The subject of baptism is indeed one of the most hotly-debated issues in the religious world. Almost every religious group claiming to follow Christ's teachings believes in and practices some form of baptism; even some non-Christian cults practice it. But there is widespread disagreement over the significance of baptism in God's plan for man's salvation.
Why be baptized? Many answers are given. Some say baptism is a sacrament which mystically produces a mysterious inward change in the person who receives it. Others say that baptism signifies in a symbolic way that the believer has already been saved from sin. "Baptism," they say, "should...never (be) offered as a means of salvation but only as a result of the one being saved." There are still others who say that baptism is an ordinance by which one gains admittance into a particular denomination. And, then, there are many who teach that baptism is not really necessary; that something else will do just as well in bringing man into a right relationship with God.
But what does the Bible say? This must be the emphasis of our examination of
the "Place of Baptism in God's Plan." In the 269 chapters of the New
Testament, some form of the word "baptism" is used more than 100
times. Clearly, God has given us enough information on the subject of baptism
to allow us to understand exactly what its significance is! God is not the
author of confusion. (1 Corinthians 14.33.) The Bible does not contradict
itself. Uncertainty about the place of baptism in God's plan comes not because
God has failed to speak plainly, but because men have failed to listen
carefully! There are some vital questions we must allow the Bible to answer:
"What does baptism do?" "What is it for?" "What
constitutes scriptural baptism?" "Is baptism really necessary?"
"Have I been properly baptized?" These questions are directly linked
to "The Place of Baptism in God's Plan." Let us seek to determine the
significance of baptism from an examination of the scriptures!
Baptism does not cure all problems. Many expect their problems to vanish after baptism. Perhaps the joy which accompanies salvation from sin will even succeed in pushing their problems into the background for a time. But when the euphoria wears off, many of the problems remain to be dealt with...and then discouragement and disillusionment set in. Baptism is not a cure-all for every human problem. The person who is baptized with physical infirmity will be raised with it; the same is true of family problems, money problems, criminal charges, etc. In fact, Jesus taught that baptism may even bring on new problems: "You shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake...Brother will deliver up brother to death...You will be hated by all on account of my name." (Matthew 10.18,21, 22, cf 34-66, etc.) A person will be better equipped spiritually to deal with his problems as a result of being baptized, but baptism will not magically erase all problems. As a result of baptism we have access to a new dimension of power in coping with problems; baptism provides us with a new reference point in dealing with problems. But baptism does not bring us into a trouble-free life!
Baptism does not produce spiritual maturity. Baptism is a beginning; it is a birth; it is the starting point for the Christian life. One who has been baptized is a new creature; he is a babe in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5.17; 1Corinthians 3.1.) Spiritual maturity comes only after a long process of growth, development, and feeding with spiritual food. It is necessary to grow up "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4.13.) People sometimes feel they have failed in the Christian life because they cannot immediately exhibit the spiritual maturity of those who have been Christians for many years. They feel guilty, frustrated, and frightened..."Why is it taking me so long to get better?" they wonder. In a sense, baptism only establishes a beachhead; it is a place to begin the struggle to take "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10,5.) Baptism must be followed by the study, pursuit, and practice of Christianity. "If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." (Colossians 3.1.)
Baptism does not grant immunity from sin.
Baptism provides complete forgiveness for all past sin, but does
not place us beyond the reach of future sin. If we
expect to be immune from sin after baptism we are bound to be disappointed.
John says: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and
the truth is not in us." (1 John 1.8.) Baptism does provide us with an
effective antidote for sin in the blood of Jesus. (1.7.) John explains the
basis of this continued forgiveness: "If we confess our sins, He is
faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all
Baptism links a person with Christ's Death.
(Romans 6.3.) To be baptized into Christ's death is to become involved in
Christ's death. We become participants in Christ's death "if we have been
united with him in death..." (Romans 6.5/NIV) We die with Christ: "Now if we died
with Christ, we believe we will also live with him." (Romans 6.8/ NIV) In
baptism, we reenact the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; we obey the
form or pattern of the Gospel which is Christ's death, burial and resurrection.
(Romans 6.17,1 Corinthians 15.1-4.) In baptism we become the people for whom
Christ died, for whom His blood was shed; and we obtain the right to all that
His blood has made possible. (1 Peter 1.18-19.) To be baptized into the death
of Christ is to obtain the benefits of Christ's
death at Calvary. Christ died to purchase the church. (Acts 20.28.) We are baptized into the
benefits of Christ's death; The Church is a benefit; Therefore: We are baptized
into the Church. Thus, Paul can say, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized
into one body..." (1 Corinthians 12.13.) Baptism is the act which causes God to
add us to the Church. (Acts 2.47.) We now have a second reference point to help
us locate the place of baptism in God's plan: Baptism is what ties us in with
the death of Christ; it stands between us and the right to share in the victory
Christ won at Calvary!
Baptism causes a person to die to sin.
(Romans 6.4.) We are not only baptized into Christ's death; it is also baptism
which signals the believer's break with sin. Paul says that in the act of
baptism we actually die to sin. This is precisely what Paul is trying to show
in the sixth chapter of Romans. In the book of Romans, Paul is concerned with
the great theme of righteousness. In the opening chapters, he shows the need
for righteousness and how God makes men righteous.
In chapters 5-8, he describes the results of righteousness:
Chapter 5 - Freedom from wrath through God's love.
Chapter 6 - Freedom from sin through baptism.
Chapter 7 - Freedom from the Law through Christ's death.
Chapter 8 - Freedom from death through the Holy Spirit.
In baptism, the old man of sin is crucified and the body of sin is destroyed
(Romans 6.6), we are freed from sin (6.7), and we become dead indeed unto
sin. (6.11). In baptism, "the old order of living comes to an end, to be
replaced the new order of life-in-Christ." Thus, Paul gives us a third
perspective on the place of baptism in God's plan: It is baptism which stands
squarely between the old life of sin and the newness of life in Christ. Baptism
is the door by which we exit kingdom of darkness and enter into the kingdom of
God's dear Son.
"And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized..."