Here’s a way, designed by God, to get us off of the spiritual ladder climbing project

 By Pastor Mark Anderson

              

              BAPTISM: GOD’S DECISION FOR YOU

 

God has made a decision.  This decision, which we call the Gospel, has been revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God’s decision is to give you forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  God promises all of this to you as a free gift received by the inspiration of His grace working through faith in Jesus Christ.  And where does God’s decision touch your life?  In baptism, just as the New Testament teaches.

This emphasis on God’s decision for you given through baptism might sound a bit odd.  In fact, you may heard it said that what matters is your decision and that baptism is really of very little importance.  You may have heard it said that you must make a decision to ‘accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior’, or words to that effect, before baptism means anything.  If you have heard such talk you are certainly not alone.  This view of the Gospel message is widespread.  But is it Biblical?  The expressions “accept Christ” or “make a decision for Christ” are never used in the New Testament to describe how the Christian life begins.  This does not mean that decisions are not important in the Christian life!  Decisions are very important but in a very specific sense.  More about that later.

TWO FORMS OF BAPTISM 

In the New Testament baptism is an issue right from the beginning.  The Gospels report that the great Forerunner of the Messiah, John, was a baptizer.  The baptism that John practiced was very much like what some Christians today call “believer’s baptism”.  John’s baptism was purely symbolic.  It was a covenant ceremony that had no power.  John’s baptism, like the name “believer’s baptism” clearly indicates, belonged to the believer.  It was a baptism through which the believer demonstrated his/her decision to repent and follow God.  The baptism really was just a formality.  What mattered was the sincere decision of the believer.

John recognized the limitations in a baptism based on nothing more than good intentions.  John made this clear when he said that although he baptised with water, when the Messiah came things would be different where baptism is concerned.  The Messiah would institute a baptism with teeth in it!  This is why John could say, “There is One coming after me…who will baptize with the holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

The covenant act of baptism would now be the moment when God, through the giving of His Spirit, would make His decision for the believer rather than the other way around.  It would be a baptism rooted not in my decision for God (however sincerely taken), but rather in God’s decision for me!

JESUS COMMANDS THE CHURCH TO BAPTIZE

But how can water actually serve as the instrument of God’s decision for you?  Well, it isn’t just the water.  It’s the water together with God’s Word of command and promise that makes baptism effective.  Let’s look at what the Bible teaches us.

In Matthew 28,  Jesus issued his final command and promise to his disciples.  These words represent the “marching orders” of the Church.  Sometimes they are called the “Great Commission”.  Significantly, baptism has a prominent place in our Lord’s command.

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, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.  And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)

The first thing to note about our Lord’s words is that they are a command.  In fact, the word ‘command’ in Latin is ‘sacramentum‘, the word from which we derive the term ‘sacrament‘.  Baptism, therefore, is not an option the church or the Christian can take or leave.  We are not to despise baptism or treat it lightly.  Neither are we to speculate on what happens to those who are not baptized.  As followers of Jesus, our job is to carry out His command.  He will deal with the exceptions.  After all, Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me.”  Although this text is often quoted as a condition that people must meet to be saved, that is not what the text actually says.  The text says that Christ will decide who has access to the Father.  How Christ will handle those who do not receive baptism is His business.  Our business is to baptize, as He commanded.

Next, notice the order of Jesus’ command; “baptize” them and “teach” them.  It is clear from the context of this verse that baptism is the instrument by which jesus expected his disciples to receive others into the fellowhip.  Baptism is the point of entry into the Christian life.  Teaching and instruction follow.

In order to make this clear Jesus attaches a promise to baptism and teaching.  He promises to be with church “…always, to the close of the age.”  Jesus promises that in the church’s ministries of baptism and in the teaching (which includes the preaching of the Gospel message) the Holy Spirit will be active and working! 

The most important words in Jesus’ command, however, are these;  “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  We baptize with water together with God’s name.  It is not our word (our decision to repent and follow Christ) that is added to the water (as in believer’s baptism).  In baptism God adds His word to the water.  That is why the Lord includes the Triune name of God along with His command to baptize.  He wants the Christian to know and trust that in baptism God promises to give you His name.  This is the central promise God gives you in baptism.  This is the promise we are called to trust, in which we place faith.  It is a promise designed to give comfort and encouragement to sinners.  God promises in baptism to be your God, to identify you with everything He has done for your salvation in Jesus Christ.  God promises to give you the forgiveness of your sins, life and salvation.  You are adopted as a child of God.  He seals this promise in the baptismal covenant with “fire and the Holy Spirit.”

BAPTISM IS RECEIVED IN FAITH

God’s promise to be your God and accompany you through life is a promise you can trust; a promise in which you are called to have faith.  But what is the shape of your life with God?  What does the life of the baptized Christian look like?  The Apostle Paul responds to questions like these in the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans, where we read;

Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried, therefore, with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3,4)

Dying and rising describe the shape of the Christian life.  Each day we see the evidence of sin all around and within us.  We are reminded of why Jesus died on that cross.  Every day we experience the continual demand of the Law that we fulfill our humanity before God, self and neighbor.  And as we attempt to fulfill our lives we are aware that we are included in the words of Paul to the Romans; “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.”  Daily, as we experience this “falling short“, we are led by the Spirit to repentance (itself an expression of faith) and we trust the promise “that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

This means that we return to our baptism every day, “not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers subjected to Him.” (1Peter 3:21,22)

Notice how 1Peter refers to baptism by indicating it is more than simply the “removal of dirt from the body.”  That’s another way of saying that baptism is more than just an outward, symbolic event.  Rather, Peter makes it clear that baptism is an event that grounds us in God’s promises.  This is why we can look at our baptisms and, in Peter’s words, “appeal to a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”.  In Romans 4:23 Paul declares that Jesus “was put to death for our sins and raised for our justification.”  Notice how these two texts, together with Romans 6:3,4, interpret the significance of baptism.  We can dare to trust in what God has done for us in baptism (and therefore have a clear conscience regarding our sin and guilt) because through baptism we are spiritually grafted into the life of Christ Jesus who “was put to death for our sins and raised for our justification.”

CAN BAPTISM BE ABUSED?

Of course!  Although through baptism God promises to give your life back to you through Christ without the accusation of your sins attached to it, you will find it impossible in this life to trust perfectly in God’s promises, in God’s forgiveness.  This lack of trust in God’s gifts promised in baptism will reveal itself in all kinds of ways.

For example, you may say to yourself, ‘I am such a sinner that God could not really forgive me unless I do something to show Him that I am serious about repentance,’   This turns the Gospel on it’s head.  Now, the decision that matters is not God’s decision mde through Christ’s death and resurrection.  Instead, my decision is what counts.  In effect, you are saying that Christ did not accomplish everything that was necessary for your salvation.  You must do something.  This is a common way in which baptism is abused.  We fail to take God at His word!  You want to place more emphasis on humn acceptance or decision for God than on God’s decision for you.  When this occurs God’s grace is minimized and the comfort and assurance in baptism is lost.

Another way in which baptism is abused is by taking it too much for granted.  Some Christians treat baptism like an insurance policy on which all the premiums have been paid up.  Under such circumstances it is easy to abuse baptism by saying things like, “How I live is not very important because I am baptized.  My sins are forgiven. It really doesn’t matter what I do.  Baptism is my insurance policy.”  In this way, God’s claim upon your life is kept at arms length.  You do not live in the daily dynamic of repentance and forgiveness.  You fail to take hold of the freedom which God’s grace has given you.

THE GIFT OF FREEDOM

This brings us to the point I mentioned earlier.  If it is God’s decision for me that is really important, what role do my decisions play?  Galatians 5:1 gives us a simple, powerful answer.  “For freedom Christ has set us free.”  God frees us through faith to be exactly what He created us to be: human beings.  God frees us to live out, in faith, the meaning of the Great Commandment of our Lord.  “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.”  The Christian life is not a call to higher levels of holiness or spirituality.  It is not a life of continual striving to climb a never-ending ladder of spiritual self-achievement.

Your Christian freedom, or “glorious liberty” as the New Testament also calls it, is given through God’s forgiveness so you can be free from having to be preoccupied with your relationship with God.  Because God has chosen you, you are free to let God be God.  He wants you to dare to trust His grace and forgiveness completely.  Christ can handle your salvation very nicely without your help!  In fact, he wants to do just that.  Now, free from seeing the Christian life as a religious self-improvement project, God’s Spirit works with and through you to reach others with this Good News!  You are free to use your decision-making powers for the good of your neighbor.  Through faithful worship, serving, learning and witness, you employ all of your life’s energies and resources as a good steward, seeking to bring Glory to God in Christ through the faithful use of your humanity in love for your neighbor.

Finally, in baptism God calls you to trust that He is the One who takes the initiative to forgive you, sustain you through life and raise you from the dead when your life is over!  Your confidence is not in yourself but in Christ.  You take Jesus at His word when He says, “You did not choose me but I chose you,…” (John 15:16).  You are free in God’s love and grace to boldly “walk in newness of life” without being preoccupied with living on this earth as a good manager of what God has provided as you let God handle the life in the Spirit.  You live with confidence, not in your decision for God but in God’s decision for you!

                                       _________________________________

Pastor Mark Anderson is pastor of Lutheran Chrurch of the Master, Corona del Mar, CA 92625  

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Do you know anyone that might benefit from reading this?

Please pass it along if you do. It could help to set someone free.

Thanks.

>>>>>>>>>>>

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7 Responses

  1. A special gift for you from the wilderness…
    Not one child of God will be put in a hell fire no matter what their sins. It never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing and I prove it by the word of God at http://minigoodtale.wordpress.com The true Gospel now delivered sets all free.

  2. Right, Val.

    No child of God will be separated from Him. But few are chosen. And many, I am sorry to say, will be eternally lost.

    I pray for them, that He may save some. This is my prayer for myself, as well.

    That’s what this post is all about. Trusting in what God has done for us in our baptisms, that we might know that we are His, called and chosen…in baptism.

    Thanks, Val.

  3. Great posting Steve! A true treasure trove… this Gospel given to us!

  4. Thanks, Mitchell.

    This gem by Pastor Mark was thought to be lost. We handed out all the hard copies we had and then the original on P. Mark’s computer was lost when his computer crashed.

    But I found a couple of copies in a box in my garage.

    I really love it. It is the gospel on steroids!

  5. Amen. Excellent post on baptism, a sovereign work of God’s grace that sets sinners free from the condemnation of sin into the glorious liberty of His sons and daughters through faith in Christ.

  6. Baptism is for “you” if you are a disciple. Baptism is for disciples, not the unconverted, or even children that we later hope will be converted. The Lord Jesus’s command is to baptize disciples.

  7. The text doesn’t say that, John.

    In Matthew 28, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them…”

    In Acts 2:39, the text says that “the promise is to you and your children…”

    No where in Scripture is there an age requirement for baptism, or any requirement on OUR part.

    Even repentance is a work that God does.

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