Bible Truth About Baptism

by Matthew W. Bassford
via His Excellent Word, November 14, 2016

I'd gotten some feedback about my recent preaching on evangelism that I felt merited sermons of its own.  One of them was last week's sermon.  This week's sermon is another.  Basically, some of the ladies were asking the age-old question, "But what do I say?"  In particular, they wanted to know how to talk to somebody about baptism.

To help all of you answer this question, I'm going to return to a style of sermon that I used to preach a long time ago.  If you've ever seen a Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, this will be a chain-reference sermon.  It's going to take you from passage to passage, and next to each passage, you should write down the next text you're going to.  That way, if you're in a study with somebody, you don't have to remember book, chapter, and verse.  You just have to remember that you have the starting verse for the study written down in the back of your Bible.  Let's go through and see how this works when it comes to Bible truth about baptism.

Defining Baptism

The first thing that we must do to discuss baptism is to define it.  In this, there's no point in looking at the English-dictionary definitions for "baptism".  There are about a million of them, and some of them are based on the Bible, but most aren't.  It's foolish to entrust our salvation to a dictionary.  Instead, we should look at the word of God, and the way that it speaks of baptism.

If you want to do the chain-reference thing, pick a blank page in the back of your Bible, and there write "Bible Truth About Baptism:  Ephesians 4:4-6, because that's where we're going for this point.  It tells us that baptism is UNITARY. Along with the other great ones of the Christian faith, Paul says that there is one baptism.  If we want to have fellowship with God and other believers, we must agree with them on what that baptism is.  If someone doesn't accept that one baptism, they can't be united with God or with His church.

This is tricky because there are several different things in Scripture to which the word "baptism" is applied.  In addition to the literal sense of being baptized in water, the Bible also speaks of figurative baptisms:  in the Holy Spirit, in fire, or in suffering.  However, none of these other baptisms are ever said to have anything to do with salvation, and none of them are as Scripturally important as baptism in water is.  Water baptism is the one baptism of Ephesians 4.

Second, baptism in the Bible is always IMMERSION.  For this one, write "John 3:23" down in the margin next to Ephesians 4:4-6, then turn to the first passage.  There are actually a couple of ways to prove this point.  The first is by referring to a Greek dictionary or lexicon.  If you're studying with somebody and you've got your smartphone, you can look up "baptism" at blueletterbible.org or any other reputable Bible-reference site, and the online Bible dictionary will tell you that baptism is being immersed or submerged in water.  Never in the Bible is any variation of the word "baptize" ever used to refer to sprinkling or pouring water.

That's the first argument.  The second is to look at one of the several Bible passages that indicate by context that baptism is immersion.  This is one of them.  Here, we see John going to Aenon by Salim to baptize because there is much water there.  John's behavior here only makes sense if he believes that baptism requires immersion.  You don't need "much water" to sprinkle a few drops on a baby's head.  You don't even need "much water" to pour out a dipperful.  You only need "much water" if you want to dunk somebody all the way under it.

Finally, baptism in the Bible is only FOR BELIEVERS.  Here, write Acts 16:31-34 down next to John 3:23, then turn there.  It's ironic that this text is one of the great proof-texts that people who baptize infants will use to try to prove their belief from the Bible, but it actually proves the opposite point.  In context, this is the happy ending of the story of the Philippian jailer.  The jailer has asked what he must do to be saved, Paul and Silas have preached Christ to him, and in consequence, the jailer and his whole household are baptized.  Here, the infant-baptism folks like to jump up and down and point and say, "See???  The whole household was baptized, and surely the whole household must have had children in it, so Paul and Silas baptized children!"

Now, there are several problems with the argument, but the biggest is that it pretends that the story of the Philippian jailer stops in v. 33.  It doesn't.  It goes on to v. 34, and in v. 34, we learn not only that the whole household was baptized, but that the whole household believed.  In this story, everyone who believes is baptized.  No one who does not believe is baptized.  The matchup between believers and the baptized is one-to-one.  Far from proving that infants should be baptized, these events actually establish that they should not be, precisely because they are incapable of belief.  Throughout all the New Testament, we only ever see water offered to those who believe in Jesus.

The Purpose of Baptism

Now that we know what baptism is, we need to know what it's for.  We need to understand its purpose.  For this discussion, the single best place in the Bible to go is to Paul's great discussion of baptism in Romans 6:1-11.  The first subsection within this context explains what PAUL'S PURPOSE is.  Here, write Romans 6:1-2 next to Acts 16:31-34, then turn to Romans.  In this passage, we see that Paul is trying to deal with a very different problem than we usually face.  He's not trying to explain to somebody that sprinkling isn't the same thing as Bible baptism, or that the sinner's prayer isn't actually in the Bible. 

Instead, he's addressing an argument from the first century that hardly ever shows up today.  He's talking to people who understand that the grace of Christ glorifies God but think that gives them an out.  The reasoning goes like this:  if Christ extends grace to me every time I sin, and that grace glorifies God, then I should sin a whole bunch so that God is glorified a whole bunch.

In response, Paul argues that this kind of glib logic makes a mockery out of following Jesus.  As Christians, we're not supposed to be the same sinful people that we were, except now we've got a spiritual get-out-of-jail free card.  Instead, we are supposed to be dramatically different people, people who have so little to do with sin that we can only be said to be dead to it.

In proof of this, Paul introduces the point at which we die to sin, the point of baptism.  He describes it as being BURIED WITH CHRIST.  This time, let's consider Romans 6:3-4.  I wouldn't write it in the margin this time, though.  I'd just underline key phrases throughout the context so that you can explain Paul's argument.  

First of all, let's notice here that Paul's words show that baptism is both common in and important to the early church.  He doesn't say, "If some of us have been baptized".  Instead, he speaks of an "all of us who have been baptized".  He's not trying to teach these brethren that they should be baptized.  Instead, he assumes that they have been because they already know.

As a result, Paul is able to argue that baptism is this dramatic spiritual turning point at which the Christian dies to sin.  The imagery here is vivid.  When we're baptized, we're not just dunked in a water tank.  Instead, we are spiritually united with the death of Christ.  Somebody puts us under the water as He was put under the ground.  Then, when we are brought back up out of the water, we rise just as Christ rose from the dead.  He got a new life, and we do too.

This passage can leave no doubt about when our new life in Christ begins.  It doesn't start when we believe in Jesus.  It doesn't start when we repent of our sins or confess Him as Lord.  Instead, it starts when and only when we are buried with Him in the watery grave of baptism.

Next, let's consider what it means to be united with THE LIKENESS OF HIS RESURRECTION.  Now, look at Romans 6:5-7.  Even though Paul never uses the word, I think here is where we see the importance of repentance to baptism.  He talks about how our old selves were crucified with Christ.  From texts like Galatians 2, we know what this means.  It means that we surrender our lives to Jesus as He surrendered His life to God.  Then, once we have made that resolution, the body of our sins can be done away with.  When we die and are buried with Christ in baptism, that is the moment at which we are freed from those sins.  When we emerge from the water in the knowledge that this is what has happened, we share in the glory of His resurrection.  That sinful person we used to be, with all of their guilt, has been left behind in the water.

Brethren, I don't know how Paul could have said this any plainer than he did.  If we want to die to our old sinful selves and begin a new life of service to Christ, baptism is the way we do that.  Until and unless we are baptized like believers were 2000 years ago, our new lives haven't started yet.  We are continuing to live that old life with its burden of sins and may not even know it!

Finally, let's consider PAUL'S APPLICATION in all of this.  It appears in Romans 6:8-11. He wants us to understand that there are two senses in which rising from the waters of baptism is supposed to unite us with Christ.  The first is that it unites us with the hope of his resurrection.  Obviously, the unity of baptism is a figurative and spiritual one.  We don't physically die when we go beneath the waters and come back to life when we come up.  However, the literal resurrection of Christ foreshadows our literal resurrections.  Unless He returns first, the day will come when we literally die, but we will do so in the knowledge that the One who defeated death will come back to defeat death for us.  Only the baptized can anticipate the resurrection of life.

However, there is also a sense in which we are supposed to be united with the life of Christ in the present.  We are supposed to consider ourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God.  One of the characteristics of death is its complete unresponsiveness.  No matter what you do to a corpse, it's not going to react.  In the same way, once we have died with Christ in baptism, we are supposed to be completely unresponsive to the sins that used to allure us.  

Momentarily, we're going to partake of the Lord's Supper, but before we do, let's consider what we've studied in that context.  Our rejection of our sinful desires is a metaphorical crucifixion, but Jesus was literally crucified.  We figuratively die to our old selves in baptism, but Christ really died and was buried.  He chose death so that through Him we could live.  

Second, let's ask whether we've been living the life of the resurrected.  Are we dead to sin, or do we prove to be as sensible to temptation as our old self was?  Let's consider as we eat.

Objections to Bible Baptism

In the final part of our study, I want to examine several objections to Bible baptism that people who don't want to obey the gospel customarily raise.  The first of these is, "I WAS ALREADY BAPTIZED."  When we're talking Bible with somebody and they say this to us, we need to ask them whose definition they're using.  There are all kinds of definitions for baptism out there.  The dictionary lists a whole bunch.  Different churches may add their own.  However, the only definition that matters is the Bible's definition, because unless we were baptized with a Bible baptism, it will not save us, and we are no better off than if we'd never gotten wet in the first place.

In particular, there are two elements of Bible baptism that trip people up.  The first is that it must be immersion.  We've already seen one passage that shows this; now, let's look at another.  Next to Romans 6:1-2 in your Bibles, write Acts 8:36-39, and then turn there.  Notice particularly that the eunuch went down into the water with Philip and then came back up.  This isn't sprinkling or pouring.  It's immersion.  Unless we've been buried with Christ, we haven't risen to walk in newness of life.  Sprinkling or pouring might make us feel better, but they have no spiritual effect.

Second, Bible baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.  Next to Acts 8:35-39, write Acts 2:37-38, and then go to that passage.  Here, the crowd on the day of Pentecost is terrified because they realize they've killed the Son of God and they want to escape His wrath.  Peter tells them that even the sin of killing Jesus can be forgiven if they are baptized in His name.  Baptism for any other reason than forgiveness of sins, with any other goal than leaving the old life of sin in the water and beginning a new life, isn't the baptism of the Bible and does not save.  It's just a bath.

Of course, we in the churches of Christ are not alone in recognizing the necessity of immersion in water for forgiveness of sins.  Baptism does not have to be carried out in a church building that says "Church of Christ" out front.  It only has to follow the pattern that we've been studying.  Anybody who has been baptized by anybody for forgiveness of sins has been saved.  They may not have gone on to live lives of obedience, but in that, at least, they did obey the gospel.

Second, lots of people like to say, "ALL BAPTISMS ARE EQUALLY VALID."  Sure, you might have been immersed, and I might have been sprinkled, but so long as we all love God, it doesn't really matter, right?  Friends, nothing could be further from the truth!  Mode of baptism matters a great deal because one way is obedient to the gospel, and all the others aren't.

For our next Scripture, write Acts 10:34-35 in your Bibles next to Acts 2:37-38, then turn there.  Let's pay very careful attention here.  Peter identifies two characteristics of the people God will welcome.  God doesn't care whether they're Jew or Gentile.  Today, He doesn't care whether they're white, black, brown, or purple.  Instead, He cares whether they fear Him and do what is right.  Indeed, we show our fear of God, which is clean and endures forever, by our determination to do what is right.  God-fearing people will obey the pattern of Bible baptism.

By contrast, when people dismiss that pattern, in effect they're saying, "I don't really care what God says in His word.  I'm going to do what seems best to me."  Brethren, anyone who dismisses the command of the King does not fear the King and can't expect His welcome.

Finally, the last objection I want to consider is, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE BAPTIZED TO BE SAVED."  Lots of people will say this, pointing to their experience with the sinner's prayer or some other manmade spiritual construct.  However, this position isn't consistent with the Bible.  For our final Scripture, write 1 Peter 3:21 next to Acts 10:34-35, and turn there.  

As arguments go, this one is pretty simple.  Lots of people say, "Baptism doesn't save."  The Bible says, "Baptism saves."  Who you gonna believe, them or it?  

Some people at this point are going to want to pit baptism against belief.  They'll say, "Well, you don't believe that faith saves!"  That's hardly true.  I've preached and will continue to preach that faith is absolutely essential for salvation.  Unless you believe that Jesus is God, you will die in your sins.  That's not the question.  The question is whether faith alone is sufficient for salvation, and it isn't, any more than baptism alone is.  If we want to be saved, we must understand and obey the whole Scriptural witness about salvation.

There are many more passages in the New Testament that address the subject of baptism and what we must do to be saved, but this lesson provides a useful summary of the topic and an outline to follow in a study with a friend, should the subject arise.  

However, we need to be wise in our expectations for such studies.  Truth alone is not enough to guarantee that an outsider will obey the gospel.  Some people simply don't believe in Jesus.  Others don't accept the Bible as the sole authority for following Jesus.  Still others will claim to accept both Jesus and the Bible, but when presented with the evidence, they won't be honest about it.  If we study with others enough, we will run into people in all three of these groups.

To be blunt, though, that's not our problem.  We're responsible for sowing the seed, not guaranteeing the harvest, and as long as we freely share the truth, we're doing what God expects.