A Closer Look at Baptism

A Closer Look at Baptism

A Closer Look at Baptism
Text: Colossians 2:8–15

Sermon Outline:
I. What is the Meaning of Baptism?
II. Who Should be Baptized?
III. What is the Benefit of Baptism?

Baptism is: a church’s act of affirming and portraying a believer’s union with Christ by immersing him or her in water, and a believer’s act of publicly committing him or herself to Christ and his people, thereby uniting a believer to the church and marking off him or her from the world.

Good morning church. Given that we examined the ordinance of the Lord’s Table two weeks ago, I thought it would be beneficial to take a closer look at the ordinance of Baptism this week. Yet, as we consider the ordinance of baptism this morning, we need to recognize that we are entering into an area of significant disagreement between gospel-loving Protestant Christians. maybe even in this room…

  • What does baptism do?
  • Who is baptism for?
    • Is it for the children of Christian families? If it is. What is the true purpose of their baptism and how does it relate to the gospel’s demand of repentance and faith?
    • Is it reserved for those who have truly come to faith in Jesus Christ? If so, should we baptize new believers right away? Should they be discipled first? And what about young children who profess faith in Christ? Should we quickly baptize 6-year-old children who tell us they love Jesus and want to spend eternity with him in heaven? OR should we wait?
  • Where should baptisms take place and who should oversee a person’s baptism? Should we reserve baptism for the gathered church OR is it ok to baptize people at summer camp, a weekend long Christian concert, or the family swimming pool?
  • And given that entire denominations disagree over the answer to these questions, does it really matter if a Christian get’s baptized or not?

Friends, these are just a few of the reasons that the Church at large struggles with the ordinance of Baptism. And it’s probably why at least a few of you have never been baptized and try to avoid the question of baptism all together, even though it is one of the two ordinances that Jesus commanded his disciples of every age to observe as their first step of obedience.

Matthew 28:18–20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Christian this is the Word of the Lord, and he calls us to obey it until the very end of the age. So, as we press into the ordinance of baptism, I think it would be most helpful if we unpack it through a series of three simple questions:

  1. What is the Meaning of Baptism?
  2. Who Should be Baptized?
  3. What is the Benefit of Baptism?

What is the Meaning of Baptism?

The Word Itself

Well, if we look up the original word in our handy dandy Greek dictionary, we discover that the root word baptizō means “to plunge, to dip, or to immerse” something in water. In fact, this is the most recognized and basic meaning of the term in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside of the Bible.[1]

But unfortunately, this definition still leaves us with questions. “What does this plunging or immersing mean in regards to the ordinance of baptism?” “And why does Jesus command every true disciple in the history of the church to be dipped in the water?”

Well, as we take a closer look at God’s Word today, we are going to see that the ordinance of baptism functions, in many ways, like a theological drama that reenacts our multifaceted experience of being saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

What I mean by this is that baptism depicts three instant and simultaneous experiences that occur in every persons’ conversion: regeneration, purification, and their union with the body of Christ.[2] (or A new life, a new status, and a new family)

Three Key Images

Regeneration (A New Life)

So, what do I mean by regeneration? Well, to put it in the most basic terms, “Regeneration is the secret and sovereign act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us.”[3] One moment you and I are dead in our sins, separated from God, and facing his judgment. And the next moment God slays our sinful nature and raises us to new life in Christ by the power of the Spirit and we freely embraced the gospel in repentance and faith with all our heart.

Colossians 2:11–13 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having 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. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.

Did you catch the baptism imagery in this passage AND how baptism and faith go hand in hand? Addressing a congregation of baptized believers, Paul points back to their baptism and reminds them (Cf. Romans 6:1–11):

Apart from Christ where were you? You were spiritually dead. No life, no hope, no way to live for God or escape his judgment on the final day (Cf., Ephesians 2:1–3). Why were you dead? You were spiritually dead because of your indwelling sin-nature (your “flesh” v. 11) that constantly compelled you to live for your own desires. This is who you were apart from Christ. And baptism reminds remind us of this because it begins with a picture of a spiritually dead person being buried in death with Jesus Christ as they are plunged beneath the water. And what’s the picture of the Christian being raised out of the water? It’s a picture of new life in Jesus Christ. Just as God resurrected Jesus from physical death to life, so also he has put our “flesh” to death (our slavery to sin and sin nature) and resurrected us to a brand new life in which God empowers us to live for him!

And as a result of this supernatural work, every believer is able to experience and enjoy the very thing that the Old Covenant ordinance of circumcision ultimately pointed to… Yes, I know it’s weird in our day and age to talk about circumcision in public but it’s a fundamental part of the Abrahamic Covenant and membership in the nation of Israel, in that, every male was to be circumcised or forever cut off from the people of Israel. But, why? Well, it’s because circumcision was an external physical sign that pointed to deeper spiritual need.

Deuteronomy 10:12–16 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn.

Notice, God loves Israel and wants nothing but their good. And to ensure this, he calls them to love him and keep his commandments. Seems like a no brainer, right? But God knows this will never happen unless his people experience a fundamental change on the inside… a change that they cannot accomplish for themselves. This is the heart of Israel’s problem. And it is why God promised a future day in which he would perform the supernatural heart surgery that his stubborn people were both unwilling and unable to do themselves.

Deuteronomy 30:2 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Yet, as we read from Deuteronomy to the end of the OT in Malachi what do we see? Israel ignores God’s promises and spurns his warnings and stubbornly persists in its sin and rebellion. But at the very same time we also see that God has not forgotten or abandoned his promise, in that, he continues to point to a future day and a New Covenant in which he will perform the heart surgery that they so desperately need.

Ezekiel 36:26–27 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Church, this is what Paul means when he tells the believers in Colossae that they have been “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” And it is the very same thing that Jesus was trying to tell Nicodemus in John 3:3:

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

See, being born-again is not simply ascribing to a new set of beliefs BUT receiving a new heart and a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit trough whom we are forever freed from the slavery and power of sin so that we can live for the glory of God.

In this first image we can see that, at its core, the ordinance of baptism is a visible, tangible, public, and dramatic expression of a person’s regeneration OR new life in Christ. When the candidate for baptism goes down into the water, it is a picture of their old life going down into the grave and being buried. And when they are raised up out of the water it is a picture of them being raised with Christ to walk in a brand-new, Spirit-empowered life.[4]

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Forgiveness and Purification from Sin: (A New Status)

But while our new birth in Christ may be the primary image of baptism, it is not the only image, is it? Baptism is also a picture of the wholesale forgiveness and purification that every true believer receives in Jesus Christ. (Let me highlight two passages:)

Titus 3:3–6 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness (including baptism), but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Colossians 2:13–15 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Notice in both of these passages, Paul cannot even mention about our regeneration (our new life) without reminding us of our justification (our brand-new legal status before God)!

In Titus, God saved us by washing us clean AND making us a new creation. In Colossians, God forgave all of our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands by nailing it to the cross.

This link is incredibly important, because in our human experience we know that pure things always get dirty again AND forgiven people eventually fail and need to be forgiven again. Right? But that is not how the forgiveness and purification of justification works!

On the one hand, God’s impeccable justice against our sin had to be satisfied for us to be forgiven. And he did this by crediting our sin to the account of Jesus Christ, the perfectly righteous substitute (nailing it to the cross).

And on the other hand, God had to provide us with a righteousness that was not our own (Romans 3:21–23) because our glorious new birth does not, in fact, cannot compel us to live perfectly righteous lives… we know this all too well by personal experience. Right?

An Illustration: To put justification in financial terms. Justification reminds us that God does not just cancel our current debts in the debit column of our credit card, so that we go from negative-ten (or ten-thousand) back to a zero balance. No. As good as this is, it’s not justification. Justification in Jesus is not merely a deposit of ten or ten-thousand dollars to our account, it is a deposit of infinite dollars to our account.

Don’t miss this, Justification does not merely eliminate your unpaid balance and reset your credit card to zero. No! Justification in Jesus means that your account has been forever credited with an infinite amount of someone else’s money (righteousness) that can never be depleted. Or to put it another way, justification transforms your credit card into a checking account that will never run dry!

Christian, this is why you are forever secure in Christ and why God will never abandon you. When he looks at you he does not see your sin and failure and turn away in disgust; he sees the brilliant righteousness of his Son blazing like the fire of a million suns. (That is the kind of forgiveness and purification that you receive when you come to faith in Christ)

United to the Body of Christ  (A New Family)

Now, if we stopped here, we might be tempted to think that baptism is primarily about our personal experience in Christ. But as we turn to 1 Corinthians 12:12–13 we are able to see that baptism also depicts our entrance into the church (the body of Christ).

1 Corinthians 12:12–13 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the sake of time, I’m going to limit myself to just a few points.

First, Paul is telling us that the Holy Spirit does not regenerate and justify believers as individuals in isolation. No, he baptized us into the ONE body of Christ which is comprised of every person who has ever been raised from death to life by the power of the Holy Spirit (whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free). This is important, because it help us understand that there are two indivisible aspects to baptism: we are baptism into union with Christ and we are baptized into his Body, the Church.

Don’t miss this, the ordinance of baptism is intensely personal AND wholly corporate, because it reminds us that every believer is in a simultaneous relationship with Jesus the Head AND with all the various members of his body, the Church.[5]

Second, while most Christians today rightly recognize baptism as a public profession of their faith in and commitment to Christ; we tend to miss the fact that baptism is a public commitment to the body of Christ’s as well. As we’ve already seen, on the day of Pentecost, those who received the word were baptized and they were added to the church (Acts 2:41). All those who received Christ that day were publicly acknowledged as true Christians by the church and received into the fellowship of church through baptism. In addition to this, the following verses in Acts 2 demonstrate in the clearest terms that their new commitment to the local expression of the universal Church altered the very fabric of their lives.

What I want you to see in this third picture, is that in baptism, two parties speak, and two parties commit. In baptism, you ask for welcome, and the church extends it. In baptism, you pledge yourself to the church, and the church pledges itself to you because the Christian life is not meant to be lived in private, nor is it meant to be lived alone.

A Working Definition:

In light of these three images, I think we can rightfully say that: Baptism is a church’s act of affirming and portraying a believer’s union with Christ by immersing him or her in water, and a believer’s act of publicly committing him or herself to Christ and his people, thereby uniting a believer to the church and marking off him or her from the world.[6]

Who Should Be Baptized?

The Answer

Well, if you have been following closely you can probably anticipate my answer to the second question, “who should be baptized?” It is my belief that the consistent and clear record that we have seen in the NT and the very imagery of baptism helps us see that baptism is for those who have already come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. But just in case you would like a little more evidence, let’s take a quick look at the baptism accounts we have already seen in Acts.

The Record of Acts

In Acts 2, when Peter told the crowd at Pentecost to, “repent and be baptized;” we are told those who received the Word (believed the gospel) were baptized.

In Acts 8, when Phillip preached the good news about the kingdom in Samaria we are told: “when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).

In Acts 8:38, Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch after he came to faith in Jesus.

In Acts 9:18, Ananias baptized Saul after he received confirmation from the Lord that Saul was indeed a believer.

In Acts 10:47, Peter baptized the people in Cornelius’ home who heard the gospel and were filled with the Spirit.

Notice, what do we see in this? The pattern in Acts supports what we have already seen, baptism is for those who have already come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

What is the Benefit of Baptism?

A Benefit it Does not Provide

Baptism does not secure our salvation. Jesus promised the thief on the cross that he would see him in paradise, and he was never baptized. And to be honest, this is one of the most common reasons people give for avoiding baptism… “it doesn’t do anything.”

But just because baptism is not required for our salvation does not mean that it is not beneficial for our perseverance and sanctification as Christians. After all, baptism is an ordinance of God not an invention of man.

The Benefits it Provide: A Continuing Means of Grace

The benefit of baptism is very similar to the benefit we receive in the Lord’s Table— it is a means of continuing grace in our lives as we embrace the theological truths embodied in the imagery.

For the person being baptized: There is grace in the moment of baptism, in that, the pastors and elders of the church have listened to their testimony and believe they are truly saved and are responding by publicly affirming their new life in Jesus Christ. In the moment of baptism, the church is saying we really believe you are a true Christian.

This is an incredible boost to the believer’s assurance in the moment and as the years go by. In fact, as the believer grows in their Christian life, they are able to find new strength, new security, and new perseverance as they grow in their understanding of the deep spiritual truths that their baptism portrayed.

And if they fall into serious apathy and sin later in life, the imagery of baptism is there to remind them that they are not slaves to sin, that they have been bought with a price, and that they have the power to conquer sin and live in holiness.

For the church witnessing the baptism, there is grace in the moment of baptism. They get to hear how the person came to saving faith in Christ and are encouraged of God’s continuing work and power in the gospel. And it gives them new hope and energy as they pray for and share the gospel with unsaved loved ones in their life.

They are reminded of their own new birth, justification, union with the body of Christ. And as they appropriate those truths by faith the Holy Spirit grants new assurance, new growth, and new determination to war against indwelling sin and pursue righteousness. New Security, new worship in joy

And they are reminded of their blood-bought unity with one another and their call to love, serve, bear with, and forgive one another as God in Christ forgave them.

For the unbelievers who may be present to witness the baptism, there is a verbal and visual presentation of God’s saving grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons we encourage candidates to invite their family and friends to their baptism… we are convinced that the benefits of baptism exceed our personal experience.

[1] Walter Bauer et al., A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second. (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2020), 1196–98.

[3] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 850.

[4] This imagery, which was nearly universal among the early fathers, also helps us see why immersion was the primary, if not the exclusive, means by which baptism was administered until the conversion of Constantine in 312 AD.

[5] G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 1962), 282.

[6] Bobby Jamieson, Why Should I Be Baptized, Church Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 15.