So much is said about the American Christian Church today. What is the church experience really supposed to be like? How is this benefiting me? Do I really believe everything this man (pastor) is saying? What about God? Is he really who he says he is? These are questions that I have wrestled with, in my past; many of them have led to where I am today. I will not pretend that I know all the answers, does anyone know all of them anyhow, but many of the questions that I have had brought me to a deeper understanding of who God is and to the unshakable faith that I now have.
First a little back story, I grew up in the church my entire life. I am now thirty-seven years old, so that is a long time to be a believer. Although I didn’t always physically attend a church per-se, I counted myself a member of the body of Christ for all this time. The first quarter of my faith, if you will, I was brought up Baptist. This would be the beginning of my journey. I have had wonderful experiences in this church that I will always cherish, learning the basics of my faith to a deeper knowledge of the bible. I had a few supernatural experiences of God during this time that brought me to believe that God is real and that he is for me.
I had gone to a Baptist convention once with my youth pastor at the time. On our way home something went wrong with the car my youth pastor was driving. She pulled over and we got out quickly as the car started bursting into flames. The timing of this could not have been more perfect for we had just crossed over an exit off the highway and were able to get to a phone; as cell phones were not yet that common, gasp! We said a quick prayer and ran towards a restaurant to use their phone. By the time we arrived, the fire department and the police were on the scene; they picked us up from the restaurant and took us back to the car. The car was destroyed, it had exploded! The fact that none of us were harmed in the fire was a miracle, the fact of the timing was a miracle and the fact of the proximity to the restaurant was a miracle. You can see God’s hand in every detail of that situation but there was one more miracle that God had done that proved himself to me.
I had a Bible with me in the car and when we got back, the fire had been extinguished, and the fire department allowed us to get any belongings out of the smoking heap of scrap metal that we could. Nearly everything was destroyed, burned or soaking wet from the fire. As we pulled anything out that was worth saving, I noticed that my Bible was still on the seat where I was sitting before the fire. I picked it up and thumbed through it and it was left untouched! It was not damaged at all! No burned pages and not even wet from the fire hose! God’s word remained unharmed throughout the whole ordeal of the fire. Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego while they were in the fiery furnace.
Another experience I encountered with God; I heard his voice. I like to call this my burning bush incident. My brothers and I grew up very close, sometimes too close; we often got on each other’s nerves. Even though we loved each other and would do anything for one another, occasionally we could break out into fights, as brothers do. One fight and I cannot remember any details of what we fought about, but what I do remember is becoming very angry at my younger brother. After I was finished, I was exhausted. I went to my room to lie down. I’m sure most of you have had the feeling when you’re in a state of half awake and half asleep, I was there, I was asleep but lucid. I had a stereo in my room, and I noticed that it was glowing. I thought to myself that’s weird, I got up and made sure it was turned off. I went back to sleep and a little while later I awoke to the stereo glowing again. Okay, my mind is playing tricks on me; it can’t be glowing that’s impossible. I got out of bed again to check this out and saw that even though it was shut off there was still a red light that remained on to signal the power. I was probably seeing this, and, in my sleep, my mind exaggerated the red light to make it appear as if the stereo was glowing, which seemed logical. I unplugged the stereo from the electrical outlet, saw the little red light go out, satisfied, I went back to sleep. A few moments later, I awoke again to the stereo glowing, this time brighter than before. With no electricity whatsoever powering the stereo, I started to get a little scared. Okay, you have my attention. I sat up from the bed and I heard a voice plain as day speak to me. The voice said, “Bryce, turn to Galatians 6:1.” That was it, nothing else, the stereo stopped glowing and I grabbed my bible and turned to Galatians chapter 6. When I read that verse, I immediately became overwhelmed and convicted. I realized that I just physically heard the voice of God. Not only hearing him with my own ears but he also spoke to me through his Word.
Brothers, if a man is overtaken in any trespass (sin),
You who are spiritual should restore that
Person GENTLY, but watch yourselves for you
May be tempted as well. Galatians 6:1 emphasis added.
The very first word in that scripture is Brothers, which hit me hard. God you diffidently have my attention now. It goes on to read that those who are wronged in any way, we who are spiritual (i.e. Christians), should restore the wrongdoer gently. Don’t react in anger as I did, but rather, forgive and treat them with respect. Otherwise we would be sinning as well.
I don’t know why God chose to speak to me that day. I like to think that he has some amazing plan for me; I’m still trying to figure that one out, maybe he needed to intervene and get my attention. I will probably never know at least not until I make it to heaven and can ask him. The important thing is that I know that God has called me to be in the ministry of saving souls and I desperately needed the correction on how to handle my own faults.
I find it interesting that when I reflect on these two encounters with God, that both involved fire: the first one a literal fire and the second one a metaphorical fire. God always seems to reveal himself through fire! He revealed himself through a burning bush; a pillar and a furnace just to name a few, not to mention he would baptize us with fire later with the new birth experience.
There was one more experience that I had during this time that revealed God’s plan for my life in a big way. I know you are asking yourself, “Is this guy serious, how many times will it take to get through to him?” Unlike the first two encounters where God demonstrated his awesome power, this moment he laid down the foundation of his plan for my life.
Every summer, for one week, I would go to a small church camp in Westport, Indiana. I will reveal the significance of this town a little later in the blog. I looked forward to this camp every year. When I was 14, I got to go to a music camp, this was for older kids and we worked on a musical the entire week and then performed it for our parents at the end of camp. On Wednesday we had a midweek Chapel service, it was pretty much church at camp. Now Baptist’s usually don’t get too worked up during worship services, this service though, reminded you of the old-time tent revivals. I don’t remember who the preacher was, but he must have been Pentecostal because he was on fire. The presence of God filled that little building and we had ourselves some church. This is where it gets interesting though, I got this weird gut feeling in the pit of my stomach and this lingering notion that I was supposed to become a preacher. I just shook it off and went about listening to the sermon. The more the preacher progressed however, the more I had this feeling. I simply couldn’t shake it off, so I’m going to become a preacher I thought, God was calling me, wait a minute, God’s calling me!!! Then the most extraordinary thing happened, the sermon stopped, I’m not sure why, it could have been time for the alter call. But the sermon came to a screeching halt. The preacher bowed his head down and looked like he was praying. He then grabbed the microphone and asked, “Is there anyone here who wants to dedicate their life to the full-time service of God.”
Whoa! My heart immediately leapt into my throat and I sunk deep down into my seat, hoping he didn’t see me. I was scared. Surely, he’s not asking me, well I know I just had that feeling, but did God have to know my answer right then and now? And dedicate my whole life to him, well, that was asking a lot. I didn’t move. The preacher asked again, as he began pacing back and forth along the front of the stage eager to bring anyone over to his side as if he were picking players for dodgeball. I sank even lower as my heart was rounding turn four at the Indy 500. My heart felt like it could at any moment leap out of my chest. I calmed down a little when someone finally raised their hand and the preacher asked him to come forward.
Good, I thought, maybe this will all be over soon, and I can get back to normal. The preacher then brought the mic close to his face and looked out among the crowd. He wasn’t satisfied. He asked once more, this time though, he reached his hand up and pointed out to the crowd. I looked up and he was pointing directly at me. “I know there is someone here wrestling with the thought about dedicating their life to full time service, but they are afraid to come up, now is the time to come forward declare in front of this congregation and God that you will stand up and dedicate yourself to furthering his kingdom,” he demanded.
Next thing I know I stood up and moved forward, accepting God’s call on my life to become a preacher dedicated to his work for full time ministry.
God was with me. However, I needed more. I needed to get to know this God, who he really was. Not just what people tell me, not just the things that have happened to me, but I needed to know him on a personal basis. I thought I could do this by getting more involved in church. I felt the burden to go into the ministry; I would go to college then off to seminary get my degrees and get to work furthering God’s kingdom. I had it all planned out.
About this time my family ran into some major financial trouble. We had to move to a new town. Uprooting me from my high school, my friends, my home even my church. I had to start completely over. Without going into a lot of details, I became depressed. My new school was different in a lot of ways. Everything had flipped upside down in my life. My studies started to decline; I was barely doing enough to get by. I didn’t get into any criminally bad behavior, academically though, I was in trouble. This is something that I regret to this day. My life took a major detour, in fact a 17-year detour. I did not go to college to study theology and I did not go to seminary to become a pastor. All the plans that I made for myself simply did not happen.
The problem is, they were my plans and they were not necessarily God’s plans that he had for me. I believe he can take bad circumstances and bad situations and turn them around for the better. It took me a long time to realize this for myself and I’m still learning as I continue my journey.
During this 17 year detour of my life, my wilderness period, I met my wife, got a good job, moved up in the company, went back to school to better my career advancements, even started to take Bible College courses online to one day go into the ministry. I’ve grown into a man and turned a desperate situation into an opportunity. God was slowly, in my mind, bringing me closer to him and to what his plan is for my life.
I would say that the pivotal point in my journey happened the day I met my wife. I had no idea, at the time that she would become my wife one day, all I knew was, here is a girl, who I thought is cute, that liked me! We soon became a couple and would spend all the time we could together. I quickly learned that she was Christian, and I fell in love. Sappy right? It wasn’t until later that some problems arose. She wasn’t the type of Christian that I was. She was an Apostolic Pentecostal Christian. My heart sank. What was God thinking when he put us two together? Surely he didn’t mean to convert me into that church? I then thought, well, maybe he wanted me to convert her. This became my mission in life. I was going to convert her, mold her into the Christian that I wanted her to be. That seemed admirable enough; besides those Pentecostals are a bunch of legalistic nut jobs. It would do her good to get her out of it.
During this time, I had been going to a charismatic church that believed in the gifts of spirit and operated in them, so inviting my soon to be wife to church was not that big of a stretch for her. The worship style was very similar in both churches and nobody cared what clothes you wore or how long or short your hair was. You see, I was under the impression that Pentecostals were made to wear skirts and have long hair and always dress in nice suits to church. I believed they were oppressed, and to me being forced to do something is the definition of a cult. My God was a jeans, flip-flops, and t-shirt kind of guy, as was I.
I made, what I thought was, a little progress in my mission, when she started coming more frequently. What I believe now though, is she only started coming to church so she could be with me. I see now where my mission betrayed me because her only goal was to be with me. She was strong in her beliefs and convictions and I wasn’t going to change that for her. The only thing that I had going for me were her parents. They were out of church and she didn’t have the support she needed at home to continue going to the Pentecostal church, so she came with me. Given time she would embrace what I believed, and my plans would work. Once again this was all entirely my plan, not God’s plan.
When we got married, we stopped going to church altogether. The first couple years of our marriage did not get off to a good spiritual start. We didn’t pray, we didn’t read God’s word and we didn’t worship God the way he should be worshiped. She wasn’t going to that crazy church so that was a plus, but we were not getting any spiritual nourishment either way. It was very depressing I think for the both of us. We could not agree on a church that we wanted to be a part of, so we just stopped going. Then something funny happened, God started to intervene again in my life. My wife’s parents started to go back to church. Years of praying and hoping that they would, finally started to pan out, the only problem though, it was the Apostolic Pentecostal church. Insert facepalm here. What!? I mean I’m glad that her parents are back in church but why that church? God must be playing some cruel trick on me. My wife though, was ecstatic. Her parents never went to church while she was growing up, now suddenly they are on fire for God. Naturally she went with them to support their newfound faith. I would allow this, but we would need to find a church of our own very soon.
So, my wife once again became a crazy Apostolic Pentecostal legalistic Christian nut-job. All the progress I had made on my mission went just like that, and there was nothing I could do about it. Well, there was one thing that I could do though, find everything out that I could about these Apostolic Pentecostals and find some way I could refute their beliefs. Thus, began my new mission.
I researched their organizations website, online, and found out who their leaders are and did some background checks on them. Their head guy was a guy named David Bernard and he wrote several different books on Pentecostal theology. I asked my wife about him and she said she never heard of him. Ha! Score one point for me. Not even his own members know who this guy is. This was ignorant thinking on my part because I was basing an entire group of people on one person, my wife. I bought one of his books called the Oneness of God. I pored over this book, looked up all the scripture references and it started to make sense to me. That can’t be, I’ve had strong beliefs and convictions for myself my entire life. Suddenly I’m questioning my own faith. What was God showing me? Maybe this book was just a fluke.
My wife started to invite me to church. At first I wouldn’t come, I used a lot of different excuses not to come, I was too tired, I didn’t feel good, I’m going to go see my Dad, he lived out of state; pretty soon though I was running out of excuses not to go, besides one can’t be sick every Sunday and magically get well on Monday. I had to start going with her if I wanted to save our marriage.
At first, I tried to just blend in; I sat near the back of the sanctuary, close to the exit. I also chose my seat carefully in the middle of the pew and tried to surround myself with others so I would not be noticed so much. I was very uncomfortable. Church usually lasted a couple of hours, but to me it seemed like all day. As soon as it was over, I made a beeline for the exit and finally felt relief that church was over.
The worst part was the alter call, there was always an alter call, after all it’s a Pentecostal church. During the altar call the pastor would invite members and nonmembers alike to come forward and get hands laid upon them for healing, prayer, and the dreaded baptism of the Holy Ghost. I was afraid that I would be singled out, one of the ministers would come up to me drag me up front and the whole church would pray, that earnest prayer, to get me to speak in tongues. They would yell at me, spit in my face and embarrass me in front of the entire church. I wasn’t having it. I am already a Christian been a follower all my life. I was baptized, been called to preach, and had God’s spirit in me already. Why do I need to go up in front of the entire church, and make a spectacle out of myself? I was perfectly fine all by myself, quietly sitting in my pew, close to the exit, and counting down the minutes to when the pastor would finally dismiss the service.
After a few Sundays of this, my wife, God bless her, ambushed me with two guys who led her small group. We decided to go out to dinner after church and get to know “one another.” That was code for let’s pray this guy, meaning myself, through to the Holy Ghost. At the restaurant, I tried to play it cool, didn’t get too much into our different theologies but instead kept the conversation light. This tactic soon failed me, and we started to get into the heavy stuff. The dreaded question got asked. Who do you think God is? Of course, they would ask this! We were doing so well, I stalled, “uh…excuse me waitress may I have some more biscuits.” I’m kidding, but I tried desperately to avoid this conversation.
“Well” I said, clearing my throat. “I think we believe the same thing.” Yes, that will do. I gave an answer that I thought was a revelation from God. I thought that they needed to realize that the differences we had in doctrine were just different approaches to how we read and interpreted the scriptures. Essentially though, it all boiled down to the same thing, whether 3 persons in one in the Godhead, or three titles of the same God. We worshiped and believed the same thing. The differences were only denominational lines that were drawn to divide the body of Christ. The differences were only a matter of semantics. I thought they had never heard this revelation before, and I was doing them both a great service by telling them. I was wrong. I wasn’t saying anything that they had never heard before. I do have to give them credit though, they did let me speak and I don’t believe they even refuted what I said. All they asked was if I would like to join them for a bible study, I agreed. I didn’t know this at the time, but that bible study would change my life forever.
At the beginning of the bible study they asked me a simple question. How do you get to heaven, or what do you think it takes to get to heaven? I’m ashamed to admit but I never gave this too much thought. I just took for granted everything that I have been taught in church. They asked if I would write my answer on a piece of paper and stuff it into my bible, and we would look back over it at the end of the bible study. What was I going to write down, how could I boil down my faith to just a few words?
Well belief in God is first and foremost, that is what the bible says right? But is that the only thing that we must do? Well, we must also confess our sins and confess that Jesus is LORD, so belief and confession. What about living a good life? Okay, belief, confession and lead a good life. These were the keys that got you into heaven. Well I’ve done all of this. I believed in God, I confessed my sins and tried to live up to what I thought were the standards of the bible. So why am I so unsure about this, why am I questioning my faith? Is there more to salvation than simply believing and living a good life? Does the Bible give either further instructions to live by or is there an entirely different plan to salvation to what I’ve been taught? Well, I wanted to get to know God more, who he really is and what his plans were for me moving forward into my life; if anything, I would use this bible study to do just that. In the process of trying to refute the teaching of the apostolic doctrine, I would discover exactly what I’ve been looking for, God himself!
Just who is God anyway? Is he some very big old guy with a long flowing white beard who sits on a giant throne, while his subordinate’s day in and day out declare how awesome he is? By Hollywood’s standards this would be a close assumption. Or maybe he is a long-haired blue-eyed hippy telling everyone to love one another; a certain 1960’s song comes to mind. Maybe he is up there far away somewhere looking down on us, or maybe he is manipulating our lives as if we were a game of chess. Or is God universal; God is the same to Christians as he is to the Hindu, the Muslim, or the Buddhist, it’s all a matter of point of view. The fact is of course, these depictions make God seem too impersonal. There must be just one God, this God would be supreme, everything else is just man-made. So, what does the Bible say about God?
Who is God?
Well, first of all there is only one God! James 2:19. I originally came from a Trinitarian perspective of God. Meaning One God displayed through three distinct persons that make up this one God. Who are co-equal and co-eternal; this is the orthodox view of Christianity. My intentions of this blog are not to start an argument on whether or not the Trinity or the Oneness views are right or wrong, but my goal is to explain how I came to understand who God is. Both Oneness and Trinitarians would agree that the Bible teaches the existence of only one God; both would agree that the New Testament makes a distinction between Father, Son and Spirit; both would agree that scripture speaks of Father, Son and Spirit. The question is how do we understand God as being One and yet account for the Scriptural distinctions.
They arrive at different conclusions of who God is because they both start at different points. Oneness theology starts with the clear teaching of the Old Testament that God is one and then tries to understand the NT distinctions in this light (Deut. 6:4; Isaiah 42:8, 43:10-11, 44:6; Mark 12:29; John 10:30; 1st Corinthians 8:6; James 2:19; 1st Timothy 2:5; Jude 1:25; Revelation 1:8). Trinitarians start with the NT distinctions and then try to understand that diversity, in light of OT monotheism. They quote the same scriptures above. The result? Oneness theology understands the distinctions as being rooted in the incarnation, while Trinitarians understand the distinctions as being rooted in the being of God. So which way best describes who God is? What starting point should we use that will do the most justice to the Biblical definition of God?
As I already stated, God is One. I believe that the OT clearly defines this. In fact, it was such a revelation to the Hebrew people that God commanded them to adhere to this belief (Duet. 6:4). They were required to impress this on their own hearts and their own children. They were to talk about them when they sat down at home, when they were out among the town, when they lay down and when they got up. The Bible says that they were to tie them up as symbols on their hands and foreheads. To write them on the door frames and the gates of their homes. I don’t know about you, but I think that this commandment must be important to God if he required his people to do all of this. In fact, later in the NT, a teacher questions Jesus on what he says is the greatest commandment. Jesus answers him by quoting Deut. 6:4 (Mark 12:28-31). So, the question must be asked if there was a strict understanding of the oneness of God from the OT, why would it suddenly change with NT?
Who is manifest in the flesh, the father, or the son? When you base this question on the presupposition: The “father” and the “son” are words describing the eternal relationship between the persons in the Godhead you would fall into the logical trap of:
The son is not the father.
The son is God.
The father is God.
Therefore, the son and the father are both God.
The only explanation that historic Christianity has come up with is the Trinity. That God is three distinct persons who are co-equal and co-eternal and have existed from eternity in relationship with each other. This borders awfully close to tri-theism, but most Trinitarians would conclude that the trinity is a mystery. They are three but one. It’s hard to explain this to a rational person so they go in faith that this is how God exists.
It must be understood that the terms “father” and “son” in distinction to one another are first introduced in the incarnation. You must understand the dual nature of Christ. He is God manifest in the flesh. He is fully God and he is fully man. He had a human body and a human mind, but the humanity of Christ was God’s humanity. God did not merely assume the form of man he became man. Therefore, when in scripture Jesus refers to his father, he is referring to God in his transcendence, when the scriptures speak of the son; it is God manifest in the flesh. Scripture never introduces the concept of the trinity. The trinity is read back into the scriptures.
Because the father and son are relational terms that began at the incarnation, we would not expect to find any passage in scripture which says the Father became man. It is God who became man. Who created the world the father or the son? God created the world. You could ask who created the world the Prince of Peace or the Lamb of God? You can’t answer that because it assumes a difference in persons where the Bible doesn’t teach any difference in persons. Imagine your pastor’s name is Bob Smith. If I asked which is taller, Bob or Smith? The question is obviously irrelevant. Pastor Smith is what I would call him in the context of my relationship as pastor and Bob is what his wife would call him when they’re out shopping. Is there a difference between the Father and the Son? Yes. Is that distinction one of persons? No. The difference is that the Father is God in transcendence and his relationship with the man Christ, while the Son is God in his incarnation.
To put it into simpler terms, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, are titles, just like I’m a husband, a brother, a son, and an uncle. God is not made up with three different wills or persons like the trinity would have you to believe, but rather, Father, Son and Holy Ghost are titles that make up the same person, the one true God. Even though I might have several different titles depending on what relationship I have been given, I’m still the same person. I’m a husband to my wife and I’m a son to my mother. I could not be a husband to my mother or a son to my wife; yet as I am still the same person, both titles still apply to me.
Furthermore, in John 14, Philip, one of the disciples, asked Jesus, “to show us the father.” I think, and this is entirely my opinion here, that Jesus must have been dumbfounded by his disciple’s lack of understanding. How many times does he have to spell it out for them? I’m overwhelmed by how patient God is, not only to his own disciples but even to me in my own life. I can picture the scene playing out in my mind. Jesus and his disciples after a long day of traveling to Jerusalem from Bethany must have been exhausted. The day was filled with teaching, healings, and miracles, not to mention the way Jesus was treated like a king as he entered Jerusalem. They’ve been confused by this and confused by many of his teachings. He even predicted his death at one point during the day. They’re finally getting some much-needed rest, Jesus even washes their feet. They’re celebrating the Passover meal together; everything seems pretty good. If only they knew what was about to happen, right? Jesus then goes on to say that one of them would betray him and that Peter would deny him three times before the morning broke. Talk about being a buzzkill. The mood, I’m sure, was completely changed. But Jesus starts to comfort them by revealing to them who he really is and where he is going. This is when Phillip asks the question and Jesus responds by saying, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the father. How can you say, ‘show us the father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” John 14: 9-10
Why would Jesus say this? Did he just want to confuse them even more? I think not. He was revealing to them a great truth about who he was, but he knew that they would not understand just yet, he would be sending them a helper (i.e. The Holy Spirit) that would finally make clear all that Jesus had taught them.
This is how it was for me, God finally after many years of praying, after many years of reading scripture, commentaries and listening to all different kinds of sermons and preachers, God revealed who he really is to me. It’s not just some church doctrine or dogma, but rather what his word the Bible says. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what some man or woman says, it doesn’t matter what I say, it only matters what God says. But don’t take my word for it, seek, and search out what the Bible really does say. Pray for understanding of the scriptures, do not rely on what someone else’s opinion is on a certain text, but prayerfully search out the meaning. The Bible says that we are “to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12.
This brings me to my final point, Salvation. As I stated earlier, at the beginning of the Bible study I was asked, ‘what does it take to get into heaven?’ I wrote my answer down just the way I stated above, but I was wrong. I came to believe that the Bible is clear on a plan for salvation. What is that plan?
First, we should acknowledge that we are sinners in need of salvation. For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, Romans 3:23. All people have made mistakes, everyone has sinned and failed. The Bible says that the sins that we have made deserve death, for the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23. So we are in a great need of Salvation. The old system that God had set up required his people to make atonement for their sins by performing various sacrifices. This became rather tedious and legalistic, so God had another plan in mind. God demonstrated his love toward us by becoming man, and while we were yet sinners, He died for us. By going up to Calvary, God paid the atonement to end all atonements. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, 2 Corinthians 5:19. Reconcile means to exchange something of value for something else. The purpose of Jesus’ ministry here on earth was to exchange his life for ours. He paid the wages of sin so we would not have to.
God loves us! He paid the ultimate price for our sins! If God does not forgive us of our sins, we would perish. When we ask for forgiveness and truly repent, God is gracious enough to forgive and give us eternal life. This comes to repentance. To repent means to turn away from, cease, or do a complete 180 if you will. John the Baptist, as the Old Testament prophecies foretold, was a forerunner to Christ. He would baptize into repentance. People went out from Jerusalem and all of Judea and the whole region of the Jordan to repent and seek John’s baptism. Many began to follow him and become his disciples. But he spoke of one who would come after him, one more powerful, who sandals he’s not worthy to carry. He will come and baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire! John, of course, is talking about Jesus Christ, the messiah!
Baptism, what is it? Is it really that important? Is it a symbolic act, a tradition? Or, is it something more, does it have a more personal and spiritual meaning? Throughout all of Christianity and the history of the church no topic has been more controversial than baptism. Other than the doctrine of the Godhead nothing is more debated in Christian theology. I’m not going to look anywhere else for the answers about baptism other than the main source, the Bible.
We have in the Bible one of the most perfect examples of baptism, Jesus before he started his ministry took it upon himself to be baptized, Matthew 3. We know that Jesus was both God in flesh and very much human, again the dual nature of Jesus, he was blameless and perfect. He did not need to get baptized for the remission of sins because he was without sin. But he submitted to it for our benefit. If the sinless Christ was baptized how much more should we, who are full of sin.
If we are truly to conform to Christ as Paul states in Romans 8:29, we must follow his footsteps. Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, Matthew 3:15, he did not regard it as mere ceremony or ritual. Throughout his ministry he emphasized moral purity rather than ceremonial purity and described the many traditional washings of the Pharisees as unnecessary (Matt. 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23). By Contrast, he recognized baptism as having moral significance and being necessary for us.
Let’s not forget John chapter 3 when Nicodemus came to Jesus, Jesus said unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. He went on to say that we must be born of Water and Spirit to enter The Kingdom of God. In Mark 16:16 Jesus says, “He that believes AND is baptized shall be saved; but he that does not believe shall not be saved.” Jesus linked both belief and baptism together in the promise of salvation, showing that both are necessary. If we say baptism is not necessary, we amend the Lords statement and say, “he that believes and is (NOT) baptized shall be saved.” Jesus did not discuss the situation of one who “believed” but refused baptism, for that would be a contradiction in terms. He knew that if someone did not believe, he would not be baptized or that if he were baptized, his baptism without believe would be
worthless. He knew a true believer would be baptized. By saying, “He that believes not shall not be saved.” I believe that Jesus implicitly covered the case of one who would refuse baptism as a means of salvation.
Of course, we can’t be saved by anything else but the Grace of God. It’s not our works that save us but our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. God freely gives us Salvation. Paul is right in saying “for by grace through faith we are saved. But faith in God will lead to water baptism. As stated in the scripture above (Mark 16:16), obviously Jesus taught that faith would lead to baptism, and that History of the early church affirms this truth. After Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, “they that gladly received his word were baptized; (Acts 2:41). When the Samaritans “believed Phillip preaching things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized.” (Acts 8:12) The Philippian jailor believed and was baptized in the same hour that Paul admonished him to believe. (Acts 16: 31-34).
When Paul preached in Corinth, many people “believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18: 8). On many other occasions people were baptized when they heard and accepted the Gospel (Acts 8: 36-38; 9:18; 10: 47-48; 16: 14-15; 19:5). We conclude that water baptism is an act of faith—a faith response to God. True faith in God and His word will cause the believer to submit to water baptism. Remember after the people heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, they asked, “what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be BAPTIZED in the name of Jesus Christ….”
Finally, the baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2: 2-4. One of the most beautiful promises in all of scripture I believe is the promise of the Holy Spirit. The worst thing that happened to mankind was the original sin that caused us to be cut off from God.
Imagine if you will, before the fall what it must have been like to be in the Garden of Eden. No worries, no shame, no pain, no hurt, no concerns, ect… I can go on forever. Besides all those things that I have mentioned above, I believe the greatest thing that was in the garden was always God being among Adam and Eve, he walked with them. How cool is that, I’m not talking metaphorically but rather physically! God was physically with Adam and Eve! When Satan crept into the picture and manipulated Adam and Eve to sin against God, God had to flee or leave their presence. This “original sin” perverted mankind’s relationship with God. Since that time God has been trying to restore that relationship, he accomplishes this through his Spirit.
When we come to Christ and he fills us with the Holy Spirit we are allowing God to live inside us. I know that may sound a little weird to non-believers, but this is how God restores our relationship with him. He fills us with his presences so that we can live holy and righteous lives. A life with God is peaceful, joyful, fulfilling; it is a life with purpose and meaning. It is life more abundantly, scriptures say. Without God we lose our purpose and meaning, we lose our joy and peace. I’m not saying that being a Christian, life will all be peaches and cream, there will be hard times, there will be pain and there will be sorrow. Some people will never feel freedom, yet with God there will be Joy. We have and serve a God that will always be with us through all the struggles our lives will throw at us. With his spirit he will guide us and lead us in the direction that will give us the greatest hope and future! Like a parent to a child he does what is best for the child. The child may not quite understand at the time what the parent was doing to benefit them but later the child will understand why and how the situation bettered their life.
How could one not want God to be in their life is beyond my understanding. We live in a messed up and twisted world, full of hate and violence towards one another. Just turn on the news and we see the evil and destruction that is going on all around us. Now more than ever we need to have God’s presence inside of us. Now more than ever we need salvation. I find it very interesting how us humans praise and admire celebrity and wealth. We judge our own lives based on our status in culture, how much stuff we have and how much money we have. But at careful examination of the lives of the rich and famous so many we see are empty and hollow inside. They try to fill their lives with drugs and alcohol but ultimately, they are left broken and empty despite having everything this world has to offer them.
When I was broken, when I was empty, God filled me, God healed me, he mended my soul, and he overwhelmed me with his presence. That’s why I sing: My God is more than enough, he can supply all my needs, he is my El Shaddai, and he always looks out for me. God is more than enough; he is all that I will ever need. He did create me after all; surely, he knows what I need and will do what is best for me.
The fact of the matter is: we need God. I spent most of my life searching and trying to understand who he is. It wasn’t until I truly allowed God to come into my life that I found him. One of my favorite scriptures in the Bible is Deuteronomy 4:29, which says, if you look for him with all your soul and all your heart you will find him there. You must seek him with all your heart and all your soul. I’m sorry but you can’t just partially look for him with a half empty heart to fill. You must make room for him to fill your entire heart. This is what happened for me, so many years I spent holding onto my traditions and the things that I’ve been taught that God didn’t have enough room in my heart to dwell in. Even though I had many encounters with God like the ones I mentioned earlier, I still questioned who he was and his purpose for my life.
The Bible is clear on who God is and his plan for humanity. After the eventful day of Pentecost, the Apostles finally understood what Jesus had preached to thousands of people. God left it in their hands to continue that message and to spread the Gospel to all nations. They understood the great need for salvation, the need to be baptized for the remission of sins in Jesus name and the need for spiritual baptism by the infilling of the Holy Spirit evidence by speaking in tongues. Throughout the book of Acts we read encounter after encounter of people repenting of their sins, baptized in the name of Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the plan that God had laid forth to give us salvation.
We must have faith in Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge who he is and must accept that we cannot save ourselves. We must believe in his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave for the forgiveness of our sins. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by our own good works. Ephesians 2: 8-9: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
We must repent. Repentance is an essential part of salvation. We must confess that we are sinners and ask God to forgive us. With the help of God’s spirit, we are to turn away from our sinful ways and turn toward his righteousness. When we repent, we open the door to God’s forgiveness. 1st John 1: 8-9: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We must be baptized. Water baptism is an essential part of salvation and not merely a symbolic ritual. It is part of entering into the kingdom of God (i.e. his church, the bride of Christ) and therefore, it is not merely a part of local church membership. Galatians 3:27: For many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
We must seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The infilling of the Holy Spirit is the seal of God in our lives and the guarantee of our inheritance of eternal life. It is the Spirit of Christ working in us, anointing us with the power to be witnesses for him. All born again believers must be baptized with the Holy Spirit. John 3:3-7: Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said unto him, “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus answered, “Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
When I finally fully embraced this Biblical truth for my life. God began to move in me and through me in ways I could have never imagined. Not only experiencing the infilling of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, but the opening of doors to move into more opportunities for ministry. God has brought me back to Westport, Indiana, where my spiritual journey began. I’m a part of the worship ministry team leading the church into his presence every Sunday! I’m growing more and more with him everyday. And my prayer is that he will continue to allow me to reach as many people as I can through my growing ministry, especially people that are like me, who come from traditional church backgrounds and want to know God and experience him more in their lives.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my faith but looking back at my life I can see where God was shaping and molding me into the person, he wanted me to be. I feel that my journey is still in the beginning stages, there is a lot of ground that still needs to be covered. I’m looking forward to seeing what God has for me next!