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Easter [2013]: Defeating Doubt (John 20:1-10, 19-20, 24-31)

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March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

Every thinking person sometimes wrestles with doubt. That’s true not only for thinking Christians, but also for atheists and agnostics. They sometimes wonder, “What if I’m wrong and there really is a God?” And every thinking Christian sometimes wonders, “What if I’m wrong and Christianity is not true?” For some, the bouts with doubt are short and relatively minor. For others, the doubts are deep and disturbing. But wherever you’re at on the spectrum, if you’ve been a Christian for very long, you have gone through battles with doubt.

The sources of my struggles with doubt vary. Sometimes it stems from wrestling with certain difficult theological issues. At other times the problem of unanswered prayer has tripped me up. And I’ve had to face doubts related to the age-old problem of suffering: Why would a good and all-powerful God allow His people to die in the prime of life, while the wicked prosper? How can a loving God allow sweet little children to suffer?

While there are different biblical answers to all of these sources of doubt, there is one answer that undergirds them all. I usually come back to it when I’m struggling with doubt. The apostle Paul said that the entire Christian faith rests on one foundation, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Cor. 15:13-19). If that fact of history is true, then our faith has a solid footing in spite of matters of doubt which we cannot, perhaps ever in this life, fully resolve. On the other hand, if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, then the strongest faith in the world is useless, because it rests on a faulty object.

The evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a solid footing in times of doubt.

If you want to study a subject, it’s best to go to an expert. The most famous expert on doubt is a fellow whose name is always linked with it: Doubting Thomas. His story is told in John 20:24-29. Not all doubters are sincere, but Thomas was what I would call a sincere doubter. Some use their doubts as a smoke screen to hide behind their sin, which is the real issue. If one area of doubt is cleared up, they will quickly duck behind another, because they don’t want to submit to the Lord. These people do not need more evidence to believe; they need to repent of their sin.

But some doubts are sincere. The sincere doubter is truly a believer in Christ. He doesn’t want to doubt, but he’s plagued by honest questions. He is in submission to God and wants to please Him, but he can’t just close his eyes and take a leap of faith. He needs evidence to clear up the doubts. Thomas was that kind of sincere doubter. I maintain that …

1. All thinking people go through times of sincere doubt.

There are many causes of doubt, but I’m going to limit myself to exploring some of the causes of Thomas’ doubts. I can relate personally to some, but not all, of them. Perhaps you will relate to them also.

Some Reasons For Thomas’ Doubts:

A. Personal failure coupled with Thomas’ personality triggered his doubts.

All of the disciples had failed Jesus on the night of His arrest and trial. Most notorious was Peter, who denied the Lord three times. All of the eleven had promised Jesus their loyalty, but they all deserted Him when He was arrested.

Thomas, along with Peter, had been outspoken in his loyalty to Jesus before the crucifixion. In John 11:16, when Jesus wanted to go to Bethany, near Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus from the dead, the disciples objected that it was too dangerous. But Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” He may have been a pessimist, but at least he was loyal to the point of challenging the others to be committed to the point of death. But then he had joined the others in running away when Jesus was arrested. That failure led Thomas into depression and doubt.

It wasn’t just Thomas’ failure, but failure coupled with his personality, that led him into deep doubts. Peter had failed in a big way, too. But Peter was a buoyant, optimistic sort who felt badly about his mistakes, but who could shrug it off and bounce back more quickly. But Thomas was a conscientious, loyal, but gloomy type who did not commit himself to something lightly. To commit himself to Jesus and then go back on his word affected Thomas much more deeply than Peter’s failure affected him.

We’re all wired differently and so it’s important to know yourself so that you can be on guard against your areas of weakness. Usually, by the way, our areas of greatest strength are also our areas of greatest weakness. A man like Thomas, who is loyal and conscientious, who takes commitments seriously, is also more prone to depression and doubt when he fails.

B. A lack of understanding led to his doubts.

Thomas lacked understanding with regard to the Lord’s departure. On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would come again to take them to be with Him. He told them that they knew the way where He was going. But Thomas didn’t understand, so he blurted out (John 14:5), “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”

I’m glad he asked because Jesus’ reply was (14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” But if you put yourself back into that situation, with all of the confused emotions of that night, and with the disciples’ still limited insight into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you can see how Thomas would still be confused about what Jesus had meant. He lacked understanding, which led to doubt.

Some of my battles with doubt have been due to a lack of understanding on doctrinal matters. I’m not going to share specifics, because if it’s not a problem for you, I don’t want to lead you into doubt by bringing it up! But, frankly, there are many hard teachings in Scripture, some of which we won’t resolve until we’re with the Lord. We have to trust God, even when we don’t understand.

In John 6:60, many of those who had followed Jesus turned away when He taught some hard things. Jesus even asked the twelve if they would turn away also. Peter gave the great answer (John 6:68-69), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” I’ve come back to that answer many times when I’ve struggled with doubt due to a lack of understanding. Jesus is the truth. Where else can I go?

C. Deep disappointment and shock over suffering contributed to his doubts.

A third factor that caused Thomas such deep doubts was the disappointment and shock he felt as he watched Jesus die. Even though Jesus repeatedly had told the disciples in advance that He would be crucified, it didn’t sink in. The disciples had expected the Messiah to be a conquering King. A crucified Messiah wasn’t their expectation. When Thomas saw the badly mangled body of Jesus on the cross, it sent him into shock. His emphasis on the wounds of Jesus (John 20:25) shows how deeply it affected him. The bloody holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, the gory spear wound in His side, and Jesus’ disfigurement from the scourging and the crown of thorns, haunted Thomas after the crucifixion and fed his doubts.

In the same way, whenever we face deep disappointment and shock because of some tragedy or something that doesn’t go as we had expected, we’re vulnerable to doubts. Years ago, a pastor friend who was my age was struck down with cancer. As I stood by his bedside the night he died, along with his grieving wife and two sons, I couldn’t help wondering, “Why, Lord? This is one of Your servants. He still has many good years left. His family is young. Why should he die so young, when so many wicked people live long, healthy lives?” Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one or faced a personal tragedy. It’s a short step from there to being right where Thomas was, to doubting the Lord: “If God really exists and is a God of love, then why is this happening?”

D. Isolation from fellow believers fueled his doubts.

A fourth reason for Thomas’ doubts was his isolation from other believers. We don’t know for certain why Thomas was absent from the other disciples that first Sunday when Jesus appeared to them. But a likely reason was his morose disposition. The last thing he wanted at a time like that was to be around other people. So he wandered off by himself to brood over the horrible events of the previous few days.

Then to add to his misery, when he finally did see the others, they told him that they had seen the risen Lord! How would you feel if you missed church because you were depressed and doubting and we all told you, “Hey, you really missed a blessing! Jesus appeared to us last Sunday!” Great! That really encourages you, doesn’t it! But even though we’re often bugged by other believers, the fact is, we need them. Whenever we separate ourselves from the fellowship, we make ourselves vulnerable to doubt.

I’ve not covered all the causes we have for doubting God or the Bible. Perhaps you have other things that have shaken your faith. But whatever the source of your doubts, the solution is the same: to come back to the foundational fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. If that is true, then even though you may not understand everything, you still, with Thomas, must bow and acknowledge Jesus to be your Lord and God.

2. The evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is solid.

I can’t give all the evidence for the resurrection in one message. Many books have been written on the subject (see Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict [Campus Crusade for Christ], Vol. 1). But there are five reasons in John 20 that verify Christ’s resurrection to be true history:

A. The empty tomb verifies Jesus’ resurrection.

One incontrovertible fact, with which both the disciples and the Jews agreed, is that the tomb was empty. If not, when the disciples began proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus a few weeks later (which was the central point of their preaching), the Jewish leaders could have simply marched to the tomb, produced the dead body of Jesus, and the disciples would have been laughed out of town. But clearly they couldn’t do that because the tomb was empty.

There are several ways to account for the empty tomb. Jesus’ enemies could have stolen the body. But they had no motive for taking His body. It was to their advantage to leave it right where it was, which is why they had Pilate put the Roman guard and seal on the tomb. If they knew where the body was, they could have produced it and silenced the disciples’ preaching.

Another possibility is that the Roman guards stole the body. But again, they had no motive to do so. They weren’t concerned about this Jewish religious trial. The Jewish leaders, who were scrambling for ways to explain away the resurrection, didn’t accuse the soldiers of taking the body or of allowing it to be stolen.

A third possibility is that the disciples stole the body. This was the theory the Jewish leaders tried to promote by bribing the Roman soldiers (Matt. 28:11-15). But there are many reasons the disciples could not have moved Jesus’ body. The tomb was as secure as the Roman guard could make it. The soldiers wouldn’t have fallen asleep on their watch, because the penalty was death. The stone at the tomb was large and heavy. Even if the soldiers had been sleeping, the noise of a group of men moving the stone would have awakened them. Besides, the disciples were too depressed and confused to try anything like grave robbery in front of a Roman guard. Even if, through bribery, they had managed to remove Jesus’ body, later they would not have risked their lives to preach the resurrection if they knew it to be false.

Nor would they have suffered beatings and threats if it had been confirmed that someone else had taken Jesus’ body, which was the first thought of the women who visited the tomb early that morning (John 20:2, 15). All we know of the character of the witnesses as well as the fact that they did not yet understand the Scripture that Jesus must rise again from the dead (John 20:9) militates against them knowingly promoting a hoax. The empty tomb is solid evidence that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead.

B. The grave clothes verify Jesus’ resurrection.

Mary Magdalene didn’t look carefully when she first came to the tomb. She saw the stone removed and assumed that Jesus was gone. So she ran to tell Peter and John, who ran to the tomb. John got there first and stood at the entrance looking in. Peter, in his usual blustery manner, went right in and saw (20:6, Greek = “to gaze upon”) the grave clothes. Then John entered, saw (Greek = “to see with understanding”) and believed (20:8).

The presence of the grave clothes proves that the body was not stolen. In their haste, grave robbers would have taken the body, grave clothes and all. If for some reason they had wanted to strip the body, they would have left the clothes strewn all over the tomb. But Peter and John saw them left in an orderly fashion, as if Jesus had passed right through them. Remember, these weren’t men who wished so much for a resurrection that they perhaps saw what they wanted to see. These were men who did not understand or believe at first (20:9). The evidence convinced them, and their testimony of the evidence should convince us.

C. The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus verify His resurrection.

John lists four post-resurrection appearances of Jesus: To Mary Magdalene (20:11-18); to the disciples except Thomas (20:19-23); to the disciples, including Thomas (20:24-31); and, to seven of the disciples, by the Sea of Galilee (21:1-25). Paul mentions several other appearances, including one to over 500 at one time (1 Cor. 15:6-8). J. N. D. Anderson, who was Professor of Oriental Laws and Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London, wrote (Christianity Today [3/29/68], pp. 5, 6),

The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrications, that they were pure lies. But, so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude. In fact, it would really be an impossible position. Think of the number of witnesses, over 500. Think of the character of the witnesses, men and women who gave the world the highest ethical teaching it has ever known, and who even on the testimony of their enemies lived it out in their lives. Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication they were trying to foist upon the world. That simply wouldn’t make sense.

The varied circumstances of the appearances and the different personalities of the witnesses militate against hallucinations or visions. Whether Thomas actually put his hand in Jesus’ wounds is not stated, but Jesus made the offer and Thomas was convinced (John 20:27). The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are a strong evidence of His bodily resurrection.

D. The changed lives of the witnesses verify Jesus’ resurrection.

As I already said, John calls attention to the fact that none of the witnesses was expecting a resurrection. Mary Magdalene thought that someone had taken Jesus’ body (20:2, 15). The disciples were fearful and confused. Thomas was depressed and doubting. But all were transformed into the bold witnesses of the Book of Acts because they became convinced that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. They were so convinced that the resurrection was true that many of them went on to martyrs’ deaths.

E. The unique person of Jesus Christ verifies His resurrection.

Study the Gospel accounts of who Jesus was, of what He taught, of the miracles He performed, of the prophecies He fulfilled. On more than one occasion He predicted His own death and resurrection (John 2:19-22; Luke 9:22). His encounter with doubting Thomas shows that His purpose was to bring Thomas into a place of full faith in His deity (20:27). When Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus did not rebuke or correct him for overstating things. Rather, Jesus commended Thomas’ correct perception and faith (20:28-29).

A merely good teacher, especially a devout Jewish rabbi, would never accept such worship from a follower. Everything in the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ person and teaching militates against His being a charlatan or lunatic. The only sensible option is that He is who He claimed to be, the Lord God in human flesh, the Christ of Israel, the eternal Son of God. He offered Himself for our sins and God raised Him bodily from the dead. He wants those of us who have not seen Him to believe in Him (20:29).


In Loving God ([Zondervan], pp. 61-70) Charles Colson has an interesting chapter titled, “Watergate and the Resurrection.” He makes the point that with the most powerful office in the world at stake, with all of the privileges of power, with the threat of imprisonment, ten men in the White House could not hold together a conspiracy for more than two weeks. He then applies his experience in the Watergate cover-up to modern criticism of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection—that the disciples were mistaken, that it was only a myth or that Jesus’ followers conceived a plot to cover up His death. He concludes (p. 69):

Is it really likely, then, that a deliberate cover-up, a plot to perpetuate a lie about the Resurrection, could have survived the violent persecution of the apostles, the scrutiny of early church councils, the horrendous purge of the first-century believers who were cast by the thousands to the lions for refusing to renounce the Lordship of Christ? Is it not probable that at least one of the apostles would have renounced Christ before being beheaded or stoned? Is it not likely that some “smoking gun” document might have been produced exposing the “Passover plot”? Surely one of the conspirators would have made a deal with the authorities (government and Sanhedrin probably would have welcomed such a soul with open arms and pocketbooks!)....

Take it from one who was inside the Watergate web looking out, who saw firsthand how vulnerable a cover-up is: Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and Lord.

Does the evidence about Jesus’ resurrection clear up all our doubts about God and the Bible? No, nothing this side of heaven will do that. But it does provide a solid basis for intelligent faith in those times when we struggle with doubt. To whom else will you go? Jesus alone is the risen Savior. His desire for each of us who have not seen Him is that, like Thomas, we would “not be unbelieving, but believing” (20:27). He wants each of us to recognize that He, our Lord and God, died in our place, taking the penalty we deserved for our sin. He wants us to join Thomas in believing worship, proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

If you wait to trust in Christ until all of your doubts are cleared up, you’re not an honest doubter. Rather, you’re using your doubts as an excuse so that you can hold onto your sin. If you don’t repent, you’ll go to your death alienated from the Savior. There is more than adequate evidence to support a reasonable faith that Jesus Christ is the risen Savior. The question is, Will you lay aside your doubts, which serve only as excuses, and trust in Jesus as your Savior and Lord?

Application Questions

  1. How can a person know whether his doubts are sincere or whether they are just an excuse? Are sincere doubts sin?
  2. Is biblical faith a “blind leap”? If not, how does it differ?
  3. Is it possible to live without faith in something? Are materialistic humanists purely rational? How can we witness to them?
  4. Why is it crucial to base our faith in the fact of Christ’s resurrection rather than on our personal religious experience?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Assurance, Discipleship, Easter, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)

What the Bible Says About Abortion

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January 25, 2004

Special Message

Thirty-one years ago this past Thursday, on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision. As Christians, we need to remember that what is legal is not necessarily moral in God’s sight. Morality is not determined by popular or judicial opinion, but by what the Bible says. So I want us to look at what the Bible says about abortion. I could (and have, in a public school classroom) argue against abortion without reference to the Bible. It is a human atrocity. But since most of you accept the Bible as God’s inspired Word, I want to explain what it says on this important subject.

Some who call themselves “evangelicals” argue that since the New Testament does not directly address the matter, we should not be dogmatic about it. They say that it is a “difficult moral issue,” where we need to allow room to differ and not impose our personal views on others. Many evangelical pastors refrain from speaking on the subject because it is controversial and potentially divisive. And many pastors dodge it because they have drifted from the Bible as the source of absolute moral truth.

Christian pollster George Barna recently reported that only half of the country’s Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview, which he defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize). Southern Baptist pastors ranked highest, with 71 percent holding to a biblical worldview. Among other Baptist pastors, it fell to only 57 percent. Other denominations ranked much lower.

I believe that the Bible gives us God’s absolute moral standards that apply to every culture and every age. Furthermore, the Bible warns that God will judge every person based on His righteous standards (Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11-15). We cannot plead ignorance as an excuse for disobedience or apathy (Prov. 24:11-12). God holds us accountable to the standards of His Word, whether we know those standards or not. We dare not be uninformed!

Also, our consciences need to be informed by Scripture, not by popular opinion or slogans. I have found professing Christians who have been influenced by the popular pro-abortion rhetoric. For example, the slogan, “Pro-family, Pro-child, Pro-choice” makes perfect sense to some, or it wouldn’t be plastered on bumper stickers. But stop and think, “What is the choice that they are advocating?” The answer is, the choice to kill your baby! So that bumper sticker is about as logical as saying, “I’m pro-women, pro-rape”! It is utter nonsense!

Another bumper sticker reads, “Against abortion? Don’t have one.” That assumes that abortion is a personal preference, not a moral issue. Imagine a bumper sticker, “Against rape? Don’t commit one”! That’s fine if rape is just a preference, but if it is a heinous crime, that’s ludicrous! Another slogan says, “Keep your laws off my body!” In other words, “We can’t legislate morality.” But we do have laws against rape, incest, child abuse, theft, and murder. Those are moral issues, all of which stem directly from the Bible! One of the main purposes for law is to protect the innocent and the weak. Laws about abortion relate directly to these matters.

Before we look at what the Bible says about abortion, let me briefly comment on what abortion is and on what the Supreme Court decision was all about. Abortion is the extraction or expulsion of the immature human fetus from the mother’s womb with the intent to end the life of that fetus prior to natural birth. Fetus is a perfectly good medical term, as long as you remember that it refers to a developing human baby. But you will never hear abortion advocates speak of it as a baby or child. Sometimes they even call it the “product of conception,” or a piece of tissue! Have you noticed how often the news refers to anti-abortion activists (not pro-life activists), and refers to those advocating baby-killing as pro-choice or defenders of abortion rights? How did we ever come to think that we have an inherent right to kill our children?

Of course many abortion advocates argue that it is not a human baby that they are killing, but science is against them. Before conception, there is not a new human life. But at the moment of conception, there is a new life, possessing 46 chromosomes, distinct from both the mother and the father. Genetically, the baby is not the mother’s body! By 21 days, the first heartbeats have begun. At 45 days, brain waves can be detected. By the ninth and tenth weeks, the thyroid and adrenal glands are functioning. By 12 or 13 weeks, he has fingernails, sucks his thumb, recoils from pain, and has his own unique fingerprints. The only things that developing life needs to become what we are, are time and nurture.

What was Roe v. Wade all about? By a vote of 7-2, the U.S. Supreme Court held that until a child in the womb is viable (capable of sustaining life outside the womb) or “capable of meaningful life” (the court reckoned this to be six or usually seven months), the mother’s desire for an abortion should take precedence over the baby’s right to life. For the last two or three months, the court said that the state may protect the unborn, but that it must allow an abortion if the life or health of the mother is threatened. The court defined her “life or health” to mean her physical, emotional, or psychological health, her age, her marital status, or the infant’s prospects of a distressful life and/or future. In other words, a woman can kill her child in the womb legally for any reason right up to the moment of birth!

According to former Surgeon General,  Dr. C. Everett Koop, the most common reason for abortion is convenience. Only three to five percent of all abortions performed are for reasons of rape, incest, the possibility of a deformed child, or severe threat to the life of the mother. In the U.S., one out of every six women who have an abortion describes herself as an evangelical Christian (Newsweek [5/1/89], p. 31). In other countries, such as China and India, where male babies are favored over female babies, the abortion and infanticide of girls has led to a severe shortage of brides for young men.

Now let’s consider what the Bible says about abortion:

Since God is the creator and sustainer of human life, we should value and protect the lives of all innocent humans.

By saying “innocent humans,” I am allowing for the authority of the state to exercise capital punishment and to wage war for national defense. Being pro-life does not require us to be against capital punishment or to be pacifists. For sake of time, I cannot deal with those topics in this message. I want to present five lines of biblical evidence for valuing and protecting unborn children.

1. Human life is unique in that God created us in His image.

In Genesis 1:26, God distinguished humans from the rest of the animal creation. Only of man did God say, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” He appointed man to rule over the other creatures on earth. By the way, apparently before the Flood, man was vegetarian, but after the Flood, God ordained the eating of meat (Gen. 9:3-4). The animal rights movement erroneously puts animal life on the same plane as human life. That concept stems from Hinduism, not from the Bible.

The Bible clearly affirms that human life is not the product of impersonal chance plus time. Man did not evolve from lower forms of life. God directly created man in His image, which means that we have the capability of rational thought, personality, and moral responsibility. Someone may argue that this is simply a matter of faith. I would say that it is a matter of reasonable faith. The view that something as complex as human life is the product of pure chance is a matter of unreasonable faith, because there is simply no evidence or other example of such complexity arising from random chance.

Also, even the most ardent evolutionist behaviorally affirms that human life is distinct from animal life. Imagine Mr. Evolutionist driving along when he encounters a squirrel in the road, still writhing from being hit by a car. He slams on his brakes, jumps out of his car, and frantically dials 911 on his cell phone. “I’d like to report an injured squirrel! If the paramedics get here quickly, they may be able to save him!” But, alas, they are too late! The man sits by the squirrel corpse, sobbing, until the mortuary arrives. He will never forget this tragic scene.

Ludicrous? Yes, but change the squirrel to a human baby and that scene would be truly horrific. Why? Because we all recognize that people are distinct from animals. The reason, according to the Bible, is that people are created in God’s image; animals are not.

2. The Bible forbids us from shedding innocent blood.

The Bible clearly commands, “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13). As already mentioned, the Bible does not forbid all killing, such as in capital punishment by the government, national defense, or personal defense. But murder is forbidden. The Bible uses the phrase “innocent blood” about 20 times, and always condemns shedding innocent blood. God chastised the Jews for shedding innocent blood when they sacrificed their children to the idols of Canaan (Ps. 106:38). As John Piper argues, “Surely the blood of the unborn is as innocent as any blood that flows in the world” (Brothers, We are Not Professionals [Broadman & Holman], p;. 222).

3. Pre-natal human life is fully human and thus precious to God.

Consider a few of the many biblical passages:

A. God superintends life in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16).

David is affirming in poetic language that God superintended his formation in the womb (also, Job 10:8-12). The Bible repeatedly affirms that God’s providence governs everything from the weather (Ps. 148:8; Job 37:6-13), to animals’ food and behavior (Ps. 104:27-29; Job 38:39-41; Jonah 1:17; 2:10), to seemingly random events, such as the rolling of dice (Prov. 16:33). Surely if God governs these relatively minor things, then He also governs the formation of people in the womb. The Lord tells Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11). So even birth defects, which science attributes to freak occurrences in nature, are under God’s direct superintendence for His sovereign purposes!

There are so-called bio-ethicists that are consistent in applying their evolutionary bias to human life, but their conclusions are horrifying! For example, James Watson, one of the discoverers of the double helix structure of DNA, suggested in 1973, “If a child were not declared alive until three days after birth, then all parents could be allowed the choice only a few are given under the present system. The doctor could allow the child to die if the parents so choose and save a lot of misery and suffering. I believe this view is the only rational, compassionate attitude to have” (cited by Francis Schaeffer & C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race [Revell], p. 73).

In 1978, Watson’s partner, Francis Crick, said, “… no newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and that if it fails these tests it forfeits its right to live” (ibid.). Peter Singer, who incongruously is professor of bio-ethics at Princeton, argues that if a child is born with hemophilia, to allow the parents to kill him so that they could replace him with a normally healthy child may be morally right (cited by Piper, ibid., p. 217, note 3)!

B. The Bible ordains the penalty of life for life when the life of an unborn child is taken (Exod. 21:22-25).

The earlier edition of the NASB had an unfortunate translation that slanted the reader toward one of two possible interpretations, but not to the best one. The updated edition has corrected the problem. The earlier edition read, “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him….” The translators added the word “further” and they interpreted the Hebrew, “her children come out,” as, “she has a miscarriage.” The implication would be that to kill the fetus is only punishable by a fine, nothing more.

The updated edition reads, “… so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury….” As the following verses (23-25) make clear, if there is an injury, then the offender must be penalized, life for life, eye for eye, etc. These are the same penalties as in offenses against adults (Lev. 24:20). The Hebrew verb translated “to depart” or “come out” (Exod. 21:22) refers to a live birth in 11 separate Old Testament passages. It never refers to a miscarriage, although in one text (Num. 12:12), it refers to a stillborn. There is another Hebrew verb that is used for miscarriage. So the most likely meaning of Exodus 21:22-25, based upon verb usage, as well as the Old Testament high regard for pre-natal life, is that the baby in the womb has as much value as an already-born person.

C. The Bible affirms the distinctiveness of individuals in the womb, thus showing that they are fully human.

We won’t take the time to look up each reference, but consider the following examples:

*Jacob and Esau were distinct individuals in the womb (Gen. 25:23; Rom. 9:11-12).

*Samson’s mother was not to drink wine, because her son was to be a Nazirite, who would abstain from alcohol (Judges 13:3-5).

*Jeremiah and Paul both acknowledged that God formed them in the womb and knew them by name (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15). Isaiah 49:1, 5 affirms the same thing about Messiah.

*John the Baptist recognized Jesus while both were still in the womb (Luke 1:35-36, 39-44)! This is an amazing text! Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Mary went to visit Elizabeth before John was born. Thus Elizabeth would have been in her last trimester, while Mary was in her first trimester. Yet John recognized Jesus in those early months of Mary’s pregnancy! I think that this is the strongest passage that a baby in the womb in the first trimester is a person created in God’s image. We are not free to take the life of such a child just because it is not convenient to have a baby!

We have seen that human life is unique in that God created us in His image. The Bible forbids us from shedding innocent blood. Pre-natal human life is fully human and thus precious to God.

4. To view babies as inconvenient to the point of killing them is to violate Jesus’ view of children.

As I mentioned, about 95 percent of all abortions are done for convenience. A girl gets pregnant through out-of-wedlock sex. Neither she nor her boyfriend are ready for the responsibility of being parents. It would be an economic hardship, or it may require interrupting her education. An abortion is a convenient way to dispose of the whole problem.

In Luke 18:15-17, people were bringing their babies to Jesus so that He could touch them. The disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus had better things to do than to bless babies! It was a great inconvenience! But Jesus rebuked the disciples and welcomed the children. The Greek word for infant in Luke 18:15 is the same word Luke uses for the infant in Elizabeth’s womb (1:41, 44). God shows His great love for us by calling us His children (1 John 3:1). Surely, we should have the same attitude as Jesus towards our children from the time of conception onwards!

But what about an “unwanted” child, whose birth would be an extreme hardship? What about a baby conceived by rape or incest? What about a deformed baby, who will suffer all his life and never be normal? Wouldn’t it be the lesser evil to abort these babies and spare them and the parents a life of hardship and pain?

5. To kill babies in the womb in an attempt to avoid suffering is to try to dodge God’s purposes for suffering.

The Bible is clear that in this fallen world, God ordains suffering for His wise and good purposes (Rom. 8:28). Sometimes we suffer as the consequences for our own sin (Heb. 12:3-11), which can include the hardships associated with having a baby out of wedlock. (Sometimes it may be wise for an unwed mother to give up her baby for adoption, but even that is a painful consequence of sin.) Sometimes we suffer on account of other people’s sins (Gen. 50:20). This would include the hardship of having a baby conceived through rape or incest. Sometimes we don’t know the reason that God permits suffering, except that He wants to display His grace and power through our weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

To abort because having a child would cause emotional or economic duress is always wrong. To argue that it is better to kill a deformed child in the womb than to allow him to live is an affront to the thousands of people born with severe handicaps, but who live meaningful and productive lives. It is an affront to the many families that love and care for such children. On rare occasions, there may be the difficult dilemma of performing an abortion to spare the mother’s life. But even then, the goal should be to preserve the lives of both the mother and the child, if possible.


Much more could be said if we had time. There are other biblical arguments against abortion. There is mounting evidence that many women who choose abortion suffer severe long-term emotional and physical problems.

I want to conclude by suggesting some action points. Some of these are things that every Christian can and should do. Others are things that only some will be called to do. But at some level, all of us need to come to the defense of unborn children.

(1) We can pray about the situation. It is ultimately a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10-12). Pray for pro-life judges to receive Senate confirmation, especially to the Supreme Court. Pray for the horrors of abortion to become obvious to our self-centered culture. Pray for Christians to get involved in the pro-life cause.

(2) We can vote for pro-life candidates. Don’t vote for pro-abortion candidates. You ask, “Are you a one-issue voter?” I grant that being pro-life does not qualify a person as a good political leader. But being pro-abortion should disqualify anyone from public office. For example, if a candidate said, “I believe that black people should not hold public office,” that one issue should disqualify the candidate from office. Why doesn’t favoring killing babies disqualify a candidate? The person who favors abortion is an immoral person!

(3) We can write our legislators and the newspaper to support the pro-life cause. Hold them accountable!

(4) We can support the pro-life cause with our money and time. Godly women are needed to counsel young women with problem pregnancies, so that they choose life for their babies. Godly families that are able should consider taking in such young women and helping them carry their babies to term. There are many ways to get involved.

(5) Our church should discipline any members who advocate abortion, perform abortions, or obtain abortions in disobedience to being counseled about God’s truth on the matter. It is a national tragedy that two of our former Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both claimed to be Southern Baptists, but were pro-abortion. Their churches should have disciplined them publicly.

In conclusion, I want to speak to any who may already have had an abortion or who may have urged someone else to have an abortion. Perhaps you did it in ignorance, but now you realize that you committed a serious sin in God’s sight. The great news of God’s Word is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). The apostle Paul, who persecuted the church and was responsible for the deaths of many innocent people, wrote that, and then claimed, “among whom I am foremost of all.” Paul found God’s forgiveness and mercy at the cross. No matter how great your guilt, if you will turn from your sin and trust Jesus Christ as the one who bore your sin on the cross, God will pardon all of your sin and credit the righteousness of Jesus to your account (Rom. 4:4-5).

Discussion Questions

  1. Does being pro-life mean that all forms of birth control are wrong? Are some forms of birth control wrong? Why?
  2. How would you answer someone who said with reference to laws against abortion, “I don’t believe you should be able to force your religious views on others?”
  3. Should Christians practice civil disobedience to protest the current abortion practices? Give biblical support.
  4. Should Christians support “compromise” legislation, such as banning abortion except for rape, incest, or severe deformity? Why/why not?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2004, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Christian Home, Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

Why Baptism Matters

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June 28, 2009

Special Message

In 1998, John MacArthur preached a sermon, “Baptism: A Matter of Obedience" in which he said:

[Baptism] is not a particularly popular subject today—it’s not of great interest in the evangelical community; it’s been years since I’ve seen any new book written on baptism or any book emphasizing baptism or any series of messages or any preacher or teacher emphasizing baptism…. The interest in baptism has sort of gone away—sad to say, in many cases.

He adds, “It’s amazing how many people who proclaim Christ and confess Christ, have never been properly baptized.”

I confess that when you search for my sermons by topic on our church web site, only one on baptism pops up: “Why We Do Not Baptize Infants” (from Sept. 8, 1996). I also have an article on the web site, “Baptism: Some Common Questions Answered.” I have many other sermons that touch on the subject of baptism, especially from the Book of Acts. But because my normal method is to work through books of the Bible verse by verse, I have not preached any messages dealing exclusively with baptism, except for the one mentioned. But it is helpful at times to see how Scripture treats a particular topic. So I thought it would be warranted, in light of the baptism today, to speak on, “Why Baptism Matters.” The main idea that I want you to understand is that…

Baptism matters because it is the necessary result of genuine saving faith.

We live in a day when over one-third of Americans claim that they have been born again, but very few of them live any differently than the rest of the population. These professing Christians may have “invited Jesus into their hearts” or gone forward in response to an evangelistic appeal. The follow-up counselors explained to them that they had just received Christ and the Bible promises eternal life to all that receive Him. So they assure them that they are now eternally secure in Christ.

But are they? Maybe, but maybe not. The real issue is, has God changed their heart? Has He raised them from spiritual death to spiritual life through the power of the Holy Spirit? If there is genuine spiritual life, there will be evidence of it. There will be a longing to know Christ better through God’s Word. There will be a new hatred of sin and a desire to please the Lord in everything. There will be a new love for others, especially for other believers.

While these changes grow over time, with many struggles and setbacks, there will be an overall progress of growth in obedience to the Lord, stemming from a changed heart. If the person has no desire to obey God, his faith was not genuine saving faith. C. H. Spurgeon put it (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, [Pilgrim Publications] 23:225), “But if you have a faith which never touches your heart, a faith which never causes you to rejoice or mourn, a faith which neither makes you hate sin nor love the Lord Jesus, I charge you shake off your faith as Paul shook the viper from his hand, for it is a deadly faith…. Only the living faith which works upon the heart and influences the desires and the affections can be the faith of God’s elect.”

We are saved by grace through faith alone, but saving faith is never alone. It always results in a life of obedience to Christ (see Eph. 2:8-10). As 1 John 2:3 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” And one of His important commandments is that we confess our faith in Christ through water baptism. I want to show you from the Book of Acts how closely baptism was connected with saving faith as an act of obedience. Then I’ll tie everything together in outline form.

Let’s begin just before the Book of Acts with the Great Commission, which Jesus gave just before His ascension. He said (Matt. 28:18-20), “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Note that it is impossible to obey the Great Commission and neglect baptism. It is an integral part of Jesus’ final command to His disciples. Frankly, that’s a bit surprising, because Jesus did not emphasize baptism during His earthly ministry. But He puts it right there in the context of making disciples and teaching them to observe His commandments. That fact alone should convince us that baptism is important. Let’s see this from the Book of Acts.

Note Acts 2:38, the conclusion of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. In response to the question from the crowd, “What shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; …” (For a more thorough treatment of these verses, see my sermon, “How to Receive God’s Forgiveness,” [11/12/2000].) Peter was not saying that baptism brings forgiveness of sins. In the very next chapter, he says (Acts 3:19), “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away,” but he does not mention baptism at all. Many verses (e.g., Acts 10:43; 16:31) show that our sins are forgiven through faith (or repentance), apart from baptism.

But the point is, there was a close connection in the minds of the apostles between belief and baptism. The idea of an unbaptized believer is foreign to the New Testament. Faith in Christ brings forgiveness of sins. Baptism is the outward act that demonstrates the inward faith. Consider a few other passages in Acts, noting that the order is always belief, then baptism:

Acts 2:41: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; …”

Acts 8:12: “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.”

Acts 8:36-38: “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.”

While verse 37 [in brackets] is missing from the earliest Greek manuscripts, its insertion in later manuscripts shows what the church held to be the necessary qualification for baptism.

Acts 10:44, 46b, 47, 48a, which records Peter’s experience with the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house: “While Peter was still speaking these words [the gospel], the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message…. Then Peter answered, ‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Acts 16:30-34, which recounts Paul’s experience with the Philippian jailer and his family: “And after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.”

Advocates of infant baptism use this text to support their view (which shows how hard up they are to find any verses for their view!). But the text says that those in the jailer’s household heard Paul speak the word of the Lord (which implies that they were old enough to understand it), and that not only the jailer, but also his whole household, believed the gospel. For our purposes, the point is that Paul’s instruction included Jesus’ command to be baptized, which they obeyed.

Acts 18:8: And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with his whole household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.”

In Acts 19:1-5, Paul met some men who had received John’s baptism, but didn’t know about Jesus. When Paul told them about Jesus, their response was (19:5), “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

I’ve gone through all of these references to show that there was a clear pattern on the part of those who responded to the preaching of the gospel in the Book of Acts, namely belief followed by baptism. The apostles were following the pattern that the Lord gave them in the Great Commission: make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that He commanded them.

Now I want to tie all of this together and draw some principles in outline form to show why baptism matters:

1. Baptism is distinct from saving faith.

In baptism, a person confesses his or her faith in Christ. But saving faith is distinct from baptism, and it is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that saves, not baptism.

A. Saving faith is your personal response to Christ’s sacrifice for your sins.

Paul summarizes the gospel message (1 Cor. 15:3-4), “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Or, as he gives his own testimony (1 Tim. 1:15), “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” The point is, Christ didn’t die to help us have better self-esteem! He didn’t die so that we could have happier marriages or more successful careers. He died for our sins. If you take sin out of the picture (as many popular TV preachers do), then Christ didn’t have to die. And, you do not have any good news.

The Bible is clear that our sins have alienated us from God. If we die in our sins, we will spend eternity separated from God, paying the just penalty for our sins in conscious torment in hell. But the good news is that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came to earth to bear the punishment that we deserve. He lived a perfectly righteous life, so that He had no sin of His own to atone for. Being fully human, His death could atone for human sins. But He was also fully God, so that His death had infinite value. As Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:21), “He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

But does that mean that all people then are saved from God’s righteous judgment? No, it is only those who believe the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection on their behalf who are saved. As we have seen (Acts 16:31), “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

But it is crucial to understand that saving faith is not just mentally agreeing with the facts about Jesus. Rather, saving faith involves repentance, or turning from your sin. You cannot turn toward God without turning from sin. It also involves renouncing any trust in your good works to save you. Instead, you entrust your eternal destiny entirely to what Jesus did on the cross for you. You believe that He paid the penalty which you deserve. The difference between mental assent and genuine faith is the difference between saying that you believe a plane will fly and actually getting on the plane. You really trust the pilot and the plane only when you get on board.

So the question is, “Have you gotten on board with Jesus Christ as your only hope for heaven?” Have you turned from your sin and from trusting in your own good works and instead trusted in Jesus alone to deliver you from God’s judgment? If so, one of the first signs of it should be baptism. Why? Because …

B. Baptism is the outward confession of the inward reality of saving faith.

I often use the analogy of a wedding ring to illustrate this. My wedding ring does not make me married. I could have gotten married without a ring, or I could wear a ring, but not be married. My marriage is based on the commitment which Marla and I made to each other. But my wedding ring is an appropriate symbol of the unseen truth that I am married to Marla. It tells the women of the world, “I am not available! I am committed to my wife.” Baptism is the public confession that says, “World, I am no longer available. I am now committed to my Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We’ve replaced this in our day with altar calls, where to confess your faith in Christ, you go forward. But altar calls are not in the Bible. They came into the evangelical world through a heretic named Charles Finney. He did not believe in the substitutionary atonement of Christ. He viewed salvation as a human decision, which anyone could make. So he invited people to come forward, where they could declare their decision for God. But the New Testament way to confess your faith is not to go forward. It is to be baptized in obedience to Jesus’ command. Baptism is distinct from saving faith. It is the outward confession of the inward reality of saving faith.

2. Baptism is the necessary result of saving faith.

A. True faith results in obedience.

We’ve already seen this. James 2:26 puts it, “Faith without works is dead.” If someone claims to have believed in Christ, but there is no change in his heart so that he wants to obey Christ, he needs to go back and examine his heart, to see if he is truly saved.

But you may wonder, “How long should it take for faith to result in obedience? How much time should elapse between a person’s trusting in Christ and his being baptized?”

The Book of Acts indicates that it shouldn’t be too long. Baptism seems to have been one of the first evidences of faith in Christ. With all of the false professions of being born again in our culture, perhaps it is advisable to make sure that a person really understands what it means to be saved. There should be some evidence of the new birth.

A woman in my church in California wanted to be baptized, but she was living with a man out of wedlock. They had been together twelve years and had an 8-year-old daughter. She asked me what she should do. It was a dilemma, because if she married the man, she would be entering into marriage with an unbeliever, which is forbidden. But if she left him, she would be breaking up what in effect was a family, removing her daughter from her father. After much counsel, I advised her to legalize what was in effect already a marriage. But the man would not agree to this. He was proud of living together “without a piece of paper.” At that point, her only option if she wanted to follow Christ was to leave him. She did and then I baptized her. Her faith in Christ led her to make the difficult decision to obey Christ rather than to live in sin.

In the case of children who want to be baptized, the child should give some clear evidence of being truly born again, both in terms of understanding and behavior. He should be old enough to grasp something of the significance and meaning of baptism, and old enough to remember the event as a definite commitment to Jesus Christ. The reason he should want to be baptized is not because his friends have gotten baptized! He should want to do it in obedience to Christ. True faith results in obedience.

B. Baptism is a matter of obedience to Christ.

Jesus Himself submitted to baptism, in obedience to His Father. In so doing, He identified Himself with those whom He came to save. He set the example for our obedience in baptism. And, as we saw in the Great Commission, Christ commanded baptism for all that follow Him. We cannot willfully neglect baptism and at the same time claim to be His disciples.

Someone may object, “But I’m a shy person. I could never get up in front of all those people!” Can you imagine a bride telling her fiancé, “I really love you, but I’d just be too embarrassed to stand in front of all those people and confess that I love you”? Jesus said (Matt. 10:32-33), “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus said (John 14:23), “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” If you love Christ because He has saved your soul, then you will want to let everyone know it. Obedience to Christ’s command to be baptized is an initial way to confess that you love Him.

3. Therefore, baptism really matters.

  • Baptism matters in your relationship to God.

It tells the Lord that you love Him and are willing to obey Him. In some cultures, you can say that you believe in Christ and you may be ridiculed or ostracized. But if you get baptized, you’re marked for death! Although we don’t face this, your baptism should be saying, “Lord, I’m willing to forsake everything, even my own life, to follow You!”

  • Baptism matters to the church.

It greatly encourages others in the church to see you make a public confession of your faith in Christ. It’s like going to the maternity ward, where you look through the window at all those new little lives. It fills you with joy and hope over the miracle of new life. It encourages us to see the transforming power of the gospel. Even if you’re not a recent convert, you owe it to us! Your obedience will encourage us to obey Christ, even when it’s hard.

  • Baptism matters to those outside the church.

Baptism can be a powerful witness of the saving power of Jesus Christ. This is especially true when a young person gets saved and begins to live in obedience to Christ in his home. Rather than sassing his parents, he cheerfully obeys them. Rather than complaining about helping around the house, he looks for ways to help. His baptism shows that the difference in his life is because he now follows Jesus Christ.

Many semi-religious, unbelieving parents have their children baptized as infants as a magic protection plan. They think that being baptized insures that the child will go to heaven. They may say to their child, “We baptized you as an infant. Why do you need to be baptized again?” If he lovingly, sensitively explains from the Bible the true meaning of baptism, backed up by his changed life, it can be a powerful witness to them.

  • Baptism matters to you.

It is a public testimony of your faith in Jesus Christ. It pictures that you are totally identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6) and that He has washed you from your sins (Acts 22:16). It symbolizes your separation from the world and your union with Christ, your Bridegroom. Later, you will be tempted to go back to the world. Your love for Christ may grow cold. But you can look back to your baptism and say, “I knew then the reality of Christ. I can go back to Him again and He will welcome me, because I belong to Him.”


The most important question from today’s message is, “Have you truly repented of your sins and trusted in Christ alone to save you from God’s judgment?” If not, why not? But if so, the next question is, “Why do you delay?” Be baptized as a public confession that you have trusted in Christ as your Savior and Lord!

Application Questions

  1. If you encountered a professing Christian who said, “Jesus is my Savior, but I’m waiting to follow Him as Lord,” what would you say? What Scriptures would you use?
  2. What factors might warrant holding off after conversion on baptism for a time?
  3. Should baptism by immersion be a requirement for church membership? Why/why not? Support with Scripture.
  4. Some groups teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Is this a serious heresy? Why/why not?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2009, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church), Faith, Soteriology (Salvation)

Dealing With Sinning Christians: An Overview of Church Discipline (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

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August 13, 2006

Special Message

Years ago, I read about a pastor who became involved immorally with a married woman in his congregation. They each divorced their respective mates and then were married to each other in the church of which he was the pastor. The congregation turned out en masse for the wedding, giving open support.

That tragic story reflects the dominant mood in the American church today, that we should show love and tolerance to those who fall into sin. That mentality is behind the push to accept practicing, unrepentant homosexuals as church members and even as pastors. Even among churches that would not condone these things, there are very few that practice biblical church discipline towards those who persist in sin. Pastor John MacArthur reports (foreword, A Guide to Church Discipline, by J. Carl Laney [Bethany House, 1985], p. 7) that a leading pastor once told him, “If you discipline church members, they’ll never stand for it, and you’ll empty the place. You can’t run around sticking your nose into everyone’s sin.”

If you’ve ever attended MacArthur’s church, you know that that pastor’s advice was not prophetic! The place is not exactly empty! But neither was that pastor’s advice biblical. Following his counsel would put us in disobedience to the words of the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul. Scripture is clear:

The church must practice biblical church discipline toward professing Christians who persist in known sin.

Perhaps no verse is so taken out of context and misapplied as Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” If you keep reading, in verse 6 Jesus says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine….” In verse 15 He adds, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” To obey those verses, you must make some fairly astute judgments! You must judge that a person is a dog or a swine or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 5:12, Paul tells the church that they are responsible to judge those within the church. Practicing biblical church discipline does not violate Jesus’ command, “Judge not.”

I realize that for some of you who do not have much background in the Bible, this topic will sound as if we’re trying to revive the Salem witch trials or the Inquisition. But the Bible is our standard for faith and practice and it has much to say about this subject. While I cannot be comprehensive, I want to give an overview of biblical church discipline. We will consider the purposes of church discipline, the problems that require church discipline, and the procedure for church discipline.

The purposes for church discipline:

We may consider these purposes in four directions:

1. Toward God, church discipline vindicates publicly His honor and holiness.

God’s holiness is a dominant theme in the Bible. It means that He is totally apart from and opposed to all sin. In the Old Testament, God told His people Israel (Lev. 19:2), “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The New Testament repeats that command (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Peter refers to the church as a holy priesthood and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:5, 9).

Because of this, when God’s people sin, He will disassociate Himself from them and take them through severe discipline if they do not repent and deal with the sin in their midst. You see this often in the Old Testament (e.g., the story of Achan, Joshua 7), and also in the New Testament. In the messages to the churches in Revelation 2 & 3, the Lord repeatedly warns that if they do not deal with their sins, He will set Himself against the church and even remove that church’s lampstand. God would rather have no testimony in a city than to have His name mingled with sin.

2. Toward the church itself, church discipline restores purity and deters others from sinning.

In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul commands, “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.” Leaven (yeast) is a type of sin. If you put a small amount of yeast in flour, it spreads throughout the entire lump (5:6). Paul is saying symbolically what he also (5:2, 13) states plainly, that the church needed to remove the sinning man so that the purity of the church would be restored and the sin would not spread any further.

You can see this principle in a family. If the parents do not consistently and impartially discipline a defiant child, very soon the other children learn that there are no consequences if they disobey their parents. The sin of the first child spreads to the others. The same thing happens in a classroom with a teacher who does not enforce discipline. Soon the entire class is out of control. On the government level, if the authorities do not enforce the laws, the whole country soon devolves into anarchy.

In the local church, God has given authority to the elders (Heb. 13:17). Part of their responsibility is to uphold God’s standards of holiness and do all that they can to keep the church doctrinally and morally pure. For example, take a single Christian woman who knowingly disobeys Scripture by marrying an unbeliever. If the elders do not deal with her sin, other single women in the church, who have been waiting on the Lord for a Christian husband, will be tempted to date and marry unbelievers. The biblical standard that believers should only marry believers would be diluted and sin would spread through the church.

If we don’t uphold God’s standards of holiness, it doesn’t take long for the church to become just like the world. Although the city of Corinth was infamous for its sexual promiscuity, this sin went beyond what the pagans practiced (1 Cor. 5:1)! But, it didn’t shock the Corinthian church! They were actually boasting about their acceptance and love toward this man who was intimate with his stepmother (5:2)! The woman was probably not a believer, or Paul would have told the church to remove her as well. But he says that they should have mourned and removed this man from their midst. Sin in other professing Christians should cause us to mourn, not to be tolerant. God would rather that a local church be pure and small than that it be big, but tolerant of sin in its midst.

3. Toward the world, church discipline displays God’s standards of holiness and draws a line between the church and the world.

To attempt to attract people from the world into the church, today’s church seems bent on showing the world, “See, we’re just like you are. We’re normal folks. We watch raunchy movies and TV shows, just as you do. We have marital problems and get divorced just as frequently as you do. We won’t judge sexual immorality of any kind, because we’re tolerant people, just as you are. Come and join us!”

But Scripture is clear that the church is to be distinct from the world by being separated unto our God, who is holy. I’m not talking about adding legalistic rules for things that are not in the Bible, but rather about being a people who are captivated by the beauty of God in His holiness, so that we willingly distance ourselves from this corrupt world. As 1 John 2:15 puts it, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Toward God, church discipline vindicates publicly His honor and holiness. Toward the church itself, church discipline restores purity and deters others from sinning. Toward the world, church discipline displays God’s standards of holiness and draws a line between the church and the world.

4. Toward the offender, church discipline conveys biblical love and seeks to restore the sinner.

Some wrongly think that love is opposed to discipline. But the Bible is clear that we cannot love our brothers and sisters in Christ if we do not deal with their sins in the way that God prescribes. Because God loves us, He disciplines us so that we may share His holiness (Heb. 12:6, 10). Because sin destroys people and relationships, to be indifferent toward someone who is sinning is really to hate that person.

Also, as we’ve seen, sin is like yeast that spreads throughout the whole lump of dough. It’s like a contagious disease. If it isn’t checked, it will infect others. That’s why James (5:19-20) says, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Love seeks to turn a sinner from his sin.

The goal in church discipline is never vindictive. We are not seeking to punish people or to throw them out of the church. Our aim is to restore the offender. In Galatians 6:1, Paul writes, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” “Looking to yourself” implies that you, too, could fall into sin. So, do not be self-righteous or condescending. “Gentleness” does not mean weakness, but strength under the control of God Spirit. Whether we sharply rebuke (Gal. 2:11-14; Matt. 16:23; Titus 1:13) or gently appeal should be determined by what we think will be the most effective in restoring the sinner to obedient fellowship with God.

Some will ask, “But what if it doesn’t work?” The answer is, we need to be obedient to God and leave the results to Him. There is no biblical guarantee that it will work every time. Jesus said (Matt. 18:15b), “if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

The problems that require church discipline:

First, I will give the principle and then comment briefly: We should deal with any professing believer who associates with this church and is knowingly and rebelliously disobeying the clear commandments of Scripture.

  • The person must be a professing believer.

Paul had written a now lost letter in which he told the church not to associate with immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9). Now he clarifies that he did not mean unbelievers, but rather a “so-called brother” who is immoral or covetous or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or a swindler (5:11). He states (5:12) that it is God’s business to judge those outside of the church, but it is the church’s responsibility to judge those within the church. Our first step should be to make sure that the sinning person understands the gospel. Sometimes the problem is that the person is not truly born again.

  • The person must associate with this church.

Our church constitution and by-laws spell out that by joining this church, you are submitting to the process of church discipline. But, also, if someone attends this church regularly and especially if he is involved in any church ministry, we must practice church discipline. The testimony of this church is at stake, and the world doesn’t check to see if the person is an official member.

  • The person must be knowingly and rebelliously disobedient.

This calls for discernment. Paul writes (1 Thess. 5:14), “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” We should not encourage the unruly, but admonish him. We should not admonish the fainthearted or weak, but encourage and help them. Sometimes, a newer believer is in sin due to ignorance of God’s Word. He is weak. But, if he continues defiantly in the sin after you show him what the Word says, he then becomes unruly.

I find the analogy of child rearing helpful here. If my three-year-old was acting like a three-year-old, I tried to help him learn how to behave in a more mature manner. But I didn’t discipline him for being three. But when your three-year-old is defiant, you must deal with his rebellion. If a believer is overcome by a sin, but is repentant and wants help, you help him. But if he says, “I have a right to do as I please,” he is defiant and needs discipline.

  • The person must be disobeying the clear commands of Scripture.

You don’t discipline someone for areas on which the Bible has no clear commandments. Drinking alcoholic beverages is not grounds for discipline; drunkenness is. Watching movies is not grounds for discipline; watching pornographic movies is. Scripture contains many lists of sins (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:25-5:6; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:2-5; etc.). We may summarize these as:

  1. Violations of God’s moral commandments (1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5).
  2. Unresolved relational sins, such as gossip, slander, anger, and abusive speech (Matt. 18:15-20; Eph. 4:25-31; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:8).
  3. Divisiveness in the church (Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 3:10; 3 John 9-10).
  4. False teaching on major doctrines (Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Tim. 1:20; 6:3-5; 2 John 9-11).
  5. Disorderly conduct and refusal to work (2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 5:8).

How do we deal with those who persist in such sins?

The procedure for church discipline:

The Scriptures give the following steps:

1. A private meeting (Matt. 18:15).

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Usually it is better to go in person (rather than talk over the phone), unless there are concerns for physical safety or propriety. Do not put yourself in a potentially compromising situation with the opposite sex.

Your objective is not to “set him straight” or to “get things off your chest” by letting him know how wrong he is. Your aim is to get him to listen so as to win him back to the Lord. The Greek word translated “show him his fault” is a legal term that means to convince in a court of law. The best way of convincing someone of his sin is to take him to Scripture. Your opinion really doesn’t matter. God’s Word is the authority.

Jesus says that if you have knowledge of your brother’s sin, then you (not the pastor) are the one to go to him. While you should pray before you go, you should not call 15 people to have them pray. That just spreads gossip. You may need to seek godly counsel, but limit the circle of knowledge to those who can help.

Also, check your own heart first, to make sure that you’ve taken any logs out of your own eye (Matt. 7:3-5). You are not exempt from temptation and sin, so look to yourself (Gal. 6:1). Check your motives. If you are going to try to prove that he’s wrong and you’re right, you’re going for the wrong reason. You should go in obedience to God, with the aim of restoring your brother to God and to those he has wronged.

Make sure that you get the facts. If someone tells you about someone else’s sin, tell the informant to go directly to the sinning person in line with these guidelines. Do not go to someone on the basis of hearsay or gossip, unless you are going to find out the facts. Go in gentleness (strength under control) and wisdom. Sometimes, there is a need for sharp rebuke (Titus 1:13; 2:15), but usually the best course is a brotherly, heartfelt appeal (1 Tim. 5:1-2). If the sinning person knows that you genuinely care for him, he will be more likely to listen and respond positively.

How many times should you go to the person before going to the next level? Scripture does not say. If the person repents, the discipline process stops there. You have won your brother. The exception to this would be a situation where the person’s sin is publicly known. For example, if a woman gets pregnant out of wedlock, she (and the man, if he is in the church) needs to make a public confession, so that the church can openly forgive her and support her in having her child. Or if a Christian man is convicted of a crime that is made public, even if he repents, he needs to ask the church to forgive him for dishonoring the name of Christ.

2. A private conference with witnesses.

If the person does not listen to you, Jesus says to take two or three witnesses (Matt. 18:16). These may be others who know of the problem or it may include church leaders. The point is to strengthen the reproof and to cause the offender to realize the seriousness of the situation. Your goal is to bring the sinner to repentance and restoration.

3. A public announcement to the church.

Although Christ does not specify, other Scriptures indicate that this step should be administered through the church leaders, who have authority over the church (Heb. 13:17). Before an announcement is made to the church, the leaders should make an effort to contact the offender and warn him that his sin will become public knowledge on a particular date if he does not repent before that time.

If the sin has to be made public, the church should be instructed in how to relate to the sinning person. Church members should no longer fellowship with the person as if there is no problem. Paul says not even to eat with such a one (1 Cor. 5:11). He tells the Thessalonians not to associate with such a one, but then adds, “And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:14-15). This shows that all contact is not forbidden, but we aren’t to relate on a normal, buddy-buddy level that ignores the person’s sin. Any contact must communicate, “We love you and we want you back in the fellowship of the church, but we can’t condone what you’re doing and we can’t accept you back until you genuinely repent.”

4. Public exclusion from the church.

The Lord says that the final step is, “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer” (Matt. 18:17). Paul says, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13; also, 5:2). It seems to me that Paul combines steps 3 & 4, mentioning the man’s sin before the church and excluding him from the fellowship at the same time. If someone’s sin is damaging the reputation of the church, he needs to be removed from the fellowship quickly.

5. Public restoration when there is genuine repentance.

Sadly, some love their sin more than they love Christ and they will not repent. Others do not repent and find another church that accepts them in spite of their sin. That is too bad. Churches should not welcome those who are under the discipline of another church. But some will repent, which involves godly sorrow over their sin (2 Cor. 7:8-10) and restitution where appropriate (Philemon 18-19). A person’s deeds should reflect repentance (Acts 26:20).

If the person expresses genuine repentance, then the church should be informed and the person should be forgiven and accepted back into the fellowship (2 Cor. 2:8). Of course, there should be a time of proving before a repentant person is put into positions of ministry or leadership. Also, the restoration process should include some training or discipling to help the person grow and avoid the sin in the future.


The church is not a fellowship of sinless people. We are a fellowship of forgiven sinners who, by God’s grace, are pursuing a life of holiness and obedience to our Lord. We dare not fall into spiritual pride by thinking that we are better than a member who has fallen into sin. Paul says that our response to sin in a church member should be to mourn (1 Cor. 5:2).

But if we do not deal with those who refuse to repent of sin as the Lord commands, His church will soon blend in with the world and the salt will lose its savor. The Lord warns that He will come and remove our lampstand (Rev. 2:5). So we must practice biblical church discipline toward professing Christians who persist in sin.

Application Questions

  1. How do you know when to confront a sinning Christian? Since we’re all sinners in process, what sins need confrontation?
  2. What should a church do if a member who is close to another member under discipline refuses to break fellowship?
  3. How should family members relate to a sinning family member who is under church discipline?
  4. How would you answer the objection that church discipline will drive people away and that we can’t minister to people who leave our church?
  5. In light of the possibility of a lawsuit, is church discipline advisable in our day? Why/why not?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Church Discipline, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church)

Should Christians Endorse War? (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14; and other texts)

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October 14, 2001

Special Message

Marla and I will never forget standing in line at the Eiffel Tower in Paris on the first day of our trip to Europe when we learned about the terrible terrorist attack on the United States. Since our nation is now at war in Afghanistan, I thought that before I resume our study of Acts, it would be helpful to explore biblically the question, “Should Christians endorse war?”

In almost 25 years of pastoral ministry, I have never addressed this question. Since it is such an important and practical matter, you might be surprised to learn that the New Testament never directly addresses the issue. It is necessary to extrapolate certain biblical principles that apply to the moral and ethical questions involved. Because there are seemingly opposing principles to consider, such as loving our enemies versus maintaining justice, you will find Christians who are committed to God’s Word on both sides of the issue. We who hold to biblical truth may think that only theological liberals would argue for pacifism. But there are those who hold to the inspiration and authority of Scripture who oppose war for any reason. While I respect and do not question their commitment to Christ and His Word, I will let you know up front that I do not agree with their reasoning. Succinctly stated, my position is:

While Christians should seek peace, there are times in this fallen world where the only means to peace is to defeat an aggressive enemy.

I want to develop four thoughts to explore the subject:

1. We must keep in mind the fallen condition of the human race, including our own sinfulness.

Whenever you are attacked, whether on the national or personal level, there is the tendency to assume that you are totally righteous and the aggressor is totally evil. But this is never the case. The Bible plainly indicts us all: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “There is none righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10). We may be right on a particular issue or occasion, but we need to check ourselves from the thought that easily comes when we are attacked, “I am without fault.” That thought leads us to pride, but the Bible enjoins us to humility by first taking the log out of our own eye in any conflict (Matt. 7:5).

I am not suggesting that the recent terrorist attack on the United States was anything but evil. Nor am I suggesting that we somehow deserved it. But any tragedy, whether it is the tower of Siloam falling down and killing 18 people, or an evil tyrant shedding blood, should cause those of us who were spared to examine our own hearts before God (Luke 13:1-5). Do we need to repent?

Have we gotten so caught up in loving this world and the things of the world that we have failed to give and labor for the cause of evangelizing the Muslim world? Are we burdened for the millions of lost Muslims and others around the world who have not heard the gospel? If so, we will be praying and giving from our abundance to take the gospel to them. If we honestly would admit that we don’t care about the eternal destiny of these people, the shocking events of September 11th should cause us to repent of our wrong priorities and to make sure that we are committed to the cause of world evangelization. I am not saying that we could have prevented the attack or that in any way we are responsible for it. Rather, I am saying that the attack should cause us first to look to ourselves and make sure that our priorities are right before God.

Also, keeping in mind our own propensity toward sin will restrain us from using or endorsing excessive force to achieve our military aims. I admit that when I see Muslim people cheering at what happened in New York and Washington, and shouting “Death to the United States!” it makes me angry. I feel like saying, “Blow their country off the globe!” But that would be a sinful, not a godly, response. While it is morally right to bring the terrorists to justice and to insure the rule of law around the world, it is not right to use more force than is necessary to bring about these goals.

Also, it seems to me that the pacifist view that war is never permissible underestimates the fallenness of the human race. Some leaders and some governments are so bent on pursuing evil aims that it is at best naïve and at worst to contribute to more evil not to stop them with force. One of the aims of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden is the elimination of the nation Israel. Short of their being converted, no amount of diplomacy or peace talks will remove their evil intent. Only adequate military force will insure the preservation of Israel. To assume differently is to disregard the depth of human depravity.

So the first principle that we must keep in mind when we think about going to war is the fallen condition of the human race, including our own sinfulness.

2. We must recognize and submit to God’s purpose for human government.

God ordained human government to promote justice and peace by upholding law and order. By extension, in order to maintain law and order within its borders, governments must maintain reasonable national defense, so that aggressors from the outside do not invade and disrupt the peace.

In Romans 13:1-7, Paul makes it clear that “there is no authority except from God, and that those which exist are established by God.” Also, he goes so far as to call the government “a minister of God,” and says that God gives governments the authority to bear the sword in order to enforce punishment on those who practice evil (13:4). Peter reinforces this purpose of government to punish evildoers and praise those who do right (1 Pet. 2:14). The Old Testament often talks about the role of the king in promoting justice and righteousness in society (see Psalms 45 & 101, for example).

The Christian pacifist argues that there is a separation between church and state, and that what the state can do, namely, use force to restrain evil doers, Christians should never do (see Herman Hoyt and Myron Augsburger, in War: Four Christian Views [IVP], ed. by Robert Clouse). If Christians serve in government, they must only do so at “levels where they can honestly carry out the functions of their office without compromising their fidelity to Jesus Christ as Lord” (Augsburger, p. 89). But it seems to me that this would preclude a Christian from serving as President or in Congress, or in the police force or military, since all of those positions involve approving or using force to uphold the peace of our land.

Since God ordained human government, which necessarily involves the use of force to maintain law and order, it is not wrong for Christians to be involved in law enforcement, whether on the local or national level. When some soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do in order to demonstrate their repentance, he did not tell them to get out of the military and avoid using force. Rather, he told them not to take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely, and to be content with their wages (Luke 3:14). As Harold O. J. Brown argues (ibid., p. 112),

If we accept the existence of human government in a fallen world, we must accept some use of force. If we acknowledge the rightness of punishing evildoers by force—they will seldom voluntarily submit to it—then it seems possible to justify some acts of national defense in war. If we can justify the police, we can justify the army.

As I understand their position, to be consistent pacifists would need to forego all police protection. If a man breaks into your house and threatens to rape or kill your wife or daughters, a pacifist would have to allow him to do as he pleases. To call the police or to fight the intruder personally would be to fight violence with violence, which the pacifist condemns.

But I would argue that to be passive in the face of such evil is to be evil ourselves. Not to attempt to restrain evil when we can do so is to condone the evil. God has ordained authority, whether in human government or the authority of husbands and fathers in the family, to protect those under authority. If we can justify using personal force to defend our families from violent people or if, as Brown argues, we can justify calling the police to protect us or to protect others, then we can justify our nation using military force to protect its citizens and to promote peace and justice. Paul’s use of the word “sword” shows that the government’s authority extends to the taking of human life if necessary.

During one of the press conferences this past week, a reporter asked either Defense Secretary Rumsfeld or Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Myers (I don’t recall which), “You say that the United States wants justice, not revenge. What is the difference?” It struck me as a dumb question, but since the reporter seemed not to know, perhaps it deserves an answer.

Vengeance carries with it the idea of evening the score, or of paying back an enemy what he did to us. Vengeance would mean going to some Muslim country and blowing up some key building or buildings, such as a mosque during a worship service. Since they killed our innocent civilians, we will retaliate by doing the same. That would be wrong, from a biblical perspective.

Justice means bringing those who violated the law to trial before a court of law and imposing the appropriate sentences; or killing them by police or military action, if it is not possible to capture them alive. Maintaining such law and justice is one of the prime tasks of God-ordained governments.

Thus we must keep in mind the fallen condition of the human race, including our own sinfulness. We must recognize and submit to God’s purpose for human government, to maintain peace and justice through the use of appropriate force.

3. We must seek peace through non-violent means whenever possible.

This principle applies both to individuals and to governments. The use of force should always be the last resort, when all else has failed. On an individual level, unless immediate self-defense or the defense of another person requires it, we should not use force ourselves, but should call law enforcement officers to restrain the aggressor. On a national level, seeking a peaceful resolution of conflict should always be the first approach. I believe that our President attempted that by asking the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. But I also believe that he is correct in going after them militarily when they refused. To aid and abet a criminal is to be responsible on some level for his crime.

Furthermore, a government should never appease an aggressor by compromise. As Winston Churchill said, “The belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small state to the wolves is a fatal delusion.” He also observed, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last” (Churchill: Speaker of the Century, by James Humes [Stein and Day], p. 270). The pursuit of peace should never involve compromising what is just.

But we must make sure, both as individual Christians and as a nation, that we always seek peace through non-violent means and resort to the use of force only as a last resort. Even though Josiah was a godly king who instituted many reforms, he wrongly insisted on engaging the Egyptian king in battle. The Egyptian king tried to dissuade him from combat, but Josiah wrongly pursued war, not peace. As a result he was tragically killed in battle at age 39 (2 Chron. 34:2; 35:20-24). As even the warrior king, David, wrote, those who fear the Lord and desire life should seek peace, and pursue it (Ps. 34:11, 12, 14). But, having said that,

4. There are times when the only means to peace and protection is to fight against an aggressive enemy.

This comes back to our first point, that the human race is fallen in sin, and that some leaders and nations are so intent on evil that the only way to restrain them is through war. Augustine was the first Christian thinker to advocate the just war theory, in which he argued that a war that is fought to restore peace and obtain justice is not incompatible with Christian love (see Clouse, War, pp. 14-15). Arthur Holmes (ibid., pp. 120-121) outlines some conditions for a just war: (1) It must be for a just cause. The evils that are fought must be serious enough to justify killing. (2) It must have a just intention, namely to secure peace. It is never right to go to war for revenge, conquest, economic gain, or ideological supremacy. (3) It must be a last resort, when all peaceful means have failed. (4) It should be formally declared by a legitimate government. (5) It should have limited objectives. The purpose is not to destroy a nation’s economic or political institutions. (6) It should use proportionate means, limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks. And, (7) it should seek, as much as possible, to avoid directly attacking civilian non-participants in the war. (See also, J. Budziszewski, World Magazine [9/29/01], p. 28).


Probably, most of you agree with the position that I have outlined in this message. My aim is to help you clarify your thinking from a biblical perspective. Judging from the proliferation of bumper stickers in town and from some of  the responses of local residents reported in the paper, there are many who would argue against any war, even in the current situation. I want to equip you to interact thoughtfully with such folks, using the conversation to stimulate them to think about God and His righteous judgment. I want to close by giving four action points for us as a church:

(1) The terrorist attack and our nation’s response should move us to more prayer. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul urges the church to pray, especially for political leaders, so that Christians can lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. In our homes and in our church gatherings, we should be praying for our leaders and for other world leaders, that peaceful conditions would prevail around the globe.

(2) The current situation should make us alert for opportunities for evangelism. After exhorting the church to prayer, Paul goes on to say that God our Savior desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3-4). A military victory against the terrorists will not solve the problem of sin in this world. Only the gospel of Christ can do that. Here on the home front, people are fearful and worried about more terrorist attacks. It is a great time to tell them of the only legitimate way not to fear death, namely, by knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

(3) We should act with visible love toward Arab and Islamic people that we may have contact with. Sadly, there have been outbreaks of violence against Arabic people in America, simply because of their race or religion. Most Muslims are not in favor of terrorism, and we would be wrong to treat them as our enemies. A friend of mine was in Turkey when the attack took place, and he said that many Turks came up to him on the street and expressed their sympathy over what happened. But even if a Muslim expresses sympathy for the terrorists, we are still required to love  our enemies for Jesus’ sake. We should pray for their salvation and we should reach out to them in love as we should to any lost people, even if they mistreat us. They need Jesus as their Savior.

(4) Finally, as I already mentioned, we should examine our own hearts and confess our sins, both personal and national, to the Lord. If we have been apathetic about reaching the lost, we need to repent. If we have harbored hatred for certain racial groups, we need to repent. If we have squandered our wealth on personal pleasure and selfish living, without regard for taking the gospel to those who are lost, we should repent. If we have fallen into loving the world and living as if this life is all there is, we should repent. Genuine repentance is more than feeling sorry for our wrongs. It also involves turning from our sins and taking steps to rectify our wrongs.

The Bible promises that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He can protect and restore peace to our land. But He wants us to seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Then He will add all the other things that we need (Matt. 6:33).

Rather than concluding with a song, I’d like us to conclude with prayer. According to 1 Corinthians 11, women are permitted to pray in church if they do so submissively, but according to 1 Timothy 2:8, it is the men who should take the lead in public prayer. I’d like for us to break up into groups of 4-6 people. If you don’t know someone in the group, introduce yourselves. Then several, especially the men, should lead in prayer for our nation, our leaders, our service men and women, and our church. Pray for God to use this conflict to establish peace and to open the door for the gospel both at home and in Muslim lands.

Discussion Questions

  1. Someone asks, “How can you reconcile turning the other cheek with going to war?” Your response?
  2. What should a Christian from a nation like Afghanistan do, where it is a capital crime to be a Christian? Is revolution ever justified?
  3. Can we pray for justice and yet love our enemy at the same time? How?
  4. Pacifists argue that if a Christian goes to war, he may be forced to kill a fellow believer on the other side. Does this preclude a Christian from combat duty?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2001, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Terrorism

Let’s Stop The Rhetoric About Abortion

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Also published: Arizona Daily Sun, January 19, 1996

President Clinton has voiced his opinion that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.” I hope the American public can see this for what it is: Rhetoric. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines rhetoric as “insincere or grandiloquent language.” In case “grandiloquent” is not a familiar word, it means that which is marked by “lofty or pompous eloquence: BOMBAST.” And, “bombast” is “pretentious inflated speech or writing.” You get the idea--we’re listening to a president who mouths misleading cliches, expecting the unthinking public to nod in agreement.

But I trust that you are not unthinking! Think with me about what is being said. First, to say that abortions are legal is, sad to say, true. This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade, arguably the worst Supreme Court decision in history alongside the Dred Scott decision which declared blacks non-persons under the Constitution. But legal does not equal moral!

Mr. Clinton wants abortions to be safe. That’s nice! Safe for whom? They certainly are not safe for the baby, who is killed or maimed for life (if the procedure fails and he lives, which sometimes happens). To say that they can be safe for the woman is debatable, since studies show many serious long-term physical risks from abortions, not to mention serious emotional effects. One study of the emotional effects on the woman showed that 65 percent had experienced suicidal thoughts after they aborted their babies, and 31 percent attempted suicide. Those aren’t safe odds!

And, the President wants abortions to be rare, which presumably means less than the current 1.5 million a year (well over 30 million since Roe v. Wade). That’s a staggering pile of little bodies, deprived of the chance to live, in most cases simply because it was inconvenient to have the baby!

“But, wait a minute!” you say. “The President says that abortions should be legal, safe, and rare, not that they are! It’s a goal to work toward, not a reality.” But this, too, is pure rhetoric in the worst sense of the word (“insincere, pretentious speech”).

If he really wants abortions to be rare, then let’s push for legislation to eliminate all abortions performed for convenience, or for sexual preference (ironically for the women’s movement, many females are aborted because male babies are more desired). If we restricted abortions to cases of rape, incest, serious deformities, or to save the life of the mother, 97-99 percent of the abortions currently performed would cease immediately. While I would argue that it is just as immoral to kill a baby conceived through rape or incest or to kill a deformed baby as it is to kill a baby who was conceived against the wishes of the parents, I would agree to legislation limiting abortions to the above-stated causes because it would immediately save well over a million babies each year. If the President’s words are not just rhetoric, let’s get on with such legislation!

Most people mistakenly think that Roe v. Wade restricts second and third trimester abortions. This is simply not true. Approximately eight percent of abortions are done on second and third trimester babies (that’s over 100,000 per year), and according to Roe v. Wade a woman can legally obtain an abortion for any reason whatsoever right up to the point of birth.

But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that first trimester babies are somehow less than human. The fact is, these babies are no different than you or I except that they haven’t lived quite as long as we have. They have a beating heart at 24 days, brainwaves at 43 days, and a complete skeleton and reflexes by 6 weeks. Time and nurture is all they need to be happy little kids playing at the park. Even Jesus started out on this earth as a first trimester baby! I’m glad He wasn’t aborted!

Last year, Susan Smith drowned her two toddlers by strapping them in their car seats and aiming her driver-less car into a lake. Political cartoonist John Deering drew a cartoon showing her car being hauled out of the lake, complete with a South Carolina license plate, a Baby-on-Board sign in the back window, and a Pro-Choice sticker on the rear bumper. There was no caption; there didn’t need to be. His point was clear: If it is wrong for a mother to choose to kill her toddlers, why is it not wrong to kill them a few months before?

A Planned Parenthood newsletter earlier this year ran an article titled, “Help Stop the Violence and Defend the Right to Choose.” The violence referred to was not killing babies, but killing abortion doctors. I’m against killing abortion doctors, but I’m also against Planned Parenthood which kills babies! Pro-choice means the choice to kill children who just aren’t as old as other children. The right to choose to kill your children should not be legal because it is not moral. Let’s drop the rhetoric.

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

Asking The Right Questions About Life

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A four-year-old was enjoying lemonade and cookies on his grandmother’s patio when a bee started buzzing around the table. He became very upset, and his mother tried to calm him by explaining, “Nathan, that bee is more afraid of you than you are of him. Look how much bigger you are. Besides, if that bee stings you, his stinger will fall out and he’ll die.”

That four-year-old considered this for a moment and then asked, “Does the bee know that?”

That was a perceptive question! Often, we fail in life because we fail to ask good questions or we ask the wrong questions. When it comes to spiritual matters, I find many people who are asking the wrong questions: “Can Jesus Christ make my life happy and give me the inner peace I lack?” “Can Jesus help me save my troubled marriage?” “Can Christianity help me raise my children properly?” “Will becoming a Christian help me overcome the addictions in my life?”

I’m not denying that these are important questions. But I am saying that they are not the most important question. Even if you answer them correctly, but do not address the most important question, you will be building your life on a shaky foundation at best.

The problem with these questions is that they approach Jesus from a consumer mentality without regard for the universal reality of death and eternity beyond and without regard for the absolute nature of spiritual truth.

Take the first question, “Can Jesus Christ make my life happy and give me the inner peace I lack?” Suppose you commit your life to Christ and instead of happiness, your life suddenly encounters multiple major trials. Suppose your loved ones are taken in a tragic accident. Suppose you are diagnosed with terminal cancer. These things aren’t quite what you had in mind when you signed up for happiness and peace!

Or, what if someone else claims, “I found happiness and peace through Zen Buddhism”? Is that option just as good as trusting in Christ, as long as it delivers the goods that the religious consumer is looking for?

I am suggesting that since, as George Bernard Shaw observed, the statistics on death are quite impressive—one out of one people die—and since God is not a subjective projection of the human mind, but is an objective Being who created the universe, who is holy, and before whom each one of us must stand for judgment, the right question we all should be asking is, “How can I be right before a holy God?” None of the things we now think of as important will matter in that moment when we die and stand before Almighty God. Since we are all so vulnerable to death, that moment could occur even today for even the most healthy person reading these words.

The answer to this most important question leads us to the person of Jesus Christ. He made staggering claims about himself which preclude us from calling Jesus just a great moral teacher. For example, Jesus said (John 5:21-24, New American Standard Bible), “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

Jesus is claiming here that he has authority to give spiritual life to whomever he wishes! What mere man can make such a claim! He boldly states that God the Father has entrusted all judgment to him, Jesus the Son. Again, what a ludicrous claim in the mouth of a mere man, even a great man! He goes further and claims that he deserves the same honor given to God the Father! That’s not only absurd, it is blasphemy, if Jesus is a mere man!

But, don’t miss it, Jesus also answers the most important question that we all should be asking in light of the certainty of death and the reality of judgment: How can I be right before a holy God? Jesus’ answer is that we need to hear His word and we need to believe it, especially the fact that He was sent here by God the Father. Why was Jesus sent? John 1:29 clearly states that He is the lamb of God, sent to bear the sins of the world. If you trust in Jesus as your sin-bearer, sent from God, Jesus’ promise is that you have crossed over from death to life, that you possess eternal life, and you will not be condemned in the day when you stand before God.

Don’t waste your life because you asked the wrong questions! The most important question is, “How can I be right before a holy God?” Jesus’ answer is, “Put your trust in Me as your sin-bearer and you will have eternal life.”

You may want to express your trust in Christ in prayer to God. A suggested prayer is, “Heavenly Father, I acknowledge my sin, rebellion, and self-centeredness to you. I rightly deserve your holy judgment. But I put my trust in your Son Jesus and His death on the cross, as the just payment for my sins. Thank you for giving me eternal life according to your promise.”

If you have truly put your trust in Jesus Christ, you have been born into God’s family. As a spiritual baby, you need to grow by feeding on God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). Purchase a Bible (I recommend either The New American Standard Bible or The English Standard Version) and begin prayerfully reading it. I suggest you start in the New Testament, such as the Gospel of John or Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As you read, ask two questions: “Who are You, Lord?” “What do You want me to do?”

Also, you need to join a church where the Bible is taught and where God is truly worshiped. If you go to our church web site, there are many resources to help you grow as a Christian. May God bless you as you begin your new life with Him!

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Baptism: Some Common Questions Answered

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Baptism is an important topic that also arouses much controversy and confusion. The decisive issue is, what does the Bible teach? I want to answer from the Bible some common questions about baptism. If you have a different understanding, I simply encourage you to study the Bible for yourself to see what it teaches (see Acts 17:11). Scripture alone, not church tradition, is our authoritative standard.

1. Why is baptism important?

Baptism is important because Christ commanded it as a part of 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” (Matt. 28:19). If we neglect baptism, we’re disobeying our Lord. Since true faith always expresses itself in obedience, those who have believed in Christ and have been properly instructed about baptism will obey Christ by being baptized.

Baptism is the place where a believer publicly confesses Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and identifies with Christ and His church. In talking of our need to follow Him, Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.... For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34, 38). Baptism is the initial way of confessing Christ publicly.

2. What is the meaning of baptism?

The word “baptism” is simply a transliteration of the Greek word, baptisma, and some related words which have the meaning of dipping or immersing. Since the object dipped or immersed became totally identified with the substance in which it was placed, the idea of identification is central to the meaning of baptism. Jesus’ baptism by John publicly identified Him who was sinless with sinners in anticipation of His death and resurrection as their sin-bearer. In that sense, He referred to His own impending death as a “baptism” which He had to undergo (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50). For us baptism symbolizes our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection; our identification with Christ’s church; and, our cleansing from sin.

a) Baptism symbolizes total identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

This is Paul’s point in Romans 6:3-4: “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, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Technically, we were “baptized into Christ” through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is the work whereby the Holy Spirit places a person “in Christ” at the moment of salvation. So what Paul refers to in Romans 6 is not water baptism itself, but what it pictures, namely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At the instant we believed, we became totally identified with Christ. His death became our death, His burial our burial, His resurrection our resurrection. Going under the water symbolizes death to our old way of life; coming up out of the water pictures the beginning of a new life, lived unto God, in the power of Christ’s resurrection (see also, Col. 2:11-12).

b) Baptism symbolizes our identification with Christ’s church.

In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul states, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” The primary reference here, as in Romans 6, is to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, when He places the believer into Christ at the moment of salvation. We become members of His body, the church. Water baptism symbolizes our identification with the church which took place spiritually at the moment of saving faith.

In the act of baptism, a person publicly identifies himself with other Christians. He is saying, “Now I’m one of them.” In our culture, with religious tolerance, water baptism isn’t too threatening. But in some countries, where Christians are persecuted, baptism separates the true believers from the phonies. You open yourself to persecution by being baptized. But even if we don’t risk persecution, baptism should represent that sort of bold, public identification with the church.

c) Baptism symbolizes cleansing from sin.

This is the point of 1 Peter 3:18-21 (see below also) plus several other Scriptures. Cleansing is obviously a primary symbol of water. But it is not immersion in water (or sprinkling, pouring, or whatever mode) that cleanses the heart. Peter makes that very clear. Water can only remove dirt from the flesh. It is the blood of Christ which removes the filth from our hearts, because apart from the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22).

Because baptism is done with water, and water symbolizes cleansing, it is often mentioned in close connection with salvation. In Titus 3:5, Paul refers to God’s saving us “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” But in the immediately preceding words he says that God saved us “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness.” The act of baptism cannot save anyone. We are saved only God’s grace through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8, 9). After Saul had been blinded on the Damascus road, Ananias came to him and said, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon His name” (Acts 22:16).

The Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon (Spurgeon’s Sermons [Baker], 8:31), has a helpful comment in this connection:

I know that believer’s baptism itself does not wash away sin, yet it is so the outward sign and emblem of it to the believer, that the thing visible may be described as the thing signified. Just as our Saviour said, “This is my body,” when it was not his body, but bread; yet, inasmuch as it represented his body, it was fair and right according to the usage of language to say, “Take, eat, this is my body.” And so, inasmuch as baptism to the believer represent[s] the washing of sin—it may be called the washing of sin; not that it is so, but that it is to saved souls the outward symbol and representation of what is done by the power of the Holy Spirit in the man who believes in Christ.

This raises a third question that deserves more discussion:

3. Is baptism necessary for salvation?

The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that salvation is by grace through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). Both Romans and Galatians deal extensively with the theme that we are justified (declared righteous by God) through faith in Jesus Christ, not by any works of righteousness. Many Scriptures affirm what Jesus stated, “... he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). He told the dying thief on the cross, who called out to Him in faith, that he would be with Him that very day in Paradise (Luke 23:39-43). Obviously, the man was not baptized.

At the same time, Scripture is clear that genuine saving faith results in obedience (Eph. 2:10; 2 Thess. 1:8, “obey the gospel”). Thus every true believer who is properly taught and who has opportunity will be baptized in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. But baptism is the result of salvation, not the means to it.

In spite of the overwhelmingly clear testimony of Scripture, for centuries there have been those who have taught the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration, that salvation is bestowed through baptism. This is a serious heresy. If that sounds overly harsh, re-read Galatians. Paul says that if any good works (even God-ordained rites, like circumcision) are added to the gospel, it pollutes God’s pure grace. Paul condemns those who teach such false doctrine in the strongest possible language: “Let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8, 9)!

I cannot deal with all of the verses which are used to support this heresy, but let’s briefly examine a few.

In Acts 2:38, Peter says, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; . . .” If this were the only verse in the Bible that dealt with this subject, and none taught differently, we might conclude that baptism is the condition for forgiveness of sins. But there are many other verses which say nothing of baptism as a requirement for forgiveness. In the very next chapter, Peter exhorts his hearers, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). He does not mention baptism.

Also, in Acts 10:43, Peter tells the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house: “Of Him [Christ] all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Again he does not mention baptism as a requirement for forgiveness.

So how do we explain Acts 2:38? We must understand the close connection in the minds of the apostles between belief and baptism. Peter expected water baptism to be the inevitable result of repentance. To say, “I repent and believe in Jesus” but to refuse to be baptized would call one’s repentance and faith into question. So Peter adds baptism as the naturally understood consequence of repentance; but it is not the baptism, but repentance (which is inextricably bound up with saving faith), that brings forgiveness. Baptism is the outward sign of the inward belief.

I can only deal with one other text that is often used to teach that baptism saves a person. In 1 Peter 3:18-21, Peter mentions the deliverance of Noah from the flood and then states, “And corresponding to that, 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” (3:21).

There are several interpretive problems in this text, but I am only going to deal with the matter of baptism saving us. Peter takes pains to make it clear that the act of baptism—applying water to the flesh—does not save. Rather, it is what the act symbolizes—the appeal to God for a good conscience through the death (3:18) and resurrection (3:21) of Christ—which saves. Peter is saying that the flood was a type of which baptism is the antitype. Just as the flood brought death through judgment to the old, sinful world, but Noah through faith was borne above the waters to a new life, so with baptism. It symbolizes the fact that we have died through our identification with Christ to our old life and have been raised in newness of life to live for Him. The flood was an illustration of our salvation in Christ; baptism is the same. It is the symbol, not the means, of salvation.

4. Who should be baptized? Should we baptize infants?

The clear teaching of Scripture is that all who believe in Christ as Savior and Lord should be baptized in obedience to Christ. The New Testament order is always: The preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ; acceptance of the message by faith on the part of the hearers; then, baptism. Never once is there an instance of baptism preceding faith as the norm to be followed. And there are no examples or commands concerning the baptism of the infants or yet unbelieving children of believing parents. Consider the following verses from Acts, noting the order of belief first, then baptism:

2:41: ... those who had received his word were baptized; ...

8:12: But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.

8:36-38: And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him.

While verse 37 [in brackets] lacks strong textual support in the earliest Greek manuscripts, its insertion in later manuscripts shows what the church held to be the necessary qualification for baptism.

10:44, 46b, 47, 48a: While Peter was still speaking these words [the gospel], the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.... Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

16:30-34: [The Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas] “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household. And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

If any children were baptized that night, the text is clear that they had believed. There is not a shred of support for infant baptism here.

18:8: And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with his whole household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

Thus the abundant testimony of the New Testament is that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ precedes baptism.

Those who argue for infant baptism say that it is the sign of the New Covenant, just as circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (based on Col. 2:11-12). However, while there are some parallels between the two signs, there are many differences. The sign of circumcision was administered to the male, physical descendants of Abraham in obedience to the specific command of God. But the New Testament is clear that it is not the physical seed of Abraham which is saved, but the spiritual seed (Rom. 4:16; 9:8; Gal. 3:7). There simply is no command of God to administer baptism to the physical seed of Christians, male or female. If baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision, then just as circumcision was administered to the physical descendants of Abraham in the age of type, so baptism ought to be administered to the spiritual descendants of Abraham in the age of fulfillment, namely, to believers.

Beyond that, we can argue that infant baptism is potentially detrimental. If an adult mistakenly assumes (as it would be most easy to do if brought up under this teaching), that because he was baptized as an infant, he possesses salvation and is a member of Christ’s church, then he is sadly deceived. There is no grace imparted in the physical act of baptism, apart from the faith of the one being baptized. To count on one’s infant baptism as the basis for standing before God is to trust in a false hope. Only personal faith in the crucified and risen Savior saves a person from sin and hell.

Granted that baptism is only for believers, three more questions arise:

5. How long after one has believed should one wait to be baptized?

Biblical examples indicate that baptism should take place as soon after a person believes as is possible. In the New Testament, the thought of an unbaptized believer was foreign. Baptism followed belief in Christ as one of the first evidences of faith. In many churches today, evangelistic appeals are followed by the statement that believers must not be ashamed to confess Christ publicly. So people are asked to come stand in front of the church as a confession of their faith in Christ. But in the New Testament, new believers confessed their belief in Christ by being baptized, not by walking the aisle.

It may be advisable to allow for a period of time for instruction in the meaning of baptism and to allow for some evidences of genuine faith to be seen in the believer’s life. But this is not required in the Bible. When a person trusts in Christ, he or she should be baptized as soon as it can be arranged.

6. How old should children who believe be before they are baptized?

This depends on the child’s maturity. The child should give some evidence, both in understanding and behavior, of being truly born again. While full understanding of the meaning of baptism is not necessary (what adult can say that he fully understands it?), some comprehension of the meaning and significance is desirable. Parents should not put pressure on the child, but rather let it be his decision in response to his understanding of the matter from the biblical teaching of his parents and the church. In other words, the child should be old enough to make an informed decision to confess his faith in Christ publicly. He should be old enough so that he can remember it all his life.

7. Should a person who was baptized as an infant or as a non-Christian be re-baptized as a Christian? Should a Christian be re-baptized after falling into sin and repenting?

There is one instance of re-baptism in the New Testament. In Acts 19:1-5, Paul encountered some men who had been baptized by John the Baptist. But apparently they had left Palestine before they heard about Jesus. When Paul told them about Christ, they believed and were baptized a second time, this time in the name of the Lord Jesus. This suggests that a person who was baptized before he came to personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (whether as an infant or older) should be re-baptized as a confession of genuine faith in Christ.

There is no indication in the Bible of any baptized believer in Christ being re-baptized after a lapse of faith or when the person came to a deeper understanding of the real meaning of baptism. The way of restoration for a person who has fallen away from the Lord is confession of sin (1 John 1:9).

8. What is the proper mode of baptism?

Immersion, sprinkling, and pouring are three common modes. Some who practice immersion do it three times forward (once for each person of the trinity). I don’t believe that the mode of baptism should be an issue worth dividing over. But immersion is the meaning of the Greek word; it best represents the biblical truths symbolized by baptism; and, it was the method used in the early church.

The Greek word for baptize was used of a ship which had sunk or of a man who had drowned (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Zondervan], 1:144). It means to dip or submerge. But when the translators of the English Bible came to the word, sprinkling was the official mode, so they sidestepped the awkward matter by transliterating the Greek word into English, hence coining the word “baptize.” It should be translated “dipping”!

Immersion best represents the truth of total identification with Christ that baptism symbolizes. When the believer goes into the water, it pictures death (separation) to his old way of life. When he comes out of the water, it speaks of the fact that now he is raised to newness of life in Christ. Immersion also pictures total cleansing from sin. While it ought to be done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19), there is no indication that it requires three separate immersions. Once under better symbolizes the fact that we are placed into Christ once and for all by the Holy Spirit.

Church historian Geoffrey Bromiley states, “Immersion was fairly certainly the original practice and continued in general use up to the Middle Ages. The Reformers agreed that this best brought out the meaning of baptism as a death and resurrection, . . .” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [Baker], p. 113). Even John Calvin (who advocated infant baptism) admits that immersion is the meaning of the term “baptize” and that it was the form used by the primitive church, although he thinks that churches should be free to adopt whatever mode they choose (Institutes of the Christian Religion [4:15:19]).


If you’ve never trusted in Christ as Savior, I hope that you will not think that because you have been baptized or that if you will get baptized, it will insure you of eternal life. Eternal life is the free gift God offers to you based on Christ’s death for your sins. You can only receive it by faith, not by your good deeds (including baptism).

If you know Christ as your Savior but you’ve never been baptized as a believer, I urge you to do so as a confession of your faith in obedience to Christ’s command at the next opportunity.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1994, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Baptism, Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation)

The Basis For Christian Unity

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May 1996

Christian unity is a hot topic. Here in Flagstaff, there have been a number of inter-church “Unity” services and other cooperative events which often include both Catholics and Protestants. I recently received an invitation to attend a worship service being held at the Nativity Catholic Church, where Dr. Emilio Castro, former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, spoke on, “Together on the Faith Journey.” In 1993, several prominent evangelical leaders signed a document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” calling for closer cooperation between these groups. The popular Promise Keepers movement includes as one of its seven promises, “Reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.”

These trends and events raise the issue, What is the basis for Christian unity? Should Protestants and Catholics join together in the cause of Christ? Some of you may have wondered why I do not endorse or participate in “ecumenical” activities. I can only give the briefest sketch here. (I wrote a more lengthy paper on this several years ago; if you want a copy, let me know.) Here are a few thoughts that I hope will clarify and enlighten.

Biblical truth on essential doctrines, not “Christian love,” must be the basis for unity. I often hear, “Jesus said that the world will know we are Christians by our love and unity, not by our doctrine.” The implication is that doctrine is both divisive and secondary to love. But a careful reading of John 17 will show that Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” (17:17). To sanctify means to set apart or make separate. We are to be set apart from the world because we hold to God’s truth.

Satan, the master at deceit, has many servants who claim to be Christian, but who deny fundamental biblical truth and thus are not truly Christian (2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 John 2:18-27). Jesus warned of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). One of the main duties of shepherds (pastors) is to guard the flock, which involves warding off the wolves (Acts 20:28). They also must exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9, plus many references to “sound doctrine” in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). If a person or church knowingly denies or distorts the essential Christian doctrines about the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the way of salvation, or the inspiration and authority of the Bible, we are not one with that person or church, in spite of their claim of being Christian (see Gal. 1:6-9). We are warned not to do anything to endorse such false doctrine (2 John 8-11). Rather, we must refute it.

While we must never compromise sound doctrine, we must hold to truth with wisdom and love. It’s not always easy to distinguish essential doctrines from those that are important, but not absolutely essential for defining orthodox Christianity, so we must be discerning. Also, we may draw lines for personal friendship differently than we would for church unity or cooperation. It is not our place to judge the salvation of a person who differs with us doctrinally (unless he or she clearly denies the faith). Some may be truly saved and yet greatly deceived on some important doctrinal or practical issues. We can be cordial toward the person, and yet register our strong disagreement with him on the particular issue.

We must show grace toward those who are young in faith, who may be confused on certain doctrinal issues (see Acts 18:24-28). We must be patient, kind, and gracious toward those who differ with us on non-essentials. Perfect knowledge is not the requirement for fellowship, since none attain it this side of heaven. We must always be on guard against the spiritual pride that causes us to delight in proving that we are right and others are wrong. We can demolish a brother with our correct doctrine and thus sin by speaking truth without love. But we must never sacrifice essential truth on the altar of love. They cannot be separated.

My desire is that we work with all who truly know Christ to speak the truth in love, so that we all grow up in all aspects into Him (Eph. 4:15). But to join our church in cooperation with other churches which profess to know Christ but deny core biblical truths is to violate the biblical teaching on maintaining sound doctrine and holding to God’s truth. This is why I’m not comfortable participating in “Unity” services with the Roman Catholic Church, which officially promotes serious heresies. The basis for unity is God’s truth, held to in a loving, but uncompromising, manner.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1996, All Rights Reserved.

Related Topics: False Teachers, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

Books For Growing Christians

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(Updated & Revised, July, 2004)

Bringing good Christian books into your home is like inviting godly, wise Christian leaders to share their insights with you and your family. It’s a worthwhile investment. I recommend that you budget money to purchase good Christian books. If you spend money for cable TV or videos & movies, why not budget some money for books to help you and your family to grow in Christ? I usually purchase books rather than borrow because I can then mark them and write comments in the margin as I interact with the authors. I also set goals on how many books I want to read each year to help me keep at it. I try to vary my reading between devotional (often sermons from the godly men of the past), biographical (I have a separate book list entirely on this), and theological.

I usually buy books either used or at a discount. One source: Christian Book Distributors, Box 7000, Peabody, MA 01961-7000. Phone: (800) 247-4784. Web: Another source for some harder-to-find, but solid books: Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service, P.O. Box 613, Carlisle, PA 17013. Phone: (800) 656-0231. Web: Even with shipping costs, you can usually beat retail prices. Also, try Go to to compare prices on books.

This list is selective. There are many other worthwhile books. I’ve listed some that have helped me. Being on this list does not imply total endorsement. Read critically and prayerfully, comparing everything with Scripture! I have tried generally to list them in order of priority for purchase (or my favorites first) under each section. You can get free Bible software (donations requested) at

Reference Works, Bible Study Aids

Note: You can now purchase many of the following works in various combinations on CD-ROM for your computer. Generally, you can get far more books for your buck this way, if you don’t mind having them in this form. You will have to search around and determine what best fits your needs.

  1. New American Standard Bible. It is the most literal translation, although sometimes not smooth. Get the updated version.
  2. English Standard Version Bible. This is a literal translation also, attempting to be a bit smoother than the NASB.
  3. New International Version Bible. For alternate reading & study; less literal than the NASB, but easier to read. The New King James Version is a modern update of the popular old version. Generally the Greek text behind the KJV & NKJV is not as authentic as the text behind the NASB & NIV (although this is hotly debated!).
  4. Exhaustive Concordance to the NASB. A concordance lists every word in the Bible and where it occurs, so you can locate a text if you can remember one word from the verse; or do a theme or word study by tracing every occurrence of a word in the Bible.
  5. The New Bible Dictionary.
  6. The New Unger’s Bible Handbook.
  7. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vol. Best evangelical, multi-volume commentary set. This set has been abridged into the two-volume NIV Bible Commentary, Kenneth Barker & John Kohlenberger III, eds. If you purchase this shorter set, you could also purchase vol. 1 of the Expositor’s set, which contains some very helpful articles.
  8. The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament & New Testament (2 vols.). Brief commentary on the whole Bible (dispensational perspective, written by Dallas Seminary faculty).
  9. Calvin’s Commentaries. Expensive and does not cover whole Bible. But he is devotionally as well as exegetically good. You can find these on the web (
  10. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (5 vols.).
  11. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W. E. Vine. Word studies for students who don’t know Hebrew or Greek.
  12. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, ed. (4 vols.). More scholarly word studies than Vine, but you can use it even if you don’t know Greek. There is also a one volume edition of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
  13. Any good Bible atlas.
  14. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, ed.
  15. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas, ed.
  16. Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity, ed. by Tim Dowley.
  17. Unlocking the Scriptures, Hans Finzel (principles of inductive Bible study; or, there are several other good books that help you learn to study the Bible on your own).


Don’t be scared off by this section! Christian families used to teach their children through catechisms, which are great summaries of biblical truth. American Christians need sound doctrine! In addition to the specific works listed below, I highly recommend that you read any of the Puritans. Also, men like Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones have many sermons in print that combine solid theology, devotion to God, and practical application.

  1. The London Baptist Confession of 1689 (this is now available from Cumberland in a modern version called A Faith to Confess: The 1689 Confession in Modern English).
  2. The Westminster Confession of Faith (along with the Longer and Shorter Catechisms; I don’t agree with their position on baptism and the Sabbath, but it is an excellent summary of solid doctrine).
  3. Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (buy the edition by J. T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, which is more up-to-date than the Beveridge edition). While some sections are hard to read, others are outstanding (the section on prayer is great)! Next to the Bible, Calvin’s Institutes is far and away the most profound book I’ve ever read (twice at this date)!
  4. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought, T. H. L. Parker (synopsis of the Institutes).
  5. Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem. Contemporary, Reformed on salvation. I do not agree with his charismatic leaning. A condensed version of this book is called, Bible Doctrine.
  6. Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge (get the one-volume abridged edition; Hodge was a solid Reformed professor at Princeton in the 19th century).
  7. The Works of Jonathan Edwards (2 vol.). Edwards is difficult to read, but immensely rewarding. He knew and loved God as few men have.
  8. The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther (a classic; a modern English edition is available from Cumberland called “Born Slaves”).
  9. Faith Works, John MacArthur, Jr. On “lordship salvation.”
  10. The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul.
  11. Knowing God, J. I. Packer.
  12. The Doctrines of Grace, James Boice & Philip Ryken (on Calvinism).
  13. Chosen by God, R. C. Sproul. Clear, convincing, and practical.
  14. Still Sovereign, ed. by Thomas Schreiner & Bruce Ware. A collection of essays on the vital subject of God’s sovereignty. Some are very helpful.
  15. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D. A. Carson. Short, but provocative.
  16. The Love of God, John MacArthur.

Spiritual Life/ Devotional

  1. Any of Spurgeon’s sermons (many are available in paperback). They’re a bit wordy, but devotionally meaty. Worth the effort! (Also, check out the great Spurgeon web site:
  2. Any of John Bunyan’s sermons or devotional writings. The Acceptable Sacrifice and Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ are now available from Banner of Truth. Both a wonderful!
  3. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, Richard Baxter (a Puritan, hard-to-find, but a wonderful exposition of the fact that our hope is in heaven, not in this life). This is one of the top five books I’ve ever read!
  4. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, J. I. Packer. (Packer isn’t easy to read, but this is a great book. I’ve read it three times so far.)
  5. Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, Donald Whitney. A study guide is also available.
  6. Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper. I wish this had been available when I was in my 20’s.
  7. Desiring God, John Piper. Provocative and life-changing.
  8. The Pleasures of God, John Piper. What God delights in.
  9. God’s Passion for His Glory, John Piper. The first half is Piper’s introduction to Jonathan Edwards. The second half is Edwards’ difficult, but rewarding essay, “The End for Which God Created the World.”
  10. Sin and Temptation, John Owen (a condensed, modern English version is, What Every Christian ) This is the best treatment of how to deal with temptation. I’ve read it at least 4 times. Owen, a 17th century Puritan, is meaty, but very hard to read in his original works.
  11. Practical Religion, J. C. Ryle (a 19th century Anglican, but contemporary and solid; read anything of his you can find. This work is now in a modern, condensed version titled “Walking With God,” available from Cumberland).
  12. Holiness, J. C. Ryle. A classic.
  13. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, 4 vol., J. C. Ryle. Great devotional insights on every paragraph in the gospels. This makes for great daily devotional reading as you read through the gospels.
  14. Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan. Get a modern English version. Read and reread it yourself & to your kids. Spurgeon read it through yearly!
  15. Revival, Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
  16. The Sermon on the Mount, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (incisive analysis of Matthew 5-7). All of Lloyd-Jones’ books of sermons are devotionally rich.
  17. Our Sufficiency in Christ, John MacArthur, Jr. Attacks the modern intrusion of psychology & pragmatism into evangelical circles.
  18. The Ultimate Priority, John MacArthur, Jr. (on worship).
  19. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law (18th century, get a modern English abridgement if you can). A bit out-dated, but it shows you the solid spirituality of these godly men of the past in comparison with the flimsy spirituality of today.
  20. From Pride to Humility, Stuart Scott. A short booklet, excerpted from The Exemplary Husband. Every Christian should read this booklet repeatedly! It is really good and practical.

Church History/Biography/Missions

(I have benefited much from reading in this area. I have a more extensive biographical bibliography available. Some of these are of more interest to preachers, but would benefit any believer. I’ve listed them separately below.)

  1. George Muller, Roger Steer (Muller was a giant in faith and prayer).
  2. George Muller of Bristol, A. T. Pierson. An older treatment. This book profoundly influenced me.
  3. Hudson Taylor, Roger Steer (recent treatment of this great pioneer missionary to China).
  4. Hudson Taylor and Maria, John Pollock.
  5. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, Ruth Tucker (great, moving historical biography of missions).
  6. Bruchko, Bruce Olson. Exciting story, great for reading to family.
  7. The Tapestry, Edith Schaeffer. Life of Francis & Edith Schaeffer, a real‑life drama of how God leads as we walk with Him.
  8. Worldly Saints, Leland Ryken. A great book on the Puritans; it will surprise you!
  9. To The Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, Courtney Anderson. Life of the pioneer missionary to Burma. Judson is a phenomenal example of endurance in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
  10. Shadow of the Almighty, Elisabeth Elliot. Life of Jim Elliot, martyred husband of the author.
  11. Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot. Story of five missionaries martyred in Ecuador.
  12. Peace Child, Don Richardson. Couple goes to stone age, cannibal tribe with the gospel. Fascinating.
  13. Lords of the Earth, Don Richardson. If this were a movie, you’d swear it couldn’t be true. But it is true!

Especially for pastors, those interested in preaching:

  1. Walking With the Giants and Listening to the Giants, Warren Wiersbe (short biographies of great preachers).
  2. John Calvin, T. H. L. Parker (best biography, by leading Calvin scholar).
  3. Calvin’s Preaching, by Parker (Great book! Calvin’s emphasis on expository preaching).
  4. Spurgeon, Arnold Dallimore (best shorter biography of this giant).
  5. Autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon (2 vol., [Banner of Truth]).
  6. D. M. LloydJones, 2 vol., Iain Murray. Lloyd‑Jones is called the best preacher in 20th century. (Vol. 2 is 800 pages, but worth it! I was sad when it ended.)
  7. Jonathan Edwards, Iain Murray. Colonial New England revival preacher and theologian.
  8. Revival & Revivalism, Murray. Insightful history of American evangelicalism from 1750-1850, showing how modern American evangelicalism got this way. I’ve read it twice.
  9. The Puritans, Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
  10. Knowing the Times, Lloyd-Jones.

Evangelism / Missions / Apologetics

  1. The Soul Winner, C. H. Spurgeon. Meaty, but nourishing. I come back to it often.
  2. Concentric Circles of Concern, W. Oscar Thompson, Jr.
  3. The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman.
  4. How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little. The basics on how to witness.
  5. Evangelism Explosion, D. James Kennedy.
  6. The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel. I don’t like his chapter on psychology, but the rest of the book is a solid presentation of the evidence for the faith. Use it in your witness.
  7. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell. Wealth of information on the resurrection.
  8. Darwin on Trial & Defeating Darwinism, both by Phillip Johnson (a bit technical at times, but excellent attacks on evolution).
  9. Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin. A good reference work on the major cults.
  10. Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse, by David Reed. Helpful if you’re witnessing to a JW.
  11. The Fatal Flaw & Answers to Roman Catholic Claims, both by James White. His web site is
  12. Operation World, Patrick Johnstone & Jason Mandryk. A wealth of statistics and prayer needs for every country in the world. Get the most recent edition.
  13. Eternity in Their Hearts, Don Richardson. Fascinating stories of how God prepares people groups for the gospel.
  14. Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper. Not easy to read, but worth the effort!
  15. Mission Frontiers, U.S. Center for World Mission (1605 Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104). Not a book, but a monthly journal that keeps you informed on current mission issues.

(For further reading on Missions, see the numerous missionary biographies in my Christian Biography book list.)

The Church/Ministry

(See the above section for pastors.)

  1. Lectures to My Students, C. H. Spurgeon.
  2. An All-Round Ministry, C. H. Spurgeon.
  3. The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper. Excellent!
  4. Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His lectures on the task of preaching. He was a master!
  5. The Preacher and His Models, James Stalker (probably out-of-print, but excellent).
  6. Ashamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur, Jr. Critique of the “market the gospel” approach and call for biblical methods.

Marriage And Family

Most of the current Christian books in this and the next two headings are badly tainted by worldly psychology, rather than based on Scripture alone, which is sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16) and our only source for God’s wisdom in these crucial areas. I have tried to select books that are not psychologically tainted (although note the comments below).

  1. Self-Confrontation, John Broger, chapters 9-15 (a study workbook, not a book to sit and read; see below under “Counseling”). Practical, loaded with Scripture references.
  2. What is a Family?, Edith Schaeffer. Now out of print, but a creative, warm approach to biblical family life.
  3. Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson.
  4. The Exemplary Husband, Stuart Scott. The best book for husbands that I’ve read.
  5. The Excellent Wife, Martha Peace. Same comment as #5.
  6. The Fruit of Her Hands, Nancy Wilson (I have not read it, but my wife thinks it is excellent for wives).
  7. Christian Living in the Home, Jay Adams.
  8. Love Life for Every Married Couple, Ed Wheat. Although tainted a bit by worldly “self-esteem” teaching, his overall treatment of biblical love and responsibility in marriage is excellent.
  9. Intended for Pleasure, Ed Wheat. A Christian medical doctor deals with the sexual relationship in marriage.

Child Rearing

(See comments and some titles under Marriage/Family.)

  1. Self-Confrontation, John Broger, chapters 16-17 (see below under “Counseling”).
  2. How to Really Love Your Child, by Ross Campbell. A lot of psychology needs to be filtered out, but Campbell has some helpful, practical insights into how to make your children feel your love.
  3. The Duties of Parents, J. C. Ryle.
  4. You and Your Child, Charles Swindoll.
  5. Leading a Child to Independence, Paul & Jeannie McKean. Although tainted by worldly “self-esteem” teaching, they have some helpful insights on setting goals in child rearing.
  6. Parents in Pain, John White. Although you have to filter out numerous psychological “insights” that aren’t based on Scripture, White has some helpful insights for parents of wayward children.

Family Devotions

I encourage families to get a modern catechism (see #1 under THEOLOGY/DOCTRINE) and work through it with your children. John Piper also has prepared a catechism. See (Search = catechism)

  1. Global Prayer Digest. A daily prayer guide for unreached peoples, available from Mission Frontiers, 1605 Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104. We use it after our family Bible reading to keep our focus on the mission task.
  2. The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, Kenneth Taylor. Brief Bible stories for reading to pre-schoolers.
  3. The Muffin Family series, Gilbert Beers. Bible stories coupled with a short story which applies it. Good for 4-8 year-olds.

(There are probably many more resources now available, but since my children are grown, I do not keep up with them.)

Family Finances

  1. Master Your Money, Ron Blue.
  2. Your Finances in Changing Times, Larry Burkett.
  3. Your Money Matters, Malcolm MacGregor. It may be out of print; I like his humor.


(Grouped somewhat topically):

  1. SelfConfrontation, John C. Broger (available from Biblical Counseling Foundation, P.O. Box 925, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270). A helpful, biblically based approach to personal discipleship and to helping others with their problems. Study workbook format.
  2. The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Jay Adams.
  3. How to Counsel From Scripture, Martin & Deidre Bobgan. They have since renounced their own book, but I think it has some helpful guidelines. Their web site is:
  4. Christian Psychology’s War on God’s Word, Jim Owen (EastGate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA 93110). Shows the harmful influence of “Christian” psychology.
  5. PsychoHeresy, Martin & Deidre Bobgan (EastGate Publishers). Hard-hitting, biblically sound critique of “Christian” psychology.
  6. 12 Steps to Destruction, Martin & Deidre Bobgan. Exposes the false teaching of the “Christian” recovery and “codependency” movements.
  7. Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, Ed Bulkley. I think that he is balanced in his approach.
  8. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. A spiritual classic.
  9. The Last Thing We Talk About, Joseph Bayly (on death & grief).
  10. Affliction, Edith Schaeffer.
  11. When God Weeps, Joni Eareckson Tada & Steve Estes.
  12. From Forgiven to Forgiving, Jay Adams.

Personal Management/Direction

  1. Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald.
  2. Strategy For Living, Edward Dayton & Ted Engstrom. On setting goals.
  3. First Things First, Stephen Covey, Roger & Rebecca Merrill. This is the only non-Christian book on this list, so read it with discernment. But I think they have a lot of wisdom on ordering your life according to your goals. Just make sure that your goals are biblical goals!

Contemporary Issues/World View

  1. No Place for Truth, David Wells. Not easy to read, but a great analysis of our culture and how the church has become worldly to the core.
  2. God in the Wasteland, David Wells. Sequel to the above. Calls for a return to God-centeredness.
  3. Losing Our Virtue, David Wells. Hits the worldly, market-driven American church.
  4. Recovering the Christian Mind, Harry Blamires.
  5. Worldly Amusements, Wayne Wilson. Hits Christians for their indiscriminate involvement with corrupt movies. Calls us to honor Christ in our entertainment choices. Every Christian should read this book!
  6. Lifeviews, R. C. Sproul. Easy-to-follow treatment of differing worldviews and philosophies.
  7. What You Should Know About Inerrancy, Charles Ryrie. Simple, brief treatment of an important theological issue.
  8. Men and Women in Biblical Perspective, James Hurley. Good on male and female roles.
  9. What Ever Happened to the Human Race? Francis Schaeffer & C. Everett Koop. Perhaps a bit outdated and maybe out of print, but God used it years ago to wake me up to the horrors of abortion.

Related Topics: Book Review, Christian Home, Christian Life, Discipleship, Library and Resources, Spiritual Life