Tag Archives: Stephen Hughes

The Lessons of Grace — Stephen Hughes

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  This is a common passage often used to prove that Christians are saved “by grace alone through faith alone.” Grace, however, does not mysteriously come down from heaven to save people. Grace primarily took the form of Christ dying on the cross for us. Secondarily, but just as importantly, grace also took the form of the Holy Spirit teaching us through His word. Without it, we would not know about Christ’s amazing sacrifice, let alone what we must do to be saved.

True faith must include obedience on our part, and true grace must include teaching on God’s. God taught Noah to build the ark to save his family, He taught the children of Israel the Mosaic Law to lead them to Christ, and He taught all peoples today the gospel. In his letter to Titus, Paul wrote about “the grace of God that brings salvation [and] has appeared to all men” (Tit. 2:11). He continued to write about what this grace teaches us: how we ought to live and the reason we as Christians ought to live this way.

How We Ought To Live

In the next verse, Paul explains that grace is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:12). Since grace is not mysteriously bestowed upon us, it gives us instructions to follow; since faith necessarily includes obedience, it is our duty not only to believe in that grace, but also to obey it. Paul wrote in another letter, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Grace is exceedingly abundant, but it is also precious because it was bought at a price. If we continue in sin, we are treating the sacrifice of Christ on the cross with contempt, and we should not expect a reward when we leave this earth.

There are two things mentioned that we must deny and three we are to embrace. We must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. These two things are really all-encompassing terms that refer to sin. The Greek word for “ungodliness” is a combination of a negative and the root word meaning “to revere; to worship.” This is a complete lack of piety, reverence, and worship toward God, and it is something that grace teaches us to deny.

Along with ungodliness, we also ought to deny worldly lusts. John described the three major categories of sin, “all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Lust is defined as an unlawful desire. The Bible uses the same Greek word to express covetousness, lust, and desire, while in English, we tend to think of these things separately. All desire is not sinful (cf. Luke 22:15), but recall that “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (James 1:14-15).  While desire is not always sinful, we ought to be vigilant to keep it from turning into lust — this is always sinful.  Such things ought to be denied; succumbing to these lusts brings forth death, just as grace teaches us.

Conversely, Paul offers three things that we ought to exhibit: to live soberly, righteously, and godly. There are two families of Greek words that are translated as “sober” in the New Testament, and sometimes both are found in a particular verse. Paul used both in his epistle to Titus, but used only one of them frequently. This Greek word is a combination of two others and literally means “to save the mind.” Paul exhorts Christians of every demographic with this word (Tit. 2:1-8) which culminates later in the chapter when it becomes something that graces teaches to all men (Tit. 2:11-12). The opposite of this would be doing anything that would lead one’s mind to be compromised in any way. This includes abusing alcohol and drugs, both prescription and recreational, but it can also include being “drunk on love”—which is really being carried away by one’s own sexual lusts.

If we remain sober, living righteously and godly becomes much easier. If one is righteous, then he will be innocent, holy, and just. To live godly is to be pious and reverent toward God. We are called to live in this way, and grace teaches us to avoid things that would cause us to neglect righteousness and godliness in this present age.

Christ Will Return

After Paul discusses what grace teaches us to do, he tells Titus that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). This is our motivation to live soberly, righteously, and godly. When Paul was soon to be martyred, he stated that “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The crown of righteousness is waiting for us in heaven if we are looking forward to Jesus’ return. This is our blessed hope, but if we are in sin, we have no reason to look forward to His return—it would mean our doom.

Our only hope is to be “faithful until death, and [He] will give [us] the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The Christians in Smyrna to whom this was written were persecuted and were most certainly looking forward to Christ’s return, since it would mean the end of their persecution. They would have then received a crown of life, a synonym for the crown of righteousness. This is symbolic of the riches and rewards of heaven. Grace teaches us of Christ’s return and the rewards that would follow the faithful.

The author of Hebrews writes of the alternative. “For if we sin willfully after we have received a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27). While those who love Christ’s appearing and abide by the lessons of grace will receive the crown of righteousness, those who ignore these lessons have sinned willfully and should expect judgment with fear.

The Hebrews author continues, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy …. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28-29). God views those who have obeyed the gospel but have fallen away as if they have walked all over His dear Son, not recognizing the extraordinary price that He paid for their sins to be forgiven. Not only this, but they have insulted the Spirit of grace, that same grace that teaches us how to live in this present age. Grace will not save if it has been insulted in this manner.

It gets worse for those who fall away. “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30-31). Not only will the Lord take “vengeance on those who know not God, and who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8), but also on those who have known Him and have turned away. We do not want to find ourselves in that position on Judgment Day.

Conclusion

Recall Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9, and let us consider the following verse: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As Paul wrote about the relationship between grace and faith leading to salvation, he also wrote about the good works that we were created to do. He continues this theme in his letter to Titus, saying that Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14). Let us always utilize the lessons that grace has taught us concerning how to live this way.  Let us be eager to obey the Spirit of grace and be zealous for the good works that He created us to do. 

Stephen is the Associate Minister at the Seven Hills Church of Christ in Lynchburg, VA.

 

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The Ultimate Friendship — Stephen Hughes

Throughout my life I have had many friendships. There are people I knew at school and at work, those who lived near me, and especially those with whom I attended worship. Some of them I have cared about a great deal, but most of them were only acquaintances. With all of these friends and acquaintances, I have had very few relationships quite like the one that existed between David and Jonathan.

There are many lessons one can learn from the genuine friendship that existed between these two men. Such friendships are important in part because of the help that they can provide in times of trouble (Eccl. 4:9-12). First, let us consider how one ought to choose his friends, then let us look at how we should act when troubles come from within and also from without.

Be Selective

When Jonathan and David first became friends, David had just slain the giant, Goliath. Jonathan must have been amazed at David’s bravery and his faithfulness to God. “Now when [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1). Prior to this, David had been appointed the court musician to soothe King Saul’s troubled spirit (1 Sam. 16:23). Jonathan and David had likely met before since Jonathan was Saul’s son. Perhaps Jonathan had even heard David play the harp. He was most certainly a talented musician who would go on to write the majority of the Psalms. It was not until now, after the giant was slain, that these two men became fast friends.

Jonathan must have been very selective when it came to selecting his friends. This is a good practice, as Solomon wrote, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov. 12:26). Jonathan saw godly traits within David when he slew Goliath. He was a young man facing a heavily armored giant with nothing but a sling and a few stones. It was clear to everyone, especially Jonathan, that God was with David. Jonathan was likely aware that God was no longer with his father (1 Sam. 15:28). Jonathan still had loyalty to his father and king, but recognized that the Lord was with David now.

This is a practice we ought to follow—to choose our friends wisely. We should select righteous friends who will help us get to heaven rather than those who will drag us to hell with their evil deeds. As Paul reminds us, “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33).

Resist Resentment

Before David is introduced in the narrative, Jonathan is shown to be a capable warrior in his own right. When he had unwittingly broken an oath his father made on behalf of all the people, he was sentenced to death. The people, however, were not going to let this happen to Jonathan, saying, “’Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die” (1 Sam. 14:45). He was such a great warrior that the people rose up on his behalf to save him. Saul, too, had many victories over the enemies of Israel. “So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side …. Wherever he turned, he harassed them. And he gathered an army … and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them” (1 Sam. 14:47, 48). These men were great warriors and commanders of the armies of Israel.

After the defeat of Goliath and the Philistines at Sochoh, Saul made David a commander of his army. Yet he was not happy when he heard how the people reacted to David’s continued victories over the Philistines. “Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So Saul eyed David from that day forward” (1 Sam. 18:8, 9). Surely Saul remembered Samuel’s prophecy, that the kingdom would be torn from him and given to a neighbor better than he.  Jonathan probably knew of it too. It meant that Jonathan would not succeed his father on the throne. Despite this, though it is not explicitly recorded, it is clear that while Saul resented David, Jonathan did not.

We also should not resent our friends when they do better in areas where we also have accomplished much.  Remember that Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).  He also reminded us that love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:5-6).  It is clear that Jonathan loved David as his own soul, even more than he did women (1 Sam. 18:1; 20:17; 2 Sam. 1:26).  Let us love our friends too, showing them the love a friend ought without a trace of resentment.  As Solomon wrote, “A friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17a).

Be Loyal

Jonathan had a choice as to whether to be loyal to his father or to his friend. Saul had become an angry man, driven to throwing spears at David in an attempt to murder him (1 Sam. 18:10, 11; 19:9, 10). Even so, Jonathan was not fully convinced that Saul was trying to murder David (1 Sam. 20:9). As a result, the two friends worked out how to determine Saul’s intentions without question. David would be absent from a New Moon gathering, ostensibly to offer a yearly sacrifice at his father’s home. If Saul responded to this news nonchalantly, then David could safely return. If, however, Saul became angry, then David must flee (1 Sam. 20:5-7).

Saul’s response was more than either man had expected. “Saul’s anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die’” (1 Sam. 20:30, 31). Saul’s outburst was unwarranted, but his intentions were made abundantly clear.

Not even this, however, had deterred the faithful Jonathan. “And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, ‘Why should he be killed? What has he done?’ … So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully” (1 Sam. 20:32, 34). Jonathan knew that his friend would likely take the throne in his place, but that did not matter to him. He was more concerned that his father had acted shamefully toward David than he was at the prospect of losing the kingdom. Jonathan warned his friend of Saul’s intention, and they wept together (1 Sam. 20:41, 42).

In the end, Jonathan died in the same battle as his father, but not after doing everything he could to safeguard his friend. David later wrote in the Song of the Bow, “Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided” (2 Sam. 1:23a). Despite all that had happened, Jonathan loved both his father and his friend. The choice between Saul and David was an extremely difficult one for Jonathan. He chose to be loyal to his friend because of his love for David and the shameful, sinful acts of Saul.

Let us be loyal to our friends and help them when they need us—even when it is inconvenient. Helping our friends is not often easy. True friends, however, will weather such difficulties faithfully by our side just as we will be by theirs. Solomon wrote, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Let us be friendly by sticking closely by our friend’s side in times of trouble.

Conclusion

Friendships are often fraught with difficulties from both within and without. If we choose friends that are godly, if we do not resent them for their success, and if we are loyal to them in the difficult times, then we might have a chance to withstand anything just as Jonathan and David did. Making such friends is important; otherwise we may fall alone (Eccl. 4:9-12). Let us do our best to make such friends and to be such a friend to others.

Stephen and his family worship at the Walterboro Church of Christ in Walterboro, SC.

 

The Baptism of Infants — Stephen Hughes

At the time that this will be published, my wife will have just given birth to our first child. It is a very emotional time for both of us, and it is one that I look forward to with great anticipation. There is, however, some trepidation involved in this undertaking. We now have the task of raising this little girl in a Christian household with Christian values. I pray every day that we are up to this task. I also pray that she will grow up to be an amazing Christian woman so that she will be with the Lord in eternity some day. The weight of bringing a soul into the world that may one day end up in hell motivates me to be the best Christian father I can be.

It is the common practice among many, including Roman Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians, to baptize infants. If my wife and I were members of these denominations, then we would have already scheduled a baptismal service for our baby girl in a few months. This practice of infant baptism, also known as paedobaptism, runs counter to the teachings of Scripture as this article will prove.

Throughout the New Testament, there are only accounts of adults who were baptized. Each candidate for baptism had the capability to believe in Jesus and repent of his or her sins—infants cannot do either. Despite these facts the proponents for infant baptism will bring up certain passages of Scripture to defend their practice. This article will examine the most widely used of those passages to see whether or not this practice is authorized by Christ in His Word.

Jesus And The Little Children

The first passage under consideration is recorded in three of the four gospel accounts. Matthew’s reads, “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matt. 19:13-14). The problem is that baptism is not mentioned at all in this passage. Luke does record that infants were involved, but this is hardly conclusive concerning baptism (Luke 18:15-17).

This passage teaches something much more profound. Jesus says in Mark’s account that, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15). It is not possible for someone to enter into the kingdom of God unless he receives it as a little child would, with sincerity and trust. One should not be gullible when he hears something of a religious nature, but when it comes to Scripture, he ought to be humble, trust it, and obey it as a little child would. This passage has nothing to do with the baptism of infants.

Whole Households

One of the most widely used argument for infant baptism is the fact that whole households in apostolic times were baptized. Some even argue that surely there were infants in these households. There are five instances in the New Testament where whole households were baptized: Cornelius (Acts 10:2; 11:14), Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:34), Crispus (Acts 18:8), and Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). J. W. McGarvey commented on this very issue, saying that “There is positive proof that in three of these [households] there was not an infant. In that of Cornelius there was none, for they all spoke in tongues and believed [Acts 10:46; 15:9]; none in that of the jailer, for they all believed and rejoiced in the Lord [Acts 16:34]; and none in that of Stephanas, for ‘they set themselves to minister to the saints’ [1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15]” (McGarvey 94). McGarvey leaves out Crispus in his analysis, but Luke records that his whole household believed. His point is that in none of these three cases do we see infants, for infants cannot believe, speak, let alone speak in tongues, or become ministers, yet Luke records that all the members of these respective households did these things.

Luke’s account of the conversion of Lydia, however, does not mention the faith of Lydia or her household. It says, “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized …” (Acts 16:14-15a). While the faith of Lydia is not explicitly mentioned, it is implied, just as the faith of her household is implied. Even many paedobaptists of McGarvey’s day admitted that there is no evidence one way or the other whether or not Lydia had infants in her home. He quotes Dean Plumptre who said, “… there is no evidence that she had children, or even that she was married. The household may well have consisted of female slaves and freed-women whom she employed, and who made up her familia” (McGarvey 95).

Baptism Unites With Christ

The question the paedobaptist will ask is why anyone would wish to exclude infants from the blessings found in Christ.  The person who is baptized is baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27).  Sin, however, is what separates someone from God (Is. 59:2).  An infant has not sinned and is therefore not separated from God.  The guilt of sin is not passed down through the generations (Ezek. 18:20), but one does often bear the earthly consequences of the sins of his predecessors (Rom. 5:12; Ex. 20:5).

Paul described himself as a child then as an adult, saying, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rom. 7:9). Similarly, when one is born, he is alive spiritually. When he becomes an adult, he begins to understand what God requires of him, and the commandment has come. Then only after he breaks the commandment does he die being separated from God. An act to bring reconciliation to God is not necessary for an infant who has not yet been separated from Him.

Typically the paedobaptist will resort to tradition when it comes to the practice under consideration. Some do attempt to use the Bible, but their reasoning falls flat. There is no record within Scripture of an infant being baptized.

As I consider these arguments with the birth of my daughter, I cannot help but desire the best for her and for her to be in heaven one day. Baptizing her as an infant, however, will not increase her devotion nor will it alter what my wife and I teach her. Most importantly, the Bible does not require it nor teach it. I do pray that one day she will be baptized, but it will be after she has heard and understood the gospel, believed it, repented of her sins, and confessed the beautiful name of Christ. Only then can she have her sins washed away with the blood of Christ in baptism. That will be a glorious and beautiful day—not only for my wife and me, but for the angels in glory as well. 

Stephen and his family worship at the Walterboro Church of Christ in Walterboro, SC.