that prayer was central to every aspect of the New Testament church. And why was that so? The new covenant believer prays because he gets to pray! The believer is invited to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). In Ephesians 3:12, Paul reminds all believers that “in Christ we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” Paul is here referring to access to God through prayer, because he follows this up with, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father” (Eph. 3:14), as he begins another prayer. Again, prayer is the very heartbeat of the new covenant because conversation with his God is the privilege of every member of the new covenant church. Prayer is the rule, rather than to rare exception.

The new covenant believer has been invited to pray to the Lord of the universe any time he wants. Let us be those who pray intimately and often.

SDG                 rmb                 1/16/2022                   #484

The prominence of prayer in the new covenant

INTRODUCTION. The new covenant, which was announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus on the night that He was betrayed, and established by Jesus’ death on the cross, was wholly different from the old covenant, which had been in effect since the Fall and which the LORD formalized when He gave the Law on Sinai. These two covenants differ in their forms and in their foundations. The old covenant was a covenant of works whose purpose was to bring the awareness of personal sin (Romans 3:20) and of sin’s corresponding condemnation (Romans 5:16a), while the new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7) and imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only do these two covenants differ in their purposes, but they also differ dramatically in the day-to-day practices of each covenant. One of the most apparent ways that the new covenant differs from the old is in the area of prayer.

These next two posts will consider the practice of prayer in the old and new covenants, show how they are dramatically different, and give reasons why they are different.

First, we will examine prayer under the old covenant.

UNDER THE OLD COVENANT, PRAYER WAS RARE

The first observation is that “Under the old covenant, PRAYER WAS RARE.” Most prayer in the Old Testament was limited to the prophet or the priest or the king. When the people needed to hear from the LORD, they would usually go to a prophet or perhaps to a priest, but there is little evidence in the Old Testament that the average Hebrew prayed directly to the LORD. Also, in the Law, there was no command to pray and there was no instruction on prayer, so the typical Israelite was not expected to pray.

WHY WAS THERE LIMITED PRAYER UNDER THE OLD COVENANT?

There are reasons for this paucity of prayer under the Law, though. Under the old covenant, the LORD was perceived as distant and unapproachable. At Sinai with the giving of the Law of condemnation, the LORD had appeared in billowing smoke and blazing fire and thunder and the loud blaring of a trumpet. Then, in the temple, the LORD was behind the veil in the inner holy of holies and could be approached only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and even then, only by the high priest with the shed blood of an animal. The old covenant was dominated by the Law, and under the Law, God was a consuming fire. Men do not have the courage to approach or to pray to the consuming fire.

The result is that, for the Israelite who saw God as a God of judgment and as the God of the Law, there was no need to pray. God required obedience to the Law. That was clear. If I failed to obey the Law, there was a just recompence. The Law was black and white. So, why would I bother to pray and for what would I pray? The Law required me to perform, not to pray. And so, the people of Israel and Judah rarely prayed.

BUT THERE WERE THOSE WHO PRAYED

There were those, however, who lived during the time of the Law who prayed, even prayed fervently and frequently. In the Psalms we see David and Asaph and the sons of Korah and others pouring out their heart to the LORD in intimate, emotional prayers. These prayers are raw and powerful as the psalmist gives unhindered voice to the deepest feelings and secrets of his heart. We see the same thing when we look to the prayers of Hannah and Jacob, the prayers of Daniel and Habakkuk, the prayers of Hezekiah and Jeremiah. These prayers have passion and heat, and they display none of the fear engendered by the Law. The ones who pray to the LORD in the Old Testament pray to One whom they know intimately, whom they know to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. Those who pray, pray to the LORD because they know the LORD. There is certainly the fear of reverent awe, the sense of approaching One of unimaginable power and holiness and glory, but there is no fear of judgment or condemnation or retribution. The feelings of awe are consumed not by the fire of judgment but by the immensity of His everlasting love. And so, the one who prayed to the LORD as Redeemer and Savior during the old covenant did not pray from the Law, but they prayed from the love of God that had been given to them by grace.

What are we saying? Those who know the LORD, pray, and those who do not know the LORD do not. We are saying that those who know the LORD long to pour out their heart before Him in prayer. In the old covenant, those who knew the LORD as their Savior and their Redeemer, as their rock and refuge and strong tower; those who knew the LORD as their God of salvation, prayed to the LORD. And those who did not know the LORD, but had merely heard of the God of Israel, the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, these did not pray to the LORD. And, from what we read in the Old Testament, the great majority of people fell into this latter category. Since few people knew the LORD, few people prayed.

In the next post, we will take a look at prayer in the new covenant and begin to see how prayer is different between the covenants and why.

SDG                 rmb                 1/13/2022                   #483

The normal state of the believer (Philippians 1:20)

INTRODUCTION. A brief glance at the events of our world today would be enough to discourage all but the most determined optimist. In every sphere of life, things seem to be in a state of upheaval and change, and the change is not for the better. The cumulative effect of all this change and simmering (and not-so-simmering) chaos is that people feel weary and beaten down. Hope for better days is fading, our joy has become stoic, feelings of peace have been replaced with a sense of foreboding. So, where do we look for a restoration of our hopeful and joyful outlook on life?

In this post, we will look no farther than the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians to see how we can weather stormy, unsettling circumstances while letting our light for Christ shine bright (Matt. 5:16) and while continuing to point to Jesus as the source of our joy and peace and contentment.

THE NORMAL CHRISTIAN

Based on what Paul writes in Philippians, we have a prescription for the normal state of the believer.

The normal Christian is hopeful, joyful, peaceful, thankful, and content.

One more important point should be made about Paul. The apostle Paul is the normal Christian. The New Testament presents Paul’s life as the normal life of the believer. By that I mean that, if you want clarification on any important aspect of the life of a believer, look at the life of Paul. What does conversion look like? What does baptism look like? How should a Christian evangelize? What is the believer’s commitment to Christ like? How does a believer pray? What is the believer’s attitude toward suffering? How does a disciple look at death? Look at Paul and you will have answers to your questions.

PAUL’S CIRCUMSTANCES

What are Paul’s circumstances as he writes this letter? For you may argue that it is easy for somebody to be all peppy and joyful when they are in comfortable surroundings. As Paul writes this epistle, he is imprisoned in the cause of Christ (1:13). More than that, he is aware that dubious men are preaching Christ, he is in danger of being executed, his friend Epaphroditus has almost died from disease, he has heard of a dispute in the church back home, and, up until recently, he had been in some degree of want. Paul is not in a palace, but in a prison, and yet he lives with power and energy because he is filled with the Holy Spirit.

THE BELIEVER IS NORMALLY HOPEFUL

The words we would find in Scripture would be words like “in hope,” “with hope,” or just “hope,” either noun or verb. The normal state of the believer is to be evidently hopeful.

In the Scripture, there are two ways that “hope” is used. There is Hope with a capital H. This is the idea of a settled confidence that an amazing event which has been promised by God will certainly take place, but it has not taken place yet. Therefore, the believer eagerly Hopes for the occurrence of that event. Consider, for example, Hebrews 6:19, which says,

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil. – Hebrews 6:19

The author of Hebrews is talking about the hope of the return of Christ, and he says that this promise is certain to take place and therefore acts as “an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast.” The believer who is rooted in Christ can endure the riptides of life because their Hope is the anchor of Jesus Christ.

So, the more powerful use of the word “Hope” refers to the unshakeable confidence we have that Christ is coming back soon to judge the world and take us to heaven to be with Him forever.

But there is a second use of “hope” that is derived from the more powerful use. The believer is hopeful, not only because of our ultimate hope in the Resurrection and the return of the Lord Jesus, but from that ultimate hope we derive, through spiritual discipline, a confident, hopeful attitude toward all of life, knowing that the God who has chosen us (Eph. 1:4) and redeemed us (Isaiah 43:1) and called us (2 Tim. 1:9) is also with us (Matt. 28:20). He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and He has promised to work all things together for good for us (Romans 8:28). Therefore, because of all His promises to us, promises which have been sealed by the blood of the Lord Jesus, the believer is hopeful. “The LORD is with me like a dread champion.” – Jeremiah 20:11. Since that is the case, I am hopeful.

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. – Romans 5:5

Our hope does not disappoint us. God has given us promises and He has sealed us with His Holy Spirit as a pledge that He will fulfill His promises.

Finally, Paul speaks of his hope from his prison cell.

according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. – Philippians 1:20

With Paul, our earnest hope is that Christ shall be exalted in our lives, whether by our life or by our death. “Oh Lord, use me for Your glory.”

Therefore, the normal state of the believer is to be hopeful.

SDG                 rmb                 1/12/2022                   #482

Nothing is impossible for God (Jeremiah 32:17, 27)

We are frail. This reality becomes increasingly obvious with increasing years. We are frail and we are vulnerable, and we live in a broken world that is hostile to frailty and vulnerability.

And this feeling of weakness is intentional. Man is designed by his Creator to feel his vulnerability and his insignificance in the immensity of the universe and in the complexity of his world. There are so many ways that we can feel overwhelmed by life, that it must be given to us by design. There are a variety of threats that can plague us at any moment, unexpectedly breaking into our lives and shattering our former serenity. There can be threats to our most important relationships, threats to our livelihood, threats to our health, threats to our sense of security, threats to our need for meaning and significance. Any one of these threats can produce a situation where escape seems impossible and where there is no path forward that will not be tragic or disastrous. What are we to do in these circumstances? Is there an answer and a place to turn, or is surrendering to our vulnerability simply a consequence of being human? After all, who can do the impossible?

It is in these situations that the believer, the one who calls upon the name of the Lord, can turn to his God and cry out to Him. For what we need is a God who can do the impossible, who can come to us in our frailty and our vulnerability and rescue us. We need a Savior who is mighty to save, not only from sin, but also from the threats of this world. We need a God who has publicly declared His willingness and His ability to help those who cry out to Him. And in the Lord, we have such a God. Consider these passages of Scripture:

‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You’ (Jeremiah 32:17).

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).

“With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew19:26).

“Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:14).

The Lord has repeatedly and conclusively declared His power and His ability to do whatever He pleases, and He has also declared that it pleases Him to do good to His children. The Lord Jesus teaches that, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11).

The Lord is certainly able to do the impossible and our faith tells us that He is willing to help us with our impossible situation.

“And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:21-22)

Whatever you are facing now that seems humanly impossible is not impossible for God. Cry out to Him and have faith that His power demonstrated in the creation of the world and in raising Christ from the dead will also avail for you.

SDG rmb 1/7/2022 #481

A God who acts on behalf of those who wait (Isaiah 64:4)

INTRODUCTION: This is part of a series of articles intended to offer encouragement for the follower of Jesus as they persevere through 2022 and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). This post focuses on a verse from Isaiah.

For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him. – Isaiah 64:4

In the prophecy of Isaiah are contained some of the most astonishing words in the entirety of Scripture. Isaiah paints powerful pictures of the glory of the LORD and of His awesome might. He is God, and there is no other! He will not give His glory to another. He holds the oceans in the palm of His hand. And the LORD is the sovereign ruler of the universe, calling all the stars by name. Yet this One who is the Most High is also a Savior and a Redeemer. He is the One who will send His Servant who will be born of a virgin and will be pierced through for our transgressions. The LORD’s Servant will justify the many because He will bear their iniquities. Thus, the LORD will wrap His people in a robe of righteousness. The LORD is the Creator God, the Most High, the Holy One of Israel, and yet Isaiah tells us that this Most High God has compassion on His people. When He saw that there was no one to intercede, His own arm brought salvation to Him. He is the One who speaks in righteousness, mighty to save. This is the awesome God that Isaiah’s prophecy reveals. He is a God like no other, the Creator of the universe and yet the Redeemer for all those who turn from transgression in Jacob.

Before we read Isaiah 64:4, then, it is good to understand who the LORD is who makes this astonishing statement through the prophet. Now consider the verse.

“From days of old.” The beauty and power of Isaiah’s prose is breathtaking. This phrase could have simply been rendered, “never.” The phrase means, “From the beginning of time until now, and even till eternity future.” When Micah is speaking of the Messiah, of His birthplace (Bethlehem) and of His origin, the prophet says, “His goings forth are from long ago, from days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). This is the same force as “from days of old.” We will settle on “from eternity past.”

They have not heard.” Who is the “they”? “They” means anyone who has ever heard anything with their ear and anyone who has ever seen anything with their eye. “They” includes every human being who has ever lived. No one in the human race has ever heard or seen a God besides YHWH (the LORD) who acts the way He does. The LORD is utterly unique, more majestic and powerful and holy than can be imagined with the human mind. He has no rivals, He has no equals, He alone is God.

But the most startling part of this verse is yet to come. No ear has ever heard, and no eye has ever seen a God besides the LORD “who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him.” The LORD, the sovereign ruler of all the universe, the One who threw the stars into place and the One who created all that we see “will act on behalf of the one who waits for Him.” How can this be? Through the prophet, the LORD declares that He is available to act on behalf of anyone who will wait for Him. David “waited patiently for the LORD,” and the LORD inclined to his cry. Again, in another place David tells us that we are to “wait for the LORD, be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, wait for the LORD.” The LORD is the One true and living God who will act on behalf of anyone who will cry out to Him and wait for Him to answer. There are no other conditions placed on this offer. The LORD has authorized His prophet to announce this astonishing offer for anyone with faith to accept it. Look to the LORD and cry out to Him, and then wait expectantly for His answer. He has committed to act on behalf of anyone who will wait for Him. We have a God who will move heaven and earth on our behalf if we will simply cry out to Him and wait for Him in faith.

SDG                 rmb                 1/5/2022                     #480

Some more thoughts for beginning a new year

Since it is only the fourth day of the new year, I decided it was not too late to offer one more idea that can hopefully help you persevere in your journey with the Lord in 2022.

INTRODUCTION: As I have said before, I anticipate that the future is going to be increasingly difficult for followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Judging by the signs we see in our world, there is reason to believe that our days are those days. So, I think 2022 will be more challenging than 2021 and that things in 2022 will continue to deteriorate. And while we, as followers of Christ, may be emotionally affected by the decline of our world and may be saddened by personal losses, we will not fear, for God is for us. Fear is to be foreign to us. In light of this, I propose two plans.

THE BASIC PLAN

The basic plan is a sort of meeting minimum requirements plan. The objective of this plan is very simple. The plan involves constructing a biblical defense against anxiety and fear such that we obey the repeated command in the Bible, “Do not fear.” As background, as you read through the Bible, you will discover that, for the one who knows the LORD, there is never an excuse for fear. In the midst of the bleakest and most desperate of circumstances, the believer is expected to trust the Lord and to fear not. And so we, as those who follow Jesus, are to imitate their examples. So, in 2022, since it seems likely to me that our circumstances will become more threatening and more frightening, make it a priority to develop your Basic Plan for eliminating fear and replacing it with trust. A good place to begin is Psalm 46:1-3. Then go on to Isaiah 43:1-5 or so. But there are many other places. One clue is to look for every occurrence in your Bible of “Fear not,” or something like it. In virtually every such occurrence, there will be a reason given for why the person should not fear. Make a list of those reasons and record those verses and create your Basic Plan. Remember, the Basic Plan is to get us to the place where we will not fear.

THE PREMIUM PLAN

Then there is what I call the Premium Plan. This is the plan for the one who is living in fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) and is trusting fully in the Lord. This is the believer who has decided to persevere in 2022, because they have resolved to live with conscious joy and hope, regardless of the visible circumstances.

These trust the Lord at all times, regardless of all else. The Lord is trustworthy and has proven Himself faithful in the Bible and in each believer’s life. So, the one with the Premium Plan trusts the Lord always and in every instance.

The disciple who will live with joy in 2022 focuses their mind on the goodness and strength of the Lord, not on the world’s noise. There always have been and always will be noises from the world sent out to cause us to fear and intended to distract us from devotion to the Lord, but the one whose eyes are fixed on Jesus will run with perseverance the race set before him (Hebrews 12:1-2) and the one who has the Lord for his light and salvation will not fear (Psalm 27:1).

The one who will persevere in the 2022 Premium Plan will meditate on all the Lord has done for him. The more often we meditate on the Lord, the deeper we go in appreciating all that the Lord has done for us in Christ. Twice in Ephesians Paul prays that the disciples in Ephesus would grasp the amazing riches of their salvation in Christ (Ephesians 1:17-20; 3:17-19). In the same way we, as we meditate on all the Lord has done in salvation, will walk in perseverance in 2022.

Not only should we comprehend all that the Lord has done for us in Christ and in His salvation, but we should spend time praising the Lord for those things. It is fitting to give praise to the Lord for all He has done. Praising the Lord is part of the Premium Plan.

Finally, the Premium Plan includes heavy doses of thanksgiving leading to a settled contentment. The more we consider the goodness of the Lord, the more reasons we have to give Him thanks. And the more we genuinely thank the Lord, the more content we are with our circumstances, no matter what they are. The way to reach contentment is not to improve your circumstances, but it is to lower your contentment threshold by being more thankful.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you live a “premium” 2022, no matter what the Lord chooses to bring into your life.

SDG                 rmb                 1/4/2022                     #479

Persevere in the New Year

For many people, including yours truly, 2021 has been a year of ongoing disappointments as earthly sources of pleasure and comfort and contentment have been systematically compromised or eliminated. As a follower of Jesus and, therefore, as a person with a God-centered worldview, I believe that the Lord is taking away the temporal comforts of this world and is withdrawing His common grace from the earth so that His people will long for their heavenly, eternal dwellings which will come when the Lord Jesus Christ returns on the clouds in power and glory. Yes, God is allowing the world to experience the ugliness of its sin so that God’s people will more eagerly await the coming of our King. And I think that this pattern will continue and actually intensify in 2022.

In light of this, how is a Christian to respond? How will we as Christians respond to the deteriorating moral climate and to the ongoing flood of disappointments?

I suggest that we respond with perseverance. In fact, I suggest that the key word for 2022 will be “PERSEVERE.” I am establishing the mindset that I will persevere in this new year. That is, that I will continue steadfastly along the path that God has given me to walk.

Can we be more specific in carrying out this goal of perseverance? That is, can we put a little more “shoe leather” on this objective? Here is my proposal:

Persevere in faithfulness, in hope, in fruitful labor, and in joy no matter the earthly, visible circumstances.

FAITHFULNESS: Continue to fulfill your roles and your responsibilities and your commitments. If you are an employee, continue to do your work heartily as to the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23). Be a light in your workplace (Matt. 5:16). Are you married? Then, love your wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) or submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24) and let your marriage be a picture of Jesus Christ and His church to the watching world (Ephesians 5:31-32). Are you single? Use your freedom as an unmarried person to serve Christ with undistracted devotion (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). In all things, act with integrity, honesty, and purity. Each day is another day to live for Christ and to shine your light for Christ, so be faithful with your days. Be a good steward of your money and especially of your time by spending both wisely. When spending your money, be sure that you could tell Jesus about that expenditure with a clear conscience. Time cannot be saved but only spent, so be careful how you spend your time. Walk intentionally through your days, fixing your eyes on the end goal of glorifying Jesus. In other words, persevere in faithfulness!

HOPE: There is a reward promised to the follower of Jesus. God has made promises to His children that He will certainly fulfill. It is these promises that have been cast together as our hope, “an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19). Our hope is that no matter the trials of this earthly life, God will certainly be faithful to His promises. God’s children await the certain fulfillment of God’s promises. So, when there is grief or sorrow or sadness, we remember that we have been promised a resurrection when we will receive a glorified body, and we persevere with hope. When confronted with disappointment or pain, we remember that these are temporary, but our home in heaven will last forever, so we persevere in hope. As we walk through “the sufferings of this present time,” our mind is fixed on the hope of the “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Persevering in hope means casting our minds out into the future when we will forever be with Christ in glory so that our anticipation of God’s promises overwhelms our concerns about today’s trials. So, in 2022, we will persevere in hope.

FRUITFUL LABOR: This term is taken from Philippians 1:22 when, after saying, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), Paul declares that, even though he would prefer to depart and be with Christ (in other words, he would prefer to die), he remain because he has “fruitful labor” to do. It is evident that Paul is referring to kingdom work, to direct gospel ministry. Paul chose to persevere in fruitful ministry with its trials and pains rather than departing for his deserved heavenly reward. And so should we. So, during 2022, I urge you to find your place of “fruitful labor,” to discover your role in gospel ministry, and to persevere and “to spend and be expended” (2 Cor. 12:15) in that role for the glory of Christ.

JOY: This is that characteristic that most dramatically distinguishes the believer from the rest of the world. The follower of Jesus is not just happy when all his circumstances are favorable, and all his paths are clear. Rather, the believer has a persistent internal joy that beams out regardless of circumstances. Let 2022 be the year that we amp up our joy and persevere in obvious Christ-filled and Christ-honoring joy in all twelve months. Think of all that the Lord has done for us and all that awaits us in heaven when we are with the Lord forever, and let the joy pour out of you until the corners of your face start to break. “The joy of the LORD is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

SUMMARY:

I anticipate that the future is going to be difficult for followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Judging by the signs we see in our world, there is reason to believe that our days are those days. But the follower of Jesus has no reason to be discouraged. The mission given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself goes on (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), and we continue to proclaim the gospel. We accept whatever persecution may come, considering it an honor to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41) and knowing that those who are persecuted are blessed (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:14). In a word, we PERSEVERE until our Lord calls us home or until He catches us up with Himself in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). The word for 2022 is persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 1/1/2022                     #478