Did John the Baptist Have to be Saved Since He was Filled with the Holy Spirit?

Is there evidence in scripture that John the Baptist needed salvation like everyone else though he was filled with the Holy Ghost from the womb?

It is Luke who tells us that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit ‘even from birth’ (Luke 1:15), which could cause someone to wonder if John was exempt from the need to believe the gospel for the forgiveness of sins. There are several evidences from scripture that in spite of being filled with the Holy Spirit, John still needed to be saved.

First, the scripture says that John was filled with the Holy Spirit it does not say that John was sealed with the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 1:13 that those who believe the truth of the gospel are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.  The Greek word behind the English ‘sealed’ is quite literally ‘to set a seal upon, to mark with a seal’. The next verse goes on to teach us that this action of God in marking the believer as His own is the equivalent of God making a down payment on the believer so as to show his intent of completing the redemption of those who belong to Him. So John was ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit, but nothing in the text indicates that he was ‘sealed’ with the Holy Spirit.

Second, John is not exempt from the “all” of Romans 3:23—‘for all have sinned (including John), and come short of the glory of God.’ When Paul writes ‘there is none righteous no not one’ (Rom 3:10), John is included in that statement. In fact, we seem to see John’s own understanding of his need for the forgiveness of sin when Jesus approaches John for baptism in Matthew 3 and John is hesitant to proceed. John responds, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Third, while John was filled with the Holy Spirit, the wrath of God still abided on him until he believed in Christ (John 3:36).  Certainly one could suppose that being filled with the Holy Spirit would lead to John believing the truth, but nonetheless, John still had to believe. No one is exempt from the requirement to believe in order to be saved. Those who do not obey the gospel imperative to ‘believe’ will experience the wrath of God (2 Thess 1:8).

The fourth reason from scripture that John still needed to be saved comes from John 3 and Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus very plainly that everyone (including John the Baptist) had to be born again (or born from above) in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Again, being filled with Spirit in order to be the forerunner of Jesus is not the same as being born again.

Fifth, John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 16:16), and the Holy Spirit’s activity among the people of God in the Old Testament, oftentimes called “theocratic anointing’, was temporary in nature and usually designed to empower the recipient for a specific task. The scripture is replete with these events: Bezalel is anointed with the Spirit to build the Tabernacle (Ex 31:2-3); Judges such as Gideon and Samson are given power (Judges 6:34; 14:6); and of course, both Saul and David are filled with the Holy Spirit as kings of Israel (1 Sam 10:10; 16:13). The Holy Spirit rather dramatically departed from Saul (1 Sam 16:14), and David pleads with the Lord not to take His Spirit from him (Ps 51:11), indicating the tenuous and temporal aspect of the Old Testament ‘filling’ of the Spirit.

Finally, nothing in the scripture indicates how long this state of being filled with the Spirit lasted and to what degree it impacted John’s actions, but we see the fallen nature of John when he is in prison. In Matthew 11, we see John asking a question that did not come from the Holy Spirit’s leadership.  Matthew writes, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3).  Evidently being filled with the Holy Spirit does not keep one from doubting. John’s doubts unequivocally show us his vulnerable humanity.

In spite of being filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, John was born a member of Adam’s fallen race, and all who are in Adam die (1 Cor. 15:22). John still needed to be born again, marked as God’s own by being sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise and placed in the body of Christ in order to be saved from sin and the wrath of God. Ultimately, John had to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world (even John’s), which he seems to do in John 1:29 when he prophecies of the atoning death of the Son of God.

Who did Christ die for and what did he accomplish?

Join me at the deep end of the pool.

Please take the time to watch the video again and listen to the message Elder D.J. Ward is communicating for it is certainly biblical! Christ did not die to create the potential for souls to be redeemed. Christ died to redeem souls—the souls of the elect. He came to save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). On the cross Christ accomplished the redemption of the elect. Now before you get too excited about that word ‘elect’ remember Jesus said very clearly and plainly, ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (John 6:37).  Do not for even a moment create a fictional non-existent person who is NOT elect but desires to be saved with all their heart. That person has not, does not, and will not exist. Apart from God’s grace the heart of a sinner will never desire Christ—no not even one (Rom. 3, Eph. 2).

Does this mean that the atonement of Christ is limited to only the elect?

For 2000 years the church has wrestled with this hard concept. Freewill Baptists would argue that Christ died for all humans past, present, and future, but in the end salvation is left up to each person. Ultimately, this means that Christ’s death may have been in vain—dying only to create the possibility of redeeming a people, but not actually redeeming anyone. Particular Baptists rejected this suggestion as absurd and argued like Elder D. J. Ward that Christ actually accomplished something on the cross. Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) may have been one of the first Baptists who attempted to balance these two ideas—particular redemption and general redemption or limited atonement and unlimited atonement. Fuller taught that Christ’s death was sufficient for the redemption of the whole world, but efficient only for the elect of God. In this way, Fuller suggested that ‘yes’ Christ tasted death for every man (Heb. 2:9), but because it was not efficient for all—everyone would not be saved in the end (often called universalism) (see 2 Peter 2:1). Fuller taught that the application of the atonement was limited to only the elect, but he argued for a crucial distinction. He also taught that Christ’s death was sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God for the sins of the whole world (see 1 John 2:2). Fuller’s position is most appealing because of the degree to which it reconciles two truths both taught in Scripture.
Some came to identify Fuller’s position as ‘evangelical Calvinism’ which I think is a great label if a label is necessary. 

What are your questions?

My Church Doesn't Have an Altar Call--Is it Wrong?

Let’s talk about the traditional ‘altar call’.

Throughout the years, the traditional altar call has been a special time at the end of a church service for people to respond to the gospel by stepping out of the pew and going forward to bow at the altar and ‘receive Jesus as one’s Savior’. People who come from this tradition may even wonder exactly how a person gets ‘saved’ if there isn’t an ‘altar call’.

This past Easter Sunday morning, an older gentleman came up to me after the early service and specifically complimented how Christ and gospel-centered the sermon was and then lamented that it was too bad there wasn’t an altar call so someone could get saved. I can understand how someone might feel this way if all they have seen is this particular approach. Week after week, service after service, everyone is instructed to bow their heads and close their eyes, and then people are asked to respond to the gospel with a traditional salvific hymn playing in the background. Congregants are told just one last verse and then the ‘altar will be closed’ seemingly suggesting that the preacher has the power to close God’s offer of salvation if someone doesn’t respond right now. Let me go on the record as saying all of this is done with the very best of intentions—we want people to get saved! But is it biblical? Is it effective? Does it work?

Most give the evangelist Charles Finney credit for creating and executing the altar call in such a masterful way that people would respond, often in droves to the altar to ‘receive Christ’. With the appropriate words and music, the conditions can be set for humans to respond. Even the most hardened soul can be broken if the sermon and altar call are executed flawlessly. I once had a professor in seminary who said he had never met a person he couldn’t lead to the Lord. Is that what the Bible teaches? Is that what Jesus did? Did He create the perfect conditions and then invite someone to pray to receive Him as their Lord and Savior? Do we get any sense from the book of Acts that any kind of an altar call was used by the Apostles? Is it the evangelist who does the work of salvation or the Holy Spirit?

Who ‘gets them saved’?

The Bible is very clear: it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates an unsaved heart (see John 3). Nicodemus was told he had to have a spiritual birth and that spiritual birth was a work of the Holy Spirit who works in a mysterious way among those whom God has ordained to salvation (Acts 13:48). It is the Spirit, not the music, Who takes the Word of God and creates faith to believe the gospel in the heart of the new convert (Romans 10:17). This traditionalism can become so ingrained in our thinking that we may even subscribe to unbiblical ideas. In my first or second year as a pastor, I had a faithful woman who repeatedly complimented me on how gospel-centered the sermon was and then repeatedly challenged me to realize that we were not playing the right songs during the altar call to get people to respond. The more she handed me notes, the more I realized she had an unbiblical understanding of how God saves people.

Salvation is a work of the Lord from beginning to end.

The Holy Spirit does use words spoken by an evangelist. The apostles clearly challenged people to respond to the truth they were hearing, but the response was repentance toward God (Acts 17), faith in Christ and the gospel (Acts 16), and obedience to water baptism (Acts 2).  Sinners were never invited to walk an aisle, bow the knee, or say words so all could know they were saved.

According to their Facebook posting this week, the largest church in Fayetteville reported that 486 people were saved at their Easter service, but the truth is no one apart from the person saved knows if even one person got saved at that Easter Sunday service. Read Matthew 7:21-24—these are some of the toughest words ever spoken by Jesus. Time will tell if anyone got saved on Easter Sunday anywhere in Fayetteville. Saved and unsaved sinners need to be challenged to respond in obedience to the gospel throughout a church service. By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, a person can be born again in the middle of the sermon by believing the Gospel.

It is time we recognize that salvation is the work of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

Preaching Defined

Preaching is the authoritative proclamation of truth from the Word of God with the
objective of effecting the salvation of sinners and the edification and sanctification of the righteous by God’s grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God.” 

Now if this is true then it should be the desire of all disciples of Christ to hear the preaching
of God’s word. So then ask yourself this tough question: Am I a disciple of Christ if I don’t enjoy being fed from the Word of God?

Why ask such a question? 

The answer is found in the reality that anyone who isn’t a disciple of Christ is going to hell when they die. I don’t want you to sit in church all your life and go hell. If you are not sure if you are saved—please reach out to me so we can talk about salvation and biblical assurance of salvation. I pray one person reads this and is compelled to ask the hard questions.

Pastor Sean, Can you answer the question: Why do you rail against video games so much?

Video games will be the demise of our society. Now I know that seems like a ridiculous statement, and one that is certainly not worthy of legitimate consideration, but I wonder if you have ever read anything that qualifies as a serious evaluation of the problem. According to Boy Genius Report, “there are currently over 34 million core gamers in the United States, and they are playing video games for an average of 22 hours a week.” And twice as many play video games on a regular basis. Twenty-hours a week indulging in video games is the equivalent of a part time job, only nothing productive is being accomplished. If a person made $10 an hour for their part-time job that would be the equivalent of $11,400 a year in extra income.  Seriously, 22 hours—isn’t that a crazy amount of time? Consider with me for a moment if you knew a friend who played cards for 22 hours a week, would you think they have a problem? 22 hours averages out to over 3 hours a day, every day.  Gamers enter a notional world for hours at a time where God is not the King and His glory doesn’t matter.  Even the simplest of games, like ‘Angry Birds’ and others, contain absolutely nothing edifying. All the thinking, planning, strategizing, etc. accomplishes nothing. Conquering a new higher level is NOT an accomplishment; it is nothing more than a time waster. Think about violent games like ‘Call of Duty’ where people are being blown away by machine guns. Or games where laws are being broken or provocative women suggest immoral behavior. Where is God in all this? He is absent. Sin is absent. My Christian values do not translate into the virtual world of the video game.  His Word and His Glory are both absent.  Yet Isaiah 43:7 tells me I was created for God’s glory.

And I must realize that for every minute I am in the virtual world of gaming, I am not doing anything for God’s glory.  Gaming needs to be limited. Extreme self-control needs to be exercised, and gaming should not take precedence over doing things that need to be done. For example if my car is trashed with dirt, McDonald’s wrappers, Mt. Dew bottles, coffee cups, etc., I should not be gaming. If my grass needs to be cut, I should not be gaming. If the dishes are dirty or the laundry needs to be done, I should not be gaming. Parents, be the boss and come down hard on gaming if Johnny’s grades are not where they should be or his bedroom is trashed. Set limits. If I haven’t read my Bible, I should not be gaming. Do you know how many young men I see coming to church on Sundays exhausted from staying up late on Saturday watching movies, playing video games, etc.? Those choices scream that corporate worship is NOT important to me.  I am more concerned with being successful in the virtual world of gaming than glorifying God with the body of Christ.

Last year in South Korea, a couple let their biological child die while they were taking care of a notional baby in a video game world (Newsweek, July 27, 2014). Imagine that! And of course, that isn’t you. I know that’s not you. You would never do that. But that tragic event points to the problem loud and clear. We have a growing number of people in all societies that would rather play basketball with a controller than an orange ball outside.  Let’s be clear: I am not saying a father and son playing 30 minutes of FIFA video soccer is a problem when it’s raining outside. But when the sun is out—get outside and kick a real ball, shoot a real gun, throw a real ball, jump a real fence, run down a real path in the woods with air soft guns that actually sting when you shoot each other. Christians live in the real world. We are salt and light in the real world. Jesus did not have a ‘man cave’ where he retreated from the rest of the world and relived childhood fantasies.  Learn a card game. Have a conversation with someone face to face instead of via a controller headset. Take a girl to the movies and then have a conversation about the movie face to face over a milkshake. The reason our social interaction skills are so often underdeveloped is that the boys are playing video games instead of conversing with girls.

Video games are negatively impacting our ability to do constructive things, read edifying articles and books, comprehend the written word, sustain legitimate conversations, accomplish productive tasks, fix things, exercise our bodies, play an instrument or sport, sing a song, pray, experiment, discover something new, and ultimately glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). An entire generation is growing up without becoming real men—and without men a society cannot sustain itself. Men provide and protect in the real world, and too much time in the notional world directly and negatively impacts effectiveness, and even worse, the ability to survive and thrive in the real world.  Christians should frequently fast from video games and dedicate the time otherwise devoted to gaming to something that will actually glorify God.

Separation from the World

As Christians, why do we so struggle with being separate from the world?

Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, told the church at Corinth to ‘be separate’ from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17).  But what does Paul mean by separate? We are not separate. We are in the world. We work in the world. We are surrounded by the world. The entertainment of the world allures us to embrace the ways of the world. The 24/7 cable news feed desires to change our thinking to the thinking of either the conservative or liberal world. We use the world’s currency and surf on the world’s Internet. Our young people are enthralled by the world, and when we were young, we were more or less just as enthralled depending on our individual commitment to Christ.

God called the nation of Israel to be different. God’s chosen people in the Old Testament were supposed to be a peculiar people—utterly set apart from the pagan culture around them. They worshipped only one God. They had a very specific set of rules that was supposed to govern their conduct. They worked only six days a week. They taught their children from the Torah about the God of Abraham, who created all things. They participated in very specific and unique religious festivals that remembered God’s work of redeeming his people from bondage.  They longed for their Messiah to come and establish a kingdom without end. Yet these same people so struggled with being separate, they continually found themselves worshipping idols and committing sexual immorality. The KJV uses the word ‘whoring’ to describe this ungodly behavior.  God’s covenant with Israel was not sufficient to keep them from being like the world.  What God’s people needed was a new covenant (Jer. 31:31).

Jesus inaugurated this new covenant with his own blood (Heb. 9). Jesus’s death inaugurated a new covenant between God and his people possible. Those who are born again through faith in the gospel are adopted into the family of God and the house of Israel (Gal. 3:7), but they are not under the Law of Moses. Those who are born again through faith in the gospel are members of the new covenant. They receive a new heart (Ez. 36:26) and are sealed with the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13). All this and more was done so that God’s people could finally live up to God’s law and thus be truly separate from the world. Being saved from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23) begins at the moment of conversion. Christ died so that His people would be in but not of the world. Christ’s disciples are distinctively separate from the world. We don’t share in the world’s values, opinions, and worldviews. We are counter-cultural in our thinking, attitudes, and behavior. We don’t abort babies.  We don’t drink alcohol to cope with a hard day at work. We don’t use the f-word. We are different. We are separate. We don’t take believers to court. We go back to church a second time in one day to participate in a religious ceremony with the body of Christ. We don’t parade around in immodest swimwear at the beach. The music we listen to is different. And we don’t do this to get to go to heaven; we do this because Christ died for our sins. We present our bodies a living sacrifice. We die to our sinful nature and desires and live “in” but not “of the world.” But what about the gray areas? What about when it is not clear what “in but not of” looks like? The believer diligently seeks to be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18). He (or she) is not under the law. Instead, he is filled with the Holy Spirit so that he may be led by the Spirit. Gray areas are governed by the Holy Spirit. There is confidence and security in this truth, as the Spirit never speaks against the revealed Word of God. For example, a believer could never say I have peace from God about marrying an unbeliever. The Bible is abundantly clear that we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). When the revealed word of God is not clear, each believer must ask the Spirit show them what “in but NOT of” looks like in a given situation. Each believer asks the Spirit to show them exactly what “come out from among them and be separate” looks like in the gray areas of this life.

Reaction to the Obergefell Decision Legalizing SSM

          I sensed Sunday morning that several people were disappointed that the Sunday sermon following such an eventful week at the Supreme Court did not address the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. So, let me take a few minutes now to share my thoughts and reactions. Unfortunately, I was not surprised and you should not have been either. I had no confidence that the highest court in the land was going to do anything but exactly what they did. The Supreme Court has been amassing power to itself slowly and deliberately for as long as I can remember. Decision after decision made by that court, as well as federal courts all across the land, collectively communicate that a shift in power is occurring in which the court no longer sees itself with limited powers. Instead, it regularly and routinely issues rulings that are systematically removing the rights of individual states to govern themselves. The handwriting has been on the wall for quite some time. So, how does this impact the church?
          First, it doesn’t. Nothing in the court’s decision impacts us directly. We are not going to be forced to marry gays in our church. We do not nor will we ever rent our facilities for such a wedding.  This is private property, and our policy is clear that you must be a member to get married at Berean, and you cannot be a practicing or an open homosexual and be a member of the church. I clarified open and practicing because we have had individuals in the past who were in the closet for a period of time and then publicly declared their orientation. Those individuals are given an opportunity to repent and then brought under church discipline for a lifestyle which stands in open rebellion to God and His Word.

  Second, the ruling further magnifies the need for Christian education, Sunday school, and the consistent and systematic preaching of the whole counsel of God’s Word to children, teenagers, and adults. The difference between a biblical worldview and an American secular worldview is becoming increasingly different as each day progresses towards the demise and destruction of what at one point was the greatest missionary-sending nation in the history of humanity. God will not ignore sin. We have no hope in a great rapture before the destruction of America. The destruction is happening right before our eyes.
          Third, while we may be tempted to become angry and bitter, we must recognize that God has permitted these black-robed kings to render their decision as part of a larger global plan. He is still in control. We serve a God who is permitting, ordaining, and orchestrating all things to a predetermined plan that culminates into an everlasting kingdom where Christ is Supreme and there will be no need for a court or a constitution. His Word will abide forever. Peter reminds us that we are pilgrims, exiles, and strangers living among pagans. We are not surprised when pigs act like pigs, and we should not be surprised when pagans act like pagans.  America is not a Christian nation, nor has it ever been. A Christian nation doesn’t kill men, women, and children for land. A Christian nation doesn’t enslave other human beings and then take another 100 years to grant people of all skin colors basic human and civil rights. Watch the movie Selma, and tell me we are a Christian nation.  A Christian nation doesn’t experience and glorify a sexual revolution. A Christian nation doesn’t abort babies by the millions. A Christian nation doesn’t throw prayer out of schools. A Christian nation doesn’t legalize SSM. It is time for Christians to wake up and smell the coffee, and to start living like citizens of heaven and as exiles in Babylon. Daniel refused to stop praying toward Jerusalem even under the threat of death in a lion’s den, and the three Hebrew exiles would not bow before the statue despite a death sentence to a fiery furnace. Civil disobedience may be necessary in the future. I will go to jail before I marry two men in Holy matrimony before God. The exiles’ reaction to the command to worship the statue is incredibly helpful in how we must think and act. After receiving a final command to bow or else, Daniel 3:16ff records the answer the young men gave King Nebuchadnezzar. As you read it notice especially the following words:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

          May God grant us that kind of faith and grace in our coming day of civil disobedience.