WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT THE BELIEVER’S BAPTISM
Baptism Message ❧ Part 1 of 1
Selected Passages ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
Good morning! This morning we have a number of people who are going to be baptized. They’re excited and we’re excited for them! I thought this would be a good occasion to talk about baptism with you. Today, we’re going to look at What God Says About the Believer’s Baptism.
I read this week about two little girls who went to a Baptist church with their grandmother and witnessed their first baptism. When they got home, they excitedly told their mother all about it. “I was neat, Mom. Grandma’s church has a swimming pool in it, right behind the choir. The preacher got in it with some other guy. He grabbed this guy by the nose, pushed him under the water, and yelled, ‘In the name of the Father, and the Son, and in the hole, you go!”
When it comes to baptism, I’ve found there is no shortage of confusion. Some people believe getting baptized is necessary to be saved, while others don’t. Some people believe in immersion (complete submersion), some believe in aspersion (sprinkling), while others believe in affusion (pouring). Which one is it? To make matters even more confusing, some believe you have to dunk them three times, each in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While others believe once is enough. Which one is it? And the confusion doesn’t stop there. Some believe in infant baptism, while others don’t. Some churches will not allow you to become a member unless you are baptized by them, even though you’ve been baptized before. Some feel you should get baptized only after you get your life right with God (that is, quit smoking, swearing, chewing, drinking, the list goes on and on). You can see why there is a lot of confusion when it comes to baptism! But what does God’s Word say?
We’re going to look at five clear statements God’s Word tells us about baptism. They’re not exhaustive. There is much more I’d like to be able to say about baptism. But hopefully they will help clear a lot of the confusion. Here they are: 1) Baptism is commanded by God for all believers, 2) Baptism illustrates our new life in Christ, 3) Baptism is only for believers, 4) Baptism does not save us, and 4) Baptism ignites God’s blessing in our lives.
- Baptism is commanded by God for all believers. Before Jesus’ ascended into Heaven, He gave this command to His disciples:Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is commanded by Jesus for all believers. Why? Because Jesus Himself was baptized (Mark 1:9). In doing so, He was setting the example for all believers. John says in 1 John, By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments (1 John 2:3).
Baptism is one of two commands, or ordinances, of the New Testament Church. The other is Communion. Both are presented in the Gospels, celebrated in the book of Acts, and explained in the epistles. Both are outward signs of an inward work of obedience.
God did the same thing in the Old Testament with Circumcision and Passover. Both were outward signs revealing an inward work of obedience in the hearts of those who believe. The equivalent of Circumcision in the OT is Baptism in the New. When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins (Colossians 2:11-13, NLT). The equivalent of Passover in the OT is Communion in the New. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 Paul says Christ is our Passover Lamb. First, the Bible tells us baptism is given as a command by God for all believers.
- Baptism illustrates our new life in Christ. Baptism is literally an outward symbol of dying with Christ, being buried with Him, and being raised with Him. Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12, NAS). Baptism illustrates a life that God has made brand-new through His Son. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Not long from now you’re going to see a number of people baptized. Their baptism symbolizes a death, burial and resurrection. The old is gone and the new has begun. The moment they turned from their sins and trusted Christ, God forgave them and made them a brand-new person. All their sins are forgiven; past, present, and future. The old life is dead, and a new life has begun. They are literally a new creation. The word for new creature (καινός κτίσις, kainos ktisis) literally means a new species that did not formerly exist. Baptism best symbolizes this death, burial, and resurrection of a new life. In fact the Greek word for baptism literally means to “dip” pointing to both a washing and a new start.
But the picture of our new life in Christ doesn’t stop there. Theologian Wayne Grudem reminds us that in the Bible passing through the water reminds us of the waters of God’s judgement when He flooded the world (Gen. 7:6-24). Or, when He drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea (Ex. 14:26-29). Those who go down in the water of baptism are going down into the waters of judgment and death, a death they deserved for their sins. Coming up out of the water reminds us they are united with Jesus’ death and burial and have passed safely through God’s judgement by Jesus saving merits (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 969). Baptism is a picture of safely passing through the waters of God’s judgment, having our sins washed away and having been given the gift of eternal life.
People often share that at the moment they trusted Christ a deep inexplicable change took place inside of them. For the first time they were at peace. The heavy load of guilt and shame they’d carried for years was suddenly gone. The world looked different. A mountain-top joy from God filled their hearts. They are brand-new and they know it! They are now a child of God, a child of the King. John says in 1 John, See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are(1 John 3:1, NLT). Someone has said the link between believing and being baptized is like inheriting the throne and being crowned: through the public ceremony the already existing reality of royal privilege is declared, confirmed, celebrated, and formally recognized. This morning you’re going to witness the public celebration of those being crowned as God’s children.
This is one of the reasons we do baptisms by complete immersion. It best symbolizes the passing of our old life and the raising of our new. In fact, every baptism in the Bible was done by full immersion. I’m reminded of a discussion about baptism a Presbyterian and a Baptist pastor had. After the Baptist pastor gave what he thought was a clear explanation of immersion, the Presbyterian minister asked if the Baptist considered a person baptized if he was immersed in water up to his chin. “No,” said the Baptist. “Is he considered baptized if he is immersed up to his nose?” asked the Presbyterian. Again the Baptist’s answer was “No.” “Well, if you immerse him up to his eyebrows do you consider him baptized?” inquired the Presbyterian. “You don’t seem to understand,” said the Baptist. “He must be immersed completely in water—until his head is covered.” “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along,” said the Presbyterian, “it’s only a little water on the top of the head that counts.” Second, baptism is a picture of our new life of forgiveness and position in Christ.
- Baptism is only for believers. I’ve had a number of people tell me they were baptized when they were an infant. Does the Bible teach infant baptism? No. On the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter closed his message of the Gospel saying,Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit(Acts 2:38, NLT). Baptism is only for those who’ve personally recognized their sinfulness before God and trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is the consistent order of baptism throughout the entire NT; first you believe in Christ, then you’re baptized.
Nowhere does the Bible teach someone is baptized before placing their faith in Christ.
When Jesus gave the Great Commission, Go and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, He clearly taught you first need to be a disciple, a believer, before you can be baptized. Only genuine believers are to be baptized according to the Bible.
Why is this order important? When someone is baptized, they are making a public declaration about their personal faith in Christ. No one can do this for you. You alone need to make the decision to trust Christ. It has often been said and is true, God has no grandchildren, only children.
This brings up an important point why baptisms are public, for everyone to witness. Some people want a personal but not a visible relationship with God. They’re looking for the personal security of knowing God minus the public witness. Jesus said, Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven(Matthew 10:32). J.I. Packer observed, Perhaps Jesus knew that a faith never publicly expressed had little chance of surviving. Certainly the church, throughout history, could not have survived unless believers had been willing to go public with their faith, even when it cost them their lives(J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ, p.101). To inwardly accept Jesus and yet reject an outward allegiance to Him is contradictory of a genuine faith. If you are a believer and have not been baptized, my question to you is, “Why?” Are you afraid to publicly declare your faith in Christ? It could be you’ve never understood the importance of baptism in the Bible. I’d be more than happy to talk more with you about it. Third, baptism is only for believers.
- Baptism does not save us. I remember one man who became very angry when I said this. But the plain fact is, baptism does not save you. Yes, Jesus commands us to be baptized, but it is not necessary to our salvation. A case and point: the thief on the cross. When the dying thief turned to Jesus in faith and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” …Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43, NLT). When I brought this up to the man who believed we must be baptized in order to be saved, he said, “Yes, but this man died under the Old Covenant, not the New.” Meaning, the requirement for baptism in order to be saved had not yet been given. The mistake this man was making was assuming this man died before Jesus did thus placing him under the Old Covenant. If he’d looked closer, he would have seen that Jesus died before the thief (John 19:32-33). When Jesus died, He cried out, It is finished! (John 19:30). Everything that needed to be accomplished for the forgiveness of sin had been accomplished. The thief died under the New Covenant, not the Old.
The Bible clearly teaches we are saved by faith alone in Christ. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it (Ephesians 2:8-9). To make baptism a requirement for salvation is to say Jesus’ work on the cross was not enough. Baptism does not save us, rather it identifies us as children of the King.
- Baptism ignites God’s favor. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4, NAS). Paul is talking about what happens to us spiritually the moment we trust Christ. Physical baptism that follows is merely an outward symbol of the inward work of God.
There is a danger here. Sometimes we can water down baptism, no pun intended, to mean it is simply a symbol of the spiritual baptism that took place inside us when we trusted Christ. I disagree. Obedience to God always brings the favor of God. Baptism ignites God’s favor in both the heart of the person being baptized as well as those watching. It stands to reason when we obey God, we will experience the joy of His favor in our lives. And that is exactly what happens. It strengthens the faith of the one being baptized in a very experiential way. They literally experience the burial of the old life and the joy of a resurrected new life! Those watching should find their own faith in Christ stirred and strengthened.
It said that when Martin Luther was tempted to doubt God’s love and lapse into feelings of despair, he would keep himself steady by telling himself, “Batizatus sum”(I have been baptized). He would then recover his assurance of God’s call and grace in his life. He understood baptism ignites God’s favor in our lives. It is a rock-sold reminder that we are united with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. Because He lives, we have the assured promise, we will live also. Luther understood God’s message of baptism and found great joy in it. We should as well. Baptism is more than a symbol; it is a constant reminder of God’s love and grace in Christ each person getting baptized will take with them today.