Bible Study

1 -  WE MUST BELIEVE IN GOD!

"Without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that seek him" Hebrews 11:6 .

  1. First, we must believe that God is -- that he exists.  The universe is one of the best sources of evidence in proof of such. "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity" Romans 1:20.
    1. Two broad solutions are offered for the origin of our universe: naturalism/materialism [usually identified as evolution] and creationism. In the previous verse, creationism is specified as the correct answer [see also: {bible 9}Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:11; Psalms 19:1-3; Psalms 33:6-9; Isaiah 45:18;Jeremiah 27:5].
    2. By a study of the universe and a logical search for its origin, you and I can know that God exists, that he is powerful and that he is divine. Without this intellectual acceptance, it is impossible to please him.
  2. Second, we must believe that God is a rewarder of those who seek after him. -- Where is he? Who is he? What is he like? What does he want? Without some kind of revelation, we have no answer. 1 Corinthians 2:10.
  1.  
    1.  That's where the Bible comes in. For "all scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" 2 Tim. 3:16.   By turning to "the implanted word, which is able to save...souls" James 1:21, we learn about God and the life he requires of us.
    2. Now, let's assume that you and I both accept the existence of a divine being based on the existence, the size and the intricate design of our universe. Let' s also assume that we accept the Bible as his divinely inspired revelation.
    3. That being true, let's turn to his revelation to see why we have to seek him and what we must do to have a relationship with him. Let's turn to the Bible to see what we must do if we really want to go to heaven and live with him.
2 -  WE MUST ACCEPT PERSONAL GUILT

"Let no man say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted of God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man. But each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust when it hath conceived, beareth sin; and the sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death." James 1:13-15.

  1. First, the above passage teaches us that temptation and sin are personal. -- NOTE: "each man is tempted...by his own lust, and enticed." If we are not careful, our own desires seduce and lure us away from God! When that happens, we are guilty of giving birth to sin in our lives.
    1. That makes sin something we must take personal responsibility for. We are not made to sin, forced to sin, or "blind-sided" by sin. In the final analysis, sin is invited into our lives when we yield to some personal desire that is out of harmony with God's revealed will. The guilt is something we must shoulder as individuals.
  2. Second, the above passage teaches us that sin reaps bitter consequences. -- The word used was "death."
    1. After his creating man, there was only one thing God told man not to do...only one negative command: "Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" Genesis 2:16,17.   But man disobeyed (Genesis 3:1-19) and, thus, "through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin" Romans 5:12.   Did you see the word "death"?
    2. Since that day, "all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3:23.  "All." That includes you and me. AND NOTE: "all have sinned." We are not born with sin in some kind of depraved condition. We do not inherit sin. We sin. We choose to transgress and cross the lines God has drawn (1 John 3:4). When we do, we invite some awfully dark consequences into our lives. Consequences such as:
      1. The plight of "separation" from God: "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sin has hid his face from you" Isaiah 59:1,2.
      2. The prospect of eternal "damnation": "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23); that is "the lake of fire and brimstone; which is the second death" Revelation 21:8.
  3. Now, let's assume that you and I, based on our belief in God and the Bible as his word, accept our status of guilt in sin. Let's also assume that we want that status changed from guilt to spiritual innocence; "godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation" 2 Corinthians 7:10.
  4. That being true, let's turn to the Bible to see what we must do to be cleansed of our guilt. Let's turn to the Bible and continue to see what we must do if we really want to go to heaven.
3 - WE MUST DEPEND ON THE GIFT AND GUIDANCE OF GOD'S GRACE

"God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved)...that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory" Ephesians 2:4-9.

  1. First, the above passage teaches us that we are saved by grace. -- Did you happen to see the three elements that make up God's grace? They are (a) mercy, (b) love, and (c) kindness. In our escape from the darkness of sin and its consequences, all three are involved.
    1. Salvation is possible because God is merciful and has feelings for man. -- In fact, God "is longsuffering...not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Indeed, "your heavenly Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).
    2. Salvation is possible because God is loving. -- How many times have we heard it, read it, quoted it: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16; cf. Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9,10)? The entire ministry of Jesus is the product of God's love, his grace (cf. Hebrews 2:9).
    3. Salvation is also possible because God is kind and concerned about doing what man needed to have done. -- In fact, this kindness is one of the things that can motivate us to make the necessary changes needed for salvation (Romans 2:4).
      1. Mercy...Love...Kindness! That's grace. That's what made salvation possible and available. No one served as God's counselor, advising him to save man (Romans 11:33,34). No one put God in debt, forcing him to save man (Romans 11:35). He provided man a way of escape from the darkness of sin and its consequences because he is a God of grace. What a thought!
  2. Second, the above passage teaches us that we are saved by faith. -- From the example of Abraham, we learn that faith is accepting God at his word and submitting to his guidance. "Looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness" Romans 5:20-22.
    1. This "accepting God at his word" is the kind of faith we are also to possess in that we are to "walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham" (Romans 4:12).  And what kind of faith did Abraham have? When he accepted God at his word, his faith was obedient. He submitted to the guidance of God because he accepted God at his word (Hebrews 11:8).
    2. Now, let's put it together. We are saved by grace in that God's mercy, love and kindness made it possible. At the same time, we are saved by faith in that we accept God at his word, yield to his guidance -- as did Abraham -- and do what he has commanded. So, to escape the guilt of sin and its dark consequences, we must rely on the grace and guidance of God.

Now, let's assume that you and I believe in God, accept the Bible as His word and humbly accept the guilt of our sinful status. We're in sin, separated from God, damned to perdition and we want to do something about that. Let's also assume that we have gratefully turned to the grace of God for help and are willing to accept him at his word, submissively yielding to his commands with an obedient faith.

That being true, let's continue to turn through the Bible to see what God would have us to do to be cleansed of our guilt. Again, let's continue to turn through the Bible to see what we must do if we really want to go to heaven.

4. WE MUST RESPOND TO THE SPECIFIC COMMANDS OF JESUS

Remember, Jesus is "unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation"  Hebrews 5:9.

  1. The Savior of whom? Those "that obey him." If we want to go to heaven, we must -- out of an obedient faith -- give in to his commands. And what commands does he attach to our being freed from the guilt of sin?
    1. First, our obedient faith must believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God: "Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24). -- On one occasion a woman of Samaria said to Jesus, "I know the Messiah cometh (he that is called Christ)." Jesus' response? "I that speak unto the am he" (John 4:25,26). So, if you and I want to go to heaven, we must believe that Jesus is "He," the Christ, the Messiah.  See also: John 3:16-18; Acts 16:30; 1 John 5:1-3,11-13.
    2. Second, our obedient faith must repent of the past: "Except ye repent, ye shall all...perish" (Luke 13:3,5). -- To repent, as evidenced by the men of Nineveh, is to turn from evil (Matthew 12:41; see, Jonah 3:10). So, if you and I want to go to heaven, we must stop doing what is wrong and start doing what is right. We must turn from evil.  See also: Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:18-20; 2 Peter 3:9.
    3. Third, our obedient faith must confess Jesus: "Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32,33). -- The word translated "confess" means to say the same thing as another. If we want to go to heaven, we must say what Jesus said about himself, we must say what God said about Jesus, we must confess our faith in his being the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.  See also: Romans 10:9,10; 1 Timothy 6:12; cf. Acts 8:35-37.
    4. Fourth, our obedient faith must submit to baptism for the remission of sins: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned" (Mark 16:16). -- Further study will prove this baptism to be an immersion (Romans 6:3,4) in water (Acts 8:35-39) for the purpose of taking away one's sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). If I want to go to heaven, I must be baptized; that is, immersed in water for the purpose of having my sins taken away See also: Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 10:48; 1 Cor. 12:13; Galatians 3:26,27; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Peter 3:21.
  2. Now, again, let's put it all together. Out of his mercy, love and kindness, God sent Jesus to die for our sins (cf. Isaiah 53:4-6; Matthew 20:28; 26:28; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:20). In response to such a gracious gift, you and I are commanded to possess a faith that accepts God at his words and yields to his commands. We, thus, yield to the command to:
  1. Believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy, the Son of God.
  2. Repent of our sins in a deliberate choice to turn from evil in our lives.
  3. Confess our faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.
  4. Be baptized, immersed in water to have our sins taken away.
5. WE MUST LIVE A NEW LIFE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

"For hereunto were he called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow in his steps"  1 Peter 2:21.

  1. We must never put a period where God has placed a comma. Becoming a New Testament Christian via the active grace of God coupled with our obedient faith [an obedience of faith, repentance, confession and baptism for the remission of sins] is only the beginning of an abundant life.
  2. After becoming a Christian, we are blessed with the challenge to think like Jesus (Philippians 2:5) and become as much like him as possible. "What would Jesus do?" "How would Jesus respond?" "What would Jesus think? What would he say? What would he decide?"
  3. Using the New Testament as our standard for day to day living, knowing that he will judge us in keeping with the same (John 12:48), we are to use him as our great example and echo the words of Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me" !  Galatians 2:20

Christians readily identify with assembling on the first day of the week to worship their God and remember their Savior.  Additionally, familiarity exists for Christians partaking of the Lord’s Supper, giving, praying, hearing preaching, and singing each Sunday.  Few Christians would reject the notion that these practices represent the worship of faithful followers of Christ from today all the way back to the first century with the establishment of the Church.  Throughout the centuries, Christians strove to obey the commands of God regarding worship.  Sadly, the Church also saw its fair share of false teachers, skewed doctrine, and rebellious members over the years. Yet it was not until the 1800’s that wide spread abuses began to assault Christian worship practices.  What did God authorize for the Churches in regard to singing in its assemblies?  What specific type of music can be utilized in relation to God?  Do these standards only apply to the first day of the week assembly or do they apply any time music normally associated with God is sung?  For instance, what about V.B.S., WinterFest, L.T.C., Bible camp, youth devotions, “Christian” music on the car radio, at home on the piano, or just anywhere?  What does God expect when it comes to singing and what about those who say “My singing is not worship unless I intend it to be, so I can do whatever I want with songs normally associated with God.”  Elderships, congregations, and individual Christians should be answering these questions with the full authority of scripture before potentially risking their souls and the souls of others with an improper course of action.

What, When, and Where Worship?

A moment should be taken to clearly identify what “worship” means.  Worship displays itself in the honor, reverence, or respect given to a specific target.  Historically, man chose to direct worship toward all sort of animate and inanimate objects, real and imagined, in addition to or excluding Jehovah, the one and only God of all that exists (Isaiah 44).  The Bible provides guidelines for proper worship in John 4:24 stating: “God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  Summarily, this verse establishes: a defined target for properly worshiping God (God Himself), an intent to worship Him (spirit), and a pattern of worshiping Him (truth – found in His Word – John 17:17).  Thus, the concept of no worship unless there is intent seems to hold firm.  However, this does not provide a clear framework or answer for determining how singing songs associated with God should be treated whether in or out of worship.  It also does not determine whether or not such songs have authorization to be separated from worship (reverence to God).  Before moving away from a look at worship, one other aspect must be examined.  When does worship occur?  Is the act of purposely showing reverence to God, as He has prescribed, limited to a specific time or location?  Consider prayer in this query.  Prayer for the Christian aims itself at a very specific target – God! (Matthew 6:6-13)  Scripture is very specific about how we approach God.  God must be treated as Holy (I Peter 1:16 – “Be Ye Holy; for I am Holy.)  Seeing a target, an intent, and a pattern for prayer, when and where does it occur?  Paul answers this question in I Thessalonians 5:17 – “Pray without ceasing”.  Worshiping God can occur at anytime and anywhere and this is born out in the practice of prayer (Mat. 26:36, Mk. 1:35, Lk. 5:16, Lk. 18:10, Acts 4:31, Acts 10:30, Acts 16:25…).  Worship is not limited to a specific location or a specific time.

What is the Standard of Authority for Examining Singing?

Turn now your attention to the issue of singing songs associated with God and to the objective of singing without intent to worship.  The analysis of singing will be done with the authority of God’s eternal principles and that of the Law of Christ as seen in the New Testament.  Practices recorded in the Old Testament, which occurred with and without authority under the Law of Moses, will not be considered as that law was nailed to the cross and never had authority (nor was intended to have) over Christians and the Church of our Lord (Jeremiah 31:31, Hebrews 8:10-13, Colossians 2:13-14).

What Do Christians Sing?

Christian songs as seen in the New Testament take three forms: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16).  Psalms are odes to God as seen in the book of Psalms and a few other books.  Hymns are songs from the mind of man with themes made to praise God or educate man about God.  Indeed, many psalms could be classified as hymns as well.  Hymns also include all songs created today which are associated with God.  Examples would include:  “Jesus Loves Me”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Sing to Me of Heaven”, “The B.I.B.L.E”, “Hilltops of Glory”, “Alleluia”, “Love One Another”, “My God is an Awesome God”, and others.  Men often find the third type of songs, spiritual songs, confusing.  Some think of these as deep soul songs, however, Greek definitions provides a very telling understanding.  Research the word “spiritual” (pneumatikos) and the following words will be found: “belonging to the Divine Spirit”, “non-carnal”, and “supernatural”.  In fact, a search for this same word in scripture will demonstrate that it is used exclusively for things not of man, but of God.  What does this mean to us?  Consider that spiritual songs were those given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the first century and not coming from the mind of man.  These were part of the gifts as mentioned in I Corinthians 14.  These were needed along with spiritual teaching and spiritual prayer in the newborn Church because folks did not know these things on their own, nor did they have scriptures to guide them as we do today.  Of course, with the complete revelation of scripture, its confirmation, and its spread throughout the world, gifts ceased as foretold in I Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 4.  Thus, today the Christians sing psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs having ceased.

What is the Purpose of Christian Singing?

In I Corinthians 1:18-21, it is established that the communication by proclamation of the cross (gospel) is what saves.  That proclamation includes verbal and non-verbal communication.  Biblical authority by way of command, example, and necessary inference supports this in at least the following forms: Preaching, teaching, singing, writing, illustration, and sign language.  Recall that all scripture is from God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Thus, the Ephesians and Colossians passages mentioned previously are God providing man information through the Holy Spirit and spoken and written by man exactly as given.  The context of Ephesians and Colossians lays out what God wants from man.  God gives a command through general authority which summarily says “teach and admonish one another through speech and song, and sing and make melody in your hearts to God.”  There are eleven verses which speak of singing in the New Testament (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26, Act 16:25, Romans 15:8-9, 1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 2:10-12, James 5:13, Revelation 5:8-9, Revelation 14:2-3).  In all of these verses, it is clear singing is done with God being targeted.  Of the 11 verses mentioned, five are specific to New Testament Christian usage (Acts 16, I Cor14, Eph. 5, Col. 3, and James 5).  All of these pertain to Christians communicating in song serving the purpose of edification (building up) of others and self – communication which saves.  In a broad focus it can be said the singing of psalms and hymns by Christians in the Bible served one of two purposes: 1. Worship, 2. Edification.

What are the Guidelines for Singing Psalms and Hymns?

Time: Of great importance to the Christian singing psalms and hymns: when are they authorized sing these songs associated with God?  None of the verses demonstrating or directing Christian singing limit singing to a singular time frame.  The guidelines we gather from the five New Testament passages regarding singing by Christians apply at all times.  Christians can sing when they assemble, when they are alone, in their car, in their home, day or night, and in any location.  Paul and Silas sang at midnight in a prison!

Edification: Romans 14:14-19 states the following:

“I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that herein serveth Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men. So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another.” 

Paul speaks here regarding the issue of eating foods once considered unclean.  It violated the conscience of some to eat that food.  Paul’s conclusion is rather than to destroy someone’s faith, they should only engage in what edifies (builds up).  The application is the same with singing, edification is a guideline that must be followed.  God commands we sing psalms and hymns, but, however it is done, it must be done in a manner which builds up those present.  If there is a concern by another that the manner in which you are engaging in singing is sinful, then you certainly are not edifying and must stop.  Paul would go on to classify such actions as stumbling blocks.

Expedience: I Corinthians 10:23-24 carries the same theme as the above verse in that it requires that Christian actions edify.  But it also requires that they be expedient.  Expedient may be translated “profitable” in your Bible text.  This means, there must be an authorized profit or help from our actions.  If somehow the atmosphere or actions engaged in by Christians surrounding singing are not expedient, then they are also not acceptable.

Understanding: I Corinthians 14:15 establishes that singing must be done with understanding.  That is, the words shared must be communication which will be able to be understood by the hearer either by first hand listening or interpretation. Everyone knows what singing is.  Singing comes from the vocal chords.  A guitar cannot sing.  A piano cannot sing.  A harmonica cannot sing.  In fact, no electronic or mechanical instrument can sing.  What they do is respond to human input and play desired sounds.  Playing is not singing.  It is an addition to singing.  Additionally, clapping is not singing.  It is the use of percussion similar to a drum.  Christians are never asked by God to play, they are asked to communicate the salvation of God through singing psalms and hymns as seen in the verses mentioned.  This is what Christians have authority to do – sing.  Thus, this is a very important guideline for the communication of psalms and hymns.  Edifying, expedient psalms and hymns may be sung at anytime, but there is no authorization for adding the unintelligible playing of instruments or clash of clapping with them.  This would include at a V.B.S., WinterFest, on the radio, in the car, at your piano in your home, or anywhere else.  Such action is sin and requires repentance.

Bluntly, there are no commands, examples, or necessary inference for worldly usage of psalms and hymns by Christians of the first century in scripture (and therefore no Biblical authority for such usage).  Since, scripture provides all we need for life and Godliness (2 Pet. 1:2-3), if psalms and hymns were allowed for worldly usage it would be established in the Bible.

Does Intent Matter?

Perhaps you have heard, “Outside of Sunday morning assembly, I have no intent to worship when singing psalms and hymns!  I can add what I want to the songs.” or “We aren’t worshipping, we are celebrating!”  Folks who want to add clapping and playing and other innovations to their singing frequently say things like this.  The nature and creation of psalms and hymns is that they are to be directed toward God at all times and are meant to edify Christians as well.  They are set apart for God and directed by God for Christian usage and are thus holy.  Now, someone might ask what the difference is between “psalms and hymns” and “Unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine”.  God created food for man to eat.  Sometimes God has declared the food have additional purposes, such as the Lord’s Supper.  Psalms and hymns were created for offering to God and edification.  They have no other purpose that one which is holy.  Utilizing them for enjoyment, entertainment, celebration for man, and other reasons is to treat what is holy, profanely.  Treating Holy things in a profane manner is sinful.

When God makes something holy, it is not to be profaned.   Consider the following: Moses was told to remove his shoes when he approached holy Ground. (Exodus 3:5). Mount Sinai was Holy when God descended down upon it.  If the people or any beast came into contact with it, profaning it, they were to be put to death.  (Exodus 19:12-13) Nadab and Abihu did not treat the Lord in a sanctified “holy” manner when approaching him.  By not doing what he specifically said, they treated Him profanely.  (Leviticus 10:1-3). Korah and reputable princes of the people rebelled against Moses saying they were Holy before God.  They were commanded to go before the Lord with the censors of God and see what God would do.  God swallowed up their families in the ground and consumed them with fire.  Then God commanded their censors be picked up because those were Holy.  Those men were profane.  (Numbers 16:1-37) Christian communication is to be Holy, not profane by following after Old wives fables or profane babblings. (I Tim. 6:20;  I Tim. 4:7, 2 Peter 3:11) In Hebrews 12:16, Esau is called profane because he profanely treated his Holy birthright, which would set him apart with the responsibility of spiritually leading His family before God. 1 Corinthians 3:17 - “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”  When Christians, set apart and holy to God, step outside of what God has authorized they are acting profanely.

The bottom line application of these scriptures is this: Whether your intent is to use psalms and hymns for worship or not, they are holy.  Treating them in an unauthorized manner and thus in an unholy manner is to profane them and sin.  Just as using the Lord’s Supper in a vain manner by not focusing on Christ is sinful, singing psalms and hymns without God in mind and reverence toward Him is sinful. Clapping out the song B.I.B.L.E., the word of God – sinful!  Playing the “The Old Rugged Cross” on the piano at home – sinful!  Listening to instrumental psalms and hymns on the radio in your car – sinful!  To use the name of God, the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit in song for non-authorized purposes is to use the name of God in vain – This too is sinful! It is vanity and pride to think one can take something holy to God and use it for themselves in an ordinary worldly way.

What Should We Now Know about Singing?

We know in regard to worship with psalms and hymns, it can be done anywhere and at anytime.  The authority for determining how Christians should treat psalms and hymns in a proper manner comes from God’s eternal principles and the Covenant of Christ as found in the New Testament.  Christians today sing psalms and hymns, but not spiritual songs as sung in the first century.  The purpose of those songs is worship and edification not worldly applications like entertainment, personal enjoyment, or personal celebration. Psalms and hymns can be sung anywhere and at any time, but must edify, be expedient, and understandable.  There is no authorization to sing Psalms and hymns accompanied by clapping or instruments at anytime whether intending to worship or not.  God has presented psalms and hymns as holy.  Their usage is not to be profaned with common treatment in any setting and to do so is sinful.  Psalms and hymns must always be treated reverently.

How is your congregational leadership handling these issues?  How are you handling these issues in your family when they have arisen?  If you are engaged in them, more is needed then just stopping the activity.  Repentance requires seeking forgiveness from God.  If this is something you or the congregation has engaged in publicly, then there needs to be public repentance so all will know not to follow your example causing you to be a stumbling block.  Brothers and sisters, leaders of congregations, let us treat our God and what He has sanctified to Himself as Holy that we might stand before Him in good favor.

some adaptations were made from the original artilce

 

Paul tells us that on the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, “and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:24-26). Jesus instituted this supper to be done in remembrance of Him. Paul said, “as often” as Christians partake of this memorial supper, they “show the Lord's death till he come.” There is no question that the church should partake of the Lord’s Supper (communion), but how often? Is the frequency of partaking of communion just a matter of opinion?

It would be strange if the Lord instituted a memorial and gave no guidance how often it should be done. The Jews received explicit instructions when they were to observe the Passover, Pentecost, and other memorials. The New Testament is clear that the early church assembled each first day of the week [Sunday] for worship. 1 Corinthians 14:23 speaks of the whole church “come together into one place” and Hebrews 10:25 warns against “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” The first day of the week was the time for the early church to assemble and partake of communion.

Luke tells us that Paul came to Troas “and upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). The verse before states, “we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days” (Acts 20:6). Paul and his company had waited a full seven days at Troas so that they could meet with the Christians of Troas on the first day of the week, “when the disciples came together to break bread.” Their stated purpose in coming together was “to break bread,” meaning to partake of the Lord’s Supper, or communion. The writings of many ancient writers such as Pliny, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and others show that the universal practice of the early church was to meet each first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

But was it every first day? When God told the Jews to "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), they understood that it was every Sabbath day that was intended, even though God did not specifically say to remember every Sabbath day. When Paul wrote, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2), didn’t he mean that each first day of the week was the day for Christians to give? Each first day of the week, [the day of the Lord’s resurrection, and the day the church was established], is the day Christians are to observe communion. No other day is authorized by command or example of scripture.

Long before the New Testament writers spoke of baptism, the Greeks used the very same word to describe the process of dipping, immersing, or submerging something. The root word "bapto," from which baptism is derived, is translated as a form of dip in several passages: "dip the tip of his finger in water" (Luke 16:24); "when he had dipped the sop" (John 13:26); and "he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood" (Revelation 19:13). When English scholars began translating the New Testament into English from the original Greek, they sought to avoid controversy by transliterating the word for baptize (that is, substituting the letters of our alphabet for the Greek letters), rather than translating the word (giving the actual English equivalent). This allowed people to continue to believe and teach that either sprinkling, pouring, or immersion was scriptural baptism, despite the clear meaning of the original language. "Immersion" properly translates "baptism." For example, a literal translation of Acts 2:38, "repent and be baptized," would be "repent and be immersed."

The first recorded practice of sprinkling came some two hundred years after the establishment of the church. Ancient historian Eusebius said that third century church leader Novatian, supposing he was dying, "received baptism, being besprinkled with water, on the bed whereon he lay (if that can be termed baptism)." Sprinkling, or "clinic baptism," was reserved for the ill, and was held in disfavor generally until the council of Ravenna, in 1311, said that baptism was equally acceptable by sprinkling or by immersion. Substitution of sprinkling for immersion is an ancient innovation, but is not biblical.

Only immersion fits the Bible pattern. The nature of baptism is such that it requires "much water." "John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized" (John 3:23). Sprinkling or pouring requires only a "handful" of water, but immersion requires "much" water.

Also, baptism requires a going down into the water, and a coming up out of the water. Luke records the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch: "As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? . . . And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip" (Acts 8:36-39). They both went down into the water so Philip could immerse him. Finally, New Testament baptism requires a burial and a resurrection. Paul describes the act of baptism this way: "We are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:4-5). Sprinkling and pouring do not picture a burial and a resurrection as immersion does.

Most of Christendom has decided that water baptism is neither a prerequisite, nor necessary, to salvation. Influenced largely by the Protestant Reformation, people have become convinced that forgiveness of sin by the blood of Christ is achieved at the very moment a person “believes”—by which they mean when a person, in his or her own mind, “accepts” Christ as Lord and Savior. To them, the external act of water baptism is considered to be simply an after-the-fact outward “symbol” or “badge” that “declares” the Christian’s already-secured salvation. One passage used to support this thinking is the account of the conversion of the Roman jailer in Philippi (Acts 16). However, a careful study of the entire episode yields quite a different conclusion.

When an earthquake rocked the prison where Paul and Silas were fastened in stocks, the jailer assumed his prisoners had escaped. In view of the fact that Roman law would have required the jailer’s life as the penalty for losing the prisoners who had been placed in his charge (see Ramsay, 1897, p. 222; cf. Acts 12:19), he drew his sword and was about to take his own life. But Paul called out loudly, encouraging the jailer to refrain from harming himself, reassuring him that no prisoner had escaped. Calling for a light, he ran into the prison and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then, bringing them out of the prison, the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

What did the jailer mean by this statement? As a heathen Roman (cf. Alford, 1980, 2:184), he no doubt had been exposed to Greek/Roman mythology his entire life. Christianity had been introduced into Macedonia only days earlier when Paul arrived in Philippi (16:12; cf. Ramsay, p. 215). So it is unlikely that he possessed more than a cursory understanding of the Christian notion of salvation from sin. But events occurred in those days leading up to his conversion that may account for the jailer’s question.

Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days (Acts 16:16-18, emp. added).

Observe that the demon within the girl announced to the citizens of Philippi over a period of “many days” the fact that Paul and Silas were representatives of the one true God, and that they possessed the information that would show people the way to salvation. In all likelihood, the jailer would have heard this declaration either firsthand or through the reports of friends, neighbors, relatives, or other townspeople.

When Paul finally expelled the demon from the girl, her irate masters assaulted him and Silas, dragged them before the magistrates of the city, and subjected them to the legal proceedings that ultimately landed them in the prison where they encountered the jailer. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the jailer was privy to these proceedings, which surely would have included reference to their alleged identity as “servants of the Most High God” who had information pertaining to “the way of salvation.”

A third means by which the jailer could have come into possession of sufficient information that would account for the phrasing of his question can be seen in verse 25: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” The jailer may well have heard the hymns that Paul and Silas sang—songs that would have included references to God, Christ, and salvation.

These three circumstances may account for the jailer’s request to be informed about salvation—albeit, even then, his understanding must have been very piecemeal. Paul’s response to the jailer’s question was: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (vs. 31). What did Paul mean by this statement? If he meant what many within Christendom think he meant, that is, if the jailer already knew who Jesus was, and if Paul was urging him simply to believe (i.e., simply to “accept Christ into his heart as his personal savior”), then we should next expect the text to provide the jailer’s response—something to the effect that the jailer accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, or that he believed on Jesus right then and there and was saved.

However, to the contrary, the text says: “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him” (vs. 32). Why? Didn’t Paul just do that by telling the jailer to believe? Apparently not! Paul later wrote that “faith comes by hearing...the word of God” (Romans 10:17). So the jailer needed to hear additional information that would enable him to know what it means to believe in Jesus. It follows, then, that the instruction, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” was simply a broad, sweeping statement intended to redirect the jailer’s then-present religious attachment to the pagan gods of Greek/Roman mythology toward the true object of belief—Christ. It was a way to reorient the jailer’s thinking in the direction of Jesus, as contrasted with his own pagan notions. But simply telling the jailer (or anyone today) to “believe on Jesus” does not provide sufficient information on how to believe. In other words, there is more to “believing on Jesus” than simply affirming in one’s mind that Jesus is Lord and Savior (a fact readily conceded even by Satan and the demons—Genesis 3:15; Matthew 4:3,6; Luke 22:31; Hebrews 2:14; James 2:19; Revelation 12:4ff.).

It was only in speaking the word of the Lord to the jailer that he could understand who Christ is, what Christianity is about, and the proper response to the preached Word—i.e., what it means to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Since the jailer could not be saved before Paul spoke the Word of the Lord to him, observe the sequence of events that the text reports immediately after the Word was spoken to him.

(1) The jailer took Paul and Silas “the same hour of the night and washed their stripes” (Acts 16:33). Here is evidence of repentance (e.g., Matthew 3:8). Here is evidence that the jailer was convinced by the information that had been given to him, to the extent that he wanted to make things right. That is repentance—a change of mind resulting in appropriate outward actions (Matthew 21:29; 2 Corinthians 7:10).

(2) The text then states: “And immediately he and all his family were baptized.” Three aspects of this sentence are noteworthy. First, if baptism is unnecessary to salvation, why even mention it with regard to the conversion of the jailer? Why not simply proceed in the narrative to the outcome of conversion—i.e., some indication that he was now saved? If baptism is nonessential, instead of reading, “And immediately he and all his family were baptized,” one would expect the text to read, “And immediately he and all his family accepted Jesus as their personal Savior.” Second, where did the jailer get the idea that he needed to be baptized? It had to have been included in Paul’s “speaking the word of the Lord” to him. But if the jailer could not be saved until Paul “spoke the word of the Lord” to him, and if Paul included in that “word of the Lord” the doctrine of baptism, then it follows that the jailer’s salvation depended in part on baptism. Third, why “immediately”? Many within Christendom wait a week, a month, or longer before baptizing believers. Why was the jailer baptized immediately in the middle of the night? The implication is that baptism is more crucial and more urgent than many today think.

(3) At this point in Luke’s narrative, we are informed that the jailer brought Paul and Silas into his home, and then he set food before them. Next, we are informed that the jailer “rejoiced” (vs. 34). When does the text indicate that the jailer manifested signs of joy and happiness (that naturally follow conversion)—before or after baptism? After baptism! In fact, every time rejoicing is explicitly alluded to in the conversion accounts of Acts, it is always after baptism (e.g., 2:46—“gladness”; 8:39—“rejoicing”).

(4) Everything up to this point leads one to the conclusion that baptism was part and parcel of the jailer’s conversion, and preceded his salvation as the culminating act. But here is the clincher. Look carefully at the phrase in verse 34: “having believed in God.” Here is a clear, explicit indication that the jailer was now a saved believer. In the Greek, the expression “having believed” (pepisteukos) is in the perfect tense. There is no English tense corresponding to the Greek perfect. Consider the following brief explanation by Greek grammarians Dana and Mantey.

The perfect is the tense of complete action. Its basal significance is the progress of an act or state to a point of culmination and the existence of its finished results. That is, it views action as a finished product…. It implies a process, but views that process as having reached its consummation and existing in a finished state (1927, p. 200, emp. added).

Greek scholar Ray Summers offered another helpful explanation of the Greek perfect tense:

[I]t indicates a completed action with a resulting state of being. The primary emphasis is on the resulting state of being. Involved in the Greek perfect are three ideas: an action in progress, its coming to a point of culmination, its existing as a completed result. Thus it implies a process but looks upon the process as having reached a consummation and existing as a completed state (1950, p. 103, italics in orig., emp. added).

In light of the thrust of the Greek perfect tense, Luke was making the point that the jailer went through a process of several actions before it could be stated that he was in possession of a saving faith in God. His initial belief that came as a result of hearing the Word of the Lord preached to him, led to his repentance (as evinced by his attending Paul and Silas’ wounds), and then culminated in his baptism in water—bringing his faith to a completed result. Only at this point could the Greek perfect tense be used to indicate that the jailer now stood in a completed state of having believed. Luke was careful to refrain from labeling the jailer as a “believer” until all of the prerequisites to salvation had been completed, thereby bringing his faith to its finished state. This observation was acknowledged by R.J. Knowling while professor of New Testament Exegesis at King’s College in London: “[T]he word pepisteukos, perfect participle, shows that this fullness of joy was caused by his full profession of belief; it was the joy of the Holy Ghost which followed his baptism” (n.d., 2:353, italics in orig., emp. added).

This understanding of the conversion account of the Philippian jailer is in perfect concord with the other conversion accounts given in Acts (e.g., Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:12-13,36-39; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15; 18:8; 19:5). The New Testament designates water immersion as the point in time at which God cleanses the sin-stained spirit of the penitent believer by the blood of Christ (cf. Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-4).

REFERENCES

Dana, H.E. and Julius Mantey (1927), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto, Canada: Macmillan, 1957 reprint).

Knowling, R.J. (no date), The Expositor’s Greek Testament: The Acts of the Apostles, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Ramsay, William (1897), St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1962 reprint).

Summers, Ray (1950), Essentials of New Testament Greek (Nashville, TN: Broadman).

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