NeedToBreathe: “Wasteland”

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Baptism: Is Baptism a “Work”? Part 4 (Alternative Theories)

baptism of JesusWorks of intrinsic merit

A common theory is that “works” means only actions having intrinsic merit before God. I’ve taught that one myself, and it’s partly true. Obviously there’s a heavy overlap between the Law of Moses (including the moral laws) and merit.

But circumcision, as argued by the Judaizing teachers in Galatia, was not so much about merit as appropriation of God’s grace. They considered it as essential to salvation as faith in Jesus. We know that because Paul contrasted it with faith over and over. He obviously considered them to teach circumcision as playing a role parallel to faith. Continue reading

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Baptism: Is Baptism a “Work”? Part 3 (Further on the Definition of “Works”)

baptism of JesusIn the last post, we tentatively defined “works of the law” as “obedience to God’s laws known either through the Law of Moses or general revelation (the creation, man’s moral nature, the judgments we impose on others).”

Hmm … Are there any laws discoverable through God’s general revelation not also found in the Law of Moses? Well, where can we find a list of laws that people unfamiliar with the Law ought to be able to discern from the Creation? Continue reading

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Baptism: Is Baptism a “Work”? Part 2

baptism of Jesus

Works — at long last

And so, I said all that to say this (and because sorting through Romans is great fun) –

(Rom 3:20 NET) 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

What is Paul’s point — in context? Well, as we discussed above, he’s just about to declare that the children of Israel were saved — rather than left to die and cease to exist like the Gentiles — by the power of Jesus through his crucifixion. The Mercy Seat is where the High Priest went once a year on the Day of Atonement to make a sacrifice for the sins of all Israel. And this is where God himself dwelled through his Shekinah (or Glory). And from Moses to John the Baptist, forgiveness was available to faithful Israel only because of the work of Jesus on the cross. Continue reading

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Baptism: Is Baptism a “Work”? Part 1

baptism of JesusLet’s take another look an old question. And we should begin with the answer: obviously, baptism, correctly understood, is not a work. If it were, Paul would no more associate baptism with salvation and entry into the church and receipt of the Spirit than circumcision.

The better question is: Do we make baptism a work when we insist that those with a genuine, penitent faith in Jesus (hereafter, simply “faith”) who fail to be baptized correctly due to being wrongly instructed as new converts (“convert” meaning someone with faith, whether or not yet baptized, with no implication intended as to their saved status).

Now, we could work through a 20-part series on each point, but let’s proceed figuring we understand each other well enough to do so. Continue reading

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Baptism: When Does God Make a Decision?

baptism of JesusWe are Modernists — most of us — and we therefore assume without reflection that the world is explained rationally and logically — and simply enough for a reasonably bright person to understand.

This is not the Christian worldview, and the doctrine of the Trinity plainly shows it. To a First Century Jew, not everything could be understood, but that was God’s problem. Our job is to believe, and God will explain it one day — if it suits him. And that’s entirely up to God. Continue reading

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Baptism: A Different Approach to Colossians 2:11-14

baptism of JesusOne of the most interesting passages regarding baptism is Colossians 2:11-14, but I believe that our traditional interpretation is entirely mistaken.

(Col 2:11-14 NET) 11 In him you also were circumcised– not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. 12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. 13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. 14 He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.

Many commentators take v. 12 as saying that baptism is like circumcision, making it the essential initiatory rite into Christianity — just like but replacing Old Testament circumcision.

In the Churches of Christ, the argument is made to support the necessity of baptism. In many other denominations, the argument is used to support infant baptism. (Be careful of picking arguments just because they help you win!)

And while this has a certain superficial appeal, that is not Paul’s point. We should parse Paul’s language in light of the Old Testament history of some of his words and phrases. If we miss the narrative context, we miss Paul’s point entirely.

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Baptism: Once More into the Fray

baptism of Jesus

Kevin asked his question about baptism with such insight that I hate not giving him the best answer I can. On the other hand, like many readers, I’ve had my fill of the wrangling and false accusations and repetition of stale arguments.

I’m not going to go long with this, and I’m not going to tolerate the “my verse is truer than your verse” proof texting so common in both Church of Christ and Baptist rhetoric. We’ve heard it all before so very many times.

Rather, the only question I want to consider is whether baptism is a “work” as Paul uses the term. Therefore, there’s just not much in the Gospels or Acts relevant to the question. Obviously, there is much in those books relevant to baptism, but not to Paul’s use of “work.” Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 1:1-10 (Salutation, Introduction)


(1Co 1:1 ESV) Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

Paul credits Sosthenes with participating in the composition of the letter. This is likely the same Sosthenes had been the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth, and paid dearly to follow Jesus.

(Act 18:17 ESV) 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

Actually, the text doesn’t say that Sosthenes converted, but it’s hard to make sense of the account unless we assume that to be the case. Evidently, he became a missionary and joined Paul’s missionary team in Ephesus.

(1Co 1:2-3 ESV) 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: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul begins with an interesting rhetorical turn. He refers to them as “saints” (holy people, having the same root in Greek as “sanctified”) “together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” He seems to want to remind his readers that they are part of a bigger church universal.

He will make further reference to this fact a few times in the book, likely to emphasize the importance of respecting the sensibilities of the Jews. In short, he’s saying that you aren’t saved to be alone with God but to be part of a church filled with all kinds of people — people who matter just as much as you. And this fact will prove to be significant in Paul’s hermeneutics.

(1Co 1:4-7a ESV) 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift,


Again, looking ahead to passages chapters away, Paul refers to the spiritual gifts that God has richly given to the congregation. These are good things — so much so that Paul thanks God for giving these gifts.

Moreover, Paul tells us that gifts serve to confirm the “testimony about Christ,” that is, the gospel. Notice that the past tense of “confirmed” does not mean that the gifts no longer exist. The church was still very gifted — suggesting that confirmation of the gospel is not necessarily a singular event. (We’ll discuss the question in more detail when we get to chapter 13.)

(1Co 1:7b-9 ESV) as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The “revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a reference to the Second Coming.

Paul then promises that Jesus will keep the Corinthians “guiltless” when Jesus returns. And yet 1 Corinthians is more than plain that they were guilty of some pretty outrageous sins. Grace …

QUESTION: Can you find faith, hope, and love all expressed in vv. 1 – 9?

In v. 9, “faithful” translates pistos, meaning either faithful or … believing. Christians must have faith/be faithful because to have faith/be faithful is to become like God. Really.

It’s implicit in what Paul says. 1 Corinthian is not a great exposition on salvation by faith, as are Galatians and Romans, but there is deep theology tucked away here.

QUESTION: God is faithful to what?

Well, Paul doesn’t say here, but Paul is referencing the element of the gospel tracing all the way back to Genesis when he made a covenant with Abraham, crediting Abraham with righteousness for faith and to bless all nations. Those promises are part of the worldview of Paul and his converts and is implicit in nearly every word. (And expressly laid out in Gal 3 and Rom 4.)

What is the “fellowship of his Son”? “Fellowship” translates koinonia, which can be rendering sharing, partnership, community, or fellowship. The root idea is having something in common. What does Paul think we have in common with Jesus? Likely, sonship because for the first time he refers to Jesus as Son of God.

QUESTION: What else do we have in common with Jesus?

(1Co 1:10 ESV) 10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

QUESTION: Why should we agree and be united?

Well, because we are in fellowship with Jesus — and Jesus defines our commonality. We are in common community with each other because we’re all part of the community of Jesus.

And this is critically important: We are saved into a church, living, breathing, growing community. To refer to Christianity as a “personal relationship” denies the even more important corporate relationship.

QUESTION: How can we “agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” when we disagree about so many things? Can we reasonably expect to agree about everything?

QUESTION: What is essential for us to agree on? What else? (Hint: cheat ahead to vv. 17-18.)

Now that we know that Paul is deeply concerned about unity of the congregation, we might look over vv. 1 – 10 consider how he set up the discussion and how what he’s already said goes to argue the case.

Paul declares the congregation “sanctified” and “saints together with” all other Christians everywhere. The church-universal matters as to how a single congregation conducts itself. Unity is not merely a congregational issue. It’s a church-universal issue.

QUESTION: How well are we doing with that?

In v. 4, Paul reminds them of the grace they’ve received.

QUESTION: How does receiving grace affect how we should treat our brothers? If we’re to be like God, then …

QUESTION: How do the gifts given by God demonstrate their essential unity? Think about confirming the gospel. What does the gospel itself say about unity?

QUESTION: If God considers us guiltless, how should we consider each other?

QUESTION: If God will sustain us to the end, how are we to treat each other? (And, no, it’s not time to discuss the perseverance of the saints. Let’s stick with Paul’s point.)

You see, it’s asking questions like these, pouring over the text time and time again, not proof text by proof text, that helps us dig into what Paul is really saying. He’s not just spouting aphorisms about grace and love to stick on refrigerator magnets. He’s saying that these elemental principles that he’s already taught them while he was there answer the question. If you get the gospel, you get the necessity for unity — and the behaviors and attitudes that will achieve it.

As an aside, the great failure of the 20th Century Churches of Christ is our failure to be like God. We claim grace for ourselves and refuse to extend it to others, using the gospel to divide rather than to unite.

Obviously, there are limits. Not everyone is saved. But if God can view the Corinthians as guiltless despite their division and many other sins, we can accept the church down the road that worships a little different from how we do.






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Josh Garrels: “The Original Spacefan”

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