A Tribute to Geoffrey Quinn

This past week, I lost a dear friend of mine. I found out on Monday that Geoff Quinn passed away last Friday on June 21st, 2013. He had been battling cancer since 2011.

We graduated from the same college. We were seminary students together. We worked at the same high school. We were baptized together. We had traveled to Thailand, Myanmar, and South Africa together for various missions activities. I loved Geoff.

Geoff was a humble man of God who exemplified Christian joy. In his valiant fight against cancer, he showed me what it’s like to trust in the sovereignty and love of God through fiery trials. He taught me what it means to live in light of eternity. Like Job, he cried, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).

Though he would never finish the last two classes of his Master of Divinity… Though he would never fulfill his dream of serving God in pastoral ministry… Though he would never get married to form a family as he so desired… He firmly held onto his faith that “[his] Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25).

It turns out that God was preparing me for this dreaded news. The very day I found out, I had been reading from Psalm 115, which says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps 116:15), and from Revelation 21, which promises that, in the end, “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more.” Oh how I long for that day to come soon!

As a tribute to Geoff, I have composed a song about loss, suffering, hope, and future glory based on Romans 8:18-25. Oh Lord, let me never forget Geoff’s witness and encouragement to me!

“Glory After All”

Verse:
From South of the vineyard, leaks
Three drops (oh~)
Pressed from our dear and precious grapes
That never felt the touch of a
Swa-ddling cloth

Chorus:
Hope that is seen is no hope at all
Grace that is earned is no grace at all
Love that is bought is no love at all
So I say, it’s for Your glory after all

Verse 2:
From East of the garden, wilts
Three years (a~)
Budding shoot under the Pyrrhic heat
Blighted by the curse of
Can-cer

Verse 3:
From West of the city, bleeds
Three days (He~)
Crushed in the winepress of God’s wrath
Groaning in the pangs of
Chi-ld birth

—–

Where do I turn? This question resonates with me because it’s a question that I wrestle with daily. Right now, this is the question of my life. The most important lesson that I’m learning is that I gain peace in my trials when I see the nail-pierced hands that control them. I’m able to embrace God’s control over my life to the extent that I see His passionate love for me, to the extent that I see His extravagant love for me, to the extent that I see His costly love for me, I’m able to embrace His control over my trials.

I don’t know how much time I have, but I do know that if I must die, Jesus’ nail-pierced hands have me covered. One day, all the marks of my suffering will be gone…

My hope is in the resurrection–a resurrection that’s been purchased and ensured by Jesus’ own suffering, death and resurrection. This is my hope. One day, I’ll see Jesus face to face and I’ll be able to touch the hands, I’ll be able to touch the wounds that healed me. I’ll be able to touch the wounds that saved me.

… Each of us, sooner or later, we’re going to hit the wall. Where are you going to turn? Whether it’s with raised hands, or a raised fist, I implore you to turn to God, only take the time to behold the One you’re addressing. Take the time to look at the One you’re speaking to. Those wounds were taken for your healing. The Father’s arms are open wide and you’re welcome to come in…”

-Geoffrey Stuart Quinn
November 27, 2011
Park Street Church

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The Offensiveness of Not Proselytizing

Christians often cower from evangelism because they believe that it may offend non-Christians, but they should also consider the fact that they may offend non-Christians by not evangelizing. (Of course, I am not speaking here of the intrusive, harassing variety of proselytization.)

The Christian non-profit organization, Fixed Point Foundation, recently concluded a nationwide survey to find out how and why college atheists abandoned their Christian faith. The findings are remarkable, and among the most surprising is the fact that young atheists were disillusioned by Christians who did not take their faith seriously enough to evangelize.

The study quotes Penn Jillette, an illusionist, comedian, and an outspoken atheist, who said:

I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. … How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

Jillette’s full vlog is worth seeing, as it is evident that he was quite taken by the Christian man who proselytized him after one of his shows:

As Christians, do we really believe that Jesus Christ is “the way … the truth, and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (Jn. 14:6)? If Christ is who he says he is, he can be anything but an afterthought.

Christian faith is not a matter of opinion, but of conviction. An opinion is your personal preference with which others are entitled to differ; a conviction is what you hold to be the truth for everyone regardless of their beliefs.

Too many Christians live as functional atheists who rarely stop to ponder their missional imperative. Let us heed these young atheist voices and consider the offensiveness of not proselytizing!

Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be

Image
Plantinga Jr., Cornelius. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.
BUY

One is hard-pressed to find a more polarizing and misunderstood word than “sin.” A slightest insinuation that something is a “sin” provokes angry accusations of intolerant moralism.

This indignance is indicative of the moral subjectivism among today’s regnant intellectuals. What is remarkable, however, is that “people who take a casual attitude toward, say, pornography, tax evasion, or mockery of religion can at the same time show a fierce (even legalist) opposition to sexism, racism, self-righteousness, and air pollution” (103).

But how can an attitude that seems “right” to one person (e.g. a racist or sexist) be called “wrong” by another person in the absence of objective moral standards? Even the most avant garde subjectivists draw the line somewhere.

Defining “sin”
In short, we are profoundly confused about “sin,” and this is what Cornelius Plantinga Jr. sets out to correct with his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. As the subtitle of the book indicates, this is “a breviary,” or a brief summary, of “sin,” but it would be a mistake to think that this relative brevity (202 pages) implies a shallow treatment.

Plantinga begins by defining sin as “any act [or disposition]–any thought, desire, emotion, word, or deed–or its particular absence, that displeases God and deserves blame” (13). Yet divine displeasure is not arbitrary, for God hates sin because it violates shalom, which refers to “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight,” or simply, “the way things ought to be” (10).

What sin is not…
This definition, of course, is offhandedly dismissed by a culture that does not recognize vertical accountability to God. In such a culture, morality is merely a function of horizontal accountability to fellow humans.

Thus, immorality merely designates a breech of conventional behaviors, attitudes, rights, and obligations concerning other persons. Each ethical and legal system determines for itself who decides right and wrong and what is the law that ought to be obeyed.

For this reason, Plantinga distinguishes sin from immorality, which is culturally relative. Similarly, he distinguishes sin from crime, since crime is statute-relative while sin is not. Many sins, including unbelief, pride, and sloth, are perfectly legal.

There is, nevertheless, a subjective dimension to sin, but it is subjective with regard to one’s faith, not with regard to one’s environment. Even an objectively innocent act can be subjectively sinful if the agent thinks that it is objectively sinful and does it anyway, for that is a willful violation of the perceived will of God. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

Scottish minister Oswald Chambers once said that “the holiest person is … one who is most conscious of what sin is.” In Chapters 2-10, Plantinga canvasses the Biblical and historical Christian witness to describe sin in its various complexions as disorder, contagion, parasite, masquerade, folly, addiction, attack, and flight:

Sin as Disorder (Ch 2)
In the beginning, the universe is a “formless void” (Gen. 1:2), but at creation, God forms and fills. In the first three days, he forms kingdoms, separating light from darkness, sea from sky, and water from land, respectively.

Then, in the latter three days, he fills these kingdoms with kings, creating the sun, moon, and stars, the fish and birds, and the land creatures, respectively. At the end of the six days, as the crown jewel of his creation, God creates man and woman as perfect complements, together to rule over all creation under God’s sovereign lordship.

In light of God’s creative ordering of the universe, sin is an act of uncreation that subverts this divine order and transgresses boundaries. So in the Fall, man infringes upon God’s authority, woman upon man’s, and the serpent upon the woman’s (Gen. 3).

Consequently, the Fall culminates in the Flood, where the creational distinctions are blurred as sky falls upon sea and the waters cover the earth (Gen. 7) (30). If sin is a violation of God’s creational design, holiness, then, “is the wholeness of resources, motive, purpose, and character typical of someone who fits snugly into God’s broad design for shalom” (34).

Sin as Contagion (Ch 3-4)
Leviticus 19 describes both ceremonial uncleanness and moral decay as instances of contamination. Sin is a contagion, a pollutant, that defiles that which is pure. It contaminates a marriage by introducing a third lover. It contaminates worship by introducing an idol (45-46). A “pure” heart, then, is an unadulterated, undivided one (Ps. 24:4).

As a contagion, sin spreads “like the drought that prompts a maple tree to announce its distress by producing hundreds of emergency seed pods, or like a man with AIDS who infects and impregnates a woman, so sin tends both to kill and to reproduce” (54). Parental dysfunction, racism, as well as drug addiction are often passed on from generation to generation.

So, then, sin begets sin. It has a corporate, intergenerational dimension. This fact, however, does not exclude human culpability. The context of sin must not be confused with its cause (64). While “involuntariness may mitigate… it doesn’t necessarily excuse” (22).

An environmental determinism is untenable because it can never conclusively rule out human agency. To not hold people responsible for their sins is to dehumanize them, because those whom we regard as helpless, whether due to immaturity, insanity, addiction, etc., we do not treat as fully human (67).

Sin as Parasite (Ch 5)
Sin also functions more specifically as a parasite, which drains vitality from its host. Like a virus, sin subverts good gifts toward evil ends. So “the same gift that enables a scientist to conquer a disease also enables her to manufacture one and to sell it to terrorists. Using the same thoughtful expressions of praise and caring, a man may inspire a woman he wants to marry or seduce one he wants to conquer” (77).

As C.S. Lewis says, “Goodness is, so to speak, itself; badness is only spoiled goodness” (Mere Christianity, p. 49). Sin is attractive only insofar as it imitates good. “Nothing about sin is its own; all its power, persistence, and plausibility are stolen goods. … Good is original, independent, and constructive; evil is derivative, dependent, and destructive” (89).

For example, anger comes in two forms: 1) “righteous indignation, a virtue of the just” or 2) “smoldering resentment of competitors, the vice of the envious.” Likewise, pride comes in two forms: 1) “proper satisfaction in the achievement of excellence, the virtue of the diligent” or 2) “inordinate self-congratulation, the vice of the pompous” (81).

Some counter that our lives would be drab without sin. Ian Fleming, for one, argues that “the depiction of… sins and their consequences [has] been the yeast in most great fiction and drama” (“Introduction,” The Seven Deadly Sins, p. x), but this is only half true. As Plantinga notes:

Daring thieves, dashing rogues, renegade police detectives, disobedient angels, charming psychopaths–these figures attract us because they are bold, urbane, witty, energetic, or imaginative. … Their sin interests us because it leeches the color, wit, and energy out of normal life and presents these things to us in a novel, risky, and therefore dramatic form (94).

Sin as Masquerade (Ch 6)
Similarly, vice also frequently masquerades as virtue–intemperance as liberty, subversion of relational order as equality, “lust as love, thinly veiled sadism as military discipline, envy as righteous indignation, domestic tyranny as parental concern” (98). Even Satan must masquerade “as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:13) for credibility.

“Self-deception, like a skillful computer fraud, doubles back to cover its own trail” (107). As Lewis Smedes observes, “First we deceive ourselves, and then we convince ourselves that we are not deceiving ourselves” (A Pretty Good Person, p. 74). This is the nature of sin.

Sin as Folly (Ch 7)
Sin is not only wrong, it is also foolish, because it is ultimately futile. The Bible often refers to sin as folly, contrasted with the wisdom of staying within God’s order (Prov. 9). Sin involves missing the mark and straying from the path that God intends for us.

It is fascinating, then, that even “people who prefer not to judge or confess sin nonetheless concede that some objectionable act was stupid, tragic, shortsighted, mistaken, unfortunate, miscalculated, erring, regrettable, or out of line” (114) They recognize that something was amiss.

For example, public figures embroiled in a scandal often confess to a “lapse in judgment” or “inappropriate behavior.” As Plantinga observes, this is a cowardly and ridiculous euphemism, but it is nonetheless an important admission. Though they might not concede that they are sinners, they are in effect conceding that they have been fools (114).

Sin as Addiction (Ch 8)
Sin also functions like an addiction on many levels. Its desire is to master us (Gen. 4:7), so it tends to become progressively obsessive (can’t stop thinking about it), impulsive (do it without thinking), and compulsive (can’t help but do it). It refuses to be contained, works itself into the habits of the hearts, and burrows itself under self-deception (147).

Sin as Attack and Flight (Ch 9-10)
Finally, sin takes the form of an attack against God and a flight from God. As Henry Stob argues, hell is depicted in the Scripture as either very hot or very cold. As Jesus taught, it is “the outer darkness” (Mt. 25:30) and “the eternal fire” (Mt. 25:41). That is because:

Hell is made by those who climb the holy mountain and try to unseat the Holy One who, ablaze with glory, dwells in the light unapproachable. Those who mount an attack on God and cross the barrier of this exclusive divinity die like moths in the flame of him who will not and cannot be displaced. And hell is made by those who, turning their backs on God, flee the light and move toward the eternal blackness that marks God’s absence. Hell, then, is unarrested sin’s natural and programmatic end. Sin is either rebellion or flight, and, when persisted in, leads either to the fiery furnace or to the cold and desolate night. (Henry Stob, “Sin, Salvation, Service,” p. 16)

Plantinga’s account of the various ways in which people flee from God is particularly illuminating. We do so by conforming to, conniving with, and condoning evil, and by compartmentalizing our lives and cocooning into our little worlds where we are oblivious to the needs of our neighbors (182-189).

For this reason, perhaps the most dangerous kind of sin is not the grave offense that alarms all, but the seeming trifle that escapes our detection. As C.S. Lewis wisely notes, “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (The Screwtape Letters, p. 56).

To illustrate, the premium value we place on entertainment in the U.S. suggests that “it has become a diversion not only in the sense of a playful relief from the main business of life but also in the sense of a distraction from it, an evasion of it, a sometimes grim, big-business alternative to it” (190).

Human Sin and Divine Grace (Epilogue)
Thankfully, sin is not the end of the story. As Plantinga writes, “Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way” (199).

To speak of sin without grace is incomplete, but to speak of grace without sin is imprudent, for to do so is “to trivialize the cross of Jesus Christ…[and] cheapen the grace of God that always comes to us with blood on it” (199).

This is the express purpose of Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: to remind the church that “to ignore, euphemize, or otherwise mute the lethal reality of sin is to cut the nerve of the gospel. For the sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting” (199).

By leveraging his perceptive insight into culture, Plantinga delivers a compelling exposé of sin. The fluidity of his writing belies the compelling force of his words. His description of the cogency, simplicity, and beauty of divine shalom and the chicanery, vapidity, and depravity of sin inspires deep wonder for God and compassion for the world.

In my estimation, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be is the most penetrating foray into the doctrine of sin since C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. 

Buy Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be HERE.

Part 5 of 5: Practical Tips for Improving Your Prayer Life

In 1 Samuel 12:23, Samuel says to the people of Israel, “far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you.” Prayerlessness is a sin. Yet so many of us struggle to pray. Why is that?

Why We Don’t Pray
The most often cited reason is busyness, but this is least likely. As Richard Foster writes, “Of course we are busy with work and family obligations, but that is only a smoke screen. Our busyness seldom keeps us from eating or sleeping or making love” (Prayer, p. 7). We’ll never have time for prayer. We must make time. So what are the real reasons?

  1. Underappreciation of the Gospel. A vibrant prayer life requires a robust appreciation of the gospel, because it’s the reality that we have Christ as our mediator that gives us the “confidence [to] draw near to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:14-16). A prayer life motivated by guilt is legalistic and lifeless; a prayer life motivated by the gospel is joyful and Spirit-empowered. The gospel fills us with love for God and his people, and this love inspires prayer.
  2. Unrealistic Expectations. Generally speaking, if you do not have a regular prayer life, you are not going to be able to simply will yourself into praying for an hour everyday. Such unrealistic expectations set you up for failure and discourage you from trying at all. Try 10 minutes first. Also, don’t feel like everything has to be “just right” for prayer. Your prayers do not have to be elegant poetry, your surrounding does not have to be completely still, you don’t even have to be in a good mood. Don’t wait until you feel like praying. Just pray as you are, from your heart. Complain and implore as Moses (Num. 11:11-12) and David did (Ps. 88:13-14; 137:9). God will work on your heart as you pray. Our attempts to get prayer “right” put us “on top” of the equation, but prayer is about yielding to God and “coming under.”
  3. Unbelief & Pride. Subconsciously, we don’t feel that we need God and lack confidence that prayer actually gets anything done. And since we have so many things to actually get done, prayer gets sidelined. But if we really believed that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12),” we would know that our strivings are futile unless guided and sustained by prayer.

How We Can Pray
In addition to addressing the fundamental issues above, there are tangible things we can do to improve our prayer lives:

  1. Develop Habits: Regularity is key. Using Richard Baxter’s lingo, we must find the “fittest time,” “fittest place,” and “fittest temper” for prayer (The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, Ch 13). Regularity reminds us that we are not in charge, God is. It could be three times a day at 9AM, 12PM, and 3PM as was the Jewish custom (Dan. 6:10; Acts 3:1), early morning (Mk. 1:35; Ps. 5:3), and/or late at night (Lk. 6:12). I’ve personally found that it works best to make prayer my first business of the day. Also, designate a personal sanctuary for prayer away from distractions (Mk. 1:35), whether it be a closet, an attic, a bathtub, a garden, or even a particular chair with noise-canceling headphones on. Your phone will ring and you will suddenly have the urge to do the chore that you had put off, but you must resolve to guard your sacred hour and space. Praying at a particular time and place is not opposed to praying without ceasing (1 Th 5:17). As John Dalrymple notes, “The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have resolutely set about praying some of the time somewhere” (Simple Prayer, p. 47).
  2. Keep a List: Often, people simply don’t know what to pray for or quickly run out of things to pray about. Keeping a list of prayer requests can guide us and help us pray specifically. I use the application Pocket Prayer Pro on my phone to keep a list. A preliminary list from Scripture should include prayers for the lost (Rom. 10:1), our governing authorities (1 Tim. 2:2), the sick (Jas. 5:13-15), our enemies (Lk. 6:27-28), our Christian brothers and sisters (Eph. 6:18), and gospel laborers (Mt. 9:36-38; Col. 4:2-4). We can also use the Pater Noster (the Lord’s Prayer) as a model, or follow the popular A.C.T.S. outline (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). Don’t feel obligated to run through a list everyday (that can be a drudgery), but use it to guide and prompt you while being attentive to the Spirit’s lead. There are also tremendous benefits to written, liturgical prayers like those contained in The Book of Common Prayer. The breadth of topics covered by liturgical prayers, their theological depth, and wonderful eloquence can cultivate reverence for God, instill a sense of continuity and community with the saints throughout history and across the world, and help us express yearnings that we may have been unable to articulate. It’s also a great practice to pray through sections of Scripture. The Psalter is a great place to start!
  3. Add Variety: Feel free to experiment with different modes of prayer. If you’re prone to get distracted, try writing down your prayers and/or praying out loud. Verbalizing your prayers can increase your concentration and add coherence to your prayers. If your prayers are an endless profusion of words, including a time of listening silence can add depth and intimacy to your prayers (Ecc. 5:1-7). Employ different postures that mirror your heart’s attitude. Scripture records praying prostrate with face to the floor (Mt. 26:39), while lifting up hands (1 Tim. 2:8), kneeling down (2 Ch. 6:13; Lk. 22:41; Acts 9:40; 20:36), standing (Mk. 11:25), and sitting (2 Sam. 7:18). Try lifting up your hands high in prayers of adoration, lying prostrate in prayers of confession and repentance, kneeling with your hands out and palms up in prayers of thanksgiving and supplication, and/or walking through your neighborhood in prayers of intercession for your neighbors. You can also pray in song accompanied by musical instruments (Ps. 72:20)!
  4. Find Accountability: Seek out those who are more experienced in prayer and ask them to pray with you regularly. I have found this to be very helpful in improving my prayer life!

What are some other practices that have enhanced your prayer life?

This is Part 5 of 5 posts in my series on prayer. See Part 4 of 5: Coping with Unanswered Prayer.
or Part 1 of 5: Does Prayer Change God? Or Does It Change Us?

Repent and Believe

The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church on April 14th, 2013.

“Repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.” LISTEN

MARK 1:1-15

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Temptation of Jesus

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Jesus Begins His Ministry

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Can Christians Be Depressed or Suicidal?

Depression and Suicide

Depression and suicide are taboo topics among Christians, because they are often perceived as signs of spiritual weakness. “Good Christians are never depressed,” and “True Christians never commit suicide” are common sentiments among Evangelicals. But are these even true?

This week, the suicide of the 27-year-old Matthew Warren, the son of the renowned pastor Rick Warren, rocked the Evangelical world and began a national conversation about mental illness.

It is impossible to speak with certainty on this issue since the Scriptures do not directly address it. However, I do think that Christians can be susceptible to depression, and I do not think that suicide is an unpardonable sin.

What the Bible Says…
The Biblical narratives that mention suicide (Abimelech, Jdgs. 9:52-54; Samson, Jdgs. 16:30; Saul, 1 Sm. 31:4; Saul’s armor-bearer, 1 Sm. 31:5; Ahithophel, 2 Sm. 17:23; Zimri, 1 Kings 16:15-20; Judas, Mt. 27:3-5) pass no judgment on the morality of suicide itself. They merely comment on the reason why these men took their own lives.

Furthermore, men chosen by God such as Job (7:15-16), David (Ps. 13:2-4), Jeremiah (20:14-18), and Jonah (4:9) all despaired of their lives at some point, and Samson, who kills himself along with the Philistines, is hailed as a hero of the faith in Heb. 11:32. These examples alone should dispel the idealistic notion that Christians are immune to depression and suicidal tendencies.

Mental illnesses can have complex physiological, as well as psychological, causes. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression persist in this fallen world because our bodies are still groaning for the full redemption of God (Rom. 8:22-23).

On this side of eternity, sincere Christians still struggle with serious sins (Rom. 7:7-25). Thus, a volatile Christian can succumb to suicidal temptations in the throes of severe depression. Suicide is a tragedy in which the victim often has little control.

The good news is that there is no condemnation for those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Rom. 8:31-34), and nothing can separate us from the love of God–not life, not death, not even death by suicide (Rom. 8:35-39). We are saved, not by living up to certain behavioral standards, but through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the heart of the gospel.

The fact that one cannot repent of suicide after death does not preclude God’s forgiveness. We all have unconfessed sins that are unknown even to ourselves (Ps. 19:12; cf. 1 Cor. 4:4), and confession of every sin has never been the criterion for salvation.

Some cite 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 as proof that suicide leads to eternal damnation:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

However, this is a misinterpretation because the referent of “God’s temple” in this context is not an individual’s body (as it is in 1 Cor. 6:19-20) but the local church. We know this because (1)Paul is addressing the problem of division within the local church (1 Cor. 3:3-9), and because (2)the personal pronoun “you” in the original Greek is plural, though this is lost in translation.

The verses that immediately precede vv. 16-17 talk about how Christ will judge each one’s work in the upbuilding of the church. The enduring value of one’s labor will be tested by fire, and “if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:12-15). This “loss” speaks not of individual damnation but of the damage done to the church. His work will be lost and he will lose his reward, but “he himself wil be saved.”

Please Don’t Take Your Own Life!
Of course, God’s mercy is by no means an excuse for suicide. Suicide is never a viable option (Acts 16:25-34). It is presumptuous to take God-given life into our own hands, and selfish to spurn the care of our loved ones.

We have been bought with a price by Christ’s blood, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit that belong to God. (In the context of 1 Cor. 6:19-20, the “temple” does refer to the individual body, because it is dealing with sexual immorality rather than with division in the church as before). Like any sin, suicide results in a relative, albeit not necessarily absolute, rift in one’s fellowship with God.

If you struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, please remember that God is sovereign and that there is always hope. Please seek help, both spiritual and medical. Please hang on, so that you can “teach the world to sing [your] song”…

For a more detailed treatment on this issue, please see my friend Al’s article on Christianity Today.

Well, I don’t want to die anymore
Don’t want the Lord to call me home
I’ve got this feeling he ain’t done with me yet
So, I’ll sit right right here and place my bet

So, I don’t want to die, not just yet…

Well, it’s a hard road
To get back to my home
I don’t know how much farther I can go
But if I hang on,
Though I know the road is long,
I could teach the world to sing my song.

-Excerpt from “Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” by Ivan & Alyosha

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Part 4 of 5: Coping with Unanswered Prayer

Every war, every famine or plague, almost every death-bed, is the monument to a petition that was not granted. -C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 58

The burning question
When I was in youth group, there was a guest preacher who taught me that there is no such thing as unanswered prayer, because God always answers prayer with either a “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” This makes rational sense, but it makes no emotional sense because it merely circumvents the gravity of unanswered prayer. The real question is why he says “no”  to some of our prayers.

Unanswered prayer should never drive us to despair, because to do so would be a betrayal of our faith in the sovereignty of God. Conversely, we should always wrestle with unanswered prayer, because resigning ourselves to come what may would be a betrayal of our faith in the love of God. We need to ask the hard question, “Why?” After all, didn’t Jesus say:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt. 7:7-11)?

Five reasons for unanswered prayer can be summarized with the mnemonic A.B.C.D.E. 

Alienation from God
First, as I discussed previously on my post Keys to More Effective Prayer, sin alienates us from God “so that he does not hear” (Is. 59:2). As John writes, “God does not listen to sinners” (Jn. 9:31). Sins of all stripes hinder our prayers, which is why we must pray humbly and repentantly (Lk. 18:9-14). This is why healing is sometimes predicated on the confession of sins (Jas. 5:16).

Note the emphasis on “sometimes,” because it would be cruel to tell those to whom we minister that their prayers are not being answered because they lack faith or because they have unconfessed sins. We simply cannot be sure of this. Jesus says of a blind man in John 9:2-3 that, contrary to societal assumptions, the man was born blind neither due to his sins nor his parents’ sins, but “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” If anything, we should blame ourselves for lack of faith.

Second, sin alienates us from God so that we become obtuse to his promptings. So we “ask wrongly, to spend it on [our] passions” (Jas. 4:3). With our impaired vision, we ask for things that would be detrimental to others or to ourselves. We seek to manipulate God for our purposes, rather than submitting to his purposes. Indeed, we “do not know what [we] are asking” (Mt. 20:22).

In these cases, we should actually thank God for our unanswered prayers. “If God had granted all the silly prayers I’ve made in my life, where should I be now?” (C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, p. 28)

But what if we are, as far as we know, praying for things that would honor God, in a manner that honors God, for reasons that honor God? Why doesn’t God answer, then?

Blindness to God’s answers
Sometimes, God answers our prayers in an unexpected way and we are simply oblivious to it. God perceives the deeper intent of our prayers and answers the spirit of our requests rather than the form of our requests.

For example, we may pray for the gift of healing so that we can help those who are ailing, but God may instead give us the gift of compassion so that we can weep with them. We may pray for health and strength to do much work for God, but God may instead give us sickness and weakness so that we may do more meaningful work for him.

The hymn, “I Asked the Lord,” by John Newton describes this beautifully:

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.

At other times, we simply need to recognize the means that God uses to answer our prayers. There’s a funny story where a Christian man who is drowning refuses the help offered by a rescue boat and a helicopter because of his conviction that God himself will come to his rescue. He drowns and goes to heaven, where he asks God why he did not answer his prayer. God says, “What more do you want from me? I sent you a boat and a helicopter.”

This humorous story illustrates how we may miss God’s answers to our prayers. When we pray for healing, are we neglecting the natural means of health, such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, sleep, and medicine? When we pray for humility, are we utilizing the spiritual disciplines of silence and service that cultivate the virtue? When we pray for children, are we overlooking the possibility of adoption as a means through which God may provide children?

Compassion to comfort others
God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). The pain of unanswered prayer softens and enlarges our hearts to empathize with others who suffer similarly. We become Wounded Healers. We learn to close our mouths of platitudes and open our eyes of compassion.

Have you ever met Christians who beam with superficial triumphalism? Everything they say sounds right, but rings hollow. That is because they have not yet been “grieved by various trials.” The “genuineness of [their] faith” has not yet been “tested by fire” (1 Pt. 1:6-8). Often, God intends for us to be preserved through trials not from them, and these trials enable us to comfort those who are suffering.

Divestment of earthly dependence
In 2 Cor. 1:8-9, Apostle Paul writes of an intense affliction that drove him to “despair of life itself,” and comments that this “was to make [him] rely not on [himself] but on God who raises the dead.” Often, unanswered prayers force us to divest ourselves of earthly dependencies and set our hope solely on God.

God’s silence strips us of our dependence on external results and “signs” of success. We no longer labor for the praise and approval of men. Just as Jesus “did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:24-25).

We no longer hang on the subjective confirmations of divine favor, and turn instead to the objective reality of what Christ has accomplished on the cross on our behalf. Unanswered prayers teach us to treasure the Giver more than the gifts.

Once again, John Newton captured this well in a letter he wrote to Rev. William Rose on December 21st, 1776:

Be not discouraged; the Lord only afflicts for our good. It is necessary that our sharpest trials should sometime spring from our dearest comforts, else we should be in danger of forgetting ourselves, and setting up our rest here. In such a world, and with such hearts as we have, we shall often need something to prevent our cleaving to the dust, to quicken us to prayer, and to make us feel that our dependence for one hour’s peace is upon the Lord alone.

Effacement of the self
Finally, in our suffering, we “[carry] in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:10). Paul rejoiced in his sufferings on behalf of the Colossians because he believed that “in [his] flesh [he was] filling up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).

This is not to suggest that we can add something to Christ’s once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice. It simply means that we can partake in the “fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). Unanswered prayer effaces the self and reminds us that we are nothing apart from God. “[We] have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ who lives in [us]” (Gal. 2:20). We are radically humbled and surrendered to God’s will.

Christ at Gethsemane
Ultimately, we can cope with unanswered prayer only because Christ himself bore the burden of unanswered prayer at Gethsemane. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Lk. 22:42) He prayed in such agony that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk. 22:44).

Yet the Father was not willing to remove the cup, and the Son, thankfully, yielded to the Father: “not my will, but yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). By laying down his life for us, Jesus expressed God’s love for us in the most certain and irrevocable terms, so that we can stand firm even when unanswered prayers threaten our confidence in God’s goodness.

Have you struggled with unanswered prayers in the past? How did God help you overcome them? You can read about how I’ve been wrestling with unanswered prayers in my posts Pressed Grapes and Grieving Infertility.

This is Part 4 of 5 posts in my series on prayer. See Part 3 of 5: Keys to More Effective Prayer.

The Significance of Passover for Christians

Exodus 12:1-14

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, ‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household … The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect … Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire … Do not leave any of it till morning … This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’S Passover. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.’”

Numbers 9:11-12
“‘They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations.’”

Today is the first day of Passover, one of the most important Jewish festivals. But what is its significance for a Christian?

The Exodus
The book of Exodus, which is also part of the Jewish Torah, records that the Eygptians “put slave masters over [the Jews] to oppress them with forced labor … [and] made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields … [and] used them ruthlessly” (Ex.1:11-14). Moreover, it says that the Pharaoh gave the order to kill every new-born Jewish boy (Ex. 1:22). One baby, however, survives. He is named Moses, and he grows up and is called by God to liberate the Jews from the grips of Egypt.

The Jews had suffered for around 200-300 years under Egyptian oppression. Given this context, and given the deadly consequences awaiting failure, the night of the Passover must have been pregnant with palpable anxiety, as the people carried out the ritual with trembling—the rapid palpitations of their hearts resounding even louder amidst the thick, hushed air filled with fear and anticipation.

The Passover Lamb
One could picture the solemnity of the scene as they carefully examine the lamb to check that it is without blemish, stab it, pour the blood out into a basin, sprinkle it across the lintel and the side door posts, then roast the meat. One could imagine the intense emotions stirring as they distribute the lamb joint by joint, painstakingly ensuring that no bone is broken, and eat it hastily with their rough hands, calloused from hard labor.

There is tension as they look into each other’s determined eyes whispering, “Soon, the God to whom we have cried out day after day will answer our prayers. Soon, our Lord will avenge our enemies. Soon, Our God will deliver us from slavery.” The significance of the Passover, for any observant Jew, could hardly be overstated.

The Second Exodus
It is possible for Christians to empathize with the Jews and celebrate the Passover because we have experienced the same deliverance from our own spiritual Egypt. The slavery in Egypt can be likened to slavery to sin, just as Apostle Paul wrote of his past as a man living according to the law apart from the grace of God, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? … a slave to the law of sin” (Rom. 7:13-25).

Then, he answers his own question, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! … Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do … God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering … [we] are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit of God” (Rom. 7:25-8:3; 8:9). Christians wearied from their slavery under the law of sin, like the Jews worn out from their slavery under the Egyptians, are freed at once, not by anything they have done, but by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), and invited to live victoriously in the Spirit of life through grace.

The Second Passover Lamb
There are more than a few parallels between Jesus and the Passover lamb. As Charles Spurgeon points out in his sermon Christ Our Passover, delivered on December 2nd 1855, the gentle, innocent lamb without blemish aptly captures the image of Jesus Christ, the guileless and sinless man declared blameless by the Pilate (Lk. 23:4), who nevertheless accepted his death sentence without retaliating.

As the paschal lamb’s wool is shorn and the animal killed, Christ was ripped naked and crucified. Furthermore, just as the paschal lamb was to be a male of the first year, a lamb in its prime, so Christ died on the cross at the zenith of his manhood at the age of 34. Just as the lamb was not to be killed prematurely or too late, Christ was offered, not as a young boy who is not yet mature, nor as an old man whose body is growing frail, but as a full man at the height of his strength.

Moreover, just as the Passover lamb was set aside for 4 days before Passover, Jesus commenced his ministry after his baptism and continued for 4 years until his death, and upon entering Jerusalem to be set apart for his death, celebrated the Passover with his disciples 4 days later, except this time offering himself instead of the Passover lamb, saying as he broke the bread, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me,” and as he poured the wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:7-20).

The picture I took of the Upper Room in Jerusalem (2007), where, reputedly, Jesus had his Last Supper with the disciples.
The picture I took of the Upper Room in Jerusalem (2007), where, reputedly, Jesus had his Last Supper with the disciples.

Likewise, his death resembled that of the Passover lamb, since his blood was poured out, and he was pierced onto a cross and endured a long painful death which is similar to the process of roasting, in which the lamb is pierced and hung over the fire. No bone of his body was broken (Jn. 19:33-36), and he was not to be left on the cross until morning (Jn. 19:31) just as the Passover lamb was not to be left until morning.

In this manner, Jesus fulfilled the Messianic role of Savior and Redeemer. Just as the Old Testament prophets predicted the Messiah would be, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10-11), line of David (Jer. 23:5), and was born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) of a virgin mother (Is. 7:14). He was a Galilean (Is. 9:1-7), the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the Son of God (Is. 7:14).

He was sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12-13) and people divided and cast lots for his clothing (Ps. 22:18), and as he was dying He cried out “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani’—which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” thus quoting Psalm 22:1 and pointing to the prophecies concerning him contained in the Psalm.

He was despised (Ps. 22:6-7; Is. 53:3), pierced in his side (Zech. 12:10) and in his hands and feet (Ps. 22:16), yet his bones were not broken (Ps. 22:17; 34:19-20). He died and resurrected after three days and thus fulfilled the Sign of Jonah (Ps.16:10; Hos. 6:2; Jon. 1:17), and was exalted to the right hand of God the Father (Ps. 110:1-4). All of these prophecies are plainly fulfilled and explained in the Gospels.

Prophet Isaiah summed it all up when he prophesied:

Isaiah 53
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering (cf. Mt. 27:27-31) … Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities (cf. Mt. 27:32-44); the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (cf. Mt. 27:13-14) … And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living … He was assigned a grave with the wicked (cf. Mt. 27:38), and with the rich in his death (cf. Mt. 27:57-60), though he had done no violence (cf. Mt. 26:52), nor was any deceit in his mouth (cf. Mt. 26:55). Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer (cf. Mt. 26:42), and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering … After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied (cf. Mt. 28:6); by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many (cf. Mt. 28:19-20), and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great (cf. Mk. 16:19), and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.”

This great sacrifice, amazing grace, and unconditional love demand a response. Just as Charles Spurgeon, once again, said, “If he gave his all to me, which was much, should I not give my little all to him?”

Why I Changed My Mind About Baptism

Recently, two articles were posted on the Gospel Coalition blog with the title “Why I Changed My Mind About Baptism.” The first one, written by Gavin Ortlund, recounts his doctrinal shift from pedobaptism to credobaptism, and the second one, written by Sean Michael Lucas, chronicles the reverse journey.

The Pedobaptist Position (Infant Baptism)
As a former Presbyterian pedobaptist, I thought Sean Lucas’s post was representative and articulate. He argues that NT baptism is a continuation of OT circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), and emphasizes the significance of households in God’s redemptive plan, extrapolating that just as God’s covenant with Abraham was signed and sealed through household circumcision (e.g. Gen. 17), God’s covenant with believers should be signed and sealed through household baptism (e.g. Acts 16). This is why, Lucas reasons, the promise of the Holy Spirit is given not to individuals but to “you and your children” (Acts 2:38-39), and children of a believing parent is considered “holy” rather than “unclean” (1 Cor. 7:14).

The Credobaptist Position (Believer’s Baptism)
As for the credobaptist position, Gavin Ortlund makes the interesting argument that since “intergenerational descendants of Abraham” are in view in Genesis 17:9: “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come,” pedobaptists should baptize not only the infant children of believers, but also the infant grandchildren of believers. Of course, pedobaptists do not baptize grandchildren of believers, so this is a subtle, yet pointed, way to show that the criterion for circumcision was not one’s belonging to believing parents, but one’s inclusion in the nation of Israel.

What Is Baptism?
In order to settle this debate, we need to first understand the meaning of baptism. In the Old Testament, a covenant was not “made,” but “cut,” because the “cutting” of circumcision symbolized the curse that would befall the person who breaks the covenant he has made with God. It meant that he and his progeny would be cut off from God’s people. Likewise, baptism represents the curse of the breached covenant, namely death.

However, since Christ died and bore the curse for our sake, we do not have to. Baptism, then, signifies our union with Christ in his death. We “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

According to this passage, baptism, not responding to an altar call and praying the sinner’s prayer, is the initial “sign” of our conversion from death to life (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; Gal. 3:27). Baptism “saves” us–not as the actual “cleansing” from sin, but “as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 3:21). Ultimately, it is Christ’s atoning sacrifice, not baptism, that saves us. If baptism in and of itself saved us, there would be no need to proclaim the gospel. Instead, Paul writes, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17).

Nevertheless, in a real way, we are united with Christ, and, by extension, to the Body of Christ (i.e. the Church) through our baptism (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Just as saying the wedding vows before witnesses “seals” the marriage, baptism before witnesses “seals” one’s union with Christ through faith. It is an outward profession of an inward faith. In this sense, baptism is not unlike ceremonial circumcision, which, in the Old Testament, was the “sign” and “seal” of one’s inclusion in God’s covenant community (Rom. 4:9-12).

Whom Shall We Baptize?
Up to this point, the pedobaptist position looks very appealing. However, there is a crucial difference between circumcision and baptism. Unlike circumcision, baptism is always preceded by confession of sins (Mt. 3:6; Mk. 1:5) and faith. The parallel between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-12 refers to circumcision of the heart (c.f. Jer. 9:25-26; Ezek. 36:26-27) rather than to circumcision of the flesh.

In the Old Testament, they circumcised infants because circumcision marked one’s inclusion in the physical covenant-community of God, Israel, but this was not the spiritual covenant-community of God, the True Israel (Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 4:22-28). Since the Church is a continuation of this spiritual covenant-community, only confessing believers are to be baptized into the Church. This is why the early Church often delayed baptism for children until adolescence or adulthood (Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 364).

Moreover, the promise of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38-39 to “you and your children” is grounded in the commandment: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). In other words, the children will receive the Holy Spirit only if they also repent and are baptized. In fact, the promise is not only for the children of believers, but also for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39).

Contra Lucas, children cannot be baptized and regenerated on the basis of their parent’s faith any more than an unbelieving husband can be baptized and regenerated on the basis of his wife’s faith (1 Cor. 7:14). The fact that an unbelieving husband is made “holy” by his marriage to a believing spouse has nothing to do with regeneration or salvation. It simply means that the matrimony between a believer and an unbeliever is nevertheless sacred and lawful and, therefore, not to be dissolved. The verse literally says that the unbelieving husband is “made holy in the wife.” The location of holiness is in the believing partner.

Apostle Paul is not assuming here that the child of a Christian parent would be baptized (just as he is not assuming that the unbelieving spouse would be baptized), because to do so would detract from his argument by implying that the child was not “holy” until the baptism (Alfred Plummer, 1 Corinthians, ICC). The child of a Christian parent is “holy,” not in a regenerated sense, but in the sense that he is “set apart” for upbringing in the context of Christian community.

The examples of household baptisms prove that conversion was often a collective family decision in the context of a communal culture, and that the family usually owned the decision of the head of the household. This does not, however, prove that the individual conversion of the head of the household automatically warrants the baptism of his whole household.

Finally, the mode of baptism attested throughout the New Testament is always immersion (as opposed to infusion i.e. sprinkling or pouring water over the head), which precludes infant baptism. The Didache, which is a teaching of the twelve Apostles dated to the late 1st or early 2nd century, prescribes baptism in running water, and, as a last resort when the other means are unavailable, makes provision for pouring water on the head (Didache, 7:1-7). Infant baptism is not documented until the early 3rd century, when Tertullian first mentions it in order to oppose it (Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 362).

We Should Safeguard Each Other’s Conscience
I personally find the above arguments for credobaptism compelling. However, I recognize that there will be people on both sides of the debate until Jesus returns. Given this reality, we need to safeguard each other’s conscience. God will judge the secrets of our hearts and examine our consciences (Rom. 2:15-17). It is no good pretending that you’re okay with infant baptism when you’re not, and vice versa. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

Both pedobaptists and credobaptists agree that baptism is an important part of the Christian life, since Jesus commanded us to baptize (Mt. 28:18-20). Bible-believing Christians on both sides of the debate agree that their baptismal practice must be governed by the witness of Scripture. There is much more that unites us than divides us.

The New Pope and Christian Hope

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was declared the new pope today. He has chosen to take on the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, who abandoned the vast wealth he inherited from his merchant father to take the vow of poverty and identify with the poor.

This name choice has been described as “precedent shattering” not only because it’s the first time a pope has taken the name “Francis,” but also because the choice signifies “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding [of] the Catholic Church” and suggests a departure from business as usual (Michael Martinez, CNN).

This is an auspicious development because Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has historically straddled theological conservatism and social liberalism. He is a staunch advocate for the unborn, the poor and the marginalized. In 2009, he went on the record saying that “unjust economic structures that give rise to great inequalities” violate fundamental human rights (Catholic News Agency).

Yet he also firmly resisted his fellow Latin American Jesuits’ growing penchant for liberation theology–a liberal theology that equates Christian salvation to liberation from social, economic, political injustice (John L. Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter).

The “good news,” or the gospel, offers real hope for our present world because it affects all creation and calls for the transformation of our economic, political, social, and cultural structures. Jesus declared that he came “to proclaim good news to the poor … to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18-19). The gospel is certainly no less than social justice. However, it is also much more than that.

Sin is the cause of our psychological alienation within ourselves (Gen. 3:10), our social alienation from each other (Gen. 3:7, 16), and our physical alienation from the rest of creation (Gen. 3:16-19), and the root of all these is our spiritual alienation from God. Vertical reconciliation with God through Christ precedes our horizontal reconciliation with the world (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

Therefore, we must not merely promote justice but also proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Lk. 2:10-11), who inaugurated the Kingdom of God (Mk. 1:14-15), lived to fulfill all righteousness (Mt. 3:15; 5:17-20), died as the substitutionary atonement for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-3), and rose again to usher in the New Creation (1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5:17). In so far as it is news, the gospel requires verbal communication (Rom. 10:14).

Wait, but don’t actions speak louder than words? What about the famous saying, which, incidentally, is attributed to St. Francis?

“Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

This saying is often quoted by Christians who declaim the importance of social justice and relegate the proclamation of the gospel as secondary. However, St. Francis never said such a thing. What he did say was:

“No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulation of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister. The minister should take care not to grant this permission to anyone indiscriminately. All the Friars, however, should preach by their deeds.” (The Rule of 1221, Chapter XII)

Far from diminishing the importance of preaching, St. Francis wanted to ensure the faithful proclamation of the gospel by restricting preaching privileges. On the other hand, all were permitted to “preach by their deeds.”

In other words, we must preach by both word and deed. The mark of a true disciple is both a creed (2 Cor. 11:4; 1 Tim. 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:1-11) and a “love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). The two cannot be separated.

I pray that the new Pope Francis, like his namesake, will uphold both orthopraxy (right living) and orthodoxy (right belief). I pray that the new pope will uphold the old Christian hope–hope for the world here and now and hope for the world to come (1 Cor. 15:19; Rom. 8:18-25).

What are your impressions of the appointment of the new pope?