17 Oct 2016

Baptism: Work of God, Dripping in Grace

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Acts, Baptism, Church, Faith, Forgiveness, Grace, Martin Luther, Salvation
Ancient baptistry in Avdat in Israel. Note the cruciform shape.

Ancient baptistry in Avdat in Israel. Note the cruciform shape.

Avoiding Unbiblical and Sectarian Extremes

Christians often have seriously flawed theology. Anemic theology can express itself in legalism, sectarianism, and even liberalism.

Baptism is one such subject in which deep flaws occur. Some both within Churches of Christ and without (especially Evangelicals) will claim that baptism is a work of human righteousness.  Some in Churches of Christ do this in order to insist on the “necessity” of baptism.  Evangelicals do it to protect a misunderstood doctrine of grace alone.

Almost certainly the social context of these Christians is the lens thru which they view baptism and not Scripture or the history of the church. Martin Luther once said that “Baptism is grace clutching you by the throat!” Luther believed that baptism was part of “Grace Alone!” That is healthy biblical view.

Scripturally, Baptism is not a HUMAN work.  There is in fact “work” that is done in baptism but it is hardly anything humans can take credit for. The work done in baptism is not by “me” but by God through his Holy Spirit. Thus our flawed, and incorrect understandings, thankfully, do not undermine it.

We are not saved by correct doctrine but by faith in the God of all Grace made visible in the Messiah Jesus. We are not saved by the precision of our obedience. Baptism proclaims that all human work requires a death sentence.  We trust in Jesus. Baptism is GOD’s work, God’s grace and it is “received” thru simple faith, not a flawless doctrine of baptism.

Faith in Jesus is the only requirement for baptism in the New Testament.

Every verse, related to baptism, in the Epistles of Paul or Peter are written to the already baptized not potential candidates for baptism.

These texts are teaching disciples what happened in their baptism.  Not one verse on baptism in the Epistles represent a condition of knowledge for a candidate prior to being immersed. This is an indisputable fact.  We grow in our understanding of the work of God in baptism but there is no requirement to understand anything other than faith in Jesus the Messiah as a condition for baptism.

BaptismBaptism the Work of God, Dripping in Grace

So here is a short “theology” of the Grace of Baptism …

Baptism proclaims our understanding of God’s GIFT of forgiveness, grace and liberation of all thru the only Son, Jesus the Messiah, regardless of the enormity of the guilt, even to those who hands were still dripping with the blood of the Crucified, even to the religious terrorist Saul. “Dripping in grace.”

Baptism proclaims that rebirth is possible. Rebirth. Starting over. Being born again. Born radically from above by God. The fundamental reorientation of our life is not a dream but a reality. The washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. The old Self is crucified and the raised from the grave in the New Creation. “Dripping in grace.”

Baptism makes repentance a verb and shows the change in how we see ourselves. We now see ourselves as dead to the reign of Sin. Baptism proclaims a vision of the new Self. It is the reference point for all future living under the reign of God. Like our physical birth, it is the day we look back to remember just who we are. Baptism is the ultimate expression that we are not Captain of our own lives and our desperate need for the miracle of a new Self. Baptismal identity is cruciform identity. Christian identity is “dripping in grace.”

Baptism proclaims our promise and pledge to God to be his in word, life and deed. It proclaims our trust, our faith, indeed even our Love for our Lord as any marriage ceremony and ring proclaims our devotion to our wives.  Baptism proclaims our wedding to the Lamb … “dripping in grace.”

Baptism proclaims our union with and incorporation into the Messiah. That is we are grafted into the the Body, the People of God, the Spirit immersed and filled new creation humanity. Baptism is the union of our personalities with the person of Jesus. “Dripping in grace.

Baptism is the proclamation of what life is “about.” It is the archetype of our life, the cruciform pattern, that is pressed into our being. Baptism is the physical enactment of both what happened – the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah – and what is meant to happen in our life, that is the putting off of rebellious fallen world allegiances and allowing God to clothe us in resurrection living and values. Baptism is a means, not an “end.” “Dripping in grace.

Fourth century baptistry in Tunisia. Note the cruciform shape.

Fourth century baptistry in Tunisia. Note the cruciform shape.

I believe that baptism is not insisted on arbitrarily as some matter of divine fiat or assertion of sovereignty. It is insisted upon because grace is necessary. God insists on it because we need it in our very souls. There is nothing that could imprint upon our lives the Spiritual truths baptism not only proclaims but accomplishes through God’s own Spirit:

1) we must die to Self to enthrone Christ;
2) we must be cleansed;
3) we must be resurrected into the new creation;
4) we must be incorporated into the people of God.

Baptism changes our lives by the power of God working in us and upon us when we receive his promises in simple faith. Baptism is not magic rather it is grace. We do not have faith in baptism any more than Noah had faith in the ark but rather the faith is in God. Dripping in grace.

See the following passages follow the order of the paragraphs above: Acts 2.14-41, Acts 22.16; John 3.1-21; Titus 3.3-8; Romans 6.1-14; 1 Peter 3.8-22; Galatians 3.26-28; 1 Corinthians 12.12-13; Ephesians 1.22-23; Colossians 2.9-3.17.

Never sell out what God does because some one turns baptism into a sectarian club!!! Do not run from the beauty of God’s gracious work because of some sectarian legalism embraced by some.  Baptism drips with God’s working, powerful, active grace. Recognizing that baptism is a “sacrament” … that is fundamentally a GOD centered moment rather than a HUMAN centered activity … will keep us from turning baptism into either magic or legalism.  Be Blessed.

9 Responses to “Baptism: Work of God, Dripping in Grace”

  1. Joshua Pappas Says:

    Amen! I’d like to know what you think about baptizing children. I certainly believe baptism is a decision one makes from faith, and so I know someone has to be old enough to have a basic understanding of the good news, believe it, and trust the promises, but when is a child old enough to do that, and do church leaders have any say in the matter if we think a child is too young? Have you written anything about this?

    • Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

      Joshua i have wrestled with this for a long time. I do not know the answer. I am convinced that the NT does not make any requirement of a candidate of baptism except that they believe in Jesus. I do not think we can require anything more than that.

      So I look at my own daughters. They were baptized several years apart. One was 18 and the other 12. When Rachael informed she wanted to be baptized, I tried to deflect it. I told her we would talk about it hoping she would forget and “grow.” Then she brought it up again and I told her to go read the Gospel of John. I did not expect her to do it. But a few days later she came and had read the whole Gospel.

      So I asked her why she wanted to be baptized and she said and I quote, “because he is God’s son and I love him.” From the lips of a 12 year old.

      I do not think, at 12, she really has any “sin” to be honest. God did not hold the Israelites in the desert responsible until they were like 20 yrs old. But when she said that i baptized her. She was taken by God into his kingdom. She has grown in knowledge since then but that did not make her more of a citizen.

      I think leaders need to get our children to focus on and fall in love with Jesus. When that happens baptism will be exactly what God wants it to be. A response to him.

  2. Profile photo of limb2016 Robert Limb Says:

    Bobby,
    1) I’m sure you know that that the word used in Titus 3:5 is λουτρόν. Do you think this refers to baptism, and if so, why the difference in vocabulary?

    2) Personally, I am convinced that one reason for baptism is that it is physical (like the bread and wine of eucharist) and thus reminds us that although we may be spiritual beings, this does not mean that our physical bodies have nothing to do with our salvation.

    Any comments?

    • Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

      Robert Limb, I do believe that Titus 3.5 is a reference to baptism. That is the basic consensus of NT scholarship and without exception to my knowledge of the Fathers. I think “washing” is not so much a reference to “immersion” in the text as it is to what the Spirit is doing. He is purifying or cleansing. This is a good Jewish understanding. If you have access to Gordon Fee’s massive book “God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul” he has an outstanding exegetical study of this whole text.

  3. Dwight Says:

    I used to follow the coC line that baptism was a work…as in work out your own salvation, but have come to the understanding that it is anything but a work. Is there work involved? Yes, but it is not ours. We just show up and present ourselves in obedience and submission. Another baptizes us, another person and another cleanses us, God and the HS.
    And I have realized that baptism doesn’t save, at least not directly and if so then any and every dunking in water is salvation. It is Jesus who saves and our salvation doesn’t point to baptism, our baptism points to Jesus the Savior.
    Baptism isn’t complicated and although there is tons of depth built into it, all we have to know is the same as they knew in Acts 2…Jesus Son of God and the Savior of mankind. We don’t place our faith in baptism, repentance, confession or even faith, but in the one who saves.

  4. CALVIN Hoggard Says:

    Very well said. Same thought developed in greater depth in the book “The Gospel of Grace” by Chad Sychtysz.

  5. Ray Hawk Says:

    Great article.

  6. Joshua Pappas Says:

    Thanks brother Bobby! I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. I baptized both of my sons relatively young, and have had no worry over it. They were both sincere in their faith, and like you, I don’t think they were sinful, but I don’t believe they had to be. Anyway, at LV we have a bus ministry, and the Lord has been doing great things through it. But, it’s been presenting me with younger and younger kids asking repeatedly to be baptized. Thanks for the info you sent, I’m sure it’ll be helpful.

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