August 15, 2011

The Meaning of Baptism

This Sunday we at PRBC will have the high privilege of enjoying the ordinance of Christian baptism. But what is baptism? What does it do? And what does it symbolize? There is often much confusion on the issue.

It is easy to just assume that baptism is a symbol of the washing away of our sins. What else could all that water be for, right? A few folks are even convinced that baptism actually does wipe away our sins … or that it is at least a necessary part of a person’s salvation. But is that what all that water is really all about? Is it really a symbol of washing? And does it save?

We’ll see in the weeks ahead that these ideas sail a little bit wide of the mark. In fact, what I’d like to do is to spend three weeks examining the issue of baptism in this column – asking what it is and isn’t, from Scripture.

Today, let’s be careful to notice that baptism is a symbolic ordinance, not a saving one. Baptism does not save a person, nor even contribute anything to his or her salvation! Rather, it is a symbol that he or she has already been saved.

Baptism (like good works) happens as the result of salvation, not as the cause of it! In other words, you could go through the water every Sunday from now until kingdom come, and still not necessarily be forgiven of sins … because it’s not the water that cleanses a person! No, rather we are taught that “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7). It is blood, not water, that saves sinners!

But someone may argue: ‘Yes, it is the blood of Jesus that saves us. But baptism is a necessary act that enables a person to gain access to that blood. You cannot benefit from the blood, and you cannot be saved, without being baptized.’ Really? What about the thief on the cross in Luke 23? He went to paradise with Jesus that very day, without ever having a chance to be baptized in water! Simple repentance toward God and faith in Jesus was enough. And if it was enough for him, it will be enough for us!

So that’s the first big thing to notice … and we’ll content ourselves having nailed this one truth in place this morning: Baptism does not save a person … and is not a part of his salvation in any way. It is only a symbol after the fact. But praise God for the symbol! And praise God for what it symbolizes! Praise God that, in Jesus, sinners may become believers in Jesus and followers of God!

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