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Theology

Christian and Unbaptized? Unthinkable.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

How could someone, Paul argues, who has died with Christ through the public display of baptism (the external display of an internal reality; the symbolic representation of our death and resurrection with Christ) still continue to obey sin as a master?  Baptism is a display of what Paul spoke of in 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  Baptism is an outward act that one has been circumcised in the heart and wants to display it to the world.  Baptism is what signifies our death and resurrection with Christ.  It is not the instrument through which we die and rise with Christ.  John Piper gives the analogy of a marriage and the wedding ring:

All of us who have put on the ring of marriage have, by putting on this ring, forsaken all others to cleave only to our wives. Therefore by this ring I am united to my wife alone and dead to all others.

Now you could press the language and say, “Aha, it was the actual putting on the ring that caused your forsaking all others and your cleaving to Noel alone. You said it explicitly: ‘By this ring, I am united to my wife alone.’ What could be plainer? The ring does it all.

But that is not what I would mean by these words. I would mean that putting on the ring is a sign of my forsaking all others and cleaving only to her. The decisive leaving and cleaving is in the promise, the covenant, the vows. “I plight thee my troth.” “I promise you my faithfulness.” Then comes the ring, the symbol.

The vows stand for faith in Christ, and the ring stands for baptism. And the point is that we often talk this way. We often speak of the symbol as though it brings about what it only signifies.

But is baptism just a symbol? In Galatians 3:27, Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  This, and Romans 6:3, does not mean baptism saves you.  Grace through faith alone justifies a person before God (Rom. 3:24-26, 28; 5:1; Gal. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:5, 8-9).

However, baptism in Paul’s day has a much more significant meaning than it does today.  We have cheapened the meaning of baptism in the Christian church. In his commentary on Romans, Doug Moo writes, “J. Dunn…points out that the early church conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which he calls ‘conversion-initiation’” (Moo, Romans, 366).

In Acts 10, when Peter is preaching Jesus to the Gentiles, in the middle of his message, the Holy Spirit came upon them and immediately.  Peter did not wait and have them complete a spiritual gift survey or go through a membership class or a doctrine class.  He said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?” (v. 47).  In Acts 8, when Philip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch, the Ethiopian believed and immediately asked Philip if he could be baptized (v. 36).  In Acts 16, Lydia and her whole household were saved and on that same day they were baptized (v. 15).  The point is that when people believed in the NT, they were immediately baptized as a public declaration that they identified with and were saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. To these new believers, and the New Testament writers, it was unthinkable, even inconceivable, that a person would believe in Jesus yet not be baptized with water.

Would Paul have a category in his mind for a Christian who believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior and repented of their sin, yet was not baptized? No. There are many reasons that baptism isn’t done immediately today, but I won’t discuss that here. The point is this: if you are a Christian and are not baptized, what is holding you back? Don’t disobey. Believe and obey, and get baptized today!

Categories
Theology

Android App Created to Hide Calls and Texts

An Android app called CATE (call and text eraser) was created by Phillip Immler, a cop and law student, to hide what you don’t want your spouse to see on your phone.  No joke. In the online story, the author quotes Immler:

“I had a good friend of mine who went through a divorce because his wife was finding things on his phone. It intercepts call and text messages from people on your lists and stores it within the app,” says Immler.

The author continues:

Only the app owner has the passcode to unlock the contacts he or she decides should be hidden from view. There’s already buzz over the app online.

Divorce attorney Robin Roshkind says while the app may promise to hide your infidelity, it won’t stop a determined woman or man wanting to know the truth.

The story ends by quoting Immler again, when he says that he doesn’t condone cheating. Really, Immler? Yet you help adulterous people hide their sin from their spouse?  This is not surprising–this is the way the world works.  God has spoken of actions such as these–listen to Paul’s words:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32; my emphasis).

The good news of Jesus is that even adulterers and those who approve of adultery can be saved: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).

Categories
Life Theology

Dwelling With God through the Gospel

I am not very old. But with each passing week (more accurately, with each passing failure) I am reminded more and more of how I need the gospel. The gospel is my only hope.  Without the gospel, I would be damned.

This morning I read Psalm 91, and I focused on verses 1-2. The Psalmist writes, “He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”

When I read words like “dwells” and “abide” my mind ponders what it means to be in the presence of God.  Jesus said, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:6).  Jesus is my life-source. If I trust in him, I will grow. If not, I will die.  Jesus says, “To dwell or abide with God–to be in his presence–is to be connected to me in a saving way, a way that declares me as your refuge and fortress.”

But there is a problem. The problem does not exist outside of me–in my circumstances or trials or enemies or annoyances. That is what I want to believe.  But really, the problem exists inside of me–in my pride, rebellion, self-righteousness, and a thousand other things the Bible calls sin. My sin keeps me from dwelling with God. My sin keeps me from experiencing God’s presence in a harmonious, perfect, continuous way even as a Christian. And there is only one solution.

The gospel.

The gospel tells me that though I am wretched and vile and unworthy of a holy God’s actual and real presence in my life, it is provided for me by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is also called Emmanuel, which means God with us. He is the presence of God in the flesh: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14a).  Jesus bore the wrath of God, taking our punishment and undergoing separation from God’s presence on the cross in order that we might have relationship with God. This only comes through faith in Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin, so that we would no longer be enemies with God, for enemies are not welcome in God’s presence (Rom. 3:23; 5:8, 10).

This is not just for unbelievers.  This is for Christians.  If you want to experience God’s presence (albeit not perfectly on this side of eternity) you must continually preach the gospel to yourself. You must realize that your sin is your greatest hindrance to being near God. You must take that sin to the cross, lay it on Jesus, and despair of any merit to dwelling with God. This happens by grace, and when it happens, it is a sweet thing.

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Life Theology

Do you hope in the resurrection?

One of my favorite moments in the Gospels is from John 11 when Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Martha had just told Jesus that if he would have been around, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Jesus says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” and she replies, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

And Martha was right. She just lost her brother, and her only hope was that she would see him again in the new age–the resurrection, when Lazarus will rise from the dead and get a remodeled body. But Martha missed the point Jesus was making. He couldn’t have made it more clear when he answered her hopeful (yet hopeless) confession:

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.

Jesus is the reason Lazarus would rise again. Why? Because he himself is the resurrection. Jesus will die and be raised–not by another’s power (as Lazarus was), but by his own Spirit’s power. He will die and be raised–not to die again (as Lazarus did), but to reign triumphantly over death.  Lazarus came out of the tomb still bound with linen (Jn. 11:46). Jesus came out of the tomb with his linens left in the tomb (Jn. 20:7).  And this risen Jesus will give life to all who believe in him so that even though they die physically, they will live spiritually and rise again to live forever with a resurrected body that is not perishable like our fragile earthly bodies.

This doctrine of resurrection is incredible–for everyone, because we are more broken than we realize. Nevertheless, it is particularly appealing if you are ill, poor, downcast, crippled, homeless, stricken by disaster, hungry, addicted to substances, or destitute.  One day, this world and all who believe in Jesus will be restored. You and I will be made new.

No cancer. No bankruptcy. No tornadoes. No earthquakes. No floods. No car accidents. No murders. No rape. No blindness. No deafness. No speech impediments. No Downs Syndrome. No miscarriages. No downsizing. No hunger. No thirst. No paralysis. No stock market crashes. No divorce. No orphans. No selfishness. No addiction. No drunkenness. No suicide. No child abuse. No pride. No exploitation. No fraud.

Try to wrap your mind around that. I can’t.

In Romans, Paul tells us that this hope of resurrection is what saves us, and that we yearn for it. “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, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (8:22-24a).

The world as we know it (including you and me) is out of whack. There is no rhythm; shalom has been disrupted. It is not operating the way it was designed to operate. It must be restored, and it will be, at the resurrection.

For many people in the West–even self-proclaimed “Christians”–Jesus is boring because life is cushy and easy, so the hope of resurrection is not appealing to them. If you make this world your home, if you make this life comfortable, why would it be? If you isolate yourself from the brokenness around you and deny the brokenness in you, you will never realize that you need redemption, resurrection, and restoration.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25, 28-29)

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5a)

Categories
Life Theology

Why is it important to understand the difference between justification and sanctification?

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:5-8)

Justification involves God forgiving sin. Some would argue that it does not, but without the forgiveness of sin, we cannot be made right with God.

In Paul’s magnificent treatment of this doctrine in Romans 4, he points to David as proof that justification is by faith alone, when he wrote in Psalm 32, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”  Forgiveness happens when one person says to another, “I won’t count this against you. I choose to forgive, rather than condemn.”

Justification and forgiveness change the way one person is viewed by another.  When God justifies a person, he makes a legal declaration about them. He makes them right in relationship to himself.  But this does not change people in a practical way.  There is no change in our thinking, behavior, or attitude.  Justification is not sanctification, for when God sanctifies a person, he actively does something in them.

You might think, James, why are you writing this? What’s the big deal? Why do I need to know the difference? After all, as long as you read the Bible and love Jesus, you don’t need to know these theological definitions, right?

Wrong.

If you think justification and sanctification are the same thing, then the very foundation of  your standing with God will shake beneath you.  You will despair of God’s love after that lonely late night affair with pornography.  You will doubt that God is for you when you yet again blown up at your children for running around the house.  You will wonder if God will ignore your prayers after you have neglected sharing the gospel with your neighbor. You will wonder if God will abandon his commitment to you after you have spoken harshly to your spouse.

If, to you, justification and sanctification are the same, you will always wrestle with whether you are enough for God. The truth is, you and I will never be enough. But Jesus is. So praise be to God that because of Christ “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).