“According to the eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11)


By Bob Myhan

The New Testament [Continued]

The Great Commission is to the New Testament what the Ten Commandments were to the Old. It is called “great” because it is for all men, in contrast to the “limited commission,” which was for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6).

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matt. 28:18-20)

And He said to them, "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)

Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." (Luke24:46-49)

Notice that, in each of the above passages, only a part of the Great Commission is revealed. To get the entire picture we must put the parts together. Matthew reveals that the apostles were to make disciples, but does not fully explain how disciples would be made. Mark implies that the apostles were to make disciples by preaching the gospel to them. However, Mark does not make clear what preaching the gospel would entail. Luke reveals that preaching the gospel would involve testifying to the facts, commands and promises of the gospel. Thus, the apostles were to proclaim the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they were to command the believers to repent and be baptized. And they were to promise remission of sins.

It is true that Matthew does not mention the need for alien sinners to believe and to repent, but Mark and Luke make clear these are implicit in the “disciple-making process.” It is true that Mark does not mention the need for alien sinners to repent.

But Luke does mention it. It is also true that Luke does not say anything about the need for alien sinners to believe and to be baptized. But both Matthew and Mark mention baptism.

John does not mention either the responsibility of the apostles to preach the gospel or the responsibility of alien sinners to believe, repent and be baptized. He merely records (at 20:19-23) Jesus’ statement that those whose sins would be remitted [or forgiven] by the apostles would be remitted, and those whose sins would be retained by the apostles would be retained [see also Matthew 16:19], indicating their role as divinely chosen and approved ambassadors. There was no need for John to mention the commands of the gospel because Matthew, Mark and Luke mentioned those.

The First Gospel Sermon

On the Day of Pentecost following the ascension of Jesus Christ, the facts of the gospel were published for the first time (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus, Peter said, was “a Man attested by God ... by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did through Him” in their midst (see also John 20:30-31). They knew this to be the case.

Peter also pointed out that it was not from weakness on Jesus’ part but “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” that He was yielded up to them. When thus yielded up, they had “by lawless hands” put Him to death by means of crucifixion. But God had raised Jesus from the dead, because it was not possible for death to hold Him.

Peter then applied several Old Testament prophecies (Ps. 16:8-11; 110:1; 132:11; and 2 Sam. 7:12-16) to show that this was in keeping with what God had revealed. Having been convinced by the combined testimony of the apostles and the Old Testament prophets that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ,” the people asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36-37)

The Conditions of Salvation

Peter did not tell them to believe that Jesus is the Christ because they had already come to believe, through his sermon. He commanded them to “repent, and ... be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). To “repent” is to determine to forsake the sins of the past and to avoid sin in the future. To “be baptized” is to be immersed in water (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12; Acts 8:36; 10:47-48). They were to “be baptized ... for the remission of sins.” Consider the same phrase, “for the remission of sins” in Matt. 26:28. Was the Lord’s blood to be shed “because of” or “in order to” “the remission of sins”?

After Peter exhorted “with many other words ... saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’ … those who gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:40-41).

When Philip, the evangelist, “preached Christ” to the Samaritans, “both men and women were baptized.” (Acts 8:5-12)

When this same Philip preached Jesus” to an Ethiopian, the latter said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:35-36)

A man sent by Jesus to tell Saul of Tarsus what he must do, he told him to “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.' (Acts 9:1-18; 22:12-16)

When Peter preached to Gentiles in the home of Cornelius, “he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10:44-48)

Many who claim to be ministers of the gospel are going around telling people to believe, repent and pray, rather than to believe, repent and be baptized. Yet, no inspired man ever told an alien sinner [one who is outside the kingdom of God] to pray for salvation. The New Covenant does not promise that God will forgive alien sinners in answer to prayer. However, once a person has obeyed the commands to believe, repent, confess and be baptized, he is on speaking terms with God [having been justified on the condition of an obedient faith] and may with God’s approval ask for forgiveness when he sins.

Thus, “Calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21; 22:16; Rom. 10:13), means appealing to the authority of the Lord. The apostles were authorized by Jesus to state conditions whereby alien sinners are forgiven (John 20:19-23). Alien sinners are forgiven, or saved, by the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12), when they have done what He authorized to be done for salvation and not until then.

Since the apostles and evangelists of the first century commanded alien sinners to be baptized, it must be the case that baptism is one of the things the Lord authorized alien sinners to do for salvation. If this is not the case, why is it not?

What about the New Birth?

Some affirm that, so long as one has experienced the “New birth” it does not really matter whether he or she has been [or ever is] baptized. In affirming this, they assume that water baptism is not involved in the “new birth.” However, by comparing John 3:3-5 & Gal. 3:26-29, it can be seen that this is invalid.

Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5)

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26-29)

The main issue in the epistle to the Galatians was whether Gentiles needed to become Jewish proselytes in order to be saved by the gospel.

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Gal. 2:15-16)

 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 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? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?-- just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them." Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal. 3:1-14)

Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:1-7)

The members of the church at Colosse had a similar problem.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:8-14)

What Paul is saying to both groups is that having been baptized is what matters, rather than having been physically circumcised. By this he implicitly connects water baptism to the new birth. There is no other explanation for why he would mention water baptism is this context.

[To be continued]