Whose Example Do You Follow?

Setting the proper example has been at the forefront of my mind since 1998, the year when I was elected to be my Christian college fraternity’s “preacher,” and realized soon afterwards that I would have to start “practicing what I preach” if I was to be taken seriously.  As a minister, being a good example has always been a goal of mine, and even more so now that I am a father.  I do not always meet this goal I have set for myself; nonetheless, it is still a good goal to have and work towards, and I am still working on it.  It is a goal that God want all Christians to have.  Scripture tells us to imitate others who in turn imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; cf. Phil. 3:17; Heb. 13:7).  Therefore, it would be good for us to consider  who our own role models are, who looks up to as an example of right or wrong, and most importantly, what kind of examples we set as Christians.

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)

First and foremost, Jesus Christ should be whom we strive to imitate (1 Cor. 11:1).  He must be the example on how we strive to please one another (Rom. 15:1-3), love one another (Eph. 5:1-2), look out for one another (Phil. 2:4-5), and how to suffer patiently when mistreated (1 Pet. 2:20-23).  Our Lord said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).  How much like Jesus are we?

The apostle Paul would be another role model to emulate (1 Cor. 4:6; 11:1).  He must be our example on how to avoid offending others (1 Cor. 9:19-23; 10:32) and how to serve others to their benefit rather than our own (1 Cor. 10:33).  Paul recognized that he had not obtained perfection, something we must always remember as well (Phil. 3:12); however, he also did his best to mature in the areas he needed to (Phil. 3:12-15), to never regress back into immaturity (Phil. 3:16), and to enjoy a close relationship with God (Phil. 4:9).  We should follow his example in these ways, as well as in choosing to receive God’s Word even in the midst of hardship as he did (1 Thess. 1:6) and avoiding being a burden to others (2 Thess. 3:7-10).

Paul also told us, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Phil. 3:17).  The writer of Hebrews likewise exhorted Christians to imitate the faith and patience of their fellow inheritors of God’s promises (Heb. 6:12), and to follow the faith of our leaders (Heb. 13:7).  Many Christians today provide examples worth of emulation; whose example are you following?

Even more importantly, whose example are you?  I think we forget sometimes that the people sitting around us in the pews on Sunday follow our example, for better or worse.  This is why God wants us to mindful of the example we set for others (1 Thess. 1:7; 1 Tim. 4:12; Tit. 2:7).  Others, such as children (Matt. 18:6) and unbelievers (1 Pet. 2:12), are watching us, easily influenced by what they see in us, carefully observing us to see if we “walk the walk.”  Oftentimes, the unchurched decide just how worth their time it is to follow Christ by looking at what kind of example is set by those who profess to follow him.  Christians need to remember that.

What kind of example are you?  Is it indicative of a faithful Christian?  Do you show the world what it means to be an obedient follower of God?  Do you show spiritual infants what maturity means?  Is your example helping others to become a disciple of Christ…or discouraging them?  Is your example helping the church grow?  How often do you show up when the doors are open?  How interested are you in developing skills needed to help the church grow, and how interested are you in using your talents to serve God’s kingdom?  Is your example helping or hindering the progress of the church?  If every churchgoer was exactly like you, would the church be strong and growing?  Would it even exist?

None of us are perfect, and all of us have room to grow.  We should not be discouraged by our shortcomings, nor should we harshly and hypocritically judge each other without patience and love when we see faults in others.  Instead, let the questions asked above challenge us all to take Christianity more seriously and, with God’s help and grace, become an example worth following and help others to do the same.

Baptism: Are We Saved By Works?

This series of articles which studies what the Bible says about baptism has shown how the Scriptures teach that baptism is something one must do in order to be saved and have sins forgiven (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).  Many disagree with this for several reasons.  One such objection stems from a very understandable line of thought:  “The Bible says we are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8-9), and baptism is a work; therefore, baptism is not necessary for salvation.”

Certainly baptism is something one does, and therefore is a “work.”  However, is it a work of merit (by which one EARNS salvation)…or is it a work of faith (by which one RECEIVES salvation)?  Furthermore, who is the one who is doing the work?  Is it the man or woman who submits to being immersed…or is it God who forgives and regenerates them through the blood of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit?

In answering these legitimate questions, it must first be pointed out that there are different kinds of works.  For instance, there are works of merit, which are done to earn something.  Those who have done such works believe they “deserve” something; they believe they will be saved because they kept the Ten Commandments, or because they did good deeds and went to church.  They do not realize that all the good we might do cannot outweigh even one sin (James 2:10), which is why we need the grace of God and faith in order to be saved (Rom. 3:27-28; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).

There are also works of faith, which are done to receive something.  Those who do works of faith believe that they “deserve” nothing.  They understand their obedience did not earn or merit their salvation.  They know their salvation rests upon the mercy and grace of God, not because God owes them anything.  This is why works of faith could also be called works of God.  In fact, Jesus called faith itself a work of God (John 6:28-29).  Other works of faith commanded by God are repentance (Acts 17:30) and confession (Rom. 10:9-10).  Jesus himself will specifically state on Judgment Day that those who will enter heaven will do so because of the benevolent deeds which they had done in their lives, while those who will enter hell will do so because of the LACK of benevolent deeds done in their lives (Matt. 25:31-46).

Those who say that one does not have to be baptized in order to be saved because baptism is a work…does one have to have faith in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (John 3:16; Mark 16:16).  Does faith require works, something done by you?  Yes (James 2:14-26).  Does one have to repent of sins in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30).  Is repentance a work, a deed done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to confess their faith in Christ before men in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Matt. 10:32-33; Rom. 10:9-10).  Is confession a work, an action done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to do good to all men at every opportunity in order to go to heaven?  Jesus said so (Matt. 25:31-46; Gal. 6:10).  Are benevolent deeds works, deeds done by you?  Yes.

What’s the difference between obeying God’s commands to have faith, repent of sins, confess one’s faith before men, and do good to all men at every opportunity in order to be saved…and obeying God’s command to be baptized in order to be saved?  To ask is to answer.  Would one say that one does not have to have faith, repent of sins, confess faith, and do good to others in order to go to heaven?  Such notions blatantly contradict what the Bible teaches.  So if faith, repentance, confession, and doing good are required of us in order to be saved…why not baptism as well, since it also is commanded by God?

 

What is hard for some to comprehend is that even though works such as faith, repentance, confession, and benevolent deeds are commanded by God, they are not meritorious works; we do not earn salvation through them (Luke 17:10).  Instead, they are works God has ordained we do in order to receive his salvation.  When all is said and done, salvation is still by God’s grace and mercy.

Baptism, therefore, is a work of faith.  It requires faith (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37), and is an act of faith by which one receives (not earns) the forgiveness of sins and gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Through it one receives (not earns) union with Christ in his death and is raised with him to new life (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).  The fact that baptism is not a work of merit is emphasized by Paul when he wrote in Titus 3:4-5 that God saves us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (an allusion to baptism; compare this phrase to what Jesus said in John 3:5 and the continual scriptural references of water with baptism in John 3:23, Acts 8:36-39, and Acts 10:47-48), but does not save us by “works of righteousness” (i.e., works of merit).  God does not owe us salvation because we were baptized.  Baptism, like faith, repentance, confession, and benevolent deeds, is simply an act of faith by which we receive salvation.

This is so because baptism involves the working of God.  Paul said while talking about baptism that we are buried and raised with Christ “through faith in the working of God” (Col. 2:11-13).  It is God who does the work, not us!  We are dead in our sins, but when we were baptized God made us alive, forgiving us of our sins.  It is God who saves us, not we ourselves, and he saves us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:4-5)…baptism.

When one undergoes surgery, it requires faith in the skills of the surgeon in order to submit to the operating table.  No patient after the surgery thinks they have earned or merited healing; rather, they had faith in the doctor and were willing to submit to him.  In like manner, baptism is a spiritual operation in which the Great Physician does his work.  Our faith in God and in the death of his Son for our sins prompts us to submit to this spiritual operation of baptism, in which God does his wonderful work of cleansing us by the blood of his Son and the regeneration of his Spirit.

Baptism: What About The Thief On The Cross?

In continuing this series of articles on baptism and what God’s Word says about it, we’ve seen that baptism is necessary for sins to be forgiven and thus necessary for salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Mark 16:16).  However, many questions still arise about whether baptism is a scriptural necessity for salvation.  Despite all that is revealed about the purpose of baptism in the New Testament, one of the most popular questions which object to the necessity baptism pertains to the thief of the cross (Luke 23:39-43).  Here was a man whom Jesus undoubtedly saved, and yet we fail to read that he was baptized.  Thus, the understandable conclusion is made that baptism is in fact NOT essential to salvation.

In examining the validity of this objection, we must remember that we are commanded to “rightly divide” or accurately handle God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15), which means that we must take into account the entirety of what Scripture says about any given subject in order to arrive to the whole truth about it (Ps. 119:160).  With this in mind, might there be something in Scripture overlooked by those who cite the thief on the cross as proof that baptism is not needed for salvation?  Something that renders the salvation of the thief irrelevant to the issue?

There is no doubt that the thief was saved.  Jesus had the power to save him because Christ had the authority while on earth to forgive sins, something which he did on several occasions (Luke 5:18-26; 7:36-50).  While on the cross, Jesus clearly offered the thief salvation when he promised him he would be with Jesus in Paradise that very day (Luke 23:42-43).  Yet, the question still remains as to whether the salvation of the thief is relevant to the issue of whether baptism is needed for salvation today.

Something not realized by many is that Christ saved the thief BEFORE he commanded baptism.  The “one baptism” commanded under the new covenant of Christ (Eph. 4:5) was commanded after Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).  This baptism, according to Paul, is a baptism into Jesus’ death (Rom. 6:3-4).  It goes without saying that the thief could not have been baptized into Jesus’ death when Jesus had not yet died when he promised the thief salvation.  Thus, the thief was never subject to the baptism commanded by Christ and his apostles because they first gave this command after he had died.  In this way, the thief joins the ranks of saved individuals such as Noah, Moses, David, and the like, none of whom had been baptized and yet all had lived before the death of Jesus and, like the thief, had never received the command to be baptized.

Granted, the thief had been alive when Jesus’ cousin, John, had been baptizing people (Mark 1:4-5).  However, the baptism of John was to prepare people for the coming of Christ and was designed to be replaced by baptism into Christ and his death (Acts 19:4-5).  So one might use the thief on the cross to say that John’s baptism was not necessary for one to be saved and become a Christian, but the argument can’t be made regarding the baptism which Christ later commanded.  It is clear that the thief died before Jesus commanded baptism in his name.  Since we live after Christ gave that commandment, how can we use the example of the thief to say baptism is not necessary?

In like manner, we must also recognize that the thief was saved before the old covenant was taken out of the way and replaced by the new covenant.  The Bible teaches that there are two different covenants.  There was first the covenant between God and Israel which governed all Old Testament Israelites such as Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, and the thief on the cross, a covenant which never commanded people to be baptized and, even more significantly, came to an end when Jesus died on the cross (Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14).  It was replaced by the new covenant which is now in force (Heb. 8:6-7), the new covenant of which Jesus spoke when he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:28) and which came into force only after he died (Heb. 9:15-17).  We now live under that new covenant, and therefore we must submit to Christ’s authority as expressed after his death, an authority delegated to his apostles (Matt. 28:18-20; John 13:20).  With that in mind, notice again that both Christ and his apostles clearly commanded baptism (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 10:48; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Therefore, we cannot appeal to the example of the thief, who lived and died before the new covenant came into effect, just as we cannot appeal to the example of David and Isaiah as what one must do in order to be saved.  Rather, we must heed what Jesus and his apostles taught after the new covenant began.  Yes, the thief was saved without baptism, something for which we should be thankful and praise God for his wonderful grace.  However, the thief’s example is irrelevant to the issue of baptism because he died under the old covenant, before the new covenant which commands baptism for salvation came into effect.  We live under that new covenant, and the command to be baptized has been given to us.  Salvation is given only to those who obey (Heb. 5:9; Matt. 7:21-27).