Water Baptism

The practice of water baptism as a fundamental of the Christian faith can easily be grounded and supported by, “because the Bible says so.” While the authority of the Word of God in the Bible is supreme and as believers we are called to obey it, the presence of a command in the Bible rarely rests simply at a command without a much deeper reason, or more importantly, a need to obey. In the case of water baptism, at a closer look, the practice transitions from a direct command to a necessary step in the life of a Christian in the process of being remade and recreated in the image of Jesus Christ.

Water possesses unique qualities that other substances lack in cleansing and provision. Few substances clean in the way that water can. Few substances so effectively fill an empty space in the way that water does. Lastly, no substance revitalizes and brings life in the way that water does. In the case of water baptism in the Christian faith we can see that for a new Christian, these qualities are as important in the process of being born again as they are from a strictly biological, chemical and physical standpoint of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. We will discuss how water achieves three objectives in its natural state and how it achieves these objectives in the life of a born again Christian. Water effectively:

 

  1. a) Removes what is corrupt
  2. b) Refills what is empty
  3. c) Revitalizes what is dead

 

In discussing these qualities of water and how they relate to water baptism we will discuss three baptisms mentioned in the Bible including the baptism made famous by Jesus and John the Baptist in the early chapters of the Gospel narratives. We will apply these powers of water to:

 

1) “Global Baptism”/ The Flood of Noah

2) “National Baptism”/ The Sea of Moses

3) “Personal Baptism”/ The River of Jesus

 

1) “Global Baptism”/ The Flood of Noah

 

a) Removes what is corrupt

The Flood came as a result of the unleashing of sin onto humanity through the fall, and the sinfulness of man had thoroughly consumed the hearts of men. In reading the chapters in Genesis concerning the flood, one reads that every inclination of the human heart was for destruction and sin. What was at one time pure and powerfully made in the image of God had been reduced to utter filth and nothingness, resembling the dust of creation more than the breath of life from God himself.

 

Genesis 6:1-7

 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

 

While many find the method of complete destruction of the flood offensive due to the thought of “innocent” lives lost, this reaction fails to recognize the corruption in the pre-flood state of humanity. The corruption was born out of addiction to sin. This addiction, as many addictions tend to do, placed the needs of the self over all else regardless of the methods by which it sought to find satisfaction and gratification. This hunger to please the self had no regard for the well being of others, had no consideration of the rights and feelings of others and had no care for the outcome their selfish behavior had on others. This corruption was not simply a sin here and there or simply not being perfect. This corruption was similar to rust that quickly eats through the shimmering exterior of the brilliant finish to a vintage automobile. This corruption was akin to the power of weeds to completely destroy and overpower a pristine and pruned garden flowerbed overnight. The corruption was like a cancer persistently eating through the healthy cells of the human body. Once one comes to the realization of the depth of the corruption, then the frantic search for a cure or the search for a solution begins. Whether in the example of rust, weeds or cancer, the search for an immediate cure or solution is the primary concern for reversing the destruction. If there is a way to stop the corruption, the owner of the automobile, the garden or the body will do just about anything to fix the problem.

 

In the case of the world before the Flood, God knew that the only way to reveal the hope for future generations to live in his peace and love was to cleanse the world through the power of the mighty floodwaters from below ground and above. Although the floodwaters took life, the floodwaters ultimately cleansed the world to reveal the lives of many more to come that would find the hope of living in the Lord’s presence, free from the clutches of sin, as a result of the flood.

b) Refills what is empty

When considering how the sin had overpowered righteousness in the days of Noah, one must not merely come to an understanding of the depths of sin in the human heart at that time but must also understand the vast expanse of sin present in the world. The corruption of sin in the days of Noah was not confined to a certain sect of society or to a specific portion of the population. The corruption of sin was complete. The entire world was so consumed by sin that in order to start anew, the cleansing had to in its turn consume the world. In the presence of sin, one cannot simply pledge or attempt to remove the sin without filling that now empty space with the righteousness of God. Upon being emptied, without the presence of God’s righteousness now taking up the space previously occupied by sin, the space quickly yields itself to sin once more, thus continuing the spread of destruction.

 

Luke 11:24-26

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

 

For the world then, the only way to reveal the hopes that find completion in Jesus thousands of years later was to move from a state of complete ruin to a state of complete purity. While sin still existed in the hearts of man post-flood, the earth was thus relieved of the burdens of sin for the time being, given a new beginning and a new endurance to bear the burdens of human sin until the coming of the Messiah in Jesus Christ.

 

  1. c) Revitalizes what is dead

 

After the fall, God made it clear to Adam and Eve that the penalty of sin is death. Thus, in the state of the world at the time of Noah, it is clear that the entire creation was charging violently and destructively toward only one destination. The hunger for sin in the hearts of man was so quickly consuming every inch of the human heart and the world that without cleansing the world of this blight, the entire creation was destined to die with its sin and in its sin. The floodwaters filled the entire world, taking the place of the sin and preparing the new foundation for God’s work again to be revealed and refilled. The floodwaters also gave new life to the world and to the human race in the same way that water in the human body works its way through the human system, reenergizing and reintroducing life where there was an utter lack thereof. The floodwaters slowly receded, revealing the plant life created by God. The floodwaters supplied the animals alive in the ark with the water necessary to live and thrive in the new creation. The floodwaters also revealed a world to Noah and his family that was reborn out of the grip of sin and ready to be populated once again. This time it would be with the righteousness of God born out of his love and grace, by cleansing the corruption unleashed by sin in the attempt to destroy the image of God in man and replace that image with the image of sin and the human self.

 

2) “National Baptism”/ The Sea of Moses

In our second example of Biblical baptism, the persistent corruption of sin permeates not simply the world from a general fall perspective, but a specific nation, and oppressing that nation through the direct and physical oppression of another. After a long recovery from and continued struggle with the presence of sin described in the pages of Genesis through the Patriarchs of Israel, the Jewish people found themselves not simply warring against sin at a personal level but actually becoming enslaved by sin, embodied by the Egyptians and their oppressive regime of power and self-worship. The story in itself is an awful chapter in Jewish history, where political and social oppression enslaved the Jewish people at the hands of the Egyptians. For us, the story represents a symbol of the destructive corruption and enslaving power of sin, and in turn, the need for a water baptism from God in which the qualities present in the Flood were in effect once more.

 

  1. a) Removes what is corrupt

 

The word “slavery,” is for most synonymous with “corrupt.” In order to enslave another or to justify slavery, one must possess corrupt character qualities. While much can be said and written about the corrupt nature of Egyptian Pharaoh worship or the corrupt social practices of ancient Egypt, in the presence of “slavery” there is little need to pile up reasons to make the argument that the Jewish people were firmly entrenched within a corrupt world. The slavery forced upon the Jewish people was heartless and cruel. The Jewish people were used for whatever muscle power they possessed and then discarded as easily as a used light bulb. To the Egyptians, the Jewish people were alive simply for the use of their bodies and aside from that they served no other purpose. In a similar way that slavery in the United States of America used and discarded millions of African Americans for their strength, so were the Jewish people used for the lavish building projects that Egypt is now so famous for.

Before the rise of Moses, the outlook of the Jewish people was completely hopeless. They felt helpless to affect change in their social and political status. They also felt abandoned and distant from the God of their forefathers and thus felt hopeless spiritually. The desire for freedom was alive in the hearts of the Israelites but the attainment of that freedom seemed impossibly out of reach and thus useless to ponder. From this place of hopelessness and helplessness, God decided to bring forth Moses as his mediator and tool to bring about the salvation of Israel from the grip of Egypt. As detailed in the Book of Exodus, Moses confronted Pharaoh with the power and words of God and took the Israelites out of Egypt to the shores of the Red Sea. At this moment, the Jewish people had seen the world beyond their slavery, revealing hope in a new life and a new creation as a nation. However, the threat of Egypt still remained and hopes of freedom began to waver as the Israelites saw the Pharaoh’s chariots swiftly approaching. There was hope but there was also fear. What was needed was a conclusive cleansing of that corruption embodied by the Egyptians and that cleansing came in the form of the miraculous Red Sea crossing. As the Israelites stepped onto the opposite shore of the Red Sea, the walls of water held in place for the purpose of rescuing the Jewish nation were let loose and the waters crashed violently onto the Egyptians. The Red Sea miracle ended the Egyptian threat of political and social oppression and revealed a clean beginning for the Jewish people to take hold of and begin to fill with the glory and righteousness of the living God.

 

  1. b) Refills what is empty

 

Just as the corrupt world of Noah’s day was in need of a complete flood to create a complete cleansing from the destruction of sin at that time, upon being rescued from the hands of Egypt the Jewish people needed to fill what was at that time simply empty after years of slavery and years of silence in their relationship with God. For the reader, after reading the high octane drama of Exodus, the books that follow pale in comparison in regards to action or drama and become progressively more tiresome with rules, restrictions and innocuous detail that cause many to abandon their “Read the Bible in One Year” plan. While the steady stream of laws and contractual language can be a daunting burden to the drama-hungry reader, from the perspective of the Red Sea miracle as a baptism that Removes, Refills and Revitalizes, the shift in content becomes increasingly clear. At the point of liberation, the Jewish people had no central government, no central social structure, no central legal system and no direction. What they did have were miles and miles of open desert with little food and supplies to start anew. What they needed was a miracle. But what they needed was essentially anything. From that point of nothingness, God established his authority as lawmaker, king and God, filling the void left by the Egyptian enslavement and the desolation of their nation through political and social oppression. For most people, especially in the modern West, it is to be assumed that there are laws in existence and authorities in place that can and will protect their freedoms, and that those authorities are involved in a system of checks and balances for the people. At a closer look, these laws and regulations that provide the freedom and liberty most of us are blessed to have are made up of thousands and thousands of lines of legal jargon that only a select group of lawyers and legislators are even aware of and seem to understand. Just as the fine print of a contract, which is there for a reason but overlooked by most people, the stage in the baptism of the Jewish nation following the physical liberation through the Red Sea miracle is where God filled that which was previously empty in the Jewish nation due to their enslavement. They had literally nothing. God gave them everything. With precision and accuracy, God gave the Jewish people no room to hold on to bad habits and removed the defense of ignorance concerning future transgressions. God gave them new life and gave them a new life in which to live.

 

  1. c) Revitalizes what is dead

 

The final point arguing the need for baptism in the case of Israel is probably the easiest point to make. In slavery, the Jewish people were literally dying due to abuse and were given no life to live of their own with little reason to live it. Thus, if a person survived a single day and held onto life, that individual was found questioning why they were kept alive and if death would graciously accept them upon the following sunrise. Just as a person is spiritually dead in sin as a result of the fall, the Jewish people were literally alive in death as they were oppressed closer and closer to their ultimate death with each passing day. Without the baptism of the Red Sea, the Jewish people had no nation. The Jewish people were not a people. The Jewish people were destined to disappear, forgotten by the world, left to return to dust in unmarked graves for future generations to overlook and forget. Without the baptism of the Red Sea, there is no baptism of Jesus and there is no Christianity. The story of the Jewish people’s oppression and enslavement, leading to their ultimate liberation and baptism in the Red Sea, comes to us today as a warning against the personal enslavement of sin and the oppressive power that it has on our lives regardless of how unjust we view the oppression to be and no matter how hard we try to break the bond of our own imprisonment. What we learn from the Red Sea baptism is that it took God to intervene and save Israel, and it took God to rebuild what was being permanently erased. What we learn from the Red Sea baptism is also that God has given us not only a warning of sin in the Egyptian oppression but has also given us an invitation to liberation by the healing water of Jesus Christ and his permanent liberation from sin in his new covenant for a new life: alive in the spirit of God, destined for the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

3) “Personal Baptism”/ The River of Jesus

After addressing the Global Baptism in the Flood of Noah and the National Baptism in the Red Sea of Moses, we finally arrive at the baptism most pertinent to the Christian life. If the first baptism taught us the destructive powers of sin and the second baptism taught us the oppressive powers of sin, the final baptism teaches us about the deception of sin. However, it also teaches us the abounding glory to be found in the final baptism in the name of Jesus Christ and what that means for the individual.

 

  1. a) Removes what is corrupt

 

In the final baptism we find Jesus entering the water from the shore of the Jordan River in Palestine to be baptized by his relative, John the Baptist. While there is an entirely different discussion to be had concerning what the purpose of the baptism was for Jesus himself, this section will focus much more on what his baptism means for the individual believer.

The baptism of Jesus came to a world convinced of its self-righteousness. The greatest enemy to God’s righteousness is the self-perceived righteousness of man. While the corruption of the human heart in the time of Noah and Moses were physically apparent and offensive, the world in our present time has mastered the art of concealing sin, harboring it in the heart and mind without the danger of publicly displaying its destruction, thus avoiding direct conviction or condemnation. The corruption of sin in our present age is a corruption that is masked with righteousness. At times, like air, it is impossible to grab ahold of. However, while the corruption of the human heart can be effectively hidden from those around us, it is glaringly obvious to us in our heart of hearts. While we can acknowledge and at times hate the sin in our own hearts, we hide beneath layers and layers of deception, the effect of which is to feel the potency of sin less and less. It becomes a matter of turning the volume on the stereo louder and louder until the crying of the cat in the street can no longer be heard. In the hands of sin, these speakers can get loud and they continuously play songs that sing our own praises and righteousness, until after a while, we know every word to our own song and hear nothing else.

However, in the Word of God, with a sincere search for truth in the Word, the figurative speakers begin to malfunction, and all that can be heard is that dreadful cat outside. In other words, in the presence of a holy and righteous Jesus Christ, our sin and its corruption is magnified and amplified to a point where we are crying for rescue from its presence and power. In the presence of Jesus one cannot even begin to feel righteous or clean. In the presence of Jesus, one feels nothing but disgust and offense at the sight of one’s own sin.

The beauty of the baptism of Jesus Christ is that while the other baptisms were not final and were not revealed as the washing of sin directly, the baptism of Jesus presents us with the hope and promise that upon being baptized by the water, its cleansing power can finally end our helpless struggle with sin and give us a new birth in the spirit of Christ, with a daily invitation to become a new creation by the spirit of God residing in our hearts, not the spirit of sin. In the final baptism, the cleansing power of the water is most effective in cleansing the corruption of sin from our hearts and most powerful in what it reveals after the corruption has been washed away.

 

  1. b) Refills what is empty

 

Not only does sin convince us that righteousness reigns in our lives, sin also has the power to deceive us by convincing us that what we strive for in this material world is actually satisfying the internal void that we so desperately try to fill. Away from the presence of God, sin convinces us that a job, a relationship, or money is filling the void left empty by the fall. As the deception of righteousness convinces us only partway, leaving us to privately question the extent of sin’s corruption, the deception of satisfaction inflates what we use to fill ourselves, exaggerating the pleasure we feel upon filling it. However, in the presence of the Word of God, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that all our efforts to fill ourselves are unsuccessful, and more importantly, that they always will be without the presence of God. In the presence of God we are made painfully aware that the strife and toil felt by this “chasing the wind” leaves our hearts as empty as they were when we made our first deposits into the gloomy abyss.

Thus, upon the realization that the void remains empty and that sin only pretends to fill it at the expense of our energy, pain and sorrow, we then have the option to engage in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the water baptism of Jesus and the River of Life. Upon receiving the baptism from Jesus Christ, one experiences a fullness of life and a fullness of spirit that has until that point been unparalleled. The realness of the baptism of Jesus Christ suddenly exposes all of the things that we had previously been convinced were solid, but were simply illusions all along. For the first time, we experience life as it was intended to be lived. While we continue to battle sin until the end of life on Earth, the revelation of the kingdom of God and all of its glory as a result of the baptism of Christ remains alive and ablaze in the heart of the believer, daily supplying encouragement, hope and power to live a life designed by the creator God.

The baptism of Jesus Christ also fills the believer with a new way of living in this world. Where previously we possessed only the meager powers of the sinner’s heart to obtain what Eden programmed us to desire, the baptism of Jesus Christ gives us a new way and a new formula for experiencing the life we were designed for. The Gospel of Jesus and his words replace the false hopes, promises and truths we were taught by the world, and lead us into a life of righteousness that can and will be attained in his power and for his glory. For the first time, the void begins to fill and our cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5-6

You prepare a table before me

   in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

   my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

   all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

   forever.

 

  1. c) Revitalizes what is dead

 

A life born in sin, left untouched by the healing power of Jesus Christ, is destined to die in sin. Without the revitalizing power of Jesus Christ and his Gospel there is no hope beyond the limits we see daily in this earthly life. The tragedy is that without a willingness to look beyond the delusional perception of our own power to rescue ourselves and fill our own lives, the fantasy of finding true meaning and satisfaction in this life, on our own, will never seem ludicrous. In fact, for many people, this is a very real, very achievable and very reasonable thing to chase in this life. But the truth is without the intervening power of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, the life believed salvageable by the individual will continue on the destructive path predicted by the Word of God. Apart from Jesus we are caught in a cycle of temporary successes and victories: they give us temporary hope for more in the face of failures and suffering that tend to destroy hope. Apart from Jesus we have only dreams and visions of a life worth living, life filled with true joy, true peace and true strength. We seek to find this life in our family. We seek it in our jobs. We seek it in ourselves. All the while, we are still as dead and lifeless as we were when we decided to chase this fantasy. But Jesus offers us true life. In total submission to him, just as a body submits to the immersing power of water, we are finally made clean and prepared for the life he originally intended for us. Then, and only then, can we truly live. Jesus Christ has defeated sin and death on the cross. Baptized in him, we are resurrected from death and are given life propelled by the hope of living eternally with the creator and author of life.

WATER BAPTISM