When a man buys a new home he walks around inspecting it from every angle. He looks at it from behind and in front, on the sides and from within. He even climbs up on the roof and examines it from above. The buyer wants to be familiar with every angle of his new purchase. It is clear that the New Testament writers were doing the same thing with baptism. They were walking around and around this sacrament. They were examining its meaning from every aspect. And, do you know what? They have left us at least five ways of looking at baptism.
Dying to Live
First, the early disciples viewed baptism as dying and rising again with Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “And you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
With this outlook on baptism, the sinner enters the baptismal waters dissatisfied with his old life. He wades into the water giving himself up for dead. Then as he plunges beneath the waters, he dies and is buried. Baptism is the tomb of his sinful life. But next he rises from the water. He is resurrected to a new life in Christ. He can wade out of the water a new man.
One spring I had some caladium bulbs I meant to plant, but somehow neglected to bury them in the garden. Daily I went to work passing and noticing the gnarled bulbs. Finally one summer Saturday I planted them in the soil. There is nothing more grotesque than a caladium bulb and I was simply tired of looking at them. Days passed and with the warm sun and nourishing rain showers came some of the most beautiful plant life I’ve ever seen. Caladiums were sprouting and unfurling their leaves everywhere. From the ugly emerged the beautiful.
Baptism is like this, too. Our lives are ugly in sin. We are displeasing to God, others, and even to our own selves. But if we willingly bury ourselves in baptism, God will resurrect us to a new life of beauty and truth. A seed must go into the fallow ground and actually rot and die before it grows into a flower. And so we, too, must be willing to die to sin and be buried in baptism. Then God will raise us from the dead as He did Christ.
Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 6:3-4: “Do you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We are buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, might walk in newness of life.”
A second view of the same event shows baptism to be the forgiveness of sins. Notice that water is the element used in baptism. This liquid is beyond a doubt a very ordinary substance. But what would we do without it? Everyday we drink it, cook with it, and wash in it. And God has chosen water to be the very symbol by which He washes away our sins.
Have you ever gotten spaghetti stains on your favorite shirt? Try as you might, you could not blot it out or scrub it off. Your favorite shirt ruined! Yet your wife knew just what to do. She took the shirt and washed it in a special water and it came out clean and stain-free.
Baptism is like this, too. We can try all kinds of ways of removing our sins and our guilt. We can try to clean our lives up by trying more earnestly to be moral. We can punish ourselves with all sorts of self-denying acts. We can even lose ourselves in the service of others. Yet none of these will make us clean.
Only when we come with repentance, trusting Christ and being baptized, are we thoroughly washed stain-free. In Acts 22:16 the apostle Paul says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
Include Me In
So we have seen that baptism means dying and rising again as well as the washing away of our sins. Now let’s walk around in Scripture and view baptism from another position. In I Corinthians 12:13 Paul writes to us concerning baptism. “For by one spirit we were all baptized into one body …”
From this viewpoint we see baptism as an event which admits us to Christ’s body, the Church. When one joins the army he must go through a procedure of enlistment. Likewise many clubs and fraternities have elaborate ceremonies for initiating new members. The Christian Church’s method of bringing in new members is baptism.
In Romans 11:17-24 the apostle Paul uses an interesting illustration for this initiation. Here Paul states that the Church is like a tree and a man is like a branch. When a person is saved he is grafted onto God’s tree and begins to receive his life-sustaining nourishment from the trunk and its roots. Jesus was using an illustration much like Paul’s when He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
So from this viewpoint we see that baptism is the initiation of someone into the body of Christ. One becomes a full member of the church when he is baptized. But is there yet another position from which we can view Christian baptism? Let us look about in Scripture and see. Yes, there in Galatians 3:27 we have a place to stand and look at baptism from another side. Here Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
A Mark of Ownership!
When a man joins a nation’s armed services he puts on the uniform of that country. When an athlete joins a football team he also dons the uniform of that team. Likewise with Christians. When we are baptized we are marked by the Lord himself. Others see us being baptized publicly and associate us with the Church. We are marked.
The Greek word for baptism is a textile term meaning, “to be dipped.” It is to dip white wool in purple dye. Likewise we dip our lives in Jesus.
This view of baptism has its roots in the Jewish practice of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14). God told Abraham to carve out His mark of ownership in the flesh of all Israel. It would be a mark of ownership. It would show to whom they all belonged. In Luke 2:21 we see Jesus receiving his mark when He was eight days old.
This view of baptism then allows us to see this event as a time when God takes us in His arms and says, “By this act I mark you, my child. You are mine through my beloved son.”
When a baby is born the doctor places a tiny bracelet around his arm. It is a mark of identification. The child’s name is written indelibly on the wristlet. This is done so that all will know the child’s name. Everyone will know who his parents are.
Baptism from this perspective is similar. It is a “putting on” of Christ. It is an identification mark. Like circumcision it shows us and others to whom we belong.
Modern Day Pentecost!
And finally there is one last way we can look at baptism. As a man thinking of buying a new home examines the structure from every angle, so we have been peering at baptism, from without and within, from top to bottom. Now let us go and stand on a final text and view baptism from a last perspective.
Titus 3:5-6 says this: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
This position allows us to glimpse baptism as a time when a person receives the Holy Spirit, (Acts 1:5). This promise became the basis of the preaching of the first disciples. We hear Peter echoing this promise in his Acts 2:38 sermon. There he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism, then, is not only a dying and rising to new life. It is not only a washing away of our sins and an act of initiation and incorporation into the church. It is so much more! It is a mark of ownership and a modern day Pentecost.
Yes, like a man who wishes to buy a piece of property, we have examined baptism from every angle. Now God might ask, “Is baptism worth it to you? Do you yourself want to make baptism your own?” Acts 8:26-40 gives us the story of one man who became so convinced of the importance of baptism that he stopped his chariot on a desert road and said to a minister, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” Certainly now that we have considered baptism from various standpoints you too will want to be baptized. It is a special kind of water we want for ourselves!
But what form shall your baptism take? In the church around the world and through the centuries people have been either sprinkled or poured or immersed. Each form emphasizes a different meaning of the sacrament.
For instance, sprinkling symbolizes the washing away of sins. Ezekiel 38:25, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”
Pouring emphasizes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit which He poured out upon us… .”
And immersion reflects dying and rising again, “And you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised.”
Most people select a form that touches them at a point of need. In this church you are allowed to select the form most meaningful to you.
The ministers simply desire three things of you; 1. That you pick a baptism that pleases your conscience, 2. That you be able to argue the merits of your baptism from Scripture, 3. And the elders overseeing your baptism agree with you.
So, take some time to mull over the Word and pray, choose for yourself, then let’s go to the water!