Friday, August 2, 2013

Baptism: Going All In

I want to start this discussion about baptism by putting all my cards on the table and stating there has been way too much debate about this topic from those of us trying to follow Jesus.  These debates do nothing but lead to confusion to others who are trying to learn the Truth, and the conversations are muddied with people's opinions and traditions which accomplish nothing except to turn the whole discussion into nonsense.  The act of baptism is one of the simplest and most precious gifts from God, and it's time we all get on the same page about how Jesus gave us the example in the New Testament of how it is to be understood.  The early Christians in the Bible also understood what baptism means, and we can use their example to make sure we can all agree.

So, simply enough, let's start with a definition:

Baptism-  Greek origin-  baptisma, baptizo- to immerse, to submerge (sinking a boat permanently), to wash one's body (bathe), to make clean

One of the earliest recorded uses of this word outside of the Bible in its correct form is found in a recipe for making pickles.  Nicander, a Greek poet and physician, wrote in 200 B.C. on how to change a cucumber into a pickle--he first describes that you have to bapto ("dip"- not the New Testament usage) the vegetable into boiling saltwater, then you have to baptizo ("submerge"- the word used in the New Testament) into a vinegar solution for a longer period of time.  Interestingly enough, the first usage- bapto -denotes a temporary cleansing, while baptizo denotes an act that is going to cause a permanent change to the cucumber.

In the Old Testament, there are plenty of examples of sprinkling and full immersion into the water for purification purposes.  If you'll refer to those examples given in Leviticus for the priests, and several examples throughout the Old Testament, you'll quickly see that sprinkling was reserved for purification from leprosy or other various skin lesions, and this was usually done with oil.  Immersion had a special purpose though, and it had much more serious meaning.  The priests themselves had to fully submerge their bodies and cleanse themselves before they could enter the presence of God to offer sacrifices for their sins and the sins of the people.  They would also have to "baptize" themselves if they had defiled themselves by touching a dead body.   There were pools that enabled the priests to fully submerge their bodies outside of the Temple, and they would also often have a deep tub dug into their homes in order to fulfill this type of cleansing. 

Now, let's fast forward into the New Testament with the baptisms being performed by John.  First, the Greek baptizo is being used, so we know he is actually submering people into the Jordan River.  His message is a message of repentance from sins, and not of cleansing from skin ailments, so Hebrew culture would fully understand the implications of being submerged versus being sprinkled.  These people wanted a permanent change, and not a temporary cleansing.  When Jesus presents himself before John asking to be baptizo, this should be all that we need to know to in order to follow him.  Jesus allowed John to fully submerge him into this dirty river water (by our standards), and immediately God sent the Holy Spirit to proclaim how pleased He was with His Son.  Something changed that day, and most of us would agree this is where Jesus' ministry truly began.  This should be our first real reference on what baptism should mean to someone trying to follow in Jesus' footsteps.

Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”
 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness. Then John consented.
 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Being baptized in this way is one of the first real ways we get to celebrate our new life and share in something that Jesus himself did as well.  The early believers understood this, the apostles taught this, and every example of baptism in the New Testament is a person who decided to follow Jesus' teachings because they believed he was who he said he was, and then they wanted to be purified from their past sinful life.  Referring back to the Old Testament priests above, baptism was the purification ritual used in order to wash oneself clean of wrongdoings and exposure to dead flesh--in the New Testament we see it become the burial of the dead flesh (your old sinful life), and it remains to be the ritual used for the cleansing of sin so the believer can approach God's throne.  Let's take a quick look at how Peter instructed the people of Jerusalem on how to be saved after they became convicted of actually crucifying their long awaited Messiah:

Acts 2:37-41
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
 Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

There is no question here on whether baptism should be done or not; Peter specifically instructs them to repent (turn away from their sins) and be immersed for the forgiveness of their sins.  There are several people who state that baptism is only a symbol--I know, I used to be one of them--and it is a symbol for sure.  It's a ritual started by God in the Old Testament for purifying priests, and given to us by Jesus as a means for cleansing us from our old life.  So's a symbol, but it's not ONLY a symbol.  It must be done as part of the contract God has offered us. 

Did you ever think of God as giving you a contract to sign?  He operated in contracts--the Bible calls them covenants.  He had one with Adam, he had one with Abraham...Moses....David...Solomon....all the kings and prophets actually.  This relationship He forms based on "you do this for me, and I'll do something for you" is a very real principle seen throughout the Bible.  The current standing contract that He has for us was given to us through Jesus: repent, be baptized, you will be saved.

We definitely don't want to understate the importance of Jesus' death here....without a doubt, his crucification provided the way to eternal life for every person.  There is no contract at all without his death, and his blood is what provided the covering of our sins;  there was truly nothing we could do to be saved without this pinnacle point in history.  No action on your part would ever get you closer to God unless Jesus died on that cross--you were alone and separated from God until you reached the belief that Jesus died for you--to save you.  So once you reached that conclusion, and you prayed to tell God you believe....what did God tell you to do?  How did Peter explain it above?

Let's look at what Jesus says about it all.  John 3:16 is used by most people who hold the conviction that all you have to do is BELIEVE in Jesus, and you will be saved. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Did you ever wonder what it really means to believe in Jesus?  Is it just believing that he existed?  From the book of James, in the second chapter, it's apparent that the believers he is addressing are being lazy in their faith because they are stating they believe in one God, and that is enough to save them.  James tells them that even the demons believe in God and fear him, but that isn't enough to save them.  He continues with saying faith without good works is a dead faith--that means, it was once alive, but now it's nonexistent. Believing isn't enough, and it's not all God asks of us. 

Now look back at John 3:16--whoever believes in God's son will have eternal life.  Is it possible that "believing" in Jesus means not just believing he exists, but that we are to believe in what he says as well?  John 3:16 has been used as a defense, a weapon even, to prove that believing is the ONLY thing that can save you, but I want to take it a step further and say that believing in Jesus and doing what he says is where your salvation comes from ultimately--believing in him enough to obey him fully.  The problem with people using John 3:16 as a defense is that they apparently aren't reading the entire third chapter of John, and they are only picking a single verse to prove their opinions.  The entire first part of John 3 is where Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus how to be born again through water and the Spirit.  He is speaking very vaguely at this point, but he will clarify this to the disciples later when he asks them to go into the world and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  What did we see the disciples go out and do after this?  They were submerging people in water after those people came to the realization of who Jesus really is--not just telling people they could be baptized if they wanted to be as a cool add-on option.  Once a person believed, it was taught they must be baptized to clease them of their sin.   Not that this is some magic water ritual, but it was what Jesus asked them to do in order to be saved--the key is obedience. 

Believing in Jesus enough to obey him is where true salvation has been provided for us by God in today's world.  Saying you believe Jesus is real isn't enough, and you won't be fulfilling the roles he has asked you to fill.  The result of that kind of life is exactly what we are seeing in America today, where people are claiming to be Christians, but you can see no proof of that in the life they live.  This type of person is actually doing more harm than good to the name we are supposed to bear.  Jesus said he would know who truly belongs to him by seeing which of us bear fruit...those who obey and do the job he asks us to do.

If you've ever been told that baptism isn't important--or not necessary to be a Christian--I really want you to search the scriptures to find where that is stated.  The more you search, the more you will find just how important it is.  You'll find more proof on why it should be done, and you won't see any place at all in the Bible where it is described as optional.  This is something I want you to investigate and apply to your own life.  This isn't a cause for debate; it's about doing the things God has asked you to do to be saved.  We'll examine this more later, but the most important point I want you to take away from this is if you're a person that states "Jesus never said to be baptized" or if you're confusing people by telling them baptism is just a choice and isn't necessary, then you've set yourself against God's word and you're misleading people.  If you have people in your life preaching or teaching that it's optional, then they haven't read God's word enough to understand it, and you should flee from that setting or have a serious discussion with those who are misleading others.  The seminaries or organizations that teach this base their teachings off traditions that were formed centuries long after the Bible was completed, and they will often even try to quote people from the AD1600-1800's trying to prove their case.  To be a true follower of Jesus, you have to get used to not listening to opinions and really researching what the Bible says on the topic.  Don't fall into the trap of hearing someone say, "Jesus didn't really mean what he said there...but some monk in the year 1713 cleared that up for us."

You'll never make a pickle by sprinkling a cucumber.  There is a real change that takes place once you decide to be submerged in the water that Jesus has asked you to step into and follow him.  The water itself hasn't changed you, but obeying your Lord has made the real change.  Examine your life, and if needed...step into the water today.

Now I want to hear from you!  What are some of your favorite scriptures pertaining to baptism?  Were you told it was optional?  Why do you think there are so many options other than real submersion when the word itself means to go under? 


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