Sunday, November 30, 2008

OK I'm Ready

I got up this morning and put on my extra thick skin. So I here I am writing a likely controversial post in style.

While many of you will likely disagree with the point of this post, I want to start out with the stuff we likely agree on.

1. We are saved by grace through faith (an alive faith that is accompanied by action) not by works (trying to earn your way to Heaven).

2. We are saved only through connection to Jesus. Just because you are a good Jew or Muslim or Buddhist doesn't mean that you will go to Heaven when you die. Jesus Himself said that no one comes to the Father except through Him. He also said that no one is good.

3. There are no partially saved people. Though salvation is a journey, there must come a point in time where you go from lost and living a walking death to saved and living a new life.

So here comes the controversy. I believe that this point in time is baptism. Let me tell you why.

1. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27 NIV) The only way we can stand before a just God and survive is to be clothed in His Son. I believe that being clothed in Jesus is the point of these vereses from Matthew 22 (NIV) in a parable of Jesus. "10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. 13 "Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' "

2. This is how we connect with Jesus' death and resurrection. From Romans 6 (NIV), "1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

3. Forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. These verses are from Peter's first Gospel sermon in Acts 2 (NIV). 36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
This idea of forgiveness of sins being bestowed on us at the point of baptism is confirmed by Paul when he explains his own conversion story in Acts 22 (NIV). 12 "A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him. 14 "Then he said: 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' "

Now I know that there will be some objections, so let me answer them as best I can.

1. Isn't baptism a work? I would say that it is less a work than praying. Baptism is something that one submits to. It is something done to you. I have never heard of anyone baptizing themselves. The work at baptism is all God's doing. We only submit to it.

2. What about Cornelius (Holy Spirit before baptism) or the Samaritans (no Holy Spirit until Peter laid hands)? These are exceptions in special circumstances not the general rule. Let's take an example from the Old Testament. (For the whole story, read 2 Chronicles 30.) Hezekiah led the Israelites in a Passover feast after they had neglected it for many years. They celebrate it on the wrong day and for two weeks (instead of one) and some of the people aren't properly prepared. Though God allowed this and was pleased with Hezekiah, it would be silly for future kings to have used this as proof that Passover could be celebrated whenever or without preparing. Exceptions don't negate the rest of God's Word. Throughout Acts baptism is the point of salvation. Even the exceptions mentioned were baptized.

3. Aren't you negating grace? I think that I have answered that in various ways above. None of us deserve to be saved. None of us can earn it. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a point in time where salvation occurs.

There are probably more which I am sure you will leave me in the comments.

6 comments:

Scott Weldon said...

Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit that happens in the heart/life of an individual apart from any work/action on our part. Our response to His work is then faith and obedience, the first act of which is to follow in baptism.

There are numerous examples we could discuss about those who were saved but not baptized, the most obvious of which is the dying thief on the cross. Jesus promised him, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Hardly room for baptism there.

We need to be extra careful about attaching any outward action (baptism, walking the aisle, etc.) with the work God's Spirit does in regeneration.

Scores of books have been written on this, so I'm sure I can't summarize the whole deal, but this is the basics.

Wickle said...

Wow, this is a great post.

In the past two or three weeks, we've baptized almost 30 people at my church. It's really been amazing.

I think that you have a point. We know that baptism is important to God, and it's really only been in the past couple decades that the phenomenon of the "unbaptized Christian" has come about ... either because no one talked about baptism at some rally, or because the person hasn't felt it was the right time.

Paul used to baptize people after he'd talked to them for a couple minutes. Obviously, it mattered to him.

The only thing I'd say is that Christ can save those who aren't baptized ... the thief on the cross, for example, would be with Him that day in Paradise. However, that was a rare situation.

Most people don't find it impossible to be baptized because they're stuck on crosses. They just never get around to it.

I'm rambling. Sorry.

Mostly, actually, I think I agree with you. I don't know exactly when the moment of salvation is, but we can certainly make a good case that God wants us to show that obedience.

Applied Christianity said...

Wickle,

Thanks for the compliments. I agree that there are likely occassional exceptions. I just think that it is baptism is important and it seems not many people put the emphasis on it that it has in the Bible. It is really cool that you have had that many baptisms at your church recently.

Applied Christianity said...

Scott,

I think the thief on the cross doesn't count as a counter argument here. He couldn't be baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as Jesus hadn't died yet. Just like no one in the Old Testament was baptised.

I agree that regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not the act of allowing someone to dunk you under the water that saves. It is following God's will in a submissive spirit.

Raymond V Banner said...

I think my view of salvation and the place that baptism is designed to take in the Christian life is pretty much the view that Scott Weldon briefly summarizes above.
In short, I see baptism (much like most Baptists and pietistic evangelicals) as a step of discipleship that should follow salvation. I am inclined to think that unwilligness to make a public stand for one's faith in Christ, which baptism does, may indicate that one is not a true believer. In some places in the world the act of Christian baptism may bring
severe persecution as it is an outward sign of idenity with Christ and Christianity.

In my limited reading in the early Church Fathers I am somewhat dazzled by the emphasis put by many of them upon baptism (but not necessarily upon immersion, which I think is the correct form). Baptism through church history has, I think, been too often relied upon as a ritual that brings salvation. I do not think that there is any power of salvation per se in the act of baptism, other than an inner saving faith and experience which might possibly accompany it. But in the normal course of things I think the inner saving faith should precede the public sacrament of baptism.

Applied Christianity said...

Raymond,
Thanks as always for your comments. I would agree that baptism has often been looked upon as the MEANS of salvation instead of the POINT in time of salvation. If dunking somebody under the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holly Spirit could make people Christians, then Columbus had the right idea. No act justifies us. I am simply saying that at the point of baptism is when God promises to act.