Posts Tagged 'baptism'


If you misunderstand God's grace, you'll end up like this guy, Rasputin, the Mad Monk!

By the end Romans 5, Paul has concluded the main points of his teaching. All human beings stand condemned before God as sinners—rebels against Him. That same God, however, has intervened on behalf of all those sinners by providing acquittal and forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Jesus His Son, Jesus Christ. What’s awesome about this acquittal is that it comes to sinners initially irrespective of our lack of moral values and sinfulness. Acceptance by God is based solely on our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

As if that weren’t enough, our continuing standing before God—our salvation—does not depend on anything good thing we do, but on God’s amazing grace. Paul even goes so far to state that as sin increases, grace increases even more.

1. Paul and a mad monk

Without a doubt, all that sounds good; maybe too good to be true. No wonder God’s grace is so abused! Paul foresaw the potential that for some believers, God’s grace and forgiveness could lead to a kind of spiritual laziness. Such was the case with a monk; a man of God who confused the gospel of grace with a form of “antinomianism,” a perversion of doctrine that encourages the casting off of all moral restraint so as to experience more and more of God’s grace and forgiveness. This monk, because of his misunderstanding of grace, became a chief contributor to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917.

His name was Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (1972—1916). He was born into a poor, peasant family in a desolate region of Siberia, Russia. Until his religious conversion around 18, young Grigory became known as “Rasputin,” a Russian word for “debauched one,” because of his immoral lifestyle. After his conversion, however, he found himself at a monastery, which was part of Flagellants sect. Thanks to Rasputin’s ungodly influence, their sect became perverted—leaving the teachings of Scripture and embracing absolute antinomianism. The monks believed that one drew closest to God through sexual escapades and prolonged partying.

Eventually Rasputin left the monastery, traveling thousands of miles through Europe and much of the Middle East, finally lighting in Jerusalem. It was there that the “mad monk” solidified his reputation as a holy mystic with supernatural healing and prophetic powers, and in 1903, Rasputin was welcomed by church leaders and by politicians into the highest political circles in the land in spite of the fact that he hadn’t bathed in years.

Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra were completely taken in by the charismatic Rasputin, largely due to a supposed miracle wrought by the monk which saved their young son and heir to the throne, Alexey. This event endeared Rasputin to the royal family and gave him extraordinary influence with them. Within the royal court, Rasputin was viewed as a humble, gifted monk, sent by God. But outside the court, he lived up to his nickname wholeheartedly.

In spite of persistent rumors that Rasputin was having an affair with Alexandra, he was placed in charge of Russia’s internal affairs when Nicholas II left St. Petersburg to command Russian troops when World War I broke out. The “mad monk’s” influence proved to be so disastrous, that a group of conservatives, some related to Nicholas II, met to plot the assassination of Rasputin, ending his evil influence over the nation. They accomplished this in December of 1916, but it was too late to save the political structure of Russia. The Bolsheviks seized the opportunity of national discontent and their revolution broke out in 1917. Russia became as godless as the Emperor’s closest adviser.

Misunderstanding the nature of God’s grace can lead to all kinds of problems, which Paul refutes in Romans 6.

2. An answer to two questions, vs. 1—4

With the beginning of chapter 6, Paul picks up a line of thought he began back in 5:20—

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…

We can imagine how some might interpret a statement like that! As if to head off any misunderstanding of what he was teaching, Paul asks the obvious question:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (vs. 1)

This, of course, was the fatal flaw in Rasputin’s thinking. It’s a good question to ask, though, because it explains a fundamental truth about grace that isn’t always obvious. To answer the question, Paul exclaimed using a favorite Greek phrase of every student of that language: me genoito. The reason we all like me genoito is because it can mean so many different things:

  • Not at all!
  • Certainly not!
  • By no means!
  • Never!
  • Absolutely not!
  • May I never!

The sense of me genoito is obvious: “No way!” There is no way that Paul means to say that the more you sin, the better it is. After getting their attention, Paul warns the Roman church:

By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (vs. 2)

The two tenses of the verbs in verse 2 are important to note:

  • We died to sin. “Died” is in the aorist tense, indicating a past, completed action.

  • How can we live in it any longer? “Live” is in the future tense, suggesting an ongoing, habitual action.

The NIV’s translation here is, perhaps not the best. Eugene Peterson paraphrased verse 2 in a way that brings out the tenses using a clever word-picture:

If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?

The NIV of 1984 leaves out a very important word that the NIV of 2010 has included:

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 1984

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 2010

It’s a minor point, but an important one. The word left out in the older NIV is a specialized Greek form of “who.” The sense of the phrase is this: We who are true believers, we have died. The suggestion is that there may be those who call themselves Christians or who are at best nominal Christians who have not died to sin. The fact is, to be a true Christian means to have died to sin. Therefore, it is a moral contradiction for a Christian to remain living in sin, when he has, supposedly, died to it.

But, what does it mean to have died to sin? To answer this question, Paul uses the example of the believer’s baptism:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (vs. 3, 4)

Here is Paul’s theology of water baptism, for this is the baptism to which he is referring. Notice he begins with “don’t you know.” The idea he is conveying is that it was the norm for Christians to be baptized in water; it was something each and every member of the Roman church would be familiar with because they would have experienced it firsthand. For the Christian, water baptism is not an optional experience.

The ordinance of water baptism, though not spiritually efficacious in any way, demonstrates outwardly in dramatic fashion an inward truth. To be baptized into the name of Christ means to be baptized, or placed, into union with Christ. It means to be dedicated to Him, and it means to participate in all that Christ is and has done.

To be baptized into Christ also means to be “baptized into his death.” When Christ died, He died to sin. His death literally cut Him off from all further contact with sin. Our water baptism demonstrates that we, like Jesus, have been cut off from sin. What that means precisely is covered in the next verses.

3. Killing my old man, vs. 5, 6

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (vs. 5)

The phrase “united with him” comes from the Greek symphutoi, which means literally, “grown together.” The sense of the word is that of “grafting,” as in a tree graft, or a “vital joining together” or “fusing.”  The believer has been “glued” to Jesus; our identification with Him is that complete.

Paul is still using the water baptism metaphor to illustrate a spiritual truth. Clearly, the believer didn’t die when Christ died, nor does he die at his baptism. He also won’t rise from the dead in the future the way Christ was resurrected. Paul’s point in verse 5 is actually must simpler than most people think. Water baptism is designed to show to the whole world that a change has occurred within the believer that is as radical as Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… (vs. 6)

Believers have been freed from sin because they have been crucified with Christ; that is, just as Christ severed all contact with sin when He died, so sin’s constant contact with us has been severed. Only one thing can free a man from the temptation to sin: death. The highway of sin leads to one destination: death. The only way to get off that highway is to die before reaching the end of it. Now, obviously, believers haven’t really died; we’re all very much alive. What is verse 6 teaching? What is “our old self?” All those who have identified with the death and resurrection of Christ—believers, “glued to Him”—still have the potential to sin, but no longer the obligation to sin. Identification with Christ through faith, demonstrated by water baptism, does nothing to free one from the possibility of sinning, but it does free one from having to sin.

If we look at what Paul is saying in verse 6, his point become crystal clear:

  • Our old self was crucified with Christ. Again, Paul is not saying a believer is given the ability to never sin, but the ability to say NO to sin.

  • The body of sin has been done away with. This refers to our tendency to sin. Obviously, this tendency has not been eradicated. The Greek word translated “done away with” is katargeo, which is a broad word that means anything from “abolish” to “render powerless” and everything in between. Kata means “according to” argeo means “to be idle,” the cessation of work or activity. But since that tendency was not eradicated, what happened to it? We know that we still have the tendency to sin, and even Paul did, because in verse 13 he encouraged the Roman Christians not to sin! The tendency to sin has not been eradicated, but it has been rendered powerless as we walk in God’s power.

  • We are no longer slaves to sin. This is how our “body of sin” as been rendered powerless. While old habits are hard to break, it is possible to NOT sin because believers are no longer bound to sin. We have total freedom to turn around and walk away from the temptation to sin.

What does it mean to be “freed from sin?” This is the tie which binds the first five chapters of Romans together. The Greek word is dikaio, one of Paul’s favorite words, which means “to justify”or “to pronounce righteous.” We have been “freed” or “justified” from our sins. We have been declared righteous in spite of our sins. Believers have been set free because the price for our sins has been paid for any Another. We have been provided with an off ramp on the highway to death because One went on ahead of us, making a way off the road that leads to death.


Three Days in the Life of John the Baptist, John 1:19—51

In the preceding verses, John the writer gave us the purpose of the ministry of John the Baptist:  to focus everyone’s attention on the true Light, Jesus Christ; He alone was to be the object of their faith.  In the paragraph that follows, verses 19—28, we read a detailed account of John the Baptist’s testimony as given before the Sanhedrin, a body of religious rulers of the day.  The next two sections, verses 29—34 and 35—42, preserve a record of his testimony before a group of unidentified people, then before two of his own disciples.

1.  Day One:  John the Baptist testifying before the Sanhedrin, 1:19—28

This is the first incident in the life of John the Baptist which John the writer gives us in his eyewitness, historical record.  This is interesting because John the writer was one of John’s disciples; we would expect more details about the Baptist’s ministry.  But the emphasis of his Gospel is on the Word, not on the forerunner.

To give some context to these verses, John the Baptist began his public ministry in the summer of 26 AD.   Both his message—that even the children of Abraham needed to repent and be cleansed, symbolized by baptism in water, and his presentation—looking and living very much like the Old Testament prophets, caused such a stir among his people that we read this in Mark 1:5—

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

During the final days of 26 AD or the early days of 27 AD, Jesus left Nazareth, voluntarily beginning the mission His Father had assigned Him.  He was baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13—17; Mark 1:9—11; Luke 3:21—22).  From the Jordan Valley, Jesus was led to the heights of the desert to be tempted by the Devil for a period of over 40 days.  Following His temptation, Jesus probably returned to the area where John the Baptist was continuing to baptize repentant sinners; His arrival being described in 1:29.  So the events of verses 19—28 took place before Jesus returned to John the Baptist after His time of temptation, just east of the Jordan River, not far from the Sea of Galilee, and the time was likely spring of 27 AD.  The events of the balance of chapter 1 took place during 4 consecutive days.

On the first day, the Jews sent a select committee to investigate this strange prophet.  We will notice as we study the Gospel that whenever John the writer uses the word Jews, it carries a sinister connotation, often standing for the religious leaders who were hostile to Jesus.   Here, this delegation came asking the Baptist who he thought he was.  He had already made it abundantly clear in his preaching that he was definitely not the Messiah.

Why did these theologically astute Jewish leaders think he was Elijah?  On the basis of Malachi 4:5, devoted Jews were on the lookout for Elijah—

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.

So now we know they were not just pulling a name out of their hats.  This man, John the Baptist, must have really left his mark on Jewish society!  He had almost convinced even the educated class that he might be Elijah!   Of course, John vehemently denied that he was Elijah returned in the flesh, not withstanding what Jesus said—

And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  (Matthew 11:4)

John fulfilled some aspects of the preliminary ministry of which Malachi had spoken, but he certainly is not written of as Elijah anywhere in the New Testament.

John’s negative answer to these religious leaders threw them for a loop, so they insisted John give them some sort of answer that made sense that they could bring back to the religious authorities.  In answer, John the Baptist did a very shrewd thing:  he freely quoted from the Old Testament, Isaiah 40:3—

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”

John the Baptist, using words familiar to anybody who knew the Torah, described himself as a “road builder,” clearing the way, getting the road ready for Someone else to walk on, Someone greater than himself.   John the Baptist impressed the Jewish people, but Isaiah 40:5 describes the effect the Coming One would have—

“And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

With verse 25, we see what was really bothering this delegation:  they were worked up, not so much with John the Baptist’s preaching, but with his baptizing people.  Priests baptized people, not prophets.  Baptism in water was a serious ordination, and it vexed these priests that this son of a priest was freely baptizing, apparently anybody who came to him.   Clearly, these priests did not understand the gist of the Baptist’s message; they were not spiritual enough; they did not have “ears to hear.”

John answered, “I baptize with water,” pointing out that what he was doing was vastly different from what the coming One would do.  As far as John the Baptist was concerned, all he was doing was administering a sign of something to come.  The Messiah alone would come and bestow the thing signified (the cleansing of the Holy Spirit).    There is irony in this account that is often missed.  These learned and devoted Jewish theologians, preaching about and looking for the Messiah to come, were so eager to expose false Messiahs, they were ignoring the true Messiah, who had already come, been baptized, and was part of their own people.  Like so many people searching for spiritual truth and reality today, they were blinded by their own preconceived notions and belief.

2.  Day Two:  John testifying before a crowd of people, 1:29—34

“The next day” means exactly that:  right after John the Baptist met with the religious leaders, and after our Lord’s time of tempting in the wilderness, the events beginning at verse 29 took place.   Here, with no ambiguity, the Baptist marks out the Messiah.   But John the Baptist recognized that Jesus was not only the Messiah, but also the Savior, for Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God.”   That phrase, which brings to mind the Suffering Servant prophecy in Isaiah 53, points to the sacrificial side of the Messiah’s work.  His death would provide the atoning sacrifice acceptable to God for the forgiveness of man’s sins.

This was a side of the Messiah missed by the Jews of Jesus’ day, for while they were sincerely looking for and longing for a Messiah, their notion was that the Messiah would be a political deliverer, like Moses, who would come and free them political bondage to Rome and restore the nation of Israel to the way it was in the glory days of Kings David and Solomon.   The “saving” side of the Messiah’s mission was lost.  The true Messiah is all that the Jews were looking for and more. Jesus is the Savior; the Lamb of God.  He is the all powerful Savior because He not only separates man from his sin but imparts new life to him.  Jesus is the perpetual Savior because the phrase “takes away” is written in the present tense—the work of the Savior continues to this very day!  He may have died and arose one time, but the effects of His sacrificial and atoning death reverberate through the halls of history for all people.

The symbol of the lamb is deep and intricate.  It figures prominently in the Old Testament, beginning with the offerings of Abel and Noah (Genesis 4:4; 8:20).  But it is in the story of Abraham and Isaac that we see a dramatic picture of the necessity of a lamb as the stand-in for a human being.  God had told Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice—

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”  “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.   “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”   8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.  (Genesis 22:7-8)

According to John, Jesus is the Lamb that takes the place of people, like Isaac.  By faith Abraham believed God would intervene, and God did, providing a lamb to be sacrificed instead of Isaac.  By faith, today, we accept the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and by faith we appropriate the benefits of walking in forgiveness and new life.  No wonder John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God!”  For a fuller explanation of the theology of “atonement,” a careful study of 1 John yields much information—

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7)

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for[a] the sins of the whole world.  (1 John 2:2)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (1 John 4:10 [see 4:9—14 for full context])

John the Baptist told the crowd that a “man” would come after him that would be far, far superior to him.  It is very significant that John the writer chose not to use the more common word anthropos in describing the Messiah as a “man.”  While that word does refer to males, it is a broad term for human beings in general, but John described Jesus using the Greek aner, which refers to a “male” but emphasizes “maleness.”   This is a subtle way of pointing out that Jesus is not only a human man, but he is the “head” over His followers.  The word really serves to emphasize Jesus’ ultimate authority.

John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins, so we know that John was at least acquainted with Jesus, but he had no idea Jesus was the Messiah until the sign of the Spirit—a dove descending upon Jesus at His baptism—was seen.  This seems to put to rest the myths about the boy-Jesus walking around raising dead birds to life and performing small miracles prior to His entrance into ministry at His baptism.   Those things would have indicated deity, something that was hidden until His baptism by John the Baptist, at which time, John says, he saw the Spirit descending upon Jesus.

Verses 32 and 33 bear record of the first mention of the Spirit in John’s Gospel, and testifying about the Spirit was also part of John the Baptist’s ministry.   John merely baptized Jesus in water, he did not impart the Holy Spirit to Jesus; he makes it clear that the Spirit came down from heaven.  This was important for people to know, for the Spirit authenticated the mission of Jesus but also functioned as the seal of His work in individual lives.   The phrase to “baptize with the Holy Spirit” elicits much discussion, however in the context of John’s Gospel, it refers to the sealing of an individual who has confessed their sins, repented, been forgiven and been born again.  Water baptism, on the other hand, only signified repentance, confession of sin and reception of the new life.   John the Baptist was able only to administer the sign of the reality of what Jesus did in the life of believer.

3.  Day Three:  John testifying to two of his disciples, 1:35—42

This, the third day of John’s record of the work of John the Baptist, finds the Baptist with two of his disciples.  It actually marks the official beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ.   In John’s Gospel, the transition from the story of John to that of Jesus is handled quickly and deftly.  In the space of a couple of verses, John the Baptist fades into the background while Jesus moves to the forefront.

The two disciples with John the Baptist were Andrew, who was named, and in all probability, John the writer, though not so named.  The events of this third day were momentous.  John the Baptist is seen, once again, proclaiming the fact of the Messiah’s coming.  Seeing Jesus, he called out, “Look, the Lamb of God.”  This was probably not addressed directly to his disciples, who were obviously nearby within earshot.   When the two disciples realized who Jesus was, the record simply states, “they followed Jesus,” presumably walking away from John the Baptist.  This is the last we read of John the Baptist, the man who boldly proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, until chapter 3, where there is an allusion to his baptizing.

The first words of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel are in the form of a question to the two former disciples of John the Baptist—

“What do you want?”  (1:38b)

This is a question that has been echoing for over two thousand years; asked of every human being looking for something beyond themselves.  Every human being is looking for that which they do not possess.  Sometimes they look for love and acceptance, other times people are looking for hope and peace.   To those, Jesus continues to ask, “What do you want?”  But the question Jesus asked was also revealing.  He had just been called “the Lamb of God,” the testimony of John the Baptist was that this same Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, and this Messiah’s question was, literally, “What do you seek?” not “Whom do you seek?”  Jesus knows the heart of a human being; He knows what people really need.  What were these two good men seeking?  Forgiveness?  Entrance into the Kingdom?  Whatever it was, Jesus Christ was, and remains, able to supply.

In the world of the 21st century, we are not so far removed from the days of John the Baptist.  We are far more sophisticated in some ways, but our most basic needs remain the same, and they remain unmet.  Man was created to long for what he cannot find, so that in the seeking, he may find Jesus Christ.  Whatever your need is today, realize that God is your Source, and a relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way ensure that your needs are met.  To people just like us, Jesus asks, “What do you want?”

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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