So far in this course, we have learned that God made a PLAN for man to receive the forgiveness of his sins and that this plan took a very long time to become a reality. We discovered that “being right with God” should be the most important goal in the life of every person and that this can only become possible IF a person receives the gift of God’s GRACE, which is the favor of Jesus taking our sin, making it his own, and then dying to shed his perfect blood as payment for those sins! Only Jesus’ blood can save a person from sin! In Lesson 6, we began a study about the instructions that God left for us to be able to RECEIVE his grace and become part of the NEW AGREEMENT. That study pointed out several important things.
In addition, you were given a second worksheet that listed all the examples of people becoming Christians recorded in the book of Acts. Did you find anything different from what we concluded in our research? Even though most of the accounts contained few details, we could easily see the major points of our conclusion. Did you notice that no matter what instructions were recorded, EVERYONE was baptized? Did you also notice that NO PERSON was ever told to receive Jesus by saying a prayer? Those examples confirmed that our conclusions were correct. In this lesson, we will look closer at the details of the different instructions.
While it cannot be denied that receiving the GRACE of God involves action, it must be remembered that these actions simply make up the instructions God gave us to accept the gift of his grace. The actions themselves have no power to save us since only the death (blood) of Jesus can do this. These actions simply bring us along to the point in time where WE RECEIVE or MAKE CONTACT WITH the grace of God in OUR lives. When we accomplish these things, the death of Jesus becomes personally applicable to us and we become SAVED people.1
Until we are joined with that death, we still have possession of our sins, no matter how sorry or sincere we are!
The first area we will discuss in this lesson will be FAITH, which without a doubt is recognized as a foundation stone of Christianity. People may not agree upon how FAITH should be applied in a person’s life, but almost everyone will point to its necessity in a person’s life—that is if that person expects to have a relationship with the living God! So, what exactly IS faith? Below are some of the key verses in the Bible that speak to us ABOUT faith.
Perhaps the closest we can come to finding a “dictionary definition” for faith in the Bible is the explanation we find in Hebrews 11:1-6. Please read this passage, get your paper, and record the main points. Notice that the writer emphasizes that FAITH is based upon conviction and hope. A more literal translation might be something like, “And faith is the foundation of things being hoped for, the evidence of things that were done but not being seen.” It stands in contrast to physical proof as the reason why a person believes in God. The writer continues to explain that it is by faith that we can accept such a bizarre story as the Creation, and then proceeds to illustrate the idea of faith by choosing certain stories out of the lives of different people and holding them up as examples of what faith is. In verse 6, he returns to defining faith and points out that there are two basic elements (or parts) to FAITH. One is an intellectual quality, which involves our listening to the data regarding God and his action, then thinking carefully through the details, and finally coming to a decision of acceptance. This is a matter for our head and our heart! However, the writer continues that thought further by including the reality that our convictions MUST lead us to seek him! Therefore, the way FAITH is defined in Hebrews is a combination of belief plus action!
Another very important passage about the meaning of faith is James 2:14-26. Please read this passage, get your paper, and record the main points. This is one of the more important passages about FAITH because it was written in a situation where people who claimed to be believers had a false idea concerning FAITH. The writer explains what TRUE FAITH is and is not. Notice how once again we discover that same basic idea of faith that we saw in Hebrews—that TRUE FAITH is composed of both conviction AND action, or as we are so accustomed to hear in religion today, faith AND works! Faith is not one or the other but BOTH combined together and working together! The fact is that a FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD! Notice also, how the writer is not prejudiced toward works or toward belief. Belief without works is condemned just as much as works without belief. His wording and illustrations make it very easy to understand what he is saying, and the points of reasoning are very easy to accept. After all, how can God know if a person really believes him? Is it not true that the only way that God knows a person has FAITH is by the actions of the person claiming to have faith? FAITH is something that is SHOWN by actions and if there are no actions, then there is no faith!
All throughout the teachings of Christ, we find this same idea being mentioned over and over again. Perhaps no passage in the New Testament brings out this reality clearer than John 14:15, where Jesus says that IF we love him THEN we will keep his commands, or, perhaps Luke 6:46, where Jesus mentions the very same point, but this time with a negative question, “WHY do you call me lord and NOT DO the things that I tell you?” (This is an amazing parallel to James 2:14!)
It becomes very important for us to realize the importance of obedience in relation to faith. How can a person say that they know and LOVE God if they refuse to do what he says? To do this would be telling a lie. On the other hand, if you do what God wants then you can be sure that you are accepted by him. This idea is not only logical but exactly the point we find being made by the writer in 1 John 2:3-6. Please read this passage, get your paper, and record the main points. His conclusion is that anyone who CLAIMS to be a follower of God ought then to walk in the same way that Jesus walked! Was there any question in the mind of Jesus about the relationship between conviction and action with regard to FAITH?
Considering the many strange ideas being taught all around us about FAITH, perhaps no other passage about FAITH is more important than Matthew 7:21-23. Please read this passage, get your paper, and record the main points. This passage summarizes the whole idea very well. Jesus himself points out that it is not ENOUGH for a person to be “religious”—to spend their life DOING good things “for God”. It seems that there is something called, “the will of the Father”, which provides the specific details of what we should do and not do to show our faith. Unless we devote our time and energy toward doing these things then all of our good intentions and good accomplishments will come to nothing but sadness and despair. Where do we learn the details of HIS will? What did we learn from 2 Timothy 3:16-17? We get the instructions for GOD’S WILL from the pages of the Bible!
Therefore, FAITH is conviction, and obedience, and submission to the will of the Father, all woven together in the life of a person wanting to please God!
In addition to the idea of FAITH, we also encountered something that was called “REPENTANCE”. We see it many times all throughout the message of the Bible, but what exactly does it mean? The word we find in the text simply shows us that “to repent” simply means, “to change your mind”. It was not a religious term—unlike the English word REPENTANCE, which we rarely hear being used outside of a discussion about religion and sin. To understand the real meaning of the word “repent”, consider the following illustration. Let us say that a friend invites you to eat at a restaurant and you initially say yes, but later CHANGE YOUR MIND. If we were living back in the time of the New Testament you would then call your friend and inform him or her that you had REPENTED of your decision and can no longer go. Notice that the decision to repent was accompanied by a change of action! This is an important point to remember when we see the word being mentioned in the Bible.
When the Bible uses the word, it is almost always found in connection with God’s instructions to man about what he must do to get rid of his sins. The true meaning of REPENTANCE can be seen in 2 Chronicles 7:14, which does not even use the word. Notice that in repenting of sin there is an attitude of humility, that this humility must move a person to ask for forgiveness, and, perhaps most importantly, that there MUST be a change of action—a stopping of the sin! Therefore, just as we saw in our study of FAITH, REPENTANCE includes both conviction AND action!
Consider the example of Acts 26:20 and refer to diagram above. When we sin, it is just as if we are walking away from God. Repentance brings about a reverse in the direction of this walk so that we will walk back to God and away from sin. You might say that this happens in two stages. The first is a COMMITMENT to change. God wants us to realize that our sins were free-will decisions that we did not have to do and be truly sorry for them, but this is not all there is to the point. Repentance is something which, like faith, has a second stage—which is SHOWING repentance by action! We might SAY that we have repented, but the proof that God is watching for is the action of change!
Therefore, REPENTANCE is a decision to stop living in disobedience to God’s will that must then be followed by the action of stopping!
Another INSTRUCTION we discovered in our research was something called CONFESSION. This instruction has been made popular by the Protestants and “Born Again” groups, who emphasize this one instruction so much that they often do not even mention any others. This is very surprising when we note that this instruction has the least explanation of any of the others. We found that CONFESSING CHRIST WITH THE LIPS was a major point in Paul’s writings to the Romans, in 10:9-13, but WHAT ARE WE TO SAY in this confession? There does not seem to be a pattern located anywhere in the Bible. The most common pattern used today in religion is something called “The Sinner’s Prayer”, which is a collection of words that are said to be a formula for receiving Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. However, IF this were true, then we would find instructions telling people to SAY a prayer, we would also find evidence of the wording of a “Sinner’s Prayer” inside the pages of the Bible, and we would find evidence, among the many examples of people becoming Christians in the book of Acts, of people actually saying a prayer to receive Jesus into their lives! The truth is that we find NONE OF THESE! Once again, we must ask if it is acceptable for people to invent the idea of receiving Jesus through a prayer, just because Paul mentions something to the Romans about confession with the lips being done to receive salvation.
If we search the NEW AGREEMENT for passages relating to the idea of confessing Christ, we only find a few passages in addition to Romans 10. The first is a statement by Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33. Here Jesus has just finished speaking about how his disciples will suffer many great things from bad people. In this context, he states that anyone who confesses him before men he also will confess before his Father. The thought continues with regard to denying Jesus as well. Context shows that this IS NOT ONLY speaking about statements from a person’s lips, but also actions that come out in a person’s life!
Passages in the letters of John also mention the idea of confessing and denying Christ. Please look carefully at John 12:42, John 9:22, 1 John 2:22-23 and 1 John 4:15.
There is evidence that some kind of confession was made by people when they became Christians. Aside from the Romans 10 passage, there is a possible reference by Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:12, where he mentions a “good confession” that Timothy made in the presence of many witnesses.2
Therefore, the main point about CONFESSION seems to be that a person CANNOT BE ASHAMED TO SAY that they believe in Jesus!
There was another important INSTRUCTION we discovered in our research; something called BAPTISM. Most people have heard something about this because most religions we find today have some sort of teaching about BAPTISM, but we also know that not all religious groups teach the same things about it. There are differences in THE WAY baptism is being done as well as differences in THE REASON people are told to be baptized. Because of this, we will spend the rest of our lesson today looking into this topic more closely.
We will begin by looking at the word itself. It comes from a Greek word in our New Testament and there are two forms of the word used there. The first is the noun form BAPTISMA (pronounced băp΄-tis-mă) and the second is the verb form BAPTIZO (pronounced băp-tid΄-zō). You might be wondering why we mention the Greek words for BAPTISM when we did not for the previous discussions about FAITH or REPENTANCE. The reason is the relationship between the appearance of the original Greek words and the spelling of the English word. Do you notice the similarity? If you remove the letter “A” from the end of the Greek word BAPTISMA you get the English spelling BAPTISM! If you investigate further, you will discover that our word baptism is NOT A TRANSLATION of the original Greek word! INSTEAD, it is what is called a transliteration.3 However, you will be interested to know that there is NO LEGITIMATE REASON to transliterate the word BAPTISMA because it was a very common word in everyday vocabulary, AND, it has a meaning that is easy to represent in modern languages. Therefore, the question remains, “Why did the translators NOT translate BAPTISMA/BAPTIZO into their proper English equivalent words?”
As we begin to look for an answer the first thing we must note is that BAPTISMA was a simple everyday Greek word with no natural religious significance implied. This is in contrast to our modern understanding of the word, BAPTISM, which is almost exclusively used in religious discussions. The word BAPTIZO simply means, "I dip” or “I immerse". It represents the act of submerging an object into some kind of liquid. The noun form would thus be “a dipping” or “an immersion”.
The reason why most translations of the Bible use the word “baptism” instead of ”immersion”, has to do with the teachings of certain groups today regarding the way they say that a person should be baptized. While some groups practice baptism by means of immersion, others use different methods. Some use the method of “sprinkling” while still others use “pouring”. If a faithful translation of the word BAPTIZO is to be followed then the only method of baptism, which is acceptable, is IMMERSION, because this is the only possible meaning for the word! You cannot assign a meaning to a word that does not fit! To do so will misrepresent the original idea that was intended by God when he used the language of the Greek world to write his message.
Consider the diagram below. Let us say that we start with three simple English words; WALK, RUN and FLY. Each one represents a way of moving from one place to another. However, each action is unique and we cannot interchange these words and their meanings. One could not, for example, see a bird moving through the air overhead and then remark, “Oh, see how the bird RUNS through the sky.” That would not be accurate.
In like manner, we have already mentioned that there are three ways taught in religion today and CLAIMED as being acceptable methods for BAPTISM. They are IMMERSION, SPRINKLING, and POURING. However, it MUST be pointed out that these are THREE DIFFERENT actions represented by three different words. We cannot simply interchange their meanings because each word communicates a DIFFERENT action.
As it turns out, the Greek language has three different words to represent the three ways that are taught today for BAPTISM. The Greek word that represents IMMERSION is BAPTIZO, the one that represents the action of SPRINKLING is RHANTIZO, and the one that represents POURING is EKCHEO. The way to clear up the controversy is simple. If we go to every verse in the New Testament that speaks about BAPTISM we find that, without exception, the ONLY Greek word is BAPTIZO and this can ONLY mean IMMERSION!
Even though the evidence is great, some people today insist that the METHOD of baptism does not matter. Many also believe that baptism itself is not an important matter, even though we found it being connected with the instructions of FAITH and REPENTANCE for receiving God’s grace into our lives. Therefore, let us go to the Bible and see if there is any explanation about baptism, and why it was included as part of the INSTRUCTIONS.
The first passage we will look at is Colossians 2:12. Please read this passage, get your paper, and record the main points. There is not any special reason why we begin with this passage except that it gives us some insights about WHY immersion is significant as the way God chose for people to be baptized. The main thing we notice is that BAPTISM is described as being a BURIAL—a burial with JESUS! It is also described as a resurrection—a resurrection with JESUS. Therefore, in baptism, a person goes through a burial and a resurrection WITH JESUS! The diagram below is an artist’s drawing of a person being immersed in water. Notice how in the second picture we can easily see the person “being buried” and how in the third picture we can easily see the person “being raised up”, just as it is explained in the Colossians passage.
Only the action of IMMERSION gives us a picture of someone being buried and resurrected. If we use SPRINKLING or POURING, we cannot picture someone being buried and resurrected. This is WHY God used BAPTIZO in his message instead of RHANTIZO or EKCHEO! The action of baptism is IMMERSION!
There is another important point in the Colossians passage. When a person is baptized, it is PASSIVE or something that is DONE TO the person, not DONE BY the person! A person cannot immerse himself!
Additionally, the Colossians passage says that when a person is baptized he or she is TRUSTING in the WORKING of God. This is important because some religious teachers today claim that baptism “is a work” and that since we are not saved by works, then baptism cannot be involved in our salvation! Colossians 2:12 clearly shows that THERE IS work being accomplished in the action of baptism, but it is equally clear that the one who is doing the work IS GOD and not the one being baptized. The one being baptized is TRUSTING while GOD DOES THE WORK!
Therefore, we learn from Colossians 2:12 that baptism is a burial and resurrection WITH JESUS, that GOD DOES HIS WORK in baptism, and that the one being baptized SUBMITS and TRUSTS GOD!
There is additional evidence to be considered. Please read Romans 6:3-4, get your paper, and record the main points. Of all the passages that speak about baptism, this is perhaps the most detailed. Like Colossians, this passage speaks of baptism as a burial and a resurrection and so we can once again see that WHY God chose IMMERSION. However, we also learn here that being buried with Christ places a person IN CONTACT WITH his death and makes the person SHARE in that death. If you will recall our previous studies about RIGHTEOUSNESS, we found that the only thing that can save a person is JESUS’ DEATH, but we also found that people are not saved simply because Jesus died. Each person must somehow GET the blood of Jesus PERSONALLY into his or her life and according to what we read here in Romans 6, this happens when a person is JOINED with his death by being buried with him, and, this joining ONLY happens through baptism!
Notice also, how Romans 6:4 describes THE RESULT of being baptized. The third picture of our artist’s drawing shows a person “resurrecting” out of the water! Paul described this as being, “raised to walk in a NEW LIFE!”4 When a person BELIEVES, REPENTS, and CONFESSES CHRIST, these are all done inside the first picture of our diagram. If baptism is not part of being saved, then why does Paul state clearly that the NEW LIFE is what a person receives as part of being raised with Christ, as seen in the third picture of our diagram? You cannot have NEW LIFE without the removal of your sins, you cannot have the removal of your sins without Jesus’ BLOOD, and a person only gets that BLOOD when they are BURIED WITH IT in baptism!
Two other passages, which contain significant information regarding baptism, are Mark 16:16 and Matthew 28:18-20. They speak about the importance of baptism. When Jesus gave his orders for the “Great Commission”,5 he instructed his followers to teach people the GOOD NEWS and baptize them. Why did he include this instruction? If being baptized is the only way for a person to get the blood/death of Jesus and getting that blood is the only way a person can have their sins removed, then we can easily understand why Jesus included baptism in his instructions.Please notice that Mark records Jesus saying that IF a person has FAITH in the Gospel, AND is then baptized, THEN that person will be saved! Matthew records baptism as being part of a cyclical evangelistic process in which those who become disciples (students) are to be baptized and then taught all things. Both of these formulas include baptism, but give no explanation about WHY baptism is important. We must go to passages like Colossians 2 and Romans 6 for explanations of WHY it is important!
Another important passage in our study is Acts 2:38. Here we discover a connection between baptism and the REPENTANCE we studied earlier in this lesson. The background of this passage is interesting and itself shows the importance of baptism. Peter was speaking to a crowd of people in Jerusalem and after convicting them that they had killed the Christ, THE PEOPLE interrupted Peter’s speech and asked what they should do. It is in this context that Peter instructs them that they need to repent AND be baptized in order to receive the forgiveness of their sins. This was what Jesus told his followers to do in Matthew 28 and Mark 16!
Later in his life, Peter wrote a letter in which he also spoke about baptism. Please read 1 Peter 3:18-22, get your paper, and record the main points. Peter says that baptism is a person’s way of appealing to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus. When a person is baptized, they are immersed in water. However, the water is not what cleanses them from sin because only blood can do that. No, the water takes the place of the TOMB in which we normally bury a dead person. Baptism represents a tomb of water, not dirt, where a person joins with Christ’s death. That death cleanses the person from sins! Baptism simply marks the place and time where a sinner meets Jesus in the tomb!
A final passage about baptism today is Galatians 3:26-27.This is a good summary passage for what we have learned because it places everything in its proper context. It says that we are made right with God through faith BECAUSE ALL who have been baptized INTO Christ have PUT ON Christ. The result is that we become part of the NEW AGREEMENT where there are no longer “Jew”, or “Gentile”, etc., but only “Christians” and “children of God”!
Therefore, BAPTISM is something that a person HAS DONE TO HIM and the only reason why he is being baptized is that this is what God instructs a person who believes and is sorry for their sins to do to JOIN WITH the only thing which can take those sins away—the BLOOD/DEATH of Christ!
These are the instructions regarding HOW WE GET INTO a relationship with God. HOW WE RECEIVE his grace into our lives. HOW WE BECOME CHRISTIANS. And we discovered this as the “full story” on the matter after researching through almost 100 passages from the Bible! Notice that we discovered a PROCESS that is based upon a TRUST in what God has done, a WILLINGNESS TO COMMIT one’s life to change (action), and A UNION with the death of Christ! It is a process that results in “WALKING in NEW LIFE”! You saw the examples of thousands of people - in the book of Acts - who followed these instructions and "were daily being added BY THE LORD”- Acts 2:47.
What about AFTER a person receives Jesus’ blood and becomes a Christian? What are they supposed to do for the rest of their life? Is it possible for a person to lose their relationship with God? We still have one more instruction left to research; REMAIN FAITHFUL TO THE END. The next three lessons will focus on this topic.
1 Do not forget what we learned from Romans 6:17-18 about the transition a person goes through from being lost to being saved, and the role that obedience to instructions plays in that process!
2 There are other possible examples. Acts 22:16 records the conversion of Saul (Paul) where he was told to be baptized “while calling upon his name” and in Acts 8:26-40 the Ethiopian official made a statement of confession before he was baptized. However, many believe verse 37 was added later and so it does not appear in many of our more modern Bibles of today.
3 A transliteration is a situation where instead of translating a word from one language into another, the translator simply uses the alphabet of the child language to write the original word, while leaving it untranslated! This is usually done in situations where no equivalent word can be found to represent the original language word in the child language, or, if the original writing was making a special point about the spelling of the original language word that is being translated.
4 Doesn’t this sound a lot like what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5 about being born from above?
5 Many people refer to Jesus’ final words before he left the earth as the “Great Commission” because in these words, he commissioned (assigned) his followers the task of going from place to place telling people the Good News of God’s PLAN for saving mankind. We will discuss this more in Lesson 12!
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