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Baptism (3): Its teaching from the Word of God

T Ratcliffe, Wimborne

Christian Baptism

In Acts 8.38-39; we have the record of Philip baptising the Ethiopian eunuch by total immersion. This is Christian baptism as it should be practiced today, and this is confirmed by many other Scriptures.

The sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans gives us the ministry of baptism. Christian baptism is a testimony to the world by the individual being baptised that their old sinful nature has died with Christ. The immersion of the whole body in the water speaks of death to the old man, buried out of sight. Being raised up out of the water is a figure of resurrection with Christ to walk in "newness of life". Walking in newness of life implies that our physical members will no longer be used by the old nature as instruments of sin. One’s pathway of testimony and faith will henceforth confirm what baptism symbolized, i e. death, burial, resurrection, new life.

Accordingly, sin will no longer reign in one’s mortal body, and Christ will reign supreme. The Apostle Paul wrote that sin should not have dominion over us; i.e. should not exercise lordship over us. Recognising the Lordship of Christ in our lives is very important if our testimony is to be viable and effective. There are many baptised Christians, who readily testify to their love of the Lord Jesus, but who do not own the Lordship of Christ in their lives; in other words, they do not seek to be guided and influenced by the Spirit of God day by day. It would be deemed most serious if a baptised Christian believer continued to live in sin, for to do so would be tantamount to a denial of the faith they confessed by their baptism. The Apostle Paul wrote of himself, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal 2.20).

The Scriptures do not teach that there should be a long delay before a new-born soul is baptised. Basic truths on Christian baptism should be passed on to new believers by those spiritually competent to teach in an assembly. Furthermore, an assembly should respond promptly to an earnest, godly appeal by an individual to be baptised. Take the case of the Ethiopian eunuch: "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptised?" (Acts 8.36).

The apostles were directed, through their preaching, to "make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28.19, JND). However, we have four references in the book of the Acts to the Holy Spirit where believers were baptised – as recorded – "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2.38); "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8.15-16); "in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10.47-48); and "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19.5-6). So why the difference?

In truth, there is no difference, the words used on each of the above occasions implied that individuals were being baptised on the authority of the Lord Jesus, and undoubtedly would have been baptised "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 28.19). We must surely bow to divine wisdom on how the Spirit of God has had these events recorded. We cannot possibly conceive that faithful Philip and the Apostles Peter, John and Paul would have disregarded the instructions the Lord Jesus gave regarding Christian baptism.

Baptism of Suffering for Righteousness

The Lord challenged James and John in reply to their mother’s plea, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?" (Mt 20.20-23; see also Mk 10.35-38). When they replied in the affirmative, the Lord said, "Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with".

The baptism of suffering for righteousness both privately and openly is the portion of all who seek to walk uprightly before God. The Lord Jesus had said to His disciples, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (Jn 16.33). In the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, he wrote that "…all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim 3.12). This is the baptism of suffering for righteousness.

The "cup of sorrow" would be the inward grief many of God’s children experience when their righteous souls are daily vexed by reason of the sin and every form of iniquity extant in the world at large. Their deepest feelings of anguish are not expressed in words, but with the help of God’s gracious Spirit they are borne with equanimity and peace of mind within one’s innermost being. Although no Christian believer can ever experience what our Lord went through on our account, we can remind ourselves of that precious and unique soliloquy of the Lord Jesus as recorded in John 12.27: "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour". What lay before Him was the "cup of judgment" for sin and the "baptism of death". For our Lord to be made sin was so utterly offensive to His holy nature, and the prospect of death so foreign to His immortal being, that it occasioned a positive shrinking from the very thought of receiving such a cup from His Father’s hand. Nevertheless, He would say, "not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22.42).

John the apostle, was exiled to the Isle of Patmos as a punishment by Rome for his faithful testimony to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The island was a harsh, barren landscape, a prison from which none could escape except by licence. For an unregenerate person to be exiled to the island would have been a living death. John suffered in that he was isolated from his brethren and therefore robbed of fellowship with the saints, but he enjoyed precious communion with his Lord (Rev 1.10), something man could not take away from him. John’s experience was surely tantamount to drinking the "cup of suffering".

In the case of John’s brother James, who was killed with the sword by Herod (Acts 12.2); he experienced the baptism of suffering unto death for righteousness. Many others likewise suffered and died for their faith, possibly all the disciples save John. We also know that down through the last two millennia, many thousands of saints have suffered death in defence of the testimony of God’s grace to a sin stricken-world. May our gracious God help us as His children to be ready and happy to suffer for righteousness; for, as Paul wrote, we are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom 8.17-18).



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