22. BAPTISM?

THERE IS (and always has been) a lot of discussion about baptism. What can one really know about it? The answer is, “Whatever God has said about it.” And that, of course, is where the discussion comes. Nevertheless, it should be possible to make a few general observations about baptism, on the basis of the New Testament, with which all can agree.

Baptism is not a sacrament, with “saving power” in itself. One is not saved by works of righteousness which he does (Titus 3:5), but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). The Bible does not teach salvation by water, or “baptismal regeneration” as some call it.

Yet baptism is not a take-it-or-leave-it matter. It is not a matter of indifference — in the Word of God. It is a command of Christ and of His apostles (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Every detailed record of conversion in the book of Acts lists baptism as a part of that conversion. And that includes the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:32,33) and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:16; 9:18).

According to the Bible, baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27), gives a good conscience (I Peter 3:21), is unto the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and-in some sense — “saves” (I Peter 3:21). How can we square this with what we have already seen in the first paragraph of this article? I don’t believe the answer is hard to find, if we are willing to look for it with a heart set on God’s will.

By nature, baptism is an act of faith. Not faith in the water. Not faith in the one who baptizes. Faith in the work of God (Col. 2:12). When faith causes one to obey God, it becomes a saving faith. This is part of how one is justified by works “and not by faith only,” as James puts it (2:24).

The power that does all this is the power that raised Christ from the dead (I Peter 3:21; Colossians 2:12). We have no way of measuring that kind of power. This much is sure: you can have faith in it!