Archive for August, 2007

Is Baptism the Sign of the New Covenant?

Let me start by saying that I have no theological axe to grind on this issue, and I am not trying to protect or attack any particular doctrinal view in raising this question. I am simply trying to think and speak more biblically about the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

With that said, my question is this: Is baptism the sign of the New Covenant? This seems to be the common assumption, but I think it is an assumption worth challenging. As I have begun to wrestle with this—and I am only now in the beginning stages—I have come to four conclusions:

First, the Bible does not use the word “sign” in connection with the New Covenant. The two candidates for the sign of the New Covenant would seem to be water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But since neither one is explicitly referred to as the “sign” of the New Covenant, it is difficult to be dogmatic one way or the other.

Second, there is clear biblical data which seems to suggest that the Lord’s Supper is the sign of the New Covenant. At the Last Supper, when Jesus held up the bread and said to His disciples, “This is My body” (Luke 22:19), He meant that it symbolically represented or signified His body. Likewise, when He held up the cup and said “This cup…is the New Covenant” (Luke 22:20), He meant that it symbolically represented or signified the New Covenant. Therefore, as that which signifies the New Covenant, the Lord’s Supper at least appears to be the sign of the New Covenant.

Third, although baptism does symbolize the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16)—which is one of the key promises of the New Covenant—it is never explicitly connected to the New Covenant itself in the way that the Lord’s Supper is.

Fourth, the Lord’s Supper seems to be a more likely candidate for the sign of the New Covenant because believers celebrate it regularly—perhaps even weekly (1 Cor 11:23-26; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7)—in contrast to how believers are baptized only once. This regular reminder seems to fit better with the pattern of the previous covenant signs which served as recurring reminders of their respective covenants: a rainbow periodically appears in the sky as a reminder of the Noahic Covenant (Gen 9:8-17); circumcision (or at least its effects) provided a regular reminder of the Abrahamic Covenant to the one who had been circumcised (Gen 17:10-14); and the Sabbath provided a weekly reminder of the Mosaic Covenant (Exod 31:12-17). In contrast, an individual is baptized just once, and when the ordinance has been completed, there is no recurring reminder (other than the baptism of other individuals).

Therefore, if there is but one sign of the New Covenant, and if that sign is the Lord’s Supper, then it would seem unbiblical to refer to baptism as the sign of the New Covenant. Two concluding questions:

  1. Where is the breakdown in this argument?
  2. If baptism is not “the sign of the New Covenant,” how exactly should we think of it and refer to it? In other words, precisely what relationship does baptism have to the New Covenant?

Manhood & Womanhood from Genesis 3 (pt 3)

Before we end this lecture we must observe one more fact that is very important.  Adam was given the responsibility to not only lovingly lead his wife (from Gen 2) but also to provide for her. Contrary to what I use to think, there was “work” even before the fall.  It was some friends in Jupiter, Florida (Don & Joyce Dunlap) who helped show me this reality from the Scriptures.  The work in Gen 2 was work it was just blessed work (whatever that means to you). 

In Genesis 3:17-19 Adam’s particular area of responsibility is affected by the “curse.”  This is consistent with what I said at the beginning of this lecture, the curse did not introduce new roles per say rather it distorted God’s original roles. 

Notice what Moses records in Genesis 3:17-19, And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  

How should we respond as a result of what we learned today?  Is there anything we can do about the curse?  Are we ‘Chicago Cub Christians’ (we’ve been cursed thus we should never expect victory)?  Should we just accept the fact that man is not going to lead the way God wants him to lead and that woman is not going to help and support the way God designed her to help?  What we’re ultimately asking is can the curse be reversed? 


Christians must resolve (#1). We will never try to intentionally increase the results of the curse. 


We must admit that Genesis 3:16 is not a good thing!  It’s a picture of paradise lost.  By that I mean a wife’s desire to step outside her husband’s leadership role is not according to God’s plan (no matter what the feminists say).  Man’s attempt to lead his wife by force or through harsh manipulation is not according to God’s plan either (no matter what your college buddies may tell you). 


I think all of us would admit the following three things: (A) Its not prudent to plant thorns and weeds in your fruit & vegetable garden.  I have a hard enough time killing weeds even when I use “Scott’s” ultimate weed killer.  (B) It’s really not smart to try and intentionally increase the pain of childbirth for women either. (I’m not making a case for epidurals here, nor am I saying they’re wrong).  To say I am not going to take any medicine whatsoever before/during/after child birth simply because I want to feel the full effects of the curse is not prudent. That’s my simple point.  (C) It’s also not very wise to try and increase conflict in marriage by continuing down the path of Genesis 3:16.  For a husband to lead in a selfish, manipulative, harsh way we must admit that it is not right.  For a wife to go outside of her husband’s headship and to fight against his leadership is not right either.  I would imagine most of you in this room would agree with points A and B but some of you may not be sold on what the Bible says about C.  Think about it for a moment…In the months to come we’ll carefully unpack what God’s will is for today’s man & today’s women.


In summary fashion, God’s design for men is that we provide for our families (Gen 1-3, 1 Tim 5).  That as heads of our households we lovingly lead our families (Gen 1-2, Eph. 5, 1 Tim 2:13; 1 Cor 11:5). And finally, that we attempt to protect them (Gen 1-2).  Those characteristics are not simply old-fashioned family values; When appropriately applied there God-ordained (and very Biblical). 


God’s design for women is that they act as helpers in the home (particularly with their husbands).  As godly wives that they follow and submit to the leadership of their husbands (Gen 1-2; Eph. 5:22, 24; 1 Peter 3:1-7).  At church women will express a humble and submissive demeanor to male headship and authority as well (1 Cor 11:1-16). And finally that you Christian wives will nourish and care for the needs of your family (Titus 2).  That you’ll make your husbands and your home a priority.


With that said, outside of Jesus Christ, it is actually impossible to reverse the curse in regards to male and female relationships.  So where does this leave us? What’s a guy or girl to do?  We’ll try to answer these questions and more next time. 

Justification is a legal concept

“. . .justification is essentially a legal concept. It may well be that there are other spheres more important to Christianity than that of law, but that does not give us grounds for using the legal terminology to describe those other spheres. Justification is essentially concerned with the legal status of the believer, and we must leave descriptions of the new life for other categories” (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 291).

Fearing Man from the Pulpit

As a pastor, I find that I constantly need biblical instruction and reminders to keep me pointed in the right direction. Curtis C. Thomas’ book Practical Wisdom for Pastors (Crossway, 2001) often provides just what I need. In my reading this morning, here’s what I found:  

If we ever get to the point where our message is rounded off so that we avoid a particular passage, a needed subject, a pointed rebuke or biblical command for fear that we are going to offend and thereby run off a member, then we have begun to fear men rather than striving to please our Master. That’s a temptation into which Satan wants us to fall. He wants people leaving after our messages very comfortable, soothed, and feeling good about us. But sometimes, in order for us to be faithful, some people will leave the message not feeling very good about us. The truth should comfort the hurting but also unsettle the comfortable. 

Manhood & Womanhood from Genesis 3 (pt 2)

In addition to this suffering, the curse of sin also brought great conflict into the marriage relationship (and more generally into male/female relations as well).  Genesis 3:16b notes, Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.  One of the reasons why conflicts exist in every marriage relationship is because the wife tries to usurp the husband’s role as “head”.


Let me prove this to you in verse 16 of Genesis 3.  The word translated desire (teshuqah) is a very unusual Hebrew word.  In this specific Hebrew construction I concur w/Dr. Grudem’s understanding, the word implies an “aggressive desire.”  What that means is that according to verse 16, woman’s desire to take the reigns and lead man is a direct result of the curse.  To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 


The only other occurrence of this Hebrew word, plus the preposition el, (against) in the entire Bible is found in Genesis 4:7. In this passage God was warning Cain of sin’s power.  Genesis 4:7 says, If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.  According to one scholar the expression in 4:7 has this sense, “Desire, urge, impulse against, a desire to conquest or rule”. 


Back to Genesis 3.  Your desire shall be against your husband.” What exactly did God mean here?  Eve now has an inward impulse (a sinful desire) to resist her husbands God ordained headship.  I know you married women know what I’m talking about here.  It’s that internal desire that fights Biblical submission.  All of us experience this sinful desire when we wrestle against any level of Biblical submission.


Another tragic consequence of the curse is found at the end of verse 16; And he shall rule over you.  The word “rule” (v. 16b), does not signify one leading another equal, but rather one who rules by virtue of strength and power. This type of male leadership is often done in a selfish manner.  All of us should admit that man’s rule is sometimes harsh, oppressive, and forceful.  We could point out hundreds of examples of domineering rule in history past.  Many husbands try to lead their wives, but not necessarily in a God-honoring way (note Ephesians 5).  Many men try to lead people, but not necessarily in a Christ-exalting way.


Don’t miss this now: This male/female relationship conflict mess exists as a direct result of the fall. Men do not always lead the way God ordained them to lead and women do not always help the way God them to help (and/or follow).  If you’re married or have observed any marriages over any period of time you know exactly what I mean here. 


You do understand that prior to Genesis 3 Adam and Eve lived in PERFECT harmony, right?  Adam would have been the perfect man that God designed him to be.  He would have been a servant-leader.  He would have been a selfless-leader and he would have been a loving-leader.  And Eve would have been the perfect woman that God wanted her to be: a selfless helpmate.


Can any of you (who are not single) even imagine what it would be like to live in a truly perfect marriage?  Some of us use an exaggerated expression, “I have a perfect marriage” but all of us know that is not totally true.  Pastor Flatt and Judy don’t really have a “perfect” marriage, nor do Andrea and I.  Even the exemplary husband (Stuart Scott) and his wife (Zondra) don’t have a “perfect” Christian marriage.  Redeemed sinners living in the fullness of the Spirit enjoy the blessings of this covenant relationship.  Yet no Christian couple has a truly (pre-Genesis 3) “perfect” marriage relationship.  Sin and sin’s curse affects all of us.  It affects our relationship with the opposite sex including our wives and for you ladies your husbands.  This series will be continued…

Sunday Prayers

Adapted from Alexander McLaren:

O Lord, our merciful Father, we ask you to look upon us who are gathered here in your presence now, and shed upon us a congregation, and upon each of us individually, the helpful spirit of your grace, so that all our thoughts and desires now may be such that you can approve and satisfy them, and that in our worship we may each be aware that we have come into your presence. Amen.

The Purpose and Aim of the Warning Passages

(Our contributor Emeritus, Jerry Wragg, has made an appearance in the comment section with the following which I thought deserved a post of its own ~Paul)

One wonders why God would bother giving a non-contingent warning to those
who are non-elect. If He knows they won’t ever believe (“abide” ala John 15),
what import does a warning passage have?

On the other hand, if only “God knows those who are His” (and He does), then
warning a professing believer to guard against unbelief would serve the
following purposes:

• To forge an active and passionate growth in His grace –
• To prevent the self-deception of false security –
• To test levels of faithfulness –
• To cause sober reflection on the dangers of unbelief –

These warnings will have different impact, depending upon the maturity level
of each believer:

  • For the strong Christian– Warnings offer a reminder to press on all the
    more, and an abiding confidence that one has obeyed these cautions.
  • For the weak but willing – Warnings provide a graphic deterrent to future
    patterns of sin; They display the specific care of God in pointing to dangers;
    They engender a greater dependence on grace.
  • For the weak and stubborn – Warnings bring instant clarity to trouble
    (chastening); They bring greater conviction to the conscience; They expose
    unbelief as the source of all stubbornness.
  • For the hardened – Warnings call for the justice of God, thereby upholding
    holiness; They confirm the traits of apostasy; They declare the absence of true

Indeed, Paul challenged the fleshly Corinthians with “Examine yourselves to
see if you are in the faith!…Or do you not recognize this about yourselves,
that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). This same
admonition is refined with force in Colossians 1:22-23, “…He has now reconciled
you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy
and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly
established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that
you have heard…”. Jesus’ economy of words in Matthew 24:13 is noteworthy, “But
the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.” Why such a strong
admonition? Wouldn’t this approach tend to foster an unhealthy introspection,
external performance, and ultimately weakened assurance? The answer lies in the
fact that in the infinite wisdom of God, redemption is accomplished both as to
the end as well as the means. The perseverance of the saints is soundly rooted
in the eternal decrees and power of God, but does not exclude the providential
outworking of all things in due course. Stated another way, God has created us
in Christ Jesus and prepared long ago that we should walk in good works, yet
the ordained means by which He brings about our preservation and glory is the
manifold commands, admonitions, encouragements, and calls to faithfulness.
Furthermore, He has ordained our obedience as the objective source of assurance
(“if you abide in My love, then you are truly My disciples”), which is to be
kept fresh and blossoming daily (2 Pet. 1:3ff.). We might look at the matter in
this way:

Eternal Security → Promises God’s faithfulness, Describes God’s securing power,
Explains God’s sovereign purposes, Ascribes to God exclusive glory
Assurance → Grows with Christian faithfulness, Manifested by increasing
holiness, Shaken by a ravaged conscience, Fades with patterns of neglect and
God will do what He promises, but we are warned to practice what He commands
(Heb. 10:23).

Biblical Motivations to Preach the Gospel:

  1. A Jealous Delight in God’s Glory (Acts 17:16-17)

  2. A Heart of Compassion for Lost Souls (Matt 9:35-38)

  3. A Sober Awareness of the Need for Evangelism (Rom 10:14-15)

  4. A Profound Appreciation for the High Calling (2 Cor 5:18-20)

  5. An Irrepressible Excitement about Your Own Salvation (Matt 9:27-31)

  6. An Abiding Confidence in the Sovereignty of God (Acts 18:10)

  7. A Simple Desire to Obey the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20)

Thoughts on the baptism/communion issue

Let’s think this through for a moment. There are a few things in all of this that have not been made very clear. What is the sign of the New Covenant (think carefully before you answer)? Let’s say for the moment that communion is the sign of the New Covenant then one must ask what signals entrance into this New Covenant. Most evangelicals understand that it is through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from sin which ushers one into Christ thus making one His disciple. The sign that one has been made a disciple is baptism. Therefore should the sign of confessional (i.e., credo) baptism signal that one is ready for the communion table (and nothing else)? This seems to be the nexus of the debate that is swirling around blogville. What do you think and how would you answer?

Commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew

In light of Matt’s post on commentaries for John I thought I would offer my top four on the Gospel of Matthew which I am almost eleven chapters in at the moment.

  • D. A. Carson. “Matthew” in volume 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. To the point, insightful and theologically lucid. He dives into higher critical waters at times and gives more credence to some of the critics than their worth. All in all, very helpful for expositing the text.
  • Leon Morris. “Matthew” in the Pillar New Testament Commentary. Typical of Morris’ style which is conversant with the issues and often allows the reader to draw his own conclusions (which I appreciate). Some commentaries mention critical views so they can gain credibility in the eyes of the “academy” but Morris mentions them to show that oftentimes their conclusions are misguided and absurd.
  • Donald Hagner. “Matthew” in volume 33a of the Word Biblical Commentary. There are many things that cause me to not like this commentary. However, when Hagner is simply looking at the text he is often excellent and helpful. One needs a working knowledge of Greek to benefit from this volume and one should beware of his source critical views and warm embrace of the theory that Matthew didn’t see what he says he did but borrowed the majority of it from Mark and a mythical creature called Quelle. Also Hagner is a much more affordable option compared to the exegetical volumes of Davies/Allison (ICC) which will cost you around $200 for the three volumes on Matthew.
  • John MacArthur. Matthew volumes 1-4. There is nothing on the expositional level that comes close to these volumes on Matthew. They were born out of many years of preaching this Gospel which is evident in the abundance of illustrative material throughout this work. Overall MacArthur is careful with the text and sensitive to the context and structure. MacArthur is the guy that many pastors love to criticize but I guarantee those same pastors own his commentaries and drink from them weekly even if they hate to admit it.

I have about ten others on my honorable mention list but I wanted to keep this to my top four. I just ordered the new volume in the NICNT by R. T. France and I also picked up Craig Keener‘s volume which looks to be good.

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