Purity of Purpose

It is clear from the scriptures that in order for one to be saved, one must be baptized (Mark 16:16). Since the word “baptize” is a transliteration from the Greek word “baptizo” the significance of the word is lost to us in the English language. So it is within the context of how the word “baptize” is used that we come to the conclusion that baptism must be immersion. Specifically in Romans 6:1-11, where we are taught that baptism is in the likeness of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. To be buried, one must be completely immersed in the burial material, water. For one to be baptized in a way that is not burial (such as pouring or sprinkling) would not be a fulfillment of the requirement to be buried. To this, most members of the Lord’s body would agree. However, when it comes to the stated purpose for which one is baptized, many accept the idea that as long as the candidate is submersed, then they are saved, regardless of their state of mind. With this idea, many say that although one may not believe that baptism is necessary for remission of sins, if one is immersed God will forgive those sins regardless of the individual’s belief regarding baptism itself. Is this a correct understanding of the scriptures? Let’s examine the question in light of the plan of salvation. The Bible teaches that for a person to come into a state of salvation, one must: (1) hear the gospel message (Romans 10:17), (2) believe it (John 3:16), (3) repent of ones sins (Acts 17:30), (4) confess the name of Christ (Matthew 10:32) and (5) be baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Each of these steps involves purity of purpose. Let’s look at some scriptures that indicate this.

When we look at the step of hearing the gospel, we recognize that not any hearing will suffice. It takes more than just letting the word go in one ear and out the other in order for a person to respond. Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27 that the person who hears and acts upon what he hears is like a wise man, but that the person who hears and does not act upon what he hears is like a foolish man. In other words, not only must we hear the gospel message, but also we must hear it in a certain way, with a specific purpose. We must hear the gospel with the view that we are going to act upon it i.e., obey it. So when one hears the gospel, one must hear it with the purpose in mind of obeying what one hears otherwise, hearing the gospel is useless.

When we look at the step of believing the gospel, we recognize that purity of purpose must be involved here as well. It is not sufficient to believe just anything, but we must believe the message of the Gospel. Moreover, we must not have ulterior motives for believing the gospel. One cannot believe something with the purpose in mind of simply making another person happy. One must believe with a view of salvation in mind. There are certain things that a person must believe in order to be saved and there is the proper motive for believing those things. Romans 10:10 states that with the heart man believes unto righteousness. The heart must be pure in order to believe the gospel. The purpose must be understood, otherwise the feigned faith is useless.

When we look at the step of repentance, the Bible is clear that it is more than merely being sorry. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 we read, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” It is not sufficient to merely be sorry for one’s sins. The purpose of repentance is more than mere sorrow. The purpose of repentance is to stop doing the sinful things that one once did and to reform the pattern of one’s life after righteousness (Acts 26:20). So repentance must be with the proper attitude and correct purpose or else it is no repentance at all. Again, the purpose must be understood for one to be saved.

One’s confession as well must be pure. Does saying the words, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” regardless of one’s attitude fulfill the requirement of confession? No. An atheist can say the words, but that does not make him a Christian. The words in and of themselves contain no “magic” formula that works salvation upon an individual. These words must come from the heart; they must be meant. Again, Romans 10:10 says that with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. That presupposes that one has already believed. Confession must be done with purity of purpose and that purpose must be understood for one to be saved.

Now we get to the step of baptism. Should we conclude anything different regarding this particular step of salvation? Should we conclude that in all the other steps one’s motive and purpose must be pure, but that when it comes to baptism that we do not have to have a pure motive and purpose? There is nothing magic in the waters of baptism. The water is just water. So dunking a person under the water just for the sake of dunking someone under the water is not going to cut it. If the proper motive and purpose is not present, it is meaningless just like all the other steps of salvation. If a person is not baptized for the proper motives and purposes, he is just getting wet. The Bible clearly teaches that the purpose of baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16).

At this point many will ask, “What if a person is being baptized to obey God, but does not understand that baptism is for the remission of sins.” Well, would God allow the other steps of salvation to be “obeyed” without an understanding of their purposes? Clearly God would not. He expects us to hear, believe, repent, and confess with a proper understanding of what these things involve when we do them as illustrated above. Why should we think that baptism is any different and why should we think that a person can “obey God” without a proper understanding of baptism? Would God accept an atheist who says the words “I believe Jesus is the Son of God” when he doesn’t really mean them? No, because confession is not a magic formula, it is based upon faith. So also immersion is not a “magic formula” with intrinsic value, it is based upon faith.

The Bible teaches that when a person is baptized, they must believe that baptism is for the remission of their sins–that is the act of faith in baptism. Colossians 2:12 says, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Without that act of faith involved in baptism, one is merely getting wet. If a person is just baptized “to obey God” what is the act of faith? Wherein are you putting your trust when you are baptized “to obey God?” Someone says, “I am putting my trust in God.” Great! So what are you putting your trust in God to do? When faith trusts God, it trusts God to do something (Romans 4:20-22; Hebrews 11). Baptism doesn’t need to show that one merely believes God; confession accomplishes that! Baptism is not just a restatement of one’s confession. It is more than that. Notice what Peter says on the matter of baptism. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Notice what is said in this passage. (1) Baptism saves us. (2) Baptism is not merely taking a bath. (3) Baptism is the response to God of a good conscience. (4) Baptism saves by the resurrection of Jesus. Notice item number (3). When we are baptized, we have to have a good conscience about it–we must do it with the right purposes in mind. The good conscience when taught properly is going to understand that baptism is necessary for salvation and is going to motivate the individual to take the appropriate action. To say that one can be baptized correctly without understanding the purpose of baptism denies the role of the conscience in baptism.

Many have asked me the question: “Can you be taught wrong and baptized right?” In response, I ask, “Can you be taught wrong and hear right?” “Can you be taught wrong and believe right?” “Can you be taught wrong and repent right?” “Can you be taught wrong and confess right?” If we cannot do these things, then what makes us think that we can be taught wrong and baptized right? The bottom line is that God has clearly identified the purity of purpose for baptism. There is no reason for someone not to know what the purpose of baptism is when they are baptized and if they are not following the purposes that God has clearly set forth, they are just getting wet.

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Please, O Please, Hear the Word of the Lord!

“O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD” is the great proclamation of Jeremiah (22:29). When we look on all the problems that the world faces today. Whether we should wage war against one country or another; whether we should spend money on this program or that; whether an individual will stop drinking and reform his life. We shout from the rooftops with Jeremiah “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD!” Herein lies the solution to all of earth’s problems regardless of how great or small the problem may be. Do we truly listen to the word of the Lord? Do we truly read it for what it is worth and bow ourselves in obeisance to it? Therein lies the greatest problem for all mankind-the attitude of not listening to God’s word. And listening implies obedience from God’s standpoint. If one has not obeyed, one has not truly listened. “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD!”

I remember as a high school student being asked the question, “If you were granted one wish, what would it be?” Those who wished for “world peace” were always the ones who stood out as seeming wiser than others. However, I now know exactly what to wish for. My wish would be for the world to listen to God’s word and obey it. What a simple, but profound solution to all the problems of mankind whether big or small. In truth, there is only one problem that is truly a problem-the refusal of man to heed the word of God. “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD!”

Does not God look down upon this earth as an experienced father would look at his teenage children and say, “If they would only listen to me, I would be able to help them?” But in rebellion and stubbornness, we refuse to listen. Would that every man would take up God’s challenge to them as found in Malachi 3:10, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Go ahead and take up God’s challenge. Hear his word and obey it and see if he won’t bless you! Don’t you believe that every good father who has ever had teenage children wants them to understand this-that life for them would be so much easier if they would just listen! This is the message that God has for us as His creation. “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD!”

We sing the children’s song, “The wise man built his house upon a rock.” Do we listen to the very song we teach our children? Jesus said, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. . .” (Matthew 7:24). The wise man listens to Jesus and acts upon what he hears. Who does Jesus define as the foolish man? “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. . .” (Matthew 7:26). Wise or foolish–the choice stands before us today. “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD!”

“O, Earth, Earth, Earth . . .”

Are you with sorrows bent down low?

Do you have troubles that plague you so?

Would you have worries and cares be gone?

Do you, for peace, wait all the day long?

Listen, dear one, to the message sublime.

Incline your ear to the word Divine.

Does sickness knock each day at dawn?

Do friends forsake and are loved ones gone?

Can you turn with ease upon your bed?

Or does each movement fill with dread?

Hearken, sweet friend, to the One from Above.

Hear the blessed word of God.

Does money get you feeling low?

Do you wonder each day where it goes?

Can you find a dime to spare at noon?

Do you feel that all you do is swoon?

Haste to hear the voice so sweet.

God’s word, will your problems meet.

Has someone near and dear passed on?

Does life remove the faintest song?

What troubled cares arise within?

What distant memories wear your soul thin?

Turn to Him in such distress.

Let His words your soul caress.

What great problem can arise?

What great difficulty surmise?

What awful hurtful things may come?

What tearful soulless evil haunt?

Be it pain, peril, death or sword,

“O earth, earth, earth hear the WORD of the LORD!”

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The Mission and Work of the Church – Benevolence

The mission and work of the church centers around the great mission that Christ proclaimed namely to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). The church as the bride of Christ has the responsibility of support the Christ in this great work (Ephesians 5:23, 24). As we have studied through the work of the church in our bulletin articles over the past several weeks, we have looked at the concept of evangelism and edification. Evangelism is primarily focused upon those who are outside of the church-the alien sinner. Edification is primarily focused upon those who are within the church-both saved and apostate. The work of benevolence, however, transects both spheres of work. Often the work of benevolence reaches out to the alien and edifies those who are saved or apostate. Many times benevolence encourages those who are wayward to repent and come back and shows the alien the great love that the church has for mankind and the result is conversion. No doubt, this is part of the design of benevolence. However, we should not think of benevolence as merely a means to an end, but rather should think of it as an end in and of itself. Benevolence must be done from a pure motive in order to be effective. Benevolence should not necessarily include on our part the expectation of evangelism or edification (though it may be our ultimate desire we should not necessarily expect it out of the individual to whom we are doing good works) and this is the reason that often time it is discussed outside of the context of both evangelism and edification. James writes that pure religion is to support both the orphans and widows and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). The support of orphans and widows is a work of benevolence and it is set forth by James as pure religion’sufficient as a practice of the church in and of itself.

The word “benevolence” comes from the Latin word “benevolens” and means kind, well-meaning, benevolent. It is composed of two words “bene” which means “good” or “well” and “volo” which means “to will” or “to intend.” Thus the compound idea is to intend to do well. We find the same idea in the New Testament expressed in the thought, “good works.” The concept is a scriptural one and the church must be involved in the activity of benevolence or doing good works. In 1 Timothy 6:18 we read where the rich were commanded to be involved in good works, “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” This context is showing that the idea of “good works” involves the concept of benevolence. Having this in mind, we go on to look at Galatians 6:10, ‘so then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith? (ASV). More literally, the Greek says let us do good works toward all men. The churches of Galatia were to be involved in these good works and so should we.

Sadly, it seems that in many congregations benevolence does not get a large portion of the budget. Perhaps this is in part to the deplorable practice of many in our society to want to get by with as little effort as possible. Regardless, the church needs to find ways to practice this most important work. We find considerable stress and emphasis upon this work within the New Testament. In fact, the work of benevolence (whether congregational or individual) is mentioned more within the scriptures than any other activity that involves church finances. It was a priority for the early church to be involved in benevolence. In Acts 4:32-35 we read,

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one {of them} said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need.”(ASV)

The key thing to think about in this passage was that there was a need and that the church provided for that need through the generous spirit of some. This was not merely a one-time event; the church made it a practice under the direction of apostolic authority to consistently take up a collection. No doubt there were many things to which the collection was going to be applied, but the first mention of this consistent practice and the primary application of the collection was church benevolence. This is the main purpose behind 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come” (ASV). The idea of Paul’s coming in this context was in regard to the great collection that was first started as a result of the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 11:28-30. That the collection continued to be taken up for other purposes as well no doubt can be inferred correctly from the prescriptive way in which Paul issued this directive. It was to be done in the churches of Galatia as well as the church in Corinth and as we find out in 2 Corinthians 8:1ff that the churches of Macedonia were involved in this as well. Such an event provided a catalyst to both initiate and educate the church on the proper use and practice of giving.

The priority of benevolence in the early church can be seen in the various charges that are given from different apostles. Paul was instructed by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). Paul says that he was zealous to do this. Paul charged the eldership at Ephesus to be mindful of the poor as well. He said, “In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 ASV). The context indicates that the “weak” here are those who are poor. It also fits well with the instruction that Paul gave to the church at Ephesus regarding one of the proper uses of money as the result of work, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Ephesians 4:28 ASV). Indeed God is well pleased with those who do good and share (Hebrews 13:16).

However, not only the apostles placed a high value on “good works,” but our Lord himself consistently challenged individuals in His lifetime to give to the poor. We read in Luke 14:12-15,

And he said to him also that had bidden him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not {wherewith} to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just. (ASV)

Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Does this verse imply that we will be lost if we don’t sell everything we have and give it to the poor? No. The fact that the poor needed some things indicates that it is not a sin to own some things. The instructive value of this verse for us today can be taken in conjunction with Luke 14:12-15 namely that if we choose to bestow goods to the poor, we will no doubt have a greater heavenly reward. Nevertheless, the challenge is made by the Lord to this man here and the warning should be heeded by all of those who do have this world’s goods-giving to the poor contains more spiritual value than maintaining earthly possessions and let us not forget the command of Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:18. Moreover, that Jesus himself gave to the poor is indicated by John 13:29. Jesus and the twelve carried a treasury of money for various purposes. When Jesus mentioned to Judas to do what he had to do, some of the other apostles thought that this was in regard to giving to the poor. They were mistaken, but no doubt, they assumed this out of experiential knowledge of Jesus’ practices. He himself had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20), yet he found a way to give to the poor. He had to have this attitude in His life in order to have the attitude that He had in His death. Paul wrote regarding this in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.” Our very spiritual livelihood depended upon a Savior who cared not for riches, glory, and power, but who cared rather for the spiritual wealth of every person who ever lived on the planet. We would do well to imitate His example in this regard.

Perhaps the most motivating verse in this regard is 1 John 3:17 which says, “But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” The very proof of our love for God and subsequently for our fellow man can be shown through giving to the poor and needy. What a frightening thought to know that one day we will stand before God in judgment with this verse written within His word. The greatest commandment is “to love the Lord thy God” (Matthew 22:37) and yet we cannot fulfill that great commandment without giving to the poor. When we look at the importance that the early church, the apostles, and Jesus placed upon giving to the poor and then consider the fact that our loving God depends upon it, how can we neglect it so in our work today? May each one of us resolve to work more diligently in our own personal lives as well as within our roles within the church to give to the poor.

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