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I preparing for my School lesson this last week (click here for audio) I began to realize why it is so many people find Jesus so offensive, especially those who thing they are righteous enough for heaven. I taught on the parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21 and the Lost (Prodigal) Son in Luke 15. As I studied the first parable regarding Christ’s authority I began to realize that everything Christ did on earth (teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons) was meant to point to the fact that He had authority to forgive sins. Then as I continued to study Luke 15, I realize that was exactly the problem that the Pharisees had. They were angered at the fact that Jesus determined when a person was to be forgiven and not them. Just as the older son in the story of the prodigal son was angered at the father forgiving the younger son. In short, they were angry, because Jesus had mercy on whom He had mercy and compassion on whom he had compassion. They were mad, because as God, Jesus was the sovereign dispenser of mercy, grace, and compassion.


The more I talk to people about the grace of God revealed in the gospel and about what it means to be a Christian, the more I realize that most people don’t really get the gospel. They don’t really understand the nature of reality. Any professing Christian that has any sort of biblical understanding would readily admit that salvation is by grace. But how is that we recieve grace? How do I know if I have found mercy from God?

The apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he said, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). The problem is most of professing American Christianity does not realize that recieving mercy does not depend on them, but upon God. What would you say if I told you that reading your bible, going to church, praying, or any other religious duty did not guarantee that God will be gracious to you? Do you think that being a Christian means that God will show mercy to you? Or do you think you are a Christian because God has shown mercy to you?

You see we do not become Christians when we start to do something, but rather when God begins to do something in us “He [God] who began a good work in you” (Phil. 1:6). And so we are called to examine ourselves to see if we have been born of God or whether we are yet in our sins (see 1 John). While I can’t give an exaustive list, let me list a some of the evidences that one is born of God (i.e. that you are not a Christian in name only).

  • You have beheld the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6)
  • You’re life displays the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • You’re life is being conformed into the image of God in Christ, that is, you are becoming more Christ-like. (Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3)
  • You’re life is being changed not by adhering to a set of rules and regulations, but by beholding the glory of God in Christ. (2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3, 1 John 4:19, Col. 2)
  • You crave the pure milk of God’s Word and delight in it. (1 Pet. 2:2, Ps. 119, Rom. 7:22)
  • You count all your righteous deeds to be polluted rags and rejoice in the the righteousness of another, “the Lord our righteousness” (Phil. 3:7-11, Jer. 23:6)
  • You live a life of ongoing repentence, since “the grace of God has appeared…instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12, cf. Rom. 8:1-13, Heb. 12:4-11).

The bottom line is this: If you have been experienced the grace of God, it will be evident in your life. If your life is not being conformed to the image of Christ, it may be evidence that you have not recieved mercy from God. If you have need of mercy you must come to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God. There is no other who is fit to be the dispenser of God’s grace, than the Son of God who clothed Himself in likeness of sinful flesh, so that He might glorify the Father through His perfect obedience and His perfrect sacrifice on behalf of those who would trust in Him. “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4)

When I was in college, I was often told that if the professor ever says something 3 times you know it has to be important. I don’t know why three was the magic number, but it is true when people want to make sure that we know certain thinks they are sure to repeat the information several of times to be sure that no one misses it. In both the apostles Peter and James are sure to remind their readers that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jam. 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5).

What I find more amazing is that both writers see humility as having a specific point of reference. Some people are humbled by being in the presence of some important individual. Others are humbled because of some circumstance in their lives, such as a natural disaster. Others are humbled by their own poor performance in various areas of their lives. But James and Peter both have a very different type of humility in mind – humility with respect to God.

James tells his readers “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord”, while Peter tells his, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” As I have pondered these verse the last week, especially James 4:6, I found myself thinking about the nature of the One in whose presence we to be humble, Jesus Christ.

  1. He upholds everything in the world (Heb. 1:2)
  2. He made all things (Heb. 1:2, Col. 1:16)
  3. He is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15)
  4. He had all authority on heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18)
  5. He is the lawgiver and judge (Jam. 4:12)
  6. He is the Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 19:17)
  7. He has the ability to save and destroy (Jam. 4:12)
  8. He can give life to the dead and call into being that which does not exist (Rom. 4:17)
  9. He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29)
  10. He is compassionate and gracious (Ex. 34:6)
  11. He is gentle and humble in heart (Matt. 11:29)
  12. He is the lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:12) 
  13. He is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5)
  14. He is the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Him (Rom. 3:26)
  15. He is Holy, Holy, Holy. (Isa. 6)
  16. He is perfect (Matt.
  17. He loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Ps. 45:7)
  18. He loves his enemies (Rom. 5:8)
  19. He shows kindness, tolerance, and patience to all men (Rom. 2:4)
  20. He desires men to repent and live (2 Pet. 3:9, Ezek. 33:11)
  21. He is the sovereign God.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the character of the one before whom we should be humbled. I have become more and more aware as I have studied God’s Word that in the end the only reason anyone will not be saved is because they refuse to humble themselves before the Lord Jesus Christ.

“As I live!” declares the Lord God, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back, from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?”

Would not Israel have been saved if they had turned back? Would God not have shown them compassion and grace if they had forsaken their wicked ways and returned to Him? But alas it seems most people are too interested in their wicked ways to humble themselves under the mighty hand of Him with whom they will have to do. We must all stop to ask ourselves, “Are the fleeting pleasures of sin really worth it?”, “Is a moments enjoyment worthy and eternity of suffering?”

“Turn back, turn back, from your wicked ways! Why will you die, O sinner?” – Come to Christ for He has satisfied the wrath of God that your wickedness rightly deserves. No matter how wicked a sinner you may be, He has grace enough for you. No matter how unrighteous you may be, Christ’s righteousness is enough. You have nothing to offer the King, worry not, there is no charge…it is free. “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost.” (Isa. 55:1)

I have been reading The Soul’s Preparation for Christ by Thomas Hooker over the last few months. Which has really turned out to be a treatise on conviction of sin and what makes truly godly sorrow different from worldly sorrow.  Hooker asserts that most Christians in his day (and in ours as well) do not really sorrow for their sins.

“Now if all be true that I have said, there are but few sorrowers for sin, therefore few saved; here we see the ground and reason why many fly off from godliness and Christianity: this is the cause; their souls were only troubled with a little hellish sorrow, but theirs hearts were never kindly grieved for their sins. If a man’s arm be broken and disjointed a little, it may grow together again; but if it be quite broken off, it cannot grow together; so the terror o the law affrighted his conscience, and a powerful minister unjointed his soul, and the judgments of God were rending of him; but he was never cut off altogether; and therefore he returns as vile, and as base, if not worse than before, and he grows firmly to his corruptions.” (Hooker, 150)

What a great picture of the state of so many today! They have a knowledge of their sin and in one way or another are seeking a doctor to heal it. Alas, many even flee to Christ that He might mend their wound. I say, ‘Alas,’ because I fear that many are seeking to have the wrong wound mended. They are merely seeking to have all their bones set aright, so that they may continue in their previous course of life. They are not those who have realized that what they really need is an amputation.

Let me present to illustrations of what I have in mind. The first is taken from the TV show 24. In the process of keeping a dangerous chemical bomb from getting out in the open it became necessary for one of the agents, Chase, to cuff it to his wrist. The problem was that once the device was attached there was no way to remove it. This left him and his partner with really only two choices: either they leave Chase to die when the device denonated or they severe Chase’s hand from his arm in order to remove it. Now they obviously chose the latter, it was a much better option to lose his hand than to lose his life. So to we must come to see that the only way to be saved is to allow God to sever us from the sin that is cuffed to our souls.

The second example is this. Suppose a man who was driving his car. As he was passing through an intersection he collides with another car, which he did not see. Unfortunately, this man was not wearing his seat belt and so his injures were rather severe. Now with the help of his doctors and time the man healed. Because of the accident he recognized his need to wear a seat belt, so he resolved to wear one from then on. However, the very next time he decided to go for a drive, he ended up in another accident. Fortunately for him the injuries were not as severe, but still required medical attention. You see what he and the doctors had missed was his original injuries were not ultimate the result of not having on a seat belt, but the fact that he was almost blind.

Unfortunately, many people find themselves in a similar position spiritually. They do something that cause them to realize the danger of sin and so they decide they need a safety net, so they start going to church or doing other “religious” things. Yet it is only a matter of time and they find themselves right back where they started, because they have never dealt with the real problem, which is the sin that is still dwelling in them.

So for those of you that do not see the depths of vileness of your own hearts, I would encourage you to look closer to ask God to show you the true nature of your own heart. For those of you that have already seen much of the filthiness that lies within you, seek the help of the Great Physician in removing it from your life. You see it is not eternal punishment that keeps God at odds with us, it is the sin that resides in us. If we should like to see more of Him, then we must put to death the sin that remains. More of God requires less of sin. Just look at heaven there we will know God most fully and there will be NO sin in His presence.

I saw in the paper today that former Seinfeld co-star Michal Richards apparently made a series of racial comments during a comedy routine on Monday, because of some heckling from the audience. In his apology, Richards said, “I’m not a racist. That’s what’s so insane about this.”

Unfortunately, I have to disagree with his evaluation of his character. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-19, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”  Racism and other evils are a result of the fall. They are a result of our sinful hearts.

I in means am writing this to condemn Richards in fact I kind of feel sorry for the man. You see he like most people is living in denial of the fact that the bad things we say are not an accident they are evidence of what is really in our hearts. But like most people Richards will apologize and go on his way and never deal with the heart of the matter.

As a Christian, this is a great reminder to me not to ignore the words I say, but to realize that they come from my heart. I can be thankful for situations in which I might become short or impatient or make a rude comment, because they allow me to identify sin in my heart that still needs to be put to death. It allows me to see my true colors.

It is the testing situations that we see if repentance has just been an outward change or an actual change of heart. Some of you may think it doesn’t really matter as long as something changes, but Jesus would have disagreed. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt. 23:17-28).

So let us not be like the hypocrites who seek an outward change, but let us be like David who desired true repentance when he said, “Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:9-10).


Recently I was talking to a friend about American “Christianity” and the role of baptism and repentance. As I was thinking about this it occurred to me that baptism has become a very poor indication of Christianity in the
United States. It has lost most, if not all of its significance, in a society where it is not uncommon for a person to be “baptized” two or three times. Even more than that, most Christian’s do not really understand the role of repentance within Christianity. If you tell a person that they need to repent, they will likely accuse you of promoting a works based salvation. The role of baptism and repentance as they relate to salvation has been debated throughout the history of Christianity, as both have been practice since the beginning of the church in Acts 2. The book of Acts repeatedly makes reference to the need for baptism (1:5, 22; 2:38, 41; 8:12, 13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:37, 47, 48; 11:16; 13:24; 16:15, 33; 18:8, 25; 19:3-5; 22:16) and repentance (2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21; 26:20).


So then what did the apostles believe about the nature of repentance and baptism, especially as it relates to salvation? I think the best place to start would be with the consideration of this question would be the first church sermon ever preached in Acts 2:14-36 and more importantly the response of the people to that sermon in 2:37-41.


“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all whoa are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself. And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:37-41)


Because of the close relationship that Peter presents here between the necessity of repentance and baptism, some have used this text to teach a form of sacramental salvation. The Catholic Church teaches, “Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the ‘imperishable seed’ of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.
St. Augustinesays of Baptism: ‘The word is brought to the material element, and it becomes a sacrament.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1228) The Church of England in the days of Spurgeon taught a similar perspective of baptism. Spurgeon quoted the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, “Then shall the priest say, ‘Seeing now, dearly beloved, that this child is regenerated and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits; and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning’” and “Then shall the priest say, ‘We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church.’” (Baptismal Regeneration, preached by Spurgeon on June 5th 1864)


Would this understanding of baptism have been what the apostles understood when they offered baptism to people such as the ground in Acts 2? I believe that a careful consideration of other text will clearly show that the apostles did not believe that it was by a water baptism that a person became a Christian, a person who had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Let me give a couple of quick reasons why this cannot be the case:

  1. Man cannot control the movements of the Spirit, especially to whom the Spirit will be willing to grant new life (John 3:5-8).
  2. Jesus, as well as John the Baptist, drew a distinction between the act of water baptism and the baptism with the spirit. (Matt. 3:11-12, Acts 1:4-5)
  3. There are people who are water baptized, who had not been born again (baptized by the Spirit). Consider the example Simon the Magician in Acts 8:9-24, the apostle Johns comments in 1 John 2:19, and the necessity of church discipline (Matt. 18)


So if the apostles did not understand the act of baptism itself as the act of salvation, what did they believe? Before I show evidence of their belief from the events of Acts 2 let me summarize their belief as follows:


The apostles believed that a person was saved by faith in God, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and that faith would then evidence itself in a forsaking of one’s former way of living and pursuing God’s way of living, as shown throw the life of Christ.


First consider Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-36. What was Peter trying to show them? He was trying to show them that their belief system was wrong. They thought that the apostles’ speaking in tongues was a sign of drunkenness (2:13). Peter response to this wrong thinking by showing them that what they are seeing is not evidence of the Spirit of God working through them in fulfillment of the prophesy of Joel (2:14-22). Yet Peter does not stop by correcting their belief about the effects at hand, he then turns their attention to their beliefs about Jesus Christ (2:23-36). He shows him to be the Christ by pointing out the following:

  • Christ evidenced the work of the Spirit of God in His life (2:22)
  • God demonstrated the validity of His claim by raising Him from the dead (2:24-28)
  • Christ was THE descendant o David (2:30)
  • The pouring forth of the Spirit was evidence of Christ having been exulted (2:33-35)


But Peter does not limit his sermon to correcting their beliefs about the Christ, but the draws attention to their actions toward Him. He does not hesitate to remind them that “you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (2:23) and “this Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36).  So Peter’s sermon was primarily aimed at correcting their faulty beliefs and bringing them to the knowledge of the truth.


How then did those listening react? “They were pierced to the heart” (2:38). Apparently, Peter’s words were received as truth, because they seemed to have realized that they had indeed but to death their Messiah. They were indeed following the wrong path. They were going the wrong way. So they ask, “Brethren, what shall we do”.


Finally, we have come full circle and the place of repentance and baptism are finally addressed. Peter calls them to “repent.” Peter calls them to turn from their previous course of life and turn to Christ. Peter calls them to stop acting as though Christ was not really both “Lord and Christ” and to start acting as though He was. But what would repentance look like? The first fruit of repentance that Peter expected to see from these people was baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.


But why would Peter point to baptism as a demonstration of repentance, as a change in what they believed? I think the answer is pretty simply, it was a matter of obedience. If they had genuinely come to believe that Jesus was both Lord and Christ, they would desire to follow Him and to be obedient to Him. Thus the willingness to be baptized into name of Christ would demonstrate obedience to Jesus commands in Matthew 28:19-20, not to mention obedience to the apostle’s instructions as coming from God. In addition, this would serve to identify them publicly with Christ. In a society, then where becoming a Christian would ostracize you from family and friends and would bring great persecution to openly identify with Christ was to place a target on your forehead.


My Concern for

My concern for the church in
America then is that we do not appreciate the significance of baptism. Because being identify with Christ in the
United States does not bring with it the sense of persecution or a sense of cost, baptism has lost much of its ability to be a sign of genuine repentance. Let me be blunt…the
United States has bread an environment in which being baptized brings with it almost no cost. You can be baptized go right on living the same life that you use to. You can be baptized and even unbelievers can be happy for you, because you have found something that works for you. And in a society, where most false religions are done in the name of Christ, how can any identification with that name bring with it a sense of genuine turning to the true Christ.


I think the American church needs to go back and consider better ways of discerning the genuineness of a person’s confession and that includes our own person confession. We can no longer consider the simple identification with Christ through baptism as a sufficient evidence of conversion (although it is still a necessary act of obedience). We must look beyond the moment of conversion to the life that follows. We must look for changes in our beliefs and changes in our attitudes and actions that evidence a work of God in our hearts. Otherwise, like Simon the magician in Acts 8, we are simply playing religion and we are still in our sins and will likewise perish.