What is Baptism

Romans 6:1-10

*What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

*For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

*Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Today is a very special day in the life of UCC. Today as a church we will witness a very important step of obedience of two of our brothers as they go into and come out of the waters of baptism. People have so many questions about the Christian term Baptism. The main reason for those questions comes from the fact that there are a variety of ways that it is taught and practised by different churches. Therefore, I thought it would be good today to see what the Bible clearly teaches about it. And I don’t want you to miss that point, the Bible is very clear on its teaching of what Baptism is and by implication is not.

 So, what is Baptism?

In a nutshell, baptism is an outward action (being baptized) that says that the inward reality has already taken place. The inward reality is that the person has come to, and accepted Jesus as real, as God in the flesh, as the once-for-all sacrifice, and that He has reconciled us to God forever. Baptism is the public proclamation that an individual believer is now committed to Christ. It is their first true act of discipleship.

        It will also be helpful in our study to know that the Greek word used everywhere in the new testament for “baptism” is “βαπτιζω".  It literally means to “dip” or “immerse”.

        The baptism ceremony, that we will conduct later, itself is full of symbolism. So, just as Jesus died and was buried, the person who is being baptized is immersed in water. Some denominations do this physically by submerging the whole person in water while others do it more symbolically by sprinkling or pouring water over the person. Then when the person rises out of the water it is symbolizing the fact that Christ rose again from the earth. The believer leaves their old, dead, weighty and suffocating life, that was a slave to sin, under the water and ‘rises’ out of the water to a new, active, refreshing, and different life.

        I have heard baptism being compared to a wedding ring. The reason we put on a wedding ring is to symbolize our commitment to our spouse. Like that, when the Christian is baptized, as our two brothers will be today, they are saying we are committed to following Christ. And just as a wedding ring can tell others that we belong to another, so baptism reminds us that we are devoted to Christ and belong to Him.

        I think most of the confusion surrounding the practice is that some people, unfortunately, are confused and they are under the mistaken impression that Baptism saves. However, according to God’s Word, baptism is not a necessary requirement of salvation. The Bible makes it quite clear that no external action, or work, is required for salvation. *Passages such as Romans 3:22-30 and Romans 4:5 which says, “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness”. As well as Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, and Philippians 3:9 which all remind us that Salvation is by the Grace of God through faith alone.

 

            If the Bible wanted to teach that Baptism was necessary for salvation, then I am sure we would find many examples of it being mentioned when the saving gospel of Jesus was being presented. But what we read in the Bible is that baptism is never a part of the gospel presentation. *In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, we find no mention of baptism in the apostle Paul’s summary of the gospel message. Listen to it, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”

*Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,”. What he says in this verse makes the separation of baptism from the gospel very definite.

 

          Let’s think about this some more. If baptism was necessary for salvation, then what about those who were proclaimed as saved after hearing the gospel message, but were not baptized? Think of the woman in Luke 7:37-50. The man who was paralyzed in Matthew 9:2, the local official in Luke 18:13-14, and even the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43. All of them experienced the forgiveness of their sins without baptism. If baptism was necessary for salvation as some claim, then none of them would have been saved.

 

          Also, add to that the fact that we have no Biblical record of the apostles themselves ever being baptized. *And yet when we read John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” it is clear that Jesus says they are clean. We should note that according to Jesus it is the Word of God that makes them clean and not baptism.

 

        This confusion about baptism and salvation is mainly due to two bible verses where they are mentioned together. *Acts 2:38 is one of those verses. The apostle Peter says “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. What this verse says is that baptism is not a requirement, but just the next step. A person takes this next physical step after the spiritual step of salvation.

 

          *The other verse is Mark 16:6 where we are told by Jesus that, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. In this verse also, baptism is said to be the natural next step after spiritual belief. It is the belief that brings salvation, and it is the failure to believe that brings condemnation.

 

        Another big issue that has risen its ugly head again is the issue surrounding Infant Baptism and Adult Baptism.

Because of the sensitivity of this topic for some of the leaders and members at UCC who follow the practices of their denominations, I’m going to skip over this particular part of the topic. However, if it is something that you want to know what the Bible says about it then you can approach me and them at another time.

        According to our passage this morning in Romans 6:1-10, the baptism that our brothers will experience this morning illustrates at least three things:

  1. First, baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As they stand in the water they are representing Christ on the cross. As they are immersed under the water they are symbolizing the burial of Christ. As they emerge out of the water they are showing the resurrection of Christ.

 

  1. Second, baptism is a personal testimony that our sins have been washed away. As they go under the water they are reconfirming that their sins have been forgiven. As they come out of the water, they are illustrating that they have been resurrected to live a new life in Christ.

 

  1. Third, baptism represents our personal identification with Christ. *Paul declared in Romans 6:4, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. We were buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised to walk in a new life as forgiven followers of Christ who are empowered by the Spirit of God.

        What is very clearly taught in the Bible is that a commitment to Christ always comes before baptism. That is why we can say that baptism is the public testimony that a person has surrendered their life to Christ. The order that we find in the New testament is always that a person receives Christ first and then they get baptized. If you have still not submitted your life to the Lordship of Christ, then is it possible for you to still think of your baptism as a personal commitment to Him?

        Another thing that could cause confusion amongst young believers is when we read the account in the New Testament of Jesus being Baptized. Some use this passage to justify the need to be baptized in order to be completely saved. I have heard many uses that passage to tell new Christians they should be baptized because Jesus was. Well, what’s wrong with that you ask?

        *The account of Jesus’ baptism is given in Matthew 3:13-17, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

          The confusion comes when we are asked the question by new believers, “If John was baptizing for repentance and Jesus was without sin then why would he need to be baptized?” Again, the reason for the confusing question is that we are not applying good interpretive principles to the verse in the first place. If we did, we could not use it to say that Jesus’ meant that baptism is necessary for salvation. For that same reason, Jesus is also not suggesting that He needed to repent of anything.

          Then why did Jesus say that he needed to be baptized? The answer can be found in the Jewish practice of the time. Jewish people were baptized to show that they were ready to follow God’s will. So, Jesus was “fulfilling all righteousness” by wanting to be included in the traditions of his people. This included the physical act of being baptized but also through the spiritual implications of identification. This explanation agrees with what we know of Jesus’ desire to be obedient to the law and those traditions which were in agreement with that law. This was why this act was considered the beginning of His ministry.

 

        There are many other places in the Bible where baptism is mentioned and where we can develop a clear understanding of what it really is. Here are just a few:

*1 Peter 3:21 "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

*Colossians 2:21 "having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead."

*Ephesians 4: 4-6 "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

*Acts 22:16 "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’"

 

        So, as you have heard, the Biblical teaching on baptism is not confusing at all, and it was never meant to be. Even though we should fully acknowledge that tradition is both a necessary and valuable ‘help’ in assisting believers to faithfully obey and follow our Lord Jesus, however, as I and others have said, tradition is only valid when it is in full agreement with the Scriptures. If tradition, at any point, is contradictory to God’s will as He has revealed it to us in the 66 books of the canon then we should modify that tradition to bring it into an agreement with God’s revealed Will or reject it outright.

 

        Again, let me repeat, God knows that there is a lot of confusion about baptism in all the different Christian denominations. However, this is not because the Bible gives a confusing message on baptism. The Bible is abundantly clear of what baptism is, who it is for, and what it accomplishes.

In the Bible, only believers who had placed their faith in Christ were baptized as a public testimony of their faith and identification with Him. *This is the clear and unmistakable teaching of the apostle Peter in Acts 2:38 when he replied to the question from the crowd, “what must we do to be saved?” His reply was, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And in *Romans 6:3-4 the apostle Paul affirms, and also further explains, this same truth in his letter to the Christians in Rome, Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

        Our practice of Water baptism is a step of obedience that a person takes after they have placed their faith in Christ. It is a proclamation of faith in Christ, a statement of submission to Him, and an identification with His death, burial, and resurrection. Amen.

 

Let’s pray. Lord, you are loving, merciful, and just. We affirm these attributes and are confident that you will treat everyone accordingly. Thank you that, in your great mercy, you have given us what we do not deserve and have brought us into your family. We pray that you will give us the strength to live each day according to your revealed will as you show it to us in your Holy Word. We know that as we live as your lights in this dark and lost world, then your name will be glorified, honoured, and lifted high to where it belongs above every other name and power in heaven and on earth. We ask you to be with our two brothers today and throughout their lives. That you will help them to live lives that are worthy of the calling they have received. That they will quickly and without hesitation run back to you when they stray from the way you have revealed to them. May You also give us, their brothers and sisters in the Lord, the wisdom and strength necessary to encourage them and help them on this journey through life on earth.

We pray through the Almighty name of Jesus, Amen