Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baptism - Part Three

In the previous two lessons I have covered the basic teaching and practice of water baptism as recorded in the New Testament. Now, in this third and final installment, I will attempt to answer a few remaining questions.

1. Can a person be saved/born again/regenerated in their spirit by the Spirit of God, and have eternal life if they have not been baptized in water? Yes! The Bible is clear that justification and salvation are by grace and through faith (Rom. 3:22-28; 4:3-5; Gal. 3:1-14; Eph. 2:5-9). We are not saved by being baptized in water, but by having genuine faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. A biblical example of this is one of the criminals that was crucified alongside Jesus (Luke 23:39-43). And surely there are countless others who have had saving faith in Christ in the last moments of their lives on earth. It would be foolishness to believe that if they truly repented and believed in Christ but were not baptized in water, God would not forgive them of their sins and receive them into His kingdom. Mark 16:16 is also a confirmation of this matter; only he who does not "believe" shall be condemned. And then there is Romans 10:9-13; it is believing in our heart and confessing with our mouth that results in salvation with no mention of water baptism. So, let me repeat, we are saved neither by repentance nor by water baptism, but by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!

2. If this is so, is it still important to be baptized? And if so, why? Yes! Firstly, because the Bible tells us so. We have both the clear teaching and the many examples of water baptism in the New Testament including the Lord Jesus Himself. Baptism is actually a response to, an act of, and an outward manifestation of our inward faith in Jesus Christ. Luke 7:30 tells us that refusing to be baptized is to reject the very counsel of God. If a professed believer refuses to be baptized according to the word of God, his saving faith in Christ would be very much in question. In a sense, water baptism is actually a confession of our faith, a confirmation of what we truly believe in our heart. It could also be considered our first act of obedience in our new life with Christ. Yet, if one is baptized without a genuine heart-faith in Jesus, it is in vain and plays no part in true salvation.

3. So why is there so much confusion over this matter of baptism? I believe the reason is twofold. Firstly, because of the non-biblical man-invented tradition of baptizing babies. There is no such teaching nor any examples in the Bible of someone being baptized before they have faith in Christ. Yet, this practice has been adopted and accepted into a large segment of Christianity. It is not according to the truth and is contrary to the most basic teaching of salvation in Scripture, i.e., "Believe and be baptized and you shall be saved!" (Mark 16:16). It is a crafty deceptive teaching from the Devil which gives people a false conception of salvation and cheats them into believing that this religious ritual has some impact on the eternal destiny of the child. Many then go on to believe they are okay with God because they were baptized as a baby even though they have not truly repented and believed in the gospel. It is a dangerous lie.

Secondly, and more related to genuine believers, in the New Testament, believing and being baptized was something that happened almost simultaneously. Remember the words "why delay" and "immediately"? Baptism was an immediate response of obedience in faith. It had spiritual significance and reality because of their faith. The water was a symbol of entering into Christ, into His death, and into the Body of Christ. It was their faith that substantiated the fact of this truth and immersed them into the triune God. It was not the water itself that saved them, but their faith in Christ that brought them into an organic union with Him. Unfortunately, this pure experience and obedience of baptism in faith has lost its meaning and impact with many believers today. It seems that rarely is a person baptized at the time they believe. Why? It may be that the one leading them to Christ does not have the biblical understanding of baptism and/or has been influenced by the traditions that have developed around baptism, i.e., there must be a certain kind of person or place or water etc. to do a baptism, or we must gather a group of people together and make it a kind of ceremony, or they must go through some kind of classes to get more educated first. Then there is the waiting for the once or twice or however many times a year a certain congregation is having a baptism service. Baptism is put off and eventually even ignored for many different reasons and therefore can lose the significance and impact it is intended to have.

So, what shall we do? Well, as with many other matters of truth that have been lost or distorted from the Bible, we must come back to the clear and pure teaching of the truth and be willing to drop all the wrong doctrines and practices we may have picked up along the way. This in itself is an act of obedience to God. If you have genuine saving faith in Christ and have not yet been baptized in water, do so in faith as a confirmation and declaration of your faith in obedience to God's word. If you are with someone who has just repented and expressed genuine faith in Christ, find the nearest immersible water and baptize them. We do not need to argue and debate this matter with those who stubbornly hold on to their religious traditions. But we can come back to the proper understanding and practice of baptism for ourselves and those committed to us by God.

I do not claim to have answered all the questions we may have regarding baptism. But I do hope that having looked more closely at God's word and exposed some of the non-biblical teachings and practices, we could draw closer to a healthy understanding and application of this God-ordained and meaningful part of the Christian experience. Glory be to Him!

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Baptism - Part Two

"By grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8). The salvation spoken of here is that which having been "dead in our offenses and sins" (Eph. 2:1) we were "made alive together with Christ" (Eph. 2:5). This "regeneration" (to be covered in a forthcoming lesson) is not by repentance nor is it by baptism. In other words, you are not made alive by repentance and you are not made alive by baptism. Regenerating salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
That being said, we can now go on to take a further and deeper look at how baptism relates to this matter.

Note: In this lesson, I intend to focus mainly on the significance of being baptized in water at the time one first believes (according to the examples in the Bible). I have decided to cover "being baptized in the Holy Spirit" once we have finished with this aspect of baptism.

In "Baptism - Part One", the examples given in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts should have clearly answered many questions concerning water baptism. Now we must begin to address the more difficult and serious questions, such as, Why is water baptism so important if we are saved by grace through faith? Can a person be saved if they have not been baptized in water? And if so, why then is there the need to be baptized? Let's begin by seeing what else the Bible says about baptism from the letters of the apostles Paul and Peter.

According to Romans 6:3-4, those who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death. In fact,through baptism they have been buried together with Him. This surely indicates that baptism is a deep and spiritual matter.

In First Corinthians 1:13-17, Paul writes of some who were baptized (obviously in water) by him in Corinth. Yet, his emphasis and concern was not for the act of baptism, but for the name in which they had been baptized, that is, Christ, and no other. He also made it clear that he was not sent to baptize, but to announce the good news of Jesus Christ.

First Corinthians 12:13 tells us that it was in one Spirit that we were all baptized into one body (the body of Christ). This Spirit is the Spirit of truth apart from which there is no reality in the matter of baptism. Biblical baptism is not a religious ritual; it is a spiritual reality.

Knowing Galatians 3:26-27 is also essential for a proper understanding of baptism. It is through faith in Christ that we become sons of God; it is into Christ that we are baptized.

According to Ephesians 4:5, there is just one faith and one baptism. This corresponds to the previous verses from Galatians. The one faith is in Christ; the one baptism is into Christ. Our faith and our baptism are not in or into any other person, ministry, or Christian sect, but in and into Christ alone.
Note: In Hebrews 6:2, the word "baptisms" comes from the Greek word baptismos not baptisma. Although baptismos is a closely related word, it refers to ceremonial washings and not the unique baptism of believers into Christ. It is also used in Mark 7:4, 8 and Hebrews 9:10.

As in Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12 also shows us that we were buried together with Christ in baptism. It goes on to say that "we were raised together with Him through the faith of the operation of God.

First Corinthians 10:2 and First Peter 3:20-21 present two examples of water baptism foreshadowed in the Old Testament. One is that of Moses and the children of Israel passing through the Red Sea, and the other, of Noah and his family surviving the flood of God's judgment. The Israelites, having by faith and obedience followed God's instruction regarding the Passover, were led out of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea, and continued on their journey back to the land promised them by God (Exo. 12-14). Noah, by faith and obedience to God's word did all that God commanded him in building the ark to prepare for the coming flood of His judgment (Gen. 6:22) after which he and his family would have an entirely new beginning.

Chapter 11 of Hebrews, the rightly called "faith chapter", speaks both of Noah and the building of his ark (v. 7) and Moses who led the children of Israel out of Egypt (vv. 27-29). In both cases, it was faith and obedience to God's word that enabled them to experience a kind of salvation.

In order to receive and experience the salvation God intends for us all, we also must have faith in and obedience to God's word.

The Lord Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Our faith is in Christ; baptism is our obedience. Luke 7:29-30 says that by not being baptized, the Pharisees and the lawyers had rejected the counsel of God. Those who had been baptized were those who acknowledged that God was righteous. Baptism is a physical manifastation of our faith in Christ; it is obedience to His counsel and our acknowledgment of His righteousness. So then, Believe and be baptized and you shall be saved!

Partly because of what seems to be an acceptable length for a blog, it appears that I must continue this topic with a Part Three in the next lesson.

Some matters that still need addressed:
1) So, can someone be saved if they have not been baptized in water?
2) What about the thief on the cross?
3) What about death bed experiences?
4) What about the second half of Mark 16:16?
5) What about portions of the Bible like Romans 10:9-10 that talk about how to be saved with no mention of baptism?
6) My thoughts of why there is confusion about baptism among believers today.

To be continued.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Baptism - Part One

Salvation is a gift of God received by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8). It is not based upon our works (Eph. 2:9), but His (Eph. 2:4-7). Although this is the absolute truth, and there is no other way to be saved (Acts 4:12), there are other matters closely related to salvation. One is repentance which was covered in the preceding lesson. Another is baptism.

Greek - baptisma, baptism, consisting of the process of immersion, submersion, and emergence, (from bapto, to dip).
(from The Expanded Vines, by W.E. Vine)
Baptism is a topic that seems to have caused some confusion and even division in the Body of Christ. There appear to be many different views and understandings of this matter along with many questions. Some of the more common questions might be: Do we need to be baptized in water to be saved? When should someone be baptized? Should babies be baptized? By whom and where and how should we be baptized? Does there need to be special water? Should it be in a religious building? Should it be a kind of ceremony where we wait and arrange for people to attend? Must a person have a thorough understanding of the meaning of baptism before they are baptized? Can a person be born of God if they truly believe in Christ but have not been baptized in water? What does it mean to be baptized in the Spirit?
My hope for this lesson (there will be two parts) is that just by looking at what the Bible says, at least most of these questions could be answered, and that this would decrease the amount of confusion and division among God's children over this matter.
John's Baptizing: (Matt. 3:1-6, 11)
He preached repentance for the kingdom of the heavens.
His ministry was a preparation for the coming of Jesus.
He baptized in water that Jesus would be manifested (John 1:31).
He baptized in a river.
Those being baptized were confessing their sins.
He baptized in water unto repentance.
He foretold that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire.
His was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).
Jesus Being Baptized: (Matt. 3:13-17)
Came intentionally to John to be baptized in the river.
He said this was to fulfill all righteousness.
Coming up out of the water, the heavens were opened, the Spirit descended upon Him, and the Father spoke His affirming delight in His Son.
He also referred to His crucifixion as a kind of baptism (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50).
Jesus Baptizing: (John 3:22, 26; 4:1-2)
He did this with His disciples.
He did this to make disciples.
His disciples actually did the baptizing.
Jesus Giving Instruction to Baptize: (Matt. 28:19)
Given to His disciples after His resurrection.
Based upon all authority having been given to Him.
They were to go to disciple all the nations, baptizing them.
They were to baptize people into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
They were also to teach them to observe all the Lord had commanded them.
3000 Being Baptized On the Day of Pentecost: (Acts 2:37-41)
Having heard Peter's preaching of the gospel.
Pricked in their hearts, they asked the apostles what they should do.
Told by Peter to repent and be baptized upon the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Then they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Those who received Peter's word were baptized.
A Group of Samaritans Being Baptized: (Acts 8:4-12)
Having heard Philip announce the gospel of the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ.
Having believed Philip, both men and women were baptized.
Simon Who Had Practiced Magic Being Baptized: (Acts 8:13)
Having believed the gospel preached by Philip.
An Ethiopian Man Being Baptized: (Acts 8:27-39)
Having heard the gospel of Jesus preached by Philip.
Having believed with his heart and confessed with his mouth (Rom. 10:9) that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Having come upon some water on the side of the road.
Went down into the water and was baptized by Philip.
Came up out of the water.
Saul/Paul Being Baptized: (Acts 9:17-18; 22:12-16)
By one brother, Ananias.
Having received the word of the Lord spoken by Ananias.
In a house.
Having received his sight (he had been blinded by the Lord on the road to Damascus) he rose up and was baptized.
There was no reason to delay.
He was exhorted by Ananias to call on the name of the Lord as he was being baptized for the washing away of his sins.
Cornelius, a Centurion of the Italian Cohort, With Some of His Relatives and Close Friends Being Baptized: (Acts 10:44-48)
Having heard Peter announce the good news of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit having fallen upon all those hearing the word.
Peter brings up the matter of water, charging them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Lydia and Her Household Being Baptized: (Acts 16:14-15)
Having been listening to Paul's speaking by a river.
The Lord having opened her heart to give heed to Paul's words.
Was baptized (apparently in the river) along with her household.
A Jail Guard and His Household Being Baptized: (Acts 16:27-34)
Asking Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved.
Being told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ along with his household.
Paul and Silas spoke the word of God to him with all those in his house.
He believed in God with all his household.
He and his household were immediately baptized.
Crispus, a Ruler of the Synagogue, With His Whole Household, and Many Other Corinthians Being Baptized: (Acts 18:8)
Having heard Paul's testifying that Jesus was the Christ.
In the home of Titius Justus.
He and his whole household having believed in the Lord.
They and many other Corinthians having believed were baptized.
Some Disciples in Ephesus Being Baptized: (Acts 19:1-6)
Having been baptized in John's baptism of repentance.
Hearing that they were to believe in Jesus.
They were then baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Paul then laid hands on them and the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Having now looked at all the specific cases of those baptizing and being baptized, it appears to me that at least some of the above questions should already have been answered:
1) Being baptized in water is clearly something taught and exampled in the New Testament.
2) Repenting and believing the gospel must precede baptism.
3) Therefore, baptizing babies is not scriptural. The Bible teaches us to believe and be baptized to be saved. There is neither teaching nor example of babies being baptized. To use the households that were saved in Acts 10, 16, and 18, to argue baby baptism is unjustified. First of all, we cannot ignore the clear teaching of "believe and be baptized", and second, both with the Jailer and his household and Crispus and his household, their households also believed. It is a stretching and twisting of God's word to use those portions to argue for baby baptism. It is not according to the clear word of God but according to the traditions of man. Many have been deceived into believing that because they were baptized as a baby, they are okay with God. This is a lie from the Devil. I hope that all true believers would reject this false teaching and stand for the clear truth and examples in the word of God.
4) The time to be baptized is at the time one repents and believes in the gospel. "Why should you delay", "what prevents me", and "immediately", are the examples given in God's word. There is no need to wait. No special teaching or training are needed for one who has repented and believed to be baptized.
5) And there is no teaching or even example of waiting to gather a group of people and turn it into some kind of ceremony.
6) No special water is needed. A river, water along the road, and water in homes are examples from the Bible.
7) This also indicates that no special place or "religious building" is needed.
8) Going into the water verses being sprinkled with water ought to be quite clear. Along with all the examples, the Greek word itself means immersion.
9) Believe it or not, some in the past have even argued that you must be baptized in a certain way, such as, forward, or backward, or three times (once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit), or that you must be baptized in their water by their particular sect or by their official holy leader for it to really count. Some have even insisted that you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, others, the name of the Lord Jesus, and still others, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. These are just some examples I would give to show how foolish are the ways of man and how far off we can get if we don't know both the word of God and the Spirit of truth.
If you refer back to the questions at the beginning of this writing, you will notice a few have not yet been answered. I consider them to be the more difficult or spiritually deeper subjects regarding baptism. In the next lesson, I will attempt, with the help of God's word and His searching and revealing Spirit, to address these matters. I also intend to include the other verses from the New Testament on baptism (mostly from Paul's and Peter's epistles) that have not been referenced in Part One.
I believe that if we all come to the Lord and to His word with a pure and humble heart, He will have a way to break through all the wrong concepts we may have and the traditions of men that we so ofter cling to. To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all the generations forever and ever. Amen.
As always, I welcome comments and discussion from those who are genuinely seeking the truth.
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