Monthly Archives: February 2018

John and His Message (Part Four)

Luke 3:15-20

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them (3:19 NIV).

John the Baptist preached Christ. It is easy to overlook this, because much discussion on John focuses on him as a sensationalist preacher, his message of repentance to prepare for Messiah’s coming, or on the ceremony of baptism. However, we should see John’s place in the true story of God’s glory in Christ. As the herald of Christ’s first coming, he preached Jesus the Messiah. A few points should make this clear.

As John preached, the people were stirred to think about the Messiah (3:15). John told them the good news so much that they began to speculate about if he was the Anointed One. The Messiah, as we plan to see in more detail in a later post, would be a preacher of good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1). When God would come to deliver his people (Isaiah 35:4): Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6 NIV). So then, as John preached that the Lord was coming in the wilderness, it would have been easy to speculate about who John was (cf. John 1:19-27).

John declared the superiority of the Christ (3:16). He did this in two ways. First, by saying that in comparison to Christ, he was only the lowliest of slaves. Christ was superior to him in his person. He said he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the Messiah’s sandals. In John’s Gospel we hear the attitude of John the Baptist. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30 CSB). Second, he said that Christ had a superior ministry. John’s baptism was only a sign that testified to a repentant heart. Christ’s baptism is the work of the personal Spirit of God. The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied that the outpouring of the Spirit would signify the blessings that would happen in the end times (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32). Christ would bring about this age of renewal. This was far beyond anything John could do!

John talked about the salvation and judgment that Christ would bring (3:17). The Messiah was coming to clean house! The winnowing fork was used to toss grain into the air, usually on a windy hill. The chaff would be blown away, while the grain would fall safely onto the floor. Christ was coming to gather in the good grain to be in his house, while those who were not fruitful would be brought to eternal fire.

John preached the good news to his listeners (3:18). This good news was about the Messiah and what he was coming to accomplish. Notice that this was not a “side bar” matter, but that John used many other words.

Here are two practical ideas. First, people won’t like it when we talk about sin (3:19-20). Because John boldly pointed out Herod’s sin, he lost his freedom and eventually Herod had him put to death. Second, we ought to ask if our local churches are known as people from whom others can hear the good news of Jesus Christ? He must be the core of our message (Colossians 1:28-29). Does your gathering of believers preach the good news and show its transforming power to the world?

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Baptize Anyone into Anything

I’ve been surveying the doctrinal statements of numerous churches of late and I continue to come across a familiar mistake. It is also found in the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention. It reads, as do many statements in churches of other denominations:

“At the moment of regeneration He [i.e., the Holy Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.”

I agree with the BFM that Spirit baptism occurs at the moment of regeneration for all believers. The classical Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism as separate from and subsequent to conversion lacks biblical warrant.

But this statement and others like it assert that the Holy Spirit baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. The problem is that there isn’t a single, solitary biblical text which says that the Spirit baptizes anyone into anything. It is always and in every text Jesus Christ who baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit, the result of which is that we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.

Some have argued from 1 Corinthians 12:13 that Paul is describing a baptism “by” the Holy Spirit into Christ or into his body. Part of the motivation for this is the seemingly awkward phrase, “in one Spirit into one body,” hence the rendering, “by one Spirit into one body.” But what sounds harsh in English is not at all so in Greek. Indeed, as D. A. Carson points out, “the combination of Greek phrases nicely stresses exactly the point that Paul is trying to make: all Christians have been baptized in one Spirit; all Christians have been baptized into one body” (Showing the Spirit, 47).

The translation of the ESV is certainly the most accurate in 1 Cor. 12:13. It reads:

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (emphasis mine).

Much the same terminology appears in 1 Corinthians 10:2 where Paul says that “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Here the cloud and the sea are the “elements” that surrounded or overwhelmed the people and Moses points to the new life of participation in the Mosaic Covenant and the fellowship of God's people of which he was the leader (see Grudem, Systematic Theology, 768).

In the other texts referring to Spirit-baptism (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16), the preposition en means “in”, describing the element in which one is, as it were, immersed. In no text is the Holy Spirit ever said to be the agent by which one is baptized. Jesus is the baptizer. The Holy Spirit is he in whom we are engulfed or the “element” with which we are saturated and deluged, resulting in our participation in the spiritual organism of the church, the body of Christ. Look closely:

“I [John the Baptist] baptize you with [Greek, en] water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He [Jesus] will baptize you with [Greek, en] the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11).

Identical language is used in Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and in John 1:33. Then, when speaking of what would occur at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit would be poured out, Jesus himself echoed the words of the gospel authors and said: “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with [Greek, en] the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Peter says the same thing as he reflected on what happened when the Gentile Cornelius came to saving faith in Jesus (Acts 11:15).

Clearly, it is Jesus who baptizes his people “in” or “with” the Holy Spirit as the “element” in/with which we are immersed or saturated, the result of which is our spiritual incorporation into the body of Christ.

If the biblical authors had intended to teach that the believer is baptized “by” the Spirit they would most likely have used another preposition, probably hupo followed by the genitive, not en with the dative. This is what we see in such texts as Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5, and Luke 3:7 where people were baptized “by” John the Baptist; or texts such as Matthew 3:13 and Mark 1:9 where Jesus was baptized “by” John; or Luke 7:30 where the Pharisees had not been baptized “by” John.

I can only conclude that those responsible for writing the BFM 2000 were misled by a mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 12:13. As I said, the Holy Spirit doesn’t baptize anyone in anything. I encourage all to read again the prophecy of John the Baptist that Jesus “will baptize you with [lit., “in”, the Greek preposition en] the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16).

Dan Wallace, noted Greek scholar, disagrees and argues that the preposition en is an example of “means”. He writes: “the Holy Spirit is the instrument that Christ uses to baptize, even though he is a person” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 374). However, Wallace is also clear that it is still Christ himself who is the agent of the baptism, i.e., he baptizes, not the Spirit. So, even if one accepts Wallace’s understanding (which I don’t), the point is still the same: Jesus Christ baptizes either “by means of” or “in” the Spirit, but the Spirit himself, contrary to the BFM, and contrary to numerous statements of faith in evangelical churches everywhere, never baptizes anyone.