Baptism has nothing to do with salvation

SPIRITUAL MYTH #6 “Baptism has nothing to do with salvation”

baptismYou often hear it said in evangelical circles, “Once you give your life to Christ, you need to be baptized as the first act of obedience.  However, baptism has nothing to do with your salvation.  You are saved simply by placing your faith in Jesus Christ and repeating the sinner’s prayer.”

I think that’s a partial myth that needs to be debunked.

There are actually two sides of the mythical coin associated with the ordinance of baptism.  One is that baptism in and of itself saves you.  Parents tell their children, “Of course you are a Christian, we had you baptized shortly after you were born”.  The implication is that infant baptism, performed against your will, was sufficient to forgive your sins and guarantee you eternal life in heaven.

Some treat immersion as an adult in much the same way.  They will say, “Of course I’m saved.  At age twelve, I was baptized by immersion at the end of a new member class.”  Again the idea is conveyed that baptism alone makes a person a Christian.  This misconception is termed, “Baptismal regeneration” in theological circles.

Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly teaches that salvation is granted to those who choose to place their trust in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross and not their own goodness.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” John 3:16, Romans 3:28, Romans 10:9, Hebrews 11:1 all make it very clear – the first step of obedience is to place our faith in Christ.

The other side of the coin is the very popular misconception that since we are saved by grace through faith, baptism has nothing to do with salvation.  Baptism is just an act of obedience.  We trust Christ then, sometime later, we are immersed in water as a symbol of what happened to us when we were saved.

But the ordinance of baptism is more than an act of obedience.  It’s more than a symbol or, “an outward sign of an inward grace.”  Baptism was originally intended to be a means of receiving Christ’s grace.  It’s a God-given benchmark that testifies to the fact that we are beginning a new life in Christ.

When Jesus healed people, He often requested an act of obedience as a test of faith.  “Go show yourselves to the priests”.   “Go wash in the pool of Siloam”.   “Stretch forth your hand”.   When the needy persons obeyed, they were healed.   Their efforts didn’t heal them, Jesus did.  But their step of faith was when they were made whole.

In New Testament times when needy sinners put their faith in Christ they were not commanded to repeat the sinner’s prayer, raise their hand or sign a card, although those responses can be helpful.  Those who believed in Jesus were instructed to repent of sin and be baptized.  And they responded by doing so as soon as possible.

It’s not a myth that we’re saved by faith in Christ.  It’s a myth that we receive salvation by just repeating the sinner’s prayer.  Read through the conversion stories in the book of Acts and ask two questions: (1) What was required of those who wanted to accept Christ as Savior? (2) When did they respond to Him by being baptized?  Here are a few examples:

Acts 2- Those who believed the first gospel message were told to, “… repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins”.  Three thousand people were baptized that very day. (Acts 2:38-40)

Acts 8 – When the Treasurer of Ethiopia believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah he requested that the evangelist Philip baptize him immediately, in a pond along the road he was traveling.

Acts 16 – The Philippian Jailer was told to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”. Then he and his family were baptized in the wee hours of that D7K_3325-1981462688-Omorning.

Acts 22 – Three days after Saul of Tarsus had been humbled by Jesus’ appearance to him outside Damascus, Ananias asked him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16)

Someone may protest, “Are you saying that a person can’t be saved without being baptized?”  What about the thief on the cross? He was saved and Jesus said nothing to him about being baptized.”  Yes, but he was still living in the Old Testament dispensation – the blood atonement and bodily resurrection hadn’t yet been completed.  Jesus, God in the flesh, promised the dying thief he would be in paradise when he requested it.

“Well, what about a dying soldier who makes a death-bed confession?  What about a person who is physically unable to be baptized?  Won’t they be saved if they just put their faith in Christ?”

We certainly hope so.  We can only trust God’s grace is sufficient in those instances.  But the assurance of salvation is promised to those who demonstrate their faith by repenting of sin and being baptized into Christ.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, Cincinnati Christian University professor, points out, “Baptism is not the first step a convert takes as a Christian; it is the last step the sinner takes to become a Christian.”

If you were trained to instruct converts to receive Christ by repeating the sinner’s prayer but they refused to repeat the prayer, would you conclude they are saved?  You would probably have doubts about the legitimacy of their faith.  Jesus promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

God offers the free gift of salvation through the atoning death of His Son on the cross.  A believer’s response is repentance and baptism.  To refuse to obey is evidence of insufficient faith.  James said, “… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Simon Peter taught that just as the flood waters buoyed up Noah’s ark and saved his family, “…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…” (1 Peter 3:21)

Dr. Beauford Bryant, Milligan college professor, often said, “Baptism is a tomb and a womb.  A tomb where, by faith, we die with Christ and a womb where we’re born again into His Kingdom.”

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  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” (Romans 6:3-5)

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Your “Third Week Of March”

bathshebiaWhen Pope John Paul died, a man named Rogers Cadenhead quickly registered the web address http://www.BenedictXVI.com, thinking this might be the name chosen by the new pope. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, he did choose the name Pope Benedict XVI, causing some to question what the Vatican would do to get the rights to that domain name.

Cadenhead didn’t ask the Vatican for money. Instead, in a humorous manner on his blog he suggested a few things he would trade for: 1. Three days, two nights at the Vatican hotel. 2. One of those hats (referring to the bishop’s hat). 3. Complete absolution, no questions asked, for the third week of March 1987.1

Wonder what Rogers did the third week of March in 1987? Me too, but does it really matter? Most of us have at least a week for which we’d love to have total forgiveness.

We discover in The Story that David did. One day when the army is at war, David, who is the commander of the nation’s military, neglects his duties and stays behind. He sees Bathsheba, seduces her, gets her pregnant, murders her husband, and tries to cover up his actions by deceiving his general and soldiers. Then he marries Bathsheba and she bears their child.

It looks as if David will get away with all of this. But he doesn’t. God sends his prophet Nathan to confront David by telling him a story about a poor man with one lamb. David knows something about sheep and shepherds, so he listens. Nathan says that the poor man has a rich neighbor who needs to slaughter a lamb to feed a guest, but instead of taking one of his many sheep he steals the poor man’s one lamb.

David is incensed and says that man should be put to death. Nathan then declares, “You are the man!” At that moment David must have david repentswished he had bought a domain name that he could swap for absolution. He may have wanted to make excuses. Explain things away. Blame it on Bathsheba for taking a bath in broad daylight where he could see. But instead of making excuses, David confesses. “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13).

And God did with David’s sin what he will do with yours and mine. He put it away (Psalm 103:12-13).

You can do what David did. Whatever your “third week of March” might be, sit down with it, yourself and God. Confess your sin. And then let another shepherd from Bethlehem forgive it. That’s better than any domain name you might secure.

James’ Story

Let me paint you a picture of how disgusting sin is and what it does. My best affections for you will have to be put aside because I want you to know God’s truth and how much he really loves you and me. Truly, I was probably the most despicable person I know.

I was born and raised in Richmond, VA. I thought I had a normal upbringing.

My grandfather was very strict. My grandmother talked like a human warning sign. Every word she said was in a harsh, violent and loud tone of voice as if fear would demand obedience. And you know what? For me, it did.

I didn’t get the privilege of doing family activities like eating dinner at a dining table. I wanted to go out and be with friends, but usually the answer was no. My grandparents were so strict that I often times felt like I needed to tiptoe around the house so they couldn’t hear me. I didn’t hate them, but I was afraid. You’ll probably ask, at this point, where my parents were all this time. They worked 6 days a week, 13 hours a day. I couldn’t blame them for anything. They worked all the time and put food on our table. At the end of the week, we’d go to church.

All my mother ever wanted was a good Christian family. She wanted a family. My father, on the other hand, decided he would coast through raising us up. He didn’t teach me much of anything. So, I never really knew what it was like to have a loving father. It wasn’t that my father wasn’t physically there or putting food on the table. It’s that he wasn’t emotionally or spiritually there. My grandfather had my brother and me doing high school level math and other subjects when I was in kindergarten. If I got a question or problem wrong, he would beat us. Who was I to question them? They’re my grandparents, right? When I look back at it now, I ask “Why would my parents allow this?” And then I asked my mother, and she wept because she never even knew. She worked too long and or family never gave her a break so that she could love her kids.

My brother is a very quick-tempered, bitter man today because of what Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” He fell victim to the root of bitterness just like I did.

So, this for me was a normal childhood. I had a soft spot for mothers, was confused about fathers, and grandparents at first glance seemed very mean looking. Just kidding about the grandparents. I only meant my own.

I grew up in Presbyterian church. I couldn’t understand what the Pastors were trying to tell me. I never tried to either. Church, for me, was having fun with my friends and trying to be good, but receiving the Word meant, simply, making sure I didn’t fall asleep during the sermon. I mastered the art of coming 90% close to falling asleep during every sermon without going all the way. I think, nowadays, that the reason I loved youth group so much because I just got to be around my friends.

I honestly can’t remember any sermons, yet I went to church every Sunday until high school. That’s a problem especially when you’re like me and claim to be a Christian growing up. But going to church didn’t make me any more Christian than sleeping in a garage will make me a car. I knew Jesus, but I didn’t KNOW Jesus. In my confusion, I figured I’m a Christian because no one told me I wasn’t, and I figured I’ll just be a good person and everything will be okay.

By the time I was in high school, I had enough of church. I was determined for such a long time to try to be nice with people and try to be active in my youth group, but things weren’t going my way. I was so selfish and I wish someone had called me out on it. But no one did, so I turned to the world to go get my way.

I was a pretty good student. I attended my classes and had a lot of respect for my teachers. I wanted to do well academically and eventually find a college to go to. I studied and worked very hard in my junior and senior year and eventually landed a scholarship to an art school in Arlington, Virginia.

Until college, I’d never been to a party, tasted alcohol, smoked a cigarette or done drugs. I figured that made me a pretty good kid. However, I was also socially awkward. Having moved to a new city, I didn’t know anyone and so I decided I’d force myself out of my comfort zone and get to know people and learn how to be social. This took a couple years, but I made some friends. I still kept to myself most of the time, however, and I also prided myself for never having tasted alcohol or done drugs. I did, however, have my first drink of whiskey at age 22.

Everything seemed great on the outside, but on the inside I was really giving in to some of the worst temptations our Bible talks about. Our Bible calls giving into temptations ‘sinning’. It’s a disease that lives in all of us and causes us to fall short of the glory of God. Sometimes, we look at this ‘sin’ in our lives and we put them on a chart and say “these are little ones I have that aren’t that big of a deal” and “these are definitely a lot bigger, but as long as I hide them nobody will know…”

So, let me paint that picture of my sins. And I’m doing this because you really need to know how much God really loves us, so much to save the terrible, despicable person that I was.

I remember myself at my worst, mostly in recent years.

When I was 19, I’d slept with a woman for the first time causing her to cheat on her boyfriend and after I told her that I didn’t love her she painfully acted as if it was her fault. And I stood there and did nothing. This has happened at least 2 more times, once to a single mother.

In my early 20’s, I felt so much anxiety, depression, and bitterness growing all on top of this crazy sense of entitlement as if the world owed me something. I was so full of myself, I didn’t even stop to think of my mother’s needs when she was in the first stages of her separation from my father. She worked in her own store in Blackwell for over 20 years and has been robbed at gunpoint 6 times. Instead of seeing that she’d be okay by helping her at her store, I allowed her to work there by herself and went on acting like everything would be just fine because I wanted to chase money more than I wanted to look after my dysfunctional family.

At 24, I found a new church to start going to. Everything about it was cool. I thought it changed my life, but really I know now it was just my ‘drug’ to make everything I was doing seem okay. As long as I was going to church and participating in outreach, it could balance out all the evil thoughts and deeds I committed. I just wanted to be in the limelight and allow everyone to look at me as if I was someone important and special. I remember even getting on that stage and sharing a testimony about forgiveness and having people come to me and tell me how much of a blessing I was. But I was just one big lie. And I was being a big lie in front of God and his people.

I even ended up working at that same church by age 25. I wanted to be with the coolest looking good guys. That is until it started not working out for me. I didn’t want to help other people. I just wanted selfish gain. I wanted to be in charge. I even got baptized there because other people were doing it and I figured it would be ‘cool’ for me to do it, too, and say I got baptized. Anytime I prayed, it was only because I needed a miracle and not because I wanted Jesus.

I left that church after working there only 5 months. I couldn’t take how much good I had to do and just wanted to do bad. I started drinking more heavily and made plenty of drinking buddies, too. Soon, I had my own posse of friends I could drink several nights a week with and go to strip clubs and throw away money and tell the whole world I was finally living the good life.

That is until one day I made a friend in someone I became so infatuated with. I wanted everything this person had. Everything about this person just seemed so good. This person was so in love with Jesus, it was sickening. I wanted to fill my void so much with the love this person had for Jesus, but the sin in me just kept rejecting it and rejecting it.

As I’d sit on my couch alone at night opening my 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th can of beer I’d be angry and sick and then laughing to myself like I was going crazy or something. The only advice I’d get about life were from other friends who were on their 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th can of beer. I looked at my life and realized I had become the king of my own drunken, lawless land. Filthy, full of wickedness, and going down a long road straight to hell.

Finally, I thought to myself that I would start calling the good Christian friends I used to have and get some good Christian advice. I knew this was what I needed, but unfortunately none of them were available. Everyone had moved. I know now that God had closed all the doors and put me in a woodshed with just me and Him, but at the time all I could think was “I’m all alone.”

Getting deeper and deeper into my disgusting little world, I thought about my whole life and asked myself “In five years, do I want to be a sicker, older version of myself today? Or do I want to be someone I never dreamed I could be?”

Could I be a loving father? Even find a good wife and be a loving husband to her? Could I do what it takes to restore relationships with my family? To finally be able to give my mother the Bible Studies she told me she prayed we’d have together. To finally be able to start a real relationship with my brother. To forgive my father for leaving my mother and even have a relationship with him?

I looked at all these things and I decided one lonely night on September 4th, 2011, and I got down on my knees at my bedside and cried out loudly to God and prayed as loud as I could “God! I can’t do this alone anymore! Why?! Why do I have to feel this way?! I don’t want this anymore! I need you!! I need you!!”

And that night came and went. But, that night, God said “James, I love you. I love you so much. You turned your back on me for all those years. You cursed my name. Through your actions and your sin, you told me you didn’t want anything to do with me. You hurt my children, too. So many times, I called out to you but you wouldn’t answer. What did I do to deserve this from you, James? But, now you’ve called out to me and I’m here for you, James, like the loving father you never had. I love you so much and I want you to be my child. Welcome home.”

With the many awful things I’ve done in my life, I knew I absolutely deserved the hell God tells us we deserve for our evil ways. But God, being a loving and gracious God, thought little me should be saved. How gracious is our God? That when I cried out to him, he was there.

That night, my life changed. I repented from my old ways and literally my life turned completely around. The things I used to want: money, sex, alcohol, selfish gain. These were all literally replaced by my new love for God, love for his word, and wanting to live for God’s will for my life. I truly don’t feel the same. A veil was lifted from my eyes, as if I was blinded before, but now I can finally see. The Bible, His Living Word, has become truly real and alive to me. It’s hard to explain. Imagine passing out and a doctor puts the paddles to your chest and zaps you back to life. That’s the feeling. When I seek something with all my heart from God, he has ALWAYS answered my prayer through his Word, the Bible. God’s also given me a real purpose in serving his will for my life. My prayer life is amazing not because I pray everyday but because I’m literally praying all the time by just talking to God.

God has taught me how to live in relationship with my family, friends, and others all around me. Jesus in me has taught me to be slow to anger, to stop being anxious, and always do my best to treat those around me how a loving family member would.

God has shown me that all the doubts, worries, anxiety, and uncertainties that I had were never from him but from Satan. This is a huge problem in our society. A lot of us are becoming lost in our thoughts thinking we will never make it, we will always fail, we will never be loved, we should just kill ourselves. The last of those led my friend to suicide this past week. She loved Jesus so much and with all the problems in her life, Satan finally convinced her to kill herself. And he’s laughing. Do you see why I hate sin so much?

When Satan claims one of our own, I look at it now as a personal attack to my family. Here’s the truth: God has shown me that he wants me to have joy in the Lord and peace. He LOVES ME like a loving Father loves his child. JESUS LOVES ME and wants a relationship with ME and YOU. That love isn’t just something we feel or say, but that it’s something we do through sacrificing our own lives, like Jesus did for us on the cross, for the sake of the ones we love. But Satan is really real and we need to build each other up together to shield ourselves from his attacks.

New Venture is my new family and because God has shown me grace and how he loves me, I feel a sense of duty to love my new family and be there for them and try to be as good of a servant as I can be. I’ve joined two Bible studies and never want to miss a gathering or event. I want to keep building my character because in 2 Peter it tells us that if we build our character, it makes us more effective and productive in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I, like all of us, was dead in my sins. I deserved to die for my sin. And because of my sin, there was nothing I could do to connect myself to God because he cannot be where sin is. He’s too holy and good. But how awesome is it that he loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus (his son!) to die for me and you. He loves you so much, he wants you and me to spend eternity with him in heaven. Before I get there, I want to do what God calls us to do and bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. God has put a big desire in my heart to serve through New Venture. And through New Venture, I personally believe we can change the hearts of our community and really bring Steve’s vision full circle by changing Midlothian. How? By doing it together for Jesus.

Now, I can’t wait to be baptized because my Bible tells me to be baptized and wash away my sins. All the wickedness I ever did and will ever do will all be washed away

The Best Way To Start A New Year

With the coming of a new year everyone is talking about resolutions. Resolutions are worth about as much as some of the junk mail that invades our mailboxes every day. And they last about as long as it takes for the junk mail to hit the trash can. I have a better idea. I have a different suggestion.

Let me set this one up. Thousands of years ago, when the followers of God were getting ready to move into the new land God was about to give them, they were given specific instruction. Here’s what they were told. “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:15)

As we prepare to enter a brand new year, don’t you think that is a good direction for all of us to take as well? Consecrate means to set aside for God’s use. Now God uses all kinds of people. He uses shy people.  He uses outgoing people.  He uses really smart people and He uses people who aren’t so smart.  He uses all different races, ages, stages of life and backgrounds.  He uses men and women.  God wants to use you.  God will use plain vessels and He’ll use ornate vessels.  He’ll use big vessels and He’ll use small vessels.  But there is one thing that God will not use.  He will not use a dirty vessel.  We have to be clean on the inside.

That’s why Joshua tells the people before they move forward to sanctify themselves, purify themselves. So if you want God to do amazing things in and through your life don’t you think this is a good way to start a new year?

Let me make it as practical as I can. If you want to be used by God it begins with removing anything that might stand between you and Him. Here’s how you can do that. Very soon take a day off or an hour, sometime in the next couple of days, and sit down with a yellow pad or whatever and say, “God, show me what’s between me and You.  What’s piled up in my life?  What’s wrong in my life?  Show me.  I’m going to write it down and I’m going to admit it.  I’m going to confess to You.”  You wait and you say, “God tell me.”  You write it down.  He gives you another idea and you write that down. The idea is you make a list and then you say, “God, I admit these to You.  These are wrong.  I don’t want them in my life. I repent of them and turn from them.”  God says, “I forgive and I forget.”

Who have I hurt?  That’s guilt.  Who’s hurt me?  That’s resentment.  What am I worrying about?  That’s a lack of faith.  Who have I been jealous of?  Just cleanse your life.  That’s the way to start a new year.  I purify my heart.

The Bible says this in 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins to God He will keep His promise and do right: He will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrong doings.”  God says, “Here’s your part – you confess.  My part is I’ll purify, I’ll cleanse.”

Can you think of a better way to start a new year? This is not resolution stuff. This is fresh start, redirection of life stuff. Do you have the courage to begin your new year with this cleansing process?

I will if you will.