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What the Bible teaches about Baptism

By Pastor Steve Sherman

January 14, 2015 This was originally preached as a sermon, which you can access at The sermon, “What the Bible Teaches about Baptism,” was preached on 2/21/10. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV).

Baptism is a precious symbol that is similar to a wedding ring. Such a ring symbolizes a couple’s wedding vows and marriage. Similarly, baptism is a public symbol of what happened to the Christian when he repented of his sins and believed in Jesus Christ. When a sinner is converted to Christ, he is united with Christ in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. His old self of unbelief, rebellion, and idolatry dies. A new person of faith, submission, and treasuring Christ comes into being. All of this is symbolized by baptism. Baptism does not save anyone. It does not make anyone a Christian any more than a ring makes someone married. There is much confusion today about baptism, because many have come in contact with baptism without looking to the Bible to learn what baptism means and who should be baptized. The purpose of this study is to look to the Bible to learn about baptism, starting with the first occasion of baptism in the Bible, and working our way through the first few decades in which baptism was practiced as recorded in the Bible.

The Ministry of John the Baptist Matthew 3:1-6 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'" Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. John the Baptized called upon the people to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus Christ by repenting of their sins. Under John’s ministry, many confessed their sins and were “baptized.” The word literally means to dip or immerse. When John baptized people, he immersed them in water, as reflected in John 3:23, “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there.” These baptisms were an outward symbol of an inward repentance coupled with faith in the coming Christ. Later, Paul would speak of these baptisms, saying, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus" (Acts 19:4).

The Ministry of Jesus Christ Even though John’s baptism was one of repentance, someone came to be baptized by John who had no sin—Jesus Christ. This is how Jesus began his ministry—by being baptized. Matthew 3:13-15 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. As in all other baptisms, Jesus was immersed in water. Matthew 3:16 says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water.” Why was Jesus baptized? It wasn’t because He was repenting. After He came out of the water, God the Father spoke from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matt 3:17). Jesus was without sin (Heb 4:15) and fulfilled the whole law down to the smallest of details (Matt 5:17-18). So why was He baptized? Jesus stated the reason in Matthew 3:15—“to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was baptized in order to leave His disciples an example to follow. As 1 Peter 2:21 says, Christ left us an example that we would “follow in his steps.” In Jesus’ ministry, He saw to it that His disciples also were baptized. John 4:1-3 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. The statement that Jesus was “making and baptizing…disciples” implies that when a person became a disciple of Jesus, that person was then baptized.

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ Why does baptism involve immersion in water? The answer is found in the way Jesus Christ spoke of His death and resurrection. Mark 10:35-38 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" Jesus referred to His upcoming death figuratively as drinking a “cup” and being “baptized.” On the cross He would drink the cup of divine wrath that we deserved. He would be baptized (immersed) in extreme suffering for our sins. Jesus also referred to His sacrificial death as a baptism in Luke 12:49-50, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” It is Christ’s death (and subsequent resurrection) that baptisms prior to the cross prefigured, and baptisms today look back to. Paul’s epistles make this clear. Romans 6:1-4 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Paul assumes that the Christians reading his epistle have been baptized, for he asks rhetorically in verse 3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Paul teaches here that when a Christian is baptized, he is baptized into Christ’s death. In other words, Christian baptism looks back to Christ’s death, and publicly identifies the Christian with Christ in His death. Likewise, baptism relates to Christ’s burial and resurrection, as verse 4 says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism pictures Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and publicly identifies the believer with Christ in these events. This picture is helpful for the Christian to look back on throughout his walk with Christ. In this text, Paul answers the question, “Are we to continue in sin?,” by reminding us of our baptism. Your baptism should be a perpetual reminder that you have been crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised with Him unto newness of life. This should serve as a strong motivation to walk in newness of life—in righteousness and holiness and conformity to Christ. Paul teaches the same significance of baptism in Colossians. Colossians 2:11-13 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, In verse 12, the words, “through faith,” are significant. The assumption is that the person who has been baptized was already believing in Jesus Christ when baptized. It is through faith alone that a sinner is savingly united to Christ. It is through faith alone that Christ’s death is counted as your death, and His life is shared with you. Without saving faith, baptism is meaningless.

The Great Commission After Christ’s death and resurrection, He gave His disciples a commission that includes baptizing new disciples. Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go 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 that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Jesus didn’t make baptism an option, but a command. While baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is necessary for obedience to the Lord Jesus. Jesus commanded that His disciples be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is not a formula that must be repeated word-for-word, as Acts never uses these words when it records Christian baptisms. John Piper helps us understand the significance when he writes that in baptism we are to “depend upon them [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] and honor them and say that this act is because of them and by them and for them.” Acts speaks of Christians being baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ,” and “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This spells out whom the believer identifies with in baptism, Jesus Christ. It is significant that no Christian is ever said in Scripture to be baptized simply in the name of the Father. In Jesus’ day, proselytes to Judaism were baptized, but obviously were not identifying with the Triune God. To be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ is to be baptized in the name of the Triune God. You cannot believe in Jesus Christ without believing in the Trinity, as Jesus taught His disciples that God is triune. How long does Jesus’ command to baptize new disciples endure? He said, “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20), in other words, until He returns.

The Ministry of the Early Church Acts shows that Jesus’ disciples obeyed Christ’s orders. Throughout the book we never see a Christian who hadn’t been baptized. Acts 2:37-38 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter taught baptism as going hand-in-hand with repentance. Baptism is a public declaration of one’s repentance. The words, “be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ,” indicate that the repentance being declared involves a turning to Jesus Christ. The words, “for the forgiveness of your sins,” speak of the gift freely given by God and received through the repentant faith in Christ that is publicly proclaimed in baptism. Baptism doesn’t bring the forgiveness of sins. This is clear in light of Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” One is forgiven exclusively through a repentant faith in Christ. But such a faith should be publicly declared in baptism. We see this throughout the rest of Acts. Acts 8:12 But when [the Samaritans] believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Acts 8:35-39 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told [the Ethiopian] the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. Notice in the above text that the pattern of immersion in water continues with the Ethiopian. Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Notice that the apostle Peter commanded these new Gentile believers to be baptized. Again we see that baptism is for the believer, and is not optional. Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

Conclusion This study of baptism in Scripture shows that baptism is a dramatization of some wonderful things: 1. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection 2. The Christian’s union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection 3. The death of the Christian’s old self of unbelief, rebellion, and idolatry 4. The creation of a new person of faith, submission, and treasuring Christ Through baptism, the Christian publicly confesses repentant faith in Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. Who should be baptized? Everyone who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and united with Christ, and no one else. If you are not a believer, listen to and heed the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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