By James R. Cope
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). This is the language of Jesus. In it is couched the secret to eternal life. There are many ways in which one may confess Jesus Christ and because we do not here discuss all of these ways it is not to be understood that the importance of any confession the Bible reveals is to be underestimated. Our present study, however, deals with baptism. Perhaps baptism as taught by Christ and the apostles is seldom thought of as a confession, but such we believe it to be. In fact, there is no phase of baptism that is not a confession. In one instance may be seen the person who confesses. From another view is seen the object of the confession Jesus Christ.
1. Baptism is a confession of faith. He who is baptized confesses not only his personal conviction concerning the person and identity of his Lord but he acknowledges his faith in the system of faith revealed in and by Jesus. “Go – preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:15,17). Confidence in the gospel as the means by which saving faith is validated is here set forth as a necessity for him who is subject to the gospel. Since baptism is a condition the gospel demands the sinner to meet in order to be saved by the gospel, when the sinner is baptized he thereby acknowledges his faith in the gospel and in Him who is its author.
2. Baptism is a confession of one’s faith in the death of Jesus. It is a declaration not only of a belief that Jesus actually lived upon this earth but that He died and that His death was for the purpose revealed in the Scriptures. It is a testimony to His dying “for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3) and the apostle’s reference to it in Romans 6:3 so declares: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Since they had not been and could not be baptized into the literal death of Christ, the evident meaning is that they were baptized into the benefits procured by His literal death on the cross. Thus when they were baptized they recognized in the death of Jesus the payment for sin which was not possible by any other man or any animal. So does any sinner when he is baptized.
3. Baptism is a confession of faith in the burial of Jesus. It is a denial of any humanly devised plan for the faking of His resurrection. The proofs of His resurrection are made strong by the emphasis placed upon the nature and absolute certainty of His burial in a new tomb, hewn out of solid rock, sealed with a Roman seal, and secured by a Roman watch. From the human viewpoint the Lord’s absolute entombment was the climax of the schemes of the Jewish leaders to ascertain the certainty that His cause was forever doomed and His purposes forever thwarted. The baptism of the believer declares his faith in the fact of the Lord’s burial and witnesses to his confidence that his own old man of sin has been destroyed by the power exercised by Christ while His body was in the tomb and His spirit in Hades.
4. Baptism is a confession of the disciples faith in the resurrection of Jesus. His emergence from the watery grave bears witness to his confidence that the body of sin has been left in the tomb and that through the power by which Jesus rose from the dead he also is raised as a new creature in Christ. “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. . . For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:4-11). Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, baptism has no meaning whatever. The believer’s willingness to come forth from the waters of baptism is a living witness to his faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
5. Baptism is a confession of the believer’s faith in the operation of God. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). He who understands the Bible’s teaching on what God does in baptism comprehends that a divine operation is performed in it. It is the circumcision of the heart. There is a “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Jesus Christ” (Col. 2:11). Baptism is the act in which this operation is performed, and he who is scripturally baptized believes that God performs this operation in baptism; thus he confesses it when he is baptized.
6. Baptism is a confession of the authority of Jesus Christ. The deity of Jesus is declared by His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4), and His authority grows out of His deity and is established by it. If Christ has been raised to die no more, there is more than humanity in Him for men by nature even raised from the dead again saw corruption. Not so with Jesus, and hence His resurrection declares Him to be of God in a sense different from any other man’s being of God. He was and is God. Being God, therefore, He possesses the right to all authority. It was in connection with His declaration concerning this authority in heaven and on earth that He commanded baptism (Matt. 28:18-20). Apart from the authority He has baptism is nonsense. A recognition of the authority of Jesus Christ makes sense out of baptism to the believer though it may appear foolishness to the unbeliever. Baptism, then, stands as an open avowal of one’s confidence in the authority of Jesus Christ.
7. Baptism is a confession of Christ as Savior. Instead of men looking to the water they look to Jesus when they are baptized. This is evidenced by the instruction Ananias gave Saul of Tarsus: “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). If Saul followed the direction of Ananias he called on the name of the Lord. He looked to Jesus to save him, not to the water. Yet by virtue of the very authority which commanded him to be baptized he could not expect the washing away of sins without doing what the authority of Christ commanded. His calling upon the name of the Lord in baptism reveals his confession of faith in Christ to save him; hence baptism is a confession of Christ as Savior.
8. Baptism is a confession that man is a sinner. The design of baptism as stated by Jesus in Mark 16:16 and by Peter in Acts 2:38 forever settles this point. That apostle declared, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” As certainly as repentance in this passage declares man a sinner and in need of repentance so it declares man a sinner in need of baptism for the same reason. “Remission of sins” is an absurdity if there are no sins to be remitted. Both the apostles and the Jews on Pentecost understood the subjects of baptism to be sinners and therefore the inquiry “What shall we do?” was answered by Peter and his command was gladly received by the murderers of Jesus.
9. Baptism is a confession Of the sinner that he cannot save himself. In Galatians 3 the apostle shows the purpose of the law of Moses, i.e., to bring the Jews to Christ that they might be justified by the faith (gospel): “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:25-26). The faith in verse 26 evidently refers to the system of faith, the gospel, revealed in Christ. Then the Holy Spirit declares how this faith is made effectual to the sinner: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). This passage not only locates salvation in Christ; it also shows the sinner’s helplessness without Him. Outside Christ the sinner was hopeless. Galatians 4:1-5 declares this with reference to the Jew, and Romans 1:16 shows the Gentile in the same condition. Only by being Abraham’s seed could either Jews or Gentiles be heirs according to the promise and this was possible only in Christ (Gal. 3:28,29). But since salvation is in Christ (2 Tim. 2: 10) and is by the grace of God without the works of man’s making (Eph. 2:8,9), and since the sinner is baptized into Christ and, therefore, into salvation, it follows that his submission to baptism denies his ability to save himself. Baptism then is a confession by the sinner of his own inability to save himself.
10. Baptism is a confession that the kingdom of God exists. To Nicodemus Jesus said, said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). As certain as the “water” of this passage refers to baptism, that certain it is that the kingdom exists for baptism puts one into the kingdom. It stands between the alien and the citizen. It is the last step in the “naturalization process.” Unless baptism is a reality, citizenship in the kingdom is a farce. But since it exists in fact and stands as the door into the kingdom, the kingdom exists and can be entered. Destroy baptism and the kingdom is removed for the kingdom is composed of citizens and citizens are those “born of water and of the Spirit.” Baptism then, is a confession that the kingdom of God exists.
11. Baptism is a confession that the church of Christ is the one body. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). The one body is the church of which Christ is head (Eph. 1:23). To be baptized is to enter the one body, the church. Since there is “one body” (Eph. 4:4) and “but one body” (1 Cor. 12:20), there is one church of the Lord and but one church. But baptism puts one into the one body, therefore, it declares there is but one church belonging to Him who is the Head of the body, even Christ.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 2, pp. 41, 50
January 15, 1987