Christian Birth Pt 4 - Baptism
Remember, successful delivery of a baby in the natural world is of extreme importance for the life that follows. Is it not of more importance then that we understand how to successfully deliver spiritual babies into the Kingdom? God brings about the life and formation, but He has tasked us with the responsibility to deliver them! I hope we always love bringing new babies into the Kingdom. Yes, they are messy, they are loud, and they are tiresome, but so were we and now we are here and ALIVE! Praise God! So let’s continue from the last few posts.
According the examples set forth in the book of Acts (where this process can be fully seen) we need to help our new babies do four things - Repent, Believe, Be Baptized, and Receive the Holy Spirit. We are now on baptism! Many of us have baptized people and watched people be baptized, but did we know what we were doing, what they were doing, and what God was doing? Let’s find out.
Baptism is arguably the most controversial of the four stages of the christian birth. It would be reasonable to start with some questions. Where does baptism fit into salvation? Where does it fit into being born again? Where does it fit into entering into eternal life? What is God doing for a believer when they are baptized? Is God doing anything or is man just doing a physical symbolic act? And lastly, are justification and salvation referring to the same thing? We’ll explore that last one later on.
Let’s start with where baptism starts. It started with John the Baptist, or John the ‘plunger’. That’s literally what the word means - to plunge someone. Throughout a lot of history you can see a common trend that when people feel dirty inside, they try to clean themselves up outside. Pilate, after not wanting to condemn Jesus to death pulled out a bowl of water and said, ‘I wash my hands of this matter’. He was trying to get rid of what he felt guilty about INSIDE! Among other examples, this shows us that the washing of water for something other than physical cleansing is not unknown in our world. The Levitical priests in the OT had two things done to them when they were set apart for the priesthood - they were washed in water and anointed in oil (Exodus 30:22-30). In the New Covenant, all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9), so all believers now have those two things - a washing in water and an anointing now in the Holy Spirit.
Back to John the Baptizer. We know from John the Baptist that he was baptizing people INTO (G1519) repentance (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:4 [‘for’ is ‘into’]). It says he would baptize people IN water INTO repentance. What does this mean? John is saying, I will baptize you IN water INTO repentance, therefore, you must be IN repentance before I baptize you INTO it. In Luke’s account he says, ’you produce fruits worthy of repentance and I will baptize you into repentance’ (my paraphrase). This meant that baptism in water was doing something to the repentance they were ALREADY in! In short, Baptism brings something to its final completion and consummation. It’s like a pastor saying to a couple, ‘You prove to me you are IN love and I will marry you INTO love.’ Marriage doesn't start the love it brings it to its complete expression. I may already be believing in Jesus but baptism brings me to the final consummation of that belief by identifying me with His death burial and resurrection and settling it - my old life is cut off. Baptism doesn’t start repentance and faith, but it brings them both to their greatest consummation and completion by God doing something in the believer.
This leads us to ask the question, ‘How was baptism done in the NT?’ We’ll answer this quickly. John 3:23 says they were ‘baptizing where there was MUCH water.‘ Why did they needed a lot of it? In Acts 8:36-38, the Ethiopian went INTO the water and then came out. Why is this important to be IN water and not just have water on you? Because in the NT the act of baptism has the meaning of being a bath and the meaning of being a burial. It is a bath for those who are dirty and a burial for those who are dead. We must do the real thing because we are communicating that there is a burial of the old person and the old life. So we must baptize in complete immersion because it is IN the water the old person is dead and left behind!
Lastly, WHY was baptism done? There are 32 passages in the NT that talk about why they were baptizing people. In many of these references the NT speaks about baptism as an event that is doing SOMETHING, not a symbol that just means something. Mark 16 (whoever believes and is baptized will be saved); John 3 (Nicodemus asks how to be born again, Jesus says, they must be born again out of water and out of spirit; Acts 2 (Peter said on the day of Pentecost ‘repentant and be baptized FOR the forgiveness of your sins’). Acts 22 (Annanias said to Paul (v. 14) ‘Brother Paul, what are you wanting for? Rise and be baptized so that your sins may be washed away.’); Ephesians 5 (the church is cleansed by the washing of water with the word); Hebrews 10 (let us approach with assurance because we have been washed with water); Peter in his letter says, ‘Baptism now saves you...’ (1 Peter 3:21). The word saves means SAVE like it does everywhere else!
One more example might help us see what baptism DOES. Paul says baptism is like the crossing of the Red Sea for the Jews (1 Corinthians 10). What was that like for the Jews? It meant they were separated from Pharaoh. He was left on the other shore and they then had ONE boss - Moses. They left Pharaoh’s territory where he could not get to them anymore. When Jesus was raised from the grave Pilate could not reach Him; Caiaphas could not touch Him. When we are baptized we leave the old territory to live in the new. Paul says, ‘sin has no more dominion’ (Romans 6). That makes baptism a deliverance. In baptism God brings your repentance and your faith to its consummation and we are saved form our sins in this life. This is where that last question comes into play - ‘Are salvation and justification the same thing?’ I don’t have a complete thought on this yet, but from a simple word study we can see ‘justification’ or ’justify’ denotes a legal pronouncement. ’Saved‘ or ‘salvation’ refers to the act of being rescued from something. From what did Jesus come to rescue us? Our sins. Jesus did not come to save us from Hell - although that’s an added bonus. He came to save us from our SINS! He came to salvage us from what our selfish has done and restore us to our original condition. If people are only wanting to be saved from Hell, they will not see how baptism helps them. But they if they want to be cleaned up and freed from their sins, we can see that God does this (at least in part) through our baptism.
This means when we baptize our friends we must ask three questions:
Are they already repenting and believing (trusting in God with actions that prove it)?
Do they know that they are leaving their old life to be buried on gone in the water? Are they willing for that to be reality?
Do they understand that God is delivering them from the power of sin and that they can now go on with one ruler - Jesus alone?
We must ask these questions so we can discern if someone should be baptized! It’s not just enough to say Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected for me. We have to be able to say, I have been crucified and buried WITH Him. And I have been raised with Him to a new life. The facts of history we have faith in now become the facts of our present. We know Jesus was buried because I have been buried. We know Jesus was resurrected because the same power that rose Him from the grave is what has raised me and given me new life! Let’s go bring spiritual babies into the Kingdom! God give us wisdom and discernment of the Spirit to accurately see in others what you see before we baptize them. Amen.