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It’s great to be meeting with you again. I love our times together as we open God’s Word to better know, understand, and love Him.
The Celebration of God is all about giving God what He deserves every waking moment of the day. He deserves our faith, love, obedience, trust, praise, adoration, worship, preeminence, awe, glory, submission, and so much else. And when we use the word celebration, we’re including all of them.
So, how do we celebrate God with baptism?
That’s an awesome question, and we’re gong to get into the Scriptures to see what God expects of us. Then after you listen to the episode, you can head over to CelebrationOfGod.com to access our episode notes, transcripts, and growing collection of celebration resources.
Now, let’s hear what God has to say about baptism.
In the New Testament, we find two primary ordinances for the church.
An ordinance is something that God has ordained and prescribed. I’m being particular in my word usage, because some people refer to them as sacraments, but the word sacrament more often than not conveys an added layer. When people speak of sacraments, they often believe that by doing the sacrament we are gaining additional grace or merit from God. It’s not simply about doing what God commands, sacraments are viewed as a way of getting something from God.
But we’re going to see that this is not the case for baptism. It’s commanded. We should obey, and, yes, there are are blessing for our obedience, but baptism does not grant us access to something that we could not have otherwise had.
And, yeah, I think I may have inadvertently used the word sacrament a time or two on some of our earlier shows . . . I’m not sure, but — just so we’re clear — the Bible does not show us that baptism or the Lord’s Supper is a special means of grace.
But more on that in a minute.
Lastly, concerning ordinances, it could be argued that every New Testament command is an ordinance of God for His people, and that would be fair given the definition I’ve provided. But — historically speaking — there was one more idea that was required for something to be an ordinance.
Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper were instituted by Jesus and required a corresponding tangible sign. For example, in order to participate in the Lord’s Supper, you need bread and the fruit of the vine. And in order to participate in baptism, everyone agrees that you need water.
However, loving a person can take many forms, and we can’t say that you’re not really loving someone if it doesn’t involve chocolate. The same is true with every other command in Scripture. Reproving, rebuking, serving, preferring, honoring, encouraging, and the like don’t have a singular tangible element that must be present in order to properly obey them.
Now, one last introductory idea. The word baptize is used of many things in the Scriptures. We’re going to see that. I do not plan to discuss the baptism of the spirit or being baptized into Christ’s death or anything like that. This discussion is specifically about the ordinance of water baptism.
So, for starters, let’s establish that baptism really is a God-prescribed ordinance for His people, and then we’ll need to understand the purpose of baptism, and then we can discuss how a person is to be baptized.
1. The Ordinance of Baptism
As most of you know, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This is the passage that establishes God’s precise command that we baptize and be baptized. Of course, there are many more supporting passages in the Scriptures, but this came directly from Jesus’ mouth.
Now, in order to see baptism as an ordinance that is unique from discipling or teaching, we need to understand . . .
2. The Purpose of Baptism
Why is baptism so important? We’ve talked a lot about salvation, discipleship, and teaching, but why would Jesus command His disciples to baptize people?
What’s the point of getting people wet?
Since the Bible doesn’t expressly answer this question, we must sharpen our study skills. Now, I’m going to keep my argumentation strictly biblical, but I will also suggest that a historical study of the ancient church will fall in line with our biblical findings.
First, baptism is always shown to follow genuine conversion. Jesus put it after someone becoming a disciple. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized.” Philip only baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch and Paul and Silas only baptized the Philippian Jailer and his family after they had believed in Christ.
But there were also people in the Bible who believed on Christ who never had the chance to be baptized. The perfect example of this is the thief on the cross. He professed his belief, Jesus promised that he would join Christ in paradise, and then they both died without the thief being baptized.
Here’s where the sacramental crowd starts having issues. Did the thief on the cross not truly get saved? Was he not imparted the grace necessary for glorifying God?
The point is that baptism was prescribed to follow salvation, and we know there were people who were truly born again but who were not baptized, and we know that there were people who were baptized but who were not truly born again. All of this points to the fact that baptism absolutely does not save us.
It was never intended to save us. It’s not part of the saving process. Baptism is something else entirely.
Now, to truly be able to appreciate the purpose of baptism, we do have to have historical context. For example, I’ve often said that modern Christians do not have the same understanding of fasting as the first century believers because we’ve lost must of what was commonly understood about the practice.
In the same way, if a future techno-archeologist discovers a degraded blog file from The Celebration of God and reads the words “Celebration Wall,” he won’t be able to truly understand its purpose simply because he understands what celebration and wall mean.
Therefore, let’s take a moment to understand how the ancient Jews understood the purpose of baptism.
First, there were many ritualistic washings prescribed in the Old Testament that pre-pictured baptism. For example, after touching a dead body, a Jew had to wash himself in a specific way. This was not to make the individual physically clean, it was to make him ritualistically clean. It had specific spiritual imagery attached to it.
Second, if someone converted to Judaism, they were had to have their entire body immersed. Maurice Lamm in the book “Becoming a Jew” writes, “Ritual immersion is the total submersion of the body in a pool of water. This pool and its water are precisely prescribed by Jewish law. Immersion . . . is the common core component of every [traditional] Jewish conversion process, for male and female, adult and child, ignoramus and scholar. It is sine qua non, and a conversion ceremony without immersion is unacceptable to the traditional religious community and simply not Jewish in character.”
He goes on to explain that immersion had great symbolism attached to it, but it also required witnesses.
Well, this immersion was one of the very last requirements to convert to Judaism. Like any other binding contract, witnesses were required to vouch for the proper conducting of the ritual and for full inclusion to Judaism.
Now, there is so much more that could be said, but those are just some of the things that ancient Jews knew about baptism. It was full immersion, it was symbolic, and it was a testimony to the conversion.
Of course, unlike Jewish baptism, Christians are converted before they are baptized, but like Jewish converts, baptism was used to testify of the conversion.
In the ancient Middle East, to be baptized was to testify to the fact that the individual was fully aligning him or herself with a new way of life.
Maurice Lamm wrote, “Submerging in a pool of water for the purpose not of using the water’s physical cleansing properties but expressly to symbolize a change-of-soul is a statement at once deeply spiritual and immensely compelling. No other symbolic act can so totally embrace a person as being submerged in water, which must touch and cover every lesion, every strand of hair, every birthmark. No other religious act is so freighted with meaning as this one which touches every aspect of life and proclaims a total commitment to a new idea and a new way of life as it swallows up the old and gives birth to the new.”
Now, again, this is a Jew speaking of conversion to Judaism. But this is how the Jews of Jesus’ time (including the disciples and converts of Christ) understood baptism.
So, we can say it this way, believer’s baptism is when a new Christian publicly identifies with Jesus Christ. John MacArthur puts it this way, “This water immersion is a picture, it is an object lesson, it is a symbol, it is a physical analogy of a great, profound, spiritual reality. And here’s the point: It is the way God wants to teach the most wonderful truth of all, the union of the believer into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the salvation reality.”
We know that born again believers are to be the salt and light of the world. What better and profound way is there to be such a light than to meet at a public watering hole and there proclaim in word and deed that you are a full-fledged follower of Christ?
And that, my friends is the purpose of baptism. It doesn’t save us, but it’s a testimony to the fact that we are saved. We are born again. We’re a completely new individual.
My son invited some local teens to church on the day he was to be baptized. Afterward, one of them shared that he was a little confused. He wasn’t a Christian, but — as far as he knew — baptism was for babies. I explained to him that baptism couldn’t be forced on someone like a bath. Baptism was more than just being immersed under water. Baptism had to follow salvation which was a personal decision to follow Christ.
That was a very interesting idea that he had never heard before.
Now, there’s a lot more that could be said, obviously a short podcast episode is not the place to unpack the glory of baptism, so we need to move to our third point.
And for this we need to ask, “How is one baptized?” Well, ask ten different people, get twenty different answers.
So, we must then ask, how does the Bible say baptism is done? And that’s actually a really easy question to answer.
3. The Act of Baptism
A. The Way
The reason this is so easy to answer is not that the Bible offers a step-by-step how-to for baptism, but because the Greek words that are used.
For example, the word baptizo literally refers to dipping something in its entirety.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, this word “was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc. Plutarchus uses it of the drawing of wine by dipping the cup into the bowl . . . and Plato, metaphorically, of being overwhelmed with questions . . . . It is used in the NT in Luke 11:38 of washing oneself.”
In Greek, the word refers to being immersed into something else — whether figuratively or literally. Therefore, the act of baptism requires submersing, dipping, immersing someone into water.
And that is repeatedly illustrated in the Scriptures. Jesus’ own baptism in Matthew 3:13 says that He was immersed and then “came up immediately from the water.”
In fact, you will not discover anywhere in the Scriptures where it can even be remotely inferred that the individual was not immersed because of two things — 1. There’s no description of sprinkling, pouring, or the like. And 2. We must not forget that the actual word means to immerse.
As an example, if someone were to argue that the sentence "Jesus walked on the water” referred to Him sailing in a boat, we would have to conclude that either the individual is desperately trying to undermine the miracle of Jesus or that they literally do not understand what the English words mean
And that is the case with the words used for baptism. They literally mean to dunk.
Now, before we talk about the one baptizing and the one being baptized, we need to talk about some recent baptismal trends.
The first — and most extreme — is the idea of a virtual reality baptism. My friends, this is ridiculous. You’re going to have a very difficult time arguing from the Scriptures for the legitimacy of virtual reality baptism. And I would bet that anyone doing so likes to play loose and fast with the Scriptures any way.
Also, there are people who — especially during the governmental lockdowns — are supposedly being baptized in their bathtubs, often without the physical presence of someone to baptize them.
Now, this involves another massive topic concerning whether or not the church should have stopped meeting in person and whether or not virtual church is even a thing.
Suffice it to say, no, online church is not a thing, and therefore there are huge issues with being baptized in a kiddy-pool in my backyard all alone as part of some kind of online service.
As we saw before, baptism is designed to be a public testimony. Now, yes, modern technology has afforded us the ability to share things publicly without being physically present. And I’m not suggesting that you can’t be fully immersed in your pool by an elder in your church in the presence of some born again believers if that is the absolute best that you have.
And I’m also not saying that we can’t make provisions for a hospital-bed bound newly saved 84 year old.
But I am saying that baptism is a significant and intentional one-time act that we should not be striving to make easier or more cool simply because we think we can.
There’s weight and substance, and it should be taken seriously. Therefore, like with everything else in our lives, we should strive to do our best.
So, that’s the process, but there’s another question we must ask. Who is doing the baptizing?
B. The One Baptizing
As we read through the Bible we discover that various people baptized others. John the Baptist, Philip, Silas, Peter, and even Paul — though he admittedly didn’t baptize many according to I Corinthians 1:15 — are all seen baptizing or saying that they baptized people. Obviously Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize.
So, here’s what we know:
1. The men who glorified God as they baptized others were themselves born again. This is consistent throughout all of the biblical examples of Christ-honoring baptism.
2. They were all men. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we see women baptizing anyone. And this is important because . . .
3. They were all church elders. Now, we can get into some trouble with this term depending on how your church understands the term elders.
Biblically speaking, the term elder can and should apply to every born again, spiritually mature man in your church. Therefore, it can and does often refer to pastors (who — as a side note — must be men), but that doesn’t mean that only the voted-in preaching pastor is the only person who can baptize. In fact, Paul’s argument for why he didn’t baptize many people could be easily used to suggest that allowing a lesser-known man of God to baptize new believers could help circumvent potential temptation for the new believer.
Now, obviously it would not be wrong for any mature believing man to baptize a new convert, but we have to acknowledge it’s appropriate for any professing Christian who has exemplified Christ-honoring character to baptize someone. We could put it this way, any man who could be biblically called upon to be a deacon or a pastor should be allowed to participate in baptizing.
Now, it’s my opinion that — using other relational principles we see in Scripture — we could argue that mature, born again fathers would be a wonderful choice to baptize his children, and we could argue that the mature Christian man who lead the individual to the Lord would be a good choice to baptize them.
Obviously, if a woman were to lead a woman to the Lord, it would not be appropriate for her to baptize her new sister in Christ. Though it may not be a role exclusively held for a senior pastor, baptism is exemplified in Scripture to be a role for someone who is in spiritual authority — and God clearly reserves that for men in the church and family.
So, now — as we consider the act of baptism — we need to ask, “Who is being baptized?”
C. The One Baptized
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, the Bible is excessively clear that baptism is ordained for people who are born again.
Yes, if you believe that baptism makes a person a Christian, then you would be foolish not to baptize every single person you can — whether they want it or not. Baptize babies, baptize death row criminals, baptize soldiers, in fact — you should even do a Nacho Libre sneak-attack and dunk your unsuspecting atheist best friend in order to be certain they wouldn’t go to hell.
But all of that contradicts the clear teaching of Scriptures. It contradicts what we’ve already seen about baptism and salvation.
Baptism does not save a person. It’s not a special means of grace.
People are born again when they believe in Christ’s crosswork and resurrection and confess Him as their Lord. Salvation is simply believing God’s promises as He communicates them in the Bible. Salvation is always the results of the gift of faith, and it is not procured by any act of righteousness.
And no unsaved person will ever see heaven. Everyone who has not put their trust in Jesus Christ will spend an eternity in hell.
So, the question is, why do some Protestants baptize infants?
It’s amazing how much I’ve heard and read on this subject, but there is never any consistent Scripture used to argue for the position.
There have been many presbyterian pastors to whom I have loved listening. They rightly divide the Word of truth. They use the Scriptures to interpret the Scriptures. In fact, I have frequently said that if the only good church in my area was a solid Presbyterian church, I would probably not have any issue attending.
But even the best Presbyterian pastor’s I have followed fall short when it comes to their justification for infant baptism. They flounder, they include little to no biblical support for their conclusions, and they seem to focus primarily on the symbolic elements.
For example, since Presbyterians are covenant theologians, their main doctrinal belief concerning infant baptism is that baptism is a New Testament replacement for circumcision. In the same way the Jewish boy babies were circumcised to show their inclusion in the people of God, gentile infants born to believing parents are baptized.
Of course this is neither commanded nor illustrated anywhere in the New Testament. It’s also a stretch considering that Jewish girls didn’t have a comparative sign like circumcision. But that’s what they believe.
A tenuous biblical passage some will use is in Acts 16. This is the passage where the Philippine Jailer is converted. Verses 30-34 read, “and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31 They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.”
I’ve heard the argument made that since “he and all his household” were baptized, then it was safe to assume that it included any infants who were present.
However, the issues with this are abounding. First, it’s an assumption that any infants were in the house. Second, the normal, natural use of language does not necessitate that infants were baptized.
If I have four kids, two teens, and a pair of twin two year olds, and I tell you that “My kids and I rode that new roller coaster,” it is completely appropriate for you to understand from the context that my children who are old enough and big enough rode the roller coaster.
Since baptism has a biblically specific purpose and clearly illustrated requirements, then it is expected that the sentence must be understood “and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household [who believed in the Lord Jesus].”
Listen, I completely understand and appreciate symbolism. I really do. I’ve made that abundantly clear even in today’s discussion. But we must never abandon clear biblical teaching in order to make the symbolism work.
Yes, there are Old Testament events that pre-picture modern baptism. But there were symbolic elements that didn’t fit as well.
Yes, Noah and his family were saved as they passed through the waters. And yes, I Peter 3:20-22 says, “when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”
But even though this baptism is referencing how Noah was brought through the water, it isn’t referring to believer’s baptism.
Baptism does not save anyone. But no one can be saved if they have not been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. But that is a spiritual reality which symbolically fulfills Noah’s experience. It’s not a proof-text for baptismal regeneration.
So, we must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. The Bible will never contradict itself, and when we read it and understand it normally, it perfectly informs all of our decisions in Christ-honoring ways.
So, we’ve talked about the way to be baptized, the one baptizing, the one baptized, and now let’s discuss . . .
D. The Witnesses of the Baptism
I think this is where things get really interesting.
It’s clear that the ancient Jews understood the importance of witnesses at a conversion immersion. And it appears that every time someone is baptized in the New Testament, there are more than just the one baptizing and the one being baptized. This was true of Jesus, the Philippian Jailer, the Ethiopian Eunuch, the converts on the day of Pentecost, and so on.
But this particular point is potentially the one area where modern baptisms diverge from first-century practice.
First, the early Christians didn’t have church buildings with baptismals. Most of the time the person being baptized was taken to a local watering hole, river, or lake.
Second, this reality means that there were likely two groups of individuals witnessing the baptism that day. On one hand you had other believers who likely were already baptized, new converts waiting to be baptized, and — quite often — unbelievers who were curious about the gathering or who happened to be passing by.
But in many modern baptisms, the vast, vast majority of the witnesses are professing believers. This is due to the fact that the baptism happens in the church or is tucked away out of public site.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with testifying to your new life in Christ to a group of believers. In fact, I’m going to argue that — if it’s possible — a new believer should be baptized in front of the largest collection of local believers as they can. This is one reason that being baptized with the church body present is better than a handful of fellow Christians in your backyard.
But what about the unbelievers? Are their unbelievers in nearly every single church gathering in the world? Yes. But I strongly believe that the first century baptisms had a much larger number of unbelieving onlookers than most modern baptisms.
And I think this is an important piece of the puzzle. Since baptism is an ordinance and not a sacrament, and since baptism is the opportunity for a new convert to publicly testify to the fact that they are now a child and servant and follower of Christ, doesn’t it make sense that this testimony would have a significant — and potentially more potent — impact on the unbelievers who have not — themselves — chosen to follow Christ?
When my kids were baptized, the Christians rejoiced, but it was the unbelievers my son had invited before whom my children shone as salt and light.
I’m not saying a baptism that doesn’t happen in front of unbelievers is being done the wrong way or ineffective. But I am calling us to think deeply about the purpose of baptism and how we can potentially strengthen that one-time testimony to the world.
However, I will say that if a husband is trying to submerge his wife in their tub all by themselves — unless that is that absolute 100% best they will ever have — they’re potentially not worshipping God with baptism the way He requires.
At bare minimum, other Christians and/or unbelievers should be there.
Now, again there’s so much that could be said. I’m going to include a link in today’s description to a sermon preached by John MacArthur. He did a great job delving into more detail about this subject. Obviously, there are biblical commentaries and books written by trusted sources.
But, for now, it’s important that if you are a born again believer, you need to celebrate God by being baptized in a biblical way.
I made a profession of faith when I was five, and I was baptized. Actually, I just got dunked in water because I wasn’t truly born again. When I was actually saved for the first time at the age of nine, I was baptized for the first time. It didn’t matter what had happened to me when I was younger.
Baptism is an intentional act to physically identify with Christ in the same way that we have been spiritually united with Him in death and life.
We give Him the priority and preeminence in our lives when we obey God’s commands the way He commands them, and when we proclaim to the world that we are His follower.
If you have never been baptized, if you still have questions, please talk with your pastor or email us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com.
Also, please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets, and join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing Celebrating God with the Lord’s Supper.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.