I Can’t Find It

Where do we get the oft-repeated notion that “at baptism we contact the blood of Christ”?

Where does that come from in scripture?

We can go to 1 John, where the passages about water and blood are cryptic at best and the connection to baptism tenuous at most. I think there might be a connection, but it is not explicit – and the concept there is that they are two out of three different things that testify; not one that connects you to another.

If we go to passages like Hebrews 9:14 or 1 Peter 1:2 and tat them to baptism, we will have difficulty as immersionists – for both of these talk about being sprinkled with blood.

If we are willing to sew two unrelated passages together and form such a notion, I guess we could go to 1 Peter 3:21 and lap-stitch it to Romans 5:9 and say the magic words quid pro quo. But I am left unsatisfied with that. (Or with any concatenation of scriptures which are not generally aimed in the same direction – whether it’s Romans 6:3 with John 19:34 or any other patchwork quilt of scriptural scraps and the thread of human logic.)

Lots of things save us, including baptism. Can we embroider any of them in the same way and say that through any of them we contact the blood of Christ? As if it were exclusively through any one of them that we do?

I think I could make a better case for the notion that we contact the blood of Christ when we commune together at His table. After all, that’s what the cup contains. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying that the phrase “at baptism we contact the blood of Christ” is in error or ignobly born or repeated in an intentionally misleading way.

I’m saying that I simply don’t find that notion expressed in scripture.

I’m saying that we often repeat it as if baptism were the only way in which we contact the blood of Christ – because we don’t say that about any other act of penitence or obedience or Christ-imitation – and that, therefore, the reason for saying it while excluding anything else is suspect.

I’m saying that there is more to a life that seeks salvation than simply being immersed, or confessing Christ, or repenting, or even believing for just that one moment after an invitational hymn is sung. Baptism is not just the means to the end of salvation, but to the beginning of it. Baptism is an incredible gift, through which we as believers receive many others.

It is undeniable that His blood and our salvation are inextricably knotted.

When, and where, and how He applies it to cleanse us is not a matter of great concern to me. I trust Him. He will do what is right by each of us who live a life of faith in Him – at His own time, at His own place, in His own way.

That kind of life involves constantly confessing Him, repeatedly repenting, boldly believing, and immutably immersing ourselves in His way of living.

I find that throughout scripture.

Am I All Wet?

Before you automatically answer “Yes, Keith, you are!”, remember ….

  • God’s Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters before composing new life on this world
  • He put the consummation of that new life – Man – in a garden from which four great rivers flowed
  • He rescued Noah and his family from the evil surrounding them by floods of water
  • He helped Moses and his people escape from the evil pursuing them by holding back the water no longer
  • He sustained Israel in the desert with water from a rock
  • He healed Naaman using water from a second-rate stream
  • He brought thousands into His fold in century one with the gift of baptism and millions since

And when any of them have been in trouble after all that salvation, it was because they had towelled off and gotten dry and forgotten from Whom it had come.

Adam and Eve invented sin. Noah’s daughters strayed. Israel complained about water, and Moses boasted when striking it from a rock. The church of century one had every kind of challenge imaginable after selling what they owned and sharing what they had left, defying imperial orders to worship a man, clinging to their first love.

When they were still wet behind the ears, they went through what Mike Cope calls the “mounting-up-on-wings-like-eagles stage” and then through the “run-and-not-grow-weary stage” and eventually through the “walk-without-fainting stage” until finally the love of most had grown cold and their skin had gone dry and they wandered in a desert without even wondering where they had left behind their salvation.

So maybe it’s worth asking ourselves from time to time: Am I all wet?

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. … Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:2, 12

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.