The divide on baptism – Part 1

This is the first of a series of articles considering the fundamental divide among Protestant churches over the practice of baptism. This first article considers the matter of different administrations of the rite. rmb

Last night (Tuesday) we were continuing in our Bible study of 1 Corinthians and the study guide we are using spoke to the subject of baptism. There was a sentence in the “Theological Soundings” section of the guide which read,

“Different Christian traditions vary on some of the nuances of the administration and implications of baptism, yet almost all agree that it is an outward sign of an inward reality, and it is a physical representation of the work of the gospel in the life of the converted believer.”

Anyone who knows anything about how different “Christian traditions” view baptism would immediately see that this sentence is not true at any level. I do not know why the author wrote this sentence into the guide, but it is completely untrue. Let me explain.

A FUNDAMENTAL DIVIDE

There is a fundamental divide on the subject of baptism that renders the above sentence false, and that divide is expressed this way: Does the church practice (and presumably believe in) infant baptism or does the church practice biblical baptism? There is an immense chasm fixed between these two positions.

Now, where does a given church land in regard to the practice of baptism? Simply put, if the church is Baptist or baptistic, they will practice biblical baptism, and if they are not, they will practice infant baptism. It is really that simple. The reason this is simple is because, if you trace back any denomination or “tradition” to its roots on the practice of baptism, you will find that all those which sprung from medieval Catholicism practice infant baptism, because medieval Catholicism practiced infant baptism. (Of course, all Catholics today continue to practice infant baptism.)  This includes Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Church of Christ, Presbyterians, and Anglicans, and there are others.

Before we go into the details, it must be acknowledged that this difference in the practices of baptism is not a “nuance of administration and implication.” The administration of infant baptism (IB) is essentially and fundamentally different from that of biblical baptism (BB), and the implications of doing infant baptism (IB) or biblical baptism (BB) are vast and deep with regard to the theology and practice in the life of the church.

DIFFERENT ADMINISTRATIONS

But is this claim of vast differences justified, or are the differences more subtle and nuanced? Let’s consider the different administrations of the rite. The IB position has the parents of the infant bring their child to an officiant of the church, who sprinkles or dabs some water on the head of the utterly passive and defenseless infant. In this way, the speechless, unconverted, unbelieving infant is considered a member of the body of Christ and is deemed by the church to have been “baptized.” Also, because the child has now been baptized as an infant, they are strongly discouraged (or forbidden) from ever seeking any future expression of baptism, based on Ephesians 4:5, “There is one baptism.” That is the basic IB position.

For the church that administers BB, the person who is coming forward for baptism comes by themselves into the baptismal waters. The candidate for baptism is then asked to publicly declare why they are coming for baptism, and this may include the delivery of a personal testimony describing the person’s journey to faith and salvation in Christ. At the very least, the candidate must confess with their mouth their personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Upon their profession of faith, that they are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, the person is then immersed under the water, symbolizing their death to their old life of sin, and they are raised up out of the water, symbolizing their new life in Christ. Some variation of Romans 6:4 is often quoted by the baptizing pastor. “Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

I still remember my pastor’s words upon my baptism when I came to faith at thirty-one.

As we were standing in the baptistry of the church, he said, “And, Roy, who is your Lord and Savior?”

“Jesus Christ”

On the basis of my profession of faith, he said, “In imitation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and in obedience to His divine command, I baptize you, my brother in Christ, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Buried unto death in Christ (I went under the water), rise again to walk in newness of life (I came up out of the water).”

ADMINSTRATION COULD NOT BE MORE DIFFERENT

As we compare these two administrations of baptism, it is obvious they could not be more different. They are not different in nuance; they are different entirely. They are miles apart. More importantly, one administration is biblical, and one is not. Which one should we practice? We should obviously practice the one that the word of God teaches.

In this article we looked at the differences in administration of baptism. In future articles we will look at other aspects of this divide.

SDG                 rmb                 6/16/2021                   #416

Yes, there were cities of refuge (Numbers 35:9-34)

In the book of Numbers, in chapter 35, we are told of the cities of refuge that were to be established in the Promised Land after the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan. This post is written to show how these point to Jesus and His sacrifice for sinners on the cross.

When we read this passage (Numbers 35:9-34), we can see that the Law prescribed six cities of refuge, places “that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there (35:11).”

THE VALUE OF THE CITIES OF REFUGE

Now, first, we should realize that these cities of refuge did not offer mercy to anyone who was guilty of murder, for there was no mercy under the Law.

“Anyone who has violated the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses (Hebrews 10:28).”

Instead, the cities of refuge simply prevented injustice by providing refuge in the extremely rare case of someone accidentally killing someone. In that case, the “manslayer,” the one who unintentionally killed someone, could flee to the city of refuge and would not be unjustly killed by the avenger of blood. The point is that this was not an act of mercy but was a provision in the Law that prevented injustice.

Second, we need to also consider how useful these cities of refuge were. I suppose if you and your friend went into the forest and the axe head slipped off your axe and struck your friend so that he died, and you knew about this obscure part of the Law that provided for cities of refuge for the manslayer, and you had the wherewithal to flee to the nearest city of refuge before the avenger of blood found you and killed you, then I suppose these cities of refuge would have been a very precious part of the Law to you. But as a practical matter, was any city of refuge ever used as a city of refuge? There is not one example of the use a city of refuge in the entire biblical record. Perhaps there was no use of this.

But think about it. How common is “unintentionally killing” someone? If you struck someone with an iron object, it was murder and you “shall surely be put to death (35:16).” If you struck him down with a stone, you are a murderer and “shall surely be put to death (35:17).” If you struck him with a wooden object, you are a murderer and “shall surely be put to death (35:18).” If you “pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait, or struck him down with your hand, you are a murderer (35:20-21).” Guess what? “The blood avenger shall put the murderer to death (35:21).” So, I am having a hard time thinking of an occasion (other than the stray axe head) that could be classified as “unintentional killing.”

And then, even if you legitimately flee to the city of refuge because of unintentionally killing someone, you must stay there in that city of refuge “until the death of the high priest (35:25, 28).” If you do not stay within the city but wander beyond the border of that city before the death of the high priest, the blood avenger can kill you with impunity! So, these cities are of little practical use. But this was the best refuge that the Law had to offer, a provision of a place to flee when you were not deserving of punishment.

BUT WHAT REFUGE IS THERE FOR THE SINNER?

But what about the person who had committed a sin that was deserving of death? Where does this person flee? What provision is there in the Law for refuge for the sinner?

We have already seen that the one who was guilty of murder “shall surely be put to death” and, under the Law, there is no place of refuge for the murderer. But this was true for every sinner under the Law. For the one who sinned willfully, there was no sacrifice for sin,

“but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).” “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).”

But this judgment is only just, for the Law requires obedience and threatens a just recompense for all disobedience.

“Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2).”

What then is the sinner to do? If there is no city of refuge, is there also no hope? Where, then, does forgiveness lie? It is certainly not available under the Law, for when Paul is prosecuting the Jews, the legalists who embrace the Law and attempt to earn their righteousness by their obedience to the Law, he declares in Romans 2:2,

“And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.”

God’s holiness evokes His wrath against all sin. God’s holy Law, therefore, demands justice and requires punishment. Sin surely requires, always requires a just recompense and the Law provides no refuge From God’s holy justice. So, again I ask, what is a sinner to do? Where is the place of refuge for the sinner?

REFUGE APART FROM THE LAW

This place of refuge is described in Romans 3:21-26, which begins

“But now, apart from the Law, a righteousness of God has been manifested (Romans 3:21).”

The old covenant, controlled by the Law, offered those who were not guilty of murder a city of refuge so that injustice would be prevented, but now, apart from the Law, the new covenant in Christ’s blood offers to every guilty sinner a Person of refuge “so that God would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).”

The cities of refuge, which were carefully established under the Law, were never intended to offer any forgiveness to anyone, but only offered physical protection to those who were not guilty. But the good news of the gospel, which was gloriously established at the cross, declares that faith in Jesus will bring complete forgiveness of all sins to every guilty sinner who will trust Christ as Lord and Savior, and that faith will guarantee them eternal life.

So, the next time you are in the book of Numbers and are reading about the cities of refuge in chapter 35, remember that these point to the cross and the eternal refuge of Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 6/14/2021                   #415

Avoiding hell, according to Jesus (Luke 13:1-5)

If Jesus Christ Himself told you explicitly how you could certainly avoid going to hell when you died, would you listen to Him? If Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gave you simple concrete steps for not perishing forever, would you follow those simple steps?

In this passage from the gospel of Luke, you will have an opportunity to answer those questions, because in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus gives a message that is so clear that you almost have to try to miss the point.

13 There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perishOr those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

BACKGROUND

A little background would be helpful. Jesus is in Jerusalem and, as usual, He is surrounded by a large crowd. Some people in the crowd made a comment to Him about an atrocity that Pilate, the governor, had committed in killing people who had come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple.

THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM – YOU WILL LIKEWISE PERISH

Instead of addressing their comment, however, Jesus talks about the universal problem confronting every member of the human race. “Do you think these were worse sinners than all the others? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-3).” Jesus establishes the truth that physical death is of secondary importance. The critical question is, “When you physically die, will you eternally perish?”

Jesus then repeats His message in another context. Eighteen people had died when the tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:4). But the question was not, “Did they die this way because they were bad people?” No, the question was, “They died, just as you will die someday. When you die, will you eternally perish?”

The Lord uses events from the daily news to bring into the spotlight the eternal question of heaven and hell. Jesus was asking these people to consider their eternal destiny. “You are so concerned about what happens to others, but will you not consider that your dying day is also arriving sooner than you think? When you have your own ‘tower of Siloam,’ will you likewise perish? Will you repent or will you perish?”

SAME MESSAGE FOR YOU AND ME TODAY

Of course, the message Jesus gave to that crowd on that day almost two thousand years ago is exactly the same message that He gives to everyone living today. All the living will perish unless they repent. Twice our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells all who will listen explicitly how they can certainly avoid going to hell when they die. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Twice Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gives simple concrete steps for not perishing forever. Again, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But if any man or woman will repent, they will not perish.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REPENT?

To repent means to turn away from your sin and to consciously choose to obey God. To repent means to hate your sin and to love righteousness. Repentance is when you confess to God that you are a sinner and that you no longer want to live your life of disobedience and rebellion but want to live as a disciple of Jesus. Notice that Jesus Himself gives a promise to all those who repent, that you will not perish.

HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?

We began this article with a couple of questions. Jesus Himself has now told us the simple steps we can take to avoid perishing forever. Will you listen to Him and repent, or will you ignore Him and perish?

SDG                 rmb                 6/9/2021                     #414

Warnings of the watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-7)

BACKGROUND OF THE PASSAGE

The prophet Ezekiel had been appointed by the LORD to be a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:7). The word of the LORD had come to the prophet and had described for him the circumstances that demanded a watchman for the people and what the obligations were for this person.

The people needed a watchman because there was an imminent danger of destruction. There was a sword from the LORD coming upon the land and the watchman was appointed to blow the trumpet and warn the people so that they had an opportunity to escape. Sounds simple enough, right? But there was a catch. If for any reason the appointed watchman did not blow the trumpet and warn the people, the sword would certainly take a person away, “but his blood I (the LORD) will require from the watchman’s hand (33:6).”

Clearly, when the LORD appointed a watchman for the people, He expected the watchman to blow the trumpet at the appearance of the approaching sword. Things did not go well for the silent watchman.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE WATCHMAN AND THE WITNESS

While at first glance this story of watchmen and trumpets and swords may seem far removed from our own experience, when seen through the lens of the gospel, the picture is strikingly relevant. Let’s make some word substitutions.

Sword = God’s Judgment                    Trumpet = Gospel

Blow the trumpet = Proclaim the gospel

Take warning = Believe the gospel     Delivers his life = Is saved

Ignores the warning + Does not respond to the gospel

Sword takes him away = Perishes forever in hell

THE KEY QUESTION: WHO IS THE WATCHMAN?

The critical question in this parallel is, “Who is the watchman?” Is the watchman every believer, or is the watchman one of a small subset of all believers? We need to explore this question to be sure that our blood is not being required because of our silence.

It is possible that “the watchman” is a special Christian who has been set apart by God for this special task of proclaiming the gospel. It is possible that the large majority of believers are not obligated to communicate the good news to the lost at all but are free to be silent about the terrifying peril facing the unsaved and to be silent about the salvation that is promised to all those who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is possible that the large majority can be silent while a small minority bears all the obligation to proclaim. I suppose it is possible that is the case, but there are several things that make me nervous about that.

One thing that bothers me about the idea that a special, select group of believers shoulders the responsibility for proclaiming the gospel to the lost is that I cannot find that in the New Testament. Jesus’ statement, “You shall be My witnesses,” is for all those who have received the Holy Spirit, not just for an elite subgroup. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is given to every member of the church, not to just a handful of specially gifted people. If I accept that I am a member of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9),” then I must also perform the duty of proclaiming His excellencies. If there is a special group of people who serve as New Testament “watchmen,” I need to know who they are and how they are identified to be sure that I am not unknowingly among them.

But there are other things that cause me concern. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of man (Matthew 4:19).” That sounds like if I do the one, I also do the other. If I follow, I also fish. It sounds like all followers, fish for men, not just a select few. Doesn’t it?

Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).” But aren’t all believers to be ambassadors to the lost?

In that same chapter, Paul also says, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).” Surely all believers know the fear of the Lord’s judgment. So, all believers should be involved in persuading people that the sword of God’s judgment is poised above all those who have not fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus.

Bottom line is that the Bible teaches we are all the Lord’s watchmen and, therefore, we do not get a pass. In fact, we read that there is a consequence that flows from our silence. Notice that if Ezekiel had been silent, the blood of those who perished on his watch would have been required from Ezekiel’s hand. I am not sure what the phrase “blood required from your hand” means, but I do know that I do not want to find out.

Ezekiel was appointed a watchman to blow the trumpet and warn the people of the coming sword. In the same way, we, as followers of the Lord Jesus, have been called out of darkness to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16). The Lord has bought us at the price of His own blood, and He has given each of us a huge sack of seed. It is written, “The sower went out to sow (Matthew 13:3).” And what are we to sow? We are to scatter the seed of the gospel everywhere and everyday so that the world may know of Jesus and so “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).”

So, you and I are “the watchman.” We see that there is a judgment coming and that there is only one means of escape. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” So, we blow the trumpet of the gospel so that men and women may find refuge in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 6/7/2021         #413

Reprove them severely (Titus 1:12-13)

Clearly, Paul had given Titus a hopeless assignment, or at least it appeared that way.

For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. – Titus 1:5

In the best of circumstances this would have been a challenging task, to appoint qualified elders in every city as Paul instructed him, but Titus was not going to the best of circumstances. Far from it. Paul left Titus in Crete, and the Cretans had a well-deserved reputation for being an ornery and belligerent lot.

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. – Titus 1:12-13

Even the Cretans themselves acknowledge that they are pretty incorrigible, almost as if their gross behavior is a badge of honor. Thus, Titus’ task appears hopeless. For how can “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” ever become “above reproach” (Titus 1:7) so that they can serve as elders? How can these Cretans, who are by nature vile sinners, become just, devout, self-controlled overseers of a local assembly of the church of the living God?

How, indeed! But this shows Paul’s and Titus’ confidence in the power of the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The apostle believed in the power of the gospel not only to save from condemnation, but also to transform into righteousness. Through the power of the gospel, slaves of sin are changed into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18).

HOW DO YOU DISCIPLE A CRETAN?

But we now need to consider the practical challenges of discipling Cretans. Paul knew the nature of the men of Crete (Titus 1:12-13), and he also knew the qualifications of men who could serve as elders in the church (1:6-9), and, for most of the men on Crete, there was a large chasm between their character and the character of the biblical elder. How was Titus to help these men become elder material?

Paul’s instructions to Titus are direct and unambiguous:

For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith. – Titus 1:13

Because “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” the training program for the Cretan who would grow in grace, who would walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and who would be sound in the faith is simple. The disciple maker must reprove the Cretan severely. This sounds harsh to our American ears, but these are the divinely inspired instructions of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” Sin is driven out of hardened sinners by severe reproof, not by gentle pleading or by appealing to reason. Before the gospel came, the Cretans had long indulged in degrading and disgraceful sin (Ephesians 5:12; 1 Peter 4:3), and now that they were in Christ, it was time for them to be reproved severely. If they would be sound in the faith, and if the church in Crete would display the holiness that the church is called to display (Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 12:15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), then their sin needed to be exposed and they needed to be reproved so that they would abandon their evil practices and would embrace obedience to the truth. The Cretan disciple repeated the sequence of reproof-confession-correction-repentance over and over again until holy obedience began to replace open rebellion. Prior to Christ, the life of the Cretan was like an open sewer, but through severe and loving reproof and the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral sewer slowly runs as a clear flowing stream.

But for the Cretan, the key to sanctification is severe reproof, loving reproof that calls sin, “sin,” and insists that the one who names the name of Jesus must walk as He Himself walked (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:6).

“For this reason, reprove them severely.”

MODERN DAY CRETANS

The reason that I spent so much time talking about Cretans is that these types of believers are near to my heart. You see, when I came to Christ at 31 years old, I had long indulged in sin and my life was a moral sewer. Essentially, I was a Cretan and the best thing that could have happened for my sanctification and for my growth in Christ would have been for a brave man to come alongside me and begin to reprove me severely so that I would be sound in the faith. In God’s providence, that did not happen and, as a result, my sanctification suffered.

Because of our increasingly wicked society, many of those who come to Christ, especially men who come to Christ, come to Christ as Cretans. The days are evil, the sins of the flesh are available at an alarmingly early age and, without the power of the Holy Spirit to restrain them, many give themselves over to the desires of the flesh. Without knowing it, they become Cretans, and when they come to Christ, they need to be reproved severely. Sin has firmly established its residency in their flesh and the way to drive sin out is through severe reproof. The discipler sees sinful habits and reproves severely, and the disciple actively repents, and those who were formerly demoniacs are found seated at Jesus’ feet and are useful to the Master. In all this, God is glorified.

For those who would make disciples in our Cretan-creating world, learn to reprove lovingly but severely the ones you are helping to grow.  

For those who realize they are Cretans and who need help in displaying the holiness which believers are called to display, seek out one who would be willing to reprove you severely so that you may drive the sin out.

SDG                 rmb                 6/2/2021                     #412

An active repentance

When a person first comes to faith in Jesus, there will probably be a period of time before that new disciple realizes the nature of their conversion. The person has been made entirely new in their inner person, and so there will be new ambitions and new affections, and there will be the strange experience of beginning to detest the sin that formerly was so pleasant and to yearn for holiness and righteousness that once seemed so strange and unappealing. You have been born again. New creature in Christ. A child of God with a ticket to heaven. And you have instantly become an enemy to all the ungodly and a target of temptation for all manner of sin. You have passed from death to life (John 5:24).

One of the activities you must learn quickly is the practice of repentance. This is to be an active repentance that is not in word only but plays out as martial combat, a soldier’s resolve against sin, with the attitude that “Only one of us is coming out of this alive.” Sin must be killed, and repentance is the most lethal spiritual weapon to accomplish the execution.

Repentance is the disciple’s most powerful means of holiness, but it is a weapon that requires skill in its use. And where does the new disciple learn to wield this weapon well? My advice to the new believer (or the “old” believer who was never taught about repentance) is to begin becoming familiar with this tool today! Wielded well, this weapon of repentance will yield a harvest of sanctification but left in the scabbard it poses no threat to iniquity. A hunger for holiness with a hatred of sin is the hand that draws the sword of repentance out of its sheath.

DAILY PRACTICE

Daily practice of active repentance establishes skill and readiness in the use of the weapon. Spend the next year in daily active repentance. Identify the sins that remain and that threaten to disqualify you, that would gladly ruin your testimony, and would make a shipwreck of your life. A partial list of potential sins would be: anger, pride, greed, lust, selfishness, hatred, resentment, jealousy, drunkenness, stealing, wasting time, laziness, worry and anxiety, fear of man, judgmentalism, lying, failure to proclaim the gospel, and there are others. Begin with two or three of the sins that most acutely plague you and actively repent of these sins at least once a day

SEE SIN, WIELD WEAPON

As a soldier in active warfare is ever at the ready to shoulder his rifle, so the disciple employs repentance at the first appearance of sin. As a soldier fires a hundred rounds of ammunition at practice targets to be ready for one shot at an enemy, so the disciple constantly practices repentance to fend off the foe.

A NEW SLAVE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The believer, whether following Christ for one week or fifty years, has become a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:18). This is a doctrinal fact that is as true as the fact that the believer was formerly a slave of sin. But now that the disciple is enslaved to a new and righteous Master, who is there to teach him how to combat his former sins?

At conversion, the “flesh” is strong and healthy, and the new believer is clumsy with the means of spiritual combat. Truly, “the willing is present in him, but the doing of the good is not (Romans 7:18),” because there has been no training in the fight of righteousness. The new believer needs someone to come alongside to train them in the martial art of repentance.

Surely it is the elders of the church who are to teach the new (and not new, also!) disciple what weapons he now possesses, how to use those weapons effectively, and what tactics the enemy will employ to try to destroy him. The elders of the church should be skilled and practiced at using repentance in their own lives and should have experience teaching others to conquer indwelling sin.

THE ONE WHO DISCIPLES OTHERS

The one who disciples others must himself be skilled in the weapons of war, and the primary weapon for directly attacking sin is repentance. He who would walk in holiness should seek out one who is a master of repentance.

The disciple has begun a war with sin, and the flesh, which formerly served as your accomplice to wickedness, is now to be put to death so that the fleshly voice of temptation will be silenced.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2021                     #411

What is a wretched man to do? (Romans 7:24)

Do we as followers of the Lord Jesus lament our sin? And if we do, do we lament it in the way the Bible calls us to lament sin?

These are questions that come to mind as the disciple reads through Romans 7:14-25. In this passage, Paul teaches us that, regardless of spiritual maturity and sanctification, all believers are still indwelt by the “flesh,” that factory of indwelling sin that wages war against the Spirit and that attempts to lure the believer into sin. In this section of Romans, Paul teaches that the flesh persistently tempts and occasionally succeeds. The ongoing resistance to the flesh’s temptations is wearying and seeing ourselves falling into sin is distressing and humiliating. This leads Paul to cry out,

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? – Romans 7:24

This passage is well-known, and I think there are still strong lessons to be learned here.

On one hand, too few Christians dwell in Romans 7:14-25 because too few Christians are aware of the war against personal sin. Too few Christians take seriously the New Testament’s imperatives about the demand for personal holiness, and so they never lament their indwelling sin. As a result, Paul’s teaching in Romans 7 about the danger and persistence of the sins of the flesh receives scant attention and results in no lament. It goes without saying that the person who can read the Bible and not lament their own sin has at best a shallow experience of the gospel’s power. To them, we recommend a daily meditation on Romans 7.

But on the other hand, too many Christians remain trapped in Romans 7:14-25, excessively lamenting their sin instead of repenting of their sin and walking forward in greater holiness.

Do we lament, and there, cease? No! We repent, and thus increase!

There can be a very human tendency to think that if I lament loud and long such that others can see and maybe even feel my contrition, then the sin will somehow be diminished or even overlooked. Thus, the emphasis shifts to the lamentation and away from vanquishing the sin. While this may be a human tendency, this sort of lament is useless for the believer. It is like enlarging and hanging on the wall the PET scan that reveals your cancer while ignoring the treatment plan that will get rid of the disease. The goal is to kill the cancer, not admire the evidence. In the same way, the disciple laments the sin long enough to fan into flame a holy hatred of that sin, and then trains the cannons of sin-killing artillery on the target such that it never rises again. The goal is to kill the sin, not perform your lament.

So, having seen and lamented the sin, the disciple resolves to expose, to root out, and to destroy the hated sin. The disciple moves quickly and resolutely from lamentation to repentance because the calling is to holiness.

But what is the disciple to do about the sin they have committed? Sin has been exposed and the one who sinned has confessed the sin and is now walking more carefully and in repentance, but doesn’t the sin remain?

No! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

Jesus Christ died for that sin, too. Almost two thousand years ago, Christ died on Calvary’s cross to atone for all the sins of His people. Christ has been punished in my place, to bear the wrath of God for my sin so that I can walk free and without fear. So, I do not unduly lament the sin because Jesus has died for that sin, as well. My condemnation has been forever removed and now I am free to repent while I hunger for ever greater holiness.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2021                     #410

The King in Zion and the kings on earth (Psalm 2)

It is evident from studying the psalms that the arrangement of these prayers and poems in the psalter is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on the first two psalms.

Back on May 24, we had explored Psalm 1. From this psalm, we learned that there are two groups of people on earth, the righteous and the unrighteous. The LORD blesses the righteous, but the wicked will be destroyed in the judgment. The rest of the book of psalms, indeed the rest of the Bible, will resound with the truth that, “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers (the unrighteous), to cut off the memory of them from the earth (Psalm 34:15-16).” Psalm 1, then, commends the righteous and warns the wicked.

PSALM 2

            This second psalm introduces us to the rightful King in Zion, the Son, who deserves all glory and honor, and tells us about the rebellion of the nations.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”

The psalm opens with the nations in open rebellion and the peoples plotting their evil opposition. The kings and the rulers join them in their scheming against the LORD and against His Messiah (anointed). Jesus is the rightful King, the Son, and the Messiah, but we see that long before His Incarnation in Bethlehem, the unrighteous were already arrayed against Him and were prepared to reject Him. Man has been in rebellion against their Creator since the fall. In his defiance he “takes his stand against the LORD” and shakes his puny fist at the omnipotent one. He is a rebel against all constraints and desires to be rid of all God’s commandments. “Give us no moral fetters or cords of obedience!” This psalm makes clear that natural man intentionally rejects God’s rule and rejects God’s Ruler.

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

How does the LORD respond to man’s defiance? The LORD laughs at man’s pitiful rebellion because man’s defiance is of no consequence. But while the opposition of the nations cannot possibly threaten the LORD, their opposition does serve to anger the LORD. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and we have already seen that the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). No one defies the LORD or violates His holiness with impunity. There will surely be a just recompense on the unrighteous. Remember, “the wicked will not stand in the judgment (Psalm 1:5).” But to the rebellious nations the LORD has the final word: “I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” And who is this King who has been installed in Zion? “Who is this King of glory? The LORD (Jesus), strong and mighty. The LORD (Jesus), mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8).” This King is Jesus.

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”

Notice that this next stanza is spoken by the Son. The Son tells of the decree of the LORD. Again, we ask, “Who is the Son?” Can there be any question? There is only one Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is Christ who is speaking in this stanza. We read that the Son is begotten of the LORD. In John 3:16, we read that “God gave His only begotten Son, (Jesus)” to the world for eternal life. We also read here of both of Jesus’ roles, as Savior of the righteous and as Judge of the unrighteous. In His decree, to the Son the LORD “gives the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” “The nations” and “the ends of the earth” are people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that will praise the Lamb for all eternity (Revelation 7:9) in heaven, those who have been gathered through the preaching of the gospel. But there will also be those whom the Son “shall break with a rod of iron and shatter like earthenware.” These are the unrighteous who will be cast into the lake of fire in the judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

The psalm concludes with a sober warning. “Do homage to the Son” or “you will perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled.” The judgment will come suddenly like a flood, and then there will be no room for repentance. Your doom will be forever sealed. Now you have received warning, and today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to do homage to the Son, for tomorrow may be too late. But if you bow the knee to the Son and if you do homage to Jesus, you will receive His full blessing:

“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

SDG                 rmb                 5/30/2021                   #409

The Daily Disciplines – The practice of Trust

To walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. To walk as Jesus walked. To please the Lord in all that we do. To be holy, as the Lord is holy.

These are the heartfelt desires of the follower of Jesus Christ. When a person first believes in the Lord and begins their walk of sanctification, these ideals can seem completely out of reach. We know who we are, and we know the former blackness of our hearts. We know how we used to love sin and hate righteousness. But now the Lord has changed us, and we have been set free by the Son of God (John 8:36), and now, through Christ, we former slaves of sin have been made slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18). As slaves of righteousness, we are hungry to find the means for making the necessary changes to display a new holiness.

I have found several “daily disciplines” to be helpful for enhancing my own progress in sanctification. These practices operate in concert with the ordinary means of grace, like Bible reading and church attendance and fellowship, to help me walk more like Jesus. I hope to post six short blogs about these disciplines.

THE DAILY DISCIPLINES – TRUST

Trust in the Lord is obviously central to the life of the believer. Faith and trust are virtually synonymous, so a believer without a deep trust in the Lord is highly suspect, to say the least. Having trusted the Lord for salvation, the disciple now trusts the Lord implicitly for everything.

The basis for this trust is the Lord’s commitment to the believer and His promise of faithfulness. Once the sinner believes in the Lord Jesus for salvation, that sinner becomes a saint and is adopted into God’s household as a child (John 1:12). The birthright of the twice born is that they have become a child of the King. As a child, they have access to all the King’s protection and all the King’s promises. The child trusts the Lord; He is their help and their shield (Psalm 115:11). The sinner was an orphan, wandering without direction or purpose or inheritance or father in the world, but now the child comes to the Father’s table as an heir. As an orphan, they feared the present and they feared the future, but now they can look to God their Father, who defends their present and has guaranteed their eternal future. They no longer fear what the nations (orphans) fear because the Lord God is their Father. “What can mere man do to me (Psalm 56:4)?” “Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear. Though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident (Psalm 27:3).” “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:13-14).”

Knowing about our Father’s faithfulness, we walk in trust. Our entire attitude is controlled by a settled trust in the power and the faithfulness of our God. He is the sovereign ruler of the universe, with supreme power and authority over all that takes place, and His children are the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8). “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” And so, we move forward in trust, knowing that He watches over us and knowing that He is actively “causing all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”

The disciple of Jesus trusts in the Lord, and therefore, cannot be shaken (Psalm 112:6). The disciple abides in the shadow of the Almighty, who is his refuge and his fortress (Psalm 91). The believer trusts in the Lord because the Lord is forever trustworthy. Because the disciple goes through life trusting the Lord, peace follows him wherever he goes.

“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness (Psalm 37:3).”

SDG                 rmb                 5/28/2021

Death obeys Jesus (Luke 7:11-17)

Funerals today were not that different from funerals in the ancient world. The essential elements are the same. There is a dead body that is being carried to a grave. The life of a loved one has ended, and there is no bringing them back. Everyone understands the rules. You can weep and you can wail, or you can suffer silently as you grieve the death of this person who was so recently alive and full of life and who is now cold and silent as a stone, but there is nothing that you can do to remove death from the scene. Death has again stolen from you another of life’s traveling companions. That is just the way it is at funerals. Well, at most funerals. Unless Jesus happens to be passing by.

In the seventh chapter of the gospel of Luke we read of a funeral procession coming out of the city of Nain. It is like every other funeral, because there is a corpse and there is a crowd of mourners walking beside the corpse. In the funerals of two thousand years ago, the coffin was carried by a group of bearers, much as pallbearers carry coffins today, and so the coffin of a young man was being carried out of the city. The dead man was the only begotten son of his mother and she was a widow (Luke 7:12), and so this funeral is marked by an extra degree of sadness, as this widow is now alone in the world. Other than this greater sadness, this is a very ordinary funeral.

Meanwhile, Jesus and His disciples have just arrived in Nain, accompanied by a large crowd, and the Lord approaches the funeral procession. “He felt compassion for her (the widow), and said to her, ‘Do not weep (7:13).’” The Son of God is not stoic or emotionless or distant from those who suffer, but He feels their pain. Jesus knows the damage that sin has done to the world and He feels compassion for human misery and sadness. As any caring Rabbi would do, He comforts those who mourn. So, He said, “Do not weep.”

But Jesus is no ordinary Rabbi whose comfort is limited to compassion.

And He came up and touched the coffin, and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” – Luke 7:14

The crowd had been hushed as Jesus had approached the coffin, wondering what He was going to do. Then Jesus had spoken to the dead man as if he were someone who could respond. The crowd was confused, and His disciples were probably embarrassed. “Jesus, the young man is dead. Imagine the pain You are inflicting on his mother.”

“Young man, I say to you, ARISE!”

The corpse sat up and began to speak. – Luke 7:15

At Jesus’ command, he who was dead came back to life. “And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Jesus’ compassion for the woman was demonstrated in a miraculous act.

REFLECTIONS ON THE STORY

The miracle Jesus performed is so spectacular that it is hard to put into words. How can we get our mind around this event? Imagine being there and witnessing this in person. A dead man who is the subject of the funeral procession is raised to life and begins once again to speak to his mother. It would almost be terrifying to see this. “Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, ‘God has visited His people (Luke 7:16)!’” What can we learn from this event?

First, Jesus displays His deity by speaking the corpse back into life. We see that, when Jesus raises the dead to physical life, it is to demonstrate that He is God in human flesh. This miracle was done for the same reason all His miracles were done, to demonstrate that He is the divine Son of God.

Second, we see from this miracle that death is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ, and because death is subject to Him, when Jesus commands, death must obey. Here, Jesus commanded the dead man to arise, but that meant that He also commanded death to release its grip on the man. At His command, Jesus has authority to remove physical death. Jesus is Lord over death, which means that He is Lord over my death, and He is Lord over your death. Death cannot act except at Jesus’ command. Therefore, Jesus is the one who will determine when death comes to me.

Finally, in this instance with the corpse in Nain we have a foretaste of what will happen on the last day at the end of the age, when instead of a funeral procession it will be a glorious Resurrection. On that day, “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice (the voice of the Son of Man) and will come forth (John 5:28-29).” Instead of rising to die again, all disciples of Jesus will rise to a resurrection of life (John 5:29). This body of our humble state will be transformed into the body of the glorious Lord Jesus (Philippians 3:20-21) and we will rise to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). On that day, Jesus will speak, and we will all rise.

“My people, I say to you, ARISE!”

SDG                 rmb                 5/25/2021