Submission

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto  him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?  And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:30-38 KJV)

God had chosen Mary to be the one to bring Jesus into the world. This was an awesome thing, to be called of God in a manner such as this, but submission to the will of God in this matter also came with serious consequences that no doubt Mary considered. 

As an unwed mother, what would those around her think? She would be considered an adulteress. People would look down upon her, she would be treated with contempt. Perhaps even put to death, as adultery was punishable by stoning in those days.  What about her betrothal to Joseph? She was engaged to marry, but upon discovering her pregnancy would Joseph put her away? He would have every right to do so, as he would consider that she had been unfaithful to him. 

In spite of all these things we see Mary humbly submit to the will of god for her life. It is the same with us today as well. What is God calling you to do? God calls us to do things for Him, to go through things that perhaps are difficult. Obedience to the will of God is not always easy. Our comfort zones can be stretched, we may look foolish to those around us. Following Christ may cost us friends and family, or our reputations in the eyes of the world. But will you, like Mary, be faithful and submissive in spite of it all?

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The Basis For Christian Unity

Unity within the body of Christ is something we read about in scripture.  We see in the early Church where the believers were united in prayer and purpose; where they were all together and held all things in common (Acts 1:14, 2:1, 44-47). What is the basis for this unity? How can a diverse group of believers get along together, even to the point of giving of themselves and their possessions for one another?

The last post dealt with love among brothers and sisters in Christ. You can read it here.  We see that love for one another is a vital part of unity and fellowship within the body of Christ. I would like to examine some other aspects of Christian unity in this post as well.

We read in 1 John,

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 KJV)

First of all we must begin with God. We read here that the believer has fellowship with God, and with His Son Jesus Christ. This is where it starts. We must know Jesus Christ. It is not enough to know about Him, or to believe certain doctrines and facts concerning Him, but we must know Him in true fellowship. The word fellowship itself speaks of being a partaker of something, to participate in something, with someone else. first and foremost of all, we must be partakers of Christ, through the new birth.

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Cor 10:16-17 KJV)

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 3:11 KJV)

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:4-6 KJV).

As we have read, there can be no true unity among believers except they are agreed on God. You cannot be in agreement with others who do not hold to God as portrayed in the Bible. There can be no other Jesus than whom is shown in scripture. As we read above, there is one Spirit… one Lord… One God and Father of all. To worship any other God, to serve any other Jesus, is to depart from the faith. As the apostle John states, Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 9)

The above passage of scripture also refers to one faith. Jude admonishes us to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3) There is one faith, not several faiths. We have received the ministry gifts of the Spirit, Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body, until we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:11-13). 

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with  every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.  (Eph 4:14)

Where people abandon the biblical teachings of the apostles and prophets; when the words of Jesus are explained away, there can only be confusion and disorder, rather than the true unity of the faith. Paul warns us that if anyone comes preaching a different gospel, he is accursed. (Gal 1:8-9) He was concerned that there were those in Corinth who might be led astray from the truth.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might bear well with him. (2 Cor 11:3-4 KJV)

There is much debate, and much confusion within the professing Church today. People divide over the nature and character of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit. Confusion exists about salvation, eternal security, end times and the tribulation. The words of Jesus have become muddled and unclear. People are confused about divorce and remarriage, non resistance, and non conformity to the world. Yet the bible is crystal clear on these issues, as well as many others that seem to divide us today. Only as we get our eyes of off man, as we lay aside our preconceived doctrinal positions, and allow the word of God free course in our lives, will we be able to see the truth. We were never intended to be divided and split over so many issues, but were called to the unity of the Spirit.

Faith is true biblical faith only as it expresses itself in love toward God and our fellow man. Jesus tells us that those who love Him will obey Him. (John 14 :23-24) Likewise, if our faith does not compel us to brotherly love and compassion, it is dead faith. (James 2:14-17; 1 John 3:14-18) Once again, there is one faith as presented to us in the word of God. It is a faith that is to be lived out in our daily lives, expressing itself in love toward God, and our fellow man.

There can be no unity among believers without turning from sin. We read in 1 John 1:5-7,

This then is the message we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

What fellowship can there be between light and darkness? (2 Cor 6:14) As Christians, we find unity in the forsaking of sin, and walking in newness of life. This is shown in true baptism, as we read in Romans 6, 

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4 KJV)

Unity among believers is brought about by the working of the Holy Spirit within the lives of those who yield to Him. He will always exalt Jesus Christ by leading us into the truth of God’s word, in love towards one another, and  in obedience to Jesus Christ. We as Christians worship the same God, are made partakers of the same Christ, followers of the same Jesus, filled with the same Spirit, and walk in the same faith. To change any of these things, will only serve to destroy our unity.

 

Christian Baptism

What is Christian baptism? What does it represent, and what do the scriptures teach about it? I would like to devote some time to this important element of the Christian faith, that is often misunderstood and neglected by a great portion of the professing Church of Jesus Christ. Let’s begin with John the Baptist, as we explore this topic.

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. Mark 1:4-5 KJV

 John’s purpose was to prepare the way of the Lord. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness. We see him point to Jesus and say, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:23, 29) However, before one can see, the thing that blinds them to the truth of Jesus must be dealt with. 

The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sin (Luke 3:3). In the spirit and power of Elijah, John was declaring to the people that they must repent. To put it in simple terms, repentance is turning around. We are going in one direction, indulging in sin, and living for ourselves. To repent is to turn around, now walking in the opposite direction, serving God; living for Him in obedience to His commands and will. 

Baptism, the immersion of oneself in water, was the outward sign of this inner change of heart that the people experienced. To undergo the rite of baptism publicly was a “loud” statement for a Jew of this time period to make. In order for a Gentile to become a convert to Judaism, he must undergo baptism. Imagine now an Israelite, having been circumcised, a member of the faith by birth, coming to the realization that “having Abraham for a father” was not sufficient, but that if they would know God in truth, they must repent of their sins, in submission to Him (Luke 3:8)! It must have been a humbling thing to go down to the river and be immersed, confessing their sins! 

In John’s baptism, something was required! The people coming to him were repenting of their sin. Their baptism was a sign of this repentance. They were urged to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8. In other words, if they were truly repentant, they would live it; they would cease to sin, and start to live right. To be merely baptized without this change of heart and life meant nothing. The baptism of John was no empty ritual, instead it was life changing, as people came to get right with God.

In the book of acts we see Peter also exhorting his audience to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). John pointed the people to Jesus. Now we see Peter, portraying Christ crucified, risen, and ascended. This is the fulfillment of John the baptist’s words,

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 KJV

On the day of Pentecost three thousand were added to the Church. In repentance, they were baptized into Jesus Christ. Again, this was no empty ritual. These individuals were cut to the heart, and in godly sorrow they repented, and turned to Christ for the remission of their sin, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We read that this promise was not limited to Peter’s audience, but the promise of the Holy Spirit remains for us today as well (Acts 2:39). Those who believe in infant baptism will use this to “prove” that infants should be baptized. Take a careful look however, and you will see that the promise is not baptism, but the Holy Ghost, and the requirement in this passage of scripture is repentance and baptism.

The Apostle Paul gives us a wonderful picture of baptism in his epistle to the Romans,

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3-4 KJV

To be baptized into Christ is to be dead to sin! The inward reality of baptism is the change of heart; the giving up of sin, and the turning to Christ. Death, burial, and resurrection are represented by baptism. The one baptized (immersed) in the water is dead and buried, and comes up out of the water resurrected unto new life. If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation. The old is passed away, behold, all has become new (2 Cor 5:17). Baptism is no empty ritual. It is a proclamation made by faith, that the one being baptized has committed his or her life to follow Christ. This “identification” with the cross of Christ, and His resurrection, becomes a living reality in the life of the one who has been washed in the water of rebirth, and experienced the renewal of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5). Sadly, many miss the point, being baptized as infants, and believing that the mere ritual alone has saved them; that they are dead, buried, and resurrected with Christ in a figurative sense only, but it is all God requires. They are terribly misled.

There is another aspect to baptism as well, it is faith in Christ. Jesus tells us that the one who believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Faith is essential to our salvation. True Biblical faith however is much more than mere head knowledge. We can believe all of the historical facts about Jesus, but still find ourselves lost in sin. The repentant sinner comes to Christ in faith, trusting Jesus to not only deliver from the guilt and penalty of sin, but also the power of it as well. Faith in Jesus is a faith that acts upon what is believed. Linked closely with repentance, it is a faith that submits to Christ; a faith that surrenders to His Lordship and control over ones’s life.

In Mark’s account of the great commission, Jesus commands His disciples to go into all the world with the gospel. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, he who does not believe will be damned (Mark 16:15-16). Here Jesus places faith as a requirement for salvation, and links it with baptism. In the mindset of the people in Biblical times, a conversion without baptism was unheard of.

Look at the Ethiopian eunuch in the book of Acts. He hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, and immediately upon seeing some water, he asks, “What hinders me from being baptized?” He wanted to convert! He desired to now follow Jesus. Philip’s answer was that if he believed with all of his heart he could be baptized, and he was (Acts 8:36-38). The jailer at Philippi was baptized with his entire house upon their belief (Acts 16:30-34). Note that it states in verse 34 that he rejoiced, believing in God with all of his house. It was not only the jailer who believed, but his entire house as well. This was not a household baptism based upon the faith of one individual.

We have seen that Christian baptism requires the repentance and faith of the one being baptized. It is a conversion experience, something that an individual deliberately contemplates. It involves a choice, often agonizing, to break from sin and to surrender to Christ by faith. This is not something that can be done as a mere ritual, or performed on an infant who does not yet have the capacity for neither repentance or faith. It is a physical representation of the new birth, the reality of which is spiritual. Coupled with repentance and faith, the act of baptism becomes a powerful identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We die to sin, and are raised to newness of life, a life now lived out for Christ. It is a symbolic expression of the reality of the washing of rebirth, and renewal of the Holy Spirit. It, as Peter says, is not the removal of dirt from the body, but an answer of a good conscience before God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).