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Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus
The Vital Importance of Baptism | How Should We Be Baptized? | The Meaning of Baptism | Baptism and Salvation | Digressions (Re-baptism, The Level of Knowledge Required Before Baptism, The Thief On the Cross, A Sample Baptism Service) | Questions
10.1 The Vital Importance of Baptism
Several times in earlier Studies we have mentioned the vital importance of baptism; it is the first step of obedience to the Gospel message. Heb. 6:2 speaks of baptism as one of the most basic doctrines. We have left its consideration until this late stage because true baptism can only occur after a correct grasp of the basic truths which comprise the Gospel. We have now completed our study of these; if you wish to become truly associated with the great hope which the Bible offers through Jesus Christ, then baptism is an absolute necessity.
"Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22) in the sense that the promises concerning salvation were made only to Abraham and his seed. We can only have those promises made to us if we become in the Seed, by being baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:22-29).
Jesus therefore clearly commanded his followers: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel (which is contained in the promises to Abraham - Gal. 3:8) to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Reflection upon this word "and" reveals that belief of the Gospel alone cannot save us; baptism is not just an optional extra in the Christian life, it is a vital prerequisite for salvation. This is not to say that the act of baptism alone will save us; it must be followed by a lifetime of continued obedience to God's Word. Jesus emphasized this: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
This birth "of (Greek 'out of') water" refers to a person coming up out of the waters of baptism; after this, he must be born again of the spirit. This is an on-going process: "Being born again...by the Word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). Thus it is through our continued response to the Spirit Word that we become born of the spirit (see Study 2.2).
We are "baptized into Christ" (Gal. 3:27), into his name (Acts 19:5; 8:16; Matt. 28:19). Note that we are baptized into Christ - not into the Christadelphians or any human organization. Without baptism we are not "in Christ", and therefore not covered by his saving work (Acts 4:12). Peter weaves a powerful parable around this fact: he likens the ark in the time of Noah to Christ, showing that as the ark saved Noah and his family from the judgment that came upon sinners, so baptism into Christ will save believers from eternal death (1 Peter 3:21). Noah entering into the ark is likened to our entering into Christ through baptism. All those outside the ark were destroyed by the flood; standing near the ark or being a friend of Noah was quite irrelevant. The only way of salvation is, and was, to be inside the Christ/ark. It is evident that the second coming, which the flood typified (Luke 17:26,27), is nearly upon us (see Appendix 3). Entry into the Christ/ark by baptism is therefore of the utmost urgency. Human words really do fail to convey this sense of urgency; the Biblical type of entry into the ark in Noah's time is more powerful.
The early Christians obeyed Christ's command to travel world-wide preaching the Gospel and baptizing; the book of Acts is the record of this. A proof of the vital importance of baptism is to be found in the way that this record emphasizes how immediately people were baptized after accepting the Gospel (e.g. Acts 8:12, 36-39; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15). This emphasis is understandable once it is appreciated that without baptism our learning of the Gospel is in vain; baptism is a vitally necessary stage to pass through on the road to salvation. In some cases the inspired record seems to highlight how, despite many human reasons to delay baptism, and many difficulties in performing the act, it is so important that people made every effort to overcome all these, with God's help.
The prison keeper at Philippi was suddenly plunged into the crisis of his life by a massive earthquake which completely broke up his high security prison. The prisoners had ample opportunity to escape - something which would have cost him his life. His faith in the Gospel then became real, so much so that "the same hour of the night (he) was baptized...straightway" (Acts 16:33). If anyone had an excuse to delay baptism it was him. The worst earthquake in Greece for 3,000 years, a horde of manic prisoners about to stage history's most dramatic jailbreak, and the threat of execution for neglect of duty hanging over his head, yet he saw clearly what was the one most important act to be performed in his entire life and eternal destiny. Thus he overcame the immediate problems of his surrounding world (i.e. the earthquake), the pressures of his daily employment and the intense nervous trauma he found himself in - to be baptized. Many a hesitant candidate for baptism can take true inspiration from that man. That he could make such an act of faith is proof enough that he already had a detailed knowledge of the Gospel, seeing that such real faith only comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17 cp. Acts 17:11).
Acts 8:26-40 records how an Ethiopian official was studying his Bible whilst riding in a chariot through the desert. He met Philip, who extensively explained the Gospel to him, including the requirement of baptism. Humanly speaking, it must have seemed impossible to obey the command to be baptized in that waterless desert. Yet God would not give a command which He knows some people cannot obey. "As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water", i.e. an oasis, where baptism was possible (Acts 8:36). This incident answers the baseless suggestion that baptism by immersion was only intended to be performed in areas where there was ample, easily accessible water. God will always provide a realistic way in which to obey His commandments.
The apostle Paul received a dramatic vision from Christ which so pricked his conscience that as soon as possible he "forthwith...arose and was baptized" (Acts 9:18). Again, it must have been tempting for him to delay his baptism, thinking of his prominent social position and high-flying career mapped out for him in Judaism. But this rising star of the Jewish world made the correct and immediate decision to be baptized and openly renounce his former way of life. He later reflected concerning his choice to be baptized: "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ...I have suffered the loss of all things (i.e. the things he once saw as "gain" to him), and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ...forgetting those things which are behind (the "things" of his former Jewish life), and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize" (Phil. 3:7,8,13,14).
This is the language of an athlete straining forward to break the finishing tape. Such concentration of mental and physical endeavour should characterize our lives after baptism. It must be understood that baptism is the beginning of a race towards the Kingdom of God; it is not just a token of having changed churches and beliefs, nor is it a passive entrance into a relaxed life of easy-going adherence to a few vaguely stated Christian principles. Baptism associates us in an on-going sense with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-5) - occasions full of ultimate dynamism in every way.
As a tired, spiritually triumphant old man, Paul could reminisce: "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19). As was true for Paul, so it is for all who have been properly baptized: baptism is a decision which one will never regret. All our lives we will be aware that we made the correct choice. Of few human decisions can we ever be so certain. The question has to be seriously answered: 'Why should I not be baptized?'