Friday, August 31, 2012

Must We Be Baptized?

A reader of this blog recently brought up an interesting question: why was Christ baptized if baptism is not a necessary step in the path to eternal life? Their point was that Jesus said He was fulfilling all righteousness (Matthew 3:15), and that He was perfect, and yet seemingly in need of baptism. It seemed to that reader a contradiction that we could be saved by faith alone, as we are sinful and imperfect, and that it was prideful to think that we did not also need baptism and works to be saved.

Our pastor likes to say that baptism doesn't make you saved any more than wearing a wedding band makes you married. Both are symbols of a deeper union. In the case of baptism, it is usually one of the first, acts of obedience a Christian does once they are born again (John 3:3-7), as a symbol of their spiritual rebirth.

Baptism by immersion symbolizes the death and burial of Jesus as the believer is plunged under the water, and it also symbolizes the believer dying to his sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:2-7). When the believer is raised up out of the water, it symbolizes Christ's resurrection and also the believer becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Baptism shows those present that we are not ashamed to be followers of Christ, and that we are obedient to His Great Commission which includes baptism (Matthew 28:19-20).

But baptism, or any works in general, are not necessary for salvation. To be saved, all we need is the freely given gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection as the only way to Heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15).

Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

We cannot accomplish our own salvation, for we can add nothing to Christ’s completed work on the cross. However, once we are saved, obedience and good works, such as baptism, flow naturally out of our love for and gratitude to Him. Baptism and other good works are the fruit and evidence of our living faith (James 2:17-26).
When Philip preached about Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, he asked what would prevent him from being baptized, and Philip replied “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

After this confession of faith by the eunuch, Philip baptized him right away (Acts 8:26-38). This shows the proper order of being saved by believing and verbally confessing faith in Christ, Whom God raised from the dead (Romans 10:9) and then being baptized as an act of obedience.

Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, who immersed Him in the river Jordan ((Matthew 3:13-17). Yet John protested before baptizing Jesus, for he clearly recognized long before that Jesus was far more powerful and holier than himself (Luke 3:16-17). Only Jesus would be able to baptize with the Holy Ghost, and only Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29,36). None of these powers were contingent on Jesus being baptized. In fact, John, Mary, and Elizabeth all recognized Jesus as their Savior before He was even born!

We cannot use Jesus’ example in being baptized to prove that we must be baptized in order to be saved, any more than we can use His example in being circumcised (Romans 2:25-28), or keeping the Jewish feasts, or other works of the law that He kept and fulfilled (Matthew 5:17), as works necessary for our own salvation. The law saves no one, for no one can keep it completely.

The law is only a mirror showing us the extent of our shortcomings and our need for a Savior. As sinners before a righteous and holy God, we deserve eternal punishment in hell, which would be our fate if Christ had not paid our sin debt in full to reconcile us to the Father (Romans 3:20-26).

If baptism or any other works were necessary for our salvation, then the thief who repented and recognized Jesus as Lord just before he died on the cross would not have been saved. He had no opportunity to be baptized or to do any good works, yet Jesus said to him, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:40-43).

In a way, it is pride and unbelief that makes some think that God's grace is not enough to save their souls, and that they need to add their own good works to the amazing love and self-sacrifice Christ showed by dying for our sins. The Mormons like to say "We do our best, and Jesus does the rest." But Jesus freely gave Himself for us, and that is enough.

It is as if someone offered you a brand new Mercedes Benz as a gift, no strings attached, and you said -- "No, I want to help pay for it, so here is a penny." Thinking that our penny would make a difference would not only be prideful; it would also be insulting to the giver and would belittle the immense value of his gift. It is prideful to think that we could save ourselves by our good works, because the Bible says that our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Yes, we are all sinful and imperfect (Romans 3:10-23), before and after we are saved. We have no righteousness on our own, before or after baptism. But once we place our faith in Jesus, all His righteousness is imputed to our account, and all our sins are imputed to His account (Romans 4:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). So, praise God, when the Father looks at a believer, He no longer sees our sins, but only the perfect righteousness of His Son!

© 2012 Laurie Collett

Friday, August 24, 2012

Counterfeit Trinity: Satan the Deceiver

In his vain attempt to be God, Satan is the master deceiver who tries to copy God in all that he does. Just as God is a Triune Being: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so does Satan mimic this pattern in the three persons of Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet.

Satan was originally created by God as Lucifer, the most beautiful and wise anointed angel who covered God’s throne, singing praises to Him, until he fell due to his sin of pride (Ezekiel 28). The beauty and wisdom of Lucifer, which means “the shining one” in Hebrew, are reflected in his names of an angel of light (2 Corinthians11:4) and as the son of the morning (Isaiah 14:12; a direct counterfeit to Jesus Who is the true Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).

Lucifer thought that he could overshadow God and become Him, resulting in his fall from God’s Heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15). In his rebellion against God, Lucifer convinced one third of the angels (Revelation 12:4) to follow him into his fallen state, becoming demons. Because he was the first to sin (Ezekiel 28:11-19), he is known as the man of sin (II Thessalonians 2:3), the Evil One (John 17:15; 1 John 5:9), and the Wicked One (Matthew 13:19).

After Lucifer fell from Heaven, God changed his name to Satan (Job 1:6-9; Matthew 4:10), which means “adversary,” (I Peter 5:8) or “enemy” (Matthew 13:39). Because he destroys all in his path, he is described as a murderer (John 8:44), the thief who kills and destroys (John 10:10), and a roaring lion wanting to devour us (I Peter 5:8). Although Jesus is the noble Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), Satan is the dark reflection of this power used for evil instead of good.

Other names for Satan revealing his destructive power are the destroyer (Abaddon in Hebrew or Apollyon in Greek; Revelation 9:11); Belial (II Corinthians 6:15) meaning "worthless" or "hopeless ruin," and Son of Perdition (John 17:12; II Thessalonians 2:3) meaning one who causes total physical or spiritual ruin, loss and destruction.

Believers may fall into sin because of enemy attacks from Satan, the world, and the flesh. Satan and his demons may attack the faithful directly, as they did Job (Job 1:12). God’s people may stray when worldly rewards, such as riches and power, attract us more than God’s promises (1 John 2:15). And finally, the worst enemy may be the flesh (Galatians 5:16) – that enemy within that drives believers away from God because they choose to fulfill their own lusts (Romans 13:14) rather than to keep His commandments.

Satan entices believers to sin using three lures: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). The first recorded use of this strategy resulted in Adam and Eve disobeying God and being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Satan, disguised as the serpent, convinced Eve that the forbidden fruit would be delicious to eat, appealing to her flesh; that it was beautiful, appealing to her eyes, and that it would make her as wise as God, appealing to her pride (Genesis 3:6).

David succumbed to the same trap – his eyes wandered to the beautiful Bathsheba bathing, and he indulged his flesh by committing sexual immorality with her. To compound the wrongdoing, his pride allowed him to put his own desires and ambitions over the life of an innocent man, and he schemed to trick Bathsheba’s husband Uriah and ultimately had him killed in battle (2 Samuel 11).

As we can see from these examples, Satan is the tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5) and the father of all lies (John 8:44). His deceit knows no bounds, for he is even the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), parading our sins before God so as to deny our holiness through the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17,22).

Because Satan is the master deceiver, another of his favorite strategies is to change, add to, or subtract from God’s Word, as Eve and the serpent did when he beguiled her to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17 versus Genesis 3:1-4)..

This is also the ploy used by all the cults: for example, changing Christ’s identity into one who is neither fully God nor fully man (Hebrews 4:14-15); adding the need for baptism or other works to salvation by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9); or belittling the redemptive power of the shed blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12). No wonder Scripture sternly warns us not to adulterate God’s Word in any way! (Revelation 22:18-19)

Satan is the archenemy believers must face in the Church Age, but once we are Raptured (1 Corinthians 15:52), those left behind will also have to contend with the Antichrist and the False Prophet, as we shall see next week!
© 2012 Laurie Collett

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