Have you joined something that first required you to do something to demonstrate you fit and were really serious about joining? There are start-up fees, applications, or perhaps initiation rites.
Perhaps the most famous or infamous of initiation rites is joining a fraternity or sorority in college. There are stories of having to drink raw eggs, wear goofy clothes to class, do push ups in strange places, and it can get much worse. These are done to show the seriousness one has in joining the cause, or perhaps paying a price to join.
These rituals are often silly and demoralizing. There are other requirements for joining an organization that are a little more appropriate. When I was in Orlando I went to watch a football game at a Tennessee alumni event. To become a member they wanted you to pay a small fee to help with organizing events, but they also wanted proof that you actually graduated from the University of Tennessee. It seemed fairly appropriate.
So what is the initiation rite into the Christian faith? What would you have someone do to show they are following Christ? What’s the cost would they have to pay?
Do you set a monetary amount–$10,000? $10? How about you get your masters degree in holiness, no missed quiet times, no sleeping in, and no impatient moments, and no R-rated movies for at least six months.
In the Old Testament the initiation rite was circumcision. There is a rite with a heavy price!
But in the New Testament we see that people are baptized, and with that, they are considered part of the Christian community. I want to take some time today to talk about this important sacrament. Baptism is an initiation rite, but even more, it is a sign of the good news that our sins can be forgiven. As such it is the perfect act for one to identify with Christ and profess their faith in him.
Since we practice baptism as a church, I want to make sure we all understand it, so that we enter into it with faith, we receive those who are being baptized, and we yearn to see more people baptized.
- The Command to Be Baptized
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Mat 28:19 ESV)
Right here you see the importance of baptism. Jesus commands his disciples to be baptized. If you ever wonder if baptism is important, here you go. It is one of two things Jesus commands his disciples to do to bring about the great commission. It’s not optional. It's a matter of obedience.
Jesus commissions his people to go and make disciples, and that making of disciples has two parts–(1) baptizing them and (2) teaching them to obey all he has commanded. The end goal is that disciples obey all that Jesus commanded. That will not happen in this life. That means we are to seek constant growth our entire lives. That is the end of discipleship. And the beginning is baptism. Baptism does not mark the end, it is not something you repeatedly do. It is a definitive marker, with a definitive starting point. It shows an initiation into the faith.
When people were cut to the heart by the preaching of Peter, they asked, “What should we do to be saved?”
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Act 2:38 ESV)
Baptism was a way for them to profess their faith and trust in Christ. It was the first thing they should do to show what had happened inside them.
Note also that if you are asking why should I get baptized notice that it is a command that Jesus gives to his people. Peter told them to repent and be baptized. This also gets at when a person should be baptized. In these it seems clear that is shortly after or along with repentance. It is after one has trusted in Christ; it is a willful decision on the part of the person getting baptized.
If you are a believer and have not been baptized you should follow Christ in getting baptized.
At my last church we felt a need to teach on baptism, and we thought by doing that we might reach more people who were on the fringes of the church. We planned a baptism class, promoted it, and thought a lot of people less involved in the church would come. That eventually happened, but the first time I showed up to teach the class, the only person there was a founding member of the church. We talked a bit and then I asked if he was waiting for someone to come. He then informed me, with a little embarrassment, that he had never been baptized. Thirty years of being actively involved in the church and never got baptized. He said he just got so involved in serving the church that he was not able to free himself for a Sunday and then so much time passed he felt awkward doing it. We realized better teaching on the sacraments was needed for all. The great commission shows the important place of baptism. If you have not been baptized then follow Christ’s command to get baptized.
I also want to say if you have been baptized you need to make sure you are growing as a disciple. Your Christian life does not consummate with baptism. Follow Jesus’s command to obey all he has taught. There are many who were baptized and then gave up on church and pursuing discipleship. Baptism is the beginning not the end. Notice in Acts 2:38 that after they are baptized it talks about the church being devoted to the word of God, fellowship, the breaking of bread, missions, and more (2:42-46). Just because you are baptized does not mean you are through. True baptism means you are just getting started.
*after the act of baptism comes a life of discipleship.
Churches rejoice in baptism because it shows a person coming to faith in Christ and submitting their lives to them; it is a sign of a person coming into the church.
That is the command to be baptized, and now let’s look at the significance of baptism…
2. A Sign of the Gospel
Signs point to things. Baptism points to the gospel and as such it is a way to identify with Christ.
In the book of Acts, the first thing people do when they believe is they are baptized. The disciples preached the importance of this act. It becomes a clear way that people identify with Christ. Those who believed on Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:41), those who believed Philip in Samaria (8:12), Saul when he was converted (Acts 9:18), Cornelius at the preaching of Peter (Acts 10:47), Lydia (Acts 16:15), the jailer (Acts 16:33), the Corinthians (Acts 18:8). Why would they all get baptized? Of all things that Jesus could require of his disciples, why baptism?
Rom 6:4-6 explains the significance of baptism as the chosen initiation rite.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:3-6 ESV)
Baptism is a way to identify with Christ. We identify with his death and resurrection. Once we have new life in Christ, we have died to our old ways. When we go under the water we are identifying with his death; when we come up out of the water we are identifying with his resurrection from the grave. Through baptism we profess our faith in Christ.
It is not a declaration of how great we are, how strong our faith is, or how perfect our life is, but it is saying that we have trusted in Christ for those things. We are alive to him, living for him wanting to obey and honor him. What a perfect initiation rite! It points to what he has done for us, and serves not as a way for us to be embarrassed or shamed, but as a way to identify with his great work for us.
Identify with Christ. Identifying with someone means that you are connected or associated with someone. Lurking behind family at the mall. Act like you don’t know them.
“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 ESV). But if you do not confess him then you deny him. We see the importance of it and the importance of not following through on baptism.
When we see baptism as a means of identifying with Christ, we also see some of the other significance of it too. Baptism points to the cleansing we have in Christ. We need to be washed of our sin. We are dirty and need more than a bath. This is where even the element used in baptism is significant. We are baptized into water, not coke, not sweet tea, not milk, not lemonade, but ordinary water. Why? Because water is what we use to clean things. We have been cleansed in Christ. We have spiritual needs.
Namaan was baptized in the Jordan. He was washed of his leprosy. Baptism is a cleansing.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
How does holy baptism remind and assure you that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross benefits you personally?
A. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it promised that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul's impurity, that is, all my sins.
We are cleansed of our sins in Christ. His death cleanses us. Don’t wait to get your act together. This is the biggest reason I have seen for people not getting baptized. They feel like they need to become better Christians. Now, to be sure, you need to have a break from your sin. Peter said repent and be baptized. They go together. But it does mean that you are obeying everything he commanded. That is the end of discipleship.
Jason’s turning from a drug culture. Had to have a break. But don’t wait to be perfect. The only way you can be perfect is by being wrapped in the righteousness of Christ. You have that by faith and not by what you do.
Baptism is a profession or proclamation that one has trusted in Christ. It is an outward response to an inner change.
1 Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1Pe 3:21 ESV)
Some versions say appeal or a pledge of a good conscience. It is not about dirt being washed off the body but about what Christ has done for us. It’s a way for us to identify with Christ and show that we are now following him. Under new management.
3. Saved by Faith
Baptism points to the gospel that receives faith. Saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Baptism is important and it is a way to confess that we have trusted in Christ. It is important to follow but we also have to see that as important as baptism is we are not saved through it. We are not saved by anything we do. It is by faith that we are saved (Eph 2:8). This is no more clear than in the gospel of Luke when a thief crucified next to Jesus confesses his faith and Jesus tells him,
Luke 23:43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43 ESV)
We are saved by grace through faith. And yet that faith produces something in us. It moves us to action. Baptism forces us to think through what qualifies me to serve God. It forces us to think through why I obey God. It forces us to contemplate the saving work of Christ and that leads us to serving him.
Baptism forces us to hold in balance grace and obedience, forgiveness and holiness, effort and trust. It is important but not determinative. Baptism does not save, but true faith leads to obedience. Baptism doesn’t require perfection but it does require sincerity. It doesn’t necessitate we never sin, but it does require a definitive break from sin. Balancing grace and obedience, trust and faithfulness.
Have you been baptized as a profession of your faith?
No pressure. I want you to understand the importance of following Christ, I want you to understand what he says, and I want you to determine if you should be baptized. As a pastor I want to come alongside you and help you. I may have some questions for you: is your faith genuine? And make sure you are committed to being a disciple who makes disciples. I want to make sure you understand what Christ has done for you and I might encourage you in a particular direction. But I am not, and we as a church are not, going to pressure anyone to do anything. We want people to make the decision on their own. We want them owning their faith. My story.
Kids: there is not an age given that you should be baptized. We want you to do that when you are ready for it. Some of you it will be easy. Some of you it may be hard. It is never too early to talk about. I want you to understand what Christ has done. I want you to understand that there is a cost of following Jesus. Parents talk with your kids about baptism and what it means to have a relationship with Christ. We want them to get baptized. Generally for kids to get baptized a couple things need to happen. First, they should understand it and want to follow Christ in it. But others should also support it. They see the right fruit in your life. NOt perfection but sincerity.
We are saved and brought into a relationship with Christ by faith. This is to be the focus of our lives. We need him each and every day. Baptism points to Christ’s Lordship of our lives. Don’t need to keep doing baptism over and over… LIke a marriage ceremony. The ceremony is great, but when we mess up we don’t go back and do the ceremony over again. We go back to doing the things we said we would do in that ceremony. The ceremony points to a new relationship. And so does baptism. It points to the good news.
When we understand baptism in this way it leads us to wanting it, to pursuing it. We want to get baptized because we want to identify with Christ. It leads us to wanting to tell others about it because it is a way to share the gospel with them. We are going to be excited to talk with our kids about it because it is not so much about doing this to go to heaven but it is about honoring Christ and knowing what he has done. It is about seeing all of life as an opportunity to glorify Christ.
When we value baptism we are going to want to get busy making disciples, wanting to see others come to faith in Christ. Church, who are you praying for to come to faith, who are you praying might get baptized this year, who are you having over and talking about your faith with.
No gimmicks. Baptism, when done as a culmination of knowing Christ and as SAvior and submission to him as Lord is powerful.
- What description of baptism stands out most for you? What is most encouraging and challenging?
- Have you trusted in Christ? Have you been baptized? Should you get baptized?
- Why is it so significant that following baptism is a life of devotion to the word of God, fellowship, and learning to obey all that Jesus commanded? How committed to these are you?
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2