There are six foundational teachings that underpin the practice of Christianity as taught in the bible. These are found in Hebrews 6:1-2 which says,
1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
These are important for all Christians to enable us to walk in the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches us in many places about the importance of having a firm and solid foundation on which He will build His church. And in the scripture quoted above we are told what that foundation is.
Returning then to the verses in Acts 19:1-6 we see the application of these foundational teachings and how Paul ensured the foundations were correct and solidly in place for the Ephesian church. The first four of the foundation teachings are clearly seen and applied in this short section so let us look at those teachings and what Paul taught this fledgling church.
When someone first comes to God they must believe that He exists. This is the very first grain of faith that any person needs before they can do anything more. Without faith nothing else is possible in The Lord, but with faith all things are possible.
In the early Ephesian church it is clear they had a faith in God, but they had not yet learned about or even knew the existence of Jesus Christ. In my last post on this blog I wrote about Apollos being in a “time warp” as the only knowledge he had of the gospel was the teaching of John the Baptist. These Ephesian believers were likewise stuck in that same place for they too only knew the teachings of John the Baptist.
But they were believers in God for Paul calls them disciples in verse 1 and asks whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they had believed in verse 2. So we see that these people had one of the foundations necessary spoken of in Hebrews 6:1-2, they had faith.
The next foundational doctrine that is essential to every Christian's walk is repentance. The early Ephesian church had certainly expressed their repentance for we see that they were adherents of the teachings of John the Baptist who taught the people about the need for repentance and used a form of baptism with them as a sign of their expression of repentance.
Repentance is a process that Christians go through during their whole walk as Christians for even long time Christians still make mistakes and have a need for repentance. Unlike baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit, repentance is not a one time thing. The need for it goes on for as long as is necessary.
The word repentance is translated from the Greek word “metanoia” which literally means to “change your mind” or to change the way you think. In essence when we repent we are changing our minds to turn away from the evil things and thoughts and to think on what is good, right and true. This is what repentance is all about.
Next we see Paul ask the Ephesian church in verses 3-5 about what baptism they had been through. Note these verses very carefully for they are important as they say much about the purpose of baptism and why we are baptised.
3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The people had already been baptised by John the Baptist for repentance, but as we see that was not enough. Paul showed them that the necessary baptism they needed was to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and to believe in Him, which was what John had told them to do, that is, to believe in the one who came after him.
The baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is NOT the same as the baptism of John. If it were there would have been no need for these Ephesians to be baptised again. So why is it different and what is the difference?
Under John the Baptist's ministry the people were baptised as a sign of their repentance and turning to God. But in the new covenant people are baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The purpose of John's baptism was as a sign of what the disciples now believed. The purpose of baptism into the death of Jesus was to take on His death as if it were our own, to enter into His death and then be made a new creation in His resurrection. As we go into the waters of baptism into the death of Jesus Christ we symbolically die with Him, and as we are lifted from the waters of baptism we are symbolically resurrected with Him.
But the power of baptism into the death of Jesus Christ is not the symbolism but our faith. When we are baptised into Christ Jesus we believe that we have died to this world and are dead to sin and the law but alive to God as new creations in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-11). Faith is the key to the power of baptism for through faith in this baptism we enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-8)
Baptism is a critical part of the ministry of Christianity and every person should be baptised in water. This foundation is so important that when Jesus issued the Great Commission to His disciples he told them essentially to do three things (Matthew 28:19-20):
- Make disciples of all of the nations
- Baptise them in the name of Jesus
- Teach the new disciples all that The Lord had taught them
Baptism was so important in the eyes of The Lord that it was one of the three key messages he gave the disciples as His last words on this earth. We need to ensure we too follow these words so that this foundational teaching is fully understood and implemented today.
Laying on Hands
The fourth of the foundations noted in the Hebrews 6:1-2 is laying on hands, specifically for the receiving of the Holy Spirit, and we see this occur when Paul spoke with the Ephesians in Acts 19:1-6.
There are still some strange teachings about the receiving of the Holy Spirit that pervade the modern church. However this section of scripture in Acts 19:1-6 puts those arguments to bed and shows that the modern thinking is often wrong.
Some people believe that the Holy Spirit comes upon a person as soon as they believe. However we see that this group of Ephesian believers had not received the Holy Spirit even though they were believers. Even after they were baptised they did not receive the Holy Spirit immediately.
The Ephesians received the Holy Spirit only after they had hands laid on them by Paul who asked The Lord to give them the Holy Spirit. There are a number of other examples in Acts where this same process was carried out to receive the Holy Spirit, and indeed Paul himself received the Holy Spirit this way. (See Acts 9:17-20, Acts 8:14-19)
Receiving the Holy Spirit is important for it is the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. That is His primary work. To change us to be like Christ and thus like God. In addition the Holy Spirit is our teacher, counsellor, guide, comforter and much more, but His primary task is to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ by pouring the love of God into our hearts and helping us conquer the passions of our flesh.
This is crucial and thus why laying on hands is so important that it is one of the foundation teachings of the new covenant. No man who is a sinner can stand before God. No sinner can inherit the kingdom of God. Thus all sin must be removed and we must be transformed into the image of God if we are to inherit the kingdom with Jesus Christ.
When we are baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are set free from sin and the law. So if we have no sin and the law is taken away so that we cannot break it and thus cannot sin again, we are imputed with or given the gift of righteousness. God declares us righteous because we believe and have faith in what this baptism means and what Jesus did for us.
We are perfect by faith, but we are not perfect by nature. By removing sin and the law God declares us to be perfect in His sight through our faith and baptism into Jesus Christ. But we are not perfect in our deeds and actions. This is why The Lord gives us the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the spirit to make us perfect in deed, actions, behaviours and thoughts so that we think and act as The Lord would do. We do what is right and we make right and true decisions and do not succumb to the weakness and frailties of human passions and desires.
Gifts of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit does the work of transformation in us and gives us the gifts of God to enable this work of transformation to be carried out in us. We see a couple of these gifts given in Acts 19:6 and these often occur when people first receive the Holy Spirit.
And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
Speaking in tongues and prophecy are two the verbal or spoken gifts of the Holy Spirit and both of them have powerful uses. We know that when a person receives the Holy Spirit they are given at least one of these gifts, usually the gift of speaking in tongues. Jesus said that we would recognise those who had been born of the Spirit by hearing the “sound” of the Spirit (John 3:8) and speaking in tongues is perhaps of the most dramatic and undeniable voice of the spirit that can be heard.
All of the gifts of the spirit have a purpose and are given to aid us to grow mature in Christ so that we truly can be transformed into His image. This is how the Holy Spirit works with us and in us to do the work of transformation.
He also gave gifts to the church so that the members would be able to support one another as they are knit together in this family of God. There are teachers, apostles, prophets and so on to assist the members of the church as they grow into the fulness of the stature of Jesus Christ.
But none of the gifts can have their full effect unless and until all of the foundations are put in place. Imagine a house that had some foundation pillars missing. How well would it stand, especially when storms hit? It is the same for those in Christ. We must have all of the foundations in place and have the faith and trust in Jesus Christ to guide us as we walk with Him.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng taken by Anry Ermolaev)
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