The Power of the Preached Word

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15

In these two verse, the Apostle Paul asks four rhetorical questions. The answer to each is “they can’t.” The point is that God uses the means of his Word proclaimed to bring about conversion and a transformed life.

This is beautifully illustrated by the story of a man by the name of Luke Short, who lived in the Colonial America and was converted at the tender age of 103.

Mr. Short was sitting under a hedge in Virginia when he happened to remember a sermon he had once heard preached by the famous Puritan John Flavel. As he recalled the sermon, he asked God to forgive his sins right then and there, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Short lived for three more years, and when he died, the following words were inscribed on his tombstone, “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106.”

Here is the truly remarkable part of the story. The Sermon that old Mr. Short remembered had been preached eighty-five years earlier back in England! Nearly a century passed between Flavel’s sermon and Short’s conversion. God’s Word will always accomplish God’s purposes.

“The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (Hymn)

The sands of time are sinking; the dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes;
Dark, dark, hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.

The King there in His beauty, without a veil is seen;
It were a well-spent journey, though trails lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army on Zion’s mountain stands,
And glory, glory dwelleth, in Emmanuel’s land.

O Christ, He is the Fountain, the deep sweet Well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted; more deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His piercèd hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Emmanuel’s land.

Author: Anne R. Cousin, 1857

The Final Judgment and The New Heaven and New Earth

Question 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: “How Does Christ’s Return ‘To Judge the Living and the Dead’ Comfort You?” It is an interesting way of looking at the Final Judgment, isn’t it? But for believers in Jesus Christ, his return is to be a comfort. We will come around to why this is so at the end, and why for Christians, it is indeed the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).

First, though, what does the Bible have to say with regard to the Final Judgment? Revelation 20 gives us a picture of aspects of what is to come in that great and terrifying event.

Revelation 20:11-15: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The passage focuses our attention on four successive scenes, each of which tells us something about what will happen after Jesus comes back.

The Great White Throne

God’s great throne is an image that should comfort and caution us. It comforts us because it promises that everything and everyone will answer to God. It comforts us because it promises that everything and everyone will answer to God. It our world, people get away with terrible evils. Genocide, war, slavery, corruption, and the list goes on and on. In the face of this, we cry with the Psalmist, “How Long O Lord” (Psalm 13). But, God is on his throne. And in the end, justice and righteousness will prevail and every single offense will be accounted for.

Here is Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf’s reflections on this truth:

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them.

My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them?

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”

The Standing Dead

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne” (v. 12). Death, Hades and the sea will all cough up their dead (v. 13). Everyone will be present. We won’t be able to hide from him who sits on the throne. Not even the grave can conceal us. “The earth and sky will flee from God’s presence” (v. 11), but we won’t have that option.

This vision of the dead standing before God reminds us that there will be a great resurrection of all people after Jesus comes back, though not all will be resurrected for the same destiny. We will all appear before the throne. Daniel prophesied: “And many of those who sleep shall in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). And Jesus said: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

There will be a final resurrection when all humanity from all the ages will stand before the throne where their eternal destiny will be determined.

Books and the Book

Books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life” (Revelation 20:12). What exactly are these two pieces of evidence, theses “books” and “the book of life?”

The “books” appear to be a record of each person’s deeds, and serve as the basis of God’s judgment: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (v. 12). According to the Bible, we are all guilty, because we have all broken God’s commands (Romans 3:23). Our only hope is if our name is found written in the book of life.

What is the book of life? It is the record of those who have been saved from the guilt of their sin by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Elsewhere in Revelation, this book is called “the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). The book catalogues the people God has rescued from the penalty of their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Daniel predicted: “But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered” (Daniel 12:1).

The Lake of Fire

Those not found in the Lamb’s book of life will face the lake of fire, the ‘Second death” (Revelation 20:14). Simply put, the lake of fire is the most terrifying, horrific, awful place ever. It is hell, the final destiny of all those who oppose God and his laws, and who reject Jesus. Just a few verse earlier, we find this dreadful description of the lake of fire:

“And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Notice three things about the lake of fire:

  • The lake of fire is the final judgment for God’s enemies, including Satan and his followers, as well as death and Hades.
  • The lake of fire is a place of conscious torment, not obliteration or annihilation. It is final separation from God’s saving presence.
  • The torment of the lake of fire is eternal, lasting “for ever and ever.”

On the last day “every mouth” will be “stopped,” and the whole world will be “held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). As Revelation 19:2 says, “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.”

The New Heaven and New Earth

Revelation 21:1-4: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The end of this world is not the end of the story. After this current universe has passed away, after humanity has been sifted and sorted before God’s throne, after all God’s foes have been cast into the lake of fire, God will do something unimaginably wonderful. God will make a new heaven and a new earth.

At the center of this new creation will be Christ. God himself will be present with his people (Revelation 22:4; Psalm 16:11; 73:25, 26). And while there will never again be the experience of sin, mourning, pain, or death.

As C.S. Lewis allegorizes it: “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Millennium

The only text in all of Scripture that speaks of the millennium (Latin for ‘a thousand years’) is found in Revelation 20:2-5, “[An angel] seized the dragon…who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God…They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (the rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years were ended). This is the first resurrection.”

The question often asked from this passage is, “What are the thousand years and when will Christ return with respect to them?”

There are four basic views of the millennium that have had prominence throughout the history of the church. They are:

Postmillennialism
The Postmillennial view says that through the binding of Satan, there will be a gradual increase in the growth of the church and spread of the gospel where more and more people will become Christians. The influence of more believers will change society so that it will function as God intended gradually resulting into an age of peace and righteousness, in other words – the millennium, which is not necessarily a literal one thousand years. Christ will then come back “post,” or after, the millennium.

Amillennialism
The Amillennial view says that Satan’s binding will reduce his influence over the nations so that the gospel is preached to the whole world, yet there is a general view that times will worsen. Christ’s reign is a heavenly one and the millennium is equivalent to the church age currently going on, without reference to a literal thousand years. Christ will then return and judge believers and unbelievers at once.

Classic or Historic Premillennialism
The classic or historic Premillennialism view basically states that Christ will come back “pre-,” or before, the millennium. The church age will go through the tribulation period. At the end of the tribulation, Satan will be bound, and Christ will come back to establish his kingdom on earth for the millennium, which is not necessarily a literal thousand years. The resurrected believers will reign with the resurrected Christ physically on earth during this time. Unbelievers will also be on earth at this time and many will turn to Christ and be saved. At the end of the millennium, Satan is loosed and Christ decisively defeats him and his remaining followers. Then the unbelievers from all times will be judged, and the believers will enter into the eternal state.

Dispensational Premillennialism
The Dispensational Premillennialism view states that Christ will “rapture” believers before the suffering of the tribulation period. During the tribulation, the Jewish people will be left to go through it and will, in large measure, be converted. He will then return again, after the tribulation, with his saints to rule the earth for one thousand years. The rest of it then follows the same as the classic Premillennial view.

There are many great pastors, evangelists, and theologians over the years who have differed on these various views. Augustine, B.B. Warfield, Jonathan Edwards have held to the Postmillennial view. John Calvin, J.I. Packer, David Platt have held or hold to the Amillennial view. D.A. Carson, Al Mohler, and Wayne Grudem hold to the classic Premillennial view, while John MacArthur is a Dispensational Premillennialist.

Observe that all of these views have been held by what we would consider genuine Christians and great leaders in the Christian faith. This is not an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Your salvation does not hang on how you come down on this issue. The important thing is that all of these views have the similar belief that Christ is returning and that judgment is coming.

Next blog post we will look in more detail  at ‘the final judgment,’ which will take place after Jesus comes back.

 

The Return of Christ (Part 2)

William Miller (the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists) predicted that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur sometime between March 21, 1842 and March 21, 1843. When Jesus did not return during that time, disappointment swept through the camp of Miller’s followers. Miller himself was undaunted; he asserted that he simply miscalculated the timing. He refigured and asserted with confidence that Jesus would return on October 20, 1844. As time drew near, a sign appeared on a Philadelphia shop window: “This ship will close in honor of the King of Kings who will appear about the twentieth of October. Get ready, friends, to crown him Lord of all.”

Most of the ‘Millerites’ sold or gave away their possessions and prepared their wardrobe for the coming of the kingdom. They gathered in white robes and waited, but there was no return of Christ. Five years later William Miller died and these words were penned on his tombstone, “At the appointed time the end shall be.”

What does the Bible have to say with regard to the timing of Christ’s return?

Jesus says in Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If we continue reading in Matthew 24:42-44, Jesus makes it clear why it is not for us to know when he will return. He says, “keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (v. 42-44).

Jesus then illustrates this teaching again with the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. He is driving home this message to “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” of his return. Despite this clear teaching, people seem to have an insatiable desire to try to answer the “when” question of the second coming. You see this not only on the tabloids at the check-out counter in the grocery store, but also in the teachings of many religious sects (some claiming the name of Christ) and Christian leaders (does anyone remember the 2010 predictions of Harold Camping?).

It is not a sign of godliness to predict something with certainty that God says we will not know. Jesus commands us to watch and be prepared for his return. This seems to indicate that it is possible that Jesus could come back at any time – even today.

“Now, wait a second.” you may say, “Scripture does present the notion that certain signs will precede the return of Christ.” This is true; Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all contain Christ’s teaching on signs of the end of the age. In Luke 21:11, for example, Jesus says, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilence in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”

Well, what are we to think about these things? How do we reconcile passages that warn us to be ready because Christ could suddenly return at any moment with passages that indicate that several important events must take place before Christ can return? There are some Christians who believe that by charting some of the “signs” that are thought to precede the return of Christ, they can make the statement that “since A, B and C have happened, now Christ can return” and name the exact moment when the return of Christ will occur.

We should realize is that some of those prophetic signs mentioned in the gospels were fulfilled when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Yet, we certainly have no reason to believe that all of Jesus’ end time teaching was realized just a few decades after his death.

For example, what about the signs in heaven when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shakened” (Mark 13:24-25)? In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul writes about “the man of lawlessness” coming before the day of the Lord and being beaten on that Day. In the past, many people have thought this could be Nero, or Hitler, or the Pope during the Reformation, yet these have all come and gone and Christ has yet to return. There is still a futuristic element to Jesus’ prophecy that we must take into consideration.

Wayne Grudem offers up a pretty good answer to the tension between Christ’s return being unexpected while at the same time having obvious signs that precede his coming. Grudem concludes that there is a way to resolve these two sets of passages without making subjective statements as to whether or not certain signs have been fulfilled. He says: “[I]t is unlikely but possible that the signs have already been fulfilled, and therefore we simply cannot know with certainty at any point in history whether all the signs have been fulfilled or not. This position is an attractive one because it takes seriously the primary purpose for the signs…to intensify our expectation of Christ’s return…With regard to the warnings to be ready…Christ could return at any time…and so we must be ready, even though it is unlikely that Christ will return at once (because it seems that there are several signs yet to be fulfilled)” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1101).

This position accords well with the nature of biblical prophecy, where the chronology of future events is not always specified. The Apostle Peter reminds his readers that they are not to lose faith when scoffers mock their belief in the second coming and say “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:9-10: “But do not forget one thing dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness…But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”

The Return of Christ (Part 1)

I remember in high school a friend inviting me over to his house in order to show me the movie A Thief in the Night. It was a movie about a young woman who ignores her family and friends who urge her to follow Jesus. Suddenly the true believers are taken away in ‘the rapture’ up to heaven, leaving her to face the terrible ‘great tribulation period’ of the last days.

The movie had quite an effect on me. It caused me to ask questions like: is this a true portrayal of what will happen in the end? What does the Bible say about what is to come in the last days? As I have looked into this over the years, I have found comfort in that the God who knows all things about the future has told us in Scripture certain things regarding ‘what is to come’ – and it is to be a comfort for believers in Jesus Christ. And so, for the next several posts we will look at what the Bible has to say about events that are still yet to come

The Return of Christ

The Bible makes clear that in the end, there will be a literal return of Christ, he will come again to consummate his rule. This truth was taught by the apostles and assumed throughout the New Testament. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven.” The Lord’s brother James refers to the future expectation of this coming when he writes, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming” (James 5:7).

Where did these men get this expectation that Jesus would return again? Well, it appears from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. When sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus tells them, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to another” (Matthew 24:30-31).

The Return of Christ will be a Personal, Visible, Glorious Return

Jesus will return personally. In John 14:3, Jesus says that, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.” When Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts 1, without delay two angels came and said to the disciples, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). So the Lord’s return will be a visible return.

Finally, it will also be a glorious return. Matthew 16:27 tells us that Jesus will return “in his Father’s glory,” and this glory will be visible to all. In Revelation 1:7, John writes, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him….” Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Paul says that, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” Christ’s return will be a glorious one, clear to all that the Son of God has come. It will be a fitting return for the King of Kings.

Tomorrow we will examine what the Bible has to say on the time of Christ’s return.

The Lord’s Supper: What is it and Why is it Important?

How Did the Lord’s Supper Come About?

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper the night before he went to the cross. Matthew 26:26-29 says: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”

In addition, Jesus calls his followers to “do this in remembrance of me” showing that it was intended to be done after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we see Christians, such as the church in Corinth, doing this very thing (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

What is the Meaning of the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is a Reminder

One of the functions of the ongoing practice and participation in the Lord’s Supper is to recall the event and significance of Christ’s sacrifice “for us.” “And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; eat it in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).

The Lord’s Supper is a Symbol

The Lord’s Supper is also a symbol of the Christians commitment to Christ and to his body. It proclaims the Gospel message of Christ’s death and of his nourishing of the Christian life. As a repeated practice, it should remind the believer of these significant truths. In the same way, He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; drink it to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

The Lord’s Supper is a Statement of Faith

In the Lord’s Supper “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper is not a perpetual rite. It is a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the messianic banquet to come at the marriage feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), when our faith shall become sight. The Lord’s Supper therefore looks back to the past in remembrance, at the present in fellowship with other believers, and to the future when the promises shall be consummated. “For whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes back” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The Lord’s Supper is a Picture of the Unity of Believers

When Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper together, they give a clear sign of their unity with one another

. Paul instructs believers not to take the Lord’s Supper without “discerning the Body” (1 Corinthians 11:29), which I interpret as instruction to individual believers to make sure that they are doing all within their ability to maintain unity within the church (‘the Body’).

How is Christ Present in the Lord’s Supper?

When speaking of the Lord’s Supper, there have been different views about Christ’s relation to His Supper. The words “This is my body” are perhaps the four most disputed words in the Bible. It all depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.
With respect to Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper the debate is between those who argue that “is” means identity and those who assert that “is” means resemblance. Here are the different views put forth for the elements in the Lord’s Supper:

Transubstantiation – Roman Catholics teach this view, which asserts that the bread and wine actually become in their essence the body and blood of Christ. At the moment in the mass when the priest says, “this is my body,” the bread becomes the literal, physical body of Christ. For Roman Catholics, ‘is’ connotes identity, and so they understand the Lord’s Supper to be a physical re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ.

Consubstantiation – Marin Luther put forward this view and many in the Lutheran church still adhere to it. This view teaches that although the bread and wine do not actually become the literal body and blood, the physical body of Christ is literally present “in, with and under” the physical bread and wine. The analogy here is kind of like water in a sponge, the idea being that Christ’s body is somehow “contained” in the elements. This view arose from Luther’s perception of a requirement to take the “this is my body” statement, in some sense, literally.

Spiritual Presence, Symbolism – These are the views held by the rest of Protestant churches. The bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ. They give a visible sign of the fact of His true, though spiritual, presence.

Baptism: What is it and Why is it Important?

Baptism

Baptism is an act of obedience in which a believer in Christ publicly confesses his faith. Every person who has trusted in Christ for salvation should be baptized.

While baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is a symbolic act of obedience which publically expressed one’s faith in Christ. It is a visible way for us to identify ourselves as followers of Christ, making clear our allegiance to Jesus and to His commandments (Matthew 28:18-20).

Three Biblical Statements about Baptism

1. Only Believers Should Be Baptized.

At NorthRidge Church, we understand the Bible to teach that baptism is appropriately administered only to those who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:36).Baptism is to be an outward sign that a person has begun the Christian life in obedience to Christ.

Consider just a few examples:

Acts 2:41 – “Those who accepted [the] message were baptized.”

Acts 8:12 – “When they believed Philip as he preached the good news…they were baptized.”

Notice that it is after Philip has told the Ethiopian eunuch the message of Scripture, particularly “the good news about Jesus,” that the Ethiopian requests baptism, saying in Acts 8:36, “Look here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

In the New Testament, the only clear subjects of baptism are those who personally profess faith in Christ.

The controversy over who should be baptized involves a larger difference over the meaning of baptism and the nature of the church. In other words, how does one become a part of the church?

Roman Catholics would argue that baptism actually regenerates and makes someone a true Christian as well as a member of the universal church. They teach that it works ex-opere-operato (A Latin phrase which means literally “from the work done” and refers to the efficacy of the sacrament). This means that the physical act of baptizing itself is what conveys grace on the one baptized.

Paedobaptists (from the Greek infant/child-baptism), those who practice infant baptism, in the Protestant tradition such as Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, would argue that baptism of a child born into a believing family makes the child a member of the covenant community, and that this baptism is a sign (like circumcision was in the Old Testament) of membership in the covenant community.

Paedobaptists will base arguments for the baptism of infants on the New Testament references to “household baptisms.” They say that the baptism of households noted in Acts and 1 Corinthians necessarily means that children were baptized. But if we explore the relevant passages and arguments, we find that there’s no conclusive scriptural support for nonbelievers (infant or otherwise) of being baptized.

2. Believers should be baptized by immersion

In every clear example of baptism the Bible gives us, the method, or “mode,” of baptizing is by immersion. The Greek word “baptizo” (used in most relevant passages) usually means “to plunge, dip, or immerse something under water.” An example of this is Mark 1:5, “The people of Jerusalem went out to [John]. Confessing their sins, they were baptized in the river Jordan.” John’s gospel also tells us that John the Baptist was baptizing people at Aenon – because there “was plenty of water there.” The need for “plenty of water” would not be an issue if these people were simply being sprinkled. Mark 1 also indicates that after Jesus was baptized, “He came up out of the water.”

Baptism by immersion best symbolizes the believers union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. Additionally, baptism by immersion best symbolizes the burial of the old life and the resurrection to walk in newness of the Christian life. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5).

Thus, both contextual clues and apostolic statements on the symbolism of baptism lead us to conclude that baptism by immersion is the form that most fully preserves and accomplishes the meaning of baptism.

3. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but is a symbolic act of obedience that expresses one’s faith in and submission to Christ.

Baptism is not required for salvation, but it is an essential part of obedience to Christ, since He commanded all those who believe to be baptized.

Since baptism follows conversion (which is an instantaneous and permanent process of sins being forgiven and coming to new spiritual life through faith in Christ), it cannot be said that baptism is required for salvation.

However, it is also clear from scripture that baptism is necessary for obedience to Christ. It follows a profession of faith throughout Acts, and both Peter and Paul (1 Peter 3:21 and Romans 6:3-4) assume that wherever possible, all the Christians in the various churches will have been baptized.

Baptism then, is simply a public testimony of God’s work in us by the Holy Spirit and an act of obedience to Christ. It is a visible way for us to identify ourselves as followers of Christ, making clear our allegiance to Jesus and to His commandments.

Questions Christians Ask? What is the Church and What Should I Look for in a Church?

What is the Church?

When someone says church, what comes to your mind?  A religious institution? A voluntary social club? A building?

The word for church in the original New Testament language means literally an assembly (Ephesians 2:19-22; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-5), referring to the meeting of the people and not a physical building. This is the biblical teaching of the nature of church: it is the people and not the building.

The church is the community of God’s redeemed people—all who have trusted Christ alone for their salvation. The relationship between its members results from their common identity as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family—enabling true Christian fellowship.

The primary New Testament metaphors for the church—body (1 Corinthians 12:27), temple (Ephesians 2:21), household (1 Timothy 3:15), and flock (Acts 20:28) – have a key characteristic the idea of separate individuals joined together into a single entity: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22).

It is assumed in the New Testament that Christians will assemble together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Christians are to involve themselves in a local church, for purposes of worship, biblical instruction, prayer, service, fellowship, all to the glory of God (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 3:10).

What Should I Look for in a Church?

Acts 2 gives a good snapshot of what the earliest Christians did when they gathered together: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” and the results of that “and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42; 47).

I believe that these elements still serve as a useful benchmark when assessing what makes for a good (‘healthy’) church:

1. Teaching

The first thing we see records the devotion of the early church “to the apostles teaching” (v. 42). This is to be the mark of all believers. “Disciple” means “learner,” and so all who come to Christ begin a lifelong process of learning more from him and about him. The teaching ministry of the church is the ministry of the Word of God, and that is to facilitate life transformation and the growth of disciples.

Look for a church where there is an obvious commitment to God’s Word as the binding authority of the life and ministry of the church.

2. Partnership

The church’s commitment to learning is followed by their commitment to one another. This sequence should not surprise us, for it is the very teaching of the apostles that reminds us of all that binds us together as fellow believers in Christ.

The word for fellowship in the New Testament – koinonia – can just as easily be translated as “partnership.” It is a partnership of all that is shared in common in Christ, a partnership of our responsibilities toward one another (“service” or “ministry”), a partnership to be on mission as a church to make disciples everywhere that God gives us opportunity (Matthew 28:19-20).

Look for a church where there is an obvious commitment to biblical ministry and fellowship.

3. Worship

The church is to make much of God. We see the worship of God in their praise of God (vv. 46-47). To praise someone or something is to speak well of them or it. It comes naturally whenever we come across something that delights us. We’ll instinctively go on talking about the latest show we enjoy or the what our kids or grandkids have recently done.

The church praised God, in a joyful (glad), wholehearted (sincere) way. Joy in God marked their corporate life, whatever they were doing together. They knew their God to be unfathomably good and enjoyed reflecting that in the way they spent time with one another.

Look for a church where there is an obvious commitment to the worship of God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24)

4. Growth

Acts 2:47 reminds us that it is God who does the growing. Any growth – in number or in maturity – is God’s work, not ours. Any church that has an evident devotion to the teaching of God’s Word, tangible partnership with one another in life and ministry, and a heartfelt praise and worship of God together that will produce a community that is compelling to a watching world. It is a church that will tend to grow!

Look for a church where the commitment to grow in knowledge and devotion to God is not exceptional, but normal (2 Peter 3:18).

Questions Christians Ask: Can a Christian Lose Their Salvation?

In his book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, J.D. Greear tells the story of an unexpected encounter he had which challenged his understanding of Christian assurance:

“One afternoon I was at a local basketball court and started a pickup game with a guy I’d seen there a few times. He was quite a character – he cursed like a sailor and had so many tattoos on his body I wasn’t sure what the actual color of his skin was. He boasted continually about how many girls he was sleeping with. He wasn’t the kind of guy you’d suspect know his way around the Bible. “

“As we played our game, I began to share my story of how I came to Christ. About three sentences into it, he stopped, grabbed the ball, and said, “Dude, are you trying to witness to me?”

“Surprised he even knew the term witness, I said, “Uhhh…. well yes.”

“He said,” That’s awesome. No one has tried to witness to me in a long time… but don’t worry about me. I went to youth camp when I was thirteen and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. And I was legit. I became a super-Christian. I went to youth group every week, I did the “true love waits” commitment thing, I memorized verses, and I went on mission trips. I even led other friends to Jesus.”

“About two years after that, however, I discovered sex. And I didn’t like the idea of a god telling me who I could have sex with. So I decided to put God on hold for a while, and after a while just quiet believing in Him altogether. I’m a happy atheist now.”

“He then added: “But here’s what’s awesome: the church I grew up in was Southern Baptist, and they taught eternal security – that means ‘once saved, always saved.’ By the way, aren’t you a Baptist?”

*******awkward silence from me*******

“He went on, “That means that my salvation at age thirteen still holds, even if I don’t believe in God anymore. ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’, right? That means that even if you’re right, and God exists and Jesus is the only way, I’m safe!”

It is a good question. Can one who is truly converted or ‘born again’ lose their salvation? Does perseverance in the Christian life matter? What does the Bible say to these eternally important questions?

The Bible makes three affirmations in this regard: 1. Those who are truly born again will persevere to the end. 2. Only those who persevere to the end have been truly born again. 3. Those who do fall away may give many external signs of being born again or converted.

1. All Who Are Truly Born Again Will Persevere to the End

In John 6:38-40, Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me; and this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Note the certainty in the language of this passage – Jesus will lose none, or no one, as it were. Jesus makes the emphatic statement that He will raise up Christians on the last day. It is not “He hopes” or “if all goes well.” And it’s not “if they hang in there and don’t lose their salvation.” He says that he will. That’s God making a promise.

Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus declares, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

Again, there is no ambiguity. No one – not other people, not Satan, not even we ourselves – can separate us from God once He has brought us to Himself.

Also, we see further evidence for this doctrine because God has placed His “seal” upon us: “In Him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14).

In the words of Romans 8:39 “…nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

2. Only Those Who Persevere to the End Have Been Truly Born Again

While the first point stresses the fact that God’s power will keep the one who has been born again until the end, the second point stresses the fact that the one who is truly saved will persevere until death. We must remember that God guarantees that those who are truly saved will make it. God does preserve the Christian in his faith – so perseverance is really a sign that one is truly a believer.

In John 8:31 Jesus says that, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Again, in Colossians we read that, “[God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body…in order to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

The point here is that remaining in faith is one of the clear signs that someone is truly in the fold. This idea is not meant to cause true believers fear or anxiety that because they struggle with a certain sin they have fallen away from God’s grace and are not truly saved. If we are saved by God’s grace and that is our basis, then we can be sure that we won’t fall away by our own works! Rather, it’s meant to call to account and warn those who have fallen away and continue in their sin and cease to exhibit the fruit of salvation.

One of the classic objections to the idea of perseverance is from the person who says, “I knew Person X, who was clearly a Christian, and he fell away.” This is a tough issue that I think will be clarified if we go on to briefly tease out another biblical statement about perseverance…

3. Those Who Finally Fall Away May Give Many External Signs of Conversion

In Jesus’ parable about the sower, the seed that was sown actually sprung up in several different places. The seed grew for a time in the rocky soil; it grew for a time in the thorny soil, and it flourished in the good soil. Listen to how Jesus explains those stony-ground and thorny-ground hearers of the gospel: “Some people are like seed sown on rocky places, they hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:15-17).

These are clearly not Christians, despite what might have been an encouraging appearance at the beginning. Whether these people are conscious “false brethren,” as Paul calls some who pretend to be Christians, purposefully being deceitful for whatever reason, or whether they are self-deceived in some way, thinking they are Christians when they’re not, these people can still outwardly look like genuine believers. In either case, though, Jesus is clear as to their fate: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me…” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Notice the language here; it’s not “I knew you and you turned from me,” it’s not “I no longer know you,” it is “I never knew you,” again driving home the idea that there is no such thing biblically as the loss of true salvation.

Back to “Person X” who was referenced earlier. In light of the above evidence, they either are a true Christian, in which case, upon struggling with a certain sin, they will return to the fold, or they were never a Christian to begin with. There are no other biblical alternatives. 1 John 2:19 sums this idea up well, “They went out from us, but they did not did not belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”