-by Andrew Strom.
Now SURELY, if the church has even remotely got it's act together, it would have this one thing right. Surely this has got to be one of the most crucial and basic points in the whole New Testament:- How exactly are people supposed to become Christians? What were they told to do in the New Testament? A very simple and straight-forward question, you would think. And so vitally important.
But incredibly, it seems that very few of us have even bothered to ask this question or to take on board the glaringly obvious answer. Here we have one of the most vital, fundamental points that it is possible to have in Christianity:- "What shall we DO TO BE SAVED?" And generally speaking, our answer today is utterly different from that of the apostles. Incredible really, isn't it? It's right there in black-and-white, time after time! But TRADITION has blinded our eyes to the Truth. And I'm sure that even many of you reading this will be shocked at how obvious the truth of this matter is.
Let's start with the day of Pentecost (-a great place to begin!) As we all know, the Holy Spirit fell on the 120, and they all began to speak in tongues. This is officially known by theologians as the birth of the Church - the beginning of Christianity as we know it. And after Peter preached his convicting sermon to the gathered crowd that day, another 3000 people were added to the church. And we are told exactly what occurred:- "... They were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, WHAT SHALL WE DO?' And Peter said to them, 'REPENT, and be BAPTIZED every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS; and you shall receive the gift of the HOLY SPIRIT'" (Acts 2:37-38 RSV). Notice how different Peter's reply is to what we tell people today. We might have said something like, "Just say this little prayer after me" but Peter said nothing like that at all.
There were three elements to what Peter told them:- REPENTANCE, WATER-BAPTISM and receiving the HOLY SPIRIT. We see this pattern repeated again and again, right through the book of Acts (-in fact, throughout the New Testament writings) in the most glaringly obvious way. And yet still we hear, "Just ask Jesus into your heart" preached throughout Christendom today.
The next significant people-group to be reached by the early Christians were the Samaritans. In Acts chapter 8 we read how Philip the evangelist saw massive Revival in Samaria:- "But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were BAPTIZED, both men and women... Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT" (Acts 8:12-17). Note the identical pattern to the salvations on the day of Pentecost.
I hope you realize that we have been talking about THOUSANDS of conversions here. And NOT ONE of them involved "Giving their heart to the Lord" or "Inviting Jesus to be their personal savior". If you look up these Scriptures in Acts, you will see that every time it was "Repentance, Baptism and Recieiving the Holy Spirit". -Over and over again.
The next significant people-group to be reached by the early church were the 'Godly' gentiles (-Acts chapters 10 and 11). Peter was led to preach to Cornelius and his household. And God suddenly moved even while he was still preaching!:- "While Peter was still saying this, the HOLY SPIRIT FELL on all who heard the word... they heard them SPEAKING IN TONGUES and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 'Can anyone forbid water for BAPTIZING these people who have RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT just as we have?' And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:44-48). Peter later described the scene again: "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit FELL ON THEM just as on us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). He also referred to it as them being "Baptized in the Holy Spirit" (Acts 11:16). I hope you can see from these passages that the Holy Spirit 'FALLING' upon people is the same experience as people 'RECEIVING' or being 'BAPTIZED' in the Holy Spirit.
Thus we see the same pattern as before, in the salvation experience of Cornelius' household - (1) Repentant hearts, (2) Receiving the Holy Spirit and (3) Baptism.
Another good example involves some disciples of John the Baptist whom Paul met at Ephesus:- "And Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of REPENTANCE, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.' On hearing this, they were BAPTIZED in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the HOLY SPIRIT came on them; and they SPOKE WITH TONGUES and prophesied" (Acts 19:1-6). I guess I hardly need to point out the pattern by now?
Notice too that there were no "instructional classes" to prepare people for baptism. All the way through the book of Acts, people were baptized STRAIGHT AWAY, as soon as they were believing and repentant. With the Phillipian jailer, he and his entire household were baptized immediately - IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT (-Acts 16:32-33). With the Ethiopian eunuch, he was baptized by Philip straight away, in some water that they saw while travelling in his chariot (Acts 8:35-38). And the apostle Paul himself was baptized immediately by the disciple Ananias, who said something very interesting to Paul beforehand:- "Rise and be BAPTIZED, and WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16). This verse would be treated almost like "heresy" by many in today's church. How shocking to imply that baptism might have something to do with forgiveness and cleansing from our past sins! However, there are many verses like it scattered throughout the New Testament. Also note that Paul was told this DAYS AFTER he had had his blinding 'Damascus Road' experience. Today's Christians might assume that Paul was "born again" during this blinding encounter with God. Not so. Not until Paul was to be BAPTIZED was he to have his sins "washed away". This is clearly what the Scriptures say. Arguments, anyone?
Many Christians are taught today that Baptism is basic- ally a 'symbolic' act. In my youth I was raised mainly in Baptist churches, and they always taught that baptism is an "outward SYMBOL of an inner change". Thus baptism is stripped of much of it's significance and power in Christian thinking. For a "symbol" is never as important as the real thing, is it? I have studied baptism extensively in the New Testament. It is NEVER spoken of as a mere 'SYMBOL'. Rather, it is spoken of as being a 'circumcision of the heart', a "cutting off", a "burial" into the DEATH of Christ. And it is also spoken of as being "for the forgiveness of sins" and to "wash one's sins away". I am convinced that in the spirit realm (from God's point of view), baptism is seen as a LITERAL "burial into death" (-see Romans 6) which has a profound effect on our hearts and lives. But still we preach, "Ask Jesus into your heart", and deny many people one of the most vital keys to living a Christian life. I am also convinced that baptism MUST be by 'FULL IMMERSION'. Sprinkling little infants is not enough. This must be baptism for BELIEVERS. And the original Greek word 'baptizo' actually means "TO DIP OR IMMERSE". So people must be 'buried' under the water in baptism, not just sprinkled. (-I'm sure most of you already agree with this).
Likewise I am convinced that Baptism in the Holy Spirit (accompanied by 'speaking in tongues') is ESSENTIAL. It is NOT just an option. As we have seen in the book of Acts, the way that people became Christians in the New Testament was to (1) Repent, (2) Be Baptized in water and (3) Be Baptized in the Holy Spirit (accompanied by 'tongues' as far as we can tell). What right do we have to change the fundamental teachings and practices of the Bible, just so we can make things more "convenient" for new converts? Unless we are getting people saved the Bible way, how can we claim to be getting them saved at all?
We are forever talking about being "born again" in the church today. But are we truly getting people 'born again' like they did in Acts? Bearing in mind the pattern that we have seen in the New Testament, what exactly do you think Jesus was talking about when He declared that, "Unless a man is born of WATER and of THE SPIRIT he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"? (Jn 3:5). Born of WATER, born of the SPIRIT. Hmmmmmm. That's a tough one!
Baptism in water and the Spirit are never regarded as mere 'options' in the Scriptures. In fact they are clearly ESSENTIAL experiences to begin to walk in Christ's kingdom. There are many Scriptures on this that are often bypassed today or regarded as "inexplicable" because they do not fit in with current tradition. Please take the time to look up the following:- Mark 16:16-18, 1 Peter 3:20-21, Titus 3:5-6, 1 Cor 10:1-2, Gal 3:27, Col 2:11-12, 1 Cor 12:13, Heb 6:1-2, Rom 6:2-11, Rom 8:9, Mt 28:19, etc.
I really mean it. Please do take the time to look at the above Scriptures if you have any interest in this issue at all. Many people write to me with their opinions, saying, "I cannot believe you are teaching this." -And yet they have never bothered to actually look up the Scriptures on the subject! PLEASE read Acts and look up the above Scriptures before sending me your views.
It is my belief that there are a number of important teachings and practices from the early church that will be restored during the coming Revival. (-God often does this in Revivals). I am convinced that the above teaching will be one of them. (-I have believed this for many years).
I realize that I have probably shocked and provoked a number of you with this article. Please believe me, I myself was very shocked when I first came face-to-face with these truths some years ago. They really are very apparent when you study them, but I was blind to them for many years. I was amongst those who gave out tracts like 'The Four Spiritual Laws' and led people in the "sinner's prayer". Like many, I would back this up by mis-applying Rev 3:20 - "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with me." It was only later that I realized that, as Leonard Ravenhill points out, this Scripture is clearly aimed at the CHURCH, not at unconverted sinners. It is Jesus standing outside the 'Laodicean' church, trying to get in! Please go and read the whole passage - Rev 3:14-21. You will see what I mean. It is very clear.
I am not ashamed that I used to preach these things. It was all I knew at the time. But I was certainly shocked to discover how much of the basic gospel I was leaving out. Like me, there are a number of you who will have to "search the Scriptures to see if these things be so" just as the Bereans did. Believe me, I fought these truths for months before I simply ran out of corners to back into. I knew the implications of this were huge and I just did not want to face it. But there they are in black and white. And this is not a trivial matter. These are key gospel truths that we are talking about here.
After writing the first version of this article, many people wrote to me pointing out that the THIEF ON THE CROSS was not baptized or Spirit-filled, yet he was clearly saved. Please believe me, I had all these same objections when I first came across this teaching. But God annihilated all my excuses one by one. So let me deal with this "THIEF ON THE CROSS" thing right here.
The most obvious question is:- When did this event occur - was it under the OLD Covenant or the NEW Covenant? When Jesus proffered salvation to the thief, was the Old Covenant still in place, or had the New begun? For clearly, it only became possible to become an actual CHRISTIAN (-born again - a member of Christ's body) AFTER the New Covenant had started. And for the New Covenant to begin, Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb had to die and also be RAISED FROM THE DEAD. The New Covenant could not begin until this occurred. Surely we all know this? Jesus had to die and be raised from the dead, and then ascend into heaven, sending His Holy Spirit, before the Church could truly begin or people could start becoming born-again Christians. That is why people in the Old Testament, or even in Jesus' own day were not "born again" the way we are today. They simply couldn't be. Remember, Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest born among men, but even the least in the kingdom was greater than he. John the Baptist couldn't become a "born-again Christian" because the New Covenant had not yet begun. I bet he would have loved the opportunity! Jesus died in agony and was raised again, to purchase for us this wonderful new life in Him. Surely we all know this? GLORY TO GOD!!
Now back to the thief. Did he have his conversation with Jesus and die under the New Covenant or the Old? The answer, obviously, is:- The OLD Covenant. He was presumably a Jew - one of God's chosen people (though a sinner), who received a wonderful pardon from Jesus when he repented and turned to Him. But those were very different conditions to those that we live under today. We now have a NEW Covenant - a NEW "agreement" with God, very different from the Old. We have a new and living way in which to walk. How do we enter into it? By being born again - of water and the Spirit. And this has only been possible since Pentecost - the day the church began. I am not saying that "death-bed repentance" is not possible today. I'm sure that God has reached down in His mercy many times to people who have turned to Him when they were close to death. But these are special cases. They are not the "norm" for New Testament Christianity. Repentance, Baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit are ESSENTIAL to enter into the New Covenant, I believe.
As I said, many people offer me their own views and opinions on all this without truly studying the basic Scriptures on the matter. It is important to remember that fundamental doctrines are not about mere opinion. They are about what the SCRIPTURES SAY. I tell you, I have put MONTHS of study and prayer into this whole subject. I could tell that it really was THAT important. I honestly considered EVERYTHING - every angle I could find. Please treat this with the seriousness that it is due. This is a very crucial area. I believe these are SALVATION issues that are being discussed here. And the case is enormously strong. Just read the Scriptures. (-It should take less than an hour to read through the Scriptures highlighted above). I urge any of you who are the least bit interested in this to PLEASE read those Scriptures.
I am well aware that 'doctrine' tends to be divisive by it's very nature. And I know that I am taking a big risk talking so openly about such a controversial teaching. I try and keep right away from doctrinal debates in general. It is only the most fundamental and important issues that I bother making a fuss about. You will notice that even though I run a 'Prophetic' site, there are no debates about the 'Pre-trib'/ Post-trib positions or the exact meaning of Daniel's 70 weeks, etc. I just find such debates pointless and utterly dull, to be honest. I heard the arguments many moons ago, and just cannot stomach any more. I have no desire for nit-picking arguments. But the BIG issues, like New Testament salvation and God's plan for His church - these things I really do care about. For I believe the devil is robbing us blind in some of these crucial areas. And God wants to restore these truths to the church.
Just imagine for a moment that I am right, and baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit are a lot more important than we have been led to believe. Just think how many thousands of believers around the world today have received the Holy Spirit (including 'tongues') but have simply not bothered getting baptized. After all, it's only "symbolic", right? Or perhaps they say, "I got sprinkled as a baby." I myself know many people in this exact position. I think it's terrible, and I believe God does too. Not to mention all the believers who still have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Don't you think God's heart aches over all this? Why do people ignore His commands? Our church traditions and habitual patterns have a lot to answer for in this area. This has got to change, my friends. And I believe it will only change when the underlying doctrines are challenged. But if I am right, the devil will fight this all the way. He likes anything that leaves believers impoverished or still chained up in any way. This really is crucial doctrine, otherwise I simply would not bother with it. I have really stuck my neck on the line and risked my reputation over this. And I do not do so lightly.
I have been accused of being "legalistic" and 'majoring on minor points' by a couple of readers. I really cannot see this. As I have said, some doctrine is "straining at gnats" and some is really crucial. I believe this issue falls into the second category. Others accused me of being "too literal"! (I had to laugh over this). Now this is basic Bible doctrine we are talking about here, isn't it? Too literal? What on earth else should we be?
Other readers accused me of believing in "baptismal regeneration". This is not the case. I believe that (1) Repentance, (2) Water-Baptism and (3) Receiving the Holy Spirit, are ALL ESSENTIAL. I do not believe in "baptismal" regeneration. These elements are all equally important and we need to have all three to be able to call ourselves 'New Testament Christians', as far as I can see.
Other readers have brought up the verse in Romans that says "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead you will be saved" (Rom 10:9). Actually, a number of theologians believe that this statement was used as a kind of "baptismal confession" in the early church. I remember a fellowship I was involved with years ago that used it in exactly this way. To me, this verse "proves" little doctrinally, either way. It needs to be put into context with the WHOLE New Testament to gain the proper perspective on it. I certainly don't see it as proof for 'asking Jesus into our heart'.
One of the most serious allegations I have faced is that I am preaching a kind of "justification by works" by saying that baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit are so essential. And that I am "adding to the gospel" and taking away people's freedom like the Galatians!! Serious charges, indeed. But let's look at this carefully. Is baptism a "work" that I can do to myself? Is receiving the Holy Spirit a "work"? I don't think so! These are initial experiences that are 'DONE TO US' or given to us - they're not things that we can "DO" ourselves, as such. Can I baptize myself? No! And isn't it a brief one-off act of simple faith and obedience anyway? To me, baptism is no more a "work" than, say, the act of "praying a sinner's prayer". The act of opening one's mouth, moving one's jaws and praying is not seen as a work. And neither should baptism be. They only take an instant, after all. The real question is:- Is baptism a truly spiritual act, or is it merely a symbolic ritual? That is the real question. This also brings up the whole issue of 'convenience'. For we love neat little packages that are comfortable and easy in this age, don't we? (-"Just asking Jesus in"). And baptism is so wet and messy, we think. But at the end of the day, what it boils down to is this:- We have to make a decision between doing things the Bible way and doing things the modern 'convenient' way. It is that simple.
Now, onto something else that numerous people raised:- Where does FAITH come into all this? Aren't we supposed to be saved by FAITH? Absolutely! And faith is at a premium right through this whole thing. What happens when someone hears the gospel and BELIEVES it? (-A crucially important moment). Are they automatically a 'Christian' now? Just through believing what they have heard? Or do they have to act on that belief in some way to become a Christian? Were the Jews who were 'cut to the heart' when Peter preached at Pentecost automatically Christians right then at that moment, or did they have to DO something in FAITH to become Christians? Clearly, they needed to DO something, because Peter told them, "Repent and be baptized, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And it is clear that each one of these elements involves the exercise of faith in Jesus.
However, I believe that when the Bible speaks of the "faith that saves us", and being "JUSTIFIED BY FAITH", it is speaking of the LIFE OF FAITH that we undertake after we have become a Christian. It is 'WALKING IN FAITH' day by day, moment by moment, after having become a Christian that justifies us before God. It is the covering of the blood of Jesus that hides our sin and makes us clean in God's sight. If we are walking in faith, covered by the blood, we are saved, and we must continue to walk in it. And it is clear in the Scriptures that it is only by the POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT that we can walk in this kind of saving faith. This faith is a gift from God -"Not of ourselves, lest anyone should boast..." Like the love of God, this faith is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us. So how can we obtain it without RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT? (-Which brings us back to Repentance, Baptism and Receiving the Holy Spirit as our ESSENTIAL starting point in the faith).
Actually, a couple of readers mentioned something quite interesting about baptism in the book of Acts. For it is noticeable in Acts that everyone was baptized "IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS" or in the 'NAME OF JESUS CHRIST'. Now most churches today baptize in the name of the 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit', and I guess this is a small point, but I believe that if they felt it was important in Acts to speak the name of Jesus Christ over people as they were baptized, then I should do it too. I am not legalistic about the need for this, but personally these days I baptize people "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the NAME OF JESUS CHRIST". (-To make sure all the bases are covered).
To sum up, it is my belief that God has been slowly restoring truth to the church over the centuries since the Dark Ages when so much had been lost. Luther's Reformation saw the restoration of 'Justification by Faith', the Anabaptists re-introduced baptism by immersion, Wesley re-introduced the importance of the 'new birth', and this century the Pentecostals re-discovered the infilling of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. (There have been many other things over time also, but this is just a simple overview). It is my belief that we are now at the stage where God wishes to restore the church to her true original glory, with all the basic doctrines and practices, "church life" and the full original gospel, the 'five-fold' ministries, etc. -Everything. That is what is about to occur in the coming Revival, I believe. And that is another reason why I believe basic New Testament doctrines are so important.
In past centuries, as now, the believers of that time walked in the light that they had, and God will judge them according to the light that was available to them. But now it is time to see the church truly restored to fullness in many areas. And it is going to be UNCOMFORTABLE, and it will surely leave much "SHAKEN" in it's wake. A new Reformation is coming, and it is important that it leaves nothing undone that needs doing. Otherwise our children are going to have to have a further Reformation to correct all that we left undone. Let's make it as complete as possible this time, shall we? For Christ cannot return until a glorious Bride is made ready for Him, without "spot or wrinkle or any such thing". Surely we live in the days of the 'restoration of all things' about which the Scriptures speak.
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