I often receive questions about salvation, faith, baptism, ministry, and how they’re all connected. This past month has seen an even greater number of people asking questions about the Bible’s stance on baptism. Praise God! So, I thought I’d use this month’s newsletter to write on the Bible’s teaching in this area.
Christian Baptism was established as the entrance into God’s New Testament (NT) Christian Church. That New Testament church was built on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Until those events occurred in their entirety, the world was living under the Old Covenant; aka: the Old Testament/Old agreement/Old “will” (see Heb 9.16-17). In other words, baptism is completely Christian in nature. We should not attempt to force it through an Old Testament event or counterpart. When God started something entirely new in His Church, He also created a new way for us to respond to Him spiritually.
Here is DCC’s doctrinal statement concerning baptism and salvation:
“We believe salvation from sin comes from a right relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship comes by grace through faith, produces repentance, and begins with the immersion of Christian baptism.”
Let’s quickly look at four important questions about baptism:
A. For Forgiveness & Sanctification
The Bible shows baptism as the time (Rom 6.3-4) one responds to God in faith and then receives His “double cure” of salvation (hence the words from the great hymn “Rock of Ages”). At baptism, we receive forgiveness for all of our sins; theologians call this is “justification” (Acts 2.37-38). At this time, God also begins the great work of “cleaning us up” and empowering us to live lives that progressively become more holy. This is called sanctification (Col 2.11-12; cf. Gal 3.27).
A. Conscious Believers
Everyone we see accepting baptism in the NT is a conscious, faith-professing believer. In other words, people are only pictured as being a candidate for baptism if they were able to make a mindful declaration of belief in Jesus Christ. Peter’s teaching is especially helpful here:
1 Peter 3:21 (NLT)
21 And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This verse teaches the extreme importance of baptism, but it tells us baptism only “works” because of the resurrection of Christ. If we don’t believe in that, there is nothing magic (or even spiritual) about baptism that will save us. Faith only; only faith.
It also teaches us that baptism is our response to God because we know He cleanses us from our sin. Infants and the mentally underdeveloped can’t respond (and consequently would not be held responsible for doing so) because they don’t have the rational abilities to (1) comprehend, and (2) believe what God has done. You can only respond “from a clean conscience” if you understand what it is you’re responding to, what sin is, what God did, etc. See also: Acts 2.41; 18.8; Mark 16.16; John 1.12-13.
A. Immersion in Water
The word ‘baptize’ means “immerse/put under water.” It was simply a Greek word with a very narrow meaning. The Bible writers didn’t pick an already spiritual word and use it for their purposes. They used a common, regular word and gave it a spiritual meaning. In other words, a 1st Century Greek-speaking person would have used “baptize” in their everyday conversations anytime they wanted to communicate dunking something. It never meant sprinkle or pour; there are entirely different words for that.
This also makes sense given the act baptism symbolizes. In baptism, the candidate is taking part in a spiritual drama where she/he identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Col 2.12). Martin Luther weighs in here:
“I would have those who are to be baptized completely immersed in the water, as the word says and as the mystery indicates …[Nothing expect immersion can] bring out the full significance of baptism, [because it is] a symbol of death and resurrection” –Martin Luther, Captivity p.191
A. Immediately upon Belief
While I prefer to have as many people present as possible to witness the grand event, we should not delay one’s baptism any more than is necessary. There is no biblical precedent for requiring a long series of classes and tests before people are baptized. As soon as someone professes genuine faith in Jesus Christ, we should adopt Nike’s slogan and “Just do it” (see Acts 8.12, 36-38).
While there are many within Christianity who would take to an alternative view of baptism, we should certainly not let that be cause to shy away from the Bible’s clear teaching on this subject. It is my prayer that we would all lovingly and confidently “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3)
At your side,