Baptism In God’s Salvation Plan

Have you ever given any serious thought to the place and value of baptism in God’s plan? The last thing I want to do is elevate it above what the Bible teaches nor do I want to fail to give it the place in God’s plan that the Bible does.

I want to caution you that this discussion is somewhat lengthy but if you will read and study it to the end it could open your eyes to something you have never considered before. I also caution you to challenge your conventional thinking on the subject of baptism and be willing to listen to what the Bible says instead of what some person or “preacher” might have told you.

I don’t know if you keep up with contemporary Christian writers and teachers but one of the best of our current day is a guy named Francis Chan. He pastors a church in California. I don’t even know what the denomination is. I heard him say at a conference earlier this year that if he was stranded on a desert island and the only thing he had was his Bible, and he read it constantly, when he got off the island and someone asked him what they needed to do to be saved, instead of saying “Lets pray this prayer and God will save you.”  he would have to say, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Francis Chan’s statement comes from Acts 2:38 and I am right there with him and here are the reasons why I am. Acts 2:38 is a clear response to what the people needed to do to be saved, or deal with their sin record with God. First, they were told to repent. Repent literally means, in its original meaning, “to turn around.” In our self-centered life we are walking away from God and when we repent we decide to turn around and walk toward the Lord and His will for our life. It basically comes down to a couple things, a change of attitude and a change of actions. I acknowledge that I have sinned and accept the responsibilities for my actions and decide to stop doing it, to walk away from it. Acts 17:30 informs us of the urgency, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Dealing with our sin before God requires a redirection of our life.

The second thing that is mentioned in Acts 2:38 is “and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” “And” is a coordinate conjunction connection two things of equal value. Repentance and baptism seem to be expected as equally important. Even more noteworthy, I believe, is the reason for baptism, “for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is quite different than the reason many churches baptize today, even those who practice immersion. Most churches simply baptize as an “outward expression of an inward faith.” But from the very first day of the church it was far more than just that.

Reading these words that connect baptism with the forgiveness of sin makes us ask, “How can our sins be forgiven in baptism? I thought the blood of Christ cleanses us from all our sins? And that is absolutely true. But, when is the blood of Christ applied to our sins and they are forgiven? Some would say, at the point of believing in and accepting Jesus as our Savior. But does it not indicate from the very first day of the church that it seems to be at the response of baptism that our sins are forgiven. Does that not lead us to believe that it is at that point that the blood is applied and our sins are forgiven?

This is the same instruction Saul, who later became Paul, was given after his life changing encounter with Jesus on his way to Damascus. He was told to go into Damascus and there he would be instructed as to what he needed to do. He went to Damascus and there met a man named Ananias who gave him his first instruction, Acts 22:16 “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Again, baptism is linked with the forgiveness of sins.

From the beginning of the church, over two thousand years ago, it was declared that baptism is for the forgiveness of our sins and as such, seems to be the point at which the blood of Christ is applied to our sins.

The other promise in Acts 2:38, in addition to the forgiveness of sins, that comes at our response of baptism, is the gift of the Holy Spirit, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God in the life of every Christ Follower, convicting, guiding and direction into all righteousness. It is impossible to live the life God calls us to on our own. It demands the active working of the Holy Spirit in our moment by moment existence. It is the identifying mark of an authentic Christ follower, Romans 8:9 “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

Again the question comes, how and when does a person actually receive the indwelling presence of God in our life? I know there are numerous beliefs on this point as well, but according to the way it was in the beginning of the church, the Holy Spirit comes also at baptism. It is when we deal with the ugliness and vileness of sin and it is covered with the blood of Christ, that the presence of God can come to take up residence in our life.

I have not heard Francis Chan’s explanation for the statement I referred to at the beginning, but I wonder if he made the statement, because after just reading just his Bible, he’s finally getting what the Bible is really saying about Baptism.

Some have argued that the things I have just mentioned were true, but they were only true for those who were gathered there in that time and place, at the beginning of the church. However the declaration of the very next verse is, Acts 2:39 “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” It is true of any who are called by the Gospel of Christ in any generation and time.

The importance, meaning and purpose of baptism is no doubt the reason that 3000 responded to the message and were baptized the same day. It is no doubt also the reason every conversion account in the book of Acts is accompanied by baptism.

All of this leads me to ask, if baptism brings the promise of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit, what are we without it?

Stay with me now, I’m not finished yet. This may have eternal consequences for you so don’t stop until you have read it all.

I am quite aware that all of this leads people to believe that I am advocating salvation by works. Let me say, unequivocally, I do not believe in salvation by works in any form. Ephesians 3:8,9 makes it clear that it is an undeserved gift. Nothing we can do will earn it.

Then what is baptism? The same thing as confession and repentance. Confession of our need for and faith in Christ requires us to do and say something. It is definitely an action but it is not a work we do to merit salvation.

Likewise repentance, when it is real, results in an entire direction change in life. Repentance requires immense action. But it is not a work that one does to deserve forgiveness.

Also baptism requires an action that one takes, event though it is more what is done to a person than what a person does. Then what is baptism? I think Paul makes it so clear in Galatians 3. The entire chapter is a discussion of salvation by faith. Then he comes down to the end of the chapter and sums it all up with Gal 3:26-27 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Which makes me ask, why in the world is Paul mentioning baptism at the conclusion of a lengthy discussion on justification by faith? Because baptism, (like confession and repentance), is not a work one does to deserve salvation but a response of faith.

The verse also seems to say that baptism is the way we get into Christ and through which we put off the old life and put on the new. That same picture is presented by Paul in Romans 6 where he likens the burial of baptism to the death burial and resurrection of Christ. It is in baptism that we bury the old life and resurrect to a new life just like Jesus.

For so long I hated what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:21-22 “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I just couldn’t believe he would say baptism saves a person. Baptism by itself has no saving value at all. I heard that the Catholic Church used to highly abuse this verse by going into third world countries and baptizing thousands every day to “save” them. That is such an abuse of the text.

Then it occurred to me what he is saying, as I examined all the other verses and examples of baptism. Baptism is the completion of our new covenant with Christ. It is the sealing of the covenant. Without it the covenant is incomplete. In that respect it is the culmination of our salvation experience and the beginning of our growing adventure with God, known as discipleship. It alone has no saving value. Without it salvation is not complete. It completes the salvation decision.

Having said all of this I assure you that I am not a fanatics that try to find a place to baptize a person the moment that person indicated a desire to accept Christ, even though that might not be a bad idea. Salvation is a process and everyone is at a different point in the process. However plans do need to be made to complete the process as soon as possible.

And I do not advocate the use of the scare tactics that if a person should die between their decision to accept Christ and baptism that they are forever lost. They are in God’s care and He is a gracious God. I wonder what would have happened to Paul’s soul if he had fallen victim to thieves and lost his life before getting to Ananias. I think God would have understood.

So, where are you in your relationship with God, your thinking about baptism and your own response to Christ and baptism? I would love to hear from you or even begin some dialogue on the subject, that is, if you are an honest seeker and not a religious arguer.

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EVERYTHING AFFECTS FIRST TIME GUESTS—EVERYTHING

I am currently reading a book by Nelson Searcy called FUSION. It is all about what is involved in getting visitors to your church to move beyond just visiting to becoming eventually fully devoted followers of Christ, which is our ultimate hope and desire.

I have attended workshops and seminars on the subject for years and years. I have read countless articles and books that address what to do and what not to do when it comes to connecting with guests that visit church for the first time.

This book has reminded me of something I have heard numerous times before but is so easy to forget or let slip and that is this, “Everything affects first time guests—Everything.” Did you get the message? Everything affects guests when they visit the church-everything. Some times it is a positive effect and sometimes it is negative, but it does have an effect.

For that reason it is our responsibility to handle the guests God sends our way with the greatest care so they can go away with a positive and enjoyable visit and thereby make plans to return again the next week or very soon.

All of this leads me to ask and I would hope all of us would ask, “What can we do to make the visit of first time guests more positive and pleasing?” Here are a couple things all of us can have a part in.

Smile: nothing is more powerful than a smile. Many of those who come are coming out of duress or in great stress or distress and the one thing that can make such a powerful difference from the very beginning is a look in the eye and a genuine, warm smile. The affect of a smile is unlimited.

Take them instead of show them:
A second thing we can all do is take them to where they need to go instead of point to the location. Take them over to the coffee table, children’s check-in table, the auditorium or wherever else they might need to go. If it is a person they are looking for, try to locate the person and take them to that individual.

Everyone involved in the experience: A third thing that will make a powerful impact on our guests is when everyone of us is involved in smiling, greeting and connecting with the new people who come our way. Don’t leave the welcoming to the few designated people who might be on duty that day. Take it upon yourself to have a positive part in their visit to the church.

Nothing we can do will make first time guests more pleased and excited about returning than these few suggestions that we can all have a part in. it’s not about a lot of high dollar stuff. It’s about high value connections.

EVERYTHING AFFECTS FIRST TIME GUESTS—EVERYTHING. Let’s do EVERYTHING in our power to make it a positive visit that highly increases the chances of a second one.

Give it to get it!

tony the tigerHave I worn out the jogging analogy in my blog posts yet? My last few posts have been about the life lessons I have learned from my recent jogging experiences. Even though I would still like to address a number of other related issues like discipline, bite sized pieces, enjoying the scenery, motivation, excuses, coasting, obstacles, and the finish line, I think I will likely wrap up the jogging gig with this post.

A couple weeks ago I was nearing the end of my morning 3.5 mile jog when I something unusual but encouraging happened. Now, you have to understand what I look like when I get near the end of my run. At this age, jogging is more like a marathon than a stroll in the park. So when I get to the end of my course I am pretty much toast. I am wiped out. And it is rather obvious to anyone who might pass me at that point in the trek.

So I’m coming down to my last .75 miles and I pass a teenager walking over to Monacan High school through the development in which I live. As I pass her she says “Hi” and I politely return the same. Then, out of the blue she asks, “How far do you run?” (Note, this is a teenager talking to a past middle aged man.) I said, “Usually 3.5 to 4 miles.”  Then she spoke the magical words, “GREAT, keep up the good work.” I don’t know if it was really spoken with the inflection or if it was the way I wanted to hear it, but the  “GREAT” seem to have a tone of shock and awe about it.

Those were magical words for a couple reasons. One is that at that point in my run I need all the encouragement I can get. It gave me the extra adrenalin to finish with dignity. It made the last three quarters of a mile seem like the first three quarters.

The other reason why it was so magical was because it made me think about the people of encouragement in my life. And how much I need those kinds of people, and how challenging and difficult and overwhelming life is without them.

Who are the people who lift you up when you are down? Who sees the positive in you when others are shining the spotlight on the negative? Who inspires you to not just accomplish but to excel? Who challenges you to push harder and farther and higher and longer? Who speaks magical words into your life?

Here’s the key to finding such people. Are you ready? Be one yourself.

The BIG One

How about another jogging analogy? In my last post I discussed “hills” and how I developed the endurance to jog longer and longer distances by focusing on one hill at a time. So in life take it one hill, or one day, at a time. It is Jesus own prescription, “live one day at a time.”

Here is an interesting observation about the hills on the courses I jog. All total, the three tracks I take add up to 11.5 miles. In the 11.5 miles there are numerous hills, some slight and others steep. Some easy and others challenging. But of all the hills I jog I have noticed that the steepest hill, of the entire 11.5 miles, is right in front of my house. That’s right, in front of my own house. If you don’t believe me drive by 624 Coralberry Dr and see for yourself.

Isn’t that so true of real life? The biggest hills we face are at home, at our front door, in our own house. It is at home that we are most challenged when it comes to kindness and respect and encouraging words and humility and authentic love and all the other relational qualities Jesus expects us to display.

No where do we need to live out our faith more than right there at home and no where are we more challenged and tempted to lose our faith than right there at home. When Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” he could have added, “beginning at home” because that’s where it all begins.

Jesus also had a word for those who act like Christians when in the presence of others but fail to do so at home. You know the word—HYPOCRITE.

Let’s take the hill at home before we attempt to conquer the rest of the course.

One hill at a time

New PictureLet me pick up where I left off. In my last post I talked about the jogging accomplishments I have reached as of late. I didn’t believe I would ever reach these feats, especially at this point in life. I am regularly jogging 3.5 to 4.0 miles three or four times a week. but, there have been many hills and valleys along the way.

Speaking of hills, they are killers. This is the first time I’ve lived in an area where I had to face the hill challenge. We moved here from Ohio where everything is as “flat as a pancake.” You can see for miles and miles across open farmland. Then we moved here and experienced the hills, as mild as they might be.

On my three different jogging routes I face several hills to climb. For months my approach had been to jog on the downside of the hill until the next hill showed up and then walk up the hill. As I would begin my route each morning I envisioned the hills and convinced myself that I could never jog up the hills, at least not all of them. Maybe I could take the first couple hills but not the entire course.

Then, I can’t remember exactly when and how it happened, but it did, I began to think differently about the hills. I began the “one hill at a time” approach. The only hill I was going to concern myself with was the next one. And until I had taken the next one I would not fret over the one that followed it or any of the other hills on the course.

The result was me finding myself taking more and more hills until one morning I surprised myself and jogged all the hills. But the only way I could do it was to think “one hill at a time.”

That’s a pretty good approach to the problems of life too, isn’t it, “one hill at a time.” In fact, that is exactly what Jesus instructed us to do. Matthew 6:34 “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow.  God will take care of your tomorrow too.  Live one day at a time.”  Or take life one hill at a time. Don’t worry about the ones down the line. Just focus on the one in front of you.

Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.  When you worry you don’t do anything about yesterday, you can’t control tomorrow, you just mess up today.  The future can seem overwhelming.  Therefore, God has put it in little bite-size pieces.  He just gives it to us in one little 24-hour increment at a time.  Live one day at a time. Talk one hill at a time.

Overcoming worry is a day to day choice.  There is no pill that will make you stop worrying.  There is no seminar, tape, or book that will rid you of worrying.  There is no one spiritual experience you can have and you will never worry again.  Worry, and the antidote to it, is going to be a daily choice, sometimes hourly, sometimes moment by moment choice in which you say, “Am I going to trust in God, let Him lead my life and take it one hill at a time or am I going to live as if it all depended on me and try to wrap my arms around it all and try to figure it all out and fix it?”

It’s your call. For me, one hill at a time works better than anything else I’ve ever tried.

I SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE

The usual order is that other people tell you whether or not they think you can or can not do a certain thing, not yourself. This time I was talking to myself. I told myself sometime ago that I would never be able to jog the kind of distances I used to jog.

Now, I have never been a big fan of jogging but I have done my share of it over the years. I have been a speed walker, for the most part, but I always threw in the jogging when I needed to whip myself into shape at an accelerated pace. There have been times in the past when I jogged a few miles in the morning a few days a week. But those were back ten years ago or more.

So here I am, almost fifty-nine years old, telling myself it isn’t going to happen again. Those jogging days, other than short stints in the middle of the speed walking, were over. But I didn’t want to listen to self and set out to prove self wrong.

This morning I did what I said I could never do. I jogged 3.5 miles, without stopping, on hilly terrain. But that’s not all. Yesterday morning I jogged 3.8 miles and the morning before that 4.0 miles. So this week alone I have jogged over eleven miles, and I didn’t stop to walk at any point along the way. I said it couldn’t be done. I still don’t believe it. And I am still walking around without cramps or a limp.

Now, granted my jog might resemble more of a trot that a jog but there isn’t an exercise category for trotting unless you are a horse. It’s either walking or jogging and by those two classifications I was jogging.

I write all this to come to this point. Over the next few blog posts I am going to share some life stories that relate to jogging. And if you have any I would like to hear yours as well.

In these posts I will discuss some things like hills, the BIG hill, impossibilities, discipline, the scenery, coasting, motivation, encouragement, preparation, obstacles and of course, the finish line. I hope you will check back.