Tag Archives: entering the Kingdom

Is Baptism really Necessary?

Last post I quoted Jesus from John 3 : He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Condemnation comes by disbelief in Jesus and not by failing the baptism test, a test which many people demand to be set before others to make sure they are acceptable to God. As important a place as baptism is in the whole scheme of things (and yes, I have been baptised as a believer and yes, I have baptised others who believed) the New Testament as a whole does not support the view that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Let me repeat : If baptism is necessary for salvation, then millions upon millions of believers who have failed to be baptised as believers,  no matter how godly and how full of the love of Jesus, will face condemnation.

In Mark 16 we read He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

You cannot use this verse to mean that believers who are not baptised or baptised as believers will be condemned. No. This is all about believing. Without believing, baptism does nothing. There are many who i know who were baptised but they do not confess faith in Christ. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God, not what we do. If you believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, changing completely around from the heart (metanoia), you are justified in God’s sight (Romans 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:1-2, 10-11; 8:1-4; 10:9-10).  Baptism is an immersion into a state already established as has been shown.

Repentance and faith bring us into the Kingdom. Baptism can then follow—people are baptised as believers –‘believers baptism’! So the Ethiopian after believing Philip says “What is to prevent my being baptised?”—the desire came from his heart, having believed. Then later at the house of Cornelius Peter says “how could anyone forbid water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) Baptism was a privilege following an experience with the Holy Spirit even without any reference to repentance!

Sometimes ‘baptism’ has nothing to do with immersion in water. It can mean the immersing of the person or persons in a spiritual experience. Here are examples of baptism used in a spiritual sense in the New Testament.

Noah and family were immersed into the terrifying covenant of salvation from judgment (1 Peter 3).  And the Israelite ancestors were immersed into Moses in the sea and the cloud as a profound experience of salvation from the Egyptian Pharoah’s army (1 Corinthians 10). But neither Noah and family nor the children of Israel were immersed in water. In both cases it was the unbelievers who were immersed in water (and drowned). But the believers were immersed in the most dramatic events and were saved. Neither Paul nor Peter taught that water baptism saves. In the same letter Peter had already stated emphatically that God has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead  . . . “ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

We also see Jesus stressed at the prospect of the most traumatic experience—His sacrificial and atoning death for us all: I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed  (Luke 12:50).

And again, His reply to the disciples who asked for the best places in the Kingdom of God was Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38)

Many commentators take baptism to be part of the gospel. So David Pawson points to Matthew 28:19-20 teaching that “making disciples is in two steps—first, by immersing them; second, by teaching them to live in the way Jesus had instructed”.  But in saying this David has omitted the essential steps of repentance and faith.  Disciple-making begins with repentance and faith. Also this “baptism” goes well beyond water to be seen as an immersing in the character, the kingdom, the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, especially when we read that in the rest of the New Testament, water baptism was practised consistently only “in the name of Jesus”.

Certainly, water baptism has an important place in establishing a good foundation right at the start for new Christians. But that is just the beginning—discipleship is an ongoing perseverance, a dying daily, a determined transformation of the mind as Paul would insist (Romans 6:3-8; 8:13; 12:1-2) in all his letters.

I hope to address further how the apostle Paul sees baptism and its place of value for the new believer, in my next post.

DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE – Part 1

Hey, what a hugely relevant matter this is! And how very complicated it can be. And so many voices! So firstly allow me to share thoughts on Jesus’ answers put to him by the Pharisees and his bottom line to his disciples in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10.

Vs 2-4. Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  He answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written to divorce her.”

The context for this question was the ongoing discussion among the Pharisees regarding “for what cause can a man divorce his wife?” Rabbi Shammai’s tradition said “for no cause except adultery” and Rabbi Hillel’s “for any cause”. Big debate.

Vs 5-9. But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female.  For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Jesus takes the matter back to Genesis 1-2, God’s original plan, long before Moses and his ‘concession’ (repeated by Jesus in Matthew 5:31-32) and concludes bluntly that no one should separate those joined by God. That is sin.

Can we ask what circumstances, if any, exist when God has NOT joined two together? And then can man put then asunder? Are two gay men joined by God? Are two pagans joined together by God? What if two come together in lust for erotic, no holds barred experiences? Are two who write up a contract to legalise what happens in the event of divorce, really joined together by God?  What about one who has sex with a prostitute? What about a woman who is raped? Is she obliged to marry her aggressor? And what if one attempts marriage having had a previous sexual encounter? (see Deut. 22:13−21 and Matthew 1:18-25). Just asking! This is a complicated subject and one which we are not always given clear scriptural direction. In such cases we need to hear from God humbly and without trying to justify ourselves.

10-12.  In the house, his disciples asked him again about the same matter.  He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife, and marries another, commits adultery against her.  If a woman herself divorces her husband, and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus flatly and emphatically overthrew Moses’ tradition in his reply to his disciples. In Moses a woman cannot give her husband a bill of divorce. But for Jesus, neither spouse can divorce the other—he treats the wife and husband equally!

The gospel of Jesus brings with it forgiveness, grace, mercy. He welcomed ‘sinners’ but castigated the ‘righteous’. He did not condemn the Samaritan woman (John 4)—he did not say “divorce your current husband” but “drink the water I will give you”. He said to the condemned woman taken in the act of adultery “I don’t condemn you. Go and don’t sin anymore”.

In that dramatic story (John 8), Jesus wrote on the ground. Some think he wrote the 7th commandment re adultery. The context is Jewish and Mosaic. But Paul insists in his letters we are not under the Ten Commandments. Instead we are no longer to live in sin, not because we are under commandments, but because Jesus sets us free from the bondage, the enslavement of sin and we are under grace and now married to another. We are now under a New Covenant.

I cannot see Jesus saying to divorcees who are truly repentant of their sin but now remarried, “Divorce your second spouse”. I can see him saying instead, “I don’t condemn you. Go and don’t sin anymore”. There are things done which cannot be reversed e.g, abortion, murder, rape, divorce, adultery, illicit sex. These cannot be undone. But they can be repented of, renounced and left behind in the gospel. “Go and do not sin again”. David and Bathsheba comes to mind—Jesus’ ancestors!

Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor 6:9-11

A covenant can be broken. Moses smashed the 10 commandments, Israel broke God’s covenant (Jeremiah 31:31, Ezekiel 16:59) and God was said to have given adulterous Israel a bill of divorce (Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:8, Hosea 2).

Christian leaders have a responsibility to present the Gospel of grace to those broken, hurting and traumatised by a dominating, cruel spouse. They must not simply deal with people like the Pharisees did, by absolute commands supported by isolated texts dragged out of their Judean or Greco-Roman context, resulting in the imputing and retaining of their sin.

To direct one to remain married to a person who destroys the marriage covenant by repeated unfaithfulness, enslavement, serial illicit sex, constant abuse and the like is also contrary to the spirit of Jesus.

to be continued . . .  . .

 


 

ON KEEPING THE SABBATH

There are some believers, and these are not just Seventh Day Adventists, laying on others an obligation to keep a Saturday Sabbath.

This is to forget or ignore the apostle Paul, who was firm about any kind of regression into Moses or any enslaving religion: “. . . But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and destitute elemental powers? Do you want to be slaves to them all over again?  You are observing days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid on your account that perhaps I have laboured for you in vain.” (Galatians 4, NASB). No. God loves us and saves us from enslaving religion.

And in Colossians 2: “Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or Sabbath.  These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.” (NASB)

The Letter to the Hebrews—written to believers who were formerly locked up in Judaism—shows how all has changed in the New Covenant and that the ordinances we read about in the Old Covenant were shadows of what was to come. Truly Jesus’ sacrifice for us and his resurrection has changed everything. The love of God for us all is now wonderfully portrayed!

Jesus took the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross affirms Paul (Colossians 2:14).  God’s amazing grace and love again!

The Sabbath was an ordinance given to the people of God in the Old Covenant under Moses. Exodus 31:12—18 shows us that the Sabbath was given as a gift to the people of Israel. It was a special sign of God’s covenant between Himself and Israel—there was a special relationship between national Israel and Sabbath keeping, as Exodus 31 shows (31:12—18), especially vss 16-17. The emphasis was on the whole nation keeping the seventh day holy, rather than merely a day of rest.

This issue was the major stumbling block for leaders of natural Israel because of the huge emphasis on Sabbath observance in their scriptures—an emphasis which is so noticeably absent from the New Testament. In the New Covenant we must follow Jesus and not Moses: “this is my beloved son—Listen to him” said the Father on the mountain.

By contrast, Abraham received no such special sign in the covenant which God made with him and which preceded the Law by 430 years! Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew of no Sabbath. Now Paul insists the covenant blessing of Abraham extends to Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Having begun in the Spirit do we finish in the flesh? No way. (Galatians 3)

The Sabbath ordinance like all the others, was nailed to the cross. Jesus has become our Sabbath, and in Him alone we rest in everything. We have been transported into the kingdom of Christ, the New Covenant made between Jesus and the Father, a covenant that can never be broken by us because we cannot break a covenant we did not make. Oh such love!

Jesus gave many commands to his disciples but not once did he mention the Sabbath to them. When he said “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” and “the the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” you will find the context was that of religious churchy leaders accusing Jesus of working on the Sabbath. They were out to get him even though he was doing the very works of the Father—working on the Sabbath! Loving everyone. He did not rest on the Sabbath but he certainly kept it holy.

In Acts 15, the apostolic leaders in Jerusalem appealed to Gentile believers merely to “avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals and blood.” Nothing else—nothing there about keeping the Sabbath. Now for Jews to say that could only come from the Holy Spirit!

There is nothing in Paul’s writings to support Sabbath-keeping, nor in any of the other apostolic writings. Examine Paul’s last letters, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and you find several lists of sins predicted ‘in the last days’ and there’s nothing about expectation of the sin of neglect of the Sabbath! Neither is there any hint of Sabbath-neglect among the lists of faults of people contemporaneous with Paul’s letters. None.

The bottom line is the New Covenant we have in Jesus—our lives are hidden in Christ with God. All has changed in the New Covenant. We are not Israel after the flesh, but we are the Israel after the Spirit. We come to Jesus weary, heavy laden for his rest to our souls and to learn from him (Matthew 11:28-29). Oh, what love!

Of course there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that we should not meet on Saturdays! Or any other day of the week. Or how often, for that matter. There is such freedom for the people of God.

It does say that our being together should be frequent. We see this in Acts 2:46  . . .  “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.    . . . . . . And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

And Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to constantly encourage one another daily while it is still “today,” so that none grow hardened by the deceit of sin.

Every day is the Lord’s Day in the New Covenant, “now is the accepted time—this is the day of salvation”. That’s because Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath—we follow him and not Moses who promised the coming of “that prophet” who turns out to be our Lord Jesus. So unexpected!

This is just another issue that we should not need to tackle–we who are partakers of the divine nature and upon whom the end of the ages–the new covenant in Jesus–has come! The devil loves to sideline the people of God into these sorts of things while people are dying around us and we trifle with doctrines which have long been rendered obselete. Let’s get on with making Jesus known, making disciples, healing the sick, proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God.

NOT HEALED? DOES GOD LIE TO US?

Michael I feel your pain. I am also tempted as you are. Jesus was tempted as we are. But to Messiah Jesus, Scripture never rang hollow. Perhaps we can say that there was one hour when scripture did seem hollow—when for our sakes, on the cross, he cried “My God why have you forsaken me?” Yet he trusted God and triumphed. So must we. The last thing we should do is to hold God responsible. Study Jesus.

Nobody’s experience . . . ? Really? Sometimes we can actually ignore the tremendous evidence of God at work in countless men and women. Their experience exceeds with what I have said here—I can refer to thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Almost daily I am informed by trustworthy sources of God’s saving and healing demonstrations throughout the world. It is extraordinary! Would you like me to lay it out for you?

We are without excuse. Absolutely.

Listen, even if we had NO such affirming evidence, God’s promises would stand firm. “Let God be true though ever man be a liar!”

We all who enter the Kingdom of God struggle sometimes to come to terms with a loving God who has graciously allowed us to choose to love him back. Yet his offer to us, his new covenant, is such a good deal. Amazing grace. Unbeatable. Where else can we find such salvation but from this ever-loving God?

Have you got a better deal?

It is the enemy who tells us we are empty, frustrated and joyless and that it is all God’s fault. We must hold the enemy responsible, not God. We have a formidable accuser who will not stop muttering to us that God cannot be trusted. Satan enlists others in his wretched project which is to destroy God’s kingdom of love, health, freedom and joy.

This enemy will do anything to stop our inheritance even to urging us into religious practices—‘exhausting prayers, fastings’ which can just end in emptiness and, God forbid, the shipwreck of our faith. We must turn from his lies to the clear word of God.

Satan began with our first ancestors and has continued ever since. He asked the woman “Has God really said don’t eat it?” She knew the word of God, “don’t touch that tree or you die.” Yet incredibly she believed the lie “No, you won’t die . . . . . in your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God . . . . .” (Gen 3).

The awful result is we begin to accuse God, to hold God responsible, if we listen to such filthy trash. Stop it!

You would think by now we would learn the lesson that we humans continually try to shift blame from ourselves to others and worst of all, on to the One who lovingly created us and has done the ultimate to show us his character of love. Study Jesus again. And again.

Our enemy is a liar from the beginning and continues. You know how the accuser has infiltrated the minds of many religious people to try to turn the glorious family of the New Covenant into a tangled mess of self-opinionated, self-righteous, self-justifying commercialised competing corporations.

As always, the way forward is to turn from unbelief to trust, despite any prevailing circumstances. Help is at hand from your many fellow-travellers.

IN MY NAME?

A couple of days ago we looked at this sobering passage that follows. Let us listen further to Jesus!

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one 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 will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Mat 7:21—23

Notice the repetition of in my name. Repetition shows Jesus is stressing something important. How often do you hear that something was done in Jesus’ name as if that legitimises it, the decision. Mark well this scary word from Jesus. Let us beware of doing stuff not planted by the Father, or worse, upon which we are subtly relying to enter the Kingdom of God. There may be a sub-text to “my ministry” by which we store up credits for the End. Instead we may be storing up wrath for ourselves.

Jesus tells us frequently to ask for things in my name. This is a gracious promise and privilege for his disciples. But this is not a formula to stick at the end of our prayers as if that would move God to answer us. In Jesus’ name means we ask as if Jesus is asking, our requests matching his requests, our cries intertwined with his. We ask with the mind of Christ. Our askings must come out of a profound relationship with him. We must know him. Otherwise we may take the name of the Lord in vain.

Jesus warns us here that the things we do in his name must arise from a loving relationship with him. If not, we may hear the dreadful word of rejection and the charge of lawlessness (=unrighteousness).

Can you think of anything more horrifying after years of labouring for what we think is his Kingdom to hear those terrifying words ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Can you imagine the protests? “But look at what I have done in your name! I have pastored churches in your name. I have written books in your name. I have lectured theology in your name.” But defence will be useless. Only one thing is needed: turning from running our own lives, knowing him. Now.

Well-meaning people may decide what are the right things to do. They decide what they will do, but with no reference to what the Father wants. “But I prayed about it” is a plea that will not be acceptable. There is no point in us running his show and asking “Lord please bless what we are doing”.

Politicians may declare “we will decide who comes to our nation and the circumstances under which they arrive”. This is the way of human thinking, the way of the kingdoms of this world: I will decide where I go and what I do and how I do it. Who has authority to decide, is the issue. It was this which ignited faith in the Roman centurion recognising Jesus’ authority and submitting to it. (Mat 8:9-10)

“Then who Lord, will see the Kingdom?”—the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. The will of God has to be heard and not just assumed to be what suits you or your organisation. It is his government, not yours. You are to take your place as his partner not his advisor. So, what to decide? We do the Father’s will by deciding to listen to his voice, then acting on it. Obedience not sacrifice! Jesus’ methodology consisted of his relationship with the Father. That must be our way also.

How serious this is! His Kingdom is utterly counter intuitive. The government is upon his shoulders, not ours. It is his Kingdom, not ours. And we will experience it only through our relationship with him.

Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.