God’s Incarnation and the Church

The “doctrine of the Incarnation” is no bad phrase as long as we remember that it is only a shorthand way of affirming that something happened, something actually was done and that it was God who did it. When we reflect on what it is that the Almighty God has actually done we use words to speak about it but we don’t use words as a substitute for what God has done.

The one Christians speak of as “the Lord Jesus” is God being a man. The Lord Jesus is the man that God is being.

But we can’t leave it there for God does not want us to leave it there, won’t permit us to leave it there. We then try to unpack the meaning of it and the divine reasons for it and, in addition, we want to know how it affects us. Or should affect us.

None of us is competent to unpack all the truths that are imbedded in God’s eternal purpose to become a human or why he ceaselessly chooses to be a human but as we gain a deeper understanding of the character and purpose of God we gain an enriched understanding of his Incarnation in and as Jesus Christ.

There are social ramifications of all the major doctrines the Bible reveals to us. That is, we aren’t taught these major truths simple to give us correct information—they are truths to live by. For example, Paul affirms the OT doctrine that there is no God but one [see Romans 3:29]; he concludes from that that there must be one Creator and one human family. From that he concludes that God cares for the entire human family and offers them life in and through the Lord Jesus [3:30].

He earlier concluded that the entire human family is faithless [3:19, 23] in contrast to God’s faithfulness [3:21-22] but in and through the faithfulness of Jesus God’s maintains his commitment to the human family. Paul insists that humanity knowingly embraced the world spirit that makes itself visible in the principalities and powers and was enslaved and was in need of rescue. Instead of despising humanity and keeping his distance God came nearer than near, became incarnate in and as Jesus, became one of us [see Romans 8:3 and note Hebrews 2:10-11] and came to humanity’s rescue.

This rescue work continues in “the body of Christ” [that is, the Church, the NT covenant People] in which Jesus dwells as and by the Holy Spirit

[see Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 2:22; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Acts 16:7]. The Church is in a real way an “extension” of the Lord’s incarnation.

It would be strange, then, if the corporate body of the Lord Jesus were to despise humanity, would it not?

It won’t do for us to say that humans are terrible sinners and that we are to distance ourselves from them if we are to be good people and, more to the point, if we are the body of Christ. It won’t do because God who knows better than anyone how sinful the human family is and who is goodness in perfection refuses to distance himself from us and chooses to be one of us so that he might rescue us.

We cannot make our moral uprightness a reason to distance ourselves from sinful humans when God would not do it. As Bonhoeffer has taught us, we can’t despise humans if God has so loved them that he became one of them to rescue them. If we despise humans we despise what God has become in Jesus and in despising God’s choice to be one of us we despise God himself.

However we are to engage with our fellow-humans it mustn’t be out of contempt for them but always with the purpose to rescue them [however doubtful we might be about the effectiveness of our attempt]. While we’re at it we are to remember who we are and what we have been though now we may be more morally upright then many of them [see Titus 3:2-7].

The Church that [however it goes about its business] is not and refuses to be in the business of rescue is not the NT Church; it is not the Body of Christ.

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

A Colony of Heaven

He reminded the Thessalonians how he and his fellow-servants had lived among them and taught them (1 Thessalonians 2:12), “To live lives worthy of God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

Of course he was talking to individuals!

But note that he was writing to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1)—not a number of isolated individuals who just happen to have some things in common.

He urged the Ephesians in 5:1-2, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love just as Christ loved us…”

Of course he was talking to individuals!

But note he was writing to the saints in Ephesus who reflected the reconciling work of God in Jesus when he brought enemies together in one Body and so gave them access to God by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:14-16; 4:4-6).

He urged Christians in Rome to resist the world’s shaping power and have themselves transformed by the renewing of their minds (12:1-2).

Of course he was talking to individuals!

But note he wrote to people who together constituted one body in Jesus (Romans 12:4-5; 15:6-10).

The NT ceaselessly calls believers to recognize their oneness in the Lord Jesus—a purposed oneness, an eternally ordained oneness! All the metaphors and images (building, temple, body, family, colony and such) proclaim this and when Paul moves to settle a silly party-spirit he insisted that Jesus wasn’t dismembered and “parceled out” (see Moffat on 1 Corinthians 1:13).

As long as sinners are sinners there is no guaranteed cure for their getting everything right. Jesus preached what he practiced and did it flawlessly and yet he was misunderstood and it wasn’t all an intellectual problem—the problem included a sinful heart (compare John 7:17). But that doesn’t exempt those who teach us from the task of declaring the entire counsel of God, part of which is that God eternally purposed a single human family, a single covenanted community recreated in the image of the Lord Jesus.

The biblical Story is not about “individual” salvation, which thoughtless people have mistaken for “personal” salvation. The biblical Story is about God calling people in to his “kingdom”, about making them part of his holy ”nation” and his chosen “people”.

It simply isn’t true that those who are “in Christ” are saved independent one of another; it just isn’t true that those who are “in Christ” each have the Spirit independent one of another; it is simply untrue that those who have hope have it apart from their brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have these blessings and all others as one and “in Christ” or we don’t have them at all.

The God of saving love saves by bringing individuals into renewed fellowship with himself in the Lord Jesus; by bringing them into the number of those embraced in his redeeming work that climaxes in none other than the Lord Jesus. If we do not want reconciliation with God in one body we don’t get it at all!

(Those who speak of nothing but individual salvation and nod occasionally at the NT truth about the Church, the Body of Christ, are doing us no favor. In time they look around and wonder why there is no commitment to local congregational expressions of the universal Body of Christ. To announce God’s love of each individual cannot be wrong but it can be wrong to so speak that truth if it undermines our self-understanding as the Body of Christ and leaves us thinking of ourselves as a loosely connected collection of saved individuals.)

It doesn’t matter that the Church of our Lord has disappointed God and those that looked to it for guidance and help, it doesn’t matter that people have been hurt by members of the covenanted community, it doesn’t matter that numerous bored and weary preachers have joined the chorus of criticism coming from non-believers—she is still the nation chosen by God to be the Bearer of the Story. God’s Story and not her own except insofar as he has made her the living bearer of it. God will judge her for her wrongs!

When he called Israel from service to Pharaoh and made her a nation to serve him she didn’t magically turn into a sinless band. He knew better and he said so! He foretold that she would prove unfaithful but he insisted that he would not prove faithless to her. There were miracles all over the place when God brought Israel out of Egypt but there was no magic! Israel was sinful when she was in Egypt and God said she would be sinful after he brought her out.

Tragic though it is many foreigners and resident aliens must have told true stories of mistreatment at the hands of members of that chosen people and more than one prophet begged God not to forgive Israel her sins (Jeremiah 18:23 illustrates). But God reserved the right to render judgment on her and he did when and as it suited his purposes. So it is with the NT People of God. Note 1 Peter 1:17.

Let the peevish or those who easily take offense denigrate her, though they never ever lifted a hand to help her! And with more justification, let those who have been profoundly mistreated by her cry unto her God—that we can understand! But when those she nourished with a sense of Jesus-imaging righteousness and care, when they join the crowd of critics and whine about the poverty of “organized religion” we have something else. When preachers can barely ever mount the pulpit without parading her failures, beating her without mercy though they know right well that she too is sinful and weak, that she too needs a cup of cold water, that she too is naked and in need of clothing and warmth and forgiveness—when we see and hear that, we don’t wonder that “outsiders” humiliate and shame her.

And the young, the inexperienced, the vulnerable, hear all this criticism from teachers/preachers who are themselves sinful and they are unsettled. They feel the pressure of a world bearing down on them, calling them to shameful ways; they note how the Bible is no longer taken seriously and how it is used less and less in public speech, they note how a secular humanism and a religious-flavored message is promoted and commended and in their inexperience they join the crowd led by popular voices and “compassionate” people away from the Lord Jesus who lived, died, rose from the death, is now exalted and coming to right all wrongs and bring unbroken peace through redemption.

And when popular religious voices urge the Church to give heed to the self-confessed opponents of the faith and offer the words of a sinister humanist movement or the self-indulgent “wisdom” of those who’ve known tough times, when they offer that as a substitute for the unpacking of the rich God-centered Story of the Bible it only creates more “hard line fundamentalists” and no one is honored or blessed—least of all God and the world he so loves that he sent his Son to rescue it.

Make no mistake about it, the NT Church must (as ancient Israel was called to do) live lives worthy of God who called them into his kingdom. On them rests the burden of helping other humans to believe and to hope. If she is arrogant and insolent, if she is heartless and unjust, if she is cowardly and self-serving no glorious Bible or wondrous prayers or praise will save the situation or hide her shame.

An ugly, self-centered, self-serving or self-satisfied Church will demonstrate beyond even the power of articulate and sneering critics, beyond even the power of carping preachers that the Truth it proclaims is worth little or nothing to herself and if worth nothing to her who can she convince it is worth anything? Such a Church will lead frustrated people to write poignant but silly songs like Imagine.

The question the Church must ask itself is: What kind of People must she be to be the bearer of God’s Story?

Paul to the Philippians (3:20, Moffatt): “We are a colony of heaven, and we wait for the Savior who comes from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Like a colony of Roman legionnaires and citizens who put down roots in a place far from Rome and who lived to please the Emperor across the sea so there is a handful of servants of God in Jesus Christ, a colony of heaven that lives to please the Emperor across the worlds. Stumbling, pathetic and disappointing in so many ways yet she is like no other reality on the planet!  

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.


“For my sake!” Not because it’s fashionable or prudent or rewarding or exhilarating.

“For my sake!” Not because it’s the right thing to do or it’s what we’ve always done or it’s what others expect of us.

“For my sake!” Not for truth’s sake or because rational argument points that way or because history proves it or because everyone will be grateful.

When Jesus said do this or that “for my sake” he made everything personal and he risked everything on himself, on how he struck these disciples, on what he could mean to them, on what he would come to mean to them. They would leave old views, cherished tradition, habits and motivations, lifelong commitments, even early views of Him—all these they would leave behind but in the process they would cling closer to Him. What they would do, what they would urge one another to do, what they would urge everyone they came across to do it would all be “for His sake.”

Eternal truths and everlasting realities became a person in the person of Jesus Christ. The invisible person of God became visible and all that earlier truths and events had revealed were not revealed in a person. All that was lasting remained and all that was temporary passed away when they were swallowed up in this person who said, “Do it for me! Do it for my sake! Do it in my name!”

Despite his awful sinfulness David had that quality in him that enabled him to draw gallant souls around him—people who’d fight an army just to get him a drink of water from the Bethlehem well where he would have spent time as a boy (2 Samuel 23:14-17). Jesus, despite his awesome sinlessness had that quality about him too and he was certain that if he were lifted up on the cross (and in preaching/teaching) that he would continue to draw men and women to himself (John 12:32). But that’s the point to be remembered—he would draw men to himself!

I would insist that doctrine matters! I gladly grant that Jesus is more than a specific historical individual and that he means all manner of things; but the “all manner of things” that he means mean nothing—absolutely nothing—if separated from him as a person! Lose that personal element and the Christian faith withers and becomes another religious philosophy with opinions flying, bits of truth here and there, guesses filling the air and the moral/spiritual dynamism of Jesus vanishes and he’s another dead Buddha.

“The ancients taught you,” Jesus said, “but listen to me.”

“Don’t call yourselves ‘teachers’; there’s only one teacher—me—and you are all brethren.” 

    “Come unto me!
    “I am the resurrection and the life.”
    “I am the way, the truth, and the life! Nobody comes to the Father but by me!
    “If you’re persecuted for my sake you’re blessed!”

Trade all that in for “the Christian faith” as a system of thought, theologically correct views and belief and something is lost without which there is no life.

     And then he says this astonishing thing. “Whoever gives you a cup of cold water because you are mine/he is mine—listen—that person will not lose their reward.” (Mark 9:41) Something amazing happens to a simple kind act when it is inspired by the thought of Jesus and done as an expression of heartfelt allegiance to him. When the disciples for various reasons criticized a woman for pouring an entire bottle of costly ointment over Jesus he defended her and buried their carping simply by saying, “She did it for me!”

And when we Supper together on the Lord’s Day he says to us: “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

Keep it personal!

“©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.”


Jesus: First and Last

The early Christians began with the fact of Jesus. To be with him was more than to hear truth revealed; to be in his presence was to be in the presence of revelation—he was revelation!

Anyone who has been on a mountain with the mist all around them, with the shape of things all lost or obscured, knows what it’s like when the sun arises and burns away the mist and there is the real world, in all its grandeur and beauty. Many of us have been blessed to know friends who had that effect on our minds and certainly the early church found it to be true of Jesus.

The news about Jesus spread rapidly across the world, leaping from heart to heart, capturing men and women and when it did, all the supposedly invincible barriers between them turned out to be like mist before the sun.

Temptations of all sorts, habits and patterns of life that were thought to be too powerful or too deeply ingrained were broken to pieces and a new moral dynamic was discovered in experience. Yes, yes, not everyone experienced it as a dramatic and immediate experience but many did and in their tens of thousands they were living proof of what Jesus could do by his Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Paul reminds the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) of what they had been before they met up with Jesus and then he said, “And that is what some of you were but…” Jesus and his Spirit came into their lives and tore down filthy curtains, threw the windows of the heart wide open and let the wind of the Spirit sweep through, forgiving, cleansing and imparting strength and hope.

[But each sinner is unique with his or her own make-up, heritage, shaping and present environment. In some of us sinful patterns are more deeply ingrained and the current we swim against is more powerful than that faced by others. We find our victory over specific sins, sins that throw us down without hardly even trying, so it seems—we find that victory to be long in coming despite our longing for it and despite how powerful we believe Jesus to be and it often worries us. There are some of us whose worry—poor souls—becomes. We see what Jesus has done for others who committed themselves to his redeeming power so we begin to think maybe we aren’t truly Christ’s at all or, at least, that we care very little about holiness. We’re too disappointed in ourselves, too ashamed, too afraid of what others will think if they know the depth and nature of our sinfulness and because we’re swallowed up in thoughts like that, we aren’t able to recognize how profoundly we hate sin and hunger for righteousness. We aren’t able to see that this hatred and hunger is the proof that we have truly committed to Jesus Christ. We ran to him for forgiveness but we ran to him for holy freedom also and because we haven’t yet found the kind of freedom others seem to have found we begin to doubt the forgiveness. Despair sets in and tragically a handful of us can’t bear the burden of such a conflicted life and in our agony we end it and even in that we’re sometimes beaten rather than lamented! (“He should have…She should have…”) True, no doubt but…]

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. John’s phrase in Revelation but Paul’s truth also in Colossians 1:15-17. God’s first thought was a humanity in the image of Jesus and everything else flowed from that because the eternal purpose of God is summed up in and under Jesus (see Ephesians 1:9-10 and Romans 8:29-30).

We’re not to think of God as a divine Mr. Micawber who began to wring his hands when the rebellious human family wrecked his fine plans and hoped that something would “turn up”. Imagine his surprise and delight when Jesus unexpectedly appeared. No, none of that! God eternally purposed JESUS and all that that name means and in him he finishes the glorious cosmic enterprise and when we see the end of it all we’ll spin like Snoopy in joy-filled delirium. And we’ll rejoice most of all in the fact that we love and rejoice in righteousness more than we ever imagined we could. This is the promise of God signed in Jesus’ blood and confirmed in Jesus glorious life (see Romans 5:9-11 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). What he started he will finish! First and last!

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Church Shopping

That’s an ugly expression but it reflects on an ugly thing that has become part of Western Christianity. In a world where individualism is pandemic and our “rights” have become a near obsession “church shopping” isn’t too shabby a phrase to cover what we do. And yet, we ought to be shopping.

P.T. Forsyth a Scots theologian of some years ago became incensed when he thought of the way churches were viewed and viewed themselves. He thundered out against people asking what the church’s programmes were like, what it could do for them as potential members or what its record of successes was like. He insisted that we shouldn’t ask for its programmes or even its piety but instead we should ask, “What is your gospel?” He was blisteringly, scathingly and cuttingly right! For what difference does it make how successful it is as a religious body or how well it caters for the youth or how involved it is in community benevolence if its gospel is not the “gospel”?

I admitted at the beginning of these suggestions that there’s something silly about pretending I could begin again. But I now know that what makes a church great and what makes a church the kind of church that I should urge my family to be involved with is one that knows and loves the gospel that centres in the God who ultimately revealed himself in Jesus Christ at the cross.

Not only do all Christians need to be part of a local congregation of Christ, they should be. We aren’t strong enough to make it on our own. We are sub-Christian if we attempt to make it on our own. Christians have been added to the Body of Christ, which manifests itself in and as local assemblies.

But see to it that you look out for a congregation that focuses on the gospel of God. That understands what the church is and is not to be. A church that will feed you on the living bread of Christ. A church where the teachers take seriously their calling and work with scripture so that they will shape all the members for service to God in a body which is indeed the body of Christ.

All good advice no doubt but how do the inexperienced go about this? Yes, this is a tricky question. Well, when in trusting repentance you’ve been baptised into union with the living Christ you are his so trust him to help you find such a place. Tell him it’s the kind of place you want because you’re hungry to get to know and love him so you can reach out and bless others also. Rejoice in the hunger you feel for the rich truth of the gospel because it’s God’s work in you and fervently ask him for more. Listen to what’s being offered, what’s usually talked about in classes and from pulpits and you’ll get to know if that church is parading itself or the Master. Is it ceaselessly “issue” oriented, endlessly asking for money to support its projects or is it clear that it’s central business is to “grow”? If you’ve no reason to believe that God’s redeeming work in Christ for the world is the vibrant centre of that church’s faith and that reverent attention is paid to God’s word you need to continue praying and looking. But if you have reason to believe that their benevolence, community outreach and moral development is fuelled by the big, rich truths of the gospel you should thank God and stick to that group like glue.

 ©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.


Baptism Won’t Go Away

Baptism declares the faith of the one submitting to it. It tells the meaning and nature of that person’s faith. It means they not only understand certain truths about Christ but that they’re making a personal commitment to him and to the truths about him. In the NT these people that came to be baptized understood they had not been Christ’s and now they were giving themselves to Christ in a trusting and penitent faith. They didn’t know all there was to know about this Christ but they were saying that whatever it was that they needed, under and before God, that this Christ was the one in and through whom they would get it. They didn’t know in specific all that they would be called to give to God but they knew that whatever was to be given was to be given in and through him. While they didn’t know in all specifics how their lives were to be lived out, they knew that they were giving themselves to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and that their lives were to be lived out in light of that.

But their baptism was more than a personal commitment to Christ in a personal confession because what they were confessing was objective reality and truth. Their faith commitment wasn’t simply what they believed was true, it was a proclamation of what was indeed true whether they believed it or not. Had they never committed to Christ it would still have been true that he had lived, died and rose again to immortal glory and Lordship. Baptism doesn’t belong to an individual and the individual does not give baptism its rich and complex meaning. The individual commits to what baptism already means independent of any individual.

Baptism means what God, in and as Christ by the Spirit, has determined it to mean. It means Christ’s life and death and resurrection to immortality and Lordship and it means that the person of faith enters into union with all that Jesus Christ is and stands for and purposes.

It means that the elect of God have passed from the realm of the “old man” (Adam—as a fit representative of the human race that has followed in his steps and come under the holy and righteous judgement of God—Romans 6:3-10). They have come into the realm of the “new man” (the last Adam, the second man—1 Corinthians 15:45,47). It means they have moved from the old creation that is seen through the eyes of a sinful humanity and into a new creation (as seen through the eyes of Jesus Christ—2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 2:10). It means they have passed from death and judgement to life and forgiveness in Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection they embrace by faith (Romans 6:3-10).

Baptism means that everything that fragments and promotes division among people (racism, sexism, nationalism, elitism in any form) is contrary to the unifying and redeeming work of God in Christ in reconciling the world to himself (Galatians 3:26-28, Colossians 1:20).

It doesn’t matter that people are ignorant of these things and so much more. The response to such ignorance is not to refuse to teach these truths. That only furthers the ignorance. It doesn’t matter that they are ignorant of these things—if they’re true they should be taught and people should be nurtured in them. While leaning on the NT itself, it isn’t for nothing that believing people down the centuries have continued to hold baptism (along with the Supper and the proclamation of the Word) as vitally important and the invariable response to the gospel.

There are those who for one reason or another now speak dismissively of the ordinance of baptism. This state of affairs has developed step by step. Some of them grew weary of hearing baptism talked about as if it were the Saviour himself, and rightly protested. They rightly began to stress truths that were being neglected but before long they were receiving with full approval even people who resolutely refuse to honour God in the ordinance he ordained.

Then the “mode” of baptism became unimportant (why would how you do a thing matter if the thing itself is of little consequence?) and now they approve a “baptism” that takes place in the absence of faith. For a while they continued to say baptism is important but it’s hard to persuade people that you believe something is important when you show in general speech and practice that it’s unimportant.

And what may be even more disturbing, in trying to make baptism less important they are now approving of a “baptism” (infant) where the simple application of water in the absence of personal faith does what the NT says can only happen in the presence of faith. They must now construct a whole new theology about an infant’s baptism, which is the application of water in the absence of personal faith. Some now accept that baptism in the place of a faith-baptism and believe it has a retrospective effect. They don’t want to jettison baptism altogether (how could that sincerely be possible in light of the NT?) so they’re willing to regard the sprinkling of infants as acceptable obedience. Baptismal regeneration is coming home. This makes more of baptism than the Scriptures do and introduces something foreign to the NT scriptures.

It’s vital and perfectly appropriate to let God have the final word about everything but it is never right or safe to allow anyone—however popular—or anything—however pervasive—to move us from faithful allegiance to the whole counsel of God. Bigger congregations, friendlier relations, a better reputation and (an uneasy) “unity”–some things are bought at too great a price.

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Baptism and Grace

I’ve made the point on a number of occasions that in the NT people were called to be baptized to take on them the name of Jesus and so be saved. That being the case that’s what we should be teaching and practicing. A reader wonders if Ephesians 2:8-9 doesn’t exclude baptism since baptism is a “work” and we aren’t saved by works.

Ephesians 2:8-9 was written by a man that the risen Christ had just confronted. That same man, now a penitent believer, was told to be baptized and have his sins washed away (yes!—Acts 22:16). That’s the man who wrote Ephesians 2:8-9 so how could Ephesians 2:8-9 exclude baptism on the grounds that it is some “work” that undermined grace? That makes no sense.

Ephesians 2:8-9 was written by the man that started the Ephesian church (Acts 19:1-5). He met Ephesian believers, learned that they knew nothing of the Holy Spirit that was given by the exalted Messiah and his question is: “What were you baptized unto?” Because their understanding of the gospel was profoundly lacking he re-baptized these people. That’s the man who later wrote Ephesians 2:8-9 to that very church. And would he write something that excludes baptism because it undermines grace? That makes no sense.

Not only was he baptized to have his sins washed away, he re-baptized people to bring them into Jesus Christ.

Believer baptism is the confession of trust in and commitment to Jesus Christ that in the NT brought a person into living and saving union with Jesus Christ. It is a believer’s declaration that Jesus Christ died, was raised again and has been glorified. It isn’t optional! It comes straight from God.

Some of us bend over backwards to avoid it. Why don’t we simply bend before God and obey it?

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Baptism and Responding to Grace

The Christians in the New Testament had all been baptized in water (F.F. Bruce in his commentary on Acts simply says that the NT knows nothing about unbaptized Christians). The church was a baptized community and their baptism said that they not only believed the truth about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ but that they had committed themselves to him by faith in being baptized into union with him.

These people didn’t see it as optional. What’s more, it never entered their heads to ask if they “had” to do it. They wanted to be saved in and through Christ, they were told to be baptized to that end and they did it and went their way rejoicing. It’s a very modern thing indeed to argue about this matter. I can understand questions being raised about the status of those who are genuinely ignorant about all this but I confess it’s more than disappointing to hear people, who know what the scriptures plainly say, dither on what they should say about it. Worse, it’s more than disappointing to hear people who know what the scriptures plainly teach on this matter encouraging others not to be baptized as the New Testament teaches.

Baptism in the New Testament was part of the response of faith. It was repentance in action; a response to the holy grace God was extending to the world in Jesus Christ. God by the gospel was calling to himself an elect community to be his witness to the world that he had not abandoned it in its sin. Those who heard that electing message responded by taking the name of Christ on themselves by being baptized in his name that they would find remission of sins. But it wasn’t just personal forgiveness they were given; it was a place in the Community of the Christ whose death, burial and resurrection they identified as their own. Baptism then was the response of faith to God’s grace. But it wasn’t a response of faith to God’s grace that the Church came up with; it was the wisdom of the Holy Father and expressed in his holy Son through the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t for people to debate over but to obey. It wasn’t a loveless obedience, which is nothing more than legalism; it was a heartfelt commitment in trust.

Like every other obedient response, baptism was more than a “condition to be met” if people wanted sins forgiven by God’s holy grace in Christ. It was a privilege. And it was seen to be a profound privilege in the New Testament. Whatever else is true in the case of the gentile Cornelius (see Acts 10 & 11) the privilege of water baptism is underlined (though that isn’t the central thrust of the text). Here was a man who loved God with all his heart and it showed in all the ways that we would like to see in ourselves. The Jewish group come to his house under duress, Peter begins to tell him about the Christ and God interrupts him by sending the Holy Spirit on the man and his gathered family. Stunned at what has happened, what is Peter’s question? Before us we have a man of whose righteous character God has personally approved and to whom God has exceptionally given the Holy Spirit (note 11:15) and what is the apostle’s question? “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” (10:47)

Doesn’t that strike you as odd? One might have thought that loving God as he did was all that was required. If more, then one would have thought that the coming of the Spirit was enough privilege. Peter’s question is in light of those two already existing realities. What does the question imply? That someone might want to keep it from them and that the two realities mentioned make it clear that Cornelius had the right to water baptism. Some are coming to see the privilege of water baptism as well as the obligation of it while some who should know better are belittling the ordinance. And Peter commanded them (Cornelius and family) to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and so take on them that glorious name (see Acts 2:38 and 22:16).

Water baptism is both required of us and is a privilege granted to us by the Holy Father in his own name and in the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Get Yourself Baptized

How do you get saved? The very question makes it sound like we save ourselves, and that couldn’t be further from the truth! God alone is the Savior in Jesus Christ. But because God cannot and will not save us against our will, the scriptures call us to respond in free cooperation with the saving Lord. That’s why you hear texts saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40). Or 1 Timothy 4:16, which says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them. Because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Some people fear such speech because they see a legalist under every bed. They don’t want anyone to get the impression that they can save themselves. This is a legitimate concern but there’s no point in being so “careful” that we don’t call people to do what they’re called by God to do. “What must I do to be saved?” a jailer asked Paul (Acts 16:31). “What must we do [to be forgiven]?” thousands asked Peter (Acts 2:37). “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” a man asked Jesus (Luke 10:25). None of the three acted as though this was a terrible question. No one said to the inquirers, “Ah, now that’s your fundamental mistake because you can’t do anything to be saved.” All three told their hearers what to do to be saved.

Responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ in trusting repentance saves you when you get baptized into Jesus Christ. This is what Paul taught the jailer in Acts 16:31-32. This is what Peter taught thousands in Acts 2:37-38 and it’s what Christ told his apostles to teach all nations in Matthew 28:18-19 and Mark 16:15-16. It’s what Ananias told Saul in Acts 22:16 when he wanted the forgiveness of his sins. I’ve stressed in scores of places on this site, and at length, that faith in Jesus Christ is the heart of our response to God’s gospel. That isn’t to be denied. Without a trusting and penitent heart nothing else matters—it’s all in vain for without that trust and repentance which is part of a full-bodied faith there is no true acceptance of Christ. But I need to say plainly that in the New Testament when convicted and now believing people wanted to become Christ’s they were told to be baptized.

It doesn’t matter that some sweet and wise people that we know don’t hold to that. The scriptures are very plain about it. You aren’t required to obey these sweet wise people but you are required to obey the voice of God in scripture. Read the texts on baptism for yourself and if they’re as plain to you and as they are to me, don’t ask anyone’s permission or approval—get yourself baptized and know you are saved.

And it isn’t necessary for you to make judgements on the spiritual condition of everyone you meet. Leave that to God. Simply tell them what you’ve read in scripture and what you have done about it and let them make up their minds before God what they’ll do about it. In Acts 22:16 Ananias told a now believing and repentant Saul, “And now, what are you waiting for? Get up, and have yourself baptized and wash your sins away, calling on the name of the Lord.” So, if you haven’t done that, “What are you waiting for? Get up, and have yourself baptized and wash your sins away calling on the name of the Lord.”

 ©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Good News and Real Adventure

This is said of God: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15)

He triumphed over all the powers and authorities, whoever or whatever they are, and he exposed them in a public manner. He didn’t out-talk them! He outlived them! He didn’t simply out-fox them! He out-suffered them! These powers and authorities that dominated the creation and showed their character and power in and through the structures by which humans live, they were stripped of their grand reputation and made a public spectacle. And it was done in the crucified Christ in the crucifixion itself. The cross, in the most graphic way, spoke of weakness and vulnerability and yet it was there the powers and authorities that claimed world dominion were exposed. Sin and suffering and loss weren’t the only realities that were present in that supreme moment of human history—triumph was being worked out!

And that way of humiliation and vulnerability that the Blessed Lord took in his earthly ministry he takes in this very age when he offers himself to people all over the planet as a preached Christ; a Christ who now reveals himself not only in what is preached but in the act of preaching. In 1 Corinthians 1:17-21 Christ is the one who reveals himself in the form of a preached Christ [see Ephesians 2:16-17]. What is preached is folly and those who preach it are fools but it His chosen way [1 Corinthians 4:8-13]; this is the way the blessed Lord Jesus goes about his redeeming self-giving. It isn’t only what is preached—it is the act of preaching.

Is that not astonishing? Is that not adventure?

Can you believe that even in and through the presence of your pain and suffering and loss that Jesus continues to choose the way of humiliation and vulnerability? If you could be persuaded that this was true—could you embrace it and bear your awful burdens with a gladder heart and filled with faith?

This timeless act in history speaks its message to every generation that is intimidated by the powers. Every new generation invests these satanic forces and powers with an authority they don’t have but all who have seen—really seen—the cross and been drawn to it, they have accessed the truth that the death of Jesus heralds. The powers are helpless before the weakness of God!

But that truth’s shown not in the absence of all suffering and loss—it’s shown in the very place where some silly people say God is not! And the suffering of Christians (if and when it comes) is their destiny! They are the body of Christ (Colossians 1:24) and Peter told his suffering brothers and sisters (1 Peter 4:12-13), “Don’t think it’s a strange thing that is happening to you…”

The Christ bore the sicknesses and the disease of the hurting human family (Matthew 8:16-17) and so do Christians! Christ continues to work in us for the world! We are up to our necks in trouble for the world!

Agnostic psychologist and pragmatist, William James, said more than he knew when he said it seems as if “there is something very wild in the universe and we are required to redeem it.”

There’s a God-denying look about this life and this world. The truth of Colossians 2:15 is to be brought to the whole of creation in every generation. This is the adventure! This is what the elect have been called to bear witness to in life and liturgy. Baptism is death-defying; even in a world filled with death! The Supper of the Lord is death-defying; even in a world where Death struts as if it were Lord.

Colossians 2:15 makes the truth known that God’s power is always made fully present in and through weakness. It is the ever-present cross that defeats the ever-present evil. This is the adventure!

The gospel has been reduced to a tame humaneness. Let’s all be nice people, saying nice things, going to nice churches and having nice kids so that we can be sure of a nice place in a nice city in the here and now and then after death we can go to live in a nice one that has golden streets.

This isn’t what Christ came to the cross for. This isn’t what ripped Paul away from his blameless life under the Torah and sent him careering half way across the world leaving pints of blood on the streets he ran through or was beaten senseless on. And it isn’t what made believers leap out of bed in the morning with shining eyes when they remembered they now lived in a world that had a new Lord and King. Well, all right, we’re not all going through that kind of experience but our faith-brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers down the centuries have and we’re their children! Their story is ours and the grand finale will be glorious beyond our imagining!

T.S. Eliot sensed this and it led him to say, “I would rather walk daily—as I do—in terror of eternity as to believe that this whole life is a child’s game, at the end of which, every participant receives an equally worthless prize.”

We didn’t learn a watered-down view of the gospel from the Christ or from any of those who knew him best. The gospel is the good news about God! It’s the good news about God being righteous because he is faithful to his commitment to his beloved creation. He came in and as Jesus Christ on a rescue mission to save us from ourselves and to give us fullness of life; life that is brim full of life. He came to make war with the satanic powers and authorities that we’ve invested with dominion and to expose them in the most profound but ironic way; by enduring a public “hanging by the neck until dead” and then showing himself alive, glorious, majestic, deathless and a world’s Savior.

Wouldn’t it be wondrously good news if it were true that one day, at a given moment in history, all the satanic forces were gathered together in all their perverse power and that they were defeated? Wouldn’t it be wondrously good news if it were true that one day, at a certain spot on this very planet all the demonic forces that show themselves in corrupted and corrupting political and social forces were gathered together in all their power and they were made a spectacle of? The good news is that that’s exactly what happened!

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15) By the Cross! And suffering Christians today for all their tears and awful pain gladly embrace Christ’s agenda and method because that’s who they are! They participate in the sufferings of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God and of glory rests on them (1 Peter 3:13-14 and 4:13). In the face of Matthew 8:16-17 and 2 Corinthians 1, what nonsense it is to narrow the significance of Christian suffering down only to that which is “persecution”. As the body of Christ they bear the hurt of the world!

Now that’s adventure and that’s good news! In his body, the Church, Jesus Christ is showing again and again and again and again and again, all over creation, what he did with once and for all effectiveness—proclaiming his Lordship.

Don’t mistake ceaseless hand wringing for biblical based sympathy. Don’t mistake the whimpering preaching/teaching you hear or the repetitive trotting out of moral platitudes for the throbbing gospel that comes gushing from the heart of God, written in his Drama and lived out in the world. Nobody loves you like God! Nobody! But Christians are the extension of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and that Christ lives and triumphs in and through them every day, making the Lord’s power perfect through weakness and vulnerability (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). The dynamic and creative Spirit of God is still very much alive and shapes and sustains the new creation in Jesus even during the dullest looking days.

If the sense of adventure’s gone out of us it isn’t because the gospel’s become dull, it isn’t because God has gone into permanent hiding or that Jesus wishes he were the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! If it isn’t there it’s because we and our leaders have lost our way, lost our vision and have fossilized.

Ask for the gospel!

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.