(This is the first post in a series on the ordinances of the church.)
In my years of pastoral work in the church, I’ve seen it time and again. Especially when I’ve taught membership classes. Maybe the issue has something to do with the demands of joining a local church, but I’ve observed that many Christians balk at water baptism.
Some are reacting to their legalistic religious upbringing. They were taught to repeat rituals, so they went through the motions, but never understood what they were doing.
Coming to a vital faith in Jesus later in life, grace overwhelmed their souls. Freed from empty works, these believers refuse to return. Baptism reminds them of hollow customs, so they dismiss it.
Others rely on infant baptism which initiated them into the church community. This act served as the basis for their faith which was developed through catechism and verified at confirmation.
So these Christians see no need to undergo baptism a second time; once is enough.
There’s another group who have a different reason, one that relates to the meaning of baptism.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines baptism as “immersion” or “submersion.” To baptize someone means to dunk the person into water.
“As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ 37And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ 38And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.” – Acts 8:36-38 (NASB)
But there’s another meaning in the Bible.
Baptism is burial.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” – Romans 6:4
Why is this significant?
The burial of Jesus is a core component of the gospel:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5
But doesn’t the burial of Christ pale in significance to His death and resurrection? After all, the Scriptures emphasize these:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” – 1 Peter 3:18
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” – Romans 5:10
So what’s the big deal about Christ’s burial?
Burial means really dead!
The ancient world lacked our modern medical resources. They didn’t have the technology to detect faint heartbeats or brain activity. If the people of Jesus’ day buried someone, they’d make good and certain that person was dead!
That’s how the Roman soldiers treated Jesus on the cross.
“But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” – John 19:33-34
The few remaining followers buried Christ in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea because they knew that He was gone. They couldn’t revive Him and no medications would bring Him back.
Our natural life (what the Bible calls the flesh), will play along with Jesus, even conceding His rule over our affairs, but it will draw the line at dying. A bit of self-denial, okay, but dying to ourselves? Out of the question! Our flesh fights it.
But it’s crucial!
“And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism saves us? How?
Through baptism, we identify with Christ in the face of worldly resistance and personal opposition.
If you haven’t been baptized as a believer in Christ, you owe it to yourself to take the plunge.
If you have been, count yourself as dead to the past! You have a blessed future in Christ!
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:3