Monday, July 9, 2012

Why Baptism is no Chicken or the Egg story

Acts 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Baptism's method is not a chicken or egg story
You have heard of the old question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"  In many Christian circles, the issue of Baptism can many times be treated as a "chicken or egg affair" - meaning: which comes first? Baptism or conversion?  In previous blogs we have considered baptism's significance due to it being mandated by Jesus Christ.  Today we want to consider a second general heading: namely that there is a particular method, or order advocated in Biblical believer's baptism.  Unlike the chicken or the egg story, a survey of the Biblical record yields a clear order of conversion to faith first, followed by believer's baptism. 

So how can we tell that saving faith necessarily precedes one's obedient submission to water baptism?  Please take note of the following truths revealed in scripture:

1. Saving Faith appears first, followed by the teaching of Baptism in the Four Gospels
This curious pattern is evident when we consider Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  For instance, in Matthew we see the Gospel of faith and repentance demonstrated in Matthew 1:21 and 3:2; followed by people being baptized as a result of their repentance in 3:6.  In Mark 1:4 we see John preaching the Baptism of repentance.  In the original language that could be rendered "the baptism that comes from repentance".  Soon thereafter we see John baptizing people who have already repented, followed of course by Jesus's baptism.  Luke 1:38 records Mary confessing her faith in the Messiah, with Luke 3:18 recording John baptizing people who had repented. 

Then the Gospel of John not only records this pattern once but twice!  In John 1:12-13 we see a clear statement on the necessity of receiving Christ by grace through faith alone, followed by John the Baptist's testimony of baptism in John 1:19-34.  Then in John 3:1-21 we see Jesus teaching about the necessity of being born again through faith; followed by another testimony by John in connection to questions about Jesus and baptism in John 3:22-36.   

2. Saving Faith precedes Baptism in the Book of Acts
When we come to Acts, we see the same method or order of faith in Christ first, followed by Baptism.  In Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 8:38; 9:18; 10:44-48; 16:15 and 16:33 we see this repeated method: faith first, then baptism.  Acts 8:36-38 is just one clear example:"36As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37[And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him."

3. Saving Faith precedes Baptism in the Epistles
As testimony to the consistency of God's Word, the teaching on salvation by grace through faith, followed by believer's baptism, continues unbroken through the New Testament letters.  In Romans 1-5 we see the presentation of man's utter sinfulness (1-3) and the doctrine of justification by faith alone (4-5).  In Romans 6 we first meet the doctrine of baptism as picturing the believer's already prior identification with Christ's death, burial and reusrrection.

Galatians 3:26 speaks of faith, with 3:27 speaking of baptism.  Consider this same order in Ephesians 4:5 -  "one Lord, one faith, one baptism."  For those who might think that only Paul championed this order, the Apostle Peter in his first letter speaks of saving faith in 1 Peter 1:3-5, with mention  of water baptism in 1 Peter 3:21.  He even goes to the pains of qualifying baptism as not: "the removal of dirt from the conscience, but rather the pledge of a good conscience to God." 

4. The above observations also reveal that all who are converted to faith in Christ always got baptized
The method of "faith - then baptism" yields another pattern: namely that in every case of saving faith from Acts onward, every Christian got baptized!  We never see one instance of unbaptized Christians. 

When we consider this consistent pattern, or method of baptism in the scriptures, from beginning to end, the pattern is unwavering.  Those who try to place baptism before saving faith, or who try to make baptism simultaneous with saving faith, are only listing  particular texts that suit their purposes.  Furthermore, the pattern reminds us to never have a flippancy towards believer's baptism.  We as Christians and the church need to get the gospel right and Baptism right.  The method shows us the importance of baptism, since saving faith necessarily comes before baptism, and that those who are converted to faith in Christ must and should desire to follow obediently in believer's baptism. 

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