Streaking through the upper atmosphere at 600 miles per hour, our Boeing 747 was bound for London. Incredibly powerful jet engines enabled this huge plane to carry some 340 passengers plus luggage — a payload of about 710,000 pounds. A remarkable accomplishment of modern avionics. Lunch was about to be served. Sipping on their preluncheon martinis, some of the passengers were visibly amused at two elderly ladies making their way down the aisle. For these women wore a kind of austere religious garb that seemed, somehow, utterly and totally in congruous with this modern jet-set atmosphere. It was true. They just didn't fit. They looked and felt out of place. But how can you know whether any costume or custom is just a "carry-over" of old-fashioned human ideas or whether it is, in fact, what the Creator of heaven and earth truly wants His followers to practice?
Most of you Good News readers have proved for yourselves that there is a great God working out a purpose here below. The Apostle Paul mused: "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God should be the "be all" and "end all" of our lives — the reason and ultimate authority for every major action or decision we take. Jesus Christ stated: "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4). Again, speaking of the Bible, Jesus said: "The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). The ultimate criterion, then, for determining the importance and validity of anything pertaining to God or salvation is the Holy Bible. Water baptism may seem old-fashioned or an anachronism to some. Part of this feeling may come because baptism is sometimes associated with very sentimental or emotional people — and often those lacking in this world's culture and education. Frankly, though, most of this feeling is probably due primarily to simple ignorance of what the Bible actually teaches. Ignorance? That's right. Because most people assume they know what the Bible teaches, yet very few bother to really study God's Word to see what it does say on any given subject! Let's all make sure we have the intellectual and spiritual courage to study what God's Word says — and then do it: "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22). Are you willing to obey this inspired scripture? Notice in your Bible the most direct and vital of all passages concerning baptism. Study carefully Acts 2:36-42. In his inspired sermon on this momentous Day of Pentecost, Peter indicted his listeners for their part in murdering the Messiah! Many were cut to the heart with guilt and shame, and they asked: "Men and brethren, what shall we DO?" A good question. What do you do when you, individually, come to recognize that you have been in rebellion against the laws and purposes of your Creator? What does He tell you to do as a sign that you are willing to surrender your life to Him and seek His help and forgiveness? What is the inspired answer to this question? Notice the clear biblical command: "Then Peter said unto them, 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 Spirit." The preceding article covered the subject of repentance. But the next step is to "be baptized." That's what God specifically says to DO. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (verse 41). These thousands were "glad," it says, for the opportunity to be forgiven and to be reconciled to their God. Later, we find the Evangelist Philip preaching about the Kingdom of God and baptizing quite a number of men and women (Acts 8:12). Still later, the Apostle Paul visited certain believers at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7) who had been instructed in "the way of the Lord" (Acts 18:25), but were baptized with the baptism of John. However, the correct understanding and meaning of baptism — and obviously baptism itself — was so important that the Apostle Paul again baptized these people — this time in the name of Jesus.
Jesus Christ Himself set us an example that we should fol. low in His steps (I Pet. 2:21). Following Jesus — imitating Jesus — indeed, having Him live His life in us through the Holy Spirit (Gal. 2:20) — this is the very essence of true Christianity! Was Jesus, then, baptized? He certainly was. Notice the account in Matthew 3:13-17. Although Jesus was totally sinless and did not need to repent, yet even He — the Son of God — was baptized in water "to fulfill all righteousness" (verse 15). He did this to set us an example to follow! There was no other purpose for His baptism. As He sent forth His disciples to all nations after His resurrection, Jesus commanded: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus commanded: "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." The above are explicit commands for Christian baptism. Normally, baptism is the outward sign by which we acknowledge our surrender to God prior to receiving the Holy Spirit. But there is at least one exception mentioned in the New Testament. Notice the account in Acts 10. Cornelius, a most dedicated man, was chosen by God to be the first completely Gentile convert to Christianity. While the Apostle Peter spoke the gospel to Cornelius's household, the Holy Spirit was immediately poured out on them. Yet, even here, Peter "COMMANDED them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (verse 48). Without question baptism is a vital ordinance in the eyes of the God and the Christ revealed in your Bible. For it is repeated as a command by Jesus and His leading apostle!
What is the true form of baptism? Although various denominations and sects practice differing forms of baptism, there is only one form which is biblical. When you understand the meaning of baptism, the true form should become obvious. The very word "baptize" comes from the original Greek baptizo, which means to "immerse," to "plunge into" or to "put into." There are different and distinct words for "pour" (cheo) and for "sprinkle" (rantidzo) in the Greek language. So the word "baptize" has nothing directly to do with sprinkling or pouring. As we have said, baptism pictures the burial of the old self. You do not "sprinkle" or "pour" earth on a dead corpse — you completely cover it with earth (or with water if burial is at sea)!
Notice John 3:23. Here John was baptizing "because there was much water there." He certainly wouldn't have needed "much water" if sprinkling or pouring were considered baptism. Again, in Matthew 3:16: "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water...." He must have been down in the water to be baptized! When Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, "they went down both into the water" (Acts 8:38). The Apostle Paul was inspired to write that there is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5) — not many different approaches to God and differing modes of baptism. Many attempt to "reason around" every plain command and clear statement or example given in the Bible. But if anyone is looking for truth, the correct form and meaning of baptism is made unmistakably clear in the teaching of Scripture and in the inspired example of Jesus Christ — the Author of true Christianity.
What is the meaning of baptism? As we have stated, baptism pictures the burial of our old self. Notice Romans 6:3-6. It states we are baptized into Christ's death. "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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (verses 4-5). Hence baptism pictures the old self dying, being buried in a watery grave, and being resurrected to live a new and God-centered life. Baptism also pictures, in symbolism, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Baptism requires a total surrender. After heartfelt repentance and recognition that we are worthy of death because of our sins, the ordinance of baptism is an outward manifestation to God and to His human servants that we sincerely intend to bury the old self. It shows we intend to come up out of that watery grave "to walk in newness of life" — to obey God's law and yield ourselves willingly to God's guidance and His rule in our lives. Baptism also expresses our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, and our acceptance of His death, burial and resurrection on our behalf. Again: "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). So baptism signifies that our deceitful, vain, lustful and rebellious nature must die. It is an outward acknowledgement of our total and unconditional surrender to God. Our willingness to humble ourselves and do what Jesus did in the ordinance of baptism is vital. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). May God grant you the understanding, the faith, the humility to do what He commands for your good.