By Cecil Willis
For the past several weeks it has been our endeavor to survey the word of God pointing out what the Bible teaches on the subject of baptism. Thus far we have seen that only those who were capable of hearing, understanding, and rendering obedience to the gospel were subjects of baptism. In another lesson, it was seen that only the act of immersion in water in order to receive the remission of sins constituted the action of baptism as taught in the New Testament. We then attempted to study several separate passages that have direct bearing upon the action or purpose of baptism. We studied Mk. 16:16 which says, “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” Here it is stated that baptism is in order to one’s salvation. We reflected on Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.” It is said that baptism is for the remission of sins. The statement of Ananais to Saul, the one-time persecutor, but later, the apostle, also states the purpose of baptism. Ananais told Saul to “arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Baptism is in order to wash away one’s sins.
Now this week we want to note one other passage in the New Testament that states explicitly the purpose of baptism, and then we intend to notice some of the things that baptism is said to do, as stated in the New Testament.
If there were no other passage in all the New Testament that had any bearing on the design or purpose of baptism, the one that we are about to suggest should be enough to satisfy those who are ready to accept a plain statement of the Lord, as to the purpose of baptism. Peter began by speaking of those spirits that were now in, prison, “that aforetime were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved through water: which after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:20,21). Peter began by telling us about those that were saved from the world of sin at the time that God destroyed the world and its inhabitants by a flood. Noah had been previously warned by God of the impending flood, and had been given the responsibility to build an ark, to the saving of his house. Ile also was given instructions as to how this ark was to be built, and he minutely and meticulously followed God’s rules. As the floods came, as God had said they would, Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, were all that were saved. These eight persons were saved from the wickedness of the world by water. Peter in so many words said that these eight people were saved by water.
There is frequently a great deal of discussion as to how it was that these eight people were saved by water, but yet and still it is unequivocally and unambiguously stated that they were saved by water. However it might have been that this group was saved by water, be it remembered that Peter by the inspiration of the Spirit stated that they were saved by water. From this premise, he than proceeded to state that in a like figure, or similarly to the way in which they were saved by the water, baptism saves us. He said, “the like figure, wbereunto baptism doth also now save us.” If any statement of the Lord is made plain, and if language has any uniform meaning at all, then it follows that one of the things that baptism does for an individual is save him.
Sometimes people will object and reply that it is not really said that baptism saves one, but it is just a figure, but actually what is said that in a like figure to the way in which Noah’s family was saved in the ark by water, so also is the sinner saved by water in obeying the commandment of baptism.
It is also stated in this passage that it is not putting away of the filth of the flesh that saves a man, but it is the answer of a good conscience toward God. Peter was saying that it is not the washing of the body in the water that saves one, but it is the act of obedience that gives him a good conscience before God that procures his salvation. The import of this passage is made plain by asking the question, “Can one have a good conscience before God when he knows that he has not done what God commanded?” The answer is, “Certainly not!” One could not live with the assurance that God was approving him if he knew that he had violated a specific commandment of God. Neither could one have a good conscience before God when he knew that God commanded him to be baptized, and when he knew that he had not done what God said. Therefore, it is one’s obedience to the commandments of God that saves him, one of which commandments is that of baptism. So, by obeying the commandment to be baptized, one knows that he has done what God told him to do, so he has a good conscience, and God knows that he has done what He told him to do, so He saves him.
So one thing that baptism does, to which we call attention is that it saves one. Of course there are literally millions over this land, and possibly even many who are reading this who would differ with the statement that baptism saves you, but remember friends, that you are not differing with me, but with Peter. Peter said, that baptism doth also now save you. It ought to be pointed out that baptism alone does not save one, but it with all the other commandments of the Lord is the system of salvation. But even though it does not alone save you, it follows that one cannot be saved without it, for it is a commandment of the Lord, and Peter says it does save you.
Baptism Establishes Kingdom Citizenship
Another thing that baptism does is to put you into the kingdom of God. God has a kingdom, headed by Christ, and comprised of all those who do His will. There are certain blessings stored up for those who are in the kingdom, and certain punishments reserved for those who choose to remain outside the kingdom of God. The only way for one to receive the blessings prepared for those in the kingdom is to get into it. Jesus Christ plainly stated the conditions that must be met before one may enter the kingdom. As Jesus preached to Nicodemus, the teacher of the Jews, he told him: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except one be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). Jesus had just told this man that he must be born of water and the spirit in order to enter into this kingdom of blessings. Nicodemus was told to obey the instructions of the Spirit, and to be begotten into a new life by the Word of the Spirit. A part of the rules of citizenship into the kingdom of God, as here stated by Jesus is to be born of water. One cannot enter into this kingdom except that he be born of water.
Someone answers, “Yes, one must be born of water, but it is not here stated that baptism is the birth of water.” I agree that in so many words, it is not stated that baptism is the birth of water. I know of but two interpretations that men have placed on the expression, to be “born of water.”‘ One group of men maintain that the birth in water is baptism, while others contend that the birth in water is the natural birth. Nicodemus was one of this latter group. He thought that the birth in water involved his going back and being brought forth again from his mothers womb but Jesus corrected him of that mis-impression. He told him that he was not referring to a physical birth, when he commanded the birth of water. Denominationalists sometimes contend that the fluid accompanying a natural birth is a birth of water, but it is not. Technically, it is amniotic fluid, and is not water at all. Had Jesus not corrected this error of concluding that the birth of water was the natural birth, a technicality would have, for the fluid is not water.
The only birth commanded by the Christ that involves water is baptism, and Jesus here said that one must be born of water before he may enter the kingdom of God. I have heard many who have said, that even though Jesus said to be born of water, he did not really mean water. How far are men willing to go to avert the commandments of God? Jesus said to be born of water. Think just a moment, please, about this statement that Jesus did not really mean water. Suppose that He had meant to tell Nicodemus, as well as us also to be born of water, what would He have said? If water does not mean water, what would he have said if He had meant water? Friends you must admit that the commandments of the Lord are plain, and here He told the man to be born of water, to be baptized, or he could not enter into the kingdom of God. So a second thing that baptism does is to make one a citizen in the kingdom of God. One cannot receive the blessing of salvation outside the kingdom of God, and one cannot receive the blessings of the kingdom except he be baptized. This is the same thing as Peter said in 1 Pet. 3:21, the passage we studied earlier where he said that baptism doth also now save you.
Baptism Puts One in the Body
A third thing that the scriptures teach that baptism accomplishes is that it puts one in the body. As Paul discoursed on the analogy between the human body and the church of the Lord, or the body of the Lord, he told us how one enters the body of the church. He said, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For in one spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12,13). He said that we were all baptized into one body. We are not told in this passage what the one body is, but in other passages we are told. But in this scripture we are told that we enter the body by being baptized into it. Whatever the body is, we must enter it by baptism. In Eph. 1:22,23, Paul told us what this body that one enters by baptism is. He said that God put all things in subject under the feet of Christ, when he raised him from the dead, “and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Paul said that Christ is the head of the church which is His body. In Colossians 1:18, the same truth is stated, but in slightly different words. Here he said, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead: that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Christ is here said to be the head of the body, which is the church. In both these passages, the church and the body are identified with each other. They are made synonymous.
Paul said that one is baptized into one body, and that the body is the church. If one enters the body by being baptized into it, then he does not enter it as denominationalists teach. They teach that you are to be voted into the church. The writer Luke said that those that were saved were added to the church (Acts 2:47) and he recorded in Acts 2:38 what Peter told them to do to be saved. He told them to repent and be baptized. We see the great harmony in scriptural teaching when we read that one is to be baptized in order to be saved. Then we read that the saved are added to the church, and then the great apostle Paul summed up this process by saying that one is baptized into the body, which is the church.
The significance of baptism is further pointed out when one understands that the church is the body for which Christ died. Paul said to the elders of the church at Ephesus, “Take heed unto yourselves and all the flock over which the spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord, which is purchased with his blood” (Acts 20:28). The church is purchased with the blood of Christ, and it is the body of Christ. It is in the body of Christ that the blood flows. It is in the church that one may receive the benefits of the shed blood of Christ, which is said to have been shed “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). If one is to receive the remission of sins, it must be by the blood of Christ, which was shed in His death. Paul said that we are baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3,4). So baptism puts one into the body of Christ, or it puts one into the church of Christ, but only the saved are added to the church, so baptism saves one and at the same time, he is added to the church, the organization purchased with the Lord’s blood. Baptism into the church, by the authority of Christ, is salvation by the blood of Christ!
So in summary, here are the things that baptism does, as we have tried to point out in our lesson this week. Baptism saves one (1 Pet. 3:21); it puts one into the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:5), and it puts one into the church (1 Cor. 12:13), which is the same as the kingdom. We are pleading with you to cease listening to the teaching of men, who would tell you baptism is inessential, but study the passages that we have suggested,,as well as the rest of the New Testament to see why you should be baptized, and what baptism does for you.
Truth Magazine XX: 42, pp. 659-662
October 21, 1976