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“Believe and Be Baptized”

Acts 8:12
Bob DeGray
August 13, 2017

Key Sentence

Obedient believers get baptized? Have you?


I. What does baptism mean? (Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 12;13)
II. Is baptism necessary for salvation? (1 Peter 3:21)
III. Who should be baptized? (Acts 8:12)
IV. Why should you be baptized?


In my opinion I was baptized too early, and too late. By too early I mean I was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian Church. We’ll discuss infant baptism from a biblical point of view in a few minutes, but from my point of view, as a child and into my teens it meant nothing. I had no memory of it, no one ever mentioned it and it no impact on my Christian life, which began when I trusted Jesus at the age of 13. But then I was baptized too late. I became a believer, but I was led to the Lord by the youth pastor at another Presbyterian church, and whatever Pete Fosburg might have believed about baptism, he couldn’t really promote it. So I didn’t get baptized in those first months as a believer.

A little later, as I began to fellowship with different Christians, I was asked often if I wanted to be baptized. Other folks were coming to faith in these circles and some were baptized. But at that point I was more concerned to honor my father and mother, who had become believers but felt they had done a good thing by having their kids baptized. I didn’t want to go against that. I got in the habit of not being baptized. It wasn’t until Gail and I moved down to Texas and began to attend a church that did believers baptism that I took the question seriously. Even so it took a couple of years before I was ready. I was finally baptized as an adult, as a believer, I think in 1986. Unfortunately I can’t find a picture. But it was a blessing. It just felt about fifteen or twenty years late.

You may be here today, and you may have been baptized too early for it to mean anything, or right on time, as soon as you could testify to your faith, or too late. You may not have been baptized yet, and you’re missing the blessing of following the Lord’s command. Today we’re going to look at a few important questions and Scriptures about baptism. What does it mean? Is it necessary for salvation? Who should be baptized, and when? We’ll summarize that with why you should be baptized. Because the big Scriptural idea is that obedient believers get baptized. It’s an awesome blessing that is also a plain command.

So we begin with the question “what does baptism mean?” I ran across a good, brief article on the internet that made two key points. First, that in Greek, even more clearly than English, there is a distinction between what we are baptized in, say water or even fire, and what we are baptized into, the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for example. Second point is that baptism means being identified with what you are baptized into. He uses the same illustration I did with the kids. The shirt is placed in the water, but it is identified with the dye, the color purple, it’s being baptized in water into purpleness.

So Matthew 28:19 can be translated “go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the disciples into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” By the baptism the disciple is identified with the Father, the Son and the Spirit. There are several other verses that make this “into / identity” thing more clear and they answer the question, “what does baptism mean?” It means being identified with death and new life, it means being identified with Christ and it means being identified with the Christian community.

The first thing baptism reflects is that we’ve died to ourselves and found new life in Christ. Romans 6:3-4 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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. We talked in July about justification. A righteous and holy God rescues sinners, declaring them holy and faithful, buying them back from slavery through the sacrifice of Jesus as a free gift to all who believe. In that justification we are baptized, made new, washed clean by the sacrifice. In sanctification, which we talked about recently, we put off the sinful ways in which we used to walk and put on the new self of Christlikeness, as a process, through the Spirit. Baptism celebrates justification and reinforces sanctification.

Paul says that we are baptized into Christ Jesus. We are identified with Christ Jesus, and we’ll get to that in a minute but here, specifically we are baptized into his death, we are identified with his death. He suffers and dies for us, in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin so that it’s as if we had paid that penalty. We paid it in him. Bob died, because Bob is identified with Jesus and Jesus died when Bob’s penalty was poured out. Baptism pictures that perfectly, because when we go under the water it’s a picture of death.

But it’s also a picture of life. Verse 4: “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.” We are identified with Christ in his death, pictured by baptism, but we are also identified with Christ in his resurrection, pictured by baptism. To be in water is to die, to be raised from the water is to be given new life. That’s justification – we die to sin and live in Christ. But it’s also the starting point of sanctification – we put off, we put to death the old man and we begin to walk, that’s a sanctification word, in newness of life. In Galatians Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

What is baptism? An outward re-enactment of an inward reality, that in salvation my old self was put to death with Christ and I was given a new life in him. But also a pledge, a vow, a starting point of sanctification. By submitting to baptism I am also committing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the work of becoming holy, putting off and putting to death the old sinful nature, putting on the new nature created to be like Jesus in true righteousness and holiness.

Our second “what is baptism” verse reinforces that. We are not only baptized into his death and resurrection, we are baptized into him. Galatians 3:26-28 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. In baptism we are offered a whole new identity. First, we are sons of God through faith. Jesus said to the religionists of his day that they were sons of their father the devil. But by faith we are in Christ Jesus, and thus sons of God. Paul says in Galatians 4 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Second, we’re baptized into Christ. This is how we become sons of God, because he is God the Son and we are fellow heirs with him. But Paul connects that again to the image of putting on Christ. In baptism we not only express our faith in the salvation we receive in Christ but also our commitment to walking with Christ. The key I think, is identity with Christ, Christlikeness. One of the blessings of baptism is a mental shift that changes the focus of my life from me to Jesus, from me centeredness to growing Christlikeness.

There are two or three ways to make this practical. First, get to know Jesus. You can’t be Christlike if you don’t know what Christ is like. Get to know Jesus in his word. First, probably, the Gospels, where we see how he walked among us, what he taught, the compassion he showed, and the selfless sacrifice he embraced. Second, the letters, where Christ is the model for all kinds of ethical teachings and heart attitudes. That’s what we saw in Colossians 3. Third, in the rest of the Old and New Testaments, recognizing that the whole Bible is about Jesus, that he is the hero of God’s big story and therefore of every story.

So get to know Jesus. Not just in his word, but as a living reality in your life, as the you have a deep, conversational relationship with, in which you can ask daily and moment by moment, what do you want me to do, what do you want me to say, how can I be like you in this circumstance? Find your identity in Jesus by getting to know Jesus and imitating him.

Next, cement this mental shift by constant repetition. Repeat over and over the verse we just quoted: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Or the one that says “I died, and my life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Or hear Jesus say to you “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Use repetition to eat away at your ingrained self-focus until it becomes second nature to seek Jesus and imitate him. Through baptism we are giving the blessing of finding our identity in Christ. As we’ve sung for years “knowing you, Jesus, there is no greater thing.”

Finally, we find our identity in Christ by denying every competing identity. “In him there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Paul’s day these distinctions were central to self-identity. We might add others: American, middle class, white, black, Hispanic, maybe even how I classify myself sexually. But now, on this side of salvation, as a blessing of baptism, I’m just in Christ and all my brothers and sisters are in Christ. Colossians 3 says “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” When Christ is everything, everything else is nothing. Let me ask how do you introduce yourself? I’m an engineer? I’m a mom and homemaker? I’m a student? I’m a pastor? How about “I’m a Christian?” How different would your world be if that was your public and private self-identity.

So in baptism we identify with his death and resurrection, we find our identity and model in him, and third, we find our identity in his community. 1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Two things to notice. First, in or into one Spirit we were all baptized. John the Baptist and Jesus both talk about a baptism by the Holy Spirit. In addition John the Baptist and Jesus talk about water baptism. It’s clear in Scripture that though these two things are related, they are not the same and often not simultaneous. In particular one can have the baptism of the Holy Spirit without having yet received water baptism, as happens in Acts 10. On the other hand, the two are related in the sense that they are both a consequence of salvation.

So Scriptures like this one talk about being baptized in or by the Holy Spirit. They are not necessarily talking about water baptism, but about the gift of the Spirit we receive at salvation. Everyone who trusts Jesus is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. He is “God with us,” and he mediates the presence of Jesus to us so that his promise to be with us is fulfilled. This verse says we were all made to drink of this Spirit. Spirit baptism and water baptism are both consequences of the same event, salvation, but one is God’s work and his free gift and the other, water baptism, is our response to that work and celebration of it.

Second, we were all baptized by one Spirit into one Body. Remember, into is the “identified with” word. So by baptism, Spirit baptism, but also water baptism, we are identified with the Body of Christ. This is awesome. Our identification with Christ and imitation of Christ are not purely individual. We also identify ourselves with the Church of which he is the head. Through the history of the Church, baptism has been initiation into fellowship. More than that, though, this verse shows that God never intended Christians to go it alone. Not only do we have the Spirit, not only do we become like Jesus, but we have each other, people we love and serve, people who love and serve us, to whom we are accountable, and with whom we grow in Christlikeness and maturity. When we obey by water baptism we immerse ourselves fully into that blessing despite the struggle and messiness that so often beset the visible church.

What is baptism? It is being identified with the death and resurrection of Christ, that in salvation we died with him as he died for us, and we rose with him as he rose victorious. His sacrifice becomes our life story. It is also being identified with Christ himself so that we strive to grow more Christlike, to have him live his life through us rather than living for ourselves. Finally, it is to identify with his people. To say “I love Jesus but hate the church,” is to deny our baptism. We identify with the church, with all her visible flaws, when we are baptized.

But all this leads to a second question, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” The short answer is no, but not everyone accepts that. The Catholic Church says it is necessary. The Council of Trent, the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation, puts it this way “If any one says that baptism is free, that is, not necessary for salvation; let him be condemned.” Their theologians say “baptism by water is necessary for all men without exception for salvation.” How do they justify that? Some use 1 Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology says “Does this not give clear support to the Roman Catholic view that baptism itself brings saving grace to the recipient? No, for Peter continues in the same sentence to explain exactly what he means. He says that baptism saves you “not as a removal of dirt from the body” (that is, not as an outward, physical act which washes dirt from the body. That is not the part which saves you), “but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience” (that is, as an inward, spiritual transaction between God and the individual, symbolized by the outward ceremony of baptism). “An appeal to God for a clear conscience,” is another way of saying “a request for forgiveness of sins and a new heart.” Understood in this way, baptism is an appropriate symbol for the beginning of the Christian life.”

But there are also Protestants who insist that water baptism is necessary to salvation. Many in the Church of Christ, which built this building, teach that believing plus baptism equals the remission of sins. They point to a few places where faith and baptism occur at the same time or appear to be linked. But without going into details, the links are weak, and the fact that they occur at the same time only indicates that in the early church baptism was often immediate after salvation. But there are dozens of places, especially in the Gospel of John where faith alone saves with no mention of baptism. In Awana we teach Acts 16:31 “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” So, no, baptism is not necessary for salvation. Salvation is a free gift.

But let me say very clearly that baptism is not optional. Believers should be baptized. In fact that’s our third question. “Who should be baptized?” We can find the answer in multiple places, but the one that caught my eye was Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Believe and be baptized. This sequence is seen in most every narrative account of baptism in Acts. As Grudem says “The pattern revealed at several places in the New Testament is that only those who give a believable profession of faith should be baptized. This view is often called “believers’ baptism,” since it holds that only those who have themselves believed in Christ should be baptized. Baptism, which is a symbol of beginning the Christian life, should only be given to those who have in fact begun the Christian life.” This was the practice of the early church. Justin Martyr, writing around 155 AD says baptism was administered to those who “are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly.” Mike Svigel says, “In both the Bible and the church of the first few centuries, water baptism was the outward, visible testimony of conversion to Christ.”

But there are alternate views. I mentioned the Catholic view that baptism is required for salvation. The Catholic Church also believes baptism is to be administered to infants, and that that baptism saves them. Grudem quotes Ludwig Ott as saying “Faith, as it is not the effective cause of justification need not be present. The faith which infants lack is replaced by the faith of the Church.” Grudem explains that “Catholics hold that the sacraments work apart from the faith of the people participating in the sacrament. If this is so, then it follows that baptism would confer grace even on infants who do not have the ability to exercise faith.” The disagreement with Catholic believers over who should be baptized comes back to the disagreement over justification. If justification is not by faith but by works of the church then there is no reason to wait until a person has faith to initiate them into the church. But if justification is by faith then only those who have expressed a credible faith should be baptized.

But Presbyterians, Episcopals, many Methodists and other denominations believe in infant baptism for a different reason. They say it enrolls the child in the New Covenant in Christ and gives them, as it were, a provisional salvation til they are old enough to express faith. The idea is that just as Israel had circumcision by which children were initiated into the covenant community so the church has baptism for the same purpose. This presumes that the Church is the new Israel, and that all of God’s dealing with Israel find an echo in the church age.

Of course, many of us don’t agree with that premise. God does still have a plan to keep his plain promises to Israel. Further, the New Testament does not teach that baptism and circumcision are the same kind of thing and there is no real New Testament evidence that infants were baptized, or that anyone was baptized who had not believed. These Protestant denominations will point to the several cases in which whole households were baptized, as with Lydia, or the Philippian jailer, and assert that this must have included infants. But in most cases there is evidence that the Gospel was shared with these households and a response of faith called for. Even without that evidence, infants in that culture were not really considered part of a household until they survived infancy and began to mature. So the idea of infant baptism into a covenant community is a stretch, which is why, as we’ve heard in the history series, many of the reformers came to see believer’s baptism as the Biblical norm.

Ok, one last question. “Why should you be baptized?” We’ve described some of what baptism means, we’ve seen that while it doesn’t save us, it does identify us with Christ in his death and resurrection, it affirms our desire to die to self and let him live through us, and by it we identify ourselves with the redeemed community, the church. We’ve also seen that the baptism of believers at the start of their Christians lives is the Biblical norm. So I’m not asking “why should you be baptized?” I’m asking “why should YOU be baptized?” If you’re here today and have been baptized I hope you’ll just enjoy what I’m about to say, and maybe celebrate your baptism more positively. But if you’re here today and haven’t been baptized as a believer, I want to school you in the ABC’s of why YOU should be baptized. Let me mention that we hope to have a baptism on September 10th. So if you come away from this message feeling like YOU should be baptized, we’d like to know about it and include you in.

So here are the ABC’s. You should be baptized because baptism is awesome. It pictures the most important thing that ever happened in the universe, the sacrificial death and sin-bearing of Jesus and his victorious resurrection. By choosing to be baptized, you indicate that this awesome thing has happened to you, that you have believed in that sacrificial death and that victory and so you have died with him and been raised to new life.

It’s awesome because by it you state publicly that you want to be identified with Christ and no longer live for yourself but strive for Christlike character and behavior, walking out your faith. And it’s awesome because by it you identify yourself as a member of his community, the church, which, with all its faults and failings, is his body on earth and the fellowship of his adopted children.

So A, it’s awesome. B, it’s a blessing. The blessing of baptism comes because it is not just a symbolic act. Your commitment to living out the Christian life, your public identification with Christ is not without effect. Inwardly and humanly the commitment stiffens your resolve. Like a marriage ceremony, baptism is the place where you say “This is it. No turning back. I’m all in and I will live the rest of my life to become like Jesus and serve his people and expand his kingdom.” And it’s not just a psychological impact. God the Spirit himself blesses those truths to your life and comes alongside in a very real way to help you walk it out. Finally, it’s a blessing because it identifies you with the covenant community and brings you publicly into the fellowship of believers who, by God’s grace, will help you grow and serve.

So it’s awesome, it’s a blessing, and if neither of those convinces you, it’s also, C, a command. Repent, believe, be baptized. They go together. From Pentecost to the second coming, this is the sign of faith, the public witness to salvation, the entry point to fellowship, the identification with Christ. Believers are expected to be baptized, commanded to be baptized. If you are a believer, if you really think you’ve trusted Jesus, what excuse do you have not to be baptized? “I’ve never thought about it.” You’ve thought about it now. “I’m not sure I’m ready?” This is for new believers. “I don’t think I can stand up in front of people and talk.” How hard is it to say “I believe?” “I’m afraid I’m going to drown.” Sorry I can’t help you with that one. I haven’t lost anyone yet though.

So I’m going to end by turning the question around. Why shouldn’t you be baptized? While you think about that I’m going to play a two minute video. Because this will go on the web I’m not going to tell you where this happened. But it came from one of our missionaries and it was the first believers baptism in this place in centuries. I want to play it because of the overwhelming joy of the moment for those who had believed. If you’ve never been baptized, think about it while you watch this. Then I’ll pray.