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Having reviewed many Bible teachings in previous articles, we might be thinking about what this means for us as individuals. In this article we now begin to look at their impact on our own lives. The subject under consideration is baptism which is an absolute pre-requisite for an individual if they wish to become associated with the promises of God. Throughout the previous articles we have noticed various practical points. For example, in the study on creation we were introduced to the God-given concept of marriage. When we looked at the life of Abraham, we noted that God counted Abraham as a righteous man because he was prepared to separate himself from the world around him and follow God’s instructions. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the message of the Gospel spread throughout the Eastern Mediterranean countries. It was called ‘The Way’ or simply ‘the truth’. People believed that Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to his Father’s side and that he would return to establish the Kingdom of God on earth; and in the first century many adopted that teaching and followed it. The precursor to being associated with these things was the simple and humble act of baptism. Jesus instructed the apostles to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
The consequence of this is that knowledge about these things, but choosing not to believe, and therefore not being baptised, will result in personal condemnation. The Acts of the Apostles, which comes straight after the four gospels in the New Testament, is an excellent book to read about how the Gospel was preached, what it means, and how it is, even today, rooted in the Old Testament. For example, the Apostle Peter preached about the death and resurrection of Jesus and his promise to return. Some listeners were so moved that they wanted to know what they should do to be saved from eternal death. Peter said: "repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ ..."
We are told that on one occasion 3,000 people were baptised. The work of John the Baptist in the Gospels and these passages in Acts set the standard for us.
- Read: Read Acts 2:37–41
- Read: Acts 3:19–21.
Particularly notice in Acts 3:19 that the act of baptism is a demonstration of repentance. We already looked at sin and death in a previous lesson. This repentance is a humble acknowledgement that we are flawed in the sight of God. Also notice that the Apostle Peter is referencing the teaching of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus will return and put everything right but not until a set time. What does this word "repent" really mean? It calls on someone who has heard the gospel message and believes it to have a complete change of mind and attitude, a different outlook and way of life. The first step in this new way is to be baptised. Continuing to follow the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles we can observe that there were three stages to people becoming followers of Christ:
- The gospel was preached to them.
- They listened and believed.
- They were baptised.
They went on to meet with like-minded believers who had also been baptised and they worked together, endeavouring to live a lifetime of obedience to God’s commands. This theme runs throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul and the other apostles in the New Testament.
What must we believe?
This is the key question. We drew attention to Mark 16:16 which in one simple sentence tells us that belief in the gospel and baptism are essential for salvation. We learn in Acts 8:12 that this belief in the gospel is bound up in "the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ". It is hoped that our readers can see that these are the points we have focused on throughout these ‘Basic Bible Teaching’ articles over the last couple of years. The importance of this knowledge is clear from the many passages of scripture. For example, Philip preached to an Ethiopian who had been converted to the Jewish faith and was on his way home from Jerusalem when they met. He would have understood from the Old Testament prophecies about the Kingdom of God. Philip ‘preached to him Jesus’ and after the Ethiopian said he believed in these things he was baptised. The record in Acts is a moving and humbling passage. It is important to note that the Ethiopian was a believing adult who confessed his belief and went ‘down into the water’ to be baptised.
Another case was a man named Cornelius. This again, is a humbling passage to read. It is strongly recommended that you take the time to read and digest the narrative about his conversion.
Similar examples are the conversion of Lydia and the the jailor at Philippi, and it’s recommended that you read through this chapter.
What is baptism?
We can see from the examples recorded in the scriptures that baptism is complete immersion in water of a person who has shown understanding of the Gospel and declared a willingness to commit their life to follow Christ.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and we find that the word translated into English in our Bibles is the Greek word baptizo. This is a word that means to dip under or immerse. It was used in the cloth dying trade. To change the colour of the cloth it is necessary to entirely immerse it in the dye and not just splash it randomly. Check the text of John 3:23 – it’s a short and simple verse but loaded with meaning about the fundamentals of baptism. Baptism represents the washing away of sins. This was explained by Ananias when he baptised Saul, later called the Apostle Paul.
This means that the believer can make a new start in life before God.
Baptism is a symbolic burial in water that identifies us with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul describes baptism as a resurrection to a new life. In the same way that Christ died and was buried, so the believer is "buried" in the waters of baptism. But just as Christ rose again to a new life, the believer rises from the water of baptism to a new life "in Christ". It irrevocably associates the believer with his death and resurrection. Jesus says in John 15:14: "you are My friends if you do whatever I command you". Baptism is the first step in following Christ’s commands. A newly baptised person is now associated with the salvation made possible by Christ.
- Read: Colossians 2:12
- Read: Colossians 3:1–4
Some would ask the question, “why do I need to be baptised, I’ve been a good ‘Christian’ person and never really done any wrong?’ It is a question of obedience to Christ’s commands. The Apostle Paul explains that Adam brought sin into the world and as a result death
Everyone has inherited the curse of sin and death because everyone is descended from Adam. But through the redeeming work of Christ, his death and resurrection and our association with him through baptism, we become associated with salvation from sin and death. Put simply, those who have been baptised into Christ, look for his return and the salvation of his followers from sin and death by the giving of eternal life. These are the very things that were promised to Abraham and his descendants in the Old Testament. How poor we would be without the context of the Old Testament for understanding the Gospel.
Just a few words about Abraham. We saw in an earlier article that Abraham was promised that through his seed all nations of the earth would be blessed. We made the point that it was a promise concerning a singular seed or descendant who is Jesus Christ. It is strongly recommended that you read Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter three. This is a very powerful chapter that brings the ‘loose ends’ together.
- Read Galatians chapter 3.
The only way to salvation
In this world today where there are so many religions with conflicting and quirky philosophical ideas about life, often prefaced with ‘I think…’; we are seeing in this lesson that the Bible has this powerful and consistent thread running right through it that concerns every one of us. It is the only way to salvation from sin and death leading to eternal life. Remember God said to Abraham: "… in you (Abraham) all the families of the earth shall be blessed" i.e., through Christ. And again: "… all the land which you (Abraham) see I give to you and your descendants forever." Therefore, we can say with confidence that this is the only way, through baptism and association with Christ, and therefore the family of Abraham, that any of us can be saved.
- Genesis 12:3
- Genesis 13:15
Biblical baptism associates us with Christ and differentiates us from other religious systems. Christ’s followers are regularly described in the Bible as being ‘in Christ’. As we have seen, naturally, by birth we are all ‘in Adam’ and would die without hope. But if we are "in Christ" through the waters of baptism, we have the wonderful hope of eternal life.
- Read* Ephesians 4:4-6
- Read: 1 Corinthians 15:19-23
The privileges and responsibilities of being ‘in Christ’
Paul reminded those who were "in Christ" that they had the special privilege of being Christ’s brothers and sisters. They had become, through baptism, children of God (because Jesus Christ is the son of God). Believers in Paul’s day were, through the waters of baptism, part of a community bound together by having the same beliefs, sharing the same way of life and looking forward with the same hope to the return of Christ. It is the same today for likeminded believers who are "in Christ".
- Read: 2 Corinthians 6:11–18
- Read: Ephesians 4:15–16
The scriptural command to be baptised is a test of our attitude and response to God. He has provided a way of salvation by sending His son as a sacrifice for sin, but He has told us through the scriptures that we can only receive salvation by believing the Gospel message and obeying Christ’s commands. Baptism is the first step on this journey of following Christ and being one of his followers. It requires humility and a faith on our part to take that step. He said to his disciples: "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" and "He who believes and is baptized will be saved.
Source Light on a New World - Volume 33/3