Baptism and the Gospel of Our Salvation
When celebrating baptism and/or the Lord’s Supper it is appropriate to remind ourselves of their significance and meaning in relation to the gospel of our salvation. For we understand that to be saved is not merely to just to say some words and then simply go about our lives in this world with the hope that when we die we will go to heaven. To be saved is to understand the inherent deceitfulness and destructive nature of sin that brings a curse and ultimately God’s judgment, and enter into a covenant relationship with God where we find not only forgiveness for our sins, but deliverance from the power of sin in our lives.
For we understand that God as a master engineer has created a fine-tuned universe, of which we are a part, and in spite of having immense freedom within this world to live and move and have our being, still there are spiritual laws that reflect the nature of its Creator that must be obeyed if that Creation is to run smoothly according to His design and reflect His goodness. A car is a marvelous thing that facilitates so many things in our lives that are a source of happiness to us, but if we neglect the owner’s manual and don’t change the oil or deliberately put sugar in the gas tank or do any of a number of other things that are contrary to its nature, even if we don’t understand why, then it will no longer work as it should and cease to be a source of happiness to us, or even become a costly burden.
Such is the nature of God’s spiritual laws, which laws we have broken, which spoils His creation, and which is sin. Sin is rooted in pride, for in order to sin we must suppose that we know better than our Maker what is best for us. Sin is also deceitful by nature, for although it is a temporal delight to our flesh, to disobey God’s commands is to harden our hearts against the very thing He has given us for our eternal well-being; it may thrill us to run our engine in the red at 6000 RPM, but we only deceive ourselves to think we know more than our Maker and because it excites us now there will be no long-term consequences. In this same way sin increasingly deludes us about its consequences, so that we develop a false security that all is well even as we are led farther and farther away from God and His truth that alone can save us. Thus sin is likened in Scripture to leaven—it spreads unseen and unnoticed, but its effects are clearly seen; like a cancer it infects everything it touches. Witness Adam’s one transgression, and how it has spoiled God’s Eden and brought a curse that has multiplied and caused untold sufferings. All creation groans under the sin of mankind (Rom 8:22): hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, famine, sickness, disease. The wages of sin is death, and every soul born into this world is destined to die. The planet suffers, the animals suffer, people suffer, we all suffer. All this curse because of one man’s sin—just one sin!
We therefore understand the just recompense for the immeasurable suffering of just one sin: Eternal punishment in the torments of hell where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mat 25:46, Mar 9:48, Luk 16:23-24) is not too long to requite the compounding effects of such evil that have deprived our infinite God of the fullness of goodness and joy the world was meant to bring Him; how much more the just recompense for our multiplied sins?! If the evil we now see in the world is the result of just a few thousand years of Adam’s single transgression, what must be the consequence of our many sins unto eternity? Now we see only darkly, but in the day of judgment our eyes will be opened to all the unseen evil of our sins that have marred God’s perfect creation and the suffering they have caused to those around us and to future generations and that has robbed God of the pleasure His Creation was meant to bring to Him. “O wretched man that I am!” Who will rescue me from my dreadful plight? Who will save me? “Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25).
The Gospel is the Good News that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2Co 5:19). Through the death and resurrection of His Son, He calls us to a covenant relationship with Himself wherein we find not only forgiveness for our sins, but the grace and power to be born again into a newness of life and turn from our sins to walk in holiness and righteousness, which is the foundation of His kingdom and wherein is found the peace and joy of heaven.
Like a woman that forsakes her home to become the wife of a man through the covenant of marriage, so we forsake our home in this world to become the Bride of Christ in the kingdom of God. And like the wedding ceremony, we enter into that covenant with God at our baptism where we vow to renounce the world, the flesh and the devil and take up our cross to follow Christ into His kingdom. It is at our baptism that we say, “I do” to the Lord, and promise to love and obey Him, and submit ourselves to Him to do His will as set forth in the Scriptures. Hence, baptism is a sign of entrance into the New Covenant, even as circumcision was the sign of entrance into the covenant God made with Abraham and his children, whose children we are if we are of his same obedient faith to leave our home in this world and follow God into the land of promise.
As circumcision was done after physical birth as a setting apart into the covenant community of the Jewish nation, so is baptism done after spiritual birth as a setting apart into the covenant community of the Church. It is a testimony before witnesses that one is entering into a covenant relationship with God, just as in the marriage relationship. It is the public record of our betrothal to Christ to become His Bride (2Co 11:2, Gal 3:27, Isa 61:10, Ruth 3:9, Eze 16:8). Like circumcision, baptism also symbolizes a “cutting away” of the sinful flesh that frees the believer to walk in the Spirit; hence it is a picture of the circumcision of the heart: Deut 30:6, Rom 2:29.
The rite of baptism also communicates several important spiritual truths intimately related to our salvation as we enter into this covenant relationship with God:
- To baptize means literally “to dip (in water)”, and our baptism is a physical picture of the spiritual washing away of our sins (Acts 22:16).
- Baptism in/with/by water is also a picture of the baptism in/with/by the Holy Spirit, Who, like water and by means of the water of the Word is the agent that cleanses us from our sins (Tit 3:3-7; cf. Mat 3:11-16, 1Sa 16:12-13, John 1:33, Acts 9:17-18, 10:44-48, 1Co 12:13). Throughout Scripture the Holy Spirit is described as being “poured out” upon people (compare Acts 2:17-18,33 with Acts 1:5; see also 1Co 10:1-2, Psa 77:17-21); it is therefore appropriate as part of the ceremony in addition to being immersed to pour water upon the one being baptized as an illustration of this truth.
- Baptism unites us with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:1-11).
- Baptism is a picture of the persecution one can expect to face as a Christian (Mark 10:38-39, Luke 12:50, 2Timothy 3:12).
The requirements for baptism are the requirements for salvation: even as a young woman comes to believe in a man to the end that she forsakes her home in this world to become His wife, so we must come to believe in Jesus to the end that we respond to the gospel call by forsaking our lives in this world and repenting of our sins to become His holy Bride; see Acts 2:37-41, 8:12, 16:14-15, 18:8.
The Lord’s Supper and Covenant
We have seen how baptism is what marks our entrance into the covenant that we enter into with the Lord which is the means by which God saves us from our sins. A covenant, like marriage, or like that which we enter into with the Lord, is a solemn agreement of binding force that joins two parties into a united relationship whose sum is greater than its parts. We might wonder how God’s part is somehow made greater by His covenant with us, but Scripture speaks of “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18)—as a Father He is made rich by the joy His children give Him as they come to reflect His nature.
In addition to the terms of the covenant that one vows to keep when entering into a covenant, a sacrifice is made that makes the covenant binding and irrevocable, for like a testament or a will, after the death it cannot be changed. In a marriage covenant a man and woman must die to themselves if they are to live more strongly as one—something we perhaps too often forget. Jesus Himself was the sacrifice that enacted the New Covenant to which God has called us and that saves us from our sins, and it is His blood that makes it binding and irrevocable—to try and change it or to not follow through on our agreement to its terms is to show contempt for the blood of the covenant that sanctifies us, to trample underfoot the Son of God, and to insult the Spirit of grace. Hence as in every covenant, in addition to the blessings promised for keeping the terms of the covenant there are curses promised for violating them—it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! (Heb 10:26-31).
Another central part of a covenant is the Covenant Meal shared by the participants of the Covenant, who partake of the one Sacrifice symbolizing they have become one and have close communion with one another to become a single unit or family, bone of the same bone, and flesh of the same flesh.
Every covenant also has a sign of remembrance that the covenant has been made, whether it is the covenant marks or scars that were cut on the arms of the participants in ancient covenants to mingle their blood when they shook hands, or the rainbow (Gen 9:12-17), or a heap of rocks (Gen 31:48-52), or a wedding band. As baptism is a sign of our entrance into our covenant with the Lord as we are sealed with His Holy Spirit of promise, so the Lord’s Supper is a sign of remembrance for us that we have entered into that covenant. For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death, until He comes again.
Hence the Lord’s Supper is a participation in the Sacrifice of Jesus who offered Himself to establish the new covenant in His blood; it is a sharing in His body and blood, a partaking of the covenant meal to become one with Him in close communion as members of God’s own household, part of Christ’s own body—bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh. As the sacrifices of the old covenant were a continual reminder of sin that looked forward to Christ’s once for all final sacrifice that would provide for our complete deliverance from sin, so is the Lord’s Supper a reminder of His Sacrifice as the price that was paid for our redemption, and which looks forward to that day when our redemption is complete and we eat it anew with Him in the kingdom of God and receive all the fullness of our inheritance of which the Holy Spirit with whom we were sealed for the day of redemption is but a pledge or earnest, a down payment (2Co 1:22, 5:5, Eph 1:13-14).
Therefore, the Lord’s table is a great blessing to those who come with a pure heart, for it reminds us of the Lord’s promise, that He isn’t through with us yet. But it is also a reminder of our own obligations to the covenant—we have been bought with a price and are not our own, but belong to Him who redeemed us, who died for us, to purchase us as a people for His own possession to be His Bride. At our baptism we agreed to forsake our home in this world and follow Him into His kingdom, to love and obey Him, to submit ourselves to Him as set forth in the Scriptures. So, are we doing that? Are we “real” Christians who have really put on Christ to come to the feast God has prepared, or are we pretenders, who have violated the terms of the covenant and whom the King will quickly see have not dressed themselves in the wedding clothes He Himself has provided?
So then, as we come to the Lord’s table, let us come with a pure heart and renew our baptismal vows to the Lord, committing ourselves once again to renounce the world, the flesh and the devil in order that we may partake of the blessings of this glorious covenant. And as we come, let us also examine ourselves and confess our sins, asking the Lord to forgive us and to have mercy and not visit upon us the curses for our disobedience. John wrote that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. James wrote that we should confess our sins and pray for one another in order that we may be healed. Let us then examine ourselves…
On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. (1Co 11:23-29).
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- What is the relationship between Jesus’ sacrifice and our redemption, forgiveness and receiving an inheritance per the terms of the covenant / will that was effected by His death?
- From what, and to what, are we saved? Is it Jesus’ death alone that saves us? What part does His resurrection have in our salvation?
- Does the justice of God demand the satisfaction of blood before He will forgive, similar to what pagans throughout history have believed?
- What was the purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices?
- Does blood alone atone for sin?
- How does Christ’s death render powerless the devil?
- To whom was Christ’s life given as a ransom? From what are we ransomed?
- Why did Jesus not only die, but suffer and die? If all that was necessary was His shed blood, why didn’t God sovereignly ordain a more merciful death for His own dear Son?
- What is the relationship between a will or testament, and a covenant? What was willed to Jesus as an inheritance from His Father, and what was willed to us through the new testament in His blood?