The Centrality of the Savior
in Biblical Baptism
The Lord Jesus Christ is central to everything! He is the key to our relationship with God, now and forever (John 14:6). He is our very life (Col. 3:4) and the reason for our living (Phil. 1:21). The focus of the message in New Testament preaching was Christ, His death for our sins, and His resurrection to new life (1 Cor. 2:2; 15:1-4). The essential theme of the Scriptures is the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). He was the agent of creation, the radiance of the Father’s glory, and the exact representation of His nature (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3). Through Him we are given salvation (2 Tim. 2:10), forgiveness (Acts 13:38), and redemption (Eph. 1:7). It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul writes: “He Himself might come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18).
If Christ is preeminent in everything, the sound teaching of Scripture must always be rooted and grounded in Him and His marvelous work of salvation. If we would be true to Him and the Word of God, we must recognize that all aspects of God’s way of reconciling men to Himself have their focus in Christ. The coming of Christ in the flesh was for our salvation (Heb. 2:9,14,17). His sinless life was to qualify Him as our Savior, the pure and undefiled Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 3:5). His suffering and death on the cross and the giving of His blood was for our salvation (Rom. 5:6-9; 1 Peter 2:24). His resurrection to new life was also for our salvation (John 14:19). His present intercession with the Father is for our salvation (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25) and His future coming will be for our eternal salvation (Heb. 9:28; Jude 21). Our presence with Him in glory will continue to focus on the fact that He is indeed Savior and the reason for our everlasting bliss (Rev. 5:6-14; 7:17). All of this should remind us of how indebted we are to Him who loved us and how grateful we should be for the salvation He has accomplished from beginning to end!
A person’s coming to Christ Jesus to be saved from sin centers on Him and His saving work. This is obvious to all who have read the Scriptures with insight and honesty. God saves us by His grace and mercy, but He does this through our faith (Eph. 2:8). Yet what is the object of this faith that saves? It is a faith that is focused on Christ Jesus (Acts 16:31), His sacrificial death on the cross (Romans 3:24-26), and His resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Therefore, it is through Christ that we believe in God (1 Peter 1:21).
When one comes to Christ, he must repent of his sins and turn to God (Acts 3:19,26). But this “repentance for forgiveness of sins” is to be “proclaimed in His [Christ’s] name” (Luke 24:47), thus Christ again may be seen at the heart of the sinner’s response. Further, when the sinner turns to Christ and His deliverance, he must surrender to His Lordship and confess His right to rule over one’s life. This is directly reflected in Paul’s words: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the death, you shall be saved. . . . For ‘Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Rom. 10:9,13). Again we see how central Christ Jesus is in the sinner’s initial coming for salvation.
We observe this same focus on Christ Jesus when we examine the meaningful act of baptism in God’s Word. The rationale for this is easy to understand. Scripture is quite clear that we must express our faith in Christ by being baptized (cf. Col. 2:12). This is why baptism was the obvious, imperative, and indispensable outward action as sinners came to Christ in New Testament times.
Compromises to Baptism Today
Strangely, we find that this very point of a faith-baptism in coming to Christ is questioned or even opposed by many people in our day. The opposition comes from two different major theological perspectives.
The Sacramental Theology
First, much of Christendom says that conversion or overt coming to Christ is unnecessary. They assert that an infant should be brought by his parents to the administrator who performs a religious rite called “baptism” and through this ecclesiastical ceremony the child will be forgiven, saved, and granted the Holy Spirit separate and apart from personal faith in Christ. The child, of course, is totally oblivious to what has happened to him and later will have no remembrance of the ceremony that was performed on his behalf. This sacramental theology says that God saves the child automatically and conveys a special saving “grace” to his soul.
We can see that this theology looks upon baptism as a semi-magical sacerdotal act carried out by a priest apart from faith in Christ, repentance of sins, confession of Christ’s Lordship, or commitment to discipleship. Christ, therefore, is effectively eliminated from baptism as far as the irresponsible child is concerned.
The Evangelical Theology
The second theological system that questions the Biblical meaning of baptism may be called evangelical. Certainly not all within this category would deny Scriptural baptism, but large numbers of adherents do. We may think of this view in terms of two varieties.
(1) Faith Only. The first variety says that one is saved by “faith alone,” separate and apart from any outward actions or confession. Salvation occurs instantaneously, as an act of God, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Many would go so far as to say that regeneration is actually granted before faith in Christ, but faith immediately follows this act of God since this is given as a “gift” from God. This “Calvinistic” variety has been taught for several centuries, but presently it is not nearly as widespread as in former years.
(2) Faith Plus Prayer. The other more popular variety of evangelical “faith only” teaching would say that one is saved by faith but this faith should be expressed in some way–generally through a “sinner’s prayer.” This common teaching says that one should “trust” in Christ and ask Him to “come into his heart” to be saved. Some of these proponents go further and say that one must also repent of his sins in order to be saved–although this is denied by others who say that even repentance is adding to “faith only.” The common characteristic here is simply viewing baptism as a symbol.
In this second evangelical theology, composed of two varieties, baptism is thought to have no place at all in one’s initial salvation from sin. Some combine infant baptism with this and say that a baptism of belief is not needed. Others say that baptism should sooner or later follow conversion as a “church ordinance.” Like the sacramental, infant salvation view, this theology sees no room for baptism in one’s initial response to Christ Jesus for salvation.
Those who hold this view are just as outspoken as those who subscribe to the sacramental view. One writer says, “Baptists believe that no one is a scriptural subject for baptism till he is already saved” (J.G. Bow, What Baptists Believe and Why They Believe It, p. 37). Another writer asserts, “We are baptizing them to show the world and the church that here is a group of people whose sins have been washed away. They have been regenerated and made partakers of the Holy Spirit previously, and are now submitting to the Bible command that they be baptized” (“Sacraments or Ordinances?,” The Christian Contender, Sept. 1995, p. 7).
This second (evangelical) theological position says that if baptism were to have a place in conversion or the salvation event, then Christ would be somehow lowered or replaced by a human act. Proponents say that baptism would thereby become the “savior” rather than Christ Himself. They say that baptism is different from faith, and if anything is added to faith we nullify salvation by faith. They sometimes say that if one is saved by Christ alone, then baptism has no place at all in one’s faith response. For instance, one article was entitled, “Is Salvation by Christ or by Baptism?” This shows how many “Evangelicals” (or “Fundamentalists”) misconceive the meaning and place of baptism as an expression of faith in Christ. Baptism is merely a symbol. It is simply a “sign” and “seal” of something that is thought to have occurred in the past.
- Baptism Only: Sacramental
- Faith Only: Symbolic
- Faith (Expressed in Baptism): Biblical
Both of the views we have briefly discussed (the sacramental view and the evangelical view) fail to understand what Scripture teaches about the meaningful act of baptism. On the one hand, the “baptism only” view sees baptism as a sacrament that magically forgives and regenerates an unbelieving infant. This is the traditional and popular “baptismal regeneration” view held by so much of the professing “Christians” of the world. On the other hand, the so-called “faith only” view or “faith plus prayer” view sees baptism as a later ecclesiastical ceremony or church ordinance that testifies to a salvation that is thought to have occurred several weeks to several years previously.
An Unbalanced Baptismal Theology
A third way of looking at baptism is, in some measure, more Scriptural and is held by members of various churches. They reject the infant baptism position of the sacramentalists and they also reject the evangelical position that holds to a salvation separate and apart from baptism. But in their zeal for a baptism that is related to salvation, they have elevated the teaching to a position beyond what Scripture warrants. Baptism, in effect, becomes the very center of salvation itself! Faith in Christ, repentance of sin, as well as God’s grace and the saving death of Christ all take on a relatively minor role in one’s salvation in comparison with baptism. Baptism may be looked upon as a legalistic requirement, almost a meritorious work, that in some way becomes an effort of self-salvation. This too is an unbalanced and unscriptural view of this divinely-commanded expression of faith.
All three of these views fail to have the proper appreciation for baptism as it relates to our blessed Savior. Each one in some way detracts from giving Jesus Christ His rightful an exalted place in this significant act.
Christ is Central to Baptism
What does Scripture teach? This should always be the chief concern to those who view the Bible as God’s authoritative Word and will for us. Let us examine the Scriptures to see that baptism is not an empty ceremony, an ecclesiastical ritual, or a mere church ordinance. Rather, bap-tism has amazing signifi-cance and is centered in Christ Jesus Himself! As we go to God’s Word and see truths we have never seen before, we shall come away from our study with a new appreciation for God’s all-wise revelation of the meaning and importance of genuine baptism in contrast to the rites formulated and taught by the traditions of men.
(1) Discipleship to Christ
After His resurrection, Jesus met with His followers in Galilee and gave them His commission to take His message into all of the world. Notice the words of Christ on this momentous occasion:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The basic command of the Lord at this time was that of making disciples (matheteusate) of all nations. A “disciple” (mathetes) is a learner–one who follows another and his teachings. Notice that the participles, “baptizing” (baptizontes) and “teaching” (didaskontes), characterize the making of disciples.
We can learn two facts from this passage: First, when one is truly baptized he becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus. He begins to follow the Lord and is committed to Him personally. Second, this discipleship introduces one into a completely different way of life. It is a life that is ordered according to the teachings of Jesus. The disciple must observe or obey all that Jesus commanded His apostles. This is why immediately after Luke mentions the baptism of those on the day of Pentecost, he says, “They [the repentant, baptized believers] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42a). In their commitment to the apostles’ teaching, they were following the teaching of the Lord Jesus. We can see that baptism, as viewed in this passage, is directly related to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is associated with following Jesus, commitment to Him, and obedience to His teachings. So much of contemporary Christendom, with its interest in pleasure-seeking and churchianity, seems to overlook this practical aspect of discipleship to the Lord.
(2) Ownership by the Lord Jesus Christ
The same Scripture passage we examined above tells us more about genuine baptism. Notice that Jesus says that the apostles are to baptize people “into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 18:19). Many people wrongly assume that Jesus is simply giving a “formula” that is to be pronounced over a person before he is baptized. As we examine the Greek at this point (the language in which the New Testament was originally written), we see that the phrase, “into the name of,” is eis to onoma tou. This was a common expression in the first century Graeco-Roman world.
What did this phrase mean? When used with baptism it would mean “baptized into the possession of the Father, etc.” (Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, p. 451). Another authority says that the phrase signifies “union, the passing into new ownership, and loyalty, and fellowship” (The New Bible Dictionary, p. 861). The leading Greek authority today states, “The one who is baptized becomes the possession of and comes under the protection of the one whose name he bears” (Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 572). One final comment is helpful: “Eis to onoma implies a transference of ownership, as when we today speak of paying money ‘into someone’s name.’ This is noteworthy in the baptismal formula of the New Testament” (F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, p. 66). The quotations could be multiplied, but it seems evident that Jesus is saying that when one is baptized, he becomes the possession of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our present concern, of course, is that one is baptized into the ownership of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This same fact is revealed at other places in the New Testament. When Philip went to Samaria, he proclaimed Christ to them (Acts 8:5) and both men and women responded by believing and being baptized (vv. 12-13). Luke then says that they had “been baptized into the name of the [eis to onoma tou] Lord Jesus” (v. 16b). They had been baptized into the possession of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, when Paul explained to the twelve Ephesian disciples the difference between John’s baptism and baptism into Christ, “they were baptized into the name of the [eis to onoma tou] Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). That is, they were baptized into Christ’s ownership.
One further passage would be 1 Corinthians 1:11-17. Paul was distressed to learn that the Corinthian saints were calling themselves after him as well as Apollos and Cephas (Peter). To say, “I am of Paul,” implied that they belonged to him and were his followers in a special way. Paul asks, “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized into the name [eis to onoma] of Paul?” (v. 13). He reasons in this way: If Paul were crucified for them and if they were baptized into his name (into his possession), then they could legitimately say, “We are of Paul.” Instead, Christ was the one crucified for them and they were baptized into His name–thus they belonged to Him and should simply call themselves after Him alone. As one has written, “To be baptized into the name of Christ is to take a step by which one passes into the absolute ownership of Christ and owes Him henceforth allegiance, as a doulos [slave] to his kurios [master or lord]” (C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, p. 184).
Besides the significance we have discussed above, that of baptism into the possession or ownership of Christ, the Greek authorities say that the phrase also denotes that the one baptized:
- comes under the protection of
- is under the control of
- enters into fellowship with
- comes under the Lordship of
- enters into the communion of
- is brought into close, personal relationship with
Keep in mind that what we have seen regarding the Lord Jesus is also true regarding God the Father and the Holy Spirit. However, the point we wish to emphasize is that baptism is directly related to Christ, our Savior and Lord.
(3) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
Mark records the commission of Christ just as Matthew does. We can learn something further about baptism as we examine our Lord’s words:
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16).
Notice that baptism is in the context of faith in Christ. The apostles were to preach the “gospel” or good news of Christ (v. 15). The one who believes the gospel and has been baptized will be saved (v. 16a). The one who does not believe the good news of Christ will be condemned (v. 16b). The important point to notice is that both faith (belief) and baptism were responses to the gospel. Faith saves only because of its object–the good news of Jesus Christ. And baptism saves only because of its inner meaning–the very faith that looks to Christ as Savior. The one who believes is to be baptized. Jesus saw no need to say that one who does not believe should not be baptized for, in those days, one would not seek to be baptized into Christ if he did not believe in Him. We observe, therefore, that faith in Christ and His good news was to be manifested or expressed in baptism (of the kind that we have already noticed).
The emphasis upon believer’s baptism is found throughout the New Testament. When Philip preached in Samaria, what was the response? “When they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12). After Philip “preached Jesus” to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:35), this receptive traveler immediately responded, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (v. 36). Surely the message of Jesus awakened faith in his heart and this immediately was expressed in baptism (vv. 38-39). Included in this preaching of Jesus was at least some explanation of the baptism that He commanded!
Later, we read of Paul’s mission in Philippi. After he and his companions preached to Lydia, we read, “When she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay’” (Acts 16:15). The term, “faithful,” is the Greek pisten (p i s t h n ), from the adjective pistos that signifies a believer (Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 329). The NIV renders this clause, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord. . . . ” Again we see that baptism was meant to demonstrate true faith in Christ. Later in the same chapter, Paul tells the inquiring jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” (v. 31). After Paul spoke “the word of the Lord” to him (v. 32), “immediately he was baptized” along with his household (v. 33). Faith directly and immediately was expressed in baptism–sometime in the middle of the night (v. 25)! What we see in Philippi we also notice in Corinth: “Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all of his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (18:8).
The letters of Paul also give evidence that baptism was to be an expression of faith in Christ. The apostle writes to the Galatians: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). Their faith in Christ Jesus was manifested by their baptism into Him. It is significant that “all” of the Christian readers were “sons of God through faith” and “all” of them were “baptized into Christ.” Therefore, there were no unbaptized believers nor were there baptized unbelievers! Paul also mentions a faith-baptism in his letter to the saints in Colossae. He writes, “. . . having been buried with Him [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). Notice how faith is related to baptism in this passage: One is raised up with Christ through faith in God’s working–a God who also raised Christ from the dead. Surely we can see the direct relationship of faith with baptism.
Many religious and church-going people exten-sively violate this teaching in our day. The majority of professing “Christians” in the world have only been “baptized” as babies. Obviously, they could not have believed in Christ at the time of their assumed baptism. Their baptism could not have been an expression of faith in the good news of Christ’s death and resur-rection. In all of the instances we have cited, faith preceded baptism rather than baptism coming before faith. The reason for this is that baptism looses its meaning when it is simply a religious ceremony performed for a child. Further, the “faith” of the parents, of the sponsors, or of the denominational church as a whole cannot qualify–for Scripture does not speak of proxy faith. Thus, infant “baptism” cannot be the baptism of the Scriptures. It is a substitute for true baptism and is invalid.
Further, most of those who have been “baptized” when they were older (as children, teenagers, or later) have failed to have a fully Biblical faith. Scriptural faith is an informed faith that includes a proper content–something that many people lack. (For instance, saving faith includes a belief that Jesus is Savior, the Christ or Messiah, and the Son of God, that He came in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and was exalted to heaven.) Saving faith also includes a trust and reliance upon the crucified and risen Christ who offered Himself for our sins–a dimension of faith that usually is missing. True faith likewise includes a surrender of the will and heart to Christ–an aspect that most do not have. To fail to have this comprehensive faith is to fail to be properly baptized into Christ. Thus, even those who have been “baptized” beyond infancy have neglected to have a genuine baptism as described in Scripture.
Again we can see how Christ is at the very heart of the sinner’s response. True baptism is a baptism of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!
(4) Salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ
In the beginning we noticed that salvation from sin and God’s wrath was only through the Lord Jesus. As Paul expressed it, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). John adds, “The Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). The sacrificial death of Christ (in which He shed His blood) was the very means by which God was propitiated and sin atoned (Rom. 3:24-26; Heb. 2:17; 9:26-27). Those who realize these precious truths joyfully confess that Jesus indeed is Savior!
However, although Christ is Savior from sin, this salvation that He has accomplished and provided must be properly appropriated by the sinner if it is to avail. This shows the place of faith in one’s response to God for salvation through Christ. Faith is the means of salvation for it directs the sinner’s heart to the very center and basis of salvation–Christ Jesus. The object of faith is Christ since He is the One through whom we are saved. What is the place of baptism? As we have discussed in the previous point, faith is expressed in baptism. The very content of one’s faith (the person, death, and resurrection of Christ) is demonstrated and embodied in this meaningful act. Because baptism is so closely related to the faith that it embodies, we can see that the same blessings that are attached to faith are likewise attached to baptism.
In the present instance, Scripture says that one is saved through faith (Eph. 2:8), but it also relates salvation to baptism. Remember that Mark 16:16 says:
“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
Who “shall be saved”? Jesus answers, “He who has believed and has been baptized.” Evidently He says this not because there is any merit, achievement, or power in the act of baptism itself but because baptism is so intimately related to faith that what is affirmed of one is affirmed of the other. This is true throughout the New Testament. As G.R. Beasley-Murray has well pointed out, “For Paul the inner and outer acts of the decision of faith and its expression in baptism form one indissoluble event” (Baptism in the New Testament). Another author concurs: “Everywhere in the New Testament faith and baptism belong together. . . . We find no baptism without faith and no faith without baptism” (Rasmussen). Therefore, Jesus says that one is saved by faith but He also says that one is saved by baptism–since baptism expresses faith.
What about Jesus’ further words: “He who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16b)? Some assert by this statement that Jesus is saying that only a lack of faith will condemn a person. Thus, baptism is thought to be optional. But we must remember that the sincere people whom Jesus had in mind would not have refused to be baptized if they truly believed. This was before people would seek to separate faith from baptism by “baptizing” babies before they could believe or by “baptizing” people who think they have been saved for days, weeks, or even years. Jesus simply means that one who does not believe (thus is not baptized) will be condemned. It is like saying: “He who eats and digests shall live; he who does not eat shall die.” It takes eating and digesting food for one to live. Do we need to say, “He who does not eat and does not digest shall die”? No. Why not? Because one who does not eat certainly cannot digest! Again, we could say, “He who sows and reaps shall have bread; he who does not sow will go hungry.” It takes both sowing and reaping to have the grain to make bread. Need we say, “He who does not sow and does not reap will go hungry”? No, because if one does not sow, he surely cannot reap!
Salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ is likewise connected with baptism in the events on the day of Pentecost. After Peter called upon his hearers to repent and be baptized (Acts 2: 38-39), Luke says, “With many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’” (v. 40). How did they respond? “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (v. 41). These people who had been “pierced to the heart” (v. 37) could be “saved” (sothete, from sozo) by heeding Peter’s command to repent and be baptized (v. 38). Verse 41 says that they, in fact, were baptized. Thus they were saved (see also v. 47).
The same connection is found at 1 Peter 3:21: “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Just as Noah and his family were “saved through water” (v. 20, NIV), so people today can be saved by means of water: “Baptism now saves you” (v. 20). Peter informs us that he is not speaking of a ceremonial cleansing of the flesh (cf. Heb. 9:13)–the “removal of dirt [rupou, from rupos, dirt, filth] from the flesh”–but it is a spiritual cleansing or “salvation” from sin. But notice the means by which this occurs: “Baptism now saves you . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” There is no inherent worth in the act of baptism, no merit that would enable the one baptized to achieve his own salvation. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that brings the salvation that is related to baptism. Baptism is simply the faith response that appropriates the salvation that Christ has already achieved for us by His death and resurrection! In our response to Him and His resurrection in baptism, we make “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (v. 21)–a conscience that is cleansed and saved through Christ.
We can therefore see that just as salvation is centered in the crucified and risen Christ, so baptism, as an expression of faith in Him, is also directly related to our salvation from sin and its dreadful consequences! Baptism “saves” us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
(5) Forgiveness through the Lord Jesus Christ
We already made reference to the response of those on the day of Pentecost. To the inquiring crowd on that day, Peter declared:
“Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
Peter’s entire message in the preceding verses (vv. 14-36) was focused on Christ Jesus. He spoke of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (vv. 14-21, 33)–which was the activity of Christ (cf. v. 33; Matt. 3:11). He went on to speak of the miracles of Christ Jesus (v. 22), His death (v. 23), His resurrection (vv. 24-32), and His exaltation (vv. 33-35). He finished his words by declaring, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36).
In response to this, the people recognized their sin and asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37). This is when Peter replied, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v. 38). Notice that baptism is “in [epi] the name of Jesus Christ.” This is not the construction we noticed earlier, where the preposition eis was employed, but some Greek manuscripts here have the preposition epi with the dative, “signifying that baptism rests upon the authority of the Lord Jesus and is spiritually effective only through His personal presence and activity” (The New Bible Dictionary, p. 863). If, however, the preposition is en (as suggested by other manuscripts), it may be a reference to invoking the Lord in baptism (see 22:16), confessing the Lord Jesus at baptism (see Romans 10:9), or the name of Jesus being spoken at the time of baptism (see F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 76). Either rendering centers baptism squarely on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The main point we wish to notice is that Peter’s sinful and guilty inquirers were to repent of their sins and be baptized “for the forgiveness of [their] sins” (Acts 2:38). Some have suggested that they were to repent and be baptized “because of the forgiveness of their sins,” but it is absurd to think that they had already been forgiven. Their guilt was the very reason for their inquiry! Besides this, eis (for, into) is found some 1773 times in the Greek and not once is it translated “because of”! Further, some eighty-one (81) translations render the phrase “for the forgiveness,” “so that you may be forgiven,” or with a similar meaning. Further yet, the same phrase is found several other places in the New Testament. Notice these examples:
- Repentance is “for forgiveness of sins” or eis aphesin hamartion (Luke 24:47, NASB).
- John’s baptism of repentance was “for the forgiveness of sins” or eis aphesis harmartion (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).
- Christ’s blood was shed “for forgiveness of sins” or eis aphesin hamartion (Matt. 26:28).
Did Christ shed His blood for the purpose that sins might be forgiven? Definitely. To deny this is to deny a cardinal truth of Scripture. In view of this, we should also see the repentance baptism commanded of Peter “for the forgiveness of [their] sins” (eis aphesin ton hamartion) in Acts 2:38 in a similar way. They were to repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the purpose that their sins might be forgiven. As one authority puts it, the phrase denotes “purpose in order to” and means, “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven” (Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 229). Our translations are correct in their rendering. But was there any merit in their repentance? No. Was there any inherent worth in their baptism? Not at all. All of the merit of salvation is in the death of Christ. In this sense, Christ shed His blood for the purpose of achieving forgiveness, while we are to repent and be baptized for the purpose of receiving forgiveness. All merit and boasting is eliminated.
A similar passage refers to Paul’s own conversion to Christ. You will remember that the Lord appeared to this Pharisee and persecutor on the Damascus road. Jesus commanded him to go to the city where, in deep contrition and repentance, Paul was without sight, refused to eat and drink, and continued in prayer for three days (Acts 9:1-11). The Lord Jesus sent His servant Ananias to Paul with this message: “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Just as those on Pentecost were told to repent and be baptized “for the forgiveness of [their] sins,” so the repentant Paul was told to “wash away [his] sins” by “calling” on the name of the Lord in baptism. Paul was to call on the name of the Lord as he “cleansed” himself or “washed away his sins” when he was baptized. We know, of course, that baptism itself cannot cleanse from sin, for the basis of forgiveness is Christ’s saving death–it is “the blood of Jesus His [God’s] Son” that “cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The term “wash” in our text is from the Greek apolouo which means “to cleanse by bathing” or, in the middle (as here), “to cleanse one’s self; to procure one’s self to be cleansed” (Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 46). The very same term is found at 1 Corinthians 6:11 where we read that the Corinthians “were washed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”
You will remember that Peter told his hearers on Pentecost, “Every one who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). He then told them the context of this calling on the Lord to be saved: It was in the context of their repenting of sin and being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (vv. 38-39). The same connection is found in the present text (22:16). Cottrell explains:
“Now the crucial question is this: for what purpose or to what end was Saul told to call upon the name of the Lord? Here again the answer is not in doubt. He must call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. . . . As a person prepares to be baptized, he should call upon God to keep this promise; he should call upon the Lord Jesus Christ to apply His cleansing blood to his sinful heart and to send the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a prayer of faith in the faithfulness of God. As it applied to Saul it meant two things. First, the fact that he was supposed to call upon the Lord’s name in connection with his baptism meant that he had not yet received salvation. The whole point of his calling upon the Lord’s name was to be saved. . . . Second, this “calling upon His name” was an indication of Saul’s faith in Jesus.” (Baptism: A Biblical Study, pp. 75-76).
Notice one further passage of Scripture:
“In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 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. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” (Col. 2:11-13).
Here Paul writes of “the circumcision of Christ.” It is a spiritual circumcision that consists of the “removal of the body of the flesh” (v. 11). Verse 12 connects this with our burial with Christ in baptism and resurrection with Christ from baptism. Notice especially the following verse where Paul explains two of the results of this spiritual circumcision in baptism: “He [God] made you alive together with Him [Christ], having forgiven us all our transgressions” (v. 13). Not because of baptism or through any magical accomplishment of baptism, per se, but through Christ’s own activity and through God’s own working in the faith-response of baptism we are “made . . . alive” and we are “forgiven”!
Our forgiveness from the guilt of sin that brings our condemnation must ever be seen as grounded in the death of Christ. However, once again we can see that baptism is focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ–a Savior who grants forgiveness of all of our sins!
(6) United with the Lord Jesus Christ
When a person is truly baptized, as outlined in Scripture, he is united with the Lord Jesus. We know that one who is “in Christ” has a living relationship with Him “If any man is in Christ,” writes Paul, “he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Further, God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3; see also vv. 4,6,7,13; 2:13,22; 3:6,12). Particularly in Paul’s letters this saving truth of being “in Christ” is repeated again and again.
We know that one enters this living relationship with Christ through faith. Thus, we read that “through His [Christ’s] name every one who believes in [eis] Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). John 3:16 also reads, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in [eis] Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” But we have already noticed that faith, at the point of conversion or salvation, is to be expressed in the meaningful act of baptism. Let us observe this in the following passage:
“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, in order 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).
The context of these verses shows that Paul is explaining why the believer cannot continue in sin even though he is saved by the grace of God (cf. Rom. 5:15-21; 6:1-2). They cannot “continue in sin,” reasons Paul, because they have “died to sin” (6:1-2). The apostle then focuses upon their baptism where they departed from the realm of sin into an entirely different relationship–one with the Lord Jesus Himself. He says that “all of us” (this includes Paul) “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death” (v. 3). The phrase, “into Christ Jesus” employs the Greek eis which is prospective (forward looking) in meaning. One writer explains:
“In its basic meaning this preposition indicates motion toward a destination or goal, especially when used with an action verb. The verb baptized is certainly an action verb, with the destination or goal being Christ Jesus Himself. Thus to be “baptized into” Christ means that baptism is the action that moves us or carries us “into Christ,” viz., into that close relationship with Him that makes us partakers of the benefits of His saving work” (Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study, pp. 83-84).
Perhaps it would be even more accurate to say that God is the one who brings us “into” Christ–for “by His [God’s] doing you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:30). But He does this, by grace, as we respond in faith (Eph. 2:8) when we are baptized “into Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:3). “Men are said to enter ‘into Christ,’ and to be ‘united to him’ in baptism. But being in Christ is a spiritual relation, and cannot be reached by any merely physical act. There must be in baptism, therefore, the spiritual act of entering into union with Christ. But this is faith” (N.J. Aylsworth, Moral and Spiritual Aspects of Baptism, p. 246).
Not only is one baptized into Christ, he is also baptized into Christ’s death to sin! Further, the one who dies to sin (vv. 2,6,7,11) is freed from slavery to sin (vv. 6,7,16-22). Throughout this chapter (Rom. 6), Paul teaches that one is either in sin or in Christ–and the “dividing line” is baptism! The faith that relates us to the Lord Jesus and brings us into Him is a faith that is active and operative in genuine baptism. Sanday paraphrases the first part of this chapter in this way:
“Surely you do not need reminding that all of us who were immersed or baptized, as our Christian phrase runs, “into Christ,” i.e., into the closest allegiance and adhesion to him, were immersed or baptized into a special relation to his death. I mean that the Christian, at his baptism, not only professes obedience to Christ, but enters into a relation to him so intimate that it may be described as an actual union.” (Romans, p. 155).
This same divine union with our Savior is clarified in another passage:
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:26-27).
First, notice that we are “sons of God through faith.” Faith, therefore, is the basic response to God through Christ that brings this blessed relationship. In fact, this letter points out that faith brings justification (2:16; 3:6,24), spiritual life (2:20; 3:11), and the Holy Spirit (3:2,5,14). Second, notice that we are sons of God “in Christ Jesus” (3:26). Probably this phrase does not indicate the object of faith, but rather indicates the location, realm, or sphere of sonship:
“‘In Christ Jesus’ shows the grand scope of the believer’s whole existence. To be ‘in Christ’ is to be in his body, united with his people, and indwelt by his Spirit. Thus, we might say, ‘In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith.'” (Kenneth L. Boles, Galatians and Ephesians, p. 94).
Paul begins verse 27 with the word “for” (gar). That is, he is offering a reason or explanation for the previous statement. When does one enter Christ Jesus? Paul answers, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (v. 27). They were “baptized into [eis] Christ.” The Greek authority, Marvin R. Vincent, states that this denotes “not in relation to Christ, but into spiritual union and communion with him. . . . Paul here conceives baptism, not as a mere symbolical transaction, but as an act in which believers are put into mystical union with the crucified and risen Lord” (Word Studies in the New Testament). Paul goes on to say that those who have been baptized into Christ have “clothed” themselves with Christ. As one would lay aside old and filthy garments and be clothed with a new garment, the truly baptized believer lays aside his sin and is clothed with Christ and thereby benefits by this deep spiritual union with Him.
We can see, therefore, that baptism has a crucial place in one’s relationship with Christ by faith. One writer explains:
“Baptism and faith were the inside and outside of the same thing. . . . The New Testament writers associate union with Christ, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit and many other rich truths to baptism. It is not a magic rite that automatically conveys all these things, but it is an occasion when a person really encounters Jesus Christ. . . . Baptism marks the transition from death and condemnation to a new life of peace with God and membership in the body of Christ.” (Clark H. Pinnock, Truth on Fire: The Message of Galatians, p. 51).
While our union with Christ is effected by faith, this initial faith is found in the context of baptism–we are “baptized into Christ” and “baptized into His death.” Again we observe that true baptism is entirely Christ-centered in its focus!
(7) United to the Body of Christ
It should be clear from our foregoing discussion that when one is Scripturally baptized, he is baptized into Christ Jesus and into a relationship with Him. But closely related to this, one who is united to Christ Jesus by faith in baptism is likewise united to His spiritual “body.” This body is composed of individual “members,” each of whom experience and enjoy a personal relationship with Him who is the Head of the body, Christ Jesus.
Notice how Paul describes all of this. He writes, “You are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). In another place, he says that Christ is the “head of the body, the community [ekklesia]” (Col. 1:18; cf. v. 24). In yet another place, we read that God gave Christ “as head over all things to the community [ekklesia], which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). If one has been “baptized into Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27) through faith (Gal. 2:20; Col. 2:12), surely he has likewise entered His spiritual body or community of believers.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter commanded the guilty inquirers to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). How did these receptive hearers respond? Luke informs us: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (v. 41). Through their baptism of repentance, these people were “added” to the believers in Christ. In fact, several verses later these people are described as “those who had believed” (v. 44). Thus, those who truly repented, those who genuinely believed in Christ, and those who had been baptized in the name of Christ were part of the same body, the same assembly, the same community of disciples (cf. v. 47). The New Testament presupposes that those who are genuinely baptized are part of the body of Christ and, conversely, those who are members of Christ’s body have been baptized. This is a simple “given” in the apostolic writings–a fact that no one questioned then–an no one should question now.
We may consider membership in Christ’s body by considering the Holy Spirit. Follow our reasoning here. Scripture frequently shows the close relationship of the Holy Spirit and baptism. Even at the very time when Christ Himself was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon Him (cf. Matt. 3:16; Luke 3:22). Although there are vast differences between our Savior’s baptism and our baptism, we still see this connection. On Pentecost, those who would repent and be baptized, were to be given God’s “promise”–the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38,39). Peter says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (5:32). Paul writes that God saves us according to His mercy “by the washing of regeneration and the renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6). The “washing” (loutron, l o u t r o n ) means a “bath” or “laver” (W.E. Vine) and likely is in the context of one’s baptism when he is cleansed from sin (cf. Acts 22:16). But notice that this is directly related to the “renewing by the Holy Spirit” who is granted to us richly “through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Both baptism and the Holy Spirit are directly related.
The same connection is found in Galatians. One becomes a “son of God” by faith in Christ (3:26) that is expressed in baptism (v. 27). Then, because we are sons of God in this way, “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (4:6). The Spirit is directly related to one’s baptism into Christ. Perhaps this may even give us a clue to the meaning of Christ’s enigmatic statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Here is one birth but with two aspects–both water and the Holy Spirit.
With this in mind, we can read 1 Corinthians 12:13 with much profit: “By [or “in”] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves for free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Whether we see the Spirit as the actor who leads one to the waters of baptism or whether the Spirit Himself is the element of the baptism, we can see how important the Holy Spirit is in this vital introduction of the believer into the body of Christ. Notice that we were “all baptized” and we were “all made to drink of one Spirit.” Every believer has experienced this introduction into the body through baptism, just as “all” are sons of God through faith (Gal. 3:26) and “all . . . were baptized into Christ” (v. 27). We can see that every single believer has been baptized into Christ and into His body, the community of believers! There were no unbaptized believers (in contrast to the “faith only” position) nor were there baptized unbelievers (in contrast to the “baptism only” position). All true believers had experienced the “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) consisting of the element of water and the element of the Holy Spirit. “Though it has two aspects, an outward and an inward, baptism is but a single event. . . . that single moment when our bodies were immersed in water and our spirits immersed in the Holy Spirit” (Cottrell, pp. 94-95).
Notice two other passages that may help us. As we noted earlier, Paul argues that since the saints at Corinth had actually been baptized in the name of Christ, they should be united in one body rather than divided into parties, each giving allegiance to a different prominent leader (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11-13). Rather than suggesting that baptism is optional or unessential in this passage, Paul shows that one who is baptized in Christ’s name actually belongs to Him and is one with all others who have experienced the same baptism.
Once again, therefore, we have been reminded that Christ is at the very center of baptism. God not only relates us directly to Christ in baptism but He brings us into the intimate, living relationship with other believers through baptism.
(8) Identified with the Lord Jesus Christ
Associated with this union with Christ Himself, we must also see that in baptism one is identified with Christ in a remarkable manner. Our conversion to Christ relates us to all aspects of His saving work. Notice these points:
- We are “crucified” with Christ (Rom. 6:6).
- We “die” with Christ (Rom. 6:8; Col. 2:20; 2 Tim. 2:11).
- We are “buried” with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).
- We are “made alive” with Christ (Col. 2:13; Eph. 2:5).
- We are “raised” with Christ (Col. 2:12; 3:1; Eph. 2:6).
- We are “seated” with Christ (Eph. 2:6).
Notice how this relates to Biblical baptism. In the context of baptism, Paul says that “our old self [man] was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6). Again, referring to our baptism into Christ, Paul writes, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:8). Our death “with Christ” was also a death to sin (vv. 2,11) by which our “body of sin” was done away with (v. 6). Further, Paul specifically says, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death” (v. 4) and have been buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12). This is not all. What occurred after Christ’s own death and burial? He was brought to life (Rom. 14:9; Rev. 1:18)! Likewise, one who has been buried with Christ in baptism is then brought to life: “He [God] made you alive together with Him [Christ]” (Col. 2:13). Just as “Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4), we too are “raised up with Him through faith in the working of God” (Col. 2:12) so that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Paul goes on to add an additional identification: God “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
Can you see the crucial place that baptism has in this spiritual unity of the believer with Christ and his identification with the experience of Christ? Yes, aspects of it are a mystery, yet it is a truth that we can believe and in which we can rejoice! The one who comes to Christ in faith by being baptized into Him expresses his personal faith and trust in Christ’s atoning death for sin, His burial (which confirmed His death), His resurrection to new life, and His subsequent life. Furthermore, the one who comes to a true baptism, in his own experience, dies to sin, is buried in baptism into death, is raised to new life, and subsequently lives a new life as a new creature in Christ! (See Roman 6:4,11-13, 16-22; Col. 3:1-4.) We can see that our identification with Christ and His own experience is full and meaningful. His own experience becomes our own experience. And both our faith and our experience is focused on Him who is our Lord and Savior!
Baptism Looks to Christ
It should be clear by now that the baptism of Scripture is a meaningful act that focuses upon the Lord Jesus Christ in many different ways. Although we have examined eight aspects, one who studies the subject will find other fruitful areas as well.
There are several comments we must make about these truths we have discovered. First, baptism is far more important than many people have assumed. Large numbers of religious people have simply conceived of baptism as an inconsequential religious ceremony or church ordinance that is required of a church member (or to become a church member) and they have entirely overlooked the Biblical meaning of the act. People such as this need to go back and look at baptism again. If, in fact, their baptism was unlike the baptism of Scripture, they actually have not been baptized! They need to submit to this requirement of the Lord as soon as they have saving faith and repentance.
Second, our study should have convinced the majority of professing “Christians” who have only been “baptized” (sprinkled or poured?) as infants that they have failed to experience the genuine baptism of Scripture. Their assumed baptism occurred before they possibly could have an informed faith and trust in Christ, before they could personally respond to the gospel, before they could repent of their sins, and before they could purpose to live a new life in the Lord. They have missed out on the marvelous aspects we have learned about baptism in the present study. They, too, need to consider their own relationship with God through Christ and determine to come to Him as Scripture directs–through a genuine baptism into Him and His death.
Third, we must ever guard against thinking of baptism as a personal accomplishment or work that merits salvation. Some who do understand a relationship between baptism and forgiveness or salvation have fallen prey to the subtle error of thinking they could, in some way, achieve their own salvation by this means. They conceive of salvation in a legalistic way in which one offers to God a mental “faith,” a superficial repentance, and the work of baptism–and thereby think that God owes them His eternal riches! They may think of salvation something like a spiritual slot machine by which one inserts certain “pay” (of belief, repentance, confession, and baptism) for certain “rewards” (forgiveness and the kingdom of heaven). How sad–and how wrong! How far this is from the “good news” of Christ Jesus as described in the Bible.
This theology entirely misconceives Biblical salvation and the meaning of God’s grace. Paul says that the promise is “by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace” (Rom. 4:16a) and “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (11:6). Paul adds, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Rom. 4:4-5; 5:1-2). To summarize, the gift of salvation is:
- by grace
- through faith
- not of ourselves
- not a result of works
This shows the need to think of baptism in Biblical terms and not in the terms of a faulty theology. Although baptism is the place and time when the sinner reaches out in faith to accept the salvation that is freely offered by our God of grace, baptism must never be looked upon as a work of man that is a means of self-salvation or the basis of forgiveness!
Our study on baptism, therefore, speaks to three faulty systems that fail to understand and appreciate Scriptural baptism:
(1) Those who believe and practice infant baptism, most of whom hold to the error of “baptismal regeneration” and fail to see baptism as an expression of repentance of sins, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, commitment of life, and commencement of discipleship to the Lord. Most of those “baptized” in infancy never subsequently respond in genuine faith and baptism to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(2) Those who claim to believe in “believer’s baptism” but relegate baptism to relative insignificance and often strongly deny the Scriptural teaching that baptism has a vital place in one’s initial response of repentance of sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. They may substitute a “sinner’s prayer” in the place of Biblical baptism. Often, in their zeal to refute “baptismal regeneration,” they have likewise renounced the proper place of true baptism and have accepted a “watered-down” baptism of contemporary Protestantism.
(3) Those who sometimes strongly teach that baptism of believers does have a place in conversion, but who often fail to have a genuine faith in Christ, fail to see the need for a thorough repentance of sin and the self-life, fail to embark on a radical life of sacrifice and discipleship, and who sometimes conceive of the whole conversion experience in legalistic terms. Frequently they have entirely misconceived the content of the gospel, the significance of the cross, the merit of salvation, and the meaning of the grace of God. In their zeal for baptism, they may overlook that which gives baptism its meaning!
Thinking in Scriptural Ways
The only solution to the theological confusion on baptism is to go back to the Scriptures once again and see baptism as it is set forth in our only infallible source of truth. We have attempted to go back to the Word of God and show how baptism is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as He is the center of Scripture, the center of life, and the center of our message, so He is the center of salvation from sin to God. If Christ means anything, He means everything!
Baptism focuses on the Lord Jesus. Through baptism, God calls us to become disciples of Christ Jesus. Through faith expressed in baptism, Christ makes us His own posses-sion. In baptism we demonstrate our faith in Christ and our reliance upon His saving death and resurrection. When one is truly baptized, he is saved by grace through faith. When one responds to Christ by repenting of his sins and being baptized, he is forgiven of sins. When one is baptized, he is baptized into Christ Jesus and into a relationship that is filled with joyful wonder. When one is baptized, he identifies with the saving events of the gospel of Christ and demonstrates his own experience of salvation from sin. In many and varied ways, Scrip-tural baptism fo-cuses on the Lord Jesus Christ!
It is time that we cast off the human teachings and traditions that nullify the commandments of God. Jesus warned those who would neglect “the commandment of God” and “hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). He said that they would even “set aside the commandment of God in order to keep [their] tradition” (v. 9). In this way, they were guilty of “invalidating the word of God by [their] tradition” (v. 13). In each of the three theological deviations mentioned above, there are many human traditions, hallowed by time and passed on by religious leaders and confessions of faith, that need to be renounced in favor of a truly Scriptural baptism. No doubt, many other aspects of their theology likewise need to be set aside. Our plea is to go back to the Scriptures and see what they reveal about this vital subject and every other topic of which God speaks.
Your Experience of Baptism
Since we have seen that the baptism of Scripture is so utterly important, we must urge you to seek answers for yourself and ask what you personally need to do in response to Christ Jesus. If baptism is centered in Christ Jesus, you cannot be saved apart from coming to Him as He has revealed. Seek no substitutes. Do not be deceived by any counterfeits. Be content with nothing other than what you see revealed on the pages of God’s Word.
If you have come to the point in your life when you see, as never before, the meaning and purpose of baptism and its direct relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, now is the time for you to submit to this meaningful act. Have you truly repented of all known sin? Do you believe in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ, His dear Son? Are you trusting in Christ’s sin-offering at the cross as your only means of forgiveness and only hope of salvation? Are you willing to lay your will and life down, and take the cross of discipleship? If this describes you, now is the time for you to come to Christ and yield to the baptism that He commands–the baptism that is centered in Him personally!
Whenever we proclaim the good news of the crucified and risen Christ and someone wishes to respond to it in faith by being baptized, we encourage the respondent to look to Jesus as His only hope of salvation. As the person is led into the waters to be “buried with Christ in baptism,” the words we speak and the scriptures cited lift up the Lord Jesus and show the significance of baptism into Him. We encourage the person to confess Jesus as Lord and call upon Him for salvation. As the person is actually baptized, we encourage him to fix his thoughts on Jesus who indeed is Savior and Lord. As the person is “raised with Christ” from baptism we glorify and praise Him as the only Savior from sin and the living Lord. In our further admonishment of the newly baptized believer, we encourage him to continue to look to Jesus as Savior and follow Him as Lord. In the words of the apostle Paul:
“If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
This is the focus we must ever have! Christ must be the center of the good news of salvation from sin, death, hell, and God’s wrath. Christ must be at the center of the sinner’s faith. Christ must be at the center of the believer’s baptism into Him. Christ must be at the center of our new life in Him. And Christ must be at the center of all that we think, say, and do as submissive, obedient believers in Christ Jesus.
May this little study serve to draw your attention to Him who loved us and delivered Himself up for us (Gal. 2:20). May it encourage you to renounce your previously assumed “baptism” if it was unscriptural and not centered in Christ Himself, and may it stimulate you to seek a truly Scriptural baptism that is everything that God wants it to be. May your faith, your love, your salvation from sin, and your very life be centered on the blessed Savior of us all–the Lord Jesus Christ!
A New Creature
Buried with Christ, my blessed Redeemer,
Dead to the old life of folly and sin;
Satan may call, the world may entreat me,
There is no voice that answers within.
Think it not strange that things I once cherished
Cannot allure me or charm as before;
For in the flesh with Christ I have suffered,
Old things are passed, I love them no more.
Dead unto sin, alive through the Spirit,
Risen with Him from the gloom of the grave,
All things are new, and I am rejoicing,
In His great love, His power to save.
Sin hath no more its cruel dominion,
Walking “in newness of life,” I am free–
Glorious life of Christ, my Redeemer,
Which He so richly shareth with me.