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Baptism: A Further Perspective

“The Holy Spirit will lead you into all righteousness” are truthful words that should not be ignored. The subject of “baptism,” of which I have given very little thought over the years, has all of a sudden risen up in my spirit as something that needs attention. I decided to pursue this leading and see where it goes. I’m beginning to recognize that God is trying to make me see something deeper and wider in “baptism.”

Baptism is generally looked at as a New Testament doctrine. Can we find baptism in the Old Testament as a general principle? Yes, and it is only right that we start there. Most of what is observable from the churches of today is that they start with the New Testament scriptures on baptism then try and contort the Old Testament to conform. The O.T. came first, and the characters in that former Book were no less familiar with baptism than are the characters of the latter Book. When we look for baptism in the O.T. we do not overtly recognize spiritual truth, but rather we look for the concrete and material display of that spiritual truth. New Testament baptism cannot be properly understood without also understanding Old Testament types and principles.

What are the deeper spiritual implications of baptism that are consistent with God’s character that flow throughout the entire Old and new Testaments? Is baptism just a N.T. ordinance to be practiced and obeyed like another “law”? If the O.T. and the N.T. are to be understood as a whole, or total complete thought of God, shouldn’t we desire to know how that thought of baptism plays out in the O.T.? Isn’t God’s counsel to us that we should see and understand the “whole” truth of Scripture as revealed in both Testaments? Some would say that “the devil is in the details,” but a better understanding would be that the Holy Spirit is revealing to us the details and leading us through deep waters.

Do we dare call those godly characters of the Old Testament “saints” unless we know for sure that they comprehended the principle of the “cross,” even though they could not define it in New Testament language, and if they did understand the principle of the “cross” will we deny that they must also have understood the principle of baptism, which is inseparably linked to the cross? To understand God’s mind in the spiritual application of the cross, in the O.T., is to understand the spiritual application of baptism also, because they are linked throughout the whole Bible. There is no cross without baptism. There is no baptism without the cross. There is no death without burial, and there is no burial without death. Both of these ingredients are necessary to produce the final product, which is “life.” The spiritual understanding of either the cross or baptism proceeds from the understanding of one or the other of these components.

If we say that we understand the principle of the cross, and are then simply baptized as a formality, rule, or church ordinance, then we do not yet understand properly, and have not fully understood the cross. To compact this knowledge into the Old Testament and New Testament statement that “the just shall live by faith” is to deliver the principle of the cross and baptism in capsulized form, or in seed form, and that seed is the seed that must “fall to the ground and die…” and being buried, produces much fruit.

So baptism is not just another discipline to be achieved as the correct practice of a Christian life, it is life itself; it is redemption; it is salvation, and it was understood as such by all the “saints” of old.

Baptism in the Life of Abraham

Now we need to look for this principle. There are several New Testament passages which point to specific Old Testament events, and explicitly call them “baptisms”.  So even if we try to start with the New Testament to study baptism, it just proceeds to point us back to the Old Testament.  The apostle Peter said that Noah’s flood was a type of baptism.  The apostle Paul said that the Israelites were actually baptized during the exodus from Egypt.  The apostle John and the author of Hebrews each recognized that the ceremonial purifications of the Old Testament were baptisms.  The idea of “baptism” was not remotely new to the New Testament church.  There had already been many baptisms in Israel’s history and practice, and so we must seek to understand these baptisms first, if we truly wish to understand the significance of baptism in the New Testament. Although Abraham is not mentioned explicitly with the term “baptism” he nonetheless understood the principle as well as any other.

Most people will use words such as :sprinkle, pouring, immersion, dipping, cleansing, christening, etc., when searching for related term for baptism. Terms that are more appropriate, and deal more with the meaning, rather than the sacrament, are: separation, through, in, death, cutting off, putting off, and, in Abraham’s case, circumcision “the cutting off of the foreskin” as the sign of the covenant in the flesh.

Genesis 17:1-2, 7, 9-11

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.  I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” “ I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” “Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.’”

The command “Walk before me and be blameless” has a definite ethical emphasis. “Walk in front of” expresses the service or devotion of a faithful servant to his king. “Be blameless”  or “be perfect”  is the Hebrew adverb tānīm, “complete.” It refers to animals which are without blemish, and is also translated as such related adjectives as “full, whole, upright, perfect. It represents the divine standard for man’s attainment. In other words, God expects Abraham to live a righteous life before him, but how was Abraham to do this? Wasn’t this the same as demanding perfection? Isn’t this the same request of God that draws so many chuckles from Christians today, with the echoed response of “Nobody can be perfect”?

If we can learn to see the type or shadow of baptism in one of the ancient saints then we should be able to discover the element in the others also.

Looking at Abraham, where do we see his baptism? Was his baptism the circumcision of himself and company, no, that was only the sign of something Abraham already understood? The cutting away of the flesh symbolized his disassociation from everything called the “world.” His baptism was the actual separation and putting off of the flesh (not just circumcision) that was required by a life of “faith.” His baptism was the response of a clean conscience in his obedience and trust of God’s ability to perform and keep His promises. His baptism was all the trials that are incorporated into a walk of faith, including the separation from certain family members, and the offering up to God the very thing that he devoted to and loved the most. His baptism was to die daily to all of his own desires, and to go, and “be” an instrument and vessel of the will of God. His baptism was “death” to self, no different than that required of Christians today, no different.

That symbol of baptism, whether circumcision or water, means death. For all those who were circumcised in Abraham’s day and lived for the “good life now” their circumcision is counted as un-circumcision, just like those who are water baptized today as a mere sacrament are treated as un-baptized.

The principle of baptism and the principle of circumcision are identical, one is the putting away of the flesh, and the other is the putting away of the old man. The cutting away of the flesh of the heart (which circumcision represented), and the putting away of the old man (which baptism represents) produce the same result, DEATH and BURIAL. God’s promise includes a new heart beating in One new man, the Church, the Body of Christ.

Life in the Good Land is a promise of the here and now, but can only be had by a spiritual understanding of the principle of the cross and baptism. Only resurrected saints, who have died, cross over Jordan, and only a continual life of “faith” guarantees passage into Eternal Life.

Again, I will say that baptism does save us, but it is the understanding of baptism that is our salvation, not the water. The water is but the seal of the covenant between God and man, just like circumcision was in Abraham’s case. There is very little that modern christians understand “spiritually,” and “church” only makes the matter worse, in nearly all cases. Paul’s words should alarm us here; “your meetings do more harm than good.” We are living in the days of which Joel and Amos speak, and men search from shore to shore for food, but find only corn husks. This is also the day in which God says He “will pour out His Spirit on all flesh.” The life of faith is still required by God. We must not be tricked back into the flesh for the sake of “doctrine” or rules, or counsels, or man’s sake. We must follow the example of our Lord Jesus, and the example of our father Abraham.

Steve Blackwell

8 replies on “Baptism: A Further Perspective”

In addition to my above comment I’d like to add that the Bible does tell us that there is a baptism necessary for salvation: a person must be SPIRITUALLY baptized into Christ in order to be saved: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). At the moment of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, a person is “buried with Him in (spiritual) baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12).
Salvation is and always has been about faith in Jesus Christ. (By FAITH are ye saved….not faith plus water!) You must be “baptized into Christ” in order to be saved; however, this is not the same as being “baptized in water.” Water baptism is purely an outward sign of God’s cleansing work in a person’s heart, and is therefore meaningless without a prior spiritual baptism into Christ. A person is saved purely by his or her faith in Jesus Christ…..(a “living” obedient faith, not dead faith). Just as it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (see Hebrews 10:4), the natural water used in baptism will not wash away sin. Spiritual baptism into Christ is what saves, for a heart must be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb: “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev 1:5). In the New Testament, Paul told the Jewish believers that circumcision was not necessary for salvation (see Acts 15). This statement brought about some heated discussions, for the Jews thought that the Gentile believers should follow Moses’ commandment of circumcision. But Paul explained that a person’s heart is purified by faith, not by an outward ritual. He said, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:11), and Paul’s speech persuaded the Jews. The cleansing work of God unto salvation is a spiritual baptism which takes place in our hearts. God draws us to Himself, we respond by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, He forgives and cleanses us of all sin, and then our clean conscience toward God saves us!
The fact remains that water baptism is a work of repentance. John the Baptist called it a work “meet for repentance” (Matt 3:8; Acts 26:20). In other words, water baptism is a work which is appropriate for one who has truly repented and already been saved. Eph 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works so that no one can boast. To say that “a person is saved by water baptism” is to exclude everyone in the Old Testament from salvation, everyone who has ever been saved moments before death, and everyone who is physically unable to be immersed in water such as paraplegics, etc.. Clearly, such a belief contradicts Scripture. The Bible clearly and plainly teaches that salvation is by faith. Water baptism is the testimony of that salvation and continued faithfulness and obedience to the end IS a requirement (Matt 10:22)..
Here’s a great example straight from Scripture: But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” )Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:25-31 (NKJ) Although the jailor’s family was later baptized, they were saved WHEN they believed, not later on. Paul plainly set forth only belief as a prerequisite for salvation!. Additionally, what would happen if I were a soldier on a battlefield and I accepted Jesus and then was shot through the heart before I was baptized? As Scripture so plainly states, I would be saved, just as the people were in Acts 10 who received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues before they were baptized, and just as the thief on the cross was before he died (UNbaptized) after Jesus had already expired. You can’t legalize water baptism, if so you entangle yourself in all sorts of impossible quagmires, but with God, ALL things are possible.

Lynn,

I think you have misread me. You and I both agree that water does not save us, but nonetheless, there is a baptism with which we must be baptized, and that baptism saves us. Does that sound confusing? Men wrestle with the things of the Spirit and come away scratching their heads. Of course baptism saves us because the Bible says so, that can not be denied. It is the understanding of that baptism that is the problem. The thing we do with the water is not the baptism that saves us, just like it was not the cutting away of the flesh that circumcision was supposed to represent, it was the putting away of the flesh, circumcision being the sign in the flesh. Likewise baptism with water represents a death and burial, of which water burial is but a sign represented in an act of the flesh. In this respect no one is saved without being baptized; there is no life without death and burial.

Read my articles more carefully and you will see that we are in agreement, also read my responses to the other replies. A spiritual understanding is absolutely necessary to an accurate answer to what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for us on the Cross.

Blessings to you Lynn, thank you for your letter,

Steve Blackwell

Steve,
You said: Again, I will say that baptism does save us, but it is the understanding of baptism that is our salvation, not the water. The water is but the seal of the covenant between God and man….

What about the thief on the cross? He was saved without water and Jesus died before him so either he was “baptized in the Spirit” (Acts 5:32) or he wasn’t saved since there was no water.
I believe that the blood of Jesus Christ washes away our sins, not water and your views on water baptism are basically identical to church of Christ doctrine (rush out and get baptized immediately so you don’t die in car wreck “unsaved”)…..nevermind if you have repented of all sin and surrendered your heart completely to the Truth (Jesus)! I’m not trying to minimize water baptism, I just firmly believe it is meant as an outward picture of the inward spiritual change that has already taken place. If one has the Holy Spirit of Christ dwelling within, one is saved! And it doesn’t always work in a neat concise way as described in your article, of repenting, getting baptized with the Holy Spirit and then getting baptized in water. I was baptized in water 3 times over a 30 year period of attending various “church” denominations without ever being taught how to receive the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until I began reading the Bible on my own and finding all the false doctrine being taught by organized churchianity that I actually became saved. I humbled myself to Jesus and asked Him personally to show me the truth of His Word and that very night, I became saved and baptised with the Holy Spirit and even heard and audible word from God late that night: Welcome! Afterward, His Word began jumping off the pages at me, especially the OT prophets and I could understand and hear Him plainly. One of the first things He made clear to me was “Come out of her” Rev 18:4 (the harlot church system). No mention of “water” has He made to me so far and I’ve been faithful and stayed in His Word now for over two years. He has convicted me of many things and pruned them out of my life but I guess one of the 3 immersions I had when sitting under false denominational churchianity was sufficient. I was sincere, I just was totally devoid of understanding at the time and continued to fall back into sin. So, I have to disagree with you. Water baptism IS an act of obedience, not a work of salvation, else the thief on the cross is in Hell.

indywatchman: “Baptism, as a “prescription” against Hell, is no good, His blood alone satisfied God’s just demands. This is the core of the issue of men wanting to put something between the blood of Christ and the throne of the Judge, nothing, simply nothing is good enough. ”

Reply: Amen!

Prodigal,

Yes I agree. If the government ask that I put on a military uniform to identify me as one set apart for that service, then I am inclined to do so, lest I be identified with the wrong outfit.

I also agree that if Our Lord has asked us to be baptized, why would we not want to obey Him? If He ask me to die for Him I would, and do, and am water baptized also. What ever He ask me to do I want to obey, but not as a “safety measure” but because I want to please Him. Baptism, as a “prescription” against Hell, is no good, His blood alone satisfied God’s just demands. This is the core of the issue of men wanting to put something between the blood of Christ and the throne of the Judge, nothing, simply nothing is good enough.

Jesus is the answer to every question, especially salvation, no special pill will do.

Blessings,

Steve Blackwell

Steve,

I am inclined to agree with you, but it is only God who can make the exceptions, not man. So I would never, ever, tell anyone they need not be baptized. Actually, I would want to know why they would resist it unless they had a very legitimate excuse. Like we tell sinners who say “What if the Bible turns out to be wrong?” , “Okay, but what if it’s true?” Better safe than sorry when it comes to obeying what God has prescribed!

I would say that this scripture tells us baptism falls into that category: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:19)

Prodigal,

Thank you not taking issue on that reference to your article, I thought you would catch it; you are a gentleman and a brother.

There is a caution that has to be practiced when dealing with the spiritual. We must be sure it is the right “spirit.”

I am convinced that there will be those who will share in the inheritance who have never been baptized with water, just as there are those who will share in the inheritance who were never circumcised. Will not their faith be counted as baptism and circumcision? Yes, I believe so. We should make all diligence to insure we fulfill all righteousness, as lovers of Christ, and our faith will preserve us in the shadow of His wings, and will win for us the leniency of a merciful Judge.

Steve B.

Steve,
Well said, and I won’t take issue with your mention of my most recent article title! 🙂 I am just weary of trying to answer all the many questions and debates about baptism. I especially like the way you summarize it as “baptism does save us, but it is the understanding of baptism that is our salvation, not the water. ” While I would caution you not to “over-spiritualize” baptism, your emphasis is correct. Baptism is of no effect unless we have already agreed to die to our selves and the kind of life that the old self wanted and still desires at times. Far too many people either place their faith in the act that was performed by man (water baptism), rather than on the cross of Christ Jesus. And some have no clue what they are doing beyond the idea that it is “required”. Neither view is sufficient and you have addressed that quite well.

Grace and peace brother!

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