Well, we are almost at the end of our study on the doctrine of baptism. In terms of the sacrament of baptism all has been said, which leaves us with two topics to talk about still. And I must say that both are very controversial, and there is a sense of reluctance to address them, yet I will for I believe the Spirit will bear witness. Jesus said “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14).
It may very well be that reading all my previous entries on this topic caused you to raise some eyebrows here and there (I hope not), for there are alternative views on some of the aspects of baptism discussed, over which there is much debate. What I will do is address four of these aspects, and for lack of a better word I have named them common distortions, because that is exactly what they are. They are distorted views or wrong interpretations on the Biblical texts, but like I said, let the Spirit of truth guide you into all the truth about baptism.
Common Distortion #1 – Baptism Only Symbolizes Spiritual Cleansing
The first common distortion addresses the aspect that baptism only symbolizes is the washing away of sins, not death and resurrection with Christ. Although it is certainly true that water is an evident symbol of washing and cleansing, and the waters of baptism do symbolize washing and purification as well as death and resurrection with Christ. Titus 3:5 speaks of “the washing of regeneration”, and Ananias told Saul in Acts 22:16 to “rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” But to say that the washing away of sins is the primary or only symbolism of baptism is not faithfully representing New Testament teaching. It is Paul who says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 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. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:3-6). Now what Paul talks about here is the internal acts of baptism when accepting Jesus, yet this is symbolized in the external act of baptism. When a person is baptized into Jesus Christ, he is baptized into His death. He is buried with Christ, and then raised with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection. I love this last statement. We are raised in the likeness of His resurrection, “rescued from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). Yes, our body of sin is done away with, we are cleansed from sin, but to be buried with Christ and be united with Him in the likeness of His death, and then to be raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection. That’s what it’s all about!
Common Distortion #2 – Infant Baptism
The second common distortion is that infants should be baptized. The only way to enter into the kingdom of God is by faith and repentance. When baptism is described in the New Testament, how it is applied in the New Testament, it is clear that we are talking about a baptism of faith and repentance. In other words, faith and repentance come first, and baptism follows after that. Infants are not capable of either faith or repentance. Secondly, the notion that a person should inherit the blessing of a Christian or be considered a Christian by virtue of his parent’s faith is contrary to New Testament teaching. The common defense given for infant baptism is that just as in Israel circumcision was given to eighth-days-old infants, so in the church baptism should be given to infants of Christian parents. Now there is a correspondence between circumcision as a sign of the old covenant with Israel and baptism as a sign of the new covenant with Jesus Christ, but it is not one-on-one. Just as circumcision was administered to all the physical sons of Abraham, so baptism should be administered to all the spiritual sons of Abraham. Who are these spiritual sons of Abraham? Galatians 3:7 says “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” So, it is those who are of faith who are the spiritual sons of Abraham. This means you have to be capable of faith. Infants are not capable of faith; hence infants should not be baptized.
Common Distortion #3 – Salvation Baptism
Salvation baptism means that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that the act of baptism itself causes regeneration. This usually ties in with infant baptism, as parents often baptize their infant children as they want them to be saved, become part of the family of God. The basis for this belief of salvation baptism comes from the following three verses. In John 3 Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about the new birth. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Confused by Jesus’ statement Nicodemus asks “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4). And then Jesus answers him, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Now ‘born of water’ does not refer to baptism, but to the promise of the covenant in Ezekiel 36:25-27, where Ezekiel prophesizes “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” It speaks of a spiritual washing that will come in the days of the new covenant when God will put His Spirit within His people. Another verse used is “Corresponding to that [meaning Noah being safely brought through water], 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” (1 Peter 3:21). The focus is put on the ‘baptism now saves you’ part, yet it should be read in the whole context of what Peter is trying to say. To paraphrase Peter here, what he says is that baptism now saves you, not the outward physical ceremony of baptism, but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents. And a third verse is “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Yet this verse says nothing about those who believe and are not baptized.
Three verses can be used to contradict this distortion. Firstly, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This verse is clear that salvation is solely based on the grace of God. There is nothing that we can do, including baptism, that will bring us salvation. We are saved through faith, and even that is a gift of God! Secondly, and I am almost embarrassed to mention it, Jesus says in John 3:16, “that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.” Whoever believes! There is no other prerequisite to eternal life than faith alone. Thirdly, my personal favorite, when Jesus is being crucified He is accompanied by two criminals, and one of them said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42), and Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Now the thief could not have been baptized before he died on the cross, but he was certainly saved that day! Also, the thief could not have been saved under the old covenant, because Jesus died before the two thieves. We read in John 19:31-33, “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.” And so the new covenant was already in effect.
Common Distortion #4 – Baptism is to be performed by ordained people only
A last common distortion I want to address is that baptism is to be performed by ordained people only. When we read the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) – to whom is Jesus speaking? The eleven apostles, his disciples. Who are performing baptisms in the New Testament? His disciples. Who are we? His disciples. Let me provide some Scriptural background for this as well. Isaiah 61 talks about the empowerment of Jesus’ ministry, His ministry itself, what God’s people will do, and the everlasting covenant. We read in verse 6, “But you will be called the priests of the LORD; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6). God’s people will be set apart to serve the Lord. God’s people, under the anointing of the Spirit and the ministry of the Messiah, have a holy occupation. They are Priests of the Lord, and Servants of our God. Peter also talks about that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Here again it is confirmed that we, the believers, are His ordained priests. Any believer is therefore ordained by Jesus to perform baptisms.