by Al Maxey
Issue #848 -- July 19, 2022
It was a common saying among the Puritans,
"Brown bread and the Gospel is good fare."
Matthew Henry [1662-1714]
I find it most interesting, as well as quite disturbing, that the very first words written in what we today refer to as the New Testament canon (comprised of twenty-seven ancient documents) are an indictment against those early disciples of Christ Jesus who had lost sight of the true nature of the "Gospel" that had been faithfully delivered unto them. Immediately after penning his salutation "to the churches of Galatia" (Paul's epistle to the Galatians was written in 49 A.D., thus becoming the very first of the twenty-seven books of the NT to be written), the apostle Paul got right to the point: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel, which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema). As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to (other than, more than) that which you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-9, NASB).
Paul was quite upset that the glorious "Good News" he had shared with those in Galatia was being twisted into something very different from what had been originally delivered unto them; indeed, that which had been "glad tidings" was now a perverse distortion. In the wording of the paraphrase known as The Message, Paul calls this a "variant message," and "not a minor variation; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God" ... it is "turning the Message of Christ on its head." What was the problem in Galatia that prompted Paul to pen this epistle? Freedom in Christ was under attack by legalistic religionists. Jesus liberated us from Law; in Him we are free! "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. ... For you were called to freedom, brethren" (Galatians 5:1, 13; NASB). Eugene H. Peterson (1932-2018), an American theologian and pastor who wrote the above-mentioned NT version known as The Message, made the following observation in his introduction to the epistle of Paul to the Galatians: "Paul learned that religious leaders of the old school had come into those churches he had founded, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the corral of religious rules and regulations. Paul was, of course, furious. He was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religious tactics and intimidating the Christians into giving up their free life in Jesus. But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation. His letter to the Galatian churches helps them, and us, recover the original freedom."
For those interested in an in-depth study of this topic, you might want to consider my adult class "The Message of Freedom" - An In-Depth Study of the Epistle to the Galatians: The Magna Charta of Christian Liberty. The reader might also find my following recorded (MP3) study enlightening: "Law to Liberty" - Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ. Both of these studies will give the reader a better appreciation for why Paul was so upset with the problem presenting itself at that time in Galatia (and in other areas as well). It was, quite literally, an attack against the gospel message itself, an attack that had to be met quickly and decisively! Even the apostle Peter got caught up in it, and Paul "opposed him to his face" (Galatians 2:11), for he was "not being straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (vs. 14). "Even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy" (vs. 13).
As we can clearly perceive, the "gospel" was extremely important to the apostle Paul, so much so that he was willing to forcefully confront any and all who opposed it. But, what exactly was this "good news" which Paul proclaimed and defended? There are a number of places in the NT writings that speak of "the gospel" and of "preaching the gospel" and of those who preach it, but these phrases do not, in themselves, identify that "gospel." In Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22 we are informed by Jesus that "the poor have the gospel preached to them." But, what was it?! In Acts 8:25 we are told that some of the disciples "were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans." But, what was it?! Jesus was "preaching the gospel" in the temple (Luke 20:1). But, what was it?! Paul and his companions, as they passed through several cities, "continued to preach the gospel" to them (Acts 14:7). But, what was it?! Paul told the brethren in Corinth, "I preached the gospel of God to you without charge" (2 Corinthians 11:7). But, what was it he preached to them?! Whatever it was, it was "of God." But, again, no specifics are enumerated. The author of Hebrews wrote, "We have had good news preached to us, just as they also" (Hebrews 4:2), but once again we are given no further insight in that verse as to the nature of that "good news." There are many such places in the NT writings where the noun "gospel" and the verb "preach the gospel" appear, yet a great many of them say nothing about the content of this "gospel" message or why it was so vital to these early disciples. Little wonder, then, that so many disciples over the past two thousand years have come up with differing understandings of what constitutes "the gospel."
The Greek word for "gospel" is "euangelion," which appears 77 times in the NT writings, 61 of which are used by Paul in his epistles. No other NT writer focused on the "gospel" more than Paul. It was the central theme of his teaching, and superseded all else. "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 1:17). The Greek verb meaning "preach the gospel" is "euangelizo," and it appears 55 times in the NT writings, 22 of which are by Paul. Luke used it 25 times (10 in his gospel account and 15 in the book of Acts). Both terms simply mean "good news, glad tidings" and the proclaiming of this unto others. The word for the person preaching the gospel is "euangelistes," from which we get our English word "evangelist." It is used only three times in the NT writings: Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11, and 2 Timothy 4:5. It should probably be pointed out here that the word "gospel" is sometimes employed in the Scriptures to refer to something less redemptive or salvific in nature. For example, Paul wrote to the brethren in Thessalonica, "Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you" (1 Thessalonians 3:6). Another example is that of the message of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias about how his wife would bear to him a son (who would be John the Baptist). "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news" (Luke 1:19). In both of these cases, the nature of the "good news" (gospel) message delivered is specified. We know what it is, because we are told in the passage what it is. Such specificity is not always provided, however, in the many other places where "gospel" and "preach the gospel" are mentioned, thus leading some believers and scholars over the centuries to speculate as to the specifics of this "good news."
This speculation has led to an enormous amount of confusion over the years over what exactly constitutes the "gospel," a confusion intensified by many who have conflated "gospel" and "doctrine" (see my study titled "The Gospel-Doctrine Debate: Are they the Same or Separate?" - Reflections #117). As a result, there are Christians who firmly believe that the many teachings and traditions of the church are an integral part of the Gospel. In time, for some rigid fundamentalists and legalists, "preaching the gospel" came to be more focused on "getting right" what we do for God, than on appreciating what God has done for us!! I have heard countless "gospel" preachers over the years deliver "gospel" sermons that have had little or nothing to do with the powerful "glad tidings" of what God has done for us through His Son. Indeed, such misguided teaching and preaching constitutes that "different gospel" that "distorts the gospel" of our Lord and Savior (Galatians 1:6f). I would encourage you to read my study titled "Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9" (Reflections #215).
As previously noted, there are quite a few places in the NT writings where the word "gospel" and the phrase "preaching the gospel" appear without any reference in the immediate context as to what this "good news" was/is. Thankfully, however, there are ample other places this word and phrase are used where we are informed as to the content of the message. Recently, I went through every passage in the NT where this word and phrase appear, and I made a list of those passages in which the nature of the "good news" was specified in the text or context. I found the result of this research quite stunning: both in what it revealed the glad tidings to be, and what it revealed the glad tidings not to be. In the remainder of this current issue of my Reflections, I want to share with you those findings. I think you will find them to be quite eye-opening. [SPECIAL OFFER - I have this information in a MS Word document (.docx ... size: 16.6 KB) titled "Identifying the Gospel," and I will email it to anyone requesting a copy.]
As I collected and examined and reflected upon these passages within the NT writings, I found that when the authors identified the specific content of what they referred to as the "gospel" (good news, glad tidings), that identification ranged from rather general to quite specific in nature. On one end, for example, there are several places where it is simply stated to be "the gospel of God" ... "the gospel of Jesus Christ" ... "the gospel of the Son." In Greek phrases where we find "of" used in the English rendering, this can be somewhat confusing to the reader, for such phrases may be a Subjective Genitive (referring to source: the good news that God and/or Jesus themselves proclaimed; i.e., the content came from them), or an Objective Genitive (meaning that the good news proclaimed is about God and/or Jesus), or a Plenary Genitive (in which both of the above meanings and applications may be in view at the same time: i.e., the good news is both from God and/or Jesus, as well as about God and/or Jesus). This same problem is faced by those who seek to understand the apostle John's phrase "the doctrine of Christ," with great theological debate occurring over the centuries because of which meaning one chooses. I dealt with this, and explained each of the above three genitives in more detail, in my article titled "'The Doctrine of Christ': The Use and Abuse of 2 John 9-11" (Reflections #84).
Whichever view one chooses, the message is nevertheless clear: The "good news" delivered unto mankind originates from the Lord, not man, and is all about what Deity has done for humanity! The "gospel" is not of men, nor is it about men, contrary to many of the "different gospels" promoted by men. Paul stresses this point repeatedly in his writings, especially in Galatians 1:11-12 - "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." Here Paul speaks of source. In Romans 1:1-3 he speaks about content: "I was called and set apart for the gospel of God ... concerning His Son." It is a declaration of glad tidings from the Father about His Son, Jesus the Messiah.
Paul gave even greater clarity to "gospel content" in his epistle to the brethren in Corinth: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NIV). For Paul, the "gospel" - the glorious Good News - was focused on our Lord's atoning sacrifice on the cross, and the subsequent resurrection from the dead! "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ... God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. ... We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:17-24).
The Good News delivered to men, and the Good News men are to continually deliver unto others who need to hear it, is all about God dealing with the "sin problem" through the sacrifice of His Son, and of how we may overcome the consequence of sin, which is death, by our Lord's victory over death at the resurrection! Sin is dealt with; death is defeated; life is assured - from God through Jesus the Messiah. These are "glad tidings" indeed. Thus, when we preach the "gospel," we preach JESUS! "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching the good news of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah" (Acts 5:42). "Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" ... "Philip went to Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them" (Acts 8:4-5). Philip saw the eunuch reading from Isaiah; he approached this official from Ethiopia, and "Philip opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:35). The apostle Peter was "preaching the good news of peace through Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:36). Disciples in Antioch "began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the good news of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20). The philosophers in Athens were amazed at Paul, for "he was preaching the good news of Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18).
Our union with Christ Jesus the Son, a union which brings us into relationship not only with Him, but also with the Father from whom we were separated by sin, is in some ways an immersive experience. We are saved by grace through faith, which grace and faith allow the Spirit of God to plunge us into this spiritual union with Christ. This "immersion" is not baptism in water (that is a different event), but rather an act of uniting us with the Lord performed by the Holy Spirit for those who truly believe (1 Corinthians 12:13). When the Spirit immerses us into this spiritual union, we become "clothed" (wrapped around) in the warm embrace of our Lord. We also become a part of that great, universal One Body of Christ, a "kingdom of priests" in service to our Sovereign. Many disciples of Christ see such passages as 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27, and Romans 13:14 being all about baptism in water. I believe this is not what these passages teach, and I have dealt with that in great depth in my following two studies: "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27" (Reflections #362) and "Immersed by One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" (Reflections #353). We most certainly manifest the reality of this spiritual event in a couple of visible acts of faith and love: i.e.. baptism in water and the partaking of the elements of the Lord's Supper, but neither of these two reflective events are in themselves redemptive in any way. They are acts in which we engage in obedience to the wishes of our Savior, but we do them because we already are saved, not in order to become saved or to maintain that salvation.
As "saved ones," we also become, as I noted above, "a kingdom of priests" (this is also sometimes translated "a kingdom and priests"). I dealt with this concept of our union with the Lord in my study titled "The Priesthood of All Believers: The Who-When-How of Christian Service" (Reflections #732). Part of the "Good News" we experience is that we are indeed a kingdom: subjects in this great realm ruled by our eternal Sovereign. Many of the parables of Jesus are what scholars refer to as "kingdom parables," for they deal with the King, with His kingdom, and with His subjects. Thus, it is not surprising to find the wonderful "glad tidings" associated time and again with the word "kingdom." In Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 we find Jesus proclaiming "the gospel of the kingdom." In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world." In Mark 1:14-15, we read that Jesus "came preaching the gospel of God, saying, '...the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'" In Luke 4:43 Jesus declared, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God, for I was sent for this purpose" (cf. Luke 8:1). Jesus said, "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; but since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached" (Luke 16:16). Philip "was preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12). In Acts 20:25, the apostle Paul stated, "I went about preaching the good news of the kingdom." He is our King; we are His beloved subjects ... He is our Father; we are His beloved children. Yes, Good News indeed! Now that is "preachable," as one old pastor said.
The Gospel revealed unto mankind is designed to bring joy, peace, gladness, and hope. It is GOOD news; GLAD tidings. "Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). Philip preached the good news about Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, and the latter, we are told, "went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39). Paul told the Ephesian elders that it is "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). What news could possibly be more joyful in nature than the knowledge that we, who are sinners, are nevertheless called by God and saved by grace! "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!" By His grace, love, and mercy, we may enter, through simple, trusting faith, into a state of peace with the Lord God. The apostle Peter was "preaching the good news of peace through Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:36). In Ephesians 6:15, Paul refers to it as "the gospel of peace." We, who were at one time "enemies" of the Lord because of sin, are now at peace with Him. And that is "good news" indeed.
What a gift our God has given us in His Son!! In Him we have life; in Him we have peace. "For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:14-18). Now that is GOSPEL. That, says Paul, is "the hope of the gospel which you have heard, which is preached in all the creation that is under heaven, whereof I Paul am made a minister" (Colossians 1:23). Indeed, "life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:8-11). And central to ALL of this joy, hope, peace, life is Jesus the Messiah! Let us never forget Him, or what the Father has accomplish for us through Him! "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8).
At this point I need to be rather bold and blunt with some of my fellow disciples of Jesus. There are some out there who are proclaiming the Glad Tidings of/about Jesus Christ "out of envy and strife" (Philippians 1:15). Some translations read, "because they are jealous and quarrelsome" ... "because they are envious and contentious." Paul rejoiced that "Christ was proclaimed" (vs. 18), but he lamented the fact that some were doing so "out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives" (vs. 17). Some today are doing the same. Possessed with a sectarian spirit and a love more for tradition than truth, they "weaponize" the gospel and use it to blast those who differ with them on petty party particulars, while those lost in the darkness of this world perish on their church steps. Those who preach a steady diet of denominational distinctives and party perceptions, practices, preferences, and precepts, and sacred sectarian shibboleths, are "distorting the gospel of Christ, ... preaching a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, ... and are preaching a different gospel" (Galatians 1:6-9), and even "preaching another Jesus, whom we did not preach" (2 Corinthians 11:4). These are "false brethren" who seek to bring those free in Christ "into bondage" to their rigid religious rules and regulations (Galatians 2:4), and Paul urges us to never give in to them, not for a single moment, "so that the truth of the gospel" may remain with us in unblemished form (vs. 5). Paul was so upset by these legalists and their perverted "gospel" (which he says had NO "good news" associated with it - Galatians 1:7a), that he wrote these shocking words, "I wish that those who are troubling you would even castrate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12).
Yes, there are some today, like those whom Paul rebuked (and Peter and Barnabas were among them), who are "not walking uprightly according to the truth of the Good News" (Galatians 2:14). We are called, brethren, to preach a Person, not a Party; a Savior, not a Sect. The gospel message is all about HIM, not about US. It's about a Redeemer, not a Religion. Let us each, therefore, remember daily "to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called" (Ephesians 4:1), and to "conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel" (Philippians 1:27), which simply means that you and I must "live in a way that brings honor to the Good News about Christ. ... working together and struggling side by side to get others to believe the Good News" (Philippians 1:27, Contemporary English Version).
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I just ordered your book "Immersed by One Spirit," and I am really looking forward to consuming it, as I'm a member of a pretty buttoned-down, local Church of Christ congregation. Thank you!
From a Reader in Texas:
It's been awhile since I last communicated with you, but rest assured, I look forward to reading every one of your Reflections. They are always very insightful. I am very much in agreement with you about baptism. Like you, my views have changed over the years. I believe if our views don't change, then we are not growing in our knowledge and understanding. One thing you spoke of in your last issue of Reflections is something I hear all the time: "WE are the one, true church because we have the 'right name' printed on our church building" (i.e., the "Church of Christ"). Church members get upset with me when I ask them which one of the many factions within this group IS that "one, true church"? Is it the one with or without musical instruments? Is it the one with one cup or multiple cups? Is it the one with Bible classes or without? I could keep going, but I know that you know all of this only too well. It is strange, though, that when I ask these questions, I never get an answer! Al, you always make me think, so thank you for what you do!
Like this reader, I too have repeatedly sought answers to these same questions, as well as: "If there is a NT 'pattern' that we must follow precisely to BE that 'one, true church,' then please provide a detailed list of exactly what particulars constitute that 'divine pattern' to which all men must adhere!" All I get is that "deer in the headlights" look, or an angry outburst against me, or they will just "run and hide" until I go away. You will never get a response from these legalistic patternists and hardened sectarians. They can't answer those questions, and they know it. I have documented these attempts to gain answers in several of my past articles, and they can be found on my Topical Index page under the heading "Requesting Legalism's List." I think you will find it interesting, as well as frustrating! -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Texas:
I enjoyed your last article on baptism ("Baptism Hath Enslaved Me: The Tyranny of an Elevated Tradition" - Reflections #847), and I agree with your sentiments. I am wondering how people can read around my favorite story about final judgment, the one told by Jesus in Matthew 25. Were the "sheep people" baptized? Did they go to the "right" church? How were they "obedient" to God for their salvation? It seems to me they simply loved, and they took care of those in need wherever they found them, and in so doing thereby took care of Jesus Himself. I also find it interesting that they seemed not to understand they were actually serving Jesus by showing love to and meeting the needs of others - i.e., they didn't do it "to be saved"! They did it because that was who they were, or that's who they had become. As you can tell, this is my proverbial "soapbox." Jesus' story about final judgment is about how people do what Paul tells us to do in Galatians 5:6 - express our faith in love! Sometimes that means we feed people. Some get baptized. Others may do this in a hundred different ways as they are exposed to God's light of love. I watched the 60 Minutes program last night about the TV show "Ted Lasso." Now, I want to watch that show (LOL). But, I really like the motto that comes out in that show: "Be curious, not judgmental." I think a lot of Christians would be well-served if they followed this advice.
From a Minister in Rhode Island:
My brother, as always I enjoy and have learned from your Reflections. I just wanted to whole-heartedly agree with, and to shout a resounding AMEN, to your response to the brother in Indiana regarding his question to you: "Around what time did you change route on your convictions concerning water baptism?" Your response in part was, "From as far back as I can remember, my views on almost everything have been undergoing examination, reflection, and transformation." Al, I too have always questioned everything, and this has gotten me into some difficult situations within "our tribe" (the Churches of Christ). Through prayer, reading, and the power of the Holy Spirit, I yearn for growth and enlightenment. Some dislike this fact, as you well-know. So, once again, Thank You, my brother. In all your endeavors, may the Holy One continue to bless you.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Al, you always amaze me with your understanding of biblical principles, and with your ability to shed light on age-old Church of Christ traditions. I remember a young man at Abilene Christian College (as it was known back then), who wanted to be baptized, but he did not want membership in the "Church of Christ" denomination. One Bible professor there refused to baptize him, while another gladly did so. The one who baptized the young man soon left his teaching position there and went to another denominational college to teach. It left a lasting impression on me as to what was more important in the minds of some: being a member of the "Church of Christ" group, or being a believer in Christ as the Son of God and following His example of baptism in water. Al, you always put into words what I believe is Truth!
From a Reader in Colorado:
Al, thank you for all the time you spend studying and sharing your knowledge with so many of us who are eager to learn! I appreciate very much your help in "undoing" some of the confusion I've lived with for the past 60 years. Even though I couldn't understand how God could send to hell many unbaptized wonderful Christian people, I still held on to that belief for many years, yet it just didn't make any sense to me. Yet, who was I, I thought, to question what the Scriptures seemed to teach about that act of baptism in water saving us?! Thank you, my friend, for clearing up our confusion. One of these days I truly hope to drive down from my home in Colorado to visit your congregation and give you a hug!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Over several years I have asked two questions of people regarding the traditional view of the "Church of Christ" church on water baptism: (1) Can you find even one example from the Bible where believers are to baptize lost people? (2) Can you find even one example in the Bible where the term "obey the gospel" refers to water baptism? And what has been the response to these two questions? That's right: Silence. To "obey" the gospel always means in the Bible to "believe" the gospel. Thanks for your labor of love!
I too have asked the question: "How does one obey good news?" Good news and glad tidings constitute declarations of something wondrous. Good news is not a command. Good news does not require obedience. Yes, one may respond to good news! One may believe or disbelieve it. One may share it with others. But, obey it?! That does not make sense! Yet, in the tribe from which I come it was always accepted that "Obey the Gospel" meant "be baptized in water." To even dare to question this dogma was anathema! I would urge the reader to examine my following study titled "Can We OBEY the Gospel? Reflecting Anew on Three NT Texts" (Reflections #501). -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Trinidad & Tobago:
Good Morning Bro. Maxey, I would like your most honest understanding on John 6, where Jesus is dealing with the Jews on eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The situation I am having here is that some brethren think you should not use this text in your meditation remarks before the Lord's Supper. Some go farther than "shouldn't" and say that one cannot use this text. Please help me out here.
I sent this brother a copy of my study titled "Consuming Christ: Eating His Flesh, Drinking His Blood" (Reflections #222). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Florida:
Al, your article "Baptism Hath Enslaved Me" is a great one! I loved the questions and answers. A mutual friend of ours likes to ask the following question about Matthew 28:18-20 - "Which came first, the making of disciples, based on their faith, or baptism? How is it that they became believers and disciples prior to baptism if the latter is required for salvation?"
A lot of people do indeed fail to notice that Jesus told us to "make disciples," and that it was these believing disciples of Christ that were then to be baptized. It is the same with the Cornelius account: They believed first, and they also received the Holy Spirit, and then Peter baptized them. Did he get it backwards?! When one comes to understand the purpose of baptism in water, these questions quickly go away. Baptism is a symbol, not a sacrament. It is not redemptive in nature and purpose; rather, it is reflective. It shows much, but secures nothing. Check out my following studies: "Does Baptism Make Disciples? Headed to the Lake, Disciples to Make" (Reflections #679) and "Contemplating Our Commission: A Reflective Exegesis of Matthew 28:19-20a" (Reflections #500). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I just read "Baptism Hath Enslaved Me." Oh my ... get the tar and feathers ready! (LOL) There are going to be pictures of you with a bullseye on it. Of all our "sacred cows," this is one of the biggest, although it is only one of many such dogmatic opinions. The one passage that really drove it home for me (that baptism in water is not to be elevated to a condition of salvation) is what Paul wrote in Romans 4. Of all the commanded symbolic acts for the Jew, circumcision was considered the one for the faithful Jew. I would imagine it was no less important to them than baptism in water is for many today. Yet, Paul made it very clear that circumcision was NOT the basis for Abraham being considered righteous in the sight of God. Rather, it was his faith. Paul says he was justified prior to his circumcision, and we are told he is the example for us today on how we are considered righteous in the eyes of God. Love ya, buddy. Keep stomping out ignorance!
The apostle Paul, in his theological masterpiece: The Epistle to the Romans, repeatedly attacks the misconception that justification
and salvation are by means of our own effort; that one must somehow earn one's acceptance by God. Such thinking, however, nullifies
grace. "Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good
deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God's way. For the Scriptures tell us,
'Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.' When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they
have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. David also
spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it" (Romans 4:1-6, New Living
Translation). Paul knew some would then argue that Abraham was circumcised, and that this was something God expected him to do, so
Abraham's justification (his being counted as righteous) must have been based on something he did.
Thus, Paul addresses this: "Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was
circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith
and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous -- even before he was circumcised" (Romans 4:10-11a,
NLT). Paul makes it very clear in this passage, as well as in many other places, that men "are counted as righteous because of their
faith" (vs. 11b), and that our good works, which God certainly expects of us, are after He has bestowed His gift of grace upon us, NOT
Okay, let's go ahead and ask the question that is on everyone's mind right now: Would this also apply to baptism in water? YES!! Just as Paul
declared about the practice of circumcision, it is a sign of an already present faith (a visible demonstration of that already present faith),
a faith God clearly perceives in our hearts, and it is a visible reenactment of the redemptive act of His Son (death, burial and resurrection),
whose shed blood cleanses us of all sin. He washed us in His blood, which gift we embrace by faith, and which reality of redemption we evidence
by this symbolic act. Circumcision and baptism are both commanded by God; thus, those who have faith obey those commands. Paul
makes it clear, however, that the act itself is not sacramental -- it isn't what justifies, redeems, or saves; we are
accepted by God on the basis of FAITH, a faith which then, and daily thereafter, manifests itself in submission to His will for our lives (which
includes the symbolic recreation of His act on our behalf). Yes, Abraham was circumcised, it was a covenant sign
expected of him, but he was counted as righteous by faith before he "went under the knife." I have been baptized, it is a covenant
sign expected of me, but I was saved by the grace of God before I "went under the water." If not, then everything Paul teaches in
Romans is a LIE.
Okay, let's go ahead and ask the question that is on everyone's mind right now: Would this also apply to baptism in water? YES!! Just as Paul declared about the practice of circumcision, it is a sign of an already present faith (a visible demonstration of that already present faith), a faith God clearly perceives in our hearts, and it is a visible reenactment of the redemptive act of His Son (death, burial and resurrection), whose shed blood cleanses us of all sin. He washed us in His blood, which gift we embrace by faith, and which reality of redemption we evidence by this symbolic act. Circumcision and baptism are both commanded by God; thus, those who have faith obey those commands. Paul makes it clear, however, that the act itself is not sacramental -- it isn't what justifies, redeems, or saves; we are accepted by God on the basis of FAITH, a faith which then, and daily thereafter, manifests itself in submission to His will for our lives (which includes the symbolic recreation of His act on our behalf). Yes, Abraham was circumcised, it was a covenant sign expected of him, but he was counted as righteous by faith before he "went under the knife." I have been baptized, it is a covenant sign expected of me, but I was saved by the grace of God before I "went under the water." If not, then everything Paul teaches in Romans is a LIE.-- Al Maxey
If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, Contact Me and I'll immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may
all be obtained on a special CD. Check the Archives
for details and all past issues of these Reflections at: