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By David B. Smith

Photo: Cheyenne Feig
iBelieve: Baptism and the New Birth | PDF Version

A preacher in the Philippines was sharing Jesus at a maximum-security prison. God blessed his messages and when he made an altar call, a surprising number of inmates came forward to accept Jesus. But penitentiary regulations didn’t permit a gospel furlough outside the gates and “down by the riverside” so they could be baptized! The enterprising minister found a fifty-gallon drum, filled it with water, and then stood to the side as one by one, men in their regulation jump suits climbed into the barrel and ducked themselves down below the surface in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Baptism is a glorious moment, a victory for the entire Body of Christ! And we can be sure that each of those Filipino prisoners – murderers, thieves, rapists, con men – came up out of the water thankful for the transforming promise in 2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! But what actually happens when a person who chooses to join the Christian Church is dipped beneath the surface of the baptismal pool?

“Under New Management.” Baptism is, first and foremost, a public declaring of our brand new loyalty. From this moment on, we are Christ’s! We are loyal to Him; we will serve Him; we will obey Him. We will openly acknowledge our relationship of fealty and service to Him.

It’s important to notice that in Protestant communions, the power of baptism is in what it symbolizes and teaches and represents. (Catholic teaching would use the expression opus operatum to suggest that the rite itself produces salvation.) So what are the important lessons Jesus intends to teach through this globally recognized symbol of faith?

1. We especially identify with each aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice for us: His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul writes: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:3, 4). So we enter water committed to saying a forever goodbye to the old life of sin and rebellion. He adds in Galations 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. Later in Romans 6, he strengthens the idea of being resurrected to a new kind of victorious life: Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

2. Water baptism represents the purifying from sin that Jesus promises to give us through Calvary forgiveness. Acts 2:38: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

3. Baptism marks our official entrance into the Church — both on a congregational and global level. In the brand new church described in Acts, we read: Those who accepted [Peter’s] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 12:31 says, We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body. It is a thrilling day of celebration; even very conservative church groups invariably burst into applause as a new believer comes up out of the water of baptism and the congregation then votes them into full fellowship! The Bible says nothing about generic baptism; new Christians were always baptized directly into a loving church family and immediately put their Spirit-given gifts to good use in consecrated service to their newly adopted community.

What is the Bible model of baptism? It’s gratifying to note that, all around the world, faith groups are increasingly returning to the clear gospel mandate of immersion. (The Bible doesn’t mention a variety of options, instead affirming the concept of one Lord, one faith, one baptism.) When Jesus was baptized by His cousin, the disciple Matthew records that He “went up out of the water.” John the Baptist baptized new believers at a place called Aenon “because there was plenty of water.” And of course, if the new Christian wishes to fully identify with their crucified Redeemer in death, burial, and then coming forth in cleansed, resurrected power, full immersion in water provides the only appropriate symbolism.

In the prison story above, one inmate was quite a bit taller than the others. Try as he might, he simply couldn’t get his entire body down underwater – a bit of his head and shoulders poked through! The pastor sighed, breathed a prayer, and splashed him into God’s gracious kingdom . . . we must do the best we can!

The Bible doesn’t suggest that baptism is simply a convenience or a possible option, but a necessary part of the conversion experience. Mark 16:16: Whoever believes AND is baptized will be saved. Of course, any new Christian who is truly in love with his Savior will be eager to proudly wear this thrilling symbol of his newfound freedom.

What are the necessary steps?

1. Repentance. We won’t choose to identify with Jesus’ Calvary gift until we understand that our current life is bereft and lost without it. In Acts 2, Peter said in his sermons, Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.

2. Belief. We must embrace the Christian message and determine to turn away from all false teachings. This necessitates a commitment to diligent study before being baptized. Jesus gave firm instructions to His disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19, 20). In obedience to this principle, many churches today do not baptize children until they have reached a so-called “age of accountability” where they can truly grasp the importance of this step and the solemnity of their commitment to Jesus. In Acts 8, we read that a great number chose baptism, but this important moment was limited to “men and women.” Clearly, Jesus — who loved and blessed children — will not exclude them from His kingdom while they look forward to their own special baptism date in the future.

3. Fruits of obedience. Jesus uses an interesting metaphor in John 15: a vine and branches. Any new convert who wants to be grafted into the vine [Jesus] will quickly bear fruits of obedience and a life of dedicated holiness. It is appropriate for a church family to make sure the new believer fully comprehends the new life they are embracing.

View related article: A Good Burial

David B. Smith writes from California. (15 of 28) His web page is davidsmithbooks.com. Biblebay Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information.