5. KNOWLEDGE, BELIEF, AND RESOLVE
For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:13-15).
Physical acts are important to God. This is seen in the fact that, under the Law, the uncircumcised man was to be cut off from his people (Genesis 17:14). However, circumcision that did not include the right kind of life was to be considered uncircumcision (Romans 2:25). Likewise, baptism is of value only if we obey from the heart the spiritual principles associated with it. It involves not only the physical act on our part, but also the accompaniment of our hearts.
In no case has God required empty physical acts in our relationship with Him; He looks at the heart as well as the acts. Samuel mistakenly concluded, based on the appearance and height of Eliab, that God was choosing Eliab to be king of Israel. God told him, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God desires a life crucified with Christ–a new life (Galatians 6:14, 15). If we are not entering a new life when we are being baptized, our baptism is valueless; for a new life, a new way of living, is to follow the death, burial, and resurrection we experience through baptism (Romans 6:4).
Paul’s life is a perfect example of this change. In baptism he put to death his old self and then began a new life for Jesus. Romans 6:4-6 tells us,
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
Paul stated it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20; emphasis mine).
THE GOSPEL AND BAPTISM
Unless we have heard and believed the gospel, our baptism is valueless. This is why Paul wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17a). Paul was not saying that baptism is unimportant, but was rather emphasizing the importance of the gospel. The Greek idiom “not…but” in this verse did not mean Paul was not to baptize, for he did baptize (1 Corinthians 1:14-16); rather, it meant that the gospel was to be his emphasis. 1
Paul was teaching that baptism, although a part of the gospel, cannot save without the complete gospel; for the power to save is in the gospel (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 1:13). not in baptism. Faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are not what saves us. Only the blood of Jesus saves; however, His blood will not save us until our faith in His blood leads us to repent, confess, and be baptized. We are to be led to such obedience to the gospel by hearing the Word of God preached.
There is a difference between the “What?” and the “When?” of salvation. The blood Jesus shed in His death is what saves us. The old hymn is correct in asking, “What can wash away my sins?” and then answering, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Nothing we do can produce salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9); only the blood of Jesus can do that (Matthew 26:28; 1 Peter 1:18,19).
When does Jesus’ blood wash away our sins? When we obey Him–when we believe in Him as Lord and Savior, repent of our sins, confess our faith in Him, and are baptized. Jesus paid the debt of our sin, but we must obey Him (Hebrews 5:9) in order to receive the salvation He provided through His death. Therefore, the “What?” in salvation is the blood of Jesus, and the “When?” is the point in time at which we obey Him. In proper perspective, faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are all to be part of our response to the gospel. The gospel is the truth of how Jesus took our sins on Himself, paid the debt of sin, can forgive us of our sins through His blood, and now ever lives to intercede for us as the ruler of the universe. The victory He has gained for us is ours if we will die to self and commit our lives to Him as our Lord and ruler.
WHAT WE MUST KNOW
Because those who became Christians in the Book of Acts were baptized the same day they learned that they needed to be baptized, some have concluded that all we have to know is that God commanded baptism. More than this was taught, however, which means that more than this must have been required of those being baptized. The following are some of the truths that were taught to convince men and women to become followers of Jesus:
1. There is one true God (Acts 3:13, 14:15; 17:23-31). In order to bring people to salvation, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was preached to the Jews. Later, to the Gentiles, Paul preached the living God who created heaven and earth.
2. Jesus is Lord and Christ, the Son of God (see Acts 2:36; 4:10, 11; 5:42; 9:20, 22; 10:36; 17:3; 18:5, 28). Spiritual life is based on believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30; 31).
3. The word of the Lord saves (Acts 11:14; 16:32; see also 2 Timothy 4:2).
4. Jesus is the Savior. The complete gospel was preached, including Jesus’ death burial, and resurrection. (See Acts 2:32; 8:5, 25, 35; 14:7, 21; 16:10; 1 Corinthians 2:1, 2; 15:1-4).
5. Without Jesus we are lost and in need of forgiveness (Acts 4:10-12).
6. We need to repent, that is, to change our lives (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30).
7. Sins are forgiven when we are baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
8. The through concerning the kingdom of God was preached (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28: 23, 31).
What could the Ethiopian nobleman have known before he was baptized? (see Acts 8:26-39). Philip preached Christ to him from a passage in Isaiah 53. From this prophecy, he could teach concerning Jesus: “He was crushed for our iniquities” (v.5); “The Lord had caused the iniquity of us all to all on Him” (v. 6); “He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (v. 10); “My Servant will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (v. 11); “He Himself bore the sin of many” (v. 12).
Philip would have preached to him what he preached to the Samaritans “about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). This is what he must have included when “he preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35).
The result is that the Ethiopian nobleman wanted to be baptized. We can conclude that he understood that Jesus was the Christ who had died for his sins. He knew that he wanted to be born again (John 3:5) so he could enter the kingdom, the church, of Christ. He was willing to make a commitment to follow Christ, and he desired to have his sins forgiven through the death of Jesus by being baptized. Surely, anyone who wants to become a Christian should know the same.
WHAT WE MUST BELIEVE
We must believe and be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21). Everything we must believe in order to be saved must also be believed in order to be baptized. Notice the following that we are to believe:
* We are sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
* God exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
* Jesus is the “I am.”2
* Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30, 31) and Lord (Acts 2:36), which means we will do what He says (Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46).
* Jesus’ words (John 5:47; 12:49, 50) and the gospel (Mark 16:15, 16; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 1:13) are to be believed.
* The testimony concerning Jesus (John 17:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:10) and the teaching
concerning the kingdom (Acts 8:12) are to be believed.
* Jesus is risen (Romans 10:9).
* Jesus is the propitiation for our sins through His blood (Romans 3:24, 25).
* God works in our lives (Colossians 2:12).
God has chosen what we are to believe–but He does not require us to understand why He has chosen what we are to believe and do. We may never know why He chose for us to believe in Jesus and His blood or why He chose for us to repent, confess, and be baptized in order to be forgiven. Perhaps we are not to ask why He made these choices. Rather, we are to act by faith in what He has chosen.
WHAT WE MUST RESOLVE
To Become a New Creation
We must become new people who are different from the wicked world around us. We are to give our bodies as living sacrifices in service to Jesus. Paul said, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcicion, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15). He also wrote,
Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1,2).
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This new creation and self-sacrifice takes place in baptism as a result of obedience from the heart. A physical act on our part without the accompaniment of the heart is not enough. We are not changed just because we have been immersed in water any more than an alcoholic can be cured of his drinking by being dragged in the front door and out the back door of a church building. We are new creatures only if we had a change of heart when we were being baptized.
In the context of baptism (Romans 6:3-7), Paul expressed it this way: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17, 18).
God wants us to put off the old self and put on the new self. Colossians 3:10 says, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” (Emphasis mine.)
When we learn of Jesus, we are to realize that sinful practices are to be a thing of the past when we become Christians. Ephesians 4:20-24 says,
But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Emphasis mine.)
One of the problems with infant baptism is that a baby cannot comprehend or make the change that should take place in baptism. He cannot obey from the heart, because he does not understand the heart transformation that should take place when he is baptized.
When we desire the salvation that is in Christ, we are to come to Him in sincerity of heart, seeking His forgiveness. We must resolve to become new creations for Him when we are buried with Him in baptism. If we approach baptism with any less purpose than this, we miss the meaning of baptism.
To Become a Disciple
Those who were baptized by John became his disciples, as those who were baptized with Jesus’ baptism became His disci;disciples (John 4:1). The word “disciple” (Gk.: mathetes) is used of those who are learning from someone so as to follow him in his teaching. One of the implications of baptism in a person’s name was that the one being baptized was accepting that person’s teaching and was becoming his follower. In 1 Corinthians Paul was dealing with division within the church at Corinth. Various members were saying that they were followers of different prominent Christians (1 Corinthians 1:10-16) like Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (that is, Peter; see John 1:42). Paul asked if they had been baptized in the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13). The implication is that if they were not baptized in Paul’s name, then they should not assert that they were followers of Paul.
When we are baptized in Jesus’ name, we should realize that we are becoming His followers–that He is becoming our Lord and we are becoming His servants. No longer are we to serve sin; instead, we are to serve Jesus. We are to accept His as Lord and are to submit to Him as our head (Ephesians 5:24).
Baptism is a physical act that has spiritual associations and implications. Without these, baptism is valueless. In order to receive baptism from a biblical perspective, we must realize that we are righting a wrong relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins. We must be committed to leaving a sinful life and entering a new life of dedication to Jesus as our only Lord and Master.
1 This same construction in Greek, which means that not so much emphasis is placed on the first expression as on the second, is found in John 6:27; 12:47; 1 Timothy 523; 1 Peter 3:3, 4; and many other places.
2 Jesus said, “I am He.” The greek is without “He” (John 8:24; see also 8:28,58; 13:19), so the English text could read that Jesus said, “I am,” thus identifying Himself with the “I AM” of the Old Testament.