Baptism is a practice familiar to many people today, but it was unknown to the Old Testament Israelites. When John the Baptist began to baptize, he did something different from anything practiced by Jews in Old Testament times. Under the law of Moses the Israelites had regular ritual cleansings, like hand washings and foot washings, but the law gave no instruction for ceremonial bathing or for rituals involving immersion of the entire body.
The Old Testament is silent about baptism, but history gives some insight into when baptism began to first be practiced in Israel. Apparently, the Jews in the time period between the completion of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus began to engage in immersion as a form of ceremonial cleansing. This ritual bathing is still practiced by some Jews today as a rite of purification. John the Baptist was not the first to baptize. He appears to have taken the practice and administered it as a sign of repentance among the Israelites.
In Matthew 3 John preached a message of coming judgment. The nation of Israel had been through times of judgment before. The last Divine judgment cut them off as a self-governing nation. From the beginning of the Babylonian captivity all Jews were subjects of other nations. First they were subject to Babylon, then Persia, Greece and finally Rome. Israel suffered six hundred years of subjugation because of their disobedience to God. John’s warning of impending judgment affected many hearts. Those who believed the warning repented of their sin and were baptized. “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (Acts 19:4)
John’s baptism was not Christian baptism. John did not baptize those who confessed Jesus as their Savior. John baptized those who were looking forward to the coming Messiah. Jesus is the promised Messiah, but when John’s ministry began very few people in Israel knew this fact. John preached that the Messiah was coming, but did not point Jesus out as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” until Jesus began his public ministry. John’s baptism was given in preparation to receive the Messiah.
John’s baptism was also directly related to his ministry as the forerunner of Christ. John’s baptism was a picture that pointed the Jews to the greater work Christ would do for those who believe. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
John’s baptism did not bring salvation to anyone. It was a sign of repentance and of readiness to receive the coming Savior. John’s baptism also provided an important transition to the practice of baptism in the church. The baptism administered by John the Baptist was a forerunner of Christian baptism that today testifies of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for our sin. The baptism of John the Baptist was a testimony of readiness to receive the Messiah. Christian baptism is a testimony of having received Jesus
“If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:14 seems like a very straightforward promise. Anything you ask for, Jesus will do. Did Jesus give a blanket promise to do everything that people pray for? Any one who has done much praying knows we do not always get what we ask God to give. Does God not keep His promises or is there something else in John 14:14 that shapes the nature of the promise?
The overlooked phrase is one of the most important of the verse. Jesus said if you pray “In my name.” That is much more than ending prayer with, “In Jesus name we pray. Amen.” Doing anything in the name of someone means acting as an official representative of that person. John MacArthur says that praying in Jesus name is asking for things that are consistent with who He is and asking for what Jesus would want. In other words, praying in Jesus’ name is praying selflessly for the will of God. Jesus will not answer the adulterer’s prayer for another partner. The person praying selfishly for a brand new sports car is not promised to have his prayers answered.
The book of 1 John spends a lot of time discussing certain key aspects from the Upper Room discourse, including John 14. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” The book of 1 John says the condition of answered prayer is asking according to the will of Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name is asking in earnest desire for His will to be accomplished. It is not saying, “God I really want this, but if it’s not your will I really wish you would make it your will.” Asking in Jesus name genuinely desires the accomplishment of His will. It is saying, “God I would like this, but what I really want is your will to be done, your kingdom to be increased and your glory to be revealed.” When we pray this way, we know He will give us what we ask for. The remarkable testimony of those who have learned to pray this way is that when we learn to ask for what God wants then we find God is incredibly generous to His people.
This does not mean we cannot pray for things that we do not know if they are His will. We can ask or healing, a job, a spouse and many other things that we cannot know for certain if we are praying according to the will of God. In those situations where we do not know the will of God, we pray making our desires known and also knowingly submitting our desires to the will of God. We bow before God to ask His favor. We specify what we would like to receive of Him while confessing that we trust Him to do what is right and best. We confess we trust God if it is something different than what we requested. The promise of God is we will have what is good for us and what is in accord with the character and plan of God.
This principle of praying in Jesus’ name finds its Old Testament parallel in Psalm 37:4, Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
Can a Christian lose his salvation? This question has long troubled and divided believers. Thousands of pages have been written to give an answer to this burning question. One of the major battlegrounds in this debate is the meaning of various key verses in the book of Hebrews. For example, Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Does this mean that if someone knowingly sins they lose their salvation and can never enter heaven?
Hebrews quotes the Old Testament over 30 times and makes many more references to people, events and rituals found in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who had a broad knowledge of the Old Testament. The modern Christian needs a similar broad understanding of the Old Testament to better understand the book Hebrews.
Hebrews 10:26 points back to the absence in the Mosaic law of any sacrifice for intentional and willful sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says, “But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.” The Old Testament did not permit a person to plan to sin on Saturday and ask forgiveness on Sunday.
The book of Hebrews was written as a warning to those in the church on the verge of abandoning their profession of faith. The Jewish Christians faced intense persecution because they turned to Christianity. Some buckled under the pressure and turned away from their profession of faith. Hebrews encouraged the wavering believers to remain faithful to Jesus because He is far better than the Judaism they were returning to. There is no salvation in Judaism. Jesus is the only way of salvation. Those who rejected Jesus for their cultural traditions and familial religion were not saved.
Despite the absence of sacrifice for willful sin in the Old Testament, the grace of God was and is greater than sin. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he sinned willfully and presumptuously. Does this mean he was never forgiven? In Psalm 51 David was confident God would forgive Him He acknowledged his guilt before God. He understood no sacrifice was available for his sin. However, David did not despair he would never be forgiven. He cried out to God confident He would forgive. He prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psam 51:7) David’s words in Psalm 51 stand today as a Divine promise for all sinners, even those who willfully and rebelliously continue in sin. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Those who repent of their sin and cry out to God for salvation will be saved.
Hebrews never teaches that salvation can be lost. The entire book emphasizes that Jesus alone is the fully sufficient Savior. He saves to the uttermost. (Hebrews 7:25) Those saved by Jesus can never exceed the limits of His grace. Hebrews not only teaches that Jesus secures the believer’s salvation, He also secures the believer in salvation. Hebrews 10:39 confidently asserts,“We are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Those who believe to salvation will not draw back, fall away or turn aside. Those who rejected Jesus for Judaism did not lose their salvation, they turned aside from a profession that was not genuine. Those who are genuinely saved will not cast Jesus aside nor be cast aside by Him.
A regular part of family gatherings used to include the family sitting around the table to enjoy a meal together. Once everyone was seated, the family would pause to pray before the meal began. Many Christian families still make this a habit at every meal. Why do people pray before eating?
Whether you call it “blessing the food” or “giving of thanks,” the prayer before a meal is a reminder that every good thing comes from God. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.” Christians pray before meals to remind themselves every good thing we have comes from God.
“Saying the blessing” is an act of giving thanks to God for giving us our daily bread. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If you have been praying for God to meet your daily needs, then the meal you are about to enjoy is a specific answer of God to that specific prayer request. The wise Christian seated before a plate of Divine provision will stop to give God thanks for answering his prayer.
Some may not realize the Bible specifically teaches about giving thanks to God for food. In 1 Timothy 4:5 Paul warned about false teachers. Their wrong teachings included forbidding marriage and forbidding the eating of meat. Paul rebuked these errors and said, “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” The restrictions of the Old Testament law have been done away with by Jesus. Now, the Christian may eat any animal he desires. This means the Christian can eat snails, raw fish, lutefisk, livermush or any other unpalatable dish he desires. Give thanks for the freedom to eat that we have in Christ.
In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul had to correct problems the church in Corinth was having with food. Christians were divided over whether they could eat things that had been offered to idols. Paul taught the church to not eat with selfishness, but to eat with concern for how their dining affected the spiritual well-being of others. Paul’s instructions are summed up with these words. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Prayer before meals reminds the Christian that even when eating we are to bring glory to God.
The sanctifying act of prayer sets the food and the person apart as offerings to the Lord. Praying before a meal confesses that the food is not to be consumed merely as fuel for the achievement of the individuals personal desires. Prayer recognizes the meal is a gift given by God enabling the believer to live for the Him.
The doctrine of election has been a source of debate among Christians for many centuries. One Bible teacher, Millard Erickson, who wrote a 1,000 page book about all the major doctrines of the Bible, said this doctrine is, “Certainly one of the most puzzling and least understood.” The Biblical doctrine of election has nothing to do with who is going to be the next President of the United States. The doctrine of election is about how God determines who will be saved.
Election is defined in many different ways. One view of election is typically associated with the group of teachings known as Calvinism, and is also closely related to the Lutheran view of election. This view teaches that God unconditionally chose to save certain, specific people. He chose these people before He created anything. He chose them only because of His grace, not because He saw they would believe in Jesus or because of some other good He foresaw would be in them. The ones God chose to save will be saved because He Sovereignly works in them to bring them to salvation.
The position that is often seen as the opposite of Calvinism is the Arminian view of election. This view teaches that God chose to save those who would believe in Him. In this teaching, God chose to save but He did not chose specific individuals who would be saved. Some variations of Arminianism teach that God chose to save individuals based upon foreknowledge of who would believe. That is, God saw who would believe Him and He elected to salvation those He foreknew would believe.
Others believe that election is of a means of salvation. God did not choose who would be saved, but He chose to save through the death of Jesus. All those who believe Jesus are joined to the chosen Savior and become part of the elect.
Others believe God chose to call out a group of people to Himsel, but He did not select the individuals of that group. He chose the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and He chose the church in the New Testament. In the New Testament era, all who are saved become part of the body of Christ. The individual members of this elect group are then known as the elect.
The question of election is challenging because it struggles with ideas that seem to be competing and contradictory. If God Sovereignly chooses those who will be saved and if only those He chooses can be saved, then how can He righteously punish any who do not believe what He has not given them the ability to believe? On the other hand, if man has the ability to believe or reject salvation then God cannot be fully Sovereign. If people have the full freedom to chose or reject God, then they have the ability to do things that God has no control over. The question of election wrestles with this seeming paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability.
Despite the challenges surrounding the doctrine of election, several key truths about God must be upheld. These truths cannot be denied and remain true to Biblical teaching. God knows everything. God knows the past, the present and the future. His knowledge includes everything that was, is and will be. He knows what men will believe and what men will not believe.
God is good and infinitely loving. He always acts for the benefit of His creation. He is not cruel or malicious. He is just. He does not play favorites with humanity based upon color, language, wealth, education, employment or power. God does not prefer those who have the most to offer Him. He deals with all men in goodness and justice.
Though many Christians have reached different conclusions on this subject, election should not divide sincere believers. In the end, each Christian will have to reach his own conclusions on the doctrine of election.
A December news item reported the heartbreaking story of a church which prayed for the healing of a two year old girl who had died unexpectedly. She stopped breathing, was rushed to the hospital, pronounced dead and transferred to the city morgue. While she was in the morgue the church members gathered to pray for her to be restored to life.
An official statement from the church said, “Bethel Church believes in the accounts of healing and physical resurrection found in the Bible (Matthew 10:8), and that the miracles they portray are possible today.” Despite the church’s prayers, the young girl did not revive.
Most Christians readily admit God is able to do the miraculous. Many Christians believe the miracles described in the Bible, including resurrections, actually happened. The question is not if God is able to raise the dead to life. The question is, should Christians today pray for the immediate resurrection of one who dies before their time?
God is absolutely able to raise the dead to life, but the Bible never promises He will do so. The Bible never teaches that resurrection should be a regular part of the Christian’s experience today. In the 4,000 years of Biblical history recorded from Genesis to Acts only 9 people are named as being raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important. In the Old Testament, only three people were raised back to life. All three of them were in connection with the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha. In the gospels, Jesus restored three people to life. In Acts, Peter and Paul each raised one person to life. Millions of believers never saw a resurrection. The Bible never tells of God raising someone from the dead in answer to the prayers of a local church or its pastors. Jesus, two prophets and two apostles are the only ones who brought the dead back to life. Nothing in the Bible teaches Christians to expect to see resurrections in answer to their prayers. God is able to restore the dead to life at any time He desires, but Scripture shows His intent is for the dead to remain dead until the resurrection at the last day. The great resurrection at the return of Jesus is the only one promised to believers.
The New Testament miracles were directly associated with the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. The miracles recorded in the New Testament were the Divine certification that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the apostles were messengers of Him. The miracles were intended to act as confirmation of Jesus and His apostles. Jesus told the unbelieving Jews, “The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” (John 5:36) When the apostolic era came to an end the miraculous confirmation of the truth of the apostles message was no longer needed.
Jesus’ death on the cross removed the sting of death, but death is still a grievous enemy. The death of a child is even more terrible. However, the Christian’s hope is not in a few more years on this earth with a loved one. The Christian’s longing is for the eternal life and the eternal joy of heaven. The Bible promises Christians they will one day put aside all sickness and death, but that day is not now.
Every so often a Christian asks this Baptist pastor about being rebaptized. At times the desire for a second baptism is in response to a time of backsliding. A believer may have repented after a period of living in sin and desires to be baptized as a show of their renewed commitment to the Lord. The desire to show their return to the Lord is praiseworthy, but this kind of baptism misunderstands the purpose of baptism.
Jesus gave two ordinances to the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The command to observe the Lord’s Supper included the need to do so “often.” “For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) The record of Acts and 1 Corinthians indicates the church observed the Lord’s Supper as part of their Sunday gatherings. (1 Corinthians 11:21-26) The Lord’s Supper was repeatedly observed by all Christians.
Jesus commanded the twelve disciples to baptize every one who believes. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19) The book of Acts shows how the apostles obeyed this command. Those who believed the gospel of Jesus were baptized and added to the church. The New Testament church treated baptism as the initial sign of faith in Christ. Baptism was the way new believers told the church and their neighbors that they were followers of Jesus. Because salvation is received once and baptism is a testimony of salvation received, baptism was not repeated over and over again. There is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians 4:5)
However, some situations require the rebaptism of a believer. Because baptism is the public testimony which proclaims a new believers salvation, any baptism that took place before conversion is not Christian baptism. A person baptized as an infant is unable to believe Jesus, receive His salvation or confess Him as Lord. Those baptized as infants should be baptized after salvation. A person who professes salvation, is baptized, but later becomes convinced his earlier profession of faith was not genuine should be baptized again. Anyone baptized before salvation should be baptized again following his conversion.
One danger of multiple baptisms is they may encourage the beliefs that baptism provides some special grace, washes away sin or gives the person a spiritual power boost. Baptism does none of those things. Baptism is the loving response of the Christian to his Savior. No act of obedience, however important, gains for the Christian a special measure of grace or additional spiritual power. The only grace in obedience is the grace of God which enables the believer to obey. A Christian who has made a public profession of faith through baptism gains no benefit from a second baptism. A sinning believer who desires to show the genuineness of his change can do so by a public confession of sin and acknowledgment of repentance. No other baptism is needed.
Meditation for many Americans is a relaxation technique. The common understanding of meditation is that it is emptying mind and thinking about nothing. The Bible speaks often of meditation, encouraging and commanding believers to meditate. Does the Bible teach that Christian’s should empty their minds?
Scripture uses the word meditation in contexts that provide additional and essential information about how the Biblical writers understood meditation. The Word of God describes meditation as the opposite of emptying the mind. Biblical meditation is not repeating a word, phrase or sound over and over again. Biblical meditation is filling the mind with deep consideration of truth.
The Hebrew word translated into the English word “meditate” can also be translated “mutter” or “speak under the breath.” Sometimes when concentrating on a difficult problem people will talk to themselves. They will murmur, whisper, or even talk the problem through with a friend. Meditation is not necessarily a silent activity. In the Psalms David said, “And my tongue shall speak (the word speak is translated elsewhere in the Bible as meditate) of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.” (Psalm 35:28)
The Bible always describes meditation as being attentive to specific information. The Psalms repeatedly speak of meditating on the Word of God. Biblical meditation is not mindless, but is focused upon Divine truth. “My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:48)
Scripture also describes meditation as considering the work of God and the character of God. David meditated on God’s working in days gone by. He may have thought on God’s creation of the world, His deliverance of the Israelites or the blessing of God in his own life. David meditated on what God had done. “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” (Psalm 77:12) David meditated upon the character of God. In Psalm 66 he spake of God’s power, glory and lovingkindness. David then said, “I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.”
Meditation is not only an internal process, nor is it only a private process. Meditation involves speaking the truths of God. Praise to God is a form of meditation. “My tongue also shall talk (meditate) of thy righteousness all the day long.” (Psalm 71:24) Speaking the truths of God to others is also form of meditation. “The mouth of the righteous speaketh (meditates) wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.” (Psalm 37:30)
Though the popular understanding of meditation is of a passive activity in which the person seeks to quiet his mind, the Bible describes it as an active process. Biblical meditation does not attempt to still the mind, but to fill it. Biblical meditation actively works to understand God’s Word. Biblical meditation involves teaching God’s truths to others, praising God for who He is and what He has done. Biblical meditation can be done quietly in the mind, it can be done vigorously with a pen and paper, it can be done conversationally with others and it can be done prayerfully in praise to God. But Biblical meditation cannot be done without active thought.
Every Christian church celebrates baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some also observe other sacraments, but baptism and communion are familiar to any who have been a part of a Christian church. Most churches also have ordained clergy administrate the two ordinances. Some churches teach that only ordained members of the clergy allowed to officiate baptism and communion.
The New Testament is silent about who is permitted to baptize or administer the Lord’s Supper. The apostle Paul even said he was glad he only baptized a handful of people in Corinth. The rest of those baptized in Corinth were baptized by unnamed individuals. The Bible teaches how the ordinances are to observed and the motives necessary for those participating, but it does not address who should give the ordinances. The one receiving the ordinance must receive it rightly, recognizing it as a testimony of God’s grace. While the New Testament says much about the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper it does not give any requirements for who can officiate those ordinances. The one administering an ordinance ought to be a believer and should have the right attitude and motives. Those officiating the ordinances should recognize and reflect their proper importance.
This does not mean anyone can baptize anyone they want in the family pool. A dad may desire to baptize his newly saved child, but baptism is a public event. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the local church. They are not private events to be observed in isolation. They are public testimonies of the grace of God proclaimed to the church and the unsaved world. None can simply administer the ordinance in their home or to themselves. The dad may be permitted to baptize his child at the church, or the church may come to the family’s house to for a baptismal service, but the performance of the ordinances should be under the leadership of the church and with the gathered assembly of believers.
Some may wonder about the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. Only Philip and the eunuch are mentioned, so does that mean it was a private ceremony involving only those two? The account of Acts 8 makes clear the eunuch was not traveling alone. He was sitting in his chariot reading while they traveled and he ordered the chariot to be stopped. Obviously someone else was driving the chariot. We don’t know how many people were there, but others were present. The baptism of the eunuch was a public confession of his faith.
The use of the ordinances should be solemn and serious. None should allow personal convenience or personal preference to determine their use. These things are commands of God and the Word of God must guide the Christian’s obedience in them. As public testimonies given to the church, the ordinances should be performed in public under the authority of a local church.