(1) Baptism

Considering this subject I want us to explore a number of simple questions and see what answers we can find in the Bible. It is important that we can answer all these questions from the scriptures and be clear in our own minds why these things are the practice of New Testament assemblies.

What is baptism?

It would be helpful to cover the technical bits first for we need to understand exactly what the word baptism means. The word baptism originates from the Greek words baptisma (the noun) and baptizo (the verb). These words were not translated but transliterated into the English. If you look back to the Greek, the word was used in two main ways. It was used in the process of dyeing garments and it was used in the process of drawing liquids from one vessel to another. To dye a garment completely that garment has to be submerged in the dye so that the colour is the same throughout. To draw water out of a large vessel into a cup for drinking, the cup has to be submerged in the liquid before being drawn out. The Christian method of baptism is to submerge a person in water, the person going under the water before emerging out of the water. This means that the person is dipped completely under the water before being raised out of it and out of the baptistry as a whole. This is confirmed to us by Romans chapter 6:‘we are buried with him by baptism into death’, v. 4. To bury a body means to submerge it under the earth completely. This is a point we shall return to when we consider the question: How should we be baptized?In reading Romans chapter 6 it is important to notice Paul’s choice of words:

  • ‘like as Christ’, v. 4;
  • ‘in the likeness of his death’, v. 5;
  • ‘in the likeness of his resurrection’, v.5.

This suggests that Paul is drawing a picture. He is drawing a parallel between the concept of death, burial, and resurrection and the New Testament practice of baptism. The language of the early verses confirm this,‘baptised into his death’, v. 3; ‘buried with him by baptism’, v. 4. It is important that we appreciate and understand the meaning of this picture. Paul says that in our baptism we were:

  • ‘baptized into his death’, v. 3. In our baptism we died with Christ. The life that we once lived before we were saved has ended. That life was characterized by sin but the pleasing of self is now at an end. Our old life and our old man should both be dead. Literally, our baptism was the funeral service for our old life.
  • ‘buried with him’, v. 4. To signify the reality of the death of our old life we have buried it. As we went under the water in baptism our old manner of life was buried. All that characterized that life remains under the water. It is buried and, as such, should remain out of sight forever.
  • ‘so that we should walk in newness of life’, v. 4. As we came out of the water we came out in newness of life. Our new, spiritual man has emerged from the baptistry. We are, or should be, a new person.
  • we identified ourselves with Christ –‘baptized into his death,v. 3; ‘buried with him’, v.4; ‘in the likeness of his resurrection’,v. 5. It is said of some that ask for baptism in Albania that they bring a tank of water to the gate of your home. The person is baptized in front of their neighbours and friends as a genuine witness and clear identification with Christ. This is the real challenge to our hearts. We may have been baptized recently or many years ago but are we living in the good of what that baptism meant? Are we walking in newness of life? Are we really a different person and increasingly so?

What is this new person like? We can see the negatives and the positives:

  • ‘the body of sin might be destroyed’, v. 6. That old life has been rendered powerless. We are ‘dead indeed unto sin’, v. 11.
  • ‘we should not serve sin’, v. 6. This means that we are no longer slaves to sin. We are no longer controlled by sin, sin being our master and we being its willing slave. We may fail but that is not the manner or principle of our life.
  • we are ‘freed from sin’, v. 7. The penalty that we should have borne because of sin has been removed. We are justified, made righteous and fit for the presence of God. Sin no longer has any legal rights over us.
  • ‘we shall … live with him’, v. 8. Whilst we may think this refers solely to a future in heaven and glory, it also means that we live in the enjoyment of His fellowship now and that we should live a life that is consistent with the presence of the Lord.
  • we are ‘alive unto God’, v. 11. In this verse ‘to reckon’ means to consider or count ourselves as alive unto God. This is not a mental exercise but one that affects our lives. Paul bids us maintain our God consciousness and God-centred lives.

This is a transformation and one that is not short-term but long-term. As our salvation is an event that changes our lives forever, it is also a change that cannot be reversed. Baptism should give testimony to the change that has taken place within. It is the outward testimony to the inward change and that is why it is so important that our baptism shows that our lives are changed.

Why should we be baptized?

As the Lord is about to depart from the earth and return to the glory He bids His disciples to ‘teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’, Matt. 28. 19-20. Baptism is:

  • a command of the Lord. The King, departing this scene for the glory, gives command to His servants. It is not an option but a command to be obeyed. If we are not yet baptized, the command of the Lord is to us. Obey His command and submit to the testimony of the waters of baptism.
  • part of the doctrine that the Lord bid His disciples to teach. Clearly, as it is linked with, so it is part of, the ‘all things’ that the disciples were to teach new converts to ‘observe’. We see throughout the Acts of the Apostles that this teaching was not only communicated to new converts but was also part of the practice of the early church. It applied to Jew and Gentile for, as Peter said in the case of Cornelius, ‘Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized’, Acts 10. 47.
  • ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God’, 1 Peter 3. 21. That is, a good conscience, created by our salvation, would want to follow the Lord in the waters of baptism. The scripture never envisages a believer that is not baptized, except, perhaps, those that are close to death when they are saved.

Who should be baptized?

If we read Acts chapter 2 from verses 37-42, we see that baptism is for:

  • those that are saved – ‘they that gladly received his word were baptized’, v. 41. This reception of Peter’s preaching was demonstrated by faith in Christ. They witnessed to that faith in Christ by being baptized.

It is important to notice too that they had been taught the need for baptism. ‘Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you‚” v. 38. Peter didn’t mention it to believers but to those who were not saved but anxious enquirers after the truth. In Acts chapter 10 verses 44-48, we have a further example. There we can see that baptism is:

  • for Jew and Gentile – ‘he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord’, Acts 10. 48.

Peter did not distinguish between Jews and Gentiles. Cornelius was saved and Peter encouraged him to be baptized. There are no national or cultural differences. All believers should be baptized. In Acts chapter 16 verses 30-34, the account of the conversion of the Philippian jailor shows us that baptism is:

  • for young and old alike – ‘and was baptized, he and all his, straightway’, v. 33.

It is remarkable to see the Spirit of God at work in Philippi. This passage shows us that: the gospel was preached to all that were in the house – ‘they spake … to all that were in his house’, v. 32; they were all believers – ‘believing in God with all his house’, v. 34; they were all baptized as believers – ‘baptized, he and all his’, v. 33. Finally, in Acts chapter 19 verses 1-5 we see that baptism is:

  • for those who may have experienced other forms of baptism– ‘they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus’, Acts 19. 5.

It is important to appreciate the formula. Baptism is an act of witness and an act of will of a believer in Christ. The use of what appears to be a different form of words, ‘in the name ofthe Lord Jesus’, v. 5, was to distinguish the baptism from the baptism of John not to suggest a different form of words from that commanded by the Lord in Matthew chapter 28.

How should they be baptized?

We said, as we started our study of this subject, that baptism was by immersion. That is the principle of scripture. That principle is based upon the meaning of the word baptism and it is based upon the truth that baptism indicates, the death, burial, and resurrection of the believer as identified with Christ. But our method of baptism is not based only upon a principle. It is clearly based upon the practice of the early believers as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.I f we read of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch we will notice that‘they went down both into the water’, Acts 8. 38. It was in that water that Philip baptized the eunuch. We are then told‘when they were come up out of the water’, v. 39. It may be that you have seen pictures that purport to show this scene and they have Philip and the eunuch standing in the water whilst Philip pours water over the eunuch’s head. Such portrayals might be called examples of artistic licence. We believe that the scripture would clearly teach baptism by immersion. Considering our questions again:

What is baptism?

It is identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.

Why should we be baptized?

Because the Lord commanded that we should.

Who should be baptized?

Believers in the Lord only How should they be baptized? They should be baptised by immersion in water.