The Lord Jesus Christ instituted only two ordinances for His Church, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Having perverted these two, the Roman Catholic Church has added five more ordinances, or what they refer to as “sacraments,” but with no Scriptural authority or foundation for them. They are confirmation, penance, extreme unction, marriage, and holy orders. Marriage is certainly recognized and observed by true Christians, but it goes all the way back to Genesis 2:24 as part of God’s creation order and is not something which was specifically instituted in connection with the Church.
It is upon the ordinance of baptism that we presently focus our attention. Its institution is in the Gospels (Matthew 28:19); its practice is in (Acts 10:47-48); and its explanation is in the Epistles (Romans 6:1-10).
In our consideration and development of this important subject of baptism we want to observe first:
There are three main forms of baptism in the New Testament.
John’s Baptism. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Israel’s Messiah, the coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ, from whose shed blood alone is “the remission of sins.” As the herald of the coming King (Malachi 3:1; Matthew 11:10), John called upon the nation Israel to repent and to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8). Those who responded to his preaching came to him and were baptized, thereby confessing their sins and separating themselves from the ungodly apostate nation (Mark 1:4-5).
The Lord Jesus Christ was baptized by John in the Jordan River, not because He needed to repent — for He was the sinless Son of God — but in order to do at least four significant things: (1) to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15), (2) to be made known to all Israel, (3) to identify Himself with the believing remnant of the nation, and (4) to figuratively set forth His death, burial, and resurrection (Luke 12:50).
Spirit Baptism. This baptism is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit whereby all who truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are forever incorporated into the one Body of Christ (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; John 1:33; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Spirit baptism is never described in the New Testament as an experience subsequent to the new birth, but always to describe an experience of the Holy Spirit which occurs in the initiation of a relationship. Just as each individual believer is both indwelt (Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and sealed by the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30) at the moment of the new birth, so also is he baptized into the one Body of Christ. However, there may be a repeated “filling” of the Spirit in the believer’s experience (Acts 2:4; 4:31; 13:52; Ephesians 5:18), and this is what many confuse with a false but so-called “second blessing” or “second baptism” of the Holy Spirit.
Some Bible students limit Spirit baptism to what happened on the day of Pentecost, and to the believers being united with the eternal significance of that event at the moment of salvation.
The baptism with fire, spoken of in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16, has nothing to do with Pentecost or with the individual experience of the believer, but clearly points to a future judgment (see Matthew 13:42, 50; 2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Believer’s Baptism. This baptism, also referred to as water or Christian baptism, is a type of the believer’s identification with the Lord Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. It is an outward symbol of an inward reality.
That these three baptisms — John’s baptism, Spirit baptism, and believer’s baptism — are different, and not to be confused, is clear by a comparison of the various Scriptures involved (e.g., Matthew 3:15; Acts 19:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Also, the idea that believer’s baptism somehow pictures Spirit baptism is wholly unfounded since the former is a type of death, while the latter has to do with incorporation into the Body of Christ.
Its Scriptural Authority
The Lord Jesus Christ gave a definite command in connection with His institution of believer’s baptism, the classic passage of Matthew 28:19-20 being by far the best known and most frequently quoted record of the Lord’s great commission, or missionary Magna Charta, to His own: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Another Spirit-inspired record of Christ’s great commission is furnished by John Mark in the Gospel account bearing his name: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). Some Bible scholars, however, question the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (see C.I. Scofield’s note, The Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1069).
Those who contend that Christ’s commission is not for this present Church age still must reckon with the accounts of Luke 24:46-53 and Acts 1:6-11, coupled with the accounts of Luke 24:46-53 and Acts 1:6-11, coupled with the example and practice of the early church (e.g., Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 10:44-48; 16:15, 31-33; 18:8).
It should be quite obvious that true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are the sole subjects for believer’s baptism. Any thought of making disciples “by” baptizing them is to force the meaning of Matthew 28:19 and as a result comes into conflict with other Scriptures. For instance, on the day of Pentecost only those who received the Word of God through Peter’s preaching were baptized (Acts 2:41). Again, when Philip experienced so much blessing through the preaching of the gospel at Samaria, believers alone were baptized (Acts 8:12). Furthermore, it was not until the Ethiopian eunuch openly confessed that he had truly believed on Christ that Philip baptized him (Acts 8:36-38). Still other examples are found in connection with the events which took place in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48), at Philippi in regard to the Philippian jailor and his household (Acts 16:32-33), and at Corinth (Acts 18:8). In every instance only those who believed were baptized.
The fact that households were baptized (e.g., Acts 16:15; 1 Corinthians 1:16) leaves no room whatsoever to presume that some were baptized who had not believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they were children or older.
Believer’s baptism, then, is limited to believers, or disciples, only.
The meaning of believer’s baptism is summed up in the words of Romans 6:1-10, verses 3 and 4 giving us the heart of the matter: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? 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” (see also Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:12; 3:1).
Believer’s baptism is not only a public declaration of the Christian’s faith in and identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, but it is also the acknowledgement that the old Adam nature—with all its fleshly vices—has been crucified, and that the believer is living a new life to the glory of God (Romans 6:4, 6).
Water is a picture of judgment and death (see Genesis 7:17-24), and when Christ died He went under the waters of judgment and death to put away our sins (see Psalm 42:7). Now, with these things in mind, the highlights of Paul’s argument in Romans 6:1-10, relative to water baptism, may be summed up as follows:
1. When we were baptized into Jesus Christ we were baptized into His death (the literal translation of verse 3 implies that all the Roman believers had been baptized without exception—believers either submitted to water baptism or else were not considered to be in Christ). Or are you ignorant of this great truth (verse 3)?
2. Baptism is a symbol or picture of the great spiritual truth that when Christ died, we died; when He was buried, we were buried; when He was raised, we were raised (verses 4-5).
3. Our old Adam nature has been crucified with Christ; the sin question has been dealt with and forever settled; we are dead to sin (verses 6-7).
4. Since Christ died unto sin forever, something that will never be repeated, and His life is devoted to God; so we in Christ are forever dead to sin and our life a life devoted to God (verses 8-10).
Thus it may be said that when we are baptized we publicly identify ourselves with Christ in His death, acknowledging that we have died. In effect the believer says, “I have died, bury me.” He is then buried in a watery grave, but not to remain there, for he is raised to walk in newness of life, no longer to serve sin and please self but to yield himself to God and to serve Him.
Briefly, then, this is the meaning of our spiritual and judicial baptism into Christ of which believer’s baptism is the figure, believer’s baptism being a public act of obedience in fulfillment of our Lord’s revealed will, signifying the end of the old life and the beginning of the new life in Him.
Of believer’s baptism, Drs. Sanday and Headlam have significantly said: “Baptism expresses symbolically a series of facts… Immersion— Death; Submersion — Burial (the ratification of death); Emergence — Resurrection.”
Since water is not actually mentioned in Romans 6 and other related Scriptures (e.g., Galatians 3:27: Colossians 2:12), there may be those who conscientiously question whether water baptism is included at all in the teaching of these passages. In answer to just such an inquiry, the remarks of H. Lacey are helpful:
There has been some material difference of judgment on the nature of baptism to which reference is made in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians. Some maintain a spiritual baptism to the exclusion of water baptism. Others assert water baptism to the exclusion of a spiritual sense. We shall be as ill-advised as the two knights in the following legend if we assert either negative. These two were approaching on either side of a hill a shield suspended at its summit. One asserted that the shield was made of gold and the other that it was of silver. A duel followed and unhorsed, injured, and prone after their controversy and conflict, looking up at that shield, each from the side opposite to his first approach, discovered the measure of his error and the degree of his accuracy, for the one side was silver and the other gold. The true gold of the antecedent spiritual fact of the death of the believer in the death of Christ, and also the counterpart silver of the mirror of this truth in a physical immersion in water constitute the matter of these passages.
If we assert a water baptism to the exclusion of a spiritual one, we shall err as much as if we assert a spiritual one to the exclusion of a water baptism, and, sidetracked from the balanced practical teaching involved in the inclusion of both, the worse of our folly, we may repent at length as did the knights of old.1
1 H. Lacey, “Baptism,” The Church: A Symposium. ed. J. B. Watson (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1949), pp. 60-61.