Here, from one of God's ministers just returned from a nationwide baptizing tour this summer, is a pointed lesson each member of the Body of Christ needs to learn. "As THE RESULT of your repentance of your sins, and your acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour from your sins, I now baptize you into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in the name of, which means by the authority of, Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. Amen."
This summer hundreds of new brethren heard these words shortly before they were plunged into the symbolic watery grave. Seconds later they were raised from this "grave" and helped to the shore of the river, lake, or stream and they then received God's Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Tears were streaming down the faces of many as we welcomed them as brethren into the Church of God.
Does this sound familiar, brethren? It certainly should to every baptized member of God's Church. No doubt you can easily recall the time and place of your baptism, the names of those who performed your baptism, and can still hear those words.
Counting the Cost But you will also remember, brethren, that the actual baptism is only the find outcome of long hours of counseling. All of these new brethren were first challenged to c o m f the cost! They were told in plain words that this Christian life is not easy! They were soberly warned of the very real danger of "falling away" and the unpardonable sin. Doctrines such as tithing, the Holy Days, God's way of divine healing, the plain truth about divorce and remarriage and many others were thoroughly explained. On the average over fifty percent found they were simply not ready — or in many cases not willing — to be baptized. Finally, those who were ready were taken to a suitable place where the baptism was performed. In the course of the counseling many learned for the first time what it really means to count the cost. They learned it the same way you learned it — the same way the followers of Jesus Christ learned it nearly 2,000 years ago.
Luke Fourteen In the fourteenth chapter of the book of Luke, Christ makes plain the cost every person must pay if he wants to be His disciple or follower. In Verses 15 through 24 He shows how God looks at those who "make excuse" (Verse 18). Notice that God calls them just that — excuses, not reasons!
How many excuses we hear on a baptizing tour! Most fall into one of the three categories listed here — property (Verse 18), job (Verse 19), or family (Verse 20). But once in a while someone will come up with a real lame, even humorous excuse, like the man who didn't think he could quit chewing tobacco because if he did his teeth would all fall out! He gave this same excise last year!
How does the Almighty God view such carnal-minded reasoning? Notice Verse 21, "So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house [God] being ANGRY...." God is not persuaded by these weak excuses, and neither are His servants! God is angry when a man puts anything — from foul tobacco in any form, to his own wife — higher than God and His priceless calling to eternal life! Yet how many people do put cigarettes or chewing tobacco ahead of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ! And how many husbands put the opinion of their wives ahead of baptism, the forgiveness of sins, and God's Spirit!
Human nature was no different in Christ's day. That is why He turned to the crowds of people that followed Him and said, "If any man come to me, and hate not" — that is, love not less by comparison (see Matt. 10:37) — "his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sister, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
Have YOU as a member of the Church of the Living God really come to understand that verse? Of course, almost any professing Christian would claim that he or she loved Christ more than any living human being — but would his works confirm this (Tit 1:16)? How about when there is a conflict between what someone else says and what God says? Take God's Sabbath commandment, for example. Hundreds had to face this test this summer. When your boss or employer, the man who gives you your check every Friday, says you must work until five o'clock on Friday but the Sabbath begins in the winter at four forty-five — who comes first?
When your teen-age son works in a gas station on the Sabbath, or your daughter is cheer-leader and goes to the basketball games Friday nights, but GOD SAYS in Exodus 20:10 that your son and your daughter must also keep the Sabbath — then who comes first?
Or when an unconverted mate insists on your going to the show or doing the shopping on the Sabbath — again, who comes first? God? Or man?
Many — over half of those counseled — were unable or unwilling to meet these and similar challenges. But God's Word is plain! "We ought to obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29). And again, "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isa. 2:22). Can any man give you eternal life? No! Then why put man before God who alone can give this gift (Rom. 6:23)? This also breaks the First Commandment by setting up man as an idol before the True God. This is why Christ said we must love men less than God.
Your Own Life Also But even when you have succeeded in putting every other person on earth below God, you are still not through by any means! Hardest of all for any man is, "his own life also." The first thought is that Christ meant we must be ready to die for Him. And this is true — but how? Are most Christians at this time called upon to face a firing squad or some other life or death situation shortly after baptism? No, in fact very few have "resisted unto blood" for their beliefs; none have been stoned, shot, or tortured to death. Then how do we love less our own lives?
We must do so in many LIVING ways!
Last year, for example, we met an old, hog farmer who loved his own way of life as a hog farmer more than he loved Jesus Christ. He was simply unwilling to quit raising hogs, quit working on God's Sabbath. It was very disappointing to see that this year also he still loved his own way of life more than Christ — and though he knew the Truth, he still could not be baptized.
Christianity, as Mr. Garner Ted Armstrong has often explained on the broadcast, is a way of life, and it is very different from the way of life each of us has lived in the past. It is far different from the way of life — the day-in, day-out manner of living — of the average farmer, businessman, housewife, schoolteacher, truck driver, doctor, lawyer, soldier, nurse, secretary. Think of all the ways the Christian way of life conflicts! There are smoking, make-up, tithing (first, second, and third!), divine healing, clean and unclean meats, the truth about divorce and remarriage, the Sabbath and Holy Days, and a host of other differences. The average man or woman has to choose which way of life he or she lives most (Deut. 30:19).
"But it's hard!" So God sets before us this choice between His way of life governed by His divine laws and our own lawless way of life, and commands us to choose His way — LIFE! And what is the reaction of so many people? Do they greet this as a wonderful salvation and deliverance from their own miserable ways? Yes, some few do. But how many did we hear this summer who bemoaned their plight and cried, "Oh, it's so hard!" Or, as many phrased it, "That won't be easy!"
Granted, God's way is not an easy way! Jesus Christ did not promise us an easy, downhill battle all the way! Rather He promised us persecutions, trials, and tests. He said that there is a broad, easy way that many would take to destruction; but that the way to eternal life is strait and narrow — that is, rough, rugged and difficult is the road to eternal life. (Read Matt. 7:13-14 and Luke 13:24!)
And Christ made this same point very clear here in the context of Luke 14. Notice Verse 27, "And whosoever doth not bear his cross [or stake], and come after me, cannot be my disciple." We must bear our stake just as Christ bore His! His was not easy to bear either! Yet He willingly and gladly did so for us — and that, brethren, is one of the most vital keys.
Are You Willing? One of the greatest lessons of all gained from our tour and observed in the lives of literally hundreds of people is summed up in one verse — John 7:17. Here Christ stated plainly, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." Or, as most modern translations render this verse, "If any man is willing to do his will, he will know the doctrine...." (see R.S.V., Williams, Lamsa).
One man we counseled, when confronted with God's Holy Days and the second tithe, replied, "Oh, those were all done away!" Why? Because he had proved that point? No, never! But because he was not willing to go to the Feasts or save the second tithe. And this was the deciding factor in so many counselings. It wasn't just how much the person knew — many know the Truth — but how much were they willing to do? That was the question.
Some people we met had faithfully put into practice all they had learned as they learned it. These were ready for baptism in almost every case. Others had long since known more than they were willing to do. The amount of knowledge was usually not the important thing. Faithful doers of the Word could be trusted to put new Truth into practice Faithless hearers of the Word could not.
It was always a joy to counsel with and baptize the active doers of the Word. But it was painful to see people compromising with God's Truth and excusing themselves in their sins. Their lives were always full of such curses — and all of their own making. They still hadn't learned the most basic lesson of the Bible — disobedience results in curses and death, but obedience yields happy, joyful blessings and life!
How About You? Finally, in Luke 14:28-30 Christ said, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and COUNTETH THE COST, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish."
The point is, brethren, you have laid the foundation which is repentance from dead works, faith toward God, baptism, and the laying on of hands (Heb. 6:1-2). You have chosen — God's way of life, and in baptism you have already promised God you would faithfully perform all the things mentioned in this fourteenth chapter of Luke.
But how about it? Are you??
Do you still offer up excuses in place of obedience? Do you ever allow any other human being to come before God and His laws — even as close as husband, wife, or children? Are you really laying down your own life daily so that you can say with the Apostle Paul, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20)?
Or does your old way of life still conflict with God's? "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death [the death of the old man]: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
"Knowing this, that our old man [with his old way of life] is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin!" (Rom. 6:3-4, 6.)
Do you sometimes think God's way is too hard? Or do you rather have the willingness to do His will Christ spoke of in John 7:17?
Finally, brethren, are you stilt an active, faithful DOER of the Word? Or just a passive, indifferent, faithless hearer? Why don't you check up and examine yourself (II Cor. 13:5) by rereading your CONTRACT WITH GOD in Luke 14? You need to know whether or not you are still counting the cost!