By Pastor Glenn Pease
The whole duty of man is to love God and keep His commandments. From paradise lost to paradise regained this is the teaching of the Bible. The one condition for man's abiding in Paradise was obedience to God's command. In Rev. 22:14 we read, "Blessed are they who do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life..." Jesus said, "If you love me keep my commandments, and you are my friends if you do whatever I command you."
The whole plan of God revolves around the issue of obedience. Sin is disobedience, and it was by disobedience that the angels lost heaven, man lost Eden, Moses lost entrance to the Promise Land, Saul lost his crown, and Judus lost his soul. All loss can be traced to disobedience, and all gain can be traced to obedience. Paul sums it up in Rom. 5:19, "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." It was the obedience of Jesus unto death that became the foundation for our salvation. If you study the word obedience through the Bible you will discover that every person who is pleasing to God, and who was used of God, was so because of their obedience.
Baptism is above all else an act of obedience. Jesus commanded the church to go into all the world and baptize, and so for those who perform the act of baptism it is primary an act of obedience. The New Testament makes it clear that all who believe in Jesus as their Savior are to be baptized, and so for those who submit to do so it is an act of obedience. It is important that we grasp this so that we understand it is obedience that matters. In itself baptism has no value apart from the spirit of obedience. It is no big deal to have been baptized, but it is a big deal to have obeyed the Lord's command to be baptized. The obedience is the big thing. Baptism is a symbol, but obedience is an actual act of the will, and that act of the will is more important than the symbol.
A wedding ceremony is a symbolic act of commitment, but as any mate knows, it is the actual love and affection of the partners in life that makes the marriage truly beautiful, and the wedding ceremony. So it is with baptism. If they will is not committed to obey Christ as Lord, then the symbol of baptism is of no more value than a wedding ceremony for two people who do not intend to love each other. A symbol only points to something else, and if the something else is not there, the symbol has no power in itself to produce it. A wedding will not make two people love each other, and baptism will not make a person live in obedience to Christ.
A wedding is a public proclamation of your commitment and determination to be loving and loyal to your mate. A baptism service is a public proclamation of your commitment to be loving and obedient to your Lord. The wedding is itself an act of love, however, for to make a public proclamation is itself an act of the will, and a choice that is loving. So also baptism is more than a symbol. It is an act of obedience and thereby and act of love.
Baptism is not something Jesus does for us, but it is something we do for Him. It is our response of love and obedience to His command. There is a baptism of the Spirit in which He does something for us as He fills us with His Spirit in order to empower us to accomplish His will. But water baptism is something we do for Him, just as the Lord's Supper is an act of obedience. We are doing it in remembrance of Him because He commanded us to do it.
Baptists require that the person being baptized be old enough to make a choice, for only when the will makes a choice can it be an act of obedience. If we kidnapped people in their sleep and gave them a shot so they would not awake, and then brought them to the church and baptized them, and then returned them to their home, that would not be an act of obedience. They would not have made a choice. When baptism is done to a person rather than by a person it takes on too much the nature of magic rather than an act of obedience. The Baptist position is that the value of baptism is not in the water, but in the will of the one being baptized. The question is, is it their will and choice to do this in obedience to Christ as Lord?
The reason I selected this passage in I Cor. 10:1-5 is to illustrate this basic truth that it is not baptism that makes the big difference, but it is obedience. Paul is showing us that the Old Testament people of God experienced what is equivalent to the two ordinances of the church-baptism and the Lord's Supper. They were baptized in the cloud and in the sea, and they ate and drank the supernatural food and drink that God provided, and this was a partaking of Christ. They may not have understood these things, but the point is, God gave His people some very special experience. Nevertheless, Paul says in verse 5 that most of them were displeasing to God, and they were overthrown in the wilderness and not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
What does this say to us? It says that you can experience many good spiritual things in life and still be displeasing to God. Just because a person has had a miracle in his life does not mean he is a super spiritual person. The Israelites had numerous miracles happen to them, but they were disobedient, and so all their miracles meant nothing. The supernatural protection God gave by immersing them in the cloud and by taking them through the depths of the sea had no lasting effect because they did not have a will to obey God. Paul's whole is that it is the will to obey and not experiences that really matter in the long run.
Those marvelous experiences were great and wonderful, but in themselves they were of no real value if they did not motivate men to obedience. We need not envy them or others who have marvelous miraculous experiences if it does not lead them to a life of obedience. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are commands Jesus gave to the church, but to experience them is not of great significance unless they motivate us to live in obedience to Him. In other words, the power of any experience lies in the continuous obedience of the person who has them. A miracle without obedience is of no lasting value. A commonplace experience with an obedient will is pleasing to God, and it will lead to great reward. It is the will that makes baptism significant.
Note in verse 2 that Paul says the Old Testament people were baptized into Moses. This means they were by their experience linked to Moses and his law. Moses became their leader and his law was to be their guide. Obedience to the law of Moses was the fulfilling of their baptism. In the New Testament we are baptized into Christ, and we are linked to Christ and His body the church. The law of Christ then becomes our guide, and our key to happiness is in obedience to the teachings of our Lord. That is why Jesus said in the Great Commission that those baptized are to be taught to observe all that Christ commanded.
Baptism is, therefore, an initiation into the fellowship of those who obey Christ, and who will continue to obey Him more completely as they grow in His understanding of His will. Baptism is an act of obedience that is the door into a life of obedience. Because of this baptism is usually performed on those who are young and immature in the faith. Is not an act of mature commitment, but a beginning act of faith and obedience. Most people who are baptized are not giants of the faith, but they are usually babes in Christ. It is a starting point and not a finish line. This means that the real test of the Christian life is not in the decision to be baptized, but in the life of obedience that follows.
Just as a wedding is symbolic of love that is to persist continuously after the wedding, so baptism is symbolic of the obedience that is to continue afterward. Baptism is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ, which is the foundation of our salvation. It is also symbolic of the Christian life, which is to be a constant struggle to bury the old man as one dies to self, and rise to walk in newness of life. Baptism is not a sign that one has conquered, but it is a sign that one has entered the battle to strive for the victorious life in Christ. Baptism is symbolic of the life long commitment of the believer to overcome the old nature, which says no to God, and to build the new nature that always says yes to God. The old and the new is what baptism is all about. It is the death of the old, and the resurrection of the new. The Christian is a person whose life revolves around the funeral and the wedding. Paul had a funeral every day by dying daily. He was constantly bearing the old self that wanted to resist God, but he was also rejoicing daily in a wedding atmosphere as he saw all things becoming new as he yielded himself as a loving bride to his Groom the Lord Jesus.
In baptism we commit ourselves to a life long battle of death and resurrection. The Christian warfare is never over because the old nature will not remain in the grave. It will persistently pester you to live for the values that will pass away, and so you must be constantly burying this old self. The new self in Christ will constantly have a tendency to lose its enthusiasm. The desire to be a warm and loving Christian will fade and grow cold as you get rejected by the world. The new nature sometimes just wants to lie down and give up. That is why the Christian life is a life of resurrection, and why we are constantly urged to develop a devotion life of Bible study and prayer. That is why we are always talking about Christian fellowship and faithfulness in worship. These are the means needed to rekindle the flame of life that the forces of darkness are always seeking to quench.
Jesus went immediately from His baptism into the wilderness to be tempted. He was tested to see if He meant what He said by His baptism, which is that He truly wanted God's will for His life. This is the test that all of us have in life, and our baptism is to be a constant reminder of our commitment to die to self and be resurrected to walk in obedience. This act of obedience is to be a symbolic reminder that the goal of our entire life is to be a person of obedience.