Monthly Archives: February 2017

Dying on the Road to Baptism

What happens if a person dies before being baptized? Specifically, what if that person made it known that he wants to be baptized and was preparing, then died before his baptism? Such questions are usually asked during a discussion or debate about faith and works. Where do faith and works meet? Can faith justify purely in the moment of acceptance?  “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Or does it always require works? “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).

The Holy Spirit used Abraham as an example for both sides of faith, faith accepted and faith fulfilled. Here was a man who accepted God’s promises.

“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis15:4-6). 

Abraham accepted God’s promises. This is declared an attribute of righteousness. Our faith must begin with believing God’s promises. The Holy Spirit also reveals that beginnings are not enough. Faith must be fulfilled with works.

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23).

The Holy Spirit credits Abraham’s offering Isaac as the fulfillment of the scripture’s testimony – Abraham’s belief that he and Sarah would have a child in their old age, and his belief that this child would be the progenitor of a vast multitude.

Abraham accepted these promises approximately fifteen years before Isaac was born. Abraham and Sarah’s response was to have Hagar as a surrogate for Sarah. He was eighty-six when Ishmael was born (cf. Genesis 16:16).  It took some time for Abraham’s faith to get sorted out.

Let us return to the hypothetical question; What about the person who wants to be baptized and dies before reaching the water? The answer is found in Abraham offering up Isaac.

“And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:10-12).

Did Abraham succeed in materially killing Isaac? Though he was called to do this, obviously, he did not. The same could be said about the one who dies before reaching the water. Though he prepared to be baptized, he was stopped. However, the sacrifice of Abraham was fulfilled because the Lord said, “you have not withheld your son.”  It plainly says; “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” (Hebrews 11:17). The Lord counted Abraham’s commitment and engagement as sufficient. Could we say that God would not treat in the same manner the soul who was committed and engaged to be baptized, yet was cut off before the baptism was carried out? In such case, the comfort of hope abides.

The moment of receiving God’s promises entails commitment and engagement (works). To commit is to prepare our life for doing whatever needs to be done. This is the beginning of works. It is the work of the mind and heart. It is spiritual in nature. To engage is to move the body in conformity with God’s will. This is where the commitment is proven. It is coming forward to express one’s desire. It is getting a towel. It is going to the location of water. It is waiting for the moment when another lays your body under the water. It is not a free pass to neglect the commandments of God. Otherwise, commitment and engagement would not be real.

Acceptance of an idea, as per agreeing with an argument, has no virtue unless there is commitment and engagement. One might say; “I have heard the command to be baptized, therefore I have no need of being baptized. I already have faith.” It would be like Abraham saying; “I have heard the command to sacrifice, therefore I have no need to sacrifice my only son. I already have faith.” Such a thing would make void the commandment of God. Again, one might say; “My commitment to God is sufficient, therefore I will be baptized because I am saved.” That would be like Abraham saying to God; “I will sacrifice Isaac, because I have already been proven.”  Both examples display the attitude of self-vindication, watering down commitment and the need to act. Faith toward God demands that we commit and engage. Our life depends upon it.

What about the responsibility of those who do the baptizing? Typically, a soul makes it known to the church that he or she wants to be baptized. Or an individual might be asked, like Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. How irresponsible it is to forestall the baptizing in favor of a more convenient time. Things like this have been said: “Let’s wait until all the family can be here.” Is the sentiment of the occasion more important than facilitating a soul’s commitment? How many other inconveniences can we produce? “The water is too cold.” Many of our ancestors chopped through ice to get to the water. What would they have to say about such an excuse? You who are reading can imagine other excuses for convenience. What messages do we give to those who are being baptized and to those who have not yet made ready? We dare not give the message that salvation is subject to our convenience, our fancy, our softness. There will always be a window of time between accepting responsibility and fulfilling it. But we play with salvation when we expand that window to suit ourselves. It is up to us to judge the appropriate time. Let us not be lax with it. Our responsibility is to serve that soul who has made ready. All other things should be set aside in favor of salvation, no matter how inconvenient it may be. It is the grit of serving God.

~ Louis Garbi

Be Sober

Our society has a specific use for the term sober.  Upon hearing the word sober I would guess that for most of you your first thought would go to substance abuse.  Sober is used to describe a person who is free from alcohol or drugs.  This is certainly an appropriate use of the term.  A sober mind is one that is unimpeded by outside influence.  In the context of our society’s normal use of the word, sober is used to describe someone whose mind is unimpeded by alcohol or drugs.

The word sober is found several times in New Testament scripture.  One example, Titus 2:11-12, says the following:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…

When Paul was inspired to write these words, it is unlikely he was thinking only of substance abuse (if he was thinking of substance abuse at all).  While it would certainly apply, I think Paul was speaking much more broadly than this.  There are a lot of different things that can cloud our minds, that can get in the way of making good rational decisions.  It could be sin, or temptation.  More specifically, it can be selfishness, prejudice, or pride.  It could be any number of emotions:  fear, anger, jealousy or even love.  Emotions can cloud the mind and wreak havoc on being able to think clearly.

That is where this term sober comes in.  How it is used here in Titus, and in several other passages, is to describe people whose minds are unclouded. Sane and moderate minds. People who are circumspect:  they are aware of their surroundings, not necessarily in a physical sense but they perceive what is happening and consider the impact of their actions.  They perceive temptation and view it for what it is. They can identify and look past their own selfishness, their pride, or jealousy or envy.  They are calm, dispassionate and not inappropriately swayed by their emotions. They are self-controlled, curbing their own desires and impulses.  They battle the outside influences of the world, the weakness of their flesh and the fragility of their mind to make good godly decisions.

The language Paul uses in Titus 2:12 indicates that sobriety should be an active part of our Christian lifestyle:  that “we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age.”  It is not simply an action but a lifestyle.  Just look at the words that follow sobriety:  righteously, godly.  Those are words we tend to more closely associate with a Christian.  Those are lifestyles as well.  Righteousness and godliness are not established in one single act on a given day.  To live righteously is to devote yourself to doing what is right in the eyes of God.  To be godly, we must be committed to living how God has commanded.  They require our continual attention and our continual effort.  Sobriety is the same.  It is a way of life that demands our continual attention and effort.  It requires that we are mindful of what we think, what we do, what we say, and how we react.

However, the world around us does not encourage sober behavior.  In contrast, we are continually encouraged to follow our heart and give ourselves to sin.  Temptation is our constant companion goading us to not stop and consider the consequences of our actions or our words.  Even the way man, and presumably Satan as the source, has constructed the world encourages impulsive behavior: ads pointing us to things we do not need exposure to or social media inspiring absent-minded, reactionary quips, just to name a couple of an endless number of examples.

Combating these temptations requires us to engage our mind.  In 1 Peter 1:13, we are told to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober…”  The idiom Peter uses here is like the more common idiom of today, “lace up your boots.”  He is instructing us to put our mind at work and be sober.  As Christians, we cannot afford to speak or act brashly or have our minds clouded by emotion and temptation.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  Brash thoughts, actions and words will invite sin into our lives and put us in a place to be devoured by Satan.

In practicality, this means we need to be self-reflective before we act.   What external or internal influences are impacting my decisions?  Are the words I am about to speak or write out of anger, fear or jealousy, or are they truly out of genuine love?  What will be the consequences of my actions?  At what cost does this moment of fleeting worldly satisfaction come?  While these may not be the exact questions to ask for any given scenario our aim should always be the same:  to live soberly.

~ Blake Stanley

Thinking Christians

A Pharisee who was a teacher of the Law asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments(Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus’ citation of the greatest commandment in the Old Testament states, in part, that God’s purpose is for people to love him “with all your mind.” God wants people to think about him, and to love him with recognized purpose and understanding. God wants us to think! God never has sought for people to follow him in ignorance or without thought or information. Love for God, and faith in God, call for the engagement of the human mind, for thought and consideration, for seeking knowledge and understanding.

When Moses gave his final speech to the children of Israel before his death, he said:

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

Moses was telling his people that God’s word and therefore his will were something they could know and understand. The word of God, his commandments and promises, were things people could know, could talk about, could think about, and could put into action. God has spoken so that mankind can hear, know, and obey him. Again, this calls for using the mind God gave us, thinking about what God has said, having his word in our conversations and in our hearts (see also Isaiah 45:18-19).  God has communicated clearly, to be understood.

When the church comes together, especially on the first day of the week, Paul the apostle stressed in 1 Corinthians 14 how important it is that what is done publicly be intelligible and orderly, that there be understandable, sensible words in the teaching, praying, and singing. Repeatedly, Paul wrote that what is done in the gathering of the church must be clear and coherent, and have helpful content for building up (edifying) all who participate and all who hear.

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15. See also verses 9 and19).

In the Bible, ignorance, lack of understanding, and futile or misdirected thoughts are shown to be things that separate people from God. Conversely, Christians are encouraged to pursue understanding, knowledge, and right thinking as fundamental to knowing God and living as he commands. Ignorance and an unwillingness to think, examine, and learn have no place in the life Christians have been called to. Rather, it is the worldly, the ungodly, who engage in futile thinking, choosing ignorance and rejecting the truth we all ought to investigate and embrace.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts (Ephesians 4:17-18.  See also Isaiah 44:12-20, a dramatic and ironic description of futile thinking, of really not thinking, of idolatry, especially verses18-20).

The Lord wants his people to think about good things, things that are pure, excellent and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8). What we think about matters, and being thoughtful is vitally important. God wants us to use our minds to love him, to be thankful, to know the truth, to give him praise and glory. And, again, as in 1 Corinthians 14 the Lord wants his people to think about how to build each other up in faith, encouraging love and good deeds. Christians are to “consider how” to make each other stronger, better, and especially to think about how to do this in the fellowship of the gathered church. Church meetings call for thinking!

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

It is important, it is vital, it is commanded by the Lord, that the believer’s mind be engaged in loving God, worshiping God, teaching and encouraging other believers, recognizing truth and rejecting falsehood, learning and growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. God wants his people to use the minds he has given us in his service. He wants us to think, to reason, to learn, and to appreciate the wisdom he has made available to us.

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding (Proverbs 23:23).

~ Charles Fry