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Love and Truth in Evangelism

          Jesus said in Mark 12:31 that one of the greatest commandments is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He said this is the “second” of the great commandments, the first being, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Jesus explained what it means to love Him in John 14:15, when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
          Would it not follow, then, that loving your neighbor would involve encouraging them—gently and tactfully—to obey God? Certainly, we must consider our words carefully, refusing to compromise while maintaining God’s loving message of grace and mercy.
          Paul encourages his readers to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). May we never forget there are two parts to the admonition: speak the truth, and speak in love. There are too many religious types that leave out one or the other. Some, full of what they believe is love, teach about God’s grace and mercy but ignore the need for obedience. Others are full of vitriol as they point out God’s disdain for sinful activities and lifestyles.
          The point of teaching the truth is to bring sinners to repentance, patiently presenting God’s will (2 Timothy 4:2). We must make them aware that their actions are not approved by God, whether it is covetousness, homosexuality, fornication, hatred, or any of the other sins exposed by inspiration (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21).
          We cannot force anyone to obey Him, but we can point them in the right direction. Our Lord said, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). When that last day comes, not one soul that is alive today will have an excuse for disobedience and rebellion.
          Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). There is no other option but Christ.

The Purpose of Baptism

There are many opinions about baptism in the 21st century religious world. Most recognize that baptism is important but disagree on its place in God’s plan for saving man. Since it is an important topic, we would be wise to seek the counsel of God on baptism.

“For the remission of sins”

Acts 2:38, Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

According to this passage, Peter says that baptism is “for the remission of sins.” What does that phrase mean? In English, we recognize that “for” can have a few different meanings. It could mean that baptism is done with a view toward, or in order to accomplish the remission of sins. Another way to understand it is that baptism is done because of the remission of sins, or because remissions of sins was already accomplished. So which is it?

This is not the only passage in the Bible that uses the phrase, “for the remission of sins.” I am a firm believer in the idea that the Bible is its own best commentary, so let’s look at the other passage in which the phrase “for the remission of sins” is found.

While instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said about the cup, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Now, apply the above meanings to this passage. Was Jesus’ blood shed with a view toward, or in order to accomplish the remission of sins? Or was His blood shed because the remission of sins was already accomplished?

Obviously, the first view is correct. If remission of sins was accomplished before His blood was shed, then why was His blood shed? Just as Jesus’ blood was shed in order to accomplish the remission of sins, likewise we are baptized in order to accomplish the remission of sins.

Not baptism alone!

Let us pause for just a moment to clarify that the Bible does not teach salvation by baptism alone. The Scriptures are clear that one must hear the gospel (Romans 10:17), believe (John 3:16), repent (Acts 2:38; 3:17), and confess his belief in Christ as the Son of God (Acts 8:37). All of these things work together with baptism to bring about God’s grace in a person’s life. It is neither faith alone (James 2:24) nor baptism alone (Mark 16:16) that saves, but an obedient, active faith.

“Wash away your sins”

When Jesus appeared before Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, the Lord told him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). For three days Saul fasted and prayed (Acts 9:9,11) until Ananias came and said, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

So follow the events: Saul believed, then started fasting and praying, and then Ananias said stop praying, be baptized, and wash away your sins. That’s a lot different than what many say today! Many teach that when you believe and say a prayer, you’re saved at that point, and then later you can be baptized if you want. But Ananias placed baptism before the washing away of sins!

Necessary or not?

The North American Mission Board, an organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, says, “While baptism is important, it is not necessary for salvation.” They argue against the clear statement of Mark 16:16, in which Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” NAMB argues, “Mark 16:16 is silent concerning whether the person who believes but is not baptized is saved or lost.”

Jesus is clear in His command. Why must man take His plain statement and twist it and make excuses and try to find loopholes? Jesus said believe, be baptized, be saved. Nothing is said about belief without baptism because there is no such thing; if one truly believes and understands, he will simply obey what Christ commands without looking for a way out.

Where do you stand?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died so that your sins could be forgiven? Have you had your sins washed away by the saving blood of Christ? Have you been baptized for the remission of sins?

If you need assistance in obeying this simple command of the Lord, the only One who can save you from your sins, please contact your local church of Christ today.

Fervent in Spirit, Serving the Lord

          No matter what one’s role is in the church, he is expected to be zealous in performing the will of God in that role. In the words of James Burton Coffman, “A lazy Christian is a contradiction of terms. Having been saved from the guilt and ravages of sin, the Christian is man at the zenith of his best powers.”
          It is not possible for one who truly understands what God has done to be apathetic. Christianity is not a hobby; it is a way of life. The church is not a social club; it is a spiritual family.
          The elders are not overlords; they are shepherds who care for your soul. The deacons are not junior elders; they are servants who carry out specific works in the church. The preacher is not a performer; he is a student and messenger of God’s Word.
          Members are not spectators; they are essential parts of the body, and if the church is going to be healthy, every member must be just as fervent in spirit as the elders, deacons, and preacher as they serve the Lord!

Not Lagging in Diligence

          In Romans 12, Paul offers a number of short exhortations to his readers. The King James Version translates the first part of verse 11, “Not slothful in business.” The Christian should be diligent for his employer, but the context this verse has more to do with the business of the church.
          We sing a song, “I want to be a worker for the Lord.” Do we mean those words when we sing them? Do we truly want to “be busy every day in the vineyard of the Lord,” or are we just giving lip service?
          All disciples are to be actively engaged in the work of the Lord’s church. We should be busy making disciples (Matthew 28:19), encouraging each other (Hebrews 10:24-25), and helping the needy (Galatians 6:10; James 1:27).
          We do not always see the fruit of our labors, but we must not give up. If we are mocked or rejected or persecuted by those around us, we keep obeying God (1 Peter 2:19-20). The things we do in the name of the Lord are not done in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). May we never lag in diligence when it comes to the Lord’s work.

Giving Preference To One Another

          Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10). This passages speaks to how we treat each other in the church. Paul had just written, “Let love be without hypocrisy,” in verse 9; our actions must match our words!
          In another place, the apostle wrote, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
          Do you see a brother or sister in need? Whether it is a spiritual, emotional, or physical need, it is our duty (and should be our delight!) to fulfill that need. Listen to each other and offer whatever assistance you can.
          Our primary goal is to get to heaven, and secondary is to take as many with us as possible. This congregation is full of Barnabas-type encouragers, saints who want to see each other in glory. Keep lifting each other up and looking out for the eternal interests of your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Cling To What Is Good

          “Cling” is defined: “hold on tightly to; adhere or stick firmly or closely to; be hard to part or remove from.” Paul says that we are to “cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). How do we do that?
          First, we must know what good is. It is said that Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), so we can start by looking at His actions and imitating Him. We are also told that the will of God is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), so we can study what He reveals to us (James 1:21-25).
          Second, once we know what it is, we need to think about it and apply it. Paul writes that we should meditate on noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous things (Philippians 4:8). What is the result of such meditation? Jesus tells us, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things” (Matthew 12:35).
          Are you clinging to what is good? Studying it and meditating on it? Are you bringing forth good things to encourage those around you?

Abhor What Is Evil

          To “abhor” is to “regard with disgust and hatred.” This is how God sees sin, and it must be how we see sin as well.
          Christians have long opposed the action of abortion, seeing it as the murder of an innocent, defenseless human being. The New York state legislature recently passed a law that allows abortions after 24 weeks if the mother’s health is at risk. Certainly there are difficult decisions that need to be made by some in such cases, but there is a fear that the law can be manipulated and interpreted too broadly. One does not have to scroll through their Facebook feed very long to see several posts, editorial cartoons, and links to articles about the evils of abortion.
          There is no doubt, per Romans 12:9, that we are to “abhor what is evil,” and that certainly includes abortion. Yet, how do we approach this and other subjects in our interactions with others? Do our words, either online or in person, do more harm than good? There are many in the world that have been deceived by people they trust, taught to accept things that Christians find unconscionable. If we verbally attack them, more times than not they will simply dig in and defend their position regardless of any argument presented.
          Consider the approach God commands in Galatians 6:1 – “in a spirit of gentleness.” Think about the Facebook posts and interactions you have witnessed over the past week concerning abortion. How many times would you say the godly position was presented “in a spirit of gentleness”?
          What we say absolutely matters, make no mistake about it! Should we oppose the evil of abortion? Of course we should! However, we need to be certain how we say it does not hinder our neighbor’s acceptance of the truth. Be gentle and patient and kind while being steadfast and uncompromising in God’s Word.
          May we always be those who “abhor what is evil” while we seek to guide the erring toward God’s truth in gentleness. We must abhor the sin, but see the soul as precious to and wanted by the Almighty.

Let love be without hypocrisy

          “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9). Brother Don DeWelt paraphrased these words, “Let your professions of love be real” (Romans Realized, page 197). Inspiration teaches us that love is the foundation for all of God’s commands: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). If we say we love, but do not allow it to influence our actions, that is the height of hypocrisy.
          Christ warned against hypocritical behavior in Matthew 6. He said the hypocrites said and did things to “have glory from men” and to “be seen by men” (6:2,5). The love and honor professed by hypocrites is betrayed by their hearts, resulting in vain worship (Matthew 15:7-9). Hypocritical judgments hinder our influence for Christ among seekers of truth and guidance (Matthew 7:1-5).
          Many opponents Christianity will use the word “hypocrite” as if they make a dollar every time it is said, but we need to be careful that we do not dismiss such accusations without self-examination. That is Christ’s point in Matthew 7. We cannot effectively teach the world about sin and redemption if we have not corrected the sin and sought redemption in our own lives.
          Once we determine to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12), we can get to the business of leading others to their salvation. Continually examining ourselves, spending time in the Word, living it and teaching it. “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
          Looking to the Word as the standard, ask yourself, “Does the love I profess for God and man match the life I live?” Be honest with yourself and make the changes necessary so that you can, as Paul wrote, “let love be without hypocrisy.”

‘Tis the Season

          Christmas carols often highlight the joy associated with the holiday season. The lyrics of “Deck the Halls” remind us, “‘Tis the season to be jolly.” For many, however, the attitude exhibited during this time of year is anything but jolly. Perhaps it is the stress of finding the perfect gift for a loved one that causes one to be impolite toward strangers, or the additional hustle and bustle in traffic on the roads and in the stores that brings out selfishness. Whatever the case may be, the attitude of Christmas shoppers is frequently the opposite of the joy expressed in the carols.
          For the Christian, each day should be filled with happiness as we wait for the Savior and fellowship with each other. Do we demonstrate the delights of following Christ? Or do those around us look at our disposition and decide they would never want to be as miserable as we are?
          The inspired apostle Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking by put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
          Which words describe you? Bitter or kind? Angry or tenderhearted? Clamoring or forgiving?
          Not only during this Christmas season, but throughout our Christian life, we must show others what is available in Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Setbacks

          I experienced a bit of a setback this past week. Five and a half weeks after my back surgery, some of the pain started to come back. Emotionally discouraged and physically exhausted, my hope was that the pain was temporary and I took a little comfort in knowing that I was not completely healed but the pain should again decrease in the coming weeks as the mending continued.
          Can this happen to us spiritually? Of course it can. The “fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16) will come at us from every direction. Are we going to give in to that temptation from time to time? Yes, sadly, we will. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We will suffer spiritual setbacks. Just as physical pain can discourage us, spiritual weakness can lead to deep disappointment.
          Thank God we have an Advocate, a High Priest who understands temptation and who is on our side! Thank God that He is full of grace and desires our fellowship and has given us an avenue by which we can be restored! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
          “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). How grand is the grace of God! How tremendous is His mercy!
          This month especially, as we count our blessings and give thanks, may we daily remember His love for us and seek ways to show our love for Him.