KINGDOM VALUE 4: GOD WORKS THROUGH OUR OBEDIENCE
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, July 14, 2019.
TEACHING SERIES ON KINGDOM VALUES
This is week 4 of a teaching series called Kingdom Values. We're looking into the NT Letter to the Ephesians to figure out how to live under the kingly rule of Jesus. Ephesians portrays Jesus as the supreme ruler of the universe (1:20-23) and calls us to follow him as our leader every day, everywhere we go, and in everything we do. Then, it teaches us how to do that. The first half of the letter is foundations of the Christian faith and the second half is applications for the Christian life.
Today, I've skipped ahead to chapter four so we can learn about water baptism. Why? Because our annual baptism celebration is on Sunday, August 4. This is a timely reminder that water baptism is an integral part of the Christian faith and life. It's not optional. Please turn to Ephesians chapter four and we'll read the first six verses.
EPHESIANS 4:1-6 - TRANSITION FROM FOUNDATIONS TO APPLICATIONS
These six verses are the transition point between the foundations of faith in chapters 1-3 and the applications of faith in chapters 4-6.
Verse 1 says, "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." That's the transition. We have been called to Christ and into a new life with God and all the spiritual blessings that come with that (chapters 1-3). Now we're to live in light of all that.
Verses 2-3 focus on relationships. That's the first application. I find it very instructive that relationships are the first area of application. God's priority is relationships in the church. Verse 3 tells us why: "Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit ..." That tells us that unity is important and urgent. It must not be ignored. We're not to lose our unity. We're to work on it. Why? Because Jesus shed his blood on the cross to bring humanity together in the unity of his body, the church (2:11-22). A united church is a witness to the power of Christ and his cross.
Then verses 4-6 outline the foundations of our unity. A simple summary goes like this: There is one God - Father, Lord (that's Jesus), and Spirit. There is one church - it's called a body, which stresses our unity with Christ and each other. This one body is united in or by a shared faith, a shared hope, and a shared baptism.
Now, we can all see that three elements are integral to the unity of the church: our faith (the objective teachings, doctrines, beliefs of the Christian faith), our hope in Jesus Christ and our promised inheritance in him, and baptism.
Why is it that we have no trouble saying that our faith and our hope are essential, but baptism is optional? That isn't logical. It makes no sense in this passage. Baptism is right up there in importance with our faith/hope and it is integral to the unity of the church.
Now, that's a bold argument. And a very important argument. And because I want everyone here to accept it, we're going to spend the rest of our time together figuring out why it's true. Before we move on, you might be asking, are we talking about baptism in water or baptism in the Holy Spirit? The answer is yes and yes. But, our focus today is baptism in water.
WHY BAPTISM IS INTEGRAL TO THE CHURCH'S UNITY IN CHRIST
Baptism is integral to the unity of the church for three main reasons: Jesus required it; the apostles required it; and our spiritual growth requires it.
A. JESUS REQUIRED IT.
Matthew 28 lays out what we call the Great Commission. It is Jesus' mandate for his apostles and, really, every generation of church leaders:
(Matthew 28:18-20) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Here we have the King setting out a strategy for extending his kingdom. Jesus has universal authority, so he can send his followers to all nations to call all people to follow him as disciples. The strategy is simple: go out, call people to follow Jesus, baptize them, and help them put into practice whatever Jesus taught.
Here's how this relates to our basic argument: Jesus made baptism integral to discipleship. Everyone who follows him must be baptized, just as everyone who follows him must be taught to follow his teachings. That's the strategy for the church forever and you and I don't get to pick and choose which part of the Great Commission our church is going to follow.
So you can see why baptism is integral to unity in the church. We're unified by our obedience to Jesus and our experience of baptism in the same way as we're united in following his teachings. We're all on the same page. It doesn't take much imagination to see how ignoring Jesus on baptism can undermine our unity.
B. THE APOSTLES REQUIRED IT.
The Book of Acts is often called The Acts of Apostles because it records what the first Apostles of Jesus did after Pentecost. What they did can be summarized really easily. They followed the strategy in the Great Commission: they went out in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel, making disciples, baptizing them, teaching them, and establishing local churches. Soon, there were groups of believers in local churches all around the Mediterranean world. Acts describes that people turned to Jesus in faith and were baptized in water. It does this over and over; for example, here are three accounts where the pattern is the same:
(Acts 2:41) Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
(Acts 8:12) But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
(Acts 10:44, 47-48) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. ... Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The pattern of apostolic ministry was always the same: belief was followed by baptism. It simply wasn't optional. There are more examples, but we'll move on.
Again, it's easy to see how following the apostles in baptism safeguards our unity. We're all following the same path, a path established two thousand years ago by the foundational teachers in the church.
C. SPIRITUAL GROWTH REQUIRES IT.
I don't think I've ever taught on this, but it's a very compelling reason to be baptized and it shows why baptism is part of the unity of the church.
In Romans chapter six, baptism is linked to our union with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. So, our invisible, spiritual, union with Jesus is made visible by baptism in water. But its not just made visible. I think its made active by baptism and this is why our spiritual growth requires baptism. Let's start reading in verse 1:
(Romans 6:1-4) What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Romans 6 teaches us that we are joined to Jesus in his death and resurrection and, therefore, we are dead to sin's power and we are alive to God's righteousness. In other words, we can live a new life and we can grow spiritually.
But there is one more insight in those verses; that is, the role of baptism in our experience of death to sin and resurrection to new life. Our baptism is referred to in verses three and four - baptism into his death and baptism into his burial. Then in verse 4, it gives us the reason, "in order that" we may live a new life (in the resurrection power of Jesus).
Now, that's fascinating. Baptism opens the door to resurrection power and new life. That's what I mean by activation. Baptism is more than a representation or symbol. It has a role to play in the activation of resurrection power in our lives. Maybe I'm seeing things here, but I don't think so. I think the same idea is conveyed in another of Paul's letters:
(Colossians 2:12) ... having been buried with him in baptism, in which (baptism) you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
That is saying that we are buried and raised with Christ at our baptism through faith. Doesn't it sound as if baptism activates that burial and resurrection and makes it a real experience for us? We start to live the new life. It's at least worth thinking about.
That's why water baptism is an integral part of our unity as a church. Baptism activates the same resurrection power in all of us, so we're all on the same plan for spiritual growth.
But there's one more piece to my argument. I believe that God works through our obedience in baptism to fill us with the Holy Spirit.
GOD WORKS THROUGH OUR OBEDIENCE
There's a principle clearly taught in the Bible: God works through our obedience. There are so many examples of this, but I want to show you specifically that God works through our obedience in baptism to fill us with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was baptized as an act of obedience. He didn't need to repent. He didn't need to die to the power of sin. But he asked John to baptize him anyway - to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15); that is, Jesus wanted to stay in step with God's will for his life so that he would be filled with Holy Spirit's anointing for his ministry:
(Luke 3:21-23; 4:1) When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
Do you see how God responded to Jesus' obedience in baptism? He affirmed him publicly and filled him with the Holy Spirit. It was only after his baptism that Jesus received the power for ministry - the supernatural power to teach with authority, to heal the sick, to cast our demons, and to perform signs and wonders.
That's the pattern. God works through our obedience. This also happened to the apostle Paul:
(Acts 9:17-19) Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Ananias told Saul that he was going to be healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. But as the story continues, it never actually describes the moment of filling. Instead, it tells us that Saul was baptized in water. Why tell us that? Because the author of Acts wants to make it clear that obedience in water baptism often/usually precedes Holy Spirit baptism (usually, but not always, Acts 10:44-48). It was after his water baptism that Paul manifested the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. He began to preach boldly and to demonstrate spiritual power (Acts 9:20-22; 13:9).
The pattern was repeated in new believers when Paul visited Ephesus:
(Acts 19:5-7) ... they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
First obedience in water baptism, then filling with the Holy Spirit. That's the pattern.
God works through our obedience in baptism. It is when we go under the water, that he activates resurrection power for new life. After that, very often, that's when we begin to manifest the signs of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the new life he works in us (Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Thessalonians 11-12). And that's why baptism is integral to the unity of the church. It immerses us all in the same power, the same Spirit-filled anointing. We're all on the same experiential page.
GOT JESUS? GET BAPTIZED!
On Sunday, August 4, Duke and Bonnie Dunn will host our annual baptism celebration. I hope you'll mark your calendars and make every effort to be there to celebrate.
If you're a believer, a disciple of Jesus Christ, this is your day. It's time to get baptized. That will open the door to new power for new life and ministry. That's God's plan A for your life. There's no plan B.
On your way out, be sure to pick up a copy of our Baptism at the Cornerstone booklet. After you've read it, you can fill in the application and give it to me.