IT WAS a beautiful African morning and the sun shone down from an azure sky. My companion and I sat in the shade of a eucalyptus tree awaiting our first candidate. Several people had requested to be baptised into the Lord Jesus Christ. It was important that they knew what they were committing to. We were there to hear their ‘confessions of faith’—that is, to hear them express what they believed and show a sound understanding of Bible teaching.
Many who would come had never spoken to us before, and so we would be sure first to put them at their ease by chatting about general things; then we’d turn the conversation toward spiritual matters. Most of the candidates were well prepared, and although often somewhat nervous they were able to give a more or less fluent confession of their faith.
I particularly remember Philip. He seemed very young to be taking such a momentous step in his life. I think he was slightly under 14 years old, nevertheless he spoke up well and was soon answering our questions with confidence. To this day I remember that conversation, because all his answers seemed to be coming out of one book of the Bible—Genesis. In fact most of his answers were from its first three chapters. Could this really be so—all that this young man knew about the Gospel, he could express simply by using the first three chapters of the Bible? Listening to him sharing his beliefs was a wonderful experience.
There was no question as to whether we should baptise him.
That occasion has stuck with me, and it is only recently that I thought again about Philip’s confession of faith. I thought I would revisit those first three chapters of Genesis, and use them to express my own confession of faith. You might like to read the chapters now, before we continue…
1. God is the Supreme Being. He created all living things and provides for all, sustaining all life (Genesis 1:1, Acts 17:24–25).
2. God has spoken to us. Genesis 1 shows how He created everything by His word. And He has given to us the Bible, which is the principal record of His dealings with humankind and our only authority for what we believe and teach (2 Peter 1:19–21). All other human learning is at best illustrative of the ways of the Almighty.
3. God created man from the dust of the ground—on the same model as all living creatures (Genesis 1:20, 27; 2:7) —and breathed into him the breath of life. Life is God’s to give and His to take away (Romans 6:23).
4. God made humans, the pinnacle of all creation, and gave to us the responsibility of caring for all life on earth (Genesis 1:26–28, 2:15).
5. God has given to us the basic rules for living. His rule for Adam and Eve was simply not to eat the forbidden fruit. Breaking His rule brought about separation from God and death (Genesis 2:15–17).
6. Woman was created out of man and for man. God gave His rule to Adam before Eve was created, so Adam had a teaching and leadership rôle to fulfil. However, Eve was as ‘responsible’ a person as Adam. Woman is man’s ‘suitable’ or ‘comparable’ helper (Genesis 2:18–23).
7. The marriage between a man and a woman is God’s design for the foundation of family and society (Genesis 2:24–25, Matthew 19:1–12).
8. The serpent was a ‘beast of the field’. It becomes representative of sin at work amongst humankind (Genesis 3:1, 14–15). It was not a wicked supernatural being. Temptation is often presented to us from outside—but it arises from within, and it is our responsibility when we fail (Genesis 3:1–6, James 1:12–18).
9. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience—and with it pain, sorrow, challenges for living, and death. We all sin therefore we all die (Genesis 3:16–19).
10. The serpent and its ‘seed’ (descendants) became a picture of sin, which was to be destroyed by the ‘seed’ (descendant) of Eve. This is how God brings hope to a dreadful situation. This ‘seed’ is none other than Jesus Christ, Son of man and Son of God (Genesis 3:15).
12. Nakedness is a symbol of guilt, which needs to be covered. Clothing was provided by God through the death of an innocent animal (Genesis 3:21). This was pointing forward to Jesus Christ (elsewhere called the ‘Lamb of God’, John 1:29) who died for our sins.
13. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden—an idyllic place which was a foretaste of God’s Kingdom—and were thus denied access to the tree of life. But the way back to it was ‘guarded’ and not lost (Genesis 3:24). The ‘way to the tree of life’ is later revealed to be by faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19–20).
The fact that there is so much in these first three chapters, which is the basis for belief and a full, working fellowship with Almighty God, surely emphasises the reality of the account. God made it clear from the beginning that it is He alone Who provides the way of salvation, by faith in His grace. He has given us freedom of choice and an intellect that can work these things out.
Back in Africa
Over the space of a day and a half my companion and I heard 12 good confessions of faith, including Philip’s. Overnight there was heavy rain and we had to move inside on the second day to finish our discussions. Then under threatening skies we made our way down a muddy road to the banks of a river. As we walked the local brothers and sisters began singing hymns of praise and thankfulness.
A strange party approached, jogging in the opposite direction. It was a group of youths about Philip’s age, dressed in garish costumes and carrying sticks and staves. They were running to summon their relatives from the neighbouring villages to witness their circumcision ceremony. The idea was that they would tire themselves out and so the publicly performed operation might be less painful—they must show themselves men and display no fear or pain. What a way to achieve adulthood!
And what a contrast with the simple ceremony which Philip and his fellows had chosen. They were following the example of Jesus Christ in being baptised. It would be a public witness to their faith, and by it God would be glorified, not they themselves.
As each in turn entered the river water they were asked, “Do you believe the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ?”
“I do,” came the answer.
“Then upon this public confession of your faith I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus’ instruction was echoed through the gathered throng, “He who believes and is baptised will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Then we returned to the meeting room, singing joyful hymns as we went. Philip had begun his new life as a brother in Christ. He and the others would be welcomed into the fellowship of God’s family, and for the first time share in breaking bread and drinking wine in remembrance of their Lord (1 Corinthians 11:24–25).