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What the Bible Teaches--A Guide to Total Christian Commitment
by Rev. James McRobbie    ©Pillar of Fire, International 
"Baptism is . . . an outward sign or seal of an inward spiritual grace."
Learn more about the power of the Holy Spirit for personal holiness through Sanctification

[Bottom of page] [The Living Word] [Back: Chapter 10] [Next: Chapter 12] [Index]
Chapter 11 Contents: [Why Baptism is Essential] [Mode of Baptism] [Symbolism of Baptism] [Infant Baptism] [Baptism of Adults]

 [What the Bible Teaches refers to numerous passages from the Bible. Your study will be greatly
enhanced by looking up the verses as you go along. If you want to look up Bible verses online as you study, clicking here will open up "The Bible Gateway" in a new window. You may then use the title buttons on your browser screen to move back and forth between the Bible and this study. All quotations in What the Bible Teaches are from the King James Version [KJV] unless otherwise specified.]

Chapter 11: What the Bible Teaches ABOUT BAPTISM

    There has been more controversy over baptism than almost any other tenet of the Christian church. Yet baptism is but a sacrament, a sacred rite, and is in no way foundational or conditional to our salvation. The two sacraments held essential by Protestants are baptism and the Lord's supper. Catholics have seven sacraments; they add matrimony, holy orders, penance, confirmation, and extreme unction [also referred to as last rites or the anointing of the sick --ed.].

Why Baptism is Essential

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    While there have been and still are God-honored organizations that esteem the rite of baptism unessential, yet that is no reason why it should be completely ignored. Doubtless this attitude has been adopted because the necessity of baptism has been overstressed by some. In the first place we are to remember our Lord's final commission to the church [Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16], which places the ordinance of baptism as co-extensive with the command to preach. The command to "make disciples," or "make Christians" of all nations is, upon the acceptance of Christ, to be followed by the rite of baptism as an outward and formal dedication to the Father, Son, and Spirit.
    We are not to infer that there is saving virtue in baptism. Baptism does not save either infants or adults. One may have a dozen or a thousand baptisms and still be unregenerate. A good example of this is Simon [Acts 8:9-24]. It is said he "believed" and was "baptized" [verse 13], yet he was so ignorant of the holy ways of God that he sought to buy the power of the Holy Ghost, an act which evoked from Peter such a stinging rebuke that showed, though baptized, he was not only utterly void of saving grace but in reality a very child of the devil. Peter declared that his heart "was not right in the sight of God," that he was in the "gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity."
    In spite of this, some hold firmly to the idea of "baptismal regeneration," especially Roman Catholics. Baptists, too, put baptism in the forefront; they place it as being a formal profession of faith in Christ for salvation, and of course, adhere to the rite as being administered only in the form of immersion and as being applicable to adults only.
    The Scriptures show that the early church looked on baptism as essential and yet as being entirely separated from regeneration and the reception of the Holy Spirit, from which we can easily see that it has nothing whatsoever to do with our faith in Christ, our consecration to God, or our sanctification. Outwardly it may be associated with our reception as members into the visible church as a human necessary ordinance, but the moment we are saved we enter into the fellowship of the family of God by adoption, and become members of the household of faith and of the church of the firstborn. It is faith that links us to God, even if the rite of baptism is not yet performed. Peter said, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" [Acts 10:47]. Of Philip's preaching in Samaria it is said: "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, . . . they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" [Acts 8:12, 16]. When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost he insisted that baptism could only be applied on the moral condition of "repentance." Said he, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ" [Acts 2:38]. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized [verse 41]. So it was in the incident of the Ethiopian treasurer [Acts 8:37-38], and in the matter of Cornelius who had of long standing been a man of prayer and zealous piety, and now the recipient of the Holy Spirit. [See Acts 10:44-47].
    By these and other scriptures it can be seen that baptism is essential but that in itself it has no saving merit; it is essentially a sign or seal of grace already received. The words of the Catechism state its position clearly, as an outward sign or seal of an inward spiritual grace [John 3:5; Romans 6:3, 4, 11].

Mode of Baptism

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    Let it be remembered that according to the Word of God there is but "one baptism" [Ephesians 4:5], that is, of course, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul says: "For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body" [1 Corinthians 12:13]. The one true baptism is then, without question, the baptism with which Jesus baptizes believers, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" [Matthew 3:11]. Water baptism is not intrinsically a baptism; it is a symbolic sign signifying the sealing of repentance. Seeing then that it is but a sign, a symbol, a sacred rite, the mere form or mode of the ceremony cannot be very important, and, as has been said, "Might be varied according to national custom or local convenience without infringing its essence."
    It is generally conceded that the 3,000 who were taken into the church at Pentecost were not immersed but sprinkled, because of the time that would have been taken to do so, and of the lack of water.
    Jesus submitted Himself to baptism and in order to prove He was immersed it is said that He came up "out of the water." But the Revised Version corrects this when it says that He came up "from the water." In the matter of the baptism of the eunuch it is a known fact that there are no rivers or pools in that district sufficiently deep in which to immerse a man.
    The importance of baptism is put in its true place as being symbolic only when it is remembered that Jesus "baptized not." His disciples did, but He did not. Likewise, St. Paul, while writing in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, thanks God that he baptized none of them, for, said he, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." The mode or form of this ceremony is therefore insignificant; it may be done with propriety either by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion.

Symbolism of Baptism

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    The Old Testament rite that corresponds with the New Testament baptism is circumcision. When first given it was evidently for adults, but later children at the age of eight days were to be circumcised. Like the baptism of water it was profoundly symbolic and if we overlook this feature of baptism we fail to grasp its true and deeper spiritual significance.
    The "cutting" of circumcision implied a dedication to God. Toward self it signified death -- the burial, the putting away of self -- self government, self life, and the flesh. In order that Israel might be His own peculiar treasure, a people whom He could lead and bless and rule, they must of necessity renounce self and yield themselves unconditionally to His holy will. That was what was implied in circumcision, and that, too, is really the symbolic meaning of the rite of baptism.
    Baptism in its outward form signifies a separation to God. Inwardly it signifies the washing away of sin, even all sin, including the inherited sin principle, the "carnal nature" that is "enmity against God" and which is "not subject to the law of God" [Romans 8:7].
    Baptism is a sign of the burial (or drowning) of self, being "buried with him by baptism" into death, that is, a death to sin and self and the world. How few people who contend for immersion know anything about this burial of the old self-life, this death to sin and the world! Irrespective of the mode of baptism, the symbolism remains the same.
    As an evidence of how St. Paul compared the New Testament rite of baptism with the Old Testament ceremony of circumcision we find him, when speaking of Christ, saying in Colossians 2:11-12, "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him." That we are "risen with him," as the apostle says, has nothing whatever to do with coming out of the water; it is a reference to Christ's resurrection, a token of the Christian's new life and heavenly walk of separation that comes in regeneration.
    This cleansing of the heart, this death unto sin, this being "buried with him by baptism into death," is a reference to the baptism which Jesus gives. The same people whom John baptized with water he tells us are to be baptized with the Holy Ghost by Jesus. This practice in apostolic times was adhered to.
    For instance, Apollos, the "eloquent man" of Alexandria, knew only the "baptism of John," but soon Aquila and Priscilla took him to them and "expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." That was with respect to the baptism of Jesus. So it was when St. Paul came to Ephesus and found certain "disciples" who knew only the initial meaning of baptism. He instructed them regarding the deeper meaning of the Christian life, and through his instruction they were constrained to be baptized in the name of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came upon them.
    The type or symbol of baptism is brought out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2. We know that the Israelites passed through the Red Sea on dry land, yet they were "under the cloud," evidently sprayed by the mist from the sea, and so he says, they were "all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Here again is seen the separation from Egypt, a picture of the unregenerate world, and the death of the Egyptian hosts, a type of the burial of our sins in the depth of the sea, and then the "songs of deliverance" and the new life.
    St. Peter said that the flood was a figure of baptism [1 Peter 3:20-21]. That it is a reference to water baptism he disclosed when he said that it is not in the "putting away of the filth of the flesh." Noah and his family were saved from perishing in the flood, the water bearing the ark up. The water in baptism, as a symbol, saves us; that it, it is an emblem of the "washing of regeneration," the saving from death that sin would naturally bring. Here, too, he defines baptism as the "answer of a good conscience toward God," revealing that it is not an external rite but the inward satisfying of the conscience.
    The passage in John 3:5 often referred to in connection to water baptism is not a reference to the necessity of water in our salvation: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." The water referred to here by our Lord has an explanation in Titus 3:5. It is seen here as the washing or laver of regeneration. So it definitely refers to the necessity of the new life so strongly insisted on in these opening verses of John 3, namely regeneration, and the birth by the Spirit to sanctification, positively revealing the necessity of the two works of grace, regeneration and sanctification, as the double qualification for entrance into the kingdom of God.

Infant Baptism

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    The rite of baptism should be administered to infants for various reasons, not that they are to be saved by so doing, but because of what they are in the sight of God.

Baptism of Adults

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    Doubtless all who were baptized by John the Baptist were adults, and perhaps, too, all who were taken into the early church as adults received baptism.
    Children who are baptized in infancy, who grow up in Christian homes, with God-fearing parents, who receive the instruction of the Sunday-school, and who attend divine worship all through their infancy, and are in this way very early led to trust in Jesus, simply grow up in the church and need no further initiation into it except the formal matter of uniting with it in membership.
    With most people it will be different, for usually so many become the victims of sin and are led away as slaves of its adamantine grip through the power of Satan. In conversion, these persons return to the Lord Jesus, become new creatures in Him, and there and then begin to live the life of inward and outward purity, and of dedication to and separation unto God. These are subjects for baptism, which in all its symbolic beauty would signify the new life of regeneration and sanctification, the separation from the world and sin, the death unto self, the dedication unto God, and the entering into the sacred and useful fellowship of the church militant. We belong then to a
"glorious church without spot or wrinkle."
[Top of page] [Sanctification] [Introduction] [Back: Chapter 10] [Next: Chapter 12] [Index]
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