Tag: gospel

Personal Faith in a Public Baptism (a baptism homily)

We made our way down the well-worn path, the one that leads right to the (free) side of Barton Springs, the place where all kinds of Austinites gather throughout the year. We were gathered, not around the Springs, but around Jesus. With the nudists thirty yards down, pot-smoking hippies a little further up, tattooed hipsters waist deep in the Springs, and dogs and their beloved owners all around, the weird Christians descended upon one of Austin’s most public and loved spots. About a hundred of us lined the bank. I waded out into the clear, to-be baptismal waters. And there, in the midst of the diversity of Austin and its weirdness, adult after adult proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord as they identified with him in the watery grave, and emerged taking their breath of resurrected life.

We also sang songs of worship, hear stories of grace, ate a lot of food, and heard the gospel preached. We plan on publishing some of the stories, but for now, here is the brief baptismal homily I gave before we descended upon the waters.

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Welcome
This is one of my favorite things we do. Baptism at Barton Springs. In the midst of swirling currents of spirituality and the diverse cultures of Austin, we get to wade down into the waters and join God’s new disciples in professing that Jesus Christ as Lord of All.

So welcome: church, family, and friends as we celebrate God’s grace through Baptism today. We are gathered to celebrate God. In particular, his liberating, forgiving, and renewing grace in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and forever union with Christ. Following Scripture, we commemorate this work of grace in a person’s life through the practice of baptism. Today Stephanie, Grant, Pete, Mackenzie, and Sarah are going to be baptized because of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. So here’s the plan—we’re going to sing a couple of songs (like we mean it), then ill briefly explain the meaning of Baptism, then we’ll get to hear a couple of stories from Grant & Mackenzie. Afterwards, we’ll all go down to the Springs and each person will come out to the water one at a time, with whomever they have invited to join them. Then we will all come back up to the shelter and sing one more song, and then feast!

What is Baptism?
What is baptism? Baptism is a wonderful picture of what God has accomplished through Christ in someone’s life. This picture symbolizes repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. What is repentance? Repentance is giving up on faith in anything other than Jesus. We all have faith. We all trust in something or someone, even if it’s ourselves. Even the atheist has faith that there is no God. The question is where are you going to put your faith? Repentance is a decisive turn away from faith in yourself, your good deeds, your spirituality, your career, faith in your spouse, faith or worship of other lords AND a decisive turning to faith in Jesus, faith in his goodness, his spirituality, his intimacy, his supremacy.

Why is Faith in Jesus Better?
Clearly I believe that Jesus is the better place to put your faith, but why? Why is Jesus a better place for faith? Three reasons: he’s true, forgiving, and renewing. First, Jesus is the better place to put your faith because he is true. He is the true Lord and God (the Spirit & Word of God convince us of that). God appeals to our reason throug the Scriptures and our longings through his Spirit. Jesus is the one, true God. Second, Jesus is the better place to put your faith because he is a forgiving God. He is more forgiving than your friend, even your best friend, than your spouse, even they fail to forgive at times, certainly more forgiving than the career ladder, where the weak are crushed, more forgiving than your parents, more forgiving than any other God because he pays for our forgiveness at his expense. Forgiveness isn’t wishful thinking for our God; its not a cosmic sweep of sins under the rug. No, he deals with the sins that need forgiving. He forgives us at his expense. We sold him out; we put our faith in other things; we refused to worship him but insisted on worshipping other things. We should pay for betraying him, but instead, Jesus is betrayed and pays for us. He dies the death we deserve. Why should we trust him? He’s the true God…and he’s the forgiving God, more than any other person or thing, God forgives us in Jesus, at his expense, the death of his very own Son. Finally, it’s better to put faith in Jesus not only because he’s true and he’s forgiving, but also because he’s renewing. God doesn’t leave Jesus in the grave. He doesn’t leave us there, forgiven but dead set on sinning. No, he renews us; he’s a renewing God. God raises Jesus from the dead to new life. He receives a new body of new quality, the body we are promised, but he gives us new life right away.The old life is continually renewed by the power of Jesus new life. He transfers his new life to us right away, which we work out over a lifetime. His death and resurrection become our death and resurrection. He’s a renewing God. So, it really is better to put your faith in Jesus than in all those other things because Jesus is true, forgiving, and renewing–more than anyone or anything else!

Now, what does all this—he’s true, forgiving, and renewing—have to do with baptism? Faith in Jesus? Well, baptism compresses all of this—the gospel—into a picture. It signifies our death with Christ, as we are lowered into his “watery grave,” and life with Christ, as we are raised to take our first breath in his new life (Rom. 6:4). In baptism, we are meant to see that Jesus death and resurrection becomes our death and resurrection. The life that emerges from the “baptismal waters” is a life forgiven of all sin and alive to the Savior! We don’t have to live by faith in lesser gods anymore. We can enjoy freedom and life in Christ. So you see, Jesus is worth trusting because he’s true, forgiving, and renewing. He doesn’t just forgive us; he renews us. He gives us a new life in where we can enjoy his love, grace, and a thousand other benefits. He gives us himself. Death to the old gods and life in the one, true God. That’s what we are all celebrating today, people in our church who have given up on themselves and given into the wonderful love of Christ by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Baptism is a public picture and declaration that Jesus is true, forgiving, and renewing.

Is Jesus the Only Way?

 

Is Jesus the only way to God?” Some ask it with disdain: How could anyone assert that Jesus is the only way to God? Others ask it with genuine sense of doubt. Is Jesus the only way to God? How should we answer this question? What is the answer? I work through these and other questions in this blog series at The Resurgence.

Is Jesus the Only Way to God? (Pt 5)

In the prior four posts, we examined, all to briefly, the claim of Christ and the claim of pluralism: the belief in Jesus as the only way to God and belief that the many paths lead to God. Which is the better claim? We’ve seen that religious pluralism is inaccurate, arrogant, and intolerant. Is Christianity any better? I’d like to suggest three ways that Christianity is better from the claim of Jesus himself. He said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let’s take each point.

Christianity Should Make Us Incredibly Humble

First, Jesus is the Way. What does this mean? Does it mean that Jesus is our trailblazer, clearing the other religious options aside so we can hike our way to heaven through spiritual or moral improvement. If I keep the Ten Commandments, if I serve the poor and love my neighbor, if I pray and read the Bible enough, then God will accept me. No. As the way, Jesus doesn’t create a path for us to hike. We can never make it, do enough spiritual, moral, or social good to impress God. Much less love him with all our soul, mind, and strength. We cant make it up the path. We all fail to love and serve the infinitely admirable and lovable God. In fact, we love other things more, that’s a crime of infinite proportions. It’s against an infinite God. The sentence for our crime must be carried out.

When Jesus takes the arduous hike for us he goes down into the valley where the criminals die. He hikes down into our sin, our rebellion, our failures and he heaps them all on his back and climbs on a cross, where he is punished for our crime, a bloody gruesome death. The innocent punished for the guilty. If he doesn’t take our punishment, then we must endure it—forever separation from God. If you reject Jesus, then you will pay the infinite consequences. However, if you embrace Jesus in his sin-absorbing death you get forgiveness, and Jesus hikes not only through the valley but up the mountain to carry your forgiveness to God, where he pleads our innocence (Heb 10). This is what it means for Jesus to be the way. He hikes into the valley of our just punishment and up the mountain for our forgiveness. He is the redemptive way. He takes our place. This understanding of Jesus as the way should make us incredibly humble not arrogant. We realize how undeserving we are and how much mercy we have been shown.

Christianity is Wonderfully Enlightening

Jesus is also the Truth. What does that mean? In John chapter 1, we are told that God became flesh and was full of grace and truth in Jesus. The truth is that God is Jesus. This is enlightening. Christianity is the only religion where God comes down to man, becomes man. All other religions man has to work his way to God. The truth is Jesus, the truth is a person, who dies in our place, for our crimes, and in turn gives us his life. The truth is that God, works his way down to man, and dies for us. That’s grace. See, the truth isn’t a special prayer or a codeword we say at the pearly gates. In Christianity, the truth is essentially revealed in a Person, Jesus, full of grace and truth. All other religions God is impersonal, but in Christianity we meet God in Jesus. The truth is a Person who dies for us. Wonderfully enlightening, moving.

Christianity Should Make Us Persuasively Tolerant

Finally, Jesus is the Life. As if it wasn’t enough to be our way, incredibly humbling, and the truth, truly enlightening, Jesus caps it off by offering us not just his death but his life. What life? Later on in John, Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in him, though he die yet he will live” (11:25). He does down into the valley to take our death, and raises up from the dead to up the other side of valley where he prepares a new place for us to enjoy life with him forever. The hope of that life should break into the lives of Christians today, making us persuasively tolerant. We tolerantly extend people the dignity of their own beliefs. We don’t minimize the differences between religions. We honor them. The life of Christ produces in us true humility. But it also produces in us true enlightenment. We’ve come to grasp grace, that God works his way down to us, dies for our moral and religious failures, and offers us life. If this is true, we must lovingly, humbly try to persuade others to believe in Jesus, who alone offers the wonderful promise of the way to God, the truth of God, and life of God.

See, in the end it doesn’t matter how nice or moral a person is because there is not enough niceness or morality to pay for our rejection of God. Either we must be rejected or we turn to Jesus who was rejected for us. This is the heart of the gospel. Jesus lays down his very own life for those who reject him, for his enemies, for those who don’t believe in him, and offers them forgiveness. Why would we reject such a man? So you see, Jesus claim is better than the claim of the religious pluralism. In fact Christianity delivers where pluralism cannot. Instead of being unenlightened, Jesus is truly enlightening as the God who is full of grace and truth. Instead of being arrogant, Jesus should make us incredibly humble, he created the way to God for us at the expense of his own death. Finally, instead of being intolerant, Jesus should make us persuasively tolerant, granting people the dignity of unbelief in Christ but pleading with them to believe in Christ for true life!

So, in the end, you have to decide where to place your faith. Will you place it in the unenlightened, dogmatic, and intolerant pluralism? Or will you place it in Jesus, who is the incredibly humbling way, the enlightening truth, and the persuasively tolerant life? Both require faith. Leslie Newbigin said: “Doubt is not autonomous.” What he meant is that you can’t doubt alone. We can’t doubt one thing without placing our faith in another. You doubt Jesus and trust pluralism or your trust Jesus and doubt pluralism. You cant say “I believe Jesus is the only way” and say “I believe all religions lead to God.” So, will you place faith in Jesus who is the way, truth, and life? Or will you place your faith religious pluralism? I hope you’ll choose Jesus.

Is Jesus the Only Way to God? (Pt 4)

In the prior three posts (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3) we have examined the claim that Jesus exclusive claim as the only way to God is both unenlightened and arrogant. As it turns out, it is actually the opposite. It is religious pluralism that is rather unenlightened and carries an air of arrogance. In this post we will examine the important idea of tolerance. Is religious pluralism more tolerant that Christianity?

Is Religious Pluralism Truly Tolerant?

Very often people hold to religious pluralism because they think it is more tolerant than Christianity. I’ll be the first to say that we need tolerance, but what does it mean to be tolerant? To be tolerant is to accommodate differences, which can be very noble. I believe that Christians should be some of the most accommodating kinds of people, giving everyone the dignity to believe whatever they want and not enforcing their beliefs on others through politics or preaching. We should winsomely tolerate different beliefs. Interestingly, religious pluralism doesn’t really allow for this kind of tolerance. Instead of accommodating spiritual differences, religious pluralism blunts them. Let me explain.

Instead of accommodating spiritual differences, religious pluralism blunts the differences between world religions.

The claim that all paths lead to the same God actually minimizes other religions by asserting a new religious claim. When someone says all paths lead to the same God, they blunt the distinctives between religions, throwing them all in one pot, saying: “See, they all get us to God so the differences don’t really matter.” This isn’t tolerance; it’s a power play. When asserting all religions lead to God, the distinctive and very different views of God and how to reach him in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam are brushed aside in one powerful swoop. The Eightfold Noble Path, the 5 Pillars of Islam, and the Gospel of Christ are not tolerated but told they must submit to a new religious claim–religious pluralism–despite the fact that this isn’t what those religions teach.

The Religion of Religious Pluralism

People spend years studying and practicing their religious distinctives. To say they don’t really matter is highly intolerant! The very notion of religious tolerance assumes there are differences to tolerate but pluralism is intolerant of those very differences! In this sense, religious pluralism is a religion of its own. It has its own religious absolute—all paths lead to the same God—and requires people of other faiths to embrace this absolute, without any religious backing at all. It is highly evangelistic! Religious pluralism is highly political and preachy. Yet, it does so under the guise of tolerance. It is a leap of faith to say there are many paths to God. Says who? The idea that all paths lead to the same God is not a self-evident fact; it is a leap of faith. It isn’t even an educated leap, nor is it as humble and tolerant as it might appear.

Religious pluralism is a religion of its own. It has its own religious absolute—all paths lead to the same God—and requires people of other faiths to embrace this absolute, without any religious backing at all.

Recall Stephen Prothero’s comment regarding religious pluralism: “But this sentiment, however well-intentioned, is neither accurate nor ethically responsible. God is not one.” He goes on: “Faith in the unity of religions is just that—faith (perhaps even a kind of fundamentalism). And the leap that gets us there is an act of the hyperactive imagination.”

As it turns out, the reasons for subscribing to religious pluralism—enlightenment, humility, and tolerance—actually backfire. They don’t carry through. Religious pluralism isn’t enlightened, it’s inaccurate; it isn’t humble, it’s fiercely dogmatic; and it isn’t really all that tolerant because it intolerantly blunts religious distinctives. In the end, religious pluralism is a religion, a leap of faith, based on contradiction and is highly untenable. Christianity, on the other hand, should respect and honor the various distinctives of other religions, comparing them, and honoring their differing principles–Karma (Hinduism), Enlightenment (Buddhism), Submission (Islam), and Grace (Christianity). In the next and final post, I will examine Jesus’ exclusive claim, and the charge that his teachings in Christianity are unenlightened, arrogant, and intolerant. In particular, we will examine the unique principle of grace.