Tag Archives: Lord’s Supper

October Bible Questions & Answers

Topics:  baptism of John, Christ “shedding” his blood, suicide, fallen angels, same-sex marriage, 1 Peter 3:21’s baptism

The latest Bible Questions & Answers session where I preach was held on Sunday night, October 26, 2014, at 6 pm.  Here is a link to the recording of that session.  Below are my written answers to each question.  I hope they are of benefit to you in your personal studies.

1.  Was John the Baptist ever baptized?

The Scriptures do not explicitly say that he was, but there are scriptural reasons to believe that he was.

The Bible does not mention immersion in water as a divine requirement for forgiveness of sins before John started baptizing people.

Mark 1:4 calls his baptism a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John obviously had sins in his life, and so would need to repent and be baptized in order to have them forgiven.

Jesus, being sinless, did not need to undertake a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John recognized that, and apparently stated his own need to be baptized when he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Notice that Jesus replied, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:14-15). Jesus basically was saying to John, “We both need to be baptized in order to stand completely righteous in the sight of God and men. We need to practice what we preach in order to avoid being a stumbling block to others.”

Therefore, I have no doubt that John himself had been baptized. By whom and when is a matter of conjecture.

2.  Is it wrong to say Christ “shed his blood” on the cross at the Lord’s table?  He did not shed any blood.

Actually, Jesus himself said that he did while instituting the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:28 – “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

“Shed” (ekcheo) is defined and translated as “shed,” “poured out,” “shed forth,” “spill,” “run out,” “run greedily,” “shed abroad,” and “gush out.” Therefore, any of these terms would be acceptable terminology to use during communion.

I recognize the legitimate and sincere need to not go beyond what the Bible says. However, let me ask us to consider that sometimes in our efforts to not go beyond Scripture we do exactly that and add laws which God never legislated. I’ve heard it said that one should never say that Christ “spilled” his blood, but here we see that the literal meaning of the Greek word translated “shed” includes the concept of spilling.

We need to heed the warning God gave us in 1 Timothy 6:4-5 about not being like those who, according to the verse, are “puffed up with conceit and understand nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth…”

3.  Saul committed suicide (1 Chr. 10:4).  Was he condemned?

The first thing that should be noted is that Saul would have been eternally condemned even if he had not committed suicide. The night before he died, 1 Samuel 28 records how Saul had gone to a medium, a witch, to get advice from her on how to defeat the Philistines. Under the Old Law, witchcraft was a sin punishable by death (Ex. 22:18), and it was explicitly forbidden for an Israelite to seek them out and turn to them (Lev. 19:31). Yet, that’s exactly what Saul had done. The reason he decided to commit this sin is also very telling about the state of his soul in the final days of his life. He would go to the Lord for guidance and the Lord would not answer him because Saul had unrepentant sin in his heart and had turned away from hearing God’s laws (Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9). The spirit of Samuel whom the medium had called up even said very plainly that the Lord was Saul’s enemy (1 Sam. 28:16). Therefore, Saul would have stood condemned even if he had not committed suicide, because the Scriptures give no indication that he, even in the final moments of his life, was penitent.

Is suicide a sin resulting in eternal condemnation? Sadly, more and more of the world doesn’t think so. In some societies going all the way back to biblical times and up to today, suicide is seen as an honorable way to die.

The Greeks considered it a part of man’s freedom. The Japanese consider it evidence of sincerity. In fact, when a Japanese mother decides to commit suicide she usually first kills her children. Believe it or not, Japanese society praises such an act because they consider children to be parts of their parents, and to leave them motherless would be cruel. In America, suicide is becoming increasingly popular, the 11th leading cause of death in recent years and the third leading cause of death in the 15-24 age bracket. There are reports of a number of suicides even among pre-teens. More and more of us tend to rationalize it, calling it “death with dignity” or even “patient-directed termination.” It’s becoming more popular due to humanistic, worldly influences that cheapen the value of human life. When abortion, euthanasia, human experimentation and the like become increasingly accepted, alongside atheistic, hedonistic philosophies and the belief that there is no ultimate judgment for us, then we should not be surprised that the suicide rate is growing. After all, it’s based upon the premise that self-murder will end all of your problems because, supposedly, there is nothing beyond death. Some false religions contribute to this also. For example, the notion of reincarnation, that one after death may return to this life in a new existence wherein he can “try again” to achieve happiness leads some to take their own lives. And of course, there is also the case of people with genuine mental illnesses who commit suicide, people who are therefore not accountable for their actions. (However, statistically only about 10% of suicides are done by those diagnosed with clinical mental illnesses.)

What does the Bible say about suicide? Well, it condemns it as a morally reprehensible act if done by a rational person.

First of all, the rational person who commits suicide is basically saying that he is autonomous, his own source of law. The Greek Stoic philosopher Seneca defended suicide as an aspect of man’s lordship over his own being. However, the Bible says that God made us and we are his (Ps. 100:3; Ezek. 18:4). He breathed the breath of life into us (Gen. 2:7). He is the potter and has the right over us, the clay (Rom. 9:21).

Secondly, the Bible teaches that life is a gift from God. Paul said to Athens and also to Timothy that God himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25; 1 Tim. 6:13). No one has the right to destroy that gift of life which God gives unless God himself authorizes them to do so, as he did from time to time in the Old Testament (Lev. 20:2) and also to governing authorities in the New Testament (Rom. 13:4).

Murder is basically any shedding of human blood which is unauthorized by God. Suicide thereby falls into the definition of murder. God calls murder an assault upon how man is created in God’s image (Gen. 9:6), and is condemned in both Testaments (Ex. 20:13; Rom. 13:9).

Suicide is also an act of selfishness. We were created for one reason: to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). God is our Maker (Ps. 95:6), and because he is our Maker he is worthy to be served by us (Ps. 18:3). We were created to glorify him (Is. 43:7). One of the commandments God created us to obey is to help others. Jesus went about helping others and doing good (Acts 10:38), and we also are to do good to all at every opportunity (Gal. 6:10). None of us lives (or dies) to himself (Rom. 14:7). The rational person who chooses to take his own life purposefully avoids taking on these biblical responsibilities.

Finally, suicide is wrong because it violates the biblical principle of self-worth. When Paul told us to not think more highly of ourselves THAN WE OUGHT TO THINK (Rom. 12:3), he is implicitly telling us that we ought to think of ourselves highly to a certain extent. When Jesus told us to love our neighbor AS OURSELVES (Matt. 22:39) and that husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph. 5:28), he implicitly tells us that we ought to love ourselves. How is rationally, purposefully deciding to take your own life thinking highly of yourself and loving yourself?

(My thanks to the Christian Courier website for giving me some great insights into the answering of this question.)

4.  Why are the angels who sinned cast down to hell and delivered into chains of darkness (2 Pet. 2:4)…but Satan roams the earth (or at least is not chained) while tempting David, Job, Jesus, etc.?  (1 Chr. 21:1; Job 1:6-12; Matt. 4:1-11; etc.)  I also know that he accuses us daily before the Lord, but cannot recall the scripture.

First off, go to 2 Peter 2:4 and notice that most English translations say that the sinning angels were cast down to “hell.” The Greek word there is tartarus, which literally means “prison.” This is the only place this word is found in Scripture, so we have to go to how the Greeks used it in their contemporary literature back then to determine its true meaning. Homer, the Greek writer of the Iliad and Odyssey, used the word tartarus to refer to a murky abyss beneath Hades (the place where the dead go to wait for judgment) where the sins of the wicked immortals are punished. Peter was writing to Greeks here, so it makes sense that he would use this word which they were familiar with in reference to the condemnation of the angels. What is also interesting is that the Bible brings out how demons and even Jesus himself alluded to the concept of tartarus, that murky pit beneath Hades where the wicked are punished. When Jesus cast out demons, they pleaded with him not to command them to depart into the abyss (Luke 8:31). When Jesus gave the account of the wicked rich man being in Hades after he died, Luke 16:23-26 brings out how the rich man was not only in Hades, but specifically “in torment” (v. 23) and that there is “a great chasm/gulf” between him and those in Hades who were at rest, implying that he would be in that murky abyss of tartarus where the fallen angels were.

Next, notice that the passage asked about that says that Satan accuses Christians day and night before God is Rev. 12:9-10 – “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”

A deep study into the original language’s literal wording of what is rendered in English “delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” gives some insight into the actual meaning of the passage, a meaning which is probably quite different from the way we normally interpret the passage. As seen in the question and in how it’s worded in English translations, we read 2 Peter 2:4 and gather than God chained these angels in the darkness of tartarus, the abyss, where they are even to this day waiting for judgment. If God did that with these angels, why did he not do so with Satan, their leader? Why is Satan free to roam the earth and tempt us?

Look at the word “delivered.” It comes from the Greek paradidomi, which has several definitions. Here are a few of them: “to give into the hands (of another); “to give over into (one’s) power or use; “to deliver to one something to keep, use, take care of, manage;” “to permit, allow.” Granted, another one of its definitions is “to deliver up one to custody, to be judged, condemned, punished, scourged, tormented, put to death.” However, in light of these other definitions and also in light of the question, “Why is Satan roaming free while the rest of the angels are delivered into chains of darkness?”, perhaps we are using the wrong definition of paradidomi. Another interesting point is that the word “into” (“delivered into chains of darkness”) is not in the original Greek.

So maybe we ought to use these other definitions of paradidomi, namely, that instead of saying God “delivered them into chains of darkness”/put them in the custody of chains of darkness, maybe we should instead use the other definitions of the word so that the verse says that while reserving them for judgment, God “permitted them chains of darkness/allowed them chains of darkness/gave into their hands chains of darkness/gave these chains of darkness over to them to keep, use, and manage.”

The idea that God PERMITS AND ALLOWS AND GIVES INTO THESE FALLEN ANGEL’S HANDS THE POWER TO USE these chains of darkness tells us exactly HOW Satan had the power to tempt David (1 Chr. 21:1) and Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11) and us today. In fact, we see this played out very plainly in Job 1:6-12, where it plainly says that God gave Satan permission to torment Job and tempt him to sin. We also see it played out very plainly in Luke 8:26ff, where Jesus clearly had power over those demons and they recognized it and begged him not to cast them into the abyss.

God gave Satan permission to have control over the chains of darkness. He tempts us and torments us so that we will give into his temptations to sin and thus place ourselves in those chains of darkness. John 3:19 tells us that people who give into sin, whose works are evil, love those chains of darkness. That’s why Jesus warns us about the darkness overtaking us (John 12:35), and is the light so that whoever believes in him may not remain in darkness (John 12:46). Jesus wants us to cast off those works of darkness, those chains of darkness (Rom. 13:12) and recognize that light has no fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). God wants us to remember that we were in darkness at one time, but now we are light in the Lord and need to walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8) by taking no part in those unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11) so that we will not be ensnared in those chains again. God wants us to remember that we are wrestling against – notice – ‘the cosmic powers OVER this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12). (Paul is basically stating outright that rather than being bound by the chains of darkness, Satan and his angels actually have power OVER those chains of darkness.) And if we give into his temptations, if we sin, if we hate our brother, we are still in darkness (1 John 2:9, 11). We are walking in the darkness. We do not know where we are going, because the darkness has blinded our eyes.

An even bigger question is WHY. WHY did God PERMIT, ALLOW, AND GIVE INTO THESE FALLEN ANGEL’S HANDS THE POWER TO USE THESE CHAINS OF DARKNESS??

Simply put, God wants us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37). In order to truly love him with all of our heart, we can’t be robots. He can’t program us or force us to love him with all of our being. No, we have to choose him (Josh. 24:15). In order to make that choice, there has to be another option. That’s where Satan comes in.

By giving Satan the power to use those chains of the darkness of sin, by giving him the power to tempt us to willingly bind ourselves in those chains of darkness, God is giving us the power to choose, to choose either Satan or him, and thus the power to love him with all of our being if we choose him from the heart.

Before we go on to the next question, I want you to remember this. GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL!!

Even though he gave Satan the power over chains of darkness, GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL!! He has ALWAYS been in control!!

In the Old Testament, he would not allow Satan to do just anything he wanted to Job (Job 1:6ff). That encourages me.

What encourages me even more is that Jesus, by dying on the cross and being the propitiation for our sins, limited Satan’s power even more! Hebrews 2:14 says that Christ through his death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. That’s the real meaning of Revelation 20:1-3 where Satan is bound for a thousand years and thrown into the pit. Why was he thrown into the pit? “So that he might not deceive the nations any longer.” Remember what we read earlier in Rev. 12:9-10 about Satan the dragon being cast down? Verse 9 says that he was cast down. Look at verse 10. After he was cast down, a loud voice said in heaven, “NOW the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come!” When did salvation come? At the cross. When did Jesus receive all power and authority? After the cross? When did the kingdom come? After the cross. When did God limit the power of Satan even more? After he finally provided forgiveness to all through the blood of Christ shed on the cross!

Jesus promised that no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand (John 10:28-29), and that includes Satan. Satan cannot force us to leave God. God will not allow it. He promised us that he will not let any of Satan’s temptation be strong for us to overcome, that he will always provide the way of escape that we will be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13). Praise him for that!

5.  What should our congregation do in light of the Supreme Court decision about allowing gay marriages in many states, probably including this one before long?

To review, on October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear appeals on three lower federal court’s rulings to overturn bans on homosexual marriage.  Because one of these lower federal courts has jurisdiction in this state, by allowing their pro-homosexual marriage ruling to stand the U.S. Supreme Court has made it very likely, according to judicial experts on both sides, that our state’s current ban on same-sex marriage will soon be ruled unconstitutional and that ruling will be upheld.

Additionally, within the past few months various domestic businesses owned by people with Christian views (photographers, bakeries, churches that rent property to the public, and recently two ministers who own a wedding chapel) have been successfully fined and in some cases are facing jail time for politely declining to participate in homosexual weddings.  Denmark recently forced churches to allow same-sex weddings on private church property, and Canada’s Supreme Court recently ruled that any condemnation of same-sex marriage is deemed “hate speech.”  All of this has laid the groundwork for United States churches and ministers to be successfully punished for refusing to participate in homosexual wedding ceremonies.

n response to this growing persecution that is on the horizon, or perhaps has passed the horizon and is now approaching our front door, what are we to do?

Some of us might want to respond by softening the church’s stance on homosexuality and marriage. Some elderships and congregations are telling their preachers and Bible class teachers to do this. I know because some preacher colleague friends of mine in the Lord’s church from all over the country, including a few close by, tell me that’s what some of their elders and brethren are wanting them to do. Others are doing it, you know. The Roman Catholic Church made headlines about a week or so ago when a Vatican document was published saying that homosexuals had “gifts and qualities to offer” and asked if Catholicism could accept homosexuals and recognize positive aspects of same-sex couples. That’s on top of their current Pope recently taking a very “open posture” on gay issues, one of their top-ranking Italian bishops recently saying that the Church should be more open to arguments in support of same sex marriage, and one of the Pope’s closest friends who is a Cardinal in Brazil saying in a recent interview that he “didn’t know” whether Jesus would oppose homosexual marriage.

Well, here’s what God’s Word tells us. Here’s the thoughts of Christ the Word. God wants Christians to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), the truth being God’s Word (John 17:17). God says that we are to “preach the Word…reprove, rebuke, and exhort…for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” The Bible says that there will be those in the church who are like this, who turn away from listening to the truth. Romans 16:17-18 says that they cause divisions, create obstacles contrary to the doctrine we have been taught, that they serve their own appetites rather than the Lord Jesus, that they deceive the hearts of the naïve by smooth talk and flattery, and we are to watch out for them and avoid them. Instead, we are to preach the truth, which is that homosexuality is listed among the unrighteous sins keeping one out of the kingdom, and that it can in fact be repented of when one obeys the gospel (1 Cor. 6:9-11). That message will bring persecution, slander, and lies upon us for the sake of Jesus; Jesus tells us we’re blessed when that happens, the kingdom is ours, and we’re not the first prophets who have had that happen to them (Mt. 5:10-12; 2 Tim. 3:12). God wants us to follow the example of the apostles, who when the government told them to stop preaching Jesus, replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Concerning homosexuality, we must stand firm on what God has actually commanded us to do: preach the Word of God in love, no matter what.

What about things which God has NOT commanded us to do?  I ask because the New Testament does not in any way give ministers and churches the divinely-appointed responsibility to officiate or host wedding ceremonies.  “The church wedding” with a preacher officiating is a tradition of men having its origin in Catholicism.  Certainly no scripture is violated by observing this tradition, but no scripture is obeyed either.

Most likely within the upcoming year, a judge will declare homosexual marriage legal in this state. When that happens, the likelihood will increase with each passing Sunday that this congregation will eventually be successfully sued and fined. Wives of preachers from different parts of the country have told my wife, who in turn has told me, that in recent weeks people have called the church building and talked to their minister husbands, asking for the church’s stance on homosexuality. From the types of questions asked, it seems that they were fishing for a successful discrimination lawsuit. They will likely find one here at this congregation if we do two things:

  1. Continue to preach God’s Word about homosexuality as he commanded us to do (2 Tim. 4:2-4; Acts 20:27-32 – the whole counsel of God; elders were warned about those among their own ranks rising to speak perverse things and draw brethren away after them, but Paul commended them and us to God and the word of his grace). We cannot stop doing that, no matter what lawsuits or jail time may come.
  2. Successful discrimination lawsuits will come if we continue to allow weddings to be hosted here on church property in which we, due to scriptural teaching, allow only scripturally qualified marriages to be started and celebrated in these weddings, namely, no homosexual marriages and only marriages between two heterosexuals who have either never been married before, been widowed, or have been divorced for the reason of their spouse’s fornication and are now remarrying. Again, the practice of a wedding taking place in a church is not a responsibility God gave to the church in the NT. It is a man-made tradition rooted in Catholicism. It’s an innocent tradition in itself, but the reality of the times we live in is that we are likely to be successfully sued for participating in a man-made tradition which God never commanded the church to do.

Therefore, to answer the question asked here tonight, my advice to our elders and this congregation is the following:

First, continue to stand firm in preaching the truth in love, preaching the whole counsel of God about homosexuality and every other sin. Do so no matter what. God has commanded that we do this. Our own eternal destiny, and the destinies of the lost out there who are dying in their sins, depend on it. That is worth any fine given to us, any lawsuit we lose. If we are kicked out of this building and have to meet in a dark alley somewhere under cover of darkness because we preach the truth, then so be it.

However, I would also strongly advise our elders and this congregation to not open the door to the risk of the Lord’s money being used to pay a fine, pay a lawsuit, pay legal fees, or forfeit our facilities here over defending something God never asked us to defend in the first place, namely, the man-made tradition of using a church building to host and participate in a wedding ceremony.

In my judgment, good stewards would not use the Lord’s money to defend something that he has not actually commanded us to do in general or specific command, principle, or example. One does not find the church of Christ in the New Testament being commanded to host a wedding in its meeting place, we do not find an example of it, nor is there even a general principle commanding it. It’s completely optional, completely a man-made tradition. Do we want to risk our weekly contributions going to pay off legal fees to defend our participation in a man-made tradition? In my opinion – and that’s all it is, an opinion – I don’t want the Lord’s money used to that purpose.

My advice was asked for in this question. I suggest that our elders and the men of this congregation and the board of trustees of this congregation get together very soon and make it official policy, even going so far as to put it in the by-laws of this church property, that these facilities will not be used for weddings or civil unions of any kind, for anyone regardless of their sexual orientation or preference. Doing so, in my judgment, won’t eliminate a discrimination lawsuit from occurring, but it might just lower the likelihood of a lawsuit coming on this front.

I also highly advise that our elders seek legal counsel immediately on how to further protect the facilities and funds of this church, without of course sacrificing this congregation’s mission to firmly, vocally, and lovingly proclaim and support biblical truth concerning homosexuality.

“Jon, is this a little extreme?” Yes, it is, but we live in extreme times. How many of you thought that you would see in the United States headlines that would make a conversation like this relevant? I say that we, as in everything else, follow the example of the early church. In Acts 8:1, when the first major persecution arose in the church’s history, what did they do? They took extreme steps. They scattered and left Jerusalem. They recognized that God had not given a command to stay in Jerusalem, and they weren’t willing to lose their freedom over defending something God had not actually commanded them to defend. So they were wise, and took the extreme option. However, notice also that verse 4 says that they never stopped doing what God actually had commanded them to do, which is preach the Word that brought that persecution to them in the first place. We can and must learn a lesson from them.

As for me, as a preacher I have recently decided to pursue two courses of action and ask for your support, understanding, and prayers.

First, I will continue to preach the whole counsel of God about homosexuality and will do so in love regardless of personal cost.

However, from this point forward I will not officiate any wedding ceremonies of any kind.  This is a very painful decision for me to make as it means that I likely will not officiate my daughters’ weddings, something I’ve always wanted to do.  However, as leader of my family I cannot in good conscience put my family’s finances at risk over something which God has not actually required of me.

6.  Please explain 1 Peter 3:21’s statement about baptism not being a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a good conscience.

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)

Some say this verse teaches a person has a good conscience BEFORE baptism, thus indicating that salvation precedes baptism.  This is not what the passage is saying, for several reasons.

A good conscience, while in most cases a good thing, is not necessarily in itself proof that one is saved and in a right relationship with God.  Saul of Tarsus said he lived in good conscience all his life (Acts 23:1), which would include the time when he persecuted the church.

Therefore, even if it could be proved from this verse that a good conscience comes before baptism (which it can’t), even so that would not necessarily prove that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Another point to bring out about a good conscience is that the term could be describing a heart that is sincere, a person who is earnestly seeking to obey God.  A person earnestly and sincerely seeking to obey God, after reading in the Bible the commands to be baptized, would obey the command to be baptized rather than question it as so many do.

Above all else, remember this. The verse starts out by saying something that a 10 year old could understand. Baptism now saves you. That’s very clear. So when we try to figure out the rest of the verse, any conclusion we come to is wrong if it contradicts that very plain statement: Baptism now saves you.

Baptism now saves you. How? It’s not the water. Not as a removal of dirt from the body. The water might cleanse the dirt from your body, but the water won’t cleanse your soul from sin.

Only the blood of Christ does that. Jesus said that his blood was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28). Paul said that we have redemption and forgiveness of sins through his blood (Eph. 1:7). Is it any wonder that Ananias said to Saul that he would be washing away his sins if he was baptized? (Acts 22:16) In baptism one spiritually comes into contact with the blood of Christ that cleanses us from our sins. We are commanded to be baptized in water (Acts 10:48; John 3:5), but the water itself doesn’t spiritually cleanse us.

So how does baptism save us? We’ve already examined its connection to the blood of Christ. This verse gives us another way baptism saves us. Peter says that baptism is an appeal. Appeal in the Greek literally means a request, a craving. Baptism is an appeal, a request, a craving…for what?

A good conscience, a clear conscience, the kind of conscience you get when your sins are forgiven.

Baptism is an appeal, a request, a craving for forgiveness and the clear conscience forgiveness brings. The Bible teaches that God will always and immediately grant that forgiveness we crave to any penitent believer the moment he is baptized (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16)

Therefore, that good conscience that tells you that you are now saved and you are now forgiven comes only after baptism, because baptism is how we appeal to God for that forgiveness which brings about that good conscience?

Are you ready to appeal to God for a good conscience?

Bible Questions & Answers – September 28, 2014

Here is the link to the audio of the second Bible Question & Answer session held by me last Sunday night at the church of Christ in Duncan, SC.  You can read each question and the points from the Bible used to answer each of them below.  These are great questions, and I really appreciate the brethren at Duncan for submitting them.

How can we be more positive in our relationships with the brethren?

This is one of the most important questions that have been submitted.  In a nutshell, practice two steps:

1.  Make the conscious choice to penitently apply every aspect of God’s definition of love to all brethren at all times (1 Cor. 13:4-7).  Put all of your attention on YOU (not them, but YOU) being patient, kind, not envious or boasting, not arrogant or rude, not self-centered, not irritable or resentful, and not rejoicing in wrongdoing but rejoicing in the truth.  Focus on YOU (not them, but YOU) making sure that you bear all things with them, believe all things with them (i.e., give them the benefit of the doubt first), hope all things with them, and endure all things with them.  Basically, focus on loving them.  Do that, and you’ll be a lot more positive in your relationships with them.

2.  When they fail to do likewise, remind yourself that you are still saved by God’s grace from an eternal hell.  You’re still heaven-bound.  That alone is enough reason to stay positive (2 Cor. 12:9).

Is heaven a physical place with physical dimensions?  A physical river and trees with physical fruit?

Heaven is where God dwells (Ps. 11:4).  God is spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have physical dimensions or features (Luke 24:39).  Thus, we conclude heaven is a spiritual place with spiritual dimensions.

The river of the water of life and the tree of life are said to be in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God (Rev. 22:1-2; cf. 21:2).  The new Jerusalem is not heaven primarily, but in reality primarily symbolizes the church (Heb. 12:22-23).  While much of what is said in Revelation 21-22 could correctly apply to our experience in heaven, primarily it symbolizes how God wants the church of Christ to be.

With this in mind, the river of the water of life symbolizes the gospel (John 4:14; Zech. 14:8; cf. Acts 2).  The tree of life represents Christ (John 14:6), and its leaves which provide healing symbolize the spiritual healing of forgiveness of sins received when we obey Christ (Rev. 22:2; Ezek. 47:12; Mark 2:10).  Just as Adam and Eve could physically live forever by eating of the physical tree of life in Eden (Gen. 3:22), we live forever spiritually when we follow Christ the Word.

Lazarus and the rich man could remember and feel while in Hades.  So if we can experience those same senses, won’t we be sorrowful for our loved ones who we can see in Hades?  Love is the greatest commandment.  If we love like God says we will feel great sorrow for our loved ones we will see in Hades.

I take this question to basically mean, “Will those of us in heaven feel sorrow for our loved ones who are in hell?”  We simply do not have the ability to comprehend many things about the afterlife and eternity.  For example, how will God “wipe away every tear” from our eyes (Rev. 21:4)?  Could that in part refer to broken hearts over loved ones who are lost in sin?  We must have faith that in heaven all of the terrible consequences of sin will vanish.

Remember also that if sorrow over lost loved ones will destroy heaven’s joy, there would be no heaven for any of the redeemed because all Christians have had loved ones who have died in a lost state (Matt. 10:34-39).

Additionally, God is supreme love (1 John 4:8).  God is also happy (1 Tim. 1:11)…even though most of the humanity whom he loves rejects him and will be condemned to hell.  If God is supreme love and yet is happy in spite of most of those whom he loves will be condemned, surely we human beings who have a lesser capacity for love than the Almighty can also be happy in eternity even though some of our loved ones will be in hell.  Even in this life we know that some of our loved ones have died in a lost state, and yet we still find joy in the Christian life (Phil. 4:4).  Surely this will be doubly true in eternity!

The most important thing for us to remember is that in this life we have an inferior, incomplete view of the heinousness of sin.  God sees sin completely for what it is, which is why he speaks of terrible, wrathful punishment for the unrepentant (Luke 19:27; Rev. 14:9-11).  Some of us read those passages and cannot relate them to a God of love.  We do that because we have not yet fully grasped how terrible sin is.  Is it possible that we will have a much clearer awareness of the heinousness of sin once we have left the limitations of this human existence?  And when we do, is it possible it will cause us to look those who have rejected God in an entirely different light…even though in this life we were very close to them?

When is war okay?  Does God sanctify it?

God does not tempt man to sin (James 1:13).  He helps us escape being overcome by temptation (1 Cor. 10:13) and does not put stumbling blocks to sin in our path (Matt. 18:7-9).

Keeping this in mind, the Old Testament records numerous times when God commands his chosen people to go to war (cf. 1 Sam. 15).  If war was inherently sinful, God would not have commanded his chosen people to sin by going to war.

In the New Testament, soldiers asked a prophet of God, “What shall we do?”  Notice that the prophet did not tell them to repent of being soldiers (Luke 3:14).  When the gospel was preached to the Roman centurion Cornelius, there is no record of the apostle telling him to repent of being a soldier (Acts 10-11).  Another apostle went out of his way to request soldiers for protection against assassination attempts (Acts 23:12-31).  If war was inherently sinful, these men of God would have acted differently.

Another question needs to be asked.  Why is the war being fought?

Is it being fought in order to punish evil-doers?  If so, God sanctifies it (Rom. 13:1-4; cf. 1 Sam. 15).

Is it being fought in order to conquer and steal from those who are weaker?  If so, God does not sanctify it (Matt. 7:12).  Yet, his wisdom and power is so great that he can use even these types of wars to accomplish his larger purposes (cf. Habbakuk).

What was the plan of salvation for Gentiles living during Old Testament times?

From Eden to Sinai, God gave his laws to man by speaking to the patriarchs of each family (Gen. 2-Ex. 20).  At Sinai, he gave a specific covenant to the nation of Israel only (Ex. 20; Deut. 5:2-3).  From Sinai to the cross Israel was obligated to follow the law of Moses.  At the cross the law of Moses was taken out of the way and replaced with the law of Christ (Eph. 2:14-18).

Gentiles such as Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2) and the citizens of Nineveh (Jonah 3-4) would not be obligated to obey the law of Moses during the time between Sinai and the cross (unless they proselytized to Judaism – Matt. 23:15; Acts 2:10-11).  Thus, the only other law revealed in Scripture would be the patriarchal system described in Genesis.  Paul alludes to this when he told Jews that all who sinned outside the law of Moses would also perish outside the law of Moses’ jurisdiction (Rom. 2:12-16).  He spoke of how Gentiles do not have Moses’ law, but when they still by nature do what Moses’ law requires (such as obeying its moral and ethical commandments), they are a law unto themselves in spite of not having the law of Moses.  In a sense, Paul says, they show that the works of the law of Moses are written on their hearts and have trained their consciences.

When Jesus died on the cross, he made Jew and Gentile into one and broke down the dividing wall of hostility (the law of Moses) by abolishing its commandments, thus making Jew and Gentile both obligated to obey Christ’s laws (Eph. 2:14-18).  The gospel was first preached to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles starting with Cornelius.  From that time forward, Gentiles would be obligated to obey the gospel.

Can a person who is a Christian work at a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and have the responsibility of taking these to customers?

Christians must put obeying God’s will as the highest priority in our lives (Matt. 6:33; 22:37; John 14:15).  The laws of God command Christians to be sober (1 Thess. 5:6-8), which in the original Greek means to abstain from wine and be free from the influence of intoxicants.  The only exception to this is the allowance of small amounts of alcohol ingested specifically for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23).  Thus, social drinking of alcoholic beverages is sinful.  Christians are not to place stumbling blocks to sin in other’s paths (Matt. 18:7-9), and are to expose works of darkness rather than participate in them (Eph. 5:11).  Therefore, how can a Christian work in an establishment which sells alcoholic beverages and where he or she is given the specific responsibility of taking these beverages to customers, knowing that they will consume them and get drunk?

That said, we must also judge righteously rather than according to appearance (John 7:24).  A Christian working at a bar is more likely to personally bring alcohol to others than would a Christian who works at Wal-Mart, a grocery store, or a restaurant, so we must not assume that a Christian who works at just any establishment which sells liquor is personally involved in such things.  We must also remember that God wants Christians to provide for their families and work (1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Thess. 3:10).  A Christian who has repented (literally, changed his mind) about selling or serving alcohol to folks needs time to find a new job.  We must be patient, forbearing, and encouraging (Col. 3:12-13; Heb. 10:24).  We must pray that God opens a door for him to get a better job, and must also offer him employment in order to help him along if we have the means to do so.

Should a Christian use only certain translations of the Bible?  If so, which ones?

The Bible contains no specific command concerning which Bible translation to use.  In order to avoid adding to God’s Word, we must not legislate on something God has not legislated (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19).  That said, these same passages would instruct Bible teachers and translators to do their absolute best to translate as close to the original inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek writings in order to give us the actual will of God.  The scriptural principle to make the laws of God understandable would also guide Bible teachers and translators in their work to make the translations of the Bible (Neh. 8:8, 12).

Most Bible translations over the years have generally accomplished both scriptural goals of accuracy and understandability.  The differences between translations are miniscule in most cases.  For example, compare the different translations of 1 Peter 3:21 as rendered by the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB.  God wants this passage to inform us that baptism saves us, that it corresponds to (meaning it is a figure or type of) the flood which saved Noah as talked about in the previous verses, that its purpose is not to make your physical body clean but to answer or appeal to God for a good conscience, and that it does all of this through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Each of the four versions of the Bible cited above says exactly that (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19), and they say them using language that was commonly used by the average reader at the time each of them were made (cf. Neh. 8:8, 12).

Therefore, the decision as to which Bible version to use is a matter of personal opinion for several reasons.  First, there is no version of the Bible that has completely and undoubtedly translated every iota of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek correctly.  Every English translation has varying degrees of translation error, usually ranging from .5% to 3% of its entirety.  Thus, one who demands that others shouldn’t use a particular Bible version due to it translating a particular verse wrong must be consistent and condemn themselves for using their own Bible translation for the same reason (Rom. 2:1).

Second, a distinct minority of these translation error relates to doctrinal matters which one needs to accurately know in order to obtain and keep salvation.  Whenever I encounter a translation that has an error in a verse which teaches doctrine relating to God or salvation, I choose to correct the error in my own personal studies and also in the class or sermon I’m presenting and then move on rather than condemn the entire translation.  I’ve read that some scholars (such as Alfred Edersheim in his work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) have found a few errors in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament which the apostles used in their inspired writings.  Most scholars call the Septuagint “a reasonably faithful translation,” but even so I’ve found none that say it’s 100% perfect.  If the inspired writers of the New Testament could use a less than perfect translation, then why can’t we?

Third, God wants his Word to be understood by those who read it (Neh. 8:8, 12), and each version’s understandability is different for each individual reader.  One might find the King James Version easy to understand, while another might not and thus prefer the New King James or the English Standard Version…thus making it a matter of personal opinion and judgment, something on which we have no biblical right to legislate or judge each other (Rom. 14:1-12).

Brethren who argue or even condemn each other over Bible translations fall into the condemnation of 1 Timothy 6:4-5, which warn of people who “are puffed up with conceit and understand nothing” because they have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth.”

I remember as a small girl that the women always wore hats to church services.  I am curious to know for sure if I am sinning by not wearing a hat now.  I don’t remember the verse but am thinking of the words, “Let your heads be covered.”

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is the passage which discusses this.  Contextually, it falls at the end of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to give up personal liberties such as eating meat which had been set aside for idolatry in order to avoid being a stumbling block to weaker brethren whose consciences would be violated (1 Cor. 8-10).  The culture of Paul’s day required all respectable women to wear a veil over their head in public as a sign of subjection to male authority, a practice still observed in most Middle Eastern cultures today.  During Paul’s day, the only women known to go about with their heads uncovered were prostitutes, who were also known to go so far as to have their heads shaved.

Paul commended the Corinthians for keeping the inspired apostolic traditions he had given them, but they still needed to understand God’s arrangements concerning authority in the home and in the church (11:2-3).  In the culture of their day, a man who wore a veil in public would appear effeminate, showing disrespect for his gender and its divinely appointed role, and thus showing disrespect to God (11:2, 7).  In like manner, a woman in that culture who chose not to wear a veil would disrespect her gender and its divinely appointed role, and thus show disrespect to God; additionally, it would be as bad as if she had completely shaved her head and thus caused people to think of her as a prostitute, thus bringing shame upon the church and the gospel message proclaimed by her angelos, angels or literally “messengers”, i.e., human messengers, preachers (11:5-10; cf. Rev. 2-3).  “In the Lord,” meaning in the church, men and women depend on each other and God as well as having their respective gender roles (11:8, 11-12).

Basically, men and women must not ignore their gender roles as defined by both nature and culture (11:13-16).  God’s design in nature was that man should not have long hair, while woman’s long hair was given to her as a covering for her glory.  God did not give this command of women wearing a veil in public worship to the universal church for all time, thus showing it was nothing more than a custom of the time (11:16).  However, the overall passage teaches that men and women must not ignore the customs of their culture, even if God had not specifically commanded that they observe them, if it would harm the influence of the church and place needless stumbling blocks in the paths of others.

Thus, a Christian woman who chooses not to cover her head while worshiping is not sinning.  It is a matter of personal judgment (11:13), a matter of conscience which must be respected by all and not judged by anyone (Rom. 14).  More importantly, Christians should recognize that while God has not commanded us to observe non-sinful customs of our culture, ignoring them will likely harm our influence for Christ and bring shame upon ourselves and the church.  In such cases, God wants us to give up our personal freedoms and observe that custom anyway in order to avoid being a stumbling block to others.

Please explain the proper interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 33-34.

Some at Corinth were not observing the Lord’s Supper properly, resulting in division in the church.  They were selfishly not saving any of the Lord’s Supper for brethren who might come in later, and were treating communion as if it were a regular meal at home (11:21-22).  After explaining how to properly observe the Supper (11:23-32), Paul then told them to “wait for one another” and “if anyone is hungry” for a regular meal, “let him eat at home” (11:33-34).

Some take this passage out of context to promote the error that it’s sinful to eat a meal in the church building.  Applied consistently, this would result in the ridiculous notion that God commands us to go only to our own house and eat at home if we’re hungry, thus making it sinful to eat out at restaurants and putting the homeless in a dilemma since they have no house to call their home and thus would not even be able to eat on the side of the road or in a soup kitchen.  Additionally, those who promote this false doctrine ignore how the church met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila (1 Cor. 16:19); where would they eat?

This is why we must always study the immediate and overall context of a verse before coming to a conclusion about what it is teaching.

Please define “adultery.”  Does it only mean to cheat on your spouse?  I’ve heard that it also means to break the marriage covenant in general and that it’s actually talking about divorce.  Is this true?

The word “adultery” in the original Greek literally means “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with” (Thayer); it “denotes one ‘who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another'” (Vine).  After perusing seven different Greek-English lexicons, I see that all of them define “adultery” as a sexual sin.

Only one English translation translates the Greek word for “adultery” as something other than a sexual sin.  The Tyndale Bible translation of Matthew 5:32 translates the word as “to break matrimony” and “breaketh wedlock,” yet stops short of actually translating the word as “divorce.”  Meanwhile, the Greek word in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 is translated “adultery” by the KJV, NIV, NKJV, RSV, TLB, ASV, NBV, NASV, and ESV.  That is significant.

Throughout the Bible, “adultery” is used in a sexual sense (cf. Lev. 20:10-11; Jer. 29:23; John 8:1-4; Heb. 13:4).  Even when “adultery” is used figuratively to illustrate how God’s people apostatized through idolatry, the term still carries sexual overtones (cf. Ezek. 16:25, 32).  In fact, in one such case Jeremiah compares God and Israel to a husband and wife and figuratively says that Israel committed adultery against God through her idolatry, resulting in God figuratively divorcing her (Jer. 3:6-10).  If adultery IS divorce, how could God divorce Israel AFTER Israel had already divorced him via her adultery?

We must reject the notion that divorce = adultery or that adultery is covenant breaking in general rather than the specific type of covenant breaking which is sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse.  It’s directly opposed to biblical teaching, and opens the door to compromise with sin and fellowship with those with whom God has no fellowship (Eph. 5:11; 1 John 1:7).

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.  What if a person lived in a homosexual relationship, but was a Christian and died?  Would they go to heaven?  Also, could they have asked God to forgive them right before they died?  Would they go to heaven?

Being tempted to engage in homosexual sin is not sin itself (Heb. 4:15; James 1:14-15).  The one who continually resists that temptation and the one who had given into it but then repented is to be commended and encouraged (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 7:9-11).  However, the person who “lives in a homosexual relationship” by definition has given into the temptation and has not repented of it.  Such a person would not be a true Christian if he had not repented of this sin while initially hearing the gospel (1 Cor. 6:9-11), or would be an unfaithful, rebellious Christian if he had started this unrepentant, sinful lifestyle after obeying the gospel (2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

We do not know when death will come, which is why we sin if we know the right thing to do and yet fail to do it (James 4:13-17).  By purposefully waiting until the last minute of our lives to repent, we test God (Matt. 4:7).  That said, God is the judge of a Christian who makes a truly heart-felt “deathbed confession,” and his judgments will be just (Heb. 4:13; Gen. 18:25).

If you have loved ones who were not members of the Lord’s church, but lived a Christian life and went to another church and have passed away, would they be in Paradise and go to heaven?

Only Christ is the judge of anyone’s eternal destiny (Acts 17:31), and his Word is what determines our eternal fate (John 12:48; Rev. 20:12).  His Word determines if one is a Christian, and so it is to his Word we must go to answer this question.

We are to glorify God using the name “Christian” rather than the name of any man or church (1 Pet. 4:16).  A Christian is someone who is saved by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8) because they are in Christ’s church, of which he is the Savior (Eph. 5:23).  One becomes a Christian and is saved from hell by obeying the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-9), which happens when one confesses their heart-felt faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:35-38), repents of their sins (Acts 3:19), and is baptized into Christ, specifically into the church which is his body, for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23).  God’s Word says there is only one body, and thus only one church (Eph. 4:4; cf. 1:22-23).

Can one “live a Christian life” (i.e., be a Christian) if they are part of a church which is different from the one church talked about in God’s Word?  The answer is plain to those with open, honest hearts (Luke 8:15).  The concern felt in the afterlife by the rich man for his loved ones still alive tells us that all of our deceased loved ones, regardless of whether they were a Christian, want nothing but for us to heed God’s Word and become a Christian through the divine plan revealed in its inspired pages.

Will we follow God’s Word…or will we follow ourselves?

 

Editor’s Page, March/April 2013 Issue – David R. Pharr

This editorial by David Pharr, published in the March/April 2013 issue of the Carolina Messenger, gives some good pointers to remember about the Lord’s Supper.

Editor’s Page, March/April 2013 Issue – David R. Pharr.