Biblical Baptism: A Command, Not a Suggestion
I was messaged the following question today,
First of all, we are commanded by Jesus to be baptized, but exactly what does baptism accomplish? For starters, it fulfills what is called by many the Great Commission.
Matthew 28:19 KJV Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Peter echoed the commandment with the authority from Jesus Christ and His Word.
Acts 10:48 KJV And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Baptism is not a suggestion, it is a command.
Let's look at the examples we have in the New Testament concerning baptism.
In Matthew 3 we find John the Baptist preaching repentance, the same message that Jesus began to preach during his earthly ministry. This repentance was expressed publicly with baptism as the people confessed their sins. We will always find repentance and confession intricately woven together in the symbolic sacrament and expression of baptism.
Our repentance and confession is declared to all who witness our baptism as we declare that we are no longer alive unto ourselves when we go under the water, and then when we are raised out of the water we declare our new repentant life that is risen in Christ.
No where do we find that water in itself washes away sin. It only symbolizes the fact that are sins are washed away with our new identification and faith in Christ. It is part of a package deal that all genuine believers will receive if they have opportunity.
Acts 2:38 KJV Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Notice, if you truly have put your faith in Jesus Christ you will repent and you will be baptized, if you have the opportunity. We are baptized because of (for) the remission of sins, not so that sin can be washed away. Without our sins being forgiven there is no empowerment to be found in the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Many want to emphasize water baptism as the sole condition for the remission of sins, but I would encourage them and all to read the whole verse (Acts 2:38) that we have just read and after careful examination we find more than baptism involved.
Otherwise, we would just march our men and women between two poles and douse them with water to wash their sins away, but then we would have to make this a regular practice for new sins now wouldn't we? And yes, such nonsense has been practiced in the past!
Think of salvation like an apple. Our first bite is found in Romans 10.
Romans 10:9-10 KJV That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
Here we see a confession filled with repentance, because in order to make such a confession that opposes the world and evil we must turn from the world and evil unto Jesus. We read nothing about baptism in this passage, nor communion, nor any other contrived necessary sacrament for salvation. Just repentance, belief, and confession that comes from faith - a faith that will lead us to baptism, communion, and many other works of obedience for Christ our King. The same repentance, belief, confession, and works which the thief on the cross demonstrated and the LORD said he would be with Him in paradise.
The thief had no opportunity for baptism or communion. All he took was the first bite, because that is all the time he had to, and it was his faith in Jesus Christ alone that was required.
Now, let’s imagine the thief survived and lived on. Would he not be baptized? Would he not partake in communion? Of course he would! He would want to do all that is commanded of him and continue to eat the apple of salvation until it was finished. In other words, until his faith finished its course.
We read about the consumption of this figurative apple and how it actually endures to the end in the book of Philippians.
Philippians 2:12 KJV Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Now what about the LORD, why was he baptized. Great question, and if baptism was necessary for the washing away of sins, Jesus would have had no need to be baptized as John the Baptist declares.
Matthew 3:13-17 KJV Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. (14) But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? (15) And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. (16) And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (17) And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
The baptism of the LORD was necessary for at least two reasons. One, to symbolize His death on the Cross, the same symbolism (Romans 6) that is declared when you and I went under the water of baptism declaring ourselves crucified with Christ.
Romans 6:3-5 KJV Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (4) Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (5) For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Two, to declare who God is as we are baptized in the Name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Notice all three persons of the Godhead:
FATHER - (17) And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
SON - (16) And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him,
HOLY SPIRIT - (16) and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him
Therefore baptism is the declaration of salvation, not the means of salvation.
Jesus is the only means of salvation, period!
What about the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized in the book of Acts? What were the conditions for his baptism, and how was he baptized?
Acts 8:26-39 KJV And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. (27) And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, (28) Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. (29) Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. (30) And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? (31) And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. (32) The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: (33) In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. (34) And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? (35) Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. (36) And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? (37) And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (38) And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (39) And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
Notice the situation that led up to the eunuch’s baptism.
The Word of God was consulted.
The Word pointed to Jesus.
The eunuch was convicted by Scripture.
Phillip did not have to coax the eunuch into following through with baptism.
This is why I say, true believers will want to be baptized if they have opportunity. This opportunity does not come without instruction either. Phillip made sure that the eunuch understood the conditions for baptism.
Acts 8:37 KJV And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
The eunuch did exactly as the thief on the cross did when he called Jesus LORD and had no opportunity to be baptized.
Luke 23:42-43 KJV And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. (43) And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Again, salvation is the beginning of this sacred relationship and baptism is a picture of it. It is an outward profession proclaimed to our fellow body of believers concerning our submission and identification with Jesus Christ as our Savior.