Questions about Baptism
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 12, 2007


Main Passage: Romans 6:1-11 (NLT) Video – “Water”

Baptism. When did this strange practice ever begin? What’s the point of dunking people under water. Why is that even connected to our faith? Does anything actually happen when you’re baptized? What does it mean? What is it all about?

In just about two hours, we’ll be taking the time to once again celebrate baptism. Several members of the Sunrise Family will be baptized this afternoon. And so I thought we’d talk about it for a while this morning.

Except that I had one problem. Because this is August. And I don’t get to talk about what I want to talk about in August. This is your month. This is when I speak specifically on topics and passages that you have requested. That’s what this message series “You Asked for It” is all about. And I had already been planning to speak on another topic this morning based on one of the requests that were made by you.

So I was in a little bit of a quandary. I didn’t want to just hijack this series. Because I get to talk about what’s on my heart the other eleven months. But it just seemed right to me that we should discuss baptism here this morning. So what’s a pastor to do? Well, thankfully, Harvey came to my rescue.

Harvey and I started talking about baptism this week while we were at the Leadership Summit, and he was curious about when baptisms even began. I didn’t actually know the answer to that, and so I told Harvey that I’d look into it and get back to him. So Harvey, because You Asked for It, we’re going to talk about Baptism this morning.

Okay, so I manipulated that just a little bit. But don’t worry; the topic that was bumped today will be address either later this month or sometime in September. Okay? And I’ve already discussed it with the person who requested that topic.

So what we’re going to do today is this: we’re going to explore a few of the frequently asked questions about baptism. You can see those questions already laid out for you in your notes. And you can follow along and fill in the blanks as we go. The first and most obvious question is:

Three Essentials Questions Baptism:

A.    What Is Baptism?

Four Things…

1.    A rite of initiation and cleansing.

Let me ask you a question. How do you become a Jew? Well, there are two answers for that. One is a strictly racial answer – you’re born to Jewish parents. That makes you a Jew by birth. But what if you’re not born as a Jew? What if you belong to another people group, but embrace the Jewish faith. How do you become a Jew then? You go through an initiation.

And for those Jewish converts in the Old Testament, that meant two things: first, for the guys, it meant circumcision. That was a practice that set the Jews apart from all the other peoples in the area.

And second, baptism was often used to initiate newcomers to the Jewish faith. It was part of a purification or cleansing ritual. And for obvious reasons, it worked much better for women who wanted to become Jews.

That dates all the way back to the time of Moses, so baptism was being practiced at least 1500 years before Jesus and John the Baptizer appeared on the scene. (Although it wasn’t actually called baptism at that early stage… it was called mikvah.)

And then when Christianity began to emerge, the practice continued to be used in this new faith. Except it became even more important. It became even more central to the initiation of people to the Christian faith. Because circumcision was replaced by baptism as the primary sign that you belonged to the community of believers in Jesus Christ.

2.    A public statement.

On the very first day of the church’s existence… on what we call the Day of Pentecost… the apostle Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit and he went outside and preached a sermon about Jesus, and three thousand people converted to Christianity that very first day.

And do you know how they let people know that they had placed their faith in Jesus? Take a wild guess. They were baptized.

Acts 2:41 (NIV)
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

It was their initiation, and it was their public statement.

You see, once a person admits that he or she is a sinner and turns to Christ for salvation, the Bible says that the watching world needs to know that you’ve made that decision, and baptism is the prescribed way to let them know.

In a way, baptism separates the tire kickers from the real buyers… the window shoppers from the serious investors. Baptism has always stood as a “Do you mean it or don’t you?” test for the person who moves from being a spiritual seeker into being a believer.

Because it’s one thing to say in the privacy of your own heart that you’re a sinner who needs a Saviour. It’s quite another to step out of the shadows and stand before a group of people to demonstrate publicly that fact, to confess that what Christ did on the cross has now been applied to the sin of your life, and to declare that you’re dedicating the rest of your life as best you can to being a Christ follower.

3.    A means of accountability.

I don’t know if this was part of the original plan for Baptism or note, but it has certainly proven to be this over the years. Because being baptized kind of makes you do a gut check, because once you go public it’s tough to turn back, isn’t it? Baptism asks of your faith, “Do you mean it enough to stand in front of family and friends? Or do you want to play it safe and hide in the shadows?” Being kind of a “closet Christian,” if there is such a thing.

Because make no mistake about it; Jesus commanded those who claimed to be his followers to prove it by being baptized publicly. There are no exceptions to his command. He doesn’t say the rich have an exception or the introverts have an exception or so and so has an exception. He said everybody.

And when you’re baptized publicly, you’re making a public statement about who you belong to, and whose values you live by. When you’ve made that kind of public declaration, it’s pretty hard to act in a way that’s inconsistent with that, isn’t it? Because you know people are watching you. They know that you’ve made this public declaration, and now they want to know if it’s real. Or will you betray your faith? Will you embarrass your faith? It just holds you accountable.

4.    An outward expression of an inward reality.

How? Because of the symbolism involved. Symbolically, it does a couple things.

•    It illustrates my new life as a Christ-follower.

Jim read this verse for us earlier. Now let’s all read it aloud together…

Romans 6:4 (NLT)
For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

As a Christ-follower, you’ve experienced a transformation. Your old life is gone. You’ve been made new. And baptism symbolized that. As you’re going down into the water, you’re declaring “I’ve died to myself. I don’t live for me anymore. Jesus died for me, so now I’m dying for Him.” That’s when you’re going down into the water.

And then when you come up, you’re testifying to the new life you have in Him. You’ve been transformed. Now you live for Him.

Colossians 2:12-13 (NLT)
For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead… Then God made you alive with Christ.

•    It represents the cleansing work of God in my life.

From the time baptism was first practiced during the time of Moses, baptism represented a purification in the life of the one being baptized. And that still continues today. From head to toe, baptism declares that God has washed away your sinfulness and you are now found clean and pure in His eyes.

Baptism doesn’t make you clean… baptism doesn’t save you… Baptism shows that God has already done this for you. It doesn’t earn your salvation; it expresses it.

Mark 1:4 (NLT)
…People should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.

So people are baptized when? After they’ve turned from their sins and turned to God. Baptism shows what has already taken place on the inside.

Which, by the way, is why I prefer to dedicate children and baptize adults.

Now, some churches do baptize infants. Is that wrong? Well, not necessarily, but I think there’s more to it than that. You may have been baptized as an infant, but you should also consider being baptized as a believer.

Because as an infant, you had no choice in the matter. It wasn’t a declaration about anything that you had decided or anything that God had done in your life.

Those of you who were at the Leadership Summit this week, did any of you go over and look at the pictures that were hanging on the wall just inside the entry way? Did you notice the picture of the elderly couple there? That was a picture of B.C. Cochrane and his wife Hilda. I believe they started that church in Moncton.

Well, when I was born, B.C. Cochrane was the pastor at the church my parents attended. So my parents went to him to have me dedicated. And I remember it like it was 36 ½ years ago.

What were my parents doing when they did that? They were committing themselves and me to the love, care, and protection of God… they were expressing their desire that someday I would make a personal choice to acknowledge my sinfulness and turn to Jesus personally. They were pledging to raise me within the context of a church family where I would learn about God and be told about His great love for me and about what He had done for me.

I was dedicated then. And later on after I had made the decision that I would follow Jesus for the rest of my life… then I was baptized.

Take a look at what it says in Matthew 28…

Matthew 28:19 (NLT)
Therefore, go and make disciples… baptizing them…

What happens first? You become a disciple. You become a Christ-follower. Then what happens? Then you’re baptized.

But, in the event you were baptized as an infant, that’s okay. You can understand that to mean that it was the intent of your parents that you would one day be a follower of Christ. So why not bring it full circle? Your Baptism as a believer can be viewed as the fulfillment of your parents’ wishes. It in no way diminishes the Baptism you received as an infant. It just says that what your parents hoped and prayed would happen has happened. You have been changed on the inside. And Baptism just demonstrates that change.

B.    Why should I be baptized?

Well, aside from reasons we’ve already talked about, you should be baptized…

1.    To follow the example set by Jesus.

Jesus Himself was baptized. And it wasn’t some minor event in His life. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us about the baptism of Jesus. And so when He asks you to be baptized, you can understand that He Himself was baptized. He’s not asking you to do something He wasn’t willing to do Himself.

(Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22)

2.    Because Jesus commands it.

Just before his ascension, he gave the disciples and Christian leaders throughout the ages the specific order to continue to challenge new believers with baptism, no matter what culture they come from and no matter what belief system they came out of, if any. He told them…

Matthew 28:19 (NLT)
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them…

So I have a God-given directive to tell you, “you need to be baptized.”

But you know, sometimes being baptized comes with a price.

My wife recently returned from a humanitarian trip in a part of the Muslim world where Christians are not permitted to practice their faith publicly. And that includes baptism. in fact, the week after she returned home, the church there had a baptism scheduled to take place in a bathtub in someone's home because that's the only place they could do it. And the people being baptized would be shunned or even disowned by their families.

And this is common in these parts of the world. When a Muslim accepts Christ and becomes a Christian, they may be taken to a bathtub or brought down to a muddy river someplace and be baptized right there. But often times when this happens, the rest of their family members will officially shun them for the rest of their life.

That’s how much a baptism costs a converted Muslim in India, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or Indonesia, or even right here in Canada. And yet these new believers are willing to do it in order to obey Jesus. Baptism is a big deal, and they understand that. Is it a big deal for you?

3.    It demonstrates that I’m serious about following Jesus.

Acts 18:8 (NLT)
…all the people who had faith in the Lord were baptized.

Let me ask you, if you’re a believer and you haven’t been baptized, what’s holding you back? What’s the big hold up? Are you too proud to be baptized? Do you think you don’t really have to follow Jesus’ instructions in this area?

“All the people who had faith in the Lord were baptized.” Do you have faith in Him or don’t you?

C.    When and where should I be baptized?

When? As soon as possible after conversion. In Acts chapter 2, we’re told that on the Day of Pentecost the church “went public”… the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, Peter went out and preached the first sermon, and 3000 people accepted Christ AND WERE BAPTIZED that very day. They didn’t sign up for baptism classes, they didn’t have to enroll in a prolonged period of preparation. They were baptized immediately. So if you’re a believer and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that’s all you need. You’re ready.

Hey, you could be baptized today!

As for where, well, John the Baptist and the early Disciples baptized in rivers and lakes. Eventually, baptisms moved inside church buildings, especially in countries like ours where the weather doesn’t permit outdoor baptisms year-round. Churches like ours that don’t have their own facilities either borrow or rent other facilities, or return to the tradition of baptizing outside in rivers or lakes like we’re doing today.

The fact is, there’s nothing special about the location or the water we use to baptize. A baptism that takes place in a bathtub is as valid as a baptism that takes place in a river which is as valid as a baptism that takes place in a church building. I’ve taken part in baptisms in church baptisteries, in swimming pools, and in rivers. Whether it’s in a church building, filled with chlorine, or under the open skies, it’s just water… taken from a tap or flowing down the river. In Acts 8, the apostle Phillip tells an Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus, and listen to what happens…

Acts 8:36-38 (NLT)
As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

There’s nothing special about the water, what matters is the obedience.

So the exact location is not all that important. But it has seemed obvious to Christians throughout history that your baptism should be within the community of the church that you call your home. That’s where you can be baptized within a community of people who know you and love you. That’s where someone will help you reflect on the significance of this sacrament, and that’s where someone can congratulate and celebrate with you about the greatness of God and the new direction of your life.

So let me ask you very straightforwardly… have you been baptized since you’ve become a believer? Since you’ve come to personal faith in Christ have you said, “Yes Lord, I will gladly walk out of the shadows. I’ll stand wherever you want me to stand. I will give a public witness that I’m one of yours through what Christ did on the cross. I will be baptized as an expression of what you’ve already done in my life.”

If you have not been baptized then today is a good day.

(Thanks to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and Keith Drury who provided resources for this message.)



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