Faith in the Working of God in Baptism

12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God
-Colossians 2:12

Baptism is the occasion in which God performs his divine work. Paul mentions this fact in his letter to the church in Colossae. In Chapter 2, he warns them of being deceived by those teaching philosophies that are found in man-made traditions and worldly requirements and that are not according to the doctrine of Christ (v. 8). Christians—being complete in Christ—have no need for worldly doctrines because Christ has power over all (vv. 9–10). Paul then goes on to talk about the circumcision that they experienced. He mentions three characteristics of this circumcision. First, it is made without hands (v. 11); it is not the physical circumcision, which was required by the Mosaic law, but rather the circumcision of Christ. Second, it puts off the body of the sins of the flesh (v. 11); that is, it washes away sins. Third, and very important, it involves a burial with Christ in baptism (v. 12; cf. Rom. 6:4). These characteristics highlight the agent of our salvation—God.

Notice in verses 12–14 that Paul lays out the operation that God performed on the Colossians when they were baptized. He says that God raised them from the dead, bringing them to life again just as he did with Christ (v. 12). He forgave them of their sins by wiping away all the requirements that were against them according to the law, and he took the law out of the way through Christ’s death on the cross (vv. 13–14). By doing this, he made peace among men, uniting them in one body, and he reconciled the body to himself (Eph. 2:15–16).

All those who want to have this operation must be baptized, as this act is the moment in which God will perform his work of forgiving all our past sins. Furthermore, we must have faith in this operation. We have to trust that God will indeed do what he promises to do when we submit to his command to be baptized. Submitting to baptism is not a reason to boast (Eph. 2:8–8) since we do not even deserve to have the operation. God, according to his everlasting grace and mercy, invites us so that he can circumcise the foreskin of our heart (Deut. 10:6, 30:6; Phil 3:3).

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Sons of God in Baptism

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

-Galatians 3:26–28

In his discussion on justification by faith versus justification by works of the Mosaic law, Paul tells the Christians in Galatia that they are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. They became sons of God because they heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. This faith, however, was not simply a mental process, but rather an act of obedience. Paul makes such a strong statement because he himself had witnessed their faith while in Galatia during his missionary journey (see Acts 13–14). Their status as sons was affirmed based on their submission to an act of obedience required by Jesus Christ, that is, baptism (cf. Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16).

Two facts are evident in Galatians 3:27. First, God has provided a single occasion in which all people must be saved, thus maintaining his impartiality with man. The Scriptures teach that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34); he makes no distinction among us in his plan of salvation. He does not save some against their own will, while leaving others to condemnation. He does not provide salvation to some in their dreams and visions and to others by their prayers. He has decreed a specific act that every person must submit to. Notice that in verse 27 Paul says “as many of you”, which is to say that anyone who puts on Christ becomes a child of God because there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female when it comes to salvation.

The second fact revealed in verse 27 is that God has made baptism that occasion in which he saves us. Notice at the beginning of the verse the word “for”, which indicates a causal relation between this verse and verse 26. The Galatian Christians were sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus because they had put on Christ in baptism. Their faith in Christ was manifested in their obedience to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (cf. Acts 2:38). They became not only sons, but also Christ’s possession, Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29). Furthermore, they received the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6). Therefore, all those who desire to have the same status as the Galatians must submit to Jesus’ command to be baptized.

 

The Messianic Jonah: His Resurrection and His Church

In the Bible, we learn of a prophet named Jonah that was commanded by God to preach to the people of Nineveh so that they would repent from their evil ways and turn to the Lord (Jon. 1:2). The prophet did not want to obey this command; he knew that God would be gracious and merciful towards Nineveh if they repented (Jon. 4:2). Therefore, he decided to escape to Tarshish in an attempt to run from the presence of God (Jon. 1:3). His efforts, however, were in vain because God sent a violent storm while he was on a ship, and the only way to calm it was by throwing Jonah overboard into the sea (Jon. 1:4-15). God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah up, and he remained in its belly for three days and three nights (Jon. 1:17). During that time, Jonah prayed to the Lord for deliverance. The Lord heard his prayer and spoke to the fish, which then vomited Jonah out on to dry land (Jon 2). He then commanded him a second time to go preach to the people of Nineveh. This time Jonah obeyed and went into the city proclaiming the word of God (Jon 3:1-4). The people believed and repented of their wickedness. When God saw this, he had mercy on them and withheld his punishment (Jon 3:5-10). This account presents various themes, such as repentance, obedience, and the grace and mercy of God. But also noteworthy is how this story points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the establishment of his church.

There are at least two passages in the Scriptures that show how this story served for Jews as a foretelling of the coming Messiah. In Matthew 12:38-41, Jesus spoke of the account of Jonah as being prophecy. The Pharisees and Scribes at this time were asking for a sign from Jesus as proof that he was truly the Messiah. Even though they had just seen him heal a man and cast out a demon, they demanded more evidence. Jesus called them out on their hypocrisy. They were able to look into the sky and predict the weather, but yet they closed their eyes to the evidence that Jesus was the Christ (Matt. 16:3). He told them that the only sign they would be given is that of the prophet Jonah. (Matt. 12:39-40, 16:4 English Standard Version): “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Jesus was referring to his death, burial, and resurrection.

We learn that the account of Jonah served as a prophecy also from Psalm 16:10-11. When Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he cried out to the Lord with a prayer that was very similar to the prophetic psalm of David:

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jon. 2:2).

“I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jon. 2:6).

“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Ps. 16:10).

Both Jonah and David spoke of being cast into Sheol, which according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, refers to Hades – the grave or the abode of the dead. However, God would deliver them from that pit. Jonah was indeed delivered when the Lord made the fish vomit him out onto dry land. Note also that Christ spoke of overcoming death, or Sheol/Hades, when he proclaimed that he would establish his church upon Peter’s confession that he was the Son of God (Matt. 16:16-18):

16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell (NKJV: Hades) shall not prevail against it.

The book of Jonah, the sixteenth psalm of David, and the proclamation made by Jesus in Matthew 16 show that Jesus would die, be buried, and be raised after three days. His resurrection would prove that he was the Messiah and would establish his church. The fulfillment of this prophecy is seen in Matthew 27:57-28:15. Jesus was buried in a tomb, and after three days, God raised him from the dead:

59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away (Matt. 27:59).

1Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said (Matt. 28:1-6).

Peter himself knew that the prophecy had been fulfilled, and thus preached it on the day of Pentecost in the first gospel sermon in which he cited the words of David from Psalm 16:10-11:

25 For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence’ (Acts 2:25-28).

David foresaw and spoke forth the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Messiah was not abandoned in Hades, and his soul did not see corruption. He is now sitting at the right hand of God, and his church has been established (Acts. 2:31-33, 47).

As Christians, we must believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and not be like the Sadducees, who denied that there was such thing as a resurrection (Matt. 22:23). If there is no resurrection, then our preaching and faith are in vain, and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:12-19). For the alien sinner there is no hope of salvation without the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:11-13). The people of Nineveh were saved from condemnation because they believed the preaching of Jonah and repented. At the judgment, their repentance will condemn the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time because he was much greater than Jonah, but yet they did not believe his preaching (Matt. 12:41). The same will happen to those who do not believe the preaching of the gospel today.

Simply believing, however, will not save you. It is true that the preaching of the gospel produces faith (Rom. 10:17), but it also brings about obedience (Rom. 16:26). Notice in Acts 2:37, after the people heard that they had crucified the Messiah, they were pricked to their hearts. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” What we see here is that you have to be baptized in order for your sins to be forgiven. A type of baptism is observed in Jonah being plunged into the sea: “the waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head” (Jon. 2:5). He was completely submerged in the water and was later pulled out by God. Paul spoke of baptism as a figure of Christ’s burial and resurrection in his letter to the Romans. According to chapter 6, verses 1-11, we emulate in baptism the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The submersion in water marks our death to sin (vv. 6-7), and when we are pulled out, it is our resurrection to newness of life (Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10) by the powerful working of God (2 Cor. 13:4; Col. 2:12; Tit. 3:5). We escape spiritual death; that is, death no longer has dominion over us. And as the church, the gates of Hades cannot prevail against us!

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

By Grace (God’s Part) Through Faith (Man’s Part)

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Tim. 1:9-10)

God offered salvation to all mankind according to his grace and by the death of Jesus Christ even before the beginning of time. No work of man could have brought about salvation since mankind had not been created at the time God devised his plan. However, salvation is not by grace only; it is by grace through faith. Some say salvation depends solely on God. If this affirmation were true, we would have to conclude that God has grace and faith, which is impossible. He is omniscient – all knowing, and thus, does not have faith. According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Man is who has faith, and therefore, we conclude that man must appropriate God’s grace through faith: “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). We cannot be saved without faith because it is impossible to please God without it. We must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). The word of God teaches that, despite the fact that salvation is a gift of God, both man and God have a part to play in order for man to be saved because faith is a requirement that must be fulfilled by man.

If man is saved through his faith in God who has offered his grace, it is important to understand what faith is. As mentioned, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is having confidence in our hope of salvation and being convicted about the things that we do not see, such as the existence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When God commands us to do something, although we do not understand it completely or see the connection, we must do it in order to please him. Faith is not just believing, but taking action according to the word of God. In Hebrews 11:6-30, we are presented with many examples of people who manifested their faith in the actions that they carried out: by faith, Noah prepared an ark; by faith, Abraham obeyed and offered up Isaac; by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; by faith, Jacob blessed each of his sons and worshipped; by faith, Joseph gave instructions; by faith, Moses suffered affliction with the people of God, forsook Egypt, kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of the blood; by faith, the people of God passed through the Red Sea by dry land; by faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled seven times; by faith, the harlot Rahab did not perish because she received the spies with peace. All of these people obeyed God and took action. They had obedient faith, not inactive belief (cf. Rom. 16:26).

Since faith is understood as obedience to the commandments of God, we must know what God’s commandments are concerning salvation. We learn about salvation by hearing the preaching and teaching of the gospel or by studying the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11; Rom. 10:17). The message of the gospel is expressed in simple terms. God manifested himself in human form, and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ. Although he lived just like us, he fulfilled all righteousness and committed no sin (Matt. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22). The very people he came to save crucified him unjustly, and his blood was spilled in order for man to receive forgiveness of sin (Matt. 26:27-28; John 1:1, 14; 1 Tim. 3:16). This sacrifice was an act of grace, which is God’s part. Now, we must do our part and appropriate that grace through faith by being obedient to the commandments of God. We must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 10:8-9), repent of our past sins (Acts 17:30-31), and be baptized or immersed in water (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 22:16). As a result, we receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord adds us to his church (Acts 2:38, 41, 47; cf. Matt. 16:18). We come to see that, as we rightly divide the word of God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), these are the commandments of God concerning salvation.

Many reject the plain and simple teachings of the Bible, and manipulate God’s word in order to formulate their own false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They deceive themselves (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13) by believing that they have no role in their own salvation. Logically, this kind of doctrine takes all the responsibility off of them. Whether they are saved or lost would not be their fault, but rather God’s. They state that man is saved by grace through faith without understanding what faith truly is. They also deny the essentiality of baptism, and repentance for that matter, in the plan of salvation. However, when one studies the Scriptures with an open and honest heart, it is difficult to deny that God has devised a plan based on his matchless grace and man’s obedient faith.