The Bible teaches baptism for penitent believers. Acts 2:38 says, “Then Peter said unto them, repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The same admonition which the Apostle Peter gave on the day of Pentecost applies today. We live in a day when the importance of baptism is being questioned, and the whole matter is often treated lightly. The message in this pamphlet deals primarily with the meaning, the importance, and the significance of baptism. It is not our purpose to be critical of the beliefs of others. We want to share the message with all the love and consideration that we know how to show—but we do want to be loyal to the Word of God.
1. The Meaning of Baptism
We want to define the word “baptism,” so that we might have a clear understanding of the meaning of New Testament baptism. Baptism is an outward act which signifies an inward decision. Trine immersion is the mode of baptism held forth in the Word of God. The word “baptize” itself comes to us from the original Greek word “baptizo”—a word which means “I dip, I plunge, or I immerse repeatedly.” The very meaning of the word would tell us that it is necessary to dip, to plunge, or to immerse. This same thought is emphasized in Romans 6:4, which says that “we are buried with him by baptism into death.” In order to be buried, we need to go completely under the water. I spoke to a young man one day concerning New Testament baptism, and he said that he didn’t feel that it was necessary to go down into a stream, and there be immersed, or dipped under the water, in order to comply with the New Testament teaching. I pointed out that the Word of God says that we should be buried with Christ in baptism. Then I asked him this question: “If I would give you an animal and tell you to take it out into the field and bury it, what would you do?” He said, “Well, I would have to dig a hole, put the animal in, and cover it over.” His answer was a good explanation of the word “bury,” even though he himself rejected dipping in water as New Testament baptism.
You say, “But preacher, we understand that to some extent, but why insist on trine immersion? Why would not one immersion (one dipping) be sufficient?” Notice that baptism symbolizes a crucifixion, a burial, and a resurrection. Furthermore, we want to recognize the Triune Godhead as God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and also the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that the Trinity ought to be recognized with separate and distinct actions in baptism. Matthew 28:19 says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” There are three names and the baptism is to be in each name. It doesn’t take an education to understand that this would take more than one action to carry out the command of the Word of God. If I place three cups on a table, and I put milk into the one cup, and orange juice into the second, and water into the third—and then I say, “Now you take this pencil and dip it in the milk, dip it in the orange juice, and dip it in the water”—how can you ever do this with one single action? It is necessary that with three distinct and separate actions, the pencil be dipped into each cup.
Why do we dip with a forward action in baptism? Why bury three times in a forward direction? The argument is that we always bury an individual on his back. But the Bible teaches that we are to be baptized in the likeness of Christ’s death, not in the likeness of His burial. Romans 6:5 (continuing the thought of baptism in verse 4) says, “We have been planted in the likeness of his death.” And the Bible says that when Jesus died on the cross, He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:30). Furthermore, the Christian life is always a forward movement, and never a backward movement. We go on and on and on. Jesus gave us an example of New Testament baptism when He Himself was baptized of John in Jordan. He went down into the water, John baptized Him, and He came up out of the water.
2. The Importance of Baptism
Just how important is baptism? Is it something that we can do if we want to, and something we don’t need to do if we don’t want to? Yes, that is just what it is. But notice this: If you want the blessing, there is no way to get it apart from complying with the teachings of the Word of God.
There are those who teach that baptism is all right; it has it’s place; it is good; they think one ought to be baptized, but they put it this way: You are born again by the Spirit of God; you become a child of God, and then (as you grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior) you come to the place where you see that this is something that Jesus taught; and then you will submit, and want baptism. Once again, I must be true to my convictions, and to the Word of God. I have a firm conviction that baptism is an integral, essential part of the New Birth experience. I recognize that it is the Spirit of God who brings us to the place where we recognize our need before God, and where we see the value and importance of baptism, but I question the completion of the New Birth without it. I would like to explain this position as follows: In John 3:3, Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And you say, “Yes, we know that; we understand that; we agree with that.” But now we go to the fifth verse (after Nicodemus said, “How can these things be? How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”). Jesus said in essence: “Now listen, Nicodemus, this is going to be important—verily, verily I say unto you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” You say, “But that word `water’ doesn’t mean water—it means `the Word of God.’ One is born by the Word and by the Spirit, and thus he becomes a child of God.” Well, if God didn’t mean “water” (and instead He meant “the Word”)—why didn’t He say “Word”? How am I to understand the Bible if God didn’t say what He meant? The Greek word translated “water” in John 3:5 is the same Greek word that is translated “water” in John 13 when Jesus instituted the ordinance of feet washing. I for one believe that Jesus said what He meant in John 3:3, and that He meant what He said.
I have a conviction that the New Birth is just as miraculous and just as simple as a natural birth. The natural birth is the result of seed that is sown. It develops and grows and the day comes when it is time for a child to be born. Then comes the time of delivery, when the child comes forth from the mother’s womb to live in newness of life—to be a new individual on his own—to breathe and eat and grow to maturity. The New Birth is an identical situation, but it is realized in a spiritual sense. The New Birth is also the result of seed that is sown. This seed is described in 1 Peter 1:23 and in Luke 8:11. The Word is sown; it is implanted; it develops and grows. It is by studying and hearing the Word of God, that man sees his need before God, and that the plan of God is revealed to him. And then one day, after the Word by the Holy Spirit is applied to the heart, the individual becomes convicted that his life is not right with God, that he needs to confess before God, and that he needs to repent. This he does, and there is an outward change. He has exercised faith through obedience and submission to God’s complete plan. The day has now come that he is ready to be born, a spiritual child. Therefore baptism is nothing less than “the delivery experience” of the New Birth. When the Bible says, “Except a man be born of water,” it indicates coming forth out of the water, to walk in newness of life. The Holy Spirit (at baptism) has entered inside to give life, and one becomes a child of God. He has been born into a new life. He receives a divine nature, a desire to live for Christ, to breathe, and drink, and eat spiritual food, and grow on toward maturity.
3. Illustrations of Baptism Truth
In 1 Peter 3:18-21, there is an illustration from the Old Testament recorded in order to help us catch the significance and the importance of baptism:
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit, by whom also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometimes were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water; the like figure unto which even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Now one of the lessons set forth in these verses is this: Just as Noah and his family left their old life with the antediluvian world, just so we as Christians die out to our old life of sin. Just as the sinful world lay buried beneath that deluge, even so we bury the old man with his desires and his appetites. Just as Noah and his family in the Ark passed through the water to enter into a new life in covenant relation with God, just so from the baptismal grave, we likewise rise to walk in newness of life.
I believe that just as Noah proved his love and his faith and his obedience, in building an ark the very dimensions that God said it should be (with the window and the door and everything according to all that God commanded him), even so, we will prove our love and faith to Christ by being obedient to even the smallest commands of the Word of God. This will bring “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” Friend—if you are seeking salvation, don’t try taking short cuts. If Noah would have cut corners, or would have doubted God, and sat down on a stool and said, “God, I just don’t see that all this is necessary. I think you could save me some other way”—what do you think would have happened to Noah? He would have drowned with the unbelieving world. And folks who disregard the plain, simple teachings of the Word of God in our age, are likewise headed for disaster.
In 2 Kings 5, there is another illustration. We read about Naaman. He was a great and honorable man. He was a mighty man in valor, but he was a leper. Leprosy was something for which there was no cure (as far as human help was concerned). But there was a little captive maid within the camp who said, “I know where there’s a man who can take care of this situation. His name is Elisha. He is a man of God over in the camp of Israel.” So Naaman prepared to go to Elisha. The king gave him leave, and a lot of gifts. Naaman first got to the wrong place, but he was directed to the house of Elisha, and he stood at the door of the house. Elisha said to his messenger, “You go out and tell him to go down to the Jordan, and there wash himself seven times, and he shall be clean.” Naaman said, “What kind of carrying on is this?” Naaman was angry. The Bible says he went away saying, “Behold I thought Elisha surely would come out to me, and stand, and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and cure the leprosy.” But it didn’t matter what Naaman thought. It was the command of God’s prophet that counted. It stood unalterable, and was not to be changed. There are many who say, “Well, I think this is just as good”—but it doesn’t matter what you think, or what I think; it matters instead what God says.
There was one in that company of persons who used better judgment than Naaman. One of his servants said to Naaman: “Now master, let’s stop and think a little bit. If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing (that sounds like our present age), wouldest thou not have done it? How much more rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? I’ve been with you for a little while; I know just how you are; if this had been something that would have elevated you in the eyes of men; if this had been something that would have put your name on the front page of the newspaper, then you would have done it. You would have pushed out your chest and felt elated over all this. But you are too proud to humble yourself and go down to the Jordan and do this simple thing. You’re afraid somebody might laugh, somebody might hear that you’ve been puddling around over in the muddy Jordan, and they’ll make fun of you. Now why don’t you do this simple thing?” When Naaman complied with this simple command, he received the blessing.
Let it be understood that I am not basing salvation on water baptism alone, but I am linking together faith in the Christ who died, and obedience to the Word of God—so inseparably that they can’t be taken apart. I don’t believe that it is worthwhile baptizing anyone, unless he has believed first in the Christ of Calvary. See Acts 8:37. If the eunuch (in Acts 8) had not first believed, the baptism would have been meaningless. If Naaman (in the Old Testament illustration) had not believed first that this thing which he was commanded to do, was the right thing to do, he would have come back, still a leper. But when he was convinced that this is just what it was going to take, and that he might as well submit to it—because he had a desire to be cleansed, he came forth clean (2 Kings 5:14). We first exercise faith in Jesus Christ, then we prove our faith by obedience to the simple, plain teachings of the Word of God. Jesus says in Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” It simply says this: “He that is baptized and doesn’t believe, shall be lost; he that believes and won’t submit to baptism shall be lost; but he that believes and is baptized, the same shall be saved.” This is the plain teaching of the Word of God.
I like to take the marriage vow and make an application, to help us understand the importance of baptism. I believe that the marriage ceremony is (in our relationship to each other) what baptism is in our Christian experience. Men, brethren—if you didn’t love your wife before the preacher said those few words on the wedding day, certainly the few words he spoke then, didn’t make you love her. And the same thing is true for the wives. But what was the ceremony? It was an outward testimony of a former decision. You and your wife-to-be talked the thing over, and you came to a few conclusions. We are willing to forsake all others; we are willing to pledge our loyalty and our faithfulness to each other; and we are going to give an outward testimony of this decision by coming before the preacher, and there exchanging our vows. He will perform the ceremony and pronounce us husband and wife. The marriage ceremony is the outward testimony of an inward and a former decision.
Think about another question: If your wife-to-be and you had talked this matter over, and if the two of you had decided that this is the thing to do, and then on the day of the wedding, sometime before the ceremony (perhaps an hour before it was to take place)—suppose she would say, “I don’t see any sense in this. I just decided I’m not going to be married. I don’t want any ceremony.” You would almost question if she loves you. You would question the validity of what she had said only a short time before. Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Friend, if you question the New Testament command for baptism, God has a right to question your love for Him.
There is something else about this that you should notice. When my wife and I arrived at the moment when we decided that we are going to exchange marriage vows, my earthly possessions were very few. But five minutes before we were married, if I would have been taken from this life, do you think she would have fallen heir to what little I had? Not at all. But as soon as the preacher said, “According to the authority vested in me as a minister of the Gospel, I now pronounce you husband and wife,” and signed his name to that marriage certificate—if I had been snatched out of this world, she would have fallen heir to everything I had. Why? Because we had complied with the legal requirements for uniting two persons in holy matrimony. Only after we comply, and meet the conditions, and give an outward testimony of the inward decision (by submitting to the marriage ceremony of baptism)—only then, do we have the right to claim that we are heirs with Jesus Christ to all that the Father has.
You say, “Preacher, would you go on record saying that I will be lost without water baptism, and that I cannot have the Holy Spirit without New Testament baptism?” I’m going to put it this way: You accept the plain teachings of the Word of God; you repent and confess your sin; you submit to Christian baptism as the Word of God gives it to us; and I’ll guarantee you the results; I’ll guarantee you the blessing. But I cannot in good conscience promise the blessings outside of baptism. I speak in the spirit of love and consideration. I don’t claim to know all the answers. But I believe that we ought to read the Word of God carefully, and then we ought to walk humbly and obediently before God.
If you are reading this message, and are yet outside the Lord Jesus, may the Holy Spirit help you to see the blessings that are in store for those who decide for Jesus, and the beauty of walking in obedience to the will of God. Are you going to risk trying some other way, or will you by faith accept the plain teachings of the Word of God, and be sure of the results?