Friday, June 26, 2015

The Philippian Jailer - Saved By Faith Alone?

The Philippian Jailer and His Household
Saved By Faith Alone?

As some may know, I am in agreement with those who believe that the Holy Scriptures teach that BAPTISM is essential to our salvation; that it is a necessary step in becoming a Christian; in receiving God's gracious salvation.

Quite some time ago, I posted an entry - Why Immerse? - briefly presenting the scriptural case favoring the need of immersion for salvation.

But for many, regardless of scriptural evidence, baptism in water as an essential in salvation seems a hard pill to swallow. Many objections to this teaching are therefore offered and I was reminded of one of the more common ones just a few days ago.

Recently a friend and genuinely sincere man asked me about Paul being in prison and how the Bible "says that his entire family was saved and later that day they were baptized." (His words.) He wanted to know how this didn't show that people are saved by faith prior to being immersed.

He was, of course, referring to the Acts, chapter 16 account of the Phillipian Jailer and his household - an example popularly believed to "prove" salvation by faith alone.

But a closer look is in order. Here is the passage itself, quoted from the 1977 New American Standard translation:


The basic facts of the account are identical in the 1901 American Standard, a later edition of the New American Standard, the King James, the New King James and the New International Version. And they should be identical in ALL genuine translations. Notice the following:

- In verse 30, the Jailer asked for instructions on how to be saved.

- The answer given - Vs. 31 - was "BELIEVE IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST".  But it is important to continue reading.

- Vs. 32 - this is important - states that Paul then "SPOKE THE WORD OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST TO ALL WHO WERE IN THE HOUSE". This was necessary. Otherwise they'd have had no idea what "believing in the Lord Jesus Christ" meant. Therefore, THE INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO THE JAILER ON HOW TO BE SAVED WERE BEGUN IN VERSE 31 BUT CONTINUED THROUGH VERSE 32.

 - In Vs. 33, we see that the jailer tended to their wounds (a demonstration of his repentance  - also a necessary part of salvation). Then HE AND HIS ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD WERE BAPTIZED. This was done, apparently, in response to the instructions the jailer and his household had received; beginning in verse 31 and continuing through verse 32. We see a very similar example in Acts 8:35-36, where Phillip "preached Jesus" to an Ethiopian treasurer, who then - in response - requested baptism. (Why, unless baptism was included in the preaching of Jesus?)

- Verse 34 states that he and all his household rejoiced, having believed. But this rejoicing came after they were baptized! And so was their salvation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

On the “Interpretation” of Scripture

“A Matter of Interpretation”

Does this phrase set you on edge? If so, it is not a surprise. Most Christians have attempted at some time to share some scriptural insight only to be rebuffed by the remark, “Well, that’s a matter of interpretation”, “That’s YOUR interpretation” or “I have a different interpretation”.

I can vividly recall for example, an instance in which a nice lady challenged me to show “just one scripture” that actually says “baptism saves”. This dear lady obviously thought it impossible that such a passage could be present within the Holy Scriptures. But with little delay, I took her to 1 Peter 3:21:

And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ – 1 Peter 3:21
(all scriptures are from the NAS ‘77).

She was obviously flabbergasted that I was able to find such a passage but made a quick recovery, saying – you probably guessed - that she had “a different interpretation” of the passage. My own response was to ask, simply, what her “interpretation” was. But when asked for her “interpretation” of the passage, she had none, apart from saying, “Well, it doesn’t mean THAT!” Repeated appeals that she explain what she believed the passage did mean proved fruitless.

It is not my intention to ridicule this lady. But hers is an apt illustration of the way the phrase “a matter of interpretation” is often used. Persons employing such phrases often have no alternative interpretation at all. They simply do not care for the obvious meaning of the passage put before them. It can be difficult for those who already count themselves "believers" and “saved” to accept scriptural truth concerning salvation that is so foreign to their religious training and tradition. But to admit that they simply do not "believe" the teaching of a certain passage is emotionally devastating. Caught between a rock and hard place, grasping at the straw of "a different interpretation" provides them an emotional refuge. But unfortunately, this emotional refuge is one in which people hide from God’s truth.

Many of us have had such encounters while trying to teach someone the way of the Lord more adequately. We tend therefore to feel icky when people start talking about “matters of interpretation”. Such language definitely raises a red flag.

Are matters of doctrine open to interpretation, at all?

Someone recently asked me a question of this sort. It is actually a good and thought provoking question and one that might even seem to have some scriptural basis.

2 Peter 1:20 tells us that "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation".

Here is a scripture that reminds us that simply doing our own thing in the interpretation of scripture is bad practice. And in today’s postmodern world (and church) it is a very common bad practice. It is quite naïve for us to suppose that the “what is true for you may not be true for me” mindset has found no foothold in today’s Christendom. “What does this scripture mean to you?” has become a common question in many of today’s Bible study groups. But this is the wrong question. The right questions are “What does this passage mean?” or “What did it mean to those to whom originally written?” or (best of all) “What meaning did the author of this passage (or the one speaking in the passage) originally intend?”

We must take care, though, not to react against today’s interpretive anarchy by disregarding the need for any interpretation at all. And some have actually done this. I have encountered, on occasion, a mindset that says, “You don’t interpret scripture. You either believe it or you don’t!” In many cases, where the meaning of a passage is plain, this may be true. Believe it or not, no interpretation is needed. But before we embrace this idea as being valid in every case, we ought to consider that Paul reminded Timothy:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth – 2 Timothy 2:15

We will also do well to consider Peter’s statement that there are, in the writings of the apostle Paul, some things that are:

…hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction – 2 Peter 3:16

If every biblical concept is simple and the meaning of every passage plain why is “diligence” (2 Ti. 2:15) necessary in handling the word of truth? And since some of Paul’s writing is hard to understand (and Paul might have said the same of some things Peter wrote) how can we avoid the distortions that lead to destruction without some well thought out METHOD of Biblical interpretation?

Fortunately, most passages of scripture are straightforward in their meaning but there are exceptions.

The Need of Interpretation - Some examples:

I grew up in the Lord under the instruction of a faithful preacher who was fond of saying that if two passages of scripture appeared to disagree that we were misinterpreting at least one of them and maybe both. We work from a fundamental mindset that says “all scripture is inspired by God” which means – among other things – that “all scripture harmonizes” and that “scripture interprets scripture”. But what do we do when there is the appearance of disharmony? Consider the following examples:

Why is there no conflict  between Romans 3:24 and James 2:24?

On superficial reading, it is easy to suppose that there is a contradiction:

Romans 3:24 says, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

James 2:24 says, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone."

Each of these passages speaks of faith and of justification. But one of them adds the word “not”; creating on the face of it, a contradiction. Many holding to the truth that “all scripture is inspired by God” have decided on account of this that James cannot be inspired and does not belong in scripture. For this reason the incredibly valuable and practical book of James is largely ignored in Protestant Theology. But the “problem” is not real, merely imagined – owing to a lack of diligence in biblical interpretation.

The problem seems to be lazy and superficial thinking. Careful Bible students will not stop reading with the word “faith”, as though the verses end there. Paul does not say “faith alone”, as James does. What Paul says is “faith apart from works of the Law”. We should not assume that Paul speaks of the exact same thing as James without a closer look. Neglect of contexts – which shed light on each writer’s meaning – is a mistake.

The larger context of Romans shows that Paul has been discussing the superiority of faith in the gospel over works of the Mosaic Law all along. Beginning from Romans 2:12 and continuing through Romans 3:31 we see the words, “the Law”, appearing 30 times in 16 different verses (NAS ‘77). And in each case, the word is capitalized, indicating that the translators believe it a reference to Moses’ Law. We understand fully that “faith is credited as righteousness” and rejoice in this fact. But Romans 3:24 speaks specifically of the Mosaic Law. Paul’s point is that keeping the Mosaic Law justifies no-one.

A look at the context of James – on the other hand - shows the kinds of work that (together with faith) DO justify. Two kinds of works are set forth. First, James speaks of works of personal goodness; i.e. benevolence to the poor (James 2:15-16; also 1:21). Second, it tells of works done by faith, as exemplified by the deeds of Abraham (James 2:21) and Rahab (James 2:25). These are different kinds of work entirely from the works defined in Moses’ Law (the works Paul has in mind at Romans 3:24).

Diligence in interpretation, paying attention to the details of both the verses themselves and overall contexts of each passage reveals there is no contradiction at all between the teaching of Paul and James. The need of such diligence in interpretation is aptly illustrated in this example.

Consider Romans 11:26a in light of John 8:24 & Matthew 23:33.

Romans 11:26a tells us that "all Israel will be saved".

Based largely on this snippet of scripture, together with a failure to “rightly divide” God’s word between Old and New Covenants, many have assumed that all Jews are saved, whether they are in Christ or not. In fact a group of Evangelical Leaders (whose names you would recognize) have agreed together that evangelizing among the Jews is unneeded.

But our Lord Jesus did “evangelize” among the Jews. Speaking to the Jews, said this:

" shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins." (and)

"You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?"
(John 8:24 and Matthew 23:33)

How can Jesus have said such a thing to any of the Jews, if all of them are to be saved? Here again is an interpretive problem. Romans 11:26a, taken superficially and literally, flies in the face of the most basic beliefs of Christianity; that NO ONE can be saved without Jesus Christ. It cannot mean THAT but if it does not mean THAT what does it mean?

Some fairly heavy lifting in the work of interpretation is called for in resolving this “conflict”. And to be prepared for that work a good overall familiarity with scripture generally and Romans in particular is needed.

Our first and perhaps best key in understanding what Paul means by "all Israel" (Romans 11:26a) might be found in Romans 2:28-29.

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. - Romans 2:28-29

 In these verses, Paul defines the difference between "true Jews" and those who are Jews according to blood lines (the flesh) only.  “True Jews” are those who have had a circumcision “of the heart, by the Spirit”. In another of his writings – Colossians 2:11-12 – Paul speaks of what is no doubt the very same thing; a “circumcision of Christ” that takes place in the process of becoming a Christian:

and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
 – Colossians 2:11-12 (NAS ‘77)

The true Jew, therefore, is a Christian convert, from either the Jewish or Gentile races.

Having reached that conclusion, the interpreter can follow up with a THOROUGH study of Romans, Chapters 9 through 11, bearing in mind that the Old Testament references given there were originally written to the Jews by their own prophets. By this process we should come to understand that Romans 11:26a is stating that all “true Jews” – the faithful remnant – will find their salvation by receiving Christ. Are the Jews still "God's chosen people"? Yes, but only the true Jews, those who have received Jesus Christ!

As Peter points out, Christians - regardless of racial origin - are now God's chosen people - 1Peter 2:9-10.

God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

On this matter John the baptist, the apostle Paul and our beloved Savior are all agreed, as can be seen by quick review of passages such as Matthew 3:9; Galatians 3:7, 26-29 and John 10:14-16.

So, is the interpretation of doctrine necessary?

The answer will depend on which doctrine we are talking about. Much scripture carries a straightforward message, and the “interpretation” of such passages often amounts to a doctrinal dance intended to deny the plain meaning. But there are some things in scripture which are indeed “hard to understand, which the unstable and untaught twist to their own destruction”. In those areas, we must be prepared and willing to engage in the diligent work of “rightly dividing” (interpreting) the Lord’s doctrine as given in the Word.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Are You In Touch?

That is, are you in Touch with the Blood of Christ?

Consider the following:

[We have come] to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. - From Hebrews 12:24 (NAS).

The question is this: Have you come to the soul saving blood of the Lamb?

Many have come to an acceptance of the truth; Jesus is Lord, victorious over death and ascended to Heaven above. Some have come also to a solid knowledge of doctrine and the observance of good Christian practice. Those things are necessary and important. But unless a person has also come to the blood of Jesus, they have no power to save.

Among Bible believers, this isn’t exactly news. There is much talk within Christendom about “The power of the Blood”. And for good reason; the Bible tells us that:

=> The Church is purchased by Christ’s blood – Acts 20:28; Revelation 5:9
=> We are justified by His blood – Romans 5:9
=> We have redemption through Christ’s blood – Ephesians 1:7; 1Peter 1:18-19
=> Without sacrificial blood there’s no forgiveness – Hebrews 9:22
=> His blood cleanses us from all sin – 1Jn 1:7

Christendom’s focus upon Christ’s Blood

Scripture references such as these have led Christendom throughout the ages to an appropriate focus on the importance of Christ’s blood in salvation. In recent years some have caved in to pressures from the world, which – being in the power of the evil one – has complained that Christianity is “too gory” a religion for modern times. But most continue – in fidelity to the teaching of scripture – to emphasize the importance of Christ’s blood. It is common, therefore, to hear or to read such comments as these:

“Trust the blood” “Plead the blood” “Call upon the blood”
“Trust in His blood and believe that it was poured out for you personally”

It is good that many still emphasize the importance of Christ’s blood in salvation. But do such statements as these really tell us what we need to know about being in touch with the blood of Christ?

Christ’s blood was shed

This makes salvation possible for all men.

The book of Hebrews instructs us extensively in old covenant principles that reveal new covenant truths. For example:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness–Hebrews 9:22 (NIV)

Here we see that sacrificial blood is needed in order for sins to be forgiven. Under the old covenant, the blood of bulls and goats was shed for this purpose. The blood of those sacrifices merely looked ahead to the true sacrifice; the death of Christ, without which the blood of those previous sacrifices would have meant nothing:

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins - Hebrews 10:4.

But Christ Jesus has died, has shed His blood; and has carried it in His own flesh into the true Holy of Holies which is in Heaven above.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood,He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11-12 (NAS)

Christ’s blood is to be applied

Salvation becomes actual (personally valid) only when we come in touch with the blood of Christ.

When Jesus died, shedding His blood, the old covenant ended and the new began. But for people to become blessed through this covenant they must come in contract with the blood:

Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU." –Hebrews 9:18-20 (NAS)

As stated above, the book of Hebrews does a wonderful job of using old covenant principles to teach new covenant truths. God has offered the blood of the new covenant in the sacrifice of Jesus, the Holy Lamb. But as with the Hebrews of old, contact with the blood was necessary to be blessed by the covenant. The original account is recorded at Exodus 24. Verses 7 & 8 of that account read as follows:

Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said,"All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!" So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people,and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."–Exodus 24:7-8 (NAS)

The Hebrew people, assembled together, listened to the words contained within the book of the covenant. They agreed with those words. Only then did Moses take the blood of the sacrificial beasts, “with water and scarlet wool and hyssop”, and sprinkle it on the people.

The covenant between God and man is sealed when man connects with the blood.

Another old covenant example can be used to show this exact same truth; the account of the original Passover. The Hebrew people had been in cruel bondage to Egypt for many years and even after many plagues against Egypt, Pharaoh refused to let them go. God determine one final and devastating plague upon Egypt.

On a certain night – the 14th of Nisan according to their ancient calendar – a mighty angel was to pass over Egypt, slaying the firstborn of every household there. But God offered the Hebrews a way of protection. They were to take a perfect lamb, one year old and set it apart. They were then to sacrifice their lamb and eat it together in their homes in a prescribed manner the same evening that the death angel was to “pass over”. They were also to take the blood of the sacrificed lamb and paint it onto the two doorposts and lintel of their homes:

'And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.– Exodus 12:13

But what if all had been done properly but for one detail? What if a Hebrew family had neglected to display the blood, as instructed, upon the doorway of their home? Certainly, in that case, there would be no “sign” upon that home indicating that there were faithful Hebrews within. In that case the death angel would not pass over. That family would not be protected and the plague would fall upon them.

We see again the same lesson as shown in Hebrews 9, above. Here is the pattern:

=> God has offered His Son and considers His Son’s blood a covering for our sins. It serves as our shield against God’s judgment upon sin.
=> Those who want to receive the blessings of that covenant must hear and agree with the things said in “the book of the covenant”; the gospel teachings of the New Testament.
=> So far, so good. But the covenant is ratified or made official only when the blood is applied to us. So, we ask again, “Are you in touch with the blood of Christ?”

How? How do you get in touch? How can you know?

Under the old covenant the people were given visible signs of the blood’s contact.

=> When the Hebrews in Egypt painted their doorways with the blood of the lamb, they could see that it was there.
=> When Moses said to the Hebrew people, “This is the blood of the covenant”, they saw the blood that was mingled with the water. They felt it splashing onto them as they passed by the basins in which it had been mixed.

Under the old covenant the Lord God also saw these signs.

=> In Exodus 12:13 the Lord specifically said: when I see the blood I will pass over you

We understand therefore that there were – under the old covenant – visible signs that both the Lord God and the Lord’s people could see. Yet today, most of Christendom, though aware of the importance of the blood, tries to approach Christ’s blood in invisible, mystical ways:

“Trust the blood” “Plead the blood” “Call upon the blood”
“Trust in His blood and believe that it was poured out for you personally”

God gave visible signs of contact with the blood under the old covenant. Are we to suppose there are no such signs given us under the new? We should ask again, as was asked earlier, do such commonplace sayings really tell us what we need to know about “getting in touch” with the blood of Christ?

Three ways to get in touch:

The blood was in the water.

Hebrews 9:19 together with the Exodus 24 account showed us that the blood of the old covenant was in basins in water. May I suggested that – in the mind of God – the blood of the new covenant is in the waters of baptism? Such a thought might seem outrageous to some but before disregarding it there are some things to be considered:

=> Baptism is – according to Acts 2:38 – “for the forgiveness of sins…” And according to 1Peter 3:21, “baptism now saves”. But as we have seen above, without blood there is no forgiveness. How, then, can baptism be involved in our forgiveness & salvation unless it connects us with the blood?
=> Jesus shed His blood in His death. Romans 6:3 states that we are baptized into Christ’s death; that is, into the event during which His blood was shed.
=> Romans 6:3 also states that we are “baptized into Christ” (as does Galatians 3:27). We are not baptized into a dead corpse but into the living Savior, life sustaining blood coursing through His veins.

Baptism is a visible sign; one that – according to the scriptures cited above – saves and forgives. It puts us in touch with the death of Christ. It brings us into the Savior Himself. It is a sign, visible to both God and man, even as the blood of the covenant was visible under the old Mosaic covenant.

The Blood is in the cup.

We should have no difficulty in seeing this connection. It is plainly stated:

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.–Matthew 26:26-28 (NAS)

This is an account of Jesus’ instituting the memorial that is variously known throughout Christendom as the Lord’s Supper and Communion. He plainly stated that “My blood of the covenant” was within that shared cup. Literally speaking, we do not see anything there but the juice derived from the vine. It is not and does not become literal blood any more than the unleavened bread becomes literal flesh. What then did Christ mean?

What this passage shows us is that the elements of the Lord’s Supper ARE Christ's body and His blood – in the mind of God. How do we know this? We know this because it is from the mind (or heart) that the mouth speaks (Mt 12:34) and it was God that spoke the words of Matthew 26:26ff.

The Blood is in Christ’s Body

We noticed above that we are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). Scripturally speaking, Baptism is also the ordinance by which people are added to Christ’s church. All Christendom acknowledges that the 1st Christian church began on the day of Pentecost, 33 AD, as recorded in Acts 2:

So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.-Act_2:41 (NAS)

Those who believed were baptized. Those who were baptized were added. Added to what? The answer is obvious; they were added to Christ’s church. Elsewhere in scripture we read that the church is Christ’s body:

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all. –Ephesians 1:22-23 (NAS)

The church is a living body, the body of Christ. Scriptural principle states that “the life is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). Therefore the living Church of God is infused with the life sustaining blood of our Lord. His church is a place of refuge, encouragement, refreshment. And, of course, it is a place of Christian fellowship:

but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.–1John 1:7 (NAS)

Are you in touch?

The blood is not – literally or physically – in the Communion Cup nor is it literally, physically in the waters of baptism or Christ’s church.
But it is more than reasonable for us to accept that – in the mind of God – Christ’s blood exists in all three of these places.

=> The blood is in the water. Therefore, those who have heard and agreed with the good teaching of “the book of the covenant” are baptized and saved (Mark 16:16). They are immersed in water for the remission of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, meeting the blood as they do so.
=> The blood is in the cup. Therefore, having met Christ’s blood in the water, Christians partake with one another of the Loaf and Cup, remembering the Lord in the manner that He asked. In this way we remember and re-devote ourselves to the covenant of God’s grace in His blood.
=> The blood is in the body of Christ. His church. Christians are “added” to the church when they come into initial contact with Christ’s blood at baptism. There we abide, faithful to Him and in fellowship with one another “and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin”.

As in the old covenant, God has given visible things by which we see the spiritual ones. He has given us the water, the cup and the body. It is more than reasonable – based on the study of scripture – to see Christ’s blood in all of them; all of them together. It is more than reasonable to believe that God sees the blood of Christ in these things, as well.

For our own part we must realize, though, that our contact with the blood of Christ is not an “either–or proposition”. This is not “multiple choice”. We must contact the water, we must partake the cup, we must abide in the body. Only then can we know for certain we are in touch with the blood of Christ.

I am, by God’s grace,
Rich In Christ

Thursday, April 5, 2012

When Was Our Lord Crucified?

Tradition, of course, states that it was on “Good Friday”

But before accepting this on faith, we would do well to consider the statement of Matthew 12:40:

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” - Matthew 12:40 (NAS)

Accepting this statement at face value, we would expect a specific period of time to pass between Jesus’ burial and resurrection; namely three days and three nights. In other words, we’d expect Him to be in the borrowed tomb for six periods of roughly twelve hours each, or about 72 hours.

But if Jesus died Friday afternoon, as per tradition, it is very difficult to account for anything close to a 72 hour passage of time, or for “three days and three nights”, either one. Friday night and Saturday night are two nights. Add in the daylight hours from Saturday and you have one and a half complete days. “Three-days-plus-three-nights” simply cannot be worked in between Friday afternoon and the early morning of hours of “…the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” (John 20:1).

Had Jesus predicted that he would be “three days in the heart of the earth” we might more easily account for this difficulty. In that case we might suppose that Jesus meant that He’d be in the heart of the earth for all of one day (Saturday) and some fragment of two others. But Jesus specifically said He’d be “three nights” in the heart of the earth. We can account for Him being in the borrowed tomb Friday and Saturday nights – two nights - but if He died on Friday there is no possibility of His being in the tomb for a third night.

The only way to account for Jesus being in the tomb a third night is to assume Jesus was crucified Thursday. I am aware that this raises some questions as well, and beg the readers’ patience as they continue reading. Questions arising from the proposition that Jesus died on Thursday will, I believe, be answered in the final section of this entry.

Friday? Or Thursday?

Before going any further, we might ask, “Why is this question important?”

The quick answer is that unbelievers are convinced that the Bible is “full of contradictions” and that the “Good Friday” tradition for Christ’s crucifixion presents the appearance of contradiction.

Jesus, in scripture, said He’d be in the tomb three days & three nights. Meanwhile, all Christendom remembers His death on “Good Friday”. 24 hours passed between Friday and Saturday afternoons and by the time the sun had risen the following morning (not more than 12 hours) Jesus has already arisen.

This has every appearance of a contradiction and for good reason. And we’d be very naïve to suppose that atheists, zealous for their cause, have not noticed and published materials on it.

Fortunately the “contradiction” is between man’s traditions and the Bible rather than being in the Bible itself. Let’s begin working to resolve this “contradiction” by looking at…

The Thursday Timetable

Placing the Crucifixion on Thursday resolves any 3 days / 3 nights questions that might arise:

=> Thursday PM (1st night), Friday PM (2nd night) and Saturday PM (3rd night)

=> Friday AM (1st morning), Saturday AM (2nd morning) and Sunday AM (3rd morning)

As can be seen, three days and three nights fits well if we assume our Lord was crucified Thursday. And as it turns out, proposing Thursday as the day of the crucifixion fits into the overall framework of Jesus final week, as well.

Events of the Crucifixion week:

Confusion: What about Wednesday?

No one is actually sure what became of Wednesday during Jesus’ final week. There seems to be a prevailing desire among Bible scholars to go along with the idea of Jesus dying on Friday but this leaves Wednesday of the crucifixion week more or less in limbo. You can confirm this for yourself checking the standard references that come easily to hand. For example:

=> The Dickson New Analytical Bible states, concerning Wednesday, "No record of this Day".

=> The Thompson Chain Reference Bible avoids questions of "what happened to Wednesday" by combining the "Tuesday and Wednesday" events under one heading.

=> The Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament reference by H. Wayne House lists a single event for Wednesday, the “Plot to Kill Jesus” but attaches a question mark (?) to the entry.

=> Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts jumps from Tuesday straight to Thursday, indicating that Wednesday was simply passed by in the scripture record.

The Bible, of course, apart from identifying the 1st day of the week (Sunday), never says which day is which. But it does point to events occurring on five separate days, beginning from the day of Christ’s Triumphal entry and ending the day of the crucifixion.

During this final week, Jesus spent His days in Jerusalem, His evenings at Bethany.

If Jesus was crucified Friday, we would expect to see activities recorded in Jerusalem during six days (Sunday-Friday, inclusive). We would also expect five trips into and out of the city prior to Christ’s arrest. But we have scriptural indicators for just four such trips:

=> 1st Day – all are agreed this was Sunday: This was the “Triumphal Entry” - The 1st Return to Bethany is recorded at Mark 11:11.

=> 2nd Day – Monday: 2nd entry to Jerusalem - Mark 11:15. The 2nd Return to Bethany is recorded at Mark 11:19.

=> 3rd Day – Tuesday: 3rd entry to Jerusalem - Mark 11:20, 27. The 3rd Return to Bethany is recorded at Matthew 26:1-6

=> 4th Day – Wednesday: 4th return to the city - Matthew 26:17; Luke 22:7-10a. The 4th withdrawal is followed by the Garden of Gethsemane account and Jesus' arrest – Matthew. 26:36ff; Mark 14:32ff; Luke 22:39ff.

=> 5th Day – Thursday: According to this chronology – a scriptural chronology - Jesus seems to have been arrested Wednesday night and would have been crucified Thursday.

Objections to Thursday as the day of crucifixion

The only significant objection is that the Jews did not want Jesus’ body left on the cross because of the Sabbath.

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away - John 19:31 (NAS).

This verse shows plainly that the day after the crucifixion was the Sabbath (a high day). Since the weekly Sabbath fell on Saturday, many have pointed to this verse as proof positive that Jesus died on Friday. But let’s look at the verse more carefully.

John 19:21 supplies two important facts in addition stating the next day was the Sabbath. 1st it states that this particular “Sabbath was a high day” (NAS), a “special Sabbath” (NIV). 2nd, It states that it was the “day of preparation” on which Jesus had died.

We should therefore be asking two questions. What was the “day of preparation”? And what kind of “special Sabbath” or “high day” was the next day going to be? The answers are as follows:

1. Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover. He was crucified on the same day that the Passover Lambs were being prepared for the holy celebration of Passover. This was a most appropriate time for our Savior also to be slaughtered, considering that He was the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

2. The following day was Passover itself, always celebrated according to the Law on the 14th of Nissan, regardless of what day of the week it fell on. Ordinary Sabbaths were Saturdays, occurring each week. But there were also “Special Sabbaths” – Holy Days that were set apart for the special worship of God. And the Passover was one of them.

Computer modeling has now demonstrated that during the year 33 AD, the year Jesus died, the 14th of Nissan fell on a Friday. See Roger Rusk, "The Day He Died" (Christianity Today, Vol. 18, No. 19), p. 4 (722).

Jesus died as our Passover Lamb on the day of preparation for that special Sabbath, that most special of all Passovers, 33 AD. Jesus died on Thursday.

I am by God’s Grace,
Rich In Christ

Monday, December 26, 2011

Saved Without Church?

There are many fine people in today's world. They are good citizens, good neighbors and morally quite decent. Many of them pray and accept that the Bible is a book from God. They consider themselves "believers" and expect to go to Heaven someday. But for whatever reason church just isn't a part of their lives. After all, you don't have to go to church to be a Christian and get to Heaven. Or do you?

The Divine Beginnings of The Church

While Christ was alive on earth, He was preparing to "build His church" - Matthew 16:18b. But on the Jewish day of Pentecost following His resurrection, those who were saved were "being added" to "their number" (NIV, NASB) which was His Church - Acts 2:41, 47. As a matter of fact, the KJV & NKJV say (in verse 47) that they were added to "the church" (Gk. ekklesia). Notice that they were saved and added to the church at the exact same time.

Can Anyone Be Saved Apart From The Lord?

Of course not! But what does this have to do with the question, "Can people can be saved without the church?" Acts 5:14 tells us that the new believers were added to "the Lord" (KJV, NKJV). The Gk. in this place is "koo'-ree-os" (properly translated "Lord").

But in what sense are believers added "to the Lord" when saved? When saved they are added to Him, that is, to His body, the church - Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:24.

Christ was punished for our sins at the cross - punished in His body. If anyone is in Christ's body – the church is His spiritual body – the punishment Christ received in His body counts as their punishment.

A second way of looking at this is to recognize that there is life in the Lord - that is, in His body. The Life that is in the Lord becomes ours when we are in His body, the church. But no part of the body can continue to have life if separated from the body. For example, if a hand or a foot is cut off from the body, the body survives. The part that is cut off does not survive.

Those who are saved have been added to the church, to the Lord, to His body. This was done for us by God when we were saved. There is no life outside of the body, outside of Christ's church. If we desire the life that is found only in Christ, we must remain in His body where God placed us.

Can We Be Saved Apart From Christ's Protection

When Jesus announced that He would build His church, He also announced that "the gates of Hades would not prevail against it" - Matthew 16:18b.

"The gates of Hades" is a figure of speech rich with meaning. Theologians have discussed the subtleties of this phrase for centuries. But one thing that all are agreed on is that Jesus used this expression to represent powerful forces of evil - forces bent on the overthrow of men's immortal souls, forces that no man has the ability to stand against on his own.

Thankfully, we have the assurance that Christ's church provides a place of divine protection against those powerful forces of evil. The Lord's church is a safe refuge for those who are within it. But those who remain outside of the church's protective walls remain in danger. No one can be saved outside the protective fortress of Christ's church.

Can We Be Saved Apart From Christ's Blood?

The New Testament plainly shows that our salvation is connected with Christ's blood. His blood brings us atonement (Romans 3:25), justification (Romans 5:9), redemption (Ephesians 1:7), reconciliation (Ephesians 2:13) and cleansing (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5). Each of these biblical words has a specific meaning but all of them together are involved in our salvation - and all of them depend on Christ's blood.

In a general sense, Christ gave his blood for all mankind. But not everyone will be saved. The Bible says that many will not (Matthew 7:13-14).

The salvation that Jesus bought for us with His blood is available to everyone. But to whom is it applied? Acts 20:28 states plainly that Jesus purchased the church with His own blood. A very similar thought is seen in Ephesians 5:25 where Paul writes that Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.

Is Anyone Saved Without Their Name Recorded In The Lamb's Book Of Life?

The scriptures are very clear on this. At the final judgment, anyone whose name is not found there is cast into the lake of fire - Revelation 20:15. Likewise, to be admitted to the Eternal City of God our names must be written there in the Lamb's book - Revelation 21:27.

When are men's names written there? Their names are written there - added to that book - in the instant of salvation - at the time they are saved, added to "the church" (Acts 2:47) added to "the Lord"(Acts 5;14)

Everyone knows this. I actually grew up in a church that had its membership role prominently displayed in the vestibule of the church. At the top of the page, in an ornate, old-English style script were the words, "The Lamb's Book of Life".

The true "Lamb's book of Life" is in Heaven, of course. The names written on it are the names of the saved. The Lamb's Book of Life is God's divinely kept "church membership role"; heaven's own "membership role" for the Lord's church.

But this "Book of Life" is continually updated. Names of the newly saved are added to the Lamb's book but other names can be blotted out - Revelation 3:5. Our own names were written there when saved & added to Christ's church. Can our names remain there if we forsake Christ's church? Any doubts about this question are removed by Hebrews 10:23-27.

Can We Be Saved Apart From Christ's Church?

Clearly, according to the biblical ideas outlined above, the answer is no. If you believe in Christ and want to go to Heaven someday, you need to be a part of His church. We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What About Deathbed Repentance?

2nd in a series concerning baptism's place in our salvation

The New Testament makes a clear case for immersion being an essential part of receiving Christ's gospel. If this idea is unfamiliar to you, please see my previous blog entry, Why immerse? Unfortunately, though, the idea of "baptism for salvation" has simply had no part in mainstream religious training. For this reason , objections are frequently put forth against the teaching.

This series of blog entries began with what might be the most common objection of all, "What about the Thief on the Cross?" Closely related is the question addressed in this entry:

What about deathbed repentance?

If you are unfamiliar with the idea of deathbed repentance, here is how it works (or is supposed to work):

Some poor soul, who has expended the many years and energies of his life in the vigorous pursuit of evil, finally feels a fear of God as his life's force ebbs. So he prays "the sinner's prayer" and is "saved".

The preacher who "saved" him can then stand before the family at funeral time and assure the survivors that "evil old Ed" is as safe as a little lamb in the arms of Jesus. What is more, the preacher can assure them that they too can quietly say "the sinner's prayer". They can do it right where they are, while everyone's eyes are closed! All the preacher asks is that they raise their hand so he will know to follow up with them later.

This is not an imagined scenario. I actually attended a funeral where the preacher did exactly that. A couple of folks probably raised their hands. Most others probably figured they would wait and take care of this business at life's end, like "evil old Ed" did.

If it sounds as though I'm not buying this kind of "death bed repentance" scenario, you are right. It contains too many assumptions unsupported by the Holy Scriptures.

Assumptions In The Scenario:

1st: it is assumes that "the sinner's prayer" is a valid means of salvation.

Supposedly, people are saved when they say "the sinner's prayer". It goes something like this:

"Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I believe that you died upon the cross to forgive my sins [here, some other things to be believed about Jesus are added in – the recipe varies]. I now ask you into my heart and receive your salvation [etc.]"

The person is then assured that he can know in his heart that he is saved and as a rule, he does. Unfortunately, forgiveness does not take place in the sinner's heart. The man can feel forgiven and can feel this with utmost sincerity. He can even change the way he lives. But unless forgiveness has taken place in the heart of God, the man who has prayed this "sinner's prayer" is still outside of Christ and carrying the guilt of his sins.

No one in scripture was ever converted to Christ by "asking Jesus into their heart". There is no commandment in scripture for anyone to say "the sinner's prayer" at the time of their conversion. Nor is there any scriptural example of anyone ever saying, or being saved by, "the sinner's prayer". It is therefore quite strange that "everyone" thinks that people can be saved in this way today.

Believing an unscriptural thing to be scriptural does not make it scriptural. There is nothing scriptural about the sinner's prayer. Christians are to pray for forgiveness when they sin. But no one in scripture ever became a Christian by such a prayer. Even so, "salvation by the sinner's prayer" has become one of Christendom's most sacred cows.

If we truly want to know how people were saved in the New Testament, there is a true book of inspired history that records many conversions. The gospels were written to record the life and teaching of Christ. All of the teaching contained in them has great value. But Jesus' ministry was to the Jews. Christians are people who are saved by the death of Christ. There weren't any Christians until Jesus went to the cross. To learn how people became Christians in scripture, we can read the book of Acts. You won't find any examples of the sinner's prayer there. There is nothing even close.

2nd, it assumes that every appeal for deathbed repentance is answered by God.

Some might suppose, based on the scenario painted above, that I do not believe in deathbed repentance. Not so. What I don't believe is that people can be "saved on their deathbeds" in an unscriptural way.

What of lifelong sinners, who've deliberately hardened themselves against the gospel?

There are many who were raised by devout parents. They have known the central facts of the gospel from the time of their youth and even supposed the Bible's message to be true. But they have ignored the gospel's message because of their love for evil. All their lives they have hardened themselves against the gospel. They wanted no Bible, no church, no preachers and none of that "goody two-shoes, holier than thou" living. But once terminally ill, they got nervous and wanted to be saved.

Will God receive them? Ultimately, God will make that decision, and it will most certainly be the right decision. He'll hear no complaints from me if He does receive these people. But the following statements from God's word leave me with very serious doubts that He will receive them.

Galatians 6:7-8 – Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Proverbs 1:24-29 – Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention; And you neglected all my counsel, And did not want my reproof; I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, When your dread comes like a storm, And your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come on you. "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the LORD.

Psalm 32:6 – Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him.

Psalm 66:18 – If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear;

All scripture quoted from the New American Standard (1977) Bible

Only God can know whether a man's repentance is genuine and the ultimate decision as to who will and will not be saved is His alone. But these passages – among others – offer little encouragement of a successful "deathbed repentance" to the one who has deliberately chosen to walk in darkness though exposed to light.

Those newly coming to know the light

Here the prospects of salvation "on the deathbed" seem much brighter. I knew a "good" man whose religious background was quite dubious. He had never been properly taught scriptural truths but only some nonsensical religious traditions. He was nevertheless – while literally "on his deathbed" – quite willing to hear biblical truth.

On coming to understand the scriptures he responded much in the same way as the Ethiopian treasurer who – having heard the preaching of Jesus – sought to be baptized (see Acts 8:35-36). We asked to speak to the Nursing coordinator. The patient himself made his request known to her and it was arranged for the man to be immersed in the Physical Therapy department's therapeutic pool. That gentleman never recovered from his illness and died, still in the hospital, two weeks later. But the healing he sought at that stage of his life was of a different kind. And I see no reason to believe that he did not receive it.

We are speaking here of assumptions and one of the assumptions commonly made is that people on their deathbeds have no opportunity to be immersed. Not so, as this man's case demonstrates.

By the way, we have just mentioned the Ethiopian treasurer of Acts 8, who was travelling through the desert. If ever there were a case where an exception to the rule might be expected, it was this one. I have actually been asked, "What if someone accepts the gospel and they are in the desert where there is no water for baptism?" One answer is that you go to the Howard Johnson's and use their pool (the Howard Johnson's pool is gotten from the same place the desert wasJ). But the better answer is found in Acts 8. Phillip did not offer to pray the "sinner's prayer" with the Ethiopian Treasurer. Nor did he sprinkle him with a little water from his canteen. They came to water, went down together into the water and the man was immersed there.

3rd it assumes that an assumed exception to the rule overthrows the rule even in ordinary cases.

As stated above, it is assumed that – in the case of "deathbed repentance" – baptism is unnecessary. It is then further assumed that this proves baptism unnecessary in every case.

God is God and makes the rules. They are His rules and He can make exceptions to them if He chooses. I'd have no right to object if He did make exceptions. But I have no right to say that He will. So I wouldn't, even if I wanted to.

Jesus stated a rule in Mark 16:16. "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved…" I have no right to teach that He will make any exceptions to the rule. But what if He did make an exception to the rule? In this case, we need to remember that exceptions to rules do not change rules.

Consider for example the rule of gravity, also established by God (creator of our physical universe). The rule of gravity predicts that a million pounds of metal isn't going to go stay off the ground for long. Yet a fully loaded Boeing 747 Airplane (maximum takeoff weight of 975,000 pounds) can actually stay in the air for hours at a time.

This appears to be an exception to the rule but - one way or another - the airplane always comes back down. So it is actually debatable whether this example is truly an exception to the rule. But even if we agree that it is, the rule of gravity would remain a rule.

The flawed nature of the Objection

People have assumed baptism is optional in a "deathbed repentance" situation. Having assumed baptism is not essential on the deathbed, people then assume it is not essential at all. The first assumption is seen as proof of the second. But assumptions are not usually considered adequate proofs. And possible exceptions to rules do not overthrow rules.

I am, by God's grace,
Rich In Christ

Why Immerse?

The Scriptural Case for Immersion

The New Testament consistently connects baptism (derived from a Greek. word that means to dip or immerse) with salvation themes. (All scriptures are quoted from the New American Standard (1977) Bible)

  • The Bible connects baptism with the forgiveness of sins.

    Luke 3:3 - And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;

    Acts 2:38-39 - And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."

    Acts 22:16 - 'And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'

  • The Bible shows that there is a connection between baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit.

    Acts 2:38 - And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Acts 19:2-3a - and he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." Act And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?"

  • The Bible states we are "baptized into Christ".

    Romans 6:3 - Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?

    Galatians 3:27 - For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

  • Jesus Himself said baptism was to be a part of "making disciples" and promised salvation to those who believed and were baptized.

    Matthew 28:19 – "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

    Mark 16:16 – "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

  • The apostle Peter stated plainly that "baptism now saves you" and describes it as an appeal or pledge to God for a good conscience.

    1Peter 3:21 - And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

  • Inspired Biblical History shows that when people believed the gospel they were baptized. This should never have changed. Here are some of the examples:

    Acts 2:41 – So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

    Acts 8:12 – But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.

    Acts 8:36, 38 – And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" …And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him.

    Acts 16:33 – And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.

    Acts 18:8 – And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

Why not!

In light of these clear scriptural teachings, we should not be asking "Why immerse?" at all. Rather, the question should be "Why not immerse?"

Most denominations within Christendom don't immerse and the few that do think of it only as a "church ordinance". Others sprinkle infants and call this baptism, even though this was never done in the New Testament. Some of these churches teach – or at least used to teach - that the baptism of babies is for the forgiveness of "original sin". But the baptism of believing and penitent adults "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38) is rarely taught or practiced in today's Christendom.

The idea of immersion having any place at all in our receipt of salvation has had no part in most believers' religious training. As a result, many "believers" find it strange – or even offensive - that anyone would see baptism as a necessary part of salvation.

Why does so much of Christendom neglect this ordinance, commanded by Christ? The short answer is that it is rejected because of religious tradition. In other words, it is neglected for no good reason.

It's still in there!

The story is told (and it may or may not be authentic) of an old country preacher in debate against a college professor from one of the grand denominations of Christendom. The topic was whether or not the Bible taught that being baptized was necessary for salvation. The country preacher contended that it was necessary, whereas this great doctor of theology denied it.

Again and again the college professor would advance eloquent arguments against baptism's place in our receipt of salvation. And by way of rebuttal the country preacher would open his Bible again and again to Acts 2:38-39 and reply "It's still in there!"

I don't think I ever heard whether the audience was won over by the old preachers arguments or not. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that "It's still in there!"

I am by God's grace,
Rich In Christ