Wednesday, July 16, 2014

P1 of 2 God's Big Arrow of Believer's Baptism

Colossians 2:11-12 "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

Today's post aims to zero in on what exactly believer's baptism means. As we saw yesterday, dozens upon dozens of scriptures in the New Testament present and explain this important ordinance. If we were to classify the scriptures that present New Testament believer's baptism, we would note three basic types: First there are those that present the ceremony or act of Baptism itself, followed by those that feature it being commanded by Christ to His church, with a final set of scriptures giving the clear meaning. Today's focal text: Colossians 2:8-23, falls into the category of giving to us one of the clearest meanings of baptism in the New Testament. 

Point of Application:
We will designate baptism as discussed here in Colossians 2:8-23 as God's Big Arrow of Believer's Baptism, being that it points us to an event, an experience and a calling. 

As Paul is concerned about communicating to his reader's the sufficiency of Jesus as being enough, he also has to deal with a heresy that attempts to promote the opposite. The heresy in question, without expending to much space, was a mixture of paganism and ritualism. On the pagan side of things the heresy said that salvation was equal to attaining some type of mystical knowledge and understanding of pagan rites and angelic beings. The heresy also advocated a ritual that involved strict dietary regulations that aimed to curry favor with the Divine powers above. Such a teaching had no cross and ultimately no Jesus. This appears to be the group to whom Paul is referring to in Colossians 2:8.

To combat such destructive teaching, Paul uses a big arrow to remind these Colossians of who they are in Christ. That arrow is believer's baptism.  As we noted already, God's big arrow of believer's baptism points to an event, an experience and a calling. Lets see what the scripture has to teach us about believer's baptism and why it is right to call it God's big arrow for the Christian life. First of all.....

Baptism points to an event - The cross
Paul makes this statement in Colossians 2:9 "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Now what is Paul talking about in this text? A quick survey of Colossians brings us back to an earlier statement he wrote in Colossians 1:19-20 "For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven." Thus there is no doubt that Paul is setting the tone of Colossians 2:8-23 around what Jesus Christ achieved in the event of the cross and resurrection.  Nothing but the cross can defeat the self-righteous claims of dead man-made religion. To further reinforce this saving event, the cross, Paul makes this statement in Colossians 2:13-14 "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." Now when you consider the fact that these remarks about Jesus' achievement of salvation on the cross are said before and after his mention of baptism in Colossians 2:11-12, you realize that baptism points to, pictures, portrays and communicates the event of the cross. 

Certainly we can say that Baptism is one of the ordained practices given by Jesus to portray the Gospel in picture form. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 for example - "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." This language of death, burial and resurrection is used to describe the meaning of baptism in passages such as Romans 6:3-4  "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?4 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." 

Baptism in and of itself does not save, only Jesus saves. Baptism is but a sign signifying and pointing to the greater reality of the event of the cross. Just as a stop sign points to the need to stop, baptism is a sign that points to the need of the Savior, Jesus Christ. It points to the event - the cross. But notice secondly...

Baptism points to an experience - saving faith
Notice what we read in Colossians 2:10  "and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." Now what lies in between the mentions of the event of the cross concerns the experience of saving faith. The little phrase that tells us that Paul is speaking of personal salvation is the phrase "in Him" or the similar phrase "with Him". The event of the cross is objective - that is to say, it occurred in time and in history, outside and apart from my involvement. Christ did it - case closed. However to just know about the event of salvation as a fact of history will save no one.  There must be faith. In over 160 places the New Testament uses this little phrase "in Him" to describe how the Christian is associated with and experiences whatever Jesus experienced. Jesus died, so the Christian can say: "so did I die" (Galatians 2:20). Jesus was buried, yep, me too! (Romans 6:3-4) Jesus raised from the dead and guess what, in Him I walked out of the grave and He walked out with me (Ephesians 2:5-9). 

Whenever you scan through Colossians 2:10-13, you find this phrase "in Him" mentioned on several occasions. To be "in Christ" means I have identified with Him, and He with me. What Baptism does is point to an experience that was begun in my life by the Person of the Holy Spirit bringing the Person of Christ and the miracle of saving faith to me in the Gospel. Paul uses two illustrative word pictures - Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism. In circumcision, we see the removal of the foreskin of the old way of life removed from the human heart, which describes what God does in the moment of saving faith. The Old way of life, the old nature is done away with and in its place is a new heart. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The second word picture is of course Baptism, which describes and portrays the believer's prior identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Other New Testament passages use this imagery of death, burial and resurrection to describe our salvation - with baptism being used as the chief word picture. (Romans 6:3-11).

Baptism points to a prior experience, begun in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Notice Colossians 2:12 "through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." Contrary to what some groups may think, Paul is not advocating infant baptism nor is he advocating baptismal regeneration (or salvation by baptism). To try to make baptism either the cause of salvation or to somehow draw a connection between infants being circumcised as carrying over to infants being baptized is to undo the whole intent of Paul's statements.

Lets me be as clear as possible. Scripture uniformly teaches that faith is first, then baptism. (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:36-38; 9:18; 16:15; 16:31-33; 18:8; 19:4-5; 1 Cor 1:14-16; 1 Peter 3:21). To use the stop sign illustration once again, what causes a car to stop? Is it the stop sign or is it the person inside the car? All the sign does is point to the necessary experience of needing to stop, otherwise I will be pulled over and declared a law breaker. Baptism is a sign of something far greater and it signifies what is necessary prior to entering into it - saving faith. Faith is an inside work, wrought by the Spirit through the scriptures. He convinces me to receive the Savior He has brought to me in regeneration. Unless I respond in saving faith, I will not be a fit candidate for the baptismal tank.  Unless there has been the supernatural experience of saving faith in a person's life, baptism will do no better than a stop sign will do for anyone ignoring its message. Whenever you read of anyone getting baptized in scripture, they are a believer. Baptism is God's big arrow that points to an event - the cross and to a needed experience - saving faith. 

More tomorrow....

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