Baptism (Part The First)

Several years ago (back in 1977, as a matter of fact), J.I. Packard released a book entitled, “I Want To Be A Christian.” It was an excellent book that every believer should have in their library . . . scratch that. It s a book every believer needs to read! (Don’t let it just sit on your bookshelf).

In the book, Packer provides an excellent Do-It-Yourself catechism that introduces the very basic doctrines of The Church: the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and Baptism.

I love this book because it was the very first book I received after I gave my life to the Lord. The brother who was “mentoring” me, or more correctly, discipling me into my new faith, gave me a copy to study, and each week we would cover the questions at the end of each chapter. (Oh, I do wish I could remember who it was. It could have been Tom Hemingway. If any of you know a Tom Hemingway, who attended WMU, send him my way!)

Anyway, what brought this to mind was that recently I ran into some folks who insisted that we must be baptized, or we are not saved. I obviously did not agree with that, but I thought I would discuss this so you understand the reality of our faith and one of the more divisive topics in the church.

Clearly, the Bible does discuss baptism and those of us who believe the Bible must search the Scriptures until we find satisfactory answers. There is no virtue in ambiguity when the Bible speaks with clarity.

In the most basic lesson we need to accept is that we baptize (or are baptized) new believers (or older believers who have never been baptized) because our Lord commanded it:

So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20)

Those were some of the final explicit instructions Jesus gave us before he ascended to heaven. We refer to this as the Great Commission because it is the foundation for our missionary outreach. So, if going is a part of the Great Commission and if making disciples is a part of the Great Commission and if teaching is a part of the Great Commission, then so is baptizing.

But notice the logical progression. We go and share the gospel. As they come, we make disciples. Then, we are to baptize those disciples and teach them to obey the words of Jesus. Baptism is part and parcel of Jesus’ command to the church. It is fundamental to our mission in the world.

However, here is the problem. Some will argue that if you do not baptize the new believers, they are not true believers. Well, if that is true, a logical extrapolation of that would if they are not disciples, they are not saved, either. And yes, some will argue that if “He ain’t Lord of all, He ain’t Lord at all!”

But there is a problem with that. Making Jesus your Lord, is a growing process. You grow in your love and confidence in Him, and you are finally able to proclaim that He is your Lord. You don’t snap a finger and voilà! your are a disciple!

If we could boil down baptism into just one word, it would have to be identification. Baptism is, above anything else, a personal and public identification with Jesus Christ. Look what Paul said about this:

Did you forget (or Don’t know) that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus participated in his death through that baptism; When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and participated in his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, we also can live a new life (Romans 6:3-4)

Now I want you to notice the significance of those expressions — “baptized into Christ” and “baptized into his death” and “buried with him in baptism.” The Greek word used here is baptizo, and NOT baptisma. That is significant!

Now, I hate giving word studies, because they sometimes blow right past the reader. But here, it would be helpful for us to understand what Paul was saying. Baptisma is the ordinance of baptism. It is referring to the “ceremonial washing of articles,” and is used when they are, or example, discussing John’s “baptism.” The phrase, “to baptize,” is taken from the root word, bapto, and it means “to dip.” This was used among the Greeks to signify, for instance, dyeing a garment, or drawing water by dipping [bapto] a vessel into another, like when you dip a cup into a punch bowl.

However, baptizo is used metaphorically. For instance, when we talk about the overwhelming afflictions and judgments our Lord voluntarily submitted to on the cross, we say that He was “baptized” into the suffering. Do you remember when Jesus said, “I have a baptism to go through, and I will suffer until it is over” (Luke 12:50). Then Jesus talked about the sufferings His followers would experience, not vicariously, but in fellowship with the sufferings of their Master. Take a look:

Jesus replied, “You don’t realize what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they told him.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink my cup. But I don’t have the authority to grant you a seat at my right or left. My Father has already prepared these positions for certain people” (Matthew 20:22-23)

However, take a look at how Mark renders the exact statement:

Jesus said, “You don’t realize what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism that I am going to receive?”

“We can,” they told him [Pretty bold of them, don’t you think?]

Jesus told them, “You will drink the cup that I am going to drink. You will be baptized with the baptism that I am going to receive (Mark 10:38-39)

In the early chapters of the Gospels and a few times in Acts, you do indeed see the rite performed by John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus. They were calling on everyone to repent so they could receive remission of sins. Those who obeyed came, “confessing their sins,” and acknowledging that they were unfit to be in the Messiah’s coming kingdom. However, this is different from the “baptism” that unites us with Christ. This is a “baptism” we experience as a declaration to our identification with our Lord in His death, burial and resurrection. According to E.W. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the phrase in Matthew 28:19, “baptizing them into the Name,” indicates that the “baptized” person is closely bound to, or (and I like this) became the property of, the one into whose name he was “baptized.”

Another example of the metaphorical use of baptizo, is seen when we discuss those who were in the ark at the time of the Flood. That event was a figure or type of the spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, that a Christian experiences in their “baptism.” Another time is when the nation of Israel was figuratively baptized when they passed through the Red Sea under the cloud. We also see this when Paul wrote, “They were all united with Moses by baptism in the cloud and in the sea (I Corinthians 10:2). Do you remember the story? The sea had parted and they crossed over to the other side and never once got their toes wet!

We speak metaphorically when we refer to the “baptism” by the Holy Spirit, which first took place on the Day of Pentecost (and continues to our modern days); and when we discuss the calamity that came on the nation of Israel, we speak of the “baptism” of the fire of Divine judgment for rejection of the will and word of God. (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

At the beginning of this message I said that if we could boil down baptism into just one word it would have to be identification. I think a perfect example of this is when someone pledges his allegiance to the flag. Do you remember it?

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

Now when we say that, we are openly identifying with the United States of America. It is more than just a ritual. It is a declaration of loyalty to the nation and not merely to the flag itself — “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands.” Well, when someone steps forward and is baptized, he is pledging his allegiance to Jesus Christ — openly identifying with him.

I heard someone use the example of a wedding ring. When someone gets married, they almost always begin to wear a wedding ring. The wedding ring is not what makes you married. In fact, I lost the stone on my wedding ring and no longer wear it. Does that mean I am no longer married? Of course not (and my wife is sure to remind me, if I forget). Nor is it the paper we signed along with our Pastor. So whether I wear a wedding ring or not, Patrice and I are still legally and truly married. But then again, the wedding ring is more than a piece of jewelry. It represents the solemn commitment of a man and a woman to become husband and wife. It is a public testimony to that commitment. That is exactly what our baptism is! It served as a public declaration that we identify with Jesus Christ. It is an outward symbol of an inward commitment.

During a wedding, I love to the story of how, in the New Testament times, it was not uncommon for a freed slave to voluntarily re-enter service to a master he loved. This servitude was called bondservice and only a freed slave could be a bondservant. And, once he had chosen to become a bondservant, he could never be freed again. He could never be bought or sold, and he served his chosen master until death! When a man chose bondservice, he was taken to the front entrance of the house, and his right ear was laid against the doorpost. A nail was driven through his ear and a golden earring was placed in it. From that moment on, that golden earring was a symbol to everyone that this servants chose to become a slave and was immune from ever again being made merchandise.

I love to point to the wedding rings and declare, “these rings are not hoops of bondage, but from this moment on, this couple has declared their promise to serve and love each other until their deaths!

I haven’t thought it this way before, but in a very concrete way, when you are baptized, you are preaching the perfect sermon without using any words! When you are standing in the water waiting to be baptized, you are symbolizing Jesus dying on the cross. When the preacher lowers you into the water, you symbolize Jesus buried in the tomb. Then, as the preacher raises you up from the water, you are symbolizing Jesus rising from the dead! Now that is cool!


(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)

With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.

The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.

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