Water Baptism: The Gospel Door To Gospel Fullness

Water baptism points us to the fullness and depth of our identity in Jesus

"...what are we to do? 38 'Repent, said Peter, 'and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah; then your sins will be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you and to your children and to all who are far away, to everyone whom the Lord our God may call.' " Acts 2,37c-39. REB

"then, not for any good deeds of our own, but because he was merciful, he saved us through the water of rebirth and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, which he lavished upon us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that justified by his grace, we might in hope become heirs of eternal life."  Titus3,5-6 (boldness added)

"Now that you have cleansed your lives in obeying the truth through the Spirit to unfeigned brotherly love, love one another fervently with a clean heart 23 having been born again- not of corruptible seed but incorruptible- through the living word of Elohim which remains forever. 1Peter1,22-23. (Institute of Scripture Research, 2004)

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it, to consecrate and cleanse it by water and word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself all glorious, with no stain or wrinkle or anything of the sort, but holy and without blemish."  REB Ephesians5,25-27

It is clear from just the four scriptures above (there are more) that adult water baptism is vitally connected to our rebirth, to the word of God, and to the timeless Apostolic message of the gospel.

"John the Baptizer" was martyred because he told everybody, the rich and powerful too, to "repent and be baptized." Our Lord Jesus was obediently baptized by John, and heaven opened up and identified him as God's beloved Son. (Matthew3,16-17)

The Apostle Peter told all the Jews gathered on the day of Pentecost and all Gentiles then and now what we must do as well: get baptized in the Name of Jesus for the "remission" (KJ, more than forgiveness, a clean slate) so that we, Jew and Gentile, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the baptism in the Spirit.

God doesn't play favorites, Acts 10,34. He goes out of His way that everyone, all nations people groups and tongues, will receive his gift of Holy Ghost Baptism, ordinarily after water baptism.

But we also know that folks back in the bible days, and nowadays, are sometimes baptized in the Spirit before they are adult water baptized:

"Peter was still speaking when the Holy Spirit came upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The believers who had come with Peter, men of Jewish birth, were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out even on Gentiles, 46 for they could hear them speaking in tongues of ecstasy and acclaiming the greatness of God. Then Peter spoke: 47 'Is anyone prepared to withhold the water of baptism from these persons, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did'? Then he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." Acts10,44-48

So, here's the biblical precept: in the ordinary course of baptisms (plural Hebrews6,2) water baptism comes before Spirit baptism, but if the Spirit comes before the water, then the water is still somehow necessary.

That's the precept, we learn precept by precept, and then follow the precept.

But why water baptism after we have the supposedly greater Spirit baptism, or supposedly have the fullness of the Spirit after profession, even without a distinct water or Spirit baptism?

Because the Christian scriptures repeatedly demonstrate that water baptism is a type of threshold obedience and humility door that is required of all. There's not supposed to be a cagey waiting, like the claimed death bed baptism of Emperor Constantine (cf ancienthistory.about.com) and the tardiness of St. Augustine. It is supposed to happen in the course of everyone gospel conversion and be taught as one first hears the gospel, and then one chooses, once and for all Jesus.

Wouldn't our Christian gospel mission be healthier if adult folks were required to be publicly immersed, rather than sprinkled as babies, or asked to do a quick "sinners prayer" instead of baptism? Where in the bible was anyone asked to do a quick "sinner's prayer" instead joining the called out ones by baptism?

Forget for a moment, if we can, the polemics about whether one can be saved without water baptism. I hope so, but what does the word say? Forget then, if we could Mark16,16 ["Those who believe and receive baptism will be saved."]. Forget, if we could, Paul's Apostolic mandate, fully expressed in his epistle to Titus, that he must preach and teach only "the sound doctrine" of the Apostles, of which adult water baptism was front and center (Titus2,1).

Forget too theological debates and church history, for amoment.

We are still then left with adult water baptism as a primary, what-must-we-do biblical mandate of the gospel message and practice (Acts19, Acts10. Acts2, Romans6, Matthew28).

And have we sort of forgotten that the requirement of adult water baptism came firstly and lastly from the the very lips of our savior Jesus Himself (Matthew28,19).

Water Baptism clearly, unmistakeably, is the word of God.

It is written...

Whatever any of us thinks or guesses or interprets, or presupposes about God's mercy, it is the eternally revealed word of God. No change-it-all-around interpretations of it are necessary. We all agree that we are not to lean not on our own understanding as to God's word and ways, let alone on something so clearly commanded.

Moreover, the charge that those who profess adult water baptism presume to mediate salvation by administering it is a theological canard and distraction of a bygone day (cf CCC1254, Liguori,1994). It is precisely today, in these roiling days of turmoil, boasting, arrogance and hatreds (1Timothy3,1ff), in and outside the church, that our shared and individual humanity needs the gospel experience of both personally and publicly, as an adult, meeting the risen Jesus in water baptism. It is a truly humbling day of faith, change, love and hope.

There's no short cuts in salvation- ask Moses, Jacob, Joseph and modern Israel about that.

Water baptism is not just for the lost, but for all believers. What better remedy to restore the healthiness and vitality of the Christian church than to go back to the church's first open door policy of baptizing adults, even those who now apparently know better?

Titus3,5-6 and Ephesians 5,25-27 and John 3,5 make abundantly clear that Jesus Himself or His Spirit does the washing at baptism, if the requisite personal faith is brought to it. (cf studylight.org., Coffman's Commentary Of The New Testament, Titus,3,5.) We modern day baptizers are perfectly comfortable saying that salvation is by personal faith, by way of God's grace, and that Jesus alone saves.  

But the question remains- how did we get to the modern day, when adult water baptism is more and more a fringe element in His worldwide church?

And even if we again assume, for the sake of Christian comity,  that baptism is not necessary to salvation, we're all still left  to wonder at our collective disobedience to our Lord's simple command and example.

And perhaps there's even some modern pride in the face of his command, as if some are beyond the need for a full cleansing. But this should pale when we internalize that Jesus fully buried Himself in death on the cross of Calvary. In fact, His word says we are to be immersed into His death ourselves (Romans6,3-4). Nothing short of adult water baptism (save perhaps martyrdom) adequately teaches us the committment that Jesus and His word expect from each of us.

No, it isn't expedient, but adult water baptism is a vital object lesson that firmly roots us in Jesus. It is our calling on the Name of Jesus (Acts2,21) that fully identifies us as His, and blessed by Him, as bearers of His Holy Ghost power and presence that defines His name, as the power and identity of the Name of God was commanded to be called down upon God's first people by the priestly blessing:

"The Lord said to Moses, 23 Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: '24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. 27 So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.' " Numbers6,22-27

Do you want the power of the Name of Jesus on you and in you? Then get baptized as an adult in His Name!

What's more, if those of us who still haven't been adult water baptized, humble ourselves, heaven might open up and many of us might find the fullness of our identity in Jesus.

Here's a sobering challenge from Isaiah that perhaps speaks both to the innovations of infant baptism and explaining it away:

"These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. 14 Therefore, once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder, the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish. ... 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to who formed it, 'He did not make me'? Can the pot say of the potter, 'He knows nothing?' " Isaiah29,13-14, 16.

When it comes to water baptism, what are we saying to the potter?


Br. Tobin

If you would like to get baptized in Jesus Name, if it's your time, give us a call, and we'll do what we can to make it happen.










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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.