The Gift of Baptism

Stand back, folks; I feel a sermon comin’ on and I’m a-fixin’ to preach it:

Water baptism never saved anybody.

By itself, that is.

I believe that.

I also believe that no kind of “spirit baptism” has ever brought anyone into a close relationship with God. Of itself. And I can say the same for faith by itself, or confession or doing good deeds or accepting Jesus as your personal savior … by themselves.

Or any combination of the above.

The fact is, I believe in the sovereignty of God and of His Son. I believe the gospel proclaimed in spray-paint from virtually every highway underpass in the 1990s:


I don’t approve of the medium. Just the message.

The message of grace.

Nothing I’ve ever read in the Bible persuades me to believe otherwise.

Jesus forgives sins. He puts me in a relationship with His Father. Not my confession. Not my acceptance. Not my piety. Not my getting wet. Not even my getting filled.

He forgave the sins of a man who wanted to be healed badly enough for his friends to cut a hole in a roof and let him down through it. The man didn’t ask for his sins to be forgiven, but just to convince others that He had the authority to do so, Jesus healed him (Matthew 9:1-6; Mark 2:4-12; Luke 5:19-26).

Not to mention a sinful woman who lavished her tears on His feet (Luke 7:36-50).

And there’s certainly a strong implication of forgiveness in His reassurance to a thief on a cross at His side (Luke 23:39-44).

At the same time, I believe that God wants to bring us into a close relationship to Him; wants to forgive our sins; wants to save us – and wants to do so by transforming us from our old selves into the likeness of His Son (II Corinthians 3:18).

So I believe one of the ways God asks us to become like His Son is through obedience, which Jesus learned the hard way (Hebrews 5:7-9).

Another way is that God asks us to become like Jesus through the likeness of His death and burial and resurrection in baptism (Romans 6:4).

He asks us to imitate Christ, Who was Himself baptized to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:14-16).

He wants us to receive His Spirit (Acts 2:38) just as that Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32).

He also asks us to imitate Christ, Who made the good confession of His own identity as God’s son (I Timothy 6:13).

I could go on and on with requests God has made of us to be like Jesus: sacrificial giving, sharing with others the message of our relationship with Him, supporting each other, worshipping from the heart, suffering rejection from non-believers, and so on.

How can any one of these requests be considered optional?

They’re all gifts from God.

But let me just talk about one; the one that gets short shrift most often: baptism.

It’s hard not to see water when scripture talks about baptism. John the baptizer performed it in a river. So did Jesus’ disciples. As did Philip. The water of baptism is compared by Peter to the floodwaters which saved Noah’s family from the evil of the surrounding world. There are lots more references, but you get the picture.

It’s also easy to see how the light reader – or the reader with an agenda or preconception – could confuse baptism with the giving of God’s Holy Spirit. They occur together frequently in scripture. The Spirit is spoken of as being “poured out” and people are said to be “filled with” Him.

Others have hashed out these issues to exhaustion; they’re not my primary focus here. My point is that water baptism is a gift from God – one of many – not to be lightly refused.

You doubt my perception that baptism is a gift from God?

Then what did Jesus mean when confronted by a question designed to trip Him up and His response was another trick question (Matthew 21:23-27; Luke 20:1-8): “John’s baptism – was it from heaven or from men?” It was more than a trick question. They knew that if they answered “From heaven,” He could ask them why they didn’t believe; if they answered “From men,” the believing people would stone them.

Jesus knew that baptism was a gift from heaven; was part of the way that the “voice crying out in the wilderness” John was preparing the way for Him. And He knew it was a way that would lead all the way to the cross and the tomb.

What a gorgeous picture from such a gory precedent! What potent portent! In baptism, we are privileged to “act out” Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4). It’s as if we’re washed clean the way water does to dirt, but it is by His blood cleansing our sin. It’s part of the way we join His bride; His family. Paul speaks of that relationship as so intimate that he compares it to a husband giving his wife a private bath (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Maybe there should be a baptismal commitment by the penitent that begins: “With this baptism I die to self; and with all my worldly and other-worldly affections I Thee endow ….”

It’s no wonder that God wants us to experience it; share it; be blessed and challenged by it!

How can we look at this gift and tell God, “That’s nice, but I’d like something different”? Or “Ooh, ooh! I want baptism! I just don’t want to get wet.”

That’d be like saying, “Ooh! Ooh! I want to be like Jesus! I just don’t want to do any of the things He did.”

At the same time, how can we view baptism as an end unto itself, rather than a means to an end? As if it were somehow divorced from Christ by its supposed co-equal importance? Or as if it were the only request God had made of us?

The trouble with Restoration churches is that we’ve tried to sell baptism as part of a package of minimum requirements, instead of as part of a plethora of requests from God to be like His Son and be challenged, blessed, and drawn closer to Him by them. As if there could be such a list of minimum requirements for being like Him, when Jesus Christ spent every day of His life on this earth finding new ways to walk the extra mile. As if anything we could do would even begin to merit the forgiveness, the salvation, the relationship with God that He provides.

Remember the highway underpass message?


Sermon’s over. Move along, citizens. Go back to your lives.

I don’t think I can.

I don’t think we’re supposed to.

8 thoughts on “The Gift of Baptism

  1. Great Post!It is not just a Restoration Church problem, it is a mentality that breeds in many aspects of our daily lives! It is in graduate school, in vitamin pills, in restaurants, in plumbing credentials……Do the minimum and get the certificate, take the minimum to have good health.Jesus calls us to a much more than to check off the list. Perhaps, it is a good thing that we could never be good enough. Once we figure that out, we can really start living by grace, allowing others to have grace and create a life that surpasses the “rules”.

  2. Keith, even on the road I had to read your blog. What a great post today. Those two words are our flagship……..JESUS SAVES!Thanks!DU

  3. Enjoyed your “sermon” Keith, why do we in the restoration churches make a formula for salvation? not sure, there are questions that exist out there that we feel need to be answered, hence….formulas. Is is thru baptism in water that we receive the Holy Spirit? Is it thru baptism in water that we come into the contact with the blood of Christ? are those that are not baptized, not identified with Christ? How do we Keith find that middle ground. I believe baptism is more then a public declaration but I do not believe we are lost without immersion. How do you respond?

  4. JP, I may not have the answer to all those questions, but I’ll give it a shot!I think that when Restoration churches were forming, everything was fair game to be questioned, but somewhere along the line the leaders and preachers felt we all had to agree on pretty much everything – or at least on some minimum requirements.Do we receive the Holy Spirt through baptism in water? My only answer is that God gives Him; Christ sends Him. In Acts 2:38-39, the strong implication is that the two are associated. But later on in Acts there were some who had been baptized with John the Baptist’s immersion, and they’d never received or even heard of Him. And He fell on some Gentiles before Peter had a chance to wonder if he should baptize them. I leave it up to the Father and Son to give the Spirit as They will.Do we contact the blood of Christ during baptism? I don’t believe you will find a verse of scripture in any version of the Bible which specifically says this. I am more than willing to be enlightened or corrected about this, since it would make the baptism “sell” so much easier.It is accurate to say that baptism is a re-enactment of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, symbolic of the new life we are given (Luke 12:50; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12); that it represents our appeal to God for a clear conscience (I Peter 3:20-21, where it is spoken of twice as something that saves us – just as faith and grace are also credited in Romans 5:2 and elsewhere, as well as faith and confession in Romans 10:10); that it is by Jesus’ blood that we are justified and saved (Romans 5:9-10).I think all of the above verses were kind of condensed or concatenated into the formula, possibly for the sake of unity and/or simplicity.Can we consider un-baptized believers to be Christians? Tough one. So I’d ask: Can we consider non-confessing believers to be Christians? They believe, but they’re not willing to stand by it with their tongues. Can they stand by it with their lives? Can we consider non-believing people to be Christians, even if they live Christ-like lives? Even if they don’t claim to be Christians?Again, the answer I lean towards is to let God decide who’s in and who’s out. Let Him worry about the middle ground. What difference does it make to us? If we make a bad call and start preaching to someone who’s already believed and obeyed, then it should be apparent to them that they aren’t living Christ enough for us to recognize Him in them. And the same is true when folks preach to us!So if you’re not sure, share with ’em anyway and presume they know Whom you’re talking about. If they don’t, it’s an opportunity. If they do, it’s just an awkward moment – and hopefully, a convicting one.But nothing beats just sharing what the Bible says, as far as I’m concerned … and while Christians may never agree in this world on the relative importance of all the things God has asked of us, it is indisputable that He has asked of us a lot of ways to respond to His yearning call. And I believe He has good reasons for offering EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM as a gift to us:We need them. They’re good for us.

  5. *clapping in background*Great response, its such a difficult subject to engage in. I have problems with it, I do. I almost do not make any stance on baptism anymore because I end up putting my foot in my mouth as my views are constantly expanding and/or changing. Romans 6: 3-4 is the verse I seen thrown around. This is the central verse I see one uses to defend the stance of “Being baptized in water is when you come to the contact of the blood of Christ”..its tough. Keith, have you read the study titled “Are unbaptized believer lost?” by “A student of the Word” on the Grace-Centered Magazine web-site, what do you think of this ministers study and if you have not read it, I would recommend it to you. Thanks for your response brother

  6. Tiptoeing over here in the shallow water, I’m thinking baptism is strictly for babies–baby Christians, that is, beginning new life. Commencement, not conclusion. The Holy Spirit is the real gold seal on the unearned “diploma.”

  7. I agree that this is great stuff!I feel almost relieved that the “Gift of the Holy Spirit” does not have to be received at baptism, because it was years before I would even acknowledge His existence in my life outside of the written word. “We have heard the joyful sound, Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves!”

  8. Do we ever contact the blood of Christ?
    Rom 5: 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

    Hebrews 9: 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
    12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

    Rom 6: 3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
    I heard this last verse read while sitting in a seminar led by a Baptist while thinking I was saved. The power of the word is that I knew I had not been baptized. They explained it away, but I searched the Scriptures and found the truth. Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize men and teach them to follow His commands. Man cannot baptize other men with the Spirit. Men can immerse others in water. It is a simple conclusion that so many of us as were immersed into Jesus Christ were immersed into his death. There, in his death is where we find life through obeying the teaching of Christ. (see Rom 6:17-18).
    Perhaps you have not heard one verse that says we contact the blood of Christ in water baptism, but you know the truth that he delivered through the apostles as stated above as well as other places. Thanks Donald Raby

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