Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Baptism - a matter of participation

Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism

We continue today with our exploration of the meaning of New Testament Baptism.  Yesterday we mentioned three terms: identification, obedience and participation.  The first two terms were our main focus, with the third being the primary one in today's blog. 

When a Christian becomes baptized, they not only are communicating prior identification and a lifestyle of obedience to Christ, but also that of participation in Christ. In Romans 6:4 Paul states: "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Being that Baptism is a picture of the believer's prior conversion experience, the idea of the Christian walking with God goes hand in hand.

The idea of "walking with God" is the first description the Bible gives of the believer's relationship with the Lord. Being found some 50 times in the Bible, we read for instance in Genesis 3:8 that God was "walking in the cool of the evening", looking for Adam. Evidently God had created Adam for covenant and communion with Him. We read of Enoch in Genesis 5:22 that he "walked with God for 300 years". Baptism pictures for us the Christian's desire to walk with the Lord all of the days of their life. Clearly participation is in view.

Why baptism is connected to local church membership

Baptism is an act that follows faith in Christ by the pattern in the New Testament. Acts 2:40-41 tells us that as many as had received the word (i.e received the message of salvation by grace through faith) were baptized. Following the baptism, the text states then that 3,000 souls were added to the church. This tells us that saving faith came first, followed by baptism, then church membership.

When a baptized believer joins a local church, they are indicating that they do not merely want to be a spectator, but a participator. Jesus tells us in John 14:15 that all of those who love Him will obey His commands. Being that baptism is commanded in Acts and the Epistles, and since it is modeled by Christ Himself in the Gospels, clearly then Baptism centers on participation following one’s commitment of faith.

Relating identification, obedience and participation in Baptism

Romans 6:1-4 and Galatians 3:27 define baptism in terms of how one walks with the Lord. Submission to Christ’s Lordship is the primary fruit of the Christian walk. Acknowledging Him as Savior and Lord is central to saving faith and becoming a disciple of Christ (compare Luke 9:23-24 and 14:25-35).

I sometimes refer to Baptism as the “Christian’s first major step of Christian obedience”. It indicates that the disciple is publicly identifying  the reality of His otherwise personal new birth experience. Scripture uses the language of new birth to describe salvation (please compare John 3:1-5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). We can liken baptism to a toddler's first steps, since baptism follows the new birth as a toddler's first steps comes after their natural birth. Obviously a baby has to be born first before they can walk. Likewise before an adult (or child reaching the age of accountability) can be baptized, they have to be first born again by grace alone through faith alone (please compare Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

Baptism, as the Christian's act of identification and obedience is again, their way of setting a lifetime pattern of participation.  Peter states in 1 Peter 3:21 - "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ". The KJV brings out the rendering "answer of a good conscience", which brings us closer to the original text. The idea Peter is describing is an already converted heart coming to the baptismal waters to publicly declare before Christ and his people their aim to grow in grace from a good conscience. Clearly this allows no room for spectator Christianity.   

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