Tag Archives: baptism

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!

THE GREAT OMISSION

THE GREAT COMMISSION  OMISSION

Consider with me Jesus’ words, we call “the Great Commission” set in Matthew 28:18-20.

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth, therefore …..

This authority given to the risen, glorified, Jesus is what makes such an impossibly huge and risky task set before his stunned and vulnerable followers, not only possible but doable! It is only on the basis that the Father has given Jesus all authority, not only in the heavenly places but also on earth. Right where they were. Right where we are.

Such an authority has been given to the man Jesus who is risen from death and is gloriously Lord! The authority is given to Jesus alone, but will flow through to those who are joined to him and when the Holy Spirit is at last poured out upon them.

This promise to his followers was given well before the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them. It is this coming of the Holy Spirit that will make all the difference: the authority given him, and only to him, will flow onto them. Why? For what purpose?

……… make disciples of all the nations …….

This means making disciples of Jesus, and not of us, our ideas or our agendas. It is his kingdom not ours. They must follow Jesus, be like him, reproducing, sowing seeds.

What is meant by “the nations”? For a Jew, typically it meant going to the Gentiles. It means peoples everywhere, Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, Africans, Asians, Chinese, Americans, Westerners, East and West Europeans, indigenous. It means rich, poor, males and females, young, old, everyone. The whole world.

… baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit …

The consistent practice of the first followers was to baptise in the name of Jesus. But Jesus’ emphasis in this context is about plunging disciples into a relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and not merely into water. True baptism involves becoming children of the Heavenly Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

….. teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….

It is Jesus’ commands that are important. In the hearts of his disciples Jesus’ words must take the place of all others, previous and yet to come: receive the Holy Spirit, make disciples, bear witness to me, proclaim the Kingdom of God, serve one another, humble yourselves, love one another, glorify the Father …. to mention only a few.

In fact, dare we add to what he asks? Dare we introduce practices, traditions and religion now we have such a momentous and perfect revelation of the mind of the Father in the person of Jesus?

Have we so quickly turned away from the great commission and instead pursued agendas of our own – a great omission – and now we have the great substitution, mere religion?