Baptism In Light Of The Gospel
(Originally published on Thursday, March 20, 2008)
Recently, researchers made a study about how well churches were doing and why. Researchers asked Pastors this question, and they said that their church was doing well. When asked how they knew their church was doing well, they replied that offerings were up, church assistance was up, and program participation was up, also. When researchers asked the members the same questions, a majority said that they did not feel well spiritually. Yes, they went to all services, contributed by tithing and offerings and even participated in programs, but on a personal level, they did not feel close to God. The study revealed that, sadly, they did not have devotional time with God. They neither read their Bible nor prayed. The studies conclusion showed that there is a difference in how both sides understand spirituality and a lack of belief on both sides. Some may be ignorant, while others are just rebellious.
Many see the amount of baptisms as a sign of how well a Pastor is doing. Why are baptisms so imperative to some? Because, baptisms, in the church management's estimation, are a quantitative measurement that is easy to see as opposed to spiritual growth which is very subjective. It is sad because while a pastor may be baptizing many people, it does not mean him or the church are doing well spiritually.
Were baptisms important in the Bible? In the book of Mark 16:15-16, Christ is quoted saying,
Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Notice that in the text the baptism comes after the belief. Baptism can only come after you believe; if you are baptized without you believing you merely got wet. Those who do not believe typically will not get baptized, and of course, this will lead to eternal damnation.
Getting baptized should be a symbol that you have believed the gospel. What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news of salvation. What does this mean? When Christ died on the cross, He saved the whole world from the eternal damnation or death - that is the wages of Sin (Romans 6:23). Because of this we now know, that God is not against us (Romans 5:8). In fact, He is the one that sent His Son to pay the wages of Sin – "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God loves us so much, that He wanted to save us from this second death, which is good-bye to life forever. As the Apostle John wrote, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1John 4:10). And, He did this while we were yet His enemies or sinners (Romans 5:8). In other words, it is not because we loved Him – we naturally hate God - but because He loved us. Anyone that loves God does so because He loves us first (1John 4:19). But that is only part of the good news. God not only wanted to save us from eternal death, but He also wants us to live eternally with Him.
Those who are grateful for what He has done believe Christ accomplished this for them. We read in John 3:16 that those who believe not only will not perish but have eternal life. God wants to take us home with Him to be with Him forever. But, as a friend of mine says, "you can't take someone home if they don't know how to act." While God wants to take with Him the whole world, only those who believe – constantly and continually - that Christ has saved them from eternal death will learn how to act. They will overcome their sinful tendencies and will be transformed into a new being by the renewal of their hearts and mind. By the Lord's indwelling Spirit God's law and statutes are written in our hearts and mind. To this group baptism is special.
To this group, baptism represents the new birth experience. They have repented, left the old behind, died to self, been converted, given a new heart of flesh, and their mind has been renewed. Symbolically, when we go down in the baptismal waters we die, and when we come up, we are resurrected. Baptism is not necessary for salvation. If it were, salvation would not be by grace through faith, but by baptism. The thief on the cross will be resurrected unto eternal life. He believed Christ. By faith, this man accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Those who believe will have no problem becoming baptized.
Now, you will notice that Jesus never baptized anyone (John 4:2). Paul baptized only a few, he understood his mission as preaching and teaching the gospel, not baptizing (1 Corinthians. 1:17). Twice in Acts Paul's calling is mentioned, on neither occasions was the verb to baptize used. It is not to say that baptism is not important. Going against the Holy Spirit's conviction that you should be baptized is Sin. Not baptizing is not an unpardonable Sin, but it may be a step toward it.