A Question and an Answer about Water Baptism

A QUESTION AND AN ANSWER ABOUT WATER BAPTISM

By Wayne S. Walker

     Quite a few years ago, more than twenty in fact, the congregation with which I was then working had a “Dial a Bible Message.”  People could call the number and listen to a short recording on some Scriptural topic.  The machine that we used allowed the caller to leave a message, so we invited listeners to ask any Bible questions which they had.  The following question was called in to the Dial a Bible Message, and the answer that I gave to it follows, with some additions.  I thought that it might make for interesting and informative reading.

Question: Is there any virtue in water?  Answer: It is difficult to know exactly what is intended by this question.  The most logical assumption is that it has reference to baptism, since many who object to the teaching that baptism is essential for salvation often say that there is no virtue or power in the water to forgive sin.  Before we can answer the question, we need to look at a couple of plain facts from the Bible.  First, Jesus Himself commanded baptism (Matthew 28:18-20).  He gave it a connection with salvation, saying in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”  Can anyone be saved without doing what Jesus commanded us to do to be saved?

Next, the Bible makes it clear that baptism is a part of God’s plan for washing away our sins.  In Acts 22:16 Saul of Tarsus, who became better known as the apostle Paul, was told by a God-sent preacher, “And now why are you waiting?  Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (cf. Acts 9:17-18).  Even though he was already a penitent believer, Saul did not have his sins washed away on the road to Damascus or while he was fasting and praying for three days, but only after he arose and was baptized.  This tells how he called upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13).  He later wrote that his conversion serves as a pattern for everyone else (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

It is quite obvious to anyone who reads the New Testament that water does have a role to play in God’s scheme of redemption.  In describing the new birth, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:3-5).  After Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch asked, “See, here is water.  What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36-39).  The same apostle Peter who told the Jews on Pentecost, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), said after preaching to the household of Cornelius, a Gentile, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” and then commanded them to be baptized (Acts 10:47-48).  Paul wrote that the church is cleansed “with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26).  And the Hebrew writer tells us that before we can draw near to God we must have “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

So in answer to the question, no, there is no virtue in the water.  The water itself does not save.  It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves us by the power of God (Romans 5:8-9).  However, baptism is said in the Bible to save because it is the divinely ordained means by which we come into contact with the blood of Christ to be saved by God’s grace, being baptized “into His death” (Romans 6:3-4).  This is what the apostle Peter had in mind in 1 Peter 3:21 when he wrote, “There is an antitype, namely baptism, which now saves us—not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  The virtue of baptism is simply in our obeying God and approaching Him with a good conscience for salvation.

—in Faith and Facts Quarterly; Oct., 2017; Vol. 44, No. 4; pp. 53-55

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How Does the Holy Spirit Dwell in Us?

HOW DOES THE HOLY SPIRIT DWELL IN US?

by Wayne S. Walker

          There is so much false doctrine about the Holy Spirit that constant attention to basic Biblical truth on the subject is both good and necessary. “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). Obviously, there is some sense in which the Holy Spirit affects the lives of God’s people today. Since, as the Scriptures clearly teach, references to the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit’s power are limited to the first century, references to the Spirit’s influence today must be understood in a different sense. So the question for this article is, “How Does the Spirit Dwell in Us?”

The Bible teaches that Deity can dwell in man. God the Father dwells in us (I John 4:12). Christ the Son dwells in us (Ephesians 3:17).  And the Holy Spirit dwells in us (2 Timothy 1:14). Since the Father, Son, and Spirit are one in their Deity, whatever is true of the indwelling of the Father and the Son must also be true of the Spirit’s indwelling.  While some take the extreme position that there is no indwelling of the Spirit in the Christian, the Bible teaches that there is such a thing. The major disagreements center on the manner of this indwelling.

The Calvinists teach that the Spirit directly comes into the heart of the elect to produce faith and remove Adamic sin. Holiness people claim a special manifestation of the Spirit or a second work of grace essential to “entire sanctification.” Pentecostals and Charismatics believe that the Spirit dwells miraculously in the Christian today and still performs miracles through them. Some brethren postulate a literal and personal, though not necessarily miraculous, indwelling of the Spirit directly in the Christian’s body, separate and apart from the word. Others say that the New Testament teaches no such concept but that the indwelling of the Spirit is through and by means of the word.

So what does the Bible say about the indwelling of the Spirit and how it is accomplished? First, we must understand the Spirit’s omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-10). God the Father is a person. He is omnipresent, but His person is said to be in heaven even though His presence is everywhere.  The Holy Spirit is also a person. Therefore, to say that the Spirit dwells in us no more means that His actual person is in us any more than to say that God dwells in us means that His actual person is in us. When we say that God dwells in us we are talking about being in a right relationship with Him (I John 4:15). Why cannot we understand the same thing with regard to the Spirit?

This now raises the question as to how this indwelling takes place.  Paul asked, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2). This implies that the means by which we receive the influence of the Spirit in our lives is by the hearing of faith. Ephesians 5:18-19 says that we are to be filled with the Spirit, the result of which is singing praise to God. But Colossians 3:16 says that we are to have the word of Christ dwelling in us, the result of which is singing praise to God. The logical conclusion is that we are filled with the Spirit by means of the word of Christ dwelling in us. We need to remember that the sword or instrument of the Spirit for His work is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

All questions about the Spirit’s indwelling cannot be answered in one short article. But there are just too many objections to the idea of a literal, personal, direct indwelling of the Spirit in the Christian to accept it as truth. When we speak of God’s dwelling in us, we are referring figuratively to the influence of God being seen in our lives.  The Holy Spirit dwells in us (I Corinthians 6:19-20). Does this not simply mean that through the influence of His word, He directs our lives to bear His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23)?

— In Search For Truth, January 1997; via The Gospel Observer, January 19, 1997

Law and Grace

LAW AND GRACE

By Wayne S. Walker

     There has been quite a bit of loose talk, both in days gone by and in more recent years, concerning law and grace.  Some confidently affirm that keeping God’s law has absolutely nothing whatever to do with being saved—we are under grace, not law, they say—and then turn too passages like John 1:17 to substantiate their claim.  Others, in reaction to this, may leave the impression that men are saved only through law-keeping, thus adding more fuel to the fire.  This would occur, no doubt, unintentionally.  But if such be true, then we may need to be more careful about what we emphasize in our preaching.  That the Christian is under law, at least in some sense of the word, should be incontrovertible.  Such passages as 1 Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:1, and James 1:25, etc., plainly demonstrate this fact.  The question is, to what extent does keeping Christ’s law play a part in our salvation?

First, we need to understand the nature and purpose of law in general.  Law is somewhat like a boundary, out of which those bound by the law must not go.  We all understand this in relation to civil law (Romans 13:1-7).  The most obvious aspect of law is the punishment of those who decide to break it rather than keep it (1 Timothy 1:8-10).  But this aspect is really based upon a more fundamental fact, which is that law is a communication from a person or persons in authority to those in subjection concerning what the latter must do to be acceptable.  This is the positive side of law; it provides guidelines so that those who want to do well may know how to live properly.  God’s law is no different.

So, are we saved merely by law-keeping?  I know of no gospel preacher or any other faithful Christian who does now believe, or has ever believed, or hopefully ever will believe, that salvation comes solely by observing rules and regulations.  That is why the Old Testament law was repealed.  Of course, that is how God designed it to be in the first place—to show men that they cannot be justified simply by law.  If such were true, there would have been no need for Jesus’s sacrifice.  Those who are unlearned and too lazy to study God’s word for themselves may have misunderstood what others have said concerning this matter and reached a wrong conclusion about what we teach.  But this is not the real issue.  Everyone agrees that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Yet, we are saved by grace through faith; and faith, to be of a saving nature, must include complete and trusting obedience to God’s law (James 2:14).  In fact, it is by submitting to God’s law that men enter into and remain within the sphere of His grace.

No one keeps the whole law perfectly.  Again, if we did, Christ need not have died.  All have sinned (Romans 3:23), and sin is a transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).  Remember, if there were no law, there could be no transgression, and, hence, no sin (Romans 4:15).  This is where grace comes in.  God has devised, in His grace, a plan to make up for our imperfections by forgiving them (Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 8:12).  But receiving that grace and forgiveness is conditioned upon keeping certain laws ordained by God—i.e., obedience to His will regarding the gospel terms of pardon (Hebrews 5:8-9, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:3).  Therefore, we may say that we are saved by grace, understanding that we depend solely upon God’s grace for a plan of redemption, and not our own human good works; and that we are saved by faith, in that salvation is based not on a system of perfect rule-keeping, but on a trusting, obedient faith.  Likewise, in a very limited sense, we are saved by keeping God’s law, meaning by meeting the conditions of faith set forth in His law.  But none of these things saves exclusive of the others.

—taken from Vanguard; Mar. 23, 1978; Vol. 4, No. 6; p. 10

The Latest Arguments for Instrumental Worship in Light of the Scripture

THE LATEST ARGUMENTS FOR INSTRUMENTAL

MUSIC IN LIGHT OF THE SCRIPTURE

By Wayne S. Walker

     Back in 1990, I had the opportunity to attend the first night of a debate on the subject of instrumental music in worship that was conducted at Georgetown, Ohio.  Dennis Lewis of the Georgetown Church of Christ, an independent Christian Church, affirmed that the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship of God is scriptural.  Paul Vaughan, of the Brown County church of Christ, denied the proposition.  The purpose of this article is not to review the entire debate (I was not able to return to hear all the speeches).  However, I would like to review some of the newer arguments made during the debate in favor of instrumental music in worship.

After several years of separation between the independent Christian Churches and New Testament church of Christ, there has been a push in recent years, primarily from leaders in the Christian Church, to lump instrumental music in with other matters of personal opinion or individual conscience and thus establish some grounds for “unity” between the two groups.  Unfortunately, some of the more “liberal-thinking” lights among us have accepted these overtures and appear willing to compromise on the issue for the sake of peace.  In the debate which I attended and in the paper One Body, several arguments of recent vintage have been made to justify this compromise, and they need to be examined in light of the Scriptures.

We are now being told that the New Testament teaches that all things which are not explicitly forbidden by the doctrine of Christ may be done by men living today without their being guilt of sin in so doing.  This is just a reworking of the old “the Bible doesn’t say not to” argument and shows a lack of understanding about the nature of authority.  It is not necessary for God explicitly to forbid everything that He does not want.  Hebrews 7:11-14 shows that whatever God does not authorize, either generically or specifically, is sinful.  He reveals what He wants us to do, and we must simply leave it at that.  To do otherwise makes human wisdom rather than God’s word our authority.

It is also being affirmed that instrumental music is all right because of the nature of worship.  Some would say that there is no specific form nor content for worship commanded in the New Testament.  Then they redefine worship to include whatever comes from man’s sincere desire to serve God, so long as it is not explicitly forbidden.  Thus, if a person’s desire to serve God expresses itself by using instrumental music in worship, that is acceptable.  But this just is not true.  When men praise God with music, whatever the circumstances, God has specified the form—singing, and the content—psalms, hymns, and spiritual song (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).  There is a vast difference between what God has authorized as worship and what fallible human beings may want to do in their misguided attempts to serve Him.

Another argument being used to justify instrumental music in worship is that we are now under a covenant of grace, not a covenant of law.  It almost sounds as if the argument is that we can do things not authorized by God’s law, and His grace will take care of it.  Of course, denominational folks have been making this same argument against the necessity of baptism for years.  But, again, it is not so.  Grace and law are not mutually exclusive.  Of course, we are justified by grace, not by law, but this has always been the case.  When we sin against God’s law, we can receive forgiveness through His grace as we repent.  Yet, He still expects us to keep His “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25) because that is the boundary within which His grace is found.  To go beyond it is to remove ourselves from the benefits of His grace.

Surely, no Christian should be a harping hobby-rider on any one subject—be it instrumental music, baptism, institutionalism, divorce, etc.—to the exclusion of other important topics.  We must preach the whole counsel of God.  But those who do not understand the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.  Through the years we have been faced with many arguments for instrumental music in worship—“psallo” includes the instrument, instruments are only aids to singing, the Old Testament authorizes instruments, there will be instruments in heaven, etc.  We need to be aware of these as well as the more recent arguments and how to answer them from the Scriptures so that we can teach our children, ground those who are babes in Christ, keep those who are weak from falling into this error, maintain the purity of New Testament worship, and generally meet Satan head on as he seeks to conquer us on this issue.

My own family background was in the Christian Church.  My grandparents and then my parents left the Christian Church many years ago, and they taught me well why.  Like Abraham’s attitude towards that country from which he had come out, I do not seek an opportunity to return to religious error, because I desire something better—the simple truth of God’s word.  It is my fervent hope and prayer that we all shall continue to search the Scriptures daily and stand for the truth.  “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.  He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son (2 John v. 9).

—taken from With All Boldness; July, 1990; Vol. 1, No. 2; p. 26

Can You Be an Undenominational Christian?

CAN YOU BE AN UNDENOMINATIONAL CHRISTIAN?

By Wayne S. Walker

     What denomination were Peter, Paul, Philip, and Barnabas members of?  I dare say that practically everyone would agree that they were not members of any denomination, for there were no denominations in the first century.  Is it possible today for a person to be as they were?  I am not speaking of being in an ecclesiastical organization which simply claims to be “non-denominational.”  I am talking about actually being an undenominational Christian.

Our aim is to proclaim undenominational Christianity and plead for a return to God’s ways.  The basis for salvation in New Testament times was the response of human beings to the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15-16).  He, possessing all the attributes of Deity, gave up the glory of heaven and came to this earth as a humble Savior (Philippians 2:5-8).  As a result of His death, burial, and resurrection, salvation was offered as a free gift to all who would submit to Him by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Those who were thus saved by their trust and obedience were added by the Lord to His church (Acts 2:36-41, 47).  They were Christians—and Christians only (Acts 11:26, 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16).  Our message is that people can be saved in the same way and can still be just Christians today.   The Bible presents all the saved as one spiritual body in Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:4, 5:23).  Can you be in this body or church without affiliation to a denomination?  God’s word teaches that you can, and this is what we want to announce.

How is all this accomplished?  “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).  The same gospel of Christ is God’s power unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  It can be preached today as it was in the first century, and folks can obey from the heart that same form of doctrine as they did in New Testament days (Romans 6:17-18; cf. vs. 3-4).  When this happens, then the same results will be forthcoming—just like planting the same kind of seed year after year.  If you are interested in this, we would like to study further with you.  Won’t you give it some thought?

“Behold, I Thought”

BEHOLD, I THOUGHT

By Wayne S. Walker

     In 2 Kings chapter 5, the Syrian general Naaman, a leper, was sent to the prophet Elisha of Israel for healing.  The command of Elisha to the diseased Syrian general, as given through his messenger, was to “go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (v. 10).

“But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  May I not wash in them and be clean?  So he turned and went away in a rage” (vs. 11-12).

Naaman thought that Elisha himself should come out.  He thought that the man of God would put on a big show and use a lot of hocus-pocus.  He thought that washing in the Jordan to cleanse leprosy was a ridiculous act.  He thought that the rivers of Syria were better than those of Israel.  He may even have thought that seven times were a few too many.  His main problem is that HE thought.

Let’s make some applications.  What must one do to be saved or have forgiveness of sins?  “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).  “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38, NIV).  But someone says, “I thought that faith alone saves a person.”  Yes, we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1).  But what about “faith only”?  Listen to James 2:24.  “Ye see then that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”  Faith must work through love (Galatians 5:6).

“But,” someone else replies, “I thought that a sinner is saved by repentance and prayer.  My preacher told me to go down to the altar (or mourner’s bench) and pray for salvation till I prayed through.”  Is that how Saul of Tarsus was saved?  The Lord told him on the road to Damascus, “Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6).  For three days he fasted and prayed (vs. 9-11).  But he had still not been told what he must do.  Then Jesus sent Ananias to tell him what to do.  “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).  And he did it (Acts 9:18).  This he had to do to wash away his sins even after three days of repentance and prayer.  And what He did to be saved is a pattern for us (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Again one responds, “I thought that salvation came by confessing the Lord and accepting Him as my personal Savior.”  Yes, we must confess Jesus (Matthew 10:32-33, Romans 10:9-10).  But note what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:21.  “Not everyone that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  How do we show our love for Christ and accept Him as Savior?  By profession only?  No.  “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Another answers, “But I thought that the Holy Spirit comes into the sinner’s heart and saves him.”  Certainly the Spirit has a role in salvation (John 16:7-13).  But did He save Cornelius directly and miraculously?  In Acts 10 we learn that Cornelius was to send for Peter who would tell Him words by which he would be saved (vs. 1-6, 30-33; cf. 11:13-14).  Peter came and began to preach to this Gentile and his family about Christ (vs. 34-43).  Then the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard.  But is this what saved them?  Peter evidently didn’t think so, because he said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord…” (vs. 47-48).  These were the words by which Cornelius and his house were saved.

Naaman finally listened to his servants, decided to surrender his stubborn will, and “went down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child; and he was clean.”  When Naaman did exactly as he was told, his leprosy left him and he was cleansed.  The water itself did not cleanse him, nor did he earn his cleansing by dipping, but he had to obey God’s will to be clean.  When a person today has completely obeyed from the heart the word of God, the result is that he or she will be made free from sin (Romans 6:17-18).

What Naaman thought did not matter with God; nor is He interested in what you and I think. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The Four Great Calls

THE FOUR GREAT CALLS

By Wayne S. Walker

     One of the amazing marvels of modern technology is the cell phone.  Nearly everybody has one, including everyone in my family.  They are practically ubiquitous.  It is almost amusing to see what I consider “little kids,” twelve, ten, even eight, running around with their camera phones snapping pictures of everything in sight and texting all their friends.

However, I shall let my younger readers in on a little secret.  Back in the “dark ages,” when I was a young boy growing up at home, we did not have cell phones.  Nobody did.  They were not invented yet.  So, if you were expecting an important phone call, you just had to hang around the house, stay near the phone, and wait for that old “land line” to ring.  This raises an interesting question.  From whom might you be expecting that important call?

Might it be a boyfriend or girlfriend?  Could it be Grandpa or Grandma inviting you over to spend the night at their house for a special occasion?  Or would it be your teacher or maybe the principal to talk about some matter at school?  If you were a bit older, might it be your employer, or, if you were looking for a job, a prospective employer?

Not many of us ever expected a call from the mayor of the city or the governor of the state, and most surely not from the President of our nation.  And no one would have even thought to await a telephone call from God.  Yet, although we know that God does not necessarily utilize the telephone, the Bible teaches that God has called people.  “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered’” (Jeremiah 35:17).

God called Israel, not on the phone but through His law and the prophets, yet they did not listen.  To use the vernacular, He kept calling them, but they would not pick up and answer the telephone.  Therefore, they were ultimately destroyed.  And God is still calling people today.  Are we listening?  Will we answer?  Each of the next four issues of this bulletin will contain an article about one of “the four great calls” that God has for mankind.

The Call of the Gospel

     The first of the four great calls is the call of the gospel.  “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).  What is the gospel?

Our English word “gospel” comes from two Anglo-Saxon roots and basically means “good news.”  It is used to translate a word in the original language of the New Testament that literally means “good news” or “good tidings” or “good message.”   The gospel is obviously very important to Christ because He told His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).  From this, we conclude that the gospel is a message which can be preached.

Furthermore, we learn that Christ wants this gospel message to be preached to “every creature.”  He is talking not about cats and dogs, horses and cows, or elephants and giraffes, but about human creatures, mankind, people in all the world.  Thus, we understand that God intends the call of the gospel to be universal.  It is for everyone.  But what is the substance of that message?  “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”  It is the message of salvation for all mankind through Christ.

Paul confirms this.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  Of course, this raises the question, salvation from what?  Paul sets forth his thesis here and then explains it through the rest of the book.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  This is true of all responsible human beings.  The call of the gospel is universal because the problem which it is intended to solve is universal.

So, we all sin, but why do we need to be saved from sin?  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  Sin has a penalty attached to it, and that is death.  The “death” under consideration here is not physical death but spiritual death, the opposite of “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Hence, because of our sin, we stand condemned to eternal death.  However, God does not want that and has devised a plan to save us.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  This is the essence of the gospel message.

Therefore, based on what Paul says, no one can be saved from sin and its penalty apart from hearing and responding to the call of the gospel, and this response involves obedience.  How do we know this?  Notice what Paul says will happen to those who do not hear and respond to the call of the gospel.  “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

In summary, all responsible human beings have sinned and are under the penalty of spiritual death.  However, God loves us and wants to save us, so He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.  He then revealed His plan for our salvation in the gospel, which includes His terms which we must obey to receive it.  Just as God chose the Thessalonians for salvation and called them by the gospel, so He calls all people in every generation through the gospel.  “…Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).  Have you heard and obeyed the call of the gospel?

The Call of Death

     The second great call from God is the call of death.  “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28).  The call of the gospel is universal, but God gives each individual the choice of responding or not.  The call of death is also universal, as well as the two to follow, yet in these there will be no choice.  We shall respond to this call, except for those alive when Christ returns.

God ordained physical death as a consequence of the fact that sin was brought into the world.  We remember how God created man in His own image, male and female.  He made the male from the dust of the ground and put him in the garden with the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   Then He determined to make a helper suitable for the male, so took a rib from Adam, and fashioned Eve.  However, Eve yielded to the temptation of the devil, ate the forbidden fruit, and gave some to her husband.  They sinned.

One of the consequences of this sin is found in Genesis 3:19.  God told Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”  While we understand that physical death is not a specific punishment for sin—not everyone dies physically when they sin, and little babies who have not sinned sometimes die–we often think of it as a general punishment for sin, and the Bible does call it “the last enemy.”  Yet, there is also a measure of God’s grace and goodness here.  Once man sinned, God did not want him to live forever in a condemned state, so he decreed that we must die.

What happens when we die?  The most succinct description occurs in Ecclesiastes 12:7.  Solomon begins the chapter in the days of our youth, then proceeds in highly figurative language to describe the process of growing old, culminating in the time when the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken, a symbolic picture of death, after which he says, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”  We humans are dual beings.  We have a physical body which is made up of the same elements as the earth, and we have an inner man, called the soul or spirit, which is made in God’s image.  At death, the body returns to the dust of the ground from which it was taken, and the soul returns to God, the Father of spirits.

While there is a lot that we simply do not know about what happens at death because it is not revealed, Jesus gives us a little more detail in the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  Lazarus was a beggar covered with sores who was laid at the gate of a certain rich man who was clothed in fine linen and fared sumptuously.  The implication is that the beggar was righteous but the rich man was not.  “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).

At their deaths, we would conclude that the bodies of both men were buried and returned to the ground, but the text tells us that their souls returned to the control of God and were in a place called Hades, the unseen realm of departed spirits who await the end of time, second coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment.  However, Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom, a portion elsewhere called Paradise, while the rich man was in torments, a portion elsewhere called Tartarus, and they were separated by a great gulf.  Again, this call of death is universal.  All who have lived on earth, except Enoch and Elijah, have died, and all who are now alive or ever will live, except those alive at Christ’s coming, will die.  Are you ready for it?

The Call of the Resurrection

     The third of the four great calls from God is the call of the resurrection.  “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Here, again, we see the universality of this call.  As we noted in our previous article, because of Adam’s sin the sentence of physical death was brought upon all mankind.  Paul then says that because of Christ’s own resurrection from the dead, all mankind will be raised again.

Jesus Himself talked about this coming resurrection.  “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).  Some claim that there will be two separate resurrections—Jesus will come back once to raise the righteous dead and then after a thousand years, during which time the righteous will rule on the earth, will come back still another time to raise the wicked dead.

Yet Jesus said, “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth.”  The word “hour” suggests a point in time.  So Jesus is saying that at the same point in time, all who are in the graves, both those who have done good and those who have done evil, will be resurrected.  There is simply no room in Jesus’s statement for two different resurrections separated by a thousand years.  All the dead, both righteous and wicked, will be raised at the same time.  However, most of the other passages which speak of the resurrection deal primarily with the resurrection of the righteous.

Paul wrote, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.   Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

As long as we remain in these physical, fleshly bodies we cannot dwell with God in heaven.  So, while not everyone will die before the Lord comes, all must be changed.  Paul is telling us that when Christ returns, the righteous dead will be raised in changed, incorruptible bodies, and then the righteous living will also be changed (cf. Philippians 3:20-21).  In both instances, this mortal will put on immortality and we shall have the final victory.

Paul also wrote, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Here Paul talks about the results of this resurrection.  When the Lord descends, the dead in Christ will rise first.  “Aha!” says someone; “then second the dead out of Christ will rise a thousand years later.”  Unfortunately for this doctrine, that is not what Paul says.  The second thing that Paul says will happen is that those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  “And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  The word “thus” means in this way.  Following the resurrection, the risen dead and the changed living will meet the Lord in the air, and “thus,” in the air, they will always be with the Lord.  There will be no coming back to this earth to rule a thousand years because there will be no physical world left (cf. 2 Peter 3:10).  This is what the Bible teaches about the call of the resurrection.  Will you be raised to life or to condemnation?

The Call of Judgment

     The last great call from God is the call of judgment.  “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12).  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  These verses speak of the universal nature of this call.  Some have suggested that perhaps Christians will simply bypass judgment and slip directly into heaven, but the Bible teaches that everyone—including you and me—will be present at the judgment.  Remember that the Hebrew writer said that it is appointed for men to die once and after this the judgment.

Even those in Old Testament days knew that there will be a final judgment.  Solomon wrote, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).  Here we learn the basis for this judgment—God will examine every work, including even the secret things, whether good or evil so that each one will receive a reward or punishment based on the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.  “Each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Jesus also spoke about this coming judgment.  “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).  Here we learn both the standard and the time for judgment.  The standard will be the word of Christ.  The things which we have done will be compared to the teachings of Christ, and we shall be judged accordingly.  The time will be “the last day.”  We do not know exactly when that will be, but it will occur after the second coming of Christ, the general resurrection of the dead, and the destruction of the earth.  Again, Jesus calls it “the last day.”

And Paul talked about the judgment.  “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).  Here we learn both who the judge will be and the assurance of judgment.  Paul said that God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness, but He will do so by the Man whom He has ordained, who, of course, is His Son Jesus Christ.  And just as surely as Jesus was raised from the dead, so we can be assured that judgment will come.

Someday, everyone will hear the call of death and the call of the resurrection, except for those alive at Christ’s return, and even they will hear the call to be changed and to rise to meet the Lord in the air.  Then all of us will hear the call of judgment.  The only way to be prepared for those calls is to hear and respond to the call of the gospel in obedience to God’s will.  “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

—taken from Faith and Facts Quarterly; October, 2016; Volume 43, Number 4; pp. 63-73