“The Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)….” (John 4:1-2)
Baptism has bumfuzzled God’s people from the first.
Where did the practice originate? Answer: Evidently from the Old Testament practice of drenching a newly ordained priest (Leviticus 8:6). Later, some say, the “pouring” was given to proselytes coming into the Jewish faith from the world. So, when John the Baptist arrived and began calling people to wade into the Jordan for a dip (which is the literal meaning of “baptize”), while people thought he was strange, no one seems to have questioned the practice. Oddly, he was baptizing Jews, not Gentiles and not proselytes.
When our Lord was baptized, it signaled His coming out, His going public, His announcing to the world His identity. That moment, in my thinking, was the first time Satan knew beyond a doubt who the Messiah was. He knew the Lord was there somewhere, for he could read Scripture. But Jesus had done no miracles and singled Himself out in no way that would cause the enemy to identify Him. But Satan was on the alert. He listened to John preach and knew to be expecting the Christ. And then one day, Jesus of Nazareth walked into the water and the heavens opened and a voice from the sky shook the landscape.
And that’s when Satan knew.
Then, when Jesus began preaching, His disciples baptized those wishing to go public in their faith.
Yet, He Himself baptized no one.
What are we to make of that?
In the first chapter of I Corinthians, Paul sends greetings to various members of that congregation which he had birthed. He was not happy to learn that they had broken into divisions in his absence, with some following Peter and some Apollos and some following Paul. Another group refused to be divisive, they said, and pulled off into a separate clique which was “of Christ.” Then, Paul says, “I thank God I baptized none of you” (I Corinthians 1:14). He thinks a moment, and adds, “Except for this one….and that one…and maybe another.” But other than those, no one.
And then Paul left us with this memorable statement: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 1:17).
I wonder if we have given that sentence the importance it deserves.
Our Lord Jesus baptized no one. And, Paul makes a point of emphasizing that he wasn’t big into it, himself. Because “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”
I was visiting in the home of a couple who had started coming to our church. They said complimentary things about the services and my preaching, and then the wife said, “But we won’t be joining your church. We belong to (denomination) which preaches one must be baptized in order to be saved. And you don’t believe that.”
I assured her she was correct, that in spite of our name being “Baptist” we do not believe baptism to be an essential requirement for salvation. She cited a scripture or two. And I said, “Are you interested in hearing my answer? I don’t want to argue. So, if you’d rather not discuss it, I’ll not bore you with it.”
She was interested. .
I said, “First, Scripture says ‘for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body’ (I Corinthians 12:13). So, the baptism that puts us into Christ is of the Spirit, not of water.” (see note at the end)
:Second, let me ask you a question. Do you believe that the gospel and only the gospel is necessary for people to be saved?”
I said, “Now, be sure of that. The gospel of Jesus Christ and only the gospel is essential to be saved.”
Yes. She was sure.
I showed her the line in I Corinthians where Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”
“Baptism is important. But it is not part of the gospel. Baptism takes place after one is saved.”
They joined my church and this was never again an issue for them.
It’s amazing what knowing the scriptures does to faulty doctrine.
Should a follower of Christ be baptized? You bet. It’s a command of our Lord in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
Baptism for the new believer is when he/she goes public, declaring their identification with the Lord Jesus. They will not try to be the Lord’s secret agent, His undercover apostle, but are declaring to the world that “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” As it comes second in the Great Commission–after becoming a disciple–it precedes the learning/obedience involved in “all the things I commanded you.”
Let there be none among us calling ourselves followers of Jesus who are unwilling to go public in that faith. Jesus said, “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light! What you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops! And do not fear…” (Matthew 10:27ff.)
Note: In his commentary on I Corinthians 12:13, John MacArthur says, “There cannot be any believer who has not been Spirit baptized, nor can there be more than one Spirit baptism or the whole point of unity in the Body of Christ is convoluted… At salvation, all believers not only become full members of Christ’s body, the church, but the Holy Spirit is placed within each of them. There is no need (or divine provision) for any such thing as a second blessing, a triumphalistic experience of a deeper life, or a formula for instantly increased spirituality. Christ’s salvation provision is perfect and He calls only for obedience and trust in what has already been given (Hebrews 10:14).”