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Outward Sign, Inward Reality

During my conversion to paedobaptism, I grew fairly cynical about the definition that I had always heard of baptism while I was growing up: "Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality." Of course, this definition was meant, in part, to discount the possibility of infant baptism, since it requires conversion (the inward reality) before receiving baptism (the outward sign). So, the more I came to believe in infant baptism, the more I thought I needed to jettison completely the definition of baptism that I had known all my life.

As I have reflected, though, I now see that definition as further confirmation of the validity of infant baptism. Consider how circumcision is spoken of in Scripture:

12"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deut 10:12-16)

4Circumcise yourselves to the LORD;
    remove the foreskin of your hearts,
    O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
    and burn with none to quench it,
    because of the evil of your deeds." (Jer 4:4)
The Old Testament speaks of circumcision as more than simply an ethnic, physical ritual--it was a physical act that was intended to speak to a spiritual reality (i.e., physical circumcision pointed to heart circumcision), yet it had always been applied to infants! Therefore, the New Testament passages about baptism--where the physical act of baptism is generally linked to spiritual regeneration--are not proof of a prerequisite of spiritual regeneration in order to be baptized. If the first (Jewish) readers had been accustomed to thinking of their physical act of circumcision as having spiritual overtones, why would they suddenly consider the spiritual meaning of baptism to demand the exclusion of their infants?

All this said, I do not quite consider the definition of "outward sign, inward reality" to suffice for baptism. This post has been more of an apology to baptists for paedobaptism than an attempt to force my new wine into my old wineskins. Any definition of baptism must fully explore its meaning as a sacrament and its being a "sign and a seal" of our new covenant in Christ Jesus, so that the baptist definition is incomplete, but not completely wrong. What I believe to be the fuller definition of baptism, however, is another post for another day.

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Is it possible that circumcision is an outward sign of divine election? He has chosen, therefore perform this permanent sign. Further, each and every time a man uses said instrument, he is reminded that he and his progeny are "chosen" - use it accordingly! We belong to God by His choice, we deny and forsake that belonging by our disobedience. Baptism is similarly a public sign that we belong to God - it demands holy living.

I think that is a very helpful definition, but also one that we want to be careful with. The Presbyteer just wrote a post that draws an important distinction between the theological terms of the Elect (those whom God has purposed to save to the uttermost) and the elect (roughly, all of ethnic Israel in the Old Testament, and all of the Church today--both those who lived faithfully and those who apostasized).

So, yes, circumcision (and baptism, for that matter) is a sign of God's choice over our lives; however, some of God's chosen people apostasize, and some persevere until the end to be saved. What is the difference among the two people? It certainly isn't some innate spiritual goodness or ability in the lives of those who persevere (and vice versa for the others). Rather, the difference lies in whether or not the person who is circumcised/baptized has a spiritual reality that corresponds to the sign that they have received.

That, of course, is something that is accomplished by the will of God and worked out in our lives through faith. Just because God has chosen someone (in the broader, covenantal, community sense) doesn't mean that God won't reject that person because of a lack of faith (Rom. 11:17-24). And, just to be clear, I don't think that this means that people can lose their salvation, because I firmly believe in the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints; rather, I simply mean that some people, who have some kind of faith (but not the true, saving, regenerating kind of faith) will be the ones who will fall away.

In the end, though, what you said is correct--our baptism, as Christians demands holy (i.e., faith-full) living, something that only the Holy Spirit's work in us (our spiritual baptism!) can accomplish.

Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Who are those who have tasted and then fallen away?

Maybe you would prefer providence to election.

IN any case, whether baptism or circumcision, God is the one acting to preserve his name and his glory. It is for his benefit that he elects, or chooses and the fleshly marks are simply signs of identification. YOU ARE MINE, BY MY CHOICE - infancy, why not?

Of at least so it seems to this lonely journeyman.

I talked about those verses here, but the short answer is that those verses refer to covenant members who are unregenerate, unelect (in the personal, individual sense), and therefore fall away eventually, even if they profess faith at some point.

But don't forget the Israelites--whom God chose in a covenantal, community way--who profaned God through idolatry. That didn't change their election; Paul says that "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29). The Jews will always be God's chosen people corporately, but only the remnant within Israel are chosen in an individual sense to be ultimately saved. As God's chosen people, they have the greater privilege; however, those who are not individually chosen will incur stricter judgment, because they had greater responsibility (the flip-side of greater privilege). Does that make sense?

I can get lost in so much density of thought.

Hebrews seems to say that there are those who have actually participated in redemption - yet have fallen away. It does not sound like elected but unregenerate. It says that they cannot be restored again, or a second time. It seems in Ch 6 and 10 of Hebrews that those who later desecrate (defecate on/in the shed blood through repeated and deliberate disobedience) the blood of the Son, loose what they once had - that is participation in communion with the Holy Spirit, the goodness of the Word, divine enlightenment and the heavenly gift. It seems less complicated than I hear you making it.

When God redeems one's self, calls him unto himself, don't you dare test Him. He owes me nothing, He is not in debted to me, and I cannot redefine good (tob Hebrew) and expect to remain in His goodness.

I have agonized in Hebrews ... contradicts so much of what I learned in Sunday School.

Thanks for adding to my thoughts, kindly. These thoughts are past my learning.

Well, I suppose our difference is that I believe that the Bible elsewhere teaches the doctrine called "the perseverance of the saints." In other words, I believe that those who are actually saved will persevere until the end. I believe that God is the one who saves--from first to last--and therefore there is nothing that can separate us (i.e., those whom Christ individually calls to himself) from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:28-39). This means that even my own rebellion--if I have truly been called to become a child of God--cannot stand in the way of God's glorious love.

However, that does not mean that we view our salvation as nothing more than a "Get out of Hell free" card to be tucked away in our back pocket, never to be used again until death. Indeed, that kind of a lifestyle could be evidence to the fact that such a person has never actually been saved at all. Instead, when we are saved, God begins to change our lives--we bear fruit as we begin to abide in Jesus, the vine.

So, salvation isn't something where God gives us a probationary "second chance," seeing whether we will really live up to his standards this time around. Rather, God calls us to himself; through his Holy Spirit, God brings us to a saving faith; by the blood of Jesus, he declares us not guilty in his sight; throughout our lives, the work of Jesus on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit cause us to grow in faith and grace, even though we will sin along the way; one day, our hope is that God will resurrect us and glorify our bodies to live without sin in perfect relationship to him as heirs along with Jesus forever. From first to last, our salvation is God's. Of course he owes us nothing--he never did, and he never will. My point is that he, of his own free grace and choice, binds himself in a covenant to us to see us through. It is one of the Bible's most precious promises that Paul is able to exclaim: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ"(Phil. 1:6).

So, these people in Hebrews weren't God's mistakes--rather, they were never genuinely called and never put genuine faith in Christ for their salvation. They are still considered covenant members, but we would have to discount much of what the Bible says elsewhere if we are to say that these are people who were once saved and now aren't. There must be a third category between those who are genuinely saved and those who never make any pretense whatsoever about being Christians: just as there were apostate Israelites in the Old Testament (God's covenant people who nevertheless rejected God), there are covenant members in the New Testament who have not been genuinely saved by grace through faith, and will be judged to a stricter standard.

I am willing to listen and think, but I am not able to see Phil 1 in the light that you cast it, probably has nothing to do with one's personal salvation, but rather the spread of the gospel.

I have to accept Heb to say that some who taste and know will not be restored AGAIN. Even if it causes me trouble in understanding.

From the specific context of Phil. 1:6, I suppose that I can see how you might think that Paul is talking about spreading the gospel (from v. 5: "because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now..."); however, I don't think that really does justice to the verse itself. Furthermore, I think that, in context, Paul is doing something a little different than merely talking about the spread of the gospel.

My main objection to interpreting it the way you suggest would be: In what way does the spread of the gospel to others have to do with how God is going to be faithful to complete his work in them? Paul seems quite specifically to be expressing his confidence that God's work would prevail in their lives.

Furthermore, the verses after v. 6 go on to speak of Paul's ultimate hope for the Philippian believers themselves, giving further support to the idea that Paul's intention had to do with their personal salvation than with the spread of the gospel to others.: "9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:9-11).

As a whole, I think Paul is (1) thankful for the work that God is doing in their lives; and (2) thankful for the work that God is doing through their lives. He goes back and forth between these two themes, but I firmly believe that they are both there.

Is that helpful, or have I misunderstood what you were saying about Phil 1:6?

What I am resisting here is some sense of debt of God's behalf - owed to me personally. Since God has started his work - I can resist it through wanton disobedience - and yet God is obligated to take me into the family/or keep me in the family? This is what I think Phil is NOT saying.

The furtherance of the Gospel is guaranteed - He will complete that work - with or without me.

Makes sense of Deut 28, Prov 9 (in context, Heb 6,7,10. But, it does produce fear in me, as per 1 Pet 2.

I apologize for the two typos in the previous comments:

"... debt on God's behalf ..."

and the incomplete parentheses, should finish after "context" in the last sentence.

My bad - modern for "I am sorry".

Let's try this from another direction...

I would absolutely agree with you that God never has and never will owe us anything. Further, I do not think that God "owes" us anything after we have come to faith.

What I am arguing for, then, is a sense that God makes promises to us, promises that he will absolutely keep. If you think in the Old Testament, God made certain promises to Abraham and to David that God ultimately kept, regardless of the "wanton" disobedience on the part of their descendants. That was the grace of God rather than a picture of how the Israelites held onto their election through their own merit.

A promise, then, would not be some obligation outside of God that forces him to come to our aid, but an obligation that God puts on himself to save us. That's the gospel, my friend! God's sovereign grace descending upon those who are his enemies, with the goal of overcoming those enemies' stubbornness and hardheartedness to bring them to utter dependence upon him.

That said, I still don't quite understand what makes you to understand "a good work in you" to refer to the spread of the gospel, which would be a work that God would do in others. Could you help me to understand what in the text makes you think that?

By the way, I do not disagree with this statement: "The furtherance of the Gospel is guaranteed - He will complete that work - with or without me." I just don't think that is at all what Phil. 1:6 teaches, and I think that there is an important counter-principle that is also true: namely, God, in his grace, chooses to break some stubborn individuals (out of a humanity that is completely full of stubborn individuals) from their sin in order to accomplish his purposes. I don't have any right to demand to be used by God, but God certainly has the right to demand to use me.

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