By Roland W. Keith
Repost from October 2017
In today’s world Christianity is under attack around the globe. Even here in the U.S., where religious beliefs are supposed to be protected by separation of church and state, opposing forces are applying ever-increasing pressure to drive the church out of existence, by questioning its relevance and validity, or by simply rejecting it as incompatible with the growth of liberalism and the secularization of western culture. For Christians here in America we must come to terms with the possibility that what is social and political pressure today may become full-blown persecution tomorrow. In light of that probability today’s focus will be on this question: “Are Biblical claims of the life and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ fact or fiction?
If our faith is based on a myth or fable what is the world to think of us? As Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:14-19).
If Christ is not the Son of God then those of us who make such claims are out-and-out liars, or delusional fools. In turn, the writings in the New Testament, in which we base our hopes, are the words of false teachers cunningly devised to mislead man. Were the writers of these 27 works themselves self-deluded or deceived into believing a lie? Just a little over a month after Jesus’ crucifixion Peter proclaimed:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses… And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out (Acts 2:22-24, 32; 3:17-19).
According to Luke’s account of this sermon Peter was stating a truth that was obvious, not just to the apostles, but to all in the audience. Those in Jerusalem had been witness to Jesus’ life, His works, and His death. Most importantly, over 500 of them had witnessed Jesus walking among them after His resurrection. This blunt reminder of what they themselves had seen and done compelled more than 3,000 of them to become Christians that day. On another occasion Peter would tell those in the house of Cornelius:
And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:39-43).
Many years later Peter would write to those who had never seen Jesus, but had believed the testimony about Him:
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (I Peter 1:8-12).
To their generation things prophesied in the past, things previous generations had longed to see, had been revealed. Things such as what was written hundreds of years before by Isaiah:
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people? (Isaiah 53:1-8).
King David would also prophesy of his descendant: “For dogs encompass Me; a company of evildoers encircles Me; they have pierced My hands and feet— I can count all My bones— they stare and gloat over Me; they divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:16-18). Jesus, Himself, would speak of His own death, saying, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48), and again, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
In his gospel account Matthew would remember Jesus’ ministry, writing, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21). For today’s scoffers who see many tel-evangelists making millions of dollars proclaiming their version of Christianity, they should understand this of the apostles, and other first century Christians— They had nothing to gain from their claims. There was no fame and fortune waiting for them. In fact, they were putting their lives on the line in teaching the messiah-ship of Jesus (Acts 4:1-22; 17:1-9), and eventually many of them would be put to death for their beliefs.
The early Christians were true believers, and based their hope not on a lie they were persuaded to believe, but on what they themselves had seen with their own eyes, or had been told by trusted eyewitnesses. According to Peter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:16-21, see also John 12:27-32).
The first century Christians trusted their own senses and the word of men and women who were putting their lives in jeopardy for their faith, with the hope of an eternal reward for themselves and all who would accept the word they were teaching (II Peter 1:3-4), based again on what they knew to be fact, as John wrote:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:1-3).
Their testimonies of the life of Christ and all that they had seen reflected Christ’s own claims: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20; see also John 12:46-48; 5:26-29).
According to these witnesses the followers of Christ are to proclaim Him as the world’s savior. A savior who is willing to forgive the sins of all who will come to Him and submit to His commands until the end of the age, when the universe as we know it will be destroyed and a day of judgment will come, after which new heavens, and a new earth will be established for His followers, and a place of punishment reserved for those who deny Him (II Peter 3:10-13; II Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-34, 46).
Even with death staring them in the face many of these saints refused to relent and deny the Lord. As Paul noted, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered" (Romans 8:36). They were martyred by the sword, by the cross, and by lions in the coliseum. But they are not to be pitied. The writings passed down by many of them demonstrate men of sound mind and clear vision. They were not deluded or deceived. Rather they observed and weighed the evidence and came to a reasoned conclusion, and passed their knowledge on to us. And what they have given us is the truth. Moreover, that truth is worth all that we have to possess it, up to, and including, our lives.
By Roland W. Keith
"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). Christians have read or listened to the recitation of these verses so many times most of us probably don’t even stop to think about how unique this conversation is. I can’t claim to be God (well, I could, but I’d be lying). Neither can you. Moses didn’t make such a claim, nor did Buddha or Mohammad. It is one thing to claim spiritual enlightenment or to be a man of God, quite another thing to be bold enough to claim to be God. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did. Moreover, by making that assertion He was saying that the nature of His existence was different from any other man.
All men are created beings, so made as to live eternally in the Spirit from that point on. By claiming deity Jesus asserted His eternal nature as an existence without beginning or end. We are created, He is the Creator. The man Jesus was born to a woman as we are, but the Spirit of God within Him was the second member of the Godhead. We are made in the image of God, but He is God. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). Of Jesus the apostle Paul would write: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18; see also John 1:3).
In the first chapter of Genesis when God said “let there be light,” or “let there be a firmament…,” etc. He did not call these things into existence, but rather gave the command for these things to be brought forth by His Son. Creation was a collaborative effort of the Trinity, as we can see from Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image,’ followed in verse 27 by, “So God created man in His Own image.” Paul also noted: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (I Corinthians 8:6). Like an architect and builder working hand-in-hand the members of the Godhead created the universe and us. Given our Savior’s role in the creation it is an amazing thing to consider that when we went astray Christ would come to earth to fulfill His part in the Father’s plan to redeem us by taking on the fleshly limits of His creation, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Man’s sin was manifested in the flesh and required a legal remedy in the same realm. God created the law to expose man’s sin and convict him for his violations of God’s commands. The just punishment for sin is a death sentence for the guilty— both physical and spiritual. However, God developed a plan that requires only the physical death of the sinner but frees him from eternal spiritual punishment. To set man free God required a perfect sacrifice, that is a spiritually innocent man who would give his life for others in a selfless sacrifice of love. Once again Father and Son would collaborate. They created man together, and together they would extend the offer of salvation to him, when Jesus died on the cross. As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “But we see Him Who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).
Jesus’ sacrifice was a propitiation for man’s crimes against God (Hebrews 2:17). He lived in every way as a man yet overcame sin and death for us (Hebrews 14:15-16). Through His selfless act He enacted the “law of the Spirit of life” (Romans 8:1-3), freeing all men who come to Him from sin and death, setting us at liberty in His kingdom. Other than knowing that He lived as a man and was tempted in every way as we are we cannot know what it was like for Him to walk the earth as fully God and fully man in one being. We cannot in entirely understand the nature of what it meant to be Messiah. What we are able to comprehend is that which God chose to reveal to us, which is enough for us to come to the truth and to walk in it.
Jesus Christ is the Exalted One. “The” as in the only one. There is no one else that we should follow (Mark 9:7). He accomplished all the Father gave Him to do on our behalf, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). In the early history of mankind God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but two thousand years ago He sent His Son to earth to deliver His final testament. Jesus was the word made manifest and perfected by His obedience (John 1:1-3, 14; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8). Today God still speaks to us through Jesus’ words and all that was passed on through the Holy Spirit and recorded by the inspired writers.
When Jesus came to earth, He was not just another prophet, another man made in God image, delivering His message. He was the exact imprint of His Father fully knowing and understanding God’s will and able to deliver it as no one else could. Only through Christ could the LORD achieve His determined end for man. The being entrusted to uphold the universe (Hebrews 1:1-3), was the one chosen to save man. As Paul wrote: “and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” Ephesians 1:19-23).
Among all the humans who have or will ever live Jesus Christ is the preeminent one (Colossians 1:18). By obeying Him alone can we approach the Father (I John 2:1-6). It is through His nature that our own can be seen by the Father as perfected (Hebrews 5:9; 12:23). He is our savior, our example, our high priest, and our intercessor (II Timothy 1:10; I Peter 2:21; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25). All true wisdom comes through our seeking God, and Jesus is the one who can lead us to Him. Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Why should we believe such claims? Because we have eyewitness testimony. Witnesses that no one has been able to impeach for two thousand years. Their very words have been inspired by God to make their claims sure. At the end of his epistle John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name… This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 20:30-31, 21:24). We have God’s own handy work proclaiming His existence (Romans 1:19-20), and the testimony of those who knew Jesus personally and bore witness to His life (I John 1:1-4).
So profoundly different was the nature of Jesus that His actions during the last hours of His life moved one man to ask to be remembered by Him after death (Luke 23:42), and another one observing His behavior and the events surrounding His death to exclaim, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
By Roland W. Keith
As Turkey Day approaches I thought I would write a little on what we as Christians have to be thankful for. As I started researching scriptures it became clear there are far more things on the list than I can write about in a page or two and do scripture justice, so instead I’m just going to make a list of reasons to be thankful with accompanying verses. It is not an all-encompassing list, but I hope it gives you food for thought.
1. We should be thankful because our God is good and loving.
1Ch_16:34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
1Ch_16:41 With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psa_54:6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
2. Jesus gave thanks for the food He was about to share, and so should we.
Joh_6:11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
Act_27:35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.
1Ti_4:3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
1Ti_4:4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,
3. We should be thankful that our LORD is a righteous and just God.
Psa_7:17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
4. I’m lumping some important stuff together here, but we should be thankful to our God, Who has extended His grace to us, and is worthy of our trust and faith.
2Co_4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Psa_28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
Col_2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
5. We should be thankful that God has turned His wrath from us, and that He provides us comfort instead.
Isa_12:1 You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.
6. We should thank the LORD for the victory He has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ!
1Co_15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Ch_16:35 Say also: "Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
7. We should be thankful that God has given us a place among His saints, gathering us together from among the nations of the world to enroll us in His kingdom.
Col_3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Psa_106:47 Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
8. We should thank the LORD for setting us free from sin and its destructive power.
Rom_6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,
9. We should be thankful that we have a God to Whom we can turn with all our concerns.
Php_4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
10. We Should thank God for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
1Th_1:2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,
2Th_1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
1Th_3:9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,
11. We can be thankful that God is with us in every circumstance, and that our eternal fate is in His hands.
1Th_5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
12. As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day let us do so with a proper understanding.
Rom 14:5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Rom_14:6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Rev_7:12 saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
By Roland W. Keith
What is the difference between wisdom and folly, or common sense and foolery? Perhaps the primary distinction is that of discernment. The ability to analyze a situation and act with keen insight and good judgment. I once heard a man describe another as being “born without any common sense.” While some individuals may be born with a better natural disposition for attaining good sense, it is not actually, or not entirely, dependent on heredity. Discernment is to a large extent a learnable trait. Paul addressed this problem in his letter to the Hebrews, writing, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
We can learn good judgment. As in all skills some may become proficient in its use while others may struggle at times, but all can achieve a discerning heart. The first lesson of discernment for the man of God? “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Solomon also wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). Man is not wise enough to navigate the natural world without the need for guidance, let alone the spiritual one. However, if we are sensible enough to follow the path that God has laid out for us, though we may occasionally stumble, God will uphold us along the way (Psalm 37:23).
For those of us who are seeking to know and follow the way of God there is a growing knowledge that many in the world are not interested in the Lord’s wisdom, or any path for that matter, which does not allow them to do as they please. Concerning such people Isaiah wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21). In his letter, James compared such folly to true wisdom, writing, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:14-17). Paul wrote that we should put such things away from us (Ephesians 4:31).
We have all heard that a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, or as Paul said it, “Bad company ruins good morals” (I Corinthians 15:33). We often think that we can rub shoulders with those of the world without being affected, but that simply isn’t true. We influence them, and they us. The question is when we are out and about in the world are we letting the Lord’s light shine through us, or are we allowing ourselves to be unduly influenced by them? And, what about our children? Do we allow them to venture into situations that put undue pressure or temptation on them? Or, are we preparing the soil of their souls and implanting the word of God within them so that they will develop honest and good hearts?” (Luke 8:15). Are we raising up healthy trees that will bear good fruit or spiritually diseased trees that will produce bad fruit?” (Matthew 7:17-18).
The Bible is full of examples for those who failed to exercise discernment. The account of the old and young prophets in I Kings is a prime example. When the king invited the young prophet to his house the prophet replied, “for so was it commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, “‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.’” Later when he also turned down the invitation of the old prophet, we read, “And he [the old prophet] said to him, "I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.'" But he lied to him” (13:9, 18). The young man went in and ate with him only to find that his disobedience to the Lord would cost him his life (13:19-26). He had trusted the word of a man over the Lord’s command with tragic results.
In the New Testament Martha, a diligent hostess and housekeeper, was worried about serving her guests, not discerning that under the circumstances the opportunity to listen to the Lord teach was of greater value (Luke 10:38-42). It is possible to allow us to fill our minds with so many concerns that they affect our discernment, just as it is possible that one may affected out of neglect or ignorance. It is also possible to fail in our discernment out of willful disregard, as noted by Jesus’ condemnation of some of His listeners on one occasion: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:23-25). These were experts in the Law and religion of the Jews who had no excuse for their failure to act with Godly wisdom.
One of the saddest examples of a failure to exercise discernment was recorded by John: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:4-43; see also I Samuel 15:24). These were believers who knew the truth, knew the Law and what was right and yet still acted contrary to good judgment because their love was misplaced. Just as sad is the fact that two thousand years later such actions within Christendom are in fact not uncommon. Inside and outside of the body of believers are those who refuse to love the truth and perish (II Thessalonians 2:10-12).
Solomon noted that “In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16; see also Proverbs 16:13). The spiritually prudent are ever watchful and strong in the faith and their determination to do God’s will (I Corinthians 16:13). Jesus said that if we seek, we will find (Matthew 7:7). His brother encouraged us to ask for wisdom, knowing that God gives to those who ask (James 1:5). Knowledge, understanding, common sense, discernment— none of these are beyond our grasp. If we prayerfully seek them in our studies of God’s word we will find them, and the ability to comprehend them will be granted to us. As Solomon wrote, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of His saints” (Proverbs 2:6-8).
Paul told the Philippians, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8). When we focus our thoughts on high spiritual things trusting the Lord for strengthening and guidance and we examine His word daily we will certainly grow in our faith and spiritual strength (Acts 17:11; Proverbs 23:23).
In the end, spiritual discernment in the fullness of its strength will depend on our own effort, our trust in the Lord, and our openness to the truth. Yet, more than these, it will depend on our love for the LORD. We will be like the rulers of Jesus’ time who loved the glory that comes from men more than the glory that comes from God or will we love God the most? Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me” (John 14:23-24). Our spiritual discernment, even our earthly discernment, will ultimately be as strong or as weak as our love for God. It is that love that will drive our effort, or lack thereof, to grow in the wisdom of God and hone our ability to discern all things aright.
By Roland W. Keith
Christ was made to suffer for us; that is, He took human form to establish the Father’s plan of salvation, and that plan required Him to suffer the punishment due one who has violated the law. Though He had not transgressed the law personally, He suffered the world’s rejection and death on the cross in our stead, taking the penalty reserved for us upon Himself. Paul explained His sacrifice with these words: “But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for Whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:9-10). The man Jesus was made perfect because He remained obedient to His Father’s command, even under duress, even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). In achieving that perfection in human form, He became the author and source of eternal life for all who would follow after Him (Acts 3:14-16; Hebrews 5:8-9).
As a result of Christ’s victory over Satan and death caused by sin God sees each Christian as His own child, like Jesus, and as such fellow heirs of the promises made through Him. However, as Jesus suffered for us, we must in turn be willing to suffer with Him (Romans 8:17-18). No suffering is wanted, but considering what Christ accomplished on our behalf, and the eternal glory that awaits us, it is a small thing on our part to act in obedience to the Heavenly Father in emulation of our Savior’s Own submission to His will (Romans 8:17-18). In his first letter Peter wrote, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you… Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:1—2, 12, 16-17).
Not only should we be willing to suffer for the name of Christ, we should not be surprised when it happens. Persecution is just a part of the path we take as Christians. Those who hate the truth will try to obstruct its spread, particularly where it interferes with their own willful desires. When it happens, we must be prepared to put on the implements of our spiritual warfare and to soldier on (Ephesians 6:11, 13; II Timothy 2:3). It is our duty to share in the suffering attached to the Lord’s name, entrusting our eternal welfare to Him, even while we place our hope in the reward that awaits us at the end of our lives (II Timothy 1:8, 12; Revelation 2:10; II Timothy 4:8). James and Paul remind their readers that others before us have suffered as we will (James 5:10-11; Hebrews 11:32-40), but if we resolve to have the steadfastness of Job, we can and will reap the blessings attached to such faith and perseverance.
Paul had much to say to say about the afflictions that will be suffered for the sake of the truth, writing, “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 4:12-13). The apostle to the Gentiles endured much during his life in ministry, but for strength he kept his eyes on the Lord and the glory of what awaits beyond the physical realm, writing also, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4: 8-10, 17-18).
There is something else for us to consider. Whether you are a Christian or not life will give most of us our share of vexations, hardships and suffering in varying degrees. Looked at in the proper light life should be seen as a joyful experience (always look for the silver lining), nonetheless, there will be tough times, and for some dark times indeed. Those of faith should view those times from a different philosophical vantage point than the nonbeliever. We have something beyond those times to look forward to. We also have a source of inspiration and strength to draw upon during those moments that others do not have. We have the avenue of prayer to unburden ourselves, the word to guide us, and our Christian family to console us. We above all others are blessed beyond measure even in the worst of times.
At other times we should regard our situation in a prudential light. Peter wrote, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 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 2:20-21). It is one thing to suffer for our own bad behavior, and quite another to suffer as the Lord did— for doing what is right. When a Christian suffers for God’s word He or she is trusting in God’s promises— that whatever we suffer here in this life will pale in comparison to an eternity in heaven with Him. It is that faith and hope that bolsters our resolve and positive outlook when enduring our suffering for the good (I Peter 4:19).
There is one arena of suffering that none of us want to spend time in. As a child I do not no anyone who wanted to disappoint or provoke a parent to the point of needing to be disciplined. Regardless, everyone I know was disciplined as a child. Some of us repeatedly. Such measures are a form of suffering all their own. Self-inflicted and administered by one whose love and approval we were continually seeking. Yet the one executing our suffering did so with loving hands for our benefit. Paul wrote, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 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. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:6-13).
The form of misery a child endures at the hand of a parent as a corrective to bad behavior should lead to introspection and positive change when coupled with proper training and reinforcement for good behavior. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant. Just as our earthly parents punished us so the LORD may find it necessary to discipline us from time to time. We should feel the disappointment of letting God down. However, when handled with a determination to do better and a resolve to avoid future failures and a reliance on God’s perfect guidance it will always lead to our spiritual growth and strengthening.
No matter what form of suffering we may pass through the words of James remain true: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). When we turn to the LORD and cry out to Him He will ultimately deliver us (Psalm 34:17-19). He may allow us to suffer for a time as a way of purifying and refining us but He will draw us to Himself in the process: “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 5:10). Therefore when we are suffering, for whatever reason, let us turn to the Lord and seek His guidance and strengthening knowing that is there to bring us through whatever trial we are enduring.
By Roland W. Keith
In the church we often show concern for those who are not at worship services— especially if their lack of attendance becomes a habit. We miss our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when they do not gather with us to worship the Lord and study His word, and to fellowship with us. And, rightly so. Their welfare should be our concern. Not for their sake alone, which should be a sufficient reason for us to check on them, but for the strength of the congregation as well. As a body we are healthier and stronger when all of our members are an active part of the family. However, there is another area of concern that is often overlooked. Our prayer life. Particularly, in our private lives. In the assembly prayers are a scheduled part of the service, and although I sometimes think we could use a little training in the area of preparing for public prayer, the greater worry is in the area of personal, one-on-one prayers between the individual Christian and The LORD.
Scripture tells us that we should draw near to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in a time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It also tells us to pray without ceasing, giving thanks (I Thessalonians 5:17-18), and that the prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16). To neglect prayer is to fail to give God the praise and thanks that He deserves, to miss out on the many benefits available to us as His children, and to fail to do all we can to help others through its power.
Our Savior taught us how to, and how not to pray (Matthew 6:5-15). Not only did He teach us, but Jesus set the example of a proper prayer life for all of us. He began His day in prayer: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). He prayed with the multitudes (Matthew 15:36). He ended a busy day with prayer: “And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone” (Matthew 14:23). And, during significant moments in His life He remembered to speak to His Heavenly Father: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22). He prayed for the welfare of His followers, both present and future (John 17:6-24). And, finally He prayed during the darkest day of His life (Matthew 26:36-44).
Through His leadership the apostles and other early disciples learned firsthand the importance and power of communicating with their Creator. Of Christianity’s earliest converts we read: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). When one of them was imprisoned for the word they prayed: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). These followers of Christ saw the power of earnest prayer again and again, and as time went on, they and newer converts were admonished by the apostles, in word and deed, to remain faithful to their prayer life. Paul told the Colossians that they were continually in his prayers; he was particularly praying for their knowledge and understanding (Colossians 1:9). He also encouraged them to be steadfast in prayer (Colossians 4:2). He told the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
The Romans were to be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12). The Ephesians were encouraged to persevere in prayer (Ephesians 6:18). These were not merely exercises to keep them focused on the Lord, as important as that is. Prayer was, and is, the way for Christians to communicate with our God both as a family, and in private, more intimate conversations as a child would speak alone to a Father about personal matters. John wrote, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him” (John 9:31).
We are told repeatedly that if we are obedient and pray with faith, we will receive what we ask for (John 15:7; 14:13; Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; I John 3:22-24). God’s ears are open to our prayers (I Peter 3:12), so long as we pray aright. James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:3-4). God is not a genie in a bottle to fulfill our every wish. What we ask for must be proper and according to God’s will (I John 5:14). We must ask in confidence, not in doubt (James 1:5-7; Philippians 4:6).
When we are seeking God’s will in our lives our prayers will be most effective, as Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:7-11). So, what then should we pray for?
First, we should pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2; 3:17). We should pray for our daily sustenance and welfare (Matthew 6:11). The sick among us should be in our prayers (James 5:14). Many of the things we in the Biblical examples should be a part of our public prayers, as well as our personal ones. On the other hand, many things of singular or personal benefit or nature should be kept for our personal alone time with the LORD. We should pray to overcome our weaknesses and for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 8:22-24). For the Philippians Paul prayed, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). I need to learn to pack as much into my prayers as Paul obviously could!
There is not much we cannot pray for so long as it is something that the LORD would approve of, understanding however, that God’s will for one person may not be the same for another. But there are some things we all need to pray for with constancy, as Jesus taught, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil… Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak… Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven… But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 6:13; 26:41; 6:10; 5:44). We can pray for ourselves, we can pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we can pray for our politicians, we can pray for our country, we can pray that the world turns back from the direction it is headed in, we can pray for God’s word to be taught around the globe. In fact there are so many things to pray for, can we afford to neglect our time in prayer?
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.