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What is the most important day in a person’s life?

For some, it is the day they get married. For others, it is the day they see their first child is born. For others, it is the day they leave home and start a new life on their own. For others, it might even be the day of their baptism. However, for those who are baptised, even though the day of their baptism is a really important one, I would suggest that the most important day in their life, the most important day in any believer’s life, is the day they trusted in Jesus and were justified by faith alone, the day they had the Holy Spirit come into their heart, the day they started their journey of transformation which will end when God finishes what he has started, when they will be fully changed into the holy likeness of Jesus.

For those who are being baptised today, this is indeed a special day. But their baptism signifies something which has already happened in their lives. It is clear to anyone who knows those being baptised that they are ‘already’ followers of Jesus. They have ‘already’ experienced the joy of forgiveness for their sins, and the peace with God that only comes from having truly entrusted their lives to their Lord and Saviour.

As Peter writes;

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. (1 Peter 1:8, NLT)

They have trusted in Jesus, who took the punishment of their sins for them on the cross;

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT)

Anyone who knows them can see that they already have the Holy Spirit within, changing them from what they used to be like, more and more into the image of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is evident in their lives:

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22–23, NLT)

As the Apostle Paul writes;

Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT)

For each one being baptised today, they have already placed their faith in Jesus, and have already begun a new life, in Christ.

 

They are righteous by faith in Jesus, not in themselves

It is worth noting that they aren’t trusting in their own goodness in order to be right with God, but in the grace of God alone;

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8–10, NLT)

Each one has experienced the joy of the Spirit within their hearts, they have known the leading of God within them when they have struggled, they have known the peace of God when they have gone through hard times, they have known something of the power of God helping them do what they ought to do when they feel weak themselves. And they have that special peace in their hearts which only comes through faith in Jesus:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. (Romans 5:1, NLT)

So, baptism doesn’t change them, because they have already received the blessings of their new relationship with Christ, by faith. 

If they are already right with God, then why get baptised

So, if they are already justified by faith, and if baptism doesn’t make them righteous or Christians, what it the point of being baptised? Why get baptised?

Baptism is obedience to Jesus

Firstly, the simple answer is that Jesus tells us to. The end of Matthew’s Gospel, the Great Commission, are Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, a command that is passed on down through the centuries by the Church;

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. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NLT)

With the authority of Jesus, we are told to “Go and make disciples, baptising them…” Those being baptised today are getting baptised because Jesus tells them to do so, as his obedient disciples. We get baptised because Jesus told us to. Baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for obedience.

Baptism signifies affirmation of a clear conscience because of what Jesus has done

Baptism, or washing with water, is a very powerful symbol of being cleansed spiritually, and it features in many religions. It isn’t surprising then, that John the Baptist took the already familiar symbol of baptism to illustrate the cleansing of sins in the heart. Baptism went hand in hand with forgiveness, and turning back to God. Peter describes baptism in this way too. Comparing salvation in the ark through the 'water' of the flood, he writes:

"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not as the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21, CSB)

We know that Christian baptism isn’t simply to get clean physically. The word [eperōtēma] translated pledge means that baptism is a vow or promise from the believer towards God, a visual statement of the believer's commitment to follow Jesus. It is grounded in the forgiveness of sins, a clear conscience towards God, through faith in Jesus and his atoning work on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. In the context in 1 Peter 3, baptism is rooted in the what Jesus has done, which has been appropriated by faith, and is a affirmation of the believer's faith and trust in God's saving grace and forgiveness, and his sustaining grace and future hope. It signifies salvation, but does not effect salvation. [See note 1]

Isn’t it wonderful to have a clear conscience! Isn’t it wonderful to have a large debt cleared, a debt which we could not clear ourselves because it was too big, and we were powerless to do anything about it! Our debt of sin is cleared when we accept that Jesus died on the cross in our place, and for us. We can confidently commit our lives to following Jesus, by God's grace to keep us.

Baptism is a symbol of what has happened in the heart

Some churches believe that baptism makes people Christians. Others see baptism as a symbol representing God’s promise of future salvation, like circumcision was in the Old Testament. However, like many others, we believe that it is an outward symbol of an inner change which has already occurred in the past when a person trusted in Jesus. God's Word teaches that we just need to humbly, repentantly, place our faith in him, in order to be right with God. This is clear in one of the most famous Bible verses, that whoever simply ‘believes’ in him has eternal life;

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

Knowing that their place in heaven is guaranteed, those being baptised have joyfully come today to show outwardly what has happened to them inwardly.

As an illustration, many people do what it takes to get a university degree. And on the graduation day they dress up for the graduation ceremony, and walk up to the platform, shake hands and receive their certificate, and then get photos taken, and so on. It is a great day. But that graduation ceremony does not give them their qualification – it only represents what has already happened. Their name has already appeared on the list of graduates issued by the university. If, for some reason, they can’t make it to the graduation ceremony, they still have the degree qualification, they can still put it on their C.V. So too, baptism is like the graduation ceremony – it publicly celebrates what has happened already.

The reality of forgiveness and new life in Christ doesn’t depend on a person being baptised. They receive forgiveness and all that comes with it, when they simply place their faith in Jesus. The thief on the cross beside Jesus wasn’t baptised, but we are told that he went to heaven that very day. Baptism is a symbol of what has occured for the believer, but while the reality of the change is essential, the symbol but not essential, although it is desirable and should be observed where practical. 

Baptism – a public testimony

Baptism is also a public event, a public way of saying that someone has trusted in Jesus.

Some people might be a little reticent to let others know what they now believe. If left to themselves, they might not tell others, for fear of what others might think. Jesus knows that it is sometimes difficult to be public about our faith in him. So, he has taken the matter out of our hands – he simply commands us to go public through being baptised. In effect, Jesus is saying to us, don’t worry about how you will tell your friends that you have trusted in me, just obey my command to get baptised, and that will tell them without you having to say a word.

Baptism – into Christ

Christian baptism is more than the baptism of John the Baptist, a baptism which symbolised forgiveness and returning to a loving and obedient life before God (Mark 1:4). Christian baptism is more than simply being a symbol of repentance. Paul even rebaptised people who were only baptised with the baptism of John (Acts 19:3-5). 

How is Christian baptism different? The word baptism is sometimes used of a trial or ordeal, like a baptism of fire (Mark 10:35-38), or baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). In order to understand what Paul means by Christian baptism, it is helpful to understand what baptism signifies. Paul describes becoming a Christian as being no longer identified with the old nature, but the believer now being ‘in Christ’. This phrase, this theological concept, is one of the most important in Paul's teaching.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1–2, ESV)

He describes this union with Christ in terms of being immersed into Christ;

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3–4, NIV)

Spiritual baptism into Christ has already occurred, as those who know each one being baptised can see. They are not the same as they used to be. There has been a change. Baptism into water symbolises this not only their cleansing from sin, but also their union with Christ, their baptism into Christ. (See note 2 below regarding interpretation of Romans 6:3-4.)

Baptism into the body of Christ

Paul also writes about part of the blessing of being baptised as being joined to the body of Christ, the Church of true believers throughout all time and across the world.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12–13, ESV)

Believing in Jesus, trusting in him, being renewed spiritually in him, also involves being baptised into one body, being immersed into the people of God.

And we have been ‘made to drink of one Spirit’ too.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (Ephesians 4:4–5, ESV)

Salvation is by the grace of God the Father, the atonement of God the Son, and by the power of God the Holy Spirit, and so we baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19–20, NIV)

Baptism signifies the start of a blessed life

Baptism signifies the start of a life of obedience, listening to God’s Word and obeying Jesus in everything that he has commanded us to do, a life of joy in the Spirit, a life of perseverance through difficulties with the Good Shepherd at our side, a life of hope with eternity ahead guaranteed for all who have truly trusted Jesus. The journey doesn’t end at being baptised – it is only beginning.

 

Note 1: For further insight into the use of this word eperōtēma in its context in 1 Peter 3, see: W. Schenk; Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992), Vol 2, 21.

Note 2: Paul's mention of baptism in Romans 6:3-4 refers initially and primarily to spiritual union with Christ, as he speaks to only those who are genuine believers ("all of us" in Romans 6:3 refers to him and the believers there at Rome as noted in Romans 1:7, and by extension all other believers in general). At the same time, he alludes to water baptism, not vice versa. If he primarily meant water baptism which alluded to union with Christ, we would have difficulty interpreting his words to mean anything other than that he supports the idea of baptismal regeneration. That is, since he states that all who have been baptised into Christ have experienced this new life in Christ, he must either mean that baptism secures this new life and relationship with God, or that no-one has ever been baptised who then turns out to be not a true follower of Jesus. Since Paul himself had taught that some who were believers would not turn out to be genuine (Acts 28:30), we can therefore conclude that he was not naively assume that all who were baptised would be true and faithful believers, so he must not have been speaking about baptismal regeneration. Other arguments which propose that Paul meant something different from what he clearly wrote, in an attempt to harmonise Paul's words with a biblical systematic theology, result in a poor hermeneutic between what Paul wrote and what they propose he meant.

 
 
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