Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Before we discuss any other aspects of the normal Christian, we must first consider the subject of baptism, for it is the very first step that a normal Christian takes after they have been born again. Throughout the book of Acts, you will find the same pattern repeated - a person gets saved and immediately they get baptized (Acts 2:41, 8:12, 8:38, 10:48, 16:33, etc.). Baptism is such a significant part of the Christian life that we can firmly state that you cannot be a normal Christian without being baptized. In fact, Peter did not suggest that his converts be baptized, he commanded them to do this (Acts 10:48).
Some of the very first errors that crept into the church involved baptism and they had devastating consequences. Today these errors continue to be propagated along with a growing ignorance even amongst Baptist churches. So let us study this significant aspect of the normal Christian life: baptism.
Most of the errors that have arisen over the subject of baptism are actually a result of an incorrect belief in its purpose. A correct understanding of the purpose and meaning of baptism is critical to the entire doctrine surrounding it. When a Christian truly understands what the Bible teaches about why they are baptized, the other issues involved should be completely removed.
Before the close of the second century, some of the churches began to believe in baptismal regeneration which is the belief that baptism is the cause of being regenerated or born again. Today, both the Catholic Church and the Church of Christ teach that baptism is a necessary part of salvation. Let's consider a few of the verses that are (mis)used, especially by the Church of Christ, to prove that the Bible teaches baptismal regeneration.
1. Acts 2:38
Perhaps the most commonly misused verse is Acts 2:38 where Peter says, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." The keyword in this verse is that little word "for" which, even in English, can have several meanings. The question is, does this word "for" mean "to obtain" as in "I work for money", or does it mean "because of" as in "I leap for joy"? Really the only way to answer this question is to compare it with the rest of the Bible.
Let us assume for a minute that the Church of Christ is correct and we are baptized in order to have our sins remitted, that is forgiven, does this contradict the Bible elsewhere? We can say rather loudly and quickly, "Yes" this does contradict what the Bible teaches concerning salvation.
Throughout the Bible, we find that salvation is the result of believing the gospel plus nothing else (John 3:18, 5:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 John 5:13). However, let us examine the most powerful contradiction which is found in the same book, Acts, preached by the same man, Peter.
What is the order of events according to Peter in Acts 2:38? The order seems to be: repentance, baptism, remission of sins, receive the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10:43-48, Peter uses the same phrase "remission of sins".
Notice the order is quite different: believe, remission of sins, receive the Holy Spirit, baptism. Receiving the Holy Spirit is proof that a person has been saved and Peter used this in Acts 11:11-18 to show the Jews in Jerusalem that the Gentiles had received the same salvation.
If Acts 2:38 teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation, we have a huge contradiction because in Acts 10:43-48 several people got saved and then were baptized. Not only that, Peter commanded these Gentiles to be baptized which would be equivalent to commanding them to be saved. Can we command a person to get saved?
2. Mark 16:16
Another popular verse used to prove this erroneous view of baptism, is Mark 16:16 where Jesus says, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
If baptism is necessary for salvation, then we have a missing outcome for those who believe but are not baptized. If baptism was so important that being born again depended upon it, why did Paul say that God had not sent him to baptize but to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17)? The gospel, as defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, does not include baptism!
3. 1 Peter 3:21
If one glances quickly at part of 1 Peter 3:21 they will see that "even baptism doth also now save us". Oh my, is Peter saying that we are saved through baptism? Much error can be caused by not reading the context of a verse and also when we assume that a word, such as "saved", means the same thing throughout the Bible. For example, does the word "saved" always mean saved from going to Hell? Peter is likening baptism to the flood where the 8 people on the ark were "saved by water".
Did the water save Noah from the judgement of God upon the wicked? No, the Ark which Noah built because of faith is what saved him from destruction. How can this verse prove then that baptism saves a person from Hell?
Now that we have seen that the Bible does not teach that salvation is the purpose of baptism, why does God command us to be baptized? Paul gives us the great meaning behind baptism in Romans 6:3-6. The keyword in this passage is the word "like" which tells us that we are dealing with symbolism. Baptism is a picture of what takes place when we get born again. When we are baptized it is symbolizing the fact that our old nature was crucified and put to death; it was buried, and now we have been spiritually raised with a new nature. As Christians, we are no longer part of this old world but have passed on to the new heaven and new earth just as Noah through the water passed from the old corrupt earth to a new one. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they left the old corrupt life in Egypt to go on to a new life in the promised land and are said to have been baptized there unto Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2).
Baptism is not only a picture of our salvation, it also is an identification with our Savior. If we were to put some sugar into a glass of tea, in a matter of minutes it would dissolve and it would then become impossible to distinguish between the two. When we are baptized, the historic death of Jesus symbolically becomes our death. At baptism, His death and our death become so closely identified, that it should be impossible to distinguish between the two. We are baptized into his death, crucified with Him, dead with Christ, buried with Him, planted together, and raised up like as Christ.
Shortly after the error of baptismal regeneration, another error crept into the church as a logical outgrowth: if a person gets saved by being baptized, then infants ought to be baptized so that they will go to heaven. Thus infant baptism was introduced which has been passed down through the Catholic Church to the Methodist, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.
What would happen to a church full of Christians if babies were baptized and later told that they were now going to heaven because they were baptized? Some, like the Presbyterians, view baptism as a replacement for circumcision. If children could be circumcised, they see nothing wrong with a child being baptized. However, circumcision was symbolic of an unconditional covenant made to the seed of Abraham, but baptism is a picture of something that is only true for a believer in Christ.
Baptism is for believers only! The Bible only contains examples of people getting baptized after they were saved. This is especially clear with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36-37 who wanted to get baptized but Philip made sure first that he was a believer. The early Baptists were called "Anabaptists" which was derived from "another baptism". These Christians strongly believed that baptism was for believers only. When a person got saved from another church where they had been baptized as infants, the Anabaptists would make them get baptized again (since the first baptism did not count). Thus the nickname "another baptism" was given to them.
The next error that was introduced to the church was that of sprinkling or pouring as the procedure for baptism.
If baptism pictures burial, how can sprinkling symbolize this? The procedure given by the Bible for baptism is that of total immersion under water. According to Luther, the term baptism "may be rendered a dipping, when we dip something in water, that it may be entirely covered with water." Calvin said "The word baptize signifies to immerse". When Jesus was baptized, He came up out of the water (Matthew 3:16). In fact, John the Baptist went to a place where there was much water (John 3:23). When Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, they both went down into the water. Did Noah's flood, a figure of baptism, sprinkle the earth or cover it with water? The proper mode of baptism according to the Bible (and not church tradition) is immersion. If you were sprinkled and not immersed, you didn't get baptized you only got wet.
Have you been properly baptized as the Bible teaches? If not, you cannot be a normal Christian until you take care of this important first step. If you have been baptized as the Bible teaches, you may not have understood all that this symbolized. Why not meditate upon its meaning and purpose for you are now dead to sin and should be walking in newness of life. In our next lesson, we shall deal with the normal Christian and sin.