I’ve been doing a lot of teaching recently on baptism. There are so many perspectives on it; heresies and Biblical truth abound in our churches today, not to mention a basic lack of understanding on the part of some first generation Christians regarding what it is and why we do it. So, as Bruce Outreach Center is getting excited about our baptism service coming this Sunday at our church picnic in Bloomington, MD, I thought I’d give a brief primer to help our folks understand it more fully, equip those who are getting baptized to better explain what they are doing to their friends and family, and hopefully encourage those who are a part of other churches to better understand this ordinance and to follow the Lord in baptism in their own lives.
First, let me make it perfectly clear what it is NOT. It is NOT a means to salvation. Baptism is an act of obedience for the believer who has already been saved. So, if you want to make the argument that disobedience on the part of an individual by refusing baptism may be evidence that one may not be saved, than that may or may not be accurate. BUT, the argument that cannot be made is that the act itself is part of the salvation process or that not being baptized somehow negates one’s repentance and being born again. The thief on the cross was not baptized and yet we know that Jesus promised Him salvation before His death (Luke 23:43) Interesting enough, the greatest treatise on salvation in all of Scripture is the book of Romans. Many great church leaders were saved through the reading of this precious book – great individuals like John Chrysostom, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Wesley!! And the word baptism is only used ONE time. If it was so critical to salvation, wouldn’t it stand to reason that Paul would have talked about it so much more. Wouldn’t Romans 10:9 be more like “If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead (and get baptized), we will be saved” or Romans 10:13 be “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord (and is baptized) will be saved”?? No, baptism is not even on Paul’s mind here. That is because it is not essential for salvation.
However, with that being said, the importance of baptism is not diminished. Baptism is the outward sign that represents an internal conversion. Just as I could not imagine a husband pledging his life and love to his wife but refusing to wear his wedding ring or carry her picture with him to demonstrate to the world his love for her, I cannot imagine a disciple of Jesus refusing to be baptized to tell the whole world of his / her love for Jesus!! Also, just as I cannot imagine a husband, who loves his wife with all of his heart, rebuking her request to wear a ring or carry her picture, I cannot imagine a genuine disciple of Jesus who claims to love Him with all his / her heart, rebuking Jesus’ request / COMMAND to be baptized to demonstrate that love to the world. Baptism is vital to one’s walk as a believer and to his / her commitment to Jesus Christ. It is our first act of obedience to the Lord in our walk with Him. How can we ever say that we are followers of Jesus if we are not willing to follow Jesus in baptism??
So, I challenge all believers to be baptized. It is not something done as an infant and decided by one’s parents while still in diapers. Throughout Scripture, baptism is often times coupled with repentance and believing. Baptism is mentioned often in the book of Acts. The book of Acts has a focus on the church – as part of the local body, we are to be baptized. We are identifying ourselves with Christ and as a part of His church when we are baptized. I am pretty certain that infants cannot “repent” and “believe” and identify themselves with the local church. This is a decision to be made by one who is old enough to realize he / she is a sinner, he / she needs a Savior, and he / she places his / her trust in Christ – calling upon Him in repentance. Now at what point is that age for an individual?? That is something that is unique to each individual and is something that is to be discerned by the individual. But, if you can process what I am writing here, then you are in a position to make such a decision.
So, in review, baptism does not save anyone, BUT baptism is important. Jesus Himself was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). All Christians should be baptized. Excuses like “I’m not ready” really don’t work since the Bible simply instructs us to repent and be baptized. Try telling believers in other parts of this world who are knowingly heading to their graves because of their decision to be baptized in a culture where it is punishable by death to follow Jesus that somehow you are “not ready”. The only thing that would make an individual “not ready” is “not being saved.” Also, baptism is for the individual who can make his / her own decision to follow Jesus and is not to be determined by a surrogate or parent. And to conclude, baptism is a wonderful picture of what Christ did for us as He went into the grave and then rose again on the third day; as He died in this old life and was risen again in the new immortal body; as we are buried with Him (going under the water) and have our sins washed away (by the blood of Jesus as we repent and turn to Him for salvation) and then rising again to a new life (coming out of the water). There ain’t a better picture than the picture of baptism.
So, I hope our folks who are getting baptized have a clear grasp as to why they are choosing to be baptized and are able to explain as a witness to their family and friends. I also hope that those who have never been baptized will consider such an act of faith. And I hope that we who are baptized have a renewed commitment to following Jesus. Baptism is not the end of our journey – it is the beginning of a life of obedience and faith – and what a rich beginning it is!!