The Paregien Journal – Issue 321 – February 2, 2016
Stan Paregien, Editor
The Spiritual Life
Welcome, friends, to another issue of The Paregien Journal. This blog falls into the “eclectic” category I suppose, reflecting my personal interest in a whole range of topics. And on this occasion I have gathered a collection of diverse essays under the heading of “The Spiritual Life.”
These materials are worthy of your consideration no matter what the status of your personal spiritual life. You may be an agnostic, an atheist, a Buddist, a Muslem, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian or a Hindu. The thoughtful person is always aware of his intellectual short-comings and holds firmly onto what he knows now, pending further information or investigation. That is an honest and commendable way to live.
I would simply ask you to take off your critic’s hat as you read these materials. Read as a open-minded searcher for the kind of truths which can make each of us a wiser, happier and better person. Afterward, you may want to meditate for a while on what applications this material has to your own life. And then decide what ethical, moral and theological concepts go beyond probable and good to that which is clearly best for your spiritual life.
No One-Dimensional People
by Edward Fudge
When I was a child, there was a man at the other end of the block whom we kids named “Grouchy Grubbs.” Whether he disliked boys and girls in general or only those who were his neighbors we did not know, but he certainly did not like little Fudges, Dunnavants, Chandlers, Kuykendalls, Chumleys, Rollingses, Curtises or Williamses–the families with children growing up on Chandler Drive. He was a one-dimensional man with a single attribute. He was grouchy. His grouchiness contrasted sharply with the sparkling wit of a young widower named Clinton, to whom we bestowed the nickname “Mr. Candy-man.”
Most of our families attended the same church, where for many years Clinton was the primary song leader and also served as church treasurer. He loved children, whom he also loved to tease. Every Sunday when the final “Amen” had been said, Clinton distributed hard candies to all the little tykes found assembled in our midst. This would certainly be a better world, we concluded, if there were no Grouchy Grubbses and if there were many more Clintons.
I do not know what became of Grouchy Grubbs, except in general — as we children grew up, he grew old. One day he retired. Eventually he died, as did his wife. Turns out he had a normal family with normal blessings and normal problems. In fact, he probably was no more grouchy than normal. Mr Candy-man continued passing out the sweets and teasing the children, leading the singing, and counting the offering–a one-man job since our church was so small.
Then one day he was gone, leaving to his motherless only child the pretty new house he had been building for several years, as he got the money. There was only one problem with this picture: the more money Clinton got, the less money the church seemed to have. The elders discovered this problem and confronted Clinton. He agreed to meet with them after the weekend and explain everything. But before the day arrived for that meeting, he used his gun to end it all.
There are no one-dimensional people, just one-dimensional thinking. I am neither all good or all bad, and neither are you, nor is anyone either of us will ever meet. We all have specks of gold mixed with our earthly clay, and problems and weaknesses and sins. We all struggle with burdens, carry loads that weigh us down, cherish aspirations and ambitions and goals.
As we enter the new year 2016, let us resolve to be merciful, to show compassion, to think the best of others, and to be quick to share a word of encouragement or a helping hand. Life is too short to do otherwise. We have God’s forgiveness, his Spirit, his promises, and his Presence. Let us remember who we are and whose we are — and live accordingly. Be blessed–and be a blessing!
[Found in Edward Fudge’s GracEmail newsletter dated Dec. 27, 2015.]
Two Essays on Mormonism
by Dr. Leroy Garrett
Written in his Soldier On! newsletter in 2006.
Essay 1: “A Mormon Funeral”
When it comes to Mormons it seems that “I’ve been there and done that.” I have attended the services of all four wards (congregations) that meet in the two chapels in my home town, as they call their churches. I even went through the Mormon temple in Dallas when it first opened, which a “Gentile” could do before it was dedicated. I have studied their history and doctrine, talked to their missionaries, and enjoyed their friendship, including the only two doctors, beloved physicians indeed, that I have had during my 44 years in Denton. Both Mormons!
But I had never been to a Mormon funeral. When the son/grandson of a prominent Denton business family drowned in a river accident in Idaho, I decided to attend his funeral, not only out of respect for the family, but for a new Mormon experience.You might call it an ecumenical urge.
The deceased, a handsome chap who died a few days short of turning 21, was in his second year at Brigham Young University. Already an elder in the church, he was scheduled to begin his two-year mission-ary assignment in December.
There was the usual viewing at the chapel the evening before the funeral, which I did not attend. I was one of the first to arrive for the service, but the chapel, now with extra chairs, was soon filled, upwards of 600. A ward usually has around 300 members. For this funeral there must have been many non-Mormons present. Organ music began some 20 minutes before the service.
Since it was a funeral and not a memorial service, I supposed there would be the casket at front center. There was no casket, and but a select number of standing floral pieces. The casket was still in a side room with the family gathered around it. As in other churches, we stood as the large family filed in to the central area reserved for them. It was then that the casket was rolled in, but it was placed not at front center, but to the right side, rather unobtrusive and of course unopened. The deceased, if he has advanced to priesthood, will usually be buried in white, with a priestly sash around a shoulder.
The president of the stake (a group of wards) presided, while the bishop of the ward (equal to the pastor in a Protestant church) was the conductor. The prayers were led by family members, the eulogy was given by a family friend, a woman; and the message was given by an uncle of the deceased. Another woman, also a family member, sang “O That I Were An Angel,” with piano accompaniment.
The Order of Service had a picture of Jesus on the first page, along with a quotation from 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon – a scripture that is also in the Bible. A substantial part of the Book of Mormon is taken from the Bible. The oddity is that while the Book of Mormon was supposedly written hundreds of years before Christ, there are quotations from the King James Version, which was not produced until 1611!
On the inside cover were two of the deceased’s favorite scriptures, one from the Book of Mormon and one from Doctrine and Covenants. But the Bible was used in other parts of the service. On the back side was a colorful picture of the deceased – a smiling, charming young man.
Even though both hymns that were sung were uniquely Mormon, the church’s hymnal, published in Salt Lake City, does have many of the great hymns of the church universal, sung by all Christians.
The first hymn could have been sung only by Mormons, and I noticed that those seated near me seemed to know it by heart. The first line reads We have been born, as Nephi of old/ To godly parents who love the Lord. A line from the chorus has We are the army of Helaman/ We have been taught in our youth. Nephi and Helaman are heroes in the Book of Mormon.
The bishop’s presentation was consistent with my understanding of Mormonism with its emphasis on good works. He quoted with emphasis from James – “Show me your faith without your works, and I will by my works show you my faith.” He emphasized obeying the commandments, and the Mormons have thousands. No reference to Paul in Romans, and no reference to grace.
Some Mormon-watchers refer to this as “the Mormon dilemma” – prodded to keep commandments they cannot keep, to be “worthy” when by nature, like all of us, they are unworthy. As Jesus himself tells us: “When you have done all things commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants’” (Lk. 17:10). Our Lord never promised that our good works would sustain us, but he did say “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).
The Mormons pay a high price for their works-oriented religion. Some insist – with statistics in hand — that this explains why Utah, predominately Mormon, has far more than its share of mental illness, depression, child (sexual) abuse, teenage pregnancy, divorces, suicide (especially teen suicide).
The “Mormon woman” is named as particularly oppressed, with ongoing depression common. She is to be subservient to her husband, both for time and eternity. She is destined to be “eternally pregnant,” bearing children – along with other of his wives – for her god-husband, who will have his own planet to populate. She must also depend on him for her resurrection from the dead. He is to call her from the grave – using the secret name known only to them, given to them when they married for eternity in the temple. If he doesn’t call, she is without hope. Mormon women might find John 5:25 liberating: “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.”
But the message given by the deceased’s uncle was as Christian as one would hear in any evangelical church. He lifted up Christ as the only Savior and our only hope, and as sufficient for all our needs. No reference to The Prophet, to the Book of Mormon, or to “the restored gospel.” Jesus is the only gospel we need!
I found myself wanting to ask him how he could believe what he said and yet believe that one has to be a Mormon to be a true Christian and belong to the true church. How can one believe in the sufficiency of Christ and yet believe in the essentiality of the unique claims of Mormonism? The Mormons do not believe that The Prophet is Savior, but they do believe that he has to deem them worthy before they can go to heaven. Is that faith in Christ as the only Savior?
Christ-centeredness! It was a good way to end the funeral. But I was left with a question that evangelical Christians are asking, Are Mormons Christians?
In response to a cover story about Mormons in Newsweek, a Protestant minister wrote: “The Mormons are not Christians, they are Mormons.” And a Newsweek editor raised the problem faced by Mit Romney, governor of Massachusetts, who might be a candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 2008. But Romney is a Mormon.
The editor reminded his readers that it was evangelical Christians who put the last three Republican Presidents in the White House, and that no Republican can be elected without the evangelical vote. He ventured that the evangelicals would vote for Hillary Clinton before they would vote for a Mormon.
What is the basis of the evangelical complaint against Mormons? It must be serious if they would vote for Hillary, whom they can’t abide, before they would vote for a Mormon, any Mormon, however attractive he might be otherwise. While in this essay I may have already hinted as some of those reasons, in my next I will spell out some of those reasons in detail. And I will let you decide for yourself. I do not propose to be a judge on this issue, Are Mormons Christians? but that is the subject of the next essay.
[Published in Dr. Leroy Garrett’s emailed newsletter, Soldier On!, Essay 133 dated July 27, 2006 ]
Essay 2: “Are Mormons Christians?”
by Dr. Leroy Garrett
I have an uneasiness about this subject. Who am I to say who is or who is not a Christian? The Lord knows those who are his, as Scripture says, not I. But in my last essay I referred to a Newsweek article in which evangelical Christians were described as not believing that Mormons are Christians – a view that may well be held by Christians generally. I promised that in this essay I would explain why they feel this way.
The Mormons certainly see themselves as Christians, and they are understandably offended when accused of not being. But it is such a commonly held view that on Larry King Live, Larry — who is married to a Mormon — asked the current president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whom he was interviewing, if Mormons were Christians. The authoritative voice of the Mormon church replied – a bit impatiently I detected – “Certainly we are Christians!”
This suspicion of Mormons takes different forms. Years ago when I was back at Princeton Seminary (Presbyterian) I happened to sit at the alumni banquet with a renowned professor, with whom I had studied decades earlier. He told me he had recently been to Brigham Young University to lecture for the Mormons, and he expressed surprise that they invited him. Thinking it appropriate to say something positive, I mentioned that the Mormons make good neighbors and upstanding citizens. To which he replied, “Yes, if they didn’t have to believe so many crazy things.”
That is the way many Christians see them – they believe and practice a lot of crazy things. But some translate that into They are not Christians, insisting that what is wrong is not just “crazy” but grossly anti-biblical and anti-Christian.
Most Mormons – perhaps the president and prophet himself – might be surprised to learn that no less an authority than Brigham Young insisted that Mormons were not Christians, for they were more than Christians. “We are a special people of God,” he said. That appears to be how they see themselves – their prophet Joseph Smith is the greatest of all prophets; their Scriptures are superior and more reliable than the Bible; and while all other churches are apostate, their church is the only true church.
When critics – some of them ex-elite “Temple Mormons” — accuse Mormons of not being Christians what charges do they make? After considerable reading on this subject, I list here the most significant accusations – which are always documented from Mormon sources.
The Mormon God is not the Christian God.
This is the severest test for any religion. If it is wrong about God, little else matters. C. S. Lewis observed that there are only two kinds of religions – those which believe in the one, eternal God of the universe, such as the Judeo-Christian faith, and those that believe in many gods, such as Hinduism and paganism.
Mormonism is in the second category in that it teaches that every male Mormon can become a god. Women may become goddesses, but not gods. The essence of Mormonism is to make an infinite number of gods for an infinite universe. Their critics have thus called them “the God Makers.” Already they have made millions of gods, as they see it.
God himself was once a man like the rest of us who proved himself so “worthy” – a key word in Mormonism – that over aeons of self-exaltation he at last became Yahweh God. When the Bible describes God as infinite, eternal, immortal, and immutable it is not describing the Mormon God.
The Mormon Jesus is not the Jesus of Christians.
The Mormon Jesus is not “the Word became flesh.” – or God who became man — but, like God, a man who by being “worthy” became Christ. God, who is polygamous with his many wives, had intercourse with Mary, one of his wives, and Jesus was born. God had other children, one being Lucifer – so Lucifer, who became the prince of devils, and Jesus were brothers. This was in their pre-mortal state.
Moreover, the Mormon Jesus was polygamous while on earth, and he lived to see several of his children. They have Jesus getting married one more time at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.
One will notice that manhood is the doorway to godhood – first a man, then perhaps a god. So with God, so with Jesus. So with all who become gods. This is the rationale for polygamy – all the yet unborn spirits must become human, so they in turn can through good works become gods. And god-making goes on eternally, with the goddesses eternally pregnant. Mormonism potentially has more gods even than Hinduism, whose gods are innumerable.
This is why Mormonism rejects “the fall of man” or original sin. Brigham Young said man fell upwards. The so-called “fall” was a blessing in disguise, Young said, for in it man began to learn how to become a god. Man is basically good, an “embryonic god” in fact.
This is also why Mormonism has little or no doctrine of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit has apparently never become a man – and so is not God. You can now understand the Mormon adage “As man now is God once was, as God is man may become.” But is it Christian?
3. Mormonism is a cult, and so cannot be truly Christian.
If this charge is true and comes to be generally understood, it could have a devastating effect on Mormonism. For the general public – not just the religious — abhors cults. It even fears them.
A cult may be defined as:
(1) Formed around a charismatic leader who is esteemed as a spokesman for God, who has unquestioned authority over them, demands absolute obedience, and has a hyper ego;
(2) Having its own ongoing revelations from God, which may take the form of extra-biblical scriptures;
(3) Having weird and bizarre doctrines and practices, often expressed in secret rituals,
(4) Seeing itself as a special, superior people of God, it judges others as inferior, apostate, abominable.
Mormonism appears to qualify as a cult
on every point listed above, such as
(numbers below correspond to numbers above):
(1) Joseph Smith is the unique, charismatic figure of Mormonism, who was no ordinary prophet. He restored the true church of Jesus Christ, apart from which there is no salvation. Even the most devout Christian, biblically baptized, must accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and be baptized into the Mormon church to be saved. The Prophet and The Brethren who are his successors have absolute authority and are not to be questioned. As they themselves put it, “When The Brethren speak, the thinking has already been done.”
(2) The Mormons have at least three “Bibles” of their own — the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. Since they see the Bible as corrupted through the centuries, the Mormon scriptures are superior. Besides, they have twelve apostles, one of whom is president and prophet – successor to Joseph Smith – who receives revelations and speaks for God.
In 1870 – after the Supreme Court ruled against polygamy – the sitting prophet received a revelation that was to end polygamy, though it did not actually condemn the practice, for that would have contradicted their scriptures, which make polygamy “a divine law.” And in 1978 – after 150 years of being racist – the church through its prophet received a revelation that gave equal rights to blacks, even though the Book of Mormon still makes dark skin a curse of God.
(3) What is more weird and bizarre than what goes on in the scores of Mormon temples around the world? There are secret rituals and oaths (revealed only at pain of death), a secret handshake, and secret under garments with markings like those of the Masons (the Prophet was a Mason).
Couples are “sealed” in marriage to each other for eternity; each receives a secret name, which the man uses to call his wife from the grave. When a wife dies a veil is placed over her face in the coffin, where it is to stay until her husband calls. But he is to have other wives in heaven, all of whom will be eternally bearing children so as to populate their god-husband’s own universe.
But the temples are more for the dead than for the living. They are awesome to the average Mormon. Yet 70% never enter one due to being unworthy, which makes “Temple Mormons” the elite. The dead of all human history may still be saved – multiplied billions of them. Their spirits gather in the temples, begging to be saved. They can still believe “the restored gospel” of Joseph Smith and be baptized, except a living Mormon is actually baptized for each of them.
But the dead must first be identified and authenticated as having lived, with appropriate data recorded. And so the Mormons are also genealogists with a depository of millions, if not billions, of names in a mountain vault near Salt Lake City. The point is to be baptized for them. Some Mormons have been baptized for hundreds, even thousands, who may have lived centuries in the past. “A church for the dead,” they are called. They see themselves as the saviors of all humankind, the dead of ages past as well as the living.
(4) Salvation is only in the Mormon church, which has all the truth of God, a claim common to all cults.
While Christians in general base their salvation not on their own worthiness or good works but upon the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the Mormon church offers salvation only in “the one true church” and by being “worthy” through good works.
That contradicts the great truth of the Christian faith. If one can be saved by his own worthiness, then the sacrifice of Christ was unnecessary. As the Bible puts it –- “Not by any works of righteousness which we have done ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5). Man is a sinner before God, not an embryonic god. We were not created to be gods, but to be human beings conformed to the image of Christ, both in this world and in the world to come (Philippians 3:20-21).
In the light of all this it is understandable that many Mormon watchers do not see them as Christians. The fact remains, however, that they often act like Christians, and impressively so.They will point out to you that theirs is virtually the only church with “Jesus Christ” in its name. If you attend their services you will never hear them pray except in the name of Christ. They glorify Christ in praise and song. They acknowledge him as the risen Lord, and do good works in his name.
The issue before us raises a question that I don’t know the answer to – How wrong might one be and still be a Christian?
The church in Corinth had many things amiss, but Paul still saw them as the body of Christ. Admittedly, the line has to be drawn somewhere. We can probably agree that to be a Christian one’s heart has to be right – a heart for Christ. And only God knows the heart.
The answer we seek might be different if we asked about Mormonism itself rather than the individual Mormon – Is Mormonism Christian?
It would be like asking if Calvinism is Christian (Thomas Jefferson said Calvin’s God is a demon) rather than asking if Presbyterians are Christians.
Many Mormons – perhaps most – do not know about the “crazy,” cultish things revealed above. The missionaries do not reveal them in conversion, and The Brethren reveal them to the initiated only gradually. Mormon history is one of lying and deceit. Even Joseph Smith with his plurality of wives (27 according to a Mormon historian’s count; 46 by ex-Mormon Faun Brody’s listing, with some as young as 13) denied he was a polygamist up to his dying day!
You have to give him credit – it is not every man who can keep 46 wives under cover. No pun intended! But it was generally known, and it was one more reason why a mob stormed the jail in Carthage, Mo. in 1844 – where he was held for treason – and murdered him. He was earlier jailed for fraud in reference to deals related to digging for money. And yet he placed himself a close second to Christ himself!
But typical Mormons do not know these stories. The Mormon church is a good family church with high moral values, as they see it. They go to church – well, half do, half don’t (“Jack Mormons” are what they call their folks who don’t go to church). They work hard to be good Christians. Some of them know what Mormonism teaches, and do not believe it. But where do they go since all other churches are also false? They accept the good and try to ignore the bad.
When we ask whether others are Christians, it is just as well to turn the question on ourselves, Are we Christians?
Some of us are probably more Christian than some of our dogmas. That may be where at least some Mormons are.
[Published in Dr. Leroy Garrett’s emailed newsletter, Soldier On!, Essay 134 dated August 4, 2006 ]
Dr. Garrett died in 2015. He was a prolific writer up until a few weeks before his death. You will find many, if not most, of his writings posted at:
Psalm 23 For the Work Place
The Lord is my real boss, and I shall not want.
He gives me peace, when chaos is all around me.
He gently reminds me to pray and do all things
without murmuring and complaining.
He reminds me that he is my source and not my job.
He restores my sanity everyday and guides my decisions
that I might honor him in all that I do.
Even though I face absurd amounts of e-mails, system
crashes, unrealistic deadlines, budget cutbacks, gossiping
co-workers, discriminating supervisors and an aging
body that doesn’t cooperate every morning, I still will not
stop—for He is with me! His presence, His peace,
and His power will see me through.
He raises me up, even when they fail to promote me.
He claims me as His own, even when the company
threatens to let me go.
His Faithfulness and love is better than any
His retirement plan beats every 401k there is.
When it’s all said and done, I’ll be working for Him
a whole lot longer and for that, I bless his name.
The Paradox of Dying to Live:
Considering the Intent of Romans 6:7
by Al Maxey*
In his epistle to the Roman brethren, Paul makes a statement that has caused some degree of speculation, the understanding (or misunderstanding) of which has also led to doctrines and dogmas boldly proclaimed and perpetuated by a number of disciples of Christ. That statement is found in Romans 6:7, which reads, “For he that is dead is freed from sin” (KJV).
The question that has arisen in the minds of many is: What is meant by the term “dead” in this passage? We will come back to that, but first we discover from the text that the result of this death is the blessing of being “freed from sin.” The Greek word here translated as “freed” is “dikaioo,” which means “to be acquitted, cleared, freed, vindicated; to be declared just and righteous; to stand approved and accepted.”
The point Paul makes to his brothers and sisters in Christ is that they have been cleared of sin and freed from its power over them. They are now regarded by the Father as just and righteous, and thereby accepted by Him into an intimate relationship with Him. This Greek word in Romans 6:7 is a perfect passive indicative, which means the person stands having been set free, based on a past act, from the power, guilt and consequence of sin.
Dr. A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, makes note of this Greek construction and says this term means “to stand justified; set free from.” That past act, that secures our freedom, is stated in the text to be DEATH. Because one has died, that one is now free. This, in fact, is one of the primary teachings of Paul in this chapter (as well as throughout this epistle).
Notice the following two paragraphs from Reflections #617 (“Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality”):
Look at the context of Romans 6. Read it carefully. What is Paul talking about in this passage? Is he building a theology around baptism in water? Is he declaring this rite to be THE precise point of contact with the blood of Jesus Christ? Is this passage from the pen of Paul, as some claim, about baptism?! Far from it.
Indeed, the rite of baptism in water is entirely incidental to his primary message; it is only mentioned in passing. Paul’s point is: “you have been set free from sin” (vs. 18, 22); “we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (vs. 2). “Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (vs. 6-7). “Count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin…” (vs. 11-13). “Sin shall not be your master” (vs. 14).
As those who have been set free in Christ Jesus; as those who are washed in His blood; as those who are cleansed — we are now called to reflect that reality in our daily lives. As recipients of His grace we are to be reflectors of His holiness. Returning to a life of sin should be unthinkable to those who are now set free from it. Thus, in this chapter, Paul twice asks: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (vs. 1-2). “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (vs. 15).
By virtue of His grace and through our faith, we have received the blessing of being united with Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection (vs. 5). “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (vs. 3). What is the significance of this death? Paul gives us the answer: “The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God” (vs. 10). In our spiritual union with our Savior, we also have died to sin that we might live “in newness of life” — i.e., lives of purity and holiness, reflecting His nature rather than our own.
Paul is reminding the disciples in Rome that their baptism symbolizes this great reality, and they need to be conducting themselves according to the Great Reality they reflected in that rite. In their immersion they validated their faith in our Lord’s death, burial (entombment) and resurrection, and all that His act signifies; now, in their daily lives, they need to continually reflect this reality in a visible manner to the world about them. They are ambassadors of grace, children of God, and they need to behave as such. “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (vs. 4).
Paul is nowhere in this chapter saying that baptism in water SAVES us; nor does he even suggest that we “contact the blood” of the Savior in the baptistery. In our baptism we have publicly committed ourselves, in a visible profession of faith, to living lives “dead to sin” and devoted to righteousness and holiness. Baptism is an act of faith, but it is also, in some ways, a vow. In this act of faith in what He has done for us, we vow, in a very public, visible manner, to die to self and live for Him.
Don’t we also do the same in the wedding ceremony? A man and woman, in a very public manner, vow to die to self and live for the other! Is that ceremony (or some precise point within it) what unites this man and women in a covenant with one another before their God? Covenant takes place IN THE HEART, and that covenant was entered into before they “walked down the aisle.” Yes, this public profession is important and has a place as a “point of public remembrance,” but it reflects and represents a reality already present within the hearts of this man and woman prior to this ceremony. It is the same with baptism (although this statement will not sit well with the sacramentalists).
Romans 6:7 teaches us that if we are to experience the blessing of being freed from sin and regarded by the Lord as justified, if we are to be accepted by Him into a life affirming relationship, a death must occur. This is not a reference to the death of Jesus (at least not directly, although His death is certainly in the mind of the one dying), nor is it a reference to our physical death. Rather, it is a spiritual death of the old nature so that we might live in newness of life (a life in which we are Spirit filled and led). But, again, we come to the question: What is this death we are to experience, and when does it take place?
Many within my own faith-heritage believe this “death” that frees us from sin occurs at the point of baptism in water. They teach that baptism itself is the precise point of our cleansing and freeing from sin, thus investing it with a sacramental power.
Notice the comments of Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann on this passage from the pen of Paul: “We Christians, by virtue of our Baptism, are dead unto sin and live unto God, because the new life of God is planted into our hearts in Baptism” [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 32]. He goes on: “In Baptism the believer dies with Christ. . . . The new spiritual life which he has received in Baptism. . . . Crucified with Christ in Baptism. . .. By virtue of our Baptism, sin is removed. … Salvation: this our Baptism has worked, effected, in us. Because the old Adam, in Baptism, has been killed. … That is the wonderful blessing and benefit of Baptism” [ibid, p. 31]. The author always uses the upper case “B” in writing this word, for he regards this act as a holy sacrament: i.e., by this act itself one receives salvation, justification, and release from sin. Baptism itself, therefore, according to Dr. Kretzmann’s view, is HOLY, for IT is what effects our union with the Lord.
The apostle Paul, however, is not elevating baptism in water, or any other human act, to the status of a salvific sacrament. Baptism is not the “death” of which Paul speaks, but merely a visible and symbolic representation of that death. If we are to benefit from the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, then we too must die. Although baptism in water is a reenactment of HIS death, burial and resurrection, it is not the death of which Paul speaks in Romans 6:7. Thus, the question remains: What is that death, and when does it take place?
The teaching of Paul, and of all Scripture, is that we embrace grace by faith! When I finally come to perceive the spiritual significance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and when I put my complete trust in HIS act on my behalf, by that faith I die to self and lift Him up as Lord and Savior. I do indeed reflect that faith by repentance and confession, and even by a reenactment of HIS act (by being immersed in water), but it was BY FAITH that I died to self so as to live in/for Him. All else merely reflects that inner reality.
Thus, by faith I die with Him, and by faith I receive the benefit of HIS death, burial and resurrection, which is a freeing from the effects of sin. I am free; I am liberated; I am accepted, I am justified. And yes, I will SHOW this reality of salvation by grace through faith every day in countless ways, one of which is the visible reenactment in baptism of HIS redeeming act.
Adam Clarke rightly observed, “Does not this simply mean: the man who has received Christ Jesus by faith, and has been, through believing, made a partaker of the Holy Spirit, has had his old man, all his evil propensities, destroyed; so that he is not only justified freely from all sin, but wholly sanctified unto God? The context shows that this is the meaning” [Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 6, p. 77].
The Greek scholar Dr. Kenneth Wuest concurs, pointing out that the word “dead” in our text “is aorist tense in the Greek text, namely, ‘he who died,’ referring to the historical fact of a believing sinner being identified with Christ in His death on the cross” [Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek NT, Vol. 1, p. 102].
David Lipscomb wrote, “The old man that followed sin was crucified through faith in Jesus” [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, Vol. 1, p. 117]. He then quotes the apostle Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Earlier in that same chapter, Paul wrote, “We have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ” (Galatians 2:16). In our text (Romans 6:7), Paul indicated that we are freed/justified as a result of a “death.” We died to the old man BY FAITH, and we received His declaration of freedom from sin by our faith in His redemptive act. We evidence that faith in a number of ways, one of which is baptism.
“This annulling of the power of sin is based on a recognized principle: death settles all claims. Our union with Christ in His death, which was designed to deal with sin once for all, means that we are free from the hold of sin. Its mastery is broken” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, p. 70].
“Death annuls all obligations, breaks all ties, cancels all old scores” [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. 2, p. 633].
The ancient Jewish rabbis stated in their writings, “When one is dead he is free from commands.”
We are dead to law; we are dead to legislation; we are dead to command-keeping; we are dead to sin. We are liberated; we are free. By faith we have cast off the old man of our sinful nature, and we are made alive with Christ Jesus. Paul, following his statement in Romans 6:7, spends much of the remainder of the chapter discussing the practical aspects (as seen in daily living) of this death to our old nature resulting in freedom from sin. “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
Does this mean we are now perfect, and that we never sin? Of course not. In the latter part of the very next chapter (Romans 7:14f), Paul details his continuing struggle with sin. We daily stumble in our walk, but we are no longer slaves to sin, but merely victims of sin, with the good news being that we are sinners saved by grace, and in our inner man we have died to sin, even though in our flesh there is still weakness which far too often evidences itself in sinful ways. Yet, thanks be to God, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:1-2). By faith we die; by faith we live! Thank God for His grace!
Al Maxey is the author of several books on religious topics and he has defended his theological views in a number of debates. His “Reflections” newsletter, widely read . . . and often criticized, is free for the asking. This essay was posted in Issue 676, for Sept. 25, 2015. Al preaches for the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ in Alamogordo, New Mexico and is one of the congregation’s shepherds as well. See his web site for back issues of his writings and for listings of his books and CDs and/or to sign up to receive his free newsletter: http://www.zianet.com/maxey/
Knowing So Much
But So Little
by Edward Fudge
Copyrighted Jan. 3, 2016
The second year of high school found me enrolled in a vocational class in commercial printing. A loud, smelly machine called a Linotype made a “line o’ type” from melted lead. The printing “press” inked the type with hard rubber rollers and “pressed” paper sheets against the type like a giant rubber stamp. My first assignment was to clean the rollers with gasoline and a large cloth. I saw what looked like six or eight large ink rollers, scrubbed them with a vengeance, then asked the boss to check my work. A quick look later he turned the big flywheel that moved the rollers, bringing up from somewhere in the depths a second set of rollers badly in need of a good cleaning. I thought I knew what to do and how to do it. Instead, to my embarrassment, I discovered how very, very little I knew.
That is much the way I feel these days, as I seek to retain and regain control over a damaged body and mind that play havoc with moods and emotions, randomly ignore or distort operating orders from the brain, create a variety of pains in both legs and feet, and make up new rules as we go along. Two culprits have joined forces to cause this mischief. First is Parkinson’s Disease (PD), with whom many of you are all too familiar as either caregiver or patient. My diagnosis was 13 years ago but the disease remained largely invisible for another decade until repeated back surgeries stirred it into action. The second culprit is a disease process known as “severe sensory-motor polyneuropathy,” recognizable by physical weakness and disability and by chronic pain.
As stated above, I am rapidly learning how little I know about things I thought I knew. After all, I have been a preacher/teacher for 50+ years and a lawyer for nearly 30. In both professions others looked to me as an “answer-man” concerning things in heaven and on earth respectively. But regardless of the number or the nature of the questions we have answered, I suspect that none of us, when assaulted by misfortune and called to suffer, will ever fully understand the answers to the big questions we all find ourselves asking–questions such as “Why?” and “Why me?”
Yet in this frustrated world groaning for redemption we can improve our perspective and learn to ask instead, “Why not me?” And we can always work on learning how better to wait (Romans 8:18-22). Meanwhile, the best knowledge we can gain is not “book-knowledge” as such, but relational knowledge born of experience in applying biblical principles to life as we encounter it together day by day (Colossians 1:9- 11).
On this subject, the simplest truths are often the most profound, and we can sum them up as faith, hope and love. The most important truth is that God loves us in spite of ourselves, which means we can trust him whatever the present appearances. The final chapter to our story is not yet written, making hope possible, necessary, and very relevant. And when all is said and done, and there is nothing more we can say or do to help, we again confess to God that he is all we have and that we are in his hands to stay. It just might be that the little we do know turns out to be very much indeed.
* Edward Fudge is a lawyer, a preacher, and an author of several popular religious books. This copyrighted essay was published online on Jan. 3, 2016. You may contact him at his web site and sign up to receive his free GracEmail newsletter: http://edwardfudge.com/
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