THE PLACE OF BAPTISM IN WORLD EVANGELISM
GOD’S PLAN FOR CALLING THE NATIONS TO REPENTANCE
A Study by
Gary Ray Branscome
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; (Mark ).
We live in an age when baptism is neglected, separated from faith in Christ, and totally misunderstood. Instead of being held up before a dying world as evidence of faith in Christ, and God’s own promise of forgiveness to all who trust in Him, it is twisted into work (“an act of obedience”) and treated as if it had little importance. In order to understand why that is wrong, and what role God intended for baptism to play let us look carefully at how it was used by the Apostles.
On the day of Pentecost, after convicting his listeners of their sin, the Apostle Peter did not tell them to pray a prayer, or ask Jesus into their heart. On the contrary, he told them to repent and be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts ). Why? One reason could be that we are not saved by praying a prayer, or by asking Jesus to come into our heart, but by believing that He died for our sins. Because the Lord’s prayer includes the words, “forgive us our trespasses” every time someone prays the Lord’s Prayer they are calling upon God for forgiveness. However, we are not saved by praying that prayer or any prayer, but by believing that Jesus died for our sins. And, the words of Mark , “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” give all who believe and are baptized God’s own promise of forgiveness in Christ.
Am I saying that we need to be baptized in order to have God’s promise of forgiveness? Not at all! God intended for baptism to give us the same promise that John gives us. Therefore, saying that we need to be baptized in order to be saved is just as wrong as saying we need to read John 3:16 in order to be saved. That is nonsense! Being baptized and reading John 3:16 are just two ways God uses to assure those who trust in Christ that their sins are forgiven. In order to understand the place of baptism in the proclamation of the gospel, try to see things from the point of view of the Jews who were listening to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.
Working through Peter, the Holy Spirit began by convincing those who were listening that Jesus was the Messiah, that the Jewish leaders had crucified the Messiah, and that God had raised the Messiah from the dead on the third day as Scripture had foretold. Then, when they cried out, “What shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins,” (Acts -38).
Now, every Jew who had heard Peter’s sermon knew that to be baptized, “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” was to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They also knew that if they went forward to be baptized, every Jew who saw them go forward would know that they had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. The possibility of accepting Jesus and keeping it secret was not an option. By requiring baptism Peter was requiring them to make their faith public. And, the words, “Those who gladly received his word were baptized: and about three thousand souls were added to their number that day,” tell us that being baptized and joining the church went hand in hand (Acts ). Those who were baptized were added to the congregation.
Another thing that I want to call to your attention is the fact that the Jews who heard Peter’s sermon knew perfectly well that baptism was not a work, or “act of obedience”. They all knew what works God’s Law required and baptism was not one of them. They could also plainly see that baptism was not something they did, but something that was done to them. They were entirely passive. The outward washing of baptism was instituted as a visible portrayal of the inward washing away of sin that takes place when we come to faith in Christ (1John 1:7).
Also consider this: At the time Peter preached his sermon the New Testament had not been written. Therefore, if some of the people who came forward ever had doubts, or needed assurance of forgiveness, they could not get it from reading the New Testament. However, the fact that they had accepted Jesus as the Messiah at baptism was a constant reminder to them that they had placed their faith in Christ. And, therefore, had the forgiveness that God promises to all who place their faith in Christ (Acts ).
God intended for baptism to play a key role in world evangelism. The purpose of baptism is to make it clear the no one can come to Christ on the basis of their own righteousness. All who come to Christ must turn from their sin, and be baptized believing God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ (John ). And, when they do so, to be baptized, “In the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” is not a work but a way of telling God that they believe that there is forgiveness in Christ and that they want that forgiveness (Acts 2:38 and 22:16).