For 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, in this case, 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 need 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. So 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 do. 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 or with the view that we are going to obey it. So when one hears the gospel, one must hear it with the purpose in mind of obeying what one hears.

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.

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. 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.” In response, I ask, “Can a person merely hear the word of God ‘to obey God’ but not act upon the words that he hears?” “Can a person merely believe something ‘to obey God’ but not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ?” “Can a person merely repent ‘to obey God’ but not actually change one’s life?” “Can a person merely confess ‘to obey God’ but not actually mean what he says?” If one cannot do these things “to obey God” without actually involving the purity of purpose with which these things are done, what makes a person think that they can be baptized ‘to obey God’ without actually involving the purity of purpose with which baptism is to be done?

The truth of the matter is that baptism is an act of faith. When a person is baptized, they must believe that baptism is for the remission of their sins–that is the act of faith. 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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September 11th and the Problem of Evil

PBS recently aired a television special asking the question that most don’t want to confront, “Why is there such evil in this world?” “Why would God allow such evil to occur?” Why wouldn’t God stop such an evil event as happened on September 11th, 2001?”

The classic argument made by Atheists is as follows: “If God is perfectly good, and if God is perfectly powerful and if God does not want evil to occur and if God knows when evil will occur then why doesn’t he do something about it?” Atheists claim that the very fact that God does not stop such things from happening means that he is either not all good, not all powerful or not all knowing and that therefore if he lacks one of these attributes then he cannot be God.

This argument is the only one that Atheists have. Other arguments are made, but these arguments are based upon false teaching by some that claim to be Christians. One such argument is based on the assumption that God is a respecter of persons and that God specifically chooses who will or will not be saved. Thus God would become unjust for offering salvation to some, but not to others and with this we would agree–not that God is unjust, but that the assumption that God does not offer salvation to all equally is a false assumption. The Bible teaches that God is not a respecter of persons and thus would be unjust if he offered salvation to one person, and not to all people.

The problem of evil, however, cannot be handled in such a manner because God does allow evil to happen in the world. Let’s examine for a moment this argument on the part of the Atheist.

The Atheists suggests that God could just prevent people from doing evil. However, if God simply prevented people from making the choice of evil, then there would be some serious implications regarding free will–there would be no free will. That God allows us to make free choices necessitates the possibility for evil. Take away the possibility to do evil and God must also take away the possibility for real good to be chosen as well. In essence people would become mere automatons, only being able to do what they are programmed to do. We would be o better than a computer program.

As a result of merely being a sophisticated computer program we would hardly expect God to hold us responsible for our actions. Additionally, God’s doling out rewards and punishments based upon such a system would prove God to be unjust. If we are just a sophisticated computer program then God himself should be held responsible for our action. After all, would we hold the computer program or the programmer responsible for the result of a bad program? Ask any programmer alive. He is the one who gets rewarded or punished based upon how his program operates.

However at this point the Atheist will counter with a suggestion. “Why can’t God allow us to choose between right and wrong but simply not allow such drastic consequences of choosing the wrong?” This simply cannot be. Being able to choose wrong without there being consequences to choosing wrong is no real choice at all. How can one define evil without consequences? What would make the choice evil? In fact, the choice would be no evil at all because there would be nothing that happened as a result of the choice. A theoretical choice is no choice at all. What makes a choice a choice is the fact that there are practical consequences to the choice. In order to make a choice there must be real consequences to that choice or it is no choice at all. Even the law recognizes the difference between the practical and the hypothetical. A defendant in trial can talk hypothetically regarding a crime all day long and it can never be used against him in court. However if he confesses to actually making the choice, this can be used against him in court. A hypothetical choice is no choice at all.

At this point an Atheist has yet another suggestion for us. “Let’s allow the individual to make choices and allow only certain consequences–consequences that would only affect the individual who made the choice itself.” This seems like a reasonable suggestion. Let’s take away the terrible consequences of the choice of evil as it would apply to other people but not the one who chooses evil. Assuming that this could be done without some pretty amazing miracles occurring what could this imply concerning the choice of evil? Well, first it would mean that evil would not be such a big deal. You could choose evil and really all that would happen would be that you might have some bad thoughts and perhaps hurt ones self. Now, let’s suppose that you choose to do something to another person that is evil, say murder another person. You pull out the gun and fire it, but the bullet stops miraculously in the air and the other person stays alive. Now God confronts you on the Day of Judgment and says you are going to be punished for murder. But you say, “how can you punish me for this when the murder never took place?” This would be a valid argument. We try people all the time for attempted murder as opposed to murder itself. Even our own judicial system understands that there is a difference between the attempt to murder and murder itself, because the consequences are different. We recognize that different consequences imply harsher sentences.

Moreover, what kind of world would this be? What would be the point of choosing an evil if you knew there were never going to be any consequences? It would be a world in which it is so obvious that God exists that no one would be interested in choosing wrong. In order for someone to choose between right and wrong there must be an equal balance between the two choices. If you know that when you choose a wrong that God is going to be there to stop the consequences it isn’t really a choice. Why bother? The balance between the two choices is obviously in favor of God, so it would not be a real choice at all. In order to freely choose, not only must we be given the choice itself, but the opportunity to exercise the choice. In other words the choice is not merely possible theoretically but practically as well or there is really no choice.

Finally, the argument that God does not exist based upon the problem evil is really a self-destructive argument. What is the primary assumption in the argument? Is it not that REAL EVIL EXISTS? Not just what one person says is evil, but that actual objective evil exists. Now who is going to determine what is really evil and what is not? There is a very famous quotation from the French existential philosopher Jean Paul Sarte in his book “Being and Nothingness.” He says, “If there is no God, then anything goes.” About this his is 100% correct. If God does not exist there is no objective right or wrong there are only choices and there is no basis to say whether one person’s choice is any better than another. The very argument that Atheists make is in essence taken away from them because if there is no God then absolute evil cannot exist. But in order for Atheists to PROVE there is no God, absolute evil must exist! If absolute evil does not exist then whey they call evil is no evil at all. The very argument the Atheist makes against God end sup proving that there is a God. Because in order for real objective evil to exist, real objective Good must exist to tell us what evil actually is!

The Atheist has no case upon which to make his claim. He has no argument to present. He can merely assert, unproved, what his own thoughts are on the matter and an assertion is just that, an assertion and it contains within it no evidence, reason, or logical conclusion on the matter.

The events of September 11th, 2001 were and are tragic indeed. However, I would not want to face those events with the “knowledge” that there is no absolute evil. Every Atheist in the world must confess that those responsible for those events of that horrible day really did not commit any evil at all because they have no ground upon which to stand to judge such an event to be truly and objectively evil. For the Atheist must admit that what one society may deem evil, another society will uphold as a heroic act and unless there is some absolute standard of right and wrong, one cannot judge any particular act wrong outside of the context of any individual society. And if one cannot do that, then one cannot say what is right and what is wrong.

Yes, I am thankful that I am a Christian because I know that God holds justice within his hand and that one day all choices will be presented before him and an account will be made. In that day all wrongs will be righted, all evils punished, and all injustices corrected. Here is a picture of right and wrong with which we can clearly and confidently say that the acts of September 11th, 2001 were truly evil.

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Not by Faith Only

There is only one place in the Bible where the expression “faith only” is used. It is much more than significant that the word “not” is right before this expression. James writes, “Ye see that by works a man is justified and not by faith only” (James 2:24). James answers the question whether one is saved at the point of faith alone, clearly and plainly. It is, “not by faith only.” What part of “not” do people misunderstand?

“When were you saved?” Here is the question that all who claim to be saved need to answer. I would wager that at least 90% (maybe more) of the people with whom we make contact with on a daily basis would answer the question in the following way, “I was saved when I accepted Jesus into my heart believing on his name.” James forever states to these individuals, “You are not saved.” “You can’t be justified by faith only.”

“What must I do to be saved?” By the thousands denominational preachers and T.V. evangelists say “just accept Jesus into your heart by praying a prayer of faith only.” James forever rebukes them as false teachers. He stands as a testament that those who teach such are teaching error. James says, “You can’t be justified by faith only.”

Multitudes claim that the thief on the cross is the ultimate example of a person who was saved by faith only. “I want to be saved in the same way the thief on the cross was saved.” The implication is that the thief was saved by faith only. James forever stands in the gap here. In essence James states that however the thief on the cross was saved, it was NOT by faith only because, “You can’t be justified by faith only.”

By the countless millions people look to and quote John 3:16 as a verse that teaches one is saved by faith only. But it does it say that and it cannot say that because James clearly says, “You can’t be justified by faith only.”

The same people point to Romans 10:9 and state that faith only is all that is necessary to be saved. However, James stands against such thinking to state that while faith is necessary, “You can’t be justified by faith only.”

Countless hundreds of scriptures from the New Testament could be quoted left and right. But none of can teach that salvation is by faith only. None of them CAN teach salvation by faith only. Why? Because the Holy Spirit, through James plain says, “You can’t be justified by faith only.”

There is only one of two possibilities in regard to the doctrine of salvation by faith only. Either a person is justified by faith only or a person is not justified by faith only. One of these two possibilities is stated clearly in the Bible. The other possibility is not taught within the Bible. Which one is taught and which is not taught? James forever answers the question. “You can’t be justified by faith only.”

Dear reader, what will you do with James statement? Will you ignore it and continue to believe that a person IS justified by faith only? Or will you humbly submit to the teaching of the Holy Spirit and understand that a person can’t be justified by faith only? One can’t have it both ways. A person can’t be justified both by faith only and not by faith only. It must be one of the two.

Do you now wonder whether you are saved? What is the Bible’s answer to the question of what a person must do to be saved? In simple words the Bible teaches that we must hear the gospel (Rom.10:17), believe the gospel (John 3:16) repent of our sins (Acts 17:30) confess Jesus as the Christ (Rom.10:10) and be baptized for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16). Here is a plan that is consistent with James statement that a person is not justified by faith only. Her is a plan that involves what James calls a living faith–a faith that is inclusive of works. These are not he works of man, but the works of God that we do. This is the kind of faith that Jesus taught man should have (John 6:29). Will you be obedient to the heavenly calling today and be saved by faith, but not by faith only?

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The Mission and the Work of the Church

God, in His wisdom, saw fit from eternity to establish the church. Ephesians 3:10 and 11 reads, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This organization of men and women which God through Christ established is not merely a social association or fraternity. It is much more than simply that. The church is God’s continuing plan for man’s salvation. It is the place of the saved on earth. It is the hand through which God propagates his message upon the earth today. This means that the church has a peculiar work to do. God has charged the church with this work and only the church with this work. We, as the church, have a responsibility to ensure that all of this work gets done.

What exactly, however, has God charged the church to do? That is a question, the answer to which we find in the scriptures. The church has a single mission–to save souls. This was the mission of her Lord (Luke 19:10) and this is the mission with which the church is charged today (1 Tim.1:15, 16). How the church goes about that mission is threefold. There is within the church the need to exhort and to strengthen the brethren (Heb.3:13). This is one aspect of the work of the church. Let us call this edification. There is also the need to preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 16:10). We refer to this as evangelism. Finally, the church has a special work that covers ministering to both those within and without the church. This work is the work of taking care of those who are in need (Gal.6:10). We refer to this work as benevolence. Every other aspect of the work of the church of which we can think will easily fall under these three categories.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” In Acts 2 we first see the message of the kingdom of God and Peter preaching the terms of entrance into the church. In Acts 2:47 we read, “�And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The church was involved from the beginning in the work of evangelism. It was the Lord’s great commission to the apostles which lead to the beginning of the church on Pentecost and it was the continued efforts of the church in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ that lead to her growth and vitalization in the world.

Not only did the early church practice evangelism, but mutual edification. Great persecution came upon the early church in its infant years that threatened the life of the early church, but through edification of one another, the church survived and prospered. One such opportunity occurred after Peter and John had healed a lame man at the beautiful gate. Luke writes concerning their arrival back among the church in Acts 3:24 “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.” Verse 29 of that chapter says that they prayed, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” Such great encouragement among the church guaranteed their ongoing success.

The early church also had a passion for caring for the poor. We read early on of the great needs which were met by some very generous folk who sold their possessions and lands and laid them at the feet of the apostles in Acts 4:32-37. The church at Antioch also purposed to relieve the poor among the church in Jerusalem by taking a collection from the gentile Christians (Acts 11:29, 30; Romans 15:26). Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to remember the poor (Acts 20:35) and Paul acknowledged that this was something he was always mindful to do (Galatians 2:10). These things he taught everywhere in every church that he established (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Are we ensuring that we are carrying out this threefold work of the church today? The mission that the church has depends upon our faithful execution of this pattern. There is no other organization that has the same mission as that of the church–to save souls. Let us resolve to do so in the authorized ways that God has set before us in the scriptures. By evangelizing, edifying, and practicing benevolence the church can carry on this great work today.

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The Keys of the Kingdom

In Matthew 18:13ff, Jesus presents a very important question to these disciples. He says, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” The disciples said that some people are saying that you are John the Baptizer; some people say that you are Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Jesus then asks the disciples, “But whom say ye that I am.” Peter speaks up and says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus response to this question is revealing. He says that this confession that Peter made came from God and that based upon this confession Jesus will build His church. It is within this context of Peter’s confession and the promise to build His church that Jesus says, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

The metaphor that Jesus uses both to describe the church and the kingdom here is one of a building. Jesus said that he was going to build the church and give the keys of the kingdom. Buildings are both built and have keys. We would use the same language in regard to a house or an office building today. The process of building involves planning, construction, and finishing. When the building is complete, the builder gives the keys to those who are going to reside therein so that they can open and close the door to the building. Jesus is using a similar metaphor here regarding the church. The design of the church, the planning for the church, and the purpose of the church were all put together by Jesus–he is the builder. When Jesus died on the cross, he became the head and Savior of the church according to Ephesians 5:23-27. This meant that after his death, everything was ready for people to start entering into the church. But to enter into the church, they needed the keys to open the door. Jesus told Peter that He would give him the keys to open the doors to Jesus’ building–His church–the kingdom of heaven. These keys were given to Peter in Acts 2.

In Acts chapter 2, Peter preaches the first gospel sermon to those who had crucified Jesus. He proclaims in this sermon that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and that those standing around were guilty of crucifying the Son of God. During the message which Peter was delivering to them, the hearers speak up and say, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter then tells them that they need to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). We see in Acts 2:41 that those who gladly received the word were baptized. The result of their baptism was that they were added to the disciples (Acts 2:41). And we see in Acts 2:47 that this meant when they were saved (through obedience) they were added to the church. The commands that Peter spoke are the keys to the kingdom. These commands are the terms of entrance into the church. Peter’s preaching of the gospel resulted in guilty individuals hearing, being baptized, and having their sins forgiven. Through their obedience they were then ushered into the church that Jesus promised he would build, thus opening the door to all who would believe and obey forever.

Those same keys are entrusted to members of the church today and using the same plan which Peter preached in Acts 2, the same results can occur in the lives and hearts of men and women. The world today is just as guilty of crucifying the Son of because it was for the sins of the world that Jesus died. Those who are in their sins this hour stand guilty before God of this ultimate crime. The only recourse of action that they have to be reconciled to God today is to use these same keys to enter into the kingdom of heaven. When a person hears the gospel of Jesus and obeys the commands that are contained therein to repent and be baptized, they will be added to the church just as those who first heard the preaching of Peter. Peter used the keys that were given to him to unlock the door of the kingdom. The door of the kingdom stands opened wide for all who would use those same keys.

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