In summarizing what has been presented on the subject of baptism, it is essential to realize that the same Spirit guided each New Testament writer. Therefore, there is perfect harmony among the writers on the subject of baptism just as there is on every other subject. When Paul declared that there is one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), Peter, Luke or John didn’t contradict Paul’s statement. Although other baptisms were presented in the New Testament, by the time Paul wrote the Ephesian letter there was only one. The only reasonable conclusion is that the one baptism referenced by Paul is the same baptism commissioned by Jesus that would last until the end of time (Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:16).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we aren’t ignorant of the schemes of Satan (2 Corinthians 2:11). The errors of some religions that claim to be followers of Christ are so blatant that they have been placed into the category of cults. Certain leaders have literally changed Scripture in order to conform to their own prejudices. Others have claimed to receive “latter day” revelations that clearly contradict the Bible. But if Satan can scheme to change the terms of salvation after the true facts are given concerning Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, he has succeeded in deceiving many.
It is important to notice that the question is asked three times, under the New Covenant dispensation—after the cross—concerning one’s obligations in order to be saved. The initial hearers of the gospel asked Peter and the apostles, “Sirs, what must we do?” (Acts 2:37). Saul of Tarsus asked Jesus, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10), and the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
Each of these inquirers was at different levels of learning and understanding. The initial hearers of the gospel had heard and believed the facts surrounding Jesus’ passion. They were told to repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Saul of Tarsus was a penitent, praying believer after meeting Christ on the road to Damascus. He was told to arise and be baptized, washing away his sins by calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). The jailer had never heard the gospel. He was told to believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31). He was then taught and baptized the same hour (Acts 16:32-33). It is evident that in preaching the word of the Lord, Paul and Silas preached baptism.
In Luke’s account of the Ethiopian eunuch, the official was returning from worshiping in Jerusalem. He was joined by Phillip, who beginning from the Scripture which the official was reading, preached Jesus to him. The next recorded words from the Ethiopian were, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:25-36). It is again evident that in preaching Jesus, Philip preached baptism.
Most have no problem believing and understanding that Noah was justified by faith because he obeyed God and built the ark, or that Abel was justified by faith because his offering was according to God’s instructions, or that Abraham’s faith was perfected by offering Isaac. But when baptism is presented as an act of faith that is comparable to other acts of faith throughout the Scriptures which resulted in God’s blessings, a mental block is present. Under the New Covenant, faith is essential just as it was for Noah, Abel, Abraham and all of the examples found in Hebrews chapter eleven. Faith always requires obedience.
Traditional teachings which are based on human intuition, prejudices or rote learning have sadly replaced the terms for salvation set forth in Scripture. When the terms for being forgiven are circumvented, all the good works and commitment from sincere individuals are for naught. When a falsehood is repeated millions upon millions of times and believed by the masses, it remains a falsehood. The prayer of faith or the sinner’s prayer has been substituted for Peter’s command to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
The Scriptures teach us to study to show ourselves approved before God, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Readers are encouraged to examine the Scriptures and “try the spirits” (John 4:1). Either baptism is the point in time God has chosen to appropriate the blood of Christ to the alien sinner or it isn’t. If it isn’t, those presenting it as such need correction. If it is, many are in desperate need to change their course and help others do likewise.
The Church and Baptism
The simplicity of the church as it relates to baptism has been confounded by the teachings of modern man. Doctrines that promise salvation prior to or apart from church membership are a source of confusion for those who attempt to harmonize scripture. The concept, “I believe, but I don’t belong,” simply will not fit the pattern set forth by the New Testament writers. Believers belong.
As previously seen, there is one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). In our study of the purpose of baptism, it was presented that the penitent believer is baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) or to have sins washed away (Acts 22:16). Sins are forgiven through or by the blood of Christ (Revelation 1:5). Paul told the Ephesians that the church is purchased with Christ’s blood (Acts 20:28). If baptism is when sins are forgiven by Christ’s blood and the church consists of those purchased with the blood, then one must become a blood-purchased member of Christ’s church when they are baptized. This is what Paul taught. He wrote, “By one spirit, we are all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 17:13).
Baptism into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27) is baptism into His body (1 Corinthians 12:13), the church (Colossians 1:18). The teaching that one is saved through an experience or by reciting a prayer and then baptized at a later date has no Biblical support. If the church consists of those purchased with Christ’s blood (Acts 20:28) and baptism is into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13), salvation prior to or separate from church membership is salvation apart from the blood of Christ.
Salvation is only in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10). Two New Testament verses teach when one “gets into Christ.” Both teach that baptism is into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). Since baptism is also into Christ’s body, the church ((1 Corinthians 12:13) and there is one baptism (Ephesians 4:5); the only logical conclusion is that being in Christ is synonymous with being in His body, the church. The Lord adds the saved to His church (Acts 2:47). There are no saved outside of the blood-bought church and there is no time interval between being saved and becoming a member of Christ’s church.
The Thief and Baptism
The thief who was crucified with Jesus has served as an inaccurate example many times as proof that one can be saved without being baptized. Luke gives the account of Jesus and the thief (Luke 23). Prior to Luke giving the account of Jesus and the thief, he pointed out that while Jesus was here on the earth, He had the power to forgive sins instantaneously (Luke 5:24). The thief was a benefactor of this power. One of Jesus’ last acts before His death was to show compassion to the thief by forgiving his sins and promising him a place in paradise that very day (Luke 23:43).
Another fact that is ignored when the thief is used as proof that baptism is not essential is that the thief lived and died under the Mosaic Law. The law was valid until Jesus fulfilled the law and “nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Only after Jesus arose from the grave did He commission baptism in His name or by His authority (Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:16). If one could presently be saved just as the thief was saved, Jesus’ death was unnecessary (Galatians 2:21). The gospel is now God’s power to save (Romans 1:16) and the heart of the gospel is Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Although the thief lived during the time John’s baptism was valid, no one knows for certain if he was baptized. However, while death by crucifixion was an excruciating punishment, the thief was actually very fortunate to be crucified beside Jesus and have his sins forgiven.
To use the thief as an example that baptism is not essential shows a failure to understand the power that Jesus had while here on earth to forgive sins. It also fails to consider that baptism in Jesus’ name wasn’t commissioned until after Jesus’ resurrection. This baptism is into Jesus’ death (Romans 6:3) and is an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21). To use the thief as proof that salvation and baptism have no relationship is a failure to understand the scriptures and the power of God to save—the gospel.
Faith and Baptism
Martin Luther faced a dilemma. He could not harmonize the writings of Paul and James on faith and works. Paul wrote that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:7-8), while James wrote that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Luther’s remedy was to declare James “a book of straw.” Many today share Luther’s dilemma.
The Hebrew writer gives a list of men and women who were justified through faith (Hebrews 11). Among those listed are Abel who offered an acceptable sacrifice, Noah who built an ark and Abraham who sojourned in a strange land. Since faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), every example in Hebrews received revelation from God and obeyed His commands. Their faith was perfected by obeying (James 2:22).
What Luther failed to understand is that Paul referred to works of righteousness while James referred to works of faith or simple obedience. Faith continues to be perfected through works or obedience. Jesus asks, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord and do not what I say” (Luke 6:46). This obedience spoken of by the Lord is what James refers to as works that perfect faith (James 2:22).
Salvation is by grace through faith or accessing grace through faith (Romans 5:2). Paul wrote 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 yourself with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Paul never imagined that faith was a mere intellectual awareness or mental acceptance apart from obedience, James stressed this truth.
God’s grace is not limited to one event or to unmerited favor that God doesn’t reveal through revelation. Grace instructs (Titus 2:12), and being saved by grace through faith is understanding and obeying these instructions or commands. The initial hearers of the gospel were saved by grace through faith when they repented and were baptized in the name of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Saul was saved by grace through faith when he followed the command to be baptized washing away his sins (Acts 22:16). Children of God became children through faith when baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27) not before and by no other means.
Every person or group of people given as examples of faith in Hebrews 11, perfected their faith by obeying. The command to be baptized is for all nations under the New Covenant (Matthew 28:18) and is the time God’s grace is accessed through faith ((Romans 5:2).
Luther’s concept of faith was a mental acceptance of the fact that Jesus was the Christ. The concept of faith that Paul and James proposed was not only a mental acceptance of Christ’s deity but also accepting His Lordship by submission to His will. The first step in submission is to become a child of God and put on Christ by obeying His commands.
If asked, “Why were you baptized?” many professing Christians would answer, “To show an outward expression of an inward salvation.” Others may answer, “Because Jesus was baptized.” Others may say, “To obey God.” Since the Bible teaches that truth can be known (John 8:32), the objective of every sincere Bible student should be to understand the purpose of baptism as presented by the source of truth which is God’s word (John 17:17). Like other Bible subjects, the truth surrounding the purpose of baptism is absolute and is “settled in heaven” (Psalms 119:89).
After Jesus arose from the grave, He instructed His apostles to preach repentance and the remission of sins beginning in Jerusalem(Luke 24:47). He also told them to teach and baptize all nations (Matthew 28:18) and that whoever believed and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). In order to determine the purpose of baptism, one only has to follow the lives and teachings of the apostles as they follow the teachings of Jesus.
Following Jesus return to the Father, the apostles obeyed the command of Jesus to remain in Jerusalemuntil they received the promise of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49: Acts 1:4). Upon receiving the promised Spirit, the apostles became equipped to teach and write through inspiration (John 14:26, 16:13; Acts 2:4). It was at this time Peter delivered the first gospel sermon.
Peter and the apostles persuaded the Jewish assembly that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and that He had risen from the dead and taken His place at God’s right hand (Acts 2:14-36). Upon hearing Peter’s message, the audience was pierced to the heart and asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Notice Peter didn’t tell them to recite “the sinner’s prayer” or to “ask Jesus to come into your heart.” Neither did he tell them to believe, because they had heard the truth and believed already. Instead, he instructed them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
By obeying Jesus’ command to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins beginning in Jerusalem, Peter gave the purpose of baptism for the penitent believer. It is for the forgiveness or remission of sins. Not an outward expression of an inward salvation, but in order to receive forgiveness.
Some may think, “Wait! The blood of Christ, not baptism forgives sins.” Of course the cleansing agent for sins is Christ’s blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). But the question is, “When does Christ’s blood cleanse?” What is the line of demarcation between being lost and saved by that blood? Peter said it was when believers repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38).
In Peter’s first letter he uses the flood as a type pointing to the anti-type baptism. Peter’s comparison leaves no doubt he has reference to water baptism. He points out that just as water separated Noah and his family from the lost world, baptism now separates the saved from the lost. Peter wrote, “. . . eight persons were brought safely through the water. 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” (1 Peter 3:20b, 21).
When Jesus died on the cross, the law was abolished (Colossians 2:14). The law was Satan’s hold on humanity because all were lawbreakers. But when Jesus died Satan’s head was crushed (Genesis 3:15) or his power was diminished. Since the power of sin was the law (1 Corinthians 15:56) and the law was removed, the works of the devil were destroyed (1 John 3:8).
By being baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:13), we become recipients of the spiritual blessings that His death provided. When raised from the waters of baptism, we come forth as a new creature (1 Corinthians 5:17), having been baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3). When we understand that the blood of the cross is applied when we are united with Christ in the likeness of His death (Romans 6:5), it becomes obvious why baptism is for the remission of sins. “At baptism” becomes the obvious answer to the question, “When does Christ’s blood cleanse?”
Gospel simply means, “good news”. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are of first importance and the heart of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). But it is also good news that God has given instructions that allow man to obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9) and share in the benefits of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Burial in baptism is for more than a ritual, formality or an expression of a prior experience.
As Paul was concluding his discussion on the subject of baptism in his Roman letter, he wrote, “You were servants of sin, but thanks be to God you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered unto you. Being then made free from sins, you became the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). The Romans were made free from sins by obeying the same teaching that made the Jews free from sins who obeyed Peter’s command to repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
Paul’s account of his own conversion reiterates the purpose of baptism. Many have accepted without reservation that Paul was saved on the road to Damascus. But as Paul was giving an account of his encounter with Jesus, Paul said that he was told by Jesus to go into the city and he would be told what to do (Acts 22:10). A Christian by the name of Ananias had been chosen by God to instruct Paul. As Ananias approached Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, he was praying. Ananias said, “Why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized washing away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Saul was a penitent, praying believer who had actually spoken with Jesus; yet he was still in his sins. The purpose of baptism for Saul was the same as that for the initial believers, in order to have sins washed away or for the forgiveness of sins.
Through traditional teachings, much of Christendom has been taught that salvation precedes or is separate from baptism. They have been convinced that baptism is a work and Paul plainly states that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul wrote to Titus that one isn’t saved by righteous works, but according to God’s mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Undoubtedly an operation or working of God takes place in this “washing of regeneration.” In his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul explains that when one is buried with Christ in baptism, an operation or working of God takes place and those dead in transgressions are made alive having been forgiven (Colossians 2:12-13). There is a working, but it is a working of God as He removes sins.
Yes, baptism is to obey God. Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:9). But it isn’t to obey in order to show an outward expression of an inward salvation. It is in order to receive forgiveness of sins for penitent believers. Baptism is the point in time God chooses to forgive sins through obedience to the gospel and by the blood of the cross.
Baptism is one of the most controversial and misunderstood subjects in the Bible. Vines defines baptism as immersion, submersion or emergence. The verb, to baptize, is defined “to dip.” Over the next several weeks the subject of baptism will be addressed as it relates to other Bible subjects such as faith, grace and salvation.
There are seven baptisms mentioned in the New Testament. They are (1) John’s baptism, (2) baptism by the Holy Spirit, (3) baptism by fire, (4) the baptism of suffering, (5) Jesus’ baptism, (6) the baptism of Israel in the Red Sea, and (7) “Christian baptism” or the “baptism of the Great Commission.” Although there were ceremonial washings in the Old Testament, there were no baptisms as such. The leper, Naaman, was commanded to dip in the Jordan River seven times as a cure for his leprosy. However, this command was for Naaman only (2 Kings 5).
It is significant to realize that following His resurrection, Jesus commissioned baptism to last until the end of time (Matthew 28:18-20), and that several decades later Paul wrote that there was one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). The reasonable conclusion is that the baptism Jesus commissioned to last until the end of time was the one baptism referred to by Paul. This baptism is the baptism that will be examined over the next few weeks.
The baptism commissioned or authorized by Jesus was to be administered by men to other men or women (Matthey 28:18). Along with belief it was commissioned as a prerequisite to salvation (Mark 15:15-16). It was different from John’s baptism because it was for all nations (Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:15) while John’s baptism was for Judea only (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:5). John’s baptism was also temporary (Acts 19:1-5).
Baptism by the Holy Spirit was administered by Jesus (Luke 24:49) and was a promise and never a command. The apostles (Acts 2) and Cornelius and his household (Acts 10) were the two recipients of Holy Spirit baptism. Jesus’ baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) and was peculiar to Jesus only. The baptism by fire would be a manifestation of God’s judgment (Matthew 3:10-12). Baptism “into Moses” or in the Red Sea was for Israel as they made their exodus from Egypt (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Of course, Jesus’ baptism of suffering was in reference to His death on the cross (Luke 12-51).
Therefore, the baptism that will be referenced is the baptism authorized by Jesus. It is known as Christian baptism, New Covenant baptism or baptism of the Great Commission.
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