Jesus Had His Own Fish

When you think of the kingdom of God, when you think of the Lord’s calling you to be a part of the life and growth of the church, how do you see it? Do you feel obligation? Do you feel needed? Or do you feel wanted? What, by the way, would be the difference in feeling wanted by God and needed by God in the growth of his kingdom?

In John chapter 21, we see an event take place that is lovely, subtle, and helpful. It shows us the invitation from Jesus to the disciples to join him in ministry. And it shows us that we are wanted, not needed.

If you recall, after Jesus’ resurrection, some of the disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples had no luck that night. In the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, though the disciples were initially unaware that he was there, and miraculously showed them how to catch fish. And then Jesus invited them to breakfast.

John 21:9-12a – 9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

Note what the disciples found when they came ashore. Jesus had a fire, fish, and bread. Jesus invited the disciples to come and have breakfast with him and even to bring to the fire some of the fish they had caught because of his direction. But make sure you do not miss the fact that Jesus already had fish.

I believe that we can learn something about our participation in Christian ministry from this picture. Jesus has fish. Jesus will grow his kingdom. Jesus will build his church. He can save people and accomplish all he desires to accomplish with or without us.

Draw some parallels. The disciples fished with their greatest skill all night long, and they caught nothing. Jesus empowered them, and they filled their nets to overflowing. You and I can evangelize and discipline our lives with our greatest skill. But if we are left to ourselves, we can do nothing. But, abiding in Christ, resting in Christ, empowered by Christ, we can be a part of Christ building his own church for his glory.

When the disciples arrived on shore, Christ had his own fish already. He did not need their fish. But he let them bring fish to the fire. In our ministry, Christ does not need our contribution. He is kind to include us in the work. He is gracious to allow us to participate. He allows us to bring to him the fruit of labor that he had to empower for it to show any success. And he welcomes us. He receives our offerings. He draws us into fellowship with himself.

I’ll say it again, God does not need us. That is some of the best news you could ever hear. Your goodness does not impress him. Your failure does not disappoint him. He knew you and what you would be long before he ever saved your soul.

Better than needing us, God wants us. God wants you to participate in his worship and in the growth of his kingdom. God wants you to sit under his word and go and make disciples. God wants you to rely on his power and bring your offerings to him. God wants to embrace you and welcome you into fellowship. God wants to give you the joy of glorifying him, the very joy for which you were created. Jesus already has the fish. But he will welcome you to come and join him with all that you bring by his power.

There is Another King, Jesus

Acts 17:6-9 – 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Here during Paul’s second missionary journey, we see Paul’s experience in Thessalonica. Many believe. Many are jealous. And those who oppose the word of God use government to persecute the church. The argument is simple. They suggest that to accept Christ as King necessarily makes the earthly government secondary.

Why this is worth taking note for us today is also simple. The church must understand both that Christ is King and that this belief of ours will always and in every way be unacceptable to the lost world. Communist rulers and Marxist philosophers hate the notion of any power beyond that of the party, the rulers in government. Though they may claim that their goal is a totally equal society, their actual practice will always be to have a class of powerful rulers in the government, rulers whose power cannot be made subject to another authority, especially not God.

Even today in the United States, we have people appointed and elected to offices who are making it clear that they demand that the church bow to their authority. In a land where freedom of religion and freedom of assembly is enshrined in the constitution, these folks will use any crisis they can to reshape society so that the government is seen as a higher authority than is the church of the Lord Jesus. Like the Thessalonians, many in America are shocked that we would claim that there is a greater King than Caesar.

What then do we do? We keep on serving Jesus. We keep on preaching. We keep on obeying God’s commands. We keep on gathering. We keep on fellowshipping. We keep on battling to save the lives of unborn babies. We keep on declaring that God created humanity in his image, making us male or female, and that this fact matters. We live boldly while we are free. And we live boldly when it brings us persecution. May we keep, as the Thessalonians said, turning the world upside-down and declaring that Jesus is King.

Persecution Comes when the State Demands Supremacy

Thoughtful Christian friends, take a look at these few paragraphs on the persecution of the church in the Roman Empire. See the reasoning behind Roman persecution as it parallels the reasoning stripping Christians of religious freedom in the US and Canada today.

From: Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), chapter 7.

The church endured little persecution as long as it was looked upon by the authorities as a part of Judaism, which was a religio licita, or legal sect. But as soon as Christianity was distinguished from Judaism as a separate sect and might be classed as a secret society, it came under the ban of the Roman state, which would brook no rival for the allegiance of its subjects. It then became an illegal religion and as such was considered a threat to the safety of the Roman state. The state was the highest good in a union of the state and religion. There could be no private religion.

Religion could be tolerated only as it contributed to the stability of the state. Since the rapidly growing Christian religion was exclusive in its claims on the moral and spiritual loyalty of those who accepted Christ, when a choice had to be made between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to Caesar, Caesar was bound to take second place. This was conceived by the Roman leaders, bent on preserving classical culture within the framework of the Roman imperial state, as disloyalty to the state; and they saw Christians as those who were trying to set up a state within a state. Either the universal state or the universal church, the body of Christ, must give way. The exclusive sovereignty of Christ clashed with Caesar’s proud claims to exclusive sovereignty.

Social problems also made their contribution to the cause of Roman persecution of the church. The Christians, who had great appeal for the lower classes and slaves, were hated by the influential aristocratic leaders of society. These leaders looked down on them with contempt but were fearful of their influence on the lower class. The Christians upheld the equality of all people (Col. 3:11); paganism insisted on an aristocratic structure for society in which the privileged few were served by the lower class and slaves. Christians separated themselves from pagan gatherings at temples, theaters, and places of recreation. This nonconformity to accepted social patterns brought down on them the dislike that the nonconformist always faces in any period of history. The purity of their lives was a silent rebuke to the scandalous lives that people of the upper class were leading. The Christians’ nonconformity to existing social patterns led the pagans to believe that they were a danger to society and to characterize them as “haters of mankind” who might incite the masses to revolt.

All these considerations combined to justify the persecution of the Christians in the minds of the authorities. Not all were present in each case, but the exclusiveness of the claims of the Christian religion on the life of the Christian conflicted with pagan syncretism and the demand for exclusive loyalty to the Roman state in most instances. Persecution followed naturally as a part of imperial policy to preserve the integrity of the Roman state. Christianity was not a licensed religion with a legal right to existence. Martyrs and apologists were its answer to mobs, the state, and pagan writers.

In our day, this same issue of church and state has again been revived, and in many countries Christians are tolerated only under law. In other countries they face persecution from a state that will brook no rival. The early struggle of the church with persecution helps to point up the importance of the modern concept of the separation of the church and state. Only where people are permitted to have private interests apart from public interests can there be religious freedom.

No Other Way

Have you ever stopped to think about the difficulty of our forgiveness? God is holy. God is good. God is just. God is merciful. God agreed within the trinity to save a people for himself before time began. What are his options when dealing with our sin?

Understand, by the way, that when I speak of God’s “options” for dealing with our sin that I am not at all suggesting that any external force or morality imposes upon God restrictions. I am simply suggesting that God, because of exactly who he is, will only do that which is perfectly in keeping with his holy nature. God is not forced to be just by some external principle of justice that restricts him. Rather, God does justice because God is just. Justice is just because of the nature of God who is perfect justice. Understand the same thing if you apply love, goodness, mercy, kindness, or even wrathfulness to the character of God. These things are true of God because they are who God is, not because they impose themselves upon him or measure him from outside of himself.

Keep some other thoughts in mind. It is good and right for God to have wrath for sin. We all know that good people are rightly angry when evil is perpetrated. You have certainly watched the news, perceived a wrong, and been angry. And you have likely known a person who has been hurt by another person and felt genuinely and rightly furious. But even the best of people is sinful; our anger tainted. We have no idea of the intensity of the white-hot burning fury of totally righteous anger.

It is also good and right for God to have a heart of compassion. God loves to show mercy. God is kind and gracious. We know a little of what that feels like. WE know what it is like to have compassion on the ones we love. But our compassion is tainted by our sin too. We only have a tiny glimpse of the depths of the love and compassion of the Lord for us.

These issues come together in the glorious plan of the Lord. God chose to save a people for himself. At the same time, God would appropriately punish with infinite fury every sin that has ever been committed. For those who persist in hating and rejecting God, the wrath of God in hell will be just and perfect.

But what about the forgiven? We deserve infinite wrath too. How can God forgive us and still be just? He cannot simply overlook our sin and still be a God perfect in justice. If he fails to punish our sin, something is wrong in his love. Something is wrong in his treasuring of all that is good if the wrong against the good can simply be ignored.

Hence the perfect and eternal plan of God. God would take upon himself the just penalty for our sin so that it is properly punished while he simultaneously grants us mercy. Jesus would die in our place, a sacrificial lamb, to carry out the justice of God. Jesus would take to himself the infinite fury of God for the sins of the forgiven even as he, in his infinite worth, covers our sin and satisfies the anger of God for the evil we have done. This is precisely what Paul was pointing us to in Romans 3 when he spoke of the death of Jesus as something done so that God could be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Christ (Romans 3:25-26).

Now, here is the question that got my attention to cause me to write this down: Was there any other way? Could God have chosen some other plan? Could God have forgiven us in any way that would not require the death of his Son and the outpouring of wrath on Jesus to perfectly do justice for our sin?

The answer to the question is unequivocally no. God could not have saved our souls in any other way.

How do I know? Consider Jesus in the garden the night of his arrest. Jesus prayed to his Father with a very simple request.

Matthew 26:42 – Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Jesus asked his Father to remove the cup of wrath from him if there was any other way (c.f. Matthew 26:39). Jesus asked if there might be any other way for the cup of wrath to be properly handled without him drinking it. Could God still rescue the chosen without Jesus having to take their sins upon himself and suffer in their place? And the rest of the book shows us that the answer from the Father is that this in fact cannot be done. The only way that our souls can be saved is if Jesus is directly punished by the Father for every last one of our sins.

Analytically this is not super difficult to understand. God, in his perfection, will properly punish every sin. If he does not do so, his love and his perfection and his justice and his holiness are all called into question. God lays upon Jesus the proper punishment for every person he will forgive, and Jesus bears their sins in his body on the cross. For those who will not be forgiven, their sins are properly punished as they spend eternity in hell under the wrath of the Almighty.

Stepping back from the analytical, this is emotionally stunning. God wants to save a people for himself. God rejoices in showing mercy. God rejoices in, as the holy trinity, gifting a people from the Father to the Son. We receive the infinite mercy of God because that fits perfectly who God is. And there was no other way for this plan to be accomplished than through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Friends, the gospel is glorious. Never lose that wonder. God is just. God is merciful. Jesus proves both. And we who know him receive that glorious benefit. Praise be to our Lord!

Our Hope: Resurrection

The world we live in is maddening. Christians have conflict with each other over politics, policies, masks, social media posts, ministry strategies, and so much more. The cancel culture makes our society look like a bad joke made in a poorly written dystopian teen novel. Society embraces evil. Some believers are misled with bad doctrine or no doctrine at all. And our own personal sinfulness is clear.

Where do we find hope? In a recent reading, I was reminded of hope in something that should never be outside of my field of vision. Sadly, sometimes it takes a reminder to put my mind back where it belongs.

Think with me to the upper room discourse. Jesus has just had the last supper with his disciples, and he is teaching them to prepare them for his coming suffering. And, though the disciples are barely ready to receive it, Jesus points not only to his coming death but also to his resurrection.

John 14:18-19 – 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

Jesus knows that his death on the cross will be a terrible discouragement for the disciples. They will feel that they have been orphaned. They will feel alone and afraid. They will feel like the years of ministry that they have done and the hope they put in Jesus has somehow all gone wrong.

In some ways, the disciples will feel like Christians today can be tempted to feel. When your body does not do what it is supposed to do, you feel alone. When your children remind you of your shortcomings as a parent, you feel alone. When you realize that you have never lived up to being the husband or wife you promised your spouse you would be, you feel alone. When you want a spouse or you want children and this seems like it is just not on the way, you feel discouraged. When you see the nation slide toward self-destruction, you feel overwhelmed. When you see Christians show little grace and much nastiness in how they write to and about one another in public, you feel like there is nothing you can do to fix things.

Hear both what Jesus says as well as the huge biblical marker that he gives you for hope. Our Savior says to you, “I will not leave you as orphans…Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus promises us not to leave us as orphans. He will not leave us alone. He will not leave us without him. He will not leave us to ourselves. He will not leave us to the hopelessness of this world.

Where then is our hope? Here is the familiar doctrine that comforts and motivates us if we will remember it. Because Jesus lives, all of those who have come to him for grace will live too. The resurrection is our hope. The life of the Savior after death is our hope. The Savior’s conquest of the grave is our hope.

Jesus died. Jesus died the worst death any person has ever faced. This is not because of the physical horrors of the cross, though those were great. No, Jesus’ death was horrible because as he faced it, he bore the wrath of Almighty God for every sin God will ever forgive. Jesus took upon himself a sentence worth several eternities in hell, one for every sinner he will save. And—get this; don’t miss it—Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus took the ugliest death in eternal history and walked out of the tomb on the third day. Jesus truly conquered death.

And Jesus, who conquered death, Jesus who broke the power of death, Jesus who proved God just and merciful, that same Jesus says to us that, because he lives, we too will live. His resurrection is our hope. Jesus defeated a darkness that none of us could ever imagine. None of us has ever seen or felt the type of death that Jesus died. And Jesus got up. And Jesus tells us that we will live with him.

I cannot over-sell this. Christians, your hope is in the resurrection of the Savior. Without the resurrection, the cross is hopeless and empty. With the resurrection, we know that Jesus has defeated death, perfectly paid the price for every sin he will forgive, and opened the way for all of us to live well beyond this broken life. Jesus reminds us that our hope is not in our government. Our hope is not in the masks we wear or the masks we hope not to wear. Our hope is not in the civility of Christians on-line. Our hope is not in our skill as parents, spouses, money-managers, or coworkers. Our hope is built on the perfect life, sacrificial death, and gloriously powerful resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian, let yourself reflect on the hope you have in the resurrection of Jesus. Do not stop at the cross as if that is all there is to our faith. Oh, the cross work of Christ is glorious, do not get me wrong. But the cross only gives us life if the Savior walks out of the tomb victorious. And the Savior says to you, “Because I live, you also will live.”

And if for some crazy reason you are reading this and do not know Jesus, let me tell you that the resurrection of Jesus is your only hope too. If you want to live, you must find yourself in the grace of Jesus. Stop battling against God. Stop living for yourself alone. Stop thinking you are the boss of your life and the one who determines true and false, right and wrong. Surrender to Jesus. Ask him to pay for your sins with his death. Ask him to give you credit for his perfect life. Ask him to give you life in his resurrection. Believe and Jesus and ask him to be your Savior.

More than a Seating Chart, a Heavenly Truth

I have heard it said that an idol of the heart is a thing that you will sin to get or that you will sin if you do not get it. I think that’s true. I also think that such idols are easy to overlook, easy to justify, easy to accept as a normal part of everyone’s life. Certainly, there are things that our society tells us are simply understood things that you must have or you will sin.

I want to point us to one idol of the heart and the solution Jesus hints at in a parable from Luke 14.

Luke 14:7-11 – 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The parable here is a very simple one, at least in its surface application. Jesus warns that people at a dinner party should not push and shove for the best seat. It would be very embarrassing to work your way to near the head of the table only to have your host ask you to move for a guest who is more important than you. Instead, Jesus points out to us that we are wiser to take the lowliest seat so that, should our host want to honor us, the host can ask us to move to a better place.

Often when I think of this parable, what I just wrote is about as far as it goes. It is as if Jesus has just given us a nice slice of etiquette to help us navigate a social setting so as to avoid an embarrassing faux pas. But I think there is much more to be found here. It has to do with being a Christian and avoiding a dangerous idol.

The reason I think that this is more than social advice is in the word “everyone.” In verse 11 Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” I do not think that this can be said to be true in every dinner party setting. After all, I think we have all sat in a room, watched a person promote himself shamelessly, and seen that everybody in the room just lets it happen. Often times we would prefer to suffer through a person’s boorish behavior for a couple of hours than to go through the social awkwardness of rebuke.

Instead of being mere social counsel, I believe that the Savior is here asking us to think strongly about the rewards we seek. Self-promotion in this life will lead to ultimate, eternal humbling. Exalt yourself in the here and now, and you will be humbled forever. Godly humility is something the Lord will eternally reward. Of course, this is not about behaviors that will somehow earn a person the grace of God. This is about a reshaping of personal priorities so as to live for the Lord and not for the world.

So, Christian, make some application. Where do you press for the better seat at the banquet? Let me ask it a better way. What reward do you seek in this life? What type of temporal reward for your behavior and achievement do you long to have and bemoan when you do not get? What social or political wrong will not only disappoint you but drive you to sinful distraction? What will you press forward to make sure you have, especially when it comes to recognition? Or, if you will not press to get it, where will you sulk, pout, and drive yourself toward depression if you do not have others see you in a certain way?

I think if we will ask these questions, we are starting to get at what Jesus was doing in this teaching. The parable, after all, is always deeper than the simple story. Jesus is telling us that, if we find our reward in this life, if we press forward to have the lost world around us prop us up, we are heading for a humbling eternity. We cannot, we must not, live for the smiles of the world around us. Whether that be recognition for all the work we do in the church or recognition in the workplace for all we sacrifice, if our desired reward is the applause of men, we are in deep trouble.

But Jesus says that the humble will be exalted. Again, this is not true at every dinner party. But it is true eternally. All who forsake this world and turn to the Lord will find life. All who come to Jesus are to have eyes that are set on things above, not on the things of this world. No, we do not pretend life does not matter. But if we are to get the call of God right, we must see that the rewards that matter are those of heaven. The smiles that matter are the smiles of god. The seat we want is at the table at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Friends, this can apply in so many ways. Our world tells us to demand what we feel we must have. You must have that vacation. You must have that bonus. You must have that “thank you.” And all of those things can be very good things. It is not wrong to ask about things if you feel you are being overlooked. But if you are willing to sin to get the things you believe you deserve, they are idols. If you drop into despair, if you will sin if they do not come to you, they are idols. And if you chase after the idols of the heart, you are like a person elbowing his way to the high seat at the table. You will be humbled when you find out that was not your place to begin with.

There is a better way. Set your eyes on eternity. Look for eternal reward. Be willing to sit at a lower seat at the table now, because the eternal reward is the one that matters.

Hope and Perspective on Inauguration Day

It is Inauguration day 2021. Today, in the United States, one president leaves office and another takes it up. And our nation is deeply divided. Some are wildly excited. Some are passionately angry. Some are purely discouraged.

In my reading of the word today, I was reminded of a truth that I believe should help all believers walk wisely through a day of political change.

Luke 17:24-30 – 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

As the Lord Jesus spoke to his disciples in Luke 17, he pointed them toward the day of his return. Jesus does not return to this world in a secret fashion, unperceived by many. Jesus, when he comes back, is going to flash like lightning into the world and change it forever.

But what will the world be doing? The Savior tells us that many people will be living life as if nothing new was going on. They will marry and have kids. They will fight wars and sign peace treaties. They will inaugurate presidents and watch others leave the capital. They will live like there is no reason to think about the Savior. But the Savior will return, and the world will be forever his as it already is forever his.

Christians, may we be careful not to be like those who are focused so much on the day-to-day that we forget that we live in the kingdom of God that is already and not yet. May we remember that the Savior is building his church right now, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Let us remember that it is our job to be faithful to the Lord regardless of the government under which we live. Let us remember that the Savior is coming, and when he does, no person on earth will miss it. Let us remember that many in the world will ignore Jesus until the world has no choice but to worship Jesus.

This thinking helps us. It helps me not to let myself be overly excited about having a president I approve of or overly discouraged about having a president I would prefer not to have. It is not me saying that how we live or function as a nation does not matter, but it puts things in perspective. If the United States stands as a city on a hill and exalts the ways of God, Jesus will come back. If the United States falls under the judgment of God for her sin, crumbling into something we would not recognize as the country we love, Jesus will come back. Whether life is easy or persecution is prevalent, Jesus will come back because Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Today, Christian, I hope that you will pray. I hope that you will pray for the kingdom of God to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. I hope you will pray for our nation to function in ways that please the Lord. Pray that God have mercy on a nation that does not deserve it and hold us back from the destruction we would bring upon ourselves. Pray for the faithfulness of the church to stand and grow and worship regardless of who is in the Oval Office. Pray for the new president as the Lord commands you do. And pray, “Even so, come Lord Jesus,” and ask the Lord to remind you that the Savior has never once failed. We live in a world that forgets. We live in a world as it looked in the days of Noah. The Lord will grow his church. Many will hate the Lord and his ways. Jesus is Lord now. Jesus will return and rule forever. Let this give you perspective and hope.

A Question on Baptism in the Nicene Creed

I recently received a question from a sweet lady about our church’s use of the Nicene Creed in one of our worship services. About once per quarter, we recite this old confession. But a line in the creed was bothering her, as it could sound like the creed supports the idea of baptismal regeneration. Here is my response slightly edited for this format.

I really appreciate your question about baptism as mentioned in the Nicene Creed.

The Nicene creed says, “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” That phrase, “for the remission of sins,” is what sounds like a sticking point. Is the creed suggesting to us that the act of water baptism brings to us the remission of sins? Does it suggest that baptism is required for salvation? Does it say to us that baptism regenerates a person? I certainly understand how the questions could be raised.

We know that Scripture does not teach that baptism regenerates a person. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). Nor does Scripture indicate that water baptism is required for a person to be saved. So, if the creed is suggesting such things, we must do away with at least that part.

Let’s ask where might the language that is used in the creed have come from? We read in Acts 2:37-38, “37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 38 And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Here we see what I would guess is the source of the language that was used in the Nicene Creed.

First, is language that indicates that there is one baptism “for the remission of sins” biblical? We have to say that it is since we can see it right there in Acts 2:28. Therefore, if we understand the language correctly, if we have a proper understanding of salvation and baptism, we do not have to avoid using it.

Next, does such language require us to believe that the point being made is baptismal regeneration? I would argue not. Peter was certainly not suggesting in Acts 2 that being immersed in water brings about forgiveness. Peter instead ties together as a unit repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We must also note that the very same Peter who used that phrase in Acts 2 was also clear in his first epistle to say that physical baptism has nothing to do with our salvation. Peter wrote, “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 Pet. 3:21). Clearly Peter is connecting the physical act of baptism unbreakably to a person’s initial cry of repentance and faith. Baptism is not physical washing. Baptism is the act of one who has cried out to God to appeal to him for forgiveness. Peter says baptism saves, but then immediately points out that baptism has nothing to do with saving you but simply points to the faith through which you are saved.

How then should we think about the phrase, “baptism for the remission of sins.” To the early church, there was no concept of separation between saving faith and baptism. This is not to say that the church, if pushed, would suggest that faith alone does not save. Nor is there a belief that baptism has anything to do with causing one’s salvation. Instead, it is to say that there is a clear assumption in the minds of the church that those who repent and believe will quite naturally be baptized. It was simply unthinkable to a first century Christian that anybody could be genuinely saved and refuse to follow the Lord in baptism. Thus, to call a person to be baptized in the first century would be akin to calling them to repent and believe for salvation and to follow that belief with baptism.

To show that this concept is not me reading into the text, let me add that there are other places in Scripture where one word is used to point to a concept that is broader. For example, we are happy to say that whoever believes is saved (John 3:16). But we also know that repentance is part of saving faith (Matt. 4:17). There is nothing wrong with suggesting that faith saves. At the same time, there would be nothing wrong with an even clearer call to repent and believe. After all, one cannot genuinely believe in a saving way without repenting. Thus, a call to faith necessarily includes the call to repentance.

Another example in Scripture is Paul’s statement in Romans 10:9, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” One could argue that all that Paul is saying we must believe is that Jesus rose from the dead. But included in Paul’s words are the understanding that the resurrection includes the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins and the doctrine contained in its understanding.

The point I think we should see is that, sometimes in Scripture, a single term is used to hold a larger concept. And I believe that when Peter says that we should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38, he is using the word baptism to include all that baptism represents. Baptism represents a repentant faith in the Lord Jesus and his saving grace. That repentant faith in the Lord Jesus is our only hope for the remission of sins. That faith is symbolized in the one, true baptism.

If we understand that what I am suggesting is the meaning of Acts 2:38 is sound, and if that is the source of the language in the creed, I do not think we will need to worry that the statement in the creed is promoting anything unsound. We must actually agree that there is only one baptism for the remission of sins. That baptism is the baptism which symbolizes the saving faith and repentance of the believer. That baptism is what peter was calling for in Acts 2:38. And that baptism necessarily contains the faith that saves and must not be separated from it.

As I said a moment ago, I really am grateful for your question, as it forced me to think more clearly about the statement in the creed. I agree that, if not explained, that statement can be confusing to people in our culture, because baptism has been wrongly understood in many denominations. I believe that your question will cause me to take some time to help our folks guard against the misunderstanding that could arise here. Similarly, I often take time to remind our folks that the word catholic in the creed is not intended to mean the Roman Catholic Church, but is merely a word that means the universal church, the body of all who have ever been saved by Jesus.

You might also ask me why we would use the Nicene Creed, or any creed, if people have the potential of being confused by the language? I think that the use of such statements, even with the potential for confusion, is helpful. I believe that there is something good in, from time to time, helping our church acknowledge basic doctrines that have been proclaimed for centuries. It is nice to see that what we preach at our church is not a doctrine that we have come up with recently, but that it is compatible with the words of the believers who declared these things to be true back in 381, even if we might say things in a clearer way for our generation.

I hope this answer is helpful. And I will be sure to do what I can to help our folks know that this line is not about baptismal regeneration in any form.

Jesus Warned Us; Don’t Be Discouraged

We live in a divided age. Many folks lament the seemingly unbridgeable gap between those on opposite ends of the political and philosophical spectrum. Even many Christians are heartbroken and deeply distressed.

It is right, on the one hand, for us to be disturbed. After all, as we see people hurting each other and going against the word and ways of the Lord, we should be sorrowful. We should be ready to weep with those who weep. And we should be genuinely and righteously angry over sin.

At the same time, I wonder how much of the distress that Christians are feeling today is because we are surprised. If in fact we have allowed ourselves to be surprised by this age and its evil, I fear that we have somehow swallowed a lie. Our surprise has to do with the dissonance between the falsehood we have believed and the true and biblical reality of our situation.

Christian, do you expect this life to be peaceful? Do you believe that, if you just behave kindly and live as a productive part of your community that the world will treat you well? Do you believe that, if your church does kind acts—picks up the garbage in the local park, makes lunches for teachers, hands out food for the homeless, washes the local library’s windows, walks dogs at the Humane Society—that the world will love your church? Do you believe that, if we will just compromise a little bit on seemingly secondary moral issues that the world will leave us alone?

I want us to be faithful and kind as citizens in our community. And I want us to live lives of such a salty flavor that the world will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. And I want us to embrace causes of righteousness and justice. But, and this is important, if you expect that the world will embrace us, you are mistaken, dangerously mistaken.

Luke 12:51-53 – 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

In my daily reading, I ran across the paragraph above. There Jesus reminds his hearers that he came not to bring peace but division. Jesus knew that his gospel and the word of the Holy God will cause people to be in conflict. Families, communities, and nations will turn against one another. This is not because Jesus is a violent insurrectionist. But it is because the ways of the Lord and the sin of the world are infinitely separated by a gap that cannot be narrowed.

As time goes by, Christian, if you genuinely embrace the word of the Lord and genuinely follow the Savior, you will find yourself at odds with the world around you. People will see that you cannot applaud and embrace what they do and how they think. And in our fallen world, people will eventually hate you for not applauding them. Eventually, the world will demand that you bow down to their idols. And if you will not bow, they will begin to heat the fiery furnaces.

I do not tell us this today in order to discourage us. Instead, I say this to hopefully remind us of the need for steel in our characters. We need to be willing to suffer. We need to be willing to die instead of embrace sin. We need to be willing to speak the truth, even when speaking that truth could cause us to be turned out of our homes or fired from our jobs.

If you know me, you know that I am not here suggesting that we be intentionally provocative and insulting. I despise the ugly, snarky, insulting, gotcha language that I so often read from Christians in social media. I believe that we can speak the truth with respectful tones and at wise times. So, I am not suggesting that you have to be the one who forwards a nasty and provocative post or the one who somehow sabotages every family meal with an argument. Trust me, if you are faithful to the word, honest with your words, even if respectful, you will find the conflict without having to try to start it.

Christians, loving Jesus means we cannot love the ways of the world. Following Jesus means we cannot accept the world’s redefinition of morality. We cannot act as though lies are true. We cannot act as though all people have heaven awaiting them. And the world will hate us for what we believe.

What then do we do? We need to expect the world to divide against us as it hated Jesus. And then we live faithfully before our Lord. Share the true gospel. Tell the clear truth in a godly way. Love people enough not to pretend you believe a lie. And when the division comes, do not despair as though you are facing something God kept hidden. The Lord told us what it will be like to follow him. It is taking up a cross daily. May we do so for the glory of Jesus.

And do not let this division make you feel defeated. The Savior conquered the grave. The Savior promises his return. The Savior says that he will build his church and hell will not prevail against it. The Savior brings life to dead hearts every day. The Savior has the power to move the hearts of kings. The Savior will reign, and nothing will stop him. So, let us be faithful even as we pray, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

The Image of God

Genesis 1:26-27 – 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

27 So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Three things come to mind: relationship, reflection, and rule.

Being made in the image of God has to do with our intended relationship with God. God created mankind in his image and likeness. Later in Genesis, we will see that sons born to fathers are said to be similarly born, the likeness of their dads. The concept here includes the idea that we, as people created in the image of God, are supposed to be in the relationship of loving children to God our Heavenly Father. Human beings doing what human beings are supposed to do will love the Lord, worship the Lord, and rejoice in the presence of the Lord. Like a child who properly loves his parents, we are to love the Lord our God.

Being made in God’s image is also about reflection. Images in the ancient times, just as pictures today, were supposed to depict to some degree the attributes of a person or thing. Mankind being made in the image of God shows us that we have the responsibility to display in our lives and character certain things that are true of God. God is holy, loving, just, and good. We are to live in such a way as to help the world see what those things look like. In doing so, we function as the image of God.

Being made in the image of God also indicates rule. Kings who conquered in ancient times would erect statues of themselves in the conquered lands to remind people who was the new king. God has called mankind to live in this world, to fill it, and to subdue it. We are supposed to show the globe not only what God is like, but that God rules. We are to be royal ambassadors, representatives of the holy King.

Consider the image of God when you think of the fall of man or subsequent sin. When mankind fell, we attempted to take ourselves out of relationship with God, no longer living as children of our Heavenly Father. Eve believed that God was not good, not loving, not a Father to her. When we rebelled, we failed to reflect the character qualities of the holy God, but instead tried to bring into the world a morality of our own making. Eve was convinced by the serpent that she could be like God, knowing good and evil, determining for herself what is right and wrong. And, when we fell, we failed to rule the world as we were supposed to. We stopped shaping the garden for the glory of God and instead plunged the world into brokenness and futility.

One of the beautiful things about living as a Christian is that we, by the grace of Jesus, have the opportunity to function in the image of God as we were intended. As believers, because of Jesus, we are again returned to the status of children of God. Like the prodigal coming home and being welcomed as a son, we are embraced by our Father and given familial relationship with him. As believers, we can, for the first real time in our lives, actually reflect for the world to see the attributes of God. We can point people to God’s goodness, love, justice, and so much more. And, when we are in Christ, we can remind the world of God our King as we call the world to come to Jesus and to submit to the rule of the one who reigns now and will reign forever.