Monthly Archives: August 2016

Paul and Baptism

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.

Is Baptism really Necessary?

Last post I quoted Jesus from John 3 : He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Condemnation comes by disbelief in Jesus and not by failing the baptism test, a test which many people demand to be set before others to make sure they are acceptable to God. As important a place as baptism is in the whole scheme of things (and yes, I have been baptised as a believer and yes, I have baptised others who believed) the New Testament as a whole does not support the view that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Let me repeat : If baptism is necessary for salvation, then millions upon millions of believers who have failed to be baptised as believers,  no matter how godly and how full of the love of Jesus, will face condemnation.

In Mark 16 we read He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

You cannot use this verse to mean that believers who are not baptised or baptised as believers will be condemned. No. This is all about believing. Without believing, baptism does nothing. There are many who i know who were baptised but they do not confess faith in Christ. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God, not what we do. If you believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, changing completely around from the heart (metanoia), you are justified in God’s sight (Romans 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:1-2, 10-11; 8:1-4; 10:9-10).  Baptism is an immersion into a state already established as has been shown.

Repentance and faith bring us into the Kingdom. Baptism can then follow—people are baptised as believers –‘believers baptism’! So the Ethiopian after believing Philip says “What is to prevent my being baptised?”—the desire came from his heart, having believed. Then later at the house of Cornelius Peter says “how could anyone forbid water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) Baptism was a privilege following an experience with the Holy Spirit even without any reference to repentance!

Sometimes ‘baptism’ has nothing to do with immersion in water. It can mean the immersing of the person or persons in a spiritual experience. Here are examples of baptism used in a spiritual sense in the New Testament.

Noah and family were immersed into the terrifying covenant of salvation from judgment (1 Peter 3).  And the Israelite ancestors were immersed into Moses in the sea and the cloud as a profound experience of salvation from the Egyptian Pharoah’s army (1 Corinthians 10). But neither Noah and family nor the children of Israel were immersed in water. In both cases it was the unbelievers who were immersed in water (and drowned). But the believers were immersed in the most dramatic events and were saved. Neither Paul nor Peter taught that water baptism saves. In the same letter Peter had already stated emphatically that God has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead  . . . “ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

We also see Jesus stressed at the prospect of the most traumatic experience—His sacrificial and atoning death for us all: I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed  (Luke 12:50).

And again, His reply to the disciples who asked for the best places in the Kingdom of God was 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)

Many commentators take baptism to be part of the gospel. So David Pawson points to Matthew 28:19-20 teaching that “making disciples is in two steps—first, by immersing them; second, by teaching them to live in the way Jesus had instructed”.  But in saying this David has omitted the essential steps of repentance and faith.  Disciple-making begins with repentance and faith. Also this “baptism” goes well beyond water to be seen as an immersing in the character, the kingdom, the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, especially when we read that in the rest of the New Testament, water baptism was practised consistently only “in the name of Jesus”.

Certainly, water baptism has an important place in establishing a good foundation right at the start for new Christians. But that is just the beginning—discipleship is an ongoing perseverance, a dying daily, a determined transformation of the mind as Paul would insist (Romans 6:3-8; 8:13; 12:1-2) in all his letters.

I hope to address further how the apostle Paul sees baptism and its place of value for the new believer, in my next post.

Jesus’ “Born Again” Chat with Nicodemus

In the John 3 conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus emphatically told the Pharisee leader that he must be born again (verses 3, 7) and “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (verse 5) The idea of the kingdom of God was very important to the Pharisees so this was a critical matter. It is also a critical matter for Christian believers.

Some preachers and writers take “born of water” to mean water baptism, thereby making baptism absolutely necessary for one to be a follower of Jesus, to be in the Kingdom. This is wrong. Many have taught error because they have not examined the context. Bear with me.

Many bible versions indicate in the margin that the phrase “born again” can just as readily be translated “born from above”. The context deals with spiritual birth, a birth from God and not from man just as we read at the beginning of the Gospel of John that those who receive Jesus, who believe in His name were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (1:12).

Look at Nicodemus’ question “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” The context doesn’t allow us to read baptism into Jesus’ words. No. The Pharisee understood Jesus to say that a second birth was necessary, but to him this seemed absurd, especially for someone elderly. Judaism actually taught eight different steps one could take, each seen as being “born again”.

Nicodemus had already been “born again” many times. A Jew could be “born again” by being baptised, by immersing himself and then he was ritually clean. Pharisees immersed themselves very frequently.

Nicodemus could also be “born again” when going through bar mitzvah, or when getting married, becoming ordained as a rabbi, or being the head of a rabbinic academy (yeshiva)—if he lived long enough. That’s why he asked Jesus “How can a man be born when he is old?” Time was running out for him.

Three times Jesus underlined the importance of this question. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  “Born again” means just that—again, born a second time, born from above. “Born of water” is the physical birth, immersion in watery fluid in the womb and the experience of the waters breaking at birth which we all experience.  And this element must come first!

Jesus is contrasting two elements in these verses: first the water and second, the Spirit: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Birth by water means born of flesh, physical birth, out of the womb of his mother.

Again he repeats, Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You (it’s plural in Greek here—‘you all’) must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The contrast continues—you can name the origin of physical birth, but you cannot tell the origin of spiritual birth.

Jesus then in the following passage also emphasises believing and believing alone: whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  There is no baptism mentioned in these words—salvation is not through any human act such as baptism or even obedience to the call for baptism. It is through faith in the grace of God, in the son of God, in Christ crucified, not of works, lest any should boast.

The passage continues He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. Condemnation comes by disbelief cf Acts 4:12.

If baptismal regeneration were true then condemnation is coming for millions upon millions of believers who have failed to be baptised no matter how godly and how full of the love of Jesus (verse 17).

To be continued!