Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Mark of a Disciple

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 
(John 13:34 ESV)

We live in a time where love is defined primarily by emotion.  Our sense of love is based purely on feelings or on our emotional attachment to another.  This is true of friendships as well as marriage.
However, as we see in the above text, Jesus gives us a different standard of love.  He tells us that we’re to love one another as he’s loved us.  And there are a couple of things to consider as we think about Jesus’ love.
First of all, we must recognize that Jesus loves us even when we’re not all that lovable.  We tend to think that we’re good people, deserving of his love.  But the opposite is actually true.  We’re not good people.  We aren’t deserving of his love.  He loves us in spite of our continual sin and rebellion against him.
If we measure our love by this standard, we fail miserably.  When people are unlovable, our sense of love for them all but disappears.  When they hurt us, whether it be intentional or not, it often creates within us an unwillingness to love them.  We love others only when we feel they’re deserving of it.  We’re unwilling to give to others the grace that God has given us.
The second thing we must recognize, when it comes to the love of Christ, is the sacrificial nature of this love.  His love is a giving of himself to us.  And we all know the great length he went to in showing his love.  He sacrificed his very life for us.
            And we see that his love is not conditional in any way.  It’s not something that wavers depending on the love he’s receiving in return.  In fact, according to Scripture, while we were still sinners, while we were still his enemies, he gave himself for us.
Once again, our love pales in comparison.  We are often willing to give of ourselves for those we love.  But it’s very conditional.  We’ll love, we’ll give of ourselves, if we’re receiving love in return.  And if we’re not receiving, we often cease to give.
When it comes to those who hate us, when it comes to those who possess no love for us, we are typically unwilling to love them.  We tend to hate those who hate us.  At best, we’re willing to ignore them or tolerate them.
Here’s where it gets really challenging.  Jesus tells us that people will know we’re his disciples if we have love for one another.  What, then, does our life demonstrate?  What does our love demonstrate?
When people look at us, when they look at the love we have for one another, is it clear to them that we are followers of Christ?  Is our love so much like that of his that they can conclude nothing else?  I think that, if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer to this is a resounding “no.”
What must we do then?  The first thing we must do is recognize our failure.  We must recognize our sin and confess it to the Lord, seeking his forgiveness.  And we must ask him to work in our heart.  We must ask that he’ll instill in us the same love for others that he has for us.  This isn’t something we’ll attain on our own, or by our own effort.  It’s only as the Spirit of God works in us that this is possible.  It’s only as we submit to his leading that this is possible.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What Do We Know?

“But Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.””

(Mat 22:29 ESV)

            Jesus was sometimes challenged by the religious leaders of the Jews.  They devised questions in an effort to trap him or to prove him wrong.  We see an example of this in Matthew 22.

            This question was posed by the Sadducees, a sect of Jews who didn’t believe in the resurrection.  Knowing that Jesus did believe in it, they challenged his belief.  According to Jewish practice, if a man died without having children, his brother was to marry his wife and conceive a child on his behalf. 

            They put forward a hypothetical situation where a man died, leaving no children.  So, the man’s brother married his wife.  But, before he could have a child with her, he too died.  This continued on until a total of seven men, all brothers, had been married to this woman.  They then asked Jesus: “In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be?”

            Jesus began his answer with the above statement.  He told them that they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  He then went on to explain that, in the resurrection, we will not be married.  In this sense, we will be like the angels in heaven.  And, based on Scripture, he assured them that the resurrection would, in fact, take place.

            Just as Jesus was challenged by the skeptics of his day, so too are we.  Those who don’t believe in Jesus bring to us questions in an effort to stump us.  They bring to us questions in order to prove us wrong.  And, just like the Sadducees, it’s clear that they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

            However, as believers, we must consider something important: What about us?  Do we know the Scriptures and the power of God?  I don’t mean to imply that we should immediately know the answer to every question that comes our way.  But do we know the Scriptures well enough, and do we know the power of God well enough, that these questions fail to rattle us?

            Many of us are shaken up by these questions.  They can intimidate us or even cause us to question our faith.  However, if we’re people of the Word, and if we have a living faith in the Lord, they need not have this effect.

            If we are truly people of the Word, we’ll be able to recognize these deceptive questions for what they are and point our attackers to the truth.  And even if we don’t know all the answers, we’ll know that God’s Word answers our questions and doubts.  We’ll faithfully turn to his Word in order to resolve them.  And, because we know the Lord, we’ll realize that these questions don’t pose any real threat. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Baptism 7

            I’ll conclude my look at the Lutheran understanding of baptism with this post.  Another reason why Lutherans baptize babies and young children is because Jesus welcomed them.  We see this as we look at Luke 18.

            Starting in verse 15 of that chapter, we read: Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

            Some might object, as they read this passage, that it’s not specifically referring to baptism.  And this is true.  However, in it, we see the attitude of Jesus toward infants and young children.

            We see that the people were bringing their babies to Jesus, that he might touch them.  The disciples didn’t think this appropriate and rebuked those who did so.  But Jesus called them to himself.  He said that those bringing their children were not to be hindered.

            We continue to hold to that perspective as well.  Those seeking to bring their children to Jesus are not to be hindered.  Instead, they are to be welcomed.

            Jesus adds to this that those who don’t receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.  Infants and young children, then, are a model for us.  Just as children must trust in others for the care that they need, and just as they need to have everything provided to them, so too do we.  If we’re to be saved, we must first recognize our helplessness.  We must recognize that we must fully depend upon God to provide for us everything we need for life and salvation.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Baptism 6

            We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.  This is true.  This is Scriptural.  But this is also one of the reasons many insist that infant baptism should not be practiced.

            We’re told that infants should not be baptized because they cannot have faith.  After all, they’re too young.  They can’t understand the message of the gospel.

            This thinking may sound reasonable.  However, Scripture tells us something very different.  It tells us, in fact, that young children and infants can have faith.

            We can see this, for example, in Psalm 22.  Starting in verse 9, David writes: Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.”

            David states, in this passage, that he trusted in God when he was at his mother’s breast.  He says that God gave him this faith.  So, from the time he was a nursing baby, he had faith in the Lord.

            However, he doesn’t stop there.  He says that, from his mother’s womb, the Lord had been his God.  This implies an even earlier faith.  It implies that he had faith even before he was born.

            And this isn’t the only passage that reveals to us the reality of faith in young children and babies.   In Matthew 18, starting in verse 2, we read: “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.””

            We note in this passage that, using a child to make his point, Jesus refers to “these little ones who believe in me.” So, in this way, he tells us clearly that these little ones can have faith.  And if this is true, if it’s possible for children and infants to possess faith, then why would we deny them the gift of baptism?

            We may struggle to understand how this is possible.  However, we must realize that faith is not based on our ability to reason.  If this were the case, those who lose their ability to reason based on Alzheimer’s, or those who lose their ability to reason because they are comatose, would be unable to possess faith.  We wouldn’t even be capable of faith when we’re sleeping.

            According to Scripture, faith is God-given.  We can only come to Jesus because the Father draws us (John 6:44). We can only understand the things of God by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). We can only confess that Jesus is Lord by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So, if God can draw to faith those of us who are lost in sin, who don’t seek him, and who don’t understand him, then he can certainly draw to faith an infant or a young child.

            Just as we’re drawn to faith by the Word and Spirit of God, so too are they.  As they hear the Word of God being proclaimed, and as they receive the promise of God in baptism, God is able to create faith in their heart.  And, in this way, he’s able to grant to them his salvation.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Baptism 5

               As we continue our look at the Lutheran practice of baptism, we come to another interesting passage of Scripture.  In Colossians 2, starting in verse 11, we read: In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

            In this passage, Paul equates baptism with circumcision.  He tells us that, through baptism, we have received not a physical circumcision.  We’ve received, instead, a circumcision made without hands.  We’ve received a circumcision performed by God.  We’ve received a circumcision by which we’ve put off the body of flesh.

            Circumcision, you remember, was a practice given by God to his people in the Old Testament.  In this way, they were marked as the people of God.  In fact, if they were not circumcised, God said that they were to be cut off from their people.

            Here’s the interesting point: the boys, who were born to Israel, were circumcised when they were only 8 days old.  They received this mark, they were made part of God’s people, when they were infants.  And, again, Paul equates this practice with baptism.

            No, Paul doesn’t specifically tell us to baptize infants.  He doesn’t specifically say to do so when they’re eight days old.  But, if this was the practice given by God to Israel, and if baptism is equated with circumcision, it seems reasonable that baptism is also a blessing that can and should be bestowed upon infants.  It doesn’t seem that there is any reason to refuse them until they reach a certain age.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Baptism 4

               We’ve established, in my previous posts on baptism, that babies and young children are in need of salvation.  And this is where baptism itself comes in.  It comes in because baptism is a means of God’s grace.  In fact, Scripture tells us that God saves us through baptism.

            In 1 Peter 3, baptism is compared to the flood.  And, in verse 21, we read: 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…” Just as Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the flood, so are we saved through baptism.

Many of us tend to think of baptism as nothing more than a ritual.  We think of it as an act done by man.  However, this isn’t the case.  Baptism is an act performed by God.  It’s a work performed by God to accomplish our salvation.

Many Christians object to this thought.  They object to it because there are many who have been baptized, yet have walked away from the Church.  There are those who were baptized as children who have no faith in Jesus.  And they don’t believe that these people are saved simply because they were baptized.

This is something with which Lutherans would agree.  As Martin Luther points out in the Small Catechism, the water is not magic.  It’s not the water that saves.  It’s the water in connection with God’s Word that saves.

You see, in baptism, we receive the gospel.  In it, we receive the promise of God.  In Acts 2:38, Peter encouraged the people to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, telling them that they’d receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We can see this again in Acts 22:16.   And, in Mark 16:16, Jesus says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” When we receive this promise in faith, we receive the promised blessing of God.

For this reason, when we present our children for baptism, they receive the gospel.  When we present our children for baptism, we bestow upon them the very promise of God.  And it’s this Word, bestowed through baptism, by which they are saved.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Baptism 3

`           As we continue our look at the Lutheran understanding of baptism, today’s post ties right in with yesterday’s.  We saw in my previous post that young children, and even infants, are sinful.  And, in addition to this, we see that they are also subject to the consequences of sin.

            When the first sin entered into the world, we see the consequences that came along with it (Genesis 3).  Life would now be filled with pain and hardship.  And man was also, now, subject to death.

            This truth is applied to us all in Romans 6:23, which tells us that the wages of sin is death.  This means that death is what we deserve because of our sin.  Death is what we’ve earned by our sin.

            We see no exceptions to this truth in Scripture.  Even young children and babies are included in this reality.  They are born into the world in a state of sin and, therefore, they are subject to the consequences of that sin.

            As I mentioned previously, we like to believe that babies are innocent and pure.  However, Scripture tells us that they are sinful.  Yet, even if we accept the truth that they are born in sin, we still don’t want to believe that they are accountable for their sin.  We don’t want to believe that they will be held responsible for it.

            But, as we look at the world around us, there’s no denying it.  There’s no denying it because we see that children do, in fact, die.  They are sometimes born with abnormalities that lead to their death.  They sometimes become seriously ill, which leads to their death.  They are sometimes involved in accidents that lead to their death.  And this reveals to us, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they are held accountable for their sin.

            If they were not sinful, if they were not guilty, they would not be subject to death.  If they were not accountable for their sin, it wouldn’t be possible for them to die.  Even though we don’t like to face it, the simple reality is that they too bear the consequences of sin.

            We struggle with this because they have no choice in the matter.  We struggle with this because they haven’t consciously chosen to sin.  However, the sinful nature that they bear makes this a reality.

            A similar truth is mentioned in Romans 5.  In verses 13 and 14 Paul points out that sin is not counted when there is no law.  And God didn’t give his law until the time of Moses.  However, even though the people who lived between the time of Moses and Adam didn’t have the revealed law, they continued to experience death.  And this shows that, even though they may not have violated a specific command of God, they were sinful.  They had a sinful heart.  They’d been born in sin, and they were subject to the consequences of sin.

            The same truth applies in the case of babies and young children.  Even if they don’t fully understand God’s law, and even if they haven’t made a deliberate decision to violate his law, they are still sinners.  They are still guilty.  And they remain subject to the consequences of sin.

            This, once again, reveals that they are in need of redemption.  They too need to be saved from sin and its consequences.  And this is what’s provided in baptism.    

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Baptism 2

            As we continue our look at baptism, we come to another reason why Lutherans baptize infants and young children.  And the next reason we do so is because we are sinners from the very beginning of life.  We do so because even infants are sinful.

            I realize that this challenges contemporary thought.  In our society, we like to believe that infants are innocent.  At the very least, we want to believe that they are blank slates, having done nothing good or evil.  After all, they haven’t yet had the opportunity to violate God’s commands.  In fact, we believe that, because they are so helpless, it’s not possible for them to sin.

            Scripture, however, teaches us something very different.  It teaches a concept that we refer to as original sin.  It teaches us that we enter into the world with a heart of sin.

            We see this, for example, in Romans 5:12, which says: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” Paul tells us, in this verse, that sin came into the world through one man, Adam.  He says that death entered into the world through sin.   And, for this reason, death spread to all men because all sinned.

            What he’s saying is that the sin of Adam brought sin to all mankind.  We’ve inherited his guilt and are born with the same desire for sin.  And no one, other than Christ himself, is exempt from this reality.

            David also testifies to this truth in Psalm 51:5, where he says: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He tells us that he was born in sin.  In fact, he tells us that he was sinful from the time he was conceived in his mother’s womb.

            We see this again in Genesis 8:21. God tells us, in this verse, that the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.  So, from the time we’re young, the intention of our heart is evil.

            Anyone who’s spent time with children can testify to their sinfulness.  They don’t have to be taught selfishness.  It comes quite natural.  They don’t have to be taught to lie or to manipulate.  But we do have to teach them to share.  We have to teach them generosity, honesty, and integrity.

            In short, we baptize our children because they are sinful.  Like us, they too are in need of salvation.  And this is exactly what baptism provides for them.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Baptism 1

               In the Lutheran Church, we practice infant baptism.  And, as many of you know, this is an issue that divides Christians of various denominations.  There are many faithful, Bible believing, Christians who disagree with this practice.  There’s also a large number of people who fill our own pews on a regular basis who don’t fully understand why we practice baptism as we do. 

               For this reason, I’m going to present a series of blog articles addressing baptism.  They are not intended to attack our fellow believers in other churches.  They are intended to explain our position on this issue and to help you gain a better understanding of it.

               This is too big of an issue to address in one post.  So, for this reason, post by post, I’ll present our understanding of this practice.  And, if they aren’t considered in total, you’ll come away with an incomplete understanding of our view.

               The first reason we baptize infants in the Lutheran Church is because baptism is commanded by Christ.  And, as he gives his command, there are no age limits or restrictions that are given.  He simply says to us, in Matthew 28:19-20: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

            Jesus tells us that we are to make disciples of all nations.  And we’re to do this by baptizing them and teaching them.  Again, he doesn’t tell us to wait until a certain age or to reserve it for those who’ve reached a certain stage in life.

               In fact, as we look at the New Testament, we see entire households being baptized.  And it’s hard to imagine that there were no children, whatsoever, in these households.  We see examples of this in Acts 16:15 & 33, and in 1 Corinthians 1:16.

            So we baptize our infants in obedience to the command of Christ.  We make disciples of our children by baptizing and teaching them.  And we find no cause to withhold this blessing from them.