|Mercy Street Church of Christ
THE BLESSINGS OF BAPTISM
by Leroy Garrett
Just as one can have a terminal illness and not know it, one can be rich and not know it. Just as cancer may do its dirty work before it is discovered, one may be in some rich person's will without knowing it. It sometimes happens that one has lived atop an oil well for decades without knowing it. Supposing himself poor, and living that way, he has been rich all along!
The blessings of baptism can be that way. If I have counted right there are at least eight distinct promises or blessings associated with baptism. A believer receives all these blessings when he is baptized, but he could be unaware of some of them or even all of them. It is like a naturalized citizen. He may be a citizen for years before he learns that he has the right of suffrage. Or he may be heard to say, "You mean I can run for public office!"
We must guard against a neo-Gnosticism, the doctrine that a particular body of knowledge is necessary to salvation. In its first generation our Stone-Campbell movement was threatened by this heresy, and it was about baptism. One Dr. John Thomas, who eventually formed the Christadelphian sect, led a party within Stone-Campbell that insisted that one's baptism is not valid if he does not understand at the time of his baptism that it is for the remission of sins. He formed a rebaptism party. It was only by strong opposition from Alexander Campbell that Thomas failed in his effort. Campbell opposed rebaptism, holding that the only requirement for baptism was faith in Christ. He held that one enjoys all the benefits of baptism even when unaware of them. It is God who initiates the blessings, not man.
But this does not mean that a growing knowledge and appreciation of all our blessings in Christ are not desirable. Paul's plea to the Romans indicates this: "Do you not know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3). While he here confirms that one may have a blessing and not realize it, he also makes it clear that it is important to know.
Let that be the question that I am asking in this essay: Were you aware of the following blessings of baptism when you were baptized?
1. Baptized into the death of Christ. (Romans 6: 3)
We will begin with the blessing just referred to. The apostle is saying that symbolica1ly in baptism we die with Christ, and are buried with him . We die to sin, and we are raised with him in the likeness of his resurrection to live a new life. Baptism is thus a reenactment of the gospel itself — death, burial, resurrection new life.
2. Baptism is the circumcision instituted by Christ. (Colossians 2:12)
The previous verse reads: "In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ." Verse 12 explains that the circumcision of Christ is baptism: "buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith n the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."
Even in the Old Testament, where physical circumcision was a sign of a covenant relationship with God, it was always a "circumcision of the heart" that really mattered, as in Deuteronomy 10:16: "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiffnecked no longer." The circumcision of Christ is the circumcision of the heart and occurs when we are "buried with Christ in baptism," which is "the working of God" (Colossians 2:12).
3. Baptism is the washing (or bath) of regeneration. (Titus 3:5)
When Alexander Campbell, then in his senior years, was visiting Richmond, J. B. Jeter, a prominent Virginia Baptist divine, and a critic of Campbell (He had authored Campbellism Examined), called on him at his lodging. Noting that the reformer was not long for this world, he urged Campbell to do one thing before his demise, repudiate baptismal regeneration.
Campbell responded that baptism is not in itself regeneration, but the washing of regeneration. Regeneration begins in faith and repentance, and culminates in baptism. This appears to be what Titus 3:5-6 is saying: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Jeter afterwards published a report on his visit with the reformer, conceding that Campbell was a good man and generally right in his views, but wrong on baptism. He concluded, citing what he saw as glaring inconsistencies in Campbell's thinking, that he had a screw loose in his mental machinery!
4. Baptism washes away our sins. (Acts 22:16)
If one sought a proof text for baptismal regeneration this would be it. Ananias addresses the penitent Saul of Tarsus with impressive clarity: "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." How could it be plainer? The New Testament would never say this if baptism did not in some sense wash away sins.
I recall a story out of Conway, Arkansas where the late Harold Thomas, a Church of Christ minister, met with and gained the respect of other preachers in the city. At one meeting he jotted down Acts 22:16, along with other references to baptism, and asked for their response at their next meeting. He told me of his surprise when the preachers quite candidly told him that they had never "seen" the passages before, and didn't know what to make of them.
It would be interesting to hear the likes of J. B. Jeter expound on Acts 22:16!
5. Baptism saves us. (Mark 16:16)
Those who would denigrate baptism as not all that important like to insist that baptism does not save. That is a remarkable denial since the Bible says — in those very words and more than once — that baptism saves. Mark 16:16 could not be clearer: "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved." With equal clarity 1 Peter 3:21 says: "baptism now saves us." Peter is here seeing baptism as an antitype of "eight souls were saved through water" in Noah's ark (Verse 20).
Baptism does not save us in an absolute sense, for Scripture attributes numerous things to redemption: God saves us, the blood of Christ saves us, faith saves us, grace saves us, obedience saves us, etc. These all have their own perspective of salvation, just as baptism does. In some sense baptism saves, or the Bible would not say that baptism saves.
6. Baptism gives us assurance that we are saved. (1 Peter 3:21).
After saying in 1 Peter 3:21 that baptism saves, he goes on to explain that baptism is "not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God." The New Jerusalem Bible renders this "the pledge of a good conscience." It is like a wedding ring or the deed to a piece of property. Or it is like leaving one state and entering another. How can one be sure that he is now in Ohio? When he sees the sign Entering Ohio he has assurance. Baptism is a sign or a pledge of assurance of redemption, providing one with a good conscious toward God. He can sing with joy, "I've been to the river and I've been baptized."
This is what Luther was doing when he responded to the pope who had referred to him as "that drunken monk in Germany." "The pope can't talk about me like that," the reformer insisted, "because I've been baptized just as he has!" Assurance! Campbell conceded that one may be saved at the point of faith, but he has no assurance of salvation until he is baptized
7. Baptism enrolls us as disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:19).
After his resurrection and before his ascension our Lord charged his disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). If I say, "Clean the floor, sweeping it," I am saying that the floor is cleaned by being swept. When Jesus says make disciples, baptizing them, is he not saying that we are made disciples of Christ by being baptized?
If we think of the church as a school with Jesus as the Teacher and ourselves as his disciples, then baptism is the means of matriculation into that school. To be in Christ's school we are enrolled but once, and that is for life. And so we are baptized but once, not over and over. This must be what the "one baptism" in Ephesians 4:5 means. There is but one initiation into Christ, not one initiation for Jews and another for the Gentiles. Baptism makes Jews and Gentiles alike disciples of Christ.
There is still another blessing of baptism in Matthew 28:19. In most versions the believer is baptized in the name of the Father, etc., as if to say we are to invoke the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when we baptize. But Alexander Campbell points out that the Greek for "in the name" is not the Greek en (in) but eis (into), and should be rendered "baptize into the name of the Father, etc." This would mean we baptize the believer into a relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This distinction is monumental. Rather than pronouncing a formula, as in "in the name of the law." it is not something we are to say, but something we are to do. We are to immerse believers into a relationship with three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
8. In baptism the believer puts on Christ (Galatians 3:26).
"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26). This passage names two blessings of baptism: (1) The believer is baptized "into Christ," and (2) In baptism the believer puts on Christ, which means to take on Christ's likeness. As a people "in Christ" who bear his likeness we are called to what Elton Trueblood referred to as "Our other vocation." In bearing his image we are his presence in this troubled world. "To live is Christ," as the apostle put it in Philippians 1:21. Christ is our other vocation.
9. In baptism the believer is born again (John 3:5).
Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). In some versions "born again" (Verse 4) is rendered "born from above." This is a glorious blessing, and our Lord is here alluding to baptism when referring to one being "born of water."
10. Baptism is for the emission of sins (Acts 2:38).
Here we are, after all this, just now referencing Acts 2:38, which is the answer to those like Dr. John Thomas, referred to in Part 1, who insisted on rebaptizing all those who did not understand that baptism was for remission of sins at the time of their baptism.
Why demand a knowledge of baptism for remission of sins? How about all the other blessings of baptism? Is remission of sins more important than putting on Christ, the answer of a good conscious, or being baptized into Christ's death? If the enjoyment of a blessing depended on a certain level of knowledge, then we would never enjoy any blessings at all. It is God's faithfulness that makes the blessings sure, not man's understanding.
I venture that there are those who read this essay who have not realized the wide range of the blessings of baptism, but they have nonetheless been blessed by them ever since their baptism. It is like the blessings of marriage. When we first marry we have little knowledge of what we are getting into, but both the blessings and challenges of matrimony follow in due course.
There is but one condition for baptism. "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mk. 16:16). That says all that need be said.
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