Acts 2:37-39: “What Shall We Do?”

37] Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

38] Then Peter said to the , “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39] For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 

These verses record the response of the crowd to Peter’s impassioned explanation of what had happened earlier with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as well as his declaration that the One whom they had crucified was not a criminal, but was in fact their Messiah.

These verses are among some of the most well-known verses in Scripture.  But do they really teach what is so commonly said of them?

For example, I’ve heard a preacher tell his audience, “Repent, every one of you, and be baptized for the remission of sins.”  I was in a Bible study at a home and a young woman was baptized in the pool in the backyard.  When the ceremony was over, the teacher said that the young woman’s sins were at the bottom of that pool.  I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate the moment because my first thought was, “Boy, I don’t want to go into that water!”  It’s not really funny.

In the first place, this is not a general command for all audiences and all time.  Peter never repeated it in his preaching.  In fact, in his next recorded preaching, he told his audience, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,” Acts 3:19.  In that lengthy record, there isn’t one reference to baptism.  And Paul one time said, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,… For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, 1 Corinthians 1:14, 17.  This seems a strange statement if baptism is essential to salvation.

The question asked by these men is not, “What must we do (to be saved)?” but, “In regard to our guilt with regard to the crucifixion of Christ, what is to be done?”  It is a question in a specific historical context.  Messiah had been rejected by the nation, as represented by the high priest and other officials who had orchestrated His arrest and death.  Peter is saying that these men must reject the counsel of the nation and receive this One as their Lord and Christ.

As far as baptism goes, it is indeed important.  After all, it was commanded by our Lord, Matthew 28:19.  But Peter himself fixes its place regarding salvation once and for all, in Acts 10 and the account of the conversion of Cornelius the centurion.  Baptism is to be the believer’s “profession of faith,” not going forward or raising the hand or any of the many other things men have dreamed up.

Without getting into all of Acts 10, we read in v. 44, While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  Peter never got to “finish”.  He never got to give an altar call or an invitation.  He never got to ask if they would like to “accept Jesus,” the things we think necessary in our time.  But that they were saved was beyond doubt, for they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God, v. 46a.

Then Peter answered, “Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  vs. 46b-47 (emphasis added).

Unless we are to believe that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, it seems to me that this verse forever puts to rest the idea that people must be baptized in order to be saved.

The other teaching that is used from these verses is found in v. 39, where Peter said, “For the promise is to you and to your children….”  Thus, we are told that just as children were included in the blessings of the Old Covenant – the Mosaic law and circumcision – so they are included in the blessing of the New Covenant – and infant baptism.

This view doesn’t recognize the differences in those two covenants.  Without going into great deal – we covered this in our series on infant baptism – the Mosaic Covenant, or the Law, was national and corporate.  The individual Israelite did indeed have a responsibility to obey Moses, but he had a “relationship” with God simply because he was a member of the nation.  Circumcision was the sign of that relationship, but had nothing whatever to do with the man’s spiritual condition.  Under the New Covenant, the relationship is individual and personal.  It has nothing to do with which “nation” you belong to, your heritage or your parents, and everything to do with your spiritual condition.  It was to one who probably had everything the Old Covenant had to offer, if we can put it like that, to whom our Lord said, “You must be born again.”

Beyond that, v. 39 itself has information about this:  “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as our Lord shall call.”  If we are to baptize our infants on the basis of this verse, then what are we to do with those who are “afar off.”  Are we to baptize them, as well?

You see the difficulty.  It seems to me from Ephesians 2:11-13, that Peter is including both Jews – “you and your children” – and Gentiles – those who are “afar off” – in the provision and possibility of “the promise.”  The early church, which was composed of Jews, had a hard time accepting the “availability” of the Gospel message.  After all, Israel had been the only nation God had chosen for Himself.  If one came to God, he had to do it through Israel.  It had been like this for centuries.  “Gentiles” were cursed and Israel had gotten into trouble more than once for being friendly with them.  It was a radical and unheard-idea for a Jew of that time that Gentiles could be blessed as “Gentiles”.

Besides, Peter himself continues with a qualification in this verse – “even as many as the Lord will call.”  In other words, those who have been saved.  They and they alone are the Scriptural and proper candidates for baptism.

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Revelation 3:1-6, The Church at Sardis: What’s In a Name?

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis, write,
‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars:  “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your work perfect before God.  Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.  Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.  You have a few names even in Sardis that have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes shall be clothed with white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 1.

Sardis was situated on a small plateau which rose some 1500 feet above the surrounding country and was directly accessible only from the south.  Except for this approach, the plateau was atop nearly perpendicular walls, which were unclimbable except under exceptional circumstances.  The approach itself was narrow and heavily fortified, making the city virtually impregnable.  Yet the city was conquered, not once, but twice, because of the complacency of the defenders.

The plateau on which the city sat was affected by the weather.  From time to time, an oblique crack would appear in the perpendicular cliffs, thus affording access to the top to an experienced climber or to one willing to risk it.  Even then, the sides could have been easily defended, because it took all one could do to climb, let alone having to fight his way up.  However, the citizens of Sardis were careless and self-confident, and there was no continuing defense, except on the south.  The city was conquered twice.

The name “Sardis” means “a remnant” or “those who have escaped,” and characterizes the church.  Only a few had “escaped” the defilement which infected the church in general; the majority had a name, but no reality.  Sardis typifies Protestantism after the initial fervor had died down.  The Established Churches all had the name of defenders of orthodoxy, but there was generally little more than lip service. Ritual and form were the important thing, and Morality was all the “gospel” that was preached.

There are many good and godly people in the Reformed movement.  And there are Baptists who don’t believe anything at all of the faith once delivered to the saints. It isn’t “my church” or “your church.”  Our ultimate authority for spiritual truth isn’t this or that catechism or confession of faith.  It isn’t this preacher or that scholar. Our ultimate and final authority must be the Word of God.  With Paul, we must ask, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.  It is our rule and practice of faith.  Nothing else is.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, vs. 1.

He Who is the Lord of the Church is portrayed as the One Who has –

The Seven Spirits of God.  Some versions have “spirits of God.”  There weren’t originally any capitals in Greek.  So it’s a matter of interpretation how to print this phrase, which also occurs in 1:4; 4:5 and 5:6.  I’ve given my thoughts in my comments on 1:4, so won’t repeat them here.

There is something I do want to say, though.  In spite of the uncertainty of what this phrase means, I think it has a clear message.  Before I started the blog, I contributed to another website.  It was a general discussion site.  Someone would ask a question or make a comment and others would answer.  One of the other contributors closed a comment with the phrase, “God bless America.”  I responded, “How can God bless America when we’re doing everything we can to bring about His judgment?”  Someone else responded, “What does God have to do with it?”

“What does God have to do with it?”

The description John uses, along with the rest of the book, tells us that He has everything to do with it.  We’ll see that, Lord willing, as we go along.

The Seven Stars.  As we saw earlier, these “stars” refer to the pastors of the seven local churches.  The Spirit works life, and its activity, only through the Word, hence, the pastors of the churches, those who minister the Word, are included because spiritual life is to be revived.

3. The Contents of the Epistle, 3:1b-6.

Condemnation, vs. 1b-2.  Sardis has nothing good said about it, except perhaps that there were a few of its members who hadn’t been “defiled.”  It was worse even than Thyatira.

1. It had a false name.  Sardis was a church with a reputation for orthodoxy, yet there was nothing on the inside; there was a form of godliness, but denying its power, 2 Timothy 3:5.  How true this was, and is, of a great deal of Protestantism.  With good beginnings in the Reformation, it has deteriorated, generally speaking, into a cold, lifeless formalism.

2. It had a failing vitality, vs. 2.

– be watchful, be awake, as after being roused.  And it is a command signifying, “keep on being awake.  Don’t go back to sleep.”

– ready to die, about to lose the last spark of life.

– strengthen, take strong, immediate, effective measures.

– perfect, complete, satisfactory.  As good as it was, the Reformation fell far short of returning to the simplicity of the New Testament.  I read Reformed authors who want to go back to the Church Fathers of the second and third century.  No doubt, there is much they could teach us.  At the same time, why not go back to the “original” Church Fathers, in the New Testament?  That’s what I want to do.

Counsel, v. 3a.

1. Remember, how, with what zeal and eagerness you received the truths of the Gospel.  Does the Word mean as much to us as it once did?

2. Return, to that first fervor and desire for the Lord.  The Psalmist wrote, delight yourself also in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart, Psalm 37:4.    It might be easy to look at that and think that this means that, if we “delight” in the Lord, He’ll make us rich or famous or some other thing greatly sought after by the world.  But, if we truly delight in the Lord, wouldn’t the thing we desire most be Himself?  That was Paul’s great desire, that I might know Him, Philippians 3:10.  There’s a wealth of material in the word “also” as well as in what else Paul said in his verse, but we leave that to your further thought.

Consequences, v. 3b.  “As a thief” doesn’t refer to the Lord’s coming, though He does use that analogy about it elsewhere, but to visitation in judgment like that of Ephesus in 2:5 and Pergamos in 2:16.  That is exactly what Christ has done with this church.  Though it did last for a long time, it is long gone.

Yet we believe there is a wider application to that promise:  to unregenerate, formal, ritualistic Protestantism, Christ threaten that aspect of His coming which belongs to the world, 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5.

“State churches must be to a considerable extent political in principle and practice.  If, therefore, Protestantism identifies itself with the world, sharing its fortunes, it must also share in its doom” (Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 95.)

We admit that there is considerable discussion of and disagreement in views of the future.  Without getting into all that, we’ve done that elsewhere, let me just say that truly born-again Christians will not enter the Tribulation Period.  There are, however, countless numbers not only in liberal churches but also in churches which call themselves “conservative” or “fundamental” which bear no evidence of a work of God in their lives.  Though we cannot know for certain the true spiritual condition of folks like these, nominal Christians, those who’ve just gone through the motions or the ritual, will enter and endure this time of trial on the earth.  We will have more to say about this, Lord willing.

Considerations, vs. 4, 5.

1. Fellowship with our Lord, v. 4.  The glory and wonder of heaven isn’t streets of gold or the fact that “bad” things are forever gone.  That which will make heaven “heaven” will be the fact that HE is there, and His people will have eternal and unbroken fellowship with Him.

2. White raiment, v. 5.  Changed forever will be these fallible, fallen bodies.  We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  No more death, disease or departure from purity and righteousness.

3. Name not blotted out, v. 5.  This is not the loss of salvation, but rather the showing the falseness of their profession of life.  Remember, the Lord is referring to those with only the name of “Christian,” but who in reality are “twice dead”: in sin and to righteousness.

4. Name confessed before God and the angels, v. 5.  This is the other side of what has just been said.  Not only will true Christians be “blotted out” of the book, but their names will be confessed before the Father.  As one has said, “I am not ashamed to confess Christ, but my wonder is, How can he ever confess me!”

 

 

Has God Forgotten Our Children?

“What kind of a question is that?  Of course He hasn’t.  Jesus called little children to Himself.  ‘God loves the little children, all the children of the world’.”  It’s certainly true that the Lord Jesus loved children and children seem to have loved Him.

At the same time, it’s a shame that so much of what we believe comes from Sunday School and sentiment instead of from the Scripture.

Certainly, God can’t and doesn’t “forget” in the sense that there become “gaps” in His memory.  There is a verse, however, in which He Himself say He will “forget your children.”

“Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children,” Hosea 4:6.

This came as a result of God rebuking the people of Israel for their wickedness:  “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land.  By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed,” Hosea 4:1a-2 (emphasis added).

When God talks about “forgetting” their children, does that mean that there will be a gap in His knowledge, that He actually forgets them and has no memory or knowledge of them?

Of course not.

But read the first part of the verse to get the context of the second part:  Because you have forgotten the law of your God….  Don’t get upset about the second part without understanding the first part.

This verse may be one of those “hard sayings” that skeptics and unbelievers rail against, but, you see,  that’s because, it says actions have consequences.  Every action has a consequence.  Israel, God’s favored, chosen nation found that out the hard way.  We don’t like that; we want things our way, as if God just ran some sort of cosmic Burger King where “you get it your way,” instead of being the King of Eternity.

When God brought the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery and made them into a nation, what was one of the main things He told them to do?

In Deuteronomy 6:6, 7, God said, …these words that I command you this day shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up” (emphasis added)

“Teach them….”

He had already warned them about this earlier in chapter 4.  In v. 9, after reminding them of the great blessing and privilege they had, things not given to other nations, vs. 6-8, he said, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life, and teach them to your children and your grandchildren (emphasis added).

“Teach them….”  

Talking to the generation that was about enter the land, Moses reminded them of all the things God had done for them, bringing them out of Egypt and sustaining them through forty years in the wilderness, where there was neither grocery story nor Walmart.  “Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years,”  Deuteronomy 8:4.  In Deuteronomy 29:5, he repeated this thought:  “Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet.”  In fact, they were still wearing those same clothes and sandals.

When Moses warned them against forgetting the Lord, forgetting what He had done for them in the land of Egypt, and how He had provided for them in their wilderness travels, was he just warning them against a mental lapse of some sort?

No, no.  It was so much more than that.  In 8:11, he said, “Beware that you do not FORGET the Lord your God BY NOT KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS, HIS JUDGMENTS, AND HIS STATUTES,which I command you this day” (emphasis added).

Israel never “forgot” God in the sense that she lost the memory of Him.  She just, for the most part, did her own thing and went her own way.  This is what Hosea was complaining about.

The sad thing is, there is never a single time when Moses ever expressed any hope that Israel would actually “remember” the Lord like she was supposed to.  It was always from the standpoint of warning her what would happen if she went astray.  She had already done that before he ever came down from Sinai the first time!

“Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.”

He “forgot” them by leaving them to the consequences of their actions.

Is there a lesson here for us?  I write of the US, though it’s applicable to other nations and people as well.

There’s a university that does a lot of advertising in various magazines and through the mail.  One time they sent me a sample CD, with lessons which covered the settling of our country by the Pilgrims.  The thing I found striking was that there wasn’t a single mention of the Mayflower Compact.  This was actually the first document of American history, in which some of the passengers on the Mayflower put into writing for the first time in history the idea of self-governance, an idea later formalized by our Constitution.

The interesting thing in this document is found in it’s opening sentences.  After the obligatory reference to King James, of whom they were “loyal subjects,” they referred to the reason for their own coming to the new world:  “….having undertaken [it] for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith….”

Not a word of any of this in this CD.  And this has pretty much become the norm: ignoring the idea that Christianity had any part of the founding of this nation.  Granted, it was never the “established religion,” as it was in England or Germany or other countries.  Some of the founding fathers had suffered under such regimes, a thing which always happens when religion has civil power.  Witness the Inquisition under Rome and the slaughter of tens of thousands, if not millions, of Anabaptists and other nonconformists under the Reformed churches.  The same thing is true in Islam.  So the Constitution was written to prevent the establishment of any religion as “official.” However, the founding fathers did not, by this, intend the founding of atheism as the official viewpoint, nor the preventing of religious observances, as it has developed.

In fact, the first universities in this countries were founded as “seminaries.”  One of the important founders of Yale University was a man named Asahel Nettleton, whom probably not 1 of a 1000 Americans has ever heard of.  He was, however, a successful evangelist and preacher, much used of God in the early 1800s, who opposed Charles G. Finney, his preaching and his popularization of the “New Measures,” which Finney used, methods which were the beginnings of the altar call and modern fundamentalist forms of “soul-winning.”

McGuffey’s Reader, which was widely used until men like Horace Mann and John Dewey urged the secularization of public education, started off teaching the alphabet with “A:  In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”  You can imagine what would happen today if a teacher tried to teach that to her little students.

There has, until the last two or three generations, been a strong Biblical influence in this country.  As time has passed, though, this influence has been challenged and today it is even illegal in schools and government.

And parents have to a large degree fallen by the wayside in the teaching of spiritual truths to their children.  I speak from my own experiences in “church,” but parents tended to drop their kids off for Sunday School and expected the church to give them the teaching they needed.  There was little if any corresponding teaching at home. Any such teaching at school, of course, was, and is, out of the question.

And look at our kids today – generally speaking.  There are still good kids out there, but I fear they are in a growing minority – a minority that will never have government approval. You see kids shuffling down the middle of the street, underwear hanging out, a look of arrogance on their faces.  Drive-by shootings.  Bombings. Schools being shot up.  Drugs. Violence.  Sexual degeneracy.  Gangs.  Nurseries for babies in high schools. Teenage abortion.  Rap “music.”

For the most part, our kids are a mess.

They haven’t been taught the Word of God.  In fact, they have been taught against it. They suffer the consequences of these actions every day.

Though it isn’t just the kids.

There’s a lot of concern in the community about “stopping the violence.”  There’s a lot of church leaders in the lead here, along with the police and other concerned citizens. They want the young people to turn in their guns.  Go to counseling.  Hold vigils.  Light candles.  “Stop the violence.”

But “guns” aren’t the problem.  No, they’re not.  The high school I graduated from was the “tough” school in town.  It’s in what is now probably a hotbed of violence and youthful troubles.  Though I’m sure it’s not still there, in the basement of this school, there was a rifle range (*gasp*) with rifles, locked up, of course, and ammunition.  They were common back then.  I, myself, qualified as a marksman on this range.  But there was never, ever, any trouble with these guns.

Furthermore, most of the fellows carried pocket knives.  No stabbings.  I carried one myself for years, even after I graduated, until the day I tried to make a delivery at the local courthouse and had to go through a metal detector.  Oops.  Why, I was carrying a dangerous weapon!  *sigh*  I had to take it back to my truck and leave it there.

“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

I blame these pastors and church leaders for much of our youth’s troubles.  Instead of preaching the Gospel and requiring repentance, faith, and holy living, they want “social justice.”  “Diversity.”  $15 an hour to fry hamburgers.

They want to take folks out of the slums, without stopping to consider the “slum” that is in folks.  We’re all sinners by nature, preference and habit.

Now, social justice is important.  Even our Lord taught that we’re to treat others as we would like to be treated.  And there’s a great deal more about that in the Old Testament.  However, that’s not the emphasis in these modern times. It’s not at all about how we treat others.  It’s about how they are supposed to treat us.  At the same time, we can treat them pretty much as we like.

But isn’t our God a God of love?  Surely, He wouldn’t do as He might have done in the Old Testament.  Praise His holy name, He is a God of love, but He’s still a God where actions have consequences.  America, and most of the rest of the world, has largely forgotten God by neglecting or denying His Word.  We’ve thrown His Word out and told Him He’s not welcome.

As a result of our actions, He’s “forgotten” us by leaving us to their consequences.

I think we can imagine Him asking, “How’s that working out for you?”

[I’m sorry for the “negative” tone of this post.  It’s just that there’s not much to be “positive” about in this year of our Lord 2014.]