In this post, I aim to briefly address further how the apostle Paul sees baptism and its place of value for the new believer.
For Paul, baptism was all about immersion into Christ and all He means, all He stands for, and especially into Christ’s death—the focus is not about getting wet. It was a plunging into the name of Jesus, not into the name of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas (1 Corinthians 1). He told the Corinthians he was glad he baptised hardly any of them –they were putting stress on the minister and not on being in Christ.
He had come to the Corinthians not to baptise but to proclaim the gospel, the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ. The two are different, separate matters. Let’s be clear, for Paul, baptism though important, was not part of the gospel. To make it so, is to proclaim a different gospel—see his letter to the Galatians.
In Galatians 3, Paul teaches that you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Unless one is decisively baptized into Christ, clothed in Him, baptism is just an empty ritual. Similarly in Romans 6 . . . . .
Don’t you know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
We must ask this question: “ have you been baptised into Christ and his death?” Rather than “have you been baptised?
Baptism can become a sacred cow if this is not seen—the focus then becomes on what you are baptised in or into what denomination or ministry. This often is accompanied by compelling people to be baptised, even forcing them, frightening people about eternal damnation should they fail to follow such commands from well-meaning zealots. This is happening among some street preachers.
This is a tragedy because the experience of being truly baptised into Christ, resolving to leave behind all the past and looking forwards to the high goal of maturity in Christ and knowing Him, can release great power in a new-born believer. We are seeing this more as new disciples are made outside the walls of institutionalised Christianity and in the marketplace.
The subject of baptism too often ends in arguments and disunity amongst believers. This is terribly wrong. There is ONE baptism alone that can save us and that is being in Christ—each of us in Him and He in us in harmony and unity with one another—a reflection of His Oneness with the Father.
Perhaps Paul might even say to some about baptism, if he were here today, what he said of circumcision at the end of his letter to the Galatians (6:12-15) – daring to question the high place circumcision held in Judaism and ordered by Moses, something a bit like this . . . .
Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel people to be water-baptised, simply so that they will not be criticised by some. For those who are baptised do not necessarily follow Jesus in holiness of life. But they desire to have you baptised so that they may boast about it. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is water baptism critical, nor non-baptism, but a new creation.