Things Christians Do Part 1
Making Sense of Baptism
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 3, 2005
Main Passage: Romans
birthdays, graduations, retirements, birth of children… there are all
kinds of things that we celebrate… important moments in our lives that
deserve to be treated in important ways. By our very nature, we like to
recognize these important milestones. And if you take time to analyze
how we mark these special moments, you’d discover that they usually
contain three ingredients…
Ingredients of Marking Special Days:
It’s the gathering
together of family and friends and colleagues to share in the
milestone. What good would a special occasion be if you couldn’t gather
people together around it?
It’s where someone says
a few words or brings some thoughts or says a prayer to commemorate the
milestone that’s being marked. You think back to where they came from
and what it took to get them where they are now. And the third
component would be…
Food, gifts, decoration,
music. Whatever you need to celebrate.
Those seem to be the
minimum to meet the human need for commemorating these important rites
of passage. And the reason I bring this up this morning is because over
the next two weeks we’re going to talk about the two most important
rites of passage in the life of a Christian (after conversion itself).
One is a single initiation rite called baptism, and the other is an
ongoing celebration called communion, or the Lord’s Supper. And both of
these involve all three of those ingredients… Community, Reflection,
So we’re going to look at baptism first here today, and we will save
our look at Communion for next week. Okay? Let’s talk about Baptism and
some of the frequently asked questions about it. You can follow along
on your notes and fill in the blanks as we go. We’ve got a lot of
material to cover, so let’s dive right in. And we’ll move particularly
fast through the first couple questions, so get your pens ready. The
first and most obvious question is:
FAQs about Baptism:
A. What Is
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.
Acts 2:41 (NLT)
Those who believed what Peter said were
baptized and added to the church…
It was their initiation. 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
2. A public
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
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
4. An outward
expression of an inward reality.
How? Because of the
symbolism involved. Symbolically, it does three things.
It identifies me
with Christ’s death and resurrection.
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.
It illustrates my
new life as a Christian.
It’s not just about identifying myself with Christ’s death and
resurrection, it’s also about me experiencing a transformation and
rebirth because of the power of God at work in me.
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 head to toe, baptism declares that God has washed away your
sinfulness and you are now found clean and pure in His eyes.
Mark 1:4 (NLT)
…People should be baptized to show
that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.
B. Why should I
1. To follow
the example set by Jesus.
Jesus Himself was
baptized and set us the example.
(Matthew 3:13-17, Mark
1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22)
Christ 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.”
And sometimes that comes with a price. We have missionaries in the
Wesleyan Church who are currently serving in some predominately Muslim
parts of the world. We had one of those missionaries visit us here at
Sunrise last September. And in these parts of the world, when a Muslim
accepts Christ and becomes a Christian, they may be 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
Christ. Baptism is a big deal, and they understand that. Is it a big
deal for you?
demonstrates that I really am a believer.
Acts 18:8 (NLT)
…all the people who had faith in the Lord
Have you placed your faith in the Lord? Then you should be baptized.
C. Is it more
appropriate to baptize babies or people old enough to make a faith
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 also
need to be baptized as a believer. In order to comply with the commands
of Christ as we understand them in the Bible, you should be re-baptized
after you make that personal choice to become a true follower of Christ.
And really, the vast majority of Protestantism holds the view that
Biblical Baptism should only be administered to those who are old
enough to recognize their sinfulness before God, mature enough to
understand that Jesus took their place and paid the penalty for their
wrongdoings, and responsible enough to make a solid decision to trust
Christ and follow him the rest of their life. Pretty much every time
baptism is mentioned in the New Testament, it’s in that kind of
context. Back to that verse in Matthew 28…
Matthew 28:19 (NLT)
Therefore, go and make disciples… baptizing
Who are they to baptize? The new disciples. Not every person they come
into contact with, not the infants, but the disciples… people who had
made a conscious choice to live for Jesus.
Baptism takes place after a faith commitment.
In fact, in the Bible
you never see a baby being baptized… there’s no clear example of that.
You do, however, see babies being presented to God and dedicated. So
instead of Baby Baptisms I encourage Baby Dedications… or perhaps a
more accurate term would be Parent Dedications… where parents commit
themselves and their little ones to the love, care, and protection of
God… where prayers are lifted to God that someday this child will make
a personal choice to acknowledge his or her sin and turn to Christ for
their salvation. I myself was dedicated in such a manner.
But in the event you were baptized as an infant, that’s okay. You can
understand that it was the intent of your parents that you would one
day be a follower of Christ. So 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.
D. Does baptism
in and of itself save anybody?
The answer is a
resounding, “No.” The Bible is abundantly clear that we are saved
solely by the grace of God in response to our faith… faith in what
Christ did for us on the cross. This verse is one of many that teach
the same thing…
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not
by works, so that no one can boast.
Baptism does not save you, faith in Christ does. So where does baptism
fit in? Baptism is merely a public demonstration of a private
experience that has already taken place. It has absolutely no
redemptive powers of its own.
expresses your salvation, it doesn’t earn it.
So if some of you have
been banking on your infant baptism as your ticket to eternal life, you
might be in trouble on that one. Salvation comes through a personal
relationship with Christ, not through a sacrament. Which always leads
to the question...
E. What if a
person claims to be a Christian, but refuses to be baptized?
This question always
puzzles me, and I’m not always sure how to respond without offending
the person. I want to say, “All right, wait a minute. Let me see if I
really understand the question. Jesus dies an excruciatingly painful
death on the cross for your sin, takes your sin and punishment on
Himself, and offers salvation and eternal life as a gift of grace and
love. He does all of that for you, and then asks for you to simply
admit it in front of family and friends and go public about the whole
deal. And you seriously have the mind to say, ‘I’ll take the free gift
of salvation, but I’ll pass on Jesus’ request to go public’?” That just
has never computed in my mind. After all He went through for you, and
you’re telling me you’re not willing to do this simple thing? Maybe you
need to rewind a bit and relive Good Friday and remember what He did
Because let me tell you something: True believers, when they really
understand the gospel of grace, and understand the miracle of
forgiveness in what Christ did on the cross, they not only ask Christ
to forgive their sin, but they also yield their entire lives, their
talents, their resources fully to Him.
(2 Kings 5:1-19)
In the Old Testament, there’s the story of a man named Naaman. Naaman
contracted leprosy, and so went to the prophet Elisha to be healed. But
Elisha didn’t come out to heal him, as he expected. Instead, Elisha
sent him a message that if he wanted to be healed, he needed to go down
to the Jordan River and submerge himself in it seven times.
Well, Naaman was indignant. He was an important man… he was the
commander of an army! There was no way he was going to humble himself
and wade into that disgusting Jordan River and go under. But listen to
what his officers told him…
2 Kings 5:14 (NLT)
“Sir, if the prophet had told you to do some
great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey
him when he says simply to go and wash and be cured!”
He did, and he was healed. But if he had continued to refuse, he would
have missed out on the blessing God had for him. And when a believer
refuses to be baptized, they miss out on the blessing of God.
(Note: this was not a “baptism” for Naaman, but can be seen as a
forerunner of baptism.)
Baptism is an
act of obedience, and refusal demonstrates a heart problem.
When a believer refuses
to be baptized, something is desperately wrong. Because, in a way,
baptism is one of the first tests of obedience for a Christian, and any
believer who shakes his fist at this first task, they’d better do a
The next question regarding baptism is about the depth of the water, or
the mode of baptism…
F. Do I need to
be baptized by immersion, or is sprinkling or pouring also valid?
“Do I need to be dunked
under water or can you just pour some water on or over my head?” Well,
the Biblical model is complete immersion. Can that vary? Possibly, but
let’s talk about it. In support of complete immersion…
word baptizo means “to immerse or dip under water”.
So the clear implication
in the New Testament, is that people would be completely immersed in
water. We already talked about the symbolism of such a baptism… dying
to yourself spiritually and coming alive in Christ… experience His
cleansing work in your life from head to toe.
But I also recognize that there is a long, historic tradition of just
sprinkling on the forehead or pouring over the head. And I think that
makes a lot of sense for people who are bedridden or who for other
medical reasons simply cannot be immersed in water.
There’s a collection of writings called the Didache from the first
century. Basically, it’s a collection of the teachings of the Apostles,
and it served as a handbook for the early church. The writings are not
considered Scripture, but they do provide some insight into the
workings of the early church. This is what the Apostles said about
“Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on
all these points, and then baptize in running water, ‘in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ If you do not have
running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in
warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times…”
~ from The Didache (alternate title: The Teaching of the Twelve
Apostles) c. 60-100 AD
So whenever possible, in keeping with the practice of the disciples and
the early Church, I encourage believers to be baptized by full
immersion. I’m not adamant about that, but it is my strong
recommendation. It’s an experience you’ll never forget… symbolically
identifying yourself with the death and resurrection of Jesus and
proclaiming publicly the cleansing work He has done in your life.
A final question might be…
G. 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.
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.
Plus, you should know that there’s nothing special about the location
or the water we use to baptize. I mean, I’ve take part in baptisms in
church baptisteries, in swimming pools, and even in a river. 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.
Unfortunately, some people have the misconception that they’re going to
Heaven just because a religious leader sprinkled some water on their
head a few days or weeks after their birth. But there is no Biblical
basis for that position whatsoever. If you think otherwise, show it to
me in the Bible.
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.
You should be
baptized in your church community shortly after accepting Christ.
So let me ask you very
straightforwardly… have you been baptized since you’ve become a
believer? I know many here may have been as infants, but 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’d like us to have a baptism in the weeks to come. And I’d like us to
all celebrate it together. So I’m going to ask you right now to make a
decision, if you’ve never been baptized as a believer, to be baptized
and to make your stand for Christ.
And I’m going to give you a few minutes to think about it. I’m going to
play a video from another church that simply shows you people being
baptized. I downloaded from the Internet, so the quality’s not the
best. But I think we can manage. And while you watch it, if you’ve
never been baptized, you can make up your mind whether or not it’s time
I want to ask you once more, if you have not been baptized as a
believer will you take that stand? If you’ve come to the realization
that it’s time for you to be baptized, then there’s a couple of things
I want you to do. First of all, let me know. The easiest way you can do
that is by checking the appropriate box on the back of your
communication card. And second, when we’re done here in just a couple
minutes, you can pick up one of these sheets about baptism on the
Information Table. It just explains what happens at a baptism so
there’s no surprises. And then together we’ll figure out a day to do it.
If you are a believer
but have not been baptized since accepting Jesus, then you should
seriously consider being baptized out of obedience to the Word of God.
Here’s what you need to do…
Let the church
office know of your desire. (You can check the box on the back of your
Pick up the flyer on
the Information Table that describes Baptism at Sunrise.
Set up a date,
invite your friends and family, and be baptized!
to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Keith Drury who supplied much of the
content and inspiration for this message.)