Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer

The Missing Element

In a blurb commending the book, Ray Ortlund says this about J.I. Packer, “When we face a debated theological topic, we need a guide who has no ax to grind, who is fair, honest, reasonable, and—above all—carefully biblical. We Christians do debate the ministries of the Holy Spirit. But we have a reliable guide in J.I. Packer.” I read that in opening the second of my 10 out of 5 books from 2021, and found small dispute with Ortlund on this point: Packer does take sides in debate. In the volumes that have enriched me, Mr. Packer always takes the side of the biblical text. Unlike so many other authors, he does not read his theology back into the text, instead allowing his position to be discovered inductively. This trait (exhibited by so many of our senior scholars and theologians) makes reading a pleasure and his positions trustworthy.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25

So Packer enters the theological scrum concerning a biblical understanding of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. His aim in this book is to restore the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a ministry that is often tossed and torn between the intellectualism of theologians and doctrine and unrestrained charismatic practices. Packer envisioned the book as a corrective to these extremes, a biblical call to Christians to restore the place of the Spirit and His gifts in their faith and lives. Unlike other authors that plant both feet in their camp and refuse to consider positions other than their own, Packer takes a much more irenic tone, insisting that the Bible speak louder than he does.

A point that Packer makes that is important for the reader to engage is that the Holy Spirit is not a discrete ministry on His own. The Spirit is inseparable from the Godhead and will always act in concert with the Father and the Son. He mediates Christ (John 16:14) to us. All the Spirit’s power and gifts are  Jesus working through the Spirit in us. It is in the self-effacing nature of the Spirit’s ministry that we gain the perspective to evaluate spiritual claims attributed to the movement of the Spirit. He will always be directing attention back to the Son, and anything that does not achieve that end is to be considered much more carefully.

The mediation of Christ to His people involves the Spirit in spurring on holiness in their lives. We often refer to this growth using the term sanctification, and it is yet another idea that gets drawn to the edges of the Church. In some quarters it is a practice through which we grow intellectually through Bible study and discipleship. At the other side of the yard, the term sanctification points to a growing perfectionism in behavior. Packer draws the idea back to the center, saying that holiness in the Bible is evidenced by growth in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit conforming us to Christlikeness and our pursuit of holiness is governed by our beliefs about the Spirit.

Packer takes this axiom to his examination of modern charismatic theology and practices, giving support where appropriate and critique where warranted. This evaluation includes a valuable chapter on different schools of thought and practice pursuing holiness. This part of the book is valuable from two different directions. First, when we locate our generalized tribe within the chapter it helps the Christian to see where their beliefs on this subject derive from. The reader that approaches the text fairly finds a second benefit in learning where other tribes have come from as well, preventing some of less loving criticisms that find their way into our speech. It seems to be Packer’s hope that brothers and sisters in Christ will find their own attitudes becoming as irenic as the one he displays in his words.

Keep in Step with the Spirit is a valuable contribution to the church and written at a slightly above popular level. It is worth every effort in working your way through the text, bible close by so you can read the many references in full context. More than reading the text and placing the book on your library shelves, let it affect your meditation on the Holy Spirit and His work in your life. He was never meant to be divisive within the Church. His ministry is to draw us all closer to Christ as we grow together in the Lord’s image. If this book contributes in some small way to unity within the body, Packer’s efforts will be the blessing it was intended to be.

The Spirit Comes Bearing Gifts

imageThe wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8)

Doctrine regarding the spiritual gifts is a generally accepted component of the life of the Church. It is recognized that the Holy Spirit empowers redeemed individuals with abilities useful to building up the Body. Individual Christians may be the recipients of one or more of these gifts, evidence of the work of the Spirit in their lives.

Minor intramural skirmishes occur over the enumeration of the gifts and whether Apostle, Teacher-Pastor and prophet are gifts or offices. When it comes to the miraculous gifts – tongues, prophecy and knowledge- however, hard lines are drawn between those who interpret the Scriptures to say that these gifts have ceased and brothers who insist that the Spirit continues to grant these gifts today.

If the boundaries surrounding this theological disagreement were hard and fixed, the various positions would not demand discussion. The problem that arises again and again however, is that the fluid nature of the boundaries creeps from non-essential territory into the categories of core doctrines. The cessationist position may insist that belief in the continuation of gifts shows a sloppy doctrinal position that they assume is present in other facets of one’s theology. A Pentecostal segment of the body states unequivocally that without evidence of glossolalia, your very redemption is in question. Each represents an extreme, but both affect the witness of the Church.

In a series of posts to follow, we will look at four general positions along the continuum of belief. In general, the positions break out as follows:

  • Cessation – The miraculous gifts have ceased being given.
  • Pentecostal/Charismatic – The miraculous gifts continue to be given.
  • Open & Cautious – The gifts may be given by a sovereign spirit as He desires. Their issue is not normative.
  • Third Wave – The proclamation of the Gospel is always accompanied by “signs and wonders”

Grace and peace to you.

Paedobaptism-The Baptism of Infants


The doctrine of infant baptism (paedobaptism) has a long and controversial history that extends back in recorded Church history to the early Church fathers, many of whom point to the Scriptures for further historic records. The practice is viewed as a clear extension and privilege accorded by covenant theology (cf. Col 2:11-12). As circumcision marked members of God’s people—including infants—during the Covenant of Works period, so too does baptism serve as the mark of the new members of God’s family under the new Covenant of Grace.

Serving both as an argument for and against the practice, there is agreement that no where do the scriptures specifically ordain the baptizing of infants. This argument from silence offers support (there is no injunction against the practice) and  denial (there is no command to baptize infants). It is this silence that makes the practice controversial in the eyes of many in the modern Church. It also makes doctrinal support difficult to explain, since an understanding requires multiple layers of theology woven together for its foundation.

Paedobaptists divide the history of God’s people into two covenantal periods. The first period began with the interaction of God and His creations in the Garden. Upon their failure to obey, humankind was unable to maintain eternal life on their own. A ‘works’ covenant was established between God and man; so long as man obeyed the rules, redemption would be provided by the sovereign God. All those covered by the agreement were to be physically marked by circumcision, separating them from other peoples of the world. As the Bible records, humankind generally failed to maintain their end of this agreement. The coming of the Savior heralded a new covenant of grace, one in which those who placed their belief and faith in Christ would be redeemed. He gave as a symbol of this covenant the practice of baptism.

The paedobaptist roots their argument in a consistency requirement between the two covenants. In the first period, all of the males of Israel were circumcised, including the infants and children. They were considered full members of the people of God. At the transition to the covenant of Grace, paedobaptists insist that membership in God’s people must still include the youngest in the family since no scripture records instructions to the contrary. Thus, infants are baptized as a sign of their participation in the covenant.

The scriptural thread that connects the doctrine is long, spanning the Bible from the beginning of the story to the epistles circulated among the early Church. God’s covenant with Abraham is marked by circumcision (Gen 17:9-14). This marking is to remain in place until the new covenant (cf. Jer 31:31-34) is initiated by the coming of Jesus (Gal 3:14-4:7). Though inexplicit with regard to the physical marking, the Lord ordains a new rite of membership in the family, baptism (Mt 28:19-20). The book of Acts records the arguments of the Jerusalem council (cf. Ch 15) regarding the need to discard circumcision as the mark of belonging. Paul states in his first letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 7:14)  that the children of believing parents are holy (set apart), connecting the meaning of the two rites (Col 2:11-12).

It is important to note at this point a distinction between the Catholic sacrament of baptism extended to infants and the doctrine applied in Protestant churches. The Catholic sacrament is seen to confer grace ex opere operato, that is ‘by the work performed’. In other words, salvation is conferred by the proper application of the sacraments. The Protestant understanding of an infant baptized is significantly different. Any grace conferred to the infant is via the conduit of the parent’s faith, their belief covering the entire family unit.

John Murray argues in his classic book on the subject, Christian Baptism, that “if infants are excluded now, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that this changes implies a complete reversal of the earlier divinely instituted practice…in other words, the command to administer the sign to infants has not been revoked: therefore it is still in force”. [pp 49-50] Bryan Chapell concurs, saying “The absence of a scriptural command to prohibit administering the sign of the covenant to children after two thousand years of observing such a practice weighs significantly against the view that the apostles wanted only those who were able to profess their faith to be baptized.” [Why do We Baptize Infants, pg 16]

Grace and peace.

image alex @ faraway

Credobaptism–The Believer’s Baptism

imageThe dominant doctrinal position on baptism in the Evangelical Church is credobaptism, the baptism of professing believers. Regardless of the method of administration (though immersion is  favored), the credobaptist position is rooted in the repeated NT references of baptism linked to repentance and faith. Theological exposition of these passages undergirds the doctrinal position that only those capable of repenting and voicing an expression of faith may therefore be baptized.

The doctrine finds it root in the Great Commission of Christ, specifically Matthew 28:19:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Two facets of baptismal doctrine emerge from this core statement, the ordination of the practice and the sequence of events implicit within. Christ commands that all of His disciples be baptized following the course of the their discipleship. In other words, only believers able to express their confession are to be baptized.

Repentance and faith are linked in every instance of Baptism in the New Testament. In the earliest reference to John’s baptism (Mk 1:4), forgiveness of sins moves from a sacrificial system to one of personal faith. In Acts, the baptismal records are consistent in commanding repentance prior to baptism (cf: 2:38, 41). True repentance is impossible without a concomitant belief in the source of forgiveness, and baptism meaningless without a turning from sin. This dynamic is noted in Acts 8:12; “but when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized,”.

The silence of the New Testament regarding the baptism of infants or non-believers is presented as evidence against those positions. Advocates of infant baptism point to the recordings of household baptisms ( cf: Acts 16:31-34 ) as supporting evidence that all were included in the rite. Those who hold to the believer’s baptism position make two arguments against this evidence. First, it is inexplicit with regard to who is being baptized. The argument from silence (i.e. it doesn’t say that children weren’t baptized in these incidents) is unconvincing, especially in the development of Christian doctrine.

The credobaptist presents a string of evidences from the New Testament that they propose explicitly supports the doctrine. The argument against other baptismal positions ( infant, sacramentalist ) by the credobaptist includes the suggested dangers of these beliefs. Bruce Ware asks “How many sons and daughters of Presbyterians ( even more of Lutherans, and more yet of Roman Catholics) are raised convinced that they are “Christians”—that is, truly saved people, in right relationship with God—precisely because they look back to their baptism as infants to instruct their consciences and grant them confidence in their salvation?”

Grace and peace to you.

image Michael Sarver

Baptizo–The Word Study

I’m going to initiate the series of posts regarding the Church’s baptismal beliefs and application with a word study. As many of you already know, we engage in a word study to discover the meaning ( or range of meanings ) of a specific word in its native language, and then to compare it to our understanding of its equivalent in our modern tongue. Our objective in study is to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures in order to assess our application of the Word to life. In the case of baptism, we are blessed by the fact that the meaning of the word is not in dispute and the English cognate verb carries the same meaning as the Greek verb.


Βαπτιζω  [ transliteration = baptízō ]

Baptízō  is a derivation of the word Báptō [βαπτω], both of which start from the stem bap-, meaning ‘dip’. The New Testament use of báptō is in the literal form only, that of dipping an object into another substance:

Luke 16:24 … ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue…’

John 13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”

In the same sense, the word is also used to describe the action involved in dying a piece of fabric. This usage is found in Revelation:

Rev 19:13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.


Baptízō is used in its familiar sense in the NT. When the word is encountered it is clear in its meaning as the act of ceremonially washing for the purpose of spiritual purification. The book of Acts provides a summary example:

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

The word carries a further connotation as the cause of a religious experience:

Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Mark 10:38 “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”


No sources dispute the meaning of the term, so why do a word study? The doctrine of baptism raises three main questions, the meaning of the act, the proper method of baptizing and who should be baptized. We will discuss sprinkling versus immersion in later posts, but much of the discussion will surround the root meanings of the word that describes the practice. Examining these topics cause us to dig into the definitions, semantic domain and usage of the words in order to arrive at a God honoring conclusion.

Grace and peace to you.

The Ordinance of Baptism


Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

With this commission our Lord instituted the rite of baptism as practiced by the Church since. In the centuries that have passed, the Church has interpreted the rite’s meaning, effect and administration in myriad ways. It has provided moments of unmatched joy for participants and their beloved, and it has also evoked bitter division within the Body.

Christian discuss and divide over the mode and meaning of baptism, over who the appropriate subjects of the rite are and even what the effect of the baptism is. Catholic theology insists that the rite of baptism causes regeneration, making it a necessity for salvation. The Reformation division is rooted in these sacramental ideas and insistence that salvation is by faith alone. Therefore, the predominant belief in the Protestant church is that the rite is symbolic in nature and that it is practiced out of obedience to the command of the Lord.

Understanding the practice of baptism requires careful research and exegesis. Other than the command to practice the ordinance, there are no explicit instructions for administration, purpose or effect in the New Testament. The doctrine of a church is therefore devised from existing belief, historical practice and what can be understood in the text. Understanding this, baptism should be looked at as a non-critical doctrine and one that should not be a cause of division, though it remains so.

A series of posts will follow this in the coming weeks. The first will explore the predominant Protestant position of a believer’s only baptism, administered by immersion. A word study of Baptizo is a necessary component for understanding the practice of immersion versus affussion, and that will follow these initial posts. We will then explore infant baptism and the theology behind that doctrine. The objective of these posts is not to advocate for a single position but to explore and discuss the theology behind a doctrine that we often take for granted. I’ll look forward to interacting with readers on this topic.

Grace and peace to you..

image Lawrence OP