Weird Things Christians Do Part 1
Making Sense of Baptism
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 3, 2005

 

Main Passage: Romans 6:1-11 (NLT)

 

Weddings, anniversaries, 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:

1. Community

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?

 

2. Reflection

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…

 

3. Celebration

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, and Celebration.

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 Baptism?

1. An initiation rite.

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 believer.

 

2. A public statement.

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.

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.

 

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 be baptized?

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)

 

2. Because 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?

 

3. It demonstrates that I really am a believer.

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

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 decision?

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 them…

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.

Biblical 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.

Baptism 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 for you.

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 heart check.

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…

The Greek 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 baptism…

“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?

(Acts 2:1-42)

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 for you.

SHOW VIDEO

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.

 

Next Steps:

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 communication card.)

  • 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!

 

 

(Thanks to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Keith Drury who supplied much of the content and inspiration for this message.)

 

 

 

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