Lou: You mentioned baptism in the chapter. Would you comment on how baptism was changed from immersion to sprinkling, pouring, and a variety of other forms?
Graham: In response, let me cite a footnote in a Roman Catholic Bible translation. It says, “Admittedly, the early Christian method was immersion. However, on the authority of the Church and for convenience, it was changed.“ The sad thing is, though, that the change to sprinkling and to pouring has come with a change in the meaning. And that’s why churches can perform sprinkling and pouring on little infants who have no understanding that it represents the burial of the old nature and the rising to a newness of life. With the change of the method has come a change of the meaning, which is a loss to us. It ought to be a memorable occasion when I say, “I bury the old man, the man I used to be; I want to start all over again.“ The rich symbolism of baptism ties in with the subject of this chapter.
Lou: You’ve talked of Jesus as our example in this series of conversations about God. We’ve had several questions come in as to whether Jesus had an advantage over us. How could He be regarded as our example if He did have such an advantage? Let me refer to just one of these questions. “When Christ came to the world and took on human flesh, did He take on sinful flesh in essence or vicariously?” The kind of humanity Jesus had, I think, ties in here in an important way. Would you comment briefly on that question?
Graham: Well, I’ll cite Paul for that. He said, “Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin” (based on Rom 8:3). I think the question is, can we really look to Jesus as an example of the perfection that we should have?
Was He exactly like us? There are some interesting differences. For one, He was born of the Holy Spirit. Some of us might be sixty-five before we’re born of the Holy Spirit. In that case, when we’re reborn, we’ve got sixty-five years of bad habits to fight with for the rest of our lives. Jesus, on the other hand, never acquired a bad habit. The only way you can develop a bad habit is to do something bad, which He never did. And so you say, “Well, then, He’s not an example for me.“ How low do we want Him to go? Do we want Him to wallow in the gutter as a wino, so that He can be an example as to how you can get out of the gutter? I don’t want Jesus to be more and more like me. I want to be more and more like Him. He came in human form, in the likeness of sinful flesh, using no power that is not available to us. And he showed that even little boys can be good. And that you can grow up to be good like that.
“But,” you say, “I have bad habits.”
“Look,“ He says, “I’m your Physician; I understand. I’ll be very patient. And I guarantee I’ll help you get over all of those things. Just trust Me.”
So how much more would we want Him to do before we accept Him as an example? He’s certainly enough of an example to show how we could have lived. The problem is that we didn’t. So what will He do with us now? He’s the Physician, and He knows exactly what it’s like to go through what we are going through. So you can count on Him to be patient. Are you still worried that the Father won’t be as patient as Jesus? Remember that Jesus came to show just how patient the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are. I think sometimes we run into problems when we raise the wrong questions about what He came to tell us, and what He came to show us.
Lou: One final question: “Is the healing we are talking about dependent upon perfect obedience to Christ’s teaching? Or does God’s mercy at times supersede even the doubts of those who question His divine authority?”
Graham: Oh, that’s true. I suppose we could refer to times when Jesus went places and healed everybody (Matt 4:24; 8:16; Mark 6:55-56; Luke 4:40). He went through entire villages, and when He left, nobody was sick. On one occasion He healed ten lepers, and only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:12-19). I think on that occasion Jesus was saying that the Father is a healer, not a destroyer. Jesus often healed people whether they trusted Him or not (John 5:1-15).
Lou: That’s very comforting. What is our topic for Chapter Fifteen? How will the healing we talked about here change the way we relate to God?
Graham: That’s a very good question, because the topic of the next chapter is “Talking to God as a Friend.” What does God really want from us? Will He be satisfied with rote obedience to rules? Or does He desire genuine relationship with the free and diverse creatures He has made? How do we talk to a God we cannot see, hear or touch, but who nevertheless much prefers friends to servants? In the next chapter we will explore how our picture of God impacts the way we relate to Him, especially in the matter of prayer.