Remember Your Baptism
Text: 2 Peter 1:5-11
by Robert J. Young

Gospel Proclamation: Do You Understand/Remember Your Baptism?

Baptism, church membership, churches of Christ. The meaning baptism has acquired for us as a people is extraordinary. Why? How? Good? Bad? Baptism is presented as though it has a life of its own. It is the queen of Commands, the final step on the staircase of salvation. Baptism is used to describe total conversion process. It is emphasized. The number of baptisms is reported. We use this terminology, and church member is used to describe Christians. We do not talk of being saved, trusting in Jesus, being converted to Christ, or turning to Lord. Why?
Baptism is the foundation of biblical soundness. "He preaches everything except bapt for remission of sins." We would be more comfortable if they required baptism. Baptism even gives us identity with those in other Restoration churches--at least they are baptized.
Baptism is a metaphor for what is important. "It's a command--just like baptism."

Of course, baptism is an important Bible topic, especially in the Restoration movement with beginnings focused on a search for the ancient gospel (the culmination of which is baptism) and a search for the ancient order (focusing on nature of church). We have picked up on these two major ideas. But along way in desire to ease understanding may have missed some vital truths about baptism. Seek to find those today, see that at heart of genuine gospel proclamation is biblical nature of baptism.
Again, baptism is an important Bible topic. We develop it often, and well. In gospel meetings, it is fully developed even when 95+% of those present have already been baptized and have heard scores or 100s of lessons on baptism. Yet not a single sermon on baptism can be found in the Bible.

This isolation of the topic, separated from the remainder of gospel story, promotes shallow understanding of this profound response to faith. Necessity of baptism is underscored by quoting or referring to numerous NT passages as law points or proof texts. See portions of text without seeing entire passage. Focus on command that in the Bible is always specific and certain in such a generic way that it loses its force and religious people all around us cannot see its significance.
Largely gone from our baptism is the promise of the HS, the awakening to a new way of life, the call to sonship, the emphasis on what God is working as we are baptized...
We have even invented a new sin. Young people talk of getting baptized (no Bible for that) as in "he or she got baptized." We miss the language of conversion that is so poignant in Scripture. Focus on getting baptized, have young people and some not so young focused on conversion through keyhole of baptism rather than of faith in JC. Therefore, when problems come and doubts arise, not question faith, but question their baptism. This emphasis has created sin of not being baptized. Such are not at a point of awareness of magnitude of sinning against the very holiness of Almighty God, not aware of seriousness of dismissing or rejecting provisions of the cross for their redemption, not see significance of not loving one who loved us so much. These and other important biblical factors have little meaning in their lives, but they know they have not been baptized. To make up the deficiency, they need to "get baptized."
Biblically, there is no such sin as not being baptized. Sin is knowing the depth of transgression, the holiness of God, the sinfulness we share, and willfully deciding not to respond to JC in full surrender--a surrender which includes the faith encounter with God which in the NT always climaxes with baptism. As a result of that, we have a whole lot of folks in our churches who are baptized but not surrendered. Preach sermons on themes that were never preached to Xns in all the NT--commitment, surrender, worship...
Time to remind all of God's people, and other people, why baptism is important. Baptism is important because JC is important. One is not saved by faith in baptism, but by faith in X. Not by faith in repentance or faith in correct issues. Rom. 3:21-24.
Our mistaken emphasis has blunted the dramatic meaning of this encounter with JC. Worse, baptism has been converted to a human work which automatically imports a legalistic righteousness, meritorious element, which is totally foreign to biblical conversion. It has scandalized persons of good will who are open to baptism which understands the grace/faith tension which depends upon God in full surrender, but who rightly oppose baptism which smacks of human achievement or human demand or human satisfaction.
Baptism does not exist in isolation. Baptism must not be given a life of its own so that we are dependent more upon baptism than upon relationship with JC. Should not be more dependent upon baptism than upon worship in Spirit and in truth. Baptism is a proclamation that I have experienced the cross. I am crucified. The old man destroyed. It has the profound meaning of accepting Jesus' cross and meeting my deepest need. It embraces a new life by the power of Jesus' resurrection. I will no longer look worldly, act worldly, be inattentive in worship, live selfishly, forsake assemblies... Baptism declares active participation in Jesus' death as the key to participation in his resurrection. Only those who have died need to be brought to life.
Luther: baptism is grace clutching you by the throat.
Baptism is the heart and soul of the gospel brought into the lives of individuals, but baptism is not an end of itself, but is a means to an end. Burying is the once for all/done with the old person. How shall we that have died to sin live any longer therein? We are desperate people reacting to our desperate condition, knowing that we have been grasped by the loving hand of God. Baptism then throws one upon the mercy and grace of God. It is a faith reaction to God's saving acts in JC. To disconnect baptism from the cross is spiritually fatal. To disconnect baptism from the new, fully surrendered life is preposterous. How dare you that have been baptized live for self? One can only conclude that you got wet but that the washing was solely external, or Satan and the siren song of the world has plucked you away. How dare we disconnect baptism, the cross, and lives lived for JC?
Preacher says, God could have said, repent and jump thru a hoop and we would have to do it. Jumping thru a hoop has nothing to do with the cross. No parallels exist. Biblical baptism points to the cross. We, in obedience, add nothing to the cross. No human solution exists to problem of sin. Life is not a problem not be solved. Except for grace of God, all will be eternal losers.
2 Cor. 5:21; so they responded, Ac 18:8; 1 Cor 6:9-11. These Corinthians responded out of desperation.
Baptism apart from grace has no meaning. Baptism alone is like empty setting on a ring. Even the response we make to grace is a gift from God. We cannot create our own response. Our faith response is not a legalistic, meritorious act. Persons who attempt to call baptism a work assume James 2 is dialoging on conversion rather than on the dedicicated Chritian life. James' topic is not Paul's. Do not confuse the two. The faith response adds nothing to the cross. Rom. 4:4-5.
Baptism has no magical powers, we never force God's graciousness. If we reject externalism, magical views, and hold baptism up in light of cross, it will revolutionize our churches, our lives. No more absent Christians.
Mantey: When one considers in Ac 2:38 repentance as self-renunciation and baptism as public expression of self-surrender and self-dedication to JC, which significance it certainly had in the first century, the expression for the remission of sins may mean for the purpose of the remission of sins. But if one stresses baptism without its early Christian import, as a ceremonial means to salvation, one does violence to Christianity as a whole, for one of its striking distinctions from Judaism and paganism is that it is a religion of salvation by faith while all others teach salvation by works.

Approaching JC by faith requires a readiness to surrender our whole persons to him. No more hallway loitering, chattering during worship, refusal to worship in song, note-writing. No more company came. Our whole beings have been caught up in living for self, and we have made it an OK version of Christianity and thereby decimated baptism and its biblical meaning. We return along the same road by which we left. By faith, responding with the mind, emotion, and body.
For those who have been baptized, remember your baptism. You made a commitment, live up to that commitment. For those who have never been baptized, those who have questions, or know that baptism is not to please human beings, but God. Decide today to be baptized, in God's biblical way, as response to God's saving act in JC, response to his grace. Baptism is God's work, let him work. Let us declare the saving acts of Jesus to all who witness our obedience and our lives. As we stand and sing.

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Last updated February 23, 2001.