With this article we continue a series on vital assembly truths. These articles are written with young believers in mind.
Our young person has, in a previous article, asked his father the meaning, manner and manifestations of conversion. He is now ready with questions concerning baptism. In response, his father follows the injunction of the Scriptures as to what to do “when thy son asketh thee” (Ex 13:8, Deut 6:20). He advises his son that they will look together at baptism in the Scriptures, without reference to church history or contemporary practice. This way they will not be judging the Scriptures by their circumstances but rather their circumstances by the Scriptures.
They would study the topic under the headings of: the Mandate to Baptize, the Method of Baptism, the Meaning of Baptism, the Message of Baptism and, perhaps in a later session, Misunderstood Texts concerning Baptism.
The Mandate to Baptize:
There can be no question as to the fact that it was in the Divine plan that all believers would be baptized. The Lord Jesus gave to His disciples the command to .go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things…” (Matt 28:19). As others have pointed out, disciples were to be made by the preaching of the Gospel. Then they were to be marked by baptism and were to be molded by the doctrine. If we follow the words of Mary, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5), we need no further explanations, for the charge is clear and the order is evident: belief, baptism, and behavior regulated by the doctrine.
The Meaning of Baptism:
When we look at the meaning of the Greek words translated by the word “baptism,” we will have no doubt as to the fact that baptism was always by immersion, for the word “baptitzo” meant to dip, to immerse, to submerge. It was used of the sinking of a ship as it went down under the water and was totally submerged. It was also used of the dying of garments in which they were placed in the dye, immersed, submerged and then taken back up again. Indeed, it is not a translated word but a transliterated word, a word taken directly into English from the original language without being translated. If the word had been translated it would have read, “…immersing them…” or “…dipping them… ” But this would have upset the practices of the established church, and so the translators were told to transliterate only. You can see, though, that when a person asks if you were baptized by immersion he is really asking if you were immersed by immersion. To ask if you were baptized by sprinkling is asking you if you were immersed by sprinkling.
The Method of Baptism:
A brief reference to the previous heading will be sufficient to show us that there can be no such thing in the Bible as baptism by sprinkling. A study of such references as John 3:23 where John is “baptizing because there was much water there,” shows that nothing other than immersion can be considered.
The Message of Baptism:
What will our young person be saying, by his actions, when he steps into and out of the water of baptism? What is the message he is giving to the world?
i) He is declaring that a work was completed. This is indeed an important aspect of the ordinance, for the one being baptized is showing that he is going through in picture what the Savior went through in reality. “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death … we were buried with Him … we were raised to walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-5). While our young person knows that Romans 6 is not dealing with the practice of baptism but rather with the doctrine of baptism, he sees himself presenting an object lesson in the Gospel, in which the Savior has died, has been buried and has been raised again. It is his first public presentation of the Gospel as he identifies himself publicly with Christ and the Cross.
ii) He is declaring that a walk has commenced. At conversion he is to “walk in newness of life,” for he was at that time linked to Christ, baptism being a confession of that relationship. Like Noah who was cut off from the old fife and was saved through the instrumentality of the water, the person who is being baptized is saying that the old life is gone and a new one has begun. The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, and now there is the rest of our lives to be lived for Him. (Read 1 Peter 3:18-4:5 without the chapter break.) Noah was cut off from the former life by the waters of the flood; we are cut off from the former life by that which baptism pictures. Baptism saves us, says Peter. It is not the practice of baptism that saves but the doctrine of baptism, for what is true of the thing symbolized is often said to be true of the symbol.
iii) He is declaring that a washing has come to pass. Baptism is not a cleansing but it is a confession of a cleansing. When Paul was told to .arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins,” his sins had already been taken away, for on the road to Damascus, he had confessed with his mouth Jesus as Lord and believed in his heart that God had raised him from the dead (Rom 10:9, Acts 9:5). However, there had to be a public acknowledgment of the washing and in particular of his sin, as a Jew, in having rejected the Messiah. When in 1 Cor 6:9-11 we read the litany of the former sins of the Corinthians, we are also told “but ye are washed…” Baptism again is not the washing but, as we have stated before, what is true of the thing symbolized is often said to be true of the symbol.
iv) He is declaring that wrath is coming. When John was baptizing, he advised that there was One standing in their midst Who would baptize in (en- in the power of, JND margin) the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt 3:11-12). A study of the seven passages where the baptism in the Holy Spirit is mentioned will show us that the Spirit is never the Baptizer. The Lord Jesus is the Baptizer and that into which one is baptized is the Body, the Church, and this is done through the Holy Spirit. However, we want to look at the expression “with fire”. The context shows us clearly that this refers to a judgment of unquenchable fire and has no reference to the Holy Spirit. Compare Acts 1:5 where in the inauguration of the Church Dispensation, there is no reference to the fire, for this judgment of the Lake of Fire was reserved to a later day. A comparison of Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:17-20 will show a similar dispensational significance, for there the Lord, by closing the Book when He did, puts an entire dispensation into a parenthesis.
When the young believer is baptized, he is preaching the Gospel from the standpoint of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, but he is also preaching a solemn warning of a coming judgment of those not in the church which is His Body. Our father and son conclude that he who has been made a disciple by believing the message of the Gospel is to be marked out as a believer by baptism. He is then to be molded so that his behavior is consistent with the doctrine.
Are you a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ? When did you become a believer? Have you obeyed the command to be baptized? Are you living in a way that is consistent with what you professed in baptism? Each of us needs to examine ourselves.