Throughout the centuries since the birth of the Church, there has been more controversy concerning related to water baptism than any other issue. Perhaps this is because it has always been evident from the scriptures, that the doorway into the Kingdom of God is depicted as baptism and also as the Lord Jesus Christ himself, for He said “I am the door”, (Jn 10:7,9)“I am the way…” and, “No man comes to the Father but by me” (Jn 14:6)
At the time of the reformation, groups arose called “Anabaptists”. While the governments of Europe fairly quickly came to terms with non-Roman Protestantism the Anabaptists , being the first to immerse adults during the reformation era, suffered severe persecution and defamation from all sides. The state churches killed these “heretics” by drowning them, as if to say “if it is water you want, water you will get”. (1)
Earlier, we find record of “Christianized” groups said to be heretical, accused by the state churches of much immorality and even witchcraft, but upon investigation, we find that they were persecuted mainly because they baptized differently that the state church.
Why does baptism cause such controversy? Certainly there are two outstanding reasons. First, the gospels and epistles bring water baptism a place of focus that is hard to understand for those who promote the idea of “only believe”. That is, baptism figures prominently both in the accounts of the gospels, and after the Spirit began to be outpoured, the Apostles continued to baptize, now highlighting the name of Jesus Christ, and doing so “for remission of sins”.
Secondly, and most importantly, by pointing to both the water of baptism and Jesus Christ as the entry into the Kingdom of God, and additional concurring doctrine of scripture, baptism can be understood to identify a person with Jesus Christ. All religious arguments and “isms” pale compared to this matter. The scriptures leave little doubt: If a person is not identified with the Savior and Lord, then he is not and cannot be saved.
Thus, all contenders again divine Truth concerning salvation will attack or twist the doctrine of baptisms, and all who preach and believe truth, will seek to reassert the Apostolic doctrine pertaining to of water baptism.
If you have heard the precious gospel of Jesus Christ and are seeking the Lord, if you have repented of your sins, and believe that Jesus Christ is the Mighty God and Savior, you are invited to be baptized in Jesus name for remission of sins (Acts 2:38, 8:37) . If you have received the Holy Ghost baptism, you are commanded to be baptized in Jesus’ name for remission of sins. Don’t wait for someone to ask you! Confess your belief today by requesting to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ!
We hope the following scripture study will be helpful to you in preparing for or teaching others concerning water baptism!
Baptism identifies with Jesus Christ by more than symbol. In ancient times, the wealthy man came to market where he would purchase grain, cloth and even slaves. As he watched and directed from a high place, his agents would move throughout the marketplace and receive his instruction to bid for and purchase those that he desired. When they were purchased, the agent would mark the redeemed with the name of the master, for later retrieval. His sign upon the item or person indicated that this person, although in the market place, belonged to the redeemer, and that any attempt to disturb or steal away with that property would be answerable to the new owner.
We have been redeemed with the wonderful price of the blood of Jesus Christ.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
When we are baptized, we are removed from the possession of sin (“that henceforth we should not serve sin” - Rom 6:6), and the name of the purchaser is placed on our lives.
Some say that baptism is merely a sign. Clearly it is a sign, but it cannot be trivialized. In the earlier, lesser covenant of Abraham, that enlarged into Israel’s covenant with God, all of the household were required to be circumcised.
“This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.” (Genesis 17:10. See also vs. 11-13)
Perhaps it was simply that Abraham was only required to believe, and that God did virtually all of the “work” involved in bringing life and blessing to Abraham and his descendants, but there is no question of the “sign” being a matter of preference or choice. To obtain and possess the covenant required partaking in the sign of the covenant.
It was not a trivial sign, in any way, for God stressed the importance of the sign by stipulating that whoever did not have this sign, would be excluded from identification in the covenant.
And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant. (Genesis 17:14)
To say he was “cut off” is a euphemism describing death, the penalty for a covenant breaker where the covenant obtains life.
The Bible declares that baptism is actually “the circumcision made without hands” (Col 2:11). This same passage declares this “circumcision” (i.e. joining into the covenant) as the means
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)
If we believe the scripture, that the circumcision is the means of “putting off of the body of sins” then we begin to understand why this “sign” is not trivial. Although it is Jesus sacrifice on Calvary’s cross which supplied sufficient currency to pay the debt for our sins, purchasing our lives by His own blood (see Acts 20:28), we do not receive the benefit, and cannot be regarded as purchased, until we receive the sign of “circumcision made without hands”.
Thus, we understand the massive response adding over 3,000 people to the church on the day of Pentecost after Peter answered their desperate question “What shall we do?”, with “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38)
The Old Testament was a fleshly covenant, and flesh had to be marked with the blood of the believer flowing in circumcision. The new covenant is a spiritual covenant, superior to and comprehending the flesh. The flesh that was cut was Jesus’, instead of ours. No mark or brand is placed on us, physically. However, the saints that come before God in Rev 14, and 22 are said to have a name in their foreheads. The name of Jesus Christ marks that person who is ‘buried with Him in baptism’, both by public confession, and in the spiritual realm.
To return to the most very basic understanding of why we must be saved, we must remember that our sins and iniquities separated us from God (Isa 59:2). To be restored to God requires “remission of sins”. Being restored to God is accomplished by God’s possession of the life whose sins Jesus paid for on the cross. Thus marking, or identifying the person seeking God, and removing the sin are inextricably tied together … in water baptism.
When Jesus Christ was understood to be a teacher “sent from God”, Nicodemus went to him to hear his doctrine. Jesus immediately told him, “You must be born again” (John 3:5). More clearly defining the “new birth” ...
Jesus answered, 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)
With Biblical background, we can understand who a reformation or “turning over a new leaf” would not be adequate. There would be a complete new creature made of the one who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus preached was “at hand” Matt 4:17). Here, Jesus’ teaching made two powerful projections:
The way into the Kingdom of Heaven is by birth of Spirit. No doubt they recalled prophecies promising the outpouring of God’s spirit, such as Ezekiel 36:26, or perhaps Joel 2:28.
The birth was also by water.
What surely seemed a mystery to Nicodemus is now clear, when we remember how God used the keys that he had placed in Peter’s possession to “open the gates” of the Kingdom of Heaven. When the Day of Pentecost arrived, God outpoured His Spirit*, and Peter confirmed that “this is that spoken by the prophet Joel” (referring to Joel 2:28). The birth, or baptism of Spirit was a clearly fulfillment of the anticipated birth of spirit. Peter’s did preach that the gift of the Holy Ghost was held out to those who heard the gospel. However, more centrally, he declared remission of sins, essential to the new birth for it is needed to be restored to God and enter into the Kingdom of God (as discussed above), saying “be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins…”.
The Bible is exacting to certify good doctrine. Some might say that Peter was referring to being baptized in the Holy Ghost, although the gift of the Holy Ghost is also mentioned in another phrase, but we find that Peter indeed refers to water baptism here by looking at several successive scriptures.
In Acts 8, Philip goes to Samaria to preach the gospel, and there is a time following his preaching that men and women are delivered from diseases and devils, and are full of joy and have been baptized in Jesus’ name, but have not yet received the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:16). Also, when Peter preaches to the house of Cornelius, he sees the hearers receive the Holy Ghost, but requires that they also be baptized in water, in the name of the Lord. It is important to remember that Peter did not preach the Holy Ghost baptism. Rather, when he reminded them to be baptized in water for remission of sins (Acts 10:48), it was consistent with what he did preach:
And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. (Peter—Acts 10:42-43)
So, after they had received the Holy Ghost, Peter’s Apostolic doctrine demanded that the “birth of water” be remembered,
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord... (Acts 10:48)
Likewise the Apostle Paul was born of water and spirit He testifies that, after the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ changed his mind regarding his own life and focus, Ananias preached to him saying “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16)
Luke recounts this by saying “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. (Acts 9:18)
Paul’s preaching of the new birth came not only by doctrine of the church, but from his personal experience. Doubters need only consider Paul’s dealing with “believers” in Ephesus, whom he asked
He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. (Acts 19:2-3)
Realizing that they had not been baptized in Jesus’ name, Paul rebaptized them according to the Apostle’s doctrine, and then laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit:
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. (Acts 19:5-6)
Paul’s series of questions reveals that Paul related baptism in the name of Jesus with the experience of the Holy Ghost baptism, again linking birth of water and spirit. The Holy Ghost was first outpoured to believers on the Day of Pentecost, and the knowledge of that experience was spread by preachers such as Philip who went out from that point of origin. Paul reasoned that, if they had not heard that one could receive the Holy Spirit, then they would not be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The gospel, opening the doors of the Kingdom of God is given to us in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When believing the gospel, one follows the Lord Jesus Christ in his death, burial and resurrection through repentance, baptism in Jesus name, and receiving the Holy Spirit.
Modern religion seems to have have little use for the middle point, baptism, and it is not the first time. (2 Kings 16:17 tells of the removal of the brass “laver” which symbolized baptism in the Tabernacle and Temple)
In practical terms, there is a need to legally recognize and finalize a death. Repentance has always been the means of approaching God, but when man is to stand finally cleansed, face to face, the sinful nature must be dealt with legally. To the repenting sinner, who is offered new life by the baptism of the Spirit, initially the water of baptism appears as a grave. His life stained by sin, and identity as a sinner is over. Jesus Christ paid the price for him, and went to the grave, but the sinner is still deserving of that grave, whereas Jesus was not. The sinner would not rise from his own grave, but Jesus’ grave is different. There is promise of arising from that water grave where the ‘old man’ is held in death, to ‘newness of life’.
Water baptism is therefore a ‘baptism into death’, or “burial with Jesus” (Col 1:12):
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 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. (Romans 6:3-4). In the following verse, Paul uses the phrase “planted together in the likeness of His death”. Justification requires a just (legal) and appropriate response to the debt of sin. Burial confirms the necessary death on the part of the sinner.
Raised from the dead
We follow by
Be baptized in Jesus’ name
Receive the Holy Ghost
The gospel commission , given to the church by Jesus Christ who has all authority in heaven and earth, requires teaching and baptizing all those who ‘hear’ in all nations. (Matt 28:19)
Luke’s version of commissioning instructions points direction to remission of sins:
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47).
This corresponds to Peter’s instruction ‘Repent and be baptized …” (Acts 2:38). Some protestants are troubled by the part that the church plays in baptism, if it is to be regarded as essential. Is baptism a work, or does the church allow or forbid salvation to souls? Read Jesus’ comments:
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:23)
We can reconcile this powerful doctrine with the grace of God by remembering that the church that does the will of God will heartily fulfill Jesus commandments to bring remission of sins to all nations, and that without the preaching of the gospel, none would ever hear of the opportunity to receive remission of sins. The gospel provides baptism as the legal disposal of the ‘old’ man, such that a new creation can then stand in his place, the soul redeemed, and the man reconciled to God, and made alive by the in-filling of the Spirit of God.
As much as a baptism is a grave to the sinner, once cleansed it is a watery womb from which the new creature will emerge. As Jesus’ transformation occurred as He left the tomb, a person who like Paul, comes to the end of their self-justification, and allows himself to be judged by God will find rest in putting to death the self-will and being baptized for remission of sins. The conscience is cleansed with the “answer of a good conscience towards God” (1 Peter 3:21)
Some feel that Noah was saved by the ark, but the Bible teaches that Noah was saved from wickedness by the flood, in the ark. Noah, walking in faith by obeying the word of God, had nothing to fear from judgment that came to the disobedient godless world. His faith resulted in an ark being built, and thus Noah found passage through the waters unto a new, cleansed life. Ultimately all will be judged but those hear and believe the gospel, being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ will be saved
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)
Another picture that God conveys regarding salvation is the “adoption of sons” (Gal 4:5). Sinners are estranged from God and cannot consider Him as their father, since they were “born in sin”, (Rom 5:39) and do not do the will of God (see John 8:39). By salvation God marvelously brings the restored sinner into the family of God. Those children who are not natural children (there are no natural children in the family of man, except our mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, the “only begotten son”), are adoptive children. Through baptism, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is called over them, identifying our “Everlasting Father” (See Isa 9:6). This name is the name “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph 3:15).
Scriptures referring to the adoption. Referring to Rom 8:15,23; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5
The Apostles believed and preached “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Every scripture reference in Acts to the Apostle’s baptizing show the declaration of the name of Jesus, who commanded:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19)
When Peter declared “be baptized in the name of Jesus”, first preaching the gospel upon the birth of the church, the pattern was forever laid down by divine authority. Christians identify Jesus Christ as God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16). The highest name of Jesus identifies Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and the church is made “complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col 2:10).
Valid Apostolic water baptism requires the calling out of the name of Jesus Christ in the language of comprehension. The ministry and the person being baptized both recognize that the power of remission of sins, and the authority of identification with the church is in God Himself, abiding in the church, when the church is faithful to be ‘Doers of the Word’.
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Colossians 3:17)
(1) see http://greatcommission.com/BornofWater.html
Pastor, Apostolic Life Tabernacle UPC
© Apostolic Life Tabernacle 2002