by Cody Francis
Must a man be buried to live? It sounds like the most absurd question ever asked. Never does being buried carry the slightest connotation of life. In fact, nothing could be more terrifying than being buried alive. When an earthquake hits and demolishes buildings, thousands can experience the awful fate of being buried alive; buried under a mound of concrete, iron, and wood, the air filled with so much debris that it is impossible to breathe. One young lady who was buried under the debris of her own home in the Izmit, Turkey earthquake of August 17, 1999 said, “each minute was like a year.” Time, August 30, 1999, “Buried Alive.” Only one who experienced such an awful fate could understand. Each tick of the second hand would seem like days on end as a person was pinned between the remains of their own home. Thousands in Turkey, alone, suffered death at the hands of the merciless earthquake, but must a man be buried to live? The survivors and relatives would answer a resounding NO! A man must be rescued to live; but Jesus had something else to say, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24, 25. Jesus said that if a kernel of wheat were to bring forth fruit it had to die. Then He brings the illustration even closer and says that if we love our life, we will lose it and if we hate our life, we will gain it. Jesus said that in order to live, we had to die! What did Jesus mean? It sounds like an oxymoron. If it is true that a man must die to live, then must a man be buried to live, as well?
You Must Die
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, and the gospel’s, will save it.” Mark 8:35. Jesus clearly said that if we are going to attempt to preserve our lives, we will wind up losing our life in the end. It is only those who are willing to lose their life for Jesus and the gospel that will, in the end, save their life. Jesus said that if we are to live, we must die! By looking at the entire context, it helps to understand exactly what He meant. “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?'” Mark 8:34-36. In order to follow Jesus a person must deny himself, lift up his cross, and lose his life. If a person does not do these things he may end up gaining the entire world, owning businesses, corporations, houses and lands, but still be lost. The importance and necessity of dying is a very common illustration that is used repeatedly throughout the Scriptures, but what does it mean?
There is a part of each one of us that must die, and if this does not die, we will be among those who may gain the entire world, but in the end lose their own soul. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. For to be carnally minded is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:6-8. The carnal or fleshly nature is at enmity with God, and if we continue to retain this wicked nature we will not be able to please God. This carnal mind is our natural mind, the infirmities that are common to all humanity. There is, in human nature, a hereditary tendency toward sin. Writing of the struggle of the natural mind, Paul said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” Romans 7:18, 19. There is a struggle that goes on deep inside the heart and mind of every human being. A struggle between the natural, carnal elements of human nature and the Holy Spirit striving upon the heart of man. The natural desires, feelings, etc. are in conflict with God’s Word, for naturally a person is full of selfishness and pride. Each of us has been born into this world of sin and sorrow. We are descendants of Adam, and with our lineage to Adam comes the weaknesses and the hereditary tendencies to sin. Through our birth, we become citizens of the kingdom of this world. I was born in the United States of America. I am a citizen of the United States, and I didn’t have to do anything to become a citizen of this country. I was born here, by default I am a citizen. I have friends, on the other hand, that are now citizens of the United States, but it wasn’t easy. They had to go through a lot of work, effort, and education in order to become a citizen of the United States. If I desired to become a citizen of another country, I likewise would have to go through all the requirements to become a citizen of that country. It is the same way with the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. We are all born into the kingdom of this world, we do not have to do anything to become citizens, we are so by default. Since we are citizens of the kingdom of this world, all have fallen into sin. “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; …’ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:10, 23. Because all have been born into the miserable kingdom of this world, all have fallen short, all have sinned, and there is not one who is righteous. Each one has inherited and developed to one degree or another, a character with tendencies to sin. Everyone is in a hopeless situation. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!” Job 14:4. All have become unclean through the defilement of sin, and it is absolutely impossible for anyone of us to bring something clean out of the unclean vessels that each has become. A change must happen. Something outside of ourselves must take place in order for us to become citizens of the kingdom of God.
The change that is necessary in order to become a part of God’s kingdom, is death. A person seeking a change of citizenship must, in most cases, renounce his allegiance to his former country. So likewise, our allegiance to the kingdom of darkness must be renounced and a change must occur. In order for that change to occur, we must die. We must die to our old sinful natures. “Therefore brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but, if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Romans 8:12-14. Through the Holy Spirit, deeds of the body (the old, sinful nature) must be put to death. Only as we thus die, shall we live. We must not live according to the flesh, for all who live according to the flesh will die (not just the first, earthly death, but the dreadful second death, Revelation 20:14.) What are the deeds of the flesh? “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21. The term “flesh” in the Bible is not just the physical flesh, bones, and blood, but is the fleshly, carnal nature. Simply stated, the works of the flesh are disobedience to God’s Ten-Commandment Law. It is this that must die. Our old nature of disobedience to God must be put to death. Without this death to sin and self, we have not become a part of God’s kingdom; we are still “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.” Ephesians 2:12.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Paul had the experience of dying to his old sinful habits. He likened it to a death by crucifixion. His sins, his old fleshly desires, his sinful habits and tendencies were hung upon the cross, but that did not mean that he was physically dead. For some religions it is the height of spiritual attainment to basically kill yourself, but that is not the crucifixion and death that the Bible is talking about. It is a death to our sins and a new life in God. Not only does a person need to die to their old way of life, but they must also live through Christ. Paul said that since He is dead, it is now Christ living through him. He is following the example of our Lord. In whatever situation he found himself in, he chose to do what Christ would do. “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Romans 6:11-13. The Christian is forbidden to be an instrument of unrighteousness, and in order to be delivered from that, he must be dead to sin and alive to God. The sin, with all its clamors, is to be crucified, while Christ’s life of obedience is to be implanted in us. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3.
Not only must a person die to live, but also this is an experience that must occur everyday. “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'” I Corinthians 15:31; Luke 9:23. Salvation and death to our old sinful natures is not a once in a lifetime decision. Unlike popular belief, these verses, along with many others, teach the opposite of “once saved, always saved.” (For more information on this subject, see Steps to Life’s booklet, Once Saved, Always Saved?) Every day a recommitment and rededication to the Lord must occur. If this does not happen, we are not truly following the Lord, for Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” If we don’t make the decision every day, we are lagging behind in the dust, and it will take an even greater effort to catch up. As Daniel did in the courts of Babylon, so must we. “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself,” Daniel 1:8. Daniel made the choice and the decision to follow the Lord, and so must each one whom desires to change loyalties from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. We must say as did Paul, “I die daily.”
You Must be Buried
Knowing that we must die, the question naturally rises, must we be buried as well? Certainly if we die, no one would want an unburied carcass of sins hanging around. Is there some way in which our old, sinful nature is buried? “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we, who died to sin, live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” Romans 6:1-7. Indeed, there is a way that our old, sinful way of life is buried. Baptism is the ceremony of the new covenant that represents the burial of our sins. Baptism actually represents the entire process of death, burial and resurrection. As a person is baptized, he is baptized into Jesus’ death. Not only is he showing his faith in Jesus death for him, but he is also pledging to experience that death to sin. (vs. 2) As Christ was buried in the tomb, so the sinner’s sins are buried in the watery grave of baptism. (vs. 4) So as Christ was raised from the grave, as a person rises from the waters of baptism, he is to walk in the newness of life. (vs. 4) Baptism is the ceremony by which a person expresses their faith in the amazing gift that God has given to mankind through His Son, and by which he pledges to experience the death to sin, the burial of sin, and the resurrection to new life. “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Colossians 2:12.
If a man is going to die and then be buried to live, he needs to know what the correct method of burial is. There are many different methods that men use and claim it to be baptism. There is sprinkling, pouring, immersion, triple immersion, and even water-less baptism. How can we tell which is the Biblical method of baptism?
“Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.” John 3:23. The Scriptures record that John was baptizing in Aenon because there was much water there. Do you need “much water” to sprinkle someone? No. Do you even need “much water” to use the pour method of baptism? No, a pitcher of water will suffice. Do you need “much water” to immerse? Yes, you cannot immerse even one person unless you have an ample supply of water. It definitely takes “much water” to baptize by immersion.
“And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:5. Notice where the people were baptized–it was IN the Jordan River. Not on the side of it, not on its banks, but actually in it. Is it necessary to be IN the river in order to sprinkle? No. Is it necessary to be IN the river to pour? Not really. Is it necessary to be IN the river to immerse? Absolutely! You cannot immerse a person if you are not, in reality, IN the river.
“Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then 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.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away,” Acts 8:36-39. They both went down into the water and then they both came back up out of the water. Once again, it was not something that they did along side the road. The only method of baptism that this could possibly be is immersion. In neither sprinkling nor pouring do either the person being baptized or the person baptizing go down into the water. It is only in immersion that this occurs. Clearly, the Biblical method of baptism is immersion.
The English word baptize actually comes from the Greek word, baptidzo. Baptidzo simply means “dip, immerse.” A Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Gingrich & Danker. When the translators came to that word, they realized that they had never before been dipped and so they conveniently transliterated the word, that is, they just gave it English letters and made it an English word. Thus the very meaning of the word “baptism” is immersion. How much clearer our English reading would be if the translators would have translated it directly. It would read, “Now John also was immersing… because there was much water there” “and were all immersed by him in the River Jordan” “And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he immersed him.” As we put the actual meaning of the word into the verses, it becomes obvious that the Biblical baptism is not sprinkling or pouring, or any other method but immersion.
Neither pouring nor sprinkling could have the significance that immersion does. Baptism shows our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and it also testifies of our death and burial to sin and our resurrection to a new life. Only immersion carries that deep significance. As a person goes down into the waters of baptism they are showing that they are dying to sin. When the person is laid underneath the waters, it represents the burial of sin, and then when a person comes up out of the water it typifies their resurrection to a new life. Sprinkling is little more than a shower. It has no significance of death to sin, burial, or resurrection. Both sprinkling and pouring destroy the beautiful symbolism given us through baptism. According to God’s Word, the only correct method of baptism is immersion.
Having seen that a person must be baptized by immersion, the next question that needs to be answered is when can a person be baptized? There are several things that must take place prior to baptism. If these experiences do not take place before baptism, the Biblical example is not being followed.
“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” Acts 2:38. When the people were convicted of the truth that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah, they asked, “What shall we do?” Acts 2:37. In answer to their question, Peter says, “Repent.” The first step is given–repentance. They were not to be baptized and then repent. Repentance came first. So today, repentance must precede baptism. It was so important that repentance accompany baptism, that John’s baptism was referred to as, “the baptism of repentance.” (See Mark 1:4) All who came to John to be baptized knew that repentance for their sins had to come first. Really, if repentance does not precede baptism, the importance of baptism will not be understood. There must be the conviction that we are guilty sinners. As the listeners upon the day of Pentecost, a person must be “cut to the heart.” (Acts 2:37.) There must be deep, heartbreaking guilt that our sins put to death the only begotten Son of God. “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner,… For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” II Corinthians 7:9, 11. The Corinthian church had a true sorrow that was not to be repented of. Repentance literally means “a change of mind.” (A Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Gingrich & Danker.) The necessary repentance before baptism is a sorrow for our sins, realizing that they crucified our beloved Savior, but also a change in our mind to do the works of God. Some, thinking that baptism of itself has power to save a person, will be baptized with no remorse for their sins whatsoever, and think that in so doing they are securing a title to the kingdom of God. Nothing could be farther from the truth! If repentance does not precede baptism, it is valueless.
“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16. Jesus himself states that belief also must come before baptism. In John the Baptist’s day, they did not know who they were to believe in, (Acts 19:4) but now, we know exactly whom we must believe in. Now Before baptism, it is necessary to say with the Ethiopian eunuch, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Acts 8:37. A person must believe that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, that He is the One in whom their sins can be forgiven. We must realize that not only was Jesus a good man and great teacher, but that He is the only way that we can be saved. “Nor is there salvation in any other,” Acts 4:12. We must know as did Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:68, 69. Christ must become everything to us. We must believe that He is the only way through which our sins can be forgiven, the only way through which our great and many sins can be thrown into the depths of the sea. We must believe that He alone is our only hope and ground of eternal life. Before a person is baptized, he must truly believe on Jesus, the only begotten Son of God.
“‘Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:19, 20. Jesus, in His Great Commission given to the disciples and to all believers, states that they are to make disciples and then baptize them. A person is not to be baptized until they have become a disciple of Jesus. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Jesus explained himself by saying, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” A person needs to receive instruction on the gospel and the many things that Jesus taught. A person needs to have some time to become acquainted and familiar with the truths that Jesus taught before making the commitment of baptism. Baptism is similar to marriage. I would never encourage anyone to get married on the spur of the moment or on the impulse of emotion alone. Yet there are thousands who are baptized while on an emotional high, and they don’t realize the commitment that they are making. Jesus said that a person should count the cost of the step that he is taking. “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it–lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him. Saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:17-33. Jesus was very clear that a person must realize the decision that he is making before making the step. The conditions are plain and simple; “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:33. We must be willing to do whatever the Lord asks of us. We must be willing to forsake everything, because that is exactly what baptism symbolizes. It is a death and burial of our sins and a resurrection to newness of life. Our old sinful way of life must be buried in the watery grave of baptism. Anyone who desires to follow their Lord all of the way into baptism must be willing to count the cost and choose to follow the Lord wherever He asks.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,” Matthew 3:7, 8. John the Baptist refused to baptize some individuals who came to him for baptism! Some preachers will baptize anyone who desires baptism, but that is not following the example of John the Baptist. Do you think that a preacher should conduct a funeral for someone who is still alive? How would you like it if you were the person who was being buried alive? We would all agree that a live person should NOT be buried, but what about in baptism? Baptism is a funeral service. It is a resurrection service as well, but the funeral comes first. The “body of sin” (Romans 6:6) is dead and buried. What is the body of sin? The body of sin is, of course, the old habits and sinful way of life. That is why Paul, later on in the chapter, says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Romans 6:12. If a person has been buried and their sins are dead–sin is not to reign! It is not to continue to be practiced. When you conduct a funeral, the dead body is not to be exhumed. (People get arrested for that.) Since a baptism is a funeral when the sins and the old sinful way of life are buried, would it be right to bury a person who is still living in their old sinful way of life? NO! It would be burying someone alive! (If you bury someone alive in our world today, you will be arrested for murder; but many preachers are spiritually guilty of this very crime!) If a person comes desiring baptism and is carrying a flask of liquor, would it be wise to baptize him? No! That is the works of the flesh that is buried at baptism. “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery,… drunkenness,… those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21. That is why John the Baptist refused to baptize some of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they were not showing, by their lives, that they were dead to their old sinful way of life. John the Baptist said, “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” Matthew 3:8. A person must show by their life that they have indeed accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and that they are willing to follow Him no matter what. When a person has had a true conversion, it becomes obvious to all around that a change has taken place. The new birth must occur before a person is baptized, just like the love between two individuals must precede the wedding, not the other way around. A person must show that he is no longer carnally minded, but now he is spiritually minded. (Romans 8:6.)
While it is true that an individual must show by his life that he has accepted Jesus, that does not mean that a person must be perfect before he can be baptized. If that were the case, no one would end up being baptized, and Jesus’ final commission would never be fulfilled. Three thousand were baptized and added to the church on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:41, 47.) They had given evidence in their life that they accepted Jesus as their Lord and were going to follow Him, but they still were not perfect. We know that they were not perfect because in just a little while, problems arose in the church. There was complaining and bitter feelings over supposed favoritism. (See Acts 6:1.) Obviously, they were not perfect or they would not have had this problem. Although they had chosen to follow Jesus all of the way and had given evidence of conversion in their lives, they still had trials and temptations, and they still fell. They were striving to follow Jesus all of the way and that is what the Lord asks of us.
You may be asking, “When is baptism to take place?” We need to look to see if it is acceptable to baptize babies. We have seen that there are four things which the Bible teaches that must take place before baptism: 1) repentance, 2) belief, 3) instruction, and 4) obedience. Can a baby repent for its sins? Can a baby believe in Jesus as its only hope of eternal salvation? Can a baby be taught to observe all that the Lord has commanded? Can a baby obey the Law and teaching of Jesus? The obvious answer to all of these questions is, no. A person must be of an age to understand the importance and the meaning of baptism before he takes the important step of baptism. “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil,” Deuteronomy 1:39. A child must come to an age of accountability before he makes the necessary step of baptism. He must have knowledge of good and evil. While still too young to understand the difference, God accepts his childlike devotion and he will not be held accountable until he reaches the age of accountability, which occurs at different ages for different children. A person must repent, believe, be instructed and obey before he is ready to make the commitment and decision of baptism.
It is argued by some that all that is necessary is baptism by the Spirit, that water baptism is of no value anymore. Others are afraid of water and cringe at the thought of being submersed in it. Humanity can come up with many different reasons to avoid baptism, but in reality they are all excuses. God has given us a plain command in His Word. The question is whether or not we are going to obey and follow His plain command.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'” Matthew 3:13-17. Jesus Himself came to the River Jordan and was baptized. Why was Jesus baptized? There was certainly no need for His sins to be washed away, for He had no sins, yet He came to John and insisted upon being baptized. John the Baptist, realizing whom it was who was requesting baptism, balked at the thought. (I am sure that I would too.) John knew that here was his Creator and King, and He was desiring to be baptized by him, a lowly sinner! Jesus insisted that he be baptized saying, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” It was fulfilling all righteousness for Jesus to be baptized. Why was it so essential that Jesus be baptized? So that He could give us an example to follow. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:” John 13:15; I Peter 2:21. Jesus was baptized, not because He needed to be baptized, but so that He could demonstrate to us just how important this ceremony is. If Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, condescended to the waters of baptism, should we hesitate to take that important step?
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?'” Acts 2:37. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, there was a great deal of heart searching that went on. Peter delivered a powerful sermon in which he showed that the Jewish nation was guilty of the blood of the Son of God. As he was bringing the appeal home to the hearts of the hearers, a most important question escaped from their lips. As they saw themselves sinners in need of Christ, they asked, “what shall we do?” The Holy Spirit was pressing conviction strongly upon their hearts, and their earnest desire was to know what to do to be right with God. The answer from Peter came, plain clear and simple, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38. Those who were convicted and desiring to follow the Lord were given definite directions. They were to repent of their sins and then to follow their Lord into the waters of baptism. Peter did not say that it was an option or a good idea, it was essential. If they were going to repent and follow their Lord, they must take their public stand for Him by baptism. So today, as souls are seeing the goodness of God and what it is that He asks of them, they must make a public commitment, through baptism, to follow the Lord. This should not be something that is considered a hard, grievous requirement. If we truly love the Lord it will not be hard. Just as it is not hard to marry someone whom you truly love, so it is not hard to publicly pledge our fidelity to the Lord through baptism. What must we do? Repent and be baptized.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16. Jesus, in some of the last words that He spoke before ascending to heaven, makes a plain, straightforward statement of who will be saved. It is those who 1) believe and 2) are baptized. There are two essential elements. One without the other will not save a person. The belief must come first, belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the only One through whom we can be saved. Belief that He has taken our sins upon Him and if we repent and confess He will wash away our many and terrible sins. True belief will always lead to something else, though. True belief will lead to publicly stating our belief through baptism. Thus true belief comes first, but then it is followed by baptism. There are, of course, cases in which a person cannot be baptized, but the Lord accepts their devotion; for example, the thief on the cross. He accepted Jesus in the twilight of his life. He only had a few hours left when he made the confession, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Luke 23:42. It was an impossibility for him to come down from the cross on which he was hanging and be baptized, so the Lord accepted his sincerity of heart, knowing that if he had the opportunity to be baptized, then he would have. All must be baptized who have accepted Jesus and are able to be baptized by immersion. There are some cases in which I have been familiar that because of paralysis or deathly physical affliction a person could not be baptized. They desired to, but it had become impossibility through their physical situation. God looks at those cases and weighs the heart and does not hold a person accountable, but if a person is fully able and refuses to be baptized, they are refusing Jesus Himself.
Jesus made perhaps the strongest statement of all about baptism in His night interview with Nicodemus. “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'” John 3:5. There is a new birth that each and every person who is saved must experience. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3. If a person is not born again, he will not be saved. As we have already studied, baptism is a representation of this new birth experience; and if a person does not follow through with the outward sign of the new birth, he will not be saved. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5. An individual must be born of water in order to enter God’s kingdom. What is this new birth of water? It is the waters of baptism, which symbolizes the new birth. If a person has the opportunity to be baptized and refuses (or procrastinates until it is too late), he CANNOT enter the kingdom of God. Is baptism important? Is it necessary? There could be nothing more important and necessary than a true baptism accompanied by the inward experience. Must a man be buried to live? Absolutely, that is the only way that he will see life!
While I was in the Philippines a pastor told me of a unique baptism that he had administered. There was a lady who had started studying the Bible and it had wrought a total change in her life. This woman had been involved in a life of crime before her conversion, but she was now making the decision to surrender to Jesus. She had been involved with the rebels. In the Philippines, there are guerrilla outpost camps that are in rebellion to the government of the Philippines. Generally speaking, they are communist and are striving to see the present government overthrown and a communist government set up. There are frequent clashes between the Philippine Army and the National People’s Army (commonly known as the “rebels”). The National People’s Army (NPA) is known for its violence and taking of hostages. This woman, who had started studying the Bible, was not only involved with the NPA, but she was a commander in the NPA! Her life had indeed been a life of crime in a rebellious military atmosphere, but she was now making the decision to follow Jesus all of the way. She knew that she would have to surrender to the Philippine Army and discontinue her rebellious military career. There was one condition that she had–she wanted to surrender to Jesus before surrendering to the Philippine Army. This was arranged and my pastor friend agreed to baptize her so that she could publicly surrender to Jesus. The Philippine Army was going to take no chances, though. They surrounded the site for the baptism with jeep loads full of soldiers to make sure that this high profile rebel would not escape. As soon as she was baptized and surrendered to Jesus, she peacefully surrendered to the Philippine Army. How important is baptism? This once rebel leader knew how important baptism was. Her one qualification was that she take her public stand for her faith before she was captured. How that faith and submission is needed in the lives of many Christians here today in our peaceful lands.
What Hinders You?
Do you desire to live? There is only one way that you can live eternally with Christ Jesus–you must be buried. The Lord has done everything possible that you might be saved. Then He has just set a few simple prerequisites for us. Will your take your stand on the Lord’s side? Have you made your stand for Jesus as the woman in the Philippines did? Is the Lord speaking to you, convicting you of your need to make a deeper commitment to Him–even the commitment of baptism? There was an incident that happened nearly two thousand years ago, but its lesson is still for us today. Philip, the evangelist, had been working mightily for the Lord in Samaria, but the Lord directed him to a very out of the way place. He did not know why the Lord was leading him there, but he willingly followed. As he was traveling he came to a chariot in which was riding a high ranking official from the kingdom of Ethiopia. This man earnestly desired light and was pouring over the Scriptures for more understanding. (What everyone who desires to have more light and knowledge should do.) “Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.” Acts 8:35. The Lord had directed Philip to this honest man who was seeking for light in order that he might show him the more perfect way–that he might teach Jesus and Him crucified. As Philip was teaching, light and understanding dawned on this noble man’s mind. “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then 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.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.” Acts 8:36-38. Oh, that there were thousands of souls like the honest Ethiopian. When he learned the truth from the Word of God, he did not make excuses. He said, “What hinders me from being baptized?” What hinders you, Friend, from being baptized? Do you believe with all your heart that Jesus is the Messiah and understand the meaning for your life? Have you counted the cost and decided that it is better to lose the entire world than to lose Jesus?
There was a young lady in the Philippines whom I baptized. I will never forget her testimony. She had been working at a place that required her to break God’s holy Law. As we studied, she decided that even if she had to lose her job, she was willing, in order to follow Jesus. She said that she may have to lose her job for taking her stand, but it was better to lose a job than to lose Christ. Oh, how I wish that there were more like her. She was willing to lose everything rather than to lose Jesus. She believed with all of her heart that Jesus was the Son of God and she was going to follow Him no matter what. Do you believe that? Are you willing to follow Jesus as she was, even if it costs you your job, your friends, your family, your house, your car, your anything? Do you truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Or maybe you have already been baptized by immersion before (anything else is not baptism at all,) but have had a new conversion and would like to make a public recommitment. Frequently couples renew their marriage vows, and there is nothing wrong with renewing your commitment to Jesus to follow Him no matter what. When Paul met those who were learning more and having a new conversion, he re-baptized them. (Acts 19:1-6.) Your eternal destiny is at stake. Don’t you want to be on the safe side of eternity? Will you make that decision right now, to begin preparing for the most wonderful public commitment of baptism? Don’t wait until it is too late. Don’t, like Agrippa, be almost persuaded. (Acts 26:28.) For although he was almost persuaded, he was completely lost. Friend, don’t make that dreadful mistake. “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16
All emphasis the authors unless otherwise stated.
All texts from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
- The Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White, 1898.
- His Mighty Love, Dr. Ralph Larson, Teach Services, 1995.
- A Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, F. Wilbur Gingrich & Frederick W. Danker, University of Chicago Press, 1983.
- Time Magazine, August 30, 1999, “Buried Alive”
- World-Wide Bible Lectures, Fordyce W. Detamore.