Truth is not only
violated by falsehood;
it may be equally
outraged by silence.
The Bible uses symbols and types as pictures or illustrations, to enable us to grasp hard-to-understand concepts. The following examples are given in the hope that they will enable Mormons to realize that rites or ordinances, such as baptism and temple ceremonies, have no power of themselves. Nor can they contribute in any way towards our salvation or attainment of eternal life. From beginning to end, the Bible reveals with absolute clarity that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and that eternal life is a free gift of God.
Under the Old Covenant, when a man had sinned he took an unblemished animal to the priest. Then he laid his hand on the animal’s head to signify that it would be his substitute and would die in his place to cover his sin (c/f the book of Leviticus). This was symbolic, or a picture, of the coming New Covenant sacrificial death of our unblemished Saviour, who would die in our place, as our substitute, to pay the penalty for our sin.
In Numbers 21:4-9 God gives us yet another picture to illustrate that all who looked to or relied on Christ’s substitutionary sacrificial death on the cross in faith, would be saved from judgment for their sins, the penalty for which was eternal separation from God, otherwise known as eternal death.
The story is that during their journey to the promised land, the Israelites rebelled against God. In judgment He sent a plague of serpents. Many died from their poisonous bites. Moses interceded on their behalf. So God instructed him to make a bronze serpent and set it up on a standard. Then when anyone was bitten, all they would need to do was to look at it in faith, and they would live.
In the Bible, the serpent represented sin, and bronze represented judgment. The Lord Jesus explained that this bronze serpent on a standard was symbolic, or a picture, of how He would become the remedy for our sins. He did this by taking our sins upon Himself and bearing our judgment for us, on the cross. So if we want to be saved from the fatal poison of sin in our lives, we need to look in faith at Christ dying on the cross in our place. We will then receive forgiveness, grace and mercy in the same way as the ancient Israelites had, when they had looked up in faith, at the bronze serpent on a pole. This is how the Lord Jesus put it:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, KJV)
The ark is another picture in the Old Testament, of New Covenant salvation. The great flood was God’s judgment for their sin, on the inhabitants of the then world. And the ark was the vehicle of salvation for Noah and his household.
The ark is a picture or a type of Christ, who is our vehicle of salvation from the floodwaters of the coming judgment. Only those who are “in Christ” will be saved. The remainder will perish.
The Lord Jesus said that his second coming would herald the judgment (Matthew 16:27). And He likened this to the judgment of the flood in the days of Noah:
“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:37-39, KJV)
Salvation is not granted because we belong to the LDS church or have faith in Joseph Smith, or have earned the right to forgiveness by obedience to laws and ordinances. Salvation is granted solely because we are, by faith, “in Christ,” our ark of salvation.
Another of God’s teaching aids is the rite or ritual.
In the biblical sense a ritual is an external symbol of
something that has happened inwardly, to the person
concerned. We’ll take a look at two such biblical
rituals, circumcision from the Old Testament, and baptism
from the New.
The Hebrew nation had originally come out of a pagan culture and was surrounded by idolaters whose religious practices were perverted, immoral and evil. Holiness was a concept that was completely foreign to them. So God made it easier for them to understand the meaning of holiness through the picture language of a ritual. He commanded that every Hebrew male be circumcised. Their circumcision was an outward portrayal of an inward change. It symbolized the cutting off of fleshly sin from their hearts. In other words, it symbolized the fact that they had covenanted with God to live a life of holiness.
There was no power or merit in circumcision, it was purely symbolic. But after a while the Israelites forgot that the real meaning behind their circumcision was a consecration to holiness. They mistakenly assumed that circumcision itself earned them God’s special favour. So God sent His prophet, Jeremiah, to put them right.
“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the
foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of
Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 4:4, KJV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised … and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart. ” (Jeremiah 9:25-26, NASB)
Emphasizing that it isn’t a ritual itself that matters, but the spiritual concept it pictures, the Apostle Paul said:
“Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? … For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but of God.” (Romans 2:26, 28-29, KJV)
The ritual of Christian baptism is another of God’s teaching aids, illustrating the hard-to-understand concept of salvation through faith in Christ and His substitutionary sacrifice:
“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: 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. For
if we have been planted together in the likeness of his
death, we shall be also in the likeness of his
resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5, KJV)
“Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” (Colossians 2:12-13, KJV).
Baptism by immersion is the way Christians publicly acknowledge that Christ is their Saviour. But it goes deeper than that. In order to free us from the condemnation of our sins, Christ took the guilt for our sins upon Himself. He became our sin bearer, our substitute. He represented us. So when He was nailed to the cross, it was the same as if we were nailed to the cross: We were “in Him” on the cross when he atoned (paid the penalty) for our sins and we were also “in Him” when He died.
When I undergo Christian baptism I am symbolically re-enacting Christ’s death and resurrection. As I go down under the waters of baptism it symbolizes my death in Him to the penalty of the Law, as well as my burial in Him. When He arose from the grave He also did this as my substitute; it was the same as if I had risen. And so when I rise up out of the baptismal waters it symbolizes my resurrection to a new life “in Christ.”
Paul explains the ‘exchanged’ Christian life:
“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.” (Galations 2:20, KJV)
God’s way of salvation is not through baptism. Nor does baptism cleanse us from sin or make us holy. There is no merit, power or eternal significance in rituals. The value lies not in the ritual itself, but in what it represents.
We are saved from the consequence of our sins purely because of the blood shed by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. And we are made holy through the work of His indwelling Spirit. However, we are baptized in obedience to His command, as a public witness or testimony of our association with Him. It is our way of publicly identifying ourselves as being “in Christ,” and of acknowledging that Christ’s death and resurrection is God’s means of reconciliation.
One of the men who was being crucified at the same time as Christ, acknowledged Him as the Messiah. He confessed to being a guilty sinner and asked the Lord to remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus promised the dying man that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. Yet he was a justly condemned criminal. The opportunity of becoming a member of any religious organization had passed him by. He hadn’t been baptized and had no time to do any good works to merit his salvation. Nor could he comply with any laws or ordinances or adhere to any religious codes. He put his faith in Christ alone. And the Lord Jesus honoured that faith (c/f Luke 23:42-43).
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV)
The following informative article discusses Hebrew terms of speech that were used in biblical times, in an interesting and easy to understand manner. The information provided is a big aid to understanding the Bible better:
This site is dedicated to helping Mormons understand the Bible.
Copyright © 2013 by Yvonne Gibbs. All rights reserved.