Why is Baptism Necessary?
The Abrahamic Covenant: A Visible Sign of Separation
The roots of water baptism go far back into Jewish history to a man named Abraham. A very special covenant was made with this patriarch.
Many years prior to Abraham’s day, God had created man from the dust of the earth because He desired fellowship with His creatures. But when Adam failed to meet God’s commands, communion was broken.
God made covenants, or agreements, with several godly men in the Bible. These covenants were distinguished by signs. The rainbow was the sign of the covenant between the Lord and Noah, indicating that the world would never again be flooded by water.
Yet God searched for a man with whom He could enter a closer, more unique and lasting relationship. He found this man in Ur of the Chaldees. With Abraham, the covenant sign would be placed upon his body-the personal, intimate sign of circumcision.
This was God’s first attempt to bring man directly into a visible covenant relationship with Himself. It formed the first model of a visible Church (“called-out assembly”), with which our world is now fully acquainted.
Abraham’s family constituted the embryo of a visible church on earth. The charter sealed between God and Abraham was God’s attempt to separate a people unto Himself.
“And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
And the circumcised man child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:9-10,14)
The covenant of circumcision was an arrangement whereby Abraham and all his descendants would forever be blood partners with God. Theirs was an unbreakable covenant. Consequently, God responded to the Jews unlike to any other people on the earth.
For their wickedness, Sodom and Gomorrah faced God’s judgment. Yet before He would send His angels to annihilate the cities, God considered the covenant made with His friend, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was living in Sodom, thus necessitating God to first confer with His earth-partner.
The Law Expands the Covenant
Many years later, God established another covenant with Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites. At Sinai, the covenant of the Ten Commandments and other ordinances contained in
the Law were given to Moses and read to the people of Israel.
“And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.
And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words” (Exodus 24:7-8).
They promised to keep all the words of the Law. In return, God would reward them with constant care, temporal prosperity, and victory over enemies. The seal of the covenant was still circumcision.
When Daniel was trying to persuade God to answer his prayer, he used this powerful argument:
“. . . O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments. . . ” (Daniel 9:4)
Nehemiah also reminded God about that same covenant when he prayed:
“. . . I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5)
David claimed the power and authority of this covenant:
“He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations: Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac. . . ” (Psalm 105:8-9)
Throughout the Old Testament, God performed according to the guidelines of His own business transaction. He had executed a legal transaction with His own creation and was obligated to fulfill it. Israel’s prophets, fully aware of this covenant, utilized it advantageously.
Under the Old Covenant struck with Abraham and later with Moses, shedding the blood of animal sacrifices and male circumcision were the initiating rites into the covenant community. However, when the New Covenant was initiated, the blood of animals and circumcision was no longer needed. That’s why the first church council abolished these rites for the Gentile believers (Acts chapter 15).
The Covenant Has Double Meanings
A two-fold sense-literal and spiritual-is attached to almost every part of this covenant. The first portion was to bless Abraham:
“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply they seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17)
God literally blessed Abraham financially and materially. He became a wealthy man; but in the spiritual sense, God intended the blessing of justification:
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law. . . That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. . . So them they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Galatians 3:13-14; 3:9)
Also, Abraham was promised a multitude of descendants. He literally became the father of many people through his sons, Isaac and Ishmael. But the fullness of this promise has spiritual intonations. The “children of Abraham” are both those of natural descent or birth and those who walk “in the steps and faith of Abraham.”
“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. . . And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:7,29)
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the see; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16)
Because God’s promises in the Abrahamic Covenant are two-fold, the spiritual side is plainly superior to the natural.
Another fact of this covenant was its duration-“everlasting.” Abraham’s natural descendants through Isaac continue to reap the benefits of their forefather’s agreement:
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. . . to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;” (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4)
But the spiritual blessings of Abraham’s descendants be- long to the true believers. God’s covenant with the spiritual seed is truly “everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (John 3:16).
A New Rite of Initiation
To enter the home of a friend, one must first find the door. Jesus described Himself,
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9)
Since Christ is the door into the Church, we must enter by Him and enter into Him. How can this be done? We must carefully search for the rite of initiation into His New Covenant.
This new agreement was inaugurated through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He gave His Body on the cross and shed His Blood for the “remission of sins.”
“And he (Jesus) took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20)
Jesus introduced the New Covenant and also became its Mediator (one who brings about friendly relations between two or more estranged people). What then is the rite of initiation into this New Covenant?
Nowhere in the New Testament can you find any ceremony ever conducted that would make God and man blood covenant partners-except for water baptism in Jesus’ Name!
Salvation Includes the Initiation!
On the Day of Pentecost, how were 3,000 souls initiated into the household of faith, or “the covenant community”? Peter assured the crowd that remission of sins was not in the blood sacrifices. Taking the water John had used and the Name of his Messiah, Peter put it altogether and said:
“…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. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39)
Could any of these people have been considered members of Christ’s Church had they not submitted to water baptism? No more than a male could enter the Old Covenant without circumcision!
What happened at Samaria when Philip preached about be- coming a part of the covenant community?
“…When they believed preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12)
What was the response of the Ethiopian eunuch to Philip’s preaching?
“…See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest . . . and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38)
How was Saul of Tarsus initiated into the Church by Ananias?
“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16)
Though Saul had experienced a great visitation of God on the road to Damascus, had been wonderfully healed, and had been baptized with the Spirit, he still needed water baptism!
At Philippi, the jailer where Paul and Silas had been imprisoned had quite a jolting experience! When the Lord shook the prison to free two godly men, the jailer came trembling with this question:
“…Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And he (the jailor) took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway” (Acts 16:30-33)
Undoubtedly, Paul and Silas preached to the man about repenting of his sins, which is the first step in becoming a part of the covenant community. Then they baptized the prison keeper and his family the same night.
But why the rush? Couldn’t they wait until the next morning? No, the act of initiation was just as important for this Gentile believer as it was for the Jews on the Day of Pentecost; for the Samaritan believers; for the Ethiopian eunuch; for Saul of Tarsus; for Cornelius and his household; and for the twelve men at Ephesus.
The best way of expressing faith in Jesus Christ for these early Christians was the outward act of water baptism. That’s how they were initiated into the covenant community!
Stressing the importance of quickly being baptized correlates with the command of circumcision under the Old Covenant. Abraham circumcised the men of his household-the same day! (Genesis 17:23). And it is in perfect harmony with our Lord’s great commission:
“…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) “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…” (Matthew 28:19).
Could the initiating rite of the New Covenant be any less important or required than the initiating rite of circumcision in the Old Covenant?
“Open Heart Surgery”
While natural Israelites were circumcised in the flesh, spiritual Israelites are circumcised in the heart. Under the Old Covenant, blood was shed when a cut was made in a man’s skin. God required that a portion of his own body be removed. This visible sign reminded both the Israelite and surrounding nations that he belonged to God by a covenant relationship.
While natural Israelites were circumcised in the flesh, spiritual Israelites are circumcised in the heart. Under the Old Covenant, blood was shed when a cut was made in a man’s skin. God required that a portion of his own body be removed. This visible sign reminded both the Israelite and surrounding nations that he belonged to God by a covenant relationship. The enmity against God is removed and replaced with a love for God. The very root of our spiritual nature is changed! No longer do we stubbornly resist the Holy Spirit, but we desire to obey and please Him.
Natural Israel had no inner relationship with God because their circumcision was merely outward. But God’s New Covenant people are enabled to worship Him at the deepest level because of this “heart surgery.”
The Amplified New Testament explains it like this:
“In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, but in a (spiritual) circumcision (performed by) Christ by stripping off the body of the flesh (the whole corrupt, carnal nature with its passions and lusts). (Thus you were circumcised when you were buried with Him in (your) baptism, in which you were also raised with Him (to a new life) through (your) faith in the working of God (as displayed) when He raised Him up from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12 Amplified New Testament).
Notice it says you were circumcised when you were buried with Him in baptism. An invisible work is performed in the heart-an inner circumcision that admits us into the Body of believers, or the Church.
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29).
Justin Martyr, living forty years after the apostles, wrote:
“We, who by Him have access to God, have not received this carnal circumcision, but the spiritual circumcision, which Enoch, and those like him, observed. And we have received it by baptism.” – Dialogue with Trypho
St. Basil wrote:
“And doest thou put off the circumcision made without hands in putting off the flesh, which is performed in baptism, when thou hearest our Lord Himself say, ‘Except a man be born of water’?” – Exhortation to Baptism
Chrysostom, another great preacher of the early Church and later bishop of Constantinople, wrote:
“There was pain and trouble in the practice of circumcision . . . but our circumcision, I mean the grace of baptism, gives cure without pain, and procures to us a thousand benefits, and fills us with the grace of the Spirit…”
The prevalent opinion of the early Christian Church is disclosed in these quotations, reflecting the teaching of the apostles concerning water baptism. History reveals that the early Church believed that baptism takes the place of Old Testament circumcision.
So what is God’s real purpose in circumcising our hearts? He has always desired a people with whom He can fellowship. He seeks and searches for that person with whom He can communicate and enter into a covenant relationship. Without a deep, radical operation upon his heart, man is incapable of loving God. By changing our hearts toward Him, God has made it possible for us to respond in the language He knows best-the language of love!
“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh; That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekial 11:19-20).
Neglect Is No Excuse!
God’s instructions to Abraham about circumcision were very emphatic:
“And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people: he hath broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:14)
Yet for a time, the command was neglected. While Israel was being formed into a nation in Egypt, the Covenant of Circumcision was disregarded. Although Moses himself had been circumcised, he neglected to circumcise his own sons while living in the land of Midian.
Eighty years of preparation had been invested in Moses for leading the Israelites from bondage. But Moses carelessly failed to initiate his own sons into the covenant community. Consequently, God sought to kill him! (Exodus 4:20-26).
Regardless of who we are or what are our credentials, God’s commands must be obeyed! Moses was forced to learn the necessity of circumcision because God wouldn’t release him until the rite was done, performed by his wife. Just prior to delivering Israel, the leader himself was reminded that without circumcision, any Israelite was cut off from the Lord and the covenant people!
Not a man in Israel was allowed to eat the Passover without circumcision. If water baptism is a continuation of Old Testament circumcision and the Lord’s Supper is a continuation of the Old Testament Passover, then the unbaptized should not participate in this ordinance of the Church.
Many people today overlook or neglect this all-important command of water baptism. They feel it is “important,” but not essential. If the Church of Jesus Christ is to be a glorious Church without spot or blemish, it certainly must observe every command given in God’s Word concerning salvation!
THE TRUTH ABOUT WATER BAPTISM
Every individual that comes to Jesus, being drawn by the Spirit, will want to be baptized. And in fact, to obtain full salvation, will need to be baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Jesus commanded baptism (Matthew 28:19) and said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
However, before baptism the baptismal candidate should be thoroughly repentant and believe with all his heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Acts 2:38, 8:37). The act of being immersed in water in the name of Jesus will not in itself bring about the remission of sins. Repentance and baptism in Jesus’ name are required. A sinner who has no intention of turning from his life of sin will not be profited by the act of baptism.
Not until a sinner fully repents and believes that God has forgiven him, should he submit himself for baptism in the name of Jesus, by a duly authorized minister. However, failure to do so when he fulfills these requirements will put him in disobedience to the gospel of Christ and will inhibit spiritual development.
PURPOSE OF BAPTISM:
Baptism is an act of obedience to God by a person who believes in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The obedience is in order to receive remission of repented sins (Acts 2:38). In answer to a good conscience before God baptism does also now save us through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is a type of putting on or being clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27).
By baptism a believer expresses his divorcement from his old sinful life and identifies himself as desiring to live a new life for Jesus. His previous life of sin is actually buried with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:4).
PROPER MODE OF BAPTISM:
Sprinkling, pouring, and immersion are modes of baptism practiced today. Ephesians 4:5 states, “One Lord, one faith, ONE baptism.” Therefore we believe there exists but one correct mode of baptism. That would be the one employed by Jesus and His disciples.
Two scripture references let us know what that mode is. “And Jesus, when He was baptized went up straightway out of the water. . .” (Matthew 3:16). Acts 8:38, 39, in reference to Philip baptizing the eunuch, says, “. . . And when they were come up out of the water. . . .” Went up straightway out of and come up out of strongly implies that baptism is properly administered by immersion in water. Paul’s reference to baptism as a burial with Christ (Romans 6:4) supports this position. Study of the Greek word baptizo, from which baptism comes, gives conclusive evidence that immersion in water is the proper mode. Baptizo means to dip, plunge, or immerse.
SCRIPTURAL FORMULA FOR BAPTISM:
Jesus commanded His remaining eleven Apostles, in Matthew 28:19, to baptize. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them. . .” He spoke to men whose understanding had been opened to the scriptures (Luke 24:45). His words obviously captivated them. They were witnesses to His death, burial and resurrection. They were soon to witness His Ascension. They knew He possessed the words of eternal life and they would not forget these.
He charged them previously, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15), Doubting Thomas, upon seeing the nail prints in His hand and the wound in His side, had already made the confession, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). The disciples knew He was God manifested in flesh, they did love Him, and they would not fail to keep this commandment.
On the momentous day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts the second chapter, we read for the first time they obeyed this command to baptize. They had all just been filled with the Holy Spirit of God and spake in other tongues as this Spirit gave the utterance (Acts 2:4). Peter had stood with the eleven and preached a message of Jesus the Christ and Him crucified. Jews and proselytes, gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, changed from mockers to inquirers. Pricked in their hearts from Peter’s message, they asked what they should do to be saved. Peter, the logical spokesman due to the fact Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19), issued this reply, “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 Spirit of God the Apostles received).”
Peter exercised his God-given authority. The other
eleven Apostles stood in silent agreement with him. The people
were receptive, “Then they that gladly received his word were
baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about
three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41 ).
At first glance this might seem to be a contradiction of what Jesus commanded them in Matthew 28:19, as to the formula for baptism (words said over a baptismal candidate as they are immersed). Knowing that all scripture is inspired of God (II Timothy 3:16) and therefore there can be no contradiction in scripture, we must analyze these two verses a little closer. In doing so we will find that Acts 2:38 is not in contradiction to but is the application of Matthew 28:19.
First let us observe what the Lord Jesus commanded, “. . . baptizing them in THE NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The command is to baptize in THE NAME (singular) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. In Peter’s reply as to what should be done he said, “. . . be baptized in THE NAME of Jesus Christ. . . .” In order for these to agree, and since they are both contained in the Word of God, they must, THE NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost must be THE NAME of Jesus Christ.
Scripture confirms this. “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Matthew 1:25 adds, “…and he called his name JESUS.” The Son, spoken of in Matthew 28:19 conceived by the virgin Mary of the Holy Ghost, received the name Jesus. This same Jesus states, “I am come in my Father’s name. . .” (John 5:43). Jesus inherited His Father’s name just like you and I inherit our father’s name (Hebrews 1:4). The Holy Ghost comes in the same name, as Jesus speaking in John 14:26, denotes, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name. . . .” THE NAME of the Father is Jesus, THE NAME of the Son is Jesus, and THE NAME of the Holy Ghost is Jesus.
The Word of God again holds true; there is no contradiction. Father, Son and Holy Ghost are titles of one God whose name is Jesus. Peter and the rest of the Apostles knew that. Therefore, Peter gave the formula he did, and the rest of the Apostles stood in agreement with him.
Thus, on the day of Pentecost three thousand souls took on the name of Jesus in baptism. The name that Peter declared in Acts 4:12 was the only name given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved. Philip invoked the same name in baptizing the Samaritans in Acts 8, “. . . only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Peter continued the pattern in Acts 10:48. He commanded a gentile household that had already received the Holy Ghost to be baptized in the name of the Lord. The word command takes on special significance were considering it was delivered to an Italian army officer. To him, disobedience to a command demanded severe consequences.
In Acts 19:1-7 we read of twelve men in Ephesus who lacked the gift of the Holy Ghost. Learning they had not received the Holy Spirit, Paul, the Apostle born out of due season (1 Corinthians 15:8), immediately inquired of them unto what they were baptized. Since they were baptized only unto John the Baptist’s baptism, a baptism unto repentance, Paul explained that they were to believe on the One who came after John, Christ Jesus. When they heard this they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul laid hands on them and they received the Holy Ghost. This Bible narrative depicts to us two important points about baptism: (1) If a person has not received the Holy Ghost it may be because he has not yet been baptized in Jesus’ name; (2) If a person had been previously baptized but not in Jesus’ name, Paul rebaptized him in the name of Jesus.
Paul was a strong believer in the name of the Lord. He learned the name of the Lord in an unforgettable experience that transpired in his life on the road to Damascus. “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutes . . .” (Acts 9:3-5). Paul, formerly a persecutor of the Christians, became a Christian. He speaks of calling on the name of the Lord at his own personal baptism, in Acts 22:16.
Some other references signifying the formula for baptism to be in the name of the Lord Jesus are: ” . . . baptized into Jesus Christ. . .” (Romans 6:3); ” . . . but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 6:11); “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17).
Reference books further support the fact that the early church used the form in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as their formula for baptism. “The original form of words were ‘into the name of Jesus Christ or Lord Jesus.’ Baptism into the trinity was a later development,” Dictionary of the Bible by Scribners, page 241, vol. I, “The early church always baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus until the development of the trinity,” Canney Encyclopedia, page 53. The doctrine of the trinity was officially adopted by the Catholic Church in 325 A.D. approximately three hundred years after the beginning of the church.
Jesus commanded baptism. The disciples and the early church obeyed His command and commanded it to others. The Holy Bible, delivered unto us by the hand of the Lord, commands it. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every individual seeking full salvation to be baptized, using the proper Biblical mode and formula.
The Bible contains no record of anyone being baptized any other way than by immersion in water (mode), in the name of the Lord Jesus (formula). We therefore conclude that baptizing in the titles, using the words “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” is a tradition instituted by man. Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 is not being obeyed by using the titles; it is only being repeated. Peter and the rest of the Apostles were in obedience to God on the day of Pentecost in stating that baptism should be administered in the name of Jesus.
Salvation comes only by the grace of God. It is only by His grace that we can repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name for the remission of our sins. lt is our privilege and our honor to be buried with Christ in baptism in answer to a good conscience toward God. By our act of obedience in baptism, in the name of Jesus Christ, we receive the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost. All who have repented should be baptized in the name of Jesus even if they have already received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48). God commanded it. Every true believer will do his best to obey the commands of God, He would let nothing hinder him.