First, You Pick Up the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Not to offend anyone here, but I believe we have a way to easy and convenient and almost metaphorical picture of cross-bearing. We are not talking inconveniences here. The term is way too glibly used. The general idea that these words of Jesus about bearing the cross refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in life, is totally wrong.

The one carrying a cross essentially walked down death row to their place of execution. He knew there was no turning back. He had no longer any say over his life. Actually, the person bearing his cross was already considered death.

So, to be honest, I don’t think it so much refers to total commitment. Let me explain. To commit means to bind or entrust or pledge or obligate. Now, in that regards, it is Jesus who commits Himself to us, and this is not in any way confirmed or enhanced by our commitment to Him (rather the opposite I would say). I don’t think it refers so much to the way to our death (Jesus didn’t bear His own cross walking to His death).

No, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). We are already dead, and brought to back to life, and are a new person. We are not committing to being that new person. We are that new person by His work, not ours. It is all by His grace, and it’s one way.

So, what does it mean then? It is a reminder BEFORE you accept the invitation by faith what the consequences will be. Remember that a disciple (in the sense of a follower) isn’t necessarily yet a regenerated person, a Christian. It is a reminder that when you accept His invitation by faith you will be a dead man walking for “those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). You will die and be buried with Christ (by Christ), and raised to walk in newness of life (by Christ’s Spirit).

And read carefully what it says…

First, you pick up your cross.
You need to pick up your cross. No one else can do that for you. You are the one that must be willing to die to self. You pick up your cross. For Jesus the cross was literally dying to self, because Jesus died there as a human, and in another way, Jesus died there as God. And both were necessary to fulfil the Scriptures. What does it take for you to die to self? As long as you are not willing to pick up your cross, as long as you are not willing to lay down your life, you cannot be His disciple.

Second, you follow Him.
Once you are willing to lay down your life, you actually have to do it. And I believe these two actions go hand in hand just like the lame man in John 5 who got up after Jesus healed him from laying on that stretcher for 38 years. It is unthinkable that the healed man would continue to lay on the stretched. No, Jesus’ command of healing and Jesus’ command to get up go hand in hand. Following Jesus after picking up your cross is acknowledging that you would follow the life and pattern of Jesus. This is following Jesus at its simplest. He carried a cross, so His followers carry one. He walked to His self-death, so must those who would follow Him.

Third, you will be a disciple.
You can follow Jesus without being His disciple. Jesus had lots of followers, but all (even including His disciples) stopped following once they figured out where Jesus was going. No, being a disciple (a Jewish talmidim) means so much more. A disciple’s highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. A disciple studied to learn, to act, to speak and to respond the same way his master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his master did. His highest goal was to walk after his teacher. There is a story in ancient tradition that tells of a rabbinical student so devoted to his teacher that he hid in the teacher’s bedchamber to discover the mentor’s sexual technique. To be sure, this is a bit extreme, yet it demonstrates the level of commitment required to be a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus made it clear that only cross-bearers can be His disciples. And if you are not His disciple, well, then why are you following?

I don’t at all think this is talking about the daily inconveniences of life. It’s about counting the cost beforehand. This whole section of Scripture from verse 25 till the end is all about counting the cost, not about what you do once you are a disciple.

Pick Up Your Weapons!

The weapons of our warfare are really important in our daily walk with God, especially if we are living in light of being in the world but not of the world. The apostle Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 when he says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Wow! Taking every thought captive. That’s a challenge! So many thoughts throughout the day. In order to do this constantly I think you have to become both very self-aware and very Spirit-aware, as to letting the Holy Spirit work on all of our thoughts. I think I still have lots to learn to really make effective use of these weapons.

The classic text on the weapons of warfare is Ephesians 6:14-18. They can be subdivided in three different sections. It is interesting to see that the order as they are listed is also the order in which the soldier puts on the armor.

The Spiritual Armor To Have
These pieces of the armor are the bare necessities. They are foundational, but they also always should be present. They all three indicate some sort of readiness to move forward.

1. Have Your Loins Girded With Truth (Eph. 6:14)
Technically speaking the belt of truth is not part of the armor, but is put on beforehand. When a man sat down and was relaxed, he took off his belt. Putting on the belt prepares you for action, it frees your movements, and it put him in a battle frame of mind. The belt of truth can be described as the whole of what you believe about Christ. It is a foundation you live upon all the time, your understanding of and confidence in the basic doctrines of the faith. In effect we should never take off the belt of truth. We should always be ready for action. The same idea is conveyed in Luke 12:35 (“Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.“) and 1 Peter 1:13 (“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.“)

2. Have The Breastplate of Righteousness Put On (Eph. 6:14)
The breastplate provides protection for the vital organs. Important to here is to understand that it is Jesus’ righteousness (received by faith), not our own, that we have to put on. It is our defense against spiritual depression. It gives us a general sense of confidence, an awareness of our standing and position. Abraham believed in the LORD and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us” (Deu. 6:25). “How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times!” (Ps. 106:3). We read in Proverbs 2:1-10 all the prerequisites to discern righteousness.

3. Have Your Feet Shod With the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace (Eph. 6:15)
The idea here is a readiness for action, to take the Gospel out to the world. They are combat boots, ready not only for action, but also for longevity it is good to have good shoes. “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Is. 52:7). Although good news is brought, you have to stand firm in your shoes to withstand the opposition. It reminds me of Galatians 1:6-9 and Paul’s call to not let the Gospel get perverted. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” It is “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15)

The Spiritual Armor To Take
The next three pieces of armor, on top of those you always have on (truth, righteousness, gospel), depend on the situation for them to be used.

4. Take the Shield of Faith (Eph. 6:16)
Faith is represented as a shield, protecting us from the arrows of the devil. It makes me think of the movie “300” where the Spartan in close formation completely protect themselves from the enemy. No arrows come through. It is also interesting that Paul specifically talks about arrows. These are not weapons for close combat, and they were often used for surprise attacks from far off. The attacks which are less obvious. It is our faith that protects us here as a shield.

5. Take the Helmet of Salvation (Eph. 6:17)
The helmet of salvation protects us against discouragement, against the desire to give up, giving us hope not only in knowing that we are saved, but that we will be saved. It is the assurance that God will triumph. When we are properly equipped with the helmet of salvation, it’s hard to stay discouraged.

6. Take the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God (Eph. 6:17)
The Word of God is the only piece of armor used for attacking the enemy. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). I think that’s interesting. It reminds me of Jesus in the wilderness and how three times in a row he uses Scripture. It seems like he is defending Himself instead of attacking, but the devil did leave Him, like James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jam. 4:7). Think of a soldier or a gladiator in training, practicing sword thrusts and moves and positions. Now, he must practice them ahead of time, and if he is a superior fighter, and has a great fighting instinct, at the time of battle he will instantly recall which thrust, which position suits the precise moment. He will never be able to use the thrust in the fight if he has not first practiced it, but he still needs to make the move at the moment. Therefore, effectively using the sword takes practice. Lots of practice.

The Spiritual Strength
The whole armor comes together in one thing: prayer.

7. Pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18-20)
The weapons for warfare are spiritual because they are rooted in prayer, which is our most powerful resource. Prayer is to permeate believers’ lives as a universal practice. There are three aspects here: when (at all times), how (with all prayer, alertness and perseverance), and for whom (for all the saints). “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26-27). And prayer for what? To make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, that in proclaiming it I may be be spoken boldly, as it ought to be spoken!

Bibliology #4 – Sufficiency

The sufficiency of Scripture answers the question if we are to look for other words from God in addition to those we have in Scripture, or is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? The definition can be described that Scripture contained all the Words of God He intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly.

Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 3:15 that “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” which means that in Scripture we have all the words of God we need in order to be saved.

David says in Psalm 9:10 that “and those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those you seek You,” which means that in Scripture we have all the words of God we need in order to trust Him.

In Jeremiah 7:23 it is said that “this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it will may be well with you’,” which means that in Scripture we have all the words of God we need in order to obey Him.

The sufficiency of Scripture implies that God has not spoken to mankind any more words which He requires us to believe or obey other than those which we have now in the Bible. It does not imply that God cannot add any more words to those He has already spoken to His people. It rather implies that man cannot add on his own initiative any words that God has already spoken (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32, Proverbs 30:5-6, Revelation 22:18-19). Practically it should encourage us as we try to discover what God would have us to think or to do. We should be encouraged that everything God wants to tell us about for our salvation, trust and obedience is to be found in Scripture. This doesn’t mean that the Bible answers all questions that we might think up, for “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). It does mean that when we are facing a problem of genuine importance to our Christian life, we can approach Scripture with the confidence that from it God will provide us with guidance for that problem.

Summary and Conclusion
What then can we say in summary? It ultimately comes down to a desire for wisdom, for “the beginning of wisdom is: acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7), and a step of faith “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). We must not forget the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in overcoming the effects of our fallen condition, and to give us revelation of the truth of the Bible. We have in the Bible God’s very words, and we must not try to improve on them in some way, for this cannot be done. Rather, we should seek to understand, approach them with an open and humble heart and mind, and then trust them and obey them with our whole heart.

Does Bibliology help you in your understanding of the Bible? In other words, to what extent does the Bible have authority in your life? Do you feel encouraged that Scripture is meant to be understood by all, although sometimes it takes effort? Does understanding the necessity of Scripture stir you to more study of it? Do you feel that the Bible provides sufficient answers for your life? If not, is that because of a lack of understanding, of trust or of obedience? How does this help you in sharing your faith with non-believers? All these questions are so relevant to our every day life that I think it is sometimes good to understand the theory (doctrine) behind these things so that we can be more focused and determined in our efforts.

Bibliology #3 – Necessity

The necessity of Scripture answers the question how much people can know about God without the Bible? And for what purposes are the Bible necessary? It can be defined as such that the Bible is necessary for knowing the Gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but it is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.

The Gospel
Let’s look at the necessity of Scripture for knowing the Gospel. In Romans 10:13-17 Paul says, “‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” So, one must call upon the name of the LORD to be saved. You can only call upon the name of Christ if you believe in Him. You cannot believe in Christ unless you have heard of Him. And you cannot hear of Christ unless there is someone to tell you about Him. The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that saving faith comes through hearing (the gospel message), which comes through the preaching of Christ (which is proclaiming His word).

Spiritual Life
The necessity of Scripture for spiritual life is maintained by daily nourishment with the Word of God, and spiritual growth is maintained by nourishment with the Word of God. Jesus says in Matthew 4:4 that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” and Peter encourages us in 1 Peter 2:2 “like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you my grow up to salvation.”

God’s Will
The necessity of Scripture for knowing and understanding God’s will means that God has revealed His words to us that we might obey His laws and thereby do His will. And if we are to have a certain knowledge of God’s will, we must attain it through the study of Scripture. Deuteronomy 29:29 says that “the secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law,” and John says in 1 John 5:3 that “to love God is to keep His commandments.

God’s existence
What about people who do not read the Bible? People can obtain a knowledge that God exists and knowledge of some of His attributes. David says “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1), and Paul tells to the people in Lystra that “in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Even without the Bible, people have had evidence in creation that God exists. It is questionable though if this is a knowledge that can bring salvation.

Baptism #8 – Common Distortions

Well, we are almost at the end of our study on the doctrine of baptism. In terms of the sacrament of baptism all has been said, which leaves us with two topics to talk about still. And I must say that both are very controversial, and there is a sense of reluctance to address them, yet I will for I believe the Spirit will bear witness. Jesus said “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14).

It may very well be that reading all my previous entries on this topic caused you to raise some eyebrows here and there (I hope not), for there are alternative views on some of the aspects of baptism discussed, over which there is much debate. What I will do is address four of these aspects, and for lack of a better word I have named them common distortions, because that is exactly what they are. They are distorted views or wrong interpretations on the Biblical texts, but like I said, let the Spirit of truth guide you into all the truth about baptism.

Common Distortion #1 – Baptism Only Symbolizes Spiritual Cleansing
The first common distortion addresses the aspect that baptism only symbolizes is the washing away of sins, not death and resurrection with Christ. Although it is certainly true that water is an evident symbol of washing and cleansing, and the waters of baptism do symbolize washing and purification as well as death and resurrection with Christ. Titus 3:5 speaks of “the washing of regeneration”, and Ananias told Saul in Acts 22:16 to “rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” But to say that the washing away of sins is the primary or only symbolism of baptism is not faithfully representing New Testament teaching. It is Paul who says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:3-6). Now what Paul talks about here is the internal acts of baptism when accepting Jesus, yet this is symbolized in the external act of baptism. When a person is baptized into Jesus Christ, he is baptized into His death. He is buried with Christ, and then raised with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection. I love this last statement. We are raised in the likeness of His resurrection, “rescued from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). Yes, our body of sin is done away with, we are cleansed from sin, but to be buried with Christ and be united with Him in the likeness of His death, and then to be raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection. That’s what it’s all about!

Common Distortion #2 – Infant Baptism
The second common distortion is that infants should be baptized. The only way to enter into the kingdom of God is by faith and repentance. When baptism is described in the New Testament, how it is applied in the New Testament, it is clear that we are talking about a baptism of faith and repentance. In other words, faith and repentance come first, and baptism follows after that. Infants are not capable of either faith or repentance. Secondly, the notion that a person should inherit the blessing of a Christian or be considered a Christian by virtue of his parent’s faith is contrary to New Testament teaching. The common defense given for infant baptism is that just as in Israel circumcision was given to eighth-days-old infants, so in the church baptism should be given to infants of Christian parents. Now there is a correspondence between circumcision as a sign of the old covenant with Israel and baptism as a sign of the new covenant with Jesus Christ, but it is not one-on-one. Just as circumcision was administered to all the physical sons of Abraham, so baptism should be administered to all the spiritual sons of Abraham. Who are these spiritual sons of Abraham? Galatians 3:7 says “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” So, it is those who are of faith who are the spiritual sons of Abraham. This means you have to be capable of faith. Infants are not capable of faith; hence infants should not be baptized.

Common Distortion #3 – Salvation Baptism
Salvation baptism means that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that the act of baptism itself causes regeneration. This usually ties in with infant baptism, as parents often baptize their infant children as they want them to be saved, become part of the family of God. The basis for this belief of salvation baptism comes from the following three verses. In John 3 Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about the new birth. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Confused by Jesus’ statement Nicodemus asks “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4). And then Jesus answers him, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Now ‘born of water’ does not refer to baptism, but to the promise of the covenant in Ezekiel 36:25-27, where Ezekiel prophesizes “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” It speaks of a spiritual washing that will come in the days of the new covenant when God will put His Spirit within His people. Another verse used is “Corresponding to that [meaning Noah being safely brought through water], baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). The focus is put on the ‘baptism now saves you’ part, yet it should be read in the whole context of what Peter is trying to say. To paraphrase Peter here, what he says is that baptism now saves you, not the outward physical ceremony of baptism, but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents. And a third verse is “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Yet this verse says nothing about those who believe and are not baptized.

Three verses can be used to contradict this distortion. Firstly, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This verse is clear that salvation is solely based on the grace of God. There is nothing that we can do, including baptism, that will bring us salvation. We are saved through faith, and even that is a gift of God! Secondly, and I am almost embarrassed to mention it, Jesus says in John 3:16, “that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.” Whoever believes! There is no other prerequisite to eternal life than faith alone. Thirdly, my personal favorite, when Jesus is being crucified He is accompanied by two criminals, and one of them said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42), and Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Now the thief could not have been baptized before he died on the cross, but he was certainly saved that day! Also, the thief could not have been saved under the old covenant, because Jesus died before the two thieves. We read in John 19:31-33, “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.” And so the new covenant was already in effect.

Common Distortion #4 – Baptism is to be performed by ordained people only
A last common distortion I want to address is that baptism is to be performed by ordained people only. When we read the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) – to whom is Jesus speaking? The eleven apostles, his disciples. Who are performing baptisms in the New Testament? His disciples. Who are we? His disciples. Let me provide some Scriptural background for this as well. Isaiah 61 talks about the empowerment of Jesus’ ministry, His ministry itself, what God’s people will do, and the everlasting covenant. We read in verse 6, “But you will be called the priests of the LORD; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6). God’s people will be set apart to serve the Lord. God’s people, under the anointing of the Spirit and the ministry of the Messiah, have a holy occupation. They are Priests of the Lord, and Servants of our God. Peter also talks about that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Here again it is confirmed that we, the believers, are His ordained priests. Any believer is therefore ordained by Jesus to perform baptisms.