By Roland W. Keith
Most of us have heard the old refrain about the power of positive thinking, but have you ever considered the fact that positive thinking isn’t really worth much if it is not followed up with positive actions? In the same sense football coaches develop game plans that they believe will result in the best outcome come game day. But unless those plans are put into action on the field, they’re just a list of plays, and a bunch of x’s and o’s on a piece of paper. Success in an endeavor requires more that good thoughts on the matter, it requires more than good planning as well, as important as that is. Success demands that we implement our battle plan with effective and sustained effort.
In the Bible we see two plans of action being brought to fruition under one master plan. The Old Testament contains the Law of Moses and the Prophets which foretold and prepared man for the coming Messiah and a new covenant. In the New Testament Messiah established His new covenant or law which is guiding us to God’s final resolution regarding sin and the devil and his followers on the one hand, and salvation and the followers of Christ on the other. Both of these plans have taken centuries to develop and implement. One plan of action has run its course culminating in the birth of Jesus Christ. The other is still being actively executed. Over the ages millions, even billions of people have been involved in the carrying out of God’s great purpose for mankind in one way or another. Individuals, from peasants to kings, and entire nations have been actively engaged in the war of good and evil, with the welfare of every man, woman and child hanging in the balance.
God’s grand plan centers around an event that occurred almost two millennia ago. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Talk about taking action to accomplish a goal. God sent His Son to earth to walk among us, and enlist and prepare a group of disciples to carry His plan forward, and then to give His own life on a cross so He could overcome death through His resurrection and in so doing ensure the eternal salvation for all those who call on His name in obedience. Woe to those who seek to overthrow God’s plan or abuse it for gain (Matthew 23:1-39).
What Jesus the man did is remarkable. It is not in our nature to put ourselves in harms way. Adrenaline junkies aside, most of us have a strong predisposition to survive along the lines of least danger. To act contrary to that requires overriding our normal survival instincts under extraordinary circumstances (such as protecting self or family). To do so to benefit another, outside our circle of loved ones, is even more exceptional. Paul once wrote, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person— though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). In the prime of life, against a strong desire to live (Matthew 26: 39, 42: Mark 10:45), Jesus put Himself in harms way— to face certain death— so that He might save others, though we are not worthy of His sacrifice. Given the nature of His sacrifice and how it benefits each of us we should not consider it remarkable that He calls each of us to follow in His footsteps— “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21; John 15:13).
The Israelites fought many battles with God as their ally. Today Christians fight a different kind of war. Their battles had a spiritual and national foundation. They fought for an earthly land promised to them. Ours is for a kingdom not of this physical realm. The church is its type on earth, but the home we seek is a heavenly one. Nonetheless, we are soldiers after a manner, as Paul wrote: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).
We have a war to wage. It may cost us emotionally with the loss of family and friends (Matthew 10:37), it may cost us financially when we have to turn away from a particular way of earning a living; we may be persecuted politically and socially, we may even face death. Regardless, as Paul told Timothy, we must “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:3). In an earlier letter Paul had told his young protégé, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith… Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (I Timothy 1:18-19, 6:12). If we reject God’s call to arms, we may shipwreck our eternal salvation. When it comes to the fundamentals of life, we cannot serve the world and heaven, we either stand with Christ or against Him (Matthew 6:24; 12:30).
It is our responsibility to contend for what God has entrusted to us (Jude 1:3; II Corinthians 10:4), giving our all even as Jesus despised the shame of the cross for us (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:8; Mark 8:34). We should never lose sight of the fact that what Christ did for us far outweighs anything we can do in response. On the judgment day we will stand or fall not in accordance with what we have done for Christ, but because we have obediently confessed what He has done for us (I Corinthians 15:1). Just as the Philippians stood with Paul in the defense of the gospel so should we (Philippians 1:7). To turn from the gospel would be a betrayal of the grace that God has extended to us, as Paul wrote the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).
Peter also noted the severity of turning from the gospel: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (II Peter 2:20-22). Both those who make false claims about the gospel and those who reject it having previously embraced it will suffer the consequences of their actions.
There are those who will fall by the wayside. That is a sad fact. Knowing this we understand that as soldiers of Christ it is our task to avoid such a calamity and to do our best to help others avoid it as well, as Paul explained: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him… Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful— for he cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:3-4, 7-13; Jude 1:23).
As Christians let us endure as faithful soldiers for our own sake as well as for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
By Roland W. Keith
A wise man once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” When my curiosity as to why there has been so much controversy over baptism throughout the history of Christianity led me into this project, I naively wondered why others had not already asked the same questions and addressed the same concerns that I had on the subject. After an exhaustive study, it has become clear that indeed every road is well travelled, and every obstacle has been removed so that the surrounding landscape is in full view.
Nonetheless, while most who claim Christianity find little to be concerned with regarding baptism, the controversy persists. Along this path, many with far superior scholarly pedigrees to mine have weighed in on this matter without resolving the issue, and yet it is my hope that the work within these pages will draw the attention of those who pick it up and compel them to examine this most important topic with fresh eyes and an open mind. This work is concerned with baptism and its relationship to our salvation. It is an attempt to understand the proper meaning and mode of baptism and its eternal value. You could say then that it is a word study. As such, we must ask a question of ourselves.
Are words important? You might say it depends on the word. Like many of our daily actions, we often pay little attention to words or their impact on our lives. On the other hand, the meaning of a single word, used in a particular context can make all the difference in the world. As mentioned, the focus of this book is dedicated to the study of one such word. A word that Jesus Himself placed at the center of the last command He gave to His disciples before He ascended from the earth. A word that can change your life and your eternal destiny. In a time when many within the community of believers ascribe little value or import to baptism it cannot be overemphasized that this attitude has not always been the prevailing one. Much has been written about baptism. It has been debated and argued over. It has been the subject of religious synods. And, sadly, it has been the cause of division and bloodshed, even to the point of death.
Given the fact that God has made His plan of salvation available to all men in written form with the admonition to “study to show your self approved unto God…” (II Tim. 2:15), and that this command was given to all Christians and not a select few it is difficult to believe that the inspired writers of the New Testament intended to apply any degree of difficulty to the understanding of the subject that challenged the common use of the language of the time, or was beyond the average person’s intellectual abilities.
It is true that all of us as Christians benefit from the guidance of good teachers, but it is up to us to duly compare their instruction to all scriptures related to a subject and determine what the inspired word is telling us. If we do a thorough examination, and ask the right questions, keeping an open mind, constantly praying for wisdom in the matter, God will reveal His truth to us. Why then, over two thousand years after the death of Messiah are there so many books devoted to explaining baptism— its meaning, modes, candidates, and place in Christendom? It appears that the difficulty needing so much explanation does not lie in the scriptures, but in the men and women who feel no need to seek agreement in the faith and hope that includes one baptism (Eph. 4:4-16). We live in an age where to agree to disagree is deemed unity. However, for the Christian this cannot be so.
Our oneness of mind is valid only as far as we are being true to the commands of God as set forth by His Son, Jesus Christ and His chosen vessels— the men selected to record the final testament between God and man in written form. I strongly encourage all who read this book, or any other non-inspired source of instruction about baptism, to do so with a degree of skepticism sufficient to compel you to do a thorough study of the subject on your own, with Bible in hand.
Roland W. Keith
By Roland W. Keith
According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America (1990) there are about 20,800 denominations worldwide. Other estimates vary from 217 in the U.S. alone to over 41,000 around the globe, mostly existing within three major groups (Evangelical Protestantism, Mainline Protestantism, and Catholicism) and two minor ones (Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental orthodoxy). Regardless of the actual numbers or whether a particular denomination affiliates with any of these groups, most view themselves as separate from other denominations, groups, and traditions. In addition to these (actually, even among them) there are also a growing number of churches who view themselves as “non-denominational.” With these numbers continuing to grow year-by-year the question is “how many of these churches are scripturally authorized; how many are Biblically founded?”
In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Twice in his admonition the apostle exhorts the disciples to be of the same mind or of one mind. Likewise, to the Corinthians he wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
It is clear from these verses that the church is to actively remove division from its midst, by resolving issues before they become irreconcilable. We are to seek and achieve unity of understanding and exercise the same singleness of thought in our judgments. How do we accomplish such things? First, and foremost by heeding the words of Paul from his prison cell: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We must consciously compare our actions to the word of God. Are we motivated by our own desires, biases, or will? Or, do we seek to act in a manner worthy of Christ’s sacrifice?
Secondly, we must understand that there is no place in the church for such willful motives. It is our responsibility to bear with one another as we work through disagreements, always prayerfully using the Bible as our arbiter in all matters, remembering that we are all members of the same kingdom. It was Jesus prayer that His followers be one with one another in the Father and Son (John 17:20-21). If we have a sincere love for each other (I Peter 1:22; John 13:35), how can we bear to separate over a dispute concerning God’s word and His church? Yet that is the heart and soul of denominationalism. According to denominational standards we do not have to see eye-to-eye on a matter. You do it your way, we’ll do it our way and we an all agree to disagree and we’ll call that unity because we all worship the same God, that’s all that’s really important after all. That may be the denominational standard, but it is not the Biblical one.
Christians are a fellowship of the same Spirit. We are not kindred spirits, birds-of-a-feather, or bosom buddies. We are one body. Concerning that body Paul wrote, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12: 24-27). We are one. Not two. Not three. Not a member of this denomination or that one. This church or that one. We are one or we are nothing. Concerning our fellowship Paul told the Colossians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; see 5:22-25). We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can walk apart from each other and all still be in step with the Spirit.
Jesus Christ came to save the spiritually lost (Luke 19:10). His mission was to unite us into the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), telling His listeners: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). One of His greatest lamentations was when He overlooked the city of Jerusalem, the city of God’s temple and His people, and condemned it for rejecting His word. For claiming their religion and denying or twisting God’s laws, for killing His prophets, and rejecting their Messiah (Matthew 23:37). How many today are claiming Christianity while denying God’s word? It’s happening. If it weren’t there wouldn’t be so many church buildings out there with so many different names on them. How many claim Christ as their head but are not all a part of the same body? Paul wrote, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Are we building each other up by being divided? If so, how?
Jesus warned us about false prophets who would come to us in sheep’s clothing who would seek to lead even the elect astray (Matthew 7:15; 24:25; 7:15; II Peter 2:1). No one, nor thing can snatch us out of the hand of God (John 10:28). But Satan can tempt us to turn away of our own free will, as Paul warned the Corinthians: “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (II Corinthians 11: 12-15). Just as there were false apostles in the first century there are false teachers today. John warned us to test the spirits to see who is of God (I John 4:1). Ultimately, our salvation is our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). We are warned that trials will come (I Peter 4:12; James 1:12). We are also told to pray not to enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41). In addition, God gives us everything we need to overcome every trial and temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, the Christian who turns away from God and loses his own soul does so of his own accord.
Sadly, there are many who believe in God and seek Him out, but only if they can do so their way. Paul warned Timothy the day was coming in his second letter to him: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).
The day of false religion in the name of God has long since arrived and has never gone away. What can we do about it? In many ways it is harder to reach those lost in their religion with the truth than it is the one who has never heard of God. Many such people are so entrenched in their beliefs that they are unmoved by the truth even when it is presented in a reasoned, biblical study. Often, they cannot bear the consequences of the truth. If they are wrong then their parents or grandparents who have passed on were wrong as well, meaning that they are not where they thought they would be in eternity. If they are wrong then they have misguided their own children, friends, or strangers. If they are wrong… They just cannot bear the thought. So, they jeopardize their own salvation clinging to the false hope that somehow, they have been right all along despite the evidence. What can we do about it?
The only thing we can do is pray and evangelize and put it in God’s hands. Leave no effort unmade. And, be prepared, as Peter exhorted: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15). Be prepared, be patient, and kind, and hopeful— always realizing what is at stake for every person you speak to. And pray for the harvest. And work to ensure that all those brought into the kingdom will come in the strength and unity of the one Spirit.
By Roland W. Keith
Any distance runner can tell you what it is like to hit a strong head wind, especially on the backside of a long run. It can sap your strength physically and drain your mental resolve. There is a tendency to tense up and fight the wind which only makes the situation worse. However, the best runners learn to relax, even down to unclenching their hands and jaw, anything that causes undue tension. They learn to control their posture, leaning slightly into the wind without hunching over, and to maintain their stride focusing on effort rather than pace, knowing the energy cost for their body is significantly higher going into the wind. Moreover, the serious runner will use the wind and other adverse conditions in practice to make himself stronger for race day. Like the sign on the gym wall says, “No Pain, No Gain!”
On occasion, the apostle Paul used athletics as an example for fellow Christians, once writing, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:25-27). One might add, as Christians, that we not only discipline our bodies (physical desires) but our emotional and intellectual states as well. In many ways life is a marathon in which we find ourselves often running along inclining stretches of road against contrary winds. For the Christian and non-Christian alike, there is no escaping these ill-winds of life. The best we can do is to prepare for them and when they come to meet them head-on with the proper mindset.
The Christian mindset, however, should be distinctly different from the non-Christian. We know that God often uses conflict and tough life-lessons to prepare and strengthen us for what lies ahead, especially concerning the work He has for us to do. The Bible is full of men and women who, as an old Navy Chief might say, were tried, tempered and made true by the LORD. Joseph was buffeted by hard winds when he was sold into slavery, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and imprisoned (Genesis 37:28; 39:7-20). Esther put her life on the line for God’s people (Esther). Abraham’s faith was tested (Hebrews 11:17-18; Genesis 22:10-12). Perhaps no one in the Old Testament received a greater test of his integrity and faith than Job, when everything that he had, including his ten sons and daughters, were taken from him and he was physically struck from head-to-toe with boils (Job 1:1-19). Yet he remained faithful (Job1:20-22; 2:9-10), eventually saying of the LORD, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).
In the New Testament the apostles and other disciples were put to the test again and again, none more so than Paul, who once noted, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:24-28; Acts 27). Eventually, Paul would suffer various terms of imprisonment as well (Acts 16:19; Acts 24:23-27; 28:3-31; II Timothy 1; 2:8-9; 4:6-8). Yet, in all his trials and tribulations he would write, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).
Paul accepted the trials of faith as the Lord’s discipline, writing, “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood... For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:3-4, 6, 11). Jesus Himself made it clear that the Christian will not be removed from harm’s way— quite the contrary: “Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” John 15:20). Even so, He also said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
The apostle Paul suffered a lot for the faith, yet he rather philosophically told the Philippians, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul understood that our plight in life does not define who we are or our relative condition to God. By accepting the storms of life and proceeding through them with confidence in our ultimate victory in Christ we can endure whatever life throws at us. As he wrote to the Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9).
The world cannot destroy what God has built. If we reside in His kingdom then we can appreciate the words of the psalmist: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). The devil is a formidable foe yet as Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:8-10).
The Christian can count the opposing winds of life as a test that gives us the opportunity to grow and strengthen our faith, producing an ever-stronger Christian (James 1:2-4). A man or woman fit for the kingdom and the Lord’s work one who cannot only start the race, but finish strong because the adverse winds, the trials and tribulations of life that buffet us along the trail will not slacken our resolve nor overcome our ability to endure to the end. The Christian who is able to stand alongside Paul and Peter and a host of others on the Day of the Lord and proclaim “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.