Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Master's Prominence and The Servant's Insignificance

"Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ,
but that I am sent before Him.  He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth
and heareth Him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.  He must increase,
but I must decrease."  John 3:28-30

   The Jews had just finished attempting to distract John with questions of prominence concerning John's ministry versus Christ's ministry, and now John takes a golden opportunity to "set them strait" on a few things.  We, as proud sinners, are so often distracted with vain questions that do not answer to the truth, and we often need to be redirected to the humility that is so central to the Bible.  We see first John's Declaration.  John says, "Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him."  The statement "I am not the Christ" is emphatic.  John, as he so often did in his speaking, literally said, "I, I am not the Christ!"  The Jews knew this to be the case because they had heard him declare this in the beginning of his ministry.  John never attempted to place himself in a position of prominence above his Savior, not in word or in action; and yet, many Christians do just that in their speech and actions.  We say Christ is above us but we fail to obey Him.  We follow our own will instead of following the will of the Master.
   Next we see John's Delight.  He compares himself to the friend of the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom does not desire glory for himself in any way, but he rejoices when the bride of the bridegroom is praised because this reflects on the bridegroom.  The bridegroom is the central focus of this wedding and not the bride or the friend.  John, as the friend, is perfectly happy to see the bridegroom's joy and in hearing his praises.  Notice how the friend is standing and hearing.  This is the posture and attitude of a servant.  The servant stands, ready to respond to the master's call.  He is also listening intently for any desire from his master to be made known to him.  John's ministry was to preach repentance thus preparing the hearts of people for receiving the Messiah.  Those saved would go on to be the start of the Church as seen in Acts 2.  John's delight was not to be known as some great prophet.  His whole delight revolved around patient, obedient service, and because of this, Christ said, "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.... (Luke 7:28)"  Those that exalt themselves shall be humbled; that's a promise from God, but those that humble themselves shall be exalted; that's also a promise from God.  John's delight was to humbly prepare the way for the Church, the bride of the Bridegroom (Eph. 5:22-33).  Most people's joy is not fulfilled in service, but rather, it is found in trying to be the master.  True joy is found, not in resistance of God's truth, but in humble acceptance of it, and in obedience to it.
   Lastly, we see John's Desire.  He said, "He must increase...."  As a Christian matures in the faith, this should be what happens.  Christ should shine through us more and more.  He should become more prominent in our lives and fill our focus.  If He does not, rebellion and pride are holding us back.  "...but I must decrease."  John realized what the Christian life is all about.  But decreasing is painful.  The old man doesn't die easily.  The flesh fiercely resists being crucified, but true joy does not come apart from a crucified life.  Though painful for the moment, allowing Christ to increase and ourselves to decrease "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Goal of a Faithful Servant

 "Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.  And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him.  John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven."  John 3:25-27

   As a whole, the Jews were in constant opposition to Christ and His ministry and there is little reason to doubt that the same thing was happening here.  When the gospels speak of "the Jews" in this type of context it is usually in a negative sense.  The word for question here means a controversy, debate, or argument.  Unbelief is a master at stirring up unprofitable questions, but it has no skill in unveiling the truth.  As disciples of Christ, we must guard against becoming entangled in arguments with troublemakers (Titus 3:9).  These type of people are only good for distracting us from far more profitable things.  Doubtless, their arguments were over ceremonial purification.  Hypocrites are far more interested in the outward show of religion than the change of heart that produces the outward actions.
   "And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him."  It is very likely that these men were attempting to pit John and Jesus against each other.  In human thinking, this would discredit the ministry that they had.  However, by way of application, many believers do the same thing today.  If a brother or sister becomes too zealous for the things of God, it produces an uneasiness in many people.  We tell one another not to be followers of men, and when people forsake their own understanding and attempt to live by faith, even at the risk of making famous people angry, we rebuke them.  We often fence people in and tell them that they must know God but only within the box of human tradition that we have created.  Ministry must always be carried out within the bounds of God's Word, but this does not limit it to our way of thinking.  God is far above such things (Isaiah 55:8-9).  A true servant of Christ does not fear when fellow disciples want to get as near to Christ as they can.  Pride, insecurity, faithlessness, and outright carnality, are enemies of those who wish to draw nigh to God and not be a respecter of persons.  John's answer demonstrates his servant's heart, "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven."  No agenda!  His desire is simply that Christ be magnified and he be lost in the shadow of Divinity.  He says, "A man can receive nothing...."  A man cannot take to himself the true glory of the ministry.  Many struggle all over the world to make a name for themselves and be a spiritual authority and yet they will never be truly successful in God's eyes because they are seeking it in the flesh, and it has never been given from heaven.  The phrase "it be given" is very emphatic.  The true glory and power can only come through God's plan and purpose.  Christ's ministry would have had no profit and would not have been validated by the truth except it had come from heaven.  The same holds true with John's ministry.  John was not afraid or insecure, because he had a ministry and a purpose that came straight from the heart of God and as long as he was doing the will of the Father, why should he worry or be jealous?  Christ continuously operated within the bounds of the Father's will and John knew that He had nothing to fear because He "did always those things which please the Father."
   The goal of a faithful servant is simply that his Master be glorified.  The following prayer is worthy of our constant attention, "LORD You are the Master, I am the servant."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Mode and Purpose of Baptism

"After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison." John 3:22-24

     Though many did reject Christ in those days, many also chose to believe and our Lord was always about the business of winning souls and so was John. Souls must be on the minds of all God's people. It takes little effort to pass out a gospel tract. Conversations at work could be turned toward God in an effort to be a witness. A Christian who is not witnessing in some way is a disobedient Christian, but this is not the focus of this particular section of comments.

     What is baptism and what does it picture? Biblically, these are not difficult questions to answer, and yet, due to the traditions and teachings of men, baptism and its purpose have been abused and misunderstood down through the centuries. The word baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word baptidzo which means to immerse, dip, or plunge. The word does not mean to sprinkle or to pour. Such a meaning could only be forced upon the word baptize and could not be developed by a careful study of the word's etymology. Notice from the text that John baptized where there was "much water." Acts chapter 8 says, "...and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip...." In both these passages, baptism was carried out in a place that had sufficient water for immersing the believer.
    Is baptism needed for salvation? The answer here is emphatically, No. Multiple passages teach salvation by grace through faith and nothing more or less (Eph. 2:8-9, Luke 23:39-43, John 11:25-26). So then what is the purpose of water baptism? It is a picture of what happens to a believer spiritually when they receive Christ by faith.
    Before a person is saved they are ruled by the "old man" who is bent toward sin (Titus 3:3), but the moment they put their faith in Christ they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit as spoken of in Titus 3:5, "...according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." When this happens, the "old man" is rendered ineffective and we are born again in Christ. The believer is buried with Christ, as Christ was buried in the grave, and they are then raised with Christ, as Christ arose victorious from the grave, to walk in the new spiritual life that has been born within. Romans 6:3-11 lays this out so clearly, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
    The Lord Jesus and John the Baptist chose to fully immerse people in water as a picture of how the believer's faith has allowed them to be fully immersed in death to the old man and fully raised out from death to walk in the new life that Christ has brought. The only Biblical mode of baptism is full immersion and its purpose is not to save, but to show the change that has taken place in the believer's life because of the grace of God in bringing salvation.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Two Types of Fruit

"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."  John 3:20-21

   The word here for evil has the idea of that which is worthless, bad, or evil.  The unregenerate man does not savor the things of God, because everything that is truly of God shines forth a righteousness that causes the world to turn away.  The one who is doing (continually practicing) evil is continually and consistently hating the light because God's truth rebukes, convicts, and condemns all of the lost man's ways.  A carnal Christian will also behave like this, and will never be happy until he turns from the darkness of the world's ways unto the Light that has been born within him.  Notice that the one who does evil and lives a life that demonstrates his disobedience to God's Word is not coming to the Light.  All the verbs used thus far in the text carry the idea of present continual action.  The type of person spoken of here is demonstrating by his continuous wickedness and rejection of truth that he is lost and happy to be so.  We live in a day of false professors.  Multitudes claim to know God, but their lifestyle of continuous wickedness says quite the opposite, "They profess that they know God but in works they deny Him."  The pride, disregard for the Bible, sensual lifestyles and guidance based upon feelings and emotions all speak against the profession to be a Christian.  When a man comes into the Light of God's truth, he has no choice but to humble himself if he desires to walk with God, because God's truth naturally rebukes and convicts our sinful ways.
   In stark contrast to the dark ways of the unregenerate man, Jesus says, "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light...."  Again the verb here is continuous present action.  The one who is doing the truth is coming to the Light.  Jesus said, "By their fruits ye shall know them."  The continuous actions of our lives show what we truly believe.  The one who desires to have the truth of God is continuously coming to the Light of God; and why is it thus?  "...that his deeds made be made manifest...."  In order that his works might be revealed would be another way to translate it.  The saved man and the Christian who is not choosing to live in sin will continuously come to God's Light because the Light that has been born within them craves the continuous light of God's word.  "...that they are wrought in God."  Since, or because they are performed in God is the idea here.  Here we see the doctrine of true sanctification.  Good works do not sanctify a man's soul.  Repentance and faith in Christ's sacrifice sanctifies a person positionally and once this takes place, good works will begin to manifest themselves because of the Holy Spirit of God living inside of the believer.  Good works are only truly good in God's eyes if they are performed in Him.  A good work performed outside of God is not pleasing to God.  Sanctification in the believer's life takes place as the believer yields to the Holy Spirit and allows Him to produce the fruit (Gal. 5:22-25). 
   Thus we see two types of fruit.  We see the fruits of darkness which are so closely connected to those who are not redeemed or to those who are redeemed but walking contrary to God's word (though the context here is speaking of the lost), and we see the fruits of those who have once and for all come to the truth and now the Holy Spirit of God continuously draws them to the truth of God.  We live in a day where people are afraid to judge sin and separate from it, but God has said, " their fruits ye shall know them."  God is not afraid to say that the one who continuously demonstrates a life of sin is lost and damned to hell.  He knows everything, and He knows the hearts of all men.  People attempt to play games and think they are deceiving God, but little do they know that they are dealing with the omnipresent Creator who said in Genesis, "...because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know."  Let us flee to Christ in faith and demonstrate by our lives that we are the children of the Light.