Purpose of Guarding the Treasure

The purpose of this blog is to encourage readers to invest their time into the Word of God and "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." Paul wrote these words to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:14) in his presumed last letter before his execution. May we be those who see the word of God as a treasure, guarding it with our lives, investing in it with our hearts and minds, and reaping the fruit of an abundant life while getting to know the God who loves us and created us for His marvelous pleasure and glory.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What is Baptism?

Baptism has been a divisive issue among Christians for centuries.  Rather than divide us, baptism should really unite us as it is meant to be a tangible picture of the spiritual reality in which the Holy Spirit places believers in Jesus Christ into one body with one faith and one Lord (Ephesians 4:4-5).

The word baptism carries the idea of identification and being made one with someone or something else.  The word “baptizo” literally means to dip or sink.  If you take a white cloth and dip it into some dye, the cloth absorbs the dye, assuming its color and becomes identified with it.  This is a key to understanding the various types of baptism mentioned throughout Scripture.

Most often when we think of baptism, we think of water baptism.  But actually there are other baptisms mentioned in Scripture that have nothing to do with water.  For example, 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 discusses the baptism of Moses in which the children of Israel were identified with Moses and the cloud as they passed through the Red Sea on draw land as the waters were parted.  Another baptism is the baptism of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:27 in which believers are placed into the body of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  John spoke of this type of baptism to be conducted by Jesus, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)  Yet another baptism not involving water is the sacrifice of Jesus where He was identified with the cup of suffering for the sins of the world, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (Mark 10:38).  So as you can see, not all baptisms involve water!

The baptizing ministry of John “the Baptizing one”: John’s message was to fulfill the words of the prophets Isaiah and Malachi -- “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way; The voice of one crying in the wilderness,' Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.'" (Mark 1:2-3, Isaiah 40:3-5, Malachi 3:1)  He called people to repentance in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah by confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:6)  John used water to baptize those who identified with his gospel message and followed him, pledging themselves to receive the Messiah at His coming.  Baptism with water was actually something new and the religious leaders were confused as to why he was baptizing since he was “not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet.” (John 1:25)  John quickly deflected their attention to the coming Messiah “whose sandal [he was] not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)  While John baptized with water, more importantly Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, a superior baptism. (Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16)  Acts even describes twelve believers who had only received the baptism of John, but not Jesus. (Acts 18:24-19:7)  They were immediately identified as being believers of Jesus by means of water baptism at the hands of Paul, although baptism was not a major ministry in which Paul was involved. (1 Corinthians 1:16)  Interestingly enough, this passage clearly excludes baptism the gospel message: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.” (1 Corinthians 1:17)  The gospel message is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) and the response to the gospel message is to believe in Christ (Ephesians 1:13, Acts 16:31).

Baptism and the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts: In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost (50 days after the resurrection of Jesus), the promise of Jesus (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:7-14) and prophecy of Joel (2:28-32) was fulfilled.  Before his ascension, Jesus had instructed his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, “Which you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5)  There is an obvious distinction here between the John’s baptism with water and the baptism with the Holy Spirit which does not involve water.  These Pentecost believers were not baptized with water in order to receive the Holy Spirit, rather they received the Holy Spirit because they were already believers in Jesus Christ!  The great commission includes the phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  The main thrust of this baptism is not the water, but rather the identification with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for salvation.  How is one identified with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  By believing in the Son, Jesus Christ, and trusting Him alone for eternal life (John 3:16).  By faith in Jesus Christ, we are born again and given access to the Father and indwelled with the Holy Spirit.  Now, I am not saying that water baptism is not important, but the act of water baptism itself is an outward expression of the inner spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit when He places believers into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Going back to Acts 2, we see that the Holy Spirit gave Peter incredible boldness to confront the men of Judea and Jerusalem.  Peter spoke trying to convince these men that they were wrong about Jesus and had made a horrible mistake.  They had not believed that He was the promised Messiah and in fact, had Him crucified for claiming that He was the Messiah which they deemed as blasphemous.  Peter spoke of the death and resurrection of the Messiah as prophesied by David and how Jesus was the fulfillment of these Scriptures.  He concluded his message with this powerful verse, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-- this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:36) The Jews who crucified Jesus did not believe this about Jesus, that He was Lord (God) and Christ (Messiah). They saw Jesus as a blasphemer who was making Himself out to be God (John 19:7).  The message obviously resonated with them because the Scriptures say they were “pierced to the heart” (Acts 2:37).  Those pierced then asked the disciples, "Brethren, what shall we do?" followed by Peter's response, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  Peter's response was appropriate for these unbelieving Jews who had crucified the Man they need to trust for salvation.  Peter asked those pierced to repent, which literally means they needed to change their minds about Jesus and believe that He is the Messiah, as well as be identified with Christ through baptism.

Acts 2:38 is a very tough passage.  In fact, a prominent denomination has been established primarily on the contents of this very verse.  Some believe that Acts 2:38 states that both repentance and baptism are necessary for salvation.  However, countless other places in Scripture (i.e. Romans 3:28,4:5, Galatians 3:8-9, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 3:9), including the book of Acts (5:31, 10:43, 13:38-39, 26:18), state that forgiveness of sins is based solely upon faith in Christ.  Repentance is synonymous with faith when referring to an unbeliever seeking justification, meaning someone must change their mind about what they are trusting for salvation, from something or someone else to Jesus Christ.  For example, the Jews in Acts 2 did not believe that Jesus was the Christ.  They had to repent (change their mind) and believe that He is indeed the Christ.  As such, it was their repentance (faith) in Christ that resulted in their justification before God, not the act of water baptism itself.  Water baptism was the natural response to believing in Christ.

Some also believe that Acts 2:38 states that it is the act of water baptism that imparts the Holy Spirit and provides forgiveness of sins.  However, the remainder of Scripture does not support this belief either.  In fact, Scripture teaches that by faith alone in Christ one is given eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:13-14, Luke 24:47, Acts 10:43).  If baptism is required for salvation, then how do we reconcile this belief with the thief on the cross who clearly was not baptized but promised paradise with Christ? (Luke 23:43)  Also in Acts 10, the gospel was preached by Peter to Cornelius and while Peter was preaching the Holy Spirit fell upon the hearers before they were actually water baptized, "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.” (Acts 10:43-48) Clearly the Holy Spirit fell upon them because they believed the message, not because they were water baptized.  Water baptism is an obedient response of a believer, symbolic of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and a testimony to the world that you have trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal life.

Here are some other references to baptism and the Holy Spirit in Acts.

Steven is described as a man full of the Holy Spirit, but there is no mention of his baptism. (Acts 6:5, 7:55)  However, his baptism probably occurred shortly after believing in Christ due to his association with the apostles.
At the preaching of Philip, the Samaritans who believed were baptized. However, the believers did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John prayed for them to receive it and laid their hands on them. (Acts 8:12-17)

Peter condemns the actions of Simon the magician for wanting to buy the apostle's authority to lay hands on believers so they might receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:18-19) This implies a special authority given to the apostles that does not appear to carry forward to present day.

At the preaching of Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch was water baptized after believing in Jesus. (Acts 8:35-39) There is no mention of the eunuch receiving the Holy Spirit though with the Scripture.

Ananias laid his hands on Saul (Paul) so he might regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit all of which preceded his water baptism. (Acts 9:17-18, 22:12-16)

At the preaching of Peter, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and other Gentiles while they were listening to the good news about Jesus. Peter had stated, "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:43) After the Spirit had fallen upon those who heard, Peter recommended they be water baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:44-48, 11:15-16)

Barnabas is described as a man full of the Holy Spirit, but there is no mention of his baptism. (Acts 11:24) However, his baptism probably occurred shortly after believing in Christ as he was associated with the apostles. (Acts 4:36-37)

Peter discusses his ministry to the Gentiles with the apostles and elders in that they "should hear the word of the gospel and believe…giving them the Holy Spirit…cleansing their hearts by faith." (Acts 15:7-9) He also reminded them that "we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." (Acts 15:11) Notice that there is no mention of baptism in this portion of Scripture.

In Corinth, Paul devoted himself to preaching the gospel to the Gentiles because of the resistance of the Jews there.  Luke wrote, “many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.” (Acts 18:8)  Note that the baptism followed the believing which follows the pattern for Gentile converts.

Paul questioned the disciples of Ephesus as to whether or not they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed in Christ. They had not heard of the Holy Spirit. They were water baptized in association with the ministry of John the Baptist, but not as a result of their association with Jesus, whom John was pointing them to. Paul told them the good news that, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." (Acts 19:4) After hearing this, the twelve men were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. However, it was not until Paul laid his hands upon them that they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 19:2-7)

As you can see, there is not a consistent method mentioned throughout Acts as to how believers received the Holy Spirit. In addition, there is not a consistent order for what happened after believing in Christ regarding such things as water baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit, laying of the apostles hands, etc. Most of the early church, primarily comprised of Jews, received the Holy Spirit after the apostles laid their hands of them and were baptized after believing in Christ and yet before actually receiving the Holy Spirit. However, in the first recorded prominent Gentiles conversion (Cornelius and his family in Acts 10:43-45), we find that they received the Holy Spirit after hearing and believing the gospel message of Jesus Christ, not by the laying on of the apostles hands. As such, they were baptized after believing in Christ and after having already received the Holy Spirit. Again, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as they heard the message and believed it. I believe this is the pattern for Gentile believers receiving the Holy Spirit in the present day. My reasoning is twofold: (1) there are no modern day apostles with the authority to lay their hands upon believers to receive the Holy Spirit like in the days of the early church; and (2) it would be nearly impossible for modern day apostles (if there were any) to visit every single new believer in Christ throughout the world. Paul also suggests that believers receive the Holy Spirit upon faith in Christ, "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14) As such, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is given immediately to believers who have listened to the gospel message and believed in Christ for eternal life.

Baptism is Romans 6 and Colossians 2: Paul is describing our new identity through our identification with Jesus Christ.  The key verses involving baptism state, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4, see also Colossians 2:12)  Being identified with Jesus as believers, we have been crucified with Christ and the power of sin and the flesh has been broken.  We no longer have to be slaves to sin.  As Jesus was raised from death, we too should walk in the newness of life, not death.  Paul gives the practical application of this, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:11-13)  The emphasis of this passage is not water baptism, but rather living in the newness of life, presenting our bodies to God for His will and no longer obeying the lusts of our flesh.  Paul stresses that our identification with Christ through baptism in His death and resurrection has made this new life possible. (Galatians 2:20)

Titus 3:4-7: “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Paul speaks of the salvation freely given to us by His kindness, love, mercy and grace, not on the basis of works, but on the basis of faith and the work of the Holy Spirit.  Believers experience a washing of regeneration (i.e. being born again) and renewal by the Spirit at the moment of faith in Jesus.  Paul describes the work of God in the Spirit to wash away the filth of our sin as well as His renewing at conversion and throughout the Christian experience (Romans 12:2).  We must remember that it is not the water of baptism that takes and washes away sin, but rather the blood of Jesus Christ. (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:18-19)

1 Peter 3:18-22: How does baptism save and from what?  Peter is discussing suffering for the right reasons. (1 Peter 3:17)  He uses an illustration to relate with Noah.  Noah had preached for 120 years and called the people to repentance.  However, only he and has household of 7 believed and got on the boat.  Did you know that they got on the boat 7 days before it even started raining? (Genesis 7:7-10)  Imagine the ridicule they must have experienced from those who disbelieved.  Some believe that it had never rained before as well.  What was their salvation?  Getting on the boat.  The immersion in water actually killed people rather than saved them!  In the same way, those who seek God in the midst of suffering rightly and keep a good conscience, doing what they know is right before God through the power of Christ within them, following the example of Noah, will be saved by this baptism.  Clearly this baptism does not involve water, but rather identification with the suffering of Noah and Christ (1 Peter 4:1-2).  They were surely tempted to blend in with their culture and gratify the desires of their flesh.  This is what was happening in the days of Noah.  But Peter appeals to them to live a righteous life being a light to the world in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. (1 Peter 4, Philippians 2:5)

John 3:5-6: “Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  Does the phrase “born of water” mean baptism?  I don’t think so because the remainder of the passage emphases faith, belief in Jesus for eternal life.  Born of water could mean physical birth, the word of God and/or the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27), but the best fit from the context seems to suggest physical birth is in view.  Born of the flesh is flesh” seems to refer to physical birth which Nicodemus is focused upon (v4) while “Born of the Spirit is spirit” seems to refer to the spiritual birth, synonymous with being “born again” as Jesus is emphasizing with Nicodemus.

Baptism of the dead: “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29)  In the context, Paul is defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Corinthian church was apparently struggling with the resurrection.  Paul states clearly that if Christ was not raised, our faith is in vain, we are still in our sins and we are hopeless and to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14,17,19).  But Christ has been raised from the dead! (v20)  The practice of baptism of the dead, while practiced among the Corinthians, was not advocated by Paul in this verse, as he uses “those” and “they” rather than “we” and “us.”  The Catholics seem to do something similar to this for infants who die at birth.  Paul’s point though is that such practice would definitely be futile if there was not a resurrection of the dead. 
In conclusion, we must always seek context when studying the Scripture.  Baptism does not always involve water, but it always relates to identification.  Please carefully consider these interpretations of Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth.  I hope this helps in your study of baptism!  God bless you.