Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 8 – If God permit

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


To complete this series on the foundational doctrines I want to look briefly at this last phrase, "If God permit." At first it may seem strange, because if it is God's desire as expressed here in Hebrews that His people go on from these elementary doctrines then why would He not permit them to go on? The same could be asked of a teacher – what teacher desires to fail one of their students, and yet as much as they would love to pass a student if the work does not merit it they will fail the student. It is God that gives light, it is God that continually leads us on in Him. If we are willing to learn we will learn and go on. However if we refuse to go on we can eventually be no longer permitted to do so.

The first generation of the children of Israel were promised the land of Canaan. God's part had already been done, and indeed the whole journey was provided for by God from the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:3). Of that generation, though, only two men actually entered into what was promised, prepared and provided for them. The others who were all equally delivered, called and lead by God died in the wilderness having failed the ten tests that God had lead them through. After the last test God forbade any of that generation other than Caleb and Joshua to go in. Some tried the next day anyway and were utterly defeated in battle. Having failed all the tests God had set for them, they were not permitted to go into the land (Deut. 1:39-46).

The permission of God is very important to understand. We can study the Scripture for years, but unless God opens our minds we will not really grasp it. This is also why we should not look down on others who we might think have less understanding of the Scriptures, because if God gives them light they could excel us, and God could even withhold further light from us or even take away what we have because of a prideful attitude. This is also why it is so important to obey what God speaks to us, because Jesus said in Mark 4:24-25, "Take heed what you hear. With that measure which you measure, it shall be measured to you. And to you who hear, more shall be given. For he who has, more shall be given to him; and he who has not, from him shall be taken even that which he has." What are we willing to hear God say? God told Balaam not to go curse Israel, then because he would not heed that He told him he could go if the messengers came to get him in the morning. When the messengers left without speaking to him in the morning, he went anyway, which angered the Lord who was going to kill him. After the talking donkey incident Balaam offered to go back, but God told him to go ahead and go. In a certain sense Balaam could say that God told him to go. God did, but only because it was what he wanted to hear. Balaam uttered some awesome prophecies and earnestly desired to die the death of the righteous, but yet he actually died in the camp of God's enemies.


Paul wrote to Timothy concerning the various vessels that are present in a household, and that purging is necessary so that a vessel can be used for every good work (2 Tim. 2:20-21). God uses His people and calls them higher in Him by His upward call, but if they do not respond to the upward call they may disqualify themselves from some of the works that God has for them. God needs people to expose errors in His church, and sometimes a bitter, and vindictive person is the best one to do that because they have the desire. However, as long as they are bitter and vindictive they cannot be of use in building up the body of Christ in a way which requires gentleness. Martin Luther was mightily used of God to bring in the Reformation, and yet as his life progressed he became a very angry person. By his own confession in his later years he could hardly pray without cursing the pope, and he once expressed the desire to be a ghost when he died so that he could give all the prelates a thousand times more problems dead then he could alive. His later years make for sad reading with much of them being spent attacking other reformers. Let this be a warning to us that we allow God to purge us so that we are fit for the tasks He has for us and we are not relegated to other lower though still good uses. Amen.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 7 – Eternal Judgment

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The doctrine of eternal judgment is a foundational teaching of the Christian life. The early Church lived in a state of constant consciousness of the Day of Judgment – so much so that they referred to it as "that day." It is the only day on earth of any real importance. Paul prayed that one who had assisted him would find mercy of God on that day (2 Tim. 1:18). It was on "that day" that Paul expected to receive what had given to Christ and Christ was keeping for him (2 Tim. 1:12). The book of Hebrews encourages its readers to meet together and exhort each other continually, especially as the day approaches (Heb. 10:25). James reminded his readers that they should not grumble because the judge stood at the door (James 5:9). From all this we see the emphasis that the early church placed upon eternal judgment. Now let us look at what they taught concerning eternal judgment: what will be judged; when will it be judged and how will it be judged?


  1. What will be judged

All of our works done in our body will be judged and will be either rewarded or punished according to their merit (2 Cor. 5:10). We will be judged for every word we speak, even the idle chit-chat we engage in (Matt. 12:36-37). When those who fear the Lord speak together that is noted and written down by God (Mal. 3:16). Even our consciences will bear witness either for us or against us in what we have done, and then every secret of our hearts will be revealed (Rom. 2:15-16). Since both our attitudes and actions toward God and man will be judged, Paul strove to always have a conscience that was without offense towards either (Acts 24:26). As we see that absolutely everything will be judged, we should also remember that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Without forgiveness from God through the merits of Christ no one could stand in this judgment.

  1. When will it be judged

These things will all be judged on the day that God has appointed (Acts 17:31). This is the day of the Lord – a great and terrible day. It is the day for which we all must prepare. This life is the stage rehearsal for that day. It does not matter how much we may look like a failure now, nor how successful we appear now, what matters is how do we appear when the curtain opens on the final day and we are seen as we really are. The date of this day is not known to man. God has reserved it for Himself. In the same way we do not usually know the day of our approaching death, but we know that after that day will come the judgment.

  1. How will it be judged

When a person dies they are immediately taken to one of two intermediary states to await the final judgment. The first place is for the souls of those who have died in the Lord - that is in a saving relationship with Christ Jesus. This place is known as heaven. Heaven is not the final destination of the saints, because they still await the redemption of their bodies as well as their souls (Rom. 8:23). The final destination is the new heaven and the new earth which the saints will enter after the second coming of Christ, the millennium and the White throne judgment. For now however we know that for a saint to be absent in body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8).

The second state is the state of the lost, who go to an intermediary place called hell. Here they experience all sorts of mental and physical anguish (though not corporeal because their bodies are not yet present with them). Descriptions of this suffering are found in many places in the scripture some of the most vivid being Ezekiel 32:17-32 which shows how people are grouped in hell with those they were associated in life, and remain as they were in life to their eternal shame – the warriors still have their weapons with them, but it only shows their powerlessness; and Luke 16:19-31 which gives the story of Lazarus and the rich man and shows the difference in the state of the righteous and the wicked as it was before the time of Christ's resurrection when He led captivity captive and took the Old Testament saints from Abraham's bosom into heaven. On the final day, all the wicked dead will be reunited with their bodies and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15). This is the final doom of all the wicked.


As we are closing this brief look at eternal judgment I would like to notice a few things. In the story told by Jesus, the rich man is not named, but Lazarus is. The righteous have an everlasting name and everlasting remembrance, but in the new heaven and new earth the former things will not be remembered (Isa. 65:17). In the same way the number of years of life are given for all of the godly line of Seth (Gen. 5), but not the number of years for the line of Cain (Gen. 4:17-24). The righteous may have had falls, and may have wasted some of their earthly years, but in the end even those wasted years were used by God to form some character in them which remains for all eternity. However Cain's descendants who were ungodly had wasted lives, we are not given the length of them, but ultimately the length does not matter because their lives were spent apart from God and ended apart from God. Let us have lives that count for eternity!

Before closing this series I would like to do one more post looking at the Phrase "if God permit."

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 6 – The Resurrection of the Dead

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The doctrine we will be examining in this post is the resurrection of the dead. This doctrine was understood though dimly in the Old Testament. Indeed many pagans had some understanding of this doctrine though polluted through their rejection of the true God. This is why in Mesopotamia and Egypt and elsewhere even in the Americas dead rulers were interred with food, tools, and sometimes servants to serve them in the next life. In the inner most part of man is a knowledge of the eternal and a recognition of good and evil, and even the most hardened atheist has knowledge of this at sometime though they fight against it and sear their own consciences to remove its effects.


  1. The Resurrection as seen in the Old Testament

Job in the time of the patriarchs stated as clearly as possible a belief in a resurrection. "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:25-27). Job knew that one day his physical eyes would look upon God, even if his body had long since decomposed.


In Psalm 22:19 another hint at the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is given with the promise that all that go down to the dust (ie. die) will bow before Christ. This is mentioned again in Isaiah where it is confirmed by God's own oath (Isaiah 45:23). All will one day bow before Christ whether as willing servants or powerless prisoners.


By the time of the exile in Babylon, the doctrine of the resurrection of the just and unjust to stand before God and be judged is fully seen. Daniel teaches this in Daniel 12:2-3. He was also promised that he would have a specific place appointed to him after his death (Dan. 12:13).


Ezekiel saw a vision of a resurrection of the valley of dry bones which typified the return of Israel to their land (Eze. 37). Indeed Israel's history as a nation is a continuing proof of God's power and a sign that the resurrection of individuals will take place. Ezekiel's vision seems to go beyond the return from Babylon and point to the return of Israel as well as Judah. This event still to come is also foretold by Zechariah (Zech. 10:6-10), and Jeremiah (Jer. 23:6-8) which mentions how this deliverance will surpass even the deliverance from Egypt in the Jewish national consciousness. That hasn't happened yet, but it is amazing how Jews, even secular and atheistic Jews will remember the deliverance from Egypt, even if it is in a mocking or irreverent way. They still await the final conversion which will be as life from the dead (Rom. 11:15).


  1. The Resurrection as seen in the New Testament

Jesus confirmed the fact of the resurrection against the Sadducees who opposed it by quoting from the Pentateuch (Luke 20:34-38). He also stated that those who are in this resurrection will have bodies that surpass the ones we lose with death. His own resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples showed something of the body that we can expect. He was touchable and ate with them, yet He apparently was able to pass through locked doors (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:26)!


Our resurrection follows as a consequence of the resurrection of Christ. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23). His resurrection showed in its preeminence the power of God. He overcame death and hell because they had no power to hold Him back (Acts 2:24). This is the power of His resurrection - The power that gave Him the keys of death and hell, and overturned the hold that the fear of death had always had upon man. If the same Spirit dwells in us He shall also enliven our bodies – on the last day, but also even now as required.


The resurrection is a critical Christian doctrine. Paul wrote that if the resurrection is not true than all of what we do is worthless (1 Cor. 15:12-17). It was the resurrection from the dead that shows that Christ's Sonship and thus that His sacrifice was accepted by God (Rom. 1:4). We now await the day when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of Man and will awaken to His tribunal (John 5:26-29).


In both the Old and New Testaments it is shown that there will be a resurrection of both the good and evil for judgment. As we study Scripture it appears that there will be two separate resurrections – the first consisting of those who will rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years, the second one following after the thousand years (Rev. 20). It seems to me that not all Christians will necessarily be part of the first resurrection, since Paul was striving very hard so that he could obtain it near the end of his life (Phil. 3:11). He also taught that there will be different levels of glory in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:38-43). In the faith chapter of Hebrews we see that some chose to be martyred rather than escape torture so that they could obtain a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35). There is a promise with a condition that IF we suffer with Him we will reign with Him. Christians who follow Christ from a far and do not share in His sufferings may very possibly miss the privilege of reigning with Him in the millennium, though they will still be saved and go into the New heavens and New earth.


We now begin to touch on eternal judgment which we will cover in the next post.




Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 5 – The Laying on of Hands

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The doctrine I would like to examine in this post is the laying on of hands. This doctrine is important and foundational, yet is not widely understood by the church. The laying on of hands is a means of impartation, which dates back to the Old Testament times, and continued in the New Testament. What was imparted depended on the circumstances. A brief survey of both Testaments will show us the uses of the laying on of hands.

  1. Laying on hands for blessing

This is what Jacob did to Joseph's two sons (Gen. 48:13-22). In doing this he was receiving them as his own children and placing the blessing and promise he had received from God upon them so that they would also be included in it. He laid the right hand of stronger blessing upon Ephraim, the second-born, which initially displeased Joseph, but was done under the influence of prophecy. In the history of these tribes we see the fulfillment of this prophecy which also attests to the reality of impartation in the laying on of hands.

  1. Laying on of hands to impart sin

In the sin offerings of the Old Testament the offerer laid his hands upon the victim so that it would bear away his sin with it. This was also done with the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:21). Interestingly enough in the case of blasphemy all the witnesses who heard the blasphemy were to lay their hands on the head of the offender before he was stoned, as if they were putting away the utterance which had polluted their ears back upon the one who uttered it (Lev. 24:10-16). The transfer of sin by laying on of hands is not done in the church today, because our Sacrifice has been offered once and for all, but it still should be remembered that sin can be imparted through the laying on of hands and we should know the character of the one laying hands on us, and if we are going to lay hands on others we want to be in the right frame of mind to do that. Paul warned Timothy against laying hands on people suddenly (1 Tim. 5:22). While perhaps someone sick or in need may ask for prayer and we should lay hands on them, we should never do it in a flippant manner as though it is just the thing to be done. If we have reason to believe we will be praying for people and laying hands on them, we should do most of our praying, and perhaps even fasting, beforehand.

  1. Laying on of hands for healing

This ministry of laying hands on the sick for their healing belongs to all believers. It is specifically given by Christ as a sign for those who believe (Mark 16:18). This differs from the anointing with oil by the elders which is linked to their office and includes a promise of forgiveness as well as healing (James 5:14-15). Ananias, who is designated as merely a disciple, was sent by God to the blind Saul of Tarsus to impart sight to him (Acts 9:10-18). In addition to receiving healing Saul also received the infilling of the Holy Ghost at this time, which brings us to the next point.

  1. Laying on of hands for imparting spiritual gifts

Usually, the baptism of the Holy Ghost is received by the laying on of hands. In general it is Church leadership that lays hands on the one desiring to receive. Philip the evangelist preached and baptized converts, but did not lay hands on them so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John specifically came out to do that (Acts 8:5-23). Whether Philip could have laid hands and imparted the Holy Ghost to the people is not known. He apparently did not try. The importance placed upon the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is shown by the fact that early church specifically sent out Peter and John to make sure the converts received the Holy Spirit. People sometimes criticize Pentecostals for focusing too much on getting people to receive the Baptism of the Spirit. To this we can only reply that this was the feeling of the earliest of the early church – they did not leave their converts saved, baptized and yet without the Baptism of the Spirit. Dare we do less?

Some would say that the impartation of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is apostolic, but Ananias is an exception to that. Thus I would say that God is able to use any Spirit-filled believer to impart the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to others, but usually God uses those in the five-fold ministry.

Other spiritual gifts can also be imparted through the laying on of hands. Timothy had received a spiritual gift through the laying on of Paul's hands (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6). Often as in the case of Timothy, prophecy can tell what gift is being imparted and therefore gives guidance to the recipient as to what they should focus on. Spiritual gifts establish believers by giving them an outlet for ministry and a place of service in Christ's body (Rom. 1:11-12). When we have received a spiritual gift we should focus on using it for God's glory and the edification of the Church. This prevents us from being a mere pew-warmer. Often gifts are imparted at the same time as the person is set apart to God's service, which is the last attribute of laying on of hands we will look at.

  1. Laying on of hands for service

In this case hands are laid upon an individual to set them apart for the ministry to which God has called them. This is sometimes called ordination. It was done to Joshua so that he would be able to assume the leadership of Israel after Moses' passing (Num. 27:15-23; Deut. 34:9). It should be noticed here that Moses did not choose Joshua, he called to God to choose and God told him to lay hands on Joshua. The five-fold ministry is set in the church by Christ (Eph. 4:11-12). When man lays hands in ordination they are not making that person into a member of the five-fold ministry, they are merely recognizing what God has already done and releasing the person into what God has already called. Often as this is done gifts to aid in the work to be done will be imparted as it was with Timothy and with Joshua. Paul and Barnabas are prime examples of sending people into the work that God had for them (Acts 13:1-3). They were called already by God, but the leadership acknowledged the call and set them apart so they could fulfill it. They were sent off in fasting with prayer and the laying on of hands.

This concludes our study of the doctrine of the laying on of hands next we will look at the resurrection of the dead.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 4 – Baptisms

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


In this post I would like to look at the doctrine of baptisms. This passage has caused some people to wonder because in Ephesians 4:5, Paul stresses unity in the body of Christ by writing "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Thus some are inclined to place all of these foundational doctrines in a Jewish context and translate baptisms as washings (which is one meaning of the word). Fatal to this theory though is the fact that the first two foundational doctrines are Christian and clearly not Jewish – repentance and faith. Actually the following doctrines, especially the resurrection and eternal judgment, can hardly be construed as specifically Jewish either. Thus these must be Christian doctrines.

How do we reconcile this with Ephesians 4:5 then? In that passage there is pronounced to be only one baptism. There is also said to be only one faith, because we all have the same object of faith – Christ, yet we see that there is both a fruit and a gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:9, Gal. 5:22). The gift is not common to all as is clear from the context of 1 Corinthians, one receives the word of wisdom by the Spirit, another receives faith. This faith cannot be the same faith mentioned in Ephesians because that is common to all believers. Thus in Ephesians, Paul is highlighting unity in what we all receive from Christ – we have one Lord to obey, we have faith in Him, and we identify ourselves with Him in Baptism. We are one in His body, not by virtue of what we are but what He is. God is our Father, not my Father exclusively, but all His children are my siblings if He is my Father. The one baptism is thus not to be exclusively understood, because John the Baptist specifically noted two baptisms – the second one having perhaps a subset (Mark 1:8). The Apostles received both of these baptisms – at least as far as we know, since some of them were John's disciples prior to becoming Christ's disciples, also they baptized others, which would be odd if they were not baptized themselves, especially after the example set by Christ in being baptized Himself. It would be hard to argue that they were not water baptized. Therefore I believe that the passage in Hebrews is referring to two distinct baptisms which the apostles experienced and which we also as Christians should understand and experience, since they are foundational.

  1. Water Baptism

The first baptism is baptism in water. According to Philip the evangelist belief in Christ with all the heart was the prerequisite requirement for this baptism (Acts 8:37). This is implied also in those who responded to Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41), since they were baptized in the Name of Jesus which implies belief in the Name. The jailer in Philippi and all his house first heard the word and believed and then were baptized (Acts 16:30-34). It should be noted that while some argue immersion would have been impossible in these circumstances, the jailer bathed (as opposed to merely washed) their wounds, so immersion was clearly possible here. Lydia was baptized with her family and some would claim this for infant baptism since believing is not mentioned in this passage (Acts 16:14-15). However, how far do they want to take this? If Lydia was married, was her husband baptized on the basis of her faith apart from her own? I don't know of anyone who argues for that. If she was widowed and thus the head of the family, then quite likely any children present there were old enough to have faith themselves.

While paedobaptists can argue that infant baptism dates back along time in the Church, yet believer's baptism was certainly numerically superior in the first three centuries as converts from heathenism all renounced idolatry and other evils and stated their faith in Christ prior to their baptism (as seen in Tertullian and Cyril of Jerusalem). To guard against laying too much stress on testimony of the early Church fathers, it should also be noted that since Justin Martyr (d. c. 165 a.d.) notes that even in his day there were some amillenialists in the Church as well as millenialists, so clearly some in the Church quickly departed from apostolic teaching, whichever eschatological system you want to argue for, and if they departed so quickly in eschatology, can we be certain they were not somewhat aberrant in baptism as well? The Didache (c. 120 a.d.) also allowed for pouring instead of immersion, but only in the case of lack of any other way (Didache 7:3-4). Whether the writer had the authority to alter the Sacrament of Christ is another matter altogether. If it was given by Christ then only Christ could alter it.

Some might think that differences in method and custom are allowable, or merely minor, and it might seem so. Yet Moses when he disobeyed God by striking the rock to procure water a second time rather than speaking to it was kept out of the promised land (Num. 20:8-12). Interestingly, even though Moses moved in disobedience water still came out of the rock, showing that God can still use, if He desires, a wrong method. That does not negate the fact that there will be consequences, perhaps serious ones. Moses being stopped short of the end of his journey seems a little severe for the offense, but he destroyed the type that God was setting forth, Christ the Rock was struck only once, and after that as we speak to Him the water of life flows forth.

Water Baptism is among other things a symbolic act. It shows our union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11). This is why immersion is important. While baptism is symbolic, it is not merely a symbol. When we realize that by joining with Christ in His death we also join in His life and resurrection, we see that we have power over sin. There is a power in water baptism to overcome our old sin nature and its sins, and to walk as new creatures. Baptism is not the means of regeneration, because in at least one instance – Cornelius – it followed the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which was taken as evidence of conversion so that baptism could not be forbidden him even though he was a Gentile (Acts 10:44-48). Since Jesus said that the world cannot receive the Comforter, Cornelius must have been born again prior to his baptism (John 14:17). This is not negate the importance of baptism which Christ included in the great commission and to which He Himself submitted though He had no sin to confess. Baptism should not be delayed and be undertaken at the very beginning of our spiritual walk, even as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea almost immediately on partaking the Passover and having the blood applied to their homes (1 Cor. 10:1-2). The New Testament pattern is clearly for believer's baptism following as soon as possible after faith in Christ is ascertained.


  1. Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a mere side doctrine of the Christian life. It is foundational. John the Baptist's ministry was to prepare the way and testify to the coming Christ. His testimony to Christ was twofold – that he was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and also that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Often our focus in churches is on the first and very important ministry of Christ as the Lamb of God, which of the evangelists only John mentions, and we totally neglect the second aspect of Christ's ministry which was noted by all four evangelists. Might I suggest that this baptism is somewhat important if it was mentioned by all four evangelists.

That Christ considered it important is equally clear from the fact that He commanded His disciples to wait in Jerusalem, until they had received it (Acts 1:4-8). It was this baptism that gave them power to bear witness to Him. Christianity is a life that began as a plan in the mind of God, is begun in us by the power of the Spirit working in our hearts and is completed in the power of the Spirit enabling us to do the works which God foreordained for us to do (John 1:12-13, Gal. 3:3, Phil. 1:6, Eph. 2:10, Rom. 11:36). The great problem in the Church today is man – man's ideas, methods, and leadership instead of God's. Human bodies function best when all parts receive their needed instruction from the head, Christ is and always will be Head of His body and it will prosper to the degree it is willing to listen to Him. When God's power was on Peter in such a way that men were healed when his shadow fell on them, he didn't sell tickets to where he was going to be walking, and he didn't write a book on shadow healing technique. In this way he was very different to us today, we focus more on technique than relationship with Christ and character. Technique has its place, but separated from relationship and character it is mere showmanship. Paul certainly didn't have pulpit personality (2 Cor. 10:10), yet he did far more to change his and succeeding generations than a million flamboyant preachers with feel good messages and platitudes ever could. Technique is dangerous because it can give apparent results with little cost. It costs to get a hold of God in prayer. It costs to really see yourself and see others as they are before God and then declare it, but the results will be everlasting. The Church today barely holds its own against the tide of sin, the early Church changed their world. Even as the glow of the apostolic Church was beginning to fade Justin Martyr could still write of the numberless deliverances from evil spirits worked by the Christians. As the power continued to fade, sacramental ceremonies began to replace the inward life of the Spirit. There is good reason to believe that confirmation originated in the laying on of hands to impart the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, after the actual impartation of the baptism became rare. In the same way extreme unction was originally given in line with James 5:14-15, but as the power of healing began to leave only the hollow form remained.

For more information on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its evidence – speaking in tongues please see my series here.

Before moving on to the next foundational doctrine I should mention something about the baptism of fire. Fire accompanied the first Pentecost of the church and there is no reason to think it is gone now. Personally I had an experience where I felt the power of God come upon me and I felt hot as though I was burning up, it was at an evening church service. Later that night as I still felt warm I continued to pray as I was lying in bed and in the dark I saw a tongue of fire, it was about 8 inches high, and looked like a wavering blue gas burner flash in front of me twice. Not only do we need the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, but we also need God's fire to continually burn in our hearts. Amen.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 3 – Faith

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The second foundational element of Christianity is faith towards God. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). The path of sin was begun when Eve first began to listen when the serpent said, "Did God really say…?" It is our faith that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). If we doubt that God really commanded something or if we doubt that He will be faithful to reward us for our obedience we will be far more likely to disobey than if we trust these two things. The world lives for this life because they have no hope in the next, but Christians through faith can live an eternal life now - a life which looks beyond temporary happiness, prosperity, and enjoyment and is willing to forgo it for greater eternal rewards. Even now by faith we build our relationship with the living God that we will continue to develop through all eternity, this is eternal life to know the Father and the Son.

For faith to be valid the object of faith must be right. Weak faith in a strong tree limb might keep you from falling, but strong faith in a weak tree limb is downright hazardous. Throughout their history Israel had faith in many wrong places. Sometimes it was in false gods. Sometimes it was in their own power, wealth and abilities. Sometimes it was in foreign nations. Worst of all sometimes they had a faith in the presence of God's temple in Jerusalem rather than in God Himself (Jer. 7:3-4). Even today people can have a faith in many things other than God, even in things of God rather than God Himself. Church attendance, ministry, good deeds are all good things, but bad things to rely on. In the Church today, people sometimes have more faith in the minister than in God. If a miracle is needed they run to a certain well known minister to be prayed for, or buy some special anointing oil. Their faith is more in the method than in the God who can use whatever method He wants to bring about His purposes. Often the problem is that God has requirements that must be met for His working, but all that the snakeoil-peddlars, by whatever name they go by, want is money. God meets with people in spite of this, but some of what goes on in the Church now is bordering on relic worship, and invocation of the saints. There is only one Mediator between God and man and that is Jesus Christ.

It is also not enough for the faith to be in God, but the faith must be in God through Christ. It is not necessary to understand or have a doctrinal grasp of the Trinity to be born again. It is however essential to have some realization that Jesus is God, who came and died in our place, bore our sins and rose again. This realization is not only a head-knowledge, but it is a knowledge made real by the Spirit of God. This is saving faith. It is believing into the Son, where somehow our faith joins us with Christ in His death and resurrection as we realize that He bore not just sins, but our sins, died not just for the world, but for us. It is the Spirit that imparts this knowledge and as we believe it we are saved. Salvation and all blessings are in Christ and when we are dwelling in Christ by faith these become ours.

From our identification with Christ's crucifixion for our sins also comes the next doctrine we will study, which is baptisms, because as we accept His death for our sins, we also desire to follow Him in the likeness of that death and into the new resurrection life.


Friday, September 03, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 2 – Repentance

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The first foundational doctrine listed in Hebrews 6 is repentance from dead works. This is the beginning of our Christian experience. In our sinful nature we are only too happy to do all sorts of evil things that produce death, alienate our mind from God, and what we won't personally do we often will laugh at in others (Rom. 6:23; Col. 1:21; Rom. 1:32). Many even glory in their ability in sin. Some also attempt to gain favor with God by all sorts of man devised practices, but these too are dead works. Prior to his conversion the Apostle Paul excelled all his peers in all sorts of outward exercises, Bible knowledge and zeal for God, even to the point of persecuting those who opposed what he thought was right. When he met Christ he cast it all aside as refuse so that he could win Christ (Phi. 3:4-15).

Repentance is a change of mind. It is reconsidering of our former ways a dislike even to hatred of them and a turning to God. In order for repentance to take place we must first have reference point. We are born with a conscience, but we have the ability to silence it, and things that initially trouble us, no longer do so as we continue to practice them. Society places some constraints of culture, social norm and law upon us, but compared with God's Word it becomes apparent that no culture or society measures up to what God requires of mankind. The Word of God and the life of God as lived in the God-Man Christ Jesus shows what God truly requires of us. This reference point is given us when we are brought into contact with true Christianity. It can be given us as we see godly character manifested in the life of a believer, we see true righteousness, that is above all social and cultural norms and contrary to some of them or more commonly we hear the Gospel of Christ's life and death for us presented.

In any case conviction begins. This conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit which He works in the world (John 16:8). Repentance is only possible under the gracious ability given by the Spirit, He is the one that brings home the law of God in a personal way showing us it's righteousness, fitness and good and then personalizing its application so we see our personal failures to live up to God's standard. He also brings personal assurance of God's just anger with us for our sin and the judgment that will follow if we continue down this path.

Conviction is a work of God's grace and under the influence of this grace we are given something we did not have before, an opportunity to change. We receive the enabling ability of the Spirit to turn from our path of sin and to walk in another path that pleases God. We then have a choice. The path of righteousness will always involve some sacrifice and loss every sinner under conviction sees this. People either respond to the drawing of God or resist for reasons that are as unique and common as each man is to another.

A man with a reputation for piety may decide that his reputation is worth more to him than a real right standing with God and resist exposure (religious spirits especially work in and through people who value the praise of man as is seen throughout Christ's conflict with the religious of His day – John 5:41-44, Mark 12:14).

Haeckel renounced his earlier religious beliefs to gain notoriety as a scientist and was willing to falsify evidence having cast off the truth to support evolution and his own theory of recapitulation which earned him short scientific fame (which has been lost due to discovery of his fraud), but eternal reproach in the only history that really matters.

Judas sold Christ for a paltry sum, and then in regret never even used it but cast it away. The Spirit's drawing was no longer upon him however and repentance he never found, only the bitter remorse of the damned for the short time he remained.

Abe Lincoln was said to have replied at a revival meeting on being asked if he wanted to go to heaven, "I would rather go to the White House."

Henry of Navarre renounced his own religious convictions saying, "Paris is worth a mass." In so doing he began the reign of the Bourbon line of French kings which through their supreme selfishness, vanity and egotism brought odium not only on themselves but on the monarchy itself when their sins had reached their climax which resulted in the revolution. The notable exception in this degenerate line was the grandson of Louis XIV, who under the tutelage of Fenelon showed much promise and whose death before he could reign was perhaps God's keeping to Himself one of whom the world was not worthy.

The soldiery having crucified Christ turned their back to the cross and looked down on the ground as they cast dice for the clothes of the Saviour.

Some allow the hypocrisy of others to silence the voice of their own conscience as the Cherokee chieftain who on being read the sermon on the mount by a missionary who had recently rendered Matthew into Cherokee and being asked if he thought it was a good book replied, "it is a good book, I wonder that the whites lives are not better since they have such a good book." Condemning others for their failure to live up to God's standards never will justify our own failings however.

Others, praise God, do not silence the voice of the Spirit when it calls to them and through His enabling the renounce their sin, turn from it and turn to God. They repent. They save themselves from their own perverse generation. Rather than judging themselves unworthy of everlasting life, they see that since they are so unworthy they had better accept the offer of mercy the see, and forsake all that they can obtain it. This is true repentance. It is more than mere sorrow for sin, especially a sorrow that we will be punished, but a deep sorrow and turning from sin. It is accompanied not only by a sorrow for our state, but a just acknowledgment that we deserve judgment from God, and would have no cause for complaint should He send us to hell for our sins. From this comes a cry for mercy and a petition for help to change. All of this is entailed in repentance. Repentance does not end with being born again but it should flow in various degrees every time our failings are brought to our mind by the Spirit of God. Many times we sin in ignorance and can only repent when our sin is revealed to us. Sometimes only years later do we realize just how bad some of our behavior was and in shame we confess to the one who is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we had the full depth of our perversity revealed to us – every seed of sin that will germinate or could given the right conditions – we would fall into despair.

Molinos in his Spiritual Guide mentions the false humility of some who confess more to justify themselves than to actually repent, and one sign that we are not truly repentant is our anger when others tell us our faults. It is amazing, but we can tell God that we are nothing but miserable sinners, and appear as contrite as we will, but let another treat us like a miserable sinner or tell us what we would freely say to God and we instantly take umbrage. David's true repentance even accepted the cursing of Shimei so long as it would result in his restoration to God. True repentance walks hand in hand with faith, it being very hard to see which precedes the other, because faith accepts all that God says and thus agrees and repentance forsakes all so that we may be filled with faith. We will look at faith in the next post.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 1 – Introduction

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


In the next few posts I would like to look at Hebrews 6:1-3 and study the foundational doctrines of Christ. It is important that we know these doctrines and move on from them. Some commentators see these doctrines as Jewish ceremonies that were to be moved away from and some versions of Scripture influenced by this translate baptisms as washings (ie. ceremonial ablutions), but this cannot be the case for two very good reasons.

  1. The elemental doctrines are not said to be of the Jews but of Christ. Christ did not come to put new wine into the old wineskins of Jewish tradition, but rather to raise up new wineskins for His new wine. Christ never gave any doctrine of ceremonial ablutions, He did however preach a Baptism of Repentance and also promised a later Baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire to His disciples who had already received water baptism from John (some of them were John's disciples previous to their calling by Christ, and since they baptized others I conclude that they must have all been baptized themselves – see John 4:1-2). More will be written on this in later posts.
  2. The first two foundational or elementary doctrines listed are repentance and faith towards God which are not elementary to the Old Covenant, but are of essential and basic import to the New Covenant as can be seen in Acts 2:38, 1 Thess. 1:9, and Acts 20:21. These two doctrines of repentance and faith were and are the first doctrines proclaimed to unbelievers and result in their conversion. They are only dimly seen in the Old Testament and were virtually unknown in Israel before John the Baptist and Christ began their ministries.

Thus these doctrines are doctrines we should know as believers, but they are not doctrines of maturity but of infancy and we should advance from them. This is done in the same way a child learns to move around. Usually they begin by crawling, but as they get stronger they learn to stand and walk, they still crawl, but as their skill improves they begin to prefer the better mode of locomotion. The ability to crawl is not lost, even adults can do that if need arises, but we do not find it comfortable anymore. In the same way we need to progress in our Christian maturity beyond these elementary doctrines. The doctrines are not bad, they are essential for the first stage of Christian development and without them we will lack the skills needed to advance. To remain in them and make no progress is, however, a great tragedy. 2 Peter 1:5-11 gives believers things which should spring from and add onto their faith and warns of the consequences of their lack, but also shows the stability and reward which will accompany their acquisition. God desires us to grow up to the full stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13). This is only possible if our diet includes the meat of God's Word as well as the milk of these elementary truths. Hebrews contains many warnings of apostasy because the Jewish believers in not progressing in their walk were in great danger of it. In the Christian walk the saying non progredi est regredi is very true if we do not advance we will go back.

Before we can go on from these doctrines we must first learn them so in the next post we will look at the first doctrine which is repentance from dead works.