Last week we looked at what Jesus had to say about baptism. This week, I want to explore some other passages that address this important subject.
In Acts 2:38, people have gathered after the ascension of Jesus for worship. Peter preached the first Christian sermon, and the listeners were convicted that they needed to follow Christ. They said, “What do we need to do?” Here is Peter’s response: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter is not arguing that water has the power to save. But he was commanding the people to do exactly what Jesus had commanded his disciples to teach and practice. He was connecting baptism to the forgiveness of sins and the receiving of the Holy Spirit.
Salvation is a process in which God draws us closer and closer to Him. When we come to Christ, we experience an attitudinal change—we come to love Christ. We experience a change of life—a behavioral change. We also experience a relational change—we formalize our commitment to Christ. Baptism marks the change in our relationship! Baptism publicly announces that we belong to Christ!
You see all three of these changes in the life of the Ethiopian officer in Acts 8. An Ethiopian official is on his way home after having been to Jerusalem to worship. He’s in his chariot reading what the Old Testament had to say about Christ. God sends Philip to the man to help him understand what he’s reading. The Ethiopian goes through an attitudinal change--he believes in Christ. He’s ready for a behavioral change--he’s ready to repent. And then Philip tells him about his need for a change in relationship, his need to be baptized. Acts 8:36-38 records the story: “As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” The Ethiopian went thru all three changes: a change of heart, a change of life, and a change of relationship.
In Acts 22, Paul describes his own conversion to Christ. He had been hunting Christians down and having them killed. Then he discovered Christ. God sent a man named Ananias to Paul to tell him what to do to be saved. Look at what Ananias instructed Paul to do: Acts 22:16, “And now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Paul was immediately baptized. So what are you saying when you are baptized? Think about this in Paul’s life. Paul had detailed his ugly past. Now he was claiming a new identity. Baptism says, you are not defined by your sins and failures. You are not defined by that unplanned pregnancy, or that addiction that had control over you. You have a new identity because you are now one with Christ.
Look at what Paul writes in Romans 6:1-4, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Paul has just finished writing five chapters about being saved by grace. But he knows some people might not understand. They might try to use grace to do whatever they want. So Paul says, no! We died to sin. We died with Christ. The place where you died was in baptism. The word baptism was originally used of people being drowned. Or ships being sunk. Do you realize that when you were baptized you died? There’s a big difference between realizing, ‘on that cross he was crucified for me’, and ‘on that cross I am crucified with him.’ When Jesus died for you, he freed you from the guilt of sin. But when you died with Jesus, he freed you from the power of sin. What happened to Christ, happens to you.
Romans 6:6, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…” Paul talks about the old self. He’s talking about the old sinful nature that resisted God. He says, the old sinful man can’t be reformed. He has to die. He has to be buried. You’ve got to put a stake through his heart. And that happens when you identify with Jesus in his death. The old sinful man is put to death.
So in effect, every baptism is a funeral service. It’s a funeral with a purpose. A funeral where the old man is buried in a watery grave. And we say goodbye to the old man. Jimmy Allen tells about baptizing an Asian man in the Pacific Ocean. When the man came up out of the water, he waved in the direction of the ocean. It was his way of saying goodbye to the old man. Paul says, you died to sin. Sin was declawed. Sin doesn’t have authority over your life anymore. That doesn’t mean that you’re sinless. But it does mean that you sin less.
Will Campbell tells about being baptized in the East Fork River in Mississippi. Will’s brother Joe was a bit of a skeptic. Joe stood on the bank, watching the preacher baptize 2 or 3 other people before it came Will’s turn. As Joe watched, he got more and more worried for Will’s safety. So he slid down the muddy bank and grabbed Will. He said, “Will, don’t let them do this to you. A fellow could get killed doing this.” Will said later, “It took me 30 years to recognize that was precisely the point.” In baptism the old man is dead in the water.
There’s a great scene in the movie Princess Bride. The hero of the story, the farm boy, has been put on the rack. His body has been tortured over and over again until he’s dead. His friends come to collect his body. They take his body to Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal. They say to Miracle Max, “Any chance for a miracle?” Max checks him over. He says, “don’t worry, your friend is not dead. He’s mostly dead.” Then Max takes some bellows. He pops the bellows into the farm boy’s mouth. And he squeezes air back into his body. He was just mostly dead.
When you are baptized, you are not supposed to think of yourself as ‘mostly dead.’ You are to consider yourself completely dead to sin. Of course, you will sin after your baptism. But your baptism is significant because in that moment you participate in the death of Christ. You also participate in his resurrection, so that the power of the risen Christ lives in you!
The early church attached enormous importance to baptism! This means we need to be careful not to discount or minimize its significance. If you believe in Christ but haven’t yet been baptized, let me urge you to take this vital step of obedience.