Baptism: The Identifiable Church
“Baptism: The Identifiable Church”
This morning we launch into a mini-series on the life of the Church. Through the end of the month, I thought it would be valuable for us to investigate several components of what Scripture points out for us as the Church. In the Fall, we already looked at a couple of areas where we noted how the Gospel affects the local church. We saw that the Gospel is the message that we have embraced and how a growing understanding of the gospel is not merely for salvation, but it continues to transform the life of the believer. Secondly, we investigated how the Gospel serves as the message that we continue to declare to the world – beginning in Squamish. We want not only the words we speak, but also the lives we live, to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ powerfully to those around us.
So for the month of January, we will be looking at Baptism, Communion, Church Membership and Stewardship. These are issues that need continual teaching and attention in churches today.
We’ll begin by examining baptism this morning. I hope to show you that baptism is actually the first act of obedience by the believer in Jesus Christ. And as such is a fitting place for us to begin our study. I have entitled the sermon, “Baptism: The Identifiable Church”. This is because we will see the significance of baptism and its relationship to our new identity in Christ.
I want to look at the area of baptism by addressing four questions. They are: What is Baptism? Who should be baptized? How should baptism be done? Why should we be baptized? So let’s begin by addressing the first question What is Baptism?
We know that there was a man who was preparing the way for the Lord Jesus. His name was John the Baptist. And in Mark 1:4, he records that “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And though Jesus had not yet come on the scene, he was preparing them for repentance and salvation. And in the same chapter of Mark, Jesus comes to John the Baptist and asks that he might be baptized by him. At least one of the reasons that Jesus did so was to set the example for the rest of his disciples.
But to answer the question of “what is baptism?” we should note why it is important that this is something worthy of being pursued. And to set us on our course, I want to draw your attention to Matthew 28.18-20. In this passage of Scripture, we have the last words of Jesus to his disciples. Matthew 28:18–20 “18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We should note that in this passage that the command is not “Go”. The word in the original language is a participle which can better be understood as “while you are going” or “having gone”. Perhaps we should take away from this the fact that it is already implicit that the believer of Jesus Christ will go and do what he has commanded. Rather, the command is to “make disciples.” While you are going, make disciples. And then the next two participles (baptizing and teaching) explain how this is carried out.
So disciples of Jesus Christ have the awesome responsibility and privilege to go and make more disciples of Christ. What I want us to grasp at the outset is that baptizing seems to be the very first manner in which disciples are made. More on this later. Initially, I wanted to at least see why this pursuit of baptism is important.
Let’s start with a simple definition that we will expand on. Let’s work with this: “Baptism is an outward witness of an inward faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.” (Repeat)
Next, I would like to draw our attention to Romans 6. In Romans 6.3-5, Paul speaks to the church at Rome and demonstrates to the believers the very close connection between baptism and their identity with Jesus Christ. Paul writes that “3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
This certainly helps to fill out our definition. If baptism is an outward witness of an inward faith, then our physical baptism illustrates what has happened in our salvation. When we are baptized and go down into the water, we are powerfully communicating that we put to death our old way of life. When we emerge from the water, we are saying that we are now raised with Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life.
And yet I believe there is an even richer symbolism than just the symbolism of our death to self. Consider also that water often reminds us of God’s judgment upon sin and unbelievers. Recall that God judged the world with a flood, decimated the Egyptians with the rush of waters from the Red Sea. Remember as well how Jonah was thrown into the deep because of God’s judgment on his disobedience. And also that when he was rescued, it became a sign of resurrection.
Perhaps we see in baptism also a symbolic portrayal of the judgment and death that we deserve because of our sins. And also when we emerge from the water, it communicates that we have escaped God’s judgment because of the death of the Son of God – the One we now identify with. Wayne Grudem believes that this concept helps understand the words of Peter when he writes, 1 Peter 3:21 “21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Colossians 2:11–12 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Verse 11 refers to an inward circumcision of the heart which also known as conversion. And verse 12 is the close association of how our baptism communicates this inward faith. And again it is a picture of burial of death and resurrection to new life.
Baptism is a visible communication of the gospel. It illustrates Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 “3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
So we can conclude that, in baptism, the individual is publicly communicating his identification with Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:26–27 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Baptism is also an identification with the universal church. 1 Corinthians 12:13 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” When we come to Jesus Christ, we become members of one another - regardless of ethnicity or social status.
And it is also an identification with the local church. Acts 2:41 “41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Again we see a very close connection between belief in Jesus, baptism, and church membership. More on that in weeks to come…
It should be noted here that as we see this very close connection, we should not make the mistake in thinking that baptism is a requirement for salvation. Baptism is indeed an act of obedience to Christ, but not a means of earning our salvation. It serves us well to remember the words of Paul to the Ephesians. Ephesians 2:8–9 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is faith in Jesus Christ alone that justifies us. Recall also the thief on the cross that did not have the opportunity to be baptized but was guaranteed of his entrance into Paradise because of his faith in Jesus.
To restate, one can be a Christian without being baptized. However, we need to remember that Jesus commanded baptism to show the outward sign of our faith toward him. A popular illustration is the wedding ring. A wedding ring does not make one married. Married people are married whether or not they wear their wedding ring, which is the outward symbol of their inward covenant relationship. But we also wear the wedding ring proudly because it symbolizes our identification with our spouse.
So our second point is Who should be baptized? At this point, this should be an easy question to answer. But I want also to back this up by looking at several Scripture passages. Most of these are going to come from the Book of Acts. This book consists of the historical accounts of the early churches at the time immediately following the ascension of Jesus Christ. This is helpful as we begin to more fully understand the pattern of the New Testament Church for us today.
Let’s begin by referring back to Acts 2.41 – “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Those who believed the message of the gospel were immediately baptized and added to the local church.
Acts 8.12 “12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Regardless of gender, those who believed in Jesus were baptized.
Acts 10:44–48 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” So it was the believers (who alone receive the Holy Spirit) who were baptized.
Acts 16:14–15 “14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well…” The words, “the Lord opened her heart” communicate her belief. I can think of nowhere else where Scripture indicates that a person’s heart is opened that is not a believer.
Acts 16:31–33 “31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” After the Philippian jailer witnessed the events of Paul and Silas in prison, he pleaded with them to tell him what he needed to do to be saved. They told him to believe on the Lord Jesus. It is apparent that both he and his household heard and believed the message and were subsequently baptized. And as we saw in Galatians 3.26-27, “26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
I wanted to introduce several passages so that we could see how prominent this concept of the baptism of believers is. I am aware that there are other traditions that have a practice of baptizing infants. I find this practice indefensible in light of the sheer number of examples here and the lack of examples of babies being baptized.
Let’s look next at How should baptism be done? Or what is the proper “mode” of baptism. Historically, it seems as though some have opted for a sprinkling or pouring of water to act as baptism. I will attempt to show that “immersion” is the biblical manner of baptizing believers in Jesus Christ.
Let’s start by a simple definition of the word “baptizo”. It’s most natural understanding is to plunge, dip, or immerse in water. It was often used of sinking of ships that were submerged in water.
So let’s press this definition by looking at some examples. Let’s start with Jesus himself. Mark 1.9-10 indicates “9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” I’m not sure how you can see anything but immersion from this account. Matthew 3 says that Jesus went up from the water.
John 3:23 indicates that 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.”
And how about the account between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch? An angel of the Lord appeared to Philip and told him to meet this court official who is reading the Scriptures. Philip runs alongside his chariot and explains Jesus from Isaiah 53, the eunuch believes the message and wants to be baptized. And the account goes on to say, “Acts 8:36–39 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.” Every baptism in the New Testament was by immersion.
But I think that the most important issue is that the mode is to carry out what baptism signifies. Because it signifies Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the mode of immersion best communicates this.
To quote some of our heroes of the faith. Martin Luther said this: “I would have those who are to be baptized to be entirely immersed, as the word imparts and the mystery signifies.” John Calvin said, “The word ‘baptize’ signifies to immerse. It is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient church.” And John Wesley, “Buried with Him, alludes to baptizing by immersion according to the custom of the first church.”
Now let’s answer the last question: Why Should I Be Baptized? To borrow a thought from John Piper, “Baptism dramatically portrays what happened spiritually when you received Christ: Your old self of unbelief and rebellion and idolatry died, and a new you of faith and submission and treasuring Christ came into being. That's what you confess to the world and to heaven when you are baptized.”
He goes on to give a few reasons why baptism is important. First, it was uncompromisingly commanded by the Lord Jesus in the Matthew 28 passage where we began. Second, baptism was universally administered to Christians entering the local church. And thirdly, it was uniquely connected to conversion and an unrepeatable expression of saving faith.
Like a wedding ring, it communicates our identity with Jesus Christ and his church. The examples set before us link these things so closely together that to carry out belief in Jesus without baptism is absurd.
Jesus began his own ministry by being the example in baptism. And I would suggest that it demonstrates that we really Christians. 1 John 2:3 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. We have seen that this is clearly one of his commands for those who trust in him. In fact, it is the very first act of obedience toward Jesus.
Baptism is a powerful communicator of the Gospel. As we publicly deny ourselves and affirm our new allegiance to Christ, often there are unbelievers who witness this public declaration that may speak to them in a unique way.
It is also a significant instrument in our sanctification. Often our conversion is carried out in a private confession of sin and trusting in Jesus Christ. But as we stand publicly at our baptism, we acknowledge that we will be held accountable to the faith that we profess.
In addition, it can serve as an encouragement to us in times of doubt. As we struggle with life’s circumstances and our eternal destiny, we can look back and be reminded of the time when we trusted Christ and were baptized into his body.
It also serves as an encouragement to other believers. As we give testimony at our baptisms, it reminds us of the importance of our witness to others and the power of the gospel. I know I am continually amazed at the grace of God and how he calls Christians from all different backgrounds.
I hope that this brief discussion on the meaning and significance of baptism has challenged any who may not have entered the waters of baptism. I hope that you will recognize this very important and primary act of obedience in your walk with Jesus Christ.
If for some reason, you have trusted Jesus and have not been baptized, please indicate on a communication card of your desire to follow through on obedience to Jesus. I or one of the other elders would be thrilled to help you see this through. We will be looking to have a time of baptisms in the near future. Why don’t you act on this today?
At Squamish Baptist Church, we have baptism as one of our regular observances. Our constitution reads like this:
Among the things commanded by Christ, there are two visible Symbols of the Gospel, which He instituted for observance by His followers until He returns, one as a sign of Christian initiation and the other as a means of ongoing nurture.
1. Baptism is the immersion in water of a confessing believer, designed to occur at the beginning of Christian experience as the formal means of response to the gospel and initiation as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The act is a powerful symbol of union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, representing our death to our old life and our spiritual rebirth. (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:3-4)
2. The second is Communion which we will discuss next Sunday.
Let’s pray together.