Before the Lord Jesus went back to heaven, He left two ordinances for the church – Communion and Baptism.
Communion is perhaps the better known and more widely practiced of the two. People do it often and its purpose is clearly understood.
However, baptism is not as clearly understood, and consequently it is not emphasized as much. In fact, there’s a wide variety of opinions about its meaning and its importance. As a result, many people who call themselves Christians are confused and have never been baptized — at least not according to New Testament guidelines.
So, I today I am going to talk a little about baptism — what it is and why it’s necessary for every Christian to be baptized.
To begin with — baptism is based on understanding and accepting the gospel. So, what’s the gospel? Very simply the gospel is God’s plan for saving human beings. Saving them from what? You might ask. The answer is called, “The human condition”. OK, so, what is that?
Well, the human condition is described in the Bible. The Bible says that all human beings are sinners. A sinner is someone who can’t live a perfect life, and of course, nobody can do that. So, from time to time all human beings break God’s moral standards of behavior. These standards are listed in the 10 Commandments. So, each time a standard is not met — that’s called sin. Sin can take the form of words, thoughts or actions or any combination of the three.
Sin separates us from God, because God is perfect, and perfect beings cannot accept imperfection, which is what sin is. To be acceptable to God — human beings must pay a penalty for each infraction of His standards.
The penalty is death. In this case death is defined as spending eternity in hell.
Now you might say that’s pretty harsh. Human beings are imperfect. They can’t be acceptable to God – unless they pay the penalties for their sin — and the penalty for sin is hell. So, it sounds like all human beings are headed to hell.
This causes a problem for God., because he loves human beings and wants to have an eternal relationship with them. However, sin prevents that. So, God decided to pay all the penalties for all the sin that all human beings would commit. He did that through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus – Who is fully God – came to earth as a man and took the death penalty that all human beings deserve. He died in our place. And since all our death penalties are paid – God offers to forgive us. A person who accepts God’s offer is called a Christian, and he/she enters into a permanent relationship with God.
Now, when a person becomes a Christian there are a number of changes that God makes in each person. The first change God makes is He removes all sin from the Christian. That’s every sin – past – present – future. No sin is missed. So, when God looks at the Christian – He sees no sin. And on top of that God doesn’t remember any of the sins that were removed. It’s as if they never existed.
The next change that God makes is He gives the righteousness of Jesus to each new Christian. What does that mean? Jesus took all our sins on Himself, and He paid their death penalty in full. That’s why – just before He died – He said, “It is finished”. In exchange for taking our sins — He gave us His righteousness. That’s a pretty good deal – He takes our sin away and gives us His righteousness. You see Jesus is perfect, pure and holy and we are not. So, when He takes away our imperfection, He puts His perfection in its place.
Now, I hasten to add – this is a spiritual change. He doesn’t do anything with our physical bodies. He leaves them just as they are. They are still imperfect, and they contain our old sin nature which caused our sin problem in the first place. The old sin nature still suggests evil behavior – just as it did before we were Christians — and sometimes we listen to it and commit sin. That leads us to the next change.
God gives us His Holy Spirit to live within us. The Holy Spirit is also God. The Holy Spirit’s job is to change us and make us perfect like God. So, over time we sin less and less and become more and more like Jesus. Remember we already have the righteousness of Jesus, which was given to us spiritually. Now the Holy Spirit is slowly bringing us up to that standard – but He does it at the physical level. So, as we continue to live under His control, we become more and more like Jesus. This whole process is called becoming a disciple of Jesus.
Just before Jesus went back to heaven He gave His church a command to make disciples. This is called the Great Commission, and it’s expressed in Matthew 28:18-19.
“Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’”.
The way we make disciples is to tell people about the gospel message — the same one that we just discussed — and then ask them to believe and accept it. If, and when they do that, our next job is also defined in the passage. It’s to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
OK, so what is the significance of baptism? From a physical point of view – baptism is a ceremony in which a person is immersed or submerged into water. However, there’s significant symbolism associated with baptism that also needs to be understood. Baptism is actually a picture of what happens when a person accepts the gospel message and becomes a Christian. Before baptism — before a person is actually immersed into the water – he is his former sinful self.
During the baptism ceremony he is immersed into the water. This is a picture of him being cleansed of sin.
He has accepted Jesus’ death as a substitute for his own death penalty, so, all of his sins are paid for. When he comes out of the water — that’s a picture of the completed work of salvation. His sins are gone — they are all removed — and God doesn’t remember any of them. And he has the Holy Spirit of God living within him. He is a new man.
That’s what baptism symbolizes. It’s an outward expression of an inward change. Baptism is a public declaration — acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior — and accepting God’s forgiveness.
Jesus wants us to do that. Let’s look at what He said in Matthew 10:32.
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
Let me close by saying baptism is not a complicated procedure. There are many religions and sects that want to make it complicated. For example, there are legalistic religions that teach one is not a Christian if they aren’t baptized. That’s not correct. The thief on the cross was not baptized. Yet Jesus told him that he was going to heaven.
There are religions that teach that full immersion is not necessary — that sprinkling is sufficient. However, that’s not biblical.
There are religions that teach baptism of babies is a legitimate form of baptism and is all that is necessary.
This is also not biblical. Babies know nothing about the gospel — much less having made a profession of faith in it.
Baptism is a simply a command of Jesus. We are to be baptized when we become Christians. Jesus said if you love me you will do what I say. So, let’s be obedient and do what Jesus says. Let’s get baptized.
See you next week…