Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why Not Worship with Instruments?

The following is an expanded excerpt from the book, Where Fresh Waters Flow: The Restoration Plea, written by Cory Collins and published by Heritage Press in 2007.
Cory also presented a sermon on this subject in February, 2013. For the mp3 audio go to:
After Jesus Christ shared the bread and the cup with His disciples at the Last Supper, the Scripture says, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30).” They proceeded to Gethsemane, where Judas and the crowd came to arrest the Savior. Their singing serves as a powerful example of worship. It was from the heart, it was full of faith, and it was without mechanical accompaniment.
When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi, though they had been harshly mistreated and severely beaten, about midnight they were singing hymns of praise to God. The prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25). Their singing, directed toward God, had a tremendous impact on the lost people around them. They did not use or need any instrumental assistance.
People often ask regarding the worship of the churches of Christ, “Where’s the organ?” Or even, “Where’s the band?” Is simple, unaccompanied singing in worship optional, traditional, or eccentric … or is it biblical?
Let’s consider this question first of all from the Bible’s teaching. Then let’s look at additional matters that are historical and practical.
Biblical Reasons for Singing without Mechanical Instruments
The New Testament has all authority regarding Christian worship. Heb 8:13-10:18 While Christians learn from the Old Testament’s unchanging principles, they do not follow its specific means of worship. Incense, dancing, animal sacrifice, a separate priesthood, the Sabbath, three annual holy feasts, and instrumental music in the Temple worship were all part of the Old Testament administration. They are not part of the New.
In fact, Jesus Himself taught that worship in the New Covenant would be different from that of the Old. Instead of a physical Temple in Jerusalem, with all the outward, physical elements connected to it, He said, “… the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father … the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:19-24).
In the Old Testament, instruments were used specifically as part of the Temple services (2 Chron 29:25-30). So were other worship elements noted in the Psalms.
• Ps 20:3 Burnt offerings: rams, bulls, and goats
• Ps 107:22 Levitical thank offerings
• Ps 50:8; 51:19; 66:13 Burnt offerings
• Ps 118:27 Festal procession with waving of palm branches, as during the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:40ff)
• Ps 26:6 Levitical altar
• Ps 122:1; 27:4 Temple in which God was worshiped
• Ps 5:7 Prayers offered at or toward the temple
Therefore, one cannot simply take authority for instruments, say from Psalm 150, without also considering the other items in Psalms that were part of the Temple worship system. One must look to the New Testament and ask, “How did the early Christians worship?”
The New Testament does not explicitly say, “You shall not use instruments of music.” Neither does it in such a direct way prohibit sprinkling for baptism, baptizing babies, praying to Mary, adding elements to the Lord’s Supper, or installing and honoring a Pope. However, it implicitly forbids all of these things by specifying certain other things. Thus it excludes all substitutes or changes. This is “The Law of Exclusion.”
When we put together a shopping list, we do not list the items that we are not buying. Other items are excluded. If they are added, we will not pay for them! In the same way, since God has specified the kind of music He wants in worship, He does not have to list all the kinds of music that He does not want.
The New Testament specifies that the music of the church is to be vocal music. The “instrument” or “organ” is the human heart, giving praise to God through the lips. The New Testament’s silence on the instrument is a thundering silence, especially in light of the prominence of instruments in Old Testament temple worship. Instruments were available for use; Christians from a Jewish background were accustomed to them; but the early church did not use them.
Read and consider Ephesians 5:18-21. Following the command to “be filled with the Spirit,” in the Greek text there are several participles that describe what Christians do who are filled with the Spirit. They are speaking …, singing …, making melody in the heart …, giving thanks …, and submitting to one another. Mechanical instruments are not necessary or expedient in the carrying out of this teaching, nor are they capable of speaking, singing, etc. Also consider Colossians 3:15-17.
Note the fact that the New Testament references specify vocal music.
Matt 26:30 - sang a hymn
Acts 16:25 - singing hymns
Rom 15:9 - I will sing hymns to Your name.
Rom 15:11 - Sing praises to Him, all you peoples.
1 Cor 14:15 - I will sing with my spirit and my mind.
1 Cor 14:26 - Everyone has a hymn, or word of instruction. (This would have been the place to mention instruments if they had been part of NT worship.)
Eph 5:19 - Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.
Col 3:16 - Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
Jas 5:13 - Let him sing songs of praise.
Heb 13:15 - The sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name.
Music scholars, even outside the Restoration Movement, acknowledge the fact that the early church abstained from the use of such instruments.
¨Curt Sachs of Columbia University, one of the most eminent musicologists of modern times, has said, “All ancient Christian music was vocal.”
¨Lyman Coleman, an outstanding Presbyterian scholar: “Both the Jews in their temple service and the Greeks in their idol worship were accustomed to sing with the accompaniment of instrumental music.  The converts to Christianity must have been familiar with this model of singing, but it is generally admitted that the primitive Christians employed no instrumental music in their religious worship (The Primitive Church, pp. 370-371).”
¨Joseph Bingham, of the Church of England, in his book, Antiquities of the Church, says, “Music in the Church is as ancient as the apostles; but instrumental music is not.”
¨Hugo Leichtentritt writes: “Only singing, however, and no playing of instruments, was permitted in the early Christian Church (Music, History and Ideas, p. 34).”
¨Frank Landon Humphreys writes: “The early Christians discouraged all outward signs of excitement, and from the very beginning, in the music they used, reproduced the spirit of their religion — an outward quietude.  All the music employed in their early services was vocal (Evolution of Church Music, p. 42).”
Also remarkable is this. The term “a cappella” is Latin, meaning “in the manner of the church.” The very existence of this term further evidences the fact that singing “in the manner of the church” is singing without instrumental accompaniment.
In the past, some who have advocated the instrument have tried to claim biblical authority for it in the use of the Greek term psallo (> psalm) in Ephesians 5:19. They have said that the term meant to “pluck” a stringed instrument. If so, each Christian is required to pluck a stringed instrument in worship!
In fact, the word psallo appears also in 1 Cor 14:15 and Jas 5:13, where only vocal expression is in view. The Septuagint (Greek OT) also sometimes uses psallo in this purely vocal sense (Ps 135:3; 138:1; 146:2). If psallo in Eph 5:19 does allow or call for the use of an instrument, that instrument is specified: it is the heart.
Historical Reasons for Singing without Mechanical Instruments
These indisputable facts are evident from a study of church history. First, churches did not use musical instruments in worship for 600-plus years after Christ. Second, Protestant groups did not use them just 200 years ago. Third, many religious leaders have spoken against their use. Note:
¨Clement of Alexandria (150-210 AD): “The one instrument of peace, the word alone by which we honor God, is what we employ.  We no longer employ the ancient psaltery and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute.”  As quoted in Restoration Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 1, 1957, p. 3
¨Origen (325 AD):  “For the unison song of the people of Christ is more pleasing to God than any musical instrument.  Thereby in all the churches of God with one mind and heart, with unity and agreement in faith and worship, we offer to God a unison melody in our singing of Psalms.” Quoted in Restoration Quarterly, p. 4
¨John Chrysostom (345-407 AD): “There is no need of lyre there, nor stretched strings nor plectrum, nor of musical skill, nor of any instruments.  But if you choose, you will make yourself the lyre, putting to death the members of the flesh, and making a great harmony of the body with the soul.” “But I would say this, that in olden times they were thus led by these instruments because of the dullness of their understanding and their recent deliverance from idols.  Just as God allowed animal sacrifices, so also He let them have these instruments, condescending to help their weakness.”  Quoted in Restoration Quarterly, p. 45
¨Augustine (c. 400 AD):  “Has not a rule been established in the name of Christ with reference to those ‘vigils’ of yours, that harps (citharae, that is, lyres) should be excluded from this place?”
¨Jerome (c. 400 AD):  “A Christian should not know what a lyre or flute is, nor what their use is.”  Quoted on p. 144 in Instrumental Music in Worship, by M.C. Kurfees.
¨Thomas Aquinas, a leading Catholic Scholar of his age (1250 AD):  “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.”  Quoted in McClintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, p. 739
¨John Calvin, founder of the Presbyterian Church:  “Musical instruments in celebrating the praise of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law.  The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews.”  John Calvin’s Commentary, Thirty-third Psalm.
¨John Wesley, reputed founder of the Methodist Church: “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.”  Quoted in Clarke’s Commentary, Vol IV, p. 686
¨Adam Clarke, the greatest commentator of all times among the Methodists: “Music as a science, I esteem and admire; but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor.  This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity.”  Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. IV, p. 686
¨Martin Luther called the organ “an ensign of Baal”.  McClintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia of Music, Vol. VII, p. 762
¨Charles H. Spurgeon, a very influential Baptist preacher in London years ago, said: “Israel was a school, and used childish things to help her to learn, but in these days, when Jesus gives us spiritual food, one can make melody without strings and pipes … We do not need them.  They would hinder rather than help our praise.  Sing unto Him.  This is the sweetest and best music.  No instrument like human voice … We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.” Spurgeon would not preach in a congregation where the instrument was present.
So the burden of proof is not upon the churches of Christ, as if we must prove why we do not use instruments. We need not feel defensive. The burden of proof is on those who would introduce and defend the instrument, without biblical warrant or historical precedent.
Practical Reasons for Singing without Mechanical Instruments
The introduction of instruments, without biblical warrant, continues to create division. Churches that use instruments have divided further over the question of what kind of instruments they prefer. The “traditional” service will have an organ, while the “contemporary” service will have a rock band. Singing without instruments promotes unity, since everyone agrees that vocal singing is Scriptural by itself.
The suggestion that instruments are necessary to attract lost people, or young people, is very troubling. The purpose of worship is to glorify God. The question is, “What pleases Him?” The question is not, “What kind of worship do we, or the lost, or the young, or the old, prefer?”
The use of instruments has taken various church assemblies from edification to entertainment ... from worship service to concert performance ... from participation to passivity ... and from the spiritual to the mechanical.
Instead, we choose to follow the simple, clear, New Testament teaching. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Heb 13:15

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Don't Sign That Lease!

… so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs (schemes, devices, and scams!). 2 Cor 2:11
… so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness (deceit, trickery) in deceitful (cunning) schemes (methods, techniques, and strategies). Eph 4:14
     We had just moved into our house in mid-June, 2012. We were unpacking boxes, hanging pictures, and sharing our excitement. It was especially gratifying, because we had previously been living in a 756-square-foot apartment. I was checking something in the front yard of our new house when a young couple drove up and stopped. I did not know them. "How are you?" I asked. "What can we do for you?"
     The woman responded, "We're about to rent this house and move in." 
     My first thoughts were, "Oh no, you're not!" "Wait a minute! Say that again?" However, I just said, "I'm sorry to let you down, but my wife and I have just bought this house." The woman was just as shocked by my announcement as I had been by hers.
     No, we were not being evicted. No, our Realtor had not made a mistake. No, the previous owners were not trying to work a double deal with their house. No, our contract on the house had not fallen through. No, I was not being arrested or charged with being a squatter.
     What had happened, quite simply, was that a crook was trying to pull a scam. He had offered this couple a great deal to rent a house that he did not own. By accessing public records, available online, he had found the name of the owner. He then created an email account in the owner's name and began offering the house – our house! – for rent.
     He never owned it.
     He never entered it.
     He never had a key to it.
     He probably never saw it.
     He may never have even been in the city or state.
     Yet he was quite ready to lease it! Even worse, he claimed to be a Christian - and a "pastor" - to help establish his credibility. 
     “Pastor Kenneth” wrote that he was currently in Florida, working as a volunteer with something called the “Missionary Blogs.” He even included their website! He explained that, because of his ministry, he would not be using a Realtor. He also noted that, because he had previously tried to sell the house, it might still be listed “for sale.” He was covering himself, of course, because the house was actually listed for sale by the genuine owners.
     He was looking for someone who would really take good care of "his" property. He only wanted $700 per month and a security deposit of $500. He would include a washer, dryer, gas, electricity, a dishwasher, an electric stove, and a refrigerator. He would even allow pets in this house he was leasing! How generous, considering the place was not his to begin with!
     When she emphasized putting God first and showing honesty and integrity, he said he believed that God was watching every step they were taking. He wrote, “That is why I made the house so inexpensive, because I believe everybody deserves a home, both the rich and the poor. You don't have to be afraid …” “I'm telling you the truth now – as a dedicated Christian it is against my doctrine to rip people off their money which they labored so hard for.”
     Since “Pastor Kenneth” did not own the house, he had no keys. He had no documents. He explained to the woman that she and her husband would need to complete the application and send him the rent and deposit money first.
She believed him. And she almost sent him $1200.
     It’s easy to say that this woman was na├»ve and that she should have seen through this rip-off. However, the fact is that this scheme works often enough to make it worthwhile for the crooks. You and I may not fall for this particular scam, but we must not think that we are immune to the devil’s devices and men’s trickery.
● If a deal in life sounds too good to be true, it probably is. An unbelievable bargain, however amazing it seems, is intended primarily to benefit the seller. Read the fine print. Get all the specific details. Read it over, pray it over, and talk it over with someone you trust. If it's suspicious, don't sign that lease!
● The devil is in the business of making sin sound fun, easy, and free of pain. He's lying. Sin never liberates; it always enslaves. Eve and Adam signed the snake's lease and lost. Jesus rejected his offer when He was tempted, and He won. If the old serpent is behind it, don't walk. Run! Don't sign that lease!
● Anyone can call himself a "pastor." There are plenty of self-appointed religious leaders around, with all kinds of sweet-sounding, pleasant doctrines and man-made ideas. They can tickle your ears and flatter your ego. Don't let that happen. Know your Bible. Be on the alert. If it doesn't ring true with the Word, don't sign that lease!
● Someone may tempt you to have sex before or outside of marriage. He or she will offer you love, commitment, or even marriage. It's a trap. Don't sign that lease!
● A boss may offer you a promotion if you will lie, cheat, or fudge on something related to your work. You may think, "Everybody else does it. Besides, I'm just following instructions." Don't sign that lease!
● You may think about buying lottery tickets, thinking you will strike it rich. You may even reason that you'll do all kinds of good if you win. You don't realize you may be gambling, not just with money, but with your future and even your life. Don't sign that lease!
● A group of your worldly peers will try to make you think you need to belong and fit in.  They may challenge your faith, your values, your family, and your self-confidence. They want you to follow them and adopt their ways. Don't sign that lease!
     There's another reason I'm glad we were in the house when this couple drove by. If we had not been, this husband and wife might have sent this crook $1200, which they would never have reclaimed. When I told her we had bought the house, of course she regretted losing the deal. At the same time she could rejoice that she was not scammed, since the deal was never real.
     So be alert. Be on guard. Be sober. Be careful. And if in doubt, don't sign that lease!
To comment and/or to receive notices of future blog posts, please email[AT]gmail[.com]. God bless.
Cory Collins

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jesus, God’s Magnificent Son: a Study of Ephesians 1

               Why is Jesus your hero? Which of His words and deeds continue to amaze you, to bless you, and to challenge you? Think of one parable, one miracle, and one personal encounter in His ministry. What does each reveal about His supreme majesty?  

            In Christ, and in no one else, every good thing worth having is ours. He gave us grace, so we give Him glory. We pray to comprehend more clearly the hope, riches, and power which are ours because God raised Him from death and seated Him at His side.
            Paul’s presentation in Ephesians 1 of Jesus Christ as God’s magnificent Son sets the stage for everything that follows. Only because He raised Christ could God also bring us to life, though we were dead in sin, and seat us with Him (Ephesians 2:1-10). Only because His blood was shed could Jews and Gentiles, both trusting in that blood, be reconciled to God and to each other in one body, the church (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Paul’s ministry, as a steward of God’s grace, reflected God’s eternal purpose in Christ Jesus for the church (Ephesians 3:1-13). Paul asked in prayer that all might know that which surpasses knowledge, the immeasurable, infinite love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-21). The seven elements of unity and God’s plan for church growth all result from, and point to, what He has accomplished through His magnificent Son (Ephesians 4:1-16).
            Every practical, ethical, or doctrinal thought in the rest of Ephesians is based on this same premise. We are different from the world. Renewed in mind, we “put off” the traits of the old nature and “put on” the qualities of the exalted Savior. Marriages are transformed. Family and work relationships are re-oriented. Wearing the armor of God we overpower sin, self, and Satan, only because Jesus Christ is risen and exalted.
            REASONS TO PRAISE (Ephesians 1:1-14). Though Paul is in prison he writes to encourage faithful saints to look above. Only the Lord can provide grace and peace, which circumstances cannot destroy (Ephesians 1:1-2). Paul proclaims God as blessed who has first blessed us. As Psalm 103:1-6 indicates, recounting His gifts leads us to gratitude and worship. All God’s gifts now are found only in Christ, God’s magnificent Son.
            What a list! In Christ we are blessed, not with a few small tokens of God’s favor, but with the entire contents of His spiritual warehouse. The things of this world decay, decompose, and die, but God has given us all that pertains to the heavenly realm. He has not been stingy; rather He has lavished upon us in abundance “the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:8-9).We are chosen, selected as God’s people before history began, through our choice to exercise obedient faith. This identity gives us honor and propels us to live out the holiness and blamelessness which that choice implies. We are predestined, because God has designed the ultimate end of those who live in Christ. No threat can take that away if we by faith remain in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).
God has adopted us, giving us all the rights and privileges of natural-born children. His protection, His name, and His inheritance are ours. We are redeemed, bought from slavery off the auction block by the precious blood which Jesus shed. We are forgiven, because He ransomed us, paying the debt for our trespasses. We are sealed in Christ, marked as His own, with the Holy Spirit. For all these reasons, we express “the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
REASONS TO PRAY (Ephesians 1:15-23). Oh that we might know, fully know, “the hope of His calling,” “the riches of the glory of His inheritance,” and “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe!” That is the aim of Paul’s prayer and of ours. God has granted us His Spirit, that the eyes of our heart might grasp what is otherwise incomprehensible. He has raised His magnificent Son from death. He has given Him supremacy over every competing power. His headship over the church, His body, demonstrates His headship over all. Nothing can defeat Him. No one can unseat Him. No power can undo Him. He is, in fact, God’s magnificent Son.
            What peace there is in knowing that every gift of value is already ours in Christ! That fact sets us free from the rat-race maze of selfish ambition, which has people running in all the wrong directions to obtain and keep what will not last. Christ, who satisfied God’s wrath by His sacrifice, also satisfies our yearning for fulfillment and grants us the abundant life. May we recognize and reject whatever temptations threaten our contentment and learn to treasure more than ever what we have in Him.
            “Count your blessings; name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” There is a strong human tendency to accentuate negative factors, though they may comprise only a tiny percentage of one’s life experience. From prison Paul wrote, “Blessed be God!” One who blesses God rather than blaming God will find peace even in adversity.
The phrases “in Christ” and “in Him” (Ephesians 1:3, 4, 7, 10, 13) remind us that one comes “into Christ” at the point of baptism. Romans 6:1-4 and Galatians 3:26-27 note that we are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection. We all know people who have not yet taken this essential step and who are therefore outside of Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Because we genuinely value what God has given us in Christ, we seek to teach and influence others to be baptized. Then they too may be blessed, chosen, adopted, redeemed, and so forth.
Because we were chosen “that we should be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4),” we seek to carry out that purpose. Each must continually ask, “How can I be more consecrated, set apart for God’s use, and unpolluted by the world?” “For what might I be blamed when I stand before God’s throne?” A repentant, confessing, obedient heart will produce a Christ-like life and example.
“To the praise of His glory” helps us see that we now exist to exalt the Lord because of His majesty. Whatever we do in word or deed, we do it in Jesus’ name, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17). From the greatest to the least among us, no matter our occupation or situation, we share this thrilling purpose. God’s grace motivates, inspires, and even compels us to promote His honor every day and in every way. Do others see His awesome, wondrous majesty when they observe us?
In addition to emphasizing Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Bible also stresses His ascension and inauguration. Yes, God raised Him, but He also seated Him in the highest position of all, at His own right hand (Ephesians 1:20-21). For that reason He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is superior to Satan and his demons. He is invincible, invulnerable, and immovable. In this age of terrorism, threats, and temptations, why should we fear? Because we are sure about the position Christ holds today, we are secure in our position in His hand.
The church is precious and sacred, because it is the body of which Jesus is the head. God’s magnificent Son has made the church magnificent (Ephesians 5:25-27). We ourselves are not perfect, but He removes our wrinkles and blemishes. It is through our submission as the church that we glorify Christ as Lord.
            The biblical teaching of predestination (Ephesians 1:5, 11) gives us confidence that God is in control and that He will lead us to our heavenly home. Human choice is still essential, for we must be willing to listen to the message of truth and believe it (Ephesians 1:13). Predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge of our faith (Romans 8:28-30). It does not force us to act against our will. However, knowing the destiny He has planned for us encourages us to act according to His will.
            From Old Testament times the Israelites considered themselves to be God’s chosen people. In Exodus 19:4-6 God reminded them of His gracious, mighty salvation through the Exodus. Then He called upon them to obey His voice and keep His covenant. As a result they would be His own possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Peter echoed these words and applied them to the church in 1 Peter 2:9-10.
            In Scripture the term “saints” (Ephesians 1:1, 15, 18) does not refer just to those who have died, or to those designated by the church because of their worthy deeds and miraculous accomplishments. Instead it describes all those who are sanctified, separated from the world and consecrated to the worship and service of God. Our goal then is to live up to this high, holy calling which God has given to all Christians.
            Jesus Christ is God’s magnificent Son!  During this week, thumb through one of the four Gospels and list the traits of Christ in it that you find impressive. As you pray thank God for these qualities and ask Him to help you develop them in your own life. Share one or more of these with your family, your fellow Christians, and someone who still needs to be baptized into Christ.
Questions for Further Reflection:
1.      What privileges do we enjoy as God’s chosen people? What responsibilities? For what purpose(s) has God chosen us?
2.      Why do some people, even after having biological children, choose to adopt one or more others? What does it cost them, besides money? How does it benefit the child?
3.      If God has predestined us, how is it that we still have free choice and responsibility for our actions?
4.      Because of Christ we live “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” How can we honor the Lord more effectively in marriage? In work? In ministry?
5.      We have been sealed or marked by the Holy Spirit. What does the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit mean in your life?
6.      Hope is a solid, confident expectation of things not yet experienced. What does your hope in Christ mean to you? On what is it based? What makes it grow?
7.      The church is the body; Christ is the head. What does that mean? How do we express that relationship? How does it affect our lives as the people of God?

To comment and/or to receive notices of future blog posts, please email[AT]gmail[.com]. God bless.

Cory Collins

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

“FOR” the Forgiveness of Sins?

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    Salvation is a free gift, purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We cannot purchase it, earn it, or achieve it. But how do we receive it? Acts 2:38 records Simon Peter’s response to those who asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
    Recently several have inquired, “Could the phrase, ‘for the forgiveness of sins,’ actually mean, ‘because of the forgiveness of sins’? Could Acts 2:38 teach, as many teach today, that baptism follows salvation, as a public statement that one has already been forgiven?” 
    The Greek preposition eis, translated “for” in English translations of this verse, typically points to some object. It means “toward, into, to,” etc. Some, however, have claimed that the use of eis in Acts 2:38 is exceptional and means “because of.” They note that in Matt 12:41 Jesus said, “The men of Nineveh … repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonah.” They suggest that here eis means “because of.” This argument has been made often. Is it valid? Please consider the following.
  • The Greek text of Acts 2:38 grammatically links baptism and repentance together. So the next phrase (“eis the forgiveness of sins”) must refer to both. Most would agree that repentance precedes the forgiveness of sins and is prerequisite to it. Would anyone say that the lost are to repent because they have already been forgiven? 
  • In Matt 26:28 Jesus said, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for (eis) the forgiveness of sins.” No one has suggested “because of” for this verse, even though the Greek text in the last phrase is letter-for-letter identical to that of Acts 2:38. See also Mark 1:4.
  • Rom 10:10 notes that with the heart one believes eis (unto, to, toward) righteousness and that with the mouth one confesses eis (unto, to, toward) salvation. No one has suggested “because of” in either clause. Faith and confession precede and seek salvation from sin. The Greek phrase parallels that of Acts 2:38.
  • The immediate response of some 3000 people in Acts 2:41 implies that they sensed an urgency connected to repentance and baptism. They were baptized that very day because they apparently understood the necessity of acting without delay. They wanted to receive God’s forgiveness.
  • Matt 12:41 is not an exception after all. The people of Nineveh repented “toward,” “in order to,” or even “into” Jonah’s message. Once again eis points toward an object or purpose. Their repentance was their response toward the message they heard.
  • No English translation (to my knowledge) ever translates eis as “because of” in Acts 2:38, in Matt 12:41, or anywhere else in the entire New Testament. This includes even the Holman Christian Standard Bible, published by the Southern Baptists at Lifeway. In fact, the 1973 (original) New International Version (NIV) read: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven."
  • For 1500 years it was accepted among those who believed in Christ that baptism was “for” the forgiveness of sins. It was the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) who first argued that, because salvation is a free gift, God could not require anything from man in order to receive it. Zwingli influenced John Calvin (1509-1564), who spread this new belief throughout the world. However, Scripture does not support Zwingli or Calvin in this matter. For example, Jesus required the man born blind (in John 9) to go to the Pool of Siloam to wash and receive healing. The healing was still a free gift of grace.
  • For many people the “Sinner’s Prayer” serves as an expression of faith which precedes and seeks forgiveness of sins. Those who promote this prayer (which is not found in Scripture) do not believe that it contradicts the fact that salvation is a free gift. What they say about the “Sinner’s Prayer” is what the New Testament teaches about baptism. It is an expression of faith which precedes and seeks forgiveness of sins. It does not achieve; it receives. 
  • While teaching the importance of baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the New Testament clearly distinguishes baptism from human works of merit. Note Tit 3:5, which says, “ … he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit …”
  • Other New Testament passages reinforce the connection between baptism and receiving the forgiveness of sins. Ananias told Saul of Tarsus in Acts 22:16, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
    Repentance and baptism do not earn or achieve salvation. Jesus paid that price in full with His blood. Salvation is by grace through faith. Repentance and baptism, however, by faith receive God’s free gift. Acts 2 exhorts those pricked in the heart to repent and be baptized, not to earn or purchase, but to accept and claim forgiveness. That’s how some 3,000 souls called on the name of the Lord that very day. They were saved, forgiven, and added to their number because they accepted God’s free gift.

    And now … why do you wait?

Cory Collins