The new birth

During the 1st century some rabbis described Gentiles as “a new-born child” when they converted to Judaism (Yebamoth 22a, 48b, 97b). Proselyting to Judaism required a baptism. During the same time that the rabbis were using this language of new birth, John the Baptizer was calling people to reorientate their lives with a baptism of repentance. (Luke 1:15-17; 3:3)

This was the religious background when Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling class, visited Jesus.  Jesus taught Nicodemus that no one can enter God’s kingdom unless he is born from above, namely “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3,5). Continue reading “The new birth”

Jesus and the one baptism

Many baptisms and ceremonial washings existed in the first century A.D. Yet, by about 60 A.D. Paul could affirm there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). God meant for this one baptism to be one of the foundations for a united people.

What follows are aspects of Jesus’ story and how the baptism that is “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) fits into the spread of Christianity. This water baptism is commonly referred to as Christian baptism. Continue reading “Jesus and the one baptism”

Dying to self & to sin: The moment of a disciple’s birth

“Disciple” signifies a follower, pupil or adherent to a teacher. In the Gospels it described those who followed John the Baptist as well as Jesus. Biblical authors also seem to have used this term to designate casual followers as well as those more fully committed (John 6:66; 8:31). The discipleship Jesus desires from us requires dying to ourselves (Mark 8:34-35). It also demands we abandon a sinful lifestyle, so that we might live for God (Romans 6:2,6,18,22).

While selfless living is commendable, it’s empty of eternal value and remains just a human-based spiritual activity, unless we are crucified with Christ. Paul knew that the life Jesus makes possible is not achieved by self-exertion. Continue reading “Dying to self & to sin: The moment of a disciple’s birth”

Baptism in the name of Jesus

“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there and said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ ‘Into John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. (Now there were about twelve men in all.)” (Acts 19:1-7 NET). Continue reading “Baptism in the name of Jesus”

Surpassing confidence. Possessing God’s approval.

How confident are we? Are we masters of the grill, gifted at our professions or perhaps certain of our flair for gab? Yet, who among us has not experienced an unexpected curve ball? The dinner turned out disappointing. A work project did not go well. We stood speechless.

What we expected slipped between our fingers. In such instances we discover our earlier confidence did not deliver. Just because we felt confident did not guarantee the results.

So what about really important things, like heaven? Can we surpass mere confidence to know for certain we are God’s forgiven people? Yes we can!

I imagine joyous exclamations: “by faith” and “by grace!” To be sure, these principles are intrinsically involved. Yet, throughout scripture a more fundamental principle exists.

Continue reading “Surpassing confidence. Possessing God’s approval.”

We are all sons of God

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29 NET).

What a great privilege we have to be sons of God! The idea of being a “son” of God is no mere accident nor is it discriminatory. In fact, this was a very liberating concept! In most societies, up until fairly recently, it was the sons – the male descendants – who inherited. Yet in Christ, we all inherit, no matter who we are, through faith. We are all sons! Continue reading “We are all sons of God”

Scripture foils attempts to reduce gospel by calling it ‘exhortation’

In 1 Thessalonians 2.3, a section of the letter where he defends himself against accusations of disinterest or self-interest, Paul described his evangelistic work among the Thessalonians as “our exhortation.”

For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts.

The quotation above, from the NET Bible, translates “our exhortation” as “the appeal we make.” An exhortation is an urgent appeal for someone to take a course of action. An exhortation tells someone, “You ought to do this.” Continue reading “Scripture foils attempts to reduce gospel by calling it ‘exhortation’”