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Established November 2008
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
I have a couple of announcements for the class before we get started this week. At last count 730 people read (hopefully studied) last week’s lesson, including first time visitors from Canada, China, Iran, and Romania. Praise God for these individuals who have shown an interest in gaining knowledge concerning the word of truth, the gospel, and let’s all pray that they may continue in the Word.
I’m thrilled when I learn that people want to know more about what “God said” in this book we call the Bible, and that they’re returning here regularly for that information, but that’s about as deep as it gets for me. Please don’t misunderstand, I would love to get to know each one personally but the important thing is that they get to know their Savior and why they believe what they profess to believe.
I’ve held memberships in a couple of churches and served in others that were more than a bit preoccupied with “numbers,” in regards to weekly church attendance or how many children professed belief in Jesus during VBS. Perhaps this data had to be submitted to the home office or something; still, I never understood the reasoning behind this, since Jesus Himself said it’s not the “many” who will find eternal life but the “few” (Matthew 7:13-14). I’ve always operated from the principle that “It’s not about the quantity of people who show up; it’s not even about their response to the words. But it is about the quality of one’s teaching” that really matters to God (Ezekiel 13-14; Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-39).
One of the things to understand about Ezekiel is that he’s operating in exile at the same time Jeremiah is operating in what is left of the tribe of Judah at Jerusalem. Ezekiel and Jeremiah were not known for executing signs or miracles - they were preachers of God’s Word. God provided powerful messages to His people about the dangers of “false prophets” through the prophet Jeremiah, even instructing Jeremiah to write them down and send them to be read to those already in exile with Ezekiel and Daniel.
These false prophets all prophesied peace and restoration “prosperity” when the true prophets of God conveyed His truths of coming judgment. The church today is facing the same problem, whether to harken to what it would like to hear or remain steadfast to the Truth of God’s Word. As I said, in the end it’s not about “gaining market share” or “playing the numbers game;” what really matters is being dedicated to speaking God’s Truths and the spiritual battle for individual hearts. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Colossians 4:3a)
I pray this Christmas Season the unsaved world will come to know that Christmas won’t be found at a cocktail lounge, it won’t be found at the shopping mall, or at an annual Christmas gala; Christmas isn’t even under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. May the Holy Spirit open their hearts to understand that Christmas lives in the heart of a Child born this day as revealed to mankind through the prophet Isaiah with these words: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a Son, and she will call His name Immanuel (God with us). Isaiah 6:14
The final piece of business is this: Home Bible Study© is closed for Christmas and as per our custom will re-open for business the first week of January 2016. We do this so that you and your loved ones will enjoy the holidays and each other abundantly.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 1:17.
1 Corinthians 1
17: For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
For Christ did not send me to baptize – Paul encountered two detractions from “preaching Jesus Christ crucified” (the gospel that saves) to the gentiles. The first was cleverness of speech. In the “religious realm” people often assume the more complicated or mysterious something is the more spiritual it is. However, this approach causes problems in the church because it often elevates the spokesman above the Savior.
But Paul had a different point of view. When Paul spoke he wanted his words to be straightforward; meaning he preferred to keep it simple. The gospel Paul preached was about Jesus Christ, specifically, His death, burial, and resurrection, and the good news that we can be saved by believing in what Jesus Christ accomplished at the cross, plus nothing else. Paul kept God’s invitation simple so that everyone could understand his message and their salvation would rest solely on the power of God (1 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 2:1-5).
The other detraction is baptism. Paul knew it was one of the reasons behind the divisions in the church and this is the reason for his declaration: For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17). Here Paul explains his true mission in only 4words “to preach the gospel” – to bring people to a united faith in Christ Jesus minus any and all the religious trappings or works of the flesh.
When water baptism was a part of God’s kingdom program, it was always for salvation (Mark 1:4, 16:16; Luke 3:3; Acts 2:38). As you can see from these Bible verses, baptismal regeneration is clearly taught in Scripture, and so naturally it was an integral part of God’s program, at that time. However, dispensational change took place when God later called our Apostle Paul and sent him to the gentiles - “not to baptize” (1 Corinthians 1:17).
Before I go much further with this please note there is no consensus in all of Christendom as to who should be baptized with water, how this should be done, or why this should be done. In other words, there’s no unity on this subject; and from my experience people can’t even agree to disagree…
My role, as a Bible teacher, is to guide you through the Scriptures; to show you what God has revealed to us. I’m not trying to build my own “little kingdom” here on earth, I’m not trying to persuade people or upset people, and I’m certainly not interested in bringing about division or causing discord within any church group, so as they say, “Don’t shoot me; I’m only the piano player.”
Baptism is not a N.T. command, it is an O.T. ordinance. When Hebrews 9:10 speaks of the “various (diverse) washings) of the Old Testament, the Greek word for “washings” here is baptismos. This means that the “various washings” described under the law were actually baptisms. This explains why the Pharisees didn’t ask John the Baptist what he was doing, they asked him “why then are you baptizing?” (John 1:25). You see, they understood what he was doing from the Old Testament Scriptures, and they themselves had been practicing water baptisms (plural) since the days of Moses.
One of the many O.T. baptisms was performed to prepare men for the priesthood. Speaking of Aaron and his sons that is (Exodus 28:43, 29:1-4), and this is why John the Baptist baptized the Jews in “all the land of Judea and they of Jerusalem” (Mark 1:5). Just as the tribe of Levi served as priests for the other eleven tribes of Israel, it was God’s intention that one day all twelve tribes would be “a nation of priests,” “salt and a light,” to the gentiles, once the kingdom of God had been established on the earth (Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 66:20-21; Zechariah 8:20-23; Matthew 5:13-16).
When John the Baptist began his ministry he came preaching the message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2), and he meant the kingdom , the very one the LORD God promised Abram, around 2000 BC; the very one in which Israel was destined to be a “nation of priests.” This is why John baptized them, to prepare them for the priesthood. This also explains why water baptism was necessary for salvation in the O.T. economy. God insisted that all His priests be saved!
The Dispensational Change
On this side of the cross, we know from Scripture that the nation of Israel rejected their King (the Messiah) and His kingdom message. But they also rejected the Apostle Peter’s offer of the kingdom (Acts 3:19), when they stood by their rejection of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit with the murder of His prophet Stephen by stoning (Acts 7).
This is when God put His Prophetic Program or the Kingdom Program on hold, if you will, and called the man named Saul, later known as Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46, 18:6, 28:28) with a new message that did not include baptism. After the Rapture event brings an end to the present Church Age, or God’s Dispensation of Grace (Ephesians 3:2), the prophecy of Revelation 1:6 will become a reality, and a new redeemed nation in Israel will be baptized and become God’s priests to the world, speaking of the 144,000 specifically (Revelation 7:3-8; 9).
In this present age, God is not preparing Israel, or anyone else for that matter, to be “priests” to “reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10) in the millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:6). But He is preparing members of the Body of Christ to reign in the heavens (Ephesians 1:18-23) over the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). This is why our Apostle Paul tells us at 1 Corinthians 1:17 he was not sent to baptize because people today do not need to be prepared for the priesthood, and water baptism is no longer necessary for salvation. Today Believers are saved by the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), not the washing of water baptism. Water baptism is a “work” and salvation is “not of works” in God’s Dispensation of Grace (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; 3:2).
If you’re wondering why Paul would speak of “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), I would suggest that he is not speaking of water baptism, but rather the baptism by the Holy Spirit that places each Believer into Christ Jesus the moment they believe the gospel; For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Ask yourself, does the Holy Spirit baptize a person with water? No, of course not; so 1 Corinthians 12:13 isn’t talking about water baptism at all. Yet just about every Christian organization requires and will not accept a person for membership without water baptism or a baptismal certificate.
Ask yourself another question: do you really believe every person sitting in your assembly is a Believer – a born again child of God? Once again, of course not! Even if everyone of them sitting there on Sunday morning underwent the rite of water baptism, by whatever means, there’s no way to test if they’re salvation experience was genuine. The ceremony was performed and they become a member. However, God the Father determines who is and who is not saved and Scripture says there are no “unbelievers” in the Body of Christ because this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Since there are many different baptisms in the Bible (Matthew 20:22; Luke 12:50; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2; etc.), when Paul says there is only “one baptism,” he must mean that there is only one baptism that is a part of God’s program today, in the Dispensation of God’s Grace. To add water baptism to the baptism by the Holy Spirit would make two baptisms, and this runs contrary to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:5. According to Scripture with the Spirit baptism: in Him (Jesus Christ) you (insert your name here) have been made complete (Colossians 2:10a): completely circumcised with a spiritual circumcision (v11), and completely baptized with a spiritual baptism (v12).
It is often argued that Believers should be baptized with water to represent our spiritual baptism, but if this is true, then to be consistent Scripturally we should also be circumcised to represent our spiritual circumcision – but the book of Galatians clearly forbids this (Galatians 5:2-3).
The meaning of baptism is identification. To demonstrate this, we’ll search the Bible to find the very first baptism. The Apostle Paul explains that the people of Israel were “baptized into Moses… at the Red Sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). This is one of the many baptisms in the Bible that have nothing to do with getting “wet.” After leaving Egypt the Israelites were facing the divided Red Sea and to their rear Pharaoh’s advancing army. They had a decision to make. If they entered the divided Red Sea, the waters towering high above them on both sides might close around them as mysteriously as they opened up. But they knew what would happen once Pharaoh’s army caught up with them. Faced with this “no-duh” decision, they said in effect, “We’re with you Moses,” following him into the divided Red Sea. Meaning: they were baptized into him; or the nation of Israel “identified themselves with him.”
This then is the Holy Spirit’s definition of the very first baptism in the Bible, therefore it’s highly significant. One of the most remarkable evidences of Biblical unity is the internal consistency, and nowhere is this more evident than in the phenomenon which Bible students refer to as “The Law of First Mention.” This simply means that the first time any important word is mentioned in the Bible (usually in Genesis, but not always), Scripture gives us that word’s most complete Biblical concept; it defines it, and sets the tone for how it will be used in the Bible thereafter.
Now, let’s see if other baptisms in the Bible are also associated with identification.
Israel’s priests were baptized to consecrate (set them apart) and to cleanse them (Exodus 29:1, 4; Numbers 8:5-7). This initiation ceremony would of course identify them as priests in the eyes of the people, just as the Lord was identified as Israel’s Messiah when He was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. Similarly, the sons of Aaron were identified as Israel’s priests when they were baptized with water (Exodus 29:4) and then anointed with oil (Exodus 29:7); oil being a type of the Spirit in Scripture. In Acts chapter 2, Jesus Christ’s disciples were similarly identified as God’s priests to the world when they were baptized with water, then anointed with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ’s baptism by John also identified Him with us. Jesus was no sinner, but if He was going to die for the sins of all, He was going to have to be identified with sinners. The “baptism of John” was a sinner’s baptism (Matthew 3:6), so the Lord submitted to it “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-15). Jesus’ baptism identified Him with every sinner so that later “we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was also a baptism and identification without the use of water. Years after His baptism by John with water, He spoke of another baptism that He had yet to be baptized with (Luke 12:50), an obvious reference to His approaching death at Calvary. We know from Scripture that His death was also an identification, for the prophet Isaiah says, that He “was numbered with the transgressors” – when “He poured out Himself to death.” (Isaiah 53:12) The Apostle Mark quotes these words and affirms that they were fulfilled when the Lord poured out His soul between two thieves (Mark 15:27-28).
I’ve stood at the Lion’s Gate on the eastern side of Jerusalem, leading into the Christian quarter. This marks the beginning of the Via Dolorosa and from this spot Calvary is easily seen. In fact anyone coming or leaving Jerusalem by that gate could have easily looked up and seen our Savior hanging there on His cross. But to them, they would have assumed He was just another lawbreaker, just another “transgressor,” who had met His fate like those crucified on either side of Him. Thus our Savior, Jesus Christ, was numbered with the transgressors as He was identified with the thieves hanging on His right and on His left, and with all mankind for that matter, in the baptism of His death (2 Corinthians 5:15).
The Bible speaks of yet another baptism, when James and John asked Jesus if they “may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left “(i.e. be identified with Him in His kingdom) in Your glory. Jesus lovingly responded, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be (what) baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” - meaning James and John must first be willing to be identified with Him in death (Mark 10:35-40).
Our Baptism into Jesus Christ
Paul teaches Believers that we were “baptized (not into a non-denominational denomination or church group but rather) into Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:3). Paul is saying if you’ve been placed in Christ Jesus, before you can get there you had to be identified with His death. I prefer to put it this way: When Christ died, God the Father saw every one of us hanging on that cross, in the Person of Jesus Christ, because He died in our place: I (insert your name here if you’re a Believer) have been (what’s the next word) crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; (Galatians 2:20a).
Just as surely as God saw each one of us hanging on Jesus’ cross, in the Person of Christ, He also saw us buried in the tomb with Him, and not by water, but by virtue of God, once again, determining that now since He’s paid the sin debt for all who believe, and appropriate it then God can say, “I saw you crucified with My Son, I saw you buried in the tomb with Him, in His death, and so we’re also resurrected along with Him to a new life, in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, I believe Scripture is clearly saying that we were “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3), i.e. by being identified with Him in His death for our sins. Just as Jesus Christ was identified with sinners in our unrighteousness when He was baptized by John with water and later “numbered with the transgressors,” so now Believers are identified with Him in His righteousness when we are baptized into His death for our sins.
We know that Romans 6 cannot be speaking of water baptism, for the subject in the context here is power over sin (Romans 6:1-2, 6-13). Water baptism gives us no power over sin, but our baptism into Jesus Christ affords the possibility of overcoming sin (Romans 7). Put another way, it’s not that our baptism into Jesus Christ makes it easier to choose not to sin, it’s just that salvation makes it possible for us not to sin. A Believer can choose not to sin whereas before we were saved we probably didn’t consider sin at all.
I know how sensitive the subject of baptism is throughout the Christian world, this is why I preempted my teaching on this topic with an aside. As I said, it’s not my intention to “attack” those who practice water baptism or to cause discord among the brethren. But there are a couple more things worth mentioning.
First I greatly admire and respect those of the Baptist faith. Their stand for the fundamental truths of God’s Word is historic in nature and practice and their emphasis on soul-winning command the respect of every Believer, in Christ Jesus. In demonstrating my respect for this organization, I’ve held a membership in one of their local churches for many years and have served there faithfully. I’ve been baptized too, but this occurred in another faith-based denomination. I opted to undergo the rite of water baptism by immersion because it was the only way to gain membership and I wanted to teach Sunday school.
However, I disagree with the church on the necessity of water baptism for whatever reason and I’ve done my best to demonstrate why using the Scriptures. There was a time when I taught the need for water baptism many years ago. This was before I learned to rightly divide the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15). I was basing the need for water baptism on Jesus Christ’s marching orders given to His disciples at Matthew 28:19 (The Great Commission).
What I’ve learned from studying Scripture, rightly divided, is these instructions from Jesus Christ are no different from God’s Prophetic Program. In fact, it was a further development of it. In the records of our Lord’s command to “go and preach the gospel,” there is no indication that He meant a different gospel from that which His disciples had been preaching, which concerned the Messiah and the kingdom. This gospel is specifically and repeatedly called “the gospel of the kingdom” (Mathew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Mark 1:14; Luke 9:2, 6, etc.).
To assume that our Lord now sends His apostles, and us, out into the world proclaiming “the Gospel of the Grace of God” is wholly unwarranted and doesn’t align with Scripture. In fact, Paul’s gospel is not even mentioned or preached until Paul is raised up and sent forth to declare it (Acts 20:24; Romans 3:21-28; Ephesians 3:1-3).
Ask yourself, if Matthew 28:19-20, was the Lord’s Great Commission, it was certainly a command, why did the twelve apostles remain in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1)? And why did they, through their leaders, later decide to confine their ministry to Israel alone (Galatians 2:9)? Were they out of God’s will or was a change in dispensation taking place? The answer is rather obvious. Saul’s conversion was the first step in the ushering in of God’s Grace; Paul writes: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown (what) mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:12-14).
The Gospel of the Kingdom was proclaimed by John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the twelve apostles. It was the “good news” of the promised kingdom and required repentance, baptism, and faith that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. This gospel was proclaimed by the Jews to Jews only (with a few exceptions such as the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) and the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13). This gospel failed due to the nation of Israel’s unbelief. But God will reinstate it after He completes the Church, the Body of Christ, (at the Rapture). A future generation of Jews will embrace the Gospel of the Kingdom, believe it, and fulfill Romans 11:26: and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” In the meantime, the gospel that saves today is the Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Secondly, there’s no harm in undergoing water baptism just so long as someone, somewhere is not requiring it as a means for your salvation (works). In effect these folks are saying Jesus didn’t mean what He said just before He died on the cross, “It is finished.” They’re saying Jesus Christ left “works” for us to do…
Anyone who “adds” anything to Jesus’ finished work of the cross, i.e. join a specific church group, pray a certain prayer, tithe a certain amount, climb a high mountain, swim a raging river, etc., is in effect saying Jesus’ death wasn’t enough to satisfy God’s demand for payment of mankind’s sins. None of these things are mentioned in this book; they are inventions of man (Matthew 15:9). This book says: For by grace you have been saved (how) through faith (alone); and that not of yourselves; it is (what) the (free) gift of God; - (If someone provides you with a gift and you turn around and hand them $50 dollars is it still a gift? No. Now it’s a purchase. You can’t buy your “stairway to heaven.” You can’t be good enough and you can’t perform enough “good works” to purchase one minute in God’s heaven, let alone spend an eternity there with Jesus Christ; but you can appropriate God’s free gift of grace by faith).
Let’s look at the rest of Paul’s statement in verse 17: so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. Our Apostle Paul was an educated man but when he preached he didn’t come with superiority of speech or of (human) wisdom. Paul’s referring to the “eloquent” ways of persuasion which the Greeks highly valued and the people sought to imitate.
Paul means to say the success of the gospel did not depend on such things. He wasn’t interested in them and he hadn’t sought to exhibit them while preaching. As I said a bit earlier, Paul came speaking the gospel with simplicity - so that the cross of Christ would not be made void (or ineffective).
(To be continued)
[Published weekly on Friday]
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