Sunday, June 14, 2015

Believer's baptism - An explanation of the relationship between saving faith and baptism

Matthew 28:19-20 19“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Defining believer's baptism
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines biblical believer's baptism as follows: "Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper." The remainder of today's post is aimed at offering in clear of language as possible an exposition on the relationship between saving faith and baptism in light of the above definition. 

Two ditches I have witnessed in discussions about water Baptism
I have witnessed two ditches that can be fell into when it comes to this particular issue.  The first states that all the Bible is concerned about is conversion, and that Baptism is a distant secondary concern.  Some will cite the thief on the cross who trusted in Christ without getting baptized as proof of baptism being optional for the disciple. The problem with this ditch is that it trivializes baptism and says far too little.

The second ditch is where we see baptism being viewed as necessary for one's conversion.  Sometimes appeal to passages such as Acts 2:38, where Peter states "repent and be baptized", are cited as proof that baptism must be connected to saving faith in order for genuine salvation to occur. The error committed here is that far too much is said.

The first ditch takes water Baptism too lightly - making it an option, a "nice thing to do for Jesus, but not required".  The thief on the cross did not need Baptism to gain entry into paradise - that much we know - for Jesus told Him "Today you will be with me in paradise".  If that thief would had been under different circumstances, following His trust in Christ he would had sought to follow the Lord in obedience into believer's baptism - since obedience is the chief way we express our love to the Lord. (John 14:15,21-23).  

The second ditch misplaces baptism, making it a "means of salvation" or going as far as to say that the baptismal act itself confers the miracle of salvation.  In attempting to take seriously the command to be baptized, the second view goes too far.

Why Baptism is not optional, but essential for obedience
In the passage above, Jesus did not call us to merely make "converts", but disciples, meaning that those who by grace through faith believe on Him as a result of hearing the Gospel will want to be like their Lord.  Now verse 20 has Jesus telling His disciples to teach "all that I command you".  The question is: what has He commanded?  Answer: begin by reading verse 19.  As you look at verse 19, you find among the things commanded by Christ the command to be baptized.

When one became a disciple, they did so by heeding the call of Christ issued to them by faith. By denying themselves and taking up their cross so to speak, they followed Jesus Christ.  (Luke 9:23-24)  But now what public act was necessary for them to declare their faith in Jesus Christ?  Believer's Baptism!  Now a genuine Christian will want to get baptized, just as a baby who has been born will want to walk.  Though both are distinct events, yet it is what the baby was born to do.  This is why the "new birth" language of Jesus in John 3:6 aids our understanding of the relationship of "conversion by faith" with that of "obedience in believer's baptism".

Jesus teaches in John 14:15, as well as John 14:21 and 23, that all those who love Him "will obey His commands".  Thus when I counsel a new Christian to get Baptized, it is an area where they don't have to go home and pray to God about His will for them, since He has plainly made know His will on that matter. 

Why baptism is so important for the New Christian
1. It encourages the New Christian in their faith
Baptism sets the tone for the Christian.  It helps that new believer, and those around them, to witness with physical eyes a reinactment of the change the Spirit of God performed on the day of saving faith prior to that Baptism. 

2. It reminds the believer of the sweetness of their prior faith commitment
Furthermore, in Baptism the Lord affirms to that Christian their identity.  By grace through faith they have put on Jesus Christ, exchanging their former lost condition for Him.  The picture of baptism is used by God to communicate to that person the work He did already when they had trusted in Him. 

3. It pictures the Christian wanting to operate under an open heaven of the Spirit's leading
Additionally, just as the heavens opened when Jesus was Baptized in the Jordon River in the openings of all four gospels, conveying to Him further illumination and insight by the Holy Spirit, the Christian's obedience in believer's baptism communicates their desire to operate under an open heaven.  When I as a Christian allign myself with God's Word, I'm indicating the desire to be led by the Holy Spirit and to walk in the light as He is in the light. (1 John 1:6-8; Ephesians 4:1)

Baptism is not entered into in order to become a Christian, rather because one has become a Christian they desire to be baptized.  The human heart is changed by the Spirit in the presence of the explanation of God's word as that person receives Christ by faith.  All Baptism does is reenact that blessed reality and bring to light to physical eyes what invisible work the Spirit of God did the day He called, convicted and convinced that person to believe on Jesus Christ. 

Though Baptism is not essential for conversion, it is essential for obedience.  Though baptism does not convert people into the Kingdom, yet those who have been converted by faith will want to get baptized. It is hoped that clarification on the relationship between saving faith and baptism has been achieved in this post. To God be the glory!

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