Sunday, May 29, 2011

Believers Participate in Baptism

There will always be some disagreement among Christians about what baptism really is.  Since I am new to my church, it seemed wise not to assume that everyone in our Baptist congregation has been baptized, or that everyone completely understands why we do it.  So I preached about baptism—why we do what we do with regard to this ordinance of the church.  Many have skillfully written about the necessity and purpose of baptism.  But for my own church and those who may later join the membership, and for anyone it might help, I thought I would publish the brief notes here.

For all biblical Baptists, the most important idea regarding baptism is that baptism will not and cannot save you—or bring you into fellowship with God.

The Bible is absolutely clear that fellowship with God cannot be earned, neither by baptism nor any other work.  Fellowship with God must be accepted by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (a basic Protestant belief that is taught in the Scriptures).  The Apostle Paul, who clearly could have emphasized baptism if he had wanted to, chose instead to diminish the role of baptism in his ministry, out of the concern that someone might misunderstand either the gospel or his authoritative preaching:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect (1 Corinthians 1.17, HCSB).

So if baptism doesn’t save us, what is it and why does it matter?  Why and how do we practice baptism, and why is it only for believers in Christ?

Baptism is an ordinance for believers in Jesus, as a picture of our faith.  Here are five quick points to describe what baptism is, and why we participate in it.

Imperative

We participate in believers’ baptism because of the imperative from Jesus.  In the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20), Jesus commanded that the church baptize believers.  Ultimately this imperative or command from Jesus is to the church.  He was saying that we must baptize those who come to faith in Him.  Those who don’t want to participate in baptism are causing the church not to fulfill its commission from the Lord.  Why?  As part of His commission to the church, it is a demonstration to the world that you believe in Jesus.  To avoid baptism is to deny His command, and a rejection of His imperatives equals a rejection of Him (see John 14.15).

Instruction

We participate in believers’ baptism according to the instruction of the Scriptures.  The Bible clearly instructs, even from the beginning as John the Baptizer baptized Jesus, that baptism was and is a picture of repentance and faith in Jesus and His work (see John 1.25-34).  By being baptized, Jesus validated John the Baptizer’s message of repentance and faith, although Jesus didn’t have anything to repent of.  So for all those who are baptized now, we look backwards to the picture Jesus painted for us, and as such we are saying that our repentance and faith are wrapped up in what Jesus already did for us, not through anything we could do (see Acts 19.4).  This is also why we don’t baptize infants, since they cannot yet cognitively express repentance and faith in Jesus.

Immersion

We participate in believers’ baptism by immersion for its symbolism.  Not only does the term to baptize mean to immerse, or to be dunked under water, but also there is a far greater reason why we practice baptism by immersion.  Again, we follow after the pattern of Jesus who went down into the water (see Matthew 3.16-17).  But we also do it primarily because baptism by immersion is a great picture of death, burial and resurrection.  Rather than signifying cleansing, baptism points to our death, burial and resurrection with Christ.  Spiritually speaking, we die with Him, and we are raised with Him.  In water we see a demonstration and illustration of what is taking place, but the real ministry is in our hearts (see Colossians 2.12).

Identification

We participate in believers’ baptism for its identification with Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Just as above we mentioned that immersion is a symbol of the real death and resurrection of Jesus, therefore also by identifying with Him, it means that in Christ we benefit from His accomplishments.  If Jesus conquered death, we in Christ conquer death.  If He conquered sin, we in Christ conquer sin.  If He lives a victorious life, we in Christ have a victorious life (see Romans 6.3-4; Galatians 2.20).  So because we identify with Christ in His death and His resurrection, He takes our sin off of us, and he puts on us His righteousness.  We can put off the old way of life, and put on a new, victorious one (see Galatians 3.27).

Initiation

We participate in believers’ baptism as an initiation into the church.  When someone identifies with Christ as described above, it also indicates his or her initiation into the church of God in Christ.  Even in the Great Commission, the act of baptism marks those who are baptized as members of a group—the ones who belong to Christ, His church.  Scripture also speaks of caring accountability and discipline for those included in the church, and baptism acts as a visible seal of faith, showing the members as those who identify with Jesus.  We are all spiritually baptized into one body in Christ, and water baptism reflects that spiritual baptism into Christ and His church (1 Corinthians 12.13).

Ultimately, we participate in baptism for believers because we know and love Jesus, we live for His glory, and it marks us as His.