Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Promise is a Promise

The Pilgrim commented in defense of our Presbyterian friends, and I am grateful. For starters, I want to look at the verse that he quoted in defense of infant baptism. Here it is:

For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (Acts 2:39).

This verse comes at the end of Peter's great sermon at Pentecost. The question that this verse naturally raises is this: What is the promise? And secondly: How does it apply to the children of those who listened to Peter's sermon and believed?

Without quoting the sermon in its entirety, let me try to hit upon what I see at the 'highlights' of the sermon as far as the promise is concerned.

Peter says:

For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day (2:15).

Peter said this because those in the upper room had just been filled with the Holy Spirit and were now speaking in tongues to the congregation of Israel present in Jerusalem that day. Some men claimed that they were "full of sweet wine", that is, they accused them of drunkenness. This was not the case, so Peter begins with a defense of their behavior. That is, the followers of Jesus Christ are acting strangely because they are filled with the Holy Spirit in a way that has been promised to Israel from the days of old. He proceeds to quote for Joel to explain this heavenly phenomenon (cf. 17-21).

From this explanation, Peter moves on to explain that Jesus is the promised seed of David, the promised Messiah of Israel. He ends this section by saying:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified (vs. 36).

At these words, the people of Israel are pierced with conviction and ask Peter what they must do since they have murdered the promised Messiah. Peter replies by telling them:

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (2:38-39).

Hopefully now that we have taken a cursory look at this passage, I can make a claim as to what the promise to Israel and those far off actually is.

First, the promise that they are to look for is the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the climax of the New Covenant is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the heart of the believer to the praise and glory of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Lord Jesus Himself is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He Himself is the focus of our worship and adoration, yet it is by the power and witness of the Holy Spirit that we are able to become the children of God. Christ bought our salvation; the Holy Spirit regenerates and applies that salvation to our hearts. Peter was excited on Pentecost because the coming of the Holy Spirit meant the ushering in of the Last Days.

The promise is for you who believe, and it is for your children. But the promise is neither guaranteed for you or your children apart from the saving faith which the Holy Spirit must impart. Do you believe that the promise of which Peter spoke was for every Jew in Jerusalem who heard this sermon? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that the promise was made in earnest to all, but not all would believe. No in the sense that the promise is not for those who would not/will not believe because belief is a condition of ratifying the promise.

Peter actually makes this easier for us. He specifically names who the promise is definitely for, that is, I believe he qualifies his earlier statement. He says, "as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." Is the promise for me? Yes, because he has called me to Himself. Is it for my son...yes, if the Lord calls him to Himself. I do not believe that Peter is using double-talk here; I believe that this is an important theological point. Let me clarify.

The promise of the Messiah and the Holy Spirit is for the whole world; I have no doubt of this. However, I have no doubt that only the elect will be saved by God. Does that mean that Jesus was not sent for the whole world? No. Does it mean that the whole world will be saved? No. Only those who believe will be saved, and only those whom God effectually calls will believe. There were elect people present that day, at least 3,000. And the promise was for their children as much as it was for the whole world, or as Peter says, "those who are far off." Ultimately, however, only the elect will really have the promise in reality.

So what does all this have to do with infant baptism? The theory is that baptizing infants makes a child a member of the covenant community and heir to the promise of God. Yet, they must admit that not every child of believers is saved. This means that God's promise is what...not coming true in certain instances? I do not believe that this is how a promise of God operates. Rather, I believe that Peter is promising that salvation is for those who believe, and for the children of those who believe, and for the pagan in Khazakstan, if they believe like the elect who were in Peter's original audience.

Is that simple or what?


brother terry said...


How's your wife doing?


Daniel said...

Good post, I say that because I reject categorically the covenant notion that baptism replaces circumcision.

I guess I just have trouble with that whole line upon line, precept upon precept style of theology - you know, where you draw theological conclusions based on previous theological assumptions rather than upon scripture. And you build a little theological card house where you build one conclusion upon another until one day you find yourself modern day talmud that says more than scripture, and is regarded as more binding than scripture.

Few things get my blood all angered up like putting the opinions of men (even godly men) on par with or above scripture.