THE DOCTRINE OF BAPTISM

 

Baptism was instituted as a means of giving everyone who comes to Christ, Godís own promise of forgiveness (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 22:16, Mark 16:15-16). However, even though the Bible clearly promises us forgiveness in connection with baptism, whenever men loose sight of the fact that Christ is the source of that forgiveness the gospel is obscured and distorted. Because forgiveness only comes to us through faith in Christ, we can only receive the forgiveness promised to us in baptism, through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:6-22). In other words, God uses baptism (just as He uses preaching) to give us His promise of forgiveness in Christ, but it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive that forgiveness (Romans 5:2, Galatians 3:22). With that fact in mind, let us look at what the Bible says.

A BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE

Matthew 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance

Mark 1:4 John baptized in the wilderness, and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Mark 1:5 And all the land of Judea, and the people of Jerusalem went out to him, and they were all baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.

Luke 3:3 And he came to all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Get up, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

[Comment: Notice how that John and Peter both called upon their listeners to repent and be baptized "for the remission of sins." There was no essential difference between John's baptism and Peter's. Both of them held up Christ as the source of forgiveness, while calling for repentance (Luke 3:3, John 1:29, Acts 2:38 and 5:31). The source of forgiveness is Christ, not the ceremony. However, God uses the ceremony to give everyone who comes to baptism, His promise of forgiveness in Christ.]

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be damned.

Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 8:13 Then Simon himself also believed: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs that were done.

Acts 18:8 And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with his entire household; and many of the Corinthians who heard believed, and were baptized.

[Comment: Since those who are truly repentant look to Christ for forgiveness, coming to baptism goes hand in hand with believing the gospel.]

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

[Comment: When we interpret this passage in the light of what the Bible says about baptism being a "baptism of repentance," it is clear that Christ is calling on us to baptize those who repent. (See Luke 24:47, Mark 16:16)]

John 3:5 Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

[Comment: Since the Bible clearly defines baptism as a "baptism of repentance," if the word "water" in this passage is a reference to baptism, it is also a reference to repentance. Therefore, since faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit the words "water andÖ Spirit" can be seen as a reference to repentance and faith. We are born again through repentance and faith in Christ (John 1:12).]

Colossians 2:11-12 In whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with him through faith in the working of God, who has raised him from the dead.

[Comment: The circumcision made without hands is not baptism, for hands are used to baptize. Instead, it is the inner circumcision of the heart that takes place when we come to faith in Christ (Romans 2:29). Baptism is referred to because when baptism is carried out as God intended, it goes hand in hand with repentance, and thus with the inner circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4).]

Titus 3:5 He saved us, not by works of righteousness that we have done, but because of His mercy, through the washing of rebirth and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

[Comment: While the Greek word "baptizo" is not used in this passage, because of the reference to "rebirth", there is a clear parallel between this passage and what Christ said about being "born again" (John 3:5). Furthermore, both passages refer to water (or washing) and the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, John 3:5). Therefore, since the Bible clearly defines baptism as a "baptism of repentance," if this passage is referring to baptism, the words "washing" and "Holy Ghost" can be seen as a reference to repentance and faith. And the Bible clearly teaches that we are born again (regenerated) through repentance and faith in Christ (John 1:12).]

Acts 1:5 For John truly baptized with water; but you will be baptized with the Holy Ghost a few days from now.

[Comment: Our sins are not washed away by the outward application of water, but by the blood of Christ (1John 1:7). And, since that inner washing (baptism) takes place when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ, John referred to it as a baptism (or washing) of the Spirit (Galatians 3:6, Mark 1:8).]

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Get up, be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

[Comment: To be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins," is to be baptized believing that there is forgiveness in Christ, and that He is the source of the forgiveness offered in baptism (Acts 2:38). Therefore, while both of these passages speak of forgiveness in connection with baptism, because the promise is "He who believes and is baptized will be saved," it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive that forgiveness (Galatians 3:22). That is why the great evangelist and soul-winner Dr. Walter A. Maier said, of baptism:

"Do not be misled by those who say that Baptism is not important. They contradict Christ. They put their own opinion above Scripture. Take Jesus at His word, and you will find that through Baptism ó and I mean of course, not merely the performance of the ritual itself, but by your personal faith in Jesus and in His promise ó the Holy Ghost unmistakably comes to you." (The Power of Pentecost, 1943)

1Peter 3:21 That water prefigured baptism which also now saves us (not by removing the filth of the flesh, but the promise of a good conscience toward God,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

[Comment: Because the Bible defines baptism as a "baptism of repentance," Peterís definition of baptism was broad enough to include repentance and faith in Christ. Therefore, when Peter said "baptismÖ also now saves us," he was talking about conversion, not simply applying water. He was talking about being baptized believing that there is forgiveness in Christ (see my comments on Acts 2:38). When viewed in that light, baptism might be seen to consist of:

1- The call to repent, and promise of forgiveness in Christ (Acts 2:38).
2- Our response to that call (Acts 2:41).
3- The application of water according to God's Word.
4- The assurance that when we came to Christ our sins were washed away (Acts 22:16).]

THE DISCIPLES OF JOHN

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the inland districts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He asked them, Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? And they said to him, We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. And he asked to them, Unto what were you baptized? And they said, Unto Johnís baptism. Then Paul said, John truly baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people, to believe in him who was coming after him, that is, in Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:1-5)

[Comment: In reading these verses we should not assume that Paul rebaptized men who had originally been baptized by John the Baptist. After all, Apollos was baptized by John the Baptist and he was never rebaptized, nor were the Apostles. We need to remember that Christ continued the work of John the Baptist (John 4:1-2), and John held up Christ as the source of forgiveness, and referred to the Holy Ghost in his teaching (Mark 1:8). In fact, Apollos learned the way of salvation from John (Acts 18:25). John also baptized "unto repentance," not "unto John's baptism" (compare verse 3 with Matthew 3:11). Therefore, since these men had not even heard of the Holy Ghost, they may have been baptized by an imitator of John the Baptist, rather than by John himself. There were such imitators, and one group of Johnís "followers" who never accepted Christ, still exists in the Middle East, where they are known as Mandeans.]

CONCLUSION

All who come to baptism receive God's promise of forgiveness in Christ. That promise is important, for our faith consists of believing what God has promised (Galatians 3:6). However, because Christ is the object of our faith, the focus must be on Christ. He must be seen as the source of forgiveness. Therefore, while God's uses baptism to give us His promise of forgiveness, it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised (Galatians 3:22, 2Corinthians 1:20).

Gary Ray Branscome