Summary: We are saved by grace through faith, but what does that faith entail?
Before the Lord left this earth, He left us, His church, two rites, ordinances or sacraments. Both The Lords Supper and Baptism were meant to be a comfort and something to bring His body closer to one another. In fact the two have caused more division among God’s people than any other doctrines I can think of.
In this message I would like to address baptism since this of the two has been the most divisive. Some will say that we are saved by grace through faith and to this I give a hearty Amen! The same also say that because we are saved by grace through faith, baptism is not necessary but is only a sign or an act of obedience. I have always taught that baptism was an absolute necessity and I would like to explain why.
When the apostle Paul said we were saved by grace through faith, exactly what did he mean by faith? Certainly not some intellectual ascent, not simply believing something happened and by acknowledging that something we are imputed with the benefit? That would simply defy every example of faith we have in scripture, especially when it was concerning covenant relationship with God.
Abram was told to leave Ur and to go to a land God would show him. Now suppose Abram had said, “Lord I believe what you are saying and I believe I will inherit this land you have chosen, but I would rather stay right here”. Do you suppose Abram would have received the same reward? How about Noah? “Yes Lord, I believe you are going to make it rain and you are going to destroy the entire earth except for me and my family, but I would rather not build an ark. Certainly there is another way you can save us”? would Noah and his family have survived. I think the answer to both questions is no.
Baptism was not a new concept to first century Israel. Both priests and prophets were immersed before embarking on their ministries. No priest could enter the Holy place until he was immersed in the bronze laver. And the High Priest could only enter the Holy of Holies after he was immersed and put on the clean white linen. Proselytes as well were immersed upon converting to Judaism and the Rabbinic writings in the Tannauk upon their immersion said they were born again or born anew, having left their defiled gentiles lives and entered into the new life of Judaism.
Metaphorically or symbolically we have the leper who was commanded to dip himself seven times in the Jordan, Israel passing through the Red Sea when rescued from their bondage in Egypt and again passing through the Jordan upon entering the promised land. We see no unfamiliarity when John the Baptist came on the scene and many submitted willfully. Even Jesus in a gesture all should have understood submitted to John’s baptism as an anointing for His ministry of priest and prophet.
It amazes me that when we come to the New Testament, so many today fail to see the significance associated with immersion. On the very first opportunity, on that day of Pentecost, when Peter preached his first sermon, the hearers asked what must we do. The accusation was that they had killed their long awaited Messiah, they were cut to the quick and were fully convinced Jesus was in fact that Messiah. Peter’s response, actually the Holy Spirit’s response, was to repent and be baptized for the remission of sin and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Some have tried to play loose with the Greek word “eis” translated “for” in that passage but to no avail and with little support.