What Prevents Me from Being Baptized?

“Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,

so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’

And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:25–40).

While Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, an angel directed Philip to an out of the way place where he met an Ethiopian court official. The man was reading Isaiah and had questions about the text.

Instead of answering the man’s questions, Philip shared Christ with him. Take note, though, that he began with the Scripture the man was reading. The principle we glean is that, while Christ may not appear in every verse, all of Scripture reveals Him. He is the sum and culmination of every text. Also, rather than getting into the weeds, as many people would prefer, the gospel is the most important conversation we can have with anyone.

As they went along, the eunuch spied some kind of water, whether a spring, a pond, or a puddle, we don’t know and it didn’t matter. He asked, “What prevents me from being baptized?” The English Standard Version simply omits v. 37, while the New American Standard adds a footnote that it doesn’t appear in the original manuscripts.

The verse seems to have been added later in an effort to answer the question and, while absent from the original, it does offer some help. So, the King James Version inserts verse 37: “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

In other words, genuine faith in Christ is the only requirement for baptism. Anyone who adequately professes authentic saving faith in Christ is a proper candidate for baptism. No other condition for baptism is placed on anyone in the New Testament than a clear testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.

Was Philip able to guarantee that the eunuch would follow Christ faithfully once he returned to his homeland, culture, and responsibilities? Of course not. Nor can we guarantee that everyone we baptize will walk with Christ faithfully all the days of their lives.

It’s precisely for this reason that the Great Commission commands us to make disciples, “baptizing them and teaching them.” We baptize someone once, but we have an ongoing obligation (whenever possible) to teach them to observe all that Christ commanded.

When Philip had baptized the eunuch, the Spirit lead him away preaching the gospel and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing in the Lord. From which, we can only conclude that the eunuch’s faith in Christ was real and the Lord would lose nothing of all the Father has given Him (John 6:39).

The Lord grant us the discernment to divide between His wisdom and ours and to recognize that it’s Christ’s church He’s building, not ours.

By grace,

Chris

“The Great Power of God”

“Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, ‘This man is what is called the Great Power of God.’ And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.’ But Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.’” (Acts 8:9–24).

We’re introduced to Simon, a magician, who was called, “The Great Power of God” because of his sorceries. For a long time, people sought him out to help with their problems. They gave him great heed because they believed he held a special wisdom and knowledge.

Luke writes that Simon, “formerly was practicing magic,” that is he no longer did. He believed the gospel, was baptized, and stopped practicing magic. He abandoned his claim to greatness when he encountered the One who was truly great, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So amazed was he at the saving power of Christ, that he followed Philip to learn as much as he could. He observed the signs and miracles, but as many of us would do, he drew conclusions based on his past experiences.

None of us comes to faith in Christ with full understanding of the Christian life. All of us have misconceptions about many things. That’s why the Great Commission includes teaching people to observe all that Christ commanded us (Matt. 28:20). Baptism and teaching are both elements of the Great Commission. We don’t just invite people to Jesus and go knock on the next door.

Luke matter-of-factly drops a theological bomb into the text: The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet fallen on anyone in Samaria. They’d only been baptized in Jesus’ name. What’s noteworthy is that Philip baptized everyone who believed without distinction – both “men and women alike” (v. 12). There was no multi-tiered standard for considering candidates for baptism. They believed and were baptized – period.

The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to pray for people to receive the Holy Spirit, something that Philip, evidently wasn’t called to do. The apostolic seal was essential to the proper establishment of the church in those early days. Though no apostles remain, God’s Word tells us what we need to know to maintain biblical order in the church (1 Tim. 3:15).

As Simon watched people receiving the Holy Spirit when the apostles laid hands on them, he drew a conclusion from his past. He’d received his powers for magic by buying them, and concluded that the apostles’ gift must work the same way. He wanted to be able to impart the Holy Spirit to people as well. So, he offered to pay Peter and John for the gift.

Peter, rightly rebuked Simon leaving no room for doubt that God’s gifts of grace cannot be bought. Some have thought that Peter’s reprimand revealed that Simon was a false convert, not a true believer, but listen to what Peter said: “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (v. 22).

He extended grace to Simon in the midst of a sharp rebuke. He didn’t just cut him off. He called him to repentance. Peter’s response lacked the gentleness that Jesus had showed him (Luke 22:31-32), but the message was the same. There is forgiveness to those who humble themselves before the Lord.

Simon responded, humbly I think, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (v. 24), demonstrating a contrite heart that was willing to turn from any remaining sin (and we all have some) in order to follow Christ fully and faithfully. He asked the apostles to pray for him that he might not fall into the horror of Peter’s words.

We’re not told if they laid hands on Simon to receive the Spirit, but nothing more was said. The matter was closed. A new believer was corrected and responded appropriately. The apostles moved on.

I cannot believe that Peter, whom Christ so graciously restored after he’d denied Him publicly three times, would proverbially through Simon under the bus for a single, ignorant indiscretion. Rather, the big fisherman must’ve embraced him and restored him as the Lord had done the apostle.

Remember, the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Gospel power overcomes all our sins, every single one, from first to last.

To God be the glory.

By grace,

Chris

Who Are You to Judge?

“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).

Read a Facebook post. Click a response icon: Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, Angry. Then, leave a comment. You do it all the time, right? Guess what you just did, though – you passed judgment. You judged whether the post was right, good, funny, or meaningful. Then, you posted your judgment for all the world to see.

Is that what James meant? Maybe. Some of the judgments that appear on Facebook take far too seriously the memes, quips, and quotes that people post, largely in fun.

James spoke of sitting in judgment over someone, especially to condemn them, but the sense here is to pass judgment without the proper jurisdiction. A judge is authorized to make judgments in specific cases according to the law. The average citizen may be entitled to express an opinion, but lacks the authority to pass judgment, that is, to execute a sentence according to personal preferences. We may protest some perceived injustice, but we don’t have the authority, before God, to destroy property or injure people at random.

Typically, Christians aren’t the ones terrorizing neighborhoods with mob violence because we’re upset; but we do engage in internet rage with disturbing regularity. It’s so easy to say something hateful because, “Who’s going to stop us?” The internet us invites us daily to join in the fray and entices us with offers of anonymity.

Just remember, the next time you want to send a barbed text, “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Especially as Christians, we should be aware that we live “Coram Deo” – before the face of God. We don’t choose to live before God’s face; we recognize the fact that we do, the fact that God watches over us. We’d be less likely to open fire on one another if we’d realize that God really does see us and that He seriously works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

Does it really matter if we speak the truth without love, as long as what we say is the truth? Yes, absolutely. How we speak is as important as what we say. God weighs, not only our actions, but the attitudes of our hearts as well: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

Now, James’ question above, “who are you who judge your neighbor?” (Jas. 4:12), is often taken out of context and used to keep Christians from discerning the truth. James wasn’t saying that Christians should hold no opinion and voice no perspective. Instead, he warned against wielding criticisms that injure people needlessly.

It’s true that reprobates and hypocrites will continue to wage war but we aren’t called to win every argument. Rather, God calls His people to walk in fellowship with Him and with one another, and to embody the character of Christ, not to be pushovers, but to manifest Christ’s Person in our very words.

By grace,

Chris

Stricter Judgment

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:1-2).

People sometimes excuse failures with the defense, “But I’m not a pastor!” The idea floats around churches that God holds Christians to different standards based on their title or role in the church. Church members have almost no expectations, just don’t kill anybody or habitually sit in the wrong person’s pew on Sunday. Teachers should at least look over the Sunday School quarterly before Sunday morning and not be caught cheating on their taxes. Deacons should mind their language – most of the time – and keep their hands out of the offerings.

The pastor, however, lives by a different standard. He’s to dress the part 24-7, attend every child’s game, recital, or competition, be ready to receive visitors at any moment, recall everyone’s names and the important dates in their lives, and sample delightedly every offering at Sunday dinner. What’s more, the pastor, and his family, must uphold a standard of sinless perfection in attitude and behavior without fail.

Where does such an incoherent rationale come from? As with most misunderstandings and misapplications of Scripture, it comes from sloppy theology. To read the Bible through the lens of “What-it-means-to-me” will inevitably lead to the erroneous exegesis of a text. We are not, in ourselves, the starting point of proper hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation).

The place to begin to interpret Scripture is with Scripture itself. The Reformation principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture” is essential to getting it right in matters of interpretation. The Bible’s own commentary about itself is indispensable: “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). If God has breathed out all Scripture, then all of it is authoritative. We have to accept all of it. We can’t just pick and choose the parts we like best and leave the rest.

I’ve said it before: you’re Bible can’t beat up my Bible, and my verse can’t beat up your verse. When we reach a conclusion about a text that denies the plain meaning of another text, we’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion. We have to view Scripture in a way that allows all the related passages to say what they say and be right.

We saw this before. Paul argued that we’re justified by faith apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:28); but James argued that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). How do we reconcile two apparent contradictions? By recognizing the context of each text. Paul was discussing the basis of our salvation before God, which is by grace through faith in Christ. James referred to works as the fruit of our faith in Christ – not the cause of it.

So, we’re justified before God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But then, the proof that we’re genuinely converted is manifest in our works. If I’m truly born again, the Spirit of Christ in me will be evident to others.

All that brings us back to James’ statement that teachers will incur a stricter judgment. He doesn’t mean that pastors and teachers are held to a different standard than others. God has only one standard of righteousness – Himself. We’re all to be holy because He is holy. We can only achieve God’s perfect standard of holiness in Christ. The idea of stricter judgment for teachers means that they are held more strictly to God’s one standard. They get less wiggle room. Period.

Why is that? Why does God hold teachers more closely to His standard of holiness than others? Since God has one standard of holiness for everyone in the body of Christ, the one who teaches should have reached a greater level of spiritual maturity and godliness in order to be able to help others reach that level. There’s the point: each of us is to help someone else grow in Christ as far as we have grown.

Someone said that every Christian needs three people in our lives. First, there’s Paul, the visionary leader who challenges us to go and grow and achieve in Christ. Next, there’s Barnabas, the friend who loves us and encourages us when the way gets hard to manage. Then, there’s Timothy, the younger saint into whose life we pour ourselves. We all need someone to push us beyond ourselves and someone to help us reach the next level in the faith and someone to whom we give ourselves.

Such an arrangement keeps the water of life flowing freshly through our spirits as we grow in the grace of our heavenly Father.

By grace,

Chris

Persevering in Grace

“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, called “The Beatitudes” (Mt. 5:3-12; Lk. 6:20-23), derives its name from the Latin, “beatitudo,” meaning “blessedness.” One mistaken view of blessings is to see them as things to acquire, like toys, and the biblical injunctions related to them as the means to collect them. So, if I endure some difficulty (like an unpleasant supervisor), then I can expect to get some reward (like a new car). Such a view, however, turns God’s blessings into a shameful idolatry.

Instead, God blesses His children in the midst of their hardships. To persevere under trial IS the blessing. Likewise, to be poor in spirit, to mourn (especially for sin), to be gentle, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and to be insulted and lied about because of Christ are great blessings.

The flesh wants to fight or flee adversity, but Christ’s Spirit enables us to stand resolute in His grace. If we follow Christ, trials are certain, but He grants us persevering power (2 Cor. 12:9).

An ancient form of theft was to shave the edges off metal coins. A legitimate money changer who dealt only in fully-weighted currency, however, was called in Greek, “dokimos” (approved), which meant he was a person of integrity. The person who is approved in Christ, James said, “will receive the crown of life.” By the way, don’t look for a golden crown, as some do. The crown is a metaphor for the life that adorns believers and will adorn us in eternity.

So, when are we approved and when do we receive the crown of life? In one sense, we’re approved in Christ when we’re born again. The instant we’re regenerated, we’re crowned with life; that is, Christ lives within us (Gal. 2:20). The apostle John wrote toward the end of his Gospel, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31). Believing in Christ and having life in Him are concurrent realities. We believe in Christ when He makes us alive in Him.

James, though, spoke of the approval that will come after we’ve endured this life’s trials. Certainly, every Christian longs to hear the words recorded in Jesus’ parable of the talents: “Well done, good and faithful slave… enter into the joy of your Master” (Mt. 25:21, 23). That pronouncement will come in the final judgment.

The opposition to the gospel and the church today hasn’t yet risen to the level of intensity the early church faced, but it’s coming. It’s alarming to see the speed at which major moral shifts are taking place in our culture. Christians have to prepare ourselves for what’s next. Want to guess what it might be? Read the New Testament. Even a cursory view of the Book of Acts will show the hostilities that existed. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs describes in painful detail many atrocities that believers endured throughout history. The history of the German Nazis will reveal some disturbing parallels with what’s happening in the United States today.

How we persevere isn’t a matter of military, political, or even social strategies. We persevere by turning to Christ, seeking Him and His righteousness. When the religious authorities threatened Peter and John for preaching Christ, the church prayed for confidence to continue proclaiming the gospel of grace in Jesus’ name. Then, Luke wrote, “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

May God again shake His church into resolute courage to make much of Christ at any cost.

Commanded to Glory

“But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away” (James 1:9-11).

As we ask God for wisdom to understand the trials we’re to count as “all joy,” James tells us “to glory,” (KJV: “rejoice;” ESV: “boast”). Ironically, “the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position (or, his elevation or exaltation); and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation (or, his abasement).”

Grace is the currency of heaven. Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ is ours by grace (Eph. 1:3). Our adoption as God’s children was accomplished by grace (Eph. 1:5-6). Our redemption and forgiveness were bought and paid in full by grace (Eph. 1:7).

The poor Christian has great grounds to boast in Christ, whose grace grants him perfect access to his heavenly Father independent of his own wealth, success, or any personal prowess. By grace, he is “raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). He’s also made “alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:12-14). Whatever he may lack of the world’s treasures, he possesses great wealth in grace. Because he stands in grace, all his blessings are permanent. Nothing can diminish his access to God or his approval by God.

The rich Christian is to rejoice in his humility because Christ, and not his affluence, gains him access to God. Wealth earns him no favors with God. In fact, he learns not to trust in ephemeral treasures that are here and gone. No one will ever gain heaven by riches. The rich may have monuments and cathedrals named for them, but before God, all the testaments of their greatness are vanity.

The grace of God slays our pride and promotes our gratitude and praise in Christ. In the richness of His mercy, God raises up both rich and poor and seats them together at table with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6). So, rich and poor stand on the same ground of grace. All that we have – all that we are, “show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). Instead of comparing ourselves against each other in terms of possessions or achievements in the flesh, we’re to glory, boast, and rejoice in the grace of God in Christ, by which we gain full access to God.

By grace,

Chris