Baptism – Where We Have Been Wrong
I lost the feeling in the middle finger on my left hand back in 2004. I was cooking breakfast, and I was going to cheat and use frozen biscuits. When I pulled them out of the bag, I had a couple of them that had frozen together. So I picked up the closest thing I could find and tried to separate them, Unfortunately, the closest thing I would find was a steak knife. I learned a few things standing in my kitchen that day. I experienced something that had probably happened before I had just never paid attention. About 2 seconds before the knife separated the biscuits, I had a feeling of dread and a sense that this would not end well. And it didn’t. Over the last 14 years I have tried to pay attention to that feeling and I think it has saved me from a lot of pain and heartache.
I start with that little confession today because I had that exact thought this week as I was preparing for our sermon this morning. Two weeks ago was easy when we talked about where we have been right in regards to baptism, but this week has been more of a challenge. One of the defining traits of our movement, is our view of Baptism. So when I suggest that there may be some aspects of our teaching on baptism that are wrong, well that can be seen as an attack on our church. That’s why I want to step into this discussion very carefully. As with everything I want us to get into the Bible and allow the Bible to actually speak, instead of me getting into the bible doing my own speaking.
The truth is that the Bible doesn’t have to agree with me, for it to be true. The Bible doesn’t have to change so that it can fit my preconceived notions for it to be true. The Bible is always true, the Bible is truth and if anyone needs to change, it must be us. My favorite definition of humility is the ability to admit that I might be wrong. That’s hard to do, especially when it comes to this discussion. How does that happen to a group of people who put such a huge emphasis on doing Bible things is Bible ways? Does that mean we were lied to? Did someone intentionally mislead us, or misuse the scriptures? We need to start this morning in prayer, and then we need to get back into the scriptures. (Pray)
I had a church history professor who was fond of saying, that most false religious doctrine is a knee jerk reaction to other false religious doctrine. What he meant is that when we come across a teaching that doesn’t line up with the scripture, we try to fix it, but instead of getting to the middle we tend to act like a pendulum and swing all the way over to the other side. Baptism is one of those topics I think we may have over swung a bit. If you go back and look through Church History you will find that we have fought and divided over baptism more than almost any other teaching.
The Protestant reformation was a reaction to what they felt were some abuses in the Catholic Church. They believed that the Church taught that baptism was just one of their 7 sacraments. Their understanding was that there was this immense power in the water, and they left out the blood of Jesus. So the Protestants wanted to fix that false doctrine. But they over corrected and began to teach that baptism was worthless. It’s all about faith.
Then along comes the Restoration Movement, our movement, and we say you know we are reading a lot of verses about baptism and maybe there has been something left out and so we start swinging the pendulum back, but if we are not careful we can over swing what the Bible says.
Let me remind you that I am a HUGE believer in Baptism, this is the place that we draw a line in the sand and declare that we are on God’s side. My fear is that in our teaching we got so busy reacting to what we thought everyone else was teaching on the subject that maybe we swung a little too far and began to teach baptism to poorly.
Or maybe this is just a little time of personal confession. I can only speak for me. The things we are going to discuss today are areas that I, Jeremy Houck, have done a poor job teaching on Baptism and have been wrong.
First, I believe we have been wrong: Because we have picked a fight with faith
More that once I have been in a discussion that went something like this. Hey we don’t need baptism to be saved. Don’t you know about John 3:16? For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
I would say, yep have you ever read Acts 2:38. Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
They come back and say, Don’t you know about Ephesians 2:8, For by grace you have been saved through faith;
I would say, that verse goes well with 1 Peter 3:21, baptism now saves you—
So we get in this fight and we are doing the dumbest thing; fighting scripture with scripture. It’s like we expect one scripture to cancel another one out. Every verse of scripture is a part of the whole will of God. One verse does not negate another verse. But in our reaction to those who are preaching faith only, we tended to over swing the center and say faith isn’t as important as baptism. We throw faith out of the conversation. It is almost like faith is the enemy instead of the victory.
If you were to ask Paul if he was saved by faith he would answer yes. Now if you are talking about the teaching that says faith is just saying, I believe there is a God out there somewhere. That’s not faith. Biblical faith is much fuller than that. Remember faith is a verb! According to Paul we are saved by faith, but faith that saves is never alone. Faith always causes movement.
Almost everyone here could repeat the 5 steps of salvation. And while it’s a pretty neat little teaching, one act for every finger, I believe this might be where we got ourselves in trouble. We separated Baptism from Faith. We teach you must Hear, Believe (Faith), Repent, Confess and Be Baptized.
Biblically that’s not right. Biblically it’s all faith. Believing, repenting, confessing, and Baptism are all because of faith. It’s not faith on the second finger and baptism at the fifth. All five fingers are a matter faith.
Baptism is not in addition to faith; it’s an expression of our faith. Paul understood that, look at what he wrote in Galatians 3:26-27 for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Paul is not contradicting himself from one verse to the other. He is teaching that baptism is not in addition to my faith it is an expression of my faith. Faith demands action. This is totally different from what I was taught. Baptism is when I take the focus of my faith off what I can do, and place the focus of my faith on what Jesus can do.
There was a time that the story in Acts 16 about the Philippian Jailer would make me break out in a cold sweat. You remember the story; Paul and Silas are shackled to the floor in the inner part of the prison. They have been beaten, they are cold, uncomfortable, and having their own little worship service. They are singing praises to God when an earthquake rocks that little prison and the doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. All of the commotion wakes the jailer up, who saw the open doors of the prison and thinking the prisoners had escaped, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. That’s when Paul says, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!” Then starting in verse 29: And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household."
I used to get real uneasy because I didn’t know why Paul didn’t you give the whole answer. But if we keep reading we get the chance to see belief or faith become a verb. That’s verse 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. There is no contradiction, no fight between faith and baptism. It’s all together. And it’s all about putting my trust in God.
The point is that Baptism is not the Gospel it is my response to the Gospel. In our reaction to what other people were talking about we just started preaching baptism. We emphasized the ritual or the outer form, and we didn’t bring them to faith. We over swung when we began to teach that Baptism was the message.
I remember reading tracts on baptism that would be 5 –10 pages long and never reading a word about Jesus. Nothing about the empty cross or the empty tomb. And even though there was a lot of good information in there, there was nothing about Jesus.
Baptism is important and significant, but it is not the Gospel. Baptism is the verb that is my response to the Gospel. Anytime we talk about baptism and forget to mention Jesus, the cross, and the tomb we are in great danger. I would even go so far as saying anytime you teach baptism without the cross you are teaching heresy. Because what you are saying is that my salvation is up to me.
That brings us to the second area where we have been wrong: Putting the focus on me.
Baptism has nothing to do with you and everything to do with Christ. One night, back in college, I was sitting at the University Church watching a friend of mine baptize his girlfriend. She was really struggling and wanted to make sure that she had her mind right. As they stood in the water we all waited, and when she was ready she nodded and he immersed her. But when she came up she told him that she was worrying while she was being baptized that she wasn’t focused enough so she was sinning while she was being baptized and needed to do it again. She was trying to get her focus right and what we should have done is focused on Jesus because we will never be able to get it right. What we need is Jesus.
Remember what Paul said in Romans 6:3-4 Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? When we were baptized into his death, we were placed into the tomb with him. As Christ was brought back from death to life by the glorious power of the Father, so we, too, should live a new kind of life.” Paul is putting all of the focus on Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross and through the tomb. Our baptism is how we associate with what Jesus accomplished.
We need to be reminded from time to time that we are saved not by our perfect obedience but by His perfect grace. I believe that some of our problem, or at least those of us who grew up in the church is that we learned those Old Testament stories where someone got it wrong and got zapped. Do you remember Uzzah? The ark was tipping over and he reached out to steady it. But God said it was holy don’t touch it, so God struck him dead.
How about Nadab and Abihu? They were a little lazy and instead of getting fire from the bronze alter in the temple they offered strange fire and God struck them dead.
I believe that there are legitimate points to those stories. God expects obedience. But I think that we were so Uzzah’d to death that we came out with a view that God was is nitpicker waiting for you to blow something so that He could zap us. We have used that mentality to teach that if we don’t get the outside right we were going to get zapped and we forgot all about what God reveals about Himself in 1 Samuel 16:7 People judge others by what they look like, but I (God) judge people by what is in their hearts.
God doesn’t look at the outer form God looks at the heart. In a reaction to faulty theology we begin to look at the outer form and forget that the heart issues are even more important. If we are not careful we begin to teach baptism in a way that denies the Gospel. We teach that we can save ourselves. If we can understand it perfectly, then we got it right. But what happens is every time we learn more, we struggle with our salvation and want to get re-baptized.
Growing up I was taught that Baptism only had one purpose. And if I was ever unsure about that purpose, that I needed to get baptized again. What I have found out as I actually read my Bible is that there are 6 reasons that we are called to submit to baptism:
Entrance into the Kingdom of God – John 3:5
Salvation – 1 Peter 3:21
Remission of Sins – Acts 2:38
Receive the Holy Spirit – Acts 19:2-7
A New Life - Romans 6:3-4
Be Clothed With Christ - Galatians 3:26-27
Is there anyone here today that understood perfectly all of those things when you were baptized? Anyone understand them perfectly now? If we are teaching perfect obedience, then over time as we learn more we feel the need to get re-baptized. What we have forgotten is that if my heart was set on God, God does what He says whether I understand it or not. We took one act of baptism, forgiveness of sins, and we made it the sole purpose. All of the other purposes didn’t count. But God is greater than our understanding, or in this case our misunderstanding.
Baptism is the place where we make the adult decision to give ourselves to Christ. To accept with our lives the gift that He has offered us. It’s not something we do because a bunch of our friends at summer camp were getting baptized and we didn’t want to be left out. We don’t get baptized because you knew the only way you were going to marry that woman is by getting in the water. And we don’t get baptized because our parents, with great motives, hounded you until you relented to get them off your back. In the Bible we see that baptism was always a choice that someone made because of their faith in God. Baptism is a result of faith being a verb. Baptism is what happens when we put our full faith in our Savior, and get it off of ourselves. The gift of baptism is not that we got it right, but that we wanted to be with Christ. Then we allow Him to do the rest.
The third and final way that we have been wrong is when we teach that Baptism is the end.
Matthew 28:19 says that it is just the beginning: So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do everything I have commanded you
Baptism is not the end of the journey it is the beginning. Sometimes we get someone in the water and we just kind of leave them there. It’s like we have taken this journey to get them to move in faith and our job is done. But that’s not what Jesus says. We baptize and then teach them to observe, we teach them to walk like Jesus walked. Paul would say that these new Christians are babies in Christ. Rob and Samantha wouldn’t leave Scarlet alone to her best devices; She needs guidance, nurturing, love, and teaching. So do new Christians.
When you understand that baptism is the beginning not the end it leads us to the truth that: You need to be baptized because you don’t have it together. I have heard a thousand times, you know I really believe in Jesus and I really need to be baptized but not yet. I have got so much going wrong in my life. When I get it all straightened out then I’ll come.
The Bible is full of people who were baptized the very first time they heard the Gospel. There was no way that they had full knowledge or they had fixed all of their bad habits. They decided that they were going to trust God and rely on His grace.
So today let me encourage you. If today you need to be baptized what you need to do:
1) Put your faith in Jesus. Jesus saves!
2) Keep your focus on what Jesus did for you. You need to clam the promise in scripture that says you are buried with Him and you will be resurrected with Him.
3) You need to say I want a new beginning. It’s not working and I really need to get it together because it’s not working.
4) You need to throw yourself on the grace of God.