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.
Jesus upon commissioning the apostles, said to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all that He had commanded them. In the Greek it is very clear Jesus was saying you make disciples by baptizing them and then you teach them. the modern idea of becoming a disciple first and then some time later being immersed is foreign to scripture. Someone is made a disciple first by being baptized. We see this exact idea being played out almost immediately in the book of Acts right after that sermon Peter preached where it says Acts 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. The question we have to ask is, what were they added to? The clear answer is the body of believers.
Some would say that baptism cannot be for the forgiveness of sin because Paul says we are not saved by works but by faith alone. The problem with this is that the word alone never appears with faith in any of Paul’s writings. Martin Luther added the word alone in his first German translation to support his own understanding and theology. I find it amusing when people say “we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone”. Clearly you cannot have that many alones and still have it be alone. We are indeed saved by Grace through faith, but then what is faith or more accurately how does it manifest itself. We can get some clue, when we realize that Luther besides adding words to scripture to support his position, also wanted to remove the book of James from the Canon. Why you ask? Because it is the only book that actually puts the words faith and alone together in the whole of the New Testament. James says this in James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And similarly James also says in 2:17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.