Category Archives: Balanced Bible Doctrine Resource Library

Solid, Balanced, Bible Doctrinal Commentaries, Resources, Articles and Links. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.



by Ray C. Stedman

After pastoring for forty years I can state unequivocally that the most common cause of spiritual weakness in a Christian (or a church) is a failure to recognize the flesh in its disguise of religious zeal. Like Peter flashing a sword in Gethsemane the fleshly Christian thinks he is doing God's will and fighting God's battles for him.

Perhaps one of the commonest expressions of this misguided zeal is the practice of ”binding Satan” before Christian ministry is attempted. The Word of God gives no justification for this practice. None of the apostles utilized this approach and no Scripture commands Christians to practice it. It is an extra-biblical performance, arising from the desire of the flesh to look committed and powerful in the service of God. Christians are told to ”resist the devil” but never to bind him. Resisting the devil is done by putting on the whole armor of God, as Paul describes it in Ephesians 6. The ”binding and loosing” mentioned in Matthew 18:18 refers to the agreement in prayer of believers in line with the promises of God revealed in his Word.

Another form of this same error is to ascribe the manifestations of the flesh to the work of demons, which then are ostensibly ”cast out” of an individual through a ”deliverance ministry.” But Galatians 5:19-21 clearly tell us that lust, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, envy, sexual orgies, and the like are not the work of demons but of the flesh. It is impossible to ”cast out” the flesh during this lifetime—rather it is to be subdued by recognizing its evil character, refusing to yield mind or body to its impulses, and turning immediately to Jesus for the supply of his strength and purity, as Romans 6:13 so clearly outlines.

It is plainly the work of pastors and teachers to help Christians identify the flesh in themselves, by means of the Word of God, and to follow the pattern the Word describes to keep the flesh in subjection to the spirit and the individual free to live as the Lord has already made provision to do.

”It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).



by Grace To You

What is the purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ?

The Bible talks about the Judgment Seat of Christ-also referred to as the bema-in three places: Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10–4:5; and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Only church-age saints will appear at that judgment, as shown in 2 Corinthians 5:10: ”For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (emphasis added).

The purpose of the bema is an exhaustive evaluation of our lives. First Corinthians 4:5 says the Lord will come and ”bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.”

That passage reveals Paul's emphasis on the judgment seat of Christ. Notice that Paul says each man's praise will come to him from God. God gives rewards to the victors; He does not whip the losers. We know that He won't condemn us for our sins at that point, because Romans 8:1 says, ”There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Thus, the purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is to examine a Christian's total life. We will be recompensed for the deeds we have done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). The term used there refers to a summing up and estimation of the total pattern of a believer's life. This overall focus should keep us from worrying over every stupid thing we've ever done, or thoughtless sin we have committed. It's a time of reward, not punishment.

At the same time, while we won't be condemned for our sins, our present lives do affect what will happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Here's how:

1. Sin and indifference in this life rob us of our present desire for serving the Lord. That in turn means a loss of rewards, because we will not have used our time to His glory. That is why Paul exhorts us to ”be careful how [we] walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of [our] time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16, NASB).

2. Sin and indifference result in a loss of power in our lives because sin grieves the Holy Spirit.

3. Sin and indifference cause us to pass up opportunities for service, which we would otherwise perform and be rewarded for.

The greatest consequence of unfaithfulness here on earth is that it disappoints Christ. First John 2:28 says, ”And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” That is a sobering thought-we could be ashamed as we stand before the Lord. At the same time, it should encourage us with the prospect of receiving His lavish rewards if we serve Him faithfully during our time here on earth.

Baptism- A Matter of Obedience




John F. MacArthur

1939 – present

I was flying across the country this week, a long flight, all the way to the east coast and the Lord always makes things serendipitous, always has a surprise or two; I was sitting next to a man who eventually took out a Bible and started reading it and as he was reading it, I said to him, ”That's a Bible you've got there.” He said, ”It is,” and I said, ”Do you understand what you're reading?” I thought I'd just play Philip for a while. I said, ”Do you understand what you're reading?” and he said, ”Well, some of it. I know one thing: that there are many ways to God.” I said, ”Keep reading. You're not done yet.” He said, ”Well, It's kind of hard to understand.” I said, ”Well, would you like to be able to understand the Bible?” and he said, ”I really want to be able to understand the Bible; I really do.” So, I took out my MacArthur Study Bible and I opened this thing and he said, ”This has all the answers!” Anyway, I had the opportunity to expose him to the gospel and I'm going to send him one of those Bibles.

But, what a wonderful thing the Lord does in just kind of placing the right people in the right place at the right time and I'm always grateful for that. This is the right place and the right time for you, this morning, because I have a word from the Lord for you. It's from the Scriptures and it's on the subject of baptism. Now, as a faithful pastor, I am duty-bound to speak on this subject; if I don't, I'd be unfaithful to the Lord who commands us to be baptized and if we are to be faithful under-shepherds, we have to bring the issue to the people. It's been a number of years since I addressed the subject; it's been, in fact, somewhere between 5 and 10 years since I've addressed this subject. I confess to a certain amount of unfaithfulness in that regard.

This is not something that we can overlook or pass by lightly. It is not a particularly popular subject today; it's not of great interest in the evangelical community; it's been years since I've seen any new book written on baptism or any book emphasizing baptism or any series of messages or any preacher or teacher emphasizing baptism. I never hear about it on the radio. I never hear about it on Christian radio, Christian television programs, I never see a baptism on Christian television programs, though you have a lot of services, you rarely, if ever, see a baptismal service. The interest in baptism has sort of gone away, sad to say, in many cases. And, we have a largely unbaptized church which includes some of you. I don't mean this church, I mean the church in general. It's amazing how many people who proclaim Christ and confess Christ, have never been properly baptized. Now, probably the greatest number of people who call themselves Christians have never been baptized, according to New Testament baptism. It may well be that the majority of those who call themselves Christians have not been properly baptized. It's not as if it's not clear about what baptism is and how it is to be done, it is clear. It's just that there has been a sort of an indifference to that very, very important matter. I would like to, if I can, put an end to that indifference this morning, if that, in fact, is the case.

There are, no doubt, many of you here this morning who have confessed Christ as Lord and Savior and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, but you've never been baptized. There are some of you, who, maybe, have never seen a baptismal service. We have one here every Sunday night, but you're here in the morning and not at night and you may not have seen one or maybe only a few. May I be so bold as to suggest that a failure to be obedient in the matter of baptism, to take baptism seriously is at the root of some of the immense problems in people's lives and in the church in general because it allows the church to fill up with people who are unfaithful to the simplest commands of the Lord and of His Word and that's serious.

When Jesus said, ”Go unto all the world and make disciples, baptizing them,” He was giving a command to the apostles and to the church, saying: go out there, evangelize, make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe whatsoever things I have commanded you. The church then, is commissioned, in the great commission, to do the work of baptizing. It's amazing to me, you see massive evangelistic crusades, these massive crowds of people, these huge crowds of people, and, supposedly, people coming to Christ, never do you see a baptism. Never is there a baptism at such events. And yet, on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people believed and three thousand people were baptized, when the church began. When the Holy Spirit spoke in Acts 2:38, speaking through Peter, ”Repent and be baptized,” He gave a command there to the individual who repents and believes.

So, the church is commanded to baptize. The individual is commanded to be baptized. There is really no lack of clarity with regard to this. In fact, in each of the cases where the great commission is given, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there's an emphasis on baptism. In spite of this, there is widespread noncompliance with what is a very simple command. In many ways, it's sort of the easiest act of obedience as a Christian you can do because all the rest have to do with sorting out the stuff that's in your mind and heart, for the most part. This simple act , when obediently done, demonstrates a heart that seeks to honor the Word of the Lord. When not done, it betrays several possible motivations.

A person who claims to be a Christian and has not been baptized, fits into the following categories.

One, ignorance.

That is, they've never been taught about baptism and that's very possible in many, many places. From time to time, we have people baptized here who were converted years ago but never were taught the significance of baptism. And, some have been taught wrong. They have been taught that if they were baptized or if they were immersed or christened as a baby, that's sufficient. So, it's possible that some people are unbaptized in the church because of ignorance.

Secondly, pride is an issue.

People who have allowed a long period of time to go since their conversion, they've named the name of Christ for a long time, they are involved with the church, they are known as Christian people, they have never been baptized, it's a little bit embarrassing to acknowledge that failure and that disobedience for such a long time and so they're not willing to humble themselves, admit they've been disobedient, and be baptized. So, it could be ignorance, it could be pride.

Thirdly It could be indifference.

There are plenty of people who just can't be bothered. They can't find a spot in their Daytimer for it, it doesn't fit into their schedule, it's not a priority. They know it's commanded in the Bible, but obedience isn't the main thing with them. They have other priorities. That's a sad situation, to be apathetic toward a specific command, to be indifferent toward a very direct command from our Lord, Himself, which brings honor to Him and blessing to the one who is obedient. But, there are people who are just indifferent. They just can't get around to it, ”I've been planning to do it, I've thought about it; it just doesn't fit on the priority list.”

And, then fourthly, [it] could be the defiant people. Those who basically aren't baptized because they are just rebellious. They refuse to obey. Usually those kinds of people are sinning. They're in a pattern of sin and it would just sort of elevate their hypocrisy if they were to have to come up and give a testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ and celebrate His wonderful redemption on their behalf. So, people who are defiant and rebellious and just won't be baptized, generally are in a pattern of sinning.

Then, fifthly, it's possible that you're unregenerate. You're just not a true Christian, you have no desire to make a public confession of faith in Jesus Christ because you don't want to be identified with Him in a public way. You may come and you may like to kind of hang on the edges and on the fringes here, but you're not about to take your public stand with Christ. Those are the only reasons I can think of. Either you're ignorant, you're too proud to humble yourself and be baptized, you're apathetic and indifferent toward that matter of obedience, you're defiant, or you're not a believer. That puts the issue squarely where it belongs and it backs you, if you've never been baptized, sort of into a corner to sort that out. It could be a combination of several of those things in some cases, but you're in there somewhere.

Now, I want to explain baptism to you and I want to see if I can't motivate you to be obedient for the glory of the Lord and for your own blessing. I guess the best way to do this, somebody said this morning that I wasn't in much of a preaching mode and that's probably true, this is more of a teaching time, this is more of sort of sorting out the issues with regard to baptism in a way that is teaching you the principles and the truths, but I'll try to yell occasionally just so you don't feel cheated.

[1.] Question number one.

What is baptism?

What are we talking about here when we talk about baptism? Simply, here's a definition: it is a ceremony by which a person is immersed into water. That's what it is. It's a ceremony by which a person is immersed into water or ”dunked,” they used to say, in fact, there were people who baptized this way were called ”dunkers.” So, this is simply a ceremony by which people are immersed in water; that's it. And, right behind me here and under the floor, there's a pool of water where that is done every Sunday evening.

Now, we do this because it's instructed in the New Testament. We've already commented on the fact that the Great Commission's all tell us to baptize and Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, told those who heard and believed, to be baptized. Let me go to the Word so we give you an understanding of this. There are two Greek verbs that are used in the New Testament with regard to baptism. They are translated baptism”: bapto and baptizo. Bapto is the less common, used only four times in the New Testament and it means ”to dip into.” ”to dip,” ”to dip into,” in fact, it was used for dyeing, when you immerse something in a dye. It's the word immerse, bapto.

Baptizo is an intensified form of bapto. The Greeks had ways of sticking in a few extra letters and intensifying a word. Baptizo is used many, many times in the New Testament; many, many times. It means ”to dip completely” and it's the Greek word for drowning; that shows you how complete the dipping is, potentially. It's the word ”to submerse” or ”immerse”. In fact, the Latin equivalent is immersio or submersio. The noun baptism, baptismas, is used always in the book of Acts to refer to a Christian being immersed in water. It's always used to refer to a Christian being immersed in water. So, that is what baptism is: it's a ceremony by which a person believes the gospel and is then immersed into water.

In fact, the terms bapto and baptizo, the verb, and baptismas, the noun, could have been translated immerse; and probably would have solved a lot of problems, but the translators chose to transliterate the Greek baptizo into baptise. They transliterated it rather than translate it because it had become such a technical term for immersion. So, they just transliterated it across, but that doesn't change the meaning. It means, to immerse.

In fact, the Greeks had a different word for sprinkling and that word rhantisanti is used of sprinkling or splattering with water. It's a different word altogether. We're not talking about sprinkling. There's no such thing as a ceremony of sprinkling in the Bible, or pouring or any application of water to the individual. Whenever you find baptism in the Bible, it is the word immerse; or submerse and it means, putting the person under the water. Every New Testament use these terms, requires or permits the idea of immersion. This is so obvious that even John Calvin, who basically came down on the side of infant sprinkling or infant baptism, says this, he writes, ”The word `baptize' means `to immerse.'” No linguist can come up with anything else. Calvin says, ”The word `baptize' means `to immerse'; it is certain that immersion was the practice of the early church.” There really is no argument, there's no debate at that point.

The verbs bapto, baptizo, are never used in the passive. That is to say, water is never said to be baptized on someone such as sprinkling or pouring or touching with water which is done in a great, great portion of the church today. They sprinkle, they pour, or they dip and just touch the water to the forehead or to some other part of the head. Never are those verbs used in the passive sense of water being placed on someone. They're always used in the sense of someone being placed in water. Whenever you read in the New Testament about a baptism, an actual occasion of baptism, immersion is the only possible meaning.

Matthew 3, look at it, or just listen to it. Matthew 3:6, John the Baptist, ”They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.” They were being baptized in the Jordan River. They came down into the river and they were baptized there. The river was not taken to them; they were taken to the river. Matthew 3:16, ”After being baptized, Jesus,” having been baptized, ”went up immediately,” literally, ”out of the water.” Jesus went down into the water, [and] came up out of the water. Again, that clearly indicates that He went down into the water in order that He might be placed into that water and that's the use of the word baptism [which] means immersed in that water.

In John 3, when John the Baptist was doing this baptism, he picked a place at the Jordan River that was deep. It says in verse 23 of John 3, ”John was baptizing in Anon, near Salem.” Of all the spots you could stop along the Jordan River, he picked that one because ”there was much water there” which is simply another way of saying the water was deep. There was enough water there to get people under it: that was the whole point. In Mark, chapter 1, verse 5, same thing, ”All the country of Judea was going out to him and all the people of Jerusalem, they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River”_”in the Jordan River.” You remember in Acts, chapter 8, when Philip came across the Ethiopian eunuch, you remember the statement in verse 36, ”Look; water! What prevents me from being baptized,” verse 38, ”he ordered the chariot to stop, they both went down into the water, and he immersed him.”

Now, that is what baptism is. That's what baptizo means. Baptism is a ceremony by which a person is immersed into water. That is the only kind of baptism the New Testament knows anything about. It doesn't know anything about sprinkling, pouring, touching with water, and particularly doesn't know anything about baptizing infants. I'm going to address that issue because it is an important issue and some of you will remember I made a presentation of that at a past Ligonier conference. There is one here this week, by the way, and that was completely coincidental that, in my preaching schedule, that this issue came up at this time. Many of the people who will be at the conference, of course, would affirm the things that I am teaching. Next Sunday morning, I think, I may do it next Sunday, I may postpone it a week, I'm not sure yet. I want to address the issue of infant baptism from a biblical perspective. You'll find a very, very fascinating discussion.

But, as far as the New Testament is concerned, there is no such thing as pouring, sprinkling, touching with water, or baptizing infants. It was an act by which an adult person was placed into water. It had great spiritual significance and the significance of baptism can only be depicted in immersion. The significance of baptism, the spiritual significance, can only be depicted in immersion. I'll say more about that later.

Now, when you look at baptism in the New Testament, you're going to come across some other baptisms that are not water baptisms. There are times when the word baptizo is dry. There are times when the word baptizo isn't talking about water at all, but we use it that way. We talk about people going through a baptism of fire, right? We mean, by that, that he was immersed in a very difficult situation. John the Baptist talked about a baptism of fire in John, chapter 3. What he was talking about was the immersing of unbelievers in the full fury of God's fiery wrath.

There is a baptism by Christ, with the Holy Spirit, into the body of Christ, I Corinthians 12, ”We've all been baptized with the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.” When you became a Christian, you were immersed into the communion of the redeemed. You were placed in the union with every other believer so that he who that is joined with the Lord is one spirit with every other believer. So, there is the immersing of the believer into the body of Christ. There is the immersing of the unbeliever into the full fury and wrath of God under which he is completely submerged.

In I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 2, it says, ”The children of Israel were immersed into Moses.” It's talking about solidarity. They were joined unto Moses in his leadership. What he did, they did. What he said, they followed. They literally, he was their leader and they, were immersed into Moses. Where he went, they went. Solidarity, union, communion, the word then can have that sort of metaphoric meaning where it means being immersed into something. You could say, ”I was immersed in my work. I was immersed in thought.” Those kinds of expressions don't necessarily refer to water, but they refer to using the idea of water as a metaphor for being engulfed in something. So, there are times in the New Testament, when you read about a baptism, that isn't a baptism by water; there are other times when, of course, it is as we've seen, a baptism by water.

We're going to focus on the issue of the baptisms that have to do with water. This water immersion, commanded of every believer, is basically not negotiable. We don't have an option with this. This is a command; it is a reiterated and repeated and obeyed command in the New Testament. It is in itself, a simple act, and were it no more than just to put somebody in water and take them out, we could say it was nothing but a dunk. It was nothing but a cleansing, it was nothing but a refreshing, nothing more.

But, there is much more because it is an object lesson. It is a depiction, it is a picture, it is a symbol, it is a physical analogy of a great spiritual truth that is profound and it is crucial, if you understand what baptism signifies, to stick with the New Testament mode. If you change the mode of immersion, you then confound it's symbol. God has designed that this simple ordinance teach us most wonderful truth, the most wonderful truth of all; the truth of personal salvation. It's all wrapped up in this act of baptism.

And, of course, any student of the Bible knows that God teaches with symbols. In the Old Testament, [there are] all kinds of symbols and analogies and types and pictures and ceremonies, depicting a spiritual truth in some physical way. Certainly, in the New Testament, Jesus did that with His parables and His analogies. The apostle Paul does it with his illustrations. So we have long seen God dispense truth to us in sort of abstract terms, but connected with very concrete, pragmatic, tangible things which can graphically illustrate the truth, and baptism is one of those. It is an external, physical, symbolic act which depicts a profound and deep and essential spiritual truth. Now, let's go to the second question. We know what baptism is.

[2. Question number two.]

What has been the history of baptism? How are we to understand its history?

Well, let's go back, before the New Testament and we'll get at least a portion of the history of baptism. There were a number of washings in Israel, a number of cleansings and ceremonial washings of the hands that the priests went through and the people went through and the washing of pots and things like that, that were certain kinds of immersings [that] were necessary, that depict cleansing.

But, Christian baptism has at least one very important sort of a precursor and that is Judaistic proselyte baptism. Before the New Testament, let's say a Gentile had come to the knowledge of the true God. Some Gentile had heard the prophets or he had heard the testimony of a faithful Israelite or he'd come to Israel and he moved into the land and he took up residence there. Or he lived on the border, or whatever, and he was exposed to the living and true God. God moved upon his heart, he came to believe in the true and living God, he repented of his sin, and he became a follower of the true God, and he was a saved individual, a saved Gentile, who wanted to identify with God's people. He would be called a proselyte. He had been proselytized, if you will. He was now a proselyte to Judaism. He was a Gentile wanting to become identified with the Jews and worship their God, like Cornelius would be, in the New Testament. Now, he would have to go through a three-stage ceremony. The Jews had developed a ceremony by which a proselyte would enter into privilege in the covenant community.

First of all, the first phase is called milah and that amounted to circumcision. Because circumcision was a God-ordained sign, any male who came in, even in an adult, would need to be circumcised. He would need, therefore, to identify himself with the people of God by this unique circumcision ceremony.

The second thing that would happen to him, would be tevilah. Milah was the first one, tevilah was the second one, and that was an immersion. He would be dunked in water, submerged in water, in order to demonstrate this, this is what they said, it was to demonstrate that they were dead as to their old life. They were dead as to their old customs, their old habits, their old traditions, most of all their old idolatry, and their old iniquity. That was now gone; they were burying it. That submersion into water depicted the death of that old life. They would come out of that water, having arisen to walk in a cleansed and new life with God's community, God's family.

The third part of that three-phase induction of a Gentile into the people of God, was called corban [also: korban] and it had to do with the sacrificial animal. They were to bring an animal to be slaughtered and the reason for the slaughtering of the animal was to remind that Gentile that their forgiveness, the forgiveness of their sin, [that] they were coming into the community of God's people. They were repenting and confessing the true and living God [and] that forgiveness of sin which God would grant to them would only come to them through death. So, here was the death of a substitute animal to picture the fact that there would have to be a substitute to die for their sins. They literally passed on, as it were, the symbol of a substitutionary death to those Gentiles who came in, again depicting the ultimate lamb who would come and truly take away sin. So, any Gentile who wanted to come in, would be circumcised, would be immersed, and would have to offer a blood sacrifice which was an open confession that their sin was going to require the death of a substitute. That, of course, looked forward to the Messiah who was that substitute.

Now, into this Jewish community comes John the Baptist, and John comes preaching, and he comes preaching repentance, and then, he comes baptizing. That's not surprising. That's not surprising that John would come baptizing. They were used to that. They had gone through the ceremony. They were used to seeing people baptized, but what was shocking, what was devastating, what was remarkable, was that John the Baptist was asking Jews to be baptized. Why was that remarkable? It was an amazing thing. He was in effect saying to them, you are as what? You're as Gentiles. You're outside the covenant, you're without hope in the world, you're without God, you need to be immersed as a symbol that you have died to the old life, been washed, and brought into the cleansed family of God.

Now, for a Jew to admit that he was equal to being a Gentile was a stretch. I mean, it was a huge stretch. For the most part, they hated the Gentiles. The Gentiles had been their oppressors; the Gentiles were non-covenantal people. They (the Jews) ridiculed [them] in ridiculing ways, called them the uncircumcised. When they would come from a Gentile country back into Israel, they would stop before they crossed the border and shake the dust off their cloak so they didn't take any Gentile dirt into their land. They wouldn't go into the home of a Gentile because they were unclean. They wouldn't eat food with a Gentile because they were unclean. They had all of these social prohibitions that they had erected which really were not consistent with the law of God, they had fabricated them. You remember Jonah, when a whole Gentile city, Nineveh, repented, went out and wept and said he'd rather be dead than see Gentiles being allowed to come into the family of the true and living God? They had deep-seated racial animosity.

But, here comes John the Baptist and he says to them, ”You need to be immersed!” and he's treating them as if they are in the same condition as Gentiles outside the covenant. But, you know what? He preached repentance and he must have been a powerful preacher because he was very convincing and people began to repent, didn't they? They really began to repent; this is a powerful man. He may have been the most powerful of all preachers, in fact, wasn't it Jesus who clearly told us that? He said, ”Of all who've ever lived, John the Baptist is the greatest.” Up until Christ, the greatest prophet ever, I would love to have heard him preach. He must have been something fierce. They chopped his head off for it and served it up on a platter at a party just to silence him.

But, all Israel was coming out there and here were all these people, who basically were being redefined as if they were Gentiles outside the covenant, outside the promise, outside the hope, outside salvation, and needing to repent of their sin, died of [dying to] the old life of legalism and self-righteousness and all the Judaistic trappings, and to come to the true understanding of their sin and cast themselves on the mercy of God, and go into this baptism as a symbol that they wanted a new life and they wanted to be ready for the Messiah. So, he preached repentance and righteousness and he called for people to turn from iniquity to holiness, from the old life to a new one. In order to symbolize it, he selected baptism and Matthew 3 shows him, in the first 8 verses, baptizing people. ”They were confessing their sins,” it says, and they were confessing that they were worthy of death, they were worthy of burial, and they needed a new life, and that was depicted in their immersion. So, the baptism of John the Baptist really did mark a turning point in the heart of a sinful Jew who wanted to be ready to face the Messiah and knew he wasn't.

On one particular day, however, an incredible thing occurred and I need to comment on it. Jesus showed up. He had showed up before and John had said, ”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So, John knew who he was and John had identified him as the Messiah, the One who would die for sin, the true Lamb who would be the final and full sacrifice.

But, Jesus showed up on another occasion in Matthew 3:13 and He comes to John to be baptized by John [and] this is quite remarkable. Well, he can't handle this, verse 14. John tried to prevent Him, saying, ”I have need to be baptized by You and You come to me?” This doesn't make sense! You don't need to reject Your old life. You don't need to repent of anything. You're sinless, holy, and undefiled. You don't need to say no to the past and yes to the future. You don't need to have some death to the old symbolized, and some resurrection to the new dramatized. That doesn't make sense. This doesn't fit You.” But, Jesus answering said to him, ”Permit it at this time, for this is just for now. It needs to be done, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted him.” Why did He do this? Well, He says it: ”to fulfill all righteousness.” Listen; that's so important. John understood baptism to be the confession of sin. John understood baptism to be repentance. John understood baptism to be the death of the old life, to rise and walk in new life. But, Jesus didn't need to do that. He was sinless. Well, what's the point? The whole idea of this baptism was to prepare sinners to receive the sinless King, so John tried to prevent Him, but Jesus said, ”No. I have to do this for now because I need to fulfill all righteousness.”

Well, what does he mean by that? Some people say, ”Well, He wanted to identify with the people who were getting ready for Him.” That's possible. Others have said that, ”He wanted to set the example for believers in the future.” I think that's very possible. That's getting close. But, let me just kind of cap it off. What He wanted to do was fulfill all righteousness and for us, all righteousness would include what? Baptism. If you're going to fulfill all the righteousness that God asks of you, you're going to be baptized. I think Jesus, you know His life was imputed to us, our sins were imputed to Him. His righteous life [is] imputed to us and He fulfilled all righteousness. All righteousness.

Yes, it was a symbol of His coming death. Yes, it was a symbol of His coming resurrection, of course. A sort of a prophesy of that, a sort of a type of that, a picture of that, a prefiguring of that, but I think what He says here is: I don't have a choice about this because this is the standard of righteousness, to be baptized. It will continue to be the standard of righteousness, to be baptized, and since I am here, living as a man to fulfill all righteousness, I will be baptized. Of course, it doesn't have the same exact meaning for Him, but He knows that this is a call from God. He knows that John the Baptist is preaching God's message. It is God, through John, calling people to be baptized and it is God through the apostles and God through the preachers, calling you to be baptized. Jesus is simply saying, ”In order to fulfill all righteousness, I will be obedient to what God desires. If I'm going to live as a man, I'm going to obey all the commands.”

So, in submitting to baptism, Jesus is showing us how critical obedience is. So critical that He did it, even though there was no need for Him to go through any kind of cleansing, any kind of repentance, any kind of confession of sin. Yes, I think Jesus, when He was going through that baptism by John and being immersed in water, anticipated that that's what His death, burial, and resurrection was going to be like and that out of that would come a new symbol of baptism. But, He did it to fulfill all righteousness.

So, baptism is clearly a ceremony. Very simple. Somebody immersed in water and it has a spiritual significance of great importance. What is the history of it? It really is sort of a transition from proselyte baptism, which was also to identify some one as a sinner who is repentant, confessed his sin, and desired new life, and desired to be associated with the kingdom of the true and living God and His Son, the Messiah. Well, more to say: let me go to a third question.

[3. Question number 3.]

What is the specific meaning of Christian baptism?

What is the specific meaning of Christian baptism? And, you already kind of know it, but let's dig a little deeper into the text of the New Testament. All throughout the New Testament, Christian baptism is clearly identified for us. It's really not hard at all. It's, in fact, it's crystal clear. Look at Romans, chapter 6 and I want to show you a couple of verses, so you can turn there and we're not going to spend a lot of time there, but just a couple of thoughts and it will be very obvious to you.

When you come to Christ as a nonbeliever and you put your faith in Jesus Christ and you believe and you repent of your sin and you're wonderfully saved, regenerated, born again; there is a spiritual miracle that takes place. I can't explain all of it in its actual reality. I can only tell you what the words are in the text that describe it to us. When you come to faith in Christ, you are literally immersed into Christ. You're literally immersed into Christ. His life becomes your life. It even reaches backwards so that He died bearing your sins so in that sense, you were there dying. He rose again for your justification, therefore you were there rising with Him. He was your substitute. He died and rose again for you, so in a real sense, He went to the cross carrying your sins and He comes out of the grave bearing your new life.

That's what Paul in Romans 6:3 says: ”Do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus, have been immersed into His death.” This is a dry verse here, folks. We're not talking about water baptism. He's simply saying that when you have been immersed into Christ Jesus by faith, you have been immersed into His death. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, ”He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit,” I Corinthians 6 says. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, ”I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” So, here I am inseparable from Christ, as it were. Here is Christ living in me and I am in Christ. I am in Christ; Christ is in me. My body is the temple of the Spirit of God. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. Christ dwells within me. So, I am now in this inseparable, indivisible, unity with the Lord Jesus Christ. I am in an ongoing, constant, shared life. I possess the life of God, as it were. I am a partaker of the divine life. Christ dwells within me; the Holy Spirit has taken up residency in my life.

I have been literally immersed into Christ. That includes, verse 3, having been immersed into His death. I wouldn't have this relationship to Him if I hadn't died in Him in the sense that all my sins were there when He died. He was carrying my sins. It was as if I was there. God, in a supernatural and mysterious way literally puts the sinner and all his sin, in Christ. By the way, that would put all of us there because even our righteousness is filthy rags and before you were regenerate, you were all sin and nothing else so you were there, in total, when Christ died. So, anybody immersed into Christ, was immersed into His death, and, verse 4 says, ”You were buried with Him through that immersion into His death, and then you were raised from the dead to walk in newness of life.” Verse 5 sums it up, ”You were united with Him in the likeness of His death; you are united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection.” Your old self was crucified with Him and you now, verse 9, have been raised from the dead along with Christ, never to die again and death is no longer master over Him or you.

So, that's the symbolism. The symbolism is of dying, being buried, and rising again. That symbolism can only be depicted in water baptism. That is the meaning of Christian baptism. It is a physical illustration. It is a physical symbol, a physical ceremony, intended to depict this reality. Whenever a person goes into the water, it symbolizes the death of the old life. They come out of the water [and] it symbolizes that they are now new creations.

In Colossians, well, Galatians, let's look there and then we'll go to Colossians, since they're in that order. Galatians 3:27 says, ”For all of you who were immersed into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” There's a good parallel. What he is saying, he's trying to figure ways to illustrate this union. He's saying, ”You [have] been literally submerged into Christ. You've been literally immersed into Christ.” Another way to say it is: you have been clothed with Christ. In other words, you are wrapped in Christ; Christ covers you. You are underneath Him; you are contained, as it were, in Christ. He envelops you. And, there is neither Jew nor Greek. You sort of lose your identity here. There's neither slave nor free man, neither male nor female. You're all one in Christ Jesus and you belong to Christ, verse 29 says. That's the idea.

In Colossians, chapter 2, similarly, verses 12 and 13, ”Having been buried with Him in baptism,” that's right, same idea. You were there dying in Him. You were immersed into Him in His death. ”You were also raised up with Him, all of this through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.” You put your faith in God, you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10, ”If you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you'll be saved.”), you believed that God raised Him from the dead and by faith, in God, raising Jesus from the dead, which affirms all about the cross and all about His bearing sin, all the way through to the resurrection, you affirm that, therefore you were buried with Him, immersed into Him, in that death and in that resurrection. You were placed into union with Christ, participating in His death, His resurrection, spiritually.

This is the baptism that saves. Peter talks about a baptism that saves. That's the baptism that saves, the spiritual immersing into Christ, not the water. This is the true washing of regeneration of Titus 3:5, not the H2O. This is the real washing away of sins, Acts 22:16. Water is simply the symbol. It's simply the parable. It's simply the analogy. It's simply the illustration. Jesus, you remember back in Mark's Gospel, said, ”If you're not willing to confess Me before man, I'm not willing to confess you before My Father who's in heaven.” This depicts that miracle. When a child asks, ”Why do you do that? What is the meaning of baptism?” It's a very graphic illustration. It makes it very clear in helping to explain to a child. When an unbeliever comes and sees a baptismal service, they're literally seeing an object lesson of the spiritual dynamics of new birth. That leads to a fourth question.

[4. Question number four.]

What is the relation of immersion to salvation?

That's what I just said, basically. It is a symbol of salvation already received. Acts 2:38 says, ”Repent, and be baptized for the remission of sins.” Some people think, ”Well, that means you can't have your sins forgiven or remitted unless you're baptized.” Is that what it's saying? It could be translated, ”Repent, and be baptized because of the remission of sins.” That's a construction that is used, for example, in Matthew 12:41, the same construction translated that way. But, even it says, ”Repent, and be baptized for the remission of sins,” the baptism doesn't save you. The baptism is evidence of genuine repentance and an obedient heart. It's just a way to demonstrate the genuineness.

Because, you see, when a Jew was, if you were listening to Peter preach on the day of Pentecost and you were going to go and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, you were going to be baptized in the name of the one who was probably hated more than anybody else by the Jewish leadership. You were going to wind up losing you family, your social status, your job, your right to attend the synagogue, everything. You would become immediately indigent and homeless. The price was very high. You would become a pariah, a social outcast. But, true faith will pay the price, count the cost.

So, when Peter says, ”Repent and be baptized,” he's saying, let's see, if the repentance is real, you'll take the stand. If the repentance is real, you'll respond in obedience no matter what the price. Baptism was the immediate and inseparable indicator of salvation. True believers were obedient and they were baptized. Day of Pentecost: three thousand were saved and three thousand were baptized. The apostles insisted on it. That's why we at Grace Church ask that anyone who joins our church, be baptized. We aren't adding something; we're just trying to be faithful to what the New Testament says. If a convert was not willing to be baptized, in the early church, there was little confidence in his repentance. There was no such thing as an unbaptized church. There was no such thing as all kinds of unbaptized believers. Baptism was obedience and obedience was the fruit of repentance.

This became then, an inseparable sign of salvation, so much so that when Paul was discussing salvation in Ephesians 4, he discusses it this way, ”One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” And, he means by that, ”one salvation,” but baptism and salvation had become synonymous. There are still places in the world where you don't ask someone is they were saved, you ask them if they've been baptized because it was an inseparable and immediate indicator of salvation. As the church developed through the middle ages, baptism got pushed further and further and further away from the point of salvation, tragically. It's still held at great distance by some people even in our society. As I say, you look at these crusades and these things that you see on television and there's never any baptism, it doesn't seem to be a part.

Yet, Jesus said, ”Go out into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them.” When He was saying that, that was synonymous with salvation because the next thing He says is, ”teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” Baptism became synonymous with leading them to the knowledge of the gospel and if they were willing to receive the gospel, believe, repent then they would be baptized as an immediate response. So, when Peter says, ”Repent and be baptized for the remission of sin,” he's simply saying, ”Repent and believe unto salvation [to] demonstrate the genuineness of that by the first act of obedience which is baptism.

We're not saved by the water. That's not going to save you. ”By grace are you saved, through what?” ”Faith, that not of yourself, not of works,” not of works. Paul says in I Corinthians 1:14, ”I'm glad that I baptized none of you.” Now, if that was a saving act, how could he say that? It doesn't save you. You can go through all the water you want and not be saved. And, I have to confess that you can be saved and not be baptized, but you're in a condition of disobedience. Baptism produces nothing but blessing. Nothing but the joy and the reward of obedience. Nothing but the affirmation of God to an obedient child. It doesn't save you, it doesn't make you holier than somebody else. It just brings you the blessing of obedience; that's what it does.

You could sum it up like this: as a believer stands in the water, ready to be immersed, he could declare these words, ”I hereby confess in my willing submission to this divinely appointed ordinance, my glad obedience to the command of my Lord and Savior. In this symbolic manner, I show forth my identification with the one who bore my sins, took my place, died in my stead, was buried, and rose again for my justification. As Christ went through the dreadful reality of suffering and death to secure my salvation, so, by my immersion in water and emergence there from, I thus publicly declare my identification with my Lord in His death, burial, and resurrection on my behalf, with the intention hence forth to walk with Him in newness of life.” That's the sum of it.

That leads me to another issue, that leads me to the next message, why is there so much confusion on this? Well, I think Satan wants to break the pattern of obedience at the very start, so there's a lot of attacks on baptism. You know, there are churches that teach that it's not for us; that it's a Jewish ordinance that doesn't belong to the church, Quakers, Friends Churches, Salvation Army, other hyper-dispensational groups, for those of you that know what that means, the Bullenger (sp) rights. Others say: you're saved by water; the Christian Church, the Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, have taught baptismal regeneration through the years: that you can't get to heaven without going through the water. And then there are those, who, like the Mormons who have baptisms for the dead. In one year over 2.5 million Mormons are baptized, proxy-baptisms for dead people.

And then you come to the Roman Catholic Church which the only baptism they have is the sprinkling and it's infants that are sprinkled. The Roman Catholic Church has an infant baptismal regeneration belief that water cleanses the baby from original sin and results in regeneration. By the way, until the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic's immersed babies. Sprinkling didn't come until the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic church teaches that if a baby dies without being christened or baptized, it goes to the ”Limbo of the Innocence.” It never goes to heaven; it doesn't go to hell, just goes to the ”Limbo of the Innocence.” That's the place where the soul enjoys natural bliss, but is forever deprived of the vision of God. So, these unbaptized infants just go hang out in some limbo place that's some kind of natural bliss, but there's no presence of God there. That's not in the Bible, by the way. That's how they intimidated people to get their babies baptized which brought them into the system, which brought them under control of the Roman Empire.

The Lutherans never got too far away from that, unfortunately, Luther never really shook the grave clothes of infant baptism. He even wrote a small book entitled The Small Baptismal Book, aptly named. He wrote it in 1526, and at an infant baptism, this is the prayer that he designed to be prayed. You bring your baby to be baptized and this is the prayer:

Oh Lord Almighty,

I invoke Thee concerning this child,

thy servant who asks for the gift of thy baptism

and desires thy grace through the spiritual new birth

All of a sudden, this child is a servant of God who desires grace and new birth, even though this is a totally unconscious infant in the sense of knowing anything at all about anything.

Receive him, O Lord,

and thus extend, now, the good to him who knocks,

that he may obtain the eternal blessing of this heavenly bath,

and receive the promise kingdom of thy gift,

through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

And then, in Luther's ceremony, the infant is asked, ”Doest thou renounce the devil and all his works and nature?” The parents answer, ”Yes.” ”Doest thou believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, His Son, in the Holy Spirit, and the one Christian Church?” These were asked of the infant and the parents say, ”Yes.” The child is then baptized, and then the concluding prayer:

The Almighty God hath begotten thee anew,

through water and the Holy Spirit,

and has forgiven thee all thy sins. Amen.

Why, that's salvation. Infant salvation, through water.

The Reformed Church has moved some beyond that. They believe that when adults turn to Christ, they are to be sprinkled because they now are– so they do have adult sprinkling, they now have come into a covenant relationship to God. And then, when they have children, their children are automatically included in the covenant of grace and they are to be baptized when they're born, as little members of the covenant. Later, they are confirmed as actual members, after satisfactorily answering the questions in the catechism, that's usually called confirmation.

No such thing is taught in Scripture. Children born into this world are not somehow introduced, by virtue of their birth, into the covenant of salvation. And, there's nothing about baptism with children at all. All of this stuff clouds the issue and so, so many people say, ”Oh well, there's many views of baptism. I don't want to make an issue out of it,” and the devil gains the day, doesn't he? This is not complex, this isn't brain surgery, even I understand this. This is very straight-forward stuff. I'll tell you, in next message [”A Scriptural Critique Of Infant Baptism” GC 80-194], you're going to find it fascinating when I talk to you about where infant baptism came from and you see why it even was developed. It had nothing to do with the Bible.

You know, during the time of the Reformation too, they thought that they were so into infant baptism that anybody who got rebaptized after they'd been baptized as an infant was in some trouble. They were called Anabaptists because they got rebaptized. They came to the conviction that infant baptism was wrong and you needed to be baptized as an adult believer. They were rebaptized and in so doing, they were sort of slapping the face of the religious hierarchy, the national church, and the Reformation produced national churches, governmental churches, that, in many cases, weren't much better than the Roman Catholic nations. They had literally Protestant countries where the church exercised great political pressure and power. Many times the Anabaptists were persecuted and sometimes executed by Reformers. Hard to imagine.

So, that they thought rebaptism was unacceptable. Well, that's another confusing thing. People ask me about that all the time: ”I was baptized once as a baby; do I need to be rebaptized?” Answer: if you weren't baptized the biblical way, you'd better be baptized the biblical way. John the Baptist's disciples showed up in Acts 19; the apostles said to them, ”Have you heard of the Messiah?” etc. They said, ”We don't know anything about that. We were baptized with John's baptism.” They didn't say, ”Oh well, that's sufficient.” They said, ”Then you need to hear the truth about Messiah.” They heard the truth and they were baptized the right way. Well, more later.

Baptism is a command. It is the purpose of God. It is the command of Christ. And, if you say, ”No!” it can't be ignorance; we've eliminated that category, if you were listening. Pride, indifference, defiance, or you're not a Christian. Jesus said, ”How can you say, ”Lord, Lord!” and do not the things I say?” Jesus said, ”If you love me,” you'll what? ”Keep my commandments.” Don't bring yourself under God's chastening because of disobedience in this most simple act of obedience, which will bring upon you God's favor and your own joy.

Now, make it practical. In the pew is a little green card. If you want to be baptized, we're going to be prepared to do that. You just need to take that green card and put your name on it and check off baptism, or write baptism, and give us a phone number and address. Most helpful would be a phone number, and we'll get a hold of you and include you in a baptismal service very quickly. We're going to do some special things in order to respond to you. The green cards are there. If you can't find a green card, use a beige one. Just write your name and write, baptism, and make sure your phone number is there so we can reach you and we'll arrange [it]. Our pastoral team is standing by and ready to arrange that.

All I can do is lay this on your conscience from the Lord Himself and trust that you'll do what is right. For those of you who have been baptized, you know those who haven't, you can become a little added conscience for them, to stimulate them to do what is right before God. When you go out the door, the ushers will be there and they will collect those green cards, O.K.? I'll give you a minute to do that. Don't, if you're too shy to take the green card out and see somebody watching, you're gonna have kind of a hard time getting into the baptismal. We have to get you past that barrier if we could, my goodness. Just take one of those cards and you should be stampeding to get one because of the joy of obedience.

Let's pray. Let's stand first and we'll pray.

A Believer's Assurance: A Practical Guide to Victory over Doubt

A Believer's Assurance: A Practical Guide to Victory over Doubt

Pastor John MacArthur

It's a heartache to me as a pastor to realize that so many Christians lack the assurance of their salvation. They lack the confidence that their sins are truly forgiven and that their place in heaven is eternally secured.

In 1654 the Puritan Thomas Brooks wrote, ”Assurance is the believer's ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions…. [However] most Christians live between fears and hopes, and hang, as it were, between heaven and hell. Sometimes they hope that their state is good, at other times they fear that their state is bad: now they hope that all is well, and that it shall go well with them for ever; [then] they fear that they shall perish by the hand of such a corruption, or by the prevalency of such or such a temptation …. They are like a ship in a storm, tossed here and there” (Heaven on Earth, p. 11).

It doesn't have to be that way. The apostle Peter said, ”Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (2 Peter 1:10, emphasis added). The prophet Isaiah said, ”The work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17). Where God grants righteousness,He also adds peace and assurance.

It's true that someone can be saved and doubt it. One may go to heaven in a mist, not knowing for sure he's going, but that's certainly not the way to enjoy the trip.

Incorrect Assumptions About Salvation

All of us as Christians have times when doubtmakes us question if we're saved. For some, those times are but fleeting moments; for some, they last a long time; and for others, they seem like a way of life. Before we explore the reasons so many Christians lack assurance, there are two issues we need to consider.

Undeserved Assurance

Some people have assurance who have no right to it. The old slave spiritual put it simply: ”Everybody talkin' about heaven ain't going there.” Some feel all is well between them and God when it isn't. They don't understand the truth about salvation and their own spiritual condition.

People often ask me why I speak so frequently about salvation and spiritual self-examination. It's because Jesus said, ”Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Yourname perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you'” (Matthew 7:21-23). Many people are deceived about their salvation. That's why the apostle Paul said, ”Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

How did those people get their false assurance? By receiving false information about salvation. Much of our modern-day evangelism contributes to that through what I call ”syllogistic assurance.”

A syllogism has a major premise and a minor premise that lead to a conclusion. Let's consider John 1:12: ”As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

* The major premise: anyone who receives Jesus becomes God's child.

* The minor premise: the person you just witnessed to received Christ.

* Conclusion: the person must now be a child of God.

That seems logical, but the problem is, you don't know whether the minor premise is true–whether the person truly received Christ. Beware of trying to assure people of their salvation based on an untested profession. Assurance is the reward of tested and proven faith. It is the Holy Spirit who gives it, not a human being.

Undermined Assurance

Another preliminary issue you need to be aware of is that some think no one has the right to assurance–not even a true Christian. They think it's presumptuous to think you can be spiritually secure. That's the historic Arminian view. It asserts that if a person thought he was secure forever, he would do whatever he wanted and be spiritually negligent.

That is also the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The Council of Trent in the mid-1500s declared it anathema to say ”that a man who is born again and justified is bound [of faith] to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined” (can. 15 on justification). Modern Catholic teaching upholds that position.

G.C. Berkhouwer's The Conflict with Rome explains that Rome's denial of the assurance of salvation is consistent with its conception of the nature of salvation (pp. 118-19). Since it conceives of salvation as a joint effort by man and God, something that's maintained through the doing of good works, it concludes the believer can never be absolutely sure of his or her salvation. Why? Because if my salvation depends on God and me, I might mess up.

When you have man involved in salvation, whether through Arminian or Roman Catholic theology, there can be no security because man can default. But historic biblical theology declares that salvation is entirely the work of God, which leads to the concomitant doctrines of security and assurance.

With that understanding, let's get back to our basic question, Why do people lack assurance? One obvious reason is that some aren't saved, but let's go beyond that. Why do Christians lack assurance? There are eight basic reasons.

Eight Reasons for Shaken Assurance

Strong Preaching

Some lack assurance because of being under strong biblical preaching on God's holy standard. Such preaching forces people to see their sinfulness and acknowledge that the holiness of God calls them to a lofty standard of living. Is that bad? No, the pulpit should be the creator of anxious hearts. How else can it unsettle those who have false assurance? However, the consistent call to righteousness may unsettle some Christians, particularly those who are frequently succumbing to temptation.

But that kind of preaching is rare. Churches across our country are filled with smug people who don't feel particularly insecure because nothing in their life is ever confronted. Rather than leading their people to examine themselves and make sure their assurance is valid, many preachers feel it's their duty to make everyone feel good. However, those who preach as they should will find some in their congregation plagued with doubt. Recently I received the following letter:

Dear John, I've been attending Grace church for several years. As a result of a growing conviction in my heart, your preaching, and my seeming powerlessness against the temptations which arise in my heart and which I constantly succumb to, my growing doubts have led me to believe that I'm not saved.

How sad it is, John, for me not to be able to enter in because of the sin which clings to me and from which I long to be free. How bizarre for one who has had advanced biblical training and who teaches in Sunday School with heartfelt conviction! So many times I have determined in my heart to repent, to shake loose my desire to sin, to forsake all for Jesus only to find myself doing the sin I don't want to do and not doing the good I want to do.

After my fiance and I broke up I memorized Ephesians as part of an all-out effort against sin, only to find myself weaker and more painfully aware of my sinfulness, more prone to sin than ever before, and grabbing cheap thrills to push back the pain of lost love. This occurs mostly in the heart, John, but that's where it counts and that's where we live. I sin because I'm a sinner. I'm like a soldier without armor running across a battlefield getting shot up by fiery darts from the enemy.

I couldn't leave the church if I wanted to. I love the people and I'm enthralled by the gospel of the beautiful Messiah. But I'm a pile of manure on the white marble floor of Christ, a mongrel dog that sneaked in the back door of the King's banquet to lick the crumbs off the floor, and, by being close to Christians who are rich in the blessings of Christ, I get some of the overflow and ask you to pray for me as you think best.

Is the author of that poignant letter a Christian? One thing that jumps out at me is his desire to do right, which sounds more like Paul in Romans 7 than an unbeliever. The pulpit is the creator of anxious hearts, but it is also to give comfort and assurance to those who love Christ.


Other people lack assurance because they can't accept forgiveness. They are tyrannized by their emotions and feel they are too bad to be forgiven. There are several reasons for that. First, conscience speaks against forgiveness. The only thing your conscience knows about is guilt and conviction. It knows nothing of grace and mercy. Also, holiness and justice speak against forgiveness. They focus on sin and know nothing of excusing it.

Be warned: Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He will do all he can to obscure the love and graciousness of God. One Puritan wrote,

He that lacks assurance of God's love, converses too much with Satan…. [He says to himself:] ”The devil is always following and tempting me to suspect the love of Christ, and he does it that he may attain his mind upon me. For the devil knows well enough that the more I suspect Christ's love, the more I shall embrace Satan's love.”

The truth is, beloved, this lack of assurance of God's love, or interest in Christ, is an inlet to many sins and miseries; for first a man doubts of his own salvation. Afterwards he has continued doubting, then he rises up unto a full conclusion saying, ”Now know I that Christ does not love me. I did but doubt before, but now I know He does not love me.” And after he has risen to this conclusion, then shortly he rises higher, and he goes further thus: ”If Christ does not love me now, He will never love me; and if I have not an interest in Christ now, after all the preaching I have heard, and ordinances I have enjoyed, I shall never have it; and so the longer I live, the more I shall aggravate my condemnation.” (William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, pp. 129-30)

Another Puritan draws us back to Scripture, saying,

Manasseh is saved. O despairing souls, the arms of mercy are open to receive a Manasseh, a monster, a devil incarnate; he caused that gospel prophet Isaiah to be sawed in the midst with a saw…. He turned aside from the Lord to commit idolatry, and caused his sons to pass through the fire, and dealt with familiar spirits, and made the streets of Jerusalem to overflow with innocent blood…. The soul of Mary Magdalene was full of devils; and yet Christ cast them out, and made her heart his house…. Why dost thou then say there is no hope for thee, O despairing soul?

Paul was full of rage against Christ and his people, and full of blasphemy and impiety, and yet behold, Paul is a chosen vessel, Paul is caught up into the heaven, and he is filled with the gifts and graces of the Holy [Spirit] …. Why should thou then say there is for thee no help, O despairing soul! … The apostle tells you of some monstrous miscreants that were unrighteous, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners; and yet these monsters of mankind, through the infinite goodness and free grace of God, are washed from the filth and guilt of their sins, and justified by the righteousness of Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, and decked and adorned with the precious graces of Christ … Why then, O despairing soul, shouldst thou fear that thy unworthiness and unfitness for mercy will so stop and turn the stream of mercy, as that thou must perish eternally for want of one drop of special grace and mercy? (Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, pp. 93-94)

If you allow Satan to crush your head with the holy requirements of God stripped of the love of God, you will doubt.


Many people lack assurance because they do not understand that salvation is an utterly divine, totally sovereign operation. Assurance is built on the historical reality of what Jesus Christ accomplished. It is not a feeling without reason, and you will never have the subjective feeling of assurance until you comprehend the objective truth of the gospel.

You must realize that God knew you were a sinner, which is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to completely pay the price for all your sins–past, present, and future. The salvation Jesus offered was secured forever by the omnipotent power of God. It is irreversible. As Romans 11:29 says, ”The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

In the Old Testament, God said, ”Come now, and let us reason together … Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). When God forgives you, it is complete. He Himself said, ”I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). Does that sound like good news to you? What you can't forget, God can't remember! ”You may never be able to forget the years of wandering, the many sins of which you have been guilty. But that which gives peace is the knowledge that God will never recall them again. He has blotted them from the book of His remembrance, and He has done it in righteousness, for the account is completely settled. The debt is paid” (H.A. Ironside, Full Assurance, p. 23).

When Israel was preparing to leave Egypt, the last plague, the death of the firstborn, was about to fall on the land. God instructed His people to slay a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the front door of their houses. The angel of death passed over every blood-sprinkled house. Inside the house some might have worried about sins they had committed, but their security depended not on their frame of mind, their feelings, or the record of their past deeds, but on the blood.

So it is today. We can't see the blood shed on Calvary for our redemption, but God does. He doesn't look at the believer and say, ”Hey, he cheated”–or lied, or lacked kindness, or acted like a hypocrite. Your security from divine judgment doesn't depend on living a perfect life, but on being sheltered by the blood of Christ.

There's one element of gospel truth I want to mention specifically because of its major role in the issue of assurance: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It proves that the Lord's work on the cross brought about a salvation that's eternally secure. There could have been no better attestation to the truthfulness of His claims. Jesus said He was God and rose from the dead to prove it. He said He came to accomplish the work of salvation, and God raised Him from the dead to show He was successful.

Jesus Christ bore a world of sin-all the guilt of all who would ever believe-in His body on the cross. God can gaze upon a sinner who bears much less sin than the crucified Christ and exalt that sinner to His own right hand, even as He did to His own Son (Ephesians 1:19–2:1).

A young convert once said, ”If anyone is ever to be kept out of heaven for my sins, it will have to be Jesus, for He took them all upon Himself and made Himself responsible for them. But He is in heaven already, never to be turned out, so now I know that I am secure” (Ironside, p. 75). The matter is settled for those of us who trust in Christ. God ”has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10).

Assurance is an inextricable part of saving faith. The apostle John said, ”I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, emphasis added). The Christian faith is a secure faith. As one hymn triumphantly declares, ”How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.”


Some Christians lack assurance because they don't know the exact time of their salvation. They can't remember when they believed. Some can't remember ever not believing. Because they can't pinpoint the exact moment, they doubt whether the moment actually occurred. But if you didn't know the date of your birth, you wouldn't wonder if you were alive. Far too much has been made of isolating the moment by some little formula, whether it be praying a prayer, signing a card, raising your hand, or walking down an aisle.

Many Christians–especially those reared in a Christian environment–can't identify the exact moment they were saved. I can't. I don't know when I passed from death to life, but I know I did. There were times as a little child when I prayed special prayers. I specifically remember praying with my father on the steps of a church in Indiana when he was holding a revival meeting. His sermon convicted me because I had done some things that week that weren't right. I remember as a fourteen-year-old going forward at camp and throwing a pine cone in the fire, teary-eyed and wanting to make my life right with God. I was in a serious auto accident when I was a freshman in college, which vividly reinforced God's claim on my life, but I can't say for sure that was the time of my salvation.

I don't look for a past event to make my salvation real to me. I look at the present pattern of my life. Some people have a false assurance because they can remember a past event, but their life doesn't follow a righteous pattern. So don't worry if you can't tie in a specific time or event with the moment of your salvation. Focus on your lifestyle instead.


Another reason Christians lack assurance is they feel the pull of their unredeemed flesh and wonder if they have a new nature. As Christians dwelling in this fallen world, we are new creations incarcerated in unredeemed flesh. In fact we ”groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for … the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23) at our Lord's return, when it ”will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21).

However, until our liberation comes, we will occasionally be drawn into the Romans 7 battle between flesh and spirit, doing what we don't want to do and not doing what we want to do. If sin is overwhelming and overpowering you at any given point, you will lack assurance. You'll wonder, Did I repent enough? Am I sorry enough for my sin? Do I have enough faith?

It's easy to read Romans 7:14-25 in an imbalanced way. If you see only the parts that say, ”Nothing good dwells in me” and ”wretched man that I am,” you'll become overly introspective. Focusing on the flesh will warp your perspective and lead you to overstate your spiritual condition. However, if you see only the parts that say, ”I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” and ”the willing [of doing good] is present in me” you'll fail to deal with the reality of the flesh.

You need to keep a balance. Here's a helpful suggestion:

Test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly say ”Yes” to these questions, you have repented … And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.

Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Saviour whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more and more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness. (Ironside, p. 89)

Do you see the impulses of the new nature in your life? If so, that's indicative of salvation. If God's will has become your highest joy, and submission to His lordship your greatest delight, you are indeed a child of God–no matter how strong the pull of sin.


Some Christians become spiritually unstable because they can't see the hand of God in all their trials. They say things like, ”How could God love me and let me go through this? How could He take my husband–or wife or child? How could He not hear my prayer and deliver me? Where is God when I need Him?” People who think like that not only sentence themselves to doubt but also miss what's actually the strongest source of assurance: proven faith.

Romans 5 says, ”Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven charac­ter; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (vv. 1-5). We're to rejoice in our trials because they produce hope and assurance.

”Consider it all joy,” says James, ”when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4). Rather than causing you to doubt, the trials of life are to prove God's love and power in your behalf.

Through all you must endure in life, remember this: ”God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints… [therefore] show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:10-12, emphasis added). Handle your difficulties by being diligent and patient. The reward is a full assurance of hope.

Trials are the crucible in which assurance is formed. Remember Paul's great statement that nothing could separate him from the love of God? Note the context of his assurance: ”Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered'” (Romans 8:35-36). Paul had experienced all that, yet he was certain of his relationship with God. What convinces you of your salvation? Hopefully it's the Word of God and your tested faith.


One of the most important ways the Holy Spirit ministers to believers is by assuring them of their salvation. A believer who's not living by the Spirit's power forfeits that important ministry. Let's look again at Romans 8: ”You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'” (v. 15). (”Abba” is the Aramaic equivalent of ”Daddy.”) We have been adopted into God's family and are on intimate terms with Him. How do we know that's true? Because ”the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (vv. 16-17).

In Rome it was very common to adopt, and each adoption had to be verified by seven witnesses. That was to ensure someone would be around to confirm the legitimate claim of the heir to his inheritance. Now if anyone questions your claim to your eternal inheritance, there is a witness who was present at the moment of your adoption: the Holy Spirit, whom Isaiah 11:2 describes as the sevenfold Spirit. He will step forward and bear witness that you are indeed an adopted child of God and have a lawful claim to an eternal inheritance.

How does the Holy Spirit bear witness that we are God's children? In a number of ways. The first is by illuminating Scripture so we can understand it. First Corinthians 2 says, ”It is written, 'Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.' For to us God revealed them through the Spirit” (vv. 9-10). As we study the Word of God about those promises, the Spirit makes them real to us.

The second way the Spirit bears witness is through salvation. First John 4:13-15 says, ”By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us,because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” The Holy Spirit came and showed us the gospel–that Jesus is the Savior of the world and that by confessing Him as such, we come to know God.

Another way in which the Spirit bears witness is by drawing us into fellowship with God. Galatians 4 says, ”Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'” (v. 6). The Spirit produces prayer, praise, and worship–a crying out to God as our Father.

Yet another way He bears witness is the fruit He produces in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The flesh certainly doesn't produce those things. It knows lust, but not true love. It knows momentary happiness, but not settled joy. It knows a moment of calm, but not a deep inner peace. The fruit of the Spirit is evidence that you belong to God. So is the outworking of His mighty power in us through evangelism and other Christian ministries (cf. Acts 1:8).

The Spirit's witness is not some little voice that says, ”Yes, yes, you really are a Christian.” It's so much more. The Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God for us, leads us to a greater faith and love for Christ, draws us into intimate fellowship with God through worship and prayer, produces in us the graces characteristic of a redeemed nature, and makes us effective in Christian service.

Thomas Brooks concludes the matter: ”The Spirit is the great revealer of the Father's secrets, he lies in the bosom of the Father, he knows every name that is written in the book of life; he is best acquainted with the inward workings of the heart of God towards poor sinners; he is the great comforter and the only sealer up of souls to the day of redemption. If you grieve by your willful sinning he that alone can gladden you, who then will make you glad?” (Heaven on Earth, p. 152, emphasis added). If you grieve or quench the Spirit by walking in the flesh, you short-circuit His ministries to you and will lack assurance as a result.


Perhaps the most obvious reason for lacking assurance is disobedience, because assurance is the reward for obedience. Hebrews 10:22 strongly points that out: ”Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” It's been well said that high degrees of assurance cannot be enjoyed by those who persist in low levels of obedience. To live in sin is to live in doubt.

Listen to the testimony of Charles Spurgeon:

Whenever I feel that I have sinned and desire to overcome that sin for the future, the devil at the same time comes to me and whispers, ”How can you be a pardoned person and accepted with God while you still sin in this way?” If I listen to this I drop into despondency, and if I continued in that state I should fall into despair, and should commit sin more frequently than before; but God's grace comes in and says to my soul, ”Thou hast sinned; but did not Christ come to save sinners? Thou art not saved because thou art righteous; for Christ died for the ungodly.” And my faith says, ”Though I have sinned, I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and though I am guilty yet by grace I am saved and I am a child of God still.” And what then? Why the tears begin to flow and I say, ”How could I ever sin against my God who has been so good to me? Now I will overcome that sin,” and I get strong to fight with sin through the conviction that I am God's child.

Here's a practical way of dealing with sin: deal with a major sin in your life and the rest will follow. When the general is killed, the troops scatter. By the means of grace available to every believer, slay the sins you find most compelling and familiar–your pet sins–and the others will soon disappear. And when you fall into sin, quickly set out to conquer that sin and be aware that Satan will try to make you doubt your salvation. Fall back on the forgiving grace of God, and it will strengthen you for battle.


If you're lacking assurance–if you're plagued with doubts and have lost your joy, become useless in Christian service, empty in worship, cold in praise, passionless in prayer, and vulnerable to false teachers–whatever the problem, know there is a cure: obeying God's Word in the power of the Spirit.

Let's take the first step toward doing that by applying an ancient technique–a question-and-answer process known as a catechism–to help us think through what God's Word teaches about assurance. The Greek word katacheo means ”to echo back.” So echo back God's truth as you slowly and thoughtfully read the following:

* Question: What is the essential duty a person has in this world? Consummating a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, which is to recognize His work on the cross and His resurrection from the dead as the satisfying atonement for sin, and to walk in accordance with that relationship.

* Question: Don't all members of the church have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? No, only those who are truly saved.

* Question: How can I be certain I have that saving relationship? The Lord will have done in your soul His own sovereign will–that of calling you to Himself through a work of conviction and humiliation so you will have discovered your sin and misery, and, being so seriously agitated and threatened by it, you long for the Savior.

* Question: How can I know if I've made sufficient discovery and admission of my sin? By taking salvation to your heart above any other pursuit in life. It will make Christ, your Redeemer, very precious to your soul. It will make you fear sin, repent, and seek to be saved on God's terms.

* Question: What's another way of discerning a saving relationship to Christ? A strong and serious affection that reaches toward Christ as He is progressively revealed to you in the gospel. Such love is the product of saving belief.

* Question: Are there other marks of a relationship with Christ? You are truly saved when you have been made a whole new person, graciously changed and renewed. That is best evidenced by a desire to shun sin and pattern your life in obedience toward God's righteous demands.

* Question: What if I find sin prevailing over me? Although every sin deserves eternal vengeance, if you regularly confess your sins with unhypocritical repentance and shame before God–fleeing to Christ for forgiveness for all known and unknown iniquities–He will grant you mercy and pardon because you stand in grace, and your salvation is forever secure.

* Question: What if my sins are serious and repeated? Whatever they are, Jesus Christ has paid the price for them so that if you sincerely and earnestly have turned to Him in repentant faith, you will never enter into condemnation. Moreover, His gracious provision for those who believe includes power to overcome sin and live righteously.

* Question: Is faith alone the requirement for salvation? Yes, it is the only basis upon which God offers peace and pardon to mankind. However, faith–if it is genuine–will not be alone in the soul, but will always be accompanied by true repentance and an eager desire to conform to God's will and way.

* Question: How can I be sure I've settled my eternal destiny with the Lord? Express with your mouth to God what the Holy Spirit through Scripture has led you to believe in your heart.

* Question: What are the results of a relationship with Christ? Union and communion with God here, and blessed fellowship and glory hereafter.

* Question: How can I come to full assurance that I have such a relationship? By affirming the promises of God as revealed in Scripture by the internal witness of the Spirit, and by manifesting real and righteous fruit born out of love for the Person of Christ and the desire to bring Him honor and glory.

Don't continue to live with doubts about your eternal salvation. Rather, live with the blessed assurance God wants you to enjoy as His child.

How can I be sure of my salvation?

There are two important tests in Scripture for a person to determine whether or not he or she is a true believer.

There is first of all an objective test, which asks, ”Do I believe?” Ask yourself if you affirm the Scripture's record of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Do you believe that He is God manifest in the flesh? Do you believe that God saves sinners solely through the merits of Jesus Christ's obedient life and substitutionary death on the cross?

Second is the subjective or experiential test of assurance in which you ask yourself, ”Is my faith real?” The apostle John's purpose in writing the epistle of 1 John was to give true believers assurance of their salvation (1 John 5:13). In that small epistle John gives several marks to distinguish a true believer. These are:

* True believers walk in the light (1 John 1:6-7). The light here means both intellectual and moral truth. Ask, ”Do I affirm the truths of Scripture, and desire to obey them?”

* True believers confess their sin (1:8-2:1) Confess here doesn't mean to recite every wrong that we have ever done. Rather, it means to agree with God about our sin. That means that true believers hate their sin; they don't love it. They acknowledge they are sinful, and yet they know they are forgiven.

* True believers keep His commandments (2:3-4; 5:2-3). The term here refers to a watchful, observant obedience. Here the believer desires to obey truths he deems precious. It involves a proactive approach to obedience-the Christian studies Scripture in order to understand and obey it.

* True believers love the brethren (2:9-11; 3:10, 14-15; 5:2). Ask yourself the question, ”Do I love God's people and desire to be around them?”

* True believers affirm sound doctrine (2:20-23; 4:2,6). John here teaches that no true believer will fall into any serious, Christ-denying error or heresy.

* True believers follow after holiness (2:29; 3:3-4, 6-9). These verses certainly aren't talking about sinless perfection, or even the frequency or duration of sin. The term sin in these verses describes one who lives an immoral, ungodly, unrighteous life as a matter of continual practice, and carries the attitude of hardened hate for God's righteousness.

* True believers have the Holy Spirit (4:13; 5:10-11). This is an over-arching test summing up all the others. Is there evidence that the fruit of the Spirit is present in your life (Galatians 5:22-23)?

In summary, one's assurance of salvation does not need to be based on a past decision or an experience. It should rest first of all on one's faith in the objective truth of God's Word, Jesus Christ, and the gospel. Secondly, it should rest on the reality of a changed life marked by obedience, a love for Christ and His righteousness, and a hatred for sin. Take heart if these things are true in your life, and trust God to continue to work out His salvation in your life

Are the Sabbath laws binding on Christians today?

Are the Sabbath laws binding on Christians today?

Colossians 2:16-17; 1 Chronicles 23:31; Nehemiah 9:14; Acts 20:7

We believe the Old Testament regulations governing Sabbath observances are ceremonial, not moral, aspects of the law. As such, they are no longer in force, but have passed away along with the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, and all other aspects of Moses' law that prefigured Christ. Here are the reasons we hold this view.

1. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul explicitly refers to the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ, which is no longer binding since the substance (Christ) has come. It is quite clear in those verses that the weekly Sabbath is in view. The phrase ”a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” refers to the annual, monthly, and weekly holy days of the Jewish calendar (cf. 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 31:3; Ezekiel 45:17; Hosea 2:11). If Paul were referring to special ceremonial dates of rest in that passage, why would he have used the word ”Sabbath?” He had already mentioned the ceremonial dates when he spoke of festivals and new moons.

2. The Sabbath was the sign to Israel of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:16-17; Ezekiel 20:12; Nehemiah 9:14). Since we are now under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8), we are no longer required to observe the sign of the Mosaic Covenant.

3. The New Testament never commands Christians to observe the Sabbath.

4. In our only glimpse of an early church worship service in the New Testament, the church met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

5. Nowhere in the Old Testament are the Gentile nations commanded to observe the Sabbath or condemned for failing to do so. That is certainly strange if Sabbath observance were meant to be an eternal moral principle.

6. There is no evidence in the Bible of anyone keeping the Sabbath before the time of Moses, nor are there any commands in the Bible to keep the Sabbath before the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.

7. When the Apostles met at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), they did not impose Sabbath keeping on the Gentile believers.

8. The apostle Paul warned the Gentiles about many different sins in his epistles, but breaking the Sabbath was never one of them.

9. In Galatians 4:10-11, Paul rebukes the Galatians for thinking God expected them to observe special days (including the Sabbath).

10. In Romans 14:5, Paul forbids those who observe the Sabbath (these were no doubt Jewish believers) to condemn those who do not (Gentile believers).

11. The early church fathers, from Ignatius to Augustine, taught that the Old Testament Sabbath had been abolished and that the first day of the week (Sunday) was the day when Christians should meet for worship (contrary to the claim of many seventh-day sabbatarians who claim that Sunday worship was not instituted until the fourth century).

12. Sunday has not replaced Saturday as the Sabbath. Rather the Lord's Day is a time when believers gather to commemorate His resurrection, which occurred on the first day of the week. Every day to the believer is one of Sabbath rest, since we have ceased from our spiritual labor and are resting in the salvation of the Lord (Hebrews 4:9-11).

So while we still follow the pattern of designating one day of the week a day for the Lord's people to gather in worship, we do not refer to this as ”the Sabbath.”

John Calvin took a similar position. He wrote,

There were three reasons for giving this [fourth] commandment: First, with the seventh day of rest the Lord wished to give to the people of Israel an image of spiritual rest, whereby believers must cease from their own works in order to let the Lord work in them. Secondly, he wished that there be an established day in which believers might assemble in order to hear his Law and worship him. Thirdly, he willed that one day of rest be granted to servants and to those who live under the power of others so that they might have a relaxation from their labor. The latter, however, is rather an inferred than a principal reason.

As to the first reason, there is no doubt that it ceased in Christ; because he is the truth by the presence of which all images vanish. He is the reality at whose advent all shadows are abandoned. Hence St. Paul (Col. 2:17) that the sabbath has been a shadow of a reality yet to be. And he declares elsewhere its truth when in the letter to the Romans, ch. 6:8, he teaches us that we are buried with Christ in order that by his death we may die to the corruption of our flesh. And this is not done in one day, but during all the course of our life, until altogether dead in our own selves, we may be filled with the life of God. Hence, superstitious observance of days must remain far from Christians.

The two last reasons, however, must not be numbered among the shadows of old. Rather, they are equally valid for all ages. Hence, though the sabbath is abrogated, it so happens among us that we still convene on certain days in order to hear the word of God, to break the [mystic] bread of the Supper, and to offer public prayers; and, moreover, in order that some relaxation from their toil be given to servants and workingmen. As our human weakness does not allow such assemblies to meet every day, the day observed by the Jews has been taken away (as a good device for eliminating superstition) and another day has been destined to this use. This was necessary for securing and maintaining order and peace in the Church.

As the truth therefore was given to the Jews under a figure, so to us on the contrary truth is shown without shadows in order, first of all, that we meditate all our life on a perpetual sabbath from our works so that the Lord may operate in us by his spirit; secondly, in order that we observe the legitimate order of the Church for listening to the word of God, for administering the sacraments, and for public prayers; thirdly, in order that we do not oppress inhumanly with work those who are subject to us. [From Instruction in Faith, Calvin's own 1537 digest of the Institutes, sec. 8, ”The Law of the Lord”].