In his booklet “The Peter Package” Gary Johnson1 highlights the apostle’s response (Acts 2:37,38) to the question “What must we do to be saved?” “Repent and let everyone of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Ps Johnson then says of this response, “If this is the pattern established by God Himself, who among us has a right to change it?” He then goes on to say, “I like to refer to this as the button principle. If we don’t get the top button in the right hole the rest of the buttons will be out of line.” (pp 1, 2)
Over recent months I have been asking some tough questions about the gospel and salvation. “If God has chosen the preaching of the cross through which His grace will be given so that hearers can be saved by faith, then who are we to change it?” The next logical thought is that if this is indeed true, are those who come to church as the result of any other message actually born again?
Inevitably we are then led to baptism and the thought that if one has been baptised into any other ‘gospel’ is that baptism valid? I have been asking this question in my preaching lately and have found some amazing things happening. People who have been church-goers for many years have been getting baptised again and experiencing freedom from sin and amazing transformation in their lives. In fact many of these people were ‘saved’ through the prosperity movement that preached, not Christ crucified, nor that God’s blessing is salvation and the gift of the Spirit, but that God wants all men to be prosperous.
(This is a slight detour from my main point here but one I feel I must take. Much has been said about the ‘blessings of Abraham” and that we are his seed and recipients of his blessing, being free from the curses of the law. Unfortunately, what the blessing is has been misrepresented, as has the curse. Prosperity, personal health, happiness and popularity have been promoted as Abraham’s blessing – amazingly Scripture refers to the root of sin as being lust of the flesh (pleasure) lust of the eye (possessions/wealth) and pride of life (reputation or position). The curse has been called sickness, disease, poverty, persecution etc. But is this the ‘blessing of Abraham” and the “curse of the law”?
Gal 3:6-14 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Note that the Scriptures foresaw that God would JUSTIFY the gentiles BY FAITH. The blessing of Abraham is justification by faith for those who believe.
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. NIV
The curse of the law is that no one can be justified by it. The law condemns all men. So, any other gospel, even if it uses Scripture or mentions the name of Jesus, is no gospel at all if it is not the Word of the cross that justifies by grace through faith.)
Now, back to my original purpose in this paper – here is my reasoning concerning repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit:
1 Co 1:21 …God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. NIV
The foolishness of the Word of the cross is not simply the spoken words but The Word made flesh who comes as the event of the cross is preached. The message in Acts chapter 2 begins by pointing out that the promise of the Holy Spirit has come – the indwelling Spirit of God is the promise of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-44; Ez 36:22-27). Then, without missing a beat he brings the message immediately to the means by which this promise is appropriated – Jesus of Nazareth and His work on the cross. Peter is far from politically correct, and his content was far removed from the offensive-to-God humanist view so often preached today that ‘people don’t need to be condemned offended or spiritually bashed, they need to be encouraged.’ Peter abrasively declared, “…and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Ac 2:23)
When Peter preached that message on the day of Pentecost did people respond because they thought this was an intellectually stimulating and satisfying argument? Did they respond because it was esteem-building and personally encouraging? Or did they respond because Jesus – The Word – was present through the Spirit to apply grace so that faith could be received? Ephesians 2:8 says that we are saved by grace through faith. God has chosen the foolishness of the preaching of Christ crucified as the vehicle through which His grace would flow. That grace enables faith to be birthed in the hearer’s heart, and faith empowers the hearer to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins. Conversely, if the Word of the cross is not preached, grace cannot flow from the throne of God, faith cannot be received and any action on behalf of the hearer has little to do with receiving forgiveness from sin.
If a person hears a message that God wants them to have a good life on earth and they are then told to ask Jesus into their life to receive that good life, this is not the gospel, therefore there is no divine grace, there can be no measure of faith given, no empowerment to repent and any baptism of this message is another baptism.
The power of the gospel is that men and women have their sins removed and stand forgiven before God. This is a very powerful thing. It is more than simply a legal standing before God, it is literally the adoption of those who are forgiven by God having had the guilt of sin removed from their conscience (receiving a clear conscience, being made perfect Heb 9 & 10). It is God becoming our God and us becoming His people, being united with Christ as joint heirs, sons of the living God. The forgiveness of sin is precisely the removal of all sin from us. Not simply words of forgiveness but removal of all past wrong and therefore of all guilt. This is the power of 1John 3 when it declares that “He [Jesus] appeared to take away our sins”
1 Jn 3:7-9 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. NIV
To destroy the devil’s work is to remove sin and replace it with righteousness. When people attend church but still live in the futility of their idolatry then sin has not been removed. (Truly, men love darkness and darkness is the norm in many churches)
If a person has not received the forgiveness of sin as described above then they are still under God’s guilty verdict. This is why a true conversion produces a sense of overwhelming freedom, something that cannot be experienced when one receives and is baptised into another gospel. (Becoming a successful middleclass Christian is not the same thing as being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb)
When Paul arrived at Ephesus he found some disciples (Acts 19). His first order of business was not to accept them as brothers and join with them, rather he wanted to know whether they were indeed born again. “Have you received the Holy Spirit” he asked them. It was soon discovered that their baptism was not one in line with the new covenant but was of another message. It was about Jesus but it was not the message of Jesus. Paul’s response was to baptise them again in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Galatia Paul had to address a problem not too dissimilar to ours. Agitators, who professed to be Christian, insisted that the message of Paul was not enough2. They had to ‘move on’ to a more perfect or complete gospel. This is Paul’s response:
Gal 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! NIV
Paul makes it clear to the Galatians that there is only one gospel which is by grace through faith from first to last (Rom 1:17; Eph 2:8; Gal 1:1). He then drives home in no uncertain terms that ‘a different gospel’ is ‘really no gospel at all’ and that anyone who preaches any thing else ‘let him be eternally condemned’. This is strong stuff. This is not the language of people-pleasing gospels but of a God honouring apostle. Indeed, Paul asks, ‘am I now trying to please men or God?’(Gal 1:10)
So, are we prepared to ask the question of those who appear to be disciples, “what baptism did you receive?” If salvation comes only through the preaching of the cross – and it most assuredly does; anyone who says otherwise let he or she be eternally condemned – and if forgiveness of sin only flows when grace produces faith to repent and freedom to be baptised in the name of Jesus, then “who among us has a right to change it?”
I have always preached the Word of the cross but I have also been guilty of assuming that all who came from other churches were converts to that gospel. What I have since discovered is that many were converted to another gospel. One young woman (a single mother) testified that she ‘became a Christian’ because the church promised to help her through a messy life circumstance. When she heard me preach the cross she just thought “oh, that’s what we are meant to accept.” Later, when I began to preach about this very thing and asked people to consider their baptism, this young woman was one of the first to respond. As a result she went from one who struggled constantly with living Christ – and one who was a struggle to pastor and disciple – to one who was miraculously changed. She is not now a religious church-goer but a child of God redeemed by His blood.
Many others have followed this path and as a result other non-church-goers have been witnessed to with the resultant grace and faith present to save. We have seen repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Spirit being imparted. Even some who had professed to “having the Spirit” – a concept that, like salvation, has been dumbed-down to a place of impotence – have suddenly been filled with the Holy Spirit and found a power beyond the pretence that they received initially.
Revival is a work of the Holy Spirit that brings salvation and Spirit empowerment to the church; this produces empowered evangelism that adds to the church those who are being saved.
What I propose is not condemning but life changing. Many read John 3:16,17 declaring that Jesus did not come to condemn but to save and this is true. But that is not all Jesus says:
Jn 3:18-21 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” NIV
My message is one of freedom from sin and therefore life and encouragement and power to those who are being saved; however, it is also offensive to the established Christian Church and the market leaders because it contradicts their message which is no gospel.
I propose that we approach people as though they are unsaved and proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ instead of assuming they are saved and risk leaving them in a man-made religion and ‘dead in their sins”. Paul encouraged the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12) and the Romans to “…wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (13:11)
I further propose that we call people to repentance and [re] baptism for the forgiveness of sin and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit. I believe we will see an amazing transformation of people who have had a form of godliness but without power and it will transform our churches as a result.
Are we prepared to offend our cultic religious system so that people can experience the joy of salvation and God’s grace can flow? Or shall we keep being nice, refusing to cause offence to this western church that preaches another gospel and seeing many ashamed as they stand before God?
Let revival come to the Church of Jesus Christ.
1 – Johnson, Gary. The Peter package. Dove Christian Center, 1213 Harmony Heights Ln Rapid City, SD 57701.2 – Cf “the identity of the agitators” by Fung, R.Y.K. 1998.The epistle to the Galatians: NICNT Grand Rapids:Eerdmanns, Pgs 3-9 also see the textual commentary pgs 43-54 Continue reading