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Bible Basics (5th. ed.)


Study 1: God || Study 2: The Spirit Of God || Study 3: The Promises Of God || Study 4: God And Death || Study 5: The Kingdom Of God || Study 6: God And Evil || Study 7: The Origin Of Jesus || Study 8: The Nature Of Jesus || Study 9: The Work Of Jesus || Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus || Study 11: Life In Christ   10.1 The Vital Importance Of Baptism || 10.2 How Should We Be Baptized? || 10.3 The Meaning Of Baptism || 10.4 Baptism And Salvation || Digression 19: Re-baptism || Digression 20 The Thief On The Cross || Doctrine In Practice 19: The Certainty Of Salvation


10.1 The Vital Importance of Baptism

Several times in earlier studies we have mentioned the vital importance of baptism; it is the first step of obedience to the Gospel message. Heb. 6:2 speaks of baptism as one of the most basic doctrines. We have left its consideration until this late stage because true baptism can only occur after a correct grasp of the basic truths which comprise the Gospel. We have now completed our study of these. If you wish to become truly associated with the great hope which the Bible offers through Jesus Christ, then baptism is an absolute necessity.

“Salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22) in the sense that the promises concerning salvation were made only to Abraham and his seed. We can only have those promises made to us if we become in the seed, by being baptised into Christ (Gal. 3:22-29). Then, all that is true of the Lord Jesus becomes true of us. Thus Zecharias quoted prophecies about the seed of Abraham and David as applying to all believers (Lk. 1:69,73,74). Without baptism, we are outside covenant relationship with God. This is why Peter urged: “repent and be baptised” in order to receive forgiveness. Only as many as have been baptised into Christ are in Him and therefore have the promises of salvation made to Abraham made to them (Gal. 3:27). If we share in Christ’s death and resurrection through baptism, then - and only then - “we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…we shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:5,8).

Jesus therefore clearly commanded his followers: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel (which is contained in the promises to Abraham - Gal. 3:8) to every creature. He who believes and is baptised will be saved” (Mk. 16:15,16). Reflection upon this word “and” reveals that belief of the Gospel alone cannot save us; baptism is not just an optional extra in the Christian life, it is a vital prerequisite for salvation. This is not to say that the act of baptism alone will save us; it must be followed by a lifetime of continued opennes to God’s working in us. Jesus emphasised this: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). When the barrier of unforgiven sin is removed by grace, when we are ‘covered’ with Christ’s righteousness, then we enjoy a personal covenant relationship with God.

This is an on-going process: “Being born again...through the word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). Thus it is through our continued response to the spirit word that we become born of the spirit (see Study 2.2).

We are “baptised into Christ” (Gal. 3:27), into his name and that of the Father (Acts 19:5; 8:16; Mt. 28:19). We can’t be “in Christ” without being baptized. Unless we are “washed”, we have “no part” in Christ (Jn. 13:8). But note that we are baptised into Christ - not into a church or any human organisation. By baptism into him we become a people called by Christ’s name, just as Israel were likewise described as having God’s name (2 Chron. 7:14). Frequently God warns that the fact Israel carried His name gave them a grave responsibility to act appropriately, as His witnesses to the world. The same is true for us who are baptised into Christ’s name. Without baptism we are not “in Christ”, and therefore not covered by his saving work (Acts 4:12). Peter weaves a powerful parable around this fact: he likens the ark in the time of Noah to Christ, showing that as the ark saved Noah and his family from the judgment that came upon sinners, so baptism into Christ will save believers from eternal death (1 Pet. 3:20,21). Noah entering into the ark is likened to our entering into Christ through baptism. All those outside the ark were destroyed by the flood; standing near the ark or being a friend of Noah was quite irrelevant. The only way of salvation is, and was, to be inside the Christ/ark. It is evident that the second coming, which the flood typified (Lk. 17:26,27), is nearly upon us. Entry into the Christ/ark by baptism is therefore of the utmost urgency. Human words really do fail to convey this sense of urgency; the Biblical type of entry into the ark in Noah’s time is more powerful. Noah's ark was an appropriate symbol for salvation through baptism in that the Hebrew word teba ("ark") only occurs elsewhere in reference to the "ark" or "chest" in which the baby Moses, condemned to death, came through water to a saved life. And "a similar root in Egyptian means chest or coffin" (1)- connecting with the idea that baptism is a burial with Christ in water, as it were entering a coffin with Him, to emerge into new life. Indeed the dimensions of Noah's ark are in proportion similar to those of a coffin.

The early Christians obeyed Christ’s command to travel preaching the Gospel and baptising; the book of Acts is the record of this. A proof of the vital importance of baptism is to be found in the way that this record emphasises how immediately people were baptised after understanding and accepting the Gospel (e.g. Acts 8:12,36-39; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15). This emphasis is understandable once it is appreciated that without baptism our learning of the Gospel is in vain; baptism is a vitally necessary stage to pass through on the road to salvation. In some cases the inspired record seems to highlight how, despite many human reasons to delay baptism, and many difficulties in performing the act, it is so important that people made every effort to overcome all these, with God’s help.

The prison keeper at Philippi was suddenly plunged into the crisis of his life by a massive earthquake which completely broke up his high security prison. The prisoners had ample opportunity to escape - something which would have cost him his life. His faith in the Gospel then became real, so much so that “the same hour of the night he was baptised...immediately” (Acts 16:33). If anyone had an excuse to delay baptism it was him. The threat of execution for neglect of duty hung over his head, yet he saw clearly what was the most important act to be performed in his entire life and eternal destiny. Thus he overcame the immediate problems of his surrounding world (i.e. the earthquake), the pressures of his daily employment and the intense nervous trauma he found himself in - to be baptised. Many a hesitant candidate for baptism can take true inspiration from that man. That he could make such an act of faith is proof enough that he already had a detailed knowledge of the Gospel, seeing that such real faith only comes from hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17 cf. Acts 17:11).

In Acts 16:14,15 we read how Lydia heeded “the things spoken by Paul. And when she ... (was) baptised…”. It is assumed that anyone who hears and believes the Gospel will be baptised - the baptism is seen as an inevitable part of response to the preaching of the Gospel. Good works are not enough - we must be baptised as well. Cornelius was “a devout manand one who feared God…who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always”, but this wasn’t enough; he had to be shown what he must do which he hadn’t done - to believe the Gospel of Christ and be baptised (Acts 10:2,6).

Acts 8:26-40 records how an Ethiopian official was studying his Bible whilst riding in a chariot through the desert. He met Philip, who extensively explained the Gospel to him, including the requirement for baptism. Humanly speaking, it must have seemed impossible to obey the command to be baptised in that waterless desert. Yet God would not give a command which He knows some people cannot obey. “As they went down the road, they came to some water”, i.e. an oasis, where baptism was possible (Acts 8:36). This incident answers the baseless suggestion that baptism by immersion was only intended to be performed in areas where there was ample, easily accessible water. God will always provide a realistic way in which to obey His commandments.

The apostle Paul received a dramatic vision from Christ which so pricked his conscience that as soon as possible he “arose and was baptised” (Acts 9:18). Again, it must have been tempting for him to delay his baptism, thinking of his prominent social position and high-flying career mapped out for him in Judaism. But this rising star of the Jewish world made the correct and immediate decision to be baptised and openly renounce his former way of life. He later reflected concerning his choice to be baptised: “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ...I have suffered the loss of all things (i.e. the things he once saw as “gain” to him), and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ...forgetting those things which are behind (the “things” of his former Jewish life), and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize ...” (Phil. 3:7,8,13,14).

This is the language of an athlete straining forward to break the finishing tape. Such concentration of mental and physical endeavour should characterise our lives after baptism. It must be understood that baptism is the beginning of a race towards the Kingdom of God; it is not just a token of having changed churches and beliefs, nor is it a passive entrance into a relaxed life of easy-going adherence to a few vaguely stated Christian principles. Baptism associates us in an on-going sense with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-5) - occasions full of ultimate dynamism in every way.

As a tired, yet spiritually triumphant old man, Paul could reminisce: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). As was true for Paul, so it is for all who have been properly baptised: baptism is a decision which one will never regret. Repentance is something never repented of, Paul pithily points out (2 Cor. 7:10). All our lives we will be aware that we made the correct choice. Of few human decisions can we ever be so certain. The question has to be seriously answered: ‘Why should I not be baptised?’


(1) Derek Kidner, Genesis (London: Tyndale Press, 1967) p. 88.

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