Babies, Baptism, and the Kingdom of God

January 28, 2018 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Luke, Children, Parents

Luke 18:15-17 (NKJV)
15 Then they also brought infants to [Jesus] that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

Today I have the privilege of baptizing Mary Anna Joy Bryan. Since the baptism of infants is a relatively uncommon practice in the evangelical church, I usually like to offer a brief explanation. Why baptize babies?

The answer to that question is implied in our text today. When various followers of Jesus brought their infants to Jesus that He might bless them, the disciples rebuked them. They were convinced that these infants were a distraction, an inconvenience, a burden and that Jesus’ work was far too important to be disturbed by them. But Jesus insists that this mindset is deeply mistaken.

Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them…” This “Let” is not one of allowance but of command. In other words, Jesus orders His disciples, “You must permit the children to come… it is your duty to permit them to come…” And who are these children? They are not children capable of bringing themselves, capable of running to Jesus or vocally confessing His Name. These are infants, brephos, nursing babes.

So why should infants be brought to Jesus? Jesus answers: for of such is the kingdom of God. In other words, God lays claim to the babies of believers and calls them His own, calls them by His Name. Therefore, they should be brought to Him. So how does God mark us out as His own? How does He place His Name upon us? In baptism. We are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is God’s testimony: you are mine! Therefore, since God claims our children, it is fitting that we bring them to Him for baptism into His Name.

And as we bring these children to the waters of baptism, they teach us an important lesson. Jesus declares, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom as a little child will by no means enter it.” And how do these infants receive the kingdom? Helplessly, passively, dependently. So even as Mary Anna must be brought to Jesus by her parents in order for her to be blessed by Him, so you must be brought to Jesus by the Spirit in order for you to be blessed by Him. Her very dependency reminds us that we are in need of God’s grace to bring us spiritual life and blessing.

Why shouldn’t you get rebaptized?

July 31, 2017 in Baptism, Ecclesiology, John Calvin, Quotations, Sacraments, Word of God

There are actually many answers to this question – but consider the following from John Calvin:

“Our opponents ask us what faith we had for many years after our baptism, in order to show that our baptism was in vain, since baptism is not sanctified to us except by the word of promise received in faith. We answer that although we were blind and unbelieving for a long time and did not embrace the promise which had been given us in baptism, yet the promise itself, since it was from God, always remained steady, firm, and true. If all men were false and liars, still God continues to be true; if all men were lost, still Christ remains a Savior. We confess, therefore, that when we totally neglected the promise offered to us in baptism, without which baptism is nothing, we received no benefit at all from baptism… Yet we believe that the promise itself never expired…. By baptism God promises the forgiveness of sins and will certainly fulfill the promise to all believers; that promise was offered to us in baptism; let us, therefore, embrace it by faith.”

In short, Calvin reminds us, baptism is not primarily my word to God, my promise to God, but God’s promise to me. Baptism is a visible word. It invites me, summons me to believe the One who has promised to cleanse my sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. The “solution”, therefore, to someone who has not believed his baptism thus far is not to get baptized but to repent and to believe and receive the promise symbolized in that baptism.

The Church’s Task of Discipling the Nations

May 8, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Matthew, Discipline, Evangelism, King Jesus, Politics, Sanctification
Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
The passage before us today has appropriately been labeled the Church’s Great Commission. This commission contains both indicatives (statements of fact, of what is the case) and imperatives (commands, moral obligations). Let us consider each in turn. First, the indicatives. Jesus gives two. First, He informs the disciples that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – through His conquest of sin, death, and Hades, He is now Lord of all, God’s Messiah come to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Second, He assures the disciples that He will be with them forever – though He would be absent physically, He would remain present with them, by the power of His Spirit, to comfort, encourage, enlighten, and empower them to fulfill the task He has given them.
So what is this task? What are the imperatives, the commands? What is the commission? Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… Notice that the task is quite clear: our task is to disciple the nations. What does this mean? Well, our Lord explains the task by adding two phrases: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. Notice the two components of the discipling process: baptizing and teaching. Baptizing introduces someone into the life of faith; teaching them to observe Jesus’ commandments helps that same person learn to live out the faith. In other words, our task is both to bring the nations into the faith and to bring them up in the faith.
It is not sufficient for someone to be incorporated into the faith if they remain, in their thinking and acting, an outsider. If a mobster gets a job on the police force, we won’t rejoice if he’s simply puts on a uniform; we’ll only rejoice if he actually becomes an officer in heart and mind. So too – those who are brought into the faith through baptism are to be taught to observe the things that Christ has taught through instruction. Discipleship, in other words, involves both conversion and transformation.
Paul writes in Colossians 1:28, “we preach [Jesus], warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man [mature] in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s words reveal that the church is called not simply to get people “saved” or to get them to “make decisions” for Christ, but to grow them up in the faith. We are to disciple the nations not just evangelize them. We are to aim for their growth and maturity. In other words, we are to create civilizations not mere converts.
Today we will see that the task Jesus lays out for the Church in the Great Commission is the same basic task to which Jesus calls parents. We are called to disciple our children. We are to train and instruct them so that they mature in Christ. We are to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Parents are to warn their children and teach their children in all wisdom, that they may present their children mature in Christ Jesus. That is the task.
Parenting involves, in other words, not only having a child but raising that child in the fear of God. Any fool who has passed puberty can sire or conceive a child – can becomea parent; however, it takes a man or woman of faith to raise a child in the fear of God – to be a parent.

So reminded that Christ is the exalted Ruler over all, that He remains with His Church to this day, and that He has summoned us to disciple the nations, including our own children, let us confess that we have often distorted or neglected our calling. And as we confess, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Paedobaptism and Credobaptism: Chief Differences

March 7, 2017 in Baptism, Children, Ecclesiology, Liturgy

We’ve had a couple baptisms of infants lately and so I’ve been answering a number of questions. Here are my thoughts on some of the key differences between paedobaptists and credobaptists….

Good questions! I think that there are a number of issues at play in this discussion. I’ll give you some thoughts that you can chew on and ask some more. I would heartily recommend Doug Wilson’s book “To a Thousand Generations.” I found it particularly helpful as I wrestled with these issues. The difference between credobaptism and paedobaptism is like two different sets of prescription glasses. Hence, it is challenging to isolate the real differences between the two in short space. There are lots of intertwined issues and it has taken me years to work through them – indeed, I’m still working! But let me try to hit a couple major points – I may not hit all your questions so ask again if I miss something that is important.

Two central, related issues in this debate are the nature of the new covenant and the meaning of baptism. On the one hand, credobaptists insist that the new covenant includes only believers (“all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” – Jer 31:34). Because credobaptists insist that the new covenant includes only believers, they thereby endeavor to limit baptism to those who have made a personal profession of faith and thus given personal evidence of regeneration. While this evidence is not absolute (witness the case of Simon the magician in Acts 8), this evidence at least gives us more confidence that the individual is personally converted than we would have otherwise. Baptism, in this view, is an evidence of the individual’s faith, an external evidence of an internal change.

Paedobaptists, on the other hand, argue that the new covenant includes believers and unbelievers. There are branches “in Jesus” that do not bear fruit and must be pruned (Jn 15:1ff). There are those who have “become partakers of the Holy Spirit” who fall away (Heb 6:4ff). There are those in the new covenant who “trampled the Son of God under foot, and counted the blood the covenant by which they were sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Arminians insist that such passages teach that we can lose our salvation, that there is no such thing as the perseverance / preservation of the saints. But we know that’s not the case. Jesus promises that He will lose none of those who are given to Him (Jn 6:39). So Reformed paedobaptists argue that these passages refer not to the loss of individual salvation, as though God’s individually elect could perish, but to the loss of covenant status and identity. Those who fall away were corporately elect but not individually elect. “Not all Israel is Israel.” But, and this is a critical point, all Israel should be Israel. Having been marked out by God as His own with the sign of the covenant, they should reflect that identity in their hearts (Dt 10:16; 30:6). Circumcision marked them out as God’s people in the old covenant and baptism, in the new covenant, so marks us. 

Reformed credobaptists end up, in my opinion, having to explain these warning passages away – they are hypothetical warnings; the people may have been members of the visible church but not of the new covenant; some such rationale is used. However, Hebrews is the book that develops Jeremiah’s promise of the new covenant (Heb 8) while simultaneously warning those in covenant with God not to fall away (Heb 2, 6, 10). So what this means, I think, is that the new covenant includes both genuine believers (those who fully partake of the meaning of the new covenant) and false believers (those who are members of the covenant but not in a living sense). So I would argue that Judas was a “Christian” in this sense as was Simon the magician. They both were members of Christ (Jn 15) but not in a living fashion. But precisely because they were members of the new covenant, they were more culpable for their unbelief rather than less (Heb 2:1-4).

Consider the parallel of an unfaithful husband. We can talk about that husband in a couple different ways. Is he a husband? Yes, absolutely! That’s why he is called an adulterer and not a fornicator. But, on another level, we can ask the question, “Is he a husband?”, and answer with a resounding, “No!” He is not being faithful to his wife, he is not being what a husband ought to be. But precisely because he is a husband he is culpable for not being a husband! It is his covenant with his wife that makes him doubly guilty – guilty of sexual sin and guilty of covenantal unfaithfulness.

So in the paedobaptist understanding, baptism makes us members of the new covenant, unites us to Christ covenantally, and summons us to a life of faithfulness and discipleship. Baptism is “a sign and seal of the righteousness we have by faith” (cf. Rom 4:11). Note, therefore, that it is not a sign of our faith – it is a sign of the righteousness we have by faith. And what righteousness do we have? Is our faith meritorious? Do we have a personal righteousness to which baptism points? No! Absolutely not! Baptism doesn’t point inward to me and my faith but outward to Jesus and His righteousness – He is the righteousness that I have by faith. Baptism is God’s Word to me, promising that all those who trust in Jesus for righteousness, forgiveness, and salvation will in fact be delivered from their sin.

Baptism corresponds, therefore, to the “vow” that a husband and wife exchange. In the case of baptism, it is God’s vow, God’s promise to be our God. On our side, it marks us out as God’s child, separate from the world and devoted to Him, “saints.”  

Credobaptists, in my opinion, end up drawing distinctions between the OT & NT people of God that the NT doesn’t draw. Paul warns the Corinthians to not be like our fathers in the OT; this seems to presume that it is possible for us to become like them. So Paul says that the Corinthians, like our fathers, have received baptism and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10:1-2) but this is no guarantee of God’s smile – after all our fathers were “baptized” and “ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink (Christ)” and yet died in the wilderness – they fell under the judgment of God. Paul’s words imply that there are members of the new covenant who likewise fall under the judgment of God.

So how are we to understand the promise that “all shall know me, from the least to the greatest”? Personally, I think that that promise is eschatological – it looks forward to the eventual spread of the Gospel throughout the nations of the earth. God’s promise is that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord – some in judgment and some in salvation. Jeremiah’s promise implies that the number of the saved shall be massive, myriads upon myriads. In addition, his promise insists that when God pours out His Spirit, there is a universal knowledge of God among His people – God preserves us from men like Judas and Simon.

However, in the course of history, there are often tares among the wheat; there are folks who fall away in times of persecution or who are overcome by the lust of the flesh and the desire for things of this life (parable of the Sower). These folks were members of the church and of the new covenant (consider Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3) who turned away from God and incurred His judgment. They went out from us because they were not of us, for if they had been of us they would have remained with us (1 Jn 2:20).

So these are two of the “watershed” issues that separate credobaptists and paedobaptists.

I certainly grant that there are distinctions between the old covenant and the new covenant. But these distinctions are chiefly of the “new covenant has more” variety. Old Covenant = Gospel primarily in Israel; New Covenant = Gospel to all nations. Old Covenant = Sign applied only to men; New Covenant = Sign for all members. Old Covenant = Ethnic Israel; New Covenant = Spiritual Israel. But even in the OC there were hints and anticipations of some of these things – Rahab, Ruth, Nineveh, Psalms, etc. So to address whether children are viewed differently in the new covenant, we’d have to ask what the NT teaches about kids (and also what the OT prophets taught about kids in their prophecies). And what we find is glorious continuity – Jesus blesses the children, even infants, of his disciples (Lk 18:15ff); Paul issues his commands to “households” which includes kids and he exhorts the kids to obey their parents “in the Lord” (Eph 6). So there is continuity in the way we are to view our children – they are members with us of the kingdom of God and are to be brought up in the faith to love and cherish the ways of the Lord. By nature they, like we, are “outsiders” and “children of wrath”; but, by grace, they are incorporated into the people of God and marked out as God’s own children, summoned to walk with Him all their days.

Baptism speaks about us and about God

March 6, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Children, Ecclesiology, Sin
Exodus 20:4–6 (NKJV)
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
This morning we have the privilege of baptizing Carly Bryan. Permit me to say a few words before we do so.
Baptism says something about us and baptism says something about God. First, baptism says something about us. Baptism declares, in no uncertain terms, that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ. And the baptism of infants announces the sober reality of original sin. Even this child, not yet old enough to know her right hand from her left, has been born in sin. By nature, she is a child of wrath, even as the rest. Christian parents don’t have magic sperm and eggs that prevent the transmission of corruption – would that it were so! Baptism reveals that we are sinners in need of salvation by Christ – only He can save us, we cannot save ourselves.
Second, baptism says something about God. It announces that God has graciously provided a way of salvation, a way to be cleansed of our sin, cleansed of our corruption – both the original sin with which we are born and the actual sin that we ourselves begin to practice. God has provided a sacrifice to cover the guilt of our sin in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism reveals God’s grace.
And the baptism of infants declares something further about God’s grace. The baptism of infants reveals something remarkable about God – His grace is not confined to atomistic individuals but extends itself from one generation to the next. In this baptism, God promises Carly that He will be her God and the God of her children after her – for He has been her parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ God before her. Notice our text today:
For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

And so Mary, the mother of our Lord, sings in her Magnificat: “For God’s mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). Baptism reveals something about us – our sin; but it also reveals something about God – His abounding grace. And praise God for that!

Why baptize babies?

February 26, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Romans, Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Quotations
Romans 6:3–6 (NKJV)
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
In our exhortations, I have been exploring various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. Since we have the privilege of baptizing a baby later this morning, I thought it beneficial to use our exhortation to explain our rationale for this action. Why do we baptize babies? I’ve written on this elsewhere, but consider a few more thoughts.
In Biblical Theology sacraments are visible words. Even as God communicates to us in His written Word, the Bible, so He communicates to us in visible words, in covenant signs and seals – what we call sacraments or ordinances. One of the earliest covenant signs was the rainbow – God placed the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant that He made with Noah. The rainbow visibly proclaims God’s promise to Noah and to us that He will never again flood the earth. So every time we see the rainbow, God invites us to believe His promise and trust Him. In other words, the rainbow isn’t our word to God but God’s word to us, God’s promise to us (Gen 9:12-17).
What is true of the rainbow is also true of other covenant signs: they are primarily God’s Word to us, not our word to God. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 6 by using the passive voice to describe baptism. He writes that the Roman Christians “were baptized” (passive) into Christ and “were baptized”(again, passive) into His death. So why the passive voice? Because, first and foremost, baptism is God’s act, God’s word, not my act, my word.
We do not baptize ourselves; we are baptized by another. In baptism, God speaks to each of us individually – He claims us as His own and assures us that, so long as we trust Christ, we are cleansed of our sin as surely as water washes our bodies and are anointed with His Spirit as surely as the water makes us wet. While the preaching of the Word holds that promise out generically, baptism makes that promise personal. Today, God speaks to Piper and assures her that His promise is reliable for her; even as He spoke to you in your baptism and made the same promise to you.
Robert Rayburn illustrates this powerfully while explaining why it is that we have ministers of the Gospel perform the baptism:
The reason why no one [but the minister] baptizes someone in our churches… is so that it be absolutely clear that baptism is not our act; it is Christ’s…. Suppose we were to have an infant baptism here next Lord’s Day: and suppose on this moment alone of all the moments in the history of the Church since the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ this was a sacrament by sight and not by faith: Just as the minister was prepared to begin, with a loud, tearing sound the roof of the building parted; and lo and behold, the Lord Christ Himself descended to where I am standing right now. There were seraphim hovering above His shoulder. We were all on our faces before the glory of God, but He told us to arise. He took the baby in His arms and He pronounced the Divine Triune Name over the child and made the promise of His Gospel and covenant to this child by name and then by name summoned him or her to the life of faith and godliness and consecration. He then spoke a word to this child’s parents about the sacred stewardship He was now entrusting to them and how they would answer to Him for this child’s faith and this child’s life on the Great Day. Then He spoke a word to this congregation about your responsibility and then a word to the minister about his. Then He blessed the child and poured water on its head and ascended back into Heaven and with a loud crash the ceiling came back to where it was before and everything was as it was.
Let me tell you a few things that would be inevitably true. One is that that child, though he or she would be too young to have any personal recollection of that moment, would remember his Baptism forever and better than he would remember any other event in his life because scarcely a day would pass without his parents telling him what happened in the church when he was three weeks old and what the Lord Christ said and demanded and promised. He would live as he grew up—at 3, at 4, at 6, at 8. at 12. at 18, at 26—he would live under the specter and under the mercy, the glory of Baptism. His whole life would be colored and shaped and formed by it. That’s what Baptism is. That’s exactly what happens in the Baptism of a child or adult when it happens in this church. The only difference is that it is by faith that you see it and not by sight.
Baptism is an invitation to trust God’s Word; it is a call to faith; a call to believe God’s promise in Christ personally. Consequently, it is fitting to apply it not only to believers but also to their children – for God graciously names our children as His own and summons them to trust Him along with their parents.
And note that baptism does demand something of us. Paul declares that baptism unites us with Christ’s resurrection such that we also should walk in newness of life. We should walk. Whether we were baptized as an infant, a child, or an adult, God speaks to us through our baptism, unites us to Christ, and calls us to trust Him, to love Him, and to walk in newness of life by the power of His resurrection. We are to respond to His grace with faith and obedience.

So reminded that in baptism God has claimed us as His own, has put His Name upon us, and summoned us to walk in newness of life, let us confess that we often respond to His Word with unbelief, that we have despised our baptism and forgotten the call that He has issued to us in it, and that we have need of His forgiving and cleansing grace as even our baptism signifies. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Epiphany – God’s Revelation of Himself

January 9, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Church Calendar, Evangelism, Meditations, Postmillennialism
Isaiah 49:6 (NKJV)
6 Indeed [the Lord] says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
This last Friday was Epiphany. Since we don’t yet celebrate the day of Epiphany as a congregation, we delay our celebration to the Sunday following. Epiphany means “revelation.” On Epiphany Sunday, therefore, we celebrate God’s wonderful mercy in revealing His Son to the world. Historically, Epiphany has been associated with three distinct yet related events: the coming of the Wise Men, the baptism of Jesus, and the wedding at Cana. Each of these events reveals Christ in a unique way.
Consider, first, the coming of the Magi. The Magi were a powerful class within the Persian Empire – wise men, counselors, astrologers who were often the power behind the throne. What is perhaps most significant is that while Herod, the King of the Jews, plotted Jesus’ destruction, these Gentile rulers sought Him out and bowed before Him, acknowledging Him as God’s King. God revealed His Son to these Gentile rulers; they were the first fruits among the Gentiles.
Even as God revealed His Son to the Magi, He also revealed His Son to the world in His baptism. In the waters of the Jordan, Jesus entered upon His earthly ministry and was washed in water to prepare the way for our forgiveness. As Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven declared, This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. God revealed His Son to the watching world.
Finally, God revealed the identity of His Son at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. This was the first sign that Jesus performed after His temptation in the wilderness. As Jesus entered upon His earthly ministry, He turned water into wine and, in the words of the Apostle John, revealed His glory – revealed that He was indeed God’s Anointed King, come to rescue His bride, and to shed His own blood for her that He might restore to her the joy of salvation and celebration.
Epiphany, therefore, is a day of revelation, a day when God demonstrates how determined He has been to eliminate our excuses for rejecting His Son and refusing His love. As one of the ancient blessings for Epiphany announced, “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”
So what of you? Have you given heed to God’s revelation of Himself in Christ and acknowledged Him as God’s Son? Have you rejoiced in His coming and brought your gifts before Him? Have you rejoiced that God has revealed Himself to you and to the world? If you have done all these things, then thanks be to God! So one more question: have you then, in turn, been another means of God’s revelation of Himself to the world? It is to this that Epiphany calls us – to reveal Christ to the watching world.

Reminded of our calling to receive the revelation of God in Christ and to be the revelation of Christ to the world, let us bow before our Christ, confess our sins, and rejoice in His mercy.

Original and Actual Sin

February 5, 2015 in Baptism, Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Genesis, Newsletter, Regeneration, Sin

This week one of the questions we recite from the Westminster Shorter Catechism concerns our sinfulness:

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

The catechism reminds us that our fundamental problem as human beings is not what we do (actual sins) but what we are (original sin). Our problem is that our nature is corrupt. And it is from this corruption of nature, a corruption which all human beings share, that our actual transgressions proceed.

And this, I believe, is one of the reasons that God has always dealt not just with believers but with their children – commanding our fathers to circumcise male infants and (I would argue as a good Presbyterian) commanding us to baptize our male and female infants. Even those precious, cuddly, warm and snuggly infants have a corrupt nature. Hence, apart from the grace of God, they too will perish in their sins. But thanks be to God! He shows mercy to our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations.

This also reminds us why we are wholly dependent upon God for our salvation from first to last. Paul reminds us that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” It is not simply that we “do not” please God but that we “cannot please God” – we lack the ability and the desire. Left to ourselves we will consistently choose to worship idols, to abandon the Living God, and to spurn His good law. So we depend on God to draw us to Himself (Jn 6:44), to enlighten our minds (Mt 11:25ff), and to free us from the shackles of our sin (Jn 8:34-36). When He does so, our only fitting response is one of praise and thanksgiving!

This week we study the Call of Abram – God in His grace and mercy reached out to Abram when he was in Ur of the Chaldees and called him to faith. This was wholly of grace – even as our call to faith is wholly of grace. So let us join our voices with Abram’s in giving thanks to God.

Shortsighted, Even to Blindness

November 16, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Bible - NT - Acts, Federal Vision, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification
2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
During the height of the so-called Lordship Salvation controversy, there were teachers who wanted to claim that one could have Jesus as one’s Savior but not as one’s Lord. All that is necessary to be saved from judgment, so it was said, is to believe in Jesus. Thereafter one should and ought to make Jesus one’s Lord, to obey Him in the nitty gritty of life; but this making Jesus Lord was, as it were, optional. One could be saved by Christ and not manifest that salvation in a life of obedience.
How different have been the words of Peter in our text – and how different is his closing observation. He writes in verse 9: For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
The man who has been baptized into Christ and pronounced forgiven on the basis of faith in Him and yet who lives a life of sin and rebellion is still in his sins. He remains blind even though he claims that he has been brought into the light. He is wandering about in the darkness, still ensnared by the clutches of the Evil One. Such was Simon Magus in the book of Acts and such is many another who claims to believe in Jesus but denies Him with his life.
Peter will go on in the next verse to command his readers to “make their calling and election sure.” And one of the ways that God assures us that we have been called by Him is by working in us the virtues that Peter identifies: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. God’s Spirit works in His elect to cultivate such virtues – and so the way we reveal that we are among the elect is by pursuing them with all diligence. Obedience is a fruit of faith – we are saved by faith alone – which just means that we are saved by Christ alone. And when Christ saves us, He doesn’t do a piecemeal job. He delivers us not only from the penalty of sin by forgiving us, He delivers us from the power of sin by sanctifying us.
And so reminded of our call to pursue virtue; of our deep need for the grace of God to free us from blindness; let us confess our sins to the Lord and ask Him to empower us for obedience. Let us kneel as we confess.