We are trying to grab a hold of what the very first Christians understood to be the way of following Jesus Christ. They did not waste their time on things that weren’t important. They did not want people do things that were religious just because they had done them in the past. They acted on things because they mattered. They weren’t ashamed to follow Jesus with their whole hearts. Most of the people whose lives are written about in the Book of Acts died because they were immersed in the cause of Jesus Christ.
Some time ago I received this letter and I stuck it away.
Scott: Thank you for taking me though the Basic Beliefs class. One area that I have really been interested in has been on baptism. As you know, I was baptized as an infant. My church taught me that my baptism was a choice my parents made to accept their responsibility to raise me in the faith of the church.
Since I have been considering joining TCCC, I have struggled with how baptism fits. You believe (as you stated in the class last Wednesday) that a person is not baptized into the church, but is baptized into Christ. So does that mean that all of us who were baptized as infants are not “in Christ”? I am not doubting, but I am struggling with the ramifications of that for me and my family.
I appreciated it when you said that when a person makes a choice to be baptized they are not criticizing their parents choice to have them sprinkled. When I talk to my dad about my decision, I am going to thank him for giving me an upbringing that allowed me to explore God and pointed me toward God.
I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I have decided that it is the right thing for me to be baptized. I have decided to do this because I believe that it needs to be my decision, not my parents, or even the churches. I have to admit, I was being stubborn about this until you said something that helped me. You said something like, “God doesn’t ask us to do things that don’t make sense.” Then you described the action of how a person dies and the old person is buried and a new one comes to life. I believe that my baptism will be the start of a new me. That is what I am ready for. I want to be immersed into new life.
That was a good letter for a couple reasons: 1) It shows the struggle that many people go through when they are considering baptism. 2) It shows that she got the meaning behind the action: Immersion into new life.
Today I want to show you something about the book of Acts that I am afraid most people who call themselves Christians will never hear or understand. Today we are going to spend about five minutes reading the verses in Acts that talk about baptism. Then we are going to spend about 20 minutes understanding what they mean. And hopefully, when it’s all said and done, you will be so compelled by the truth of these verses, you will be joining me in the water for your own immersion into new life by Jesus Christ.
Scriptures in Acts. We are going to read most the verses in Acts that mention baptism. Listen and follow along. I am not going to comment on any of them. Please meditate on what these verses are saying to you.
1:5- For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
2:38, 41-Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
8:12-13- But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
8:36-38- As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
9:18- Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
10:47-48- Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
16:15- When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.
16:33- At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.
18:8- Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
19:5-On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
22:16-And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'
Like my friend wrote in the letter, “God does not ask us to do things without purpose or reason.” So lets take a few minutes, use some logic, listen to the heart of God’s Word and pull out some points that the verses we just read brought out. Let’s see the purpose in baptism, the power behind it and the place that it takes us:
II. What Acts Teach Us About Baptism.
1. There is Purpose in Baptism- Baptism is immersion into Christ Jesus. That means our baptism puts us into such a close relationship with Christ that we’re becoming part of him. This is what the first century believers understood about their baptism. For them immersion was more than a feeling. It was more than joining a church. It was not something they did, it is a way of life. Meaning…
A. It is to unite you with Christ (You are leaving death behind and entering freedom and life in Christ). Jesus, Peter and Paul all teach us that our baptism is the departure point from death and the entrance into a new life.
(1) Jesus in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) The very last words we have recorded spoken before he ascended to heaven: “All authority has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I commanded you.”
(2) Peter in Acts 2:38- Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
(3) Paul in Rom. 6- We were buried in baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may live a new life… If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
B. It is to “Wash your sins away” (22:16). Baptism only has meaning when accompanied with personal belief and repentance. It is in response to what I know about my condition as a sinner needing grace (2:37-38; 9:18; 16:31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12; I Pt. 3:21).
Here’s a messed up view on baptism: I can go into baptism a dry sinner and come out a wet one. In other words, I can just keep on being the same old sinner. Paul says no! God didn’t send Jesus to die on the cross to promise you heaven so that you could live like hell. The resurrection of Jesus is working in you so that when you come out of the water you are cleaned up from sin past or future. You go in dirty, you come out clean. You go in condemned, you come out forgiven. You go in helpless, you come out hopeful. You go in wrecked, you come out redeemed. You go in unrighteous, but by the resurrection of Jesus you come out righteous. You go in with turmoil, you come out with perpetual peace.
I know it’s a lot, but it’s just saying that in the baptism, God creates a new person. So when life seems to be too hard for you to remain true to what you know is right, you can remember your baptism. When your friends are putting pressure on you to loosen up and come back to the world’s ways, you have your baptism to remind you that Jesus died and was buried to free you from temptation. When you are laying there at night and memories of guilt are beating you up, you can remember that Jesus washed your sins away when you gave them to him at your baptism. When the road gets weary and Satan whispers to you, “It’s not worth it,” remember your baptism where He said, “you are worth my dying for you.”
There is Power Behind Your Baptism- “the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
Baptism isn’t just some church thing you do to belong. It’s not a ritual of penance or a rite of passage. It is a powerful transaction where God does business with you. It is a moment of transition where you are linked forever with the resurrection power of Christ. There’s an example found in Acts 18 and 19 that can help us to understand it.
18:24- meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. (See, Apollos was a solid believer, very learned and committed. He has a personal faith and belief in Christ. But it points out that he was not lined up with Christ in one area: His baptism. He had been baptized. But something was incomplete). When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, then invited him to their home AND EXPLAINED THE WAY OF GOD MORE ADEQUATELY. Jump down to 19:1.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “What baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied (See, Apollos had been teaching them and his view was an incomplete one). On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. (then he did something that only an Apostle could do). When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit cam on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied (in other words they had the same thing happen to them that happened to the apostles in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost: they were able to miraculously speak in foreign languages). Where does the power come from?
A. It comes fromthe Name of Jesus Christ (19:5). Did you notice how many times that phrase is used when Acts talks about baptism. Some people had been baptized “with the baptism of John.” John’s baptism was similar to ours. Repentance was involved. There was forgiveness wrapped in. But baptism into Christ is powerful because of the name that goes with it: You are being immersed in his name. John had an important name, so did Peter and Paul. But Jesus’ name is not just any name: It is the name that someday every knee will bow to and tongue confess to that He is THE LORD OF ALL. Why? Because He defeated sin, death and hell when he died, was buried and rose from the dead.
B. It comes fromthe Holy Spirit (see 2:38; 11:16). Now when Paul laid his hands on them they received special power to help them witness to cultures where there were language barriers. When the Holy Spirit is given to us, we receive His power to be his witnesses too. God’s power and your submission are a powerful combination. Your baptism isn’t just some ritual that lets you become a member of some church. There is not even a hint of that found in the Bible. Baptism is where your willingness and God’s power come together so that He can radically change your life.
3. There is a Place for Your Baptism.
A. Where there is enough water for you to be immersed (Acts 8:37). I know some of you don’t care about the detail of having to be immersed in water. For you it seems like just as long as you are baptized (sprinkled, have it poured on you, dunked, whatever) that’s what matters. No reason to be legalistic, right? But here’s the problem with that: The word baptize means (TO SUBMERSE IN OR TO SINK IN WATER).
So when Philip was telling the Ethiopian Eunich about Jesus, apparently he explained how the man could accept Jesus, then when THEY CAME TO A PLACE WHERE THERE WAS WATER, THEY WENT DOWN INTOTHE WATER AND THEY CAME UP OUT OF THE WATER. Why is that so special? I am talking about immersion. It is special because of what it symbolizes: Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. It is special because of what it symbolizes for the believer: death to sin and resurrection to new life.
III. What are the Objections People Use?
Definitions matter. Lets say I told you, “I want to present to you this brand new, 2009 Harley Davidson Electra-glide, custom paint, redesigned frame, cast iron wheels, Dunlop tires, isolated drive system, six speed tranny (not that any of that matters). All you have to do to accept my gift to you is RIDE OFF WITH IT.”
You are thinking, “I’d like to accept his offer. I’d like to have that sweet machine. I need to “ride off” with it. What does that mean? Ride off? Could I have someone else ride off with it? No, the way he put it is that I need to ride it. “Ride it” Hmmm. The Websters dictionary defines “ride as to nag, tease, rib.” Since I can’t “ride” a motorcycle, I think I’ll tease it: “Hey Mr. Electra-Glide… Nice wheels… for a clown scooter!” Ya know, if someone offered me a sweet, 09’ Harley and the only stipulation was that I “ride off” with it, I’m putting on my helmet, revving that dude up and rolling!
But people play this game with God’s word. “I want forgiveness. I want God’s power. I want eternal life. He says repent, be baptized… Excuses:
1. I was sprinkled as a baby, in another church. (Then the decision was someone else’s, the method was incomplete and the purpose was for church membership, not personally responding to Christ). Baptism is immersion into Jesus Christ
1a. I might offend my parents who had me sprinkled as a baby. Your belief, repentance and baptism is a personal decision you make between you and Christ. You honor your parents by obeying God. As a believer, you are saying “yes” to God, not rejecting your parents.
2. If I am saved by grace, not by my own actions, wouldn’t baptism be me trying to earn my salvation? Baptism is not me earning anything anymore than believing or repenting is earning it. Baptism is me offering myself to the One who did the work for me on the cross. The cross is where the work for my salvation occurred. My baptism is where I said, “I accept.” I would be ashamed to stand before the One who died on the cross and tell him that I was unwilling to meet Him in this simple, beautiful moment of transformation because it was too much work, too inconvenient.
3. What about all the sincere, believing people in the world who have not been baptized by immersion? Would God send them to hell because of it? God is not confronting all the people in the world but those here today. His word is speaking to you and I. God is the judge and will not error in His judgment. I am not nearly as concerned about those who have sincerely tried to follow Jesus Christ but who have never been properly taught about the place of baptism in their life as I am about any who have clearly received the teaching and yet stubbornly dismiss God’s plan.
As we have been learning from Acts we have been challenging each other to act like we mean it. Let’s not play games with God or with each other. Life is short and there is too much at stake for us to mess around with excuses and theological arguments about the simplest and clearest of the teachings of our Lord.
One more thing that the Acts people show us: They didn’t wait. As soon as they were aware, as soon as they were convinced, and as soon as there was enough water to go down into, they did it.
I’ve never done something like this before, but Josh Sikes challenged me with it. So here’s what the next few minutes are going to be like. I am going to go into the baptistery. I am not going to take time to change my clothes, and I don’t want you to do that either. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and if you have never been baptized by immersion, I want to invite you to meet Christ in the water today. You will get wet, but so what? No excuses, no waiting, no one judging you, just come. I am not going to ask you why you came, or what you’ve done. I am going to ask you, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It’s all about the name.
Come to the doors my left, there will be people to assist you. We are going to sing two songs. As those songs are being sung, come to the water.
Now, what are you waiting for? Arise and be baptized, calling on His name.