A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Have We Got This Right (Part 3)

Continuing with my effort to answer the question of this series, we come to baptism. If I read the whole thing freshly and believe, what do I understand about baptism? I think this is the first response to Jesus with which a present-day reader would have some trouble understanding. I’ll try to talk through what I think an objective thought process would be and highlight likely difficulties.

The first encounter with baptism in the New Testament is Matthew 3:5-6: “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (ESV). Reading on through reveals baptism is done in a river, in water, for repentance, for remission of sins, to make one a disciple, with belief, for salvation, as an appeal to God for a clean conscience, as a symbol of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, to wash away sins, and in obedience to command. Jesus was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” There is “one baptism.” All that is as clear as a bell, so coming to the text without prejudice, the believing reader just accepts the aforementioned truths about baptism and moves forward to do it. But, to do what?

I’m writing this with the understanding that the reader has an English translation of the New Testament. Baptism is in water. Philip and the Ethiopian went “down into the water” (Acts 8:38). Jesus was baptized “in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9). We are “buried” in baptism (Romans 6:4). All this clearly points to burial in water, or immersion, but the word baptism in English doesn’t make that clear, and if the reader went to any number of churches for baptism he may be taught sprinkling or pouring water on his head is sufficient. Another reader might get confused about water baptism versus Holy Spirit Baptism. It would be very easy at this point for our first-time reader to be misguided, and is the first step along the way where centuries of disagreement and division make simple obedience to the gospel difficult. The reader needs to do his homework at this point. I’ll write something about that next. 

It also occurs to me there are still deeper things such as what does "salvation" mean, and what does "remission of sins" mean. I don't want to take for granted a new reader understands those things. Assuming things like that is how prejudice creeps into our interpretation. I'll try to write something about these things soon as well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Have We Got This Right? (Pt.2)

Last week I wrote, “If someone were to read through the New Testament for the first time and believe it all, what would he do in response to the gospel? I think that’s a question we would all do well to ask and try to answer without the filtering effects of prejudice.” I want to take the next step in trying to answer that question.

Remember, we’re starting from the standpoint that someone has read the New Testament and believed. There’s no doubt belief is the first appropriate response to the gospel (John 8:24). So, someone reads and believes and grasps the full-scale, sacrificial commitment Jesus is asking for. Is the willingness present to make the needed change of purpose and loyalty? Someone said, “The gospel does not allow the luxury of indecision.” When you realize what the gospel is about, and what Jesus demands of you, you have to make a decision—and WILL make a decision one way or the other.

What I’m talking about is repentance. It means to turn around, to make an “about face,” in military terms. It’s a change of mind that results in changed behavior. To realize Jesus is calling for you to make him your leader and teacher is to realize YOU aren’t equipped to lead and teach yourself. No one other than Jesus is suitable to be your leader and teacher, because no one is his equal. In every way in which you have not followed his way, you have sinned. You have been in rebellion against your Maker, destroying yourself, and headed for ultimate destruction. God’s love doesn’t want that for you, so he calls you to make a change. Jesus said it this way, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). I think it’s pretty plain that among the first things one notices when reading the New Testament freshly is the call to repentance. We’ve got that right! So, will you repent and turn to Jesus?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Have We Got This Right? (Pt.1)


No one can deny that the core of the gospel is the literal death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1Corinthians 15:1-4). Following these in importance are his ascension/exaltation (Acts 2:33), authority as Lord (Matthew 28:18), and the fact he’s coming back as Savior and Judge (Hebrews 9:27-28). There’s very little disagreement about these facts among believers in Jesus. However, there’s a great deal of confusion about how the Lord wants the believer to respond to this good news. If someone were to read through the New Testament for the first time and believe it all, what would he do in response to the gospel? I think that’s a question we would all do well to ask and try to answer without the filtering effects of prejudice.

The four gospels are full of accounts of people responding to Jesus. Some ignored him. Some rejected him. Some persecuted him. Some believed, but wouldn’t admit it. Some believed, but wouldn’t follow. Some believed, but later fell away. Some believed and sacrificed everything to follow him. Peter was one of these, and put words to the response Jesus was looking for when he said, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Matthew 19:27). Jesus asked for total commitment: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). I think the first thing that would stick out to me were I reading the New Testament through for the first time is the all-encompassing scope of Jesus’ invitation. He wants me to give him everything!

As I try to imagine I’ve never read these verses before and think freshly, hopefully without prejudice, I'm compelled to examine the response to Christ I’ve made to this point. I’ve done a lot of things in response to the gospel message. Have I responded with a total self-sacrificial commitment to Jesus? It’s arguably the most basic thing he asks a believer to do. Have you?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Good Confession (Fight, Take, Keep)

In a power-packed little section of Scripture, the apostle Paul wrote a stirring admonition to young gospel preacher Timothy. It says, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Timothy 6:12-14 ESV). There are three apostolic commandments: Fight, Take, and Keep.

Paul commanded Timothy to fight. He told him to fight the good fight—not “a” good fight; “the” good fight. There’s only one! It’s the fight of the faith, and there is only one true faith. It’s the war against the forces of evil for the glory of God and souls of men. There’s ultimately nothing else worth fighting for. It’s a war of truth against lies fought on the battlefield of human minds. Paul admonished the young preacher to take hold of eternal life. as the object of his calling. Like Timothy, we are called into eternal life if we’ve made “the good confession.” There’s no doubt salvation is by grace, but the “through faith” part (Ephesians 2:8-9) involves free will and Timothy had to make the decision. Last, the apostle charged Timothy to keep “the commandment.” As to which commandment this refers brother Coffman quoted Lenski: “the New Testament shows clearly the gospel itself is called the commandment because its preaching, teaching and inculcation were enjoined upon the apostles (Matthew 28:20ff).”

At the heart of all the power in this section of the Bible is this “good confession” that Jesus is the one and only Christ, our Lord and Savior. By making it Timothy enlisted as a soldier in an epic war, laid claim to an eternal destiny, and committed himself to enduring whatever it took to remain true to the terms of the gospel. Paul reminded Timothy that Jesus made the same confession, and in carrying out the responsibilities attached to it, went to the cross. Timothy was to follow Jesus’ example in facing whatever sticking to that good confession required. Do you suppose we who have made this good confession ourselves will be held to a lower standard? Fight. Take. Keep.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Do I Have To Forgive Everyone?

There’s a lot of bad info out there about forgiveness. The worst of it comes in two forms: hypocrisy and guilting. The hypocrisy comes in the form of those who rattle on about how forgiving they are until they’ve got something really tough to forgive, then—insert record scratch here—the music’s over. The guilting comes from the mindset among many, especially Christians, that God requires you to forgive anyone and everyone of anything and everything regardless of whether they want to be forgiven or not. Then they load judgment upon wounded souls who don’t forgive someone who doesn’t want to be forgiven.

Here’s the Lord’s word on the matter: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4 ESV). Note the “ifs” and the “must.”

Question: Does God forgive every sin? If you know the Bible, you know God won’t forgive some sins. If being disciples means imitating Jesus (God incarnate) then we ought to be as forgiving as he is. Listen to the word of God: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld’” (John 20:22-23 ESV). That passage needs more explanation than I have space for here, but suffice it to say God never envisioned Christians being more forgiving than he is. God will forgive anyone who repents. If someone sins against you, call attention to it. Forgive him if he repents. If he won’t repent, you’re not bound by heaven to forgive. However, if you won’t call a sinner’s attention to his sin, better just forgive and forget it.

Doubtless someone will bring up the fact Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who were crucifying him when they had not repented (Luke 23:34). True. Two points: Jesus forgave them without repentance because they sinned in ignorance. There’s a vast difference between an honest mistake and willful sin. We can make the same distinction in our relationships. Second, forgiveness is a loving tool God uses to affect needed change in people’s lives. What do we make of a God who would compassionately forgive his torturous murderers? Wrestle honestly with that question and you’ll give Jesus your life! Can you forgive someone who hasn’t asked for it? Yes, if it will serve the greater good. In many cases you should. However, in cases of willful sin, you need to confront the sinner and withhold forgiveness until he repents, not because you’ve been wronged (1Corinthians 13:4-7) and “how dare someone wrong me,” but because the sinner needs to make some changes, and ought to be held accountable until he does—that’s for the greater good.