Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Washing Away Our Sins

One of the most disputed issues in the Christian church is baptism. What is meant to be an expression of faith (Acts 10:43-48; 16:30-34; 8:12) has become a source of contention. Now Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by faith in Christ (Romans 4;4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). But the standard outward expression of this faith is baptism. Therefore, it is identified with the faith as marking salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). But the basis of salvation here is on the inward appeal of faith and not simply the outward form. Baptism by water is also closely identified with the baptism of the Spirit, the internal reality of which the outer form is an expression (1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:3-11) . Scripture generally knows nothing of an unbaptized believer. The one exception, the one that demonstrates it is the faith that saves, was due to compulsion (Luke 23:40-43)

God works in the lives of His people (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:29). I am convinced that God works in our lives when we participate in His sacraments. But Scripture does not explicitly say it. I therefore conclude that what the ordinances do to us  is not the main issue. But neither are they just one more duty we have to fulfill. It is said of circumcision, though it applies to the other ordinances, that it was a sign and seal of faith (Romans 4:11). A seal is an outward mark of who we belong to. A sign is an outward expression, like a banner that goes before an army. Baptism is a seal and a declaration that we belong to God and His people. The Lord's Supper is said to be a reminder, a declaration, and an anticipation (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The same principles apply to baptism. Therefore, the one who receives baptism in faith obtains the benefit of the sacrament. The issue is not the exact mode, particular theory, or person administering it; if that were the issue, God would have spelled it out.

Now if baptism is an expression of faith, I must reject infant baptism. Nowhere  in Scripture are we commanded to baptize infants, and to base this on vague references to households and the blessing of children is a stretch. God commands what He intends to command, and we are not to add to it (Deuteronomy 4:2: Proverbs 30:6; Matthew 15:7-9). Nor do I think an argument can be made from circumcision. There is a clear connection between the Passover and communion. But that does not mean we should only serve communion on the 14th day of the month Nisan. Now I do suspect that if someone has genuine faith and is simply confused about the nature of baptism, God reckons them as baptized (which does not mean I would not encourage them to be baptized properly). But we must beware of believing that just going through the motions of an ordinance without faith accomplishes anything (Romans 2:25-29; 4:10-12: Malachi 1:10).  

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