The Sacramental Grace of Baptism

In my work of discipling fellow Baptists and evangelicals, I have the joy of often introducing them to the concept of sacramental grace. I am currently writing up a little lesson on baptism for some friends, and so I thought I would share it here. For further reading, see here and here.

baptism pool

Here are my notes:

Adam’s perspective on baptism:
  • The NT speaks of baptism as an event by which God gives a kind of grace where we are bound to Him.
  • – Acts 2:37-38 baptized for the remission of sins
  • – Matthew 28:18-20 baptism as entrance into the life of discipleship
  • – Romans 6:1-4 baptism as incorporation into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
  • – Colossians 2:11-14 baptism as circumcision (which was both a symbol and a reality of what it symbolized EVEN IF ADMINISTERED AFTER THE REALITY BEGAN – see Romans 4) & (notice how baptism and the gospel blend right into each other)
  • – Ephesians 4:5 one baptism
  • – Ephesians 5:26-27 washing of water with the word (cf. Titus 3:5)
  • – 1 Peter 3:21 baptism now saves you

Continue reading

Baptism (Cliff-note Version)

Two weeks ago, I posted my essay from a recent seminary research course here. Some dear friends commented that it was a bit heady, and difficult to digest (sorry!), so I wanted to do a quick “cliff-note” version here.

Well, what is baptism? It’s Jesus, at work in His church.

baptism is gospel It’s the Word of God, doing it’s work through a physical medium, or “means.” This is why you may hear some Christians call baptism and the Lord’s Supper “means of grace.” These are the two sacraments, or ordinances, by which Jesus works His saving grace in the church.

Now, these are not the only means of grace. Whenever and however God’s holy Word is communicated, it is a means of grace.

Be it by sound waves coming from vocal chords, striking your ear drums.

Be it by reading.

Be it by braille.

The Word of God is powerful because it is His Word by which He has promised to do His works of grace.

Baptism is the place where God’s Word is present and applied by means of water. The water itself does nothing, but only when it is combined with the Word of God (gospel promise), and faith, that then saving grace is imparted. In this sense, God can and does use baptism as a means of birthing, strengthening, and/or preserving saving faith.

About my seminary paper: my argument was that Baptists have an historical track record of fighting with anyone who comes from a paedobaptist denomination (and for good reason, I’m a Baptist too!) But my argument is that we Baptists have overreacted to Roman Catholicism as an institution, and have therefore also overreacted to Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed denominations (confessions) because of their infant baptism practices.

My argument was, therefore, that we ought to re-examine the Scriptures in light of the faithful, gospel-centered confessions of the Lutherans and Reformed churches, for if they have maintained both the gospel of the apostles AND infant baptism over 500 years, then we ought to recognize Jesus has not removed their lampstand in spite of an irregular administration of baptismal rites (to infants). Does that make sense? Babies should not be baptized, but once they are, we ought to recognize that God works through our mistakes, so long as we are not denying the gospel and twisting His Word to the point of heresy.

And so… I would argue that Baptists

1) Need to re-examine the delivery of saving grace in and through baptism (even though we administer baptism properly after a profession of faith – there is a mystery here working outside of time).

2) Need to recognize baptism as valid, though irregular when it has been done to an infant. Problems do arise when churches baptize infants, but even these issues are “fixable” when once the true, apostolic gospel is preached in those churches. (In other words, Baptists need to stop re-baptizing people, for in reality these second baptisms are not a baptism at all, but rather a traditional, ceremonial mimicking of baptism).

3) and finally, Baptists need to do some soul searching concerning our reactionary stances in a number of areas. This is difficult work, because we want to preserve our apostolic, first-century doctrines and practices that the other Reformation churches are missing out on, but on the other hand, we unnecessarily separate from fellow believers too readily.

This all calls for prayer, humility, and a deep trust in the Word of God to inform our hearts and minds… even if that calls for occasionally repenting of a bad practice or two.

In love for the church,

Adam Kane

Does God Work Grace in Baptism?

I’m a Baptist, but kinda barely! I believe baptism is only for those who are receiving it in faith, but the tradition of the Reformation churches persuades me to recognize the baptism of infants! (Not as the norm, but as an irregular expression of the sacrament)… So here’s my 6,700 word paper on why I think most Baptists see baptism as more of a law duty than as a gospel gift.

Check it out, thinkers! Thanks for reading,

-Adam

Baptist Identity and Sacramental Malformation

A Baptist identity is difficult to define and locate within broader church history, but in general there have always been those who practice credobaptism (believers only to be baptized).[1] It was through the Reformation and its subsequent centuries that Baptists articulated a confessional identity under the Protestant umbrella.[2] Among the branching family of Protestant denominations, church radicals (Baptists among them) are those who bore the malice of Rome from one side, and the scorn of the paedobaptist Reformation bodies from the other.[3] Through the sustained three-way tussles between Roman Catholicism (RC[C]), high-church State Protestantism, and the burgeoning free-churches (including Baptists), the sacramental theology (ST)[4] of the Baptists has never been developed and articulated apart from the conscious strain of these polemics.[5]

Perhaps in relation to this, the greater portion of Baptists have tended to exclude the sacraments as means of God’s effectual work of salvation. For the Baptist, sacramental grace is often rejected as having the whiff of Romanism; the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches (with their varied STs) may appear to the Baptist as compromised, or otherwise stuck in a sort of incomplete reformation.[6] Because Baptists tend to view the RCC as the arch villain of accretive doctrinal excess (a la “sacred tradition”), any given Baptist doctrine may take a reactionary skew and thus miss or distort key biblical data.[7] In spite of this visceral antipathy, the Baptist is ever a Christian under the authority of Scripture, and so he may be persuaded to re-visit traditional beliefs in the light of Scripture as it has been interpreted within the greater Reformation heritage.

So as to provide the historical and theological background against which Baptists react, I will note the vital connection in RC between ecclesiology and ST, this being near the heart of the Reformation protest. Over against this medieval RC juggernaut, the Lutheran and Calvinist confessional bodies found agreement in the gospel[8] even while confessing their differing expressions of sacramental grace. In this paper I will briefly demonstrate that sacramental grace is not necessarily RC, nor does it necessitate RC ecclesiology. In addition, I will make note of the growing Baptist voices who represent an openness to an embrace of sacramental grace within the outlines of otherwise traditional Baptist theology. Continue reading

Romans 8:28 Pillar of Eternal Security

I have been meditating on Christ’s promises to His people that He will never leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6).

John 10

John 10

In my decade long life in Christ, I have learned much and grown much in my knowledge of the Bible, but nothing has comforted me and created more joy in me than the promise that I cannot lose the grace of forgiveness that God has given me.

I want to hone in on Romans 8:28. In regarding this verse of Scripture, we can see that the clear testimony of the Holy Spirit is that those He has called are never lost, but will always remain the people of Christ. Let’s soak in this joy together.

Three excellent translations of the verse:

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NASB)

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (NKJV)

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

The NASB draws from a slightly different ancient manuscript tradition than the NKJV and ESV. Let’s look at it first before the latter two, treating the three as a harmony, and like a jewel being turned in the light.

Lil’ Exegesis

1) NASB

“And we know that…” Paul/the Holy Spirit is giving us assurance of the knowledge of the information in this clause. For the Christian, there is no doubting what will be said hereafter.

“…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” So then, for the Christian, we can always fall back on this sure knowledge: there is nothing outside of “all things” – and praise God, He “causes” everything that happens to “work together for good” for His people. Nothing is outside of God’s sovereign, gracious control. When there are calamities both within our lives and in the world at large, God is actively orchestrating and allowing these “all things” for the good of “those who love God,” which is another way of saying “Christians.” Continue reading

David Sings the Preservation of the Saints

J-O-Y

I will be writing on the doctrines of grace as much as possible in coming days and months. This post will deal with the Perseverance of the Saints, as it is known in Reformed theology. This post is simply one facet of this glorious doctrine, I am not trying here to speak comprehensively of all the Bible says about it.

Salvation is of Yahweh (Jonah 2:9)

If salvation is something you can attain or earn, then it is definitely something you can lose and fall away from.

But if it is not your salvation in the first place, then it is an entirely different situation. Consider the Christian doctrine of the Preservation of the saints, seen through the eyes of an Old Testament sinner.

Sung to the Key of Grace

King David raped Uriah’s wife and then had him murdered to cover it up when she was pregnant. After being confronted by the prophet Nathan, David was broken for his terrible sins, and sought repentance. Among other wonderful lines in Psalm 51, he prayed like this:

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. (NKJV)

Whose salvation did David have? The salvation of the God of Israel. Elsewhere, David praises God like this:

Psalm 65

Iniquities prevail against me;
As for our transgressions,
You will provide atonement for them.

Blessed is the man You choose,
And cause to approach You,
That he may dwell in Your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Of Your holy temple.

Here we see a prophecy of the cross-work of Jesus (v. 3), a vocalization given to divine election (v. 4a), and the resultant preservation of the saints in fellowship with God (v. 4b).

And in another place, David rejoices in the nature of God’s forgiveness when he sings

Psalm 32

1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh does not impute iniquity

Notice the “Blessed”s like in Psalm 65 above? Connect the dots of grace here. Blessed people are chosen, atoned for, transgressions forgiven, sin covered, and their iniquity is not counted (imputed) to them! God removes all of the enmity between Him and us in order to bring us to Himself.

Do you really think He would then leave the perseverance up to us after all He has done to make us His children?

He Keeps us SO THAT We Remain in Him

God’s work in saving people from the penalty of their sins is God’s work. The worker in salvation gets the glory, and the preserver in salvation gets the glory. It’s all of Him!

Often the question from Christians is “can I lose my salvation,” or, “can those who are truly born again fall away and end up in hell?” I’ve asked the question, and so have you if you are a believer.

My Lutheran brothers and sisters maintain that a truly regenerated believer in Christ can lose his salvation if he stops believing in Christ.

Similarly (but not the same doctrine as the Lutherans), many Arminians of all denominations teach that a Christian can lose their salvation, but with the added pressure of having to make the decision to be born again in the first place.

Not So, Friends

For the sake of brevity, I just want to say this: the eternal covenant of God to save His elect, the atoning work of Christ to purchase those the Father had given Him, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption are bonds of love and power that only one Being is strong enough to break, and you ain’t Him.

I’ll leave off today with the reassuring words of Jesus concerning us, His people.

John 6

37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

I praise You, Jesus my Lord.

Christ and sheep

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

How to Kill Your Christian Joy and Assurance

Want to kill your Christian joy and assurance of salvation? Believe your Christian adverbs. (Adverbs modify verbs, e.g. “slowly running.”) Become a pietist.

When we use and believe our own adverbs to describe our response to the gospel, we are in for a terrible ride. Adverbs are the lazy man’s crutch in literature – like puffs of smoke blown in the eyes to obscure the embarrassing white bones of skeletal essays.

Think of it – instead of “Napolean won victories across Europe, stretching all the way around the Mediterranean into Africa,” now the student needs a bigger word count and writes “Napolean brutally won victories across Europe, vigorously stretching his armies all the way around…” you see the point. Adverbs embellish and spruce things up. They can also beguile us when we use them to strengthen the appearance of our actions before a holy God. 

In Christian piety, when we use (and believe in our use of) adverbs to describe things like repentance, worship, confession, obedience, and others, we set ourselves up for either a staggering heart of pride, or a desolate heart of doubt.

Danger! Keep Right of Yellow Line!

On Christian adverbs, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt of Concordia University in Irvine, California, in borrowing from fellow Lutheran Norman Nagel, described them as the great enemies of the Gospel of Christ. Indeed.

Look at the issue: when was the last time, Christian, that you repented of your sins? Hopefully today – even just now. But what if I asked you when the last time was you repented “sincerely” of your sins?

We’ve just split into two camps: some of you immediately began answering back that you repent “sincerely” as much as possible, that you are a heartfelt Christian, and that you are very serious about repentance from sin. At this the rest of us look on with jealousy and awe. We applaud your sincerity and piety. You’re steering into oncoming traffic.Head on collision

Danger! Keep Left of White Line!

The others of you, like me, would have to be honest in answering, “I’m not sure the last time I repented… “sincerely.” For us in this second group, we know something of our own hearts. We know the sneaky, slithering sinfulness nested deep within our hearts – that sinfulness which corrupts our repentance. It corrupts our prayers. It corrupts our good works. It corrupts everything. And we know this – we mourn over this (Matt. 5:4).

And we are called to know this. Knowing the laxity of our repentance is freedom from pride, and dependence on Christ the Savior for His mercy. We are called to know the half-heartedness of our worship. I mean, who in their right mind actually means it when they sing to God

I will give You all my worship, I will give You all my praise, You alone, I long to worship, You alone, are worthy of my praise!

Riiiiight. You’re the first one in history to reach those heights, compadre.

We must test ourselves before God,

and when we do, we must find that we have not kept up our end of the bargain with God. He created us, gave us this earth, all its blessings, and our lives. He gives us food, air, water, and for many of us, luxuries beyond the imagination of most of the rest of humankind.

And He gave us His Son Jesus. Not just as a distant, abstract concept, but in the flesh. Jesus became a Man for YOU. He became a Man to redeem us from our sin and enmity with God. He died in our place, under the wrath of God the Father… for YOU. In YOUR place. Out of love. And He rose from the dead on that Sunday, conquering death for YOU, dear Christian – delivering the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life for ALL who merely trust in Him with repentant hearts.

And what have you done for HIM lately? (God help you if that’s a line you hear your pastor thunder out from the pulpit). Friends, the true answer is… not much. Or maybe, nothing. How does Jesus tell us to think of ourselves when we have obeyed Him?

…when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty. (Luke 17:10 HCSB)

It is pure fantasy to believe that our works of piety; our obedience to His commands, our “sincere” repentance, or any other act of response to God is anything like what it should be. God, in His infinite majesty and glory, is not actually bettered by the service of human hands!

The Smart Guys Fall for It!

The Westminster Confession of faith is a magnificent achievement of Protestant theology – forged in the academic heights of the Puritan glory days of the mid-seventeenth century. Yet look here at their language in describing the effects of election upon the saved person:

So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel. [W.C.F. VII, 6.021]

Abundant consolation… to whom? “To all that sincerely obey the gospel.” So then, who gets consolation? Nobody. Nobody, that is, who knows their own heart.

And to be fair to the Reformed, the Lutherans are guilty too. I’ve visited a conservative Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) the last couple of weekends, and sure enough, the confession and absolution in the liturgy has us reciting

I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them… [L.S.B. 184]

Really now? Am I even able to know all my sins, let alone confess them heartily, and sincerely repent? The introspective Christian will soon fall into a fearful doubting of their salvation, for these adverbs describe someone whose piety is nothing short of miraculous.

But But, Doesn’t the Bible Say…

Now some of you know your Bibles, and are thinking of certain passages that speak of our “sincere love of the brethren” (1 Pet. 1:22), and even of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 18:35 that we will not be forgiven if we do not forgive our brother… “from the heart” – or as we say, “sincerely.”

I hear these passages too, and must wrestle them in my adverb-prone, wanna-be piety. Am I forgiving my brothers “from my heart?” Probably not, or at least not all the time, perfectly, without flaw. Yes, I forgive. Yes, I love the brethren – even sincerely – but the point of these and other passages is not to call our attention to our own degree of piety and perfection in our performance. These calls to inward sincerity and even perfection are there because God can command nothing less. His pure and perfect nature necessitates His commands to us be pure and perfect – even superfluously pure.

The Ultimate Standard

As Jesus was wrapping up section one of His Sermon on the Mount, He declares “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48 NKJV). How you doing on that? The reality for the Christian is that we live in tension, falling short of the Law of God and His holy perfection, and our full, complete acceptance by Him because of Christ. There is nothing of ourselves added into our plea before God. It is not “Jesus lived and died for me, and then I did everything I could to live for you” – can I say this? HELL NO. Pun intended.

Rather than that, it is “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

The Christian life is a massive struggle to rest. It’s a paradox, striving to rest… in the striving and works of Christ on our behalf. Striving to believe God’s Word about His Son and His gospel. The only way any of us will be counted as being perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect, is by having trusted in the gospel of Christ, and having therefore rested our adverb-prone piety at the foot of a bloody, splintered cross.

We are only able to begin to obey the Lord out of a place of sincere self-knowledge. I’m totally unable to forgive people sincerely – I need the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable this act, only made possible by having eyes on Jesus; His forgiveness of me, His pure love, His absolute graciousness to His people…

As go our adverbs, so go our trust and faith

The only adverbs we can believe in concerning this Christian life describe the fullness of our sinfulness and neediness, and on the other side, the perfection of God’s work on our behalf. I fully need the forgiveness of God. He sincerely forgives me for Christ’s sake.

If we begin to describe ourselves with adverbs of positive fullness (which should be reserved for describing God alone), our trust and faith is inadvertently placed in ourselves, and our assurance and joy will die with our realization of how insincere and half-hearted our repentance and faith truly are. WATCH OUT!

Repent of your adverbs describing yourself in positive fullness, friends. Trust in Christ alone for your needed standing before God. He justifies fully. He is enough.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Martin Luther on the Chief Doctrine of Christianity

Martin Luther (b. November 10, 1483 – d. February 18, 1546) was enlightened to the doctrine of justification when as an Augustinian friar he read Romans 1:17 by the light of the Holy Spirit:

For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (NKJV).

This most precious truth gave him freedom from the condemnation of the Law of God, and also gave freedom to love God for the first time. Under a tormented conscience, Martin had been a frequent visitor to the confessional booth, but never seemed to be able to get true assurance that God had forgiven him (though he regarded private absolution highly). The day he found the gospel there in Romans 1:16-17, he was freed from the fear of condemnation and became the great hero of the Protestant Reformation – restoring light to the Bible for the peoples of Europe. (Yes, that was a simplified version)…

And so we thank God for this (very flawed) man, through whom the chief doctrine of the Christian life was restored to the Church. On this topic, Luther bluntly states

This is the true meaning of Christianity, that we are justified by faith in Christ, not by the works of the Law. This is the highest article of our faith, and if one should abandon it as the Jews do or pervert it like the papists, the church cannot stand nor can God maintain His glory, which consists in this, that He might be merciful and that He desires to pardon sins for His Son’s sake and to save. If this doctrine of justification is lost, the whole Christian doctrine is lost.

This doctrine can never be urged and taught enough. If this doctrine is overthrown or disappears, then all knowledge of the truth is lost at the same time. If this doctrine flourishes, then all good things flourish, religion, true worship, the glory of God, and the right knowledge of all conditions of life and of all things. [1]

So let us defend to our deaths the doctrine of God’s justification of sinners, based solely on the merits of Christ’s life, penal substitutionary death, and resurrection for our justification. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, revealed in Scripture alone. That is our Reformation heritage.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

[1] Martin Luther quoted by Robert D. Preus in Luther and the Doctrine of Justification, Concordia Theological Quarterly, vol. 48, num. 1 (Fort Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1984), 1.