By PKD Lee
There are so many controversies on the rite of baptism, that it divides not only churches but believers. The basic divide has been between those who accept child baptism and those who do not. Child baptism arose from a belief that baptism is essential for salvation, and so children were baptized, in case they died before adulthood.
But since we need to make a personal decision for Christ, they divided the rite into two, where the church baptized the child on the commitment of the parents, and the child made his or her personal commitment at confirmation. To me that is acceptable and I have no problem with it.
The Baptists do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation and so chose to baptize as adults. My question is, if baptism is not necessary for salvation then why argue against confirmation replacing baptism for the individual who was baptized as a child.
There is a third group who believe in adult baptism and also baptism as essential for salvation. They then struggle with the issue of children dying before baptism and come up with a theology that to me makes little sense. So let us not go there.
There are some who see baptism as an expression of our repentance from sin. But that was the baptism for John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11) which is not the baptism we take as per Acts 19:4-5. John 3:5-8 reads as follows:-
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:5-6 if understood in a Hebrew frame if reference says that water baptism is of the flesh and what is required is baptism of the Holy Spirit, and this is an important concept to hold on to. John 3:8 says that we cannot force the Spirit to come on a person by any rite we do, and the Spirit will go to the person who has genuine faith (Gal 3:1-3). True to this, in Acts of the Apostles we find the Spirit coming on people before baptism, during baptism and after baptism. What is important is that the person needs to rest his faith on the presence of the Spirit in His life rather than having taken baptism!
So, what is baptism? According to the Baptists, it is not a sacrament, or a rite in which you get any spiritual benefit, but it is a public profession of your faith, made before the church. This seems to have little biblical support, or at least I could not find any.
In Acts 22:16
And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
Paul says that Ananias told him to wash his sins away in baptism. This essentially means that through baptism we obtain the benefits of Jesus’ work in the past present and future. This is also said in Col 2:12-14
buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses having wiped out the [a]handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
where Paul says we are buried with Christ in baptism as a result of which the requirements of the Law on us is removed and so we are freed from our sins.
In Titus 3:5
not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
Paul seems to refer to baptism as the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Here not only are we set free from our sins but also empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the life God wants us to lead. The same thought is brought out by Peter in 1 Peter 3:21,
There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, where Peter gives more importance to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. So Peter says, not the washing of sins but the renewing of the power of God (which raised Jesus from the dead).
From these passages, we see that there is a sacramental element to baptism, where the sacrifice of Jesus is applied to us and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is argued that we take baptism because we are saved and so what does this sacramental element really do for us? Let us look at this question at the end. Before that let us look at what is the statement being made by the person taking baptism?
Every work we do is meant to be an expression of our faith. In Romans 14:23 Paul says that work which is not from faith is a sin!! In Acts 16:31-33 the jailer’s baptism was an expression of his faith.
According to Paul in Romans 6:1-6,
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be [a]done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
what we express is our dying to the world with Jesus in baptism and being born again in the kingdom of God for the life Jesus gives us. So, baptism becomes a commitment to turn away from the world and to live for Jesus. God does not have to wait for you to make this commitment, as He knows your heart and we see in Acts 10:47-48, that sometimes God blesses us with His blessing even before we formally make the commitment. That does not absolve us from the need to make that commitment to God.
In Romans 8:9-14
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [a]through His Spirit who dwells in you.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Paul says that only those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God. It is only when we have handed over the control of our life to the Spirit does salvation begin to work out in our lives. Baptism is the rite by which we hand over the controls of our life formally to the Spirit of God. You may have done this earlier, but now you formally make the commitment.
It is because of this commitment, which is made after you are saved, that the Spirit of God begins to manifest in your life in a powerful manner. As John 3 says, you cannot strait-jacket God, but it is important for me to do my part of making this commitment. In case I have taken baptism and not made this commitment, do I need to take baptism again? Not really. I need to get on my knees and make the commitment to surrender control of my life to the Holy Spirit.
Have you made that commitment?