Major events in life are often celebrated as joyous occasions. Becoming a citizen of the nation, for many people, is something special and so, throughout the year, the Government holds numerous “Naturalization Ceremonies.” To these people, the ceremony is an important event as it portrays in our society an individual’s acceptance into the citizenship of the nation. With that joyful welcome and acceptance comes various new rights, privileges and responsibilities.
So, too, Christian baptism is a joyous occasion and an important ceremony. It signifies a person’s acceptance into God’s spiritual kingdom, and into the membership of His organized church. Yet, to the Christian, baptism holds far more significance than a “Naturalization Ceremony”. Baptism is an ordinance ordained by God Himself, and exemplified in the life of Christ.
Yet despite its importance, even this simple Bible doctrine has been altered from the original pattern Jesus gave. Today we notice various methods of baptizing. The most common are immersion, sprinkling, and the pouring on of water or oil. Other unorthodox methods and rituals have been performed in different periods of history. Then there are the different ages at which candidates are accepted, varying from newborn babies to children and then to adults.
What is true baptism? Like any symbol of God, when carried out according to His purpose and design, it is consistent, reverential, and educational. Let us examine the various aspects of baptism, and then we will be able to correctly understand God’s purpose and design for this ceremony. In doing so it will strengthen our understanding that His ways and thoughts are above man’s ways and thoughts – and are ever working to build, strengthen and preserve His people.
“Baptism” comes from the Greek word, “baptizo” – to immerse. This word was used to describe the immersing of buckets to fill them with water, or to describe the immersion of cloth in dye. “Baptizo” means “to dip”, “to immerse”, “to dive”, etc. It always portrays some object being submerged and covered with water or liquid.
Applying this in a spiritual sense, the apostle Paul wrote, “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.
Baptism is a public testimony of a person’s renunciation of the old sinful life, and a commitment to a new life for Christ. The baptismal act illustrates the death of the old person, their burial into the watery grave, where symbolically the old life is washed away. They are then raised to a new life, a rebirth and a new creature. Throughout nature God repeatedly teaches this wonderful change. When the old seed (old life) of the grain dies and is planted (buried), the power of God regenerates the germ within the seed, which then springs forth into a new life.
We can now understand Paul’s significant application of baptism in Romans 6:3,4 above. Since it symbolizes death and burial it can only be demonstrated by complete immersion beneath the water, as the meaning of the word implies. Just as it is not possible to bury a dead person by throwing a little earth on the head, so a spiritual burial cannot be performed by sprinkling or pouring a few drops of water on the head. The Bible examples of Jesus and the apostles confirm baptism by complete immersion.
Jesus made it clear that whoever desires to be saved must be born of His Spirit and of the watery grave: “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.
To be born of the Spirit means to be regenerated in Christ, to receive a new heart (new desires, purposes and motives), leading to a new life. Christ offers to take away your sin polluted heart and, through His Spirit working in you, He wishes to implant new principles within you. The process by which this is accomplished is known as conversion and was covered in Lesson Number Sixteen. To be born of water means to be baptized, immersed in the watery grave, in recognition of the conversion experience. Thus a testimony is given to all of the rebirth that has taken place. It is both an inward and an outward expression.
Not only is baptism a type of the “Naturalization Ceremony”, it also has similarities to a “Marriage Ceremony”, as it involves a commitment to and covenant with Christ. The believer commits his or her new life to Christ and vows to unite with Him and fulfil His will in all things.
In order to do this the believer must, in conjunction with the new-birth experience, have an intelligent understanding of the claims that God has upon them and the requirements He desires them to fulfil. Thus a work of education is here involved.
In giving the gospel commission to His disciples, Jesus said, “…All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 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 28:18,19.
Teaching comes before baptism. Jesus did not say: “Go and baptize all nations, teaching them,” but “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations baptizing them.” Just as one must understand what he or she is doing when intending to marry, so too must the believer be of sufficient maturity to understand what is occurring in baptism, and why.
Baptism is preceded by belief. Belief, or trust, is a firm reliance and confidence in some particular thing. That thing may be a specific teaching or principle, or it could be certain characteristics we find in people. Understanding and accepting the value of that principle or characteristic establishes your belief.
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” Mark 16:16. So what must a baptismal candidate understand and have belief in? Let us see.
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…” Acts 2:38.
Repentance requires active renouncing of sins so that forgiveness may be received from God. The sinner obtains forgiveness and acceptance with God through Christ, and exercises belief in that fact. The “event” which symbolizes the sinner’s belief that his sins have been forgiven, is baptism.
“Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” Acts 2:38.
It is now clear that young children who have no sins to confess, who do not believe and have not accepted the gospel of Christ, are not entitled to baptism. Their lack of understanding excludes them from the ordinance.
Similarly, an adult who has not experienced conversion, who does not believe, or has not been instructed in Biblical truths, cannot be baptized.
If a person was baptized while holding erroneous principles, or a previous baptismal covenant has been broken, or a person was baptized when they had been only partially instructed, then a second baptism may be performed. Some people who had been baptized by John the Baptist were later re-baptized in the name of Jesus because the first baptism was considered to be incomplete, or inadequate.
“Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19:3-5.
In Old Testament times there were many religious people who performed baptisms. John was the first person recorded who invited people to repent of their sins and to be baptized.
“In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:1,2.
The message of John the Baptist reached the people in Jerusalem and many of them came to him and asked what they should do. The answer was: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:” Matthew 3:8.
Many of John’s hearers felt their need of being converted and of forsaking their sins. They confessed their sins and were baptized.
“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” Matthew 3:5,6.
From these verses it can be seen that repentance, confession, and forgiveness of sin precede baptism. These are important and necessary steps in God’s plan to save us. When the people asked what they should do to be saved, the apostles had only one answer:“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 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.” Acts 2:37,38.
In another place Peter spoke similar words when he said, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;” Acts 3:19. Baptism and conversion go together for the former is a symbol of the latter.
As an exception to the rule, it may be possible. Like the thief at the 11th hour upon the cross. But according to God’s word genuine repentance should be accompanied by baptism. Jesus declared: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:15,16.
Jesus Himself chose to be baptized as an example in fulfilling righteousness.
“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 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.” Matthew 3:13-15.
The sincere and contrite sinner recognizes his true condition and asks: “What shall I do to be saved?” A prison officer deeply impressed with a recent crisis and his own lost condition: “called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”Acts 16:29-33.
Yes, dear reader, without being dead and buried to the world and risen to a new life in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to be saved. Through the blood of Christ all our past sins are washed away, and now, newborn, we begin to experience salvation and victory over sin by obeying the counsels of our Heavenly Father’s word and taking Jesus as our example. A soul who wilfully neglects baptism show that he does not have a true regard for God’s standards and lacks experience. This lack will ultimately close the door to his salvation.
Not everyone is entitled to perform baptisms. God placed in His church different offices and the organized body must be recognized by those who wish to join His body, which is His church.
When God gave Saul opportunity to be saved, He did not personally instruct him. Instead, Saul was sent to a disciple named Ananias who was directed of God to teach Saul (now Paul) his duty. When Ananias recognized the genuineness of Paul’s conversion, then only did he baptize him.
“And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Acts 9:6.
“And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hast sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” Acts 9:17,18.
An Ethiopian convert to Christianity was baptized by an ordained Church Officer. As the two traveled together, Philip the deacon, recognized the Ethiopian’s true heart conversion: “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.” Acts 8:38.
The only persons authorized to perform a baptism are ministers and elders of the church who have been ordained for this sacred service.
The church officer and the candidate who has been instructed and converted then enter the water and the candidate is completely immersed under water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This is true Biblical baptism.
When Jesus was baptized He received the approval of heaven.
“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; And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16,17.
When believers are baptized they also are received by God as beloved sons and daughters. They are now under the jurisdiction of the Godhead, the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit.
After His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where He was in close touch with God. At the end of a forty day fast and communion with the Father, the devil came to Him with three great temptations, temptations from which all other sins develop: – Appetite, presumption and love of the world. Each was overcome by Jesus.
As he did with Jesus, the devil first suggests doubts to weaken the newfound faith and commitment after baptism, “If you are”! If our close connection with Jesus is weakened by doubts or alienation, then the way opens for Satan’s suggestions to gain a hold. As Christ overcame, so every believer receives power from Christ to overcome the tempter. We must remain close to Jesus at all times.
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15,16.
“Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” Matthew 4:11.
When a baptized person is fellowshipped into the church, his or her name is written in the books of the church and also registered in the Book of Life in heaven. The church’s actions are accepted in heaven.
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19.
Thus the baptized person becomes a member of the body of Christ, His church: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” I Corinthians 12:13,14.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;”Ephesians 2:19.
After baptism and acceptance into God’s church, the believer should experience an increase in the knowledge of spiritual matters and continually develop to perfection of character. Hence, Peter writes, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:” I Peter 2:2.
The advancing Christian’s experience after baptism is also depicted in a parable of Jesus, “the seed should spring and grow up…first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” Mark 4:27,28.
The springing forth of the blade of corn represents true conversion, while the full corn in the ear represents that perfection of character which has taken place. Realizing that perfection of our spiritual growth is God’s ideal for us, Paul wrote: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14.
All who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost must be new creatures, and the former conversation must be done away with. For salvation is just that, freedom from the old life of selfishness and sin. This freedom Christ came to give us.
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” Romans 6:6,7.
“Therefore, if any many be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” II Corinthians 5:17.
Being now a part of Christ’s body, baptized believers have various rights and privileges in relation to the church. They may take part in the Lord’s Supper. They have the opportunity to discuss the business of the church. They are entitled to vote and to be voted on, and to hold offices in the church. With the privileges come responsibilities. They should support, attend and cooperate with the church. As a part of Christ’s body, their lives should show continual growth toward Christian perfection of character, as they labour in unity and harmony with the other members of the church and assist in God’s work on earth.
Thus working and growing together, the church collectively will reach perfection and be prepared to meet the Lord Jesus when He comes.
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