Thursday, January 31, 2008

Water Baptism and Salvation

This essay will probably challenge your beliefs, no matter what your theology. My view on the connection between water baptism and salvation isn't quite like that of any church I know of. I'm in between some of their views, not outside and beyond them, so I don't think I'm a heretic.

I grew up in a church denomination that linked water baptism and salvation rather closely. I then went to the theological seminary of a denomination that separated them distinctly. Who is right? How does water baptism relate to salvation? The two are linked closely (though often not precisely) by such varied groups as the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, the Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (For those of you from outside the USA, the last two groups are US-born denominations.) On the other hand, the Baptists and most of the Evangelicals are very careful to separate water baptism from salvation.

After decades of pondering, I believe water baptism is a God-given means of expressing faith in Jesus who saves. Or, to put it another way, the PRIMARY means of salvation is Jesus. He saves us. The SECONDARY means of salvation is faith. Faith connects us with Jesus who saves us. The TERTIARY means of salvation is water baptism. Water baptism expresses faith in Jesus who saves us.

Does this mean that everyone who receives water baptism is saved? No. We've all met people and read of evil dictators who have received water baptism and then lived for the devil. The scripture says, "By their fruits you will know them." Water baptism is not a magic ceremony that guarantees eternal salvation.

Does this mean that nobody is saved without receiving water baptism? Again, no. The thief on the cross was saved. He did not and could not receive water baptism. For salvation, Jesus is essential; faith is essential; expressing that faith is essential. God has given us water baptism for expressing that faith, but he is gracious to save all of those who have true faith in the true Jesus Christ. In most of our churches, people are told to express their faith by walking down an aisle or by raising a hand or by saying a prayer or by getting confirmed. Any of those can be real methods of expressing real faith in Jesus who saves, but they aren't the method given by the Lord. Water baptism is the method he gave.

You don't need to agree with me in order to be saved. You don't need to agree with me in order for me to think you're a fine Christian. Still, I hope (no, I pray) you'll consider what I've written. I believe this position fits with the verses that speak of salvation by faith alone and also the verses that relate water baptism to salvation.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." --Ephesians 2:8-9

"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." - 1 Peter 3:21, ESV

Monday, January 28, 2008

My Sin and God's Grace

Lord, my sin's as ugly
As a psychotic's painting.
It's like a rotting corpse
With a pretty plastic mask.

There's no way I can purify it
    Or reform it
        Or escape it by my own power.
Yet you, Lord, took my sin
    And made it yours
        And killed my sin upon the cross.

You've fixed a gulf between my sin and me,
And placed your Holy Spirit in me--

The Spirit who worked in the creation of the world
    And spoke to the prophets
        And came on the day of Pentecost.
You're shaping my new character
    To make me cleaner than snow
        And to make me bear good fruit.

To you goes all the glory.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
--2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV

Friday, January 25, 2008

Raindrops and Mercy

Raindrops fall randomly
In an orderly sprinkling
Of God-given grace.
They water the ready and the unready,
The just and the unjust,
And the plants grow.

He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.

--Psalm 147:8-9 ESV

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Lord's Prayer and the World's Pride

Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them to pray. He said to pray...
    Our Father, which art in heaven...
The world says,
    I follow Mother Nature instead.
Jesus said,
    hallowed be thy name.
The world says,
    I will, however, use God and Jesus as curse words.
Jesus said,
    Thy kingdom come.
The world says,
    I'll build my kingdom.
Jesus said,
    Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
The world says,
    I want my way, in heaven as on earth.
Jesus said,
    Give us this day our daily bread.
The world says,
    I'll be a self-made man. Or, God, make me rich.
Jesus said,
    And forgive us our trespasses...
The world says,
    I need no forgiveness, and if I did, I'd earn it myself.
Jesus said, we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
The world says,
    I'll never forgive!
Jesus said,
    For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
The world says,
    I'll be my own king, proclaim my own power, and seek my own glory as long as I live.

Our governments, our schools, and even our churches can become bastions of human pride, seeking the world's way, not the Lord's. Today, let's dare to pray the Lord's Prayer, and to mean it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


After he was with the Lord, Moses's face glowed. He put a veil onto his face so that people could not see the fading glory. Why did the glow fade? Because he did not have the continuous indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We, however, if we are trusting Jesus, have the Holy Spirit within us continually. Through him, we can see the Lord continually and can reflect his glory continually. "We all, with unveiled glory, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being conformed to the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18, HCSB)

Are you glowing today? Look to the Lord. Be filled with his Spirit. You won't be able to hide the glow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Laying Up Treasures

Nothing that we own will be ours at last.
Ev'rything will burn when this age is past,
But the things we give in our Savior's name
Always will remain, age to age the same.

We will lay
Up ahead
Treasures rich
Day by day,
Never based
On our wealth;
Kept by God
All the way.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
--Matthew 6:19-21, ESV

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Plain Birds

Some birds are as beautiful and as graceful as jewels. They live in glorious forests and flowered meadows. These birds aren't like that. They are plain black, awkward, and are eating in a parking lot. Yet the Lord provides for them, if only through people who accidentally drop things.

You and I may not be superstars. We may not have huge, impressive ministries. We may live in very ordinary places. Yet, if we're truly the Lord's children, he's our Father and we're precious to him.

So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
--Genesis 1:21

Friday, January 18, 2008

Seeing Jesus

My pastor asked recently, has there ever been a time when Jesus seemed more real to you than at the present? Then he pointed us to John 14:21-24--
“...Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.”

Then Pastor Caldwell pointed out that Jesus will be manifested where there is loving obedience. We'll know his presence if we're loving him supremely and obeying him carefully.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lake of Fire

Smoke of demons
      burning sulfur
            gnash of teeth

Spirits writhing
      each alone
            selfish, bleak

Hell's dead welcome
      never ending
            tortured screams

Heaven hated
      love rejected
            judged by deeds

The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever....And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:10,15, HCSB

Prayer: Father, we don't like to think about the severity of eternal judgment. Use the truth of it to motivate us to cling to the Lamb and to proclaim the message of your salvation.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Almost Italy

This young man in an Italian restaurant seemed wonderfully out-of-place in Houston. He was self-confident, debonair and dressed in clothes that most people his age (or twice his age) would think ridiculous.

By his manner, you'd think he was there waiting for a lady. He wasn't. He was with a couple who were probably his grandparents. He may have dressed, at least in part, to please them. I suspect that the Lord was pleased with that.

Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
--Exodus 20:12, HCSB

I Saw an Angel

I saw an angel white against blue sky.
Its classic beauty drew me like a string.
My eyes admired its whiteness, up so high.
It looked a gracious, holy, lovely thing.

That angel, though, was not one from the Lord:
A lifeless statue, up above a standard store,
In place to sell what we cannot afford
Except by charging...debt and debt and more.

It seemed to need our worship and our awe.
Its lines, serene, were promising us peace.
It almost made the mind forget God's law
That he alone deserves our souls' release.

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
Luke 4:8, ESV

Prayer: Father, deliver us from worshiping any person or any thing other than you, and deliver us from trying to worship you by means of statues.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Focus of Worship

ElShaddai Edwards has a good post titled "Who's At the Center of Your Worship?"

We can discuss methods of worship all we want, but until we get the basic purpose straight, we'll be producing an idol.

I was wounded in the worship wars. Several years ago my wife and I joined a particular church because of the style of worship. The pastor then decided that style of worship could no longer be permitted.

The method isn't the essence. Still, it's possible for the method to get in the way.

If I insist that the church must use my preferred style of worship, I'm wrong. If you insist that the church must never use my preferred style of worship, you're also wrong. I'm not talking here about theological issues, but about such things as "I don't like that style of music."

If both (or all) sides would focus on enabling one another to worship the Lord whole-heartedly, there would be more worship and less warfare about it.

Lord, is worship about me--
    My hopes, my dreams, my feelings,
    My music, my gifts, my culture?

Or is worship about you--
    Your will, your glory, your perfection,
    Your beauty, your gifts, transcending culture?

If worship is about me,
    I may as well make a golden calf
    Or gash myself and limp around an idol.

Let my worship be about you--
    Beyond my highest, noblest good,
    Correcting me and pointing me to you.

"But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
--John 4:23,24, NASB

Saturday, January 12, 2008


The world is wise in its own way.
It calls me to come out and play,
Forgetting what may lie ahead--
That simple sins can leave men dead.

Then flesh will flash before my eyes
Some tawdry trash to tantalize--
Such scenes as take away the breath
And lead down to the ways of death.

The devil dryly adds his lies
And offers kingdoms as a prize:
If I will worship his dark name,
I'll go to hell, but go with fame.

The Spirit softly offers me
An out; a way to purity.
I take it--narrow, humbling way.
It leads to life and brightest day.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
--1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
--1 John 1:16-17, ESV

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Inspiration's Not Enough

There are many ministries that aim at "inspring" people; they aim at encouraging those who are feeling down, so that they can get through another day. They focus on the positive. We all need inspiration, but that's not all we need. We need to know God, and the only way to know him is to receive correction. Colossians 1:27-28 says, "To them [God's saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ." For Paul, giving warnings was an integral part of proclaiming Christ and of preparing people for maturity in Christ. [Our Pastor mentioned this Wednesday night, 12/12/07.]

      Inspiration's not enough to keep us out of sin.
      The positive will never cleanse the guilt we have within.
      If we only want some daily help to speed us on our way,
      We'll never be the bride prepared for God's eternal day.
      Healthy food is not just cake, refined and oh-so-sweet.
      Our spirits need the whole of truth, including cold and heat.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Information Age

Here's a quote that hit me between the eyes.
We are not living in the age of information. We are living in the age of informational obesity.
        --Gary B. Swanson in Ministry magazine, January, 2008, page 25.

Pastor Swanson is right. What's this mean to me?

Informational obesity means I keep seeking more information, even when I have all I need.

Informational obesity means I hoard information, keeping books and notes and scraps of paper that subtract from my life and my ability to serve the Lord.

Informational obesity means I check the news five times a day, even though almost the only thing in the news that has any direct impact on me is the weather forecast, and checking that once daily would normally be ample.

Informational obesity means I am not satisfied with the number of Bibles I have. There's always another edition.

Informational obesity means I spend more time seeking information about the Lord and the Bible and the Christian life, than I spend seeking the Lord himself.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)

Father, forgive me for my informational obesity. Give me the ability to spend more time knowing and serving you, and less time seeking and hoarding worthless information.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

On the Circumcision of Jesus

How dare the priest
Produce the least
Of primal pain,
Of slicing strain
On this, the Son
Of God, the One?
This slice of knife
Will mark for life
A Jewish male
Whose God won't fail.
These drops of blood
Precede a flood.
Some day this child,
The Undefiled,
Will bleed again
To conquer sin;
Will bleed and die
While lifted high
--Such dreadful cost!--
Upon a cross.
But now, just drops,
And bleeding stops.

When the eight days were completed for His circumcision, He was named JESUS--the name given by the angel before He was conceived.
--Luke 2:21

Friday, January 04, 2008

Words of Living Wine

Words of living wine flow
    Washing away spiritual debris,
Flooding parched soul-land,
    Announcing eternal news of hope.

Father, use the holy flow:
    Grow the planted seeds of life.
Rescue and fill the cup who hears,
    So more fresh wine will flow.

...that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word

--Ephesians 5:26, ESV

...And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
--Revelation 7:14, ESV

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Problem with the Movies


Last night my wife and I watched a G-rated musical movie from the 1930's. The movie was exceedingly tame when compared to the great majority of today's movies for adults. After watching it, I looked up the seven main actors. Here's what I found.

Leading lady - Reportedly had an on-and-off-and-on affair with her co-star for decades--partly while they were single; partly after they each married (but not to each other). Was reported to have attempted suicide once. Died at age 61 of heart troubles.

Leading man - Had one son by a girlfriend; had one stepson. Died of a stroke at age 65.

Second leading man - Divorced four times. Proposed marriage to his pregnant girlfriend who was married to someone else and had been having an affair with yet another man. The results included an abortion and a murder (not by our star). Died at age 60 of pneumonia and alcoholism.

Third leading man - Killed himself at age 57.

Fourth leading man - Later served in the military in WWII, then continued to act. Died of cancer at age 77.

Second leading lady - Married three times; the last marriage was annulled. Retired at age 39 due to poor health; died at age 45.

Third leading lady - Died at age 54 of intestinal cancer.

I note that most of these people had very sad, immoral lives. Only one of the seven reached a 66th birthday. We hear much today about the danger of bad content in movies, but very little about how the movie industry tends to destroy the souls and the bodies of those who are its stars.

Some past generations of Christians rejected all drama as evil. I'm not sure I'm ready to do that, but how should a Christian respond to the drama industry? When we watch or buy comparatively wholesome movies, to what extent are we participating in destroying the lives of those involved?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

At the Dawning of the Year

At the dawning of the year,
Come with joy instead of fear.
Look beyond the daily race.
Trust the Lord and grow in grace.
All God's promises will last
'Til eternity is past.

"...the word of the Lord endures forever."
--1 Peter 1:25