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We’re coming to the end of our series Jesus Saves where we’ve been looking at the various conversion accounts recorded in the Book of Acts. We began in Acts 2 after the ascension of Christ when the apostles began carrying out the great commission that Jesus left with them: to go, beginning there in Jerusalem, then, ultimately, into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. We have followed the apostles and other preachers from the first century Church as the gospel has spread from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire and into all the world.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched the message of Christ spread from Philippi and Athens, to Thessalonica and Berea, then to Corinth on Paul’s second missionary journey. Today, we go with Paul on his third missionary journey to the ancient city of Ephesus, where we find a somewhat unusual case: a group of people who had already been baptized but were told by the apostle Paul that they needed to be baptized again. The method of their first baptism was not wrong, so why did Paul instruct them to be baptized a second time?
Acts 19:1-7 “And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.”
The question posed to these disciples is an important question that we should ask of ourselves today as well. Into what were you baptized? Does is make any difference when, how, or why a person is immersed? This case proves that it does, and we’ll explain why in our study today.
Paul had left his friends, Aquila and Priscilla, in Ephesus when he passed through on his second missionary journey. They eventually moved on to Rome. When Paul returns to Ephesus, he finds this group of twelve people whom the Bible calls disciples. That doesn’t mean that these people were yet Christians, for while all Christians are disciples, not all disciples are Christians. The word disciple is a more generic word that simply means learner, implying that these men were learners or followers of some kind of teaching. When Paul meets them, he wants to know who had taught them and what did they know. He is about to find out by asking them this question.
Acts 19:2-3 “he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.””
This gives us some idea about the background of these people. They were disciples of someone, and here we learn that they had been baptized with the baptism of John. This tells us they had heard something about the coming of the Messiah, but they were not aware that the Holy Spirit had come. When they said, We don’t know if there is a Holy Spirit, that doesn’t mean they had never heard of the Holy Spirit or didn’t know that the Holy Spirit existed. If they were familiar at all with any kind of Bible teaching, they would’ve been familiar with the existence of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the marginal reading has them saying, we have not even heard whether the Holy Spirit is given, and I think that better captures the idea here.
You see, when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, He took up His abode with the New Testament church and began working with the Church to reveal and confirm the truth of Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit is synonymous with the coming of the kingdom of Christ and the commencement of Christ’s reign. We’ve pointed that out already in our series of studies. So, what these people were revealing to Paul was that someone had come along and preached the baptism of John to them, and they had been immersed with John’s baptism (not John personally, but someone who was teaching John’s baptism). But in obeying that baptism, they were not aware that Christ had already come, that His reign had since commenced, and His Church had been established. It wasn’t that they were not taught anything about the Messiah. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the Messiah. It was that they were still waiting for Him, not realizing that He had come and that all of these things had already been fulfilled. The fact that they did not know about the coming of the Holy Spirit and His work proved to Paul that they were behind the times, you might say. Their knowledge was incomplete and inadequate. He begins to explain to them.
Acts 19:4-5 “Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
What was the problem with their baptism? Why did they need to be baptized again? Let’s take a moment to consider what John’s baptism was all about. Paul says that it was a baptism of repentance and that John told those whom he baptized that they should believe on the Christ who would come after him. That sums up the mission of John the baptist. John was an unusual, fiery preacher who started preaching in the Judean wilderness before the ministry of Christ began. He went through the country along the Jordan announcing that the long-awaited Christ and His kingdom were at hand and about to come. The problem was that the people were not prepared to receive Christ. Their hearts were in no condition to recognize or follow Christ when He would start His ministry, unfolding and developing His work.
It’s like the field where you are going to plant the seed. Before you plant, you need to get out and prepare the soil or you won’t have much of a crop. You get out and hoe up the garden or plow up the field before planting the seed. You get it ready. Another illustration would be building a road. You go out first and prepare the path, maybe cut down trees, perhaps carve out part of a hillside, fill in the low places and smooth out the high places. Then, when the way is prepared, you can proceed in building the road. That’s what John’s mission was really all about. Isaiah prophesied 600 years before Christ was born that one would come before the Christ and make things ready for Him.
Luke 3:3-6 “And he (Luke) went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
Luke is the one Isaiah was talking about. Notice that John would come to call the people to repentance because the Christ was about to appear. He told the people to turn from their sins and believe on the One who would come after him, Christ Jesus. He then baptized those people in the Jordan River for the remission or forgiveness of their sins.
There was nothing wrong with John’s baptism. It was commissioned by God. He was baptizing by God’s authority. He baptized people with God’s approval and with the approval of Jesus Himself. Though He had no sin Himself, Jesus even submitted to John’s baptism in order to set an example of obedience and fulfill all righteousness. Jesus and His disciples even went about the country preaching and administering John’s baptism for a time (John 3:22). There wasn’t anything wrong with John’s baptism or with how John baptized.
The word baptize is a transliteration of the word baptizo, which means to dip, submerge, or to plunge. In other words, it was an immersion in water. John didn’t sprinkle people with water; he immersed them in water. That’s what the Bible teaches that baptism is—not sprinkling or pouring. That’s why he was preaching near the Jordan River. He didn’t need a cup of water to pour on people. He needed a pool of water to immerse people in, and that’s what he was doing. Not only was John’s baptism correct in how it was being done. It was also correct in that it was predicated on faith and repentance. He told the people to believe on Him who would come after him. He told them to repent, just like the baptism that Jesus later commanded when He gave the great commission. The baptism of John was even for the same purpose, in that it was for the remission or forgiveness of sins.
Luke 3:3 “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,”
Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The same phrase is used when speaking of John’s baptism and the baptism that Jesus commanded, for the forgiveness of sins. The difference is that when John’s baptism was being preached and scripturally performed, Christ had not yet died for the remission of sins. So, the people who were being baptized by John were being forgiven, but on the basis of Christ’s death which had not yet taken place. You might say they were being forgiven prospectively, much like the forgiveness that people received upon the sacrifice of animals under the old law. That forgiveness was predicated on the death of Jesus which would later take place. It looked forward to the cross. John’s commission was limited to the short period of time immediately before the coming of the Christ and into the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He came before Christ preaching a message of baptism that pointed forward to the Christ. But remember what John himself said as Jesus came on the scene.
John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
In other words, as Jesus began His ministry, John’s ministry was winding down. It fulfilled its purpose and Christ took over and began preaching His own message and kingdom after God anointed Him at His baptism as the Christ the Messiah. When Jesus died on the cross and established His long-awaited kingdom on the Day of Pentecost, there was certainly no remaining purpose for John’s baptism. It had fulfilled its purpose. It was good for its time, but its purpose was now fulfilled and through. When Jesus died and then was resurrected, before going back to Glory, He told His disciples this:
Mark 16:15-16 “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.””
Not that Jesus was coming, but that He HAD come. Not that there was the forgiveness of sins that was about to be made available, but that the forgiveness of sins IS NOW a finished reality. Jesus was no longer commanding people to be baptized with the baptism of John, which pointed forward to the Christ. He was now commanding His own baptism—same in form, same in purpose, but which looks back to the Christ, who had already come.
So, what’s going on here in Acts 19? Remember how we met Aquila and Priscilla in our study last week, that wonderful Christian couple who went together teaching people the truth. Acts 18 ends by telling us this:
Acts 18:24-25 “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.”
It wasn’t that he was branching out and teaching some foreign doctrine that he originated that was contrary to what the scriptures said and what the truth was. The problem was that his knowledge was inadequate. This man was behind. He was going about several years after Christ had come, died on the cross, resurrected, gave the great commission, went back to Heaven, and took up His kingdom reign. This man was–still in ignorance–going about preaching John’s baptism, which had expired several years before.
Again, it wasn’t that the baptism was wrong in and of itself. Get this now: it was motivated by the desire to obey God, it was preceded by a belief in the Messiah and repentance, it was for the forgiveness of sins. But the passing of time had made that baptism no longer relevant to people. By this time, people should be learning that Christ had already come, had died for the sins of the world, had raised, now reigns, and His Church/His kingdom now exists. Upon that knowledge, Apollos should’ve been urging people to obey the baptism that Christ commanded when He gave the great commission before returning to Heaven. That baptism is still in effect, and it is commanded of all people who would place their faith in Christ and repent of their sins and who wish to enter into His now existing kingdom. So, if Apollos was going about preaching this in error, perhaps others were, too. Somewhere along the way, these twelve men at Ephesus had learned from somebody that they needed to be baptized by John’s baptism. That simply wasn’t right at the time they were given that instruction.
I don’t know of anybody going about the country preaching the baptism of John today, but I do know of many people who don’t understand what the new covenant teaches about baptism. Most preachers and most churches today, frankly, have abandoned the views held and practiced by the first-century church concerning baptism, which was that baptism is the point at which one is saved and enters the kingdom. Men today have long since redefined it as instead being a symbolic gesture, a church ordinance that new Christians should obey in order to outwardly demonstrate an inward grace already received. But that’s not what the New Testament writers teach about baptism. Maybe some denominational creeds teach that, but not the New Testament. Peter taught that baptism is for the remission of sins.
Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Ananias taught that it is the point at which our sins are washed away, and it is how we call upon the name of the Lord.
Acts 22:16 “’And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’”
Paul taught that baptism is the step where we enter into Christ and the point of obedience where we die to sin and arise from that watery grave to walk in newness of life.
Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Romans 6:3-5 “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,”
It is the point where, by the power of Christ, we are made free from sin.
Romans 6:17-18 “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
It is the dividing line of salvation, the point of deliverance from the perishing world. It is the way we appeal to God for a clean conscience through the resurrection of Christ.
1 Peter 3:20-21 “who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
Baptism adds us to the Church, the body of Christ.
Acts 2:41 “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”
1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
You see, that’s not what most churches today are teaching about baptism. If someone said that you were saved before being baptized or without being baptized, the simple fact is they are teaching the creeds of men and not the truth taught by Christ and the apostles. Have you asked yourself, into what then was I baptized? Was your baptism for the purpose outlined in the New Testament or was it a baptism conceived and taught by men?
Many have also changed the very design of baptism. Instead of baptizing people as Christ commanded, which means to submerge or plunge, in the likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection, they instead sprinkle or pour water over one’s head. The Bible never indicates that such was practiced for baptism; rather, it was a burial or immersion. Were you sprinkled? Was your baptism scriptural? That’s an important question that you shouldn’t shrug off or take for granted, friend.
Then, some have changed the scope of baptism. The Bible shows that baptism is always preceded by belief and repentance. Babies and small children can’t do that. They don’t yet have the mental capacity to understand anything about that. Yet many religious organizations sprinkle infants. They pour water over babies and claim to be baptizing them. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved…” He said that one is to be taught about Christ before being baptized (Matthew 28:19). Were you sprinkled as a baby or a young child? That’s not Bible baptism, but a doctrine of man. So, we ask today, with the apostle Paul, into what were you baptized? Because it makes a difference how, when, and why.
Finally, the record tells us that after these twelve were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, Paul laid hands on them.
Acts 19:5-6 “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
This takes us back to something we learned several weeks ago in our study of Acts 8 and the conversion of Simon and the other people of Samaria. Remember, the apostles had to come to Samaria after their conversion to impart miraculous gifts of the Spirit to those new believers to equip and ground them in the absence of the completed revelation of the New Testament, like we now have. Here, we see that happen again. Paul was an apostle—just like Peter and John were—and these people in Acts 19 received these miraculous powers, these gifts of the Spirit, by the laying on of Paul the apostles’ hands. That’s why miraculous gifts do not exist in the Church today: the apostles are no longer with us and those gifts have fulfilled their divine purpose with the passing of the apostolic era.
This brings us to the conclusion of our series of the conversion in the Book of Acts. I hope you’ve seen the pattern that is repeated over and over again, which is this: regardless of the individual circumstances leading up to people hearing the gospel, there were some things that always took place. Those things must take place today for people to be saved by Christ and added to His Church. In every case, every person heard the gospel preached. They believed the gospel when they heard it. They repented of their sins; that is, they turned away from their sins and turned to Christ for salvation. They were immediately baptized or immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins.
That’s the Bible pattern. That’s how Christ saves today. Regardless of where you may be on the road of life, I want you to know that Jesus saves. He is interested in your soul and He wants you to be saved. He has moved Heaven and earth, working in cooperative concert with all of Heaven in order to make it possible for you to be saved. We want you to be saved. We offer to you today the same gospel message that was preached all throughout the Book of Acts. Now, it’s up to you. If you’ve never obeyed these steps, you need to. You need to set about to do it today, and we’re praying that you will.
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The year 2020 brought disappointments, difficulties, and sorrows to many lives. We would like to see the new year as a time to turn the page and anticipate better days. Though we pray that this will be, we do not know what lies before us in 2021. The book of Joshua tells of the time when the Children of Israel came to the River Jordan to cross over and possess the Promised Land. How would they cross the flood-swollen waters and where would they go if and when they entered? Canaan was a strange and unfamiliar place filled with fortified cities and formidable foes. The people were instructed to follow behind the Ark of the Covenant and God would lead the way and protect them. As we stand at the threshold of a new year, we are, for better or for worse, preparing to leave behind the desert of the past with its failures, disappointments, and shortcomings and enter the future with its promises but also its uncertainties. As the Lord told the people long ago: “You have not passed this way before” and it would be foolish to brave this unknown territory without Jehovah as our guide. In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we are reminded of some important resolutions that we should make as we “cross over.”
As we come to the end of the series ‘Jesus Saves’ where we have studied the specific conversion accounts in the book of Acts, we now come to the city of Ephesus. The apostle Paul encountered a group of disciples who had to be baptized a second time. Why was this necessary? In today’s broadcast, we learn why their first immersion was inadequate and we pose the same question Paul asked them: Into what were you baptized? Find out why it makes a difference how, why, and when we are immersed.
Our series on conversions in the Book of Acts brings us to Acts 18 to a new city with new challenges for the apostle Paul. So far, we’ve seen the conversion of many types of people: devout Jews on the Day of Pentecost, people duped by false miracle workers in Samaria, a bloodthirsty leader of the Pharisees, an honest and pious Gentile, a wealthy business woman, and a blue-collar jail guard in the city of Philippi. Today in our study, Paul takes on what most preachers would see as a great challenge: establishing a church in the wicked, pagan city of Corinth.
Corinth was an important city in Greece in the first century. Its very name was associated with rampant immorality. Its people worshipped the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, where immorality was committed in the very temple itself. It is said that there were some 1,000 prostitutes in the temple in Corinth. Nearly every sin one can imagine was common in Corinth and as I said, many preachers might shrink from even going to such a place, thinking that the gospel could never take hold in such a city. But we should learn an important lesson about the power of the gospel. We tend to focus our efforts in places where people are at least somewhat moral and religious. But Paul dared to go to some of the most vile and wicked places on earth to preach repentance and the saving message of Jesus Christ.
We should take heart and be challenged today as we look at our present world. It’s very easy for preachers and other Christians today to despair at the moral condition of the world and think that the gospel can have little success in such an age. But perhaps it’s an even greater opportunity than it is a challenge. Our wicked world today needs the gospel of Christ as badly as the ancient city of Corinth did and Paul went there. He persevered, he preached, and he won people to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We’ll spend our time today in Acts 18, but I want to begin with a passage in Paul’s first letter that he sent back to Corinth sometime later. Paul had a successful work for about two years, and he left a growing church behind, but that church would face challenges, as you might imagine, coming from the background they came from. Paul would have to write and correct a number of problems and errors that arose. He writes these words of warning and reminder to them.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
Paul’s list of sins indicates that the Corinthians were living in a very evil environment. It’s easy to see why the church struggled with sin, but the gospel is a powerful thing. It made holy people out of those whose lives had been steeped in sin and wickedness. Today, the gospel can do the same thing for you, no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. We’ll look at the conversion of the Corinthians in our series Jesus Saves today.
As we’ve studied through the Book of Acts, since the Day of Pentecost, we have seen the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the first-century world. It is now spreading throughout the Roman Empire. We’ve seen the words of Jesus spoken to His apostles in Acts 1:8 fulfilled as the gospel has been preached first beginning in Jerusalem, then throughout Judea, on to Samaria, and now the church is spreading to the uttermost parts of the earth. As the gospel continues its invasion of the Roman Empire, Paul and his traveling companions are encountering the pagan world of idolatry and immorality, but nothing thus far surpasses the moral depravity they would encounter in the city of Corinth.
When we left Paul last week, he was in the city of Philippi where a wonderful church was established. But he had to leave that city eventually, going on to Thessalonica and Berea and meeting resistance from the leaders of those cities. So, leaving Silas and Timothy behind, he goes alone to the city of Athens where he preaches his famous sermon on the Areopagus on Mars Hill. All along the way, the Bible tells us that some believed Paul as he preached and indicates that they became converts from Paul’s preaching. As we saw last week, the term believe means much more than just mere mental assent or trust. It envelops all of the steps of obedience that are outlined in the gospel. In other words, when people believed, they acted upon the teachings of the gospel in obeying its conditions, such as repentance, being willing to confess the Christ, and being baptized in obedience to Christ’s command. This is, after all, what Jesus said in the great commission.
Mark 16:15-16 “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.””
So, belief in the gospel includes obedience to the gospel. We can have every confidence when the Bible says these people from place to place and city to city believed, it means they embraced the gospel. They obeyed its teaching, including being immersed for the remission of their sins. That’s the pattern that we’ve seen over and over again in our studies over the past several weeks. We’ll see this idea of belief and baptism being inextricably joined play out again in our study today as we follow Paul to the city of Corinth.
Paul was a tentmaker by trade and when he left Berea and came to Corinth, he met a wonderful couple there who were already believers in Christ. A man named Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. They, too, were tentmakers and their shared vocation brought Paul and this couple together. In fact, Paul was invited to stay with them for a time and a great friendship and fellowship in the gospel came about. This godly couple were not only dear to Paul personally through the years, they were nearly indispensable in the work of the early church, in Paul’s ministry, and the spread of the gospel throughout Europe.
So, Paul made his home with this couple while working in Corinth. Of course, his objective in that city was not to advance his tentmaking career, but to preach the gospel. He continued to do just that even while working with his hands. I’ve known many a preacher who had to labor in some secular career in order to provide for himself and his family, doing so in order that he could be able to preach. By the way, any preacher who isn’t willing to do that, who thinks he’s above work, who’s not willing to go to work when the need arises to provide for himself—that man isn’t worth much to the cause of Christ.
The Bible teaches that the church is to support those who labor in the gospel. But, on this occasion, Paul found it best to rely on his tentmaking trade to allow him to stay there and to spread the gospel in that city. Paul would work through the week making tents, but the record says that when the Sabbath day came, he went to the local synagogue because he would find Jews there with whom he could discuss and reason about the scriptures and preach Christ to them. That was his strategy throughout his journeys. That’s generally where Paul first went in a city, not because he was trying to perpetuate the Jewish customs and observe Jewish law, for as a Christian he was free from that. It was because he could find people familiar enough with the scriptures to reason with them about Christ. If he could first convert some of them to Christ, they gave him a base or a nucleus from which he could reach out and continue to spread the gospel to that city, including the Gentile people. That’s what he did here.
Acts 18:4 “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.”
Now, the events that followed resulted in an unusual thing. That is, the conversion of the very ruler of that synagogue to Christ. Usually when Paul encountered the Jewish leaders, he met some opposition, and this is no exception. The hierarchy of power, the Jewish religion, not only resisted Jesus Himself, they also resisted the preaching of the apostles. The Bible says that when Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, they opposed him and blasphemed.
Acts 18:5-7 “When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.”
Here, Paul found an open ear in Justus, and he was allowed to use his house to teach people about Christ. Notice what happens.
Acts 18:8 “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.”
Like the jailer, we learned about last week, and like Cornelius in Acts 10, Crispus and his household believed on the Lord. But then it says that many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized. Remember that in every case of conversion where we’re given any details, each and every case ended with the person who accepted the gospel being immediately baptized. That’s because the early church was operating under the commission. I go back to that again–the commission that Jesus gave to them, which is the same commission we are to follow today as well since we’ve never received another one. That commission said to Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). Every creature in Jerusalem, every creature in Samaria, every creature throughout the Roman Empire, including right here in the city of Corinth. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). That’s exactly what we’ve seen happening time and again since the first sermon was preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
Here, we come to a specific case where the Bible says that Crispus and his household believed on the Lord, then goes on to say of many other Corinthians that they heard, believed, and were baptized. So, why does it merely say that Crispus believed and that others went ahead and were baptized? Does that signal to us that baptism is not essential and is therefore relatively unimportant? Was there some reason why Crispus did not see the need to be baptized? Well, we actually know beyond the shadow of any doubt that Crispus WAS baptized just like all of the others. How do we know that? Because when Paul later wrote back to this church when it was dealing with some internal trouble, he plainly recalls the beginning of that church.
1 Corinthians 1:14 “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,”
You see, Crispus WAS baptized by Paul himself, doubtlessly when Paul preached to him at the house of Justus and when he believed. So, again, we have yet another case which proves the gospel order that always took place. I want to emphasize this, it always took place when the gospel was preached and received. They first heard the gospel. Every person who is saved must first hear the gospel.
Romans 10:17 “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
We’re not saved by visions, dreams, feelings, Holy Ghost experiences, or any other kind of experience. People are only saved when they hear the gospel. There are no exceptions to that. No one can be saved without hearing the gospel. Then the Bible says they believed the gospel. And upon believing the gospel, they were immediately baptized for the remission or forgiveness of their sins. That’s the way the gospel works to save people from their sins still today. Anybody who claims to be preaching and sharing the gospel of Christ and does not include all of those steps—friend, they are not preaching the gospel. They’re only preaching part of the gospel if they’re preaching any of it at all. That should concern us.
You might ask, why then did Paul say that he thanked God that he baptized only a few of them?
1 Corinthians 1:17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”
Some will try to use this verse to say that Paul is showing that baptism has nothing to do with the gospel but is just a church ceremony that has nothing to do with being saved. But is that what Paul is teaching? Is he teaching that baptism is not a part of gospel obedience, of coming into Christ and having sins forgiven? No, not at all. Look at verse 14.
1 Corinthians 1:14-15 “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name.”
You see, Paul was not minimizing baptism and its importance, nor was he suggesting that baptism is not included in the commands of the gospel plan of salvation. He was saying I’m glad that I was not the one who baptized you, lest you should think I baptized in my own name. By the time Paul wrote back to this established congregation, a number of problems had emerged. One of which was prideful and petty attitudes and behavior among the members. The Corinthian church was wont to boast and compare themselves with each other. That’s how they treated spiritual gifts as we read later in this epistle. Paul is saying here that he wanted no part in someone boasting over the fact that Paul, the great apostle, had baptized them with his own hands. That doesn’t mean they weren’t baptized, nor does it mean that their baptism was not essential or was unimportant. It was simply that Paul was relieved that he, personally, had not baptized them so they could not stake their claim on Paul’s name, reputation, fame, or importance in the scheme of things.
Remember, according to Acts 18, by the time Paul had converted Crispus and the others at the house of Justus, Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia and joined him there in Corinth, and I assume that he left that duty to those men or even some of the new converts such as Crispus himself after he became a Christian. You see, it’s not important who the man is that baptizes a person into Christ. What is important is the heart and mind of the one being baptized. Sometimes even today when missionaries or evangelists go to a foreign country to preach the gospel and establish churches, they will often wisely choose to have the local preachers of that native land do the baptizing, lest someone think they’re special or set apart from everybody else because they were baptized by a foreign preacher, thinking that that man is notable or perhaps more significant. That’s all Paul is saying here in this passage. And when he said Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel, he wasn’t saying that being baptized has nothing to do with the gospel or with salvation. He was simply showing that baptism is the result of people hearing and believing the gospel, and he came there as an inspired apostle to preach that gospel to them, and that it did not matter who the individual was who performed the act of baptism.
Paul faced a number of challenges in Corinth. All of these people obey the gospel and a church is established. Paul endured some hardships and difficulties there; so much so that he was tempted to leave, but God assured him that He wanted him to remain there. So, Paul stayed for another year and a half to build up the church in that city. A church was born and a church remained that would face many struggles of its own, just as any church will face. But it was still a Church of the Lord Jesus nonetheless. It was a church that was striving to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ who had its problems that Paul had to write back and address. In fact, he very sternly addressed those problems. He wrote them in such a stern tone that he threatened that when he came to them, it would not be a pleasant meeting if they didn’t get those difficulties and issues straightened out in the congregation. But Paul loved them as his brethren and treated them as a Church of the Lord Jesus.
The city of Corinth was a notoriously wicked and immoral city. In fact, the name of the city itself is synonymous with immoral behavior. That bustling and prosperous city was rank with every kind of sinful and immoral behavior and lifestyle that you can imagine. As I earlier said, the very temple itself had numerous—maybe up to 1,000—prostitutes and immorality was a part of their pagan worship. Paul lists the various types of sins that were going on in the city of Corinth.
1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Why did he ask that rhetorical question? Because they were letting sin slip into their lives. In chapter 5, he talks about a man who was living in an incestuous relationship. He had his father’s wife. It was so bad that it wasn’t even a sin that the Gentiles accepted as a rule, but here’s this man living in this unspeakable way of life. Paul reminds them that they need to know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. You can’t live in sin and immorality and be saved. We need to know that today as well. Paul says that in no uncertain terms. That is his picture of life in the ancient city of Corinth.
It’s also a picture of life in America and much of the world today. But, you know, we should realize that the world is really no more wicked and sinful today than it was 2,000 years ago. There isn’t anything that we encounter today that Paul didn’t encounter in places like Corinth back in the first century. Today, it’s thrown into our living rooms through television and media. We’re so connected around the world that we’re aware of what goes on all around the world at any given time. But the fact is, sin existed in the world 2,000 years ago—since the dawn of time when Adam sinned and introduced sin into the world—and this world continues to lie in sin and wickedness.
Paul confronted religious sin, sexual sin, every kind of sin under the sun throughout the ancient world, especially throughout the Roman world. It was a fierce, dark, and ungodly world in which to live. Many a preacher and many a Christian would approach a city of Corinth today saying, there’s no hope for that crowd. I don’t want to go there and preach. The church will never amount to anything in a place like that. We’re wasting our time preaching in a city such as Corinth. I think the Church—especially in America—is guilty of sitting back and wringing its hands and thinking, well, the glory days of the gospel are past. What good is it to preach and evangelize? We might as well just try ot keep the lights burning in the church house for Jesus until He comes again to rescue the faithful few.
But that wasn’t Paul’s attitude. Paul rose to the challenge. Paul believed in the power of the gospel. He rolled up his sleeves and took the gospel to those people who were living in sin and evil and immorality, believing that the gospel could change lives. I believe that today or I wouldn’t be sitting here preaching on this television program week after week. I believe it can change my life, your life, any life. Regardless of what your life now is, the gospel can change you. Christ has the power to change you. For Paul not only lists the sins that were prevalent in the city of Corinth. He says to the church there, listen now:
1 Corinthians 6:11 “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
Were what? Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners—such were some of you, BUT you were washed. Washed by the blood of Jesus in the waters of baptism. But you were sanctified. That means set apart, made holy, freed from that life to live a new and a changed and holy life. He can do that for you. But you were justified. Declared righteous as though you had never sinned through the blood of Jesus Christ. Washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
My friend, if that could happen for them, it can happen for you. There is no sin too deep or too bad for the blood of Christ to reach. No sin too powerful for the gospel to break its chains. If God could make new creations out of those people in Corinth, He can make a new creation out of you, and no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you can be a new creature in Christ.
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