One 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.
(Col 2:11 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.
We normally read ahead and figure that “circumcision made without hands” is water baptism, but I have yet to figure out how we can baptize someone without using our hands. Well, “without hands” is surely a Hebraism meaning “by God” — or as Paul more exactly says later in v. 11, “by Christ.”
(Translations vary as to whether to include “having been baptized …” as part of the sentence in v. 11 or to start a new sentence in v.12. First Century Greek did not have punctuation and had no spaces between the words — so occasionally it’s unclear which sentence a phrase goes with.)
So what is the “circumcision done by Christ”? If the answer isn’t provided in verse 12, where is it found? And as is so often the case, in the Old Testament. Paul assumes that his readers knew their Scriptures!
Consider this bit of background —
(Rom 2:28-29 NET) 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God.
In Romans, Paul says that true circumcision is not “outward in the flesh” but “of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code.” It’s not evidence of obedience to commands! It’s something done by God the Spirit. Hence, it would make really good sense for Paul to mean by “circumcision” the receipt of God’s transforming Spirit — as he speaks in Romans. (We’ll come back to this.)
The “fleshly body” in Col 2:11 is a bit confusing. Paul uses “flesh” to refer to our sinful nature, especially its tendency to take command of the individual (Col 2:18,23; Rom 8:3-9). In fact, in Romans 8, Paul contrasts the flesh as the part of us opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit in us to sanctify us.
It’s important to remember that Jews saw humans as a body/mind whole. They did not drink from the Platonic well of dualism. Hence, the distinction Paul makes is not between body and mind or mind and heart but between the natural body-mind-heart (a unity) and God’s given Spirit. Without the Spirit, we will not be able to please God — not at any level at all. The Spirit doesn’t make us into Jesus-like perfection, but it does act as a Helper to transform us, slowly and at times painfully, to become more and more like Jesus.
The Churches of Christ are Platonic (pagan) and not Christian when we see the mind (where doctrine is sussed out) as perfectible, and so not in need of grace, and the heart (where moral decisions are made) as always in need of grace. No, the entire “flesh” — body, mind, and heart — is fallen, broken, and not perfectible. And if you think about it, obviously so.
If the flesh is then the united heart-mind-body, which is unable to please God, then the “fleshly body” is simply another way of saying “flesh.” It’s not a reference to the human body becoming wet in baptism, but in contrast to the removal of physical flesh from the male genitals, God’s own removal of the flesh (wicked tendencies in us all) by the Spirit.
This is both an event and a process. We receive the Spirit in a moment, but its transformation of us continues throughout our lives. God continues to excise our weaknesses until we die. He keeps on circumcising, as it were.
But the Colossians church likely did not have a handy copy of Romans to use to interpret v. 11. Why did Paul expect his allusion to be understood? Well, because it’s a recurring theme of the Law and the Prophets.
(Deu 30:6 NET) 6 The LORD your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live.
In this verse, Moses is prophetically looking ahead to a time when God would save a remnant of the Jews by transforming their hearts to love him “with all your mind.”
The theme is picked up in the Psalms and the Prophets, for example —
(Eze 11:19-20 ESV) 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
(Psa 51:10 ESV) 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Read together, these passages are obviously allusions to Deu 30:6. David is praying for God to bring about his promised transformation. He wants God himself to change his heart.
It’s clear from The Book of Jubilees, chapter 1 (classed as part of the OT Pseudepigrapha and dated no later than 100 BC) that this thought was well established among Second Temple Jews —
23 And after this they will turn to Me in all uprightness and with all (their) heart and with all (their) soul, and I will circumcise the foreskin of their heart and the foreskin of the heart of their seed, and I will create in them a holy spirit, and I will cleanse them so that they shall not turn away from Me from that day unto eternity. 24 And their souls will cleave to Me and to all My commandments, and they will fulfil My commandments, and I will be their Father and they shall be My children. 25 And they all shall be called children of the living God, and every angel and every spirit shall know, yea, they shall know that these are My children, and that I am their Father in uprightness and righteousness, and that I love them.
In short, what Paul wrote in Col 2:11 would have been understood by a Jew or God-fearing Gentile as a reference to Deu 30:6 and the many Scriptural allusions to and expansions on that passage (including many more not mentioned here).
So what of Col 2:12?
(Col 2:12 NET) 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.
“Having been buried with him in baptism” is not a reference to “the circumcision done by Christ” in v. 11. Rather, it ties to “also have been raised” later in the same verse. Paul’s point is not that baptism is the circumcision done by Christ. After all, humans do water baptism. God and Jesus give the Spirit.
Ahh … do you see what’s going on now? Paul is tying together water and Spirit baptism! Evidently, he is familiar with promise of John the Baptist —
(Mar 1:8 NET) 8 “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Not once is John quoted as promising that Jesus was provide water baptism. It’s always a contrast between the water baptism of John and the Spirit baptism of Jesus — which is in all four Gospels and Acts (in addition to Mark 1:8, see Matt 3:11, Luk 3:16, Acts 1:5)! This is obviously really important.
Now, John the Baptist was not speaking to a bunch of Pharisees and Sadducees about the tongues of fire to come at Pentecost (Matt 3:7). They’d have had no idea what he was saying — and he was shouting for their immediate repentance. No, he was speaking of the age to come, characterized by the outpoured Spirit promised by Joel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. And every good Jew knew that the age to come would require repentance.
(Jer 15:19 NET) 19 Because of this, the LORD said, “You must repent of such words and thoughts! If you do, I will restore you to the privilege of serving me. If you say what is worthwhile instead of what is worthless, I will again allow you to be my spokesman. They must become as you have been. You must not become like them.
This was John’s message — and it’s the message of Paul in Col 2:11-12. God’s Son gives you God’s Spirit — circumcising your hearts as God long ago promised — bringing about the change of heart necessary to participate in the Kingdom.
How do I know this? What tells me that it’s finally come true? How can trust God’s promises?
(Col 2:12 NET) 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.
Your baptism assures you that have been raised “in the power of God.” If God can raise Jesus from the dead, surely he can rescue your heart from sin. Your faith tells you that Jesus was resurrected, and you committed to exactly that truth in your baptism.
“Through your faith” is not a rhetorical flourish. It’s how we appropriate God’s grace. Water baptism is meaningless for the faithless. It’s only those with faith in Jesus who are baptized or for whom baptism matters.
But the circumcision that saves — the receipt of the Spirit — is not so much caused by baptism as reflected in baptism. The power is in God, demonstrated not by baptism, but the resurrection, which baptism reflects, re-enacts, and celebrates.
Nonetheless, baptism is not merely obedience to an ordinance (command). Nor is it the means of appropriation of grace (clearly stated to be faith). Rather, it’s the demonstration, celebration, and even the event where Spirit baptism is fully realized.
I realize that “realized” is a bit ambiguous. I’ll explain in the next post.
You could have added 1 Cor. 12:13 to passages stating that all God’s children are “baptized in one Spirit” and by this become one body. The KJV translation “by one Spirit” misses the significance of the Green preposition en, which is the same preposition John used to say Jesus would baptize “in the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Paul’s purpose was not to concoct a theology on baptism, but rather to include it as something a believer does already having possessed the Spirit of Christ through faith in His work on the cross.
Baptism is certainly one of the important parts of the believer’s experience. It is the declaration of Christ’s work that has already happened within the heart of the believer. Baptism serves as both a public profession of Christ but also a reminder to the believer that salvation is from Christ alone. The old self has died and has been made new in the image and likeness of Christ. Believer’s baptism is after salvation and affirms that inward change by a public demonstration.
People have concocted a baptismal theology that requires the efforts of man and it is no longer Christ alone, the person has to go to someone other than Jesus to receive salvation. It lessens and sadly diminishes Christ’s work on the cross, the beauty of salvation is no longer just Christ’s work on the cross, man has to add their efforts to earn salvation.
Being baptized we identify with Christ and His work on the cross. It’s neither baptism nor circumcision of the flesh that makes us alive, it is God’s Spirit who is already working in us who made us alive when we had faith in Christ.
Paul knew baptism and circumcision both are physical expressions of our relationship and commitment we have with God that points to Christ’s work on the cross. Baptism shows there is a change God has already begun working in the believer’s heart, this change is already happening within the believer through faith.
Baptism is a demonstration of our new standing with God that we already received through faith.
Romans 4:2-3 Because if Abraham was made righteous because of his actions, he would have had a reason to brag, but not in front of God. What does the scripture say? Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Romans 4:5 But you cannot make God accept you because of something you do. God accepts sinners only because they have faith in him.
Romans 5:1 By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God.
When one is baptized into Christ, he comes in contact with the blood of Christ and his sins are washed away (Romans 6:2-4; Acts 22:16). The old man is put off. The Christian rises to walk in the newness of life. In the Old Testament, the Israelites entered into the covenant relationship by circumcision (Genesis 17:10). In the Christian age, one enters into the covenant relationship with God by baptism. It is necessary that one have faith in Jesus Christ and in the power of God when he is baptized to receive these benefits. When baptized, one is forgiven of his sins and arises to walk in the newness of life. Baptism does much more than circumcision ever did. It can be seen from these two verses that baptism is for those of accountable age who have believed in Christ. Second, they were baptized after they had been instructed concerning the gospel. Third, it was baptism by immersion. Paul taught that it was not necessary to go back to the old type of physical circumcision. They had received a circumcision that is far better, which is baptism.
I would have to say that simply put, the Christian life is submission to God. Baptism is NOT a work of man, but of God. The believer submits (someone else must do the baptizing) to a death, burial and resurrection into a new life. God “operates” when we submit. He operates or “works” just as He did in Christ’s resurrection. What work does God do in baptism? He makes us holy and blameless, redeems us from the devil, instills His Spirit, transfers us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, gives us a new inheritance, new purpose, new identity, new family, etc. Baptism is not a work of man, it is (if we have faith in God’s plan) a work of God…..and God does a great amount of work while we humbly submit.
Titus 3:5-7 gives us the two processes by which God chose to save us: (1) our initial washing in the new birth and (2) the daily renewing of our hearts and minds through the Spirit. This second process is llife-long (sanctification) and insures that once we are born again that we now submit to The Lordship of Jesus Christ….insuring a convenant relationship with Him step by step until the last day. Without this moment by moment renewal of God’s Spirit, we are not pleasing to God. It is like He seeks to re-establish that walk we once had with Him in the garden–nearness and communion. Submission is the definition of the Christian life. Submission is accomplished in baptism and in walking daily by the Spirit (circumcised and sanctified).
Chuck, this may be “nit-picking,” but it’s better to speak in Biblical language. Nowhere does the Bible state that “When one is baptized into Christ, he comes in contact with the blood of Christ….” The better approach is to speak in the language of Romans 6:3-6 where Paul indicates that we experience death with Christ in a death like His that we may also share in a resurrection like his.
What you said, I believe to be true – but that’s not the way Scripture reads. We need to get back to calling Bible things by Bible names and describing them using Biblical terms.
Dr. J, must we have faith in God’s plan (by which I read you to mean baptism, though you may, hopefully, mean His plan of redemption in Christ, in which case you and I agree), or must we have faith in Jesus as our Savior and the Father as the forgiver of our sins when we respond to His Son in faithful submission? I’ve heard too many thank God “for giving us the Plan of Salvation, by which we are able to be saved.” Those who have earnestly prayed this prayer do so thinking of the 5-step plan of hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.
Chuck Davis points to the truth. It’s not sensible to suppose there are two baptisms as some propose, one in water as Jesus commands and one by the Spirit or in the Spirit as some read into 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul didn’t speak of a baptism by the Spirit or in the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul knew well and clearly teaches that there is ONE baptism for entry into the Way of the Christ. If we believe what Jesus taught and what His apostles taught,we’ll not read into any verse of apostolic writing any second baptism for Christians.
And if we love Jesus and seek to please HIM, we’ll surely teach and practice the baptism commanded by HIM and point out to anyone who speaks of a second baptism for Christians that that is NOT apostolic truth. The Spirit is God’s GIFT to every new Christian. Baptism in the Spirit was to empower the apostles for the tremendous task they had of building a totally NEW organization where Jesus is honored as Lord.
Only the apostles were promised that they would be empowered to remember what Jesus had taught and that they had heard Him teach and that THEY would be led into all truth, even beyond what Jesus had taught them. How odd it is that some imagine they have apostolic powers today! They were taught and they believed that they received the Holy Spirit twice, once when they believed in Jesus and again when they were baptized in water as He commanded is to be done. But the promise of God’s giving the Spirit is only to those believers who have turned to Jesus as Lord and have been baptized as HE commands for every new believer. To clarify, sinners are saved and brought INTO Christ BY baptism in water. So it was not a Christian who received baptism into Christ. Salvation and the gift of the Spirit follows the baptism.
I wonder if some even read what Jay writes before they reply. Jay you have more patience than I. I would not respond well be being referred to as not sensible or foolish.Even when I disagree with you, I have to concede your arguments are scriptural based, well thought out, logical and coherent. Thank you for your efforts.
Thanks. I’ve never gotten into the issue here, but Al Maxey has: http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx608.htm
First, let me thank you for many entertaining years of extraordinary basketball. I often mourn that your early ABA games with the Nets were not filmed — a loss to civilization that can never be rectified.
Second, just kidding.
Third, you wrote,
You sound just like me and Martin Luther (see his Greater Catechism). It’s a brilliant, insightful argument — and I’ve been persuaded by the readers here that it’s mistaken. I’ve been forced to recant (no easy thing!)
It’s true, of course, the baptism is always spoken of the passive voice and is something received, not done … but so is circumcision. No one circumcises himself! In fact, most Jews were circumcised when 8 days old — and very much against their own will. (You’d cry, too.) It’s far more passive than baptism in most cases.
And so the reason baptism isn’t a work isn’t the fact that it’s passive — although it’s an important doctrinal truth in its own right. I can’t baptize myself. (Let’s PLEASE not start a chain on one main on a desert island with a Bible. God is gracious.) Rather, baptism is a community action — even if it’s just two people. The evangelist or other member of the church performs the rite — showing that salvation is not just between me and God. It’s also between me and the church — not in a Catholic sense but in a community of faith sense. My faith allows me to enter the timeless Kingdom along with millions of others. That is, baptism (among other things) introduces and welcomes me into fellowship of the church. We aren’t supposed to be saved alone, and part of Jesus’ being with us to the end is his body — the church — being with us to the end.
While you are hardly alone in this, you continue to prove what’s already conceded. Yes, there are “faith not works” verses and they are true and inspired. I quote them quite often.
But the baptism verses are there, too. What about them?
One more point. I assume you favor the Baptist practice of the “sinner’s prayer.” Why is it that baptism is a “work” and “the sinner’s prayer” is not? You wrote,
So the last Baptist service I attended, we were asked to close our eyes (a physical action), bow our heads (a physical action), pray the “sinner’s prayer” (a mental action, but still something “done” by the human requiring what physicists call “work” and the expenditure of energy), and then fill out a card declaring that we had done (again, work) — all BEFORE the gospel was preached. Really.
So why are these activities not “works” while being immersed by the preacher is? At least baptism is found in the Bible. No, there’s an answer to the conundrum but it’s not replacing one work with another.
Yes, 20th Century Church of Christ teaching is dangerously close to a works-salvation, but the sinner’s prayer is not theologically superior in any way that I can think of.
The Baptists are neither my audience nor my calling, but they are dead wrong on this one. That doesn’t at all make the Churches of Christ right.
But both traditions do recognize the importance of a ritual. There has to be a moment when the convert declares his faith and commitment and when the church rejoices in this decision or else the community of believers could not exist. There has to be a way for faith to become a community event.
And that is at the intersection of Baptist and Church of Christ thought. The Baptists want it to be the joining of the church (and some even want it be the joining of just this congregation … around here), and the Churches of Christ want it to be the moment of salvation — but in both communities it is (among other things!) the moment when the converts becomes of a part of the koinonia of the church — which is a very big deal ignored in most of discussions.
We act as though going to heaven is all that matters, and yet the church is supposed to be much, much more than an after-life travel agency. We intuitively understand this, which is why the Baptists want that card filled out! They want their “convert” to join a church, and they are right to do so. But it’s sure hard to find this practice in the scriptures.
I’m NOT arguing that God will necessarily refuse to save over the sinner’s prayer. I’m just saying that it’s as much a “work” as baptism, has far less biblical support, and is now under severe criticism from within the Southern Baptist community because it fails to recognize many critical elements of what it means to enter the Kingdom. Oh — and that as often practiced, it often produces a “faith” that is not NT faith because it often ignores the faithfulness that a convert must commit to.
I apologize for rambling. Once last point: if baptism isn’t the moment of salvation, and if the sinner’s prayer is foreign to the NT, when is the moment of salvation? When I come to faith? But what if I have a faith that I’m unwilling to confess? And what if I’m unwilling to submit to baptism?
Just to think about …
Many translations prefer “by one Spirit.” It’s an interesting passage because, while you could argue that the Christian is already saved because he’s “in one Spirit,” it also says “into one body.”
Read that way, v. 27 —
(1Co 12:27 ESV) 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
— you get: we are in the Spirit before we’re in the body of Christ — which is just weird. Hence, I go with “by” as translated by the NIV and NASB and by NT Wright. Among commentators, the translation depends on whether the commentator prefers a sacramental (all denominations other than Calvinists and Baptists) or Zwinglian (Calvinists and Baptists) interpretation of baptism. The Greek is ambiguous.
But to me, the sentence just doesn’t make sense if by “in one Spirit” we interpret that the convert has already received the Spirit before he is baptized into the Spirit. I mean, “were made to drink of one Spirit” is the same verb tense as “baptized into one body”. Both are indicative, aorist, passive and the construction is plainly parallel — strongly suggesting that the two events happen at once.
The better argument for the Zwinglian position is that “baptism” refers to Spirit baptism which does not necessarily correspond to water baptism. This carries more weight than we in the Churches of Christ like to admit, although I think it’s also mistaken.
1 Cor 1:13-17 is clearly using “baptize” to refer to water baptism.
1 Cor 10:2 (baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea) refers, metaphorically to God/Spirit (the “cloud” is the “cloud by day” by which God led them and which came to dwell in the Tabernacle — God’s presence or “glory” — often used metaphorically of the Spirit in the NT) and to water baptism (the sea). Thus, Paul treats them as two different things but refers to a baptism into (eis) both the Spirit and water as a single event but not necessarily at exactly the same time. After all, God’s cloud appeared and protected the Israelites before they entered the sea and then led them for 40 years through the desert. It’s a POWERFUL metaphor — and had an Israelite balked at crossing the sea, he’d be dead. But none did.
Hence, up to 1 Cor 12:13, all references to baptism included water baptism, but certainly don’t exclude the concurrent or near concurrent work of the Spirit. It’s hard with that context to deny the use of “baptism” in 12:13 to be water/Spirit baptism.
So the prepositions are very important, but I don’t think “en” proves the Zwinglian point of view.
Again, sorry for rambling. I’m in one of those moods (really tired).
One of our favorite passages on baptism is found in Romans 6
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:1-4
“What shall we say then?” We would do well to read chapters 3-5 to get the proper context. Then we are ready to dig into chapter 6.
The above passage makes it clear that our “dying” in the waters of baptism is symbolic. How many hundred times have you heard at someone’s baptism that “the old man is being put to death” or the “the old person is dying”? Is the old man really dead? No. Baptism is a symbolic dying to self, putting the old man to death. If not why would Paul say the following?
” 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:11-14
What Paul is really saying is “Live as if you are dead”. It is clear that the dying in baptism is symbolic, it is not a reality or else there would be no need for his further words quoted above. Every new believer shortly after the euphoria of the baptism experience will sadly learn the “old man” or “old self”, or “flesh” is still very much alive. Every disciple of Jesus if honest will agree that try as he might he will still find himself sinning. John said of those who deny this truth that they are liars and make God a liar when they say they don’t sin.
One further point. Saying as a former Baptist, I too dislike the “sinners prayer” perhaps as much as Jay does. (Although Peter in Acts 2 quoted Joel the prophet and ended that quote with these words. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”) The truth is, when a sinner hears the gospel of Christ and puts his trust in Jesus (has faith), without saying a word, without taking a step, that person is made alive and is saved. Will that person have repented? Yes. Will that person confess with his mouth? Yes. Will that person be immersed? Yes, if he is taught correctly he will at once. But the overwhelming body of truth in the Bible is that God saves those who believe.
Jay, I don’t go to a Baptist church, I have visited some and I know people who go to Baptist churches, and every Baptist church I have been to have always presented the gospel of Jesus, so I cannot speak to the experience you had at that Baptist church. And just so you know I’m not going to entertain whatever has caused you to have such animosity toward Baptist churches to speak about them with such rivalry and the bent you have to single them out in many of your posts. The people I know who go to Baptist churches are warm, kind and gracious people who love God and other people.
I don’t consider calling out to God a NT concept, believers have always cried out to God. Praying is not a ritual or rite, it is a person speaking or crying out to God.
Here is what Jesus said about calling out to God as He was teaching people.
Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Luke 18:9-14 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
John 14:12-14 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
I believe a person receives salvation when they have faith in Christ and that their brokenness is why the person cries out to God.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart. And He saves those who are broken in spirit.
I believe that you totally missed and/or ignored what Jay wrote to you. If you truly can’t understand what he was saying there, I don’t believe you need to.
Are you aware of the fact that often, when you write about the Holy Spirit and his work, you refer to him as an “it”? As in, “it’s power” or “it’s influence”, etc.
I have noticed that a lot while hearing (or reading) what people have to say or teach about him…
Hank, in the Greek, “Spirit” is in the neuter gender – i.e., this word is neither masculine nor feminine. Hence, it is correct to refer to “him” in English as “it..”
Although, I have been guilty of that myself, come to think of it. Why do you suppose we make that mistake?
I never thought of that. Still seems incorrect to refer to the 3rd person of the godhead as an “it”.
I think I recall Jesus being referred to in the Greek in the gender neutral as well?
1 John 1:1 KJV
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
“That” (Strong’s #3739) is neutral, right? Plus, the Holy Spirit IS referred to in the masculine. For example:
JHN14.16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that HE may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth HIM not, neither knoweth HIM: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, HE shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Now, I’m am really curious of the thoughts of others here. Acceptable to refer to the Holy Spirit as an “it”?
Hank, actually “that” can be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. In 1 John 1:1 it is masculine. However, since God created both Adam and Eve in his image, it must mean that God is both masculine and feminine. Or does it? Is gender a part of God’s makeup? The thing that could be the most disturbing about referring to the Spirit as “it” is that depersonalizes the Spirit. Humans have gender; do angels? The Holy Spirit? God Himself? (But how can you refer to God without using a masculine?)
Circumcsion didn’t reflect what kind of Jew you were, but that you were a Jew by covenant and yet you could still be rejected by God. When we are baptized we are more reflecting the cleansing rituals of the Jews in washing away impurities, which is why we are raised in newness of life. It is a physical action that reflects a change from our physical fleshly state to a spiritual state. Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead until after he faced death and was buried, so is our parallel is that salvation doesn’t proceed our burial and being raised. Baptism may involve us, but it is really about Jesus and the path he led for us to follow.
One thing I would like to say is that while many groups demoralize baptism, many other groups elavate it beyond itself. Baptism isn’t the end, but the beginning. At our church on our table we have one flyer that gives the steps of salvation and then another flyer that talks specifically of baptism. What is missing? A flyer that talks of Christ. It is sad really.
I think we rather leave the roadway when we start trying to get a ruling on the distinct point in time when one is “saved”. (I confess I have been in this argument myself.) In doing this, we try to discern what is a spiritual transition by means of entirely natural measurements. It’s like trying to measure light using a five gallon bucket. I do not recall a moment in my life when I did not believe that Jesus was exactly who the scripture says he is. John 5:24 suggests that such a believer has already “crossed over from death to life”. So when did I cross over? In the fourth grade when I got baptized? When I was five and could articulate what I understood? When I was 18 and set aside my doubts about the reasonableness of the gospel?
Ultimately, my question is, why are we asking this question? Are we asking to re-evaluate our own salvation? If not ours, then whose are we troubling ourselves with? Am I to believe that this is idle speculation, like counting those pin-dancing angels? I notice that whenever we start talking the “when” of salvation, the “Who” always disappears from the conversation.
Grace wrote: “People have concocted a baptismal theology that requires the efforts of man and it is no longer Christ alone, the person has to go to someone other than Jesus to receive salvation. It lessens and sadly diminishes Christ’s work on the cross, the beauty of salvation is no longer just Christ’s work on the cross, man has to add their efforts to earn salvation.”
I don’t know if Grace is Baptist, but this quote is a great illustration of Baptist theology relative to salvation nonetheless. Having attended both Churches of Christ and Southern / Independent Baptist Churches, this quote exemplifies one half of the problem that we are currently discussing with regard to baptism (the other half being the “works excluded/works included” position within some churches of Christ). Both have significant problems, and surprisingly, BOTH tend to view salvation through works-colored glasses.
The Baptists in my family are somewhat taken aback when I point out that their salvation narrative tends to view salvation through works-colored glasses. After all, most Baptists go out of their way to avoid any association of work or effort or, yea, obedience with salvation. So, what do I mean by that? Well, in my view, the attempt to so-separate human effort from salvation has, perhaps unconsciously, fostered a tendency to place too great a value on human effort. Notice the quote above again: “People have concocted a baptismal theology that requires the efforts of man and it is no longer Christ alone…It lessens and sadly diminishes Christ’s work on the cross, the beauty of salvation is no longer just Christ’s work on the cross, man has to add their efforts to earn salvation.” (Emphasis mine) So, according to this view of salvation, man’s effort somehow diminishes Christ’s work on the cross, and that is the basis for my comment about works-colored glasses relative to Baptist salvation theology. According to my Baptist family and friends, any human effort relative to salvation would place God in our debt. In my opinion, this is a very arrogant view of man, his abilities, and the intrinsic value of his effort/work/obedience. It also illustrates confusion regarding the “ways of salvation” and the “means of salvation,” and as I have already noted, churches of Christ are not lacking in confusion in this area either.
Sinful man’s obedience can NEVER be construed as meritorious or sufficient to earn salvation. Additionally, God’s gift of salvation can NEVER be considered as payment for obedience rendered. If it were possible for sinful man to overcome or remove sin through his effort or through his own works, then Christ died in vain because His sacrifice would not have been required. Once we sin a single time, any chance of boasting or earning salvation is an unmitigated impossibility. This is the consequence of sin, and I think we all fail, at times, to appreciate just how odious sin actually is. A single sin deserves eternal damnation; we are separated from God. No amount of good deeds, or prayer, or giving, or benevolence, or evangelism, or love will ever, ever, bridge the gulf that exists between a righteous God and sinful man. We have a sin problem, and we require grace. That’s the point of Eph 2:8-9: because of our sin problem, we cannot save ourselves. We need Christ and the grace of God, which are the “ways of salvation.” Our own effort does not have the POWER (or “ways”) to save us, but that does not mean that our effort is not required to receive the gift of salvation (or “means”). The “ways of salvation” are very different from the “means of salvation.” The “means” can NEVER supplant the “ways,” for without the “ways,” the “means” would be meaningless & we would all die in our sins…regardless of how few sins we actually commit, even one. This differentiation and truth is why Christ said, ”So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Even after we have done that which is duty, we cannot boast. Why not? Because we are still unprofitable servants. Why? Because of our sin problem. Why? Because “doing our duty” (human effort) has no efficacy and cannot remove a single sin. We still need Christ and the wonderful grace of God. Consequently, if God legislates that man must comply with a condition, or a set of conditions, in order to receive salvation, and then sinful man subsequently complies with these conditions, it CANNOT be said that man has earned salvation or that he merited salvation. To state such is to place an unjustifiable and arrogant value on man, his abilities, and his efforts. Such a view is a gross adulteration of the nature of sin and man’s worth relative to God, and it grossly diminishes grace.
My wife and I prepared a large thanksgiving dinner for friends and family. No one needed to bring anything. Everyone gathered in the living room to fellowship and to watch one of the football games. Later, my wife and I called everyone to the dining room to eat. The meal had been provided by grace. It was a free gift, but everyone was required to move from the living room to the dining room to enjoy the blessing. Did the guests earn or merit the blessing by rising and walking from the living room into the dining room? Surely no one would suggest such. Everyone worked (or expended energy / effort) in order to comply with the stipulations as set forth by my lovely wife because no one eats in the living room…not even me. What reasonable person would declare that the guests earned or merited the blessing by rising and moving to the living room? So it is with our relationship to Christ; the presence of sin in our lives should absolutely and forever prohibit this sense of entitlement.
So…when one says that we are not saved by works, I say, “AMEN!” But that statement doesn’t really address the conundrum that we are discussing.
A few years ago I met a homeless man a couple of days before thanksgiving, we chatted a little while and I told him about the thanksgiving dinner our church provides for homeless people. Only thing was he was in another city and it would be quite a walk for him to get to the church, he was old and not in good health. I told him someone would drive over to get him and bring him to the church, he seemed a little worried about it, some homeless people can be somewhat paranoid after living on the streets for so long, and so I told him we would bring a meal to him where he was at. He smiled at me and thanked me that we’d be so gracious to meet him where he was at. Meeting that homeless man right where he was at was grace, the example we followed was the example we are given from Jesus.
Looking at the comments on this post shows that people haven’t really mastered grace, try as we should. I’m thankful I didn’t depend on people to tell me I had to go somewhere to get saved, I sure needed God right then and I’m forever grateful that Jesus met me right where I was.
Are you saying that since salvation is free and since God knows where we live, we don’t have to do a thing except wait for him to personally deliver it? Do we at least need to “make an order” first? Or, does he deliver to everyone whether they wanted it or not?
God’s grace is available to anyone anywhere they are. The homeless man could have told me that he didn’t believe anyone was really that kind and reject my offer. The man believed it was true and was extremely grateful. It would have been cruel to not deliver what we said we would.
Seriously? You’re going to use the phrase “water baptism”? Ugh. But I guess you use it for the same reason the New Testament writers did. Oh wait… 🙂
You probably saw it, but I recently wrote on baptism in Colossians 2. Not point by point agreement, but definitely agreeing that this is about God’s power working in baptism. http://www.timothyarcher.com/kitchen/the-power-of-baptism-from-colossians-2/
problem is that we try to load 100 pounds of gold into a cart made to carry 15 pounds of gold, meaning we put too much value into just one thing and don’t realize that there are many carriers that are supposed to be there. To say it is all about grace or faith or works misses the point that all are included. God saw the Israelites and offered grace, they formed a covenant and God made Laws and they tried to fulfill them and then they inordinantly made it all about the Laws and not the faith, but they still expected God’s grace. There is a reason why faith and baptism is related to salvation, not in part, but the whole. And yes even faith is called a work “work of faith” in the scriptures, because it is producable, as well as labor of love, etc. God reaches down his hand to man in the form of Jesus who did the “work of His father”, but we are called on to “come to Christ” and “be in Christ”, “live in Christ”. etc. But I am thankful that even with doing all that I can, which is usually poor effort, God is there and patient and kind and not willing to turn His back on the people He loves, if we don’t turn our back on Him.
I guess it could also be called Christ’s baptism since we are baptized into Christ, but water is a Biblical distinction, as opposed to Holy Spirit baptism.
Actually, Dwight, no such distinction is made in the Bible. “Water baptism” is like saying “water swimming” or “water showering.” You can be swimming in debt or showered with blessings, but the fact is, when you talk about taking a shower or going swimming, nobody asks “In what?”
Baptism, in the Bible, is assumed to refer to water unless context indicates otherwise. We complicate things when we try to change that fact.
Timothy, I have seen this “water orientation” at work in our understanding of Matthew 28. Jesus tells his disciples specifically into what to immerse believers, as to make disciples of them. “Immersing them IN the name of the Father, and IN the name of the Son, and IN the name of the Holy Spirit”. We, however, have traditionally poured water into this passage when not just the context, but the actual syntax, says otherwise. Here we have complicated the scripture by letting our default water-orientation cause us to miss the wisdom that is presented clearly here. We have let our focus on hydration therapy reduce this seminal instruction to a one-time incantation muttered over a dunkee, instead of discovering exactly HOW Jesus would have us make disciples.
Charles, I believe that is the only time in the cofC that I heard the Trinity invoked. Perhaps more disciples are needed over “dunkees”. I like the term.
Is there an argument to be made from this text that the circumcision of the heart IS NOT water baptism BUT is tied to water baptism in both substance and timing?
Timothy and all, I actually never use the term water baptism, but was just making reference to the fact it was used. But then again if we are going to make a big deal out of someone saying water baptism versus baptism, then I will go to neither assembly that insist dogmatically on either term. Perhaps I will go with the assembly that says immersion as that is the meaning. Or perhaps I will just go with Christ.
This is all sarcasm of course as we discuss the word particulates and look past the meanings behind the actions themselves. We could divide along or question the motives of or insist on grammatical correction between the potatoe or potato camps, but we all know what it is we are discussing in the end.
Is baptism commanded? Yes!
Was it in water? yes!
Are we required to know extensivly more than that? Probably not, but it couldn’t hurt.
I would like to follow that up with that sometimes we do things and fidn out the deeper meaning behind them after the fact, which was probably true of all those people in Acts 2. I am not downplaying deeper meaning, but if deeper meaning gets in the way of our action, as I have seen it happen, then we are thinking way, way to deep. Sometimes we dissect and scrutinize veres and passages right out of its context and meaning and then get embroiled in word wars. And then sometimes we focus on one point and try to bring everything from everywhere to bear on that one point to explain it. Sometimes it is enough to just read it, consider it and then apply.
Clearly, the circumcision of the heart is baptism with the Spirit, as John the Baptist would say. But the scriptures plainly associate water and Spirit baptism — and the Scriptures assume that the two occur in close proximity. The conversion of Cornelius is one example where the two are not absolutely simultaneous, and Peter plainly claims the receipt of the Spirit was the salvific moment in Acts 15. Nonetheless, for some reason, Peter felt compelled to baptize them with water even though they’d already received the Spirit. But why?
In Matt 28:19, the Greek preposition is eis, and so “into” would seem to be the right translation. The NICNT on Matthew by RT France says,
In short, maybe.
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007).
Not necessarily disagreeing, but how do you know that “in the Bible, is assumed to refer to water unless context indicates otherwise”? Consider —
In Acts, I think Acts 2:38 clearly speaks of water baptism because the Spirit is treated separately. That would seem to define “baptism” except as otherwise contextually defined (as in Cornelius’s conversion).
That likely also defines “baptism” for Paul, although it’s a harder case to make. But the ECFs consistently use “baptism” for water baptism by default. And arguably Acts is speaking in the language of the church, not a special Lucan vocabulary.
According to my Baptist family and friends, any human effort relative to salvation would place God in our debt. In my opinion, this is a very arrogant view of man, his abilities, and the intrinsic value of his effort/work/obedience.
I have to agree. After all, Paul took beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, and lashes to bring the gospel to the lost Gentiles. It took a LOT of human effort. But he was just the evangelist.
Then again, there were converts who had to deal with riots, death threats, the loss of income, etc. in order to come to faith. It was no easy thing — and surely if you’d asked them whether it took “effort,” they would say it took more effort to become a Christ follower than anything else in their lives.
Speaking to the Baptist point of view again, repenting, saying the Sinner’s Prayer, and deciding to give up a worldly life and follow Jesus is all about effort. “Effort” is simply the wrong concept to bring into the discussion.
And it makes it really hard to take the revival preaching about “you do nothing at all” and then ask the newly made converts to follow the teachings of Jesus — which are not easy by any means. How does that work?
So we need to stop thinking in Calvinist (or anti-Calvinist) categories and stick with the biblical vocabulary.
Salvation is not by works of the Law of Moses, including morality, because no one can obey the entirety of the Law. Therefore, it’s by faith/trust/faithfulness to/in Jesus. This is grace. But it’s grace for a purpose. It’s a free gift that cannot be earned, but which costs you your life.
What’s the difference? Well, compare a Pharisee debating whether the wild mint in the garden must be tithed vs. Mother Teresa. Both believe in works. So why are they not remotely the same?
And what, if anything, does baptism have to do with that?
Jerry and Hank,
In Hebrew, the word Spirit is feminine and thus takes a feminine pronoun. The NT uses a masculine pronoun for the Spirit at least once in John, although in Greek the word is neuter.
So what does that mean?
You might enjoy the gender-of-the-Spirit section of: http://www.theology.edu/journal/volume3/spirit.htm
Hank and Jerry,
Also note http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_of_the_Holy_Spirit and the discussion around footnotes 16 and 17. A little more detail on the use of the masculine in John contrary to the grammar.
We get offended when accused of teaching baptismal regeneration. Yet we continue to teach that we baptize lost people whose repentance and faith is meaningless and void until one of us immerses them. Why should we object to the criticism?
I’m curious Jay. Given your frequent derogatory remarks about Baptists and Calvinists, do you believe they are saved? I think you could find a way to make your points without cutting remarks about people you don’t know who are as devoted to Jesus as you are.
I don’t agree with your premise. I’ve used strong language to criticize the theology of many denominations, the Churches of Christ especially. But I don’t recall ever saying anything insulting toward the people themselves. And there is a difference. I mean, how do you discuss theology if you can’t disagree about theology?
I just wrote to Grace, ” I’ve never said that people who’ve said the Sinner’s Prayer are therefore damned. I’ve taught quite the opposite — most recently in the Muscle & Shovel series.”
So what am I missing? Do I have to agree with Calvinism to believe Calvinists are saved? Surely we’re beyond that by now.
So you know and you may be aware already. The baptist are mission minded and help to start many churches by cosigning loans for buildings and so on. They do not require all their individual churches to follow the convention to the letter. In fact the one I was apart of and still visit from time to time the pastor last time I was there basically told everyone not to rely on the once saved always saved doctrine. He clearly doesn’t believe it. While I was there it came up in bible study and it was about 50/50. All that to say there is a wide range in the baptist umbrella. Only the first baptist churches are required to follow the convention though I wonder if they don’t fudge a little too. So if one experience is different than another it would not be a surprise. The fact remains as Jay pointed out the baptist doctrine does lend itself to confusion though you may as in many denominations find a church you would agree with. In fact I would struggle under a traditional CoC if I understand what I hear. Though the one I attend is pretty much the same as the baptist church I love across town.
First, “Baptist” is a very large category of denominations. Southern Baptists are the most well known and by far the largest. So, I’m hesitant to paint with a broad brush since I know little about Baptists other than Southern Baptists. Contrary to critics statements, every Southern Baptist church is autonomous just as much as churches of Christ. They are free to give money to local associations, or through the cooperative program out of which missions and higher education are funded. That there is some hierarchy tellin preachers what to say, what missions they can do, etc. is a myth that exists only in the minds of critics. And among SB there is a wide variety doctrine in non essentials. I believe all teach salvation by faith but the have their share of legalists too. And about those dreaded Calvinists. Charges they are not evangelistic are just silly. Presently and in history, Baptist Calvinists are in fact more evangelistic than others. It was Calvinists who were the trail blazers of modern missions. The first to take the gospel to China, India, and many other places were Calvinists. Today men like David Platt and Matt Chandler are planting churches and this crop of young Calvinisrs are baptizing thousands at home. There is no group anywhere who more faithfully preaches Christ than Calvinists. Our history of evangelism is largely trying to convert people who are already saved and we do it globally. Much of our coc brand of theology is full of holes thus this blog and others who are trying to correct some of the most glaring untruths. Maybe the old adage “the pot calling the kettle black” applies here.
“Sinful man’s obedience can NEVER be construed as meritorious or sufficient to earn salvation. Additionally, God’s gift of salvation can NEVER be considered as payment for obedience rendered.”
Groups of people aren’t saved…people are saved and yet many times groups are held in comendation or condemnation depending upon what is allowed by the group in relation to the truth. There will be probably be groups that are more doctrinally wrong that have more love and then there will be groups that are more doctrinally correct that have less love. God will judge, so we don’t have to. But we should all strive towards the same same truth in love no matter what group you are with.
Royce, all of man’s theology is full of holes and only god’s theology isn’t. Much of the time we suppress God’s theology to advance our own. I’m not sure one of the complaints against Calvinism is evangelism, but rather the doctrine of Calvin, which was a pedulum effort to Cathlocism. The irony is that if Calvinism is true, then why the push for evangelism, when people are handpicked and saved by God with no ability to fall and even people who seem converted are lost if God has predetermined it to be so. Man has always been given the ability to direct his own path, even Adam and Eve, but the only good path is the path that God has laid down for us.
Dwight, Uhh….thanks? Maybe the answer to your questions are that Calvinists don’t teach what you think they do. Here is something for you to think about.
In Acts 2 Peter’s great Pentecost sermon is recorded. In chapter 2:22,23 Peter said two very important things. One was he charged the listeners of murder. “you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men”. Peter said clearly they were responsible for Jesus’ death. But he also said God planned it all out. He said it this way, “this Jesus,delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”.
So, which is true? Did these thugs kill Jesus as charged? Did they choose to free Barabbas and crucify Jesus? Or did God orchestrate the whole thing? Was it God who had Jesus killed? The fact is both are true. And so it is with many other things in Scripture. Does God call, elect, choose? Yes. Is man responsible for accepting or rejecting Jesus? Yes. Both are true and one is not more true than the other. Unless we accept that fact we are not accepting the revelation God has given us. Not one of us has the right to simply ignore dozens of passages of Scripture just because it doesn’t fit our preferred theology. Honest Christians should try to believe ALL they find in the Bible. We can’t come to our Bible with our conclusions already in place and then use verses (often out of context) to prop up what we have already decided. We should come to our Bibles with open minds and hearts and allow it to set the agenda for what we believe or don’t believe. It will make you uncomfortable and unpopular but it’s the best plan.