In the life of our church, there is no greater highlight (in my mind) than when we celebrate baptisms. The baptism of a believer is the rite of inauguration into the church of Jesus Christ. When we celebrate baptism, we celebrate that one more soul has been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ, in whom there is true redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1.13-14).
Over the years our Lord has continued to save people at Grace Fellowship Church, and we absolutely glory in that! As I prepare to meet in the near future with some of these individuals who are preparing to be baptised, I have had opportunity to study the doctrine of baptism from Scripture all over again.
What did I find this time? I found that it's even more glorious than I remember. Here are three things that impressed me this morning as I studied baptism.
- The ultimate importance of baptism.
- The intimate connection of baptism with salvation.
- The profound symbolism of baptism.
In the book of Acts, I was amazed to see where baptism is placed, and how careful Luke is to include it wherever the gospel is preached. What I found really amazing this morning is the connection of baptism with the growth of the church.
Most people are familiar with the fact that the book of Acts is recorded as the fulfilment of Acts 1.8, where Jesus says that 'you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' Acts, then, proceeds to show how the church does in fact spread through all those places.
What I noticed this morning, however, is that wherever the church spreads in accord with this promise, baptism figures prominently. In Acts 2.37-42, Peter preaches to the Jews in Jerusalem and when they ask how to be saved, he says, 'Repent and be baptized!' In Acts 8, when Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria, and many there believe, Luke records that 'when they believed ... they were baptized, both men and women.' Then, finally, in Acts 10 when Peter brings the gospel to the Gentiles (representative for the rest of the non-Jewish world, i.e. 'to the ends of the earth'), he sees that they do believe, and once they are converted he declares, 'Who can withhold water for baptism?' From Jerusalem to Samaria, to the ends of the earth, where the church goes forth, so does baptism of believers. That is seriously important!
Baptism in the New Testament is intimately connected with salvation / regeneration / conversion / belief / the work of the Holy Spirit. This is seen first in the proclamation of Peter in the first New Covenant gospel presentation, where he openly declares that to be saved, the Jews must 'Repent and be baptized.' This does not mean that baptism is a work that must be done to be saved, but rather it shows that in Peter's mind the 'repentance and belief' (the phrase that is used through the rest of the book) is so inextricably tied up with baptism, that he conceives of the two as being inseparable.
We see this not just with Peter's preaching on Pentecost, but also in 1 Peter 3.18-22. Here Peter speaks of 'baptism ... which saves you.' In the context we see that Peter is speaking of the whole process of being delivered from judgement through identification with Christ by faith--but in his mind, baptism, the symbol of this salvation, is so intimately connected with the salvation process that he can speak of this baptism as the deliverance from the 'waters of judgement' (i.e. God's wrath).
To speak of turning to Christ in faith for salvation from the judgement of God is to speak of the salvation process which involves baptism of believers--the two are intimately connected.
In the 1 Peter passage above, there is a profound symbolism associated with baptism (Noah and the ark passing through the waters of God's judgement). Elsewhere in the NT there is other profound symbolism associated with baptism as well. For example, in Romans 6 Paul teaches that our physical descent into the water, submersion under the water, and then rising up from being underneath the water symbolizes Christ's death and resurrection. As we descend under the water, and ascend from out of the water our unification with Christ in his death and resurrection is symbolized. Just like he died to sin and was made alive to God, so are all who have faith in him.
Colossians 2 uses similar imagery. Verse 12 says that we have 'been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.' In other words, in baptism, we are giving public testimony to the reality that we have died and been born again by the powerful working of God. The same power has worked in us as was worked on Christ, when he was raised from the dead, and this we bear witness to when we are baptised. Just as he has been raised, so also we will be raised.
Now that is some profound symbolism.
I can't help but think that in too many churches, the importance of baptism is underrated. If it was this important for the early church and meant this much to the inspired apostles, we should make it our aim to value it no less than they did!
For further study on the doctrine of baptism, feel free to download and use our 'Preparation for Baptism Worksheet.'