Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Baptism by Immersion

Throughout the New Testament, readers often come across the subject of baptism. John baptized, Jesus was baptized, the disciples of Jesus baptized and outside of the Gospel accounts the command to be baptized is prominent. Baptism holds a prominent place in the New Testament but is often overlooked by most of the religious world. The purpose and effect of baptism is debated by many, but if we want to know the truth about baptism all we need is the Bible.

The title of this post is a bit redundant. The word baptize actually means to immerse. In most denominations it has taken a different definition than seen in the Bible to include acts such as sprinkling water on one's head or pouring water on one's head, but when we look back to the original language of the word translated "baptize" (baptidzo) it has a definition of immersion in water. I once had a Methodist preacher tell me, in defense of sprinkling infants, that God could use an ocean or a thimble full of water. He was right. God could decide whatever He wanted concerning baptism, or He could even decide that baptism wasn't necessary, but when we read through the scripture that isn't what we find. God, through inspiration, chose a specific word to show us what He wanted and that is immersion. The sixth chapter of Romans even gives us the reason for immersion in water. Paul wrote, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4). God desired immersion in water because it represents burial, and the coming out of the water as being a new creature.

The Bible is clear in its wording that God desires immersion in water, but we must also ask the question of its purpose. There are many who believe that baptism is an outward sign of one's salvation. That is, once I have been saved, I then am baptized to show my faith in Christ and the salvation that faith has given me. Another side of the argument is that one is not saved until they are baptized, and that baptism is the final act of faith that God requires of us before He adds us to the church. Again, we can simply turn to the Bible to see what God has given us. In Acts 2:38, Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Peter, by inspiration of God, taught that before one receives remission of sins, he must repent and be baptized. One isn't baptized because his sins have been forgiven, but because he desires to have them forgiven. When Paul was blind and finally had Ananias come to him, Paul was told to, "arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Paul was not yet a Christian, and from what Ananias told him, Paul still had sins that needed to be forgiven. Paul was told to be baptized. A final verse we can look at, though not the final one in the scriptures, comes from the Christ himself where he stated, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). Can it be any more clear than that? If one wishes to be saved he must believe AND be baptized. It does not say, "He who believes and is saved shall be baptized", though that is what many practice, but to believe and be baptized.

Does this mean that the water is some sort of magical liquid? Of course not. The water is just water. This is a command of God though. Some claim that this means we are working for our salvation. This is not "works salvation" in the sense that I scheme up my own plans and expect God to give me salvation based on what I've thought up, nor is this the idea that if I do enough good things that God owes me salvation. God does not owe me a thing in this life. God does expect us to obey Him though. I have never understood why baptism is the only action that falls into some sort of category of "man's work" when God is the one that commanded it. Almost all teach that we must believe in God in order to be saved (Romans 10:17). That is something I must do. My choosing to believe is an act, a work, that I produce. Almost all hold also that one cannot be saved if they are not first willing to repent of their sins (Acts 2:38) and confess Christ (Romans 10:9-10). All three of these things are seen in the scripture as precursors to salvation, yet they are also things we must do, things that are works. Are they works of men? No, they are works of God. Why there is such anger at the thought that we must submit ourselves to the command of God to receive forgiveness of sins for the first time I doubt I will fully ever know. The logic that one must believe, confess and repent to be saved, but that baptism is not needed because it is deemed a work is totally lost on me.

Man has never had a deciding place in what God desires of His children or those who wish to become His children. What God says one must do to be saved is what one must do and that is that. Man may argue from now until Christ returns on the act and purpose of baptism, but as long as this world stands, God's word will speak truth on the issue. If only we will obey it.

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