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Why Baptism?

Baptism-1Jesus Did It:

13 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.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

 

In Baptism we get to actually participate in an act that Jesus did himself. How great is it that when we cry out that we want to follow Jesus, Jesus provides us with a tangible way to take those first steps with him? John knew that Jesus did not need baptism. Jesus is God in man so he needed neither the gift of the Holy Spirit nor the forgiveness of sins. Yet Jesus insists on baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness. In other words, Jesus insists on baptism because it is the right thing to do. Jesus’ baptism is the only place where scripture records that all three personages of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are physically detectable. The Father is heard. The Son is physically present. The Holy Spirit is visible in some form. Jesus’ baptism is a big event. God the Father is pleased. In our baptism God is present. It is through the Son that our sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit indwells in us and we are made right before God the Father. We submit to baptism because it is the right thing to do and it pleases our Heavenly Father.

Jesus’ First Followers Submitted to Baptism:

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:22-26)

In this passage we see that Jesus’ disciples baptized so many that John’s (whose nickname was “The Baptizer”) disciples got jealous. From the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry, baptism existed as an integral part of following Jesus.

Jesus Commands Baptism in Conjunction with Discipleship:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These are the final verses written in the Gospel of Matthew. They are some of the last commands that Jesus gave the apostles before he ascended into heaven after the resurrection. After telling the apostles that he has the authority over everything and everyone, Jesus commands the apostles to go throughout the whole world making new followers (disciples) of him.  They should baptize these disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teach them obedience to all Jesus’ commands. These commands come with a promise that Jesus will be with them and with all of his disciples (the “you” in verse 20 is plural) to the very end of time. So baptism was not just something done during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus commanded baptism for all who would follow him as a result of the apostle’s testimony. That means the command is for us. We are to submit to baptism and to baptize others. Baptism is not some sort of fire insurance, but the beginning of a new life of learning and obeying all of Jesus’ commands. We do not live this new life in isolation. Instead, Jesus promises that he will walk with us in this new life on into eternity.

Baptism Comes with a Big Promise:

Baptism when joined with belief, repentance, and confession comes with a promise:

2:37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?” [Belief] 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, [Repentance] and each one of you be baptized [Baptism] in the name of Jesus Christ [Confession] for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [Promise] 2:39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39)

The promise concerns the receiving of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. To make clear that this promise was not just for those present at Pentecost, Peter explicitly tells us that this promise is for future generations (your children) and for people everywhere (all who are far away). In short this promise is for “as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and you need your sins forgiven, then this is what you should do. Listen to what Peter prescribed for those asking the same question of “What shall we do”:

1) Repent- the word simply means “to turn around” or “to change one’s mind”.  To repent is to turn around from living a life where you are the boss to living a life with Jesus as your guide.

2) Confess- is to proclaim to the world with your mouth and with your actions you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

3) Baptism- is a focal point of belief, repentance, and confession. In baptism you publicly confess in word and deed that you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. In baptism you take that first step of repentance in the direction of submission to Christ’s leadership.

At the focal point of baptism God does all the real work. You go to the waters of baptism and God gives you the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. You are not performing some act that is so meritorious that it puts God in your debt. Instead you are simply going to the surgeon’s office where he removes the cancer of sin and inserts the healing, life-giving Holy Spirit. Baptism is an act of submission, not a work that earns salvation.

In Baptism, We Die to Sin and Participate in Jesus’ Resurrection:

Paul speaks about baptism as the place where we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. (Romans 6:1-4)

For Paul, baptism is where we die to sin and God raises us into a new life. This does not mean that we never sin again. It means that sin is no longer the norm of our life. We cannot “go on sinning”. We are on a campaign through the leadership of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives wherever we find it. We cannot tolerate sin in our lives any longer. We died to the sinful way of life in the waters of baptism and arose to a new life characterized by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the beginning of a journey toward Christ likeness, a journey that will find completion only in Heaven.

Baptism Is the Pledge of a Clear Conscience Before God:

in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:20b-22)

Baptism is not an act of superstition. It is not like pinching salt and throwing it over your shoulder or knocking on wood. There is nothing supernatural about the water itself. No one has blessed it or gotten it from some holy source. It is just regular tap water. What is significant about baptism is the pledge of a clear conscience. Baptism in some ways is like a marriage ceremony. The ceremony holds great significance if the bride and groom with clear consciences pledge themselves to each other for life. If their pledge is not sincere then the ceremony holds no real value, but instead is destructive to both parties. Likewise, baptism holds real eternal significance if it is where with a clear conscience you publicly pledge yourself to Jesus for eternity. If baptism is not done with sincerity, then it is nothing more than a substandard bath. As insincere marriage vows end in the harm of all involved so do insincere baptisms.

The bad alternatives to baptism

I know that baptism is a touchy subject, but it’s not going away. I teach a “Basics ” class at least once a year (hopefully more). The issue is going to keep reoccurring. What makes the Christian Church different is that we are trying to tie ourselves as close as we can to the principles and practices of the New Testament church. Most denominations demand that you be baptized in one of their affiliated churches by one of their affiliated ministers. The Baptist church requires that you be immersed each time you transfer membership.  They affiliate baptism with membership in a local church. We only ask that before you become a member of our church, you be immersed somewhere at sometime in the name of Jesus.

We can’t sweep the issue of immersion under the rug. Baptism needs to be taught, but if not addressed properly, baptism (which is meant to be a source of unity) can easily devolve into disunity.

The problem is all the baggage behind the issue of baptism. Baptism itself is one of the most straight forward rites within the New Testament. We know more about how the New Testament church performed baptism than we do about communion. It’s very easy to demonstrate in scripture the “how”, “who”, and “purpose” of baptism. I’ve used examples of this in my other entry, Immersion for the Sprinkled. There are a plethora more in the New Testament.

The problem comes in what a person has to confess when they confess that the New Testament church immersed believers. If they were sprinkled as a baby they have to confess that the traditions of their childhood faith and their parent’s faith do not line up with Scripture. They have to confess that at least in this instance, someone they trusted as an expert in the ways of God (priest, reverend, etc.)  was wrong. They have to decide if they have fully obeyed Jesus’ commands. Baptism started off as an act of repentance and still is one today. Repentance means “to turn around” and/or “to change one’s mind”. That is a difficult process.

Whenever we do not do something just as God has instructed, bad things happen. It’s important to teach accurately about baptism as Priscilla and Aquila did for Apolos because the alternatives have negative consequences. Let’s consider the process of salavtion used by other denominations.

Have you ever been to a Baptist or Evangelical revival? Not all of them go the same way, but at least in my experience, they go something like this: You have an emotionally charged worship time and then an emotionally charged sermon (I’m okay with heavy emotion when used responsibly. What should we be more emotional about than Jesus?). Then the guy up front asks for everyone to bow their head and close their eyes. He then asks those who wish to make a decision for Jesus to raise their hand while everyone’s eyes are closed. Already we are on bad footing because Jesus says:

8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.  (Luke 12:8-9)

Then the leader asks for those with their hands raised to say a prayer with him. In the South we call it “The Sinner’s Prayer”. The prayer varies from person to person but they all have these two elements:1) Lord , I am a sinner, 2) please send Jesus into my heart. It’s not a bad prayer. It just isn’t in Scripture. We see no one doing such a thing in response to the Gospel. So what happens next?

The youth or adult who attended the revival and made a decision goes home and goes to bed. They get up the next morning to the same life, the same temptations, the same bad habits, the same problems. They get up and they wonder if the prayer stuck. They wonder if they really did make a lifelong decision for Jesus or if it was just all the emotionalism of the revival.

Whenever I meet someone who tells me that they were save by “The Sinner’s Prayer” or something like it, I ask, “How many times did you have to pray it?” Someday a person is going to reply, “once”, but so far that day has not come. The normative experience is that a person prays for Jesus to come into their heart. They do good for a while and then they go back to sin. They conclude that the first prayer did not stick and so they pray it again. They continue this cycle until they feel that something has permanently changed.

I was immersed when I was 10 years old. I don’t remember all the feelings that I had at that time. I know that in large part I got baptized because I wanted to follow Jesus like my Dad followed Jesus. I believe that my faith has grown a lot since I was 10. But I never had to question if I made a decision to follow Jesus on that day. I know that I did because I chose to be baptized.

I look at baptism in a lot of ways like a marriage. Sometimes my wife and I fight (not too often), but I never get up in the morning and wonder if I made a lifelong commitment to her and if she made one to me. Marriage has turned out to be quite a bit different than I thought it was going to be, but I know that on May 27th 2006 I committed my life to her. It is the same with baptism.

One of the alternatives that is used to baptism is “The Alter Call”. This is much like “The Sinner’s Prayer,” but more intense. The individual comes down to the front of the church and tries to “pray through” with the help of others. Through weeping and begging they ask Jesus to come into their heart. Their confirmation is some sort of spiritual experience, an inner peace, a vision, speaking in tongues, etcetera. The experience varies from person to person.

There is something insidious about the whole event. We worship the God who loves us so intensely that he sent his son to die for us. Jesus loved us so much that one lifetime was not good enough to spend with us. He has prepared a dwelling place for us where we will live with him for eternity. The poor wretched soul, responds to the gospel as those believers in Acts 2:37 with “what shall I do”. The answer they get is, “Pray and hope God will eventually accept you.”

We do not wait for God to turn His love towards us. He is waiting for us to turn to him. “Alter Calls” make God the reluctant groom.

Now about sprinkling. All denominations (as far as I know) do not believe in practice that sprinkling is enough. Take Catholics for example. They sprinkle (or pour) infants. But you do not fully become a part of the church until you go through a confirmation class. Confirmation is supposed to be the point when the believer confirms that they are a follower of Jesus. It’s supposed to be a choice of faith, but rarely does it end up that way in practice.

In practice, a person can be sprinkled by their parent’s choice and take confirmation classes at their instance and never make a decision to follow Jesus.

Again, I am not suggesting that those who have responded to Jesus through “The Sinner’s Prayer”, “Alter Calls”, or “Confirmation” cannot be saved. I am not even suggesting that the spiritual experiences that they have are not real. I am suggesting that when we substitute Biblical practice with expedient, traditional, or otherwise manmade practices we put people at a disadvantage. In other word’s there are those who have been saved despite “The Sinner’s Prayer”, “Alter Calls”, and “Confirmation” not because of them. Or to put it another way, God has redeemed (bought back) these rites not ordained these rites.

I want to teach the word of God faithfully and give all every advantage possible toward salvation. Here in lies the problem. Teaching on baptism has been seen as threatening. People are afraid of the topic. The topic is entrenched in good and bad experiences and relationships. It’s a sore spot and needs to be approached with extraordinary tenderness.

Counting the Cost

REJECTION

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (John 15:18-21)

 

SUFFERING

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:6-12)

 

SACRIFICE

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:25-33)

 

ONLY SOURCE OF ETERNAL LIFE

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

IMMERSION FOR THE SPRINKLED

Baptism1-600x340INTRODUCTION

Let me start off by saying that I think that the church universal has taken a blessing from God and made it a point of division. Baptism is a gift given by God to humanity and somehow we have made it a curse. We have made baptism a burden. In contrast, this is the attitude the early church had towards baptism:

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:36)

Then Peter said, 47 Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47)

There was no debate in the first century on if or how a person had to be baptized. That was foreign to their thinking. That would be like a kid coming up to their parents and asking if they had to eat ice cream. In this discussion, I want to try to keep the proper perspective of baptism in view. Baptism is a beautiful thing. It’s not something that God bludgeoned humanity with but gifted humanity with.

How cool is it that God allows us the opportunity to do something that Jesus did? In baptism, I can physically follow Jesus. I get to physically do something that Jesus did over two thousand years ago.

My goal in this whole discussion is the same as that of Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos:

18:24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. 18:25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. 18:26 He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 18:27 When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace, 18:28 for he refuted the Jews vigorously in public debate, demonstrating from the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

Apollos already followed Jesus. He even preached boldly about Jesus, but he knew only John’s baptism. Priscilla and Aquila explain the way of God more accurately. Apollos accepts their instruction and continues to preach the word of God more accurately. That’s the way I want to discuss baptism. If you have not been immersed in the name of Jesus Christ, I come to you like Priscilla and Aquila came to Apollos. I make no judgment about your religious dedication. I do not question if you have been following or proclaiming Jesus. Instead, I come with more accurate instruction concerning the way of God. My prayer is that you will respond like Apollos, you will accept God’s word, be immersed, and continue to vigorously demonstrate to the world from Scripture that Jesus is the Christ.

 

THREE ASPECTS OF BAPTISM

The debate on baptism centers on three basic aspects of baptism:

1) What method is used,

2) Who we baptize,

3) The purpose of baptism.

 

The Method

The method of baptism is really the easiest of the three aspects to demonstrate. Identification of the method starts with the word “baptism.” The word “baptism” or baptize” is not an inherently religious word. It is a transliteration (Translation is when we transfer the meaning of a word from one language to another. Transliteration is when we simply transfer the sounds of a word from one langue to another) of the Greek word βαπτίζω (baptízō). It is used all over ancient Greek writings in contexts that have nothing to do with religious ritual. It means simply “to immerse”. This is an excerpt from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament that gives various uses of the Greek words for baptism in ancient literature other than the Bible:

βάπτω, “to dip in or under” (trans.): Hom. Od., 9, 392; Aesch. Prom., 863: ἐν σφαγαῖσι βάψασα ξίφος; “to dye,” used in Josephus only in this sense, Bell., 4, 563; Ant., 3, 102; βάμμα, “dyed material,” Ant., 3, 129; P. Par., 52, 10; 53, 5 (163/2 b.c.): βαπτά, “dyed or coloured clothes.”

The intens. [βαπτίζω occurs in the sense of “to immerse” (trans.) from the time of Hippocrates, in Plato and esp. in later writers, a. strictly, act. βαπτίζειν τὸ σκάφος, “to sink the ship,” Jos. Bell., 3, 368, ὁ κλύδων (τὰς ναῦς) ἐβάπτιζεν, Bell., 3, 423; pass. “to sink”: ἐν ὕλῃ (in the mud), Plot. Enn., I, 8, 13 (I, p. 112, 6, Volkmann; → 532), “to suffer shipwreck,” “to drown,” “to perish”: Jos. Bell., 3, 525; Epict. Gnom. Stob. Fr. 47, p. 489, Schenkl; ἀβάπτιστος ναῦς, schol. in Luc. Jup. Trag., 47, p. 83, Rabe)

 

I know most of it looks like a mess, but if you read  the English parts than you can see that the word baptism is used in the context of dyeing clothes, ship wrecks, drowning, etcetera. You can look at any basic Greek dictionary and find out that βαπτίζω simply means “to immerse”.

You need not be a Greek scholar to see that the early church immersed. Just start by investigating where baptisms took place in the Bible. They took place around major bodies of water. We find this point particularly clear in John 3, where we find both Jesus and John the Baptist baptizing in the same area:

3:22 After this, Jesus and his disciples came into Judean territory, and there he spent time with them and was baptizing 3:23 John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming to him and being baptized. (John 3:22-23).

The description of the Ethiopian Eunuch’s baptism in Acts leaves little question to the method of baptism used by the early church:

8:36 Now as they were going along the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water! What is to stop me from being baptized?” 8:38 So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 8:39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him anymore, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)

Of interesting note, no recognized Christian denomination (except for Quakers who have no form of baptism at all) disputes the validity of immersion as a method of baptism. In other words, no denomination that sprinkles or pours argues that immersion is an incorrect way to be baptized. You can get immersed in the Catholic Church, Methodist Church, or any other church. They may question why you would want to. They may have a problem with who administers baptism or in which church you get immersed. But they do not have a problem with immersion as a method of baptism. Most recognize that immersion is the earliest method of baptism used in the church.

 

Who We Baptize

“Who we baptize” and the “purpose of baptism” are tied together. Let’s begin with the first recorded baptisms after Jesus’s resurrection. Peter preaches the Gospel to people in Jerusalem at Pentecost and this was their reaction:

2:37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?” 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

This is the normative place of baptism. People in response to the Gospel choose to act in repentance. Baptism, in part, is a public act of repentance. Baptism is not thrust upon a person. A person chooses baptism. Without having the choice, what benefit does baptism have on the recipient? We baptize those old enough to make the choice to repent and follow Jesus. Peter makes the necessity of choice clear in his description of the purpose of baptism:

In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. 3:21 And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3:22 who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:20b-22)

How can an infant pledge a good conscience to God? We baptize only those who choose baptism and are able to pledge a good conscience to God. Anything short of this renders baptism meaningless for the one baptized. It would be like somebody giving my wife flowers on my behalf without my knowledge or my consent. The gesture has no meaning concerning my commitment or love to my wife because I had nothing to do with the act. Infant baptism is meaningful to the parents. It’s a great gesture. It symbolizes the parent’s commitment to raise their child in the knowledge of God. That is a wonderful commitment to make. But infant baptism cannot represent the child’s commitment to God, because the child had no choice in the matter. The infant had no ability to pledge a good conscience to God.

While there are multitudes of examples in Acts and the Gospels of people choosing to be baptized, there are no examples of infant baptism in scripture. Scholars who argue for the presence of infant baptism in Scripture, argue from the silence of Scripture. In other words, such a scholar might look at the account of the conversion of Lydia and notice that it says:

The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. (Acts 16:14b-15a)

That scholar assumes that since the passage does not specify that there were no infants among Lydia’s household that infants must have been included. That seems like a stretch. I encourage you to get a good concordance (there are many on the internet or I would be more than happy to provide you with one) and look up every place that “baptism” or “baptize” appears in scripture. Such an exercise will take you between thirty minutes and an hour. It will become abundantly clear that in the early church individuals chose to submit to baptism. Infant baptism does not represent that choice.

 

The Purpose of Baptism

We already discussed some scriptures concerning the purpose of baptism in the previous section. Baptism is a pledge of a good conscience to God. Baptism when joined with belief, repentance, and confession comes with a promise:

2:37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?”[Belief] 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent,[Repentance] and each one of you be baptized [Baptism] in the name of Jesus Christ [Confession] for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [Promise] 2:39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39)

The promise is of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. To make clear that this promise was not just for those present at Pentecost, Peter explicitly tells us that this promise is for future generations (your children) and for people everywhere (all who are far away). In short this promise is for “as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”

Paul speaks about baptism as the place where we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection:

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. (Romans 6:1-4)

For Paul, baptism is where we die to sin and are raised into a new life.

Baptism is an act of public repentance. Repentance simply means “to turn around” or “to change one’s mind”. Baptism is the act where we turn away from our sinful life towards a life of following Jesus. Baptism is an act of public confession. It is where we confess to the world that Jesus is Lord. It’s where we seize upon Jesus’s promise:

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8)

Baptism is where we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is where we die to sin and are raised to new life. Baptism is the pledge of a good conscience to God. It is where we seize upon the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Why wouldn’t you be immersed? Instead, who can stand in your way?

 

CONCLUSIONS

Can God save a person without immersion? Of course He can. He is the creator of heaven and earth. He is no math equation. He can save whoever he pleases. As God said to Moses:

I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Exodus 33:19b)

But if we see in scripture that Jesus was immersed (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:3-8, Luke 3:2-7), Jesus commands immersion (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16), and the early church immersed (Acts 2:38) and we still ask, “Do I have to be immersed in order to be saved?”  Then we really ask, “Can I be disobedient and be saved?”

One final note, you may read this and still remain confident that you have received the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins even though you have not been immersed. Who am I to argue with you? Do I dispense the Holy Spirit or forgive sins? Of course not. But there was one who by all outside appearances did not need to be immersed, yet was anyway:

13 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.”(Matthew 3:13-17)
Jesus needed neither the forgiveness of sins nor the gift of the Holy Spirit. He had no sin and he was already fully man and fully God. The one baptizing him, John the Baptist, recognized that though Jesus came to him for baptism, John needed baptism more than Jesus. Still, Jesus was immersed. We know that it was immersion because the event occurred at the Jordan River and verse 16 says specifically that Jesus “went up out of the water”. Jesus’ only explanation to John for his insistence in being baptized was to “fulfill all righteousness”. In other words, Jesus did it because it was the right thing to do. Apparently Jesus’s submission to baptism pleased God the Father because He says as much in verse 17. If Jesus, who needed neither the forgiveness of sins nor the gift of the Holy Spirit submitted to immersion, what about you?