What Is Baptism?
Baptism is the immersion in water of a Christian believer. Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize new believers in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). At Pentecost, Peter likewise exhorted the crowds to repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).
Water Baptism does not save us or change us. Nevertheless, Jesus commands us to be baptized so that, through Water Baptism, we might publicly testify to our private conversion. We are born again when we fully trust Jesus to save us by His death and resurrection (John 3:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 1 Peter 1:3-5, 22-23). This new birth puts us on the other side of death's reach and begins our eternal life. Thus, when our bodies die, we immediately transition to a new and better way of living in the presence of the Lord while we wait for bodily resurrection from the dead. Water Baptism is the way in which we publicly affirm that we have been born again by the Holy Spirit.
What is a biblical theology of baptism?
Water Baptism has ancient roots in the Old Testament. There are two key Old Testament traditions that inform our understanding of the theology of Water Baptism. They are the Flood and the Red Sea traditions.
In Genesis 6-9 we read about a global flood that devastated the whole world. Peter says that Christian baptism corresponds to this flood (1 Peter 3:18-22; see also 2 Peter 3:1-13). What does Peter mean by this? There are several parts:
- The Flood was an expression of God's wrath in judgment. Likewise, the Scriptures teach us that there is a Final Judgment to come. Whereas God judged the world in the time of Noah with a flood of water, at the Final Judgment, God will judge the world with fire that dissolves the entire universe (2 Peter 3:6-7).
- In the days of Noah, God saved 8 people. Namely, Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives (1 Peter 3:20). God saved Noah's family by grace through faith, not because of any inherent righteousness in Noah, his wife, their sons, or their wives. Likewise, God will save some people through the Final Judgment.
- God saved Noah, his family, and all the animals by putting them in the ark that He had commanded Noah to build. Likewise, God will save some people through the Final Judgment by putting us "in Christ." Jesus is our ark through the fire to come. We are put "in Christ" when we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).
- After God's wrathful judgment had been poured out, the ark landed on Mount Ararat, and all the inhabitants of the ark emerged into a new earth. Likewise, God will resurrect the universe in glory and we will inhabit a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (1 Peter 3:13; see also Revelation 21-22).
Thus, the Flood is the beginning of a biblical understanding of Christian baptism. When we submit to Water Baptism, we are marking our union with Noah as those who will come through God's wrath in judgment.
The Red Sea
In Exodus 14 we read about the parting of the Red Sea that ushered Israel out of slavery in Egypt. As part of this tradition, we read in Joshua 3 that some 40 years later, the children of the Exodus Generation pass through the Jordan River on dry ground. Paul says that Christian baptism corresponds to this national experience (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). What does Paul mean by this? There are several parts.
- Israel was enslaved in Egypt. Likewise, every human being is born into slavery to sin and the devil (Romans 6).
- By mighty acts, God demonstrated His sovereign power over the false idols, forces of nature, and political powers of Egypt. Likewise, God demonstrated His sovereign power over demonic powers, forces of nature, and earthly political powers in the life of Jesus Christ.
- God punished the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh and the faithlessness of Egypt by killing the firstborn of every house. Likewise, God will punish the hard-heartedness of the powers and principalities of this world and the faithlessness of humanity at the Final Judgment.
- By grace, God delivered those who, by faith, applied the blood of a Passover lamb to their doorposts and lintels (Exodus 12). The destroyer "passed over" blood-soaked houses without executing judgment. Likewise, at the Final Judgment, God will "pass over" those who have applied the Blood of Jesus, the Passover Lamb, to their life by faith.
- Pharaoh released the slaves who had applied the blood of the Passover lamb. Likewise, sin and the devil must release us when we apply the blood of Jesus to our life by faith.
- Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued the released slaves. Likewise, Satan and sin chase after us in this life.
- God marked His deliverance of Israel by parting the waters of the Red Sea so that Israel would pass through the waters. Likewise, God marks His deliverance of us by commanding us to pass through the waters of baptism.
- Upon pursuing Israel, Pharaoh's army was drowned in the Red Sea. Likewise, sin and the devil will have no absolute power over us. And, in the end, they will be destroyed in the Final Judgment.
- God delivered Israel from slavery to take them to the Promised Land. Forty years after the Red Sea, Joshua led the Wilderness Generation through the Jordan River and into the Promised Land (Joshua 3-4). Likewise, Joshua (Jesus) will return to lead us into the Eternal Promised Land, the new heavens and the new earth.
- In between the Red Sea and the Jordan River, Israel wandered in the wilderness, where they were humbled and tested (Deuteronomy 8). Sadly, many of them perished in the wilderness for a lack of faith (1 Corinthians 10:5). Likewise, the Christian life is a wilderness experience, in which we are humbled and tested. Our hope is that we will not perish in the wilderness as many of our forefathers did, but that we will enter safely into the Eternal Promised Land.
Thus, the Red Sea gives us a rich appreciation for the theological significance of Christian baptism. Notice that the Red Sea was for believers who had applied the blood of the Passover lamb to their homes by faith. Notice also that the Jordan River crossing was for believers who had kept the faith in the wilderness. Likewise, we affirm Believers' Baptism.
Jesus, the Flood, and the Red Sea
Matthew, Mark, and Luke affirm both the Flood and Red Sea traditions in their description of the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3-4; Mark 1; Luke 3-4).
Jesus and the Flood
The Holy Spirit is not a dove. At the baptism of Jesus, however, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), just as a dove descended to Noah with evidence of a new earth in its beak. He did this to affirm that Jesus is the ark of God that will take us through the Final Judgment into the new heavens and the new earth if we but believe.
Jesus and the Red Sea
After His baptism, Jesus was compelled into the wilderness for 40 days where He was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4). This affirms the Red Sea tradition because Israel wandered in the wilderness after their baptism in the Red Sea for 40 years. While being tempted by the devil, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6 and 8, demonstrating His awareness that He was fulfilling Israel's wilderness experience, succeeding where they had failed.
The Flood, the Red Sea, the Cross, and the Resurrection
On the cross, Jesus received the full wrath of God on behalf of those who believe. This qualifies Him to be an ark of safety through the Final Judgment for sinners who put their faith in Him. This also fulfills the Red Sea tradition, as Jesus is the Passover Lamb who brings about the deliverance of slaves who bathe themselves in His blood.
The resurrection validates these claims. The One who received the full wrath of God has come back to life. He is living on the other side of Judgment. He is already in the new age. He is also Faithful Israel, the One about whom the Father says, "You are My beloved Son." He alone is qualified to cross the Jordan River into the Eternal Promised Land. And yet, He promises to lead us if we put our faith in Him.
The baptism of Jesus by John points forward to the fulfillment of the Flood and Red Sea traditions that would be accomplished by His crucifixion and resurrection.
What am I saying when I am baptized?
When we submit to Christian baptism, we are saying that we believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life, died by crucifixion for the sin of the world, and was vindicated by bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day.
More than that, we are saying that we fully trust the finished work of Jesus Christ to save us and to bring us through the Final Judgment. We are uniting ourselves to His death and resurrection so that His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection (Romans 6:3-11).
Theologically, we are saying that we believe that a Final Judgment is coming and that we deserve to be condemned like the generation that perished in the Flood. By God's grace, however, we have hidden ourselves in Christ, just as Noah and his family hid themselves in the ark until the wrath of God had been spent. We expect there to be suffering in this life, but we look forward to the end of this suffering on the other side of Judgment (1 Peter 3:18-22).
We are also saying that we believe that we were born into this world as slaves to sin and the devil. By God's grace, however, we have applied the blood of Christ to our lives, just as Israel applied the blood of the Passover lamb to their doorposts and were delivered. We understand that the proper response to God's merciful salvation is a life of obedience (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
We are also saying that we expect to cross the Eternal Jordan, into the new heavens and the new earth when Joshua (Jesus) returns to lead us. Until that time, however, we recognize that the Christian life is akin to Israel's 40 years in the wilderness. We expect to be humbled and tested as we anticipate the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:1-10).
Should I be baptized?
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and that He was forever raised back to life three days later should be baptized. Southshore is committed to Believers' Baptism and therefore we encourage believers who were dedicated with water as children to be baptized.
There is no predetermined waiting period between the moment you become a Christian and the time you are baptized. So long as you truly believe that Jesus died on the cross and was raised back to life for the forgiveness of your sins, and you desire to surrender your life to God, you can be baptized. In Acts 8:36 an Ethiopian eunuch asked the disciple Philip if anything should prevent him from being baptized immediately after having become a Christian. Philip responded by baptizing him immediately, mere moments after his conversion. In fact, throughout the book of Acts, the norm seems to be Baptism without delay. It is important to remember that Water Baptism marks the beginning of a spiritual journey, not the end.
Southshore is committed to baptizing believers as soon as they are ready. For children still in the home, we entrust this decision to the discernment of the parents and the elders.