What Baptism is Not
This morning we are concluding our sermon series on Baptism. I hope to sum up what we have learned in this series by making three points.
- What Baptism is NOT
- What Baptism Is
- What are we to do now that we have been Baptized?
Misconceptions about Baptism
- What Baptism Is NOT
I.1 Baptism is NOT a bath. Baptism with water is enough to wash us clean of our sins. Some people have taken up the mistaken idea that if Baptism washes away our sins every time we sin our sins need to be washed away again. Therefore, we must be rebaptized. My sisters and brothers there is not a Biblical argument for this assumption. If Baptism were just a symbol or sign for repentance as was the practice for those who wished to become Jews, then maybe this argument would hold. The difference is in Christian Baptism it is the blood of Jesus Christ that washes us clean, and not the water. Baptism is not a bath. When we are Baptized it is God’s Justifying grace which pardons us for all our past mistakes and God’s regenerating grace restores our ability to choose not to sin. If we were only Baptizing one another then yes we would become dirty again. However, true Baptism is the work of God through God’s grace so there is no need to be Baptized twice. Once God has brought you into God’s family you are sealed into God’s family. The Apostle Paul explained, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5).
1.2 Those who are Baptized do NOT sin. There are whole sermons and books written on this subject. I will attempt to sum it up. Once we are Baptized we are initiated into God’s holy family. We are washed clean in the blood of Christ. We are justified by God’s grace. We are partially regenerated by God’s grace so that we can choose to put God first, we can begin to choose not to sin. God gives us sanctifying grace to help us to better understand what is a sin, and what is not. However, this learning to choose God thing is a lot like working out a muscle. If we have never used a muscle or it has been a long time since we used the muscle that muscle is going to be sore. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to miss the mark. Even in trying to put God first we are going to make mistakes. We are going to sin. Christians are not perfect. As Paul offered in his letter to the Philippians, “ Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). John Wesley much later explained, “No one is perfect in this life as to be free from ignorance. Nor, secondly, from mistake, which indeed is almost an unavoidable consequence of it; seeing those who ‘know but in part’ are ever liable to err touching the things which they do not know.” God gives us the grace to better understand what sin is, but we still make mistakes. We still misunderstand what God is asking of us because we have been regenerated in part, but we are not resurrected in the whole. We have to work that muscle of putting God first. We can work toward Christian perfection, but the work is to be more open to the work of God in us.
1.3 Baptism is NOT a free ticket out of Hell. There are those who believe if you don’t get Baptized you’ll rot in hell. There are those who believe Baptism is optional for the believer since salvation comes through faith alone. My sisters and brothers this is not the case. In the moment we are saved and washed clean by God’s justifying grace we are compelled through the power of the Holy Spirit to be Baptized in water. Baptism is not optional. Baptism is the compulsion of the Holy Spirit pressing us to publicly confess Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; our personal Lord and Savior and the Lord and Savior of all of creation. Being dunked in the water is not a get out of hell free card. The compulsion to be Baptized in water is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit within us – an outward sign of something God has done inwardly. (Acts 10 Peter and the Roman Centurion from a couple of weeks ago. Acts 8:34-38 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.)
I.4 Baptism is Not the Goal. I have heard too many Christians talk about Baptism as if once we are Baptized we are saved for all time. I have heard them say things like Baptism is the goal. Baptism is the end of the journey. If I can just get this person to be Baptized God and the Holy Spirit will handle the rest. My sisters and brothers, this idea totally misses the point. Imagine being baptized at 12 and then struggling to spend the rest of our lives being “good” in an effort to please God with the only reward of heaven coming when we die? It is no wonder there is the idea we should save Baptism or coming to Christ for our death bed so we can have all of the fun we want right here and right now. This is an important distinction. God gives us sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace helps us to make choices which draw us closer to God. Sanctifying grace shows us the way to go home. Sanctifying grace motivates us to walk the path home. Sanctifying grace empowers us to walk the path as God would have us to walk it. And this is the best part. Staying on God’s path is a better life than all of that trash we see on TV. Staying on God’s path is what the good life is really all about because staying on the path is all about God, God’s love for us, and sharing God’s love with others. Baptism is NOT the end of the race. Baptism is the beginning.
I.5 Baptism is NOT a personal or private thing between the person and God. Baptism is not a personal or family thing only. When a person is Baptized they are initiated into the family of believers. Those who are Baptized join the local church. Y’all have heard those who have been Baptized confess their faith in Jesus Christ and promise to support their local church through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Then we the congregation have confessed our mutual faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and promised to support those who are now Baptized members of our congregation through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. Clearly, Baptism is not just about the new believer. Baptism involves all of us. There is a reason why I call y’all my brothers and sisters in Christ. I call y’all my sisters and brothers because we are all a part of one family, the family of God; and on this road to salvation we are meant to help and support each other as we go.
- What Baptism Is
II.1 Baptism is the work of God. Baptism is the work of God in us. God used to walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Since the Fall God has been reaching out to us to restore the relationship we broke. God does this because God loves us. Like a fisherman bringing a large fish into a boat with a rod and reel God has been slowly, painstakingly trying to bring us back into a right relationship with God’s-self and with one another. Baptism is a part of that work. Baptism brings those who were broken back into the family of God. Baptism makes it possible to grow closer to God which means we have the opportunity to experience greater love, joy and peace in this life than money, riches, power or status can make possible. Baptism is not about what I do as a preacher. Baptism is about what God has done and is doing through each and every one of us.
II.2 Baptism is by both water and the spirit. Baptism is given power through water and the Spirit. Just as we were born of water from our mother’s womb so we must be born again through water and the Spirit. Now, to be very clear, God is not limited by anything. God is all powerful, and as such God is not limited by how much or how little water is used in Baptism. What truly matters is we have been saved through the power of the Holy Spirit and moved to this public profession of faith. This public profession of faith is particularly important in terms of the ministry of the priesthood of believers.
II.3 Baptism is initiation into the family of God
II.3a Baptism is initiation into the family of God. This means the Jews and the Gentiles are all now a part of the same family. Gentiles now have a role in the Jews’ inheritance of God’s promises. The Apostle Paul explained it this way in Ephesians 3:6, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” You maybe asking what promise and inheritance? Let’s go back to Genesis 15 when God promised to make Abraham a great people. We are a part of that great nation, and this great nation has an important purpose. Humanity was created for a purpose and the family of God is supposed to see to that work and design.
II.3b Baptism is initiation into the work of the family of God. The family of God has a holy calling. In Genesis 12 Abraham was called to, “Go from your country[b] and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). In Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” My sisters and brothers the blessing we are called to be is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world.
III. What are we to do now that we have been Baptized?
III.1 Listen to the Holy Spirit. In this morning’s passage from Acts 18:24-28 a Jew named Apollos had been moved by the Holy Spirit to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. While he did not have a full theological understanding of who Jesus Christ truly was, Apollos had been baptized by John the Baptist and knew of Jesus Christ. While Apollos new of Jesus Christ and many of Jesus’ teachings, Apollos had not been a direct disciple of Jesus Christ. None of us have ever been direct disciples of Jesus Christ either. However, that did not stop Apollos of getting out there and sharing the good news with everyone he met. As members of the priesthood of believers we are to be a blessing to others, and we are to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others so that they might be saved and Baptized into the family of God.
III.2 Grow Closer to God. As members of the priesthood of believers we are also supposed to look for ways to grow closer to God. As a family of believers, we will find ourselves inexplicably growing closer together if we grow closer to God. When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos they took him, pulled him aside and helped Apollos to better understand the good news of Jesus Christ. You see my sisters and brothers, we are not expected to have all of the answers to every question in the Bible. We are expected to be honest about our short comings and be open to the witness of our brothers and sisters who are also straining toward the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. The closer we grow to God, the stronger our congregation becomes, and the more powerful our witness becomes in the community.
III.3 Those who have been Baptized are expected to both do justice and fight against injustice. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” As members of the priesthood of all believers God expects us to do our part to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Our witness to what we have seen is corrupted and thrown out as rubbish if we stand by and do nothing when we see others treated unfairly; lied to; cheated; attacked, and killed. The Jews did not like followers of the way of Jesus Christ, and according to this morning’s passage when Apollos saw that in Achaia, Apollos refuted the mistreatment of the followers of Jesus Christ. Apollos was working for justice. The passage does not say what color the followers of the way of Jesus Christ had in Achaia. God doesn’t care what color they were. I am not at all sure God cares what color any of us are today. Jesus was brown. The Romans were white. The people from Africa were dark. The people from Europe, and northern Asia were also white. After three years of walking around the Judean wilderness, Jesus was definitely brown. Somehow, Jesus still gave His life for everyone of us. Jesus gave His life to show that love is more powerful than hate. Jesus gave His life because of God the Father’s love for us so that we could understand just how important justice truly is. Jesus found no justice from the Sanhedrin, or from Pontius Pilate. How can we support the unjust treatment of others when our God and King – our savior did not receive justice?
III.4 The priesthood of believers is supposed to love mercy. We are to show mercy to those who do not deserve it. We are to show mercy to those who wrong us. Jesus said, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either” (Luke 6:29). If for not better reason we are to recognize the mercy which has been given to us. We are to be grateful for the mercy of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus had done nothing wrong, and yet Jesus was arrested, tortured, and crucified until dead and buried. That was a horrific death. Jesus had done nothing wrong, and yet Jesus went through all of that to pay the price for our sins. That is mercy. What are we doing to following the example of Jesus Christ?
III.5 Walk Humbly with our God. This one may be the most important. It is important to recognize that everyone of us is a sinner. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall on our faces. We may make a slip of the tongue and say something inappropriate, or we may be under a lot of stress due to illness, lack of sleep or job loss. The wrong thing comes out of our mouths or we behave in the wrong way. Everyone of us needs to own the fact that none of us is Jesus and none of us is perfect. Being honest about that means we don’t try to behave as if we don’t stink when we sweat. It means being honest when we fail. It means being honest with what we do not know about the Bible, and it means honestly looking for ways to grow closer to God. David is said to be a man after God’s own heart, and David made heart breaking mistakes. David seduced a married woman and cheated on his wives. David sent that married woman’s husband to the front lines of battle so that David would be free to pursue the married woman as his wife and cover his sin. David committed heart breaking sin. How can David still be said to be a man after God’s own heart? David repented. David sought God’s forgiveness. David admitted his mistakes, and David worked to make amends.
This is what it means to walk humbly with our God. It means being honest with others about our short comings so others can be comfortable being honest with theirs. It means honestly looking for new ways to grow closer to God. Baptism is the start of the journey and not the end. We can be a lot closer to God. God wants us to be a lot closer to God. When we are Baptized we join the priesthood of all believers. The priesthood of all believers has work to do. We are to publicly profess our faith in Jesus Christ and give thanks to God for our salvation – a salvation we do not deserve and can never earn. We are to seek to grow closer to God, and we are to look for ways to help others grow closer to God. That is the ministry of the priesthood of all believers, and that priesthood is what our Baptism initiates us all into.
This is the end of our sermon series on Baptism. Next week we will start our sermon series on the priesthood of all believers.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
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