In spiritual conversations with friends and family members one question has been asked of me more than any other. Being aware that discussions of baptism have occasionally led to fractured friendships and falling-outs with family members, I’ve tried to steer clear of conflict when discussing this topic. Still, there is little doubt in my mind that I’ve bungled more than a few of my responses. I truly regret this.
But, when a friend or family member calls you up and says, “What do you teach about baptism?”, it would not be right to dodge the question, even if it means risking a rift in your relationship by responding candidly. This is why I try to remember to begin my response by stating that what I teach is really not the issue. I appreciate the fact that someone has sufficient confidence in me as a student of the Scriptures to ask what I teach, but the real question for all of us to consider is “What do the Scriptures say about this topic?”
This is where the challenge arises. Numerous books pertaining to the subject of baptism have been written. My library has many volumes looming large on the shelves. This abundance of writings on baptism illustrates an important point. Concepts concerning baptism are many and varied, consisting of confusing contradictions and resulting in a relatively simple matter being made complex. Consequently, traditions, creedal statements, and personal prejudices often take precedence over the Scriptures. Because this is the case, I would like to suggest that we think about this topic afresh by reflecting on a series of questions.
What is baptism?
Many “baptisms” are mentioned in the Bible. Because it is usually at the center of the discussions I have had, we are focusing here on the baptism that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20 & Mark 16:15-16). The baptism which the Apostle Paul speaks of as the “one baptism” expressive of the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3-4). The one baptism, which by definition and demonstration means: to dip, plunge, submerge, or immerse (Matthew 3:13ff; Acts 8:36ff). The one that the New Testament reveals to be a physical act with spiritual significance—a burial in water, which (when prompted by faith in the working of God) unites a person with Christ in the likeness of His death (Acts 8:36-39; Romans 6:1-7; & Colossians 2:11-12). This is the one baptism which the Apostle Peter likened to the great flood of Noah’s day, saying: “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge (or response) of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:21).
Why should a person be baptized?
First, because it is commanded by Christ (Matthew 28:19); and loving obedience to Christ is essential (John 14:15 and Hebrews 5:8-9). Furthermore, baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith as is exemplified by thousands of early believers (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 8:38: 10:48; 16:15; 16:31-33; 18:8; 22:16; and Romans 6:17-18). Moreover, a believer’s baptism is the point and place in which she or he is enters into Christ where redemption and forgiveness of sins is experienced (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27 and Ephesians 1:7). The Apostle Paul explains that when a person is united with Jesus like this in His death through baptism, the old sinful self is crucified with Him, so that the body of sin might be done away with (Romans 6:5-7). Just as 2 Corinthians 5:17 confirms: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Baptism is, also, the God-given point of entry into the body of Christ, the church (John 3:3,5; Acts 2:38, 41, 47; Colossians 1:13; and 1 Corinthians 12:13). Thus, if one is a believer who desires to be delivered by God from the power and penalty of sin—rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son—she or he should be baptized.
Who should be baptized?
Looking at the biblical examples mentioned above, several distinguishing factors emerge. Those who were baptized were cut to the heart by the realization of personal sinfulness and determined to turn away from their wickedness. They believed that Christ made atonement for sin through His blood shed on the cross and that salvation is found in no one else. They understood that baptism was not a mere right of passage or ritual to be observed, but a public act of sincere faith in the working of God’s saving grace. They were, of their own will and volition, responding as Christ had said they should to the preaching of the Good News. They believed. They were baptized; and they were saved (Mark 16:15-16)! Thus, those who realize they are separated from God by sin and are willing to turn away from a sinful lifestyle and trust in God’s power to save, should be baptized.
The greatest proponent of Bible baptism is a man once known as Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as Paul, the apostle of Christ to the Gentiles. He was a radical persecutor of the Lord’s church, but became the greatest missionary the church has ever known. The pivotal point in his life (as spoken from his own lips and recorded by the inspired historian Luke) was when, after sharing the Good News with him, Ananias asked him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name,” (Acts 22:16). Bible baptism is the immersion in water of a penitent believer in order that, by God’s grace, his or her sins might be washed away through the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. Have you experienced this? If not, what are you waiting for?
© Bill Williams
March 31, 2007
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