Important Questions: Baptism

It came to my attention that I have never addressed the topic of baptism online before. Baptism is an important topic that is considered “elementary” to the Church, that is, it is foundational to the Church.  Yet because there are so few scriptures it can also be a difficult topic to address.

SCRIPTURES:  

  • 1st Peter 3:18-22;
  • Galatians 3:26-29;
  • Romans 6:1-6;
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13-14;
  • Matthew 3:11;
  • Matthew 28:19-20 (cf Mark 16:14-18);
  • 1 Corinthians 1:17

A PLEDGE: 1st Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.  In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Now that He has gone into heaven, He is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him.

Peter shows us that baptism is an antitype of Noah’s flood in which all the wickedness of the flesh was wiped away leaving behind only the righteous souls who were housed in the covenant of God.

The parenthetical statement sometimes breaks up Peter’s thought, so we’re going to take it out and read the sentence through before replacing the parenthetical thought: “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Peter says that baptism, as it corresponds to Noah’s flood, saves us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Baptism is not the substance or power of our salvation; it operates through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “If Christ is not raised” as Paul said, “we of all men are most pitiable”.  It’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ that gives baptism its meaning, and God chose baptism as the mechanism through which we are conformed to the resurrection of Christ. Then if we put Peter’s parenthetical statement back in, we see that baptism is not about the outward cleansing of the body, as were the Jewish baptisms of the Law, rather, it is our pledge of a clean conscience towards God.

Baptism, then, is our pledge of a clean conscience towards God by which we are saved through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

PUTTING ON CHRIST: Galatians 3:26-29

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

It is said that the word of God is many-sided; and so it is that Paul reveals the same thing as Peter by approaching it from another side of God’s wisdom: baptism is how those who are children of God through faith have put on Christ.  Here we see faith and God’s covenant working in baptism.

Baptism never works by itself because baptism is not the substance of God’s work in believers.

BURRIED WITH CHRIST: Romans 6:1-6

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?  Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.  For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection.  For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,

The believer is joined to Christ in both the likeness of His death and resurrection in baptism, and offers this act as proof that it is impossible for a Christian to continue in sin.  By joining Christ in the likeness of HIs death sin’s terrible grip on us through the flesh is done away with so that we can join Him in the likeness of His resurrection and walk in a new way of life!

Every baptism which does not result in the death of sin’s hold over the flesh and the new life of the believer is a counterfeit.

BY ONE SPIRIT INTO ONE BODY: 1 Corinthians 12:13-14

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  So the body is not one part but many.

Baptism is the act by which the Holy Spirit brings us into the body, and it is offered here as a proof for Christian unity (c.f. Ephesians 4:1-6).  Of particular note here is that the agent of baptism is the Holy Spirit.

WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT & FIRE: Matthew 3:11

I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the baptist clearly delineated between his baptism and the baptism of Jesus; his baptism was with water for repentance, but Jesus’ baptism is with the Holy Spirit and fire.

It is a mistake to take this passage to mean that there is no water baptism in the Church, as many do.  This passage does not teach that Jesus did away with the element of water in baptism, but that the substance of Jesus’ baptism is the Holy Spirit and fire.  Of particular interest is the Levitical laws pertaining to baptism and fire; water was used for such things as could be cleansed outwardly (such as our bodies), while fire was used for things that were so infected that the entire entity had to be destroyed, such as a building infested with mold.

IN THE NAME: Matthew 28:19-20

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The prophet Ezekiel foretold by the words of God that God would vindicate His great name in the days that He would put His Spirit within us (who comes in His name- John 14:26) and take out our hearts of stone and give us new living hearts (Ezekiel 36:22-27).  In fact, Ezekiel reveals to us by the words of God that the reason for God’s act of redemption is on behalf of His great name!

It is by baptism that we enter as co-heirs into the name of our Father, His Son, and His Spirit.  But here I feel compelled to stop and note how concerned, and even terrified, I am by how trivial and ritualistic the recitation of this passage has become during the act of baptism in the Church.  I worries me that so many Churches stand without hallowed reverence to baptize men and women into the name the Holy Name.

NOT SENT TO BAPTIZE: 1 Corinthians 1:17

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.

As powerful and important as baptism is, Paul’s testimony here serves to sober the mind of churches regarding baptism where baptism has become the primary focus and end objective; Paul understood the work of preaching the gospel, not baptizing, to be the central work of the Church, for he knew that it is the “gospel that is the power of God for salvation to all who believe”.  Paul neither diminished the necessity of baptism, as we’ve seen in his other writings, nor exalted it to some measure of success like many today have done.

 

 

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