Month: April 2014

Christian Baptism Series – Part 1 – The Old Testament

The Old Testament and Baptism

To begin to understand what baptism is and does, let’s start in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, purification laws are given. There are three primary verses that give an origin for such purification. These verses are Genesis 32:5 (purification from idol worship), Exodus 19:10 (Israel at Mount Sinai) and Numbers 19:7 (purification for priests). All other purification rituals seem to flow from these verses. When broken down, there are seven primary categories for purification. These categories (in no particular order) are…
– Purification for priests (Exodus 29:1-9, 30:17-21, 40:3-32 – Psalm 26:6, 73:13)
– Leprosy (Leviticus 13:6, 13:34)
– Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:20-28)
– Bodily discharges (Leviticus 15:1-29, Deuteronomy 23:10-11)
– Cleansing of the Levites (Numbers 8:5-7, 19:7-22)
– Contact with the deceased (Leviticus 5:2, 16:4, 16:24, 11:24-28, 11:39-40, 22:4-6 & Numbers 19:11-13)
– Unsolved murders (Deuteronomy 21:1-9)
Old Testament purification texts are only one area that should be examined when studying Christian baptism. In all, there are three categories; purification, allegory and prophecy. To further investigate, it is important to view the verses listed above which correspond to Old Testament purification practices, True Old Testament events that are allegorized by New Testament apostles (Genesis 6:9-18/1 Peter 3:20-21, Exodus 14:1/1Corinthians 10:1-2) and Old Testament prophesies concerning baptism (Ezekiel 36:24-27). Let’s examine a few of these passages in context.

Old Testament Purification Rituals

1. Purification for Priests – Exodus 30:17-21

“The Lord said to Moses, “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”

Here the instruction is given by God, to Moses, for Aaron and descendant priests to purify themselves before embarking on their priestly duties. This passage specifically commands them to purify themselves in the ceremonial basin…“When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die.”  This is an interesting picture. If the priest comes into the presence of God without cleansing with water in the basin of bronze he will surely die. There is nothing concerning any specific miraculous property of the water; only that God said for the priest to “wash” their feet and hands in the water of the bronze basin before performing priestly duties or else face death.   Also there is a means (wash hands/feet with water in bronze basin) and a promise (death will not occur).  Once again, their is nothing “special” about the water or the bronze basin.  The action here is in God’s word. We will see the importance of this thought carried through the rest of this study.

2. Leprosy – Leviticus 13:6

And the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day, and if the diseased area has faded and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only an eruption. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean.

The disease of leprosy comes up many times throughout the Old and New Testament. There are many similarities between leprosy and sin. Leprosy is an extremely painful and incurable skin disease that once contracted leads to affected body parts falling off, eventually resulting in death. Likewise, sin is a completely devastating disease that reeks havoc throughout the body eventually earning us death (Romans 6:23). Several theologians have written comparing sin and leprosy. C.H. Spurgeon wrote an entire sermon on the subject (The Cleansing of the Leper sermon #353). The verse above speaks of a purification process after a former leper has been pronounced clean. After this pronouncement, the text says, “he shall wash his clothes and be clean.”

3. Contact with the deceased – Numbers 19:11-13

Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him.

These are the purification rights associated with coming into contact with a corpse. There are some echoes of baptism in this verse, especially in the statement “…because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean.” Here there is a correlation of water with cleansing impurity.  One could argue that this is a sanitary precaution as to not contaminate the community with the infirmary from the deceased, but if that was the case, shouldn’t the command have been to “wash immediately and scrub well?”  Instead we have a means (water for impurity on the 3rd and 7th day) and a promise (cleanliness that rejoins the person with fellowship).  I also cannot help but see the correlation between cleansing on the 3rd day as a symbolic reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the 7th day cleansing as a symbolic reference to “completion” as we see in the creation account.

4. Day of Atonement – Leviticus 16:20-28

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.”

Leviticus 16 outlines the Day of Atonement which was the day 3 animals atoned for the sins of Israel.  First a bull was selected to cover for the High Priest and his family.  Second, two goats were selected to atone for the sins of Israel.  Lots were cast to see which goat would be sacrificed (The Lord) and which goat would live as the scapegoat (Azazal which means outcast or scapegoat).  For the goat whose lot fell as scapegoat, the High Priest would confess all of the iniquities of Israel over the goats head, thus transferring onus from Israel to the goat.  The goat was then guided outside of the camp, into the wilderness, to never return again. We ultimately see the true fulfillment of all of this (the sacrifice of the bull, goat and the scapegoat) in Christ and His atoning work on the Cross as Hebrews 10:4 says “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.”   There is so much good news in these verses now as we see Jesus Christ as the one true atonement that takes away the sin of the world.  Once again, there is purification ceremonies for the High Priest, the handler of the scapegoat and the one who burns the remnants of the sacrificed bull and goat.  The High Priest is to bathe, put on garments of a specific fabric before sacrificing the bull and goat and then remove the garments and bathe again.  We are told numerous time that this is so he will not die.  Likewise the one who takes the scapegoat to the wilderness and the one who burns the sacrificed remains must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water or he will face excommunication.  Once again, there is a means and a promise.  The means for the High priest are: wash in water, wear particular garments, remove particular garments, wash in water.  The promise is that the High Priest will live.   Likewise there is a means and a promise for the men who handled the goats and sacrificed remains.  Upon coming in contact with the creatures that atoned for their sin, they were to wash their clothes and their bodies in order to return to fellowship with Israel.    There is no evidence that neither the fabric or the water has any special properties, only the word of the Lord.  Yet again, the action lies within the word of the Lord.

Baptismal Allegory in the Old Testament

Genesis 7:7-24
And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in. The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Here the flood narrative is our Old Testament passage. When striking parallels come to the forefront, such as this, I am reminded of Augustine’s brief statement concerning the Old and New Testament, “The old is the new concealed; the new is the old revealed.” These passages in Genesis show what happened and why in a way that seems readily visible, while the passage in 1 Peter sheds light and depth onto it in a way that is majestically revealing. Peter is saying that through the flood waters Noah and his family were saved, now too, the waters of baptism now save. The direct quote from 1 Peter states “…when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…” Just as real and true as Noah and his family were saved is equally true and real as how baptism now saves you.  The God who sealed the door of the Ark is the same God that seals the door of salvation through baptism.  This is the allegory revealed in 1 Peter.  Once again there is a means and a promise.  The means is baptism and the promise is salvation.

Exodus 14:21-25
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

1 Corinthians 10:1-5
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

Here is the familiar account of the great exodus of Israel from the bonds of Egyptian slavery.  Paul uses this text as a picture of both who the Corinthian church is and what could befall them.  The Popular Commentary by Paul Kretzmann handles this well. Kretzmann writes…

“In this passage the apostle offers a few pages from the history of ancient Israel as a warning example for those that are in danger of yielding to carnal security. Out of the entire number of adult Israelites that left the land of Egypt only two, Joshua and Caleb, entered the Promised Land. Therefore the lesson should be heeded: For I do not want you to remain in ignorance, brethren, that our fathers all were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. Paul openly speaks of “our fathers,” thus identifying the New Testament Church with the true Israel (Romans 4:1-11, 11:17-18). When the children of Israel left Egypt, the land of their bondage, the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to show them the way (Exodus 13:21).  And the entire congregation also passed through the Red Sea as on dry ground, the Lord Himself causing the water to stand like a wall on either side (Exodus 14:22). The merciful presence of God surrounded and accompanied them at every step of their journey. Note that all the Israelites, without exception, escaped from the house of bondage, that they all were included in the miraculous deliverance in the Red Sea; and yet most of them afterward perished! Paul states; furthermore, that they all received their baptism unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. The cloud and the sea together became the elements by which the children of Israel were cleansed to the Lord, separated as the people of the covenant. Thus the cloud and the sea were types of the New Testament sacrament of Baptism; they were God’s seals and pledges of His merciful promises, just as the Sacraments are in truth to-day. Through the cloud and through the sea God saved His people from the tyranny of Pharaoh and led them forth to freedom. And thus God, through Baptism, delivers us from the power of Satan and transfers us into His kingdom, to be His free, blessed children forever. In saying that the children of Israel were baptized unto Moses, the apostle means that they entered into intimate relationship or fellowship with Moses, as the mediator of the divine manifestations ; they took upon themselves the obligation to follow him faithfully as the leader given them by God (Exodus 14:21) even as a believer baptized unto Christ makes Him the great Leader of his life (Galatians 3:27).”

Here there is a cleansing for the people of the Lord as they were cleansed through the cloud and the sea.   This is what it meant to be baptized into Moses.  Moses was the mouthpiece for God to Israel and the cloud and the sea were the “means” by which God “promised” to save Israel from Egyptian bondage.  Once again we have a means (cloud and sea) and a promise (salvation).  Therefore Paul is warning the Corinthian church that even though God chose and saved Israel through the cloud and the sea (which is a picture of New Testament baptism), Israels hearts became hardened as they lived carnally in unbelief.  The picture of what happened with Israel is grim as they wandered for 40 years with the only two original men entering the promised land being Joshua and Caleb (those who remained faithful).  The writer of Hebrews also speaks of this in Hebrwes 3:12-19 when he says…

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

Therefore 1 Corinthians 10 confirms what we have already discovered in 1 Peter; that baptism does in fact save.  We also have more evidence of God acting through means and promise based upon His word given here through Moses.  Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 10 (as does the writer of Hebrews) to use the Exodus judgment of Israel as an example to the Corinthians (and to us) to warn of the consequences against hardened hearts and unbelief.  This warning will be looked at in more detail later in this study.

Baptismal Prophecies in the Old Testament
Ezekiel 36:24-27
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

In Ezekiel 36:24-27 we are given a prophecy for the future restoration of Israel. The imagery here is that of baptism. God says that through the sprinkling of clean water He will cleanse from all uncleanliness, give a new heart made of flesh, and instill the Holy Spirit to allow for holy living. Once again there is a means and promise.  The means is “the sprinkling of water” and the promise is “cleansing from all uncleanliness, a heart made of flesh and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  The future restoration of Israel is in Christ Jesus. This prophecy is for the entire church, not just for the nation of Israel.  We share in the promise of this prophecy through the means of baptism by the work of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Click here for “Christian Baptism Series – Part 2 – Jewish Purification Rites & Pharisaical Law”


Comfort by Proxy: Heaven is for Real

You may have read it.

You may have gone to the theater over the weekend to see it moving picture style.

You may have seen it mentioned on social media.

Any way you slice it is hard to get away from the promotional propaganda that is “Heaven is for Real.”  If you are unaware, the film is derived from a book written by a Pastor named Todd Burpo about his sons near death experience (while on an operating table).  His sons name is Colton.  Colton claims to have gone to heaven where he meets a long deceased relative, hangs out with Jesus, looks around  and then comes back to life as Jesus says it’s not his time.  It’s a fascinating story.  Really it is.  How fantastic would it be to see heaven and return?

This is what has so many people intrigued.  A peer into the afterlife.  A direct revelation of peace, happiness and joy in an eternal state.  What a fantastic boost to ones faith…

This statement is where it all begins to fall apart. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Do you see the fallacy that exists between the reasons people want to believe the Burpo story and what scripture says in Hebrews 11?  Do you see the rejection of Biblical faith in acceptance of faith through the eyes of Colton?  The argument that I have heard most often is that the Burpo story serves to strengthen confidence in what was already believed.  That line of reasoning flies directly in the face of Hebrews 11:1.  Either we have faith or we do not.  If what was already believed, was truly believed, then the Burpo story wouldn’t be such a financial success.  Either we believe the scriptures as the inspired Word of God or we do not.  Either we believe Hebrews 11:1 or we believe that the “Heaven is for Real” experience proves Hebrews 11:1 which would mean that Colton’s experience is the purest source of truth.  Is your comfort and hope in Jesus because of what is revealed in scripture or because of a child’s fanciful experience.  What is the object of your faith?  Whom do you trust more: a child or the inspired word?

The second point of major concern that i have with this book/film has to do with Colton going to heaven and then returning.  John 3:13 clearly says “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” This verse is specifically talking about Jesus being the only one to descend from heaven, to take on human flesh and to ascend bodily to heaven after the resurrection.  I know that Colton isn’t proclaiming a bodily ascent to heaven, but there still is trouble with the theology behind his experience.  When we die bodily in this present post-ascension time continuum in which we find ourselves, the spirit only splits from the body of the Christian upon true bodily death in which Paul famously says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 “to be absent from the body is to be at once with The Lord.”  The only way our spirit will travel to be with The Lord is for our body to die.  Just because an earthly doctor pronounces someone dead with solid accuracy doesn’t mean that they are always perfect.  There are anomolies. We know much about the human body in our 21 century world, but we are only students of this earth and its many facets, not its creator. Therefore the only way to ascend to heaven is either by true bodily death or to be alive during the second coming.  We know neither of these happened to Colton, therefore I am more than skeptical.  At this point I am sure that some of you are screaming…

“What about Lazarus?”

“What about all the People Jesus brought back from the dead in the Gospels?”

“What about those that all of the apostles brought back from the dead in Acts, huh?”

Context, context, context.  Concerning Lazarus and the gospel resurrections, we are specifically told that they were done for “God’s glory so that God’s Son would be glorified through it.”  They were done to point to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  They were done to produce repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  In Acts, it is a very similar situation. Christ had just ascended and the Apostles were going into Jerusalem, Samaria and the ends of the earth proclaiming the good news.  There was no written word (bible) at this point in time, however, God still worked through means of grace then, just as he does today.  These miraculous signs were done as a means of grace to soften hearts and call people to repentant faith in Jesus Christ and point them to baptism and the Lord’s supper for the forgiveness of sins.  In essence it was the same as with Lazarus and the Gospel resurrections.  The purpose was for “God’s glory so that God’s Son would be glorified through it.”  God is glorified when people come to repentant faith in Jesus Christ.  That is always the sign of a true work. In addition, all of the NT resurrections had another thing in common. A person performing the miracle.  Lazarus and the Gospel ressurections were performed by Jesus and the Acts ressurections were performed by the Apostles. We have no biblical evidence of anyone, apart from Jesus Christ, physically dying and returning in and of themselves. Prophets would dream or have visions, but there is no precidence for them to  bodily die and be resurrected supernaturally.

This leads to issue number three.  Revelation 19:10 says that the “…testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”  This is important because Colton is claiming to have seen heaven and is revealing what God showed him to all people.  This is the definition of a Prophet.  This is problematic because the testimony of Jesus is the gospel message of faith and repentance not that “Heaven is for real.”  Of all the interviews that Todd and Colton have done, they have yet to point people to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.  It’s all about what heaven looked like.  Meeting his long deceased relative that he had never before seen.  What Jesus looked like and how he acted.  It was all of the temporal desires that our sinful flesh craves and none of the Gospel message that our sinful flesh truly needs.  Simply put, the fruit of the interviews were never in line with the fruit of the cross.

It’s sad really.  The platform that this family has been given to proclaim the good news to a world that desperately needs it has all been forfeited for the glitz and glimmer of fame and fortune.  This is where you and I come in.  We are no different.  I cannot say for sure that if it were me and my son going through a similar experience, that i wouldn’t be tempted and possibly cave to worldly desires in order to cash in and make a killing.  It’s a scary picture of how truly ugly and sinful we really are. How our wants and desires for temporal blessing and comfort outweigh our need for salvation and eternal security.

We can find ourselves in this story.

This is what repentance and forgiveness is all about.  Christ came to earth, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the the virgin Mary.  Was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended into hell and was raised on the third day.  He ascended and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  He did all of that because we are desperately fallen sinners who have no hope in salvation apart from Christ’s perfection in our place.  He paid it all so that we don’t have to.  This is the gospel message.

If you want to experience true resurrection, find yourselves in the wounds of Christ not in the experience of Colton Burpo.

Thoughts on Sanctification

ImageSanctification is a tough subject to define in the culture of 21st century thought. Thankfully God’s truth is transcendent and absolute, so therefore we need go no further than scripture to define it. On one hand, there are those who claim that sanctification is positional; that it was a finite declaration that happened in union with or shortly after justification and thus all Christians have liberty and freedom from the harsh damnation of the law through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. This is the antinomian leaning perspective. On the other hand, there are those that claim justification and sanctification should be distinctly separate, and thus sanctification is evidenced in the work that we do. This is the legalist leaning perspective and can be taken to the extreme where complete holiness can be obtained on earth (Wesleyan thought) or that works are actually a necessary element for salvation; not just an evidence of (Roman Catholic). My position and claim is that sanctification is both positional and progressive.

I will begin by defining what “sanctify” objectively means. Sanctify is defined as “to set apart or declare holy; to consecrate.” Therefore sanctification is the act of setting apart, declaring holy or consecrating. Within the broad spectrum of Christianity each definition applies, however, holiness is most often used. In the first place I will put forth the position that sanctification is a positional declaration. Whenever sanctification comes up in scripture, it is typically positional. It is positional because it is typically found in the past tense; i.e. “sanctified.” Let’s look at a few examples.

1 Corinthians 1:2
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:11
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Romans 15:16
But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 2:11
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,

Acts 20:32
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Here we have some clear passages that point to the act of sanctification as a declared position the Father has made by the work of Christ through faith. These verses do not speak of an ongoing, progressive perfecting, but a declaration that the Christian is now declared holy (set apart) by the work earned by Jesus’ death and resurrection. This culminates in 1 Corinthians 1:30 where Paul writes,

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

So it looks pretty clear that our sanctification is in Christ. It is done, finished and completed upon the cross…right?

Yes and it is ongoing.

Sanctification is progressive in each Christian’s life because we bear fruits by walking in good works. These good works are evidence of our walk with Christ (James 2:14). These works are not performed to earn position with Christ, but to show forth the work of Christ in and through the Christian life. Good works are as simple as changing dirty diapers and providing for our families. Whatever vocation God has given us, we bear fruit by being good stewards of those gifts and blessings. Luther was once quoted as saying that even our best works would earn us damnation, and he is right. We are saved solely on account of Christ and his atoning work. Works contribute zero to our salvation. If you spend any time with a Lutheran you will hear the phrase “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does” and this is a true and right saying. The works we perform are God given. God uses them to minister to others. Does this mean that we are completely oblivious to our good works or that we are not cognizant of them?

Many times yes…

Sometimes we know that we are doing a good work and other times we will be oblivious until the final judgment (Matthew 25:33-40). As we go forth in the Christian life, we must be nurtured and fed. This comes to us through word and sacrament (hearing the the word (both Law & Gospel), partaking in the Lord’s Supper,  repentance/absolution, and our personal study of the word). As we are nurtured and fed, we will begin to see how wretched and filthy we are, and realize our desperate need for Christ and his work. The best way to explain this is to use a dimmer switch as an example. At regeneration, the light switch is turned on, but the dimmer is at its lowest setting. We see a faint image of how filthy we are. In response we cling to Christ through his word and sacrament. As we are fed and nurtured through his word and sacrament, the dimmer switch goes up, ever so slightly, revealing how dirty, sinful and corrupt we really are. Our response is to once again, cling to Christ through his word and sacrament. Therefore our sanctification, or progression in holiness, is not centered on our works, but a clarifying agent that shows us what we really look like apart from Christ. If God were to show us all of our sin at once at the time of regeneration, it would truly be harsh act that would cast us into the throngs of a great depression and probably cause instantaneous death. God, in his grace and mercy, reveals our sinful state to us slowly throughout our lives as we continue to abide in Christ through his word and sacrament. The result of this action is that we begin to walk in good works. As I stated earlier, good works are as simple as taking care of your family. Good works are also choosing not to sin. Paul gives us many lists of sins that we as Christians must refrain from. These lists are found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:19-21 and Colossians 3:5. As God reveals our sin to us, and we cling to him, we not only perform good works through our actions, but also through a lack of action as we choose not to sin. There is a cooperation that takes place here. We choose to submit ourselves to God’s law, not because it has any power to save us, but because through Christ and his work on the cross we are now able to cooperate in holiness. This doesn’t mean that we will perfectly keep the law; far from it. It does however mean that we have the power in Christ to say no to sin and yes to good works for the sake of Christ, not selfish ambition. We as Christians will continue to struggle with sin until Christ’s return because we are all simultaneously saint and sinner. This is the battle of the flesh. At regeneration we share in the paradoxical nature of Christ. Christ became 100% man while maintaining 100% of his divinity. He is not two partial sums that add up to 100%, but rather the full expression of both natures. Likewise at regeneration, we are “simul justus et peccator” which means simultaneously saint and sinner. We are not saints that still sin or sinners that are improving towards perfection; we are the fullest expression of both natures as a reflection of Christ. To simplify, I once heard it put this way by a listener of the Just & Sinner podcast by Pastor Jordan Cooper. “At regeneration we are a new creation in Christ and the result is that our sin nature (the old Adam) is both put to death, and continually being put to death. It both happened and is happening. Our new nature that God created in us is perfect and thus cannot improve. The old Adam that is dead and dying has been definitively killed, but is going down fighting as it continues to wage war against our new nature. This is the source of conflict within every Christian. Therefore, sanctification is not a self improvement continuum but a cognizance of the war within that yields an increasing desire to daily drown and kill the old Adam and embrace the perfect new life that we already posses in Christ.” This daily killing of our sin nature will haunt us until death or Christ’s return. When we receive our glorified bodies, the same type of perfected fleshly body that the resurrected Christ has, our old Adam is finally conquered and eternally destroyed.

To summarize, sanctification is both positional and progressive. Our work in sanctification is not efficacious in salvation as that is solely the work of Christ. Our work in sanctification is to grow in holiness by abiding in Christ through his word and sacrament, thus we are sanctified and Christ is continuing to sanctify us cooperatively (even though our cooperation is minimal). In addition, sanctification is only a work that we do inasmuch as we are capable to do good works by the work of Christ on the cross and his drawing us to himself. We only cooperate in sanctification because Christ made it available through his death and resurrection by consuming his word and sacrament. Thus Christ does good works through us that are unbeknownst to ourselves as well as us choosing to do good works because of our love from and for Christ. This is all understood within the parameters and framework of our dual nature of simul justus et peccator.

Christian Baptism & The Fountain of Youth

ImageEver since my move from American Evangelicalism to the Confessional Lutheran Church, baptism has been a topic of much discussion and debate. I’ve played the spectator in many social media feuds between Lutherans and most other denominations on this topic over the last year or so. I sincerely believe that both sides are well intentioned, but are talking past each other in an effort to play their supposed trump cards to “win” the debate once and for all. Coming from American Evangelicalism, I can certainly understand where they (American Evangelicals) are coming from. I no longer agree with them, but I can understand them. The American Evangelicals (here on referred to as AE’s) believe that baptism is a decision rooted in spiritual acumen. It’s the first step of new obedience to begin ones sanctified journey. Lutherans, on the contrary, believe that baptism is much, much more. Lutherans believe that baptism actually saves and gifts faith. The argument here is typically based in how we define “work” as it applies to our salvation. The AE’s say that Lutherans are adding baptism to the gospel message in a similar way the Judaizers in Galatia did with circumcision. This is a complete misunderstanding of what Lutheran’s believe about baptism. Lutheran’s do not believe that baptism works “ex opere operato” (that the act in and of itself grants salvation), but that the God is working in, with and under baptism as a means to fulfill His promise of forgiveness of sins. The Judiazers in Galatia stated that in order to become a Christian, one must first become a Jew (through circumcision) and only then could salvation be obtained. This is the essence of “ex opere operato.”

So the question often bandied about centers on how is the NT work of circumcision (as found in Galatia) different from Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration?

The answer lies in who is doing the work. There is no NT promise attached to circumcision as circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled in Christ (as Christ is the Seed of Abraham as found in Genesis 22:17 & Galatians 3). So now circumcision is just that; circumcision. There is, however, a NT promise attached to baptism. The promise is “the forgiveness of sins” and the “gifting of the Holy Spirit.” We see this promise in many places in the NT (Acts 2:37-39, Titus 3:4-7, John 3:5-6, Colossians 2:11-15, 1 Peter 3:18-21, Acts 22:12-16, Romans 6:1-5, Matthew 28:19-20).  When a promise is made (by God), it is He (God) who fulfills the promise. This is where the rubber meets the road. In the Lutheran view, the act of baptism is not a human work, because the recipient is not doing any of the work. The promises are being fulfilled by God through the means of baptism (water and the triune name of God). In addition, the recipient is just that…a recipient. In speaking with a dear friend concerning this, a rather helpful analogy came to mind.

(Please keep in mind that all analogies break down when taken too far…)

As I was considering the debate on Christian baptism, the idea of the fountain of youth crossed my mind and I realized that it could be used as a tool to help explain the Lutheran view of baptism. For those unfamiliar with the fountain of youth, I’ll give you a brief overview. The fountain of youth is a mystical tale that crosses cultural, national and historic boundaries. It claims there exists a hidden fountain that has the magical property to stop aging and overcome death; eternal life. All that one must do is find the fountain and dip in it and the promises of the fountain will attach themselves to the person dipping. Similarly, in the NT, (Acts 2:37-39, Titus 3:4-7, John 3:5-6, Colossians 2:11-15, 1 Peter 3:18-21, Acts 22:12-16, Romans 6:1-5, Matthew 28:19-20) we are told that Baptism “…is for the remission of sins”, “baptism now saves”, and “…is the washing of regeneration” (as well as gifting The Holy Spirit). In these verses we see that baptism actually does something. Here is also where I surrender that baptism is a work; the question is who’s doing the work? If the result of the work is forgiveness of sins, and Mark 2:7 tells us that only God can forgive sins, then it stands to reason that God is doing the work. This is where the “fountain of youth” comes in handy. When someone finds the fountain of youth and dips in it, is youthful complexion and eternal life a gift or a wage? Where did the eternal life come from? The answer is the fountain. The only thing the person dipping in the fountain did was receive the promise of never aging and eternal life. This also helps in explaining how faith is created in infant baptism. If the fountain of youth grants eternal life by merely dipping in it, then what does age matter? If I dipped my infant in the fountain of youth, would the promise of youth be rejected because of failure to comprehend the promise? No, that’s not how it works. Baptism is the delivery method for the gifts of God’s promise to forgive our sins in Christ. Baptism is an extension of what was wrought and accomplished on the cross. Infants can and should be baptized because they are sinners through the seed of Adam (Romans 5:12) and thus need what baptism has to offer. Just as an infant will eventually age and die, the fountain of youth will counteract this result through dipping in the fountain. Similarly, since we all are sinners and face the wage of death, we all need forgiveness of sins obtained through a dip in the waters of baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.