Monday, April 12, 2010

"I've Got The Holy Spirit; Why Be Baptized?"

Having been in the faith for more than 41 years, I think I have heard just about every objection to obeying God and His Word. I once was told by a fellow male member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church we were attending in the States that he "didn't work-be gainfully employed- to support his family because he was afraid his sons would grow up not knowing who he was if he was gone to work all the time." That was an easy one. However, every now and then something comes along that takes me by surprise, like the theme of this essay: "A member of your cell group/congregation tells you that because he already has the Holy Spirit he does not believe that baptism in water is necessary."

Perhaps the root of this distorted view of the biblical doctrine of the sacraments is merely a misunderstanding or an ill-taught view of what baptism is and why we, as Christians, should be baptized. If so, then a small examination of the Scriptures would do nicely to set this person's view back on track and, hopefully, direct him to obedience in baptism.

Though the word "sacrament" is not in the Bible, it is an interesting word, which finds a highly appropriate application to what baptism (and the other church sacrament: communion) is all about. It was a word used in ancient Roman times as a sign of a soldier's military pledge to serve faithfully his commanding officer. It was sign, indeed a seal, representing the promise to faithfully execute his commander's standards and a sign of the promise not to desert him.

This excellent description of a sacrament applies to baptism in that when we are brought to faith and repentance in Christ, we, too, are listed in the service of the "Captain of our salvation" (Hebrews 2:10 KJV). Our standard, the thing to which we pledge ourselves through faith in Christ, is to take up our cross daily, denying sin within us, and follow Him in obedience.

Some early church fathers saw the sacraments as "solemn badges" worn by Christians metaphorically as a means to distinguish believers from the rest of humanity. As circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness and faith (Romans 4:11) under the Old Economy, under the New, the same distinction corresponds to the New Testament sacraments. What baptism represents is Christ's death, burial, and resurrection and how this benefits the believer (Romans 6:1-12). It is the outward expression (sign) of the believer's New, Inward Nature. In every sacrament, there is a spiritual reality between the sign and what it represents.

Baptism is not only a New Testament sacrament, the sign and seal of the New Nature in Christ (Galatians 3:27; Col. 2:11,12), but it was also ordained by Christ Himself. In the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19), believers are commanded to baptize in the fulfillment of the discipleship process. To be baptized is to obey Christ's word.

"In baptism you were raised up with Christ through faith-your own faith, not your parents' faith. If it is not "through faith"-if it is not an outward expression of inward faith-it is not baptism." (John Piper)

In I Peter 3:21, reveals that: 1) Baptism is not the removal of dirt from the flesh (the water is not the object); 2) Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience; 3) Baptism is the outward demonstration or expression of a changed heart and mind in Christ. This, therefore, is a nail in the coffin for infant baptism.

If baptism is a Christ-ordained sacrament for the New Testament, and if there can be no discipleship without it, (New Testament, first-century Christians were baptizing and baptized Saints), then let me suggest five reasons why someone who claims to be a believer refuses baptism.

One is that they just do not know. They truly came to faith in Christ and were not taught to take the sign and seal of the New Covenant through baptism.

Two is that once they learn of baptism and its meaning, they are ashamed to admit they've never been baptized.

Three is that they are apathetic. Once they are taught and understand that baptism is an issue of obedience, they can't be bothered. I have encountered this with the elderly.

Four is that they are rebellious. They have been living a spiritually duplicitous life, and they know it, and if they were to suddenly come forward in obedience and be baptized, they would be found to be a spiritual fraud.

Five is that they are not really Christians after all. Church attendance is all the spirituality they need and is the extent of their meaningless profession of faith or lack thereof.

The waters of baptism are not what save you. Faith in Christ, because of Grace, and through the instrumentality of Faith, is what saves you. But, just as the Old Testament saints received circumcision as a sign and seal of their Covenantal relationship with God, so, too, do New Testament saints receive the sign and seal of the New Covenant through the waters of baptism. It is a command of Christ within the salvific purposes of God. And did not Jesus say,

"If you love Me, you will keep my commandment?" (John 15:14 NASB)