Monday, June 26, 2017

What Is Baptism with Fire?

Speaking of the coming of Christ, John the Baptist told his audience (Matthew 3:11-12): "I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not
John the Baptist
worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire

We often hear verse 11 quoted, especially by Pentecostals, who claim that it refers to baptism with water and baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, which is supposed to be what they're doing when they are writhing around spouting gibberish. Notice that they never go on to verse 12, because it shows that their interpretation is merely begging the question, not the actual intention of John.

John says that Jesus will do two things, baptize with the Holy Spirit, and baptize with fire. This is what the Pentecostals try to make into one thing. However, he goes on in verse 12 also to describe two different groups of people, the "wheat," and the "chaff" (compare the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). The first group He will gather (cp., Matthew 24:31) into the barns, that is, to be kept, while the latter group is intended for fire. Thus the baptism with the Holy Spirit is for the first group, while the baptism with fire awaits the other.

Thus, taken together, the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire are two distinct things, the first for believers and the second for unbelievers.

This is consistent with the rest of Scripture. For example, Paul tells us that all believers, not just some of a special class, are baptized with the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13). We also know from other passages that Jesus Himself described fire as the destiny of unbelievers (Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:42-49).

I think that this simple use of context and the analogy of faith, i. e., comparing one passage to another, demonstrates that the use of this passage is unwarranted, at best. It takes the mere proximity of two words to mean that the two words refer to the same thing. There is no glossolalia taught here.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"Total Depravity" Seen in the Life of David

We don't usually look for much theology in the history books of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. They show God's dealings with His covenant people, whether for good or for ill. But, if our interest is to discuss a particular doctrine, we are more likely to go to the Gospel of John or the Epistles of Paul than we
David and Saul
are to First Samuel. And that is proper. However, that practice can cause us to overlook the gems hidden in the midst of wars and genealogies that we expect in them.

In First Samuel 24, we are in the midst of the conflict between the outgoing King Saul and the rising king-to-be David. David finds a sleeping Saul in a cave, and cuts of a corner of the royal robe. Later, he shows the sample to Saul to prove that he could have killed his oppressor, but refrained, out of respect for the Lord's Anointed (verse 10). David explains (I Samuel 24:12-13), "May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you."

I especially want to focus on the one phrase, "Out of the wicked comes wickedness." That this proverb is true is shown by its later use by David's descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ: "What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person" (Matthew 15:18-20).

This is the doctrine of total depravity. Both David and Jesus are teaching the biblical truth that we sin, every one of us, because we are sinners. Our hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9)! This is contrary to the common belief that committing sins makes us into sinners. All of Scripture teaches this, though our human hearts reject it. In fact, our natural reaction to the doctrine is subjective proof of its truth!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The World Belongs to Jesus, Not to Satan

There is a common mentality that holds that this world belongs to Satan. We are merely to rescue a soul here and there, but the rest of the world is literally going to Hell. Working for change is ridiculed as "polishing brass on a sinking ship."

But that is far from a biblical worldview.

To begin with, it has never been true. The false view is based on a misuse of II Corinthians 4:4: "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." While it is true that "god of this world" here refers to Satan, it is not true that he is a god, at all, or that "world" means "everything." Rather, this verse refers to the minds of the unbelieving world of men. Notice that his power is explicitly applied to the minds of unbelievers alone.

Furthermore, this world does not belong, and has never belonged, to Satan, or even to man, but rather to God. "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers." The earth and everything in it belong to God, because He created it. He has never ceded its rule to anyone else, including especially to Satan. He even tells us, "My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11). There are people, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and some dispensationalists, who would have us turn the glory of God over to Satan, but He allows no such sacrilege.

We do know that Satan is a dangerous threat. The Apostle Peter warned us, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8). That is clearly intended to indicate that he is powerful. However, it is a far cry from all-powerful.

While a believer cannot afford complacency, it is not a call to terror, as if we may be consumed by the power of the devil at any moment. Why? Because Jesus has defeated Satan. Jesus told us (John 16:33), "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." This is where these dispensationalists truly fall short. As bad as it is that they exaggerate the power of the enemy, it is a magnitude worse that they undervalue the redemptive work of Christ. Jesus hasn't merely saved a person here and a person there, while Satan wins everything else. Instead, Jesus won the victory over all the power of the devil: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14).

When anyone acts as if he thinks that Satan is hiding behind every bush, remember the words of Jesus: "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out" (John 12:31).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Like Juice for Breakfast, Idols Aren't Just for Pagans!

In his first epistle, the Apostle John makes an interesting remark: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (I John 5:20-21). He asserts that spiritual enlightenment is found in Christ. OK, that's a good thing. Then he asserts the true deity of Christ. That's an excellent addition. then he adds, "Keep yourselves from idols."

That warning just seems out of left field!

If a person understands the first two things, that light and life come in the incarnate Son of God, is it not self-evident that he would then stay away from idols?

Of course, the man of God has that statement from the Father: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God" (the Second Commandment, Exodus 20:4-5). And we know how well that worked out for Israel (Exodus 32). We know, therefore, that knowing the true God does not shut down the fallen heart, of which John Calvin said, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols."

We must be saddened by the awareness that professing Christians do little better than did the ancient Israelite. Does not Rome produce an army of idols?

Images of Various Saints

This is what John addresses, perverting our faith in the true god, Jesus Christ, by turning our devotion to images, whether we call them saints, gods, or even Jesus. After all, when the Israelites were worshiping the Golden Calf, they called it Jehovah (Exodus 32:5). Therefore, regardless of the claims of Rome, the Second Commandment isn't just about worshiping pagan gods.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What Is The "World" of John 3:16?

Almost any American can recite John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." We see it flashed at all sorts of public events, even sports games. Just the citation, not the full text.

But who stops to consider what it means? What is included in the "world"? What God? What Son? What does it mean to "believe"? "Perish" how? What is "eternal life"? I don't mean to consider all of those questions. Rather, I mean to point out how it has been turned into a slogan, with no awareness of its content.

As can be seen by my headline, I want to examine what "world" it is that God loves.

First of all, what is it not? The fact that it goes on to talk about those who believe, we can see that it isn't talk about a world, such as Mars or Vulcan. Rather, it is talking about the world of men. It is like we might say, "The whole world watched the moon landing on TV." Anyone would understand that we are not talking about a ball of rock twirling through space.

The Bible refers often to this same world and God's plans for it.

In Isaiah 65:17, God gives us this promise: "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." God has a plan for this world of men, this world with cancer, war, famine, and angst. It is to be replaced. He tells us more of His plan in Isaiah 66:22: "For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before Me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, declares the Lord." This new world that He is creating shall be distinguished from the old one by its relationship with Him, from one person to the next, generation after generation.

The Apostle Paul explained this idea. In Romans 8:19-23, he explained, "The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons." This world around us was never meant to contain the suffering and futility that we see everyday. Rather, they result from the curse brought about by the sin of Adam (see Genesis 3:17-19). However, as God brings His people into our proper relationship with Him, to that same extent the curse is rolled back, and all of creation is released and restored to its proper state in service to man under God. How is that relationship brought about? John refers to "everyone who believes," and Paul expands this (II Corinthians 5:19): "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." That is, "believing in Him" means being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. That is, not believing in the sense that we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, but rather being restored to our relationship with our Creator, who has reconciled us to Himself through His only Son.

The Apostle Peter adds his own testimony to this restoration. In II Peter 3:13, he tells us, "According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." This is how the new earth, the world of John 3:16, will look: "in which righteousness dwells"!

How will this be attained? The same Apostle John tells us (I John 2:2): "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." Adam sinned, bringing God's curse on our world. However, He loved the world He made, and chose to remedy the destruction which man had wrought. He sent His Son to die on the cross to satisfy His justice for all who believe in Him. Through that and the changes that occur as a result, He is restoring the world He created.

In Revelation 21:1, 4, John continues describing us what this new world will be like: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. [And there] 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." Where Adam had created a world of futility and hardship, God re-creates a new world where we will cease to know hardship or sorrow. That is the world that God loves, and which is, even now, creating through Jesus's work of reconciliation in and through His people, the church.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sprinkling for Cleansing as the Pattern for Christian Baptism

Chapter 19 of the Book of Numbers is about the rituals of cleansing for those who are ritually unclean, such as from touching a dead body. For obvious reasons, I won't quote the entire passage. Specifically, I want to point to what Moses calls "the water for impurity" (Num. 19:9, 13). This water was to be made by mixing the ashes from a sacrificial heifer into some water (verse 9).

When a person became unclean, someone who was clean was to dip hyssop into the water and sprinkle him (verses 18 and 19, "thrown" in verse 13). To fail to be cleansed in this way is a serious matter, because twice the person who fails to be purified is described as being excluded from the covenant people (verses 13 and 20).

This is the background of baptism in the New Testament, and suggests that the proper mode is by sprinkling, not by pouring or immersion. This is not to suggest that mode of baptism is a salvific issue. Rather, it is merely to point out that Baptists are wrong when they make immersion a salvific issue. Since I myself was immersed, I would never say that a person who hasn't been sprinkled is not a legitimate Christian.

No doubt someone is saying that this doesn't settle the issue. And I would be quick to agree. By itself, this argument is certainly not conclusive. However, added to what I have said before (here and here), I think it contributes to a solid case.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Who Is Lord? Me or God?

In the Garden of Eden, one basic temptation was given by Satan, leading to the Fall of Adam and Eve: "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). Satan convinced the first couple that eating the forbidden fruit would enable them to exercise divine autonomy, deciding for themselves what would constitute good and evil. God, the devil claimed, hid this from them, because He wanted a monopoly on moral truth. As usual, the temptation contained a mixture of truth and falsehood. That was certainly the intent of God, because He claims singular sovereignty over all things, including the choices of men. However, Satan also gave an illusory promise in claiming that eating the fruit would free men from that sovereignty.

God never gives up His deity, no matter what men or devils imagine: "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other" (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11).

God's sovereignty is the very basis of all morality: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3). This is the First Commandment, God's declaration of His exclusive deity, the foundation for the other nine. And it excludes even a man's efforts to set himself up as god of his own life, as Adam attempted in Genesis.

In our modern age, it has become a secular orthodoxy that every man or woman has the right to choose his own values, his goals, his standards of right or wrong. We assume the right to judge truth. Right and wrong are determined according to our feelings. These are all forms of autonomy, of sovereignty of each over his life. Yet, no one, even among professing Christians, hears the echo in those cultural assumptions of the words of Satan quoted above.

If a person's words are a quote of Satan, is that not a warning that he is on a destructive path? We know that Adam was.

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:12-17).