“Is a Right View of Baptism Important?”

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One of the great doctrinal formulas or declarations that was articulated at the time of the Protestant Reformation was “The Three Marks of a True Church.” The Reformers said these marks were: (1) The proper preaching of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, (2) The proper administration of the sacraments [i.e. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper], and (3) the proper exercise of church discipline [“The Belgic Confession,” chapter XXIX]. 

The first mark has been in “recovery mode” ever since John MacArthur’s classic, “The Gospel According to Jesus,” was released in the summer of 1988. The third mark has been in “dead mode” for at least the last two-hundred years! The second mark, in both of its features, is still in “muddy-water mode.” Our concern this week is with this latter mark, and more specifically, with the first of its two sub-features: Baptism, and not, the Lord’s Supper. This wet feature has become no small matter these last two thousand years. In fact, it is too vast of a subject to even try to tackle in this brief column. However, I will try to address it at its most basic level. Foundationally, Jesus Christ commanded all believers to strive to make disciples of all nations (The literal NT Greek says: “as we are going along in life;” [i.e., as we are moving within our sphere of regular daily influence, “make dsciples”]), and then, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). So, by definition, we are commanded to “make disciples,” not “get decisions.” And what is a disciple? He’s a learner and follower of Jesus Christ. One becomes a learner and follower of Christ, by first, hearing about Christ (Romans 10:17), and then, by confessing Him as Lord and Savior, believing that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). In other words, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12; cf. Acts 2:41). So, who has a right to be “called” a child of God? Only a true believer in Jesus Christ! And who has a right to receive water baptism? Only a child of God! We see this very clearly laid out in the four “household baptisms” found in the book of Acts: (1) Cornelius’ house [Acts 10:44, 47-48; 11:14-18], “When they all heard the gospel [the Holy Spirit fell upon them], they repented of their sins, and believed in Jesus Christ.” These elements of salvation were also very clearly present in the other three household baptisms – (2) Lydia’s house [Acts 16:14-15, 40]; (3) The Philippian Jailor’s house [Acts 16:30-34]; and in (4) Crispus’ house, who was the ruler of the synagogue [Acts 18:8]. O that God may use the above Scriptures to clear up these muddy waters for you. Why? Because every believer and true church must properly uphold this second mark. Pastor Jim Elliff captures the essence of this sacrament’s importance with the following words: “Though baptism does not itself save, it does shout out our identity with Christ.  When that public declaration is made, many pay a huge price. It is not just a meaningless ritual, or merely a duty; it is a privilege of the highest sort.” Last, our Lord Jesus Christ once again sets us the supreme example, for although He was a recipient of Old Covenant circumcision as an infant, yet He submitted to the New Covenant command of Baptism. Just read the following words about His act of submission in Matthew’s gospel, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness…’ (Matthew 3:12-17; cf. Matthew 5:17). And what does it mean, “to fulfill all righteousness”? It means to obey all that was required.” So, our circumcised Savior, obeyed the New Covenant command of Baptism. Dear child of God, have you followed Christ’s example and obeyed all that’s required of a New Covenant disciple? 

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