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Mk. 16:15-16; Jn. 3:5-7; Gal. 3:26-27
Duration:26 mins 8 secs

 

Today I want to talk to you about Baptism.  By my count, baptism is mentioned by name at least 90 times in the New Testament, and I believe it is referred to several more times not necessarily by that name.  Now admittedly, not all of the references speak of Christian baptism. Some have to do with John the Baptist's baptism of repentance, or a baptism of suffering, or of fire, or some such other baptism.  But the majority speak of baptism into Christ.

Surprisingly, with all that is said about it, baptism is a controversial topic--the subject of much discussion, disagreement, and misunderstanding.  Where did it come from? Who is it for? When should it be done? How is it to be done? What does it mean? These are all important questions.

Baptism--or at least Bible baptism and Christian baptism--is God's idea.  It's true that the Jews of the Old Testament and the Essenes of the period between the testaments practiced various forms of ritual cleansings.  And I believe that Christian baptism is even represented and foreshadowed in the symbolism of the tabernacle and temple. The "laver" (KJV) or "bronze basin" (NIV) that stood between tabernacle's altar of burnt offering and Holy Place, and the "bronze sea" (KJV) or "sea of cast metal" (NIV) in a similar location of the temple was a huge reservoir of water with upper and lower compartments where the priests were required to "wash" before they could enter the Holy Place.

But when John the Baptist came "baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mk. 1:4), he specifically says he did so at God's direction.  John 1:33 records his testimony.  Referring to God, he said; "...the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'"

Jesus Himself was baptized by John "to fulfill all righteousness." (Mt. 3:15).  And Jesus, too--or at least HIs disciples--administered this same baptism of repentance. (Jn. 3:26; 4:1-2).  Then, upon His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus directed His followers to baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Mt. 28:19).  This they did.  And every conversion story recorded in the book of Acts that gives any detail at all records that believer's baptism.

What then is baptism?  

Outwardly, baptism is simply the total immersion of a repentant believer in water.  The very word "baptism" (or baptidzo in the original Greek language) means to sink, submerge, immerse, dip, wash, plunge, or overwhelm.  Every recognized authority on the use and meaning of New Testament Greek words freely admits this, and several of the Bible examples of baptism show it as well.  The most obvious example may be that of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36-39; "36As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water.  Why shouldn't I be baptized?' 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot.  Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing."

But beyond the simple mechanics of lowering someone down into water and then lifting them back up out of it again, baptism, Biblically, is several things.

 

I.

Baptism is an Appeal (Call) to God

Baptism is the means by which we make our appeal to God for salvation.  I know that some preachers are fond of quoting Ro.10:13; "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  But that sort of begs the follow-up question, "How does one go about 'calling on the name of the Lord'?"  Some would say we "call on the Lord" by means of prayer, and they offer what's called the "Sinner's Prayer" as a model.

I don't see anything particularly objectionable about the sinner's prayer itself, but I do find it troubling that if that is the way we are to go about "calling on the name of the Lord" or making our formal appeal to God for salvation, then why is the sinners prayer never mentioned in the Scriptures?  And why are there no examples of it being used?

But instead, 1 Pe. 3:21 tells us it is "...baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God."  KJV even translates that word "pledge" as appeal.”  So does RSV.  

Other Bible versions translate that baptism is...

"…the answer of a good conscience…" (AV),

"…the seeking of a good conscience…" (Emphatic Diaglott, and Alexander Campbell's Living Oracles translation),

"…the craving of a good conscience after God" (Weymouth, also Goodspeed),

"…the prayer for a clean conscience before God" (Moffatt), and even

"…the request to God for a clear conscience." (The Authentic New Testament).

Whichever of those translations you like/use, they all indicate that baptism is the means (or method) by which we petition God!  "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" to be sure!  But the manner/the way/the procedure by which one "calls on" the Lord is obedience to His command to be baptized.

We even have a wonderful example of that very procedure.  Saul (who became the Apostle Paul) encountered the risen Christ on the Damascus road and was told to go into the city where he would be told what he must to do be saved. (Ac. 9:1-6; 22:6-10).  Saul spent the next three days praying and fasting. (Ac. 9:7-9).  At the end of that time God sent Ananias to Saul. (Ac. 9:10-16; 22:12).  Ananias restored Saul's sight and baptized him. (Ac. 9:17-19; 22:13-16).  But notice what Ananias said in Ac. 22:16 just before baptizing him; "And now what are you waiting for?  Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name."  For three days Saul had prayed, no doubt in genuine repentance with passionate pleas for forgiveness.  But his sins were still present. Ananias indicated that submission to baptism was the manner in which Saul called on Jesus for salvation.

 

II.

Baptism is an Act of Identification with Christ and a Pledge of Allegiance to Christ

In his book, What the Bible Says About Salvation, Virgil Warren makes this very point.  He writes, "Christian baptism identifies us with Jesus Christ as a pledge of allegiance.  It is first a pledge to the person.  To identify with a person is also to identify with what he stands for.  It becomes an expression of commitment to his purposes.  ...  The sinner identifies himself with Christ subjectively by obeying among other things the commandment to be baptized..." (Warren, pp. 228-229).

Several scriptural passages bear out this function of Christian baptism:

  • Ro. 6:3 = "...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death."
  • Gal. 3:27 = "...all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."

Notice how both of these passages specify baptism "into Christ."  Other Scriptural passages about baptism often speak of "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Ac. 2:38; 10:48; 19:5), or (as in the Great Commission) "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (Mt.28:19).  This is because it is possible to be baptized into someone other than Jesus in an act of immersion--i.e. to "identify" with someone else!

  • In 1 Cor. 10:1-2 Paul speaks of the Old Testament Israelites passing through the Red Sea during the exodus from Egypt and says "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."
  • Likewise, in 1 Cor. 1:13-15, Paul scolds some of the Corinthian Christians for their divisions and misplaced loyalties saying, "Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  I am thankful that i did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name."

Baptism "into Christ" or "into the name of Jesus" is another way of saying our baptism identifies us with Christ Jesus.  Even the very act itself is a reenactment or a picture of Jesus own death, burial, and resurrection, for we are lowered under the water as if being buried.  And then raised up out of the water as if to a new life!

Suppose a Hindu family knows that a son or daughter at the university is taking a course on world religions and this semester the study is Christianity.  The parents are not overly concerned for their child. But should the student come home from college announcing that he or she has been baptized, the parents might disown their own child.  Why? Because the decision would mean the way of Christ had been accepted. The child/student has identified with Jesus. An old way has been left behind and a new path has begun. (Fitch, Restoration Herald, p. 4)

According to Wikipedia, "In ancient Roman religion and law, the 'sacramentum' was an oath or vow."

"Sacramentum" was the term used of the "oath" that Roman soldiers took when they entered military service.  It was a pledge to follow the orders of the commanding officer. The early Christians compared this oath to what a believer did when he/she was baptized.  Consequently baptism became known as the Christian's sacramentum or "sacrament." (Staton)  

In baptism, a believer identifies himself with Christ and pledges his allegiance to Christ.

 

III.

Baptism is a Death to Sin, a Burial of the Old Ways of Sin, and a Resurrection to a New Way of Life

Not only does immersion in water reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it also physically symbolizes a spiritual reality within the baptismal candidate himself--namely the rejection of sin, the determination to "die" to sin's influence, and the resolve thereafter to follow God's plan & Christ's example for living.  Ro. 6:3-4 (which was partially quoted earlier) says, "...don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."  A few verses later, Paul explains what it means to be dead to sin and raised to new life; "11...count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness."

When one is baptized he turns his back on his former ways of sin.  He says to God, to the world, and to himself that he will give no more heed or attention to temptation than would a corpse.  He is "dead" to sin's influence. He is a new, different, resurrected person.

Col. 2:11-12 makes a similar point about the significance of baptism by comparing it to Old Testament covenant sign of circumcision.  "11In him [i.e. Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."

One preacher puts it this way; "...when we become a Christian we die to our past.  We put the past behind us. We are dead [to it].  So what do you do with someone who is dead?  You bury them. Our old self was buried with Christ when we were baptized.  We left the old man in the grave and a new man was brought up out of the water." (Sullivan, Restoration Herald, p. 10).

 

IV.

Baptism is a Spiritual Washing Away of Sin

We spoke earlier about the ceremonial "washing" that was required of the Old Testament priests before they could enter the Holy Place of the tabernacle or temple.  We too must be spiritually "cleansed" of our sin. In baptism we are so cleansed, and thus it is often referred to as a "washing."

    • Remember the words of Ananias to Saul; "And now what are you waiting for?  Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." (Ac. 22:16).

 

  • Titus 3:4-7 talks about "the washing of rebirth and renewal."  That expression has been understood by commentators both ancient and modern as a reference to Christian Baptism.
  • Eph. 5:25-26 likewise indicates the act of baptism when we're told that "25...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word..."

 

One of the submissions made concerning Bible topics for me to address asked this question; "If your sins are washed away, then will your sins be with you forever?"  NO!  That's what "washed away" means; gone forever!  In 1 Cor. 6:9-10 Paul gives a long list of sinful practices that will keep people from inheriting the kingdom of God.  "9...Do not be deceived," he says, "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."  But Paul immediately follows that pronouncement with this assurance; "11And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."  When did that "washing" take place?  At baptism! Baptism is the spiritual "washing away" of sin.

 

  • Heb. 10:22 urges us to "...draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."  It seems obvious to me that the "washing" of our bodies with pure water is a reference to spiritual cleansing that comes at/in baptism.

 

By the way, if you will allow me to digress just a bit.  I once had someone suggest that this passage authorizes "sprinkling" as a form of baptism.  But the "sprinkling" here referenced is done to "our hearts" while the "washing" is of our "bodies."  It is a symbolic reference to the Old Testament Day of Atonement when the High Priest took blood from animal sacrifices into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it onto the Mercy Seat (or atonement cover) of the Ark of God. (Lev. 16).  We are saved by the blood of Jesus to be sure.  But figuratively and spiritually we come into contact with the blood of Jesus at our baptism!

The old hymn asks the question, "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"  You are indeed "washed" and cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus if and when you have been baptized into Him!

 

V.

Baptism is a Birth into a New Life

Jesus told Nicodemus, "...no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he born of water and the Spirit." (Jn. 3:5).  Some like to suggest Jesus was talking about two separate "births"--the "water" birth being a natural, physical birth, and the "Spirit" birth coming later when we place our faith in Jesus.  But I contend that the birth of "water and the Spirit" happen simultaneously in the act of Christian baptism.  Peter told his hearers on the Day of Pentecost in Ac. 2; that two results would come about as a result of their repentance and baptism.  Not only would their sins would be forgiven, but they would also receive the Holy Spirit as a "gift." (See Ac. 2:38).  In this way they could "save" themselves from their corrupt generation. (Ac. 2:40).  So, Christian baptism is itself both a water and a Spirit birth into a new, "saved" existence!

Titus 3:4-6 confirms this for me.  It says, "4...when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior."  Here we see again both the "washing" and the "renewal."  But since the "washing" is said to be a washing of "rebirth" it obviously does not refer to our physical birth.  It refers to our spiritual birth at baptism.

Another of the submission questions I was asked to address in a sermon wondered about re-baptism.  "What if you have been baptized in the past but you had committed sin afterwards?  Do you have to get baptized again?" No!  If you were baptized in the proper, Biblical manner (i.e. by immersion), and in the proper, Biblical attitude (i.e. faith in Christ Jesus), then you do not have to "get baptized again."  Of course, if you have doubts about either of those qualifications, then by all means, let's get that taken care of. Otherwise, you're covered.

Baptism is a "birth" into a new life--not always a sinlessly perfect life, but a new, forgiven life none-the-less.  Just as you are physically "born" only once, you are spiritually "born" only once as well.  Eph. 4:4-6 says, "There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

Conclusion:  So then...

  • Baptism is indeed an appeal (or call) to God for salvation.
  • Baptism is an identification with Christ & a pledge of allegiance to Him.
  • It is a death to sin, burial of the sinful nature, and resurrection to a new way of life.
  • It is a spiritual washing away of sin.
  • And it is a birth into a new, forgiven & saved life.

 

Allow me to close with these comments from Louise Addington, one of the members of Memorial Christian Church (now Christian Church of Mt. Home, AR.) in their monthly church newsletter:

" It breaks my heart that some people don't know whether they are saved or not because they don't 'feel' saved.  After a diligent search of my concordance, no scripture could be found indicating anyone ever felt saved. ...

"As our creator, God knows we need to 'feel' like we've been saved.  therein lies the beauty, joy and blessing of baptism. We are told when we are baptized (physically) our sins (spiritual) are washed away, remitted (taken away) and that we are given the gift of the holy Spirit (our spiritual companion).  See Acts 22:16; 2:38. Just like the Ethiopian treasurer in Acts 8 [who "went on his way rejoicing" (Ac. 8:39)], we can rejoice ...because, like him, we know God has kept His promise to save us as we, in baptism, expressed faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

"You know when you look at a map you are in a certain location.  It is not a matter of feeling like you are in a certain place, but you know that's where you are.  We look at our watch to know what time it is. We don't feel what time it is. When you purchase a house, you don't take possession based upon a feeling that you own the house, but rather upon the title deed that has your name on it.  Baptism is signing on the dotted line, agreeing to follow Christ's example in our lives on the way to taking possession of our new home. It is the occasion when God's Holy Spirit takes up residence in you as the down payment on your eternal home."

 

Sources for this sermon include:

  • Virgil Warren, What the Bible Says About Salvation, College Press, 1982
  • Alger Fitch, After Baptism is the Open Heaven, The Restoration Herald, June 2011
  • Tony Sullivan, Top Ten Best Things About Baptism, The Restoration Herald, June 2011
  • Knofel Staton, Essentials for Becoming a Christian, Part Five: Baptism, Christian Standard, March 30, 1980
  • Louise Addington, The Joy and Blessing of Baptism, Contact newsletter, Memorial Christian Church, Mt. Home, AR, Vol. 16, April 2000
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