Baptism (Devon K)
Scripture: Matthew 28:19, Romans 6:3–6:5
For some believers in certain parts of the world, being baptized can result in ostracization from families, communities, and even threats of death. But why do people respond to baptism this way? What’s the big deal with baptism? Why does baptism matter?
Well, this morning, we are going to take time to consider these questions. A few weeks ago, Larry taught from 1 Corinthians 11 as we considered the nature and purpose of the Lord’s Supper. This morning we turn our attention to baptism, it’s nature and purpose.
The Lord’s Supper and Baptism stand together as two gifts given by God to the church. We recognize, along with century after century of Christians, that God has instituted these two sacraments for the church, ordained by Jesus Christ for our benefit: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
These two practices were not just made up by some church leaders at some point in church history, as if a group of leaders came together in the 3rd century asking, “So what should we do? What rituals should we have?”
No. These practices aren’t the church’s idea; they are God’s idea. When we call them “ordinances” that’s what we’re saying. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordained by God, instituted by Jesus Christ. Jesus says to the church: “Do these things.”
For baptism, this is most clearly seen in Matthew 28:19.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
When Jesus tells his disciples what they are to do in their ministry he tells them to make disciples and they are going to do this by baptizing and teaching them. So, baptism is clearly God’s idea.
This morning we are going to consider three pictures that help us understand the nature and purpose of baptism.
- Baptism is a Sign.
I remember taking family trips as a child and looking out the window of our van and watching all of the signs we would pass by. There was always one sign I was particularly excited to see. This sign said something like, “Welcome to Florida!”
While I was excited to see the sign, my joy and excitement came because of what that sign represented. That sign served as a marker that told me that I was where I wanted to be.
The same is true of baptism. Baptism isn’t the destination—it’s not the point. But it points to the most significant reality of the Christian’s life.
Our denomination’s Statement of Faith says this about baptism: "Baptism is an initiatory, unrepeated sacrament for those who come to faith in Christ that pictures their remission of sins and union with Christ in his death and resurrection."
This statement begins by highlighting baptism as something that takes place once as an initiation into the people of God, and then goes on to speak of baptism as being a sign or a picture of a spiritual reality, highlighting two things.
First, baptism pictures the Christian’s remission of sins. By being lowered into the water and lifted up again, the church is given a picture of the reality that this person has been washed clean—their sins have been washed away. It is an outward and visible sign of something that has already taken place.
Baptism doesn’t actually wash sins away, but it serves as a helpful sign that this indeed is what has taken place in the Christian’s life.
The second thing baptism pictures, or is a sign of, is “union with Christ in his death and resurrection.” Baptism not only shows that the believer’s sins have been washed away, it also shows that they have been made one with Christ. For the Christian, their old way of life, their old identity, who they once were, has died.
In a sense, baptism represents this funeral of the old self. Who you once were is dead. It’s being laid in the grave—just as Christ was buried in the tomb after dying for our sins. But that’s not the end of baptism. The sign of baptism doesn’t end in the water. The believer is lifted out of the water picturing the new life they now have in Jesus—united to him.
When calling on the Roman church to not persist in sin so that there might be more grace, Paul turns to the sign of baptism in Romans 6:3-5. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. 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.”
Paul uses baptism as the sign that it is to say, “you shouldn’t keep on sinning, because that old you has been buried, just as Jesus was buried. And just as Jesus Christ rose from the grave, so you too have a new life in Jesus.”
Baptism doesn’t save us. It doesn’t make our sins forgiven. It doesn’t make us more united to Christ. But what it does do is serves as a sign that points to these realities that have already taken place.
In Galatians 3:27, Paul speaks of baptism like the putting on of a coat, saying that those who have been “baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” It’s like a Doctor putting on a lab coat. That coat doesn’t make them a doctor. They were already a doctor. But that coat represents who they are. It’s a sign that points to reality.
Baptism is this picture, this sign, of how the Christian has put on Christ. Every reason that God the Father has to reject us is covered up, clothed by, Jesus Christ, washed in his blood. When we put on Christ we are no longer seen as those clothed in Adam, as those stained by sin, as those destined for judgement and wrath, but as children of God, forgiven and righteous and accepted in Jesus Christ.
- Baptism is a Gift
It can be all too easy to only think of baptism as something that we do. It’s a decision that we make. An act that we make happen. But baptism is not merely an act. It’s a gift from God.
God knows that we need help. We are a weak people, who—although our sins have been forgiven—still battle our sin. We are prone to wander. We forget what God has done. We forget who we are as those who have put on Christ. So, God gives us this gift—these two pictures—in baptism and the Lord’s Supper to encourage us and to nourish us, so that we might walk in the joy of our salvation.
John Calvin states it this way: “For seeing we are so weak that we cannot receive him with true heartfelt trust, when he is presented to us by simple doctrine and preaching, the Father of mercy . . . has been pleased to add to his word a visible sign, by which he might represent the substance of his promises, to confirm and fortify us by delivering us from all doubt and uncertainty.”
This idea applies to the Lord’s Supper just like baptism, both of these signs are a gift that accompany God’s Word. God intends for his gospel to be one that is proclaimed and heard. But out of his mercy, he also gives this gift of visible signs, so that, as Calvin says, we can see and taste of what he has done for us.
Our Statement of Faith puts it this way: "The sacraments are precious means of grace that signify the benefits of the gospel, confirm its promises to the believer, and visibly distinguish the church from the world."
Baptism is a gift that points to the most marvelous work that has ever been accomplished. Baptism presents to the church and to the world a picture of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
That’s what we saw in the text we just looked at in Romans. It’s also what we see in Colossians 2:11-15. Just at the mention of baptism, Paul cannot help but to go into the glories of what Jesus Christ has done for us and the triumph over sin and death that he has accomplished.
Paul writes, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been bired with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through fiath in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Baptism is a big deal, not because of our decision or our act, but because it is God’s gift to remind us of what Jesus Christ has done. Jesus died in our place and four our sins. Jesus triumphed over death in his resurrection. Jesus wins for us new life, eternal life.
Now, baptism does not save. One can be genuinely saved without being baptized. Our Statement of Faith states: "Although commanded by Christ and a true means of grace, grace is not so inseparably tied to baptism that no one can be saved without it, or that everyone who is baptized is thereby saved."
Consider the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Jesus tells him that today you will see me in paradise, and then the thief died. He was never baptized. But just because it is not necessary for salvation, does not mean that it is not a right and good gift for the believer.
Baptism matters, and is worthy of our attention, because of how it stands in relation to Jesus, and the necessity of his work to rescue us from ourselves, to deliver us from the wrath of God, and to win us to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
- Baptism is a Passport
When one goes off to travel across borders, it is vital that they bring their passport. The passport functions as proof of who you are, of what country you belong to. And it is exceedingly difficult to go to the place you want to go without it.
Baptism is like a passport. We are saying that we belong to a certain kingdom, a certain people. Our statement of faith presents this idea by saying, “Through immersion in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the believer publicly proclaims his faith in Christ and signifies his entrance into the body of Christ.”
In baptism the believer declares in front of others that this is what I believe and that this is who I am. Jesus does not call his disciples, does not call us to be loners—desert island Christians. He also doesn’t call us to be casual citizens—identifying as Christians when it’s convenient.
He calls all of his followers to come and die in order to find true life. And he provides baptism as this passport—this being named with the name of Jesus Christ, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to mark off his people, to wear God’s name together.
One of the interesting things about a passport, is that it’s not really who I say I am that matters. I could be entering another country and tell the border agent that I am from Uzbekistan—but it doesn’t really matter what I say. It matters what my passport says.
I could also come to the border agent and hand them a piece of paper that I typed up at home, listing my birthplace, my current address, and the country that I am a citizen of. But, again, it doesn’t really matter what I say.
What I need when I go to the border is proof that someone else agrees with who I say that I am—and it’s not just anyone else—in the case of entering the country; it needs to be my government that agrees that I am who I say I am.
Regardless of who I say I am, I am a United States citizen. That’s a fact. But when I enter foreign lands, when I’m a sojourner and stranger, I need my passport to tell other people that I am who I say I am.
Baptism functions in a similar way for the people of God in the world. We may think that baptism is all about us as individuals making this declaration, this decision to follow Jesus. But it’s not just that. It’s also God’s people agreeing and saying, “Yes! We know you and we agree that you are who you saying you are!” And then corporately celebrating this truth, this reality, and visibly welcoming people into the body of Christ.
I heard someone share an illustration of it being like the President being voted into office. For Christian’s that vote is cast by God and God-alone as he chooses and justifies and forgives sinners. But after that President is voted into office, then comes the swearing-in ceremony, the TV broadcast, the parties. This is like what the church does when it baptizes. We celebrate and recognize something that has already been made reality in Christ by the Spirit.
Baptism matters because baptism is a sign pointing to the most significant reality of the Christian’s life. Baptism is a picture of what Paul declares in Galatians 2:20, “It’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Baptism doesn’t end in our death, but results in a visible representation of the fact that our lives are hidden with Christ in God, both in this life and also in the age to come.
You see, baptism isn’t just about the here and now. Baptism expresses the believer’s identification both with and in Christ, as Christians are “united with him in a death like his, [they] shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). Participating in baptism points to a future hope when all those who are in Christ will be raised with him and brought into his presence (2 Cor 4:14).
Praise be to God. Amen.
 John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord, in Which Is Shown Its True Institution, Benefit, and Utility,” in Tracts and Letters of John Calvin, 2:166.