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Monday, 10 March 2014

              Q: Is my child in heaven?
A: There's nothing quite so agonizing as the death of a child. As someone said, "The death of a child is like a period placed before the end of a sentence." It is ironic that every day of the week, many of us walk out our door and never look back, figuring everything is forever, including our children. Often we are too busy to realize that the most precious things we have also can be the most fleeting.
Those who experience the loss of a child are often filled with questions. At Back to the Bible we frequently get letters from grieving parents. The answers they receive from secular sources are often emotional, but rarely biblical. Sometimes Christians give answers that are biblical, but not very helpful. This pamphlet is designed to be both helpful and biblical in answering grieving parents' questions about what happened at the death of their little child. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions.
Are Babies Innocent of Sin?
In the hunt for answers at the loss of a child, many people say that babies simply cannot understand sin and therefore are innocent. But that's not what the Bible says. Understanding sin is not required for being under the penalty of sin. Two passages in Psalms tell us about the true nature of children. One says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity" (Ps. 51:5). The other reads, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies" (Ps. 58:3). There are no exceptions. All of us are born with a sin nature; even though we have not yet done anything wrong, our nature is sinful. Every baby needs a Savior, just as every adult does.
The Bible addresses a baby's need through the blood of Christ. Jesus' blood was provided for the salvation of mankind--men, women and children. Until we reject the promise of God's salvation, the benefit of His death is still available to us. Even though babies are not innocent, they have not rejected God's salvation. The blood of Jesus Christ is there for them.
Does God Deal with Children the Way He Does with People who Have Never Heard the Gospel?
Not at all. God has given the heathen a revelation of Himself both in nature and in their own conscience. Psalm 19:1 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork." Intelligent minds are not without knowl-edge of God's existence, even in people groups that have never heard the Gospel explained to them. Romans 1:18-21 says that God's wrath is against those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, "because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them" (v. 19). God has revealed Himself both in external creation and in man's internal conscience. But when the heathen suppress what they can know about God and choose to worship what they create with their own hands rather than their Creator, they are without excuse.
But this is not true of a child. Babies do not have minds that can comprehend nature around them or a conscience within them. We cannot treat the question, "Is my child in heaven?" the same way we treat the question, "Is the heathen in heaven?" Adult men and women have had the opportunity to consider and to reject the witnesses that God has given of Himself. Babies, on the other hand, are guilty of having a sin nature, but they have not weighed the evidence and rejected God. They have not been condemned by their own actions as the heathen have.
What About the Age of Accountability?
Some people say that there is an age when children become accountable for their actions. But the Bible does not mention an "age of accountability." Children are culpable for sin when they draw their first breath, but are they accountable at that moment as well? I don't think so. We must make a distinction between culpability (liability for their sin nature) and accountability (liability for their sinful actions). Isaiah said, "For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings" (Isa. 7:16). It's evident that little children do not have the ability to make moral decisions and to take responsibility for their sins. Still, they are sinners and need a Savior. Perhaps the "age of accountability" should be called "the age of moral awareness." Children come to a point where they become morally aware; that is, they understand what's right and what's wrong.
So what happens if your child dies before he is aware of what is morally right or wrong? He is still guilty of his sins and must pay the penalty for his sins. That's where the blood of Jesus Christ comes in. Young children have not rejected the blood of Jesus as the heathen have. It is there for them, covering their sins, washing them clean, even though they have not had the ability to exercise faith in Jesus, which is required for the salvation of men and women who understand the consequences of their sin. A child's lack of understanding doesn't deter the power of Jesus' blood. Only rejecting the blood deters its power, and babies haven't done that.
Has God Chosen My Child?
If your child dies and goes to heaven, is that evidence that God loves your child and has elected him to salvation? I think that is a valid conclusion. Ephesians 1:4 says that we are chosen "in Him before the foundation of the world." Babies as well as adult believers are chosen in Him before the world began. If they die before they can understand and reject the Gospel, that doesn't change God's choice. They are as much a part of God's family as adults drawn to faith by the Holy Spirit. The blood of Jesus Christ has covered them and washed away their sins, just as it has ours. Just because babies cannot make a decision for God does not prohibit Him from making a decision for them.
What Will My Little One Be Like in Heaven?
Will infants and young children be infants and young children for all of eternity? I don't think so. The Bible doesn't say for sure, but it does say that when we go to heaven we enjoy privileges that require adult minds, such as praising and glorifying God in meaningful service to Him. J. Vernon McGee said it this way: "I believe with all my heart that God will raise the little ones such that the mother's arms who have ached for them will have the opportunity of holding them. The father's hand which never held the little hand will be given the privilege. I believe that little ones will grow up in heaven in the care of their earthly parents if they are saved." There is no biblical proof for this one way or the other, but it seems logical that babies will not have to endure eternal infancy. If babies cannot fully enjoy this life, how could we expect them to fully enjoy eternal life with God?
Will I Join My Child Some Day?
Have you grieved the loss of a child? If so, take heart from the Bible. David grieved the loss of his newborn son. He pondered, "Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Sam. 12:23). Your child was not innocent, because no innocent child can be born from two sinful parents (Job 14:4). But I believe your child is in heaven--not because he or she was baptized, but because your child was washed clean by the blood of Jesus. Christ's death made it possible for the salvation of all mankind, even newborn babies. Your child is in heaven!

The more difficult question is, "Will you join your little one in heaven some day?" Your baby or child could not make a decision to trust Christ's death for the payment of his sin. But as a morally responsible adult, you must make a decision. The children of born-again parents do not automatically go to heaven; neither do the parents of children in heaven automatically join them there. If you want to see your child and enjoy a heavenly reunion, you must be born again! Acts 16:31 tells you how: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." Thank God He has made it possible for you to see your child again some day, if you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Don't Say You'll Pray for Me

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." Proverbs 25:11 (NIV 1984)
I've been convicted about empty statements. These are words I say to make a conversation a little more comfortable in the moment. But do I really mean what I say?
Empty statements can also be little promises that give a needed lift to someone. Yet without a plan to actually keep that promise, do I really intend to keep it?
It's not that these statements are wrong, bad or ill-intentioned. But they are empty at best and potentially hurtful at worst. People in my life deserve better than that.
I want to be a woman who exemplifies God's Word by keeping my word.
The Bible is clear that our words matter; our words carry weight. Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." Our words can be gifts.
But if we speak words with no follow-through, they can be hurtful. It's like holding out a gift but refusing to give it.
Here are three empty statements I want to stop saying if I don't have a plan for follow-through:
1. I'm praying for you.
Obviously, I do want to pray for people. And sometimes when I say this, I have great follow-through. But other times I forget.
A great intention doesn't make for a great prayer.
So, I need to pray for that person right then and there, or I need to keep a journal in my purse to write down prayer requests.
2. Let's get together sometime.
Either I need to pull out my calendar and schedule time with someone or be honest about my current time constraints. The people-pleaser in me struggles with this.
When people say this to me without any follow-through, it hurts. While I can't change what others say to me, I can make a heart policy to not do this to others.
3. I'm good, how are you?
Understandably, sometimes this is the right, polite statement to say when I'm quickly greeting someone. But I will also say this to others with whom I really should be more open and honest.
I'm reluctant sometimes to let even close friends know needs bubbling below my "I'm good" statements.
If I will be braver to open up, it will give my friends permission to do the same.
So, there they are. My three empty statements and my convictions to do a better job of saying what I mean and meaning what I say.
Let's commit to being women who keep our word. Right now. Today. Not only will it strengthen our friendships but it will make our relationship with the Lord more authentic as we live out His Word.
Dear Lord, thank You for convicting me about using empty statements. My words can be powerful tools and I want to use them for Your purposes. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond:
Which one of the three empty statements resonates with you the most? (Keep a prayer journal in your purse, schedule a specific time to get together with someone or open up with how you're honestly feeling.)
This week, make it a point to put action into place when using that statement.
 More References:
1 John 3:18a
, "My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love." (MSG)
James 1:23-25, "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do." (NIV)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Q: Is water baptism necessary for salvation in Christ?

A: To answer this, let's look at an article by Robert Gromacki, entitled Repent and Be Baptized.
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood before a large crowd of Jews and declared: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). A reader has indicated that this verse has caused much confusion and seems to imply that water baptism is required for salvation.
There is a great difference between the real, intended meaning of a verse and its implied meaning. Implied understanding is based upon the first reading of a passage, but the correct interpretation can be gained only through a serious study of the verse itself, its context, and its relationship to the clear teaching of Scripture found elsewhere.
Several church groups believe in baptismal regeneration; teaching that both repentant faith and water baptism are essential prerequisites to personal salvation. To such groups, one must be baptized in water for the express purpose of gaining the remission of sins. A person thus expresses his faith in and through the necessary baptismal rite, not apart from it. These groups definitely point to Acts 2:38 as one of their supporting passages.
Our reader has asked for an answer to the claim of these groups. By following five steps, we can show that this verse does not teach that water baptism is essential to personal salvation.
The grammar of the verse indicates that only repentance is required to receive the remission of sins. Here is my translation of the verse from the Greek, using some extra words to bring out some key differences not observable in the English text: "Repent [you, plural], and let each one [singular] of you be baptized [singular], upon the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of sins, and you will receive [you, plural] the gift of the Holy Spirit."
The command to repent and the promise to receive are both plural verbs. The command to be baptized is singular. The imperative ("let each one of you be baptized") is parenthetical. Peter's actual command was: "Repent . . . upon the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Peter gave the audience only one thing to do in order to receive the remission of sins. There was only one direct command: "Repent [you, plural]."
Some other commentators approach the verse in a different way. They focus on the word "for" in the phrase "for the remission of sins." This word is a preposition (eis in Greek), normally translated as "into." But it can also be translated as "because of" or "on the basis of." In Matthew 12:41, Christ stated that the men of Nineveh "repented at the preaching of Jonah." The word "at" is the preposition eis, translated as "for" in Acts 2:38. Obviously the men of Nineveh did not repent to get the preaching of Jonah. Rather, they repented because Jonah had preached. The preaching occurred before the repentance. Likewise, the remission of sins in Acts 2:38 happened before the practice of water baptism.
Both of these views present acceptable alternatives to the view of baptismal regeneration.
Immediate Context
Second, the immediate context of the verse shows that only repentant faith is needed to gain divine forgiveness. Earlier in his message, Peter quoted from Joel (Acts 2:16-20) and concluded with that Old Testament prophet's evangelistic appeal: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (v. 21). In the Old Testament period, people became saved by calling upon Jehovah-God. They acknowledged their sinful need, believed that only God could deliver them, and placed their trust in Him. They did not submit to water baptism. If Peter meant that baptism was essential to salvation, then why did he quote from Joel? The reference would be irrelevant.
Later, Peter demonstrated that Jesus Christ was the One, the Lord-God, upon whom his audience should call in repentant faith. God the Father authenticated Christ through His miracles, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven (vv. 22-35). Peter then said: "Therefore let the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (v. 36).
The context later states: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized" (v. 41). What was the word they received? It was the content of Peter's sermon in which he demonstrated the deity and messiahship of Jesus Christ and the necessity to call upon Him for salvation. When they called upon Christ, they repented. That act of faith brought the remission of sins. They were then individually baptized to show their new identification with Christ.
Greater Context
Third, the greater context of the Book of Acts reveals that only repentant faith is the basis of securing divine forgiveness. Later, in his sermon at Solomon's Porch within the Temple, Peter appealed to the crowd; "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). There is no mention of water baptism here as a requirement for the removal of sins.
When Peter stood before the unsaved religious leaders who had just imprisoned the apostles, he proclaimed: "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (5:30,31). Please note that repentance and forgiveness are joined. The human cause of salvation is repentance, and the divine effect is forgiveness.
When Peter explained the Gospel to the family of Cornelius, he stated: "To him [Christ] give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (10:43). That verse is extremely clear and simple. And the same person who spoke Acts 2:38 spoke Acts 10:43. Peter, thus, is his own best interpreter. When Cornelius' family heard those gracious words, they believed, received divine forgiveness, and were filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 44). These divine blessings came as a result of a faith-only experience. Although Cornelius and his house were baptized later, they were not baptized to receive the remission of sins. They already had that spiritual reality.
Later Peter explained to the Christians at Jerusalem the operation of God and the conversion of Cornelius and his family. They responded by glorifying God and saying: "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (11:18).
Paul definitely indicated that water baptism plays no part in the securing of redemption. He exclaimed at Antioch in Pisidia: "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things" (13:38,39). Add to that declaration the truth that Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17). Please note the juxtaposition between baptism and the Gospel message. Baptism is not an essential part of the Gospel. Submission to water baptism is a requirement for obedience after salvation (Matt. 28:18-20), but it is not a prerequisite to spiritual regeneration.
Ministry of John the Baptist
Fourth, Peter's statement in Acts 2:38 can be interpreted in the light of the ministry of John the Baptist. The forerunner of Christ preached: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). Mark wrote that John proclaimed "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4). Three features are common between this verse and Peter's appeal: baptism, repentance and remission of sins. But what actually secures the remission of sins? It is the repentance that produces the divine forgiveness. Water baptism is simply the outward sign or mode through which the believing sinner confesses the fact that he has already been forgiven through repentant faith in the saving Person and work of Christ.
Doctrine of Salvation
Fifth, the doctrine of salvation, taught throughout all of the Scriptures and evidenced in all dispensations and ages, stresses that only repentant faith is necessary to be justified and to receive divine forgiveness. Abraham "believed in the Lord; and [God] counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). From one age to another, the means of getting saved has remained the same. That is why New Testament writers often refer to Old Testament characters as examples of faith. To teach that water baptism is essential to salvation in this Church Age is to say that God has changed the method to gain justification.
Dear readers, rejoice in the truth: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).