Foundations: “The Sabbath” (Part Two) — Hebrews 3:7b-4:13 — Todd Braye

Introduction
Todd BrayeToday we press on in our studies on the Sabbath. To that end I invite you to open your bibles to Hebrews 3:7. The full text is Heb 3:7b – 4:13. We won’t get through all of it today. But I hope that what we do accomplish this morning will set the stage for next week. Hebrews 3:7b – 4:13. Hear then the precious and inerrant word of God:

A Rest for the People of God

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’ ”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [i]
The Immediacy of God’s Word
Foundational to the God of the Bible is the fact that God has revealed Himself verbally. That God speaks, that He has spoken, is also a truth undergirding Hebrews to this point. It is the subject with which the writer begins in the very first chapter first verse.  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,” he states. Evidently then, those addressed have Jewish roots. Those addressed are physical descendants of Abraham. Their heritage is therefore a rich one, one defined by a wealth of divine speech. God spoke to their fathers by way of the prophets. But now “in these last days,” the writer tells us that, in contrast to “Long ago” when God spoke through the prophets,  “God has spoken to us by His Son.” Christ, in other words, is God’s final word. And as God’s final word, Christ is the decisive word.
But in contrast to “God spoke” and “he has spoken” is “Today, if you hear his voice.” The word ‘Today’ speaks of the immediacy, if not urgency, of God’s Word. In these two chapters the phrase “Today, if you hear his voice” is repeated three times:  “Today, if you hear his voice.” “Today, if you hear his voice.” “Today, if you hear his voice.”  God spoke. He has spoken. And as long as it is called “Today,” God still speaks. How He does so is made abundantly clear to us here. All one has to do is notice the introductory phrase in verse 7a: “Therefore, the Holy Spirit says.” And what the Spirit says is what’s recorded for us in the Scripture; in this case Psalm 95:7-11. The Spirit of God never speaks divorced from the written Word of God. What is before us is therefore pressed upon us. This is for our benefit as the professing people of God.  Psalm 95 was written ages ago, but may it not fall on deaf ears today.
The Receptivity of Our Response
The immediacy of God’s Word is followed by the receptivity of our response. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” That is God’s will for us, brethren. It is God’s will for us everyday. If we hear His voice, we need to receive it, not harden ourselves to it. It should not escape our notice this is not evangelistic. Evangelism is not in view here. Nor is it the author’s concern. His concern is for the professing people of God. We have only to pay attention to the context to see this. In chapter 3 verse 1, the author calls those to whom he writes “holy brothers,” those “who share in a heavenly calling.” He calls them brothers in 3:14. In the previous chapter, in chapter 2 verse 1, he admonishes his brothers to pay much closer attention to what they had heard, namely God’s Word spoken through His Final Word regarding His finished work, “lest they drift away from it.”  Further, the second verse of chapter four makes it more than obvious evangelism isn’t here. It says “For good news came to us…” The Word of the gospel had already been preached to them. Consequently, these words are aimed not at those outside the church, but those inside.
Obviously then, we who call ourselves Christians have need of guarding ourselves against hard-heartedness in the face of God’s Word, even His Final Word. Even though we may find ourselves amongst God’s chosen, having a faith in God, a stubborn refusal to believe the truth & submit to it is not outside the realm of possibility. One either hears as to believe and obey, or he will hear and disregard. Both responses occur within the company of God’s people. But a sensitive and receptive heart, moved to actual obedience is the heart of God’s true people.
An Example of Rebellion
The immediacy of God’s Word, the receptivity of our response: next is an example of rebellion. Israel, that is, the nation of Israel, the Old Covenant people of God, is that example. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness when your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years…” The historical referent to this is of course the exodus. By a glorious display of awesome power, God redeems Israel from Egypt (not from sin, from Egypt). Exodus 14: The Red Sea. Exodus 15: Israel sings God’s praises. Exodus 16: Israel grumbles. In the first several verses of Exodus 16, there are nine (9) references to grumbling. The whole of Israel grumbled against its leadership. Why they did so was nothing short of unbelief. The immediate issue was food and hunger. Wishing to return to the “good old days” of Egypt, forgetting their hardship, they questioned the integrity and even motivation of its leadership. Exodus 16, commencing with verse 3:

…the people of Israel said to them {Moses & Aaron}, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.[ii]


And of course, they did not. They disobeyed the instruction to eat the entire day’s portion and leave no left- overs. Exodus 14: The Red Sea. Exodus 15: Israel sings. Exodus 16: Israel grumbles and disobeys. Exodus 17:

17 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” [1]


Exodus 14: The Red Sea. Exodus 15: Israel joyfully sings. Exodus 16: Israel grumbles and disobeys. Exodus 17: Israel grumbles, tests God, and doubts Him. And then the big one, when Israel refused to enter the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. You recall the history. Men were chosen and sent to spy out the land. After 40 days, they returned with their report. They spoke of a land flowing with milk and honey. However, the cities were fortified and large, the men were big and strong, and Israel’s enemies lived there.  Caleb goes to Moses and says, in effect, “Let’s go!’ “Let’s go over and occupy the land. We can do it!’ But (Numbers 13),

“…the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” 14 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” [iii]

The reason for the land was a promise. God had promised Abraham to give his offspring a land. And here we see the first exodus generation refusing that promise, why? Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 1 beginning in the 25th verse:

And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’

26 “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.” ’ 29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God…” [iv]

Again, the Psalmist, recounting this, elsewhere writes these words:

Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord” (Ps. 106:25).

I belabor this because this is so foundational. This is so basic to the argument and the admonition of Hebrews 3 and 4. God delivered Israel from Pharaoh, placing them on a trajectory that would see them enjoy the fullness of the blessings of a rich land. This place, this land was the goal of the exodus…and Israel, that first generation, because of unbelief, did not reach it.
The Consequence of Unbelief
The immediacy of God’s Word, the receptivity of our response, an example of rebellion: and finally the consequence of unbelief. Verses 10 and 11 tell us God was provoked to wrath with that generation. Though they were the physical offspring and children of Abraham, the chosen of God, presumably wearing the sign of the covenant, God swore in His anger that that generation, that wicked generation as He calls them, would not enter what was promised! Therefore,” says God, “I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’11As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’[v] The corresponding text to this is Numbers 14:30. It states the following: “No one shall come into the land … except Caleb…and Joshua…” Why David, the Psalmist, changes “land” to “rest” is reason for consideration. Number one: By the time David wrote Psalm 95, Joshua had led the second generation into the land.  Joshua 21:43-45 states:

43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”[vi]


God gave Israel the land. Israel got their land. God was faithful. His promise came to pass. Therefore, number two, the ‘rest’ of which David speaks in Psalm 95 must be a different ‘rest’ in a different place for a different people, namely those of God’s house. Who is that house? WE are His house “IF indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts! Psalm 95 is a warning to us. Let us be warned this day. God swore in His wrath that those who harden their hearts to His voice shall not enter His rest.
The Exhortation to Care
Therefore, take care, brothers, lest there be in any one of us an evil, unbelieving heart, leading us to fall away from the living God! This is the concern of the text, even of Hebrews. Apostasy, falling away from God, unfaithfulness, drifting away from the gospel: we must, as a church, as a fellowship, as a family, see to it that these things do not happen amongst us.  Instead, look at what we are to do. Verse 13: “But exhort one another, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” There is so much here to unpack. But we can’t do that today. But do not let it escape your notice that everyone, not just the leadership, is called into action here. Exhortation that none be hardened is the responsibility of all in the house. “Exhort one another!” It is a biblical church that engages in mutual exhortation. The most loving, caring thing a church can do is exhort that none be hardened and fall away from the living God. Oh may we never forget that the church is not a club. It is not a place to be entertained for a couple hours on Sunday if there’s nothing better to do. It’s all too easy to play church. It’s all too easy to go through the motions and not be involved in each other’s lives, or simply talk small talk. Exhortation isn’t small talk… But what is it to exhort? What is exhortation? Exhortation is sometimes pleading, urging, sometimes encouraging, sometimes consoling, sometimes warning, and sometimes reproving, according to the need of the moment and with speech seasoned, even dripping, with grace.
The ground given for this exhorting is made explicit in the 17th verse. Look at it closely. It says, “For we share in Christ, IF indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”  This makes perseverance a matter of life and death. True faith is tethered to not drifting from the truth and falling away, but enduring in both faith and faithfulness. Do those truly in Christ fall away? No they do not. They persevere in faith to the end. But only those who so persevere share in Christ. We share in Christ, IF we hold on to the end in persevering faith. It isn’t enough to receive the gospel evidently. It isn’t enough to receive the truth of Christ and the cross; one must hold on to it, keep it, and “retain it unshakably.”[vii]
So again Hebrews exhorts us:

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”[viii]

Hebrews urges us and pleads with us to not be like that generation of God’s people. Don’t be like them. Be the opposite of them. Don’t harden your hearts when God speaks in His Word. Do not miss one thing here. Do not miss the connection made in verses 18 and 19 between disobedience and unbelief. Verse 18 says: “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” So, which is it? Did disobedience prevent them or did unbelief? There is a relationship of cause and effect here. We need to understand this for many reasons, one of which is to see ourselves and judge our faith rightly. There are two kinds of faith: true and false. And if we understand the cause and effect here, we will be better equipped to make a sober examination of our faith.  So, what’s the relationship?  Notice the end of verse 19 and the phrase “because of unbelief.” That’s the cause. The exodus generation, “those who were disobedient” (verse 18) did not enter the land because they did not believe God’s promise.  Unbelief is the cause. Disobedience is the result or the manifestation or the fruit of unbelief. Unbelief begets disobedience. Disobedience is the expression of unbelief. Conversely therefore, faith begets obedience.  Had the first generation believed God, they would’ve invaded Canaan. But they disobeyed because they were wrought with unbelief.  Where there is disobedience there is disbelief. Remember that the next time Mr. Temptation lies to you. Unbelief begets disobedience. But believing begets obedience.
Such is the context if not foundation upon which the writer to the Hebrews is about to speak of a Sabbath rest remaining for the people of God. We will go no further today. Today it enough to hear the exhortation, “If you hear his voice do not harden your hearts” as they did, incurring the wrath of God, not entering that which was promised them because of unbelief manifested by disobedience. It is enough to hear that there was a generation of God’s people in redemptive history that forfeited the goal and consummation of its redemption. It is enough to be jarred by these things. O might we be jarred by these things! God doesn’t play games! He will not be mocked! Let us pray that we sense the urgency of the opening verses of chapter 4: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still remains, let us fear lest any of [us] should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them…”


[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ex 17:1–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[i] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 3:7–4:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[ii] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ex 16:3–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[iii] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Nu 13:31–14:4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[iv] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 1:25–32). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[v] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 3:10–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[vi] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jos 21:43–45). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[vii] C. Spicq
[viii] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 3:16–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

New Covenant Water Baptism is NOT Circumcision (Msg 2 of 2)

Is New Covenant Water Baptism the New Covenant replacement of the Old Testament sign of Circumcision? We think not! Admittance into the New Covenant is strictly through the circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit and Faith in Jesus Christ. We hope you give serious consideration to the two messages we are presenting by Dr. John Piper that clearly refute the practice of baptizing unbelievers.
– Moe Bergeron

Buried And Raised In Baptism Through Faith
Colossians 2:8-15

May 11, 1997
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
Does Christian Baptism Parallel Old Testament Circumcision?
This is the second in a four-part series on Christian baptism. Let me tell you a bit about how I am choosing the texts to preach from. I discovered in my seminary and graduate school days that my old ways of defending believer’s baptism were not compelling. I used to spend time pointing out that all the baptisms described in the New Testament are baptisms of believers and that all the commands to be baptized are given to believers. I used to point out that infant baptism is simply not mentioned in the Bible and that it is questionable to build a crucial church practice on a theological inference, without explicit Biblical teaching when all the examples go in the opposite direction.
But I discovered that those who baptize infants (“paedobaptists”) were not swayed by these observations, because they pointed out that, of course, we only see believer’s baptism in the New Testament since we are dealing in all these settings with first generation evangelism, not with second generation child-rearing. Everybody agrees that the only adults that should be baptized are believing adults. The issue is, what happens when these baptized Christian adults have children?
So they pointed out that all my statistics are irrelevant and the question boils down to one of theological inference. Specifically, does Christian baptism parallel Old Testament circumcision as the sign of those who join the covenant people of God, and if so, should not the children of Christians receive baptism the way the sons of Israel received circumcision?
For example, the Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1562 as an expression of the Reformed faith. It is said by some to have the intimacy of Martin Luther and the charity of Philip Melanchthon and the fire of John Calvin : three great Reformers in the 16th century. At the end of the section on baptism, question #74 asks, “Are infants also to be baptized?” The answer goes like this:
Yes; for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God, and both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is appointed.
Now this has been the standard understanding of baptism among Presbyterians and Congregationalists and Methodists and many others for hundreds of years. Lutherans and Catholics defend the practice of infant baptism differently, putting more emphasis than these other churches have on the actual regenerating effect of the act.
Are New Truths Revealed in the New Covenant?
So one of the most crucial questions you must face as you ponder the New Testament command to be baptized is whether you think this parallel with circumcision settles the matter. That is, is it the will of God revealed in the New Testament that Baptism and circumcision correspond so closely that what circumcision signified, baptism signifies? Or are there new truths about the creation and nature of the people of God in the New Covenant that point toward a discontinuity as well as continuity between circumcision and baptism?
Well, in my struggles with this issue over the years, especially the years in graduate school when I was studying mainly with paedobaptists, three or four texts, more than any others, kept me from embracing the argument from circumcision. One is Colossians 2:11-12. Another is 1 Peter 3:21. Another is Romans 9:8. And another is Galatians 3:26-27. I will take the Colossians text today and build on the others in the weeks to come.
But first let’s make sure we don’t miss the forest for the trees. This text (Colossians 2:10-15) is a virtual rain forest of strong gospel timber. Get a bird’s eye view of it with me. It’s all about what God has done for us (in history, objectively through Christ), and what he has done in us so that we will indeed inherit what he purchased
What God Has Done For Us
Take first the objective, historical, external work of God in verses 14-15. In essence, what these two verses tell us is that our two greatest enemies were defeated in the death of Christ. Nothing more powerful than the death of Christ has ever happened.
The first enemy defeated was the “certificate of debt” that was filed against us in the courtroom of heaven. In other words, because of our sin and rebellion, the laws of God had become a deadly witness against us and we were in such deep debt to God that there was no way out. Verse 14 says that Christ canceled that whole debt by paying it all on the cross. “[He] canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” So the great enemy of our sin and guilt and debt, Christ defeated. That happened in history, objectively, outside us.
The second enemy defeated was the host of evil spiritual beings : the devil and his forces. Verse 15: “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” It’s true that we must still “wrestle with principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12), but if we wrestle in the power of Christ and his shed blood, they are as good as defeated, because the blow he struck was lethal. Revelation 12:11 says that believers “overcame [the devil] because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.” We must fight. But the battle belongs to the Lord and the decisive blow has been struck at Calvary. Satan cannot destroy us.
What God Has Done in Us
Now besides these two great objective, external, historical triumphs over our worst enemies (the debt of sin before God and the devil’s hosts on earth), this forest also describes what God does in us : not just for us and outside of us but in us so that we benefit from what was done outside of us.
He uses two pictures: one is circumcision and the other is resurrection. Verse 13 focuses mainly on our resurrection:
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.
So you see what he does in us: we were spiritually dead, and he made us alive. This is the miracle of the new birth. You were saved because God spoke a life-giving, resurrecting word into your heart (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The other picture of what God does in us is the picture of circumcision. Verse 11:
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.
Now this is harder to understand because the ideas are more foreign to us. Paul compares the saving work of God in us with the practice of circumcision. He says it’s like that, only this is a circumcision made “without hands” : it’s a spiritual thing he is talking about, not a physical one. And he says that what is being cut away is not the male foreskin, but the “body of the flesh.” In Paul’s language that’s probably a reference to sin-dominated, ego-dominated use of the body. What is cut away in this spiritual circumcision “without hands” is the old unbelieving, blind, rebellious self and its use of the body for sin. And that way, Paul is saying, God makes a person his very own.
So we have seen two pictures of what God does for us, objectively, historically, outside ourselves to save us: he defeats the enemy of sin and the enemy of Satan. And we have seen two pictures of what God does in us to make us part of that salvation: he raises us from the dead spiritually and he circumcises our hearts and strips away the old rebellious self and makes us new.
Baptism and Circumcision
Now, in that forest of glorious good news, here’s the question about the tree of baptism: is water baptism the Christian counterpart to Old Testament circumcision? Is the continuity such that, just as circumcision was given to the children of God’s covenant people then, baptism should now be given to the children of God’s covenant people?
The key verses are verses 11-12. Notice the linking of the two ideas of circumcision and baptism:
. . .in Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
It’s clear there’s a link here between baptism and circumcision. But it isn’t, I think, what many infant baptizers think it is. Notice what sort of circumcision is spoken of in verse 11: it is precisely a circumcision “without hands.” That means Paul is talking about a spiritual counterpart of the Old Testament physical ritual. Then baptism is linked in verse 12 to that spiritual counterpart to the Old Testament circumcision. This is extremely important. Try to get it.
What is the New Testament counterpart or parallel to the Old Testament rite of circumcision? Answer: it is not the New Testament rite of baptism; it is the New Testament spiritual event of the circumcision of Christ cutting away “the [old sinful] body of the flesh.” then, baptism is brought in as the external expression of that spiritual reality. That is precisely what the link between verses 11 and 12 says. Christ does a circumcision without hands : that is the New Testament, spiritual fulfillment of Old Testament circumcision. Then verse 12 draws the parallel between that spiritual fulfillment and the external rite of baptism.
Notice what verse 11 stresses about the new work of Christ in circumcising: it is a circumcision “without hands.” But water baptism is emphatically a ritual done “with hands.” If we simply say that this New Testament ordinance of baptism done with hands corresponds to the Old Testament ritual of circumcision done with hands, then we miss the most important truth: something new is happening in the creation of people of God called the church of Christ. They are being created by a “circumcision without hands” by God. They are being raised from the dead by God. And baptism is a sign of that, not a repetition of the Old Testament sign. There is a new sign of the covenant because the covenant people are being constituted in a new way : by spiritual birth, not physical birth.
“Through Faith”
And one of the clearest evidences for this is the little phrase “through faith” in verse 12. Watch this carefully. This is what held me back from paedobaptism through years of struggle, until I saw more and more reasons not to join up. Verse 12 links the New Testament spiritual circumcision “without hands” in verse 11 with baptism, and then links baptism with faith:
Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
If baptism were merely a parallel of the Old Testament rite of circumcision it would not have to happen “through faith” since infants did not take on circumcision “through faith.” The reason the New Testament ordinance of baptism must be “through faith” is that it represents not the Old Testament external ritual, but the New Testament, internal, spiritual experience of circumcision “without hands.”
Those two words : “through faith” : in verse 12 are the decisive, defining explanation of how we were buried with Christ in baptism and how we were raised with him in baptism: it was “through faith.” And this is not something infants experience. Faith is a conscious experience of the heart yielding to the work of God. Infants are not capable of this, and therefore infants are not fit subjects of baptism, which is “through faith.”
So I urge those of you who have not yet come to faith in Christ to consider the rainforest of good news in these verses: that Christ died and rose again to cancel our debt with God and to triumph over Satan; and that he raises spiritually dead people from the grave and circumcises sinful hearts : he does all this through faith. He brings us to trust him, by showing us how true and beautiful he is. Look to him and believe.
And then he bids us to express that faith in baptism. If you want to prepare for this step of obedience, you can come up after the service, or you can check it off on the worship folder leaf, or you can come to the baptismal preparation class starting next Sunday for two weeks.
May the Lord draw many of you to the enjoyment of this full obedience “through faith.”
© Desiring God
http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper97/5-11-97.htm
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