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"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

Aug 29, 2019

In this episode, Brother Jonathan continues to go through the book of Matthew. He takes time to talk about Baptism and whether or not is a means/instrument of grace.

 

Remnant Bible Fellowship

S3EP21

Matthew 3:3-6 and Baptism

 

  1. Intro
    1. We are picking up where we left off in Matthew 3:3. Like I said before, as we go through Matthew I will be stopping at times to focus on the first mention of certain subjects, or when I think the passage fits for a topical lesson. Today, we’ll be talking about baptism. Let’s look at where we are in Matthew first:
      1. “Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, "THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'" Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” (Mat 3:1-6)
    2. So, last time we were in Matthew we talked about the Kingdom of God/Heaven. This is what John was preaching: the kingdom is at hand, and the King is coming. Get ready by repenting of your sins!
    3. Matthew points out that John’s role as the forerunner of the Messiah was a fulfillment of prophecy. He references the passage from Isaiah 40:3. That’s pretty straightforward. We’ll talk about this when we consider his role as Elijah which was to come at a later time so we’ll pass over it for now.
    4. We read though that part of John’s ministry was baptizing the people who came to him.
      1. “Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” (Mat 3:5-6)
    5. So, John was preaching about righteousness and he was calling people to repent of their sins. As an outward sign of their repentance they were being baptized. The word “baptize” comes from the Greek word which means “dip, immerse”. The word “baptize” has come over into English by way of transliteration instead of translation. So when you see the word “baptism” you should think about dipping or immersion.
    6. Let’s consider a couple of things first about baptism before looking at Christian baptism. Baptism was not original with Christians. The Jews at some point started to baptize proselytes from the gentiles. This makes sense given all of the washings in the Law of Moses.
  2. Pre-Christian Baptism
    1. Jewish-Proselyte Baptism
      1. Gentile converts to Judaism were expected to do three things:
        1. Be circumcised (if you were a man)
        2. Be baptized
        3. Offer sacrifice
      2. In the Law of Moses there were diverse washings so the imagery of being purified by washing in water was nothing new to the Jews.
      3. Those who partook in this baptism were subject to the Law of Moses. They were committed to living as a Jew.
    2. Baptism of John
      1. John was the “forerunner” who “prepared the way of the Lord”. His message was to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. His baptism was a baptism of repentance. The people repented of their sins and prepared themselves to receive the coming Messiah and His kingdom.
        1. “Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” (Mat 3:5-6)
      2. His baptism, for the Jews, was an open confession that even though they were children of Abraham they needed to be forgiven for their sins and be cleansed. The point was: you are on equal footing with the Gentiles. Both need God’s forgiveness.
      3. Those who followed John’s baptism prepared themselves for the coming Messiah, but still needed to believe on Him when He came. They lived under the Law of Moses, but according to how they had been instructed by John. This is why when the disciples of John in Acts 19 heard the gospel they needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus.
        1. “It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Act 19:1-5)
  • Christian Baptism
    1. Christian baptism supersedes both of these past expressions in its meaning and purpose.
    2. Christians baptize mainly because Christ commanded us to.
      1. “"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."” (Mat 28:19-20)
    3. In this commandment, which is generally referred to as “the great commission”, there is a connection made between baptism and becoming/making disciples. If we are to take what’s said at face value we are being told to go and “make disciples” and baptize “them”. You baptize the disciples that you make. That’s what is stated.
    4. I emphasize that because the biggest controversy in Christianity (or should I say religion) is whether or not baptism (the actual dipping of someone in water) is the means by which grace is imparted to the believer. If you read a good bible dictionary or encyclopedia you’ll see things like “instrument of grace” being discussed when you look up baptism. To simplify it, the question is: how is the spirit of God imparted to a believer? Apart from water baptism is a person born of the spirit? This is the question that divides denominations from cults.
  1. Why is this important?
    1. Let me briefly lay out why this is an important question to answer, because it’s very easy for the average believer who is not a teacher or preacher to dismiss it as unimportant. It really is about whether or not a temporal/material thing like water, or methodology (how, where, why, or when you are baptized), has to do with one’s relationship with God. Does God care if we are dipped in water? What about if we are just sprinkled with water instead of being immersed? Does it have to be done by a certain person like an ordained minister of a particular denomination? Or, does it have to be in a particular place? These may sound like irrelevant questions but these were things that the early Christians grappled with.
    2. You have to contextualize the issue somewhat too. In the first century, paganism was the norm. Greek philosophy had many ideas about form, substance, particulars, the boundless, matter, etc., that had shaped many Gentiles’ minds about how they interpreted and viewed things. Many of these ideas led directly to ideas in the Middle Ages like the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation or alchemy. You cannot underestimate the impact that Greek philosophy had on the world. In addition to that, the Law of Moses had many commandments regarding ritual purity and ceremonial cleansing in certain circumstances. When Aaron was preparing to be the High Priest he was commanded to bath himself first. It was a small leap from any of these backgrounds to ask these kinds of questions, especially when God commanded us to baptize. His very command shows an importance.
    3. I believe that the easiest way to settle this matter is to just look at the evidence in the book of Acts—because it’s an authoritative early record of the beginning of the Christian church. Also, we can take a look at what one of the earliest, if not THE earliest, extra-biblical document of Christianity says on the matter.
  2. Book of Acts on Baptism
    1. We could begin by considering the apostles themselves as an example but some people would reply that they shouldn’t count because (according to them) it was under a different dispensation. So we’ll stick with just the book of Acts.
      1. “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Act 8:12-16)
    2. In this passage, the Samaritans had believed the gospel and not received the Spirit of God. They had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus though. So, baptism was not the instrument of grace here. There was a time period between them believing and receiving the spirit of God that was not because they weren’t baptized.
      1. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.” (Act 10:44-48)
    3. In this passage, the gentiles which had gathered at Cornelius’ house received the Spirit of God the very moment that they believed the gospel. They were baptized AFTER the fact BECAUSE they believed. So, again here we see that baptism was not the instrument of grace.
      1. “It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.” (Act 19:1-7)
    4. In this passage, notice that Paul said, “did you receive the holy spirit when you believed,” and he didn’t say, “did you receive the holy spirit when you were baptized”. Paul places the emphasis on when they believed and not on baptism. As it turns out, these were disciples of John the Baptist so they hadn’t yet heard of Jesus. So Paul tells them about Jesus Christ and the Gospel and they receive it. After this, they were baptized but still not receiving the spirit of God. It was after they were prayed for by the Apostle Paul that the Holy Spirit came on them.
    5. Now in these passages there are other questions that can be asked about whether or not there is a second “work of grace” subsequent to salvation called the baptism of the spirit or why all of these different groups experiences are not the same. Those are questions for a different episode, but the point is that not one of these teaches or sets forth baptism as a means of receiving the Spirit of God.
  3. Instances of Baptism in Acts where there is no mention at all of the Spirit.
    1. Here are some instances in the book of Acts where people are baptized and there is no mention of the Spirit of God really in connection with it.
      1. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Act 2:41-42)
    2. This passage is pretty significant to me because it follows after Peter’s day of Pentecost sermon with the verse that many use to teach that baptism is a means of grace or salvation. In v. 38 we read:
      1. “Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Act 2:38)
    3. The arguments revolve around the word “for”. Does it mean “for” in the sense of “in order that” or in the sense of “as a result of”. We’ll look at this verse in a few minutes. But I find it surprising if Peter was saying that baptism is a means of receiving grace from God (in a salvific sense) that the part immediately following does not emphasize that it is by baptism that they received the Spirit. It simply says that they were baptized and followed the apostles’ teaching.
      1. “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" [And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Act 8:36-39)
    4. The Ethiopian eunuch is baptized and the spirit of God is mentioned, but it has nothing to do with him. The Spirit of God instead took Philip away and left the eunuch there. So again, no connection with the person baptized receiving the Spirit of God.
      1. “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."” (Act 9:17-20)
    5. Now this passage is interesting. There are sometimes when I almost feel like Luke wrote a certain way (being led by the Spirit of God) to avoid connecting certain things intentionally. Here Ananias is told to go and lay hands on Saul of Tarsus so that he would receive his sight again and be filled with the Spirit. When Ananias does lay hands on him he receives his sight and was baptized. Some people would try to say that the being baptized corresponds with the being filled with the spirit: that’s what we call bad exegesis. If there is any part where Paul was filled with the Spirit it would be the part where the Spirit of God healed his eyes. That is how Ananias connected it by saying “has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” That’s how Ananias connected it so that’s how I think it should be interpreted.
      1. “A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.” (Act 16:14-15)
    6. Here another passage where someone is baptized and there is no mention of the person receiving the spirit.
      1. “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?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” (Act 16:29-34)
    7. Here the Philippian jailor directly asks what he must do to be saved and Paul answers “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”. Notice he doesn’t say “believe and be baptized”. The jailor is baptized. Nothing is said about him receiving the spirit of God then.
    8. Now we’re not trying to argue that baptism means absolutely nothing by looking at these passages. Some might say that just because it’s not mentioned that doesn’t mean it is not connected. My point is simply that if baptism is a means of imparting grace, as some say, then we would expect it to be depicted and described in connection with the Spirit of God. But in the instances of people being baptized in the book of Acts not once is it connected explicitly or implicitly with receiving the Spirit of God. A connection is conspicuously absent.
  • Supposed “Problem” Texts
    1. “'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'” (Act 22:16)
    2. This verse, when taken out of context, may seem to associate baptism with washing away sins. But when you read it in context you see what’s actually going on.
    3. “"A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very time I looked up at him. "And he said, 'The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 'For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'” (Act 22:12-16)
  1. You see that the context is actually Paul giving his testimony about when Ananias lay hands on him and prayed for him. When you look at that passage you see that there is no connection made between baptism and receiving the spirit of God. Actually, if there is a connection between anything it would be between calling on the name of the Lord and having your sins washed away.
    1. “And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” (Mar 16:15-16)
  2. This passage is one that has been abused also. The passage says he who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved. Then it says that he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. It does not say he who has not been baptized shall be condemned. One thing that you have to remember is that the early Christians were usually baptized very quickly after believing. Sometimes right in that moment following. Baptism was to the early church your profession of faith in Christ. You were publicly declaring that you were a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and believing on him for your salvation.
  3. Baptism was also the means by which you joined the fellowship of believers. Nowadays, especially here in the West, there are congregations everywhere who at least profess to be Christian. You can walk into most of them at almost any time and just join them. Back then, baptism was a requirement to show everyone publicly that you were a Christian. If you refused baptism it was highly suspicious. They wouldn’t accept you if you weren’t baptized. They questioned your belief if you either refused or delayed getting baptized. It was a commandment from the Lord. So to intentionally delay that was, in a way, to delay obedience to God. So in a lot of ways baptism is closely associated to the beginning of your walk with Christ because it kind of marked your first profession of faith. But, as we’ve seen, most of the instances in the book of Acts did not in any way associate baptism with receiving the spirit of God.
    1. “Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Act 2:38)
  4. This verse is twisted quite a bit by people who want to find something that is not there. Notice, first of all, that Peter emphasizes repentance. The actual Greek wording is more akin to saying “in reference to the forgiveness of sins” and not “in order that you may receive the forgiveness of sins”. In fact, I’m not aware of any translation of the scriptures anywhere that comes even close to translating the passage that way. That’s because the Greek word that you would use to say “in order that” is not used in this verse at all. So many times people would never find certain ideas in scripture unless they were told the ideas first and then went looking for them in the Bible.
    1. “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1Pe 3:21)
  5. This verse is usually quoted in the KJV. It renders the verse as follows:
    1. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” (1Pe 3:21)
  6. You can see how some people get the idea that water baptism saves you—if you isolate this passage from the rest of the entire NT. But let’s look at what is actually being said in the text. “not the removal of dirt from the flesh” makes explicitly clear that you being dipped in water has nothing to do with being saved. Peter goes on to say “but an appeal to God for a good conscience”. It is not being dipped in water that saves you. It is the answer of your conscience to God in committing yourself to him sincerely for salvation.
    1. Time would fail for me to go over all passages in question about this issue.
  • Final Thoughts
    1. I don’t believe that water baptism saves you or imparts any grace to you in any salvific way. Baptism, in a way, may have been very akin to our idea of an altar call today. It is not going forward at the altar that makes you saved. It is when you commit yourself to Christ in repentance of sin toward God and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. So, may someone be born of the Spirit when they are baptized, it’s possible if that’s the moment when they are actually committing themselves to God, but it’s not because they were baptized. It’s because they were committing themselves to Christ in faith.
    2. Another thing, if water baptism were a rite, a thing that must be methodologically done a certain way to impart salvation or grace to the believer, then we would expect that Jesus or the apostles left us a very clear instruction about how to do it. We would expect language like that in the book of Leviticus. We don’t find that anywhere. I think that this absence of that instruction is very clearly because water baptism, or believer’s baptism, is not a rite. It is what we do because we call out to the Lord for salvation.
    3. The early Christians got very much out of whack when it came to baptism. Especially by the time of the Catholic church being formed. By the influence of pagan and Greek philosophical thought, baptism started to be seen as a means of receiving the grace of God. But this is not what the NT teaches or the earliest Christian writers.
    4. Here is a passage from the Didache. It is believed to be a first century document recording teaching from the apostles to new gentile converts from paganism.
      1. “Regarding baptism. Baptize as follows: after first explaining all these points, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot in cold, then in warm. But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Before the baptism, let the baptizer and the candidate for baptism fast, as well as any others that are able. Require the candidate to fast one or two days previously.” (Didache, ch. 7)
    5. Now, we gather several things from this. The method was not important. It was preferable in certain ways and settings over others, but it was not mandatory. The type of water was not important: running, standing, or pouring in rare instances. The temperature of the water didn’t matter: cold or warm. There is no mention of the spirit of God. There is no mention of the need for it to be in a particular place. There is no mention of who is to do it. None of those things is mentioned in scripture either.
    6. I will say that immersion should be the preferred method given that the word batidzo literally means to dip or immerse. But there were instances where pouring was allowed because of circumstances.
    7. But some may ask, what about if you never get baptized? Actually, the early church acknowledged that there was a place for that: martyrdom. They called in “baptized by blood”. Your testimony of a good conscience toward God was that you so trusted in Jesus that you were willing to lay your life down. Obviously, if you are able to be baptized by any of those means, and you refuse, then something is wrong with your heart. A person who truly trusts in Jesus Christ is going to look to get baptized and not try to get out of it.
    8. I will say something also. If I were a pastor, and I’m not, I would not allow someone to partake in communion if they weren’t baptized, and neither would I allow them to be considered a member of the fellowship if they didn’t. It is a command from Christ. It is closely associated with your profession of faith, and I honestly believe that if churches started taking it seriously so would the new converts.