"I am the vine, you are the branches"
Elementary Teachings, Part 1
Repentance, Faith and Immersion
In this newsletter we want to take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 3. Paul addresses several important issues in the congregation at that time, and I think that they are still important issues today. Verses 1-3 starts off like this: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as babes in Messiah. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" We find Peter saying basically the same thing in 1 Peter 2:1-3: "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord."
The writer of Hebrews writes in chapter 6:1-2, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Messiah, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement."
As believers, are we not growing into maturity? We may be able to quote verse after verse in the Bible, but are we still fleshly, only able to drink the milk, not able to receive the meat of the Word? We want to lay a foundation, and so it is herein that we are going to start, in Hebrews 6:1-2. So let's look at this and begin to see how it pertains to us today.
Spiritual Man Vs Fleshly Man
Paul tells the Corinthians that he could not speak to them because they were still fleshly. In John 3:3-6, Yeshua (Jesus) tells Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus was puzzled by this, so Yeshua continued to say to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
So first we see that we need to be born of the Spirit. How is one born of the Spirit? Yeshua goes on to tell Nicodemus in verse 16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Now you may say, "Well I believe in Yeshua (Jesus), so I must be born again!" Well, you must ask yourself a few questions. "Have I repented of my sins?" In other words, do your sins still have dominion over you? Yeshua had one message, and He sent out His disciples with the same message. It is the message of the kingdom, it is the basis of the gospel message and the salvation message: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15). This is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he said "not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works." What are those dead works? Paul tells us in Galatians 5:19-21, "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Paul tells the same to the Ephesians in chapter 5:3-10, but he also includes greed and silly talk and course jestering. Repentance does not mean just confessing our sins but actually dying to self and putting to death the sin of our old self, or as they say, the old man, and we are to become new. As Romans 6:5-7 says, "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin."
Just Have Faith!
We are to leave the elementary teachings about Messiah and come to maturity, and so we start with repentance and then move on to faith in God. Yeshua tells Nicodemus that whoever believes in the Son of God will not perish. So what does that mean? As believers, don't we believe that Yeshua is the Son of God? I mean, isn't that what makes us believers? We believe in God and that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us and that the Father and the Son are one. James 2:19 writes, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder!" Believing in God is not enough; we must have faith in God. Our beginning Hebrews 6:1-2 reading tells us that "faith in God" is an elementary principle. But in the Greek it reads pisteos epi Theon, which is translated "faith on God." In other words, we put our faith on God, not just in Him.
Now believing takes on a different meaning: "Faith now is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). How do we have the assurance that what we hope for we will one day see? Well, one thing we hope for is our salvation, our blessed hope. 1 Peter 1:4-5: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." Here Peter tells us that we have been born again by God's great mercy to a living hope because of Yeshua's death, burial, and resurrection. Because of the sacrifice of Yeshua on our behalf, we now can have faith on that selfless act of mercy. In other words, God showed His love toward us that while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us (Romans 5:8), and everything else that we may ask or wait upon God for pales in comparison to that act of love. We now can have the assurance that God hears our prayers and that He can be trusted to answer us (1 John 5:14-15). Our faith rests now on God—not just that He merely exists, but that He loved us first and we can trust Him because He so loved us. He made the way for us and we don't need to make a way for ourselves. In other words, God has not abandoned us or left us orphans. But what we must understand is that we still must have a fear of God (a devout reverence for who God is), because God does punish sin. He is a rewarder of those who have faith and obedience in doing His will, but He also punishes and disciplines those who disobey and rebel against Him. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and that wisdom consists of who God is and that we can have faith not only in God, but on God.
So we have looked at repentance from dead works and faith on God.
Time To Wash
Hebrews 6:1 continues to mention instructions about washings. According to the writer of Hebrews, the instructions about washings should be a basic teaching, like the milk of the word. So we too must understand what this means. Let's start by saying that washing has to do with water. Other than ceremonial hand washings, I would say this must have to do with baptism. The writer of Hebrews has been addressing our walk with God, and so baptism seems like the most probable washing; even Yeshua was baptized by John. You see, Romans 6:3-4 tells us, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Messiah Yeshua have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Before we go any further, you must ask yourself, have I been water baptized—not as a baby, but as one who has the full knowledge of the salvation message? This is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he said "the instruction about washings." We as believers receive water baptism and we don't think twice about it, but there are instructions that go with water baptism. Baptism was a Jewish practice, which makes sense, being that John was baptising and Yeshua was baptized. Baptism is an immersion. Jewish immersion is done in a living body of water which is called a mikvah. A mikvah was a naturally-fed body of water such as a river, spring, or cistern. It was done not just once, but could be done many times. It is for the purpose of purity or spirituality. The priests immersed every day. People immerse before the sabbath or before they get married or prior to a feast day, but for what reason? It was meant to draw the person closer to God. What we must understand is that this practice is Jewish and not Christian. It has not changed its spots. We must follow in Yeshua's footsteps and only His footsteps. Yeshua was not making this a sacrament or a ritual that one follows without any knowledge. That is why there are instructions about it. According to the Apostolic Didache, which was written in the 1st century CE, the instructions to the believers who were to be immersed were that they should be immersed in a mikvah (living water), and if one was not available then they should be immersed in other types of water, and if that was not available then they should have water poured on their heads three times in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They should fast one or two days beforehand and others should join him. But prior to immersion, he should have a knowledge of the basic teachings of Yeshua.
Now let us go back and look at what Paul wrote to the believers in Rome. He says that we have been baptized into Messiah; in other words, we have now become part of Him. Yeshua tells His disciples in John 15, "Abide in Me and I in you." There is a Messianic Jewish prayer called Hareini Mekasher which means, "I join myself." It begins, "I hereby join myself to the Master, Yeshua the Messiah, the Righteous One, who is the Bread of Life and the true Light, the source of eternal salvation for all those who hear Him." Paul tells us in Romans 6:3-4 that this means that we are to die as He died. What, I must now be crucified? Yes, we are to crucify our flesh. Galatians 5:24 tells us, "Now those who belong to Messiah Yeshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." We are to die to sin, as Romans 6:5-6 tells us, "For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." We are to die to this world. James 4:4 says, "You adultress, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." We are to die daily, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:31b, "I die daily." Yeshua tells us in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone wishes to come to me, let him deny (crucify) himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
So we have now seen that the instructions about washing has more to do with a life style following our Master in all that we do and say than just immersing in water.
We will continue looking at the rest of the elementary principles of our faith next newsletter, but we want to end with what Paul tells the Philippians in chapter 3:7-12: "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Messiah. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Messiah and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, and being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead, not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Messiah Yeshua."